Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Championship cricket is back - first squad named

Thank goodness for that. Exactly 200 days since that momentous game at Lord's, county cricket rolls around again. Chris Adams has duly named the 13 men from whom he will choose an XI to face Sussex, starting at 11am tomorrow.

The squad, and possible XI, is as follows:

Jacques Rudolph
Chris Jordan
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Rory Burns
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Jason Roy, Stuart Meaker

First things first, Ramprakash, Batty, de Bruyn and Rudolph, all of whom were absent from pre-season for a variety of reasons, add a huge amount of experience to the side and its great to see them back in the fold. As for the rest, this is as unsure as I've been about a final XI as I have been for many a game. Was Chris Jordan being trialed as an opener in the final two games of pre-season a genuine test? Will Stuart Meaker's injured neck stand up to four days of cricket? And can Chris Adams really stomach leaving Jason Roy on the sidelines?

The fact of the matter is I don't know the answer definitively to any of those questions. I have to assume Chris Jordan will be thrown into the lions den as opener with Jacques Rudolph tomorrow morning, or whenever we get to bat. I have aired my concerns about the looseness of his technique but Adams seems to place a lot of faith in Jordan, so hopefully he'll repay that faith with a bunch of runs. The other candidates for the openers' slot, Hamilton-Brown, Roy and possibly Maynard aren't what you'd call orthodox opening batsmen anyway, so maybe Adams is right to take a risk on Jordan.

The choice between Jon Lewis, Stuart Meaker and Tim Linley is incredibly tough, but three into two doesn't go. Unless Meaker is absolutely 100% fit he shouldn't play, the last thing he needs to do is aggravate the injury at this stage of the season. Without Meaker's extra batting, Jon Lewis becomes an important part of the lower order. Tim Linley has earned his position in the starting XI and who would bet against him being the man his captain can turn to with the ball?

Leaving out Jason Roy is a huge call and not one that I would make. Of course Adams may elect to forego a seam option, probably Lewis, and slot Roy into the lower middle order to really boost the batting. With Jordan in the side and some fill-in overs from de Bruyn the coach may feel that two frontline seamers and three allrounders is the way to go.

That decision may come down to what sort of pitch is lurking under the covers tomorrow morning. Last season saw some fine green-tinged pitches, I think of the Leicestershire game in particular and I hope we'll see plenty more result pitches this season. The departure of head groundsman Scott Patterson, in post for just a year, and the temporary return of Bill Gordon will hopefully not herald a departure from last season's excellent pitches.

Sussex haven't attracted much attention this pre-season but clearly should not be taken lightly. In Nash, Goodwin, Joyce and Yardy they have a fine batting spine along with some impressive younger players like Ben Brown and Joe Gatting. Their bowling is weakened significantly by the absence of Monty Panesar and overseas signing Steve Magoffin is yet to arrive. They will probably rely heavily on seam bowlers Anyon and Amjad to do the bulk of the work, though I do hope young legspinner Will Beer is given a go.

A good start in the Championship is imperative, if nothing else from a psychological perspective. However, thoughts of Hamilton-Brown and Adams approaching a game simply aiming to avoid defeat are long gone, that's just not how we operate these days. As Ian Salisbury said recently, we don't fear anyone, and why should we?

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