The Cricket Paper’s experts offer their team of the season from Division Two
Essex earned the only promotion spot available in Division Two this year so it should come as no surprise that they take up three spaces in our team of the year.
Behind them, just 30 points separated second-place Kent and Leicestershire in seventh, so there’s a relatively mixed bag.
Batsmen certainly dominate this team, it’s perhaps no surprise with runs being scored aplenty, especially in the early part of the season.
Wayne Madsen can perhaps count himself unlucky to not make the XI. He was the division’s third highest run-scorer but unfortunately saw his Derbyshire side finish without a win in 2016.
We certainly believe this team would be one to watch, though, with fireworks from Ben Duckett, solidity from Tom Westley and evergreen performances from the likes of the retiring Graham Napier and Darren Stevens.
Ben Duckett – Northamptonshire
Let’s start with the simple one – there surely can’t be any disagreement with the inclusion of the 21-year-old in this team.
He started the season with a bang and was destined for a triple century before rain halted him in his tracks. Still an unbeaten 282 was not the worst way to begin.
A further three centuries followed, with the lowest of these still being a daddy 185 and his 1,338 runs in the County Championship convinced England to come calling.
Duckett will tour Bangladesh next month and he picked up the Cricket Writers’ Young Player of the Year award this week. It was richly deserved and there will undoubtedly be more recognition heading his way in the years to come.
Chris Nash – Sussex
Sussex’s two defeats this year both came in September, and while they were only victorious in four of 16 matches, it was a solid enough season.
A lot of this solidity was provided by Nash at the top of the order. His 1,256 runs came at an average of 54.60 and included three centuries. A key component of opening the batting is not giving away your wicket cheaply and Nash, 33, got off the mark every time he was at the crease.
His highest this season of 144 helped Sussex secure a nervy draw against Leicestershire, but he seemed to be Mr Consistent throughout this summer.
Tom Westley – Essex
Both Westley and Nick Browne were in form for the champions of Division Two but Westley pips his team mate to a spot in this XI by virtue of more runs.
More than 1,200 runs came off the blade of the 27-year-old in the four-day game, the first time he has accumulated three figures, and it surely won’t be long before he gets his chance with England.
All at Essex played a vital role in the club gaining the only promotion spot but Westley was the club’s top-scorer and even turned his arm over every now and again.
His highest score of the season, and what turned out to be a career-best of 254 came as Essex thumped Worcestershire this month and there were two other occasions when the bat was raised for a century.
Sam Northeast – Kent
Just one run behind Duckett on the scoring charts came Kent’s captain who, in any other year, would have led his side to promotion in second place.
Five centuries and a truly astonishing average of 83.56 really means his place in this team was never under question. That average is the best of anyone that played more than seven games, though Kent loanee Will Gidman did average 120.66 in the five he played.
This has been his first summer officially leading the team and he’s surely another name that must be on the radar of the England selectors with comparisons regularly made to Three Lions star Joe Root.
Mark Cosgrove – Leicestershire
Cosgrove was another to end the summer with over 1,200 runs and was an integral part of a Leicestershire squad that bounced back from the horror of the past few years.
Seventh in the table may not suggest much improvement but four wins certainly does and Cosgrove’s five centuries showed the difference in mentality in the side this year.
He was dumped from South Australia’s contract list for this winter but surely won’t struggle to pick up another state after a stellar summer like this.
He battled through the pain of an injured hand earlier this month to notch another century as Leicestershire kept Derbyshire winless for the summer.
Ryan ten Doeschate – Essex
Captained Essex to the sole promotion spot and would make his way to the middle to represent this team at the toss.
Chris Silverwood named the Dutchman as his County Championship captain at the start of the year, and Ten Doeschate ensured it was the right decision.
While his captaincy was superb, the 36-year-old did not let it get in the way of his performances as an all-rounder, scoring 1,157 runs, including the runs that won Essex promotion.
Next year will provide a new challenge but, having signed a new deal a couple of weeks ago, it’s sure to be one that the man known as ‘Tendo’ will relish. Don’t bet against Essex providing a couple of shocks in 2017.
Ben Brown – Sussex
Runs off the bat and catches in the gloves, what more can you ask for from a wicketkeeper?
Forty grabs behind the stumps were coupled with three centuries in front of them as Sussex vice-captain Brown impressed in both aspects. And he took over the reins as skipper in a number of games following injury to Luke Wright.
An ever present, playing all 16 games, Brown averaged a touch over 50 with the bat, and it’s perhaps a surprise they didn’t win more games.
A solid season, where youth flourished, should make for a good 2017 for the South Coast side.
Graham Napier – Essex
If you were to write a dream story on a professional cricketer’s final season, the year that Napier had would fill the critieria.
Napier produced his best-ever Championship analysis – 298 runs at an average of 22.92 with the bat and 63 wickets with the ball – consistently leading the way.
The all-rounder was the go-to man this campaign and he’s going to be missed at Chelmsford. It’s a big hole to fill and he ended as the division’s second-highest wicket taker.
It’s perhaps fitting that it’s taken Napier his whole career to hit 50 Championship wickets in a season and he is sure to be keeping a close eye on Essex as they tackle Division One come April.
Darren Stevens – Kent
He’s not wanting to hang up his boots just yet but, like Napier, Stevens always comes up with the goods just when it matters.
In his benefit year at Canterbury, the 40-year-old was just as effective with bat and ball as he always has been, even with the new toss rules designed to make the wily medium pacers slightly less effective.
That is testament to the man and his 37 Championship wickets made him Kent’s joint-second highest wicket taker.
He has had better seasons with the bat but two centuries and an aggregate of 782 is not to be sniffed at. Kent fans will be praying a contract is sorted for 2017.
Timm van der Gugten – Glamorgan
The Dutchman’s first year in county cricket must have surpassed all expectations, for himself and those who brought him to Glamorgan.
He claimed 56 wickets at an average of a touch over 26 and he was understandably named the county’s player of the year.
There were five five-wicket hauls, and though Glamorgan finished second bottom of the division, a debut year such as his warrants a place in this side.
He finished the year in good form, too, ending with nine wickets in the match against Leicestershire and the Welsh county will be glad they tied him down to a three-year deal when signing him at the beginning of the year.
Joe Leach – Worcestershire
Just like namesake Jack at Somerset, Joe Leach had a stellar season, ending as Division Two’s leading wicket taker with 65.
There were five five-wicket hauls, but not everyone was as successful as right-arm seamer Leach, 25.
Worcestershire went slightly under the radar to finish third and now Leach will take the reins as captain after the county called time on Daryl Mitchell’s six-year tenure in the role.
Leach impressed with the bat, too, hitting almost 600 runs and he rounds this team off nicely.
It would surely give the Division One selection a run for their money. Keep your eyes out for that.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, September 30 2016
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