With just over two weeks until the start of the season, this year’s ‘Ones to Watch’ enters the top ten.
10) All Kolpak players:
2017 – The year of the ‘kolpakalypse’. Derbyshire, Essex, Hampshire, Lancashire and Sussex have all used the kolpak route to enhance their chances of success this season. Controversy aside, it will be fascinating to see how the standard of cricket is affected. Indeed, we may not see the effects, good or bad, until most of the season has passed. Overall, the standard of cricket is sure to rise with young players able to play with and against international players. But how many youngsters will have their places taken by the kolpak signings? Joe Weatherley of Hampshire has already joined Kent on loan; it remains to be seen if this is due to the signings of Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw.
Lancashire have already stated that Alex Davies will remain as their number one wicket-keeper despite signing Dane Vilas. As the youngster spent most of the season out injured, club captain Steven Croft was forced to take the gloves with Jos Buttler on England duty. Clearly, the South African has been signed to add depth to the squad, rather than block opportunities for potential England players. Nevertheless, the influx of kolpak players will likely have mixed consequences.
9) Mark Wood:
Given his history with injuries, most England fans would like to see Mark Wood in bubble wrap until the Ashes gets underway later in the year. However, others believe the paceman to be the missing link to England’s Champions Trophy chances.
The Durham man will be hungry ahead of the new season after missing out on all of England’s winter. Wood’s road to recovery was completed during the recent North vs South series in the UAE and the fast bowler was pleased with how his body held up. ‘’At the minute it’s not too much about the outcome for me, it’s just getting that volume of overs into my body,’’ Wood said (https://www.ecb.co.uk/news/350025).
Although the prospect of playing in the Champions Trophy will be highly motivational for Wood; knowing that he is one injury away from another year out will be testing mentally. Therefore, it will likely be an all or nothing season for England’s only genuine pace bowler.
8) Gary Ballance:
Gary Ballance’s international career looks to be over for the foreseeable future after a disappointing winter. Many did not want the left-hander to be recalled against Pakistan last summer, including Trevor Bayliss, who was in favour of selecting Jos Buttler.
Now, after being appointed the new Yorkshire Club Captain, Ballance has reason to be optimistic. It is a new era for Yorkshire as they learn to live without Jason Gillespie. Furthermore, the strains of financial strife will be an unwelcome distraction for the County. Leading Yorkshire full-time has arguably come at the best time in Ballance’s career and many will be overseeing how he reacts in the job.
7) Nick Gubbins:
An extremely impressive 2016 was not enough for Nick Gubbins to fill one of three available spots in England’s top order during the winter. The opening batsman scored 1409 runs at an average of 61.26 as part of a title winning team. Still, Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings were all selected before him.
Gubbins will no doubt have felt a lot of frustration over the winter, but if he can turn that frustration into more runs, England will not be able to ignore him for much longer. England’s top order conundrum is far from solved and many feel that Gubbins is part of the answer. The ‘poshest man in county cricket’ did not have the best time with the Lions in Sri Lanka; but he will be itching to make amends when the season gets underway.
6) Alex Hales:
Another opening batsman who will have been greatly frustrated over the winter is Alex Hales. After being dropped from the Test team, his place in the ODI team was also in serious doubt as he gave Sam Billings, amongst others, the chance to replace him. That doubt was put to bed as he smashed a century on his return against the West Indies a few weeks ago. The emotion in Hales’ celebration was clear as he secured his place for the upcoming Champions Trophy.
A solid ODI return was only point one on Hales’ to do list, however. He is now on a mission to regain his Test place. The Notts’ man will begin the season for his County at number four. But with Joe Root’s desire to return to his favoured slot along with Nottinghamshire now playing in Division Two, Hales will need to score a ton of runs to regain the selector’s attention. Nevertheless, Hales has already proved what he is capable of, once his mind is set.