Telegraph Fantasy Cricket: CC/ODC 2018 – Because it’s Never too Early!

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It’s never too early to start planning any fantasy team. Preparation is key. The English county cricket season will commence in April, so it’s important to have by then identified some possible composites of your side.

Assuming that the format will remain the same, that’s one amalgamated competition for First Class and List A cricket with a completely separate one for the T20 blast, I’m going to focus on potential selections for the four-day and 50-over formats for the time being.

Here are my key tips to remember when selecting a team:

  1. Don’t select players that will be on international duty.
  2. Select players that will play in both forms of the game.
  3. Select batsman that bowl and bowlers that bat.
  4. Don’t pick the same players as everybody else.
  5. Identify potential gems amongst the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players.

Let’s start with batting. Re: tip one, there’s absolutely no point selecting Joe Root, Mark Stoneman or Jonny Bairstow. They’ll be representing the national team.

England discard Tom Westley could be a shrewd shout. He’ll be keen to push for a recall to the England side, though I think it’ll likely be a vain push. The Essex man is a decent operator in both formats and occasionally contributes some reasonable off-spin.

Another England reject worth a possible punt could be Keaton Jennings. He’s relocated from Durham to Lancashire, opens the batting in both forms of the game and made regular contributions with the ball when at Durham. Whether or not Alastair Cook remains in the England side could of course determine if KJ is a smart selection. It is worth noting that both players I’ve mentioned so far could find themselves representing England Lions and missing a game or two because of such. That’s why in this game, it’s the county pros who you need to select.

Somerset’s James Hildreth is a decent shout, a little more productive in one-day cricket than some people realise and if he can perform to his potential in the four-day matches then he’ll contribute plenty of runs. Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke is a good call but again he’ll be knocking on the door of the England team. Clarke may be listed as a wicketkeeper. Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett will likely be listed as a batsman but does keep wicket from time to time. He’s well and truly fallen out of favour with England and could contribute significant scores at a decent strike rate (There’s points for that!).

Following his move to Warwickshire, Dominic Sibley is definitely a player worth considering. He’s keen to prove to Surrey that he should’ve been a regular fixture in their team. He’s a destructive batsman in one-day cricket but has the ability to make big scores in the longer format. Don’t forget that he can provide more than useful part-time spin too!

In the all-rounder stakes, Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel (Clearly no longer required by England) is possibly an essential selection. Re: tips four and five, it’s important to not just select the same team as everybody else. You need to identify the ‘hardly picked by anyone’ players that will make the difference. You do however need some reliable core players in your team. Having Harry Kane isn’t going to win you fantasy football but not having him will guarantee that you don’t win. Patel bats, bowls and plays both formats. He’ll be as hungry as ever to demonstrate to the England hierarchy that he merits further opportunities so may well deserve a spot in your XI.

Hampshire’s Gareth Berg is no spring chicken and not the most fashionable name on the county scene but with the ball, he’s a consistent wicket-taker as well as being in the habit of contributing useful lower order runs. He’s one of those players that will pass a number of fantasy players by, so sneaking him into your team, he could well prove an asset.

On the bowling front, Sussex’s Jofra Archer isn’t qualified to play for England yet. Last year he was listed as a bowler but could potentially be listed as an all-rounder this year. Either way, he falls into the Patel category of being an almost necessary selection.

Jake Ball? No seriously, I’m serious. He’s surely fallen down the pecking order at international level and the opportunity to play regularly at domestic level could well be what he needs. If he can perform like he did to first earn international recognition then he could be worth a pick. Brett Hutton has departed Ball’s Nottinghamshire side and headed to Northamptonshire. He’s another of these potentially underrated players who could now prosper in a new environment where he’ll hope for extra responsibility. Re: tip three, it’s great to find players that offer something with bat and ball but essentially you do need to select players that will, if they’re a batsman, score runs and if they’re a bowler, take wickets… duhhh!

I could go on and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post consisting of some more names. I’ll probably end up selecting a team that contains none of the above players whatsoever but as a starting point for planting the seeds of fantasy cricket team selection, this is just the beginning.

Family Roots

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Some people say that it’s not easy to be the younger sibling of a superstar. Fortunately I don’t have a younger sibling so no poor sod has to carry that burden!

Billy Root however has to try and carve out a career of his own in the shadow of his elder brother, England Test captain Joe Root. Billy hit the headlines last week when brother Joe smacked him for six to win a one-day game but actually Root Jnr. is starting to scratch out a decent career for himself at Nottinghamshire.

Will he make his home county Yorkshire curse the fact that he’s not on their books?

Maybe being away from home territory and his elder brother isn’t a bad thing. He’s already got a First Class hundred to his name, made for Leeds/Bradford MCCU against Sussex and today he tonked 107 not out from 93 deliveries (10 fours, 2 sixes) against a Warwickshire attack that included Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel. Root compiled more runs than Michael Lumb, Riki Wessels, Samit Patel and Brendan Taylor combined.

Whether or not Billy can become the Mark to Joe’s Steve remains to be seen (That’s a Waugh reference by the way!) but regardless, he’s at least hinted that a decent domestic career could lay ahead.

Don’t get carried away Billy. Stay grounded or… rooted you might say!

Super Duper Stan!

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The 2nd edition of the Pakistan Super League commences on 5th February…

http://www.psl-t20.com

Silly Point takes a look at the English brigade that will be turning out for the five franchises:

Islamabad United

Sam Billings

Ben Duckett

Billings will look to further enhance his reputation on the franchise stage and help cement his England place. Duckett will aim to put his spin pains behind him after a difficult winter in India.

Peshawar Zalmi

Chris Jordan

Eoin Morgan

Samit Patel

A resurgent Chris Jordan joins England skipper Eoin Morgan at Peshawar Zalmi. Samit Patel will fly in as cover for Bangladesh bat Tamim Iqbal (International commitments) come the latter stages of the tournament.

Lahore Qalanders

Jason Roy

England’s Mr Consistency at the top of their limited overs teams will be the sole Anglo representative in Lahore.

Karachi Kings

Ravi Bopara

The forgotten man of English cricket, Bopara is vastly experienced on the franchise circuit and will surely be a useful member of the Karachi Kings party.

Quetta Gladiators

Tymal Mills

Kevin Pietersen

David Willey

Luke Wright

T20 franchise brothers Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright will turn out for the Quetta Gladiators for a second year, after recently representing their loyal Big Bash side, Melbourne Stars. Left-arm duo Tymal Mills and David Willey will help form a strong English quota in Quetta.

Malan Mauls Vikings

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England hopeful Dawid (AC) Malan smacked 78 not out from just 48 deliveries to guide Barisal Bulls to a seven-wicket victory over Chittagong Vikings in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier today. Middlesex’s Malan struck three fours and seven (Yes seven!) sixes. He shared a partnership of exactly 150 with Sharhriar Nafees (65) after his fellow opener, another Englishman, Leicestershire’s Josh Cobb had been dismissed for just six. Malan had made starts in his previous outings for the Bulls (16, 26 and 13) but crucially went big today. Malan was included in England’s T20I squad to play Sri Lanka earlier this year but didn’t make the final XI. The twenty-nine-year-old will be hoping that the England management are keeping an eye on any Englishmen that are plying their trade in the various T20 tournaments being played across the globe this winter. Given the competition bread by the performances of players like Ben Duckett and Sam Billings during the ODI series in Bangladesh last month, Malan may be reliant on England resting some players come the ODI / T20I series’ against India at the conclusion of the five-match Test series if he’s to have any chance of making either squad.

Tymal Mills is another Englishman currently plying their trade in Bangladesh. Limited overs exclusive Mills, who did make his T20I debut against Sri Lanka earlier this year has picked up wickets in both of his appearances for the Vikings so far but was absent from the match against Malan’s Bulls.

Ravi Bopara, Matt Coles, Liam Dawson, Richard Gleeson, Benny Howell, Samit Patel and Riki Wessels are some of the other England qualified players signed up in Bangladesh though some of the less experienced players on that list are still awaiting their first outing.

England’s Spin Dearth Myth

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English cricket often seems to be accused of having a dearth of talent when it comes to spin bowling. The national team’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game, Moeen Ali, is a batsman who bowls and 39-year-old Gareth Batty (Test Match bowling average: 66) has just been recalled to the Test squad. Such things contribute to the assumption that there are no genuine quality spin bowlers on the English county scene. Silly Point assesses whether or not such an assumption is a fair one.

Moeen is England’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game but averages in excess of forty in both Tests and ODIs. England’s second choice spinner Adil Rashid also averaged in excess of forty in both forms of the game before dragging his ODI numbers down during an excellent series for him personally in Bangladesh this month. In doing so he might now be considered England’s number one spinner at least in ODIs. The next couple of weeks will determine whether or not that will, for the first time be the case in Test Match cricket as well. Liam Dawson has made only a couple of international appearances and averages thirty-five plus in First Class and List A cricket. His value to Hampshire is primarily with the bat. James Tredwell, no longer required by England, averages below thirty in both Tests and ODIs! All these players are considered all-rounders and their ability with the bat plays a crucial role in getting them into the team. If we explore the other options available to England in the county game we’ll quickly see that England’s perceived dearth of spin talent is a myth. Ollie Rayner, though no mug with the bat and Jack Leach might not be expected to contribute the volume of runs that the likes of Moeen and Rashid might but if they were to take international wickets at fewer apiece than England’s current incumbents are they not more worthy of a place in the team?

This is not to belittle the likes of Moeen and Rashid both of whom have a lot to offer England in all facets and all forms of the game but England’s reluctance to select specialists and or explore alternative options can be frustrating.

Let’s start with off-spinner Rayner who to be fair can bat a bit (First class average 22.00 including two centuries) The German born thirty-year-old has 254 First Class wickets to his name at a more than respectable average of 32.74. That’s about two runs less per wicket than Rashid (34.70) and nine, yes nine runs less than England’s first choice spinner Moeen (41.62)! Moeen’s Test average is even higher at 42.03 but he compliments this with more than handy batting figures of 1,454 runs at 34.61 including three centuries. In 2013 Rayner recorded analysis of 15-118 including 8-46, both career bests, against Surrey at The Oval. In 2016 Rayner’s best effort was 6-79, one of three five-wicket hauls as he finished Middlesex’s victorious County Championship Division One campaign with 51 wickets from thirteen matches at just 23.57. His age, thirty, is no reason to dismiss him. He could be primed to put together all that he has learnt during his domestic career and take it on to a five-year plus international one. If not for England then surely he can get a game for Germany!

Only seven players took more County Championship Division One wickets than Rayner last term. The only English spinner to do so was Somerset’s slow-left-armer Jack Leach. The twenty-five-year old accumulated 65 wickets at 21.88 including five five-wicket hauls as Somerset pushed Rayner’s side for the title ‘til the very last day of the season. For the record only Jeetan Patel took more County Championship Division One wickets than Leach last term. 2016 was Leach’s breakthrough season as he more than doubled his career First Class wicket tally, now 107 at 25.68. Maybe he needs to show that this season wasn’t a one-off before he gets the England call and his Somerset captain Chris Rogers’ less than ringing endorsement can’t have helped his international chances. On the batting front however the likes of Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett were picked for England on the back of one good season though both have spent time with England Lions or underage sides. Leach hasn’t and Simon Kerrigan’s introduction to Test cricket means that the England selectors like to get a close up of their potential international players first so that they can judge their character let alone their ability. Leach joins Rayner in the England Lions squad this winter.

On the subject of Kerrigan, he has 305 First Class victim to his name and his First Class bowling average of 30.05 is lower than Rayner (32.74) another forgotten man in Danny Briggs (33.70) current Bangladesh tourist, Zafar Ansari (34.45) Rashid (34.70) Scott Borthwick (35.75) Liam Dawson (37.47) Samit Patel (39.39) and of course Moeen (41.62). Ravi Patel, Josh Poysden, Stephen Parry, Adam Riley, Rob Keogh, Graeme White and Jack Taylor also all average a lower than Moeen sub forty in First Class cricket. Last year Kerrigan took 35 County Championship Division One wickets at an average of 37.89. Not brilliant but by no means a disgrace. He’s still only twenty-seven-years-old. It was a chastising international debut (8-0-53-0) against Australia at The Oval in 2013 for Kerrigan but where as many England supporters thought that the national team had progressed from a time where players were written off after one poor performance Kerrigan seems to have been well and truly left behind. Last year on Test Match debut and on spinning terrain, Adil Rashid recorded record-breakingly bad figures of 34-0-163-0. Of course unlike Kerrigan the Yorkshire leg-spinner got a second innings chance and on a worn pitch took 5-64.

Back to Leach’s Somerset. It was another Taunton man, nineteen-year-old Dom Bess that topped the County Championship Division One bowling averages last season (See previous post: Six to Watch for more about the England Under-19 International)

https://sillypointcricketsite.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/six-to-watch/

The off-spinner only made two appearances in the County Championship but his performances courted plenty of attention. He recorded figures of 6-28 against Warwickshire on debut before taking 5-43 against Nottinghamshire, both at Taunton. Former England batsmen Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Michael Lumb just some of his victims in those two matches. As a result of his 2016 performances Bess has 13 career wickets at 20.30 per victim.

Bess isn’t the only youngster tearing down the spin dearth myth. Kerrigan’s Lancashire’s teammate, nineteen-year-old leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson exploded onto the scene in 2016, recording figures of 5-49 against Warwickshire on debut. Like Bess, Jonathan Trott was among his debut victims. Parkinson’s First Class stats currently read 10 wickets at 36.30.

Another nineteen-year-old leggie is Hampshire’s Mason Crane. 31 wickets at 45.45 with a best of 3-19 in 2016 may seem a little underwhelming but to gain that experience in County Championship Division One at such a young age will only have helped his development. His career figures currently stand at 45 wickets at 40.75 apiece. These are early days in the careers of Bess, Parkinson and Crane so of course there statistics are a small sample size.

Having focused primarily on First Class and Test Match cricket lets switch our attention to the short stuff. In limited overs cricket it is expected that a player’s bowling average will be lower than in First Class cricket. It’s also more understandable that batting credentials might come into the equation. Liam Dawson averages 32.38 with the bat in List A cricket and 35.84 with the ball. He’s next in line in the pajama stuff after Moeen (26.16 and 44.34 in ODIs) and Rashid (27.25 and 35.17)

Northamptonshire’s Graeme White averages 25.79 with the ball in List A cricket, Gloucestershire’s Jack Taylor averages 28.03 and 24.25 with the bat, Surrey’s Zafar Ansari 31.97 and 34.12.

If we consider a broader spectrum, amongst the other Test playing nations, do the likes of Australia’s Jon Holland and Steve O’Keefe, New Zealand’s Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi, South Africa’s Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer, West Indies Sulieman Benn and Devendra Bishoo or Zimbabwe’s Graeme Cremer or John Nyumbu leave English spinners in the shade?

Of course there are less players from smaller populations representing fewer teams in most of the other Test nations mentioned than in England’s eighteen team First Class structure but the quality spin representation at domestic level is proportional.

As for England, the players are out there. Some can bat, some can’t. Some are in their teens, some are in their thirties. Some have played for England before, some haven’t. Some may have already produced their best, some haven’t.

When there’s eleven players in the team and the aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible, somebody’s got to keep wicket, the climate is accommodating to and the pitches are tailored to suit fast bowling then there are only going to be so many spinners around, some of which will be better than others. There may not be as many quality spinners as there are grains of sand on a beach but there are enough diamonds in the rough!