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County cricket ins and outs - by Jake Needham

As counties work hard to assemble their squads for the 2013 campaign, Jake Needham takes a look at the ins and outs on the county circuit so far.

The month after the close of the domestic season is the period for many professional cricketers to nurse aching bodies, take their significant others away on a well-earned holiday and spend inordinate amounts of time and money at local golf courses attempting to shave a shot or two from their handicaps.

However for players looking to move counties or having moves foisted upon them, the months after the final ball of the season has been delivered can be a hectic and chaotic one. Autumn 2012 has proved no different with plenty of players pledging and shifting allegiances already.

For me the biggest trend to have come into post season negotiations is the sight of clubs offering players contracts of three or more years. As counties try to secure particularly local, academy produced, England qualified players, the sight of three,  four and in the case of Middlesex with Toby Roland-Jones, five year contracts is no longer the rarity that it once was.

Another new trend that has come into the game is the movement from LV=County Championship Division Two counties to Division One sides in the search of higher honours.

The post season has already seen two notable examples of this with Jack Brooks and James Harris taking up offers from Yorkshire and Middlesex respectively in the hope of improving on their England Lions caps. This divisional split, although operational for over a decade now, seems to be influencing the decision making of aspiring England hopefuls, and may cause a greater divide in the talent between the tiers.

There has been plenty of post season action at Trent Bridge, with Nottinghamshire releasing young batsman Karl Turner, Scott Elstone and Neil Edwards. One Test wonder Darren Pattinson will be another player not returning to Trent Bridge next April as he takes up a place as a local for his Australian state side. They will however be bolstered by the signing of Ajmal Shahzad who has moved an hour and a half down the M1 from Yorkshire.

Yorkshire themselves won’t have mourned the loss of Shahzad for long, as their traditionally strong seam bowling arsenal has been bolstered by not only the signing of Brooks from Northants, but also with the acquisition of Liam Plunkett from northern neighbours Durham.

Fellow first division side and county cricket royalty Surrey have also been busy since the season closed. They have made perhaps the most eye-catching acquisition of the winter by securing the talents of South African legend Graeme Smith as their captain on a three year contract.

The trend over the past 15 years to sign overseas players on short term contracts to accommodate the increasingly congested international itinerary has meant that the days of Walsh at Gloucestershire and Akram at Lancashire becoming club stalwarts has become a thing of sepia toned film.

However with a player of Smith’s magnitude committing three seasons to the London outfit, they must surely feel that immediate future holds endless possibilities. As well as the procurement of Smith (pictured), the club have been quick to secure the future of Durban-born pace man Stuart Meaker, who has committed the next three years of his extremely promising career to the club, as well signing veteran spinner Gary Keedy, who is to leave Lancashire after 15 years of service to join the South London side.

However talented Loughborough University alumnus Matt Spreigel has joined Northamptonshire, while Chris Jordan, blighted by injuries throughout his brief career, has been released from duties at the Kia Oval.

Surrey have also lost ex-captain Rory Hamilton-Brown, who has made the switch to Sussex.2012 proved an extremely difficult year for the young batsman off the field. This, as well as the chance to pursue a new challenge, has prompted his move back to the south coast county.

Derbyshire’s neighbours Leicestershire have also been busy, looking for a formula that will bring them the relative success in the four day competition that the club has enjoyed in limited overs competitions.

They have lost the services of Will Jefferson and Paul Dixey, who have both retired, as well as Jacques Du Toit, Nadeem Malik and Robbie Joseph, who have been released. Joseph may feel particularly hard done by as his exit comes only five months after taking 12-111 on his debut (the best debut figures in the county’s history).

A comment about the changing landscape of the county game would be incomplete without mentioning those players that have been permanent fixtures across the ‘Shires’ over the years who, during 2012, decided to hang up their boots.

Glamorgan have lost the their talismanic all-rounder Robert Croft, who bowed out having taken his 51st five wicket haul in his final fixture for  the Welsh county against Kent.

The two London clubs (Middlesex and Surrey) also saw two of their finest players stand aside. Mark Ramprakash called time on an incredible first-class career with Surrey during 2012, finishing with an eye watering tally of 114 first-class centuries to his name, whereas over at HQ, Andrew Strauss played his final match under the gaze of Old Father Time in August after his 100th test for England (his 50th as England captain) making him one of the most successful Middlesex cricketers throughout their history.

This is how the English domestic backdrop looks at present, but it’s a certainty that over the coming months there will be agents ringing clubs, coaches and Chief Executives trying to secure their brightest stars to new deals, and the inevitable mad dash for overseas talent once squads for international tours are announced, which means the cricketing ‘Transfer window’ remains well and truly open.

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