treat es­sex as the bench­mark

Dan Whit­ing ex­plains how Es­sex’s suc­cess this sea­son proves the sys­tem of de­vel­op­ing home­grown tal­ent is work­ing

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

There are some pretty large gulfs in this world – the Grand Canyon, the dis­tance from Perth to the near­est city, the warmth of po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions be­tween the USA and North Korea at present, for in­stance. How­ever, un­til re­cently the train of thought amongst the crick­et­ing cognoscenti was that of the dis­tance be­tween Di­vi­sion One and Di­vi­sion Two of the County Cham­pi­onship.

As in many other sports, the fis­sure be­tween the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has widened in cricket in re­cent years. A ten-team Di­vi­sion Two may have cre­ated more teams but the well doc­u­mented strug­gles of the likes of Le­ices­ter­shire, Glouces­ter­shire, Der­byshire, Northamp­ton­shire and Glam­or­gan in red ball cricket are repli­cated by a quick look at the ta­ble.

Yet de­spite the fact that these coun­ties are thriv­ing in T20 cricket – look at the re­cent suc­cesses of Northamp­ton­shire or this sea­son’s re­mark­able ex­ploits by both Der­byshire and Glam­or­gan – the fact of the mat­ter amongst those in the know is that the four-day game car­ries more weight when it comes to Eng­land se­lec­tion.

Does a player now have to move to one of the big boys such as Sur­rey, Lan­cashire,York­shire or Mid­dle­sex to be at the fore­front of the se­lec­tors’ minds?

When the County Cham­pi­onship was split into two di­vi­sions some years ago now, this was the train of thought be­hind it. It was de­signed to cre­ate an elite group, one that pro­vided fu­ture Test play­ers to the Eng­land side and with four-day cricket on un­cov­ered wick­ets, a game that was sup­posed to repli­cate the in­ter­na­tional five-day game, al­beit one which rarely goes to five days now any­way.

The suc­cess­ful moves of the likes of Jack Brooks and David Wil­ley head­ing up the M1 from Northamp­ton to Leeds, or the plethora of play­ers that moved from Le­ices­ter­shire to Not­ting­hamshire such as James Tay­lor or Stu­art Broad were clas­sic ex­am­ples of this. So do play­ers now have to move from Di­vi­sion Two sides to be able to cope at Test level? There are two schools of thought. Firstly, those in the no camp will point at the suc­cess of cham­pi­ons-elect Es­sex and their rise from Di­vi­sion Two drifters to a side that is walk­ing away with Di­vi­sion One of the County Cham­pi­onship. Es­sex are an anom­aly though. Hav­ing Eng­land’s record run scorer, Alas­tair Cook, re­turn to their ranks for such long pe­ri­ods of the sea­son could only be de­scribed as a bonus.

Hav­ing one of the finest bowlers in world cricket, Si­mon Harmer, as a Kol­pak and stay­ing fit is lot­tery-win­ning ma­te­rial. But Es­sex have a his­tory of suc­cess, al­beit a mod­ern one. De­spite only win­ning their first tro­phy in 1979, the Eight­ies saw them as ar­guably the best side in the coun­try and their bat­tles with Mid­dle­sex in all forms of the game were the decade’s crick­et­ing equiv­a­lent of Coe and Ovett, Liver­pool and Ever­ton or Senna and Prost. The in­flu­ence of many play­ers of that era live on at Chelms­ford with Gra­ham Gooch lead­ing the way on the bat­ting front. The pedi­gree of Es­sex in tro­phy col­lec­tion can­not be com­pared to many other coun­ties in Di­vi­sion Two.

The other view­point, which many cricket fol­low­ers think, is that the gulf is so huge be­tween Di­vi­sion Two and Test level that these play­ers have to move to take a half­way step to the high­est level of the game. One pro­fes­sional de­scribed it as “com­ing from non-league to the Pre­mier Di­vi­sion, with Di­vi­sion One as the Cham­pi­onship”, in an anal­ogy of foot­ball terms.

A look at the likes of Ben Duck­ett who was taken on tour to Bangladesh and In­dia last year is a clas­sic ex­am­ple. Duck­ett scored runs for fun in Di­vi­sion Two last year, smash­ing at­tacks all around on the flat decks at Wan­tage Road. How­ever, even against the Bangladeshi spin­ners his game was found some­what lack­ing in tech­nique. Ex­pos­ing his stumps in the fash­ion that he did would have been sorted out at Di­vi­sion One level, let alone by spin­ners on wick­ets that spun square at times. The lack of spin bowl­ing in the top of the av­er­ages in Di­vi­sion Two last sea­son may have played a part in Duck­ett’s down­fall.

The yo-yo na­ture of sides who get rel­e­gated from Di­vi­sion One to Di­vi­sion Two, only to bounce up again are an­other ex­am­ple of the abyss be­tween the sides at the top of our in­ter­nal struc­ture and those at the bot­tom. Not­ting­hamshire will re­turn straight away by the looks of things this year and don’t bet on War­wick­shire or Som­er­set do­ing the same next sea­son, should they get rel­e­gated to Di­vi­sion Two this year.

There have been many calls to make the amount of coun­ties smaller in this coun­try. Rea­sons such as in­ten­sity for play­ers, lack of fi­nances – although some say the ECB like it that way as the ma­nip­u­la­tion of votes that are in­cen­tivised by cold, hard cash make it eas­ier to push through changes in the game. That how­ever, is a de­bate for an­other time. The fact of the mat­ter is that the five coun­ties – Der­byshire, Le­ices­ter­shire, Glam­or­gan, Glouces­ter­shire and Northamp­ton­shire – have a long and rich her­itage, hav­ing pro­duced many play­ers for Eng­land.

The fans of these coun­ties may be smaller in num­ber but show just as much loy­alty as the most one-eyed, par­ti­san York­shire­man. They de­serve their place in the game but the ECB need to level up the play­ing field.

A struc­ture in place that re­wards the de­vel­op­ment of young play­ers and not fill­ing up your side with Kol­paks would be a start. To see a side filled with South African im­ports lan­guish­ing at the bot­tom of Di­vi­sion Two isn’t the way to take the game for­ward in this coun­try.

The de­vel­op­ment of young English tal­ent and proper re­ward for that is the an­swer. The sys­tem of al­low­ing agents to pluck the meat from the car­cass of the weaker an­i­mals in the pack is some­thing that may be­long to the Serengeti but English cricket, with de­vel­op­ment plans im­ple­mented, should be bet­ter than that.

The suc­cess of Es­sex this sea­son should be a les­son to all.

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

Mak­ing the step up: David Wil­ley and Jack Brooks, inset, both left Di­vi­sion Two side Northamp­ton­shire to join York­shire in the top di­vi­sion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.