Surrey's not-so-busy pre-season schedule has drawn to a close, captain Graeme Smith arrived at the club this week and the press day is done and dusted...all that remains is to start the season in anger.
What did we learn from the three pre-season games the squad played then? Well in short, if I was uncertain of the direction in which Adams would go once Somerset arrive next Wednesday, I'm almost none the wiser now. Two players who are virtually certain of their places in the side, Burns and Davies, scored good runs in the three games. Burns scored 79 against Kent, 39* against Hampshire and 47 against the Gloucestershire Second XI. Davies meanwhile scored a rapid century against Kent but could only muster 26 in the Second XI game. With Smith certain to slot in (in the absence of any update about his ankle I'm assuming he's fit) that means half of the top six is penned in.
The only other contenders for top six positions who scored a convincing haul of runs were Jason Roy (172 runs at 57) and Gary Wilson (155 runs without being dismissed). Frustratingly they are two players in real danger of missing out on selection for next week. Arun Harinath hit 79 against Kent but then followed that with two single figure scores before hitting 25 in the second innings against Gloucestershire. Regardless of that slightly indifferent start he will surely start in the number three slot. Which gives us four places nailed down.
Vikram Solanki had a curious pre-season. He only scored 97 runs at 24 in between stints in the ITV4 studios, but across two innings in the Second XI game he scored 75 off 86 balls, perhaps suggesting he's getting into his stride. Given their far superior returns, one or both of Roy and Wilson is going to feel pretty hard done by if they're ignored, but I can't see Solanki missing out on the XI.
Of course there was no de Bruyn, who only arrived as the Gloucestershire game was beginning, which leaves four players vying for two top six slots (unless of course we play seven batsmen - I discussed that dilemma here). Caution would dictate that de Bruyn and Solanki are selected, but form suggests Roy and Wilson should be preferred. Which way Smith and Adams will go...nobody knows.
What of the bowlers? The biggest concern is the fitness of Gareth Batty, who missed the game against Gloucestershire with a side strain. Without a full scorecard from the Hampshire game its hard to say how many overs he's bowled, but against Kent he only bowled 15 - far fewer than is ideal going into the start of the Championship. Gary Keedy meanwhile unsurprisingly bowled the most overs in pre-season - 47 in total and took six wickets in the process, including four on a day two pitch against Gloucestershire. He only managed a single wicket during the opposition's successful chase of 225 runs on day three however. Perhaps the Oval isn't the raging turner we might have expected.
Of the quick bowlers, Tim Linley bowled the most overs (42) and took the most wickets (5). That however is almost certainly still not enough to guarantee him a place in the starting lineup though. Oddly enough an injury to Gareth Batty might increase Linley's chances of playing. If Batty doesn't play we will probably play a batsman at number seven which will reduce the need for Jon Lewis' batting in the lower order. Lewis bowled 29 overs against Kent and Gloucestershire but took just a single wicket, I think Linley's greater threat with the ball should see him ahead in the pecking order.
Stuart Meaker bowled 30 overs and took four wickets. For evidence of his searing pace check out this video, detonating some poor unsuspecting batsman's stumps around 35 seconds in. He's a guaranteed starter fitness permitting. Chris Tremlett meanwhile bowled 25 overs in the Second XI game suggesting he's heading towards match fitness, you'd still question whether it was safe to play him in a four man attack though. Jade Dernbach bowled plenty of overs and evidence suggests he was swinging the ball, but there's not room for Tremlett, Linley, Meaker, Lewis and Dernbach in the same attack. Adams and Smith have some tough calls to make. If pushed I'd probably say a five man attack consisting of Batty, Lewis, Keedy, Meaker and Tremlett is most likely, or if Batty isn't fit a four man attack of Keedy, Meaker, Linley and Dernbach.
We'll know more soon enough as Chris Adams' first squad of 2013 will be named on Tuesday. Our opponents, Somerset, lost a low-scoring encounter against Durham today but they will welcome back 2012's run machine Nick Compton into their top three. That adds to an already preposterously strong top order featuring Trescothick, Hildreth, Kieswetter and Buttler. It's a tough assignment as Graeme Smith's first match in charge. I for one can't wait.
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