The Cricket Paper’s experts offer their team of the season from Division One
The dust has settled in the County Championship, on the pitch at least, and what a season 2016 turned out to be.
After a turgid drawn-laden start to the campaign, Middlesex won the title in the final session and two of their stars make our select XI from Division One. Somerset, who came so close to lifting their first title also have two representatives.
Warwickshire have one, though may feel aggrieved that Jeetan Patel hasn’t made the cut. He led the wicket-taking charts but Jack Leach edges him out after a superb breakthrough season. Over 50 wickets has almost become an expectation from Patel…
A mixture of young in Haseeb Hameed and, say it quietly, old, in Marcus Trescothick make the cut. A match between this lot and the Division Two team, selected last week, would surely fill any ground. Who needs city based cricket?
Keaton Jennings – Durham
It’s not just because he’s an opener that Jennings is the first name on the teamsheet of this XI – he had a terrific season.
The 24-year-old won last week’s Cricket Writers’ Club player of the year after scoring a remarkable seven first-class centuries during the summer, comfortably the division’s highest scorer with an aggregate of 1,548.
His tons included two unbeaten double-hundreds, one carrying his bat against Surrey and to make it a magnificent seven also means it’s a Durham record. More runs came off the blade this summer than in his previous two seasons combined.
Jennings had resisted the urge to move counties while the likes of Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick found pastures new with Surrey, but enforced relegation could see a change of heart.
Haseeb Hameed – Lancashire
Hameed became the youngest Red Rose batsman to reach four figures in a summer, ending the campaign with 1,198 runs at the age of 19.
Many said he was born to play for England, something which he looks likely to do this winter, currently in Bangladesh with the Three Lions.
Was the first to score two centuries in a Roses match, using his range of strokeplay to fend off what was then a County Championship winning attack.
Unlike Ben Duckett and a number of other youngsters coming through the ranks, Hameed’s strength is to bat time. Surely he is made for Test match cricket.
Nick Gubbins – Middlesex
Many comparisons have been drawn between Gubbins and former Middlesex man Andrew Strauss, and it’s not difficult to see why.
While Gubbins comes in at one down in this XI, the whole top three are very flexible, his stylish and determined manner saw him hit four Championship centuries.
One of those came in the title decider at Lord’s and, despite most of the attention at the start of April being on opening partner Sam Robson, it was Gubbins who ended the year closer to an England call-up.
Almost 1,200 runs came off the blade of the 22-year-old and he was so nearly the first to pass four figures for the season, falling on 999. Jennings went past him in the same match.
Marcus Trescothick – Somerset
In his 41st year, Trescothick was his county’s highest run scorer as they came so close to winning their first County Championship title.
Trescothick attributed his continued superb form to wearing glasses earlier this season, and while his eyesight and age may be going against him, it doesn’t show. Four centuries (meaning he went to a record-equalling 49 for the county), an average over 50, playing every game and 1239 runs in total make good reading.
Perhaps Tres benefitted from being without the captaincy, and he signed a new one-year deal in August with the 2017 season set to be the 25th that Trescothick has been involved with the Somerset first team.
Mark Stoneman – Durham
While Durham have, rightly or wrongly, been relegated, they actually finished fourth in the standings. And while Keaton Jennings was their star, the impact that Stoneman had should not be looked past.
The Surrey-bound batsman ensured Durham had two of the top four leading runscorers as he scored two centuries this summer, amassing 1,234 runs in the process.
While his county will be battling a 48 point deduction in Division Two, Stoneman moves south to the Oval. He’s passed 1,000 first-class runs in each of the past three seasons and admitted the desire to play for England is one of the key reasons for “accepting a new challenge”.
Tim Bresnan – Yorkshire
As award season comes to an end, here is another who must have been in contention for player of the year. While perhaps best recognised in an England shirt for his bowling, Bresnan’s batting has always been a strong point, something he showed this season batting at No.5.
Over 700 runs this summer at an average of a touch above 48, while still chipping in with 31 wickets, he scored a brilliant century in that topsy-turvy final encounter at Lord’s. That tally is despite missing five games.
He’s a superb fielder, too, and must surely remain on England’s radar. While the No.5 slot may be too high for him in Tests, he’s a class above on the domestic scene.
Ben Foakes – Surrey
Having been given the chance as Surrey’s premier gloveman, Foakes flourished both behind the stumps and in front of the set of three with bat in hand.
He could not force his way into England reckoning, despite back-up Test keeper Jos Buttler playing just one first-class game but he remains in the Three Lions reckoning and another stellar season will surely see him picked in a squad.
He made 759 runs at an average of 42 with one century, while 43 catches and three stumpings meant that he was the second most effective man with the gloves, bettered only by Warwickshire’s Tim Ambrose.
Keith Barker – Warwickshire
Another impressively consistent all-round season for Barker, ending with 59 scalps – his best Championship haul for a campaign.
That Barker only played four games of white-ball cricket surely helped him focus on the four-day game and he impressed with bat as well as ball.
With more than 600 runs he was Warwickshire’s player of the year despite Jeetan Patel’s heroics with the ball, while his hundred against Notts was his sixth in first-class cricket with all of them coming at Nos. 8 or 9.
Few Championship attacks have more reliable leaders and Somerset skipper Chris Rogers described him as “one of the best swing bowlers in the country”.
Toby Roland-Jones – Middlesex
His Championship winning hat-trick on the final day of an enthralling season will live long in the memories of all the county’s fans. But it wasn’t just in the last week of the season that Roland-Jones impressed.
Middlesex’s leading wicket-taker of the summer with 54, he led the team to the title. It even earned him a place in the England squad but a debut international appearance has yet to occur.
He’s not the quickest, or the tallest for that matter, but has such a variety of skills that makes him a real handful.
To have secured that many wickets playing half your matches at Lord’s has to be applauded. And for that final evening performance, the initials TRJ will figure strongly in many County Championship memoirs.
Jack Leach – Somerset
While Jeetan Patel was the division’s leading wicket-taker, the clamour surrounding Leach missing out on the England squad shows how much the Somerset spinner has developed.
Patel will feel hard done by as he doesn’t make this XI but there’s room for just one spinner in the English season and Leach’s five five-fors to Patel’s four nudges him ahead.
At 25, he still has many years ahead of him and, with England still searching for a frontline spinner, Leach has put himself forward as a prime candidate.
That he’s a leftie works in his favour, too. We all know certain English batsmen seem vulnerable to left-arm spin. Another season like this and there will be no questions as to whether he deserves a chance with England.
Jake Ball – Notts
He couldn’t save Notts from relegation into Division Two, nor could Durham’s plight for that matter, but Ball had a superb season from start to finish.
By the time England’s first squad of the summer was announced in May, he had forced his way in with 19 wickets at 21.15 and starred in front of the Sky TV cameras when he dismissed Joe Root – twice.
A less than fruitful summer with England, where he more often than not fulfilled 12th man duties, did not reduce his effectiveness for Notts.
He topped it off with match figures of 9-120 against champions Middlesex, including a stunning hat-trick; the first of his career.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, October 7 2016
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