WITH a new County Championship season almost upon us, here are five players to watch this summer:
JACK BROOKS (Yorkshire): Brooks had all the credentials of a crowd favourite at Headingley when he moved from Northamptonshire. The Headband Warrior’s first season was promising, but interrupted by injury. Last year, he delivered with 68 wickets towards Yorkshire’s championship title. Brooks’s roots in ‘village cricket’ are perhaps a little misleading - Tiddington play in a decent league - but he has come a long way nonetheless, with power to add to the delight of his new public.
SAM HAIN (Warwickshire): You would need to look to Ian Bell at the start of the century for the last time the nods and knowing looks at Edgbaston told a similar story about a teenage batsman. In just his fifth first-class innings last summer, Hong Kong-born Hain broke Bell’s record as the Bears’ youngest championship centurion - and soon followed up by becoming the youngest to make a double-hundred. It is the way he does it too that has already convinced many good judges Hain will play for England - his stated ambition despite formative years in Australia, where he represented the national Under-19s. Expect a second summer of significant progression.
TYMAL MILLS (Sussex): England’s World Cup experience has taught them a few things - not least that they need variety in their attack in all formats. It may be a more pressing requirement with a white ball but there is no doubt any decent set of figures from a left-arm seamer this summer will be relayed pronto to Lord’s. Reece Topley at Essex and Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt, after his wonderful 2014, will be on the radar among others. Mills has the pace - if not yet the figures - enough to send Graeme Swann off for an unscheduled X-ray at the start of an Ashes summer, in 2013. If as with others, a move to Sussex pays off for the former Essex bowler, 22-year-old Mills could find himself on the fast track.
KUMAR SANGAKKARA (Surrey): Kevin Pietersen will have his own Oval roadshow, of course - in early season at least. But of all the eye-catching overseas signings, Sri Lanka great Sangakkara is surely the banker bet. Since announcing the last lap of his international career, ‘Sanga’ went up another level with a brilliant run of one-day international scores, including at the World Cup. At 37, before his anticipated final Test assignment against Pakistan in August, he will be determined to add to his already outstanding CV.
NICK COMPTON (Middlesex): ‘Compton’s Return to Lord’s’ sounds like a throwback headline, of course. But the former Somerset opener has earned the right to his own newsprint, ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’. Compton has been prolific at Taunton for the past three seasons - more than 1,000 runs each summer. Whatever the exact reasoning for his decision to part company and then return to Middlesex, at 31 it could yet be another twist en route to more international recognition. The fashion may be for faster scoring in all formats, and England appear to have said farewell after Compton’s sudden fall from favour before the 2013 Ashes. His Test statistics were far from disastrous, though; the Test top order remains unsettled, and - in a different context - incoming England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves has been at pains to stress a clean slate for all. At any rate, presumably opening with another England discard Sam Robson, Compton can expect some column inches back in the capital.