So once again, congratulations to Durham, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, while Surrey and Kent look forward to life in a lower league (hang on – didn’t I say that would happen?). One last duty before the tremendous 2008 county season is put to bed. Following Tim’s review of the season, comes my Team of the Season. Same rules as last year: only those who win a player of the week are eligible, so Jacques Rudolph and Steve Harmison aren’t eligible for selection but Josh Cobb and Darren Pattinson are. The team also fits to county regulations with only one overseas player, although I must admit that was through merit rather than planning!
Openers - No specialist openers won a POTW this season, so the places have to go to two players who have filled in rather a lot.
1, Andrew Gale (Yorks) A breakthrough season for the young batsman, who scored a match winning century in week 2 and has been one of the reasons for Yorkshire scoring more batting points than anyone else in Division 1.
2, Vikram Solanki (Worcs) Outscored by Stephen Moore over the season, but scored big when it mattered, including 270 at quicker than a run a ball against Gloucestershire. Captained the team back to Division 1, averaged 47 and scored well over a thousand runs – a fine season.
Middle order – also available for selection were Josh Cobb, Sean Ervine, Tony Frost, Ian Blackwell and most unlucky of all, Martin van Jaarsveld
3, Ravi Bopara (Essex) Following a disappointing winter with England Bopara delivered very quickly for Essex, making POTW in week 1 and keeping that form going all season. He still looks unsure in an England shirt, being dropped for the more recent One Day matches and the forthcoming tour, but for Essex he has averaged nearly 65 and keeps Martin van Jaarsveld out of this team.
4, Mark Ramprakash (Surrey) In any other team he would be a star. In the current Surrey set up, he is so far ahead of the rest of his team mates, it is embarrassing. He couldn’t perform his heroics of single handedly keeping the team up again, but averaging over 60 and reaching his 100th hundred, he had a fine season.
5, Will Smith (Durham) The champion’s only representative shows how much of a team effort winning the title was. He started the season as Paul Collingwood’s stand in and ended up by outscoring the likes of Chanderpaul, di Venuto and Benkenstein.
Wicket-keeper – missing out were Chris Read and James Pipe
6, Matt Prior (Sussex) Like Bopara, Prior had a lot to prove after a difficult winter with England. Like Bopara, Prior answered his critics by scoring a lot of runs regularly, averaging over 50 for the season. At the start of the season, Prior was responsible for keeping the Sussex batting together as the rest of the team struggled. His keeping has reportedly improved immensely and he has been rewarded with an England recall.
All-Rounders – missing out are Jonathan Clare and Ian Blackwell (again)
7, Adil Rashid (Yorks) The final POTW, with his sole century of the season and a 7 wicket haul to kleep Yorkshire in Division 1. His bowling got better and better during the season, with 62 wickets despite the damp summer, while his batting went backwards until that last, vital innings. The England Lions tour beckons for the winter and it will be a surprise if he isn’t in the full England squad this time next year.
8, Dimitri Mascarenhas (Hants) With the loss of Shane Warne at the start of the season, Hampshire went to one of the title favourites to relegation candidates. However, a remarkable run at the end of the season, inspired by Mascarenhas, who averaged 30 with the bat and took 41 wickets at 23 with the ball, saw them as unlikely title candidates even one the last day of the season, finishing 3rd. A downside to the season was the loss of his England limited overs place, to the bemusement of everyone.
9, Imran Tahir (Hants) Of course, Mascarenhas was helped in his turning around the Hampshire season by the introduction of a spinner who looked awful in his one performance for Yorkshire last season, but took 44 wickets at 16 in just 7 games at the back end of this season. Tahir gave the team the mystery factor that Warne’s absence had taken away. It will be interesting to see how he fairs over a full season next year.
Seamers – missing out are Yasir Arafat and Ryan McLaren
10, James Tomlinson (Hants) Hampshire’s third representative in the team, Tomlinson was the top wicket taker in Division 1 and was responsible for keeping Hants in touch with the rest of the division during the first half of the season, particularly inspiring a vital win over Yorkshire, which started the Hants revival.
11, Darren Pattinson (Notts) Michael Vaughan may not have heard of him, but he’s never been that interested in county cricket anyway. Pattinson, a Grimsby born Aussie bred roofer ended up being selected for England based on some excellent early season form, leading the Notts attack in the absence of Broad and Sidebottom