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:
Zander de Bruyn
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?