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Please don’t blame me for jinxing anything, but it appears as though England may just be on the road to recovery. However, that’s a big may.

We all know about the series loss over in the West Indies (not our finest hour) and needless to say, it wasn’t the best start for our World T20 campaign.

Then to top it all of a defeat in our first official T20 game versus New Zealand, really want to cover it up and blame it on the Duckworth Lewis method, but the scorecard just goes to show our batting had seen no sight of improvement over the winter.

So you can imagine my surprise, shock, amazement at the spectacular show we saw today. Less hiding behind the sofa, more me staring open-mouthed at the television screen.

Alex Hales. Need I say more, just when England wanted a boost they certainly got one.

With Sri Lanka posing a somewhat tricky target of 189-4, I hope I’m not the only one to say that the thought of Malinga, Mendis et al against our batting line up was not a pretty one.

Who knew that what we would witness would be a power-hitting master class from Hales, smashing 116 of just 64, yes 64 balls.

I’m still in shock this very second as to how he could pull off such a show, England’s first international T20 century and an incredible one at that.

Hales not only created the innings of the tournament so far (if I say so myself), but in alliance with Morgan helped push England to reach their highest successful run chase in T20 history.

Now come on, if this isn’t a glimmer of hope I don’t know what is.

A victory to England’s name at last, now me and every fan alike definitely won’t mind seeing the same performance next match, pretty please.

In two days’ time South Africa will be next in line for England, now if Sri Lanka can be beaten, surely we can beat these guys too, right? Fingers crossed.

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Rest assured everyone, as you may know by now England have secured their position at the top of the table after finally winning a Test match this winter. A thrilling 8-wicket victory saw many twist and turns, as England fought hard for their title, with wonderful results. As both Strauss and Jayawardene made their way to the middle, every expectant fan held their hopes high, and as Sri Lanka chose to bat, they soon looked to trouble England.

It wasn’t a very easy-ride for the Lankans initially though, losing Thirimanne and the experienced Dilshan and Sangakkara for a collective 22 runs, showcased Anderson’s sheer talent with the new ball. Three down for 30 would have worried any captain, Mahela however, is not your ordinary captain. Along with Samaraweera and Mathews, in two fantastic partnerships of 124 and 62 respectively, Jayawardene struck his way to his third century of the series and propelled Sri Lanka to 216 before his dismissal. His wicket was a timely one although reviewing the decision, Jayawardene was unable to reverse the LBW appeal, which saw Swann straightening one to hit smack on the knee roll. The turning point had been made, and no longer could Sri Lanka depend upon their captain for stability, as they slipped from 216-5 to 275 all out, an addition of just 59 runs, Swann walking away with figures of 4-75.

Switch-hit causes controversy as KP ton outshines Jayawardene’s

England’s innings was not without its glitches either. A better start could not have been made, with the captain and vice-captain leading the way with a 122-run partnership, 61 and 94 respectively, Cook narrowly missing out on a century of his own.  With the foundations already set, it paved the way for Trott and Pietersen to edge England closer to Sri Lanka’s first innings total with England on only 62 runs behind.  A steady 64 from Trott enabled fans to witness KP at his best, playing his natural game. A blistering 151 runs were scored in just 165 balls nearly a run a ball (in a Test match), along with an astonishing 100 runs accomplished in boundaries. I honestly don’t think I could say I have seen Pietersen play a better innings than we saw on Day 2 of this Test match, he himself not letting up on the celebrations after breaking that 100 mark.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Pietersen though, as the infamous switch-hit made a return – in glorious style I must add – but not to Dilshan’s approval. Pulling up mid run-up in two successive balls, Dilshan wanted to prevent this notorious shot from recurring, annoyance from the England crowd spread quickly as KP’s innings was momentarily halted. Landing himself with a warning from the umpires you could see Pietersen was clearly unimpressed. Yet this only seemed to spur him on as he raced to the 150 mark before being dismissed one run later after an unsuccessful appeal to reverse a Herath LBW. At 411-6 at the time of KP’s dismissal, England managed 460 all out, with a comprehensive lead of 185.

Swann sends Sri Lanka into a spin

So, with Sri Lanka needing something special to enable them a match-winning total, they somehow did not predict the damage England’s number one spinner would induce. Decent scores from Jayawardene (64), Samaraweera (47) and Mathews (46) yet again, the Sri Lankan batsmen were unable to conjure up that much-needed contribution. Swann tore through the Lankans’ line up snaring the prized wickets of the experienced Dilshan, Sangakkara and captain Jayawardene all caught, at slip, behind to the ‘keeper, and short leg respectively. Whilst Samaraweera, Randiv and Prasanna Jayawardene were all superbly bowled, as Swann beat the bat on all three occasions, his raw bowling talent truly highlighted. Along with Finn, Anderson and Patel, Sri Lanka were dismissed for 278, which meant for England they only had a mere 94 runs to chase in order to secure a test match win. As Swann reaped match figures of 10-181, he was the key bowler who helped England to edge closer to victory.

All that was needed now was 94 runs, and we could all delight in finally seeing England defeat the subcontinent conditions. With Jayawardene opening with 2 spinners, Strauss and Trott fell early for 0 and 5 respectively, leaving it up to Cook and KP to take their team over the line. For Cook, he struck his way to 49 setting the foundations up for KP to once again supremely strike the ball over the boundary rope for 2 magnificent sixes, powering England to a sweet and long awaited victory. In a thrilling show of pure cricketing talent, either side showed off their particular talents, but as England came out on top, they didn’t just level the series, but also saved themselves from humiliation. Luckily, England managed to stay at the top of the International Test rankings, which would have seen them fall to second below South Africa; fortunately, this was not the case.

We must wait until May until the England lads are in action again, until then we can all relax and enjoy the peaceful County Championship! :D

Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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On what would have been the last day of the Test between England and Sri Lanka, I find myself reminiscing about another England defeat, and an opportunity missed. In a struggling position, England had to pull out all the stops to be able to pull off a remarkable run chase in subcontinent conditions. They did manage to get within a small margin of victory, but once again, the batsmen failed to take advantage of a decent start.

So where did I leave it last, well Sri Lanka ended Day 2 in an uncompromising position on 84-5, but still with a lead of 209 runs. With only 5 more wickets for England, it should have been over and done with pretty early on in the day. What was not forecast though was the gritty innings of Jayawardene, this time Prasanna, not Mahela, which saw Sri Lanka climb to a great 214 all out by which time saw English bowlers flagging. Unable to restrain the tail-enders, whatever option was tried, the wickets were just not falling. Don’t get me wrong, once Chandimal’s wicket fell to Panesar caught at slip, Randiv and Herath soon followed both to Swann, with a beauty coming round the wicket to the latter to have the ball crashing into his stumps. Eight down and England were in a fantastic position to claim the last two, to reduce their deficit. However, with P. Jayawardene still at the crease, Welegedara and Lakmal, individually played a huge supporting role as Jayawardene passed the half-century mark. But it wasn’t as if we didn’t have the chances to dismiss the batsmen, a costly no-ball from Broad, and an easy run-out opportunity were missed, vital causes of Sri Lanka’s final deficit of339, meaning England had to face a mammoth task of chasing 340 to secure a Test match win. Optimism was surely needed at this point, we are currently struggling for runs, as if I haven’t mentioned this before, but I still kept the faith that we could (with very hard graft) achieve the total. And let me tell you, even though we lost both openers within the space of 19 overs for a collective total of 42 between them, finishing up on 111-2 exceeded my expectations. Trott and KP kept composure, and left England on Nelson at the end of Day 3; Trott especially with a steady 40 runs already acquired.

229 runs were needed over the last two days of the Test to ensure an England victory, which now was looking even more possible. Although Pietersen returned to the pavilion with a mere one run added to his overnight score, and Bell had a doubtful umpire decision go against him for 13 runs, all was not lost. I must say though that shot selection has not been our forte on these overseas tours, a chip to midwicket from KP, and Bell pulled out the deadly sweep shot… please guys just forget the sweep shot for the time being! Anyway, this left England on 152-4, Trott joined at the crease by Prior which set up a partnership that witnessed England climb ever closer to that daunting score, and Trott slave away to claim his 7th Test century in the 86th over. This is what England needed, a centurion like Sri Lanka had in their captain, Mahela, in the first innings. So with two batsmen settled in nicely, it was down to these pair to help England over the line, but as we are coming accustomed to, somehow England have a tendency that if they lose one wicket, they lose them all. This time, it was the turn of Prior to spring out that sweep shot, only having it caught at short leg, making way for Patel to take his second chance in Test cricket. Seven overs later, and with spin in full flow, Herath, with four wickets already to his name was not content, and happily had Patel skew one to Dilshan at cover, England 252-6. Trott still standing tall at this time didn’t stay around for long, with increasing pressure all England needed was 88 runs with four wickets remaining, Randiv managed to have the prized wicket of Trott caught at leg sip for 112. And there it was, the moment the game changed.

The lower order of Broad, Swann, Anderson and Panesar collected 11 runs between them, the former being not out at the end of the innings, as the three latter batsmen all fell to spin. Swann was Herath’s 6th and final wicket of the Test as he collected a match haul of 12-171, fantastic figures for a spinner still not highly regarded as world-class on the International stage. England could only manage 264 losing by a margin of 75 runs, their fourth consecutive Test defeat. To make matters worse, if they lose the final game commencing on 3rd April, then England will suffer the devastating loss of their World Number 1 status. I know that I am not alone in saying this, but I will be behind them 100 per cent, as they need to maintain that number 1 ranking as we all know they are capable of achieving.

It was unfortunate that England couldn’t capitalise on their decent start, from 111-2, England looked to have it in the bag, what a difference a day can make. I suppose it is in the makeup of Test cricket though as we should all be expecting the unexpected. There are highlights to be taken from this game though we do show signs of brilliance once again, namely Trott and Swann.

Who impressed over the last 2 days?

Jonathan Trott – The star of England’s 2nd innings, although unable to sustain his form post his century, Trott led the way for England and gave them a glimpse of hope as to achieving victory. Without Trott’s contribution, I can say for sure that the margin England lost by would have been far greater, all he needs to now is carry his form into the last Test of the series.

Rangana Herath – As aforementioned, Herath isn’t widely accredited as one of the world’s greatest spinners. However, with a haul of 12 wickets, not only did he highlight England’s continued weakness against spin in the subcontinent, but only on 7 other occasions have bowling figures exceeded Herath’s. His performance means he is only the 5th Sri Lankan to pick up 10+ wickets in a match.

So that concludes this first Test match, which sees Sri Lanka take a 1-0 lead, and with only one more game to play, it is all or nothing for England. With one bowler down, having announced Stuart Broad will not be fit for the last Test, another bowler will be making his way into the side; will it be Finn or Bresnan? We are yet to know, but I think that all that matters at the moment is England put in their best performance to seal a victory from Tuesday onwards!

Photo Credit: AFP (espncricinfo.com)

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As Day 2 drew to a close in this first Test match in Sri Lanka, we witnessed yet another batting collapse, that of the Sri Lankans, all in the same day that we saw England reduced to 193 all out. But what is the current state of the game itself? After Sri Lanka dominated Day 1, it saw them recover from a poor start at 15-3, to 289-8 all down to one man, Jayawardene. With a classy, well-timed century, the Sri Lankan captain ended the day on 168* virtually saving the Lankans innings, with Chandimal the second highest-scorer with a mere 27. Resuming Day 2, Jayawardene added 12 to his total, whilst Jimmy Anderson, the bowler of the innings claimed the last two wickets needed to end Sri Lanka’s run, finally prizing Mahela from the crease with an edge to Prior behind. With a 5-for to his name, Jimmy helped reduce Sri Lanka to 318, a score that daunted England, a score at least 30 runs more than desired.

Putting doubts over the subcontinent behind, England’s batters hoped for a long hard day at the crease. What was to be was, well, far from that, as their batting woes returned once England were on 65-4. Ungainly shots, and a rather bizarre dismissal from Trott, saw England struggling, whilst Prior and Test debutant Patel didn’t help the cause departing with 9 between them. So six wickets down, it was left to the out of form Bell and Number 8 Broad to “rescue” England’s innings, at this time it must be said I wasn’t overly optimistic. Nevertheless, my two favourite players at the crease did not disappoint, with Bell showing glimpses of returning back to his best, this was fantastic as when Bell is in form, you can’t find a more stylish, cleaner stroke player as him – well in my opinion anyway! A half-century was well deserved, and much needed for this Warwickshire batsman, and along with an array of tail-end runs from Broad (28), Swann (24) and even Jimmy (23*), hauled England up to a still inadequate 193, 125 runs behind.

So, it was fair to say a little magic was needed in the Lankans 2nd innings from the England bowlers. A wicket in the second over from Broad certainly helped dismissing Dilshan for a 7-ball duck, after the early breakthrough the wickets slowly began to tumble, as the work of the spinners got under way. England were happy to see the two big threats, Jayawardene and Sangakarra return to the pavilion, the latter especially after the damage caused yesterday. Swann starred taking 4-28, the pick of the bowlers as he took two late wickets to really put Sri Lanka in a tricky position, even though they still had a comprehensive lead. Ending the day on 84-5, the latter half of Day 2 was definitely England’s time; the Test however, has certainly been Sri Lankan dominated, and England need very quick wickets early on tomorrow to have a chance of winning this Test. If the deficit continues to grow, the subcontinent conditions I feel will prove too much for England, so let’s hope the Lankans lead remains achievable!

Who has impressed so far?

Day 1 – Mahela Jayawardene– A powerful, dominant century saw Mahela steal the limelight on Day 1. Setting up the Sri Lankan innings, he was able to steer them towards a very decent score, one that was too much for England to compete against. Jayawardene saved his side from a humiliating collapse, and definitely deserved the appraisals.

Day 2 – Graeme Swann– On a disappointing day for both sides, concerning the batting collapses, Swann was the man that provided hope for England at the end of tiring day. With a 4-wicket haul already obtained, it was his last two crucial wickets before the close of play, that of Sangakarra and Samaraweera, that really placed the advantage in England’s hands. Tomorrow will certainly provide more optimism for England, if they can finish what Swann started late today.

With 3 days still left to play, no-one knows what will occur as the day unfolds, who expected to see Sri Lanka 5 down in their 2ndinnings and only two days in. Quick wickets are key for England tomorrow morning, so let’s hope they can keep that deficit manageable, and then we have a decent chance of claiming victory… but only time will tell! 

Photo Credit: AFP (espncricinfo.com)

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Ahhh, it is that time again. The clocks have been put forward which means I am still adjusting to losing an hours sleep. But, it also brings along with it light nights, summer, sun, and most importantly… cricket! The time has come and the Sri Lanka Test Series is finally upon us, only a meagre two Tests this is disappointing, the impending IPL is most probably a contributing factor. That aside England introduce to us a reinvigorated side in order to capitalise on the dusty pitches, and more importantly to enhance their Number One status, which was recently under threat by the South Africans.

So what do we expect from this tour? It will be Mahela Jayawardene’s first Test Series as he returns to the captaincy, whilst the pitch itself in Galle (the venue of the opening Test) will come under scrutiny, no one knows what performance to expect. Then we have the uncertainty over England’s batting on the subcontinent. We saw how they coped in the UAE, and following the two warm up games, we see the likes of Ian Bell still struggling to gain a decent score; the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan’s mystery spin however, may lessen the problem.

England team news –

  • I have mentioned changes have been made to the side, personally for the better, now with a squad of four spinners, the inclusion of Samit Patel and James Tredwell making their Test returns gives England the spin options they require on these subcontinent pitches. The other significant change would be that of Eoin Morgan departing the side with Ravi Bopara earning a recall, it is now up to Morgan as to whether he selects gaining valuable experience from the County Championship commencing 5th April, or whether he chooses the lucrative Indian Premier League (4th April).
  • With an early injury scare when Stuart Broad sprained his ankle, hence missing England’s first warm-up game, Stuart fortunately has been declared fit for selection for the first Test tomorrow. Not bowling yesterday in order to rest up, Broad thankfully will not miss the Test series. With no limited over games whatsoever, Broad will not have to worry about captaincy during the Test series, being able to focus fully on taking advantage of the subcontinent pitches, along with his fellow opening partner, James Anderson.

Keep an eye on –

  • Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar – Time will tell as to whether Cook can regain superior form following on from the ODI series versus Pakistan. At the top of the order, Cook can help the foundations for England’s run-chase, this will be vital if runs are sparse in the lower-order. Panesar on the other hand has a lot offer this England side. Impressing over in the UAE with 14 wickets, Monty’s talent will prove him worthy of selection, but may also heighten the level of expectation from the fans themselves.
  • Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan – Two fantastic senior players, stalwarts of the Sri Lankan game but both will hope to impress in this series. Jayawardene as aforementioned will captain his side once again this year, so with this added pressure, he will certainly aim to win this series outright to earn themselves their first series victory since Muralitharan’s retirement. With plenty of runs coming in at fourth, the Sri Lankan captain will be closely watched in this short series. Dilshan however, will want to surge his way back to full form. Opening alongside Thirimanne, he will be expected to return back to his best, perhaps not having the captaincy will benefit his game greatly.

So there we have, it is all to play for tomorrow as we witness the first day’s play, of what shall hopefully be a very entertaining series, however short it may be. There are to be more early mornings obviously due to the time difference over in Sri Lanka, with coverage starting at 5 am over on Sky Sports 1. The Tests have been long awaited and plenty of talent will be on show, there is just one thing left to do…

Set those alarms! Photo Credit: Getty Images (espncricinfo.com)

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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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The series is now wide open with England defeating Pakistan in the second T20 leaving it all to play for.  England bouncing back after a mediocre performance on Thursday had improved their game ten-fold beating their opposition by 38 runs in an England dominated match. Perhaps the difference being England winning the toss elected to bat first, leaving Pakistan to chase a very reasonable 150. England got off to a great start, bringing up 35 runs within 5 overs, with both KP and Kieswetter looking in good form. However, each innings isn’t perfect, but losing 4 wickets in the next 5 overs was just a little bit nerve-wracking. At 79-4 it didn’t look really promising, with both openers gone and 10 overs still left for England to face. But for one man he loves a challenge, and he certainly wasn’t fazed by the mysterious spin of Ajmal, or at least he didn’t show it…

  • Jonny Bairstow – Not coming into the T20 series with great form, or little practice aside from Thursday’s game, Bairstow definitely took charge from the start. Powering his way to his maiden T20 half-century Bairstow controlled England’s innings, and with wonderful memories against the Indians’ last summer, Jonny once again made his mark. Towering sixes, plenty of boundaries and superb skill against spin, this batsmen is one for the future, as England undoubtedly require Bairstow’s talent. Remaining 60*from just 46 balls at the end of the innings, meant he thoroughly deserved the MOTM accolade.

So, as Bairstow boosted England’s chances of a defendable total, it was the turn of the bowlers to turn hope into reality and prevent losing the series just two games in. As always, the bowlers impressed from the beginning, Finn and Dernbach striking in their first overs made a huge impact; especially as Pakistan were five down for a mere 50 runs. Yet with Afridi ever-present things were not quite finished, destructively taking 17 off Patel’s only over, Afridi sent one miles into the stands. However, even he could not defy England’s bowlers as Pakistan fell to 112 all out; a fantastic performance particularly from Finn taking 3-30, but the bowler that stood out for me today was…

  • Stuart Broad – Let alone being captain, Broad took control producing figures of 2-12 off just 3.2 overs in today’s innings. Taking the crucial wickets of opener Zia, who didn’t look in great form to be honest, as well as the damaging Afridi, Broad, seemed to continue his form from the Test series. With Afridi being the last man to depart it was fitting to see Broad have him hit one high to Morgan, running from backward point, to round off a match that saw England excel as a team once more on this tour. Broad’s captaincy has aroused controversy, but it can’t be said that a bad job is being done, just take a look at how England are performing.

With the series now level, it is up to the decider on Monday to figure out who will come out on top next time around. It will be of no surprise that I am hoping for a repeat show of what was on offer tonight. If the fielding is anything to go by England will win hands down, superb catches from Bairstow, Morgan and in particular a stunning take from Buttler, are highlighting the skill this team possesses as their fielding can never be faulted – well maybe the odd exception!

Monday’s game will be England’s last for nearly a month, before they take on Sri Lanka in late March, so enjoy every minute of it. Before we know it will be the 5thApril, and the County season will have begun… yes people the cricket season is nearly upon us and I cannot wait! Bring it on :)

Photo Credit: ECB (ecb.co.uk)

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