The Spin | County cricket 2019: 10 things to look out for in the new season

Alastair Cook is back full-time with Essex, young talent abounds at Worcestershire and it’s make-or-break for Haseeb Hameed

Weighed down by the indicative vote process? Square eyed from binge-watching Sky News with a side portion of Newsnight? Come [pats bench] sit next to the Spin here in the sun, and listen to that merry blackbird. The clocks have gone forward and the County Championship begins on Friday with six games split across the two divisions – at Trent Bridge, the Ageas Bowl and Taunton, at Hove, Northampton and Derby. Here are our 10 things to watch for this season:

1) Will he, won’t he?

It’s the Graeme Hick saga for the 2010s. The newly England-qualified Jofra Archer is away with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL at the moment but will have a chance to fight for a last-minute World Cup place in the early-season one-day internationals. Sussex understandably have mixed feelings about his progress but how will Archer cope with the pressure? His easy-going character suggests it will be a lot more straightforward than for poor old Hick, who never felt more comfortable than when in his baggy Worcestershire pullover under the shadow of the cathedral.

2) Festival fun

The very loveliest form of the game: deckchairs, picnics, lounging old spaniels, children playing on the outfield at lunchtime. There are two new(ish) venues this season – Yorkshire head to Clifton Park, York, for the first time; and in mid-May Hampshire and Nottinghamshire bob across the Solent to Newclose for the first County Championship game on the Isle of Wight since 1962.

3) Old dogs

Thirty-four years young, yet already Test-retired and knighted, Sir Alastair Cook, who started the season with an unbeaten 150 at Fenner’s, is back full-time at Essex. Up in the Midlands the almost-37-year-old Ian Bell, shorn of his old mucker Jonathan Trott but back in Division One, will be trying to recreate his golden summer of last year; while Darren Stevens, defiantly evergreen at 42, rolls out those dibbly-dobblies for just one last season with Kent.

4) New tricks

So much promise. Division Two watchers will get a chance to see Worcestershire’s gifted young bowlers Dillon Pennington and Pat Brown, Josh Tongue and Ed Barnard; while at Middlesex Toby Roland-Jones – not-so-young of years but young of overs – comes back after terrible injury. In Division One the county champions, Surrey, have a glut of riches including Ollie Pope, who caught Ed Smith’s eye last season, while Kent’s Zak Crawley is one to watch after his maiden Championship hundred. Glamorgan fans will keep a teary eye out for their ex, Aneurin Donald, now at Hampshire, who made the joint fastest first-class double century in 2016 but has struggled since. Will a new start make all the difference?

Ollie Pope will hope to push himself back into England contention
Ollie Pope will hope to push himself back into England contention. Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

5) Upstairs, downstairs

If you thought the tension of Dom Bess’s heave at Ciderabad last September couldn’t be beaten, just watch and wait. The format changes at the end of the summer – two nine-strong divisions will go and Division One will consist of 10 teams, Division Two of eight – guaranteeing fierce end-of-season battles at the top of the latter division, where three teams will have the chance of promotion.

6) A Blast of fresh air

The ECB have removed the applause sticks, the four and six signs and the wigs from Vitality Blast T20 packs this summer on sustainability grounds. As well as a thumbs-up for the environment, this is a blessed relief for the clubs, who often had to spend hours the next day clearing up the mess, with the vast majority of the “cheer pack” dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

7) Pantomime villains

Durham’s new captain, Cameron Bancroft, he of sandpaper fame, arrives at the club in time for their second game, against Sussex. Meanwhile Duanne Olivier, who gave up his promising international career with South Africa (48 wickets in 10 Tests at an average of 19.25) for the security of a three-year contract with Yorkshire, has already pulled on the white rose against Leeds/Bradford MCCU. And finally Colin Graves is in his last year as ECB chairman and is bound to go quietly. Oh no he won’t …

Durham’s new captain Cameron Bancroft
Durham’s new captain Cameron Bancroft. Photograph: Jason O’Brien/PA

8) May the sixth be with you

The first bank holiday Monday in May has been named Women’s County Cricket day, an echo of football’s non‑league day. Organisers hope fans will try women’s cricket on a day when there are not a lot of other games being played. There are plenty of matches to choose from at lovely grounds from Cromer in Norfolk to Roche in Cornwall. Admission is free and England players should be padded up alongside their less-heralded teammates.

9) Last-chance saloon

Even seasoned Lancashire watchers had to turn away last season as Haseeb Hameed, once the new saviour of English cricket, repeatedly forgot where his stumps were. He endured a dismal summer, averaging 9.44, and was dropped. His talent is undisputed and there is much affection for him but Lancashire’s director of cricket, Paul Allott, was blunt with Wisden Cricket Monthly: “He’s got six months left on a contract and he’s not scored a run for two years. Not only is he a million miles away from England, he’s hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire.”

Haseeb Hameed has endured two difficult seasons
Haseeb Hameed has endured two difficult seasons. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

10) Old and new at Lord’s

A tour of the dressing rooms would reveal the new ODI honours boards on the walls, including names such as Anya Shrubsole and Cathryn Fitzpatrick alongside Muttiah Muralitharan and Ricky Ponting. Polishing those boards while chewing the fat this year will be the Guardian’s long-serving former cricket correspondent Mike Selvey, Middlesex’s new president. Do buy the old boy a beer if you see him.

This is an extract taken from the Spin, the Guardian’s weekly cricket email. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.

Contributor

Tanya Aldred

The GuardianTramp

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