With a summer like no other having come to a close, our writers have each picked out a player who lit up a truncated men’s county season which more than made up for lost time.
I’m somewhat consumed by a thought: Zak Crawley’s a few shots into his coming-of-age 267 when the penny drops, that it occurs to him that he’s actually pretty damn good at this whole batting thing, the first-class average just above 30 suddenly meaningless, the code cracked. It continues in the Blast, where he slaps it around in the powerplay at a silly strike rate, the long levers capable of pummelling both the red and the white. A duck in his first Bob Willis Trophy innings is merely an aberration, as he then reels off a 100-ball 105 in the fourth-innings chase, for the win.
How he loves Southampton, where he then strikes his first T20 ton in another win over poor Hampshire. He ends with a few low scores, but this is Crawley’s summer, for England and Kent, averaging 53 in the BWT, striking at 157 in the Blast. A year ago, Kent head coach Matt Walker told me: “He’s a grounded, humble kid who will, bit by bit, work his way towards becoming not only an England player, but one of England’s finest.” I’m beginning to see where he was coming from. Taha Hashim, Wisden.com features editor
Kent’s evergreen all-rounder spent what should have been the start of the season doing bike rides and hill runs in the Kent Downs, wondering if he’d played his last game of professional cricket, the additional year he’d signed on for last September slowly slipping away. When the campaign did finally begin, Stevens said he felt as fit as he’d been for a decade, and he bowled as well as he’s ever done in this abbreviated summer. Aged 44, and in his 24th season on the circuit, he took three five-wicket hauls in five matches, rounding off the Bob Willis Trophy group stage with match figures of 9-72 against Hampshire.
In all, he claimed 29 victims at 15.58, putting him third on the list of leading wicket-takers (and that having played a game fewer than the two ahead of him) and earning another contract extension. Dave Fulton, who brought Stevens to Canterbury 15 years ago, reckons his former teammate could “do a Woolley” and play beyond his 50th birthday. Stranger things have happened. Jo Harman, Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor
Sitting outside the top 50 for runs scored, and joint 41st for wickets taken, Dan Christian’s T20 Blast campaign doesn’t exactly leap off the page. But he bestrode Finals Day as only those cricketers a bit too good, those with a hint of international pedigree and a dollop of franchise experience, are able to. First, 30 not out off 13 balls in the semi, four sixes killing off a chase just as it was getting close. Then 4-11 across his last two overs in the final, as Surrey’s last four overs, which began with eight wickets in hand, went for 24 boundary-less runs. And then 21 off 11 to neutralise the nerves once more.
This, in a shortened season that still went on later than any before it, was the fitting finale English cricket deserved. A compressed display of heightened excellence saved until the last, comprising in total perhaps less than an hour, that was nonetheless enough to win his team a major trophy. In 2020, that will do. Ben Gardner, Wisden.com managing editor
Believe the hype. Three tons in six games, and all as an opener – a role he only volunteered for this summer when Somerset scouted around for one. A bat-carrying masterwork against Worcestershire, 107* out of 193 – three sixes at the death – sees Somerset top the group. So to the final at Lord’s: a first-over duck gives way to a rousing second-dig hundred, full of the good stuff under pressure against a top-rank attack.
He also hits at a strike rate of 160 in T20 cricket and bowls perky left-arm seamers, and is tall, handsome and left-handed. Why not? These days, in the age of the hitter, multi-faceted top-order players with sound techniques are the true radicals. “Within the space of six games,” says Vic Marks, “Lammonby demands the attention of those plotting the next decade of English cricket.” Phil Walker, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief
William George Jacks, the boy from Chertsey with the normcore nomenclature plays his cricket in an eye-catching way. It’s physically impossible to write about Jacks without mentioning the fact that he is quite possibly the holder of the fastest century in a match between two professional sides, biffing a ton in just 25 balls against Lancashire in a pre-season 10-over game.
His aggressive batting and more than handy off-spin landed him a place in England’s 55-man training group back in May, and he surely cemented his position in the minds of those in charge with an MVP display in the Blast, racking up 309 runs at 34. His wily offies were key too in helping Surrey reach Finals Day, with his 4-15 against Kent in the quarter-final part of a final equation of 13 wickets and an economy rate lower than 6.5. Jacks downplays his bowling as “part time off-spin” but his displays in the shorter formats suggest there is more to it than that. A whole-hearted cricketer who plays with a grin on his face. Remember the name, if you can. James Wallace, Wisden Cricket Monthly staff writer
Having been told by Ed Smith that he needed to add some pace without compromising his accuracy or ability to move the ball, the older Overton twin has done exactly that. While bowling at some fragile batting orders in helpful English conditions may be a far cry from the demands of Test cricket, the all-rounder has been the spearhead of an line-up described by Worcestershire coach Alex Gidman as, “as close to an international attack as we could probably get in county cricket at the moment”, and with good reason.
Few would argue that Overton’s return of 2-103 in the Bob Willis Trophy final was a fair reflection of how he bowled at Lord’s, where his battle with England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer on a placid pitch gripped viewers. On the other hand, 30 wickets at 13.43 in the competition overall was nothing if not well-earned, through nagging lines and lengths at a pace quite possibly a yard sharper than any bowlers his opponents had been facing in the nets. Sam Dyer, Wisden.com staff writer