Chris Adams and his relegation-threatened troupe travel to Edgbaston this weekend to face Division One pace-setters Warwickshire. It could prove to be their toughest test of a troubled season.
The 13 man squad, and a possible XI is as follows:
Zander de Bruyn
12th men: Chris Jordan, Tim Linley
The name conspicuous by its absence is of course Matthew Spriegel's who after one innings in a rain-ruined game seems to have been summarily cast aside, with no apparent reference to an injury. Frankly I am bemused by this decision, and not for the first time this season. I have nothing against Chris Jordan but why should he get so many more opportunities to prove himself in Championship cricket when Spriegel gets barely any? Spriegel, whose contract extension expires at the end of the year, must be increasingly frustrated at being left on the sidelines. He has not set the world alight with his performances this year but he is a solid pro, an excellent fielder and has captained the Second XI on many occasions.
Arun Harinath, who would have played two games ago but for an injury, replaces Spriegel in the side. If the batting order in this week's Second XI game is anything to go by, he will slot in at three rather than continuing the opening batsman merry-go-round. Ansari and Burns performed more than adequately against Nottinghamshire and Burns made another good 80+ score for the seconds. I have my doubts as to whether Ansari is a long term option at the top though, I feel he is much better suited to the middle order.
The batting is a conundrum at the moment, the experienced members of the top six are short of form and those in any sort of form are short of experience. Somehow they have to find a way to make it work.
On the bowling front Jade Dernbach makes a welcome return from the side injury which kept him out of much of England's ODI series against Australia. Assuming he is fit I would expect him to slot into the side, despite Tim Linley's seven wicket haul against Warwickshire's Second XI. Given how prolific Jeetan Patel has been for Warwickshire this season I would guess Adams will plump for two spinners, meaning the captaincy will return to Gareth Batty. As for the vice captaincy, well, who knows?
Warwickshire are not top of the County Championship by accident, they are a seriously good outfit. Their top order batsmen have not been in the best form, though Chopra has over 500 runs to his name, but it hasn't really mattered, such is the strength of their middle and lower order. Rikki Clarke is averaging 67, Chris Woakes 51. Their one weak link, skipper Jim Troughton, is no longer a weak link with scores of 134 and 81 in recent games. Their bowling is strong too, Patel is a low key overseas signing but no less effective for it, he has 34 wickets at 22 this season and Woakes, Clarke, Barker and Wright will all chip in as well.
If we thought Nottinghamshire were a tough side to face, title-chasing Warwickshire are tougher still. The weather may have a say on Sunday, but otherwise this game looks set fair. Surrey can take heart from their game at the Oval earlier this season though, where they reduced Warwickshire to 37-4 chasing 222 before Ambrose and Clarke saw them home.
Six games remaining, six games in which to retain our first division status. If our bowling attack performs to the level they should, we can run any side in the country close. But Warwickshire are a tough, experienced side who churn out results with ruthless efficiency. If we can get a result at Edgbaston it could prove the spark to revive our season, if we're steamrollered, it could spell the end.