There's some kind of strange symmetry to the fact that in the same week Surrey fired Director of Cricket Chris Adams they are travelling to the county from whom he spurned an offer of the captaincy in 2006. We're facing our second set of table-topping opposition in two weeks after Yorkshire overhauled Sussex at the summit with an impressive ten wicket win over Middlesex last week.
Stuart Barnes, or Alec Stewart, or someone, has named a 12 man squad including Kevin Pietersen for the first time this year. The squad and possible XI is as follows:
Zander de Bruyn
12th man: Matthew Dunn
Four names are notable by their absence. First, Jade Dernbach, he's been called into the England squad for the two T20 games against New Zealand next week so is unavailable. Stuart Meaker meanwhile, rather worryingly, still seems to be unfit for selection following his knee injury. Which leaves Gary Wilson and Zafar Ansari as the remaining absentees. Someone was always going to have to make way for Pietersen and Wilson is the unfortunate candidate despite some very good performances this year. Zafar Ansari is also left out despite a very creditable first Championship outing of the season at Arundel so Gary Keedy is recalled. That seems a very questionable call to me since only 11 wickets have fallen to spinners in three Headingley fixtures so far in 2013. Not to mention the fact that Ansari is a far superior batsman and fielder to Keedy.
The make-up of the bowling attack will be interesting. Matt Dunn makes the squad for the first time this year but is probably unlikely to play, wrongly in my view. We need 20 wickets and with Ponting and Pietersen in the top six, and Davies at seven, we can afford the gamble of a slightly longer-than-usual tail for this game. Dunn is still raw and may go for a few runs but he's such a good prospect that surely he is more deserving of a place in the side than Jon Lewis, reliable though Lewis is.
The batting order will be also be of interest. Pietersen will presumably want to bat at four, where he will bat for England in the Ashes. Ponting didn't want to bat at three when he arrived at the club and one assumes that hasn't changed. The logical assumption therefore is that Solanki will stick with the number three slot and Ponting will come in at five.
The pitch at Headingley ought to be more sporting than some of those we've become accustomed to watching Surrey grind out games on this season. It will be interesting to see how the side cope, in the two fixtures (against Durham and Nottinghamshire) where there's been life in the pitch, we've been comprehensively outplayed by the opposition. We can't afford for that to happen again.
Yorkshire are the form team in the country, unbeaten since losing by an innings to Sussex in their opening game, they've won four of their seven matches since. For this game they welcome back seam bowler Jack Brooks and batsman Gary Ballance (though Ballance will only play the first two days before departing for England duty - not quite sure why his situation differs from Dernbach) from injury. However Phil Jaques is missing with an abdominal strain. In Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett Yorkshire have a fine seam attack, backed up by allrounder Adil Rashid who is averaging a remarkable 145 with the bat and 34 with the ball.
The bonus points from the Sussex game hauled us out of the bottom two but we've still got a fight on our hands and we desperately need to get a win under our belts. The departure of Adams is hopefully a chance to refresh and re-focus efforts. The return of Pietersen, assuming he's back to 100%, will also be a boost. However as has been the case on a number of occasions of late, the weather could have the final say in this game.
Surrey's interim coach Barnes said in an interview today that his coaching style was all about structure and organisation, something that we do seem to have been missing a bit of on the field this year (particularly in the bowling though - Barnes' responsibility!). Perhaps his elevation to the top job - sort of - and with the help of Alec Stewart, we can start the second half of the season in the best possible way.
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