Cloudy skies, Antarctic conditions, winter coats and one teeny heatwave. What else could we be talking about but the start of the County Championship 2019? Yes, after a winter of conflicting red ball emotions for English cricket, a fresh chance is provided with the return of proper cricket.
We love county cricket because it is the very cornerstone of our game. Last year saw a finger nail shredding relegation finale, with Notts surviving by their little pinkie, whilst Matt Henry engineered a steely bridge which surpassed the canyon of division’s one and two. Surrey triumphed comfortably, Rory Burns being rewarded with a dismal winter overseas and Ollie Pope a bearer of new found faith in youth. The 2018 Champions were superb. But that was so last year. This is a brand new series, the last before the seismic shifts of domestic cricket in 2020. With only one team being relegated from Division One, let’s hope the season doesn’t succumb to a dull ending. A bit like this introduction…
Enough chatter. It’s time to peer into cloudy visage of Whitto’s crystal ball and decipher part one of his county championship predictions.
Surrey supporters will be forgiven in feeling a mixture of conflicting emotions as the 2019 season dawns. On the one hand there is significant optimism; an unchanged title winning squad, bolstered by new additions such as Liam Plunkett and Jordan Clark, mean the outstanding performances of 2018 look set to continue. Looking to build on that success, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes will be around for the first 10 matches, with test cricket not printing their shirts until the end of July. Whilst a bowling attack of Morne Morkel, Jade Dernbach, Liam Plunkett, Rikki Clarke, Amir Virdi and the Curran brother’s is ruthless and relentless.
On the other hand there’s the small matter of white ball cricket. Uh oh. With Sam Curran living up to his price tag over in the IPL, he will be away for the first month of the season. Add in England World Cup hopefuls Liam Plunkett, Tom Curran and prospective opener Jason Roy – that’s a heck of talent missing for much of the campaign. Mind you, with their confidence and depth of squad you’d be a fool to bet against Surrey so grab one of the latest bethard codes right now and put your money where my mouth is.
Bums On Seats Player (BOSP): Ollie Pope. Fans will be praying his heavenly form continues.
Whitto’s Prediction: Champions!
*Cue fat topless bloke screaming Eaglesss at the top of his lungs!*
2019 promises to be a hugely exciting year for a club which has undergone mouth gaping transformation over the past three seasons. Promotion in 2016 was followed by the Leicester City of tales as Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer inspired Essex to the 2017 championship, before an impressive third place finish in 2018. In fact South African Harmer is not only the most prolific bowler in first class cricket, but on a global stage his 106 wickets in the calendar year surpasses even that of Mohammad Abbas.
Whilst Harmer, Porter, Sam Cook and Peter Siddle whisk away wickets with all the furtive speed of a Michelin star waiter, the kitchen is where the magic truly happens. For Head Chef Sir Alastair Cook is back! Warming up with a comfortable prawn cocktail 150* starter against Cambridge Uni, Cook looks primed and hungry to deliver the most courses of his Essex career. England’s loss is very much an Essex gain, with the omnipresent Chef an ominous sign for fellow restaurateurs. Ably supported by sous chefs Browne, Westley, Lawrence, Wheater and gnarled meat chefs Bopara and Ten Doeschate expect a cacophony of flavours to emanate from the Cloudfm Ground this summer. All that has got to be worth a punt so why not bet here and blame me when you lose your money.
Don’t be surprised if another Michelin star appears…
BOSP: Too many Cook’s will not spoil the broth. Daddy and Baby Chef’s Alastair and Sam are the new Hairy Bikers.
Whitto’s Prediction: Runner Up… JUST!
The first ? of the season, courtesy of Sir A.N. Cook.
Enjoy ? pic.twitter.com/NNjD9BDXr7
— Essex Cricket (@EssexCricket) March 27, 2019
There’s a new scent on the breeze in Taunton. Amongst the ripe apples of Thatcher’s farm, a gorgeously sweet smell tickles the nostrils. Optimism. Daft, when you recall their relegation trouble two years ago. Even dafter when their top bowler last year only reached 37 wickets. And yet… like ‘Big Apple’ cider, there is undoubtedly a well-balanced taste to Somerset’s squad in 2019.
Pinching veteran Jack Brooks from Yorkshire adds firepower to their attack, plus provides potential revenue for the sale of headbands in the club shop. Securing a whole season of Azhar Ali, whose 401 runs in seven games were instrumental in leapfrogging Essex, shores up a dodgy top order. Whilst you can always count on England’s forgotten man James Hildreth and veteran Marcus Trescothick who is entering his 27th professional season. Add in spin twins Leach and Bess, plus a confident skipper in Tom Abell and there may be a few rosy cheeks in the West Country this September. Alright, rosier than normal then!
BOSP: Like Thatcher’s Gold he is always stylish – James Hildreth.
Whitto’s Prediction: I’ve got a combine harvester on this one – therefore third place!
Escaping from the hangman’s noose last year were Notts, saved by the ineptitude of Lancashire in winning a game less. Having seen death flash across their eyes, this season the Outlaws will need to channel their survival instincts and remain aloof from capture. With clever reinforcements and the presence of Stuart Broad, there is every chance Nottinghamshire will escape the clutches of the law and instead… finish in mid table mediocrity.
Not that they’ll mind though. Losing Harry Gurney to white ball only is a hammer blow, placing more pressure on the lofty shoulders of Jake Ball. Whilst fledgling signings Ben Duckett, Ben Slater, Joe Clarke and Zak Chappell may take a while to bed in. If they release even an ounce of their pent up potential, Nottinghamshire may well fly close to the golden centre target; particularly with the returning arrow of James Pattinson. Clarke especially oozes quality and is seeking to stake an England claim with his transfer from relegated Worcestershire. Samit Patel must rectify his poor 2018 where he averaged just 25.56 with the bat, whilst skipper Steven Mullaney may be respected but top order runs are critical.
As the cock Alan A Dale laments, ‘sometimes the ups outnumber the downs… but not in Nottingham (where they balance out equally).’
BOSP: The young English Merry Men of Clarke, Duckett, Slater and Chappell.
Whitto’s Prediction: Success depends on solving top order fragility. If yes, then fourth.
You know the saying… ‘if Karunaratne don’t get ya, Markram will!’ That’s correct, right? It certainly needs to be the mantra of new first team coach Adrian Birrell, who appeared to be pleased as punch with overseas Sri Lanka star Dimuth Karunaratne. An astute selection averaging 46.44, includes Dimuth in the ICC Test Team of the Year and with him Hampshire looked a formidable force. However, due to Dimuth being, well bloody good, Sri Lanka have now included him in their World Cup squad, hence he must say goodbye to the flat fields of Hampshire.
Instead Hampshire #AnounceAiden, as South African Markram arrives. And departs, if his consecutive ducks for Durham in 2018 are anything to go by! Hence batting falls squarely on the shoulders of James Vince. Who is seeking a fourth return to the England test side by promoting himself to open the batting this season. You’ve got to admire his tenacity. Like the Son of God, JV is primed to resurrect himself from the abyss and take his place in the kingdom of Root. That is, if Jesus had been nailed to the cross, died and risen, before being forced into the cycle a further three times.
Although to be fair to Vince this does occur every year in the Christian calendar so he may have the right idea…
BOSP: A middle order batsman with huge potential, Aneurin Donald signed from Glamorgan last summer and already has the joint fastest first-class double century.
Whitto’s Prediction: Jesus said, ‘Come forth and you shall receive eternal life… Hampshire came fifth and won a toaster!’
? ONE WEEK TO GO ?
Can you smell it? ?
Sweet scent of freshly mown grass, bat oil & everyone taking sick leave… ?
Oh yes, this time next week @CountyChamp returns with 12 teams in action… ?
— Howzat For A Laugh?! (@HowzatForALaugh) March 29, 2019
Ah the land of craggy peaks and our Geoffrey (one and the same really). It was déjà vu (try saying that in a Yorkshire accent) for the ‘Vikings’ last season as they finished fourth. The only marauding moment a glorious century from young Harry Brook as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Essex. That came after Yorkshire were bowled out for 50 in their first innings. 50! Who are their inspiration – England? Speaking of which Joe Root will be around for just the first two matches, with Jonny Bairstow absent most of the summer.
It’s a transitional phase at Headingley this year; gone are elderly pros Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett. Onus placed on youngster Ben Coad who will be supported by the one bright spark of Duanne Olivier. Politics and patriotism aside, this is a serious coup for the Yorkies with Olivier in magnificent form, having ended his test career with 48 wickets at 19.25.
Much will depend on skipper Gary Ballance who was head and shoulders above his teammates with 900 runs in 2018. Promising youngsters Harry Brook and Tom Kohler-Cadmore have to kick on, with the former only averaging 21.90, despite being likened to a bright eyed Joe. If they fail… steer clear of Boycott’s spit zone.
BOSP: Duanne Olivier – watch the anguish on his face when rain ruins another fixture. You could be on the beaches of Joburg Duanne!
Whitto’s Prediction: Too much reliance on Ballance and Lyth – sixth.
Some may call it cowardly to predict both promoted sides will be the ones fighting for relegation. We call it… yeah cowardly! Mind you, Paul Farbrace must have seen something in his waters for instead of assisting in England’s World Cup campaign and subsequent Ashes series he will be spending his summer at Edgbaston. Although that easily be a sign England are going to be shite, rather than the optimism at Warwickshire. Any way you swing it though Farbrace is brave in taking this plunge.
Swinging is precisely the opposite of how the Bears will approach this red ball season. Prepare for a gritty, determined campaign, masterminded through the experience of Ian Bell and Jeetan Patel. Otherwise it falls to relatively recent signings, Will Rhodes and Dom Sibley to ensure big runs on the board. If decent totals occur it will be interesting to see whether youngsters’ Olly Stone and Henry Brookes can cause problems to the batsmen of Div One.
BOSP: Ding dong – it’s always Ian Bell!
Whitto’s Prediction: Survival ensured courtesy of only one team being relegated…
One more team to go. Kent. The surprise package of last season. 10 years since they last played in the big time, a coming of age performance by Joe Denly helped the Spitfires to an unequalled 10 victories. Every single ounce of talent was eked out by coach Matt Walker, as the flannel was wrung dry.
And it will remain dry. Sadly for Kent fans, Matt Henry’s outstanding success means New Zealand have come sniffing. Add in the powerful snorts of the IPL and World Cup, and Kent’s key players have been inhaled into the clogged fulcrum of fame. Both Sam Billings and Denly will be covered in snot, causing a nosebleed of woe at the Spitfire ground. Blood spattered, Harry Podmore, Grant Stewart and Ivan Thomas will struggle in their pursuit of Div One wickets, whilst legend Darren Stevens is a ripe 43 years old. Can his medium pace seamers really block the flow of runs? Batting falls to Ashes hopeful Matt Renshaw and the career plateauing Daniel Bell Drummond.
Forget the nose for a second. Kent will have problems emerging from another orifice.
BOSP: Nobody will want to sit anywhere near a Kent player…
Pooping Propping up the table I’m afraid!
There you have it then. A quota of words filled and some hard thought county championship 2019 predictions for Division One. Can Pope bless Surrey again? Is Dom simply the Bess? Will Yorkshire be out-Duanne? There’s much to find out.