Richard Mann highlights five young guns he is expecting big things from in the forthcoming county cricket season.
Matthew Fisher - Yorkshire
It isn’t very often that England’s Test attack has no Yorkshire flavour but that has been the way for a while now, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett seemingly destined to ply their trade in colours, not whites, from now on. In Matthew Fisher, the Headingley faithful might just have another fast bowler to follow the likes of Darren Gough and Ryan Sidebottom into the England set-up. Fisher is a huge talent; a quick, outswing bowler with impeccable control who has long been identified as a future star. Born into a strong cricketing family in Sheriff Hutton Bridge - the youngest of three brothers - Fisher was always punching above his age and became the youngest post-war first-class cricketer when making his Yorkshire debut in a One Day match at Scarborough in 2013. A T20 blast five-for followed in 2015 and although injuries have held him back since, he looked fit and strong when taking 5-54 against Warwickshire in the County Championship late last season, reminding everyone of his immense potential. Yorkshire have taken an admirably patient approach with Fisher so far, minded to let his body fill into its frame, but he is 21 years of age next and following an encouraging pre season, now might be the time to let him loose.
Cameron Steel – Durham
With club stalwart Graham Onions joining Paul Coughlin and Keaton Kennings out of the Durham door at the end of last year, Paul Collingwood’s side will again find their squad depth stretched to the limit. Despite those losses, on top of the countless before, Durham’s excellent academy has continued to produce fine young cricketers capable of performing at first-class level. Cameron Steel is another example. Originally from California, Steel was thrust into first-team action last season and didn’t disappoint, 1214 runs at an average 39.16 suggesting Durham might have unearthed another international cricketer. Only 22 years of age and with a double century already to his name, this opening batsman could be a dark horse for England honours should Alistair Cook or Mark Stoneman endure tough summers.
Joe Clarke - Worcestershire
Worcestershire were one of the stories of the 2017 season, producing a sustained late run to lift the Division Two title from under the noses of long-time leaders Nottinghamshire. The contribution of the club’s younger players, many of whom came through the county’s academy, was the most pleasing aspect of their triumph with Joe Clarke leading the way. Clarke put his name in lights when making five county championship hundreds in his first full season in 2016 and he avoided the dreaded second-season curse when making 920 runs at 43.80 in last year’s successful campaign. A classical batsman who has been well-touted for international honours in recent weeks, he will find Division One a tougher school to learn his trade but a winter spent with the England Lions will have done him the world of good and, at just 21 years of age, he looks to have the world at his feet.
Will Rhodes - Warwickshire
When Will Rhodes was awarded the prestigious England Development Programme Cricketer of the Year award at Lords in 2014, it appeared that another star had been born. Full international recognition would surely follow in time and having guided the U19 side to a third-place finish in the World Cup the previous winter, perhaps a future England captain had been unearthed. What followed was three years of frustration for Rhodes, who found himself squeezed out of Yorkshire’s plans last season despite performing so admirably when deputising for Adam Lyth at the top of the order for the majority of the 2015 title-winning campaign. A classy top-order batsman who is very easy on the eye, Rhodes is also a very handy seam bowler, and it is no surprise Warwickshire went to such lengths to secure his signature. With new teammates Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott sure to offer excellent guidance, now could be the time Rhodes delivers on the promise that made the likes of Jason Gillespie and Paul Farbrace take so much notice when he first arrived on the scene. All-rounders are like gold dust and Warwickshire might just have picked up a top-notcher in Rhodes.
Luis Reece – Derbyshire
Despite enjoying an impressive T20 campaign, four-day cricket proved tough going for Derbyshire in 2017 with three wins little reward for the side’s endeavours. If there was one shining light, it was the performances of Luis Reece who made 732 runs from his 12 games at a very decent average of 36.60. Reece is a product of Lancashire’s academy but having failed to establish himself there, he moved to Derbyshire at the end of 2016. Last season’s debut efforts for his new club would suggest Derbyshire might have found themselves a little gem and his impressive performances in the T20 Blast earnt him a contract with Chittagong Vikings in the Bangladesh Premier League this winter. Reece enjoyed a really good time of things out there and those experiences won’t have been lost on him as he bids to take his game to the next level in the forthcoming county campaign. A fearless left-handed batsman who likes to dominate, Reece is capable of scoring all around the wicket and could easily push towards 1000 runs this summer.