How long has it been now? Seven, eight weeks of mandatory mourning for the end of the cricket season? It feels like it's been an age in any case. There's been a steady drip of new contract announcements, surprise call-ups and debut training sessions since that momentous day at Lord's, so where do we stand with Division One cricket looming large on the horizon?
It doesn't take a genius to work out that 2011 was substantially better than 2010, we got promoted and won a trophy, neither of which happened in the previous season, need I say any more? Well, probably not, but that wouldn't make a very good blog.
Broadly speaking you can say two things, the bowling was better and our batting stayed pretty much level (and in some respects fell back slightly). For all the agonising over our opening pair, it was actually the equal second most successful partnership of the lot. In 2010 the average opening partnership was 25, with only five scores of 50 or more and no hundred partnerships, this year the average was 38 with ten scores of fifty or more, including three hundreds.
The news is less good at the fall of the first wicket though, this partnership did almost exactly the reverse of the openers. In 2010 the average second wicket partnership was 38, this year that was 26. This can partly be put down to Mark Ramprakash's patchy form, which will hopefully turn around in 2012. The rest of the batting was pretty constant from 2010, although our average first innings score was down on last year by 30-40 runs.
So it's the bowling where we improved substantially. In almost every case the average opposition partnership for every wicket was lower than last year (the eighth wicket being the exception, more of which later). This can be attributed in part to the consistent excellence of Tim Linley, and the late season fireworks from Pragyan Ojha.
However, similarly it's not all good news here, we are still letting teams off the hook far too regularly. The cases of Kent (where 87-6 became 250 all out) and Northants (where 163-7 became 376 all out) stick most prominently in the mind, but there are others. In general opposition tail ends were allowed to plunder far too many runs. The number eight, nine and ten partnerships added, on average just shy of 70 runs. Some of the worst examples were that early-season game against Northants where they added 213 for the final three wickets, twice in one game Essex's lower order added 190 and 123, against Glamorgan it was 118 and at Lord's it was 117.
This area is one in which there is a clear pre and post-Ojha split, for the millionth time making clear how important an attacking spinner such as he is. Before Ojha arrived the average eighth wicket partnership was 26, with him in the side it was just 12. The story is similar for the rest of the tail, with Ojha present opposition tail ends typically added 30 fewer runs than without him.
Over the course of the last two seasons captain fantastic Hamilton-Brown has proved an effective tosser, winning 19 and losing 13. However in 2011 there was a split between choosing to bat and choosing to bowl, and it's one area where the bowlers fell down. Hamilton-Brown won the toss and batted five times, ending with an average first innings score of 404 in those instances. The average opposition first innings score in those games was over a hundred runs shy of that. When we win the toss and bat, generally we put ourselves in a strong position.
However, there is a down side. On the four occasions where Hamilton-Brown won the toss and bowled, three of those resulted in opposition scores of 400+, and the total was never less than 300. The old adage of "nine times out of ten, you bat first, and the other time you think about bowling but still bat" seems fitting here.
So there's plenty to be pleased about but, perhaps encouragingly, there are still areas where we can improve significantly. One thing that is certain is that if we are to prosper in Division One in 2012, everyone will need to step it up a gear. However three areas hold the key, first: Mark Ramprakash, second: an attacking spinner and finally: decisions at the toss. Over to you Mr. Adams!
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