Saturday, 30 April 2011

Squad for CB40 double header revealed

Surrey have released the 14 man squad, a combination of whom will play the CB40 games on Sunday against Scotland and Hampshire on Monday. After the crushing defeat at Lord's Adams and Hamilton-Brown will want a big win against Scotland and a good performance against Hampshire to get some positivity back in the dressing room. There are a couple of surprising inclusions and one notable exclusion.

The 14 men includes Gareth Batty who is rested for the game against Scotland and presumably will definitely play at the Rose Bowl. The squad with my expected XI for Sunday is as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Zander de Bruyn
Tom Maynard
Gary Wilson
Chris Schofield
Matthew Spriegel
Yasir Arafat
Jade Dernbach
Matthew Dunn

12th men: Tom Jewell, Tim Linley, Gareth Batty

The opening pair picks itself after some spectacular shows of hitting in 2010, here's hoping they can replicate that. As I said in my CB40 preview (which if you missed it can be found here) our innings tended to rely on their spectacular starts, hopefully the addition of some steel to the middle order in the shape of Zander de Bruyn will go some way to remedying that. Tom Maynard in there also adds significant power. Jason Roy (who can hopefully kick-start his first XI season tomorrow) and Gary Wilson will likely complete a hugely powerful top six. Michael Brown is an interesting exclusion, he has always made noises about wanting to play all formats for Surrey, but he has looked in dreadful form in the opening games so maybe he'll go away and get his game right.

Chris Schofield and Matthew Spriegel at numbers 7 and 8, along with Arafat at 9 complete a lengthy batting lineup. I am pleased to see Spriegel in the side and I hope he is in there to bowl his full quota of 8 overs in both games unless he has a nightmare against Scotland. I've always thought his bowling is underrated, sometimes he can go round the park but his spin is, by and large, reliable and threatening. Though he wasn't impressive in the CB40 last season his bowling form in the Seconds this year has been good, including four wickets against Essex not long ago.

I hope Arafat can use these games to really get his bowling going. We all know the threat Dernbach poses, even if he was poor at Lord's and I would be really interested to see how Matthew Dunn gets on, the England Under-19 quick is a really promising player. Though if Adams wants to make the batting really strong Tom Jewell, who looked consistent and intelligent (though not very rapid) in the Second XI game I saw a couple of weeks ago, may come in instead. On the flip side he may elect to play a fourth seamer in the shape of Tim Linley, especially for the Scotland game, but I'd be surprised if he did. De Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown give plenty of options should one of the frontline bowlers get collared, though I wouldn't want the captain bowling too many overs given what we've seen from him so far this season!

I think the side above gives a good blend of batting power and bowling potency, though again a lot will rest on the form of the senior seamers Arafat and Dernbach. We made a great start to the CB40 last year and with all due respect to Scotland they have a great chance to do so again. Players like Luke Butterworth and Majid Haq should not be underestimated but we ought to be looking at beating them. A real beating would help to set aside memories of Lord's but similarly anything other than a comfortable win will heap further pressure on Adams and RHB. Here's to a good performance first up and certainly two points, hopefully four points, on the board.

UPDATE: Luke Butterworth is injured, broken toe apparently, as helpfully pointed out by the ever-vigilant @lynnbashforth

Friday, 29 April 2011

When it came, it came swiftly

Defeat that is. I'm not sure how much a blog today can add to what I wrote yesterday, suffice it to say that Surrey collapsed in another heap to 200 all out before tea on the third day, losing to a fine Middlesex side by an innings and 42 runs.  We now sit rock bottom of Division Two as the only side without a win and having played a game more than the side immediately above us.
Steven Davies slaps Collymore for four
Steven Davies was the only man who put up any sort of resistance, compiling a fine and well paced 94 before he played at a distinctly un-threatening Neil Dexter delivery which cannoned back on to his stumps. His dismissal signalled the effective end of Surrey's hopes of making Middlesex bat again.

Captain fantastic Dexter took 3-46
After Davies departed Arafat didn't hang about long and Jade Dernbach flailed at the first delivery he faced and skied the second for a two-ball duck. Among the abject disappointment that was the Surrey performance it should not be forgotten that we came up against a re-invigorated and undeniably talented Middlesex side. Neil Dexter added three wickets to his first innings hundred to complete a fine captain's performance and Toby Roland-Jones went past 50 first class wickets with 4-38, his average now stands at 18.5.

The impressive Roland-Jones ended with 4-38
Again the same old problems surfaced, Wilson flashed at a wide-ish delivery, Maynard slapped Dexter straight to Crook at short extra cover and Hamilton-Brown and Jordan also went after balls wide enough to leave. For all the good bowling from Middlesex, they didn't exactly have to work their socks off to get them.

There will be a lot of soul-searching for Adams and Hamilton-Brown tonight, and to his credit Adams in his post-match interview said simply "we weren't up to the challenge...we were outplayed this week." I don't envy them, they have a tough task on their hands to pick the team up ahead of a packed schedule over the next few weeks.

The one good piece of news to emerge today is that Mark Ramprakash is due to make his comeback from injury remarkably early, he will play for the Second XI on Saturday and if he makes it through the game without aggravating the injury he could be in contention for the Leicestershire game next week. Add Meaker, Tremlett and Ramprakash himself into the mix and this team has a very different look about it. On the strength of the last three days, it needs a different look.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A bad day at the office, to put it mildly

46.3, 50.4 and 56.3. What are those numbers? The Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index from early 2009? Jerry West's average points per game in the NBA in the mid 1960s? Yes, it is those things in part, but more importantly its the number of overs Surrey have batted against Middlesex in the last three completed innings. Not very good.

Pity poor Tom Maynard, left stranded on 98 not out as his team mates wafted and clobbered their way back to the pavilion. Surrey, having taken Middlesex's final five wickets in reasonably good time (huge credit to Gareth Batty for his five-for) were all out for just 203 in reply. Aside from Maynard's valiant effort, Surrey managed to bat out 34 fewer balls than Neil Dexter did on his own. At this point I will hand over to the Guardian's David Hopps who on the County Cricket Live blog summed it up much better than I could:

"Discipline is not a word that will be used about Surrey much this season if the afternoon session at Lord's is any evidence, writes David Hopps. They have batted like a big county in a rush, a big county with big ideas that wants the big rewards without big application. They have batted like a dodgy start-up, full of high ambitions, slick phrases and dubious substance. They have been very much second best in the London derby."

Hamilton-Brown, having made it to within three of fifty in his customary swashbuckling style was out trying to whip a straight one through mid-wicket, Davies poked at one, de Bruyn tried to cut one too close to him, Batty and Jordan were out to ill-advised wafts and Arafat tried a slog sweep with the score on 162-7. All the while Maynard continued his form from the Glamorgan game and richly deserved his second successive hundred despite being dropped at least once.

Middlesex inevitably enforced the follow on with Surrey well over 200 in arrears and shortly after they did so Michael Brown was back to the pavilion for no score and de Bruyn got a snorter from Finn first ball to join Brown. That completed the set, all of Surrey's top four out for a duck in one day, Wilson and Davies in the first innings and Brown and de Bruyn in the second. Mercifully we remained two down as stumps were drawn and Wilson and Davies will resume tomorrow morning with making Middlesex bat again still a distant speck on the horizon.

So, what to make of all that? Our innings today puts into perspective how poorly we did in fact bowl yesterday afternoon, while Middlesex galloped to 450 at 4+ an over, we limped to 200 all out. It is also the first time our batters have faced a pitch with even a little bit of spice in it after two dead-as-a-doornail tracks at the Oval and in Cardiff, Maynard aside they did not come out of the examination well.

There is strength in our side, of that I have no doubt, and missing Meaker, Tremlett and of course Ramprakash will hurt any side, but its the fact that the same old mistakes are being made which worries me the most. In an interview on the 23rd of March Chris Adams had the following to say:

"Now is time for this squad to embrace what taking responsibility is all about, and absorbing the pressure when it comes to focusing on what they can control and not what they can't control, that's the job of the manager really."

That is exactly what they did not do today. Yes they are a young side, and yes things take time to bed in, but these are the mistakes made in the Worcester game last year, and others besides, something isn't working at Surrey. I'm not suggesting they are doing anything other than working bloody hard, but something just is not working. Anyone who thinks I'm being overly harsh, well fine, that's your prerogative but don't think I enjoy writing this kind of stuff, I don't, I love watching my team win, there is nothing better and in the same vein there's not much worse than the kind of performance put in today. Maybe Gary Wilson and Steve Davies will pull off a great escape tomorrow, goodness knows I hope they do, but it won't disguise the fact that for the vast majority of the first innings here, batting and bowling, we just weren't up to the mark.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Deja vu all over again

Having had the home side 88-4 on a pitch with a fair bit of grass Surrey are now staring down the barrel of needing to bat very well tomorrow to salvage something from the game, thoughts of a victory evaporated as Neil Dexter and John Simpson's partnership built and built from lunch onwards. So much for that brittle middle order eh?

Evidence of the green tinge to the pitch

Hamilton-Brown won his third consecutive toss and put Middlesex in to bat having slotted a fourth seamer, Chris Jordan, in at the last minute, perhaps having seen that grass on the wicket. The decision looked the right one as Yasir Arafat finally took his first wicket of the season trapping Scott Newman LBW (before I'd even made it to my seat). Not long after Tom Maynard took a very sharp slip catch to see off Housego for nothing and Arafat then bowled Chris Rogers. Malan and Dexter settled things but with the score on 88 Malan was adjudged LBW to Batty just before lunch.

Arafat broke his duck at long last
Things were looking mighty fine as I tucked into my roast beef sandwich, I thought our first win of the season might just be on the cards. How wrong I was. After lunch the initial swing Arafat had used so well was long gone and the blazing sunshine wasn't helping matters either. Simpson and Dexter tucked into bowling which was for the most part too short. Dernbach and Simpson had a good battle after lunch with the latter mis-timing a couple pulls, but Dernbach got carried away with the short stuff, in the end it was the batsman who had the last laugh. Dexter went to his hundred with a delicious straight drive, was dropped next ball in the slips by the skipper and then drove the ball after for another four. Simpson was less expansive but his hundred was no less impressive.

Dexter's 100
Through the day Hamilton-Brown rotated his four seamers, all of whom didn't hit the right lengths and Linley was too expensive. Gareth Batty bowled ok but I won't bore everyone again by going into any detail about him not being a frontline spinner.

It is becoming, if it hasn't already become, a theme of the season that we are failing to drive home advantages - something which Adams specifically said we needed to work on.  This was another example of good batting against us, Dexter and Simpson were superb, make no mistake, but we also evidently lacked an enforcer.  Meaker's absence didn't help today, likewise Tremlett's ongoing absence, but without someone stepping into that role we will always struggle to create results over four day matches.

Simpson's 100
Tomorrow Surrey face another tough day.  Simpson is still there and Ollie Rayner is with him, he's in good form with the bat too.  They have a perfect platform to launch an attack and push towards 500-550 and declare.  That will leave Surrey with plenty of overs to face, and the prospect of seeing off Finn, Roland-Jones and Collymore on a pitch that ought to suit will not fill them with glee.

Our batting is strong of course, and we are more than capable of making the game safe, but there will be buckets of pressure on the top order in the face of seam bowling likely to be of the highest order.  Unless the openers bed in you can see things getting away from Surrey, fingers crossed it doesn't.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Squad for Lord's - same XI again?

Chris Adams has picked 13 players for the trek up to North London for the game against Middlesex starting tomorrow, there is only one change from last week, Jason Roy disappears altogether and Chris Jordan replaces him.

The 13 is as follows, with my expected XI:

De Bruyn

12th men: Batty/Schofield, Jordan

We have struggled to make breakthroughs in the first two games, this is partly down to the dead pitches and partly because Arafat has been a bit of a passenger so far. Therefore I think Adams should abandon thoughts of fielding the same XI again and drop an allrounder in favour of a frontline seamer, Tim Linley to be precise. Whether Meaker plays or not given his absence from much of the final day of the Glamorgan game remains to be seen, but given his form, if he's fit, he has to play.

Dropping one of Schofield or Batty could be seen as harsh, given Schofield's 99 in Cardiff and Batty's all round good form. If I had to choose I'd say Schofield has to step aside, and I realise this is starting to appear as a personal vendetta against Schofield, it isn't! I just think you have to pick the bowling attack most likely to take 20 wickets at Lord's, and a twin-spin approach just doesn't make much sense. Sticking with Arafat might also seem foolhardy given a return of precisely zero wickets from two games, but I think Lord's will suit him more, and the conditions might also be more conducive to his swing bowling.

Of course if you wanted to replace Schofield's runs you might pick Jordan instead, who has been in great form with the bat for the Second XI and when I saw him bowling last week he looked sharp enough but I think Linley is a more incisive bet. If Meaker does not recover in time there will be space for Jordan anyway. Ultimately our top six are in good nick broadly speaking and Batty, Arafat and Meaker ought to be able to hang about enough to put a substantial score on the board, but it is a gamble.

Middlesex have started the season in fine form with wins against Essex and Derbyshire, the former a bit of a drubbing. Their strength lies in their seam attack, so strong in fact that last season's find Toby Roland-Jones (once of Surrey Second XI no less!) has been left on the sidelines. Finn, Murtagh, Collymore and Gareth Berg have been very effective so far, they might fancy finding a place for Roland-Jones given how well he bowled against us last season. Their middle order batting has been a bit brittle, but again Berg and Rayner have shored it up somewhat. They will be mighty tough to beat.

We need to get a win on the board and Lord's would be a lovely place to do it. For that reason I think Adams needs to gamble with possibly losing some runs from an allrounder and pick a more likely wicket-taker.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Clydesdale Bank 40 preview

The County 40 over competition began in earnest this week and Surrey kick off their campaign on Sunday at the Oval. Chris Adams was coy at best regarding Surrey’s chances of winning it when interviewed earlier in the season, but here are my thoughts for what its worth.

We were impressive in the CB40 last season until about July. Really impressive. The opening pair of Davies and Hamilton-Brown were consistently spectacular, both finishing with impressive 40+ averages and 100+ strike rates. They regularly gave us fantastic starts and one of those led to the world record total against Worcestershire. I don't think it'll be long before England come a calling for Hamilton-Brown's hitting prowess at the top of the order.

However their attacking play didn’t come without risk and we came a cropper whenever the openers failed. There is every reason to stick with that opening pair but the guys lower down the order also have to deliver when the openers don't. It will be interesting to see where Michael Brown fits into Adams' plans as well, he may slot in at number three if Ramprakash scales back his limited overs workload. We regularly suffered from a lack of middle order runs so de Bruyn should go some way to filling this gap (his part time bowling will come in very handy too).

On the bowling front we had a tendency to live and die on one player having a great day or a terrible day, none more so than Tremlett. His form in the 40 over games last season was curious, rarely did he really hit his straps. Arafat, notwithstanding his poor start in the Championship, could be crucial along with Dernbach and his slower balls. Ultimately last season we didn't take enough wickets, Batty and Jade finished the season as our leading wicket takers with 12 each, Somerset and Sussex, the two teams who finished above us both had at least one 20+ wicket taker.

Before his injury which kept him out of cricket in 2010 Chris Jordan was briefly employed as an opening bat in the limited overs games, and with some success. His pinch-hitting abilities might come in useful, not to mention his bowling of course, I wouldn't be surprised to see him named in the side to face Scotland on Sunday.

Again the lack of a penetrative spinner could cost us, though less so than in the Championship, Batty is an accomplished one day spinner and perhaps Schofield will have one of his 'bowling years' (2010 was a batting year for Schoey) - though his start in the Championship would suggest not.

An interesting player in this format is Matt Spriegel. I would really like to see his bowling develop, with his height he can generate discomfiting bounce and using him as an opening bowler in 40 over or T20 cricket should be looked at. I think batting him at number 8 and bowling his full quota might be the way forward, but Gareth Batty's experience may squeeze him out more often than not.

Surrey have a good recipe for success in this format, we have power right through the batting order and good bowling options. It is still a young side, and inexperience might cost them in a tight run chase here or there, but the side is chock-full of talent. We should unquestionably be looking at getting to the latter stages of the CB40, and winning it is not out of the question.

Key men: Jade Dernbach - his game suits the 40 over format, plenty of variation, just needs to work on the economy rate which was still too high last year. Zander de Bruyn - middle order runs, experience - he can be our 'finisher' - and the odd wicket or two are just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Handshakes all round, its a draw pt. II

For the second match in succession Surrey were batted in to submission on the final day, Gareth Rees and Michael Powell the offending batsmen on this occasion.

I will say this at the outset, Glamorgan batted very sensibly and very responsibly, Rees was extremely watchful while Powell was more aggressive. This wasn't a pitch for the bowlers to put it mildly, and in any case our most threatening bowler, Meaker, was off the pitch for most of the day and bowled only three overs all told in the second innings. Unless Meaker can recover by Wednesday Tim Linley looks increasingly likely to gain a deserved recall and Yasir Arafat, who has now gone two full four day championship matches without taking a wicket, will almost certainly remain. If we have to go without Meaker for the Middlesex game I fear we might struggle to take 20 wickets again.

After Meaker plucked Cosker from the crease for his 5th wicket (and 11th of the season) to end the Glamorgan innings Arafat and Dernbach didn't make the batsmen play enough with the new ball, although they were hardly profligate. Chris Schofield and Gareth Batty toiled away manfully and economically on a fourth day pitch which seemed to be offering some turn from time to time, but again without that x-factor bowler there was no one to force the issue.

We haven't been helped by starting the season under virtually cloudless skies on pitches which haven't offered much at all for the bowlers but the ongoing inability to finish sides off once we've maneuvered ourselves into good positions is really a concern. Of course there is much to be happy with, that we are maneuvering ourselves into those positions is pleasing and the absolute truckload of runs we scored is a real positive. Plus Meaker's bowling continues to impress. There is just something missing, some of it is down to decisions not going our way, but there is also that last piece of the puzzle that provides the moment of genius which just hasn't worked out. It would be really handy if it did so at Lord's next week.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Tailenders frustrate Surrey again

Surrey's Good Friday wasn't as good as I might've hoped, Glamorgan batting their way through the day with Dean Cosker and James Harris stubbornly seeing out the day leaving us with yet another wicket to take tomorrow morning - and then 10 more after that.

Stuart Meaker seemed to spend a long time off the field after taking the wicket of Stewart Walters for 35, he was on the field late on but didn't bowl in the evening session. Hopefully he'll be able to shake off whatever was laying him low by tomorrow.

It was a story of frustration by Glamorgan's tail end batsmen today, just as Northants did in the first game. In the two games so far opposing top five batsmen have mustered just 278 runs, while the bottom five in the batting order have racked up 514, and counting. Of course this isn't just down to bad bowling, in fact little of it is, this is another batsman's pitch just as the Oval was last week, but it is incredibly frustrating. Arafat's travails continue, he has now failed to take a wicket in 57 overs, giving away 3.7 RPO in the process. It is more than a little worrying.

Schofield and Batty have bowled almost 50 overs between them in this innings, collecting three wickets and keeping the runs down by and large. Dernbach wasn't allowed to bowl until lunch because of his absence (stomach bug related apparently), he collected a single wicket but gave away just 28 runs in 20 overs.

If Hamilton-Brown doesn't have his full quota of bowlers tomorrow I suspect he will enforce the follow on, continuing the attacking vein his declaration against Northants hinted at, it is the only possible way of grabbing a win. However the lead is now less than 200 and the pitch still seems easy enough to bat on, Glamorgan look sure to be able to bat themselves into a lead and probably make the game safe.

Even if we can't bowl ourselves into a winning position it would be daft to be overly critical. This pitch is full of runs and we've scored a hatful, the bowlers have doggedly chipped away today against a disciplined and deep batting lineup. A couple of niggly injuries have disrupted the bowling plans as well which won't have helped matters. Its frustrating of course, but the pitch has scuppered any chance of a Surrey win here, not the players.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A good day all round

What's not to like? A big hundred for Zander de Bruyn, a slightly smaller hundred for Tom Maynard, 99 and run out for Chris Schofield and ending the day with three wickets for Stuart Meaker. Glamorgan are way behind the 8-ball, 480 runs to be precise, with only six first innings wickets left.

De Bruyn started the day almost more fluently than he ended the last, making the early running while Tom Maynard settled in, determined to complete his maiden first class ton against the team who dumped his father as coach last year. Surrey notched over 100 runs in the morning session as they looked to build a massive first innings total.

Maynard duly completed his first hundred and he and Schofield looked to accelerate until the former was stumped off the persistent Dean Cosker. That bought Gareth Batty to the crease with Schofield and they proceeded to put on another 130 after Glamorgan skipper Petersen dropped Batty at slip while he was on 10. Although I thought Hamilton-Brown might have wanted 600+ Chris Schofield's apparent urgency in attempting to reach his hundred seemed to suggest the message had gone out that the declaration would come at tea - he was cruelly run out (it seemed to be of his own doing mind you) for 99, Surrey declared immediately after.

That left Glamorgan with 30 or so overs to face and although Dernbach and Arafat started well enough, there was no penetration until that man Meaker came on. He trapped Petersen LBW with the score on 35 and then Batty sparked a mini collapse of 3 wickets for 15 runs, Meaker picking up the other two - all four wickets falling leg before. The failure of Arafat to find his mojo again - his four overs went for 36 - is troubling, I certainly would've expected more from him even on such a lifeless pitch.

Dernbach only bowled four overs and was off the field for a large chunk of time (in fact @Colsacricket tells me he did not re-emerge at all), being a bowler down on such an un-bowler friendly pitch is less than ideal, but as Meaker showed, where there's a will, there's a way. Again I found it odd that while Batty had success in his five overs RHB left Schofield until the very end, after even de Bruyn had bowled three. I suspect the two spinners will have much work to do if we are to extract 16 more Glamorgan wickets.

Certainly there is massive pressure on Glamorgan now needing more than 300 more just to avoid the follow on, ironically it is a former Surrey man in Stewart Walters who will come to the crease tomorrow morning. He will be desperate to emulate Tom Maynard and make his old club regret letting him go. They do bat deep, but Surrey are in an excellent position and will feel comfortable in attacking from the get-go.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Maynard and de Bruyn save the day

An outstanding unbroken 122 partnership between two of Surrey's winter recruits made it Surrey's day in Cardiff, Chris Adams can sleep well tonight.

At 164-4 Surrey looked to be verging on the edge of wasting a very watchful start from Gary Wilson and Michael Brown who saw off testing opening spells from Huw Waters and James Harris. The pair weren't exactly rollicking along but at 42-0 they looked well placed before Wilson offered a leading edge off Dean Cosker and Brown followed 20 runs later.

De Bruyn and Steven Davies set about rebuilding and put on 80 runs together before the latter was run out for the second game in succession, former Surrey man Stewart Walters doing the damage with a bullet throw to catch Davies short. Rory Hamilton-Brown then took his new responsible mantle to new heights, playing out 37 deliveries before becoming Cosker's second victim for just two runs.

Another wicket at that point and Surrey could've folded for 220-240 easily but de Bruyn and Maynard in particular played the situation beautifully. De Bruyn offered a couple of chances, dropped to a sharp chance to Cosker early in his innings and Powell later on but Maynard overcame an understandably nervous start to to cast off his reputation as a biffer, while he never shied away from a boundary or two, he played very sensibly (one attempted reverse sweep aside). Zander de Bruyn increasingly looks a genius signing, twice in three opportunities playing exactly the sort of innings required and that he was signed for.

The pitch didn't seem to offer too many devils, there was some swing for Harris, Waters and Wagg and a bit of turn and bounce for Cosker in particular, but the relatively slow start to Surrey's innings was more down to good, disciplined bowling rather than anything extraordinary in the conditions. It seems to be one of those pitches which is difficult to get yourself in on, but once you do, you can cash in as de Bruyn has and hopefully Maynard will go on to do tomorrow.

With 286 on the board Surrey need to aim for 400 as an absolute minimum. They will want to get the third batting point in the bag tomorrow and the fourth might be a target too, but the fifth is out of reach before the 110 over mark.

There is much to be happy with today, no one really recklessly threw their wicket away (though the Davies run out comes close) and Tom Maynard played exactly the sort of innings I was worried he was not yet capable of. This pitch won't be easy for the seamers, though I don't think its that different to the one Arafat and Meaker bowled on at the Oval last week, so they've got recent experience to call on! Batty and Schofield will have a lot of overs to bowl once our batsmen have put a score on the board. We need to get in amongst Glamorgan's fragile batting - made all the more fragile by the injuries to Allenby and Wright - early on, but the lads have got off to a very decent start.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Dernbach joins the party for Glamorgan game

The return of Jade Dernbach for Surrey's game with Glamorgan this week will add a welcome bite to the bowling attack and a welcome selection quandary for Chris Adams who now probably has to pick three seamers from Arafat, Linley, Meaker and Dernbach himself. Jason Roy has also been named in the squad despite batting in the ongoing three day Second XI match at the Oval yesterday.

The squad and my preferred side (as opposed to who I think Adams will pick!) is as follows:

Michael Brown
Gary Wilson
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Jason Roy
Gareth Batty
Yasir Arafat
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Schofield, Linley

Now, this throws up a number of issues. Before Surrey's first game I said I'd like to see Jason Roy at number three but credit to Adams, de Bruyn in that spot filling in for Ramps worked well at the Oval, so he will stay and rightly so. Steven Davies didn't look in the best of nick against Northants but number four is probably a reflection of his status as a senior bat in the side. Hamilton-Brown and Maynard looked in good touch so it makes no sense to tinker with the order.

The main contentious points are Roy at number seven, and dropping Tim Linley. I suspect Adams will want to keep Schofield in the side as he did a decent job in the previous game, however I don't think having his bowling as an option is necessary so Roy, as the stronger batting option, should get the nod (notwithstanding his duck in the Seconds yesterday). In the last 8 games at Cardiff 72 wickets have fallen to spinners with 162 falling to seamers. Adams also picked a seam-heavy attack here last year with Batty at number seven, he may elect to do so again dropping Schofield for Dernbach and picking Linley as part of a four-man pace battery. There are merits to that argument, Adams may feel he saw enough spark from the top six batsmen and Batty to carry them through here and the weather forecast may lead him to think a four man attack isn't enough.

Dropping Linley for this game would undoubtedly be extremely harsh given that he was our standout bowler in the first innings at the Oval. However I think Arafat should play and he stiffens the batting, Meaker has that extra pace which might count for something with swing unlikely to play a big part given the weather forecast, and Dernbach simply has to play. Were Linley to be squeezed in somewhere though I would not be disappointed.

Glamorgan come into this game on the back of a thumping win over Gloucestershire at the weekend despite a pretty abject batting performance first innings. Eight wickets for James Harris and a solid second innings batting card saw them win by 189 runs on day four. However the week before they were turned over by Leicestershire and again their first innings batting was to blame - they folded for just 146 (Alviro Petersen scored 91, no one else passed 11!).

Glamorgan's seam bowling is their strength, the gifted Harris and Adam Shantry have taken 16 wickets in two games but Dean Cosker's left arm spin is also a threat. Never, ever rule out Robert Croft either. As Stuart Meaker points out on the Surrey official site though, Glamorgan's attack is more suited to traditional April conditions rather than the unseasonable warmth we're experiencing. Although their batting has largely flattered to deceive this season, Petersen, Wright, Wagg and Jim Allenby are very capable players.

The season is only one game old for Surrey, two for most other teams, and already seven of the nine Division Two sides have won a game, as if to reiterate how competitive 2011 is going to be. Hamilton-Brown will be desperate for a win, as am I. Runs on the board under sunny skies are a must to put the Glamorgan batting lineup under as much pressure as possible.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Confused of Surrey: Adams selections have me scratching my head

Adams' selection of Chris Schofield for the Northants game, presumably with the blessing of Rory Hamilton-Brown continues to rankle. This is in no way meant as a criticism of Schofield who over the last few seasons has put in a lot of hard yards for Surrey and has rescued us on a few occasions, it is just an expression of confusion over his role in the side.

Jason Roy played every pre-season game and seemed to have the number three slot in his pocket. While I thought he was probably best suited to the middle order, I was pleased that Adams was showing considerable faith in a clearly enormously talented batsman. However on the morning of the first County Championship match of the season we learn he'd been dropped from the team completely, Zander de Bruyn slotted in to number three and Chris Schofield squeezes in to the middle order.

Perhaps the forecast of four days of blazing sunshine persuaded Adams that two spinners was the best 'horses for courses' policy but Schofield was barely used in our first innings. Schofield is no Shane Warne but he needs more than a two over spell to find a rhythm, surely? And even when he was given plenty of overs today he only returned two wickets (in fact he was arguably out-bowled by part-timer Rob White for Northants), he's realistically a second spinner, he'd be an ideal foil working in tandem with a frontline spinner - much like Gareth Batty in that respect. Adams did a similar thing in selecting Schofield and Batty for a game at Hove in April last year, they only took two wickets between them.

And if it was last minute jitters Adams was having about Roy at number three, OK, but why drop him completely, why not just push de Bruyn up to three anyway and keep Roy in the middle? I appreciate that Schofield added some quick runs before lunch today but Roy could've fulfilled that role as well and would probably have added more across both innings. You could argue that only a spinner was likely to effect a victory for Surrey today and Roy doesn't bring that, but if Northants were faced with considerably more than the total of 322 we posted when they were 163-7 in their first innings would they have rallied quite as consummately as they did? We'll never know of course, but I think you get the point.

But more than anything else Jason Roy is a phenomenally talented batsman who is going to be a big part of Surrey's future, and you never know maybe England's too. He needs to find his way in four day matches, he won't do this carrying the drinks (actually I don't think he's even been doing that in this game!). Having blooded him in the top order at the back end of last season and in the 2011 pre-season I believe Adams should've stuck with him. When Ramprakash returns Roy can slip down the order and will hopefully be all the better for the experience.

All of this is not to say I think Adams is consistently wrong on selection, a lot of the time I think he's broadly right but in Jason Roy we have such an exceptional asset, one that is only going to improve by playing consistently at the highest level possible.

Handshakes all round, its a draw

As boldly predicted on this very blog yesterday, Northants and Surrey played out a draw at the Oval today, but it wasn't all plain sailing for either side through the day.

I said it was unlikely that Surrey would push for the win, but push for the win they did.  After Linley didn't hang about too long in the morning, he lasted only 17 balls, first Maynard then Schofield added rapid scores to propel Surrey towards a lead of just shy of 300.  Northants would require 289 runs in two sessions, Surrey needed 10 wickets.

Northants came out looking to chase the total, Peters and Loye started positively before Meaker and then Schofield, with two good wickets, pegged them back.  First White and then Wakely joined Loye to edge them closer but after they and David Sales were back in the hutch, Andrew Hall and Niall O'Brien didn't appear in much of a mood to chase.  As the final overs approached heavy cloud forced an early close.

So what to take from this game?  First, the positives, Hamilton-Brown looked in cracking form in both innings and he was positive in his declaration today.  Zander de Bruyn has to be seen as a major positive as well, a solid number three to fill in while Ramps is absent is very important.  On the bowling front Tim Linley and Stuart Meaker were impressive in parts.

Stuart Meaker picked up three-for on the final day

And the not-so-positives?  No hundreds and only three fifties on a pitch that was pretty good for two and a half days at least.  Too much quick-scoring and not enough knuckling down, in the first innings in particular.  Yasir Arafat just wasn't at the races enough of the time to provide the consistent threat that we thought he would - I am sure its just a matter of him finding his feet though.  Again our lack of a genuine spinning threat probably cost us a really good chance of pushing for the win.  In 42 overs of spin on the final day on a turning pitch, only two wickets went down to slow bowlers.

Schofield - bowled economically on day four but only collected two wickets

I have some concerns about the selection policy employed in this game which I intend to deal with in a separate post, but broadly speaking there are more positives than negatives from this game, just, chief among them in my view is RHB's positivity today.  Its certainly an improvement on the 200 run defeat Derbyshire, 2010's bottom team, inflicted on us in the opening fixture of last season.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Three forties, no fifties - a draw looms

Until about 25 minutes before close I was starting to believe Surrey might be able to force a very unlikely win against Northants with Hamilton-Brown progressing serenely towards his second half century of the match.  However his dismissal with less than five overs of the day to play mean that barring a collapse from either side, a draw is the most likely result at the Oval.

Northants began the day brightly, rapidly moving their score from their overnight 283-7 to gain parity and with  seemingly nothing doing the tenacious Gareth Batty trapped Andrew Hall lbw ending their mammoth stand.  James Middlebrook then batted with the tail to collect his fifth first class hundred at a good pace.  Stuart Meaker wrapped up the Northants innings, bowling Middlebrook two balls after his hundred having earlier bowled David Lucas.  He again outbowled the listless Yasir Arafat and ended with 3-100.  I hope its just a case of Arafat needing to acclimatise himself, because his line and length were just not on the money.

James Middlebrook celebrates his hundred

Once the Northants innings was wrapped up with their lead a handy 54 Wilson and Brown had work to do to improve on their first innings performances.  To their considerable credit both of them batted well, Brown overcame a very (understandably) nervy start to make a decent 46 and Wilson batted confidently and sensibly in making 42.  The pair cruised without much trouble to 90-0 before Brown was caught behind off Daggett.  It will have done him the world of good to just have some time in the middle.  That triggered a mini-collapse of 3-25 as Wilson and Davies followed in quick succession.

Gary Wilson was watchful in making 42

Davies got a leading edge off Daggett and Wilson was cleaned up by Rob White who was getting some decent turn on the sun-baked surface.  That brought Hamilton-Brown to the crease and he looked in great nick, he almost always does.  He played some great shots without taking excessive risk and as he and de Bruyn looked like taking the side to the end of the day together the largely absent Chaminda Vaas was thrown the ball and prompty bowled Hamilton-Brown with the close in sight.

Hamilton-Brown looked good, as ever, before getting out minutes before the close.

If Hamilton-Brown had been batting tomorrow morning a quick 50 in the morning session ably assisted by de Bruyn could have pushed the lead past 250 and given Surrey a sniff.  However with the nightwatchman at the crease it will likely be slow going first thing and I don't think there will be enough time to force a result either way.  Of course a Surrey collapse could change things, and likewise a Northants collapse later in the day would do the same, but caution will be the order of the day and I think the match will end with honours even.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A day of three thirds

Middlebrook and Hall, a partnership which sounds more like a publishing house than a cricketing masterclass made it just Northants' day at the Oval today. The pair put on a record 8th wicket partnership for Northants against Surrey after their side had been reduced to 163-7 thanks largely to an excellent spell of seam bowling from Tim Linley.

Middlebrook and Hall - not a publishers.

The morning session saw Stephen Peters and Mal Loye progress very sedately, the run rate barely edging two an over before Linley had Peters LBW and Gareth Batty clean bowled Loye. Rob White made a very confident 78 (though I'm pretty sure Batty had him caught at short leg while on 25).

The session after lunch was Surrey's though, Linley picked up the wickets of Wakely, White and O'Brien, the former two with lovely balls hitting off stump and the latter with a possibly non-existent edge through to the keeper. Non-existent edges or not, Linley deserved his excellent figures. He was bowling just short of a good length and getting good lift, he rarely strayed in line and at one stage had 4-17.

Tim Linley bowled one of his finest Surrey spells

The other seamers, Meaker and Arafat flattered to deceive. Meaker picked up David Sales for a 13 ball duck with a good ball just short of a length but Arafat wasn't really on the money. There was too much for the batsman to leave and when it wasn't outside off it was too straight and the batsmen helped themselves.

All the while Gareth Batty twirled away very economically and as well as the wicket of Loye he bowled Chaminda Vaas round his legs. Zander de Bruyn bowled pretty innocuously and the selection of Chris Schofield continued to baffle, he bowled only 5 overs all day.

Gareth Batty - twirly

It is very disappointing to have let Northants thoroughly off the hook. If we'd finished them off for sub-250 we'd have been right in the driving seat. As it is they look likely to gain parity and possibly even a small lead. Middlebrook and Hall batted very sensibly to their credit, but again it seemed the lack of a genuinely threatening spinner might just cost us the chance to see this one through.

Tomorrow will be hard work again if this pair settle in. Arafat needs to tighten his lines, Meaker just needs to bowl full and quick, and Linley needs to return to the length he hit in the middle session. If we can bowl them out for less than 320 there is a chance we could still force something, but a draw looks increasingly the most likely result.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Even stevens after day one

First day back at the office for Surrey and it was a mixed bag, almost the worst possible start with a first ball (second of the day) duck for the returning Michael Brown, a mini recovery in the middle, some none-too-clever shots and some true grit.

All in all, 322 all out is probably below par on this pitch, it looked easy enough to bat on with Davies, RHB and Maynard going great guns, but Surrey are by no means out of the game. Northants ended the day on 12-0, Surrey's failure to pick up a bonus in the four overs they bowled probably means the opposition will be the happier of the two sides.

Chris Adams pulled a bit of a rabbit out of the hat in the morning, naming Chris Schofield alongside Gareth Batty, thereby squeezing out Jason Roy. Unless Roy has an injury that is a bizarre selection. Notwithstanding James Middlebrook's three wickets I can't believe that a two-spinner policy was the way to go in April.

Roy's omission meant a gap at number three, filled today by Zander de Bruyn on debut who scored a brisk 35 before he was clean bowled. After he departed Davies and Hamilton-Brown looked to be getting things back on track, when lunch arrived it was 130-odd for 3. However right after the lunch intermission Hamilton-Brown ran out his vice-captain and there was more rebuilding to do.

Maynard came and went with 32 from just 37 balls, and Schofield didn't hang about either. Gareth Batty was Surrey's saviour again (as he was in Surrey's opening fixture of 2010 with 65 against Derbyshire) and a combination of him, Arafat and Meaker dragged Surrey up to 322 all out.

Its a total that gives Meaker, Arafat and Linley plenty to bowl at, but at the same time there's not much wriggle room, one big partnership and Northants will get parity before we know it. I can't help thinking that Wilson, de Bruyn and Maynard could perhaps have batted out a few more balls and allowed the scoreboard to tick over rather than roar along, but ultimately we're definitely well in the game and its set up nicely for a sunny weekend.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Its finally here! First squad of 2011 season named

Chris Adams has named his first 13 man squad of the 2011 season for the game against Northants starting tomorrow. Pluses: Zander de Bruyn and Yasir Arafat are straight in. Minus: Jade Dernbach is not, he has a calf strain - hopefully not a sign of things to come after his heavy winter workload. His absence deals a major blow, he was key to our attack last year and is in such good form.

The squad is as follows, as ever the XI I think Adams will pick plus the two who miss out:

Gary Wilson
Michael Brown
Jason Roy
Tom Maynard
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Yasir Arafat
Gareth Batty
Stuart Meaker
Tim Linley

12th men: Chris Schofield, Chris Jordan

There is perhaps an argument, at this stage of the season, for Chris Jordan to come in for Gareth Batty, making an all pace five man attack without weakening the batting at all. It is an attacking option and one that I would personally favour. However I think Adams will probably see De Bruyn's medium pace offerings as sufficient to cover off that approach. I think Adams also, quite rightly, sees Batty as a reliable option with bat and ball and a very good tool for RHB to call on in the field.

Batting positions 4-7 are interchangeable in my view, any one of Maynard, RHB, de Bruyn and Davies could play at any one of 4, 5, 6 or 7 but the pre-season orders seem to hint at the arrangement above - even if my personal preference would be to have Hamilton-Brown at four. The writing seems also to be on the wall from pre-season as regards the positioning of Jason Roy at number three, Adams seems to want to blood the youngster in the toughest position and his interview here where he speaks of willpower and needing to occupy the crease suggest that is the case.

I think de Bruyn is key in the middle order, we collapsed too often and too spectacularly last season because of a lack of experience in the middle order, he addresses that problem superbly.

I would expect Arafat and probably Meaker to take the new ball, Linley is a reliable and effective first change bowler (and he recorded his maiden first class five-for against them last season) and Batty can tie up an end. It isn't quite our first choice bowling attack but that doesn't mean it isn't a good one.

As I write there is no Northants squad annoucement but its not difficult to see their key players. They relied very heavily on Stephen Peters last season and unless Loye and a personal favourite of mine David Sales can return to form, they will do so again. Alex Wakely has been in decent touch pre-season though and in Niall O'Brien and Andrew Hall they do have some serious ability through the order. Hall, David Lucas, Jack Brooks and the ageing but still very canny Chaminda Vaas also makes their bowling more than the sum of its parts. I do wonder though if Vaas and Hall might struggle a touch at the Oval if there is no movement, I certainly hope they do!

We have an exceptional record against Northants over the last couple of seasons, I say exceptional because in relation to the rest of our results it really is, we've won the last three meetings between the sides, and the two wins in 2011 were reaonsably convincing (particularly the innings win in May!). We know we can beat them but it won't be easy and they are not a side to be taken lightly. RHB will want to win the toss, bat first in Friday's forecast blazing sunshine and rack up a huge first innings total, once we've done that, with the weather set fair, its easy...right?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Pre season wobbles - time to panic?

Dismissed for 111 at Derbyshire yesterday, Surrey managed to go two better today, dismissed for 109 at Trent Bridge. These are two abject batting cards for sure, but is it already time to panic?

No, I don't think so. Without question its not an ideal pre-season, remember the average first innings batting performance against Middlesex last week as well, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We are barely out of March, always a happy hunting time for bowlers and although its not far off, we haven't fielded our strongest sides. De Bruyn, Arafat, Davies, Tremlett, Dernbach and of course the injured Ramprakash have all been absent. Lets not also forget that Notts were last year's County Champions, Franks, Fletcher and Shreck, plus the young Carter is no mean bowling attack early in the season.

It is slightly worrying that Michael Brown doesn't seem in the best of form, but the man has been out of the game for a year, I'll let him find his feet before casting him on the heap! The opening issue that I covered last week remains an issue since Wilson hasn't cemented his place, but as I said then and repeat now, Adams is better off sticking with a plan and allowing the partnership to grow rather than chopping and changing.

Combating the moving ball early season in England is phenomenally tough. Players like Wilson, Maynard, RHB and so on are well known as players who like to play shots. For that reason Maynard's unbeaten half century today is particularly encouraging and he might just edge out Tom Lancefield for Friday's game with Northants now. Jason Roy was also in the runs last week so its not all bad news.

Our bowling today has also been less than penetrative, as I write Chris Jordan has the only wicket as Notts rack up 224-1. However as talented an attack as Dunn, Edwards, Linley, Jordan and Co. might be, the addition of the aforementioned Dernbach and Arafat changes things significantly. And its no bad thing for Chris Jordan, also absent for the last 12 months, to get some miles in his legs.

I just don't buy that we'll collapse or fail to pick up wickets like today against Notts when the Championship starts in anger on Friday. Both batting and bowling will be stronger and you have to hope that scoring runs at the Oval in the (forecast) sunshine might be a touch easier than in the gloom of Nottingham and Derby.