End of the season is fast approaching
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Posted on Friday, 08th September 2017 -
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Firstly, let me begin by saying congratulations to all those sides out there who have already managed to wrap up their divisions around the country or successfully avoid relegation, and to those whose fate is still in their own hands for the next couple of weeks, good luck.
Also, congratulations to Nottinghamshire Outlaws who after being comfortably the best team in the competition all year have finally added the Natwest T20 Blast trophy to their collection and have it alongside the Royal London 50 Over trophy from earlier in the summer.
For the first time Lords is hosting a Test Match in September. The deciding Test of a truly gripping series between England and the West Indies, tied at 1-1 going into this game it looks to have everything for a fitting end to a series which has seen neither side dominate the other completely, in contrast to the earlier South Africa series in which England thoroughly dominated their opposition.
Following the thoroughly convincing victory England had in the first Day/Night Test match at Edgbaston it was good to see the West Indian team come out fighting at Headingley where, with the addition of Shannon Gabriel managed to blow the top order of England away, the rest of the Test in my opinion was fairly well balanced with neither team truly getting away from the other and I applauded (not literally) Joe Roots' decision to declare with time left on Day 4. I was also left hooked to the conclusion of the game as West Indies managed to pull off a surprising victory after the rout that took place at Edgbaston. Special praise must to Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite for their truly superb batting in both innings innings for the tourists.
Lords in September will pose all sorts of questions for both sides heading into the final Test of the Summer. For England it is all about their best XI moving forward. I am happy to see England recall Toby Roland-Jones to the side, who in my opinion, has been one of Englands' best players since making his debut earlier this summer. And on his home ground of Lords who would know the conditions better than him? Especially, considering last September he took a hat-trick for his county Middlesex to wrap up the County Championship Title vs Yorkshire. Don't get me wrong, I rate Chris Woakes as one of the best fast bowling all-rounders in the country, only probably beaten by Ben Stokes in this category, but having only just made his come back from a serious side injury I feel the second Test was just a little too early for him to return to the Test Arena. Personally, I'd have kept him with Warwickshire until the T20 and ODI series.
The final Test should really be the time and place for Stoneman, Westley and Malan to put in performances that will get them on the plane to Australia for this Winters Ashes seris. All three men have had plenty of opportunities this summer, Stoneman less than the other two, but the series against the Aussies in their own backyard will force a lot more questions than those from the West Indies in England.
Stoneman should be wanting to play with the freedom and determination that had gained him such prais and adulation from around the country during his time at Durham and how his Surrey career has began this summer and any time spent seeing off the Gabriel and Roach will see him in a good position to face Australias' imposing pace attack. Westley will need to grind out a score to stop the rot of England,seemingly being always in trouble two down for not very many and show he can score big runs and be Englands' long term number three, rather than just another stop gap. Malan, batting at his home ground, needs to build on some solid starts he has made in his career for England so far, his mental toughness showed in the second Test scoring by far his slowest First Class fifty of his career to help rebuild the England innings and get them into what seemed at the time a comfortable lead at the time. I can't see England looking to make too many changes, or blood in new players in that First Test in Brisbane, so baring injuriy or two complete failures in this match they should be fairly confident of their places. Personally, I believe all three have the ability to really succeed in Australia, especially Stoneman and Malan.
Following the conclusion of this Test match the attention switches to the limited overs formats and the return of some of some of the biggest names in West Indian cricket with Jerome Taylor, Marlon Samuels and possibly the most explosive opening batsman in recent time Chris Gayle. These two series will see England rest Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali for the one of T20I at Durham with Liam Dawson, David Malan and Chris Jordan taking place in the squad for this game while Stokes, Ali and Chris Woakes are all recalled for the 50 over games. These matches should test all involved not just because of the undoubted talents and abilities of the players in each squad but also the time of year and conditions. The West Indian players wont be big fans of turning out at Durham, Old Trafford or Bristol in middle of the middle of September. But it wont be easy for Englands' positive play on slow and damp pitches. So this will test out the concentration and adaptability of man in form Alex Hales and the recalled Jason Roy against the tourists new ball pairings as well as show how far off the likes of Chris Woakes are from full form before leaving for Australia.
Now with the fast paced excitement of the Natwest T20 Blast finished with for another year the focus for the 18 counties shifts back to the red ball game and the final few rounds of the County Championship. There is still all to play for in Division one in terms of the championship and relegation. Bottom side Warwickshire are hanging by a thread at the time of writing this article as they are playing the side above them currently in Somerset. A win for Somerset will condem Warwickshire to life next season in Division 2 as they will then be out of reach of the men from the midlands. At the other end of the table, Lancashire and Essex look set for a draw as the typical Manchester weather has shortened their game considerably. But the highlight for this game must be the grit and determination shown by young opener Haseeb Hameed as he was last man out.
Division two seems all but wrapped up by the limited overs champions, Nottinghamshire. It looks like a four way fight for the runners up spot between Worcestershire, Sussex, Kent and Northamptonshire. The final three all having a game in hand on second placed Worcestershire meaning the final three rounds of games will make for great viewing around the grounds. This year sees the return to the norm of two up and two down so the climax from both divisions will keep all those involved on their toes.
My predictions for the County Championship Divisions are:
Relegated: Warwickshire, Somerset
IF you disagree or anything let me know in the comment section below. Be good to hear some thoughts on the future onf the English game going forward.