Pandemic continues to stop play, and in an attempt to help fill the gap I continue to come up with variations on my ‘All Time XIs‘ theme. Today we have a two part post. The first part of the post presents an XI made up entirely of players born in Staffordshire (who have never enjoyed first class status). The second part of the post makes some suggestions for reform of the County Championship which will doubtless engender reactions ranging all the way from endorsement to people reaching for pins and waxen images.
BORN IN STAFFORDSHIRE XI
- John Steele – we met this right handed opener and occasional purveyor of left arm spin when I did my post about Leicestershire.
- *Danielle Wyatt – current star of the England Women’s team, an attack minded opener who also bowls off spin. She has centuries in both T20Is and ODIs to her credit,though she has yet to be given her chance in a test match (the women play far too few of these contests). I have taken a punt by naming her as captain of this XI, but it is my belief that she would do the job well – and I would bet money that a game with her as captain would be worth watching.
- David Steele – brother of John, and like him and adhesive right handed batter and an occasional bowler of left arm spin. We met him in my Northamptonshire post, and also in my ‘Underappreciated Ashes‘ post.
- Kim Barnett – attack minded batter and occasional leg spinner, who enjoyed a distinguished career with Derbyshire before moving to Gloucestershire. I would hope that some flexibility would be shown of the batting positions of him and David Steele – in general of Wyatt was out first I would want him in next, while if John Steele fell first I would send brother David in to replace him at the crease, the plan being where circumstances permit to avoid having both blockers or both hitters together.
- Frank Sugg – a right handed bat who played first for Derbyshire, and then having discovered that he had been born in Smethwick (Cricinfo lists him as born in Ilkeston and lists him as having also played for Lancashire, but the Derbyshire chapter in the book “County Champions” says otherwise, and I go with them).
- Brian Crump – an all rounder who played for Northants, batting right handed and bowling right arm medium pace and off spin.His 221 first class matches yielded 8,789 runs and 914 wickets.
- +Bob Taylor – a wicket keeper and right handed bat, with more first class dismissals to his credit than any other.
- Dominic Cork – a right arm medium fast bowler and aggressive lowe order bat. He took 7-43 in the second innings of his England debut at Lord’s in 1995, and the highlights of his somewhat chequered international career also include a hat trick. He also suffered from the desperation of people involved with English cricket at the time to find all rounders – his undoubted skill with the ball and his moments as a lower order batter were blown out of all proportion (the then 20 year old me was guilty of allowing the wish to be the father of the thought in this case – mea culpa). He played for Derbyshire, Lancashire and Hampshire in county cricket.
- Sydney Barnes – yes , the one and only SF Barnes (see my Lancashire post, and the ‘Underappreciate Ashes’), probably the greatest bowler the game ever saw. He played a few games for Warwickshire in 1894-5 and a couple of full seasons at Lancashire in the early 1900s, but mainly plied his trade in the northern Leagues and for his native Staffordshire. Incidentally, while he did not a lot when he turned our for Warwickshire, they also did have a problem in the 1890s with recognizing talent when they saw it – the Warwickshire yearbook of 1897 contains the memorable phrase “it was not possible to offer a contract to W Rhodes of Huddersfield” – and yes it was the one and only Wilfred they were referring to – a genuine rival to Essex’s failure to respond to Jack Hobbs’ letter to them requesting a trial! Incidentally the then NSW selectors nearly perpetrated a miss to rival even these because some of them were in doubt as to whether it was worth forking out for a return rail fare for the lad so that they could have a closer look at a certain DG Bradman!
- Jason Brown – off spinner who took part in an England tour to Sri Lanka in 2001. He did not break into the team on that tour, and subsequently a combination of injuries and the rise of Monty Panesar blocked further chances for international recognition.
- Eric Hollies – leg spinner, and the most genuine of genuine number 11s.
This team features a solid front five, an all rounder, a record breaking keeper who tended to score his runs when they were most needed and four varied bowlers, two of whom, Cork and Barnes had the capacity to weigh in with useful runs. It is certainly an impressive collection of talent for what has never been a first class county.
POSSIBLE REFORMS TO THE COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP
I am going to start this section by presenting some suggestions which I will expand on:
To expand on the above points:
1) The bonus point system as it currently stands offers up to five batting points and three bowling points to each team, awarded only during the first 110 overs of each team’s first innings. The batting bonus points are awarded when the score reaches 200, 250, 300, 350, and if it happens inside 110 overs 400, while the bowling points are awarded for taking 3, 6 and 9 wickets, so long as those milestones are reached within the 110 overs. This comes on top of 16 points for a win and 5 points for a draw. The 110 over limit is designed to encourage teams to try to score reasonably quick in their first dig and to bowl for wickets, but the truth is that few teams manage to claim a full haul of batting points, and occasions on which full bowling points are not garnered are fairly rare. It can lead to situations where teams do things that they would not normally even be thinking about (a prime example being the farce involving a prearranged declaration that Middlesex and Yorkshire perpetrated when they knew that an outright win for either of them would give that side the championship at the expense of Somerset, who were top having completed their programme). Yorkshire deliberately bowled badly on that occasion to allow Middlesex to get far enough ahead for the intended declaration. I have no objection (not in the slightest) to genuine declarations, and to batting sides trying to put themselves in position to do so by attacking bowling that it is intended to make life difficult for them, but I despise the notion of deliberately giving the opposition runs to keep a game alive – why were neither of the contending sides prepared to go the aggressive route without relying on co-operation from the other? My 5-1 ratio of points for a win and a draw may be an insufficient margin, but a draw should have some reward attached to it – to anyone telling me that there is no such thing as a good draw, I would a) tell them not to talk nonsense (publishable version) and b) mention a few of the classics such as Old Trafford 2005 and Brisbane 2010.
2) On pitch preparation: whatever the official guidelines say, pitches that offer turn early in the game get viewed more harshly than pitches which assist seamers, which in turn are generally viewed more harshly than shirtfronts. This is in my opinion is wrongheaded – the game is more fun when spinners are involved, so pitches that allow that should be encouraged, while given that conditions in April and September mean that a preponderance of green pitches is always likely at those times, and that there is good chance of seamers getting overcast skies to help them further. Shirtfronts produce games that are utterly uninteresting, boosting the averages of various batters, but not really helping even them – batters who fare well on flat tracks are frequently exposed when the pitch does a bit, because they get away with things on flat tracks which would see them dismissed on livelier surfaces. So, I would almost never punish a team for having a pitch the offered spinners overmuch, would not be harsh on greentops in April and September, but would punish anyone who produced one in mid season, as then it would clearly be deliberate, and I would be down like a ton of bricks on anyone producing a shirtfront.
3)Over rates – this one is a problem that blights test cricket more than county cricket, but I have known some late finishes when listening to commentaries of county games, and I believe that my scheme should be rolled out at that level before then being extended to test level. There might be a few early matches in which extras, swelled by penalty runs, threatened to score at a Bradmanesque rate, but I am pretty sure that it would not take long for the message to sink in.
4)The first part of this post demonstrated just one minor county that has produced serious talent, and they are not alone – Norfolk have provided the Edriches (all six of the English Edriches are members of the same family) and a few others over the years, Berkshire boasts among its products the Bedsers (EA and AV), Peter May, Ken Barrington, Tom Dollery and in the women’s game Claire Taylor the batter (as opposed to Clare Taylor, the Yorkshire medium pacer) and other minor counties have similar stories, and it is my belief that there should be more movement between minor and first class county status – first class counties should have to prove that they merit that status and failure to do so should mean being temporarily supplanted by a minor county. The introduction of promotion and relegation into the county championship was just one of a raft of changes made at that time which had a telling effect on England’s fortunes (remember folks, England were bottom of the test rankings in 1999, and while there have been a few dips in the 21 years since then they have never seriously threatened to occupy that place again). Jack Hobbs who I mentioned earlier, and Tom Hayward, his great Surrey predecessor, and the man who persuaded Surrey to give him a chance (and there were those at the time who did not approve) were both natives of Cambridgeshire.
I would like to see more County Championship action at the height of the season and less at the extreme ends thereof as well.
Well that is today’s exhibit from the Museum of All Time XIs revealed, and it now remains only for me to provide my usual sign off…