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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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Luck definitely is not a word appearing in the England team’s vocabulary this winter. With 5 ODIs and 3 T20s England managed just one win across both formats.

Whatever happened to Australia over the course of four months I don’t know, or to England for that matter?

Is it bad that I’m going to focus on England’s ODI win? Just for a little bit at least, you have to give me something to be happy about where cricket is concerned.

Again, it was Ben Stokes who stepped up to the mark in the 4th ODI with 70 runs and a nice 4 wickets to accompany that. Bell, Cook and Buttler were also among those who performed, the latter in particular pulling out all the stops to stop what could have been another Australian whitewash.

To be fair England weren’t too bad in the limited overs, ok they were, I mean the scores show that. But Balance, Morgan, Root and Bopara individually made pretty decent contributions across the board.

But like I’ve said so many times already these past few months, and yes Australia revel in your glory, as they were just the better team… again.

As an England fan it’s been tough going sitting through defeat after defeat, all I want is just a glimmer of hope and to take a series win away with us this winter.

Not too much to ask is it?

I hope not as we have the West Indies limited overs series’ coming up at the end of this month, not to forget the World T20 (my hopes will be high, whether that’s a good thing or not).

And whether we win or not it will be without controversy maker number one, yes, KP. As we’ve seen, Pietersen no longer forms a part of the England cricket team and never will. Shall we call it KP-gate? That’s what most people seem to do now.

Regardless, a big shake up is happening, Flower’s resigned, Swanny’s no longer the team joker – yes I’m still in shock – and a new England set-up is already in the making.

Hopefully exciting and new challenges lie ahead, don’t know if you agree but I totally feel it’s time for something different, especially with such poor results Down Under.

All we can do is see what’s to come this summer, but one thing’s for sure, it won’t be the England team we know.

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Four days have passed and it has just, only just, sunk in that England now have three consecutive Ashes series wins under their belt.

I had a sneaky feeling back in July that it was again our year, come on don’t say you didn’t either, I think most people across the country had written Australia off before they had even started.

You could say I was slightly shocked of how much of a fight Australia put up after seeing their performance at Trent Bridge, and fair play to them as well.

But for me, every moment that had passed in the series was all forgotten as that little urn was held aloft, in front of an ecstatic England crowd at The Oval.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (zimbio.com)

Photo Credit: Getty Images (zimbio.com)

Despite the fifth and final test being a draw and we all know why – I won’t go into it, as I feel a rant may ensue – it just doesn’t take away that special feeling does it?

With the 5th Test initially going Australia’s way with Watson and Smith both scoring centuries, of equal importance in their careers, it was England who were in with the chance of yet another victory.

Whether it was a win or draw however, the test result, much to my delight, prevented the Aussies from claiming a single win.

The 3-0 win margin, just looks oh so more attractive… surely that now gives us bragging rights over in Australia later this year?

The challenge I set myself for this blog though, was to look back over the 2013 Ashes as a whole and pick my favourite moment. I failed.

Now I am known for my exaggeration, but to pick one moment for me was truly impossible. How can you do it?

As I got thinking, I built up a small collection of moments that would always stick in my mind of how great a series this was. Where to start…

Well there was Bell’s fantastic form throughout the series, then Root’s maiden century at no other than the Home of Cricket, as well as Broad’s magical bowling spell to secure that amazing series win.

It’s been one extraordinary series, one that makes so much more excited for the winter. Is it too early to hope for yet another English success Down Under?

Nah, course it isn’t, because for me, England just keep on surpassing all expectation over recent years.

Roll on the T20 and ODI series!

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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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After a long wait, I’ve finally written another blog post, I’ve had trouble finding the time to write them at the moment; but there has been so much drama on and off the field I decided to give a quick overview of all the jubilations and tribulations England have faced along the way. I suppose you could say a roundup of the latter half of England’s summer cricket campaign, bar the seven matches left in the season.

First up we have the Australian ODI series, yes I know it feels like years ago now, but finishing back on the 10th July I had to give it a mention seeing as we thrashed the Aussies 4-0, it always feels good to get a win over them! With only one rain abandoned match (yes it just happened to be the one I went to), England proved to be the superior team in both batting and bowling abilities, to take the NatWest trophy. Let’s hope the Ashes series next year goes in our favour also!

Then came the South African Test series, a battle for top spot, as South Africa resided in second place in the world rankings. Losing the first test at The Oval by an innings and 12 runs proved to be a shock to the system, whereby a steady 115 from Cook in the 1st innings could not match the abundance of skill that was reflected by the South Africans. Smith, Amla and Kallis between them notched up 637-2 (dec.) in what can only be classed as a show of sheer determination; Amla the star man with an amazing score of 311* breaking many records in the process.

Keen to battle on, England stepped up their game in the second test, a KP 149 secured a decent 1st innings score that only just rivalled that of South Africa’s. Despite it being a high scoring game in the 1st innings for both sides, the match fizzled out to be a draw, leaving the last test of the series vital for England. Only a win could save them from losing that much sought after number one spot in test cricket.

The “all or nothing” game soon approached at Lord’s on the 16th August, and it certainly was a nail-biting match as it was left to the final day to decide the outcome. If it wasn’t for Amla’s heroics with another century to secure a steady 2nd innings total, the result may have been very different. Then again if England’s batting line up had not collapsed, namely Strauss, Cook, Bell and Taylor scoring only 12 runs between them, then England would have been able to secure victory. Unfortunately for them, all out for 294 and trailing by 51 runs left the England team and fans devastated, as the Number One World Test ranking was handed over to the touring party, South Africa.

And if that wasn’t a lot for England to contend with, during the middle of the series itself other drama was beginning to unfold. If I mentioned the Kevin Pietersen fiasco, I think you know what I’m about talking about. To cut a long story short, it was discovered that KP sent certain text messages to members of the South African team that could be deemed offensive towards Andrew Strauss, fellow team mates and management. Causing a huge rift between him and the team it was no surprise to see Pietersen dropped from the side in the final test, making way for debutant James Taylor (so happy he has finally been given a chance). Pietersen’s actions quickly reached the attention of the public, and soon it was released that KP, despite coming out of retirement to play in all forms of the game, did not make it into the T20 World Cup squad.

To say cricket isn’t eventful is definitely wrong, in the space of two months anything can happen. From England losing their number one spot, to a senior cricketing star making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As I said there has been drama on and off the field, but for now I think it is clear that England must focus on the rest of their ODIs and T20s versus South Africa to keep their ODI top spot, and look towards retaining their title as T20 World Cup holders next month!

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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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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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