Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Openers: Adams' conundrum

In this week's first pre-season friendly with Middlesex at the Oval Michael Brown and Tom Lancefield opened the batting. In today's abortive attempt at the second pre-season friendly at the Rose Bowl, Michael Brown made his way to the wicket with another partner, Gary Wilson. It seems Chris Adams is still not sure of who his opening partnership should be.

In the limited overs games we have such a settled and effective opening partnership in Hamilton-Brown and Davies which makes the County Championship situation all the more frustrating. At least in 2011 Adams has at his disposal 50% of his first choice opening pair with the return of Michael Brown. But who should join him?

Arun Harinath was tried at the beginning of 2010 but his tendency to get bogged down soon saw him discarded. I like Harinath, I think he has the attitude to succeed but I don't think he's an opener at this stage. Harinath's partner in crime was Matthew Spriegel but having two relatively slow scorers at the top was never likely to bear fruit.

Tom Lancefield was also given a go later in the season and looked the part in scoring a couple of fifties but I think his batting is still better suited to the middle order for now. Jason Roy was tried with him and his 69 from 72 balls against Glamorgan was genuinely impressive but his next three scores were 8, 11 and 6 and we seemed to be back at square one again. In all I think 9 opening pairs were tried, Brown and Lancefield/Wilson in pre-season brings that to 11.

So is Gary Wilson the answer to these problems? Its possible, he's attacking but not as aggressive as Roy and he's more experienced than Lancefield so may be more adept at maneuvering the ball around. Whichever partnership Adams settles on he should give them a chance to settle, however tempting it may be to chop and change (especially when we don't have the comforting presence of Ramprakash at number three until May).

Facing up to the new ball early in the season is a significant challenge, in the first month of the season the openers could very likely be facing up to James Harris in Cardiff and Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh at Lord's - not an easy ride. This will only be made more difficult if the partnership isn't given a chance to develop.

If I was Adams I'd make sure Brown uses his experience and plays the anchor role, that way he can partner him with a more attacking option such as Wilson or Roy. Adams might have hit upon something trying Wilson, he's opened 29 times for Ireland in ODIs and although his average is only 29 in those games that doesn't fully reflect the significant strides he has made in the last 12 months. If Wilson is to become a fixture in the four day side, and I believe he will, it might be best to accommodate him at the top of the order and let the youngsters Roy, Lancefield, Maynard and Co. develop in the middle order for 2011.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Surrey Cricket Blog Preview: County Championship

The 2011 County Championship is just around the corner, so what have Surrey fans got in store for this season? 2009 was an improvement on 2008 (it was almost impossible not to be) and 2010 was an improvement on 2009. The fact that the improvements were quite substantial but we still ended the season third from bottom last year is a measure of quite how bad things had gotten at Surrey.

So, 2011 will be an improvement on 2010, right? Well it certainly ought to be. The winter acquisitions of de Bruyn, Maynard and Arafat each add something, though whether Maynard features much in the CC side remains to be seen. But de Bruyn and Arafat in particular add a great deal.

The middle order was a real problem for us last season, specifically the number four slot. Perhaps that was partially because the openers were also poor and therefore the number four was under more pressure. Either way, de Bruyn in at number four would make sense to me. His medium pace to fill in here and there doesn't hurt either.

Yasir Arafat's all round talents are similarly welcome, his intelligent and potent bowling will be a useful foil for Dernbach and Meaker's dangerous but very occasionally expensive offerings. And his ability with the bat is not to be sniffed at, four first class hundreds is confirmation of that. How Chris Jordan gets on will be interesting, if we're lucky he'll pick up where he left off before injury in 2009, another genuine allrounder in the side wouldn't go amiss.

Michael Brown's return after a full year out is like signing a new player too. If he can add some much needed stability at the top, perhaps forming a handy understanding with Jason Roy, big totals should be well within reach more often than not. Early season we will be without Ramprakash which is a blow of untold proportions, so the number three slot is temporarily up for grabs. If Kevin Pietersen is still nursing his hernia scars, I think Captain Fantastic Rory Hamilton-Brown should step in. He has the talent but needs to show he has the application. It would also mean the top three could in fact sound like only two people, Roy Brown and Hamilton Brown.

Last year they proved themselves able to steamroller sides (Northamptonshire at the Oval) and be steamrollered (Sussex at Hove). The former must become the rule and the latter the exception. Needless and brainless collapses like the one at Worcester (chasing 369, the highest score in the top six was 35) have to be eliminated.

So in summary we need to be scrapping at the top, but expecting too much from such a young side will only end in tears. Simply, we should be aiming for more wins (at least six) and fewer defeats (no more than four) than last time round. If we're in the fight for promotion in the final analysis, more's the better.

Key players: Yasir Arafat and Rory Hamilton-Brown. Arafat's talent and experience will lead the line for Surrey and our young skipper needs to keep his team playing for him, while stepping up a gear with the bat.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

County Cricket's revised structure: Part One

Fear not, this isn't the start of a multi-part series of posts, merely a word or two on the first phase of the ECB's partial restructuring of County Cricket. They announced today that the Twenty20 Cup would be significantly scaled down while the County Championship will remain untouched. Good news, right?

Yes, I think so. There is no question in my mind that there was too much Twenty20 last year, crowds at the Oval rarely (if ever) made it into five figures where just a few years ago a sell out was not unusual. The atmosphere at the Oval suffered as a result, and not just because at the outset Surrey were very poor indeed. In fact the best atmosphere I recall was the Kent vs Essex game.

Where most cricket fans can happily sit amongst only a couple of hundred or so fellow die hards through a day of a Championship match I think most would acknowledge that a Twenty20 match benefits from the atmosphere created by a large crowd. And of course five matches attracting 20,000 people is far better than 10 matches attracting 6,000. For those reasons I think the reduction in games is a good thing.

The smaller counties who benefit most from the 2010/11 Twenty20 Cup set up are obviously disappointed, Kent's CEO Jamie Clifford has made clear his position. The ECB anticipated these reactions and have pledged a package of financial measures presumably to offset any losses that the smaller counties might incur because of the changes.

Furthermore that the ECB has now firmly marked its card where the issue of primacy of test/four day cricket over Twenty20 can only be a good thing. The debate over 40 or 50 over cricket rages on and a decision on that is due in May. I personally prefer the 40 over format but recognise that there's little point in keeping it as such if the international game is going to stay at 50 overs.

The ECB has done right by the majority without severely penalising the minority with this restructuring and that's extremely positive - long may it continue!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Jade Dernbach called up to England squad

There's all of a sudden the possibility that 40% of England's World Cup quarter-final overs will be bowled by Surrey County Cricket Club players after Jade 'Dirtbag' Dernbach got the call from Messrs Flower and Strauss summoning him to England's cause.

I'll avoid all the inevitable guff about him being South African born because A) I'm bored of that debate and B) that fact doesn't bother me. I've seen a lot of Jade over the years and he has improved out of sight from the bowler of 2-3 years ago, there is no question of that in my mind. I was still absolutely staggered at the news mind you!

He's not exactly a youngster, he's 24 (almost 25 in fact) and has been around the county circuit for a good few years now. His record, statistically speaking, isn't spectacular - 148 first class wickets at 32 and 95 List A wickets at 27, but those numbers have been going in the right direction and 2010 was a very good year for him. Up until the start of 2010 I was beginning to worry that a man who had played over a hundred games in various formats for Surrey wasn't stepping up to the next level, and then he did just that. 46 County Championship wickets at 29, which when you bear in mind he was injured when in great form and plays half his games at the Oval isn't bad going. But it wasn't just the numbers, he seemed an altogether more intelligent, rounded bowler than in previous seasons. With Jade you always get 100% committment but last season there was that little bit extra to go with it.

Without having had the speed gun on him regularly its difficult to say definitively how quick he is, but in some of the televised matches he's been into the late 80s and even the low 90s when he's in good rhythm. And that is key to Dernbach, if his rhythm is off he can go for a few - as his economy rate of over 6 from 60 List A games shows.

If he does play, don't expect him to come in and blow England's opposition away but he's quick, likely to get the ball reversing if conditions are right and of course there's the oft-cited back of the hand slower ball to fox the unsuspecting batsman.

I'm obviously delighted that another Surrey man has been recognised like this and he should be rightly very proud of his achievement. However if you'd told me 12 months ago that Jade Dernbach would be (India and South Africa victories permitting) flying to India to join England's World Cup squad, I'd have been very sceptical indeed!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

New season, new Chairman, new Chief leaf?

By now its old news that we have a new Chief Executive, Richard Gould, poached from Somerset where he was held in the very highest regard. Of course the Chairman is also different from 2010, Richard Thompson replaced David Stewart in October of last year. That completes (or does it?) a remarkable clearout over the last two and a half years since Alan Butcher departed in September 2008. Of the playing staff who turned out in the last few games of 2008 only four men remain - Ramprakash, Meaker, Dernbach and Spriegel.

Obviously the Chairman and the Chief Executive have less of an impact on the cricketing side, its their job to keep the club in the black among other things. With a staff roughly 20% smaller than it was in the middle of 2010 that will be a case of doing more with less, though they will hope that the draw of India and Sri Lanka - one test and two ODIs between them - will alleviate some of the financial pressures.

The real test of course remains on the pitch where again there has been a certain amount of upheaval. Out goes Stewart Walters, and as we all know in come Arafat, Maynard and de Bruyn, along with Tait for the Twenty20s. We may see a good deal less of Tremlett, Davies and Dernbach too.

The mettle of young stars like Roy, Meaker, Maynard and even Hamilton-Brown himself will be tested this season. We know they have talent in spades, but can they convert that into regular wins for the club? The average age of a likely starting XI come April will almost certainly be a good deal closer to 20 than 30, to expect too much of such a young side would be foolish, but we should expect at the very least a marked improvement on 2010 - especially in the longer form of the game where they fell shortest last season.

I don't wish to prejudice my more complete 'predictions 2011' posts coming in the next few weeks so I'll say no more. However suffice it to say I am mighty excited about the coming season!