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Long-time no blog.

Would love to say I have been travelling the world, or following England in their escapades across India, but it’s been uni, uni, uni since September to be honest.

It just meant that I was unfortunately unable to cover the England winter matches this season, but I promise to be back at the start of the 2013 season that is only 6 and a half weeks away!

This year obviously I will be blogging about the England home games against New Zealand, not forgetting the finest battle in cricket, the 2013 Ashes!

Also updates on the county circuit as to whether the Bears can retain their crown as LVCC Champions, Hampshire their 40 over title and of course if Hampshire can claim yet another T20 trophy. Who knows it may be Somerset who has their eye on that T20 title this year?

So keep a look out in the upcoming weeks, as this will be the place to be for all things cricket… I know I personally can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us!

Caught At Slip

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Gutted. I knew this day would come eventually but not this soon if I’m honest. The day that Andrew Strauss retired from all forms of the game, including domestic cricket, was destined to be a day that all cricket fans would rather not witness. This just so happened to be true today, as it was announced that Strauss would no longer grace a cricket field with his presence, it would now be Cook’s turn to take on this respected leadership role.

England have not only lost an incredibly talented batsmen, or a treasured member of the England team, but they have also lost a truly great leader of this England side. Being a part of the 2005 winning Ashes squad, captaining the side to a Home and an Away Ashes victory, and then taking the team to Number One in the World in Test cricket, it is fair to say Strauss has been one of England’s most successful captains.

It did come as quite a shock I would say to England cricket fans. However, in his press conference today, Strauss did comment on the fact that he had raised the issue of retirement with Team Director, Andy Flower, a couple of weeks ago. So with retirement already on his mind, it was understandable when Strauss declared that the Kevin Pietersen “issue” had no influence over his decision. The public will obviously make up their own minds on the matter, and there is always speculation over a cricketer’s retirement no matter what the circumstances.

But what is to remain the most important memory here is not the reasons behind Strauss’ retirement, but the reasons as to why he will be justly missed on the field. His determination, skill, talent, composure and at all times the pride he took from leading his country is why Andrew Strauss has become such an important and respected figure within the cricketing world. We will never forget the glorious victories and triumphs Strauss succeeded in as captain, or the crushing defeats and trials endured.

We have been there through every step of his journey as an England player, and as an esteemed captain. This is the reason as to why Strauss will never be forgotten, he got the England side to where they are today, and I could only wish his retirement had been prolonged. But unfortunately for every England fan, we must bid farewell to a thoroughly great England captain!

One of many of Andrew Strauss’ accomplishments! Photo Credit: ECB (ecb.co.uk)

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It was that time of the year again. The loud cheering crowds, cheesy music, the mascot race and of course some T20 cricketing action. Yes, T20 Finals Day has been and gone for yet another year. Through what was a very tense last few overs, it was Hampshire’s death bowling that proved too much for Yorkshire, as the former team won the coveted T20 title for the 2nd time in three years.

The battle for the T20 trophy was a tough one, and as the semi-finals got under way, we were yet to know whether Yorkshire, Sussex, Hampshire or Somerset were on the course for victory. In the first of the semis between Yorkshire and Sussex, it was clear to see which team dominated throughout. Despite falling to 118-4 after just 15 overs, Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow powered his side up to a very respectable 172, remaining on 68* from only 45 balls putting Yorkshire well in contention.  Sussex’s run chase failed to put them anywhere close to Yorkshire’s total, scraping to 136-8 from 20 overs, with Nash only the 2nd batsmen to reach double figures with 80*. An excellent win of 36 runs saw Yorkshire, never to have even reached the semi-final stages, into the final of the Friends Life T20.

So with one finalist already decided, it was up to Hampshire and Somerset to produce their all. With history between these two teams at Finals Day, it is fair to say all eyes were on Somerset to see if they could overcome their unlucky streak against Hampshire. Unfortunately for Somerset they fell at the final hurdle, not making it into the final for two years running as Hampshire’s bowling restricted the well sought after batting line up. Kieswetter with 63*, akin to Nash in the previous semi, was the only man to produce a decent score managing to take his side to 125-6, a score that was clearly not sufficient.  Katich, Carberry and Ervine with their powerful strike rates all aided Hampshire over the line with one over to spare, forcing Somerset out of the competition by a victory of 6 wickets.

It was decided, Yorkshire would take on Hampshire in the 2012 T20 final. It was a close fought contest as both teams vied for top spot, and it was Hampshire who chose to put runs on the board first. A wise decision it may seem now, as they compiled a decent score of 150 with the loss of just 6 wickets, as Adams, Vince, Ervine and Katich all made a large contribution to their team’s total with 125 runs between them. However, we had seen great talent in the Yorkshire side, and 150 could be beaten if their performance from the semi was repeated. This was not to be as Hampshire’s array of young talent, namely Briggs and Wood who restrained Yorkshire’s batting line up, as only Miller made a significant contribution, powering 72 from 46 balls. Wood kept his nerve in his final over of the match, with Yorkshire needing 14 runs Wood took 2 successive wickets leaving Yorkshire on 140-8 and 11 runs short of a T20 victory.

A stronger performance from the batting line up in the early overs may have seen a different result for both teams; however it was not to be for Yorkshire, as Hampshire celebrated their second win in the competition’s history. On a side note Yorkshire should definitely be proud of how far they have come in the competition, especially as they will now be off to the Champion’s League this year. But it was Hampshire’s day yesterday, and it looked like the best team won. Now all they have to do is retain their title next year!

Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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He was hailed as a gifted batsman, full of potential and a future England star. Today however, the world received the news of the tragic passing of one of the country’s brightest young talents cut off in his prime. Aged only 23, Tom Maynard had featured for both Glamorgan and Surrey, impressing to the extent that he earned himself a place on the England Lions squad that toured in the winter just gone.

Making his debut, at the age of just 18 for Glamorgan, Maynard has developed into an extremely talented cricketer, the move from Glamorgan to Surrey proving worthwhile after he secured his maiden century (123) against his former county. The 2011 season proved to be one of the best for him, as throughout the year he had an average of over 40 in each of the three formats of the game, along with three centuries in the process. His hard-hitting style, and powerful stroke play earned him, as aforementioned, recognition from the England Lions selectors, as he was fortunate to tour Bangladesh with fellow teammates.

This valuable experience saw Tom progress further in the early stages of 2012, as he now had to impress in Division One of the County Championship. Stating himself in The Cricketers’ Who’s Who that “promotion in the Championship in 2011” was a career highlight; Tom was keen to push his county forward, doing so as he scored his highest First Class score of 143 in May. Albeit a season cut short, in 2012 Maynard still averaged over 40 in the LVCC clearly highlighting his skill and potential in the longer format of the game.

The shock of the news of his death, that occurred in the early hours of this morning shook many, not least his Surrey teammates and close friends, all of whom have paid a fitting tribute over the social networking site Twitter. The sheer amount of condolences and messages about Tom expresses the emotion felt by many, a huge talent that will certainly be missed. Out of respect, Surrey have postponed their next T20 game against Hampshire, with Jade Dernbach also unavailable for England’s NatWest Series against the West Indies on compassionate grounds.

It still seems so surreal that only yesterday he was playing in a T20 game versus Kent. It has been a sad day for many, and thoughts are with Tom Maynard’s family during this difficult time.

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Well, what a long time since my last post! Sorry about that, but at this time of year revision, and revision alone becomes your life, well okay that may be a slight exaggeration. Finding time to fit in a blog post has been hard, but today I have dedicated my time to give you a quick review of how the Championship is looking so far in 2012.

Both the Division 1 and Division 2 tables are shaping up nicely, what has been witnessed though, is that nearly every county game to date this season has been thwarted by rain, leaving many drawn games appearing in the table. This is the reason I want to allocate to Durham for so far residing at the bottom of Division 1, I can’t help but feel this is not the case however, take Somerset for example, in the same position as Durham (in terms of drawn games) but they remain in 4th, having taken 9 more bowling points. If I am honest, I did not expect Durham to have fared so badly this season, a crop of younger players, namely Borthwick and Stokes along with the experience of Benkenstein, Collingwood and Di Venuto highlights the strength of their side. Although, it is only early days with 11 games still left to play, I am sure they can pull something out of the bag, the Championship title I fear will not be one of them though.

Nonetheless, those who are in contention for the title are clearly making their mark in the Championship, as Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire have a clear lead at the top. Although Notts currently have 78 points, Warwickshire are proving to be the ones to beat, just 7 points behind the 2010 Champions the Bears have played 2 less games and look set to continue their great form. Both bowling and batting units have impressed for the Bears this season, and after narrowly missing out on the title last year to Lancashire, I am going to say that Warwickshire look like they could come home with the silverware in 2012… and no it isn’t just because I am a huge Bears fan, well okay, maybe to some extent!

Also, looking towards who is in with a chance of promotion this season, we have the Division 2 teams. Well, one of last year’s relegation sides, Yorkshire, are proving why fans were extremely disappointed with moving down into Division 2 after last season’s disappointing performance. Currently joint at the top of the table with Derbyshire, both sides have won 2 of their 5 games, leaving them in a comfortable position with a lead of 9 points. It is surprising to see Yorkshire’s transformation in just a short space of time, but with the likes of Sayers, Gale and Ballance in the batting line up, Yorkshire have been impressive. Along with England Lions players, Root and Bairstow, the latter today selected for the senior side for the West Indies Test at Lord’s, Yorkshire look to have a promising season. Promotion is certainly their main goal, as it is for Hampshire, but as of yet Derby, Yorkshire and Kent are all in contention as they near the halfway stage.

At the other end of the scale, we have Glamorgan who are yet to win a game this season. With just 17 points secured from 5 games, it’s the batting that is letting this Welsh side down. There is no disputing that their bowlers are making the breakthroughs, but having not yet surpassed the 200 mark in any match, it is the lack of runs, which is causing Glamorgan a serious problem. Any chances of promotion look unlikely this year unless a serious turn of events occur, all Glamorgan can really do is improve their position in the table, as Leicestershire who remained at the bottom of the table in 2011 are already a clear 18 points ahead.

With the CB40 competition also underway, it won’t be long until the cricket season is in full flow without any weather-affected games, fingers crossed! The Championship gets back underway on Wednesday, only to be followed on Thursday for what we have been waiting for since April, the return of English Test cricket. Taking on the West Indies at Lord’s kick-starts England’s 2012 summer, let’s hope for some fantastic performances and results… until then that’s me done :)

Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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Three days left and counting until the 2012 County season finally gets under way! This moment has been long awaited since September last year, and we can now breathe a sigh of relief as the nights are getting lighter, welcoming six full months of cricket. With 18 counties fighting for supremacy in the LVCC Championship format in their respective division, we also welcome the delights of the CB40 and T20 competitions. Here is how the Championship divisions currently stand; with Hampshire and Yorkshire relegated last season, Division 1 makes way for newly promoted Surrey and Middlesex –

Division 1:

Durham, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Warwickshire, Worcestershire

Division 2:

Derby, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire

 

With such a vast array of talent on show, each county game provides plenty of entertainment. Still, all eyes will undoubtedly be on last year’s competition winners:

 

LVCC Division 1 – Lancashire

LVCC Division 2 – Middlesex

CB40 – Surrey Lions

T20 – Leicestershire Foxes

 

However, here are my top 5 teams for 2012, with a preview of how their season may fair, along with the young talent to look out for…

 

  • Leicestershire – Not at their best in the Championship, Leicestershire were at the bottom of the Division 2 table last year, only winning one of their sixteen games. Their luck didn’t change even in the 40-over competition, coming in 6th out of 7th with 6 points compared to Surrey’s 21. So why are they appearing in my top 5? Take a look at their achievements in the T20 format, champions once again; they prove they have what it takes to go all the way. Losing James Taylor and Harry Gurney to Nottinghamshire, the Foxes will be without two crucial players, but this time year they will have to prove their worth in the Championship.

Young player to watch: Nathan Buck – Selected for the England Lions and the EPP (England Performance Programme) in the winter, Buck will be vital for Leicester this year, providing them with a quality quick bowler.

  • Nottinghamshire – A mediocre performance in the LVCC in 2011, after becoming champions the previous year proved to be disappointing for the Outlaws. Their limited over performances it would have to be said were their highlights, 2nd in the table in their CB40 group, and reaching the quarterfinals of the T20. They will certainly be looking to improve across all formats in 2012, and signing Taylor, Gurney and Michael Lumb (Hampshire), they definitely have the talent to do so. A formidable batting line up for Notts, they may just be the team to beat in at least one format this year.

Young player to watch: James Taylor – Tipped to be one day the number 6 for England in the Test arena, Taylor is currently captaining the England Lions. A great young talent, I can’t wait to see what he will offer the Outlaws, after his move from the Foxes.

  • Somerset – Also seeming to be the runners-up in each competition, Somerset once again failed to claim any silverware in the 2011 season, and came just 4th in the Championship despite having the leading run-scorer in Trescothick, with 1673 runs. Will they ever be able to cross the line, and win a final? We will just have to wait and see, but with the power hitters and death bowlers, it is hard to pinpoint where they are going wrong. I wonder if it will be Somerset’s season this year.

Young player to watch: Jos Buttler – It had to be Jos for me, a wonderful talent and a supreme striker of the ball, Jos has already starred in the senior England side. He will surely play his part for Somerset and for England in 2012.

  • Warwickshire – Narrowly missing out on the LVCC title to Lancashire, Warwickshire will want nothing more than going one-step further to claim the Championship. Another point Warwickshire will be keen to prove is that of their limited over performance, CB40 winners in 2010 the Bears came 5th last year, whilst they were second from the bottom in the T20 table, which was more than disappointing. An all-round improvement is hopefully what we will see, and some silverware would be rather nice too.

Young player to watch: Chris Woakes – Yes, unfortunately for the Bears Woakes suffered an injury over on the Bears pre-season tour in Barbados, which means he’ll miss the start of the season. However, I believe he will definitely feature greatly for the Bears, a fantastic talent.

  • Yorkshire – Relegated into the 2nd Division after a poor season in the Championship, Yorkshire also failed to get anywhere within the limited over formats. The reason they have featured in my top 5 for 2012 is due to the fact that they had a great pre-season tour in Barbados, winning the T20 cup and beating the Bears in the process. Looking impressive over in the Caribbean I have a feeling that this Yorkshire side can achieve something this year. Their main goal will be for sure to get back into the top division of the Championship, but they may also show off their talent in the CB40 or T20 also.

Young player to watch: Joe Root – There is some great young talent over at Yorkshire, but Root I feel will play an important role, after his first full and successful season in 2011. After the experience gained from the Lions, Root I feel will be a stand out performer this year.

 

So there are my teams to look out for, and for those of you who are Lancashire fans, don’t worry I think they too will have a great season. They can’t improve on their Championship form, the shorter formats will be their priority this year, and Simon Kerrigan is the one to watch, especially after his turn with the Lions these past 12 months! It must be said that I am excited for what is to come this season, there is some great talent out there, and with some of the scheduled overseas players, it will be a fantastic year for cricket. Also, if the weather forecasts are anything to go by with snow predicted, the season may even be delayed – I sure hope it isn’t, our wait has long been enough… roll on April 5th!

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Wow! Well my nerves went through the roof at the end; I think I am just about recovering from what was an incredible end to a fantastic T20 series. It was nervy stuff, but England held on to be crowned victorious. It wasn’t certain though that England were going to walk away with the series, losing the first game and then levelling it 1-1, England had to pull out all the stops today to get over the line. They did just this, going right down to the wire; Pakistan needed 6 off the last ball, but a fabulous last over from Dernbach saw an elated England team overwhelmed by winning the series 2-1!

Getting off to a decent start as always seems to be the case; England had another mini collapse in the middle overs, which made the outcome of the innings seem ominous. With the middle order annihilated by spin, yes no surprise it was Ajmal, Kieswetter went first, despite getting off to a great start with a 4 and a 6 already to his name. Bopara, Morgan, Bairstow and Buttler all failed to reach double figures, with only Bopara falling to the pace of Cheema, who had a surprisingly good spell of bowling, proving to be tricky for the England batsmen. Patel supported KP with a good knock, keeping off the pressure, as he also hit a 4 and a 6 taking him to 16 before becoming Ajmal’s fourth and final victim. It was opener Pietersen though; that I suppose you could say saved England’s innings.

  • Kevin Pietersen – With England falling to 89-6 and already 15 overs in, Pietersen provided a stable, yet powerful innings that helped push England’s innings up to a decent total. With 6 wonderfully timed fours, and 1 crisp six, KP’s innings seemed to ooze skill and class, which is not something we always see. However, it must be said that in spite of what we all think about KP, he is great to watch when in form, especially in the shorter formats. Reaching his second 50 of the series, KP hit his way to 62* soaking up the applause at the end of the innings, and he was the vital batsmen in England’s line up.

The chase now being set at 130 had to be defended by England; it was a tough job, especially on the slow pitch in Abu Dhabi. The first breakthrough was early on, that of Hafeez, with a caught and bowled by Dernbach, his second in two matches. Pakistan on 8-1 were in a tricky situation if they didn’t kick on, but the middle order put up a fight. Partnerships between Shafiq and Zia (40), and Misbah and Akmal (37), really spurred them on even though Broad, Swann and Dernbach were in the wickets. Along with running out Shafiq and Afridi for 34 and 3 respectively, Pakistan were reduced to 120-5, needing 10 runs with just 4 balls remaining. Unable to hit the winning runs, it was all down to one man who left his best over until last…

  • Jade Dernbach – The specialist death bowler has helped England out of a tricky spot or two, but today was just that little bit different. Pakistan needed 13 to win from the last over, and every England fan seemed to be on the edge of their seats. A wide increased the tension and the last ball was nearly unbearable to watch… what actually happened though was fantastic. Dernbach unhappy with just a dot wiped out Misbah’s middle stump with a slower ball. Let the celebrations begin! A superb final delivery, Dernbach wrapped up the game, and the series with it, figures of 2-24 highlighting his feat.

It was such a relief to see England go all the way, and finishing the tour on a high England can walk away from the UAE with their heads held high. Yes losing the Test series was a bitter disappointment, but they can only come back better, showing glimpses of hope by walking away with successive series wins. The limited over formats were kind to England this tour, but it’s all about the Test in Sri Lanka, let’s hope there are some much-improved Test performances. It does raise a few questions though, namely over Morgan’s form, will we see him selected in the tour to Sri Lanka in late –March, well we’ll find out tomorrow morning as to who has made selection.

With this being England’s last game for just under a month it was great to see smiling faces and a victory for them to walk away with, expect much more blogging to come as we approach the Sri Lankan series. Not forgetting the County season, which I have mentioned will soon be around the corner!  However, for now it is time to reflect on a tour with mixed emotions, but one in which England came out on top at the end, Pakistan certainly played well throughout and did deserve their Test victory. I hope you have enjoyed this UAE tour as much as I have, and there is still plenty more cricket to come! :D

Photo Credit: ECB (ecb.co.uk)

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