COUNTY SPE­CIAL

We select our Cham­pi­onship Teams of the Year

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

It doesn’t feel like it was over six months ago now that we were all on the edge of our seats as the County Cham­pi­onship was get­ting ready to get un­der­way again, does it?

But here we are, thou­sands of runs and hun­dreds of wick­ets later, clos­ing the cur­tain on an­other won­der­ful sea­son of first-class cricket.

Es­sex, who many tipped as dark horses but few ex­pected to ac­tu­ally chal­lenge, romped to the ti­tle with a game to spare and in our select XI, they make up over a third with four rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And it could have even been five with Alastair Cook mak­ing a case for in­clu­sion in his hand­ful of matches too.

Lan­cashire and Sur­rey ran them close and both coun­ties take up two spots from our team, while York­shire, Som­er­set and Hampshire rep­re­sen­ta­tives take up the fi­nal places.

Now this is cer­tainly an XI who would give any side a chal­lenge…

1. Mark Stone­man – Sur­rey Matches: 12 Runs/Av­er­age: 1,156/60.84

AT the top comes a man who was one of very few to pros­per against cham­pi­ons Es­sex af­ter he made a stun­ning ca­reer-best 197 back in June, just a few weeks be­fore he gained his Eng­land call-up.

Stone­man made the move to the Oval from Durham last win­ter with the Three Lions in mind and made a solid, if not overly impressive, Test bow against the West Indies which was enough to earn a seat on the plane for Aus­tralia and prob­a­bly a spot for the first Ashes Test.

Only Ku­mar San­gakkara scored more runs than the opener in Di­vi­sion One, with Stone­man miss­ing two games but still mak­ing three fig­ures four times. If he

shows the form he has for Sur­rey Down Un­der, then Eng­land have a great chance of re­turn­ing home with the Urn firmly in hand.

2. Nick Browne – Es­sex Matches: 14 Runs/Av­er­age: 952/43.27

THE rock at the top of the Cham­pi­onship win­ning bat­ting line-up. Browne was Mr Con­sis­tent for Es­sex, fea­tur­ing in ev­ery game and set­ting up a plat­form for the Es­sex mid­dle or­der to fire.

He may not have raised his bat as of­ten as he would have liked, mak­ing a cen­tury just once while pass­ing 50 five times, but he reg­u­larly saw off the new ball and made life com­fort­able for those around him.

Part­ner­ing Alastair Cook, who made 667 runs in seven matches, for half the sea­son, Browne en­sured the loss of the for­mer Eng­land cap­tain to in­ter­na­tional duty wasn’t felt for the sec­ond half. The pair put on 373 for the first wicket against 2016 cham­pi­ons Mid­dle­sex back in June as Es­sex re­ally showed their ti­tle cre­den­tials.

3. Liam Liv­ing­stone – Lan­cashire Matches: 11 Runs/Av­er­age: 803/47.23

AN Eng­land de­but in T20 colours and a place on the Lions tour – 2017 hasn’t been bad for the 24-year-old.

Over 800 runs for the Red Rose in­clud­ing a bril­liant maiden dou­ble­cen­tury against strug­glers War­wick­shire in Au­gust showed just what this guy is made of.

The con­sen­sus is that Liv­ing­stone will go on to play for Eng­land in all forms, and it’s just a mat­ter of when rather than if. Even Ash­ley Giles says he should be in the squad head­ing to the Ashes.

At his age, the right-han­der still has a long time in the game, and ar­guably a few years be­fore he reaches his peak as a bats­man. Will he be the long-term an­swer to Eng­land’s top to mid­dle or­der problems? More than likely.

4. Ku­mar San­gakkara – Sur­rey Matches: 10 Runs/Av­er­age: 1,491/106.50

THE Sri Lankan leg­end was the first name on this team sheet. Hang­ing up his first-class spikes af­ter a fi­nal sea­son where his av­er­age was in three fig­ures is sim­ply re­mark­able, even more so when you con­sider the facts that he missed four matches to play in the Caribbean Premier League.

The left-han­der, who will turn 40 in a cou­ple of weeks, raised his bat af­ter mak­ing a cen­tury on eight oc­ca­sions. Ad­mit­tedly, the Oval is seem­ingly al­ways a haven for bats­men but San­gakkara’s run-tally al­most stag­gers be­lief.

Don’t for­get that he also scored his 100th cen­tury in all for­mats of the game in Sur­rey’s One-Day Cup quar­ter-fi­nal win over York­shire.

5. Gary Bal­lance – York­shire Matches: 12 Runs/Av­er­age: 951/67.92

WHILE the left-han­der again failed to pro­duce the goods for Eng­land this sum­mer, his form for York­shire through­out the sea­son has earned him a place in the Ashes tour­ing squad.

Hav­ing been el­e­vated to the White Rose cap­taincy, Bal­lance be­gan the cam­paign in blis­ter­ing form with scores of 72, 120, 55, 22, 108, 203, the lat­ter a 491-minute marathon to save his side from de­feat by Hampshire.

It was a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son for the

2014 and 2015 cham­pi­ons, who ended fourth, but 100 points be­hind the lead­ers. Bal­lance, how­ever, shone – his runs to­tal was al­most 400 higher than any other York­shire bats­man.

6. Ryan ten Doeschate – Es­sex (C) Matches: 13 Runs/Av­er­age: 659/41.18

HE didn’t pull up any trees with his run-scor­ing but there’s no doubt that Ten Doeschate should lead this team af­ter how he guided an Es­sex side, who were tipped by many for rel­e­ga­tion, to a his­toric ti­tle.

Helped by a su­perb bowl­ing at­tack and a bat­ting unit that con­stantly pro­duced the goods, Dutch­man Ten Doeschate led by ex­am­ple. A bril­liant un­beaten 168 set up a won­der­ful vic­tory over Sur­rey at Guild­ford and his av­er­age of over 61 is impressive by any­one’s books.

This was an Es­sex side tipped to strug­gle fol­low­ing the re­tire­ments of David Masters and Gra­ham Napier but Ten Doeschate en­sured those losses weren’t felt in a great sea­son for the

county.

7. Alex Davies – Lan­cashire Matches: 14 Runs/Av­er­age: 916/39.82 Catches/Stump­ings: 42/6

HIS county’s top run scorer while hav­ing a solid sea­son be­hind the stumps, 2017 was the sea­son where the po­ten­tial we all knew Alex Davies pos­sessed came to fruition.

Af­ter spend­ing 11 months out of the game with a knee prob­lem that re­quired an op­er­a­tion, the 23-year-old didn’t let that af­fect him, start­ing the sea­son with a bang mak­ing an un­beaten 140 as the Red Rose were the bet­ter side against reign­ing cham­pi­ons Mid­dle­sex in April.

A Lions call-up was more than jus­ti­fied as he kept Jos But­tler out of Lan­cashire’s red-ball team and though he seems to be be­hind Ben Foakes in the peck­ing or­der at the mo­ment, an­other sea­son like 2017 could see a Test spot come his way soon.

8. Si­mon Harmer – Es­sex Matches: 14 Wick­ets/Av­er­age: 72/19.19

SIGN­ING of the sea­son and straight into this star-stud­ded XI. Harmer had a stun­ning cam­paign and, by lift­ing the tro­phy last month, ar­guably jus­ti­fied his de­ci­sion to turn his back on South Africa and go down the Kol­pak route.

It al­most makes you won­der if Eng­land would have been as suc­cess­ful against the Proteas had Harmer been given more op­por­tu­ni­ties with his coun­try in the past, not that Chris Sil­ver­wood and co at Chelms­ford were com­plain­ing.

Back-to-back 14-wicket match hauls in June against War­wick­shire and Mid­dle­sex re­ally grabbed the at­ten­tion but he al­ways looked dan­ger­ous and most teams just couldn’t com­pete against the 28-yearold.

9. Kyle Ab­bott – Hampshire Matches: 14 Wick­ets/Av­er­age: 60/18.20

AN­OTHER one who came over to the County Cham­pi­onship as a Kol­pak sign­ing, in tears as he an­nounced his de­ci­sion, but it was a jus­ti­fied choice as Hampshire de­fied the odds to re­main in Di­vi­sion One.

In­deed, the south-coast county were fly­ing high for the first half of the sea­son be­fore a slump in the later months with Ab­bott the bright­est spark.

Hampshire de­feated one of the ti­tle favourites York­shire in their open­ing game with Ab­bott claim­ing 7-41 and he never looked back, claim­ing 60 wick­ets for the sea­son.

He un­sur­pris­ingly swept the board at Hampshire’s awards cer­e­mony with the 30-year-old win­ning the Sup­port­ers’ player of the year, the Play­ers’ player of the year and the Bowler of the Year.

He would un­doubt­edly form a piv­otal part of a scin­til­lat­ing at­tack in this team.

10. Jamie Porter – Es­sex Matches: 13 Wick­ets/Av­er­age: 75/16.82

HAV­ING picked up the Cricket Writ­ers’ Club Player of the Year, and earn­ing the Young Player of the Year gong at last week’s PCA Awards, there was no ques­tion of the 24-year-old’s place in this XI. The lead­ing wicket-taker in the County Cham­pi­onship for 2017, de­spite miss­ing a game, Porter tore bats­men apart to guide Es­sex to their first ti­tle since 1992. The num­bers do all the talk­ing when it comes to Porter’s sea­son. To take 75 wick­ets is one thing, but to do it with an av­er­age of less than 17, well that is quite an­other.

Five five-wicket hauls came his way this sea­son, strik­ing ev­ery 32 balls – a sea­son ev­ery bowler dreams of.

He’s got his place on the Lions tour this win­ter, and if he can gain an­other few mph just like Chris Woakes did a cou­ple of years back, then surely a full Eng­land cap won’t be far away for Porter.

11. Jack Leach – Som­er­set Matches: 14 Wick­ets/Av­er­age: 51/25.78

WITH Eng­land con­stantly search­ing for an out and out spin­ner to join Moeen Ali, Leach must be won­der­ing just what he has to do to be given an out­ing.

An­other su­perb sea­son for the Som­er­set spin­ner saw him cause prob­lem af­ter prob­lem, es­pe­cially on his home Taun­ton pitch as he picked up over 50 Cham­pi­onship wick­ets to back up last sea­son where he claimed 65 scalps.

He has, of course, been named in the Lions squad which will be head­ing to Aus­tralia and a suc­cess­ful win­ter may see him break into the Test squad at some point in the com­ing months.

But he was a vi­tal cog as Som­er­set staved off the threat of rel­e­ga­tion to re­main in Di­vi­sion One.

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