Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Friends Life Twenty20 Preview

After the disappointment of not reaching the latter stages of the 2011 competition, Surrey have high hopes of doing so this year. Their high-octane batting and quality-packed bowling mean that such hope is not misplaced, but will they deliver on undoubted promise?

The slimmed-down competition begins at the Oval tomorrow with a game against Essex, who we beat comfortably at home last year and hot on the heels of that is a game at Lord's on Thursday.

We are counted as the odds-on favourite and have been tipped by a few pundits as likely winners this year. But then we were also tipped as potential County Champions as well, so what do they know. There is little doubt that we have a powerful top six, but despite that I still think we lack the balance of the very best sides.

The absence of a powerful allrounder is the main concern. The reluctance to rely on one of de Bruyn or Hamilton-Brown, or even a combination of the two, to deliver four overs means that we have a relatively long tail. While Matthew Spriegel has signalled a return to some batting form in the Second XI of late, much pressure may fall on the shoulders of Zafar Ansari to provide lower order fireworks. Which, to be fair, he did deliver by and large when called upon last season.

Last season was a relatively fallow one for Hamilton-Brown at the top of the order as he registered just a single 50. He was eventually demoted from the openers' slot and replaced by Jason Roy. But Roy himself didn't have the best of times, despite hitting four 50s his high score was just 53. Adams will probably stick with Roy at the top of the order and he'll want to hit the highs of 2010 when he scored Surrey's one and only hundred in Twenty20 cricket. Davies, the man who's come closest to adding to that (with a 99* against Sussex last year) will also continue at the top of the order. For some unfathomable reason Craig Kieswetter has been preferred to him for England - their loss is Surrey's gain.

I expect de Bruyn to be in the side initially but if he fails rediscover his touch one of Lancefield, Burns or Wilson (when not away with Ireland) will be waiting in the wings. Tom Maynard should, in my opinion, now be batting above de Bruyn in the order in all competitions. Our top scorer from last season, he is a key cog in the batting order which makes his recovery from a "shoulder injury" all the more important. It seems Kevin Pietersen will come into contention for the games in July - a mouthwatering prospect at the business end of the competition.

The bowling options for Adams to call on are plentiful. Four slots will be available for a combination of Batty, Kartik, Meaker, Lewis, Tremlett, Linley, Nannes and Dernbach (although because of England commitments Jade will only be available for the first game). Whatever Adams does, he'll be leaving some serious talent on the bench.

Nannes is a certain starter if fit, as is Kartik. Linley only played two Twenty20s last season so he's unlikely to feature. Dernbach will surely play when available, his variation is a priceless asset in T20 cricket.

That leaves Tremlett, Lewis, Batty and Meaker fighting over two slots. In Dernbach's absence, Meaker will probably be at the head of the queue. He played 10 fixtures in which he took only six wickets and went at almost 10 runs an over in the process, but he is a far better bowler now than 12 months ago.

The return of the Chris Tremlett, who bowled one of the best spells of pace I've seen in a T20 against Hampshire last year, is a massive plus for the team and he'll be ready to step in should Meaker fail to perform. Batty was a mainstay in the T20 side last season but Kartik's presence and Ansari's superior batting and fielding may edge him out. Lewis played fewer than half of Gloucestershire's games last season and frankly could do with a rest anyway. Also, his propensity to bowl no-balls could be very costly.

A bowling attack spearheaded by Dirk Nannes and Jade Dernbach is dangerous in most formats but especially so in Twenty20. When Dernbach is absent, Meaker and Tremlett will be able deputies. Kartik and Ansari, left arm spinners both, will be adept in keeping the middle overs quiet, racing through their overs.

This is the tournament many of our players will be looking to for major success. Jason Roy and Tom Maynard have already tasted some of the interest from overseas leagues having played in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year. The prospect of playing in the Champions League later in the year is a big draw. I'd like to think that they want to win if for Surrey and Surrey alone, but we have to be realistic, they deserve a chance to play on the biggest of stages. Whatever the motivations we have the tools to go all the way in this competition, and should be aiming as high as possible.

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