It’s the Wills 2017! The complete review of the county cricket season

Essex and Worcestershire will remember the 2017 season for ever while Middlesex and Yorkshire cannot forget it soon enough

Team of the year

With a word for Worcestershire, another of the little guys whose overachievement has been fostered at home, this has to be Essex. Well supported from east London to East Anglia, brilliantly coached and captained, and with the best spinner, seamer and eight blokes who scored a ton. Little wonder they won.

Player of the year

Kumar Sangakkara The numbers are worth repeating: 16 innings across 10 matches; 1,491 runs (335 more than anyone else in Division One); average 106.5; eight centuries. Most of those tons were to dig Surrey out of a hole, and five came in a row, including two at Lord’s the week he had a Pavilion portrait unveiled. When talking, Sangakkara became an erudite defender of the jobbing county pro and proved a wonderful team-mate, as well as a wizard in the middle. Put simply, Sanga, thank you for lighting up our little game for the last three summers. You won’t be fast forgotten or easily replaced.

Kumar Sangakkara waves farewell to first-class cricket.
Kumar Sangakkara waves farewell to first-class cricket. Photograph: Barry Mitchell/Rex/Shutterstock

Young player of the year

Jamie Porter. If 24 is not young then we might as well pack up and go home. Porter took 75 wickets (so many of them in the first 10 overs of an innings), with no wild pace (82-85mph) but superb command of length and if there was even a fraction of seam movement, he found it. Worked in recruitment four years ago, thinking the game was up, but now looks the real deal and could form a potent partnership for years with Sam Cook, who emerged in September but goes back to Loughborough University on Monday.

Busted myth of the year

The gap There are huge differences between the divisions – the second tier can be limp and lawless, with matches fizzling – and most top-flight sides regressed this summer. But the coming of Essex and the plight of Middlesex shows that Division Two’s finest need have no fear when going up. The ECB must keep it two-up two-down; it makes Division One callously cut-throat, and helps the competition’s stories regenerate each summer.

Disappointment of the year

Middlesex From Abu Dhabi to Derby. The champions began the year riding high, talking about how they were “humble and hungry” to go again. Problem was they failed to notice that even champion sides evolve and adapt and Middlesex’s cricket, from day one, was tired and timid – failing to enforce follow-ons and delaying declarations cost them valuable early victories – and they never got going. Now is a great time to change; trouble is, it’s the wrong players, such as 22-year-old all-rounder Ryan Higgins (he’s off to Gloucestershire to get more cricket), who are leaving. A mention for Yorkshire here, too.

Kolpak of the year

Simon Harmer Also the signing of the season. The Kolpak rush was pre-season’s hottest topic (expect more this winter), and not all have proved successful. But Essex dipped into the market early and found exactly what they needed, a proper spinner. The South African is everything good about the Kolpak ruling: he is the only one in a homegrown team; he improved the standard of the competition immeasurably; and he settled so quickly that he extended his contract in April (do not be surprised if he is still there in 2027). A class character, and a quality cricketer against whom batsmen looked clueless: I mean, consecutive 14-fers? That’s pretty special.

Innovation of the year

Live streaming Enough counties are now doing this to call it “a thing”. The championship is far too awkwardly timed to ever be well-attended (harsh but true, and crowds are no better at weekends) but as social media, the interest in the various liveblogs, and the brilliant BBC radio commentaries show, there are a huge number of folk following remotely.

Quote of the year

“It was a proper tasty arrow with a metal end. I did archery at school and that was not a normal archery arrow” – Surrey captain and quiver connoisseur Gareth Batty surveys the scene after “Crossbow bolt stops play at The Oval”.

New trick learned by old dog

Marcus Trescothick peeled off a record-breaking 50th (and 51st) first-class century for Somerset, but his greatest contribution was the introduction of kneeling while fielding close in to their spinners. By summer’s end it was even catching on elsewhere. The greatest joy of Somerset’s survival is that Tres has another shot at the title.

Groundsman of the year

Pitches in county cricket are a problem – no, not at Ciderabad – because too many, especially early season in Division One, are dull. Essex have thrived on excellent decks – spin for Harmer, seam for Porter but ample reward for good batting too – at Chelmsford, and for that Stuart Kerrison deserves credit. But Kerrison’s finest work has come on Twitter, where he has developed a cult following for placing Lego pieces, often Star Wars-themed, on his pitch with witty accompanying captions.

Essex’s head groundsman, Stuart Kerrison, during the County Championship match against Yorkshire.
Essex’s head groundsman, Stuart Kerrison, during the County Championship match against Yorkshire. Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

How good was this season?

Essex’s excellence meant there was no title race (but don’t blame them), and the rest of Division One was mediocre. In Division Two the shadow of Durham’s relegation never seemed to fully lift, but there was a joie de vivre about the top sides’ cricket (especially Northamptonshire, who enriched the competition immeasurably) and a decent race for promotion. Not a classic, all in all, but the County Championship retains a unique ability to provide compelling sport and heart-warming stories, a happy place for more folk than we are led to believe.

Hopes for 2018

That there are more rounds involving all nine teams, an obvious opportunity provided by the switch to an eight-team Division One with 14 games (which is the right number); that the county game can finally solve England’s middle order woes; that Jofra Archer opts to play for the Windies; that the corner is turned at Durham, now they start level with everyone else; that the points system might be revisited so that bonuses are only available in the first 96 overs of an innings, not 110; that Trescothick doesn’t call stumps.

Team of the year

D Mitchell, A Davies (wk), L Wells, K Sangakkara, D Lawrence, R ten Doeschate (c), D Stevens, Joe Leach, J Archer, S Harmer, J Porter.

Special mentions to

Luke Fletcher, for handling a sickening injury with a smile. Northamptonshire, who won nine games but didn’t go up, Daryl Mitchell, for driving Worcestershire’s title win with seven centuries, even after losing the captaincy. Chris Read for being a gent to the last, and Peter Moores for being one too. Jack Leach, Tom Abell and their band of merry youngsters, for toughing it out at Taunton. And to all those who make it possible.


Will Macpherson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
County Championship 2019: Divisions One and Two team-by-team guide
Somerset and Surrey look best equipped to battle for the title while Division Two features an intriguing race to make the top three promotion places

Ali Martin

03, Apr, 2019 @10:07 AM

Article image
County Championship 2017: Divisions One and Two team-by-team guide
Surrey’s signings make them a good bet for the title though Middlesex and Somerset should challenge again while Sussex have strengthened enough to gain promotion

Ali Martin

06, Apr, 2017 @10:14 AM

Article image
County cricket round-up: Alastair Cook’s return powers Essex past Somerset
Alastair Cook hit a century for Essex in his first competitive match since resigning the England captaincy while Yorkshire’s Ben Coad has taken 10 wickets against Warwickshire

Will Macpherson at the Ageas Bowl

16, Apr, 2017 @7:30 PM

Article image
County cricket fixtures 2016: team by team guide
All the county championship, T20 and 50 over matches for next year

Guardian sport

02, Dec, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
County Championship roundup: Essex eye top spot as Surrey labour
Essex are chasing a victory over Surrey at Guildford that would take them to the top of Division One of the County Championship

Will Macpherson at Guildford

11, Jun, 2017 @7:33 PM

Article image
County Championship 2015 guide: Yorkshire still the side to beat | Ali Martin
Despite the early-season absence of their England absentees, it is hard to see past the reigning champions retaining their crown. But watch out for Derbyshire

Ali Martin

10, Apr, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
County Championship roundup: Ed Smith sees Surrey’s batsmen find form
Ryan Patel, Ben Foakes and Will Jacks all passed 50 while Gary Ballance and Joe Root were in the runs again for Yorkshire

Tanya Aldred at The Oval

11, Apr, 2019 @7:32 PM

Article image
County Cricket 2011: Preview

Make your predictions for the season after reading the Guardian's extensive previews of the counties for 2011

David Hopps, Andy Wilson, Barney Ronay, Mike Averis, Paul Rees and Steve Busfield

07, Apr, 2011 @10:39 AM

Article image
County Championship 2017: how has your team fared this season?
Newly promoted Essex won their first title since 1992 as last year’s challengers fell away. How has it been for your team?

Tom Stevens

25, Sep, 2017 @11:35 AM

Article image
Simon Harmer grabs nine wickets for Essex and they do for Middlesex
Simon Harmer took nine wickets on the final day for Essex and they sunk the county champions Middlesex with a maximum of eight balls remaining

Will Macpherson at Chelmsford

29, Jun, 2017 @9:28 PM