(Photo: Harry Trump / Getty Images)
It doesn’t feel like it was over six months ago now that we were all on the edge of our seats as the County Championship was getting ready to get underway again, does it?
But here we are, thousands of runs and hundreds of wickets later, closing the curtain on another wonderful season of first-class cricket.
Essex, who many tipped as dark horses but few expected to actually challenge, romped to the title with a game to spare and in our select XI, they make up over a third with four representatives. And it could have even been five with Alastair Cook making a case for inclusion in his handful of matches too.
Lancashire and Surrey ran them close and both counties take up two spots from our team, while Yorkshire, Somerset and Hampshire representatives take up the final places.
Now this is certainly an XI who would give any side a challenge…
Mark Stoneman – Surrey
Matches: 12 Runs/Average: 1,156/60.84
At the top comes a man who was one of very few to prosper against champions Essex after he made a stunning career-best 197 back in June, just a few weeks before he gained his England call-up.
Stoneman made the move to the Oval from Durham last winter with the Three Lions in mind and made a solid, if not overly impressive, Test bow against the West Indies which was enough to earn a seat on the plane for Australia and probably a spot for the first Ashes Test.
Only Kumar Sangakkara scored more runs than the opener in Division One, with Stoneman missing two games but still making three figures four times. If he shows the form he has for Surrey Down Under, then England have a great chance of returning home with the Urn firmly in hand.
Nick Browne – Essex
Matches: 14 Runs/Average: 952/43.27
The rock at the top of the Championship winning batting line-up. Browne was Mr Consistent for Essex, featuring in every game and setting up a platform for the Essex middle order to fire.
He may not have raised his bat as often as he would have liked, making a century just once while passing 50 five times, but he regularly saw off the new ball and made life comfortable for those around him.
Partnering Alastair Cook, who made 667 runs in seven matches, for half the season, Browne ensured the loss of the former England captain to international duty wasn’t felt for the second half.
The pair put on 373 for the first wicket against 2016 champions Middlesex back in June as Essex really showed their title credentials.
Liam Livingstone – Lancashire
Matches: 11 Runs/Average: 803/47.23
An England debut in T20 colours and a place on the Lions tour – 2017 hasn’t been bad for the 24-year-old.
Over 800 runs for the Red Rose including a brilliant maiden double-century against strugglers Warwickshire in August showed just what this guy is made of.
The consensus is that Livingstone will go on to play for England in all forms, and it’s just a matter of when rather than if. Even Ashley Giles says he should be in the squad heading to the Ashes.
At his age, the right-hander still has a long time in the game, and arguably a few years before he reaches his peak as a batsman. Will he be the long-term answer to England’s top to middle order problems? More than likely.
Kumar Sangakkara – Surrey
Matches: 10 Runs/Average: 1,491/106.50
The Sri Lankan legend was the first name on this team sheet. Hanging up his first-class spikes after a final season where his average was in three figures is simply remarkable, even more so when you consider the facts that he missed four matches to play in the Caribbean Premier League.
The left-hander, who will turn 40 in a couple of weeks, raised his bat after making a century on eight occasions. Admittedly, the Oval is seemingly always a haven for batsmen but Sangakkara’s run-tally almost staggers belief.
Don’t forget that he also scored his 100th century in all formats of the game in Surrey’s One-Day Cup quarter-final win over Yorkshire.
Gary Ballance – Yorkshire
Matches: 12 Runs/Average: 951/67.92
While the left-hander again failed to produce the goods for England this summer, his form for Yorkshire throughout the season has earned him a place in the Ashes touring squad.
Having been elevated to the White Rose captaincy, Ballance began the campaign in blistering form with scores of 72, 120, 55, 22, 108, 203, the latter a 491-minute marathon to save his side from defeat by Hampshire.
It was a disappointing season for the 2014 and 2015 champions, who ended fourth, but 100 points behind the leaders. Ballance, however, shone – his runs total was almost 400 higher than any other Yorkshire batsman.
Ryan ten Doeschate – Essex (C)
Matches: 13 Runs/Average: 659/41.18
He didn’t pull up any trees with his run-scoring but there’s no doubt that Ten Doeschate should lead this team after how he guided an Essex side, who were tipped by many for relegation, to a historic title.
Helped by a superb bowling attack and a batting unit that constantly produced the goods, Dutchman Ten Doeschate led by example. A brilliant unbeaten 168 set up a wonderful victory over Surrey at Guildford and his average of over 61 is impressive by anyone’s books.
This was an Essex side tipped to struggle following the retirements of David Masters and Graham Napier but Ten Doeschate ensured those losses weren’t felt in a great season for the county.
Alex Davies – Lancashire
Matches: 14 Runs/Average: 916/39.82 Catches/Stumpings: 42/6
His county’s top run scorer while having a solid season behind the stumps, 2017 was the season where the potential we all knew Alex Davies possessed came to fruition.
After spending 11 months out of the game with a knee problem that required an operation, the 23-year-old didn’t let that affect him, starting the season with a bang making an unbeaten 140 as the Red Rose were the better side against reigning champions Middlesex in April.
A Lions call-up was more than justified as he kept Jos Buttler out of Lancashire’s red-ball team and though he seems to be behind Ben Foakes in the pecking order at the moment, another season like 2017 could see a Test spot come his way soon.
Simon Harmer – Essex
Matches: 14 Wickets/Average: 72/19.19
Signing of the season and straight into this star-studded XI. Harmer had a stunning campaign and, by lifting the trophy last month, arguably justified his decision to turn his back on South Africa and go down the Kolpak route.
It almost makes you wonder if England would have been as successful against the Proteas had Harmer been given more opportunities with his country in the past, not that Chris Silverwood and co at Chelmsford were complaining.
Back-to-back 14-wicket match hauls in June against Warwickshire and Middlesex really grabbed the attention but he always looked dangerous and most teams just couldn’t compete against the 28-year-old.
Kyle Abbott – Hampshire
Matches: 14 Wickets/Average: 60/18.20
Another one who came over to the County Championship as a Kolpak signing, in tears as he announced his decision, but it was a justified choice as Hampshire defied the odds to remain in Division One.
Indeed, the south-coast county were flying high for the first half of the season before a slump in the later months with Abbott the brightest spark.
Hampshire defeated one of the title favourites Yorkshire in their opening game with Abbott claiming 7-41 and he never looked back, claiming 60 wickets for the season.
He unsurprisingly swept the board at Hampshire’s awards ceremony with the 30-year-old winning the Supporters’ player of the year, the Players’ player of the year and the Bowler of the Year.
He would undoubtedly form a pivotal part of a scintillating attack in this team.
Jamie Porter – Essex
Matches: 13 Wickets/Average: 75/16.82
Having picked up the Cricket Writers’ Club Player of the Year, and earning the Young Player of the Year gong at last week’s PCA Awards, there was no question of the 24-year-old’s place in this XI.
The leading wicket-taker in the County Championship for 2017, despite missing a game, Porter tore batsmen apart to guide Essex to their first title since 1992.
The numbers do all the talking when it comes to Porter’s season. To take 75 wickets is one thing, but to do it with an average of less than 17, well that is quite another.
Five five-wicket hauls came his way this season, striking every 32 balls – a season every bowler dreams of.
He’s got his place on the Lions tour this winter, and if he can gain another few mph just like Chris Woakes did a couple of years back, then surely a full England cap won’t be far away for Porter.
Jack Leach – Somerset
Matches: 14 Wickets/Average: 51/25.78
With England constantly searching for an out and out spinner to join Moeen Ali, Leach must be wondering just what he has to do to be given an outing.
Another superb season for the Somerset spinner saw him cause problem after problem, especially on his home Taunton pitch as he picked up over 50 Championship wickets to back up last season where he claimed 65 scalps.
He has, of course, been named in the Lions squad which will be heading to Australia and a successful winter may see him break into the Test squad at some point in the coming months.
But he was a vital cog as Somerset staved off the threat of relegation to remain in Division One.