Wednesday, 18 April 2012


For Nottinghamshire, it was a major coup to win the hotly contested race for the signature of James Taylor, one of the most highly regarded young batsmen in the country and someone who for a while now has been earmarked for a place in the senior England set-up, particularly in the longer form of the game. The diminutive ex-Leicestershire batsman has an idiosyncratic technique; crucially, however, he possesses the steely temperament and ability to think on his feet that marks out the best players. A winter leading England Lions in the Subcontinent has seen him bank much valuable experience, if not quite as many runs as he might have liked, and he now looks ahead at his first season playing Division One County Championship cricket. We caught up with him just prior to the season for a brief chat about the recent past in Asia, as well as the near future with Notts, as the former Fox looked forward to life as a Stag…

Looking back over the scorecards from the one-day series in Bangladesh, I was struck by how low-scoring the games were, especially in comparison with the series in Sri Lanka. Were they poor pitches?
They weren’t the best pitches, but they also weren’t the worst. We should have applied ourselves better as batsmen and scored more runs. But, foreign conditions, something totally different, and it was a young squad, so that’s going to happen sometimes and unfortunately it did. That’s the reason why we lost the series against Bangladesh [3-2], but we pulled it back against Sri Lanka and played well.  

Given the widely reported troubles of England’s senior players against spin in the UAE, is Asia the best place for young English batters to winter in terms of development?
Definitely. It’s only going to help us in the future. We’re all young players and all aspiring to play at the top level for England, so it’s definitely going to benefit our game playing against spin in those tough conditions out there.

Was there anything specific you learnt about playing spin, be that technical, mental, or about gameplans?
Yeah, just that the execution has to be spot on. Every shot you play you just have to nail it that bit more. In England you’ve got a bit of leeway, I think, whereas over there some balls spin, some balls go straight on, and it’s a bit slower as well, so execution has to be spot on or you’re going to come unstuck. That’s the thing that I found.

Sort of sits in the pitch a bit…
Yeah, exactly. We did a lot of work on playing spin with Graham Thorpe and he’s obviously had a lot of experience out there which definitely helped all the young players.

Do you feel that one of the problems we’ve traditionally had against spin is that certain modes of dismissal are perceived as ‘worse’ ways of getting out – I’m talking about being stumped, really – and that affects the way people play, with batters perhaps becoming creasebound and getting a bit stuck?
I suppose you could look at it like that but it certainly doesn’t apply to me. I go up the crease and back in the crease, so I’m not really too worried about getting stumped. I use my feet a lot and sweep a lot, so those options are there. But, speaking personally, I don’t worry about it too much. 

How was the experience as captain? Did it affect your game adversely?
Well, I captained quite a lot in England last year, both with the Lions and with Leicestershire, and my scores were a lot better as captain than when I wasn’t, so I’m not going to use that as an excuse why I didn’t score as many runs as I wanted out in the subcontinent. It was tough work, but I enjoy captaincy and relish the opportunity I’ve been given to captain the Lions, especially at such a young age, and I grew into it. I’ve obviously got more experience now and I got a lot more confidence, the more I did it.

I’m sure there were several counties after your signature. Why did you choose Notts?
Notts was just an obvious choice for me at this stage – it was time for me to look for a new challenge and I thought Notts was perfect for that. The facilities here are quality. It’s a great team, pushing for silverware in all competitions. And the ground’s quality. I’ve got fond memories of playing here. I know the coaches. So it was just an obvious move, and not too big a move from Leicestershire. I’ve got a place up here, which is nice. It means I can walk into the ground when I want, and it’s a great area and a great club to be at. 

Did Trent Bridge’s reputation as a seamer-friendly or swing bowler’s ground enter your thoughts at any stage? There are probably easier places than here to rack up the runs…
Not really. Like I said, I was up for a new challenge and the more runs I score here – which is deemed to be a seamer-friendly wicket – the better it’s going to look for me. And I think it’s going to help my game, the more pace and bounce there is.

How were Notts viewed as opponents when you were at Leicestershire?
I only played them in one-day and Twenty20 cricket and they’re always tough opposition, always up there in all formats of the game, a tough unit with a great work ethic, as I’ve seen from my brief stint here so far.

Leicestershire won the T20 last season (and 3 times in total). What advice would you give the Notts lads to help them go those couple of steps further?
I’m not sure if I can give them too much advice, to be honest, as the new boy coming into the dressing room. But I think it’s just about gameplans. That’s what we did at Leicester: everyone nailed their role. We had lots of matchwinners – different matchwinners in different games. Everyone won a game for us, so that’s something I can tell the guys here at Notts.

Ultimately, you left Leicestershire to play Division One. Hypothetically, if Notts had a terrible season and went down, would that affect what you do?  
Oh no, not at all. Not at all. It’s a great club. I’m looking to get better and better as a player and I think this is a place where I can do that. We’ve got some great coaches, as I said, and great senior players in the team. There’s also good young talent coming through so Notts are in a great place at the moment and it’s where I want to be.

What are your personal targets for the season?
To score heavily in all forms of the game, to be consistent, and not worry about anything else to be honest – just taking things one game at a time and not getting too distracted by any England ambitions. Concentrating on my own game and winning games for Nottinghamshire.

This interview first appeared on LeftLion's website 

Monday, 9 April 2012


New Road, Worcester: one of the circuit's great grounds

With the 113th County Championship due to get underway today, heralding the start of the sporting summer (weather permitting), I have analysed for sportingintelligence which of the 18 first-class counties have been the most successful across all formats of the game since the first formal County Championship was contested back in 1890.

There is of course little doubt about which county has been the most successful down the years – something many a real ale drinker from ‘God’s Own County’ will never tire of telling you – but the fact is that many of Yorkshire’s triumphs can now only be recalled in sepia. 

Set the parameters to a more modern era, however, and suddenly things don’t look quite so rosy (white or red): according to our criteria – more on which below – the DPRY (Democratic PeopleRepublic of Yorkshire) slip back to third most successful county for the post-War era, and eighth for the period since the introduction of the limited-overs game in 1963.

At the other end of the scale, it is widely known that none of Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire or Somerset have ever won the domestic game’s top prize (which is why the latter’s last session eclipse by Nottinghamshire in 2010 was so excruciating, especially as it has accompanied no less than five final defeats on limited-overs competitions) – however, at least the latter two have had their share of glory days in one-day cricket as partial compensation.

How exactly do we work out ‘success’? 

Well, in line with a previous study sportingintelligence carried out into English football’s domestic trophy winners, the simple tally of trophies would not be truly reflective of a particular county’s ‘success rating’ – not least because certain counties haven’t been in all competitions from the outset: Durham only acquired first-class status in 1992, of course, and before that, Glamorgan jumped on board in 1921; in fact, there were only eight counties in that inaugural 1890 Championship.

There’s also the fact that, as with the Carling Cup and Champions League, different trophies have different weighting, different amounts of prestige, different value.

It was therefore important to work out two figures: first, we had to assign each competition’s relative value, and with that done, calculate the aggregate figure of points that each county has competed for historically: i.e. how much hypothetical success they could have achieved. From there, we could properly evaluate each county’s historic performance. To a certain extent, the values assigned each competition are arbitrary. Even so, the minor adjustments that individual readers may wish to make – and we welcome any such effort – wouldn’t greatly alter the overall ranking. (The explanation for these values can be found beneath the graphic.)

Not following the trawler
Next, we needed to work out precisely how successful the counties had been according to the ‘value’ of those trophies. Thus, a series of simple calculations followed.

So, we worked out the total number of points each county had won in line with this system. Thereafter, we worked out the total number of points each county had competed for, given the different dates of entry into competition and the fact that the Refuge Assurance Cup was semi-exclusive. We then divided the number of points attained by the number competed for and multiplied that figure by 100 to get a true measure of each county’s success: the percentage of possible success they could have had, in fact. This figure gives us the counties’ overall historical rank and, as expected, Yorkshire and Surrey dominate this list – taken together, nigh on a third of the potential gross success (32%) is theirs, although only 25.3 of the trophies.

(Incidentally, assigning a rank on the basis of the percentage of possible success that has been achieved did produce a couple of minor differences from the aggregate trophy haul at the lower end of the spectrum. But the greatest difference concerned Durham, who rose from 16th in the aggregate points total, and equal last with Northants in the trophy haul, to 8th in the ‘success chart’.)

Anyway, we thought it would be illuminating to examine and evaluate more recent successes, if only because it was clear that certain counties’ figures appeared ‘distorted’ by success in the early years, before professionalism started to slowly even out some counties’ historical (dis)advantages.

First up, we looked at the post-War years. As expected, using this timeframe changed the picture considerably as far as success was concerned. The county most affected in terms of its overall historical ranking was Lancashire, who famously hadn’t won an outright County Championship for 77 years until last summer’s albatross-slaying, while Kent also slipped back. The largest percentage increases were Leicestershire (1.2%), Hampshire (1.3%), Worcestershire (1.4%), Warwickshire (1.8%), and Essex (2.1%).  

Lancashire's lionhearted skipper Glenn Chapple
Finally, we looked at the success of counties from 1963, the dawn of the limited-overs era and certainly a time when each county had to assemble its resources to fight on many fronts simultaneously. Indeed, during this perios several counties became ‘one-day specialists’ – one thinks of Somerset in the 80s, Lancashire in the 90s, Gloucestershire either side of the millennium – not least because cup runs brought big crowds and solvency-facilitating gate receipts. The finals were big days out, too, but the greatest prestige still resided with the Championship.

Anyway, as you can see from the final two columns of our graphic, the county most affected by the final shift of parameters, from post-War to post-1963, was Surrey, who won seven straight county championships between 1952 and 1958, the era of Lock and Laker, May, Loader, and the Bedser twins. Yorkshire were also affected, albeit to a lesser extent (having four outright and one shared title cropped from the aggregate, while four from a golden run of seven titles in 10 years survived), slipping back to eighth most successful overall.

If anything, the post-1963 limited-overs era sees a greater compression of teams’ success ratings, thus a more even competition. If there were a perfect split of success between all 18 counties, a fair share would be 5.55%. In this post-63 limited-overs era, 50 not out this summer, the most successful club is less so (i.e. the top success rating is lower) in real terms than within the other two timeframes, while the bottom club is slightly higher. Meanwhile, 10 teams are above the average success marker, compared to just 7 historically.

A final thing to note is that, given the dwindling Championship crowds, the corollary of which is an increased significance of bumper one-day crowds, one would expect there to be a major competitive advantage for the counties with larger, Test match-hosting grounds (not least because of the revenue from the latter). Yet Notts come in a disappointing 12th in this period, while there are some good performances from counties without a traditional Test venue, including Leicestershire and fifth-placed Worcestershire, but headed up by Essex, who, despite not winning the most trophies in this era (that accolade is Lancashire’s), are, by our criteria, the most successful club of county cricket’s limited-overs era. 


The values for the trophies were worked out as follows:

County Championship: 10 points By general consensus – and despite the lustre of the big one-day finals at Lord’s – this is by far the most prestigious competition, a fact underscored by the introduction of a £500,000 prize in 2010, and the points duly reflect this.

Twenty20 Cup: 6 points The more prestigious of the two current limited-overs competitions, its importance has increased since the inception of the Champions League Twenty20 in 2009 (slated for the previous year, but cancelled due to the Mumbai bomb attacks). 

FP Trophy: 5 points Began life in 1963 as the Gillette Cup; became the NatWest Trophy in 1981, the C&G Trophy in 2001, and the FP Trophy in 2007, before being discontinued by the ECB at the end of the 2009 season. As the oldest one-day tournament – and despite (or maybe because of, FA Cup-style) the inclusion of a fistful of Minor Counties qualifiers – this was, historically, always slightly the more prestigious of the domestic limited-overs knockout competitions.

Sunday League / Pro40: 4.5 points A staple of BBC’s Sunday afternoon scheduling, this competition started in 1969 and underwent no fewer than 14 name changes (including three variations each on sponsors Axa and John Player) before being wound up in 2009, having long been confusingly scattered throughout the calendar, a sort of endorsement of Morrissey’s observation that ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’. This scores more than the Benson and Hedges not for prestige per se but because, being a league, it is notionally harder to win.

CB40: 4.5 points Established in 2010 effectively as the replacement for both the FP Trophy and the Pro40. Like the latter, its early rounds are a round-robin rather than KO format (increasing the guaranteed home revenues); like the former, it has a Lord’s final.

Benson & Hedges Cup: 4 points Traditionally played in 4 pools of 5 with the top two from each going through to quarter-finals, the shorter (50 overs), younger (played from 1972 to 2002) and earlier (finals played in late June or early July) B&H was the least prestigious of the ‘classic’ limited-overs competitions.

Refuge Assurance Cup: 3 points The aforementioned analysis of football’s most successful teams explicitly excluded one-off games, and we were tempted to do the same with this somewhat anomalous tournament, an event contested for four years only, between 1988 and 1991, in which the top four sides in the Refuge Assurance League (successor to the JPS League) played semi-finals and a final. On the one hand, you could argue that it was a closed tournament, given that it was restricted to four teams; on the other, you could argue that it was open, given that all 18 counties started each season with an equal chance of participating in it. In the end, we decided to retain this competition in the calculations, albeit with a low points value, while ensuring that its semi-exclusivity was taken into consideration when working out the maximum possible points for which they competed (thus, Lancashire, who participated in all four Refuge Assurance Cups and were one of the founder members of the County Championships, have effectively competed for the most ‘points’, historically).

Champions LeagueWe excluded this from the calculations for the simple reason that, unlike its namesake in football, it lacks a crucial element of competitive integrity, inasmuch as some players can be registered with, and have played for, several of the participating teams. Thus the overseas players used by the counties in our domestic season may well be commandeered by their IPL franchises, or perhaps play for their home teams – as happened with Keiron Pollard last year, for instance, who could have played for Somerset or Trinidad and Tobago but ended up with the Mumbai Indians. (Incidentally, including the Champions League, at a points value of 10, would not change any of the rankings, but it would mean that Somerset would displace Lancashire as the team that had competed for the most ‘success points’.) 

This was originally published on Sporting Intelligence

Monday, 2 April 2012


The following piece was written for LeftLion. In fact, it was the inaugural Left Line and Length column, for which the Sports Editor (me) interviewed the cricket correspondent (Dr. me)…  

If NCCC were a football team, where would last year’s performance have put ‘em?
On last year’s performance alone, they’d perhaps have been Stoke City: a not-quite-Northern stronghold (one that’s also reputed to have its microclimate) at which they played in a muscular style sometimes lacking subtlety and with not enough numbers from the men up top, while a mid-table league campaign was partially offset by a decent cup performance that ended disappointingly against a big favourite. However, overall, as a club they’re probably more of an Everton, historically speaking: managerial stability, atmospheric stadium, although a good way behind the big trophy hauls of Yorkshire (Man Utd), Lancashire (Liverpool), and Surrey (Arsenal).

What was the absolute highpoint of last season?
They won a low-scoring game up at eventual champions Lancashire at the end of July, but the highpoint was probably the Championship victory over Yorkshire in April: a game they had no right at all to win and which must have left them, as reigning Champions and unbeaten at that early stage, feeling invincible (a feeling that didn’t last). However, the longest sustained period of excellence was the Twenty20 campaign, where they were utterly dominant at home during the group stage, right up until…

And the lowpoint?
…Being unluckily drawn against best-team-on-paper Somerset in the quarter-final of said Twenty20 Cup. Notts looked strong favourites with 5 overs left in the match, but couldn’t find an answer to a savage onslaught by England new boy Jos Buttler and globetrotting West Indian T20 specialist Keiron Pollard, the game disappearing in the blink of an eye and a blizzard of boundaries. 

Last year’s star pupil?
Close call between Alex Hales, the only Notts batsman to make 1000 Championship runs (also the second-top run-scorer in the country in the Twenty20 Cup), and Andre Adams, but I’d just give it the latter. Having been leading wicket-taker in the country when Notts won the Championship in 2010, the Kiwi maintained his good bowling form into, and throughout, last season. He also chipped in with several boundary-studded cameos from number 9, proving a serious danger to the passing traffic of West Bridgford as he finished comfortably the leading six-hitter in the land (with 31 to next best Trescothick’s 18). At 35-years-young, he remains the go-to bowler and very much the team’s driving force.

And who’s staying back in detention?
Top-order batsmen Neil Edwards and Riki Wessels both struggled in the four-day game, although the latter had a pretty decent T20 campaign. There’s plenty of talent in both men (as attested to by 100s for each in the pre-season game against Luffbra), but it’s probably a make-or-break season for the pair of them.

Who are the new faces at Notts this year?
Michael Lumb, a man with a Twenty20 World Cup winner’s medal from England’s 2010 success in the Caribbean, arrives from Hampshire to open the batting. Meanwhile, Notts’ unofficial feeder club from just down the M1, Leicestershire, has come up trumps again, providing not only left-arm paceman Harry Gurney, sure to feature strongly in the white ball game (Twenty20 and 40-over stuff), but also the diminutive middle-order batsman James Taylor, skipper of England’s reserves and pretty near the front of the queue as far as breaking into Andrew Strauss’s Test side goes.

And who’s been lobbed?
After 9 years’ sterling service, much loved Cornish beanpole Charlie Shreck has nobly passed up the chance of a lucrative testimonial season for the opportunity of more regular first-team action at Kent. Veteran batsmen Ali Brown and Mark Wagh have both retired. And Samit Patel’s younger brother, Akhil, has been released.  

So, who’s the key man?
Andy Flower (yes, the England Coach, Andy Flower; which one did you think I meant?). You see, the thing with county cricket is that, ideally, you have a core of players that are decent, but not quite good enough to play for England (well, they can be good enough on paper, but just not actually picked to do it). Notts already lose Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad for pretty much the whole season, while Samit Patel has just made his debut (albeit perhaps only as a horse for the Sri Lankan course). So, looking at things from the sort of narrowly self-interested and parochial perspective in which county fans up and down the country specialize, Notts’ hardcore supporters wouldn’t want him, Taylor, or Hales cementing spots in any England side just yet, ta very much, duckeh. 

Any other pre-season goings-on worth noting?
They’ve been to Barbados for a couple of weeks’ warm weather practice and, as I say, are giving Luffbra’s students a lesson they probably won’t forget (unless they turned up for class half-cut with no note paper, as no student as ever done before, of course). LeftLion is reliably informed by club historian Peter Wynne-Thomas that the April 1 start to the season is the second earliest ever at the Bridge. The County Championship cracks off on Thursday April 5 with a home game against Worcestershire, of sauce fame.  

What are the kits like this season?
Well, this is cricket – besides minor alterations to the kit manufacturer or sponsors, the clobber is pretty, y’know, uniform (which reminds me of the Irish game that was abandoned because both sides turned up in white). For the one-day kit, the yellow that previously covered the entire trunk has been relegated to a minor feature, which is maybe more in keeping with the county’s tradition but doesn’t look quite so flash in my proudly non-expert opinion.

What’s the food like compared to the City Ground and Meadow Lane?
The canteen in the Radcliffe Road stand offers scrumptious, unpretentious English fayre, but I don’t know what the food’s like at Forest or County. If you want a simple, hearty snack less than a six hit from the ground, try Mrs Bunn’s Cob Emporium on Musters Road.

If Notts staged their own version of Robin Hood, who would be cast in the main roles?
ROBIN HOOD: Stuart Broad in the Hollywood remake, but probably local lad and dressing room heartbeat Paul ‘The General’ Franks in the low-budget version.
MAID MARIAN: Lisa Pursehouse – Notts are once again blazing the trail for equality (much as did Robin and his Merry Men), and Pursehouse is the first female Chief Exec in the history of county cricket.
WILL SCARLETT: Chris Read – normally skipper, his still youthful appearance and blade-wielding abilities make him the ideal sidekick for Robin.
LITTLE JOHN: Luke Fletcher – in his own words, a “tall heavy goober”.
FRIAR TUCK: Samit Patel – after a slightly undisciplined past in which he was not so much a glutton for punishment as punished for gluttony, the talented (and still rotund) Giltbrookite is now so in tune with the error of his ways, so virtuous, he could almost be the religious figure of the group. Almost.  
ALAN À DALE: Graeme Swann – who else could be better suited for the role of wandering minstrel than former lead singer of Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations?
SHERRIFF OF NOTTINGHAM: Mick Newell – a decade in the job now, rumour has it that ‘Kim Jong-Newell’ has forced the club to build a 40-metre-high bronze statue of himself that will stand on the Trent Bridge Inn car park and loom over the back of the William Clarke Stand, and includes a state-of-the-art viewing pod in the left eye (from which he may or may not be watching the game, but his charges, the players, unable to see in, would have to assume he was observing them, thus effectively disciplining themselves). As I say, this is only rumour. 

Are there any International matches this summer?
Yep, they’ve got West Indies in a Test match (May 25-29), and the same opposition in a T20 game on Sunday June 24. There’s also an ODI against the powerful South Africans on September 5.

What do you dislike the most about Notts cricket?
I’d like to see a bit more youth and sprightliness in the fielding department, which is a nice idea in the abstract but in reality is essentially down to said youth forcing the selectors’ hand through weight of performance, as Karl Turner did last year. An out ground for a festival would also be cool.

What’s the best reason for people who have never been to a cricket match to take themselves down to Trent Bridge this summer?
If you’re after bitesize, fast-paced entertainment, the buzz of a sizeable crowd and the feel of a major event, then swing down for the Twenty20 games. Otherwise, the gentle rhythms of four-day cricket are a pleasant break from the pace of a hectic world: sit on the top tier of the imposing Radcliffe Road stand, dip in and out of the game and your Tom Clancy novel, and get a suntan. In the idyllic yesteryear world of the County Championship, ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ – though not Morrissey’s “silent and grey” version so much as a lazy afternoon down the boozer where what was supposed to be a quick buffet roast and couple of cheeky beers with the papers turned into an afternoon watching the football then having a go in the quiz (and the TBI and Larwood & Voce pubs are well within hitting range if you fancy a quick jar) before staggering out at last orders. Oh, it’s also definitely a better standard than any of the football currently on offer in the city.

Call your shot: what will Notts do in 2012?
They’ve undoubtedly strengthened the batting, something of a problem area in recent seasons, particularly the opening slots. Both Lumb and (especially) Taylor are top quality performers, so with Hales and Patel likely to be around for most of the summer, the runs should flow. Once again, however, there’s no proven frontline spinner (Notts are not alone in this, mind) and the traditionally strong cupboard full of medium-pace and fast bowlers looks like it could struggle to take 20 wickets if Andre Adams were to get injured. I would be very, very surprised if they won the Championship – I predict fourth – but I can see them winning the Twenty20, a format for which the squad has more obvious matchwinners.

Left Line and Length will bring you a monthly round-up of news from Notts.