Grayson hails quality of Essex opening performance

Essex became the first side to record a victory in the County Championship this season when they completed the win over Gloucestershire just 75 minutes into the third morning’s play after a performance that head coach Paul Grayson described as “nearly perfect”.

After an innings and 38-run vicory, giving Essex 23 points from the game, Grayson said: “We were not far off a complete performance with the bat, ball and with our fielding. We’ve been working hard on our preparation coming into the season and it’s always nice when you get a result like this in your first game.”

Grayson has made little secret that the top-priority for his charges this season is to win promotion back to Division One of the Championship. “Last year we started slowly and were left playing catch-up at quite an early stage, so we knew that it was important for us to make a good start this season,” he added.

“But we are not going to get too carried away. It’s only the first game but certainly there are a lot of positives to take out of it. Generally our all-round performance was very solid and everyone feels very good about their own game at the moment. Confidence is high and that’s very important at this time of the year.”

Essex were also missing five members of their first team squad, including Charl Willoughby who was nursing a slight groin problem, and Grayson admits that selection problems may lie ahead.

“Fozzie (James Foster) and I are going to have a few headaches about who to play but that’s a nice dilemma to have,” he said. “Ravi (Bopara) will be available for our next game, at Yorkshire starting on April 19, so somebody is going to have to drop out for him and Charl should also be fit.

“Alastair Cook is going to play a couple of games for us too before England’s first Test against the West Indies later in May, while Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate will be coming back from the IPL at some stage so the depth of the squad is looking good.

“The players know there is going to be keen competition for places, but it’s just important to keep everyone fit and fresh. If we can do that, then we’ll have a good summer.”

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Still No 1, but time for England to review selection policy?

Victory in Colombo on the final day of their winter Test travels, securing a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka after four successive defeats, has at last given Andrew Strauss and his team something to smile about – especially as it has also enabled them to hang on to their No 1 Test status.

But should this winter’s five Tests – three against Pakistan in the UAE and two in Sri Lanka – have proved quite such a struggle? Indeed, has an inbuilt conservatism in selection been at the root of England’s problems?

This winter England Test captain Strauss and team director Andy Flower have come under pressure for the first time since they found themselves thrown together in charge during a difficult tour to the West Indies in early 2009, and it seems that caution is part of their leadership style.

The decision in Colombo to leave out Monty Panesar, a rare success story of the winter on his return to the Test arena, is a good example. Samit Patel was preferred as Graeme Swann’s spin partner, not because of his ability as an international spinner – clearly he is not in Panesar’s class – but because he could bat at seven in the order, behind Matt Prior and in front of Tim Bresnan, and therefore stiffen the batting.

England’s management will point quite rightly to the second Test win in Colombo as the ultimate justification of this selection policy – and, moreover, to the rise to the top of the Test rankings itself.

One of the ironies of England’s winter has been that, while attacks of four frontline bowlers have performed heroically, it has been their batsmen who have let them down – until Colombo and Kevin Pietersen in particular, that is.

When England review their winter, it is almost certain that Strauss and Flower will not put their preference for six batsmen and four frontline bowlers at the heart of any questions about why the team struggled for so long. Yet perhaps it was an initial injury to Bresnan – the one genuine all-round option at No 7 – which disrupted England’s plans more than they would admit.

Panesar, as events in the rest of the Pakistan series showed, was erroneously omitted from England’s first Test of the winter, in Dubai, so that a third seamer – Chris Tremlett – could be played. Indeed, Bresnan’s injury probably prevented Strauss and Flower from fielding a five-man attack in that Test when, originally, Panesar and Swann were pencilled in to join Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Bresnan in the final XI.

Eoin Morgan was reprieved when Bresnan flew home from the UAE, not that the Middlesex batsman made the most of it in a wretched series that subsequently saw him dropped from the tour to Sri Lanka, and when Bresnan finally returned to the side – as England again opted for three seamers in Colombo by playing Steven Finn alongside him and Anderson – it was Patel who, in effect, replaced the injured Broad in the lower middle order.

Since Andrew Flintoff’s retirement, indeed, Strauss and Flower have shied away from fielding a specialist five-man bowling line-up, always in the interests of a longer batting order, but if Bresnan had been fit in Dubai and for the rest of the Pakistan series, and if Bresnan had been selected ahead of Patel in Galle, would England’s winter fortunes have turned out better?

Mark Baldwin also writes on cricket for The Times

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Bransgrove confident of Hampshire’s future health

Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove believes 2012 will be a year of constructive development for the club – on and off the field.

Bransgrove has been forced to re-evaluate his strategy following LV County Championship relegation and the devastating blow at the end of last season that saw The Ageas Bowl overlooked when the 2013 and 2015 Ashes Tests were allocated.

Hampshire are expected to announce another financial loss later this year and the building of the hotel is not yet underway.

But Bransgrove insists it will be once Eastleigh Borough Council completes its purchase and lease-back of the site and other complex financial agreements are reached. And he says he is excited that Hampshire’s cutbacks have created more opportunities for the next generation.

“The cost of our playing staff and other overheads are less but if it means we’re moving forward confidently into a secure future with the hotel constructed it’s all going to be very much worth it,” he said.

“We’ve decided we should be trying to create a cricket team that should last this county for a decade and build it around the young talent we have here at the moment.

“We’ve got seven or eight extremely good young cricketers here right now who, if they weren’t playing for Hampshire, would almost certainly go and play for another county.

“I won’t be making predictions as to what we might do this season in terms of winning things but what I do know is that Jimmy Adams and his team will go out to try to win every game and we’ll take things from there.

“The important thing is we spend a year or two, or possibly three, developing a team which can sustain success for a long time in the future without having to make a lot of changes on a dramatic basis season-by-season.

“There’s an excitement about the place and with a Hampshire-born leader I genuinely believe we’re in for a great time.”

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Rankin out for six weeks with foot injury

Warwickshire have suffered another blow in the build-up to their County Championship opener against Somerset at Edgbaston, starting on April 12, with the news that Ireland fast bowler Boyd Rankin will miss the first six weeks of the season.

Rankin, who took 55 wickets last season, complained of soreness in his right foot after he had his first net session with Warwickshire and has now been advised to rest with a stress reaction.

The injury is likely to have been caused by Rankin playing eleven matches in 12 days for Ireland in the recent World Twenty20 qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates, a workload that has annoyed Warwickshire.

“It’s disappointing to lose Boyd just before the start of the season, but we do have a strong bowling attack and it’s a good opportunity for one of the younger seamers to make a big impression. We also have the benefit of not starting our County Championship campaign until next Thursday,” said Warwickshire’s director of cricket Ashley Giles.

“It’s extremely frustrating that we’ve lost Boyd to this kind of injury, but he has had an extremely large work load over recent months. We will need to manage this to ensure that it doesn’t become a regular occurrence.”

Rankin’s absence is a second blow to Warwickshire who were already going to start the new season without England one-day international all-rounder Chris Woakes who damaged ankle ligaments on the pre-season trip to Barbados last month.

Although Warwickshire do have strength in depth in their seam department they will now start the season without two bowlers who took 111 wickets between them last season.

Warwickshire will also be without rookie pace bowler Recordo Gordon for the first three months of the season because of a stress fracture of the back.The 20-year-old, who was born in Jamaica but raised in Aston, complained of soreness in his back during Warwickshire’s pre-season tour to Barbados but the full extent of the injury was not identified until he had scans when he returned home.

The county have high hopes of Gordon, who was contracted during the winter after he impressed in their Second XI Championship-winning side last season.

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Lancashire step up the search for Cumbes’ successor

Lancashire were continuing their preparations for the defence of the County Championship in Cambridge over the Easter weekend with the club also stepping up the process of appointing a new chief executive.

Jim Cumbes has already deferred his retirement twice to steer the long-running redevelopment of Old Trafford towards completion, and Lancashire announced earlier this year that he will now work beyond his 68th birthday in May.

But they have also appointed the leading sports recruitment specialists Nolan Partners, who have previously assisted the Football Association and many other clubs and governing bodies to make senior appointments – and now have “Chief Executive – Lancashire County Cricket Club” listed among the senior positions on their website.

“We have brought in headhunters, but we’re very early in the process,” a club official confirmed to The Cricketer. “There is no time scale for Jim’s departure, it’s the same situation we outlined earlier in the year.”

Cumbes, a former Lancashire seamer who was born in Didsbury and went on to play for three other first-class counties as well as three Football League clubs as a goalkeeper, has been the chief executive at Old Trafford since succeeding John Bower in 1998.

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Giles calls on Warwicks to develop ruthless streak

Warwickshire’s director of cricket Ashley Giles believes his side needs to develop a ruthless streak if they are to turn last season’s near-miss in the County Championship into a title success.

Warwickshire were pipped by Lancashire to the title on a dramatic last day in September after they struggled to dislodge Hampshire at the Rose Bowl.

But Giles believes that missed opportunities earlier in the season, including defeat by Hampshire at Edgbaston and a draw with Lancashire at Liverpool, proved more costly.

“I don’t think there were any particular areas that let us down but there were situations in the season that we lost from strong positions,” Giles said.

“The big game that sticks out was Hampshire here where we bowled them out for 140 and got a good lead, and I suppose Lancashire at Liverpool where we had a massive window of opportunity and Lancashire here where the wicket suited them down to the ground.

“There was Durham up there when we were 260 for three and lost wickets before the close of play. But I think Hampshire here and Lancashire there were the two big ones.

“We have still got to be more ruthless at times. That doesn’t mean being loud or obnoxious or anything else in the way we play. But if you get a window you jump through it, you don’t give the opposition a sniff.

“The key thing for me is runs on the board. If we get runs on the board and we keep our bowling attack fit we will be there or thereabouts.

“We are maturing nicely as a side but you want to see the evidence. If two guys get 1,000 runs we will be there or thereabouts. If two guys can get 1,000 runs and three guys can get 50 wickets that’s what Championship-winning sides do.

“One of the strengths we have got is that we bat a long way down. Successful Warwickshire sides of the past have always got runs from six downwards and we have got to do that again.”

Warwickshire begin their County Championship campaign against Somerset at Edgbaston on April 12 which may help Giles to sleep more restfully after a winter troubled by last season’s final day disappointment.

“I still have sleepless nights,” Giles said. “You should get over these things. But to get so close to the big prize is agonising.

“Someone has to miss out. You are happy for Lancashire because they have through the mill a bit as well. So good for them but you would rather we won it than them.”

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“Elation and relief” as Redfern ends century wait

No longer is Dan Redfern burdened by the knowledge that he has yet to score his maiden first-class century.

By hitting 110 on the opening day of the new campaign against Northants, the Derbyshire left-hander became the first batsman in the country to make it to three figures in the County Championship this season.

It was a sparkling innings, made off 143 balls with 13 fours against the backdrop of his side in trouble at 50 for four. Redfern and Ross Whiteley, another of the county’s young breed, turned that position around with a fifth-wicket stand of 160.

This was his 46th first-class appearance and his 77th innings but with the weight of waiting now removed, Redfern, who is still a few days short of his 22nd birthday, says he feels ready to fulfil his potential.

“It’s a mix of elation and relief,” said Redfern. “It’s been a long wait but thankfully it’s over now and I can just concentrate on getting more.

“It was hard, carrying that monkey on my back. I knew I had to get a hundred soon because the longer you wait the harder it gets. Now, hopefully, the fact that I’ve got two in a week means I can push on and get more in the near future.”

Five days earlier, Redfern made 120 in a pre-season friendly against Yorkshire and he said that was a big factor in his breakthrough Championship innings. “It wasn’t in a first-class game but that showed me I could do it,” he added.

“I played pretty much the same as I did then, trying not to get stuck in the 90s. I got a couple of boundaries away to get to 97 and managed to hit a three and said to Ross ‘you’ve just got to run’.

“He had to dive to get in and I thanked him straight away for putting his kit on the line for me to get to that hundred!

“I felt I hit the ball well all the way through pre-season, so it was just a matter of doing the same things I did against Yorkshire and Warwickshire. I wanted to stay positive and if it was in my area make sure I was confident and would hit it – block out the good ones and hit the bad ones basically.

“A massive thing for me is that Krikk (head coach Karl Krikken) has come to me and said he wants me to just go out and play my game. That means I can go out and play my shots when I feel confident enough to do that.

“It’s not a reckless thing, I’m not going out to play a shot a ball even if it’s not the right ball, but I feel confident if I think I can play the shot I have got the leeway from the coach to do that. That’s a nice feeling. In the pre-season and here today, that’s the way I like to play.

“One hundred doesn’t make a summer but I feel more confident than I ever have and I think I’m playing better than I ever have. I could go on a run of eight ducks now because you never know what’s around the corner but hopefully the signs and the way I’m feeling are suggesting this can be the year I can really kick on and stake my claim for higher honours.

“This is the time I’ve got to kick on and repay the faith that Derbyshire have shown me.”

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Exclusive: Danish Kaneria charged by ECB

Pakistan and former Essex leg spinner Danish Kaneria has been charged with corruption by the ECB.

The 31-year-old, who remains the highest wicket-taking spinner for Pakistan, faces a worldwide ban from the game if found guilty.

Kaneria was named in a London court as the corrupter of Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield, who has admitted spot-fixing and will also be charged under the disciplinary code.

The landmark case is the first time corruption in the English county game has been prosecuted by cricketing authorities, and comes after a criminal investigation which led to Westfield being jailed for four months.

Daniel Cundy, Westfield’s lawyer, told The Cricketer that a date for the hearing has been set for the first week of May. The formal disciplinary charges were announced by the ECB this afternoon.

A spokesman said: “Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria have been notified that an ECB Disciplinary Panel hearing will take place at which charges will be heard relating to their alleged breaches of the ECB’s anti-corruption directives.

“The charges relate to the corrupt activities which led to Mervyn Westfield’s criminal conviction in February.” .

Westfield will be tagged and released from prison shortly after Easter and will attend the tribunal, where he is expected to plead guilty, as he did at the Old Bailey trial. He will be represented by Cundy.

At his sentencing in February, the fast bowler told the court that it was Kaneria who introduced him to two underworld Asian bookies, and pressurised him into spot-fixing during Natwest Pro40 matches in September 2009 that were being televised across the world.

It also emerged in court that Kaneria had been officially warned by the ICC in April 2008 about keeping “highly inappropriate company” with an Indian bookmaker called Arun Bhatt.

It is not known whether Kaneria, who has strenuously denied all involvement in spot-fixing, will travel to the UK for the case. He has been represented in the past by Time solicitors, based in east London.

Several players are likely to be called to give evidence – including former Essex captain, Mark Pettini, and Tony Palladino, the friend of Westfield who first alerted authorities and now plays for Derbyshire.

Gerard Elias, QC, Chairman of ECB Cricket Discipline Commission, will preside over the hearing, the ECB statement said. He will announce his decision in writing after the hearing.

The commission has power to impose a life ban on Westfield and Kaneria, if found guilty, because their offences would be considered according to the sanctions when they were allegedly committed – in 2009. The anti-corruption code says that a ban imposed by the ECB must be recognised by the ICC and all cricket playing nations.

Westfield will seek a lesser ban, based on his probable guilty plea, his young age at the time of the offence (21) and his prison sentence. At the Old Bailey he would like to take part in programmes to help educate players about corruption, as part of his rehabilitation.

Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, revealed in court that Westfield was not the only Essex player approached by Kaneria. He had boasted about making money from corrupt bookies in front of Essex’s captain, vice captain, opening batsman and bowler, the court heard. The barrister said that the players at first treated the conversations as a joke, but also suggested they may have deliberately “turned a blind eye” to the claims by their match-winning bowler.

In statements read to the court, Paul Grayson, the coach, admitted that he had heard rumours that Kaneria had asked players if they wanted to meet bookies.

Pettini said that the Pakistani had talked in front of him, vice-captain James Foster, and opening bowler David Masters about how he knew people who would “pay considerable money to influence matches”.

Opening batsman Varun Chopra, now at Warwickshire, also gave a statement in which he said he had been approached by Kaneria to spot-fix, the Pakistani telling him in a telephone call: “There are ways of making money where you don’t have to throw a game”.

None of the players reported Kaneria’s approaches at the time, and said they did not take him seriously. When Pettini said they asked him about it, Kaneria claimed it was a joke.

Westfield, however, was drawn in by the offer of “easy money” and accepted a bung of £6,000 to concede at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham in a 40-over match in September 2009. The bowler said that Kaneria was due to receive £4,000 as part of the corrupt deal for his role as a go-between for two unidentified Asian men, the court heard.

Nine days later, during a night out with teammate Palladino, Westfield showed him a bundle of £50 notes he kept in a plastic bag in his bedroom cupboard, and said it was from fixing, naming Kaneria as the orchestrator.

Palladino mentioned it to other players but it was not until six months later, after an anti-corruption briefing from the Professional Cricketers’ Association, that it was officially reported.

Police were called in and Kaneria was arrested alongside Westfield on suspicion of conspiracy.

Detectives passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service on both men. However senior lawyers decided there was insufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction” against Kaneria, and he was released without charge six months later.

Westfield, meanwhile, was charged and had protested his innocence for almost two years before making a last-minute guilty plea just as his trial started in January. He was jailed for six months at the hearing in February.

Essex Police have since passed their files to the ECB’s new anti-corruption unit. The burden of proof required is less to press a disciplinary case than criminal charges.

The leg spinner has continued playing first class cricket in Pakistan for Sind, and T20 matches in a domestic league for Karachi Zebras. However the Pakistan Cricket Board have not picked Kaneria to play since 2010. They have said they will co-operate the investigations and await their outcome.
 Kaneria denies all involvement in spot-fixing and has been fighting to clear his name in Pakistan courts. After Westfield was jailed in February, he said: “Westfield is a convicted fraudster and admitted liar. In trying to reduce his own guilt he has tarnished my name. All allegations against me are false.”

There has been no comment from Kaneria yet regarding the charges.

Essex defended their position this week, denying any wrongdoing and saying the game of cricket owed them a debt for the positive actions of players coming forward.

The statement, released at Essex’s annual press day in Chelmsford ahead of today’s opening County Championship game, said: “What the English domestic game has learned since early 2010 and the events that then took place in the late summer of 2010 during the Pakistan tour has fundamentally changed our knowledge and response to the threat of corruption in English domestic cricket. The sport is in a better situation now as a result of greater knowledge, new regulations and better education across the board.

“The game owes a debt to the positive actions taken by the Essex players who came forward. Without them, the corruption that occurred may never have been exposed.”

* Read the trial coverage on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets @Cricketer_RDJ

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Championship and MVP titles a twin aim for Adams

 

Andre Adams is hoping a repeat performance of his form last season will help Nottinghamshire to a County Championship crown this year – and himself to the FTI Most Valuable Player award.

The Kiwi all-rounder was the third highest wicket-taker in the Championship in 2011, accounting for 67 batsmen at a terrific average of 22.61.

His exceptional swing and seam bowling also saw him named best performing player in the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s FTI MVP rankings for the four day game, and to a tenth place finish overall.

And after also tasting success back home in Auckland this winter he is now more determined than ever to lift silverware on both a team and a personal basis.

He said: “Obviously I was pleased with my performances last season and it was nice to know that I was the highest placed player in the FTI MVPs for the County Championship.

“It will be tough to win the Championship as we did in 2010 as it is now a very competitive, but we’re all very excited about the new signings we’ve made over the winter and are quietly confident about success.

“It’s been a great winter for me back home and I’d like to think I can inject some of that winning mentality into the dressing room at Trent Bridge. If I can challenge in the FTI MVPs too that would be a real bonus.

“It is a special award for any player as every facet of your game is judged against your fellow professionals. Topping the table when it is so competitive out there is a big achievement.”

The FTI MVP Awards are a statistical benchmark used by the PCA, players and coaches to examine each aspect of a player’s game in relation to his peers. Now in its sixth season, the ranking system rewards players for every run scored, every wicket taken and every catch held.

There are also bonuses awarded to players whose runs and wickets contribute to a win for the team, with captains earning points for their command of the side. Bowlers receive higher marks for among other things good economy rates, bowling maidens and for getting out higher order batsmen.

In addition, batting points are handed out for high run rates and the percentage of the team’s runs each batsman contributes. Fielding points are awarded for catches, run outs and stumpings, with bonuses for five or more dismissals in an innings.

Adams finished on 415 points in the FTI MVP rankings for the LV= County Championship, 29 points clear of his nearest challenger David Masters of Essex.

His 67 wickets were just one short of equaling the number he took in 2010, when his performances played such a large part in bringing the Championship crown to Trent Bridge.

Adams was also a key member of the Auckland Aces team that won the HRV T20 trophy in January this year, following a resounding victory over Canterbury.

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New signings have revitalised Kent: Geraint Jones

Kent’s former England wicketkeeper Geraint Jones is delighted by the club’s close-season acquisitions and believes the new-look side have a real chance of being a competitive force in the LV= County Championship second division.

Jones, who warmed up for the season by representing his native Papua New Guinea in last month’s World Cup Twenty20 qualifiers in Dubai, says the new faces have helped bring a breath of fresh air to the St Lawrence dressing room.

The 35-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman said: “The last few years at Kent have been a struggle, so it has been really fantastic that the club has been able to bring in some fresh and experienced players for this season.

“It now feels like we have a proper squad, as opposed to feeling a little short in vital areas as we have been for the past two or three seasons. We’ve recruited really well on a budget and, with Jimmy Adams coming in to stamp his authority onto the squad, it makes for really exciting times and the group seems to be in a really great place.

“At last we’ve got some good competition for places again. I remember when I first joined Kent I was scoring hundreds in the 2nd XI and still not getting opportunities to play for the first team. It looks like we’re returning to that sort of environment again. That’s good, that’s how a professional set-up should work because it means everyone has to keep working to improve and to keep their standards up.”

Speaking ahead of Kent’s opening round game against relegated Yorkshire at Headingley, Jones added: “Batting-wise, Ben Harmison scored some big runs in Antigua and then against Glamorgan pre-season, Brendan Nash has soon showed his class, and Michael Powell, who I’ve known since we played club cricket together for Abergavenny, is a breath of fresh air.

“Our batting, for this division, now looks seriously strong to start the season. We have Rob Key, Scott Newman, Sam Northeast and Ben (Harmison) vying for the top three slots, ‘Nashy’ at No 4, Michael (Powell), Darren Stevens and myself.

“Added to which, we have James Tredwell and Azhar Mahmood to add to the mix when they both get back to England. That looks a pretty useful unit to me. Also, we’ve brought in some great experience bowling-wise with the arrival of Mark Davies and Charlie Shreck.”

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