Fancy a laugh dear reader? I think you’ll need it. Our glorious summer of 2018 is officially over. One which saw fried faces, tanned torsos and splintered stumps. We had it all in County Championship Division One.

Rory Burns holds the coveted golden trophy high into the sky, as finally, after sixteen years, his Surrey side seize the title. Down the bottom, Worcestershire’s bottle of sauce runs dry, as they make an ignominious exit. Joining them the wilted rose of Lancashire, who have batting problems, akin to those Theresa May suffers with Brexit. No obvious solution.

Back on April 23rd I gazed into my crystal ball for some predictions. Clearly it mustn’t have been polished thoroughly, for they might have been a tad off… I blame Professor Trelawney. Those predictions make grim reading. As we can see now…

1) Surrey

Finishing 46 points above their nearest challengers, Surrey are the unmistakable champions. Every facet of their game went pretty much, the way I predicted back in April. Morne Morkel’s signature was, ‘a massive coup for shirt sales and tumbling wickets alike.’ Terrier Gareth Batty handed over the reins to Rory Burns, who hit 1000 runs for the fifth season running. Averaging 64.71 Burns lit up the division.

My concern going into the campaign was the gaping hole left by Kumar Sangakkara, whose 1491 runs came at 106.50. With Virat Kohli holding back his triumphant return, there was a player void. Yes Dean Elgar contributed but the star of Surrey’s show was Ollie Pope. Four centuries, just shy of 1000 runs and averaging 70.43, the ginger haired Catholic was biblical. A God, sent down to play on cricketing strips in the shape of man. Or baby faced teen.

Ben Foakes, voted in the BBC county team of 2018, simply gets better and better. Diving like Gordon Banks he snaffles some astonishing catches. Were England not adorned with keepers, Foakes would be the bloke. The Curran brothers, who I didn’t even mention in April, had a super Mario-esque season. Picking up golden wicket coins, they bounced along with glee. Keeping up, aging Wario Rikki Clarke, who at the age of 36 took 47 victims at 21.53.

Surrey are the side for the future. My prophecy that, ‘with Morkel, Surrey have a super chance to turn those ten championship draws last year into wins’ came true. Just a shame I didn’t have the balls to cement them as winners!

Whitto Predicted: 3rd                      Actual Finish: 1st

2) Somerset

Here’s where your end of season frown, can be turned upside down. The land of cider and hay came out to play. Somerset lost only twice all season, with James Hildreth striking 1089 runs at 45.38. Due to Somerset being too far away from the capital for Ed Smith to travel however, he receives no England call up. A travesty amongst those heathen farmers. Many pitchforks were sharpened in anger.

Those pitchforks could also be glinting with menace towards HFAL HQ. For where did I predict the cider drinking faithful would finish? Bottom. Stone cold last in the division. Oopsie. There goes my gold card for Thatcher’s farm. Based on the theory that, ‘you have to fear for a side that are once again relying on veteran Trescothick to open the batting,’ Somerset were supposed to be relegated. To be fair to me, Marcus only averaged 27.28, so I got that bit right. However the resurgence of skipper Tom Abell and overseas opener Matthew Renshaw filled in the blanks. Who by the way was replacement for Cameron Bancroft. Now, where have we heard of him before?

On a bowling front, they chipped in with the enthusiasm of Seven Dwarfs. Four mined over 30 wickets, Davey, Gregory, Leach and Craig Overton. With bro Jamie just 3 behind. Jack Leach’s 8-85 against a Dopey Essex had Ed Smith grinning like… well Happy.

Whereas your ‘esteemed’ blogger becomes Grumpy.

Whitto Predicted: 8th                      Actual Finish: 2nd  

3) Essex

Just like the morning after a night out in Chelmsford, Essex suffered a hangover from their title winning year. Mind you, at least they didn’t make a fool of themselves by jumping into the River Chelmer after one too many Smirnoff Ice’s. No, me neither.

Perhaps there was an overreliance on 75 wicket hauler Jamie Porter, who took half the season to awaken from his stupor. Finishing with 57 at 24.75 helped the Eagles flap their wings in challenging for second place. Veteran Aussie snarler, Peter Siddle offered much needed impetus, taking his scalps at just 16 apiece. Replacing last season’s success story of Mohammad Amir was always going to be tough, yet Sids rocketed in with venom. Promising paceman Sam Cook will have learnt much from the sun cream wearing Aussie.

Where Essex struggled was bat in hand. Westley returned to his wafting outside off, with Nick Browne and Dan Lawrence certainly having campaigns to forget. Only Ravi Bopara averaged in the 40’s, whilst Murali Vijay impressed in his five innings. Scaling the dizzy heights of 2017 was always going to be tricky. Yet strengthen that batting line up, with say, oh I dunno, Alastair Cook and Essex will be licking their lips for 2019.

Mind you, I was under the impression their lips would be sweetened by now. As I’ll just leave this prediction here, ‘with a fearsome batting line up of Cookie, Browne, Westley, Lawrence, Bopara and Tendo, Essex will seek to defend their title with spirit and skill. You’d be a fool to bet against them.’

Wonder who the fool really was?

Whitto Predicted: 1st                      Actual Finish: 3rd 

4) Yorkshire

Here’s one I almost got spot on – ‘Aiming for mid table mediocrity are the land of savoury soggy puds and Geoff Boycott.’  In 2017 they survived with the stench of relegation in their nostrils, thus the craggy faced Yorkshire folk should be reasonably satisfied with 2018. Mind you, I’ve never known a Yorkshire man or women to be satisfied. They’ll nod with grimness at Gary Ballance’s 906 runs, not quite squeezing the magic four figures. Perhaps even pat Ben Coad on the back whose 48 wickets came an impressive 16.33. But aside from that?

Pujara disappointed, like a flat Yorkshire pud. Youngster Harry Brook only hit one century. And Adam Lyth carried on, well being Adam Lyth. Yes, their most impressive victory was thrilling, after being bowled out for 50 by Essex, but stout Boycs would claim, ‘Twas poor they even made 50. Me Mam…’ Alright, Geoffrey back in your hat box please. There’s a good chap.

That and twice thrashing their Red Rose rivals were about the only high points.

Whitto Predicted: 5th                      Actual Finish: 4th

5) Hampshire

Eleven points clear of relegation were Hampshire. James Vince country. Who incidentally was included ahead of Hildreth in the BBC XI. Absolute madness. Granted Vince is a technically pleasing batsman to watch, his cover drive gets all the old boys excited, but he is far too frustrating to be taken seriously. It appears that finally, Ed Smith has stopped the England flirtation. Vince is the date you’ll have on Tinder. Fit, but flaky as fuck. Plus in the bedroom, he’ll climax too early.

Not climaxing at all was new signing Sam Northeast. Flaccid. Whilst losing Hashim Amla to injury was a severe blow, considering the bearded wonder struck three 50’s and two 100’s. On a bowling front, Fidel Edwards and Kyle Abbott both salvaged 50 wickets, yet support was lacking.

Needless to say runs did not, ‘flow as heavy as the April showers.’ Dark horses, my arse.

Whitto Predicted: 3rd                      Actual Finish: 5th

6) Nottinghamshire

As Robin Hood buries his arrows, so too does Whitto hit a bullseye with Notts! For Nottinghamshire suffered from the slings and arrows of a poor campaign. Initially they thrived, bowling out Lancashire for 71, with Harry Gurney and Jake Ball looking like they belonged at the top table. Instead, as the season wore on and limited overs disaster affected their longer format, Notts barely survived on discarded scraps. They were incredibly lucky to survive by the end.

Thanks to Lancs failing to reach 300 within 110 overs, the Outlaws truly steal survival. Staying up, courtesy of having one more win than the Red Rose. Even the most ardent fan of Hood, surely feels sympathy for the princely Lancs as they suck on their thumb in the derelict wasteland of Div Two. Everything stank in 2018 for Notts.

The statement, ‘much will rest on the hefty shoulders of Samit Patel,’ was born true. Samit’s top score was 76, whilst he only took 19 wickets at an appalling 47.16. The Outlaws survive by the skin of their teeth and will fatten up with their new signings; Ben’s Duckett and Slater and Joe Clarke.

Whitto Predicted: 6th                      Actual Finish: 6th

7) Lancashire

‘Oh Lanky, Lanky, Lanky, Lancashire.’ Normally cried with rapturous acclaim, in 2018 this has become a dirge of decay for supporters. Relegated for the third time in seven seasons. A crime if ever there was one. Locked behind bars too was my prediction – ‘They have an energetic and powerful line up, with their top four potentially being all English.’ Those very words were typed five months ago. Has a falser phrase ever been uttered?

Substitute ‘energetic’ and ‘powerful,’ for ‘erroneous’ and ‘pathetic.’ That provides a clearer analysis of how 2018 has gone for Liam Livingstone’s unit. The skipper had a top score of 48, deflating the helium high expectations of him soaring to Sri Lanka. 2016 prospect, Haseeb Hameed appears to have forgotten how to defend. In 23 innings, he finished with an average of 9.71. 9.71?! His deterioration, from averaging 49.91 two years ago, even has Lancashire director of cricket Paul Allott puzzled. Allott reflects how it’s a, ‘complete and utter mystery.’

Attempting to solve the puzzle were seamers Bailey and Onions, who combined to successfully take 62 and 57 wickets respectively. But they could only do so much.

Far from being a Take That tribute act, this Lancashire side are like the boyband Five. ‘When The Lights Go Out’ they awaken in the depths of Division Two. ‘If Ya Getting Down’ to Old Trafford in 2019, ‘Don’t Fight It Baby’ and embrace the challenge. For the Red Rose must ‘Keep On Movin’ to ‘Rock The Party’ and ‘Shake’ their way back. If their batsmen improve then I’ve ‘Got A Feeling’ they’ll return to the ‘Megamix’ and ‘Slam Dunk Da Funk.’

Whitto’s Prediction: 4th                  Actual Finish: 7th

8) Worcestershire

Smack bang, bottom of Division One. Not much to say here, as I called it perfectly back in April, ‘newly promoted Worcestershire will struggle.’ Two wins all season. Had Moeen Ali played all campaign, it may have been different, for in five innings he averaged over 70. Whilst snaffled 18 wickets with his spin. Pacemen Ed Barnard and Josh Tongue tried to salivate life into the side, but the batsmen closed the coffin lid.

A storming T20 performance will ease disappointment of relegation. At least there’s one trophy in the cabinet this year.

Whitto’s Prediction: 7th                  Actual Finish: 8th

The Specsavers County Championship is notoriously difficult to predict. Something we have clearly proved! However with only Somerset and Lancashire in vastly differing positions, there’s a small glow of smugness. It appears we may know a teeny bit about cricket after all.

Howzat for a laugh?!

(Editor – Hold forth on those complaints Div Two supporters. Next week I’m assured Whitto will reveal how his predictions played out with you. Unless he does a runner…)