A is for Ashes – England’s Ashes. Joe Root’s Ashes. After failing to land a blow of any kind in the World Cup and labouring to a draw in the West Indies the auld enemy turned up to renew rivalries and were given an emphatic beating. Such was England’s dominance in the series that midway through it they won back-to-back matches inside three days to regain the cherished urn. They were well beaten in the final Test at The Oval but nobody cared as a mountain of runs from Root had long since seen the objective achieved.
B is for Batty – Gareth Batty is 38 years old but age has certainly not dampened his competitive nature. His skills as a spinner are not in question, but he is now just as well known for his leadership qualities. In charge of an exciting young squad at Surrey, in 2015 he lead them to the top of the second division and, fittingly, sealed the promotion with a six wicket haul at the Oval and his first professional hat-trick. It was hard not to feel bad for him when he had to concede unexpected defeat in the RLODC final at Lord’s, but second is not a bad place to be when you know your side have put in a solid day’s work. A typical gritty, hard-working Yorkshireman, Batty does not look like giving up the game just yet and his experience is helping to shape young players, like the Curran brothers, who may just have a big future in English cricket.
C is for Curran – 2015 was a breakthrough year for one of the most exciting talents seen in the county game for a number of years. That man is Sam Curran, the 17 year old all-rounder who burst onto the scene in the NatWest T20 Blast and was soon involved in the LV County Championship ending the season with 44 scalps in all competitions and a mountain of runs. He wasn’t alone. Brother Tom also came of age in 2015 and whoever Surrey play in 2016 they’ll need to beware of the Curran brothers.
D is for Dominance – Something Yorkshire enjoyed in the County Championship. Defending that title has been tough in recent times but you wouldn’t have thought it with the way the White Rose went about their business, comfortably beating all before them. Yorkshire won 11 of their 16 matches and lost just once and ended up retaining their title by a mammoth 68pts in a season we are highly unlikely to see again in England’s main competition for quite some while. Cap duly doffed to Jason Gillespie and his charges.
E is for Escape – And what a great escape it was. With barely a win to their name all season and a far too early an exit in the Royal London One Day Cup it looked like being a season to forget for Hampshire but from nowhere they came from the clouds losing just one of their last six matches and beating Nottinghamshire on the last day to pip Sussex to safety and ensure top flight cricket in the County Championship next season. For a county who had to change captains mid-season it was a credit to everyone involved in masterminding what looked like an impossible escape.
F is for Franchise – The Franchise debate is one that just won’t go away and was constantly rumbling in the background throughout the year. Sky’s acquisition of the Big Bash rights brought its profile to a new level and the voices of those believing a similar competition is answer to County Cricket’s issues grew louder, whilst rumours of various ECB plans surfaced. Despite the t20 Blast enjoying a strong season, the debate about the format of the competition is unlikely to go away.
G is for Gayle and Gale – Chris Gayle’s involvement in the Natwest t20 Blast for Somerset might have been brief but the West Indian certainly left his mark with 328 runs in just three innings, including a remarkable 151* against Kent, with other scores of 92 and 85* before ending his stint a game early. Meanwhile namesake Andrew Gale finally got his hands on the County Championship trophy in 2015 as Yorkshire retained their title, 12 months after he was controversially denied the opportunity to lift the title after being banned for the final two games.
H is for Hildreth – James Hildreth has been one of County Cricket’s most consistent performers in recent years and continues to churn out the runs for Somerset. His first class tally of 1,620 was the highest in the country in 2015, with four Championship centuries as well as a ton against the touring New Zealanders in May. His performances were all the more impressive given his side’s struggles: Somerset narrowly avoided relegation. At 31 his chances of an international call up may be over, but he is set to plunder county attacks for years to come.
I is for International Stars – 2015 saw the strongest influx yet of overseas stars for the t20 Blast, going someway to debunk the myth that the format of our competition cannot attract the biggest names. Brendan McCullum, Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, Mahela Jayawardene, Shahid Afridi, Hasim Amla and James Faulkner were just some of the big names that turned out for counties this summer. Some of the stints were shorter than others, but the presence of such names boosted the profile of both the Blast and County Cricket in general.
J is for Journeys – The life of a County Cricketer has always been one filled with travelling and going from game to game, but complaints about various journeys seemed to be more of a trend than usual in 2015. Many counties had to go from playing a floodlit t20/ODC match to a Championship game, sometimes over a hundred miles away, the following morning. At first glance the 2016 fixture list seems to have reduced those issues, but there will no doubt be plenty of moaning about journeys once more.
K is for Klinger – Michael Klinger had a quite remarkable season for the Royal London Cup winners Gloucestershire. He scored over 1600 runs in all formats, including eight centuries. When you consider that he didn’t arrive in Bristol to take up his duties until late May his achievement is all the more commendable. His leadership of a young side was as praiseworthy as his batting, so much so that his county flew him back from Australia to lead them in the RLODC final at Lord’s, only for him to bag a third ball duck!
A wonderful summer for Klinger was recognised by the PCA who honoured him with the Natwest T20 Blast Player of the Year award.
L is for Leicestershire – Finishing bottom of division two of the Championship has become something of a habit for the Grace Road county, but 2015 did contain some welcome high spots. Principal among these was their first red ball win since 2012 when they beat Essex by six wickets at Chelmsford in early June. A second win followed in August against Derbyshire at Grace Road, but it wasn’t enough to prevent another Championship wooden spoon.
However, there are signs that signs that things may be better in 2016 with the signings of experienced county campaigners Neil Dexter, Paul Horton and Mark Pettini arriving from Middlesex, Lancashire and Essex respectively.
M is for men in the middle – It’s not very often that the county game’s umpires feature in national press but they did in 2015. George Sharp and Peter Willey both claimed that the ECB had unfairly dismissed them when they both reached the age of 65. Since 2011, UK employers can no longer compulsorily retire employees merely because they are over the age of 65. Sharp and Willey claimed that they were perfectly capable of continuing their duties but the ECB argued that the board was justified in ending the pair’s careers at the age of 65, citing the ‘physical and mental pressures’ associated with the job.
Chris Kelly, ECB umpires’ manager was quoted as saying ‘at that age it’s not easy to stand for long games. A lot of older umpires have told me they feel the days are getting longer.’ The ECB duly won the case, bringing to an end the long playing and umpiring careers of the men.
N is for Northamptonshire – Talk of financial problems besetting county clubs is never far from the surface. The Wantage Road club is frequently mentioned as one of the smaller counties at risk, so it came as little surprise in mid- season when it was revealed that the club made a loss of over £300,000 in 2014 and needed to re-adjust its finances to make the future more viable. A loan of £250,000 was made by Northampton Borough Council in October to help the club ‘get on a more stable footing’, declaring that Northamptonshire must ‘restructure off the pitch if they are to have a future on it’.
Although the club denied any sort of crisis, the suspicion remains that there is an increasing split between the relatively prosperous counties, particularly those who host Test and international matches, and the smaller counties who do not enjoy this status. As if to confirm this suspicion Northamptonshire’s prize asset, England all- rounder David Willey announced late in the season that he was leaving Wantage Road to join Yorkshire.
O is for off-spinners – or rather the lack of them (leg- spinners and left- armers too). This was highlighted in the recent series against Pakistan in the UAE. The County Championship averages for 2015 make depressing reading for those who would like to see a genuine challenge to Moeen Ali as England’s front line spinner. Only Zafar Ansari (44) and Simon Kerrigan (41) took more than 30 wickets in the Championship, both operating in the second division.
The only consistent spin performer in the county game in recent seasons has been an overseas player, Warwickshire’s admirable off- spinner Jeetan Patel. In 2015 he took 58 Championship wickets, the fourth successive season in which he has passed the 50 mark.
P is for Panesar – Monty Panesar has experienced a turbulent couple of years but reprieve could be on the horizon as Northamptonshire County Cricket club are in talks to include him in their side for the 2016 season. He was unceremoniously dropped from his previous counties (Essex and Sussex) due to behavioural issues and has had to spend time getting his head together. After speaking late in 2015 about the mental illness that prompted his issues and subsequent drops, it looks as though he could be gracing the cricket pitch once more.
Q is for Queen’s Park, Chesterfield – As well as struggling to find other options for Q, it’s well worth giving Derbyshire’s outground a mention after another excellent Chesterfield festival in 2015. The much-anticipated T20 Blast fixture with Yorkshire was sold out in advance, with over 4000 people buying tickets by the day before the fixture. For those who can’t remember the result, Derbyshire prevailed thanks to Wes Durston’s 3/13, but it wasn’t enough to Blast the Falcons to the last eight.
R is for Rashid – Yorkshire’s first-choice spin bowler Adil Rashid had quite the 2015. Not only did he play a role in securing the Championship for Yorkshire for a second year running he also closed the domestic season with 29 wickets from seven matches and found himself on the receiving end of an England recall and therefore Test debut. Despite starting with the worst figures for a Test debutant (0-163) he came back with 5-64 which went a long way to showing his grit as well as skill with the ball. He became a regular feature in England’s limited over teams and is spending the winter in Australia with his Yorkshire coach, Jason Gillespie, to hone his skills further in the T20 format.
S is for Surrey – A slightly generic selection maybe but one cannot ignore a team who secured eight out of 16 wins and promotion after spending two seasons in Division Two. 2015 proved to be surprisingly consistent year for a team who seemed to be constantly battling injuries and overseas comings and goings, closing the year with celebration of both promotion back to the first Division and finishing second only to an impressive Gloucestershire in the RLODC Final. Ex-England legend Alec Stewart heads up the team as coach for the third season after being
T is for Toss – Following a new ruling released after the close of the 2015 season, the ‘toss’ which allows a completely neutral decision to be made on which team bats or fields first, will no longer feature as of the 2016 season. Instead, the home advantage has been eliminated and the visiting team Captain will automatically be allowed to select which action their team would like to complete first. The decision seemed to sneak up on those closely involved with the sport with speculation rampant and a County Captain who backs the decision hard to come by.
U is for Unbelievable – We’re admittedly stretching it a little but roll with me here. One of the best things about cricket is witnessing the unbelievable. In the Natwest T20 Blast the Edgbaston crowd were witnesses to Brendon McCullum’s 158* from 64 balls for Warwickshire while Chris Gayle rivalled the feat with 151* from 62 balls for Somerset. For the purists amongst us Ryan Sidebottom’s opening over against Middlesex at Lord’s, where he removed the three opening bats for no runs, as well as his sharp spell against Warwickshire at Birmingham, where he made figures of 6-34, might prove enticing for next season.
V is for Vince – Another solid year for Hampshire’s favourite led to Vince gaining international honours in 2015. Although he didn’t match the dizzy heights of season’s previous in first-class cricket, Vince was superb in the Natwest T20 Blast, averaging an excellent 57, and his maiden T20 century took Hampshire to a sixth-successive Finals Day. The 24-year-old earned a T20 spot with England, making scores of 41, 38 and 46 in the UAE.
W is for Willey – As with Vince, 2015 was a breakthrough year for David Willey, making his international debuts in both limited-overs formats. But it was the Natwest Blast where Willey really fired, striking the 8th fastest T20 century of all time to blitz Northamptonshire to Final’s Day, with his final 50 runs coming from just 13 balls. Willey also delivered in the semi-final against Birmingham, earning him a signing to Headingley, as Yorkshire look to boost their disappointing limited-overs history of recent years. The all-rounder has now seemingly solidified his place for England’s limited-overs bouts in 2016.
X is for X-ray – One of the more worrying stories of the year, and a clash between two players on the field at Arundel, leading to dental surgery for one (and probably an x-ray somewhere along the line). At a Blast game between Sussex and Surrey, the latter’s Moises Henriques and Rory Burns collided on the outfield when attempting a catch, forcing both to be taken to hospital and the abandonment of their match. Both needed oxygen on the field after the freak accident, with the pair requiring surgery after the incident in June.
Y is for Yardy – Cricket bid farewell to one of its most loved figures, as Sussex’s Michael Yardy hanged up his boots after 15 years in the county game. It looked like his final season was going to end in disappointing fashion when David Willey struck him for 34 in an over, but centuries in both his last games at Hove, 124 against champions Yorkshire and 104 against Somerset, earnt him rapturous ovations for the one county he’s played for since 1999. His Sussex side were relegated at the end of the season, however, but nothing will overshadow the three LV County Championship titles Yardy earnt at Hove.
Z is for Zafar Ansari – Had injury not intervened, the last entry in our A-Z could have been talking about one of England’s newest Test stars. However, a broken thumb prevented Zafar Ansari making the trip to the UAE to face Pakistan, although he did register his international debut in an ODI against Ireland back in May. Ansari has proved himself to be a worthy cricketer in all forms with both bat and ball, and also in the field, making a T20 best of 67* in 2015, while also averaging just shy of 30 with the ball in first-class cricket, earning innings figures of 6/30 against Gloucestershire to throw his hat in the ring for a spinner’s place in England’s Test plans.