My best Championship XI of the 2010s, the first decade of my county cricket badgering career:
- Marcus Trescothick*
- Rory Burns
- Gary Ballance
- James Hildreth
- Darren Stevens
- Ben Foakes+
- Rikki Clarke
- Jack Brooks
- Tim Murtagh
- Jeetan Patel
- Chris Rushworth
Marcus Trescothick’s inclusion at the top was one of the easiest decisions in this team. Just imagine if he had not left that India tour early with a ‘stress-related illness’ (this isn’t the place for me to ruminate or speculate on this -his autobiography Coming Back to Me is a massively inspiring read for cricket fans & mental health sufferers everywhere) and had opened for the next 10-15 years with Andrew Strauss then Alastair Cook!
Save us the search for Strauss’ replacement, what a partnership the two left-handers could have been! The increased awareness and help available to professional cricketers suffering with mental health issues these days (particularly thanks to the PCA) could have benefitted Tres’ massively. We will never know, but if his career had come about 10 years later, he may have been able to enjoy the international career his talents deserved just with a little help from psychologists and counsellors.
Rory Burns has proved to be the first of the possible – now three – genuine Strauss replacements, but sadly his call-up to the national side came a little later than deserved, meaning he had limited time to bat with the great Alastair Cook. He captained Surrey superbly before national commitments took that honour from him. His numbers over the past decade for Surrey speak for themselves: 9,209 first-class runs at 42.43. Complemented by one of the two right-handers of Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley now for England, his experience should help these relative youngsters at the other end.
Gary Ballance had his chances with England, but an odd/ugly looking technique probably helped him be labelled as one of those ‘faces that don’t fit’ kind of players…and harshly so. Maybe some people hold his Zimbabwean upbringing against him, but the left-hander simply churns out runs year on year. He has scored 40 centuries and 51 first-class 50s. Enough said.
Even superior to Ballance’s number of First Class 100s/50s (46/77), James Hildreth is a run machine and simply the greatest English player to never play for his country. This fact is fairly well undisputed now. Even with a blip – by his standards – last summer, he walks into this side along with his long-term teammate Trescothick as two of the easiest picks in this line-up.
Darren Stevens would make up the top three of Trescothick and Hildreth as the most valuable players in this side. An opening bowler or dependable change wobbler (particularly in English early season conditions) with Rikki Clarke and also a middle-order batsman who scored a double-ton in the Championship last year. At the age of 43. That 237 was scored in July, making an emphatic mockery of Kent’s just-released plan to release Stevens at the end of the season. Inevitably, the decision was promptly reversed.
Like Hildreth, Ben Foakes had an underwhelming 2019, but he is still one of the best gloveman on the circuit. He is a marginally better batsman than Ben Cox. Add to that that he’s played Division One cricket all his career, and he shades out the Worcestershire man who would probably be the white ball County keeper of the decade. Foakes averages 38.01 with the bat since his first-class debut in 2011, with a high score of 141*. That is plenty of runs from a man who’s primary focus is his glove work.
Rikki Clarke moved back to Surrey in 2017, and simply continued exactly where he left off with what he had been doing for Warwickshire (and Derbyshire and Surrey to a lesser extent before that). At a push he can fill in as a front-line seamer. Though not as potent as Stevens, he has a real knack of getting breakthroughs when none of his teammates could. He’s a superb steerer of the lower order batters, and he still has a better first-class bowling and batting average than Jordon Clark (ex Lancashire), who was supposedly signed with the idea to replace his near name-sake.
A first-class ton to his name for Yorkshire ensures Jack Brooks is a handy number eight bat. He wouldn’t take the new ball, but is an awesome first change bowler. He deserved more Championship overs in recent seasons; the slightly odd move to Somerset was never going to give him massive game time with Josh Davey and Tim Groenewald still quality bowlers for times when the Overton twins were injured, out of form or on England duty. He just edges Onions out of this side to save too long a tail.
Tim Murtagh stands a Leprechaun’s worth above even Rushworth in the highest wicket takers in the 2010s standings. The Irishman has had great assistance in Toby Roland-Jones and Steven Finn (both of whom would likely make up a Lions XI in this category), but has always been the most consistent wicket-taker of the three. He troubles the highest of class batsmen, as shown at his home ground in the test match last summer. He likes to swing the willow, often more successfully than it should be based upon technical looks.
Jeetan Patel has to be one of the greatest overseas signings the Championship has seen for prolonged top-class performances over more than a decade (he first signed for Warwickshire in 2009). Another captain in the ranks Patel leads from the front, holding up an end on the flattest of pitches, and ripping through batting line-ups with ease on those that are more spin-friendly. Patel took 60 Championship wickets last season.
Chris Rushworth has single-handedly carried Durham’s bowling this past decade. Brydon Carse is an exciting young talent, Paul Coughlin still is (good news he has returned to his northern home after the Nottinghamshire disaster), but no one can come close to matching Rushworth’s 469 wickets for Durham this decade alone. He took 69 wickets at 18.42 last year, 60 at 20.01 the season before; a fine wine?
You could say, balance wise that I’ve six bowlers and could do with one more batsman as possibly Stevens is one too high at five. Yet Stevens did score a double-century in the Championship last term. And I have three men in Stevens, Clarke and Foakes that are ideal County Championship sixes or sevens.
The tail drops off drastically from Brooks, to arguably three genuine 11s in Murtagh, Patel and Rushworth. But I think all in all it’s a pretty solid side, particularly for the English conditions they have all plied their trade in so well.