Andrew Radd catches up with Northamptonshire’s head coach David Ripley to discuss the England side, the state of domestic cricket generally and the County’s pre-season prospects
Forget the Ashes. Unfortunately we won’t be seeing hide nor hair of them until at least the summer of 2019.
For now, best to concentrate on the sackcloth instead.
England’s four-nil series defeat in Australia – no less disappointing for being fairly predictable given the absence of Ben Stokes – has triggered the usual flurry of recrimination.
And no inquest into a Test drubbing is ever complete without a whinge or two about the county game…the attack led, more often than not, by pundits who wouldn’t know a Championship match from a cucumber.
But this time the pro-county lobby have been able to fire off a few salvos of their own.
Fast bowlers? Decent spinners? Desirable commodities, both.
So why does ECB schedule our domestic first-class cricket for either end of the season, when conditions tend to be at their most green-tinged and ‘English’?
“It’s hard to dodge that one,” says David Ripley, whose team gained nine Championship victories last summer without the reward of promotion.
“We know the reasons why it’s done that way, to try to fit all the pieces into the puzzle.
“But if we’re looking for genuine pace and high-quality spin – you don’t always need those qualities in England in early-April or mid-September.
“We’ve had some dialogue within our own group about spin – and whether it might be an overseas option. But actually in the closing weeks of the season, with the early starts, they’re not going to get that much of a go.
“We know Mason Crane (England’s new leg-spinner) didn’t start last season with Hampshire – why would he, when you have Liam Dawson in the squad who can bat and also bowl the 15 overs of spin you need while your seamers are having a rest?”
Of course, the ‘too-much-cricket’ lobby still grumble and grizzle away, forgetting perhaps that their wishes have been met with the reduction of the Championship programme from 28 three-day matches in 1950 – a maximum of 84 days – to 14 four-day games last summer, a possible 56 days.
If they’re still unhappy because there’s a surfeit of white-ball stuff in the schedule – well, take that up with the marketing department.
But Ripley isn’t buying the argument that the county system actively discourages youngsters from bowling fast.
“We don’t come across a quick bowler and immediately tell him he should be bowling medium pace!
“We might want them to hit the seam and find the right areas more, but we wouldn’t tell them to slow down. I think that’s a bit of an unjust and naive statement.
“As far as workload goes – if you think about our own bowlers, they may not be express pace (although Ripley points to Richard Gleeson as someone capable of getting it down there genuinely sharpish) but we still wouldn’t expect them to play all 14 Championship matches.
“So if you had someone who was really quick you might pencil them in for seven or eight games. You wouldn’t ask him to slow down so he could play an extra three or four. It just wouldn’t happen.
“I have a lot of faith in the people coaching academies and second teams.
“If you have someone who just runs in and sprays it all over the place, that’s no good because they won’t get the good batsmen out. They’ll just score quicker.
“They need to develop the skills to allow them to bowl fast while also landing the ball in the right place.
“But we don’t seem to have a load of those guys around in county cricket at the moment.
“I don’t think the structure helps necessarily, but if you have someone with the right skills and qualities they should still be able to come through – injuries permitting.”
That last point brings to mind Olly Stone, the highly-rated former Northamptonshire paceman who jumped ship to join Warwickshire in 2016.
Steve ‘Grievous Bodily’ Harmison was on TV recently, flagging up the 24-year-old as one to watch for the not-too-distant future.
But staying on the park remains a problem for young fast bowlers generally – not just for Stone.
“We all know Olly is a great young professional,” says Ripley.
“He has all the attributes you need in terms of competitiveness – it’s just the robustness of his body that’s been the issue.
“He’s recovered from a big injury (the serious knee problem stemming from that ill-fated celebration after capturing the wicket of Moeen Ali at Wantage Road) but he’s also had a stress fracture, a side strain, a broken finger – which you obviously can’t do anything about – so whatever it is, he seems to attract it!
“It has affected his development but he’s still young, and given what I know about him as an individual I really hope he can find some fitness and put himself in the mix.”
Anyone following the recent series from afar will have spotted the various attempts to ‘spin’ the outcome – with claims from the England camp that Joe Root and chums actually competed pretty well for much of the time.
Ripley wouldn’t go quite that far, although he reckons the absence of a certain talismanic all-rounder was clearly a factor.
“I don’t accept the idea that we were always in there,” he says.
“Australia were the better side – and the main time we got right into a game was when they handed us the opportunity to bowl under lights with a pink ball in Adelaide (after not enforcing the follow-on), which was a weird decision by them.
“But if you put Ben Stokes in and take out one of their fast bowlers – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood – I think that would have made for an interesting series, and certainly a bit closer than four-nil.”
Next week – is Matt Prior right to claim there are too many players ‘floating around’ in county cricket, lacking the ambition to play for England?