Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Yasir Arafat signs for Surrey

The seven season county veteran has signed for the entirety of 2011 as our overseas player, acting as the second such player in the T20s alongside Shaun Tait.

Arafat has been a regular on the county circuit for a long time and he's still only 28.  He'll be available (barring injury) for pretty much every game and offers something in both the batting and obviously the bowling departments - I'm not sure how good his fielding is.  His experience will bring a lot to a very green fast bowling group and it also goes some way to plugging the giant gap left by one C. T. Tremlett.

As Chris Adams says on the official site we have suffered for some years now regarding the overseas signing through a mixture of purely picking the wrong players (Elliott, Rao) and not having the right players available for any length of time (Harris).  Arafat certainly rights that wrong and the continuity he will provide should not be underestimated.

And neither should his talents, over 700 first class wickets at 23, and a batting average of 26 including four hundreds (two in the County Championship).  He was in good form for Sussex last year too, 37 wickets at 25 and 255 runs at 36 including two fifties.  He's a very fine county number 8.

It won't surprise you to hear that there are still some niggling problems at the back of my mind.  We have a lot of batsmen who can bowl (De Bruyn, Hamilton-Brown) and bowlers who can bat (Meaker, Jordan, Arafat) and Gareth Batty, but no genuine allrounder.  I'm sure there are plenty of counties cursing their lack of a Daniel Vettori or Andrew Flintoff though.  What I think will hurt us even more is the lack of any kind of front line spinning options, and I'm risking sounding like a broken record here for which I apologise.

Batty is a valuable cricketer, on and off the field and I don't wish to belittle his contribution to the side, but I'm sure even he would acknowledge that he isn't going to be running through sides on a regular basis.  Schofield's bowling last season was not up to the standard of the year before, and Simon King is still an unknown quantity.

Moaning aside, I do think we have a decent side.  A middle order containing De Bruyn, Hamilton-Brown, Maynard and Davies (and Ramps when he returns) ought to get us plenty of runs and a seam attack of Dernbach, Meaker, Jordan and Arafat is an exciting prospect.  I think few would argue that Adams has gone down the wrong route with his signings, it just remains to be seen if he can get them playing the way we need them to.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Surrey squad taking shape...but I don't know which specific shape

Firstly, welcome to Surrey Tom Maynard, Glamorgan's loss is Surrey's considerable gain and I am sure he's got a big future at the Oval.  I saw him bat three times last year, once in the TV game at Cardiff when he scored a very impressive 64 at more or less a run a ball, then at the Oval when he went for 19 in the pursuit of Surrey's world record score.  But the third innings was the pick, in a particularly galling defeat at the Oval Maynard's 78 from 43 balls was the difference between the sides, he was calculating yet powerful, more of the same please Tom.

I can't really see that any more new faces will come in, except perhaps an overseas player for the non-Twenty20 games (Shakib al-Hasan please).  We have a squad which is undoubtedly short of experience, especially with Ramprakash missing for the start of the season, but at the same time it is long on promise, which is cause for genuine optimism.  2011 will be another year of ups and downs, but I can see the makings of a very talented unit, particularly in the limited overs games.

A Championship batting order comprising Brown, Hamilton-Brown, Maynard, Roy, De Bruyn, Davies and Wilson looks good on paper, but I'm not entirely sure where everyone fits.  In Hamilton-Brown, De Bruyn, Davies, Wilson and Maynard we appear to have five number fives, and no number threes while Ramps remains on the sidelines.  I would go for Roy and Brown as an opening pair but the former is probably more comfortable in the middle order for now.  Lancefield, Spriegel and Harinath lurk in the background should anyone fall short.  Oh and there's Pietersen on the payroll as well.

Someone will have to step up and occupy that number three slot, and I'd like that someone to be the captain. OK, his defensive game only appeared very occasionally (to put it mildly - did it appear at all?) in 2010, but it was the one place in the order he didn't bat last season and I would like to see him take on that responsibility.

The bowling unit has been boosted by the return of Chris Jordan, who gives the side batting depth as well.  Equally though it will likely be weakened by the departure of Tremlett for large chunks of the season.  Meaker, Dernbach and Jordan will be expected to make early inroads but the persistent absence of a frontline spinner leaves us exposed, unless of course Simon King can make a sudden breakthrough after a poor 2010.  And what of Andre Nel amongst all this?  Who knows.  Matt Dunn and Tim Linley will provide able backup in the seam bowling department.

The likes of Tom Jewell, Chris Schofield and Zafar Ansari will make occasional appearances but I am interested in particular in the progress of Ansari who will be a key player for us in a few years I think.

So Surrey County Cricket Club's 2011 vintage could well be a story of flashes of genius ultimately ending in another middling season, or if three or four players (ideally Roy, Hamilton-Brown, Maynard and Meaker) can make 2011 a breakthrough year, and the rest continue to steadily develop we could spring some real surprises.  I for one hope it is the latter!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Surrey sign Shaun Tait for Twenty20s

News emerges that Surrey have pulled off something of a coup in signing the man labelled as the 'World's Fastest Bowler', Shaun Tait, for this year's Twenty20 Cup. Its no secret that the fast bowling ranks were looking a bit thin with the prospect of Chris Tremlett being unavailable for large chunks of the season and the remainder of our quicks a little light on experience, so it is to my mind a very good and undeniably very exciting signing. 

He can be wayward, and his injury record does not make for pretty reading but when he gets it on the money he is a fearsome prospect. Should he and Tremlett ever take the field together it would make a formidable opening pair, extreme pace from a slingy action from one end and awkward bounce from the other. Even if they don't, Dernbach is a fine bowler, Jordan is finally coming back from injury and if Meaker can kick on that gives us plenty of options in the pace department. 

Adams' record in overseas signings isn't great, none of Rao Iftikhar, Grant Elliott, Younus Khan or Andrew Symonds performed anywhere near their best and while Ryan Harris was good his stay was all too brief. That's not to say any of that is Adams' fault, the logic behind Younus and Symonds was simple, and at the time I thought both Rao and Elliott might prove canny signings, but neither did. Shaun Tait at the Oval has all the ingredients for success, with the single injury question mark hanging over him. 

Signing big name players for the sake of it is daft, signing Shaun Tait is not. I don't doubt there will be a couple of games where a batsman gets a hold of him, but I am sure he'll take plenty of wickets. 

The limited overs side is looking potent if still a touch on the raw side, Davies (when available), Hamilton-Brown, Roy and De Bruyn carry plenty of firepower and now the bowling looks stronger. We are still missing a spinner and that should be sought as the second overseas option, throw a quality spinner into that mix and we'll be right on the money.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

2010/11 - The Sweetest Win

Alright beating a team sprinkled with genius in 2005 was pretty special, and 2009 was a rewarding exercise in doggedly keeping at it, but the 2010/11 Ashes is my favourite England series win (I was only two when we won it in 1986/7).

To win a series down under is impressive, South Africa were impressive in doing so a couple of years back, beating an Aussie side containing broadly similar personnel, but to deliver the most comprehensive of batterings, as England are about to complete, is more than impressive.

3-1 (which it presumably will be by about 1.30am tomorrow morning), remarkably, won't quite do England justice in my book. Perth, looking back on it, seems a bizarre aberration. How did our batting lineup fold for 187 and 123 while in the other five innings they batted they averaged 510? How did the Australian bowlers take 20 wickets for 310 runs when in the other four games they managed 36 wickets for 2,554 runs? I have no idea.

The whole series has been a blast, you'd struggle to pick your best moment, but there's one that really sticks in the mind for me. It was on that epic first day at the MCG, Strauss took a calculated gamble in putting the Aussies in to bat on a juicy looking pitch and boy oh boy did his bowlers reward him. My defining memory of this series will be the celebration of James Anderson as he took Mike Hussey's wicket. Hussey had defied England's bowlers resolutely to that point and his wicket became the most prized of all. Anderson's celebrations are rarely as effusive as that one, but you sensed that was the moment he realised we would retain the Ashes, just sheer, unadulterated joy and wild arm-waving. Take a look at it here, about 1m54s into this video. Oh and I also really like Matt Prior's Ashes beard.

You get the sense that it could just be the beginning for England too, this side are young enough and talented enough to duke it out with the very best in the world and on the strength of four our of five Ashes performances, I think they'd probably beat India and South Africa at the moment.

Three of England's current top six, Cook, Bell and Pietersen could become England's three leading run-scorers of all time and they may all end their careers occupying the top three slots as the leading hundred-makers for England too. Cook especially is a tanatlising prospect, at just 26 he could have 10 good years left in him and he's already got 5,100 runs under his belt. Not to forget Strauss who with 19 hundreds and 6,084 runs is also heading for the upper echelons of those tables, though he has less time on his side as he approaches 34.

I'm sad to see Collingwood go, but its good to see him choose to go rather than be pushed. For a man who seemed to spend his entire career directly under the selectors axe, its fitting that he should choose his time to depart. He will be more tricky to replace than seems immediately obvious.

Next up (after yet another England-Australia one day series) is the World Cup, the treble of World Twenty20, Ashes in Australia and 50 over World Cup inside one 12 month period is very definitely on the cards. Then for the number one slot. I for one cannot wait.