The top five old heads of 2015

John Mooney, left, and Niall O'Brien celebrate Ireland's win over West Indies at the World CupNiall O’Brien (right) makes the cut

A few days ago, I did a piece on the top five youngsters to watch during the 2015 County Championship season.

Here, I’ve looked at the other end of the spectrum. The old buggers who continue to make an important difference for their county.

As fun as it is to pontificate upon matters of youth – where prophecies abound – it’s the old campaigners who can make all the difference.

I made no restriction to the age of the player, but tended to aim for the over-35s, as a general guide.

James FOSTER, Essex. Age: 35

Very few players remain standing from the Nasser Hussain-led England team. Marcus Trescothick is still playing for Somerset, James Anderson is still plying his trade for England, Ryan Sidebottom continues to plug away for Yorkshire.

The only other remnant of that era is James Foster. Essex’s captain and wicket-keeper, his impact on the side has been dramatic.

England have discarded him; he hasn’t played a Test or ODI since 2002. Despite that, he continues to prove himself. The calls from some corners for his reselection last year sum up his continuing ability.

Foster’s average of 37.59 in First Class matches is outstanding for a ‘keeper, plying his trade on the day-in-day-out County circuit. And his impact for Essex has been three-fold. Sterling with the gloves, solid and occasionally brilliant with the bat, and a true leader as captain, Foster is one of the key men in Essex’s bid for promotion.

“Foz is a great player,” Jesse Ryder, Essex’s overseas player told me, “and always leads from the front. I think all players respect him which proves how important he has been for Essex.”

Steve MAGOFFIN, Sussex. Age: 35

To play 121 First Class games says a lot about a player. To take 448 wickets in that time, at 23.75, is a sign of absolute class.

Yet Steve Magoffin, Sussex’s overseas bowler, has never played an international.

He spent eight years in Sheffield Shield cricket, first with Western Australia, and then with Queensland, without ever managing to represent his nation.

He had several stints at County Championship cricket, but it was signing with Sussex ahead of the 2012 season that saw him become one of the best players on the County circuit. Despite his age – quite senior for a fast bowler – he signed a two-year deal late last year, and Ed Joyce described him as the best seam bowler in Division One.

“He’s a pleasure to captain,” Joyce said, “and has grown into being an impressive leader for both the younger bowlers in the squad, and the rest of the team in general.”

Niall O’BRIEN, Leicestershire. Age: 33

The youngest of my five, Niall O’Brien seems to have been around forever.

For Ireland, he’s done everything. Keeper, specialist middle order batsman, first drop, number four, opener. Whatever the team’s required, O’Brien has obliged.

With Leicestershire, he is part of a team who haven’t won a County Championship match since 2012. It’s a daunting challenge ahead of the side, but with ‘Nobi’ at the helm, they should be able to forge past previous disappointments.

With a group of solid older players – like captain Mark Cosgrove – combined with some exceptional young talents like Angus Robson, O’Brien’s very tidy keeping and often brilliant batsmanship could help tip the balance in Leicester’s favour more often than not.

O’Brien’s brilliance was shown recently in his knock of 79 not-out against the West Indies during the World Cup. He made a solid 75 against the might of India to boot, and backed it up with a not-out 70 and nine catches in Leicester’s first Championship match of the season.

Chris READ, Nottinghamshire. Age: 36

Chris Read has always been ‘that man’.

His absolute talent behind the stumps has only been matched by an alleged lack of it in front of them.

But his batting figures – an average of 37 from 309 First Class matches, with 22 centuries, suggest something entirely different.

And with Nottinghamshire looking weaker than at any point in the recent past, he might be the man to save Mick Newell’s side.

His captaincy is somewhat lacking tactically, but full of the attributes he shows as a player – guts, determination, and an avowedness not to give in.

His 62 and 101 (both not out) in Notts’ first match, against Middlesex, showed just how far he’s come as a batsman.

Notts will be hoping he can continue on in that vein throughout the summer.

Ryan SIDEBOTTOM, Yorkshire. Age: 37

It takes someone special to be 36, retired from internationals for four years, and still be facing calls from certain sections of the public to be returned to the Test side.

But that’s exactly what Sidebottom faced last summer. He’s played 204 First Class matches now, with 666 wickets, at an average of 24.48.

Sidebottom has always been a victim of his lack of ‘x-factor’. He is a solid bowler, who does the basics right, stays consistent, and takes wickets.

But without that splash of pace, or whiff of ‘something special’, it’s hard to get into the eyes of the selectors. Especially playing in a country like England.

But it’s been England’s loss, and the County circuit’s gain. His return to Yorkshire in 2011 gave his career a new lease of life, and in 2015 was crucial to his county’s success.

His 6-30 in the last innings of the season summed it all up.

He’ll be hoping he defies his age to do it one more time.

THE UNLUCKY FIVE – THOSE WHO MISSED THE CUT:

Jeetan Patel, Warwickshire. 34
Ed Joyce, Sussex. 36
Kumar Sangakkara, Surrey. 37
Dean Cosker, Glamorgan. 37
Glen Chapple, Lancashire. 41

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