Opinion: Ed Farrar’s Player’s to Watch- County Championship

The Seventh of April is a very important day. Not only is it my birthday, but it is also the start of England’s domestic cricket season with the four-day County Championship getting underway. With the upcoming changes to the domestic T20 competition, pressures upon the smaller counties, and an upcoming Ashes tour this winter, this could be a defining season in the history of our domestic tournaments. With this in mind I have selected a squad of players who I expect to make a massive impact this summer. Some are established county stars, some are relatively unknown, but I expect them to all have stellar summers. So without further ado….

Michael Carberry (Hampshire) Averages: First Class: 42.63, T20: 30.93, SR:123.05

Ok so this man’s ability is absolutely no news to anyone, but I had to include him after his successful return from his cancer treatment, in which he struck a century against Cardiff MCCU last Sunday. Obviously it wasn’t against the most potent bowling attack in the country, nor does it mean that the former England opener will return to his brilliant best, but we have seen a story like his before. India all-rounder Yuvraj Singh recovered from Lung Cancer to return to the India national side and re-create some of the best form of his career, and I believe Carb’s can do the same. He certainly has the character to battle back from this adversity and I look forward to seeing some vintage stroke-playing this season.

Daniel Bell-Drummond (Kent) Averages: First Class: 37.12, List A: 38.00, SR:80.70

Rob Key once declared that this man had the talent to play 100 Tests and anybody who has seen him at his brilliant best would find it difficult to disagree. Unfortunately as stylish and exciting as his stroke-making may be, the inconsistencies in his form have never led him to being a true candidate for that England opening slot. His continued presence in Division Two may be another reason for that, and after Kent’s controversial exclusion from promotion last season, he will be determined to finally win promotion. A couple of good performances in the North vs South series also shows his worth against the white ball and I could see him performing across all formats this summer. An Ashes hopeful? If he was to push his average into the mid-forties whilst keeping his free-flowing stroke-play, I could certainly see it.

Scott Borthwick (Surrey) Averages: First Class Batting: 37.10, T20 Bowling:22.27, ER:7.90

I’ve given up on this man’s bowling completely, but I get the feeling that on a spin-friendly surface down in London he has the chance to get some overs under his belt in the shorter format’s this summer. His batting however is his real strength and having developed as a player at Chester-Lee Street at Number 3, after being promoted directly from Number 8, scoring a gluttony of runs on the flatter pitches at the Oval should be easy enough. Scoring 1,000 runs playing for Durham is quite a big deal with the seam-friendly pitches they play on, and I do believe people underestimate this under the illusion he is just that leg-spinner England threw in for a failed Ashes tour. He possesses a wide range of shots, a good temperament and ,in my opinion, the ability to bat in England’s top order for the long term. He will need a massive summer to break into the England side for the Ashes however, and will need to show he can play under pressure after being overlooked for the national side previously.

Colin Ackermann (Leicestershire) Averages: First Class Batting: 40.38, Bowling: 40.66

A quality batsmen playing for Leicestershire? This must be too good to be true. Well apparently not. Mr Ackermann was leading scorer in the Sunfoil Series, South Africa’s first class competition, can contribute some useful off-spin, and is prolific across all three formats. So why exactly is he going to turn out for one of the worst domestic teams inn the world? Well after his chances of appearing on the International stage have been reduced by his home nation’s transformation policies, it’s time to cash in on an English contract. Plus Leicestershire have improved over the last couple of seasons and if he, Clint McKay, Mark Cosgrove, and Ben Raine can find some form, the Foxes may even challenge for promotion to Division One this season. So this looks like an exciting time for my county and hopefully this man will be churning out runs at the forefront.

Liam Livingstone (Lancashire) Averages: First Class: 49.86, T20: 19.20, SR:131.95

The Lancashire batsmen first gathered media attention after smashing 350 off 138 balls in a match for his club, and he has moved on from demolishing sub-par village attacks, to scoring at an average of nearly 50 at first-class level. His form last season saw him get an England Lions call-up and I’m backing him to have another stellar season and force his way into playing a part in the Ashes tour over the winter. It was now Warwickshire coach Ashley Giles faith in him that led him to his success, and if Trevor Bayliss shows similar belief, he will have a huge impact on the biggest stage of them all. His clean striking and temperament also makes him formidable in the shorter formats and he will be looking at breaking into the national one day set up as well.

Aneurin Donald (Glamorgan) Averages: First Class: 35.76, High Score: 234 (off 136 balls)

Let’s start with the fact that this man has an excellent name. Quintessentially Welsh. I really do think the name Aneurin should come back into fashion. Away from his name he’s also rather good at cricket, equalling the record for the fastest first-class double century last season at Colwyn Bay. Whilst he did score it against Derbyshire, his innings of 136 balls containing 15 sixes was still very impressive, and it just presents his destructive ability with the bat. He is one of those modern cricketers who has the ability to score runs all around the game, but he also has a solid technique to go alongside this. A talent like his can’t afford to be wasted for an outfit like Glamorgan and they will need to drive him to excellence to give them any hope of getting into Division One at any point soon.

Harvey Hosein (Derbyshire) Averages: First Class: 32.40, Top Score: 108

Not many cricketers can say they have equalled a world record in their time, let alone on their first-class debut, but that is exactly what the Derbyshire keeper achieved at the Oval in 2014. At just 18 years of age he equalled the world record number of dismissals, claiming 11 catches in the match, and instantly raised expectations of a stellar career to follow. His ability behind the stumps has never been questioned, but his batting performances have not quite matched those just yet. He will need to kick on with the bat this season to further his career, but after his impressive maiden century against Worcestershire at the end of last season, under the pressure if following-on, I think he has the ability to average far higher than 32.

Jofra Archer (Sussex) Averages: First Class: 27.28, BBI: 4/31, Batting: 24.37

Making your first class debut against Pakistan is surely a daunting task, but not for this former West Indian Under-19, as he took 4-49, dismissing Hafeez, Masood, Azhar Ali, and Misbah Ul-Haq for his wickets. Quite a prolific start and his County Championship debut followed soon after. He went on to impress with some excellent displays of seam bowling, think Chris Jordan but accurate, and also some exciting stroke-play, again think of Chris Jordan. He has a strong action which looks like it could generate another yard of pace and does move the ball around prodigiously off the seam. Sussex will be hoping they have found another Barbadian of high quality who can lift their prospects in all formats, after a poor season last year.

Mason Crane (Hampshire) Averages: First Class: 38.68, BBI: 5/35, List A: 30.91

Leg-Spin is having a massive revival across the world at the moment, and believe it or not, a group of young English players at the fore-front. Whilst in recent years the erratic Imran Tahir has been carrying the torch of the lost art, a group of young players have broken through on the international stage. Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan has ripped through Ireland, England Lions, and Zimbabwe recently, and is a future test star in the making. New Zealand has Ish Sodhi, Pakistan has Shadab Khan, and now we have Mason Crane. Having impressed enough over the Australian summer to be the first overseas player to appear for New South Wales since Imran Khan, this young man certainly has enough about him. He turns the ball prodigiously, has good control over his flight, and uses his variations cleverly enough to trouble even the best batsmen. His spell of four wickets for one run in ten balls in the last game of the North vs South series just shows his game-changing abilities. This will be a breakthrough summer for the Hampshire man and along young leg-spinners like Matt Critchley, Matt Parkinson, and Josh Poysden, this will also be the beginning of a bright future for English Leg-Spin.

Harry Podmore (Middlesex) Averages: First Class: 24.27, T20: 28.50, ER:9.05

I really like the cut of this young quick bowlers jib. His first real exposure to professional cricket was in the shortest format of the game, making his debut in 2014, where he impressed at the death with his ability to use his natural bounce as well as nailing his yorkers. He is not just a white ball specialist however, his pace, natural height, and power gives him the ability to perform with the red ball. His first class debut for Middlesex last year produced figures of 4/54, and having impressed in the season opener against the MCC in Abu Dhabi, I think he can break in to the Middlesex team this year, especially if Stephen Finn is away on England duty. He will certainly be in competition with Middlesex team-mate and fellow young quick bowler Tom Helm this season, but I think Podmore is ahead in the pecking order and is in the best place to perform.

Ben Sanderson (Northamptonshire) Averages: First Class: 22.45, BBI: 8/73

After being released by Yorkshire in 2011, it seemed unlikely that the quick bowler from Sheffield was going to make the impact that his potential warranted. However good performances in club cricket, after a spell playing minor county cricket for Shropshire, earned him a trial with Northamptonshire and since he hasn’t looked back. Last year he starred in the struggling counties T20 Blast triumph, taking 3-31 in the final, as well as taking 55 wickets at 21.04 in the 14 County Championship he played. Few have seemingly picked up on his success however, potentially due to his team or the division he plays in, but there are few better seamers around the circuit at the moment and I fancy he will enjoy another prolific season.

Twelfth Man

Jack Burnham (Durham) Averages: First Class: 25.64, High Score: 135*, List A: 17.25

After announcing himself at the Under-19 World Cup in 2016 with three centuries before England’s exit in the Quarter Finals, Paul Collingwood gave this man the chance to bat at 4 throughout the 2016 season. Whilst his form was solid, rather than spectacular, he will have learned a lot from Durham’s troubling season both on and off the pitch. Now with the departure of Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick to Surrey, Durham will need this man to score heavily to keep their heads above water in a campaign that will be very difficult for the county. Whilst his team may not get too many positive results, I think we will see this man develop into one of the finest young players on the circuit.

So here is my team of players to look out for. There are so many bright young prospects in County Cricket at the moment and i’m backing players like Matt Parkinson, Tom Helm, and Shiv Thakor to have big seasons as well. If you are looking for an insider’s view, look out for Ben Raine, Lewis Hill, and Callum Parkinson at Leicestershire, they all have a great amount of talent.

Here are my predictions for the competition winners this year also:

Specsavers County Championship Division 1- Surrey

Specsavers County Championship Division 2- Leicestershire. Please? (Probably Kent)

Royal London One Day Cup- Warwickshire

Natwest T20 Blast- Middlesex

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