CricketXI – County Championship 2018: Season Review

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At the start of the year I stumbled upon CricketXI, an alternative fantasy cricket competition. This game focused purely on the County Championship (First Class) campaign.

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I selected a team of young guns and as you can see things went really well! It was great to see the likes of Jonny Tattersall, Zak Crawley and Will Jacks develop. Harry Brook, Ben Twohig (Love his name!) and Matthew Carter also made great strides.

Unfortunately Surrey pacer Matt Dunn got injured early in the campaign and disappeared from the professional radar once again. Wicketkeeper Lewis McManus lost his place in the Hampshire First XI. Teammate Asher Hart and Essex spinner Aron Nijjar (Who fooled me by playing in a pre-season university match!) couldn’t get near their respective first XIs. Neither could spinner Sukhjit Singh who was sadly released by Warwickshire at the end of the campaign. Warwickshire clearly have little interest in developing their own young players and much prefer to sign absolutely anybody. While that’s great for players like Will Rhodes and Olly Stone, it’s not for players like Singh and Andy Umeed.

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As well as my outfit of kids, I also selected a more ‘serious’ side but following early season injury, Sam Northeast failed to really get going having relocated from Kent to Hampshire and has fallen way down the England pecking order. Disappointingly, Sussex batsman Luke Wells and Nottinghamshire’s Riki Wessels failed to back-up productive 2017 campaigns.

On the plus side, James Hildreth was amongst the runs as ever, meanwhile Tom Bailey, Ben Sanderson and everybody’s favourite ex-England cricketer Jade Dernbach, contributed with the ball.

Well, there’s always next year!

Graeme Fowler: Absolutely Foxed Book Review

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I never saw Graeme Fowler play cricket. He was just a little before my time but I knew the name and had heard a little about his contributions to the game and his life, so I picked up a copy of his book with my bookshop gift card that I received for Christmas.

The book focuses on three main things, they are Fowler’s playing days, his work with the University based Centres of Excellence and his mental health.

Fowler comes across as a person who backs his own opinion, a man you wouldn’t want to argue with. At the same time he’s brave enough to be incredibly open about his depression. Like any autobiography, you would hope that the protagonist would avoid ironing out the bad and only offering the good. Fowler does that.

The Lancashire native touches upon the suggestion that some have put forward, that he was fortunate to play for England when others were out of the picture for one reason or another. To that, I say “It’s not about how you get your opportunities but about what you do with them”. However fortunate he was to get the opportunity at the highest level, Fowler scored in excess of one thousand Test runs and recorded three centuries in the process. There are a lot of players who have had the chance and not grabbed it to the extent that he did. Yes there are those that have done even better but to average 35.32 in Test cricket is no disgrace.

As with the examples of other former cricketers such as Marcus Trescothick, Michael Yardy and Jonathan Trott, providing exposure to the mental health issues of international sportsmen, Fowler’s contribution can only help further people’s understanding of mental health, whether it be their own or somebody else’s.

I’ve detailed on my blog before how I think that universities could help breed competitive cricket in England, in the same way that college sport provides budding professionals in USA. Fowler has helped develop cricketers for England through the Centres of Excellence and clearly possesed an indisputable passion for his efforts.

I’m providing Graeme Fowler’s ‘Absolutely Foxed’ with an innings of:

82 not out

Cricket Randoms

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There’s nothing we love more here at Silly Point than seeing our game gain global appeal, reaching out to untouched corners of the big blue and green. No pressure on Durham debutant Cameron Steel then! The California born bat has racked up appearances for Western Australia’s youth sides and has already tasted First Class cricket on half a dozen occasions when representing Durham MCCU. To date he has three First Class fifties including one against Durham last year. We’ll see how he gets on when it comes his turn to wield the willow, probably tomorrow.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/county-championship-division-2-2017/content/player/633301.html

On the subject of USA, Kieron Powell is back in West Indies whites. The man who gave it all up for baseball is currently holding the fort as WI slide into the abyss against Pakistan in Jamaica. Powell is undefeated on 33 at lunch with Windies precariously placed at 71-4.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/west-indies-v-pakistan-2017/engine/match/1077953.html

In another corner of the world, well maybe not a corner but another location. Come to think of it, unless the world is flat then there probably aren’t really corners on the globe… are there?

Where was I going?

Zimbabwe!

Natsai M’Shangwe’s 8-91 for Mountaineers against Mid West Rhinos merits a mention. Performances such as this might provide the twenty-six-year-old with the opportunity to bring his Test match bowling average of 62.14 down to something a little more respectable in future. Opposition bowler James Bruce snapped up five wickets on First Class debut, suggesting that he might be better in real life than he was when I led Zimbabwe on International Cricket Captain!

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/1070906.html

One more for you, regarding my Telegraph Fantasy Cricket team that goes by the name of Roderick Brotherhood. Things could have been going a bit flat in the absence of my captain and moniker inspiration Gareth Roderick. Rodders is still suffering from his ‘mystery’ pre-season illness but fortunately… step forward Mr Riki Wessels. 202 not out from 177 deliveries including 22 fours and 7 sixes, thanks in no small part to the supporting act of Nottinghamshire’s lower order, has surely propelled me to the top of the table… at least in my family!

Other County Championship performances worth noting today:

James Vince: 143 not out. Pencilled in for an England recall against Ireland?

Haseeb Hameed: A duck… again!

Sam Robson: 144 not out. Anything you can do Vincey, I can do one better! Set for a recall against South Africa at the expense of Hameed?????

Liam Livingstone: 68 out of a total of 109 all out for Lancashire’s stand-in skipper. Penned in in permanent marker for a full international debut against Ireland!

Harry Dearden: 87 for Leicestershire’s teenage opener. His first fifty in his eleventh First Class innings. Not quite set for an international call-up!

Adam Barton: 11-0-81-0. Like Durham’s Steel, he’s making a proper debut having previously played Uni stuff. With Sussex currently 7-3 following Wessels double hundred, Barton might need to enhance his Chris Martinesque batting average of 2.12 from ten innings! There’s no sign of Silly Point favourite Ajmal Shahzad in the Sussex XI.

Ian Westwood: 153. Westwood for England anybody?

Ben Duckett: 45 not out out of a total of 102-6 and needing to go big given the performances of the likes of Vince, Robson and Livingstone. Penned in in biro for a recall against Ireland.

Tom Abell: 1 to follow 1 & 0 in Somerset’s opening match of the 2017 campaign for the new young skipper.

P.S. Powell’s just fallen second ball after lunch!

University Challenge

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Okay, they probably wouldn’t be allowed to call it that but at least you can get an idea where I’m going.

The fact that there are selected universities that have First Class status doesn’t sit well with some people. In a bygone era maybe but now it just doesn’t seem appropriate. When universities take on the counties in pre-season friendlies the match-ups are seen as nothing more than average boosters for the professionals and possibly an opportunity to score a longed for double-century or take a seven or eight-wicket haul.

Cricket is trying to recruit players through inner-city initiatives as well as many other schemes and whilst the game should always strive to distance itself from elitism, that should mean nobody is discriminated against, this includes universities.

Silly Point proposes that rather than selected universities having First Class status, they compete for it. The honour and the prestige should be earned not a given. It’s a simple idea, a knockout tournament for which only the final has First Class status.

Currently six universities have First Class status:

Cambridge

Cardiff

Durham

Leeds/Bradford

Loughborough

Oxford

Based on size let’s throw in Birmingham and Manchester to make eight teams in total though I can’t claim to have researched their cricket facilities or infrastructure. This would provide a straight forward quarter-final, semi-final and final tournament format. Of course ideally the competition should be open to all universities nationwide so could consist of 16, 32, 64, 128 or 256 etc university teams at the first round stage. This would of course put demands on umpires and scorers and crucially ensuring that umpires of integrity are employed at every match. First Class matches do last three or four days so alternatively or run side by side their could be a One-Day or T20 tournament for which the final is provided List A or official T20 status.

Another crucial factor about the latter stages of the tournament and definately the final is that it should be shown on national free-to-air television. Click on a TV set and you might stumble across college basketball or football in USA. In England we get a boat race. Let’s celebrate this tournament and make it a grand day in the annual cricket calendar. A stellar performance in the final could earn someone a county contract or at least a trial or maybe even a short term deal in a global T20 tournament and from there who knows what could be achieved?