Sir Alastair Cook: The Great
There’s that quote from Sid Waddell – “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer … Bristow’s only 27.” Sir Alastair Cook is 35, but he doesn’t have any more cricketing worlds to conquer. And he has a farm and family back home as well as a microphone to pick up whenever he fancies a bit of media work.
But he loves Essex County Cricket Club and they love him in return, so in he went to face the new ball. He made more runs in the Bob Willis Trophy than any other batsman, capping it with a magnificently watchable 172, the innings that shaped the match that delivered the Bob to Chelmsford.
He was on that cold, windswept north London field for 295 of the match’s 379 overs but that was no surprise to me. I would arrive soon after 7am for Test matches (believe me, worth it to see the mist lazily clear from in front of Lord’s pavilion) and Alastair Cook was always there ahead of me, getting throwdowns while I got coffee. Careers like his do not happen by chance.
Tom Lammonby: The Kid
Barely a household name in his own household when cricket started up in August, he must have been hoping for a bit of white-ball cricket, his left arm seam probably more valuable to Somerset than his middle order batting.
Fast forward two months and he is established as his county’s opening batsman, with three centuries in six matches, including a sparkling ton in a Lord’s final that kept his team in with a shout deep into the fifth day.
The new ball can be a harsh taskmaster in England and the man third on the list of runscorers in the Bob need only look down to 29th place to see that flames that burn bright can be dimmed just as swiftly (that said, there were encouraging signs for Haseeb Hameed after his move to Nottinghamshire). But, for now, the world is at the 20 year-old’s feet – don’t stub your toe kid.
Craig Overton: The Trier
While Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were sending the speedgun into the red and Chris Woakes was delivering a season to remember as the bowler who bats for England, Craig Overton found his large frame in the international shadows, his five international appearances spread over a couple of years, none more recent than 13 months ago. He has almost certainly heard the deathless phrase “you’re very much still in our thoughts”at some point in the last year.
While his twin Jamie has left for the bright lights of, er, Southwark, Craig got on with winning cricket matches for Somerset, even though he probably didn’t need to read ahead to find out what happens on the last page. In the Bob, his splice-splitting seamers dismissed 30 batsmen at 13.4, his lower middle order batting produced 248 runs at 31 and his slip catching reminded me of another Somerset all-rounder, one soon to sit in the House of Lords.
Perhaps Coverton is destined to occupy that space between the centrally contracted elite and the Darren Stevensish county pro: too good to be scoffed at by those keen to tell us that there are too many counties, too many players and too much cricket (I hope you enjoyed June and July), but not quite good enough to be England’s best option at six, seven or eight. All the more for the hundreds of thousands who follow the domestic game to enjoy.
Dan Christian: The Import
Twenty20 cricket has spawned a statistics industry – spend any time on Twitter during an IPL game and you’ll learn that Jonny Bairstow has a strike rate of 125 against left-arm spin outside the powerplay when chasing targets of 180 or more and wearing his third set of gloves.
But T20 is a game of moments: seizing the time to attack with the bat; to bring on the legspinner; to move fine leg into the circle. Much of this needs to be instinctive – plans adjusted on the hoof, little nuances of technique or attitude picked up in a batsman’s demeanour, responding to changes in the pitch, even the outfield. The key to success (ironically) is to blank out all the stats, plans and extraneous mental noise and bring clarity of thought to the next ball – in T20, as important an approach to bowling and captaincy as it has always been to batting.
Australian veteran Dan Christian went into a Nottinghamshire dressing room that still couldn’t win a red-ball match and set about those moments through calling upon an unparalleled range of experience comprising over 300 matches played all over the world. He always knew what he wanted to do with the next ball and made sure that his team did too.
In the quarter-final that was about staying in the game knowing that, though seven down, he had two international cricketers (Samit Patel and Imad Wasim) at the crease and his opponents were an inexperienced XI feeling the heat of pressure in the cold of night. Anything might happen – and it sure did.
In the semi-final, he Kapil Devved four successive sixes off Liam Livingstone and you only needed to look at Matt Parkinson’s face to know that in those two minutes, he had lost the chance to win the match for Lancashire and now had only the job of feeding the winning runs to his opponents.
In the final, he bowled three of the last six overs, as Surrey’s lift-off never left the ground, his personal return 4-23. He only needed one of his big guns to fire to chase down 128 and Ben Duckett’s undefeated half-century proved enough.
Who was at the other end when Duckett struck the winning runs? Well, who do you think? The Man of the Moments.
The Backstage Cast: The Unseen
In 1966, Time Magazine, in that pretentiously innocent way that was so of its time, awarded its annual Person of the Year accolade to “Anyone under the age of 25”.
So, with that licence, the fifth county cricketer of the year is anyone involved in the game: the administrators who found a way to squeeze two meaningful competitions into the time available (and did so safely); the staff opening the gates in the morning and cleaning the dressing rooms in the evening; the media who brought the drama to us. And everyone else in-between.
Most of all to the hundreds of cricketers who are not in the quartet above. Many made unexpected debuts, some will have found the adjustments (psychological and physical) tough, others will be looking at a worrisome future as finances tighten to a degree never seen before.
Sports fans, calling on the extremes of emotions that the phrase connotes, are rather better at giving brickbats or adulation than plain old gratitude – so this is a heartfelt thanks and best wishes for the future to all those who did so much to brighten some very bleak days. And see you soon.