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Justin Langer column

Justin Langer
By Justin Langer
Former Australia batsman and Somerset captain

The last week has been an awesome showcase for county cricket in England.

Ben and Steve Harmison
Durham celebrate after winning the title for the first time

With every Division One game having something hinging on the result, there was so much pressure and expectation on the teams and it reminded me of the build up to an important Test series.

Ahead of Somerset's game against Lancashire, I was the most nervous I have been for a game of cricket since the day I retired from the Australian Test team.

For years, people interested in cricket have quizzed me about the Sheffield Shield competition in Australia and, in my opinion, we have been able to boast about having the best first-class structure in the world.

The intense, cut-throat system in the Australian domestic game has had the effect of not only producing great cricket, but more significantly, great cricketers.

This, of course, has been one of the catalysts behind the long and sustained success of the Australian Test and one-day teams.

Over the last six months, however, I have experienced competition in Division One of the County Championship which was tough as any domestic cricket I have played in my career.

For many years, everyone involved in cricket in England has been striving, or at least talking about, ways to improve standards around the county circuit.

There hasn't been a single game I have been involved in this summer that hasn't felt like a cup final

And with the season now having come to a close, I can say without hesitation that English cricket should be proud of the standards in Division One - and I can see absolutely no need to change anything about it.

Whispers have been circulating about changes to the county game, but these ideas seem crazy to me. At last county cricket is at a level which any other domestic competition around the world would be envious of, so why change it again?

For the first time since I initially played county cricket with Middlesex in the late 90s my view is that any young player who is able to dominate in Division One will be better equipped than ever before to step up into international cricket.

By way of examples, take two young players from Somerset, James Hildreth and Craig Kieswetter. They both found Division One to be tough, hard core, cricket this summer but the experience will make them mentally and physically more durable players in the future.

When they get to the point of playing consistently well at this level I would be confident that they will be ready to take on the pressure of Test cricket.

Oliver Newby took seven wickets against Somerset
Oliver Newby helped Lancashire dash Somerset's title hopes

There hasn't been a single game I have been involved in this summer that hasn't felt like a cup final and the pressure associated with this is sure to produce better cricket and therefore tougher cricketers.

This, in turn, should have the positive, knock-on effect of a producing consistently strong England team.

Obviously there are still arguments about too much cricket, flat pitches and too many drawn games, and while these are valid points, the overall county game is stronger than I have seen it since I first played for Middlesex in the 90s.

The ECB should keep looking to further strengthen four-day cricket and with the increasing importance of 20/20, a common sense approach must be adopted to keep the game as healthy as the bank balances over the next few years.

On the whole though, cricket in England is definitely heading in the right direction.

From Taunton,

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see also
Durham seal title as Kent go down
27 Sep 08 |  Counties
Lancashire seal Taunton victory
27 Sep 08 |  Counties
Hants rout shatters Notts dream
27 Sep 08 |  Counties
Justin Langer column
22 Sep 08 |  Cricket
Justin Langer column
17 Aug 08 |  Cricket
Langer agrees new Somerset deal
10 Jul 08 |  Somerset

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