Friday, 26 April 2013

Double ton for Wells puts Surrey to the sword

A first double century in the career of Luke Wells has put his side into a commanding position heading into the final day of the Championship game at the Oval.

Spending almost 9 hours at the crease, Wells conjured up a superb 208 to lead his side to 526 all out, a big first innings lead of 175, as the tired Surrey bowlers failed to hit their straps.

With Sussex starting the morning on 204-2, early wickets with the new ball were a must if we were going to get back into the game. However, that wasn’t to be, as Wells and Joyce picked up from where they left off last night, with the new ball not proving dangerous at all, apart from one very difficult chance at slip which Wilson couldn’t hang onto. Wells moved to 150, and it looked as if his captain would join him with 3 figures, but the man who always seems to break a partnership Gareth Batty, bowled the Irishman before hail brought an early end to the morning session. Sussex 300-3.

However, there was no rest bite for our bowlers, as Matt Prior was the next man in, and he took over the scoring, blasting a 36 ball 50, before being caught off Dernbach for an impressive 62. But by that time Sussex had gone past and well beyond our total, and Wells completed a superb double hundred.

The part time spin of Vikram Solanki was then turned to, and amazingly produced two quick wickets, as he bowled Wells and had Hamilton-Brown caught and bowled. Quite ridiculous really. The frontline bowlers have toiled away for so long, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, with it being the former Worcestershire batsman’s first wicket since against us in 2010. Sussex went to tea on 487-6, with a lead of 136, and the question on everyone’s lips was how long of the final session will they bat for?

Well, they batted for just under an hour and until they were eventually bowled out for 526. Linley picked up his 2nd and 3rd wickets when he bowled Ben Brown and Chris Jordan, before Batty had Anyon caught well on the boundary by Roy, and Tremlett had Panesar caught for his first wicket.

That left 17 overs for us to try and bat out at the end of the day, but it didn’t start well, as Burns nicked off in the 4th over for 7. However, Smith managed to find some form, ticking over at just under a run a ball and ending the day unbeaten on 43, with the score on 66-1, trailing by 109.

So that’s a disappointing day all things considered. Wickets with the new ball this morning were always going to be needed after seeing how good the pitch has been over the last 2 days, but they didn’t come, and Sussex took control. The bowlers worked hard but didn’t really create any openings, with Tremlett and Dernbach looking particularly ineffective. Batty and Linley were the pick of the bowlers, with the latter deserving more than the 3-82 against his name, but they weren’t supported by the others.

Tomorrow is going to be a hard slog for our batsman as, even though some rain may be about, Sussex will be confident they can wrap up 9 wickets in 3 sessions. However, Smith started to look good tonight, scoring at a quick rate, and I believe he will hold the key on whether we can eke out a draw. If he goes early, then it will become increasingly tough, but one positive the batsman can take is that the pitch doesn’t seem to have deteriorated, and looks rather comfortable to bat on. But, pressure has a funny effect on batsman, whatever the pitch is like.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Wells puts Sussex in strong position

Luke Wells has been at it again for Sussex against Surrey, as the visitors have taken up a good position after Day two of the Championship game at the Oval.

He scored two centuries against us last season in the two Championship games, and has registered another today, with his team reaching 204-2 at the close, trailing by 147.

Starting the morning on 301-7, the tail did well to take us to a 4th batting point, with Batty hitting 37 and Tremlett 34, but the final 3 wickets were all taken by Chris Jordan, registering figures of 5-92. You wait years for a Championship 5-fer, and two come along in the space of two matches. Something’s not right there.

The bowlers started tightly, and to what turned out to be the last ball before lunch, Linley had Chris Nash LBW to make it Surrey’s session. They continued to restrict the run rate into the afternoon, and it was great to see Tremlett with the ball for the first time in 9 months or so. However, Wells was at the crease, and he and Michael Yardy patiently took themselves towards tea, before Batty had the former England all-rounder caught by Burns with the score exactly on 100.

The conditions were perfect for batting. The weather hot and tiring for our bowlers, the pitch not proving many difficulties for the batsman, and Sussex took advantage in the final session of the day. New skipper Ed Joyce was Wells’ partner, and the pair gradually began to up the Sussex run rate to over two an over, with Wells reaching his century off 230 balls with a boundary off Solanki’s part time spin. It certainly hadn’t been the most fluent hundred you will see, but vital for his side, as they closed on 204-2.

After getting to 350 this morning, I would have thought Graeme Smith would have been disappointed that his bowlers could only get two wickets in the remaining 2 and a half sessions. But it shows that the pitch is good to bat on, and if you don’t pick up wickets early with the new ball, then you will struggle.

We can take a new ball first thing tomorrow morning, which will prove a very important passage of play in the context of the game. We have to make inroads, or a first innings deficit would be likely, but one positive from today is that Sussex haven’t got away from us. They’ve scored at a slow rate throughout their innings, meaning that 2 or 3 early wickets tomorrow would change the complexion of the game, but if they can stave off the new ball, we could be in trouble.

We can take inspiration from our innings, where we lost 5 wickets in the final session mainly due to the new ball, and hopefully can replicate that tomorrow morning and restrict them to below 300. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sussex's day despite Wilson ton

A late fight back from Sussex has meant that they have taken the spoils on day one of the Championship game at the Oval, despite a superb century from Gary Wilson.

What a difference a session can make, as we were well on top at tea on 181-2, but by the end of the day’s play, we had been restricted to 301-7 thanks to a good last session from 3 former Surrey seamers.

The first news of the day was that, as expected, a thigh strain had kept Stuart Meaker out of action this week. Gary Keedy was also left out of the final X1, with Tim Linley and Chris Tremlett making their first appearances of the season. Arun Harinath was also hit on the hand in practice this morning, which forced him out of the game, with Jason Roy swiftly making his way to the Oval.

Graeme Smith did the first job right, winning the toss and batting, but after getting to just 3, he had a brute of a delivery from Jimmy Anyon in which he could only nick through to Ben Brown behind the stumps. With Harinath out, Wilson was promoted to number 3, and he and Rory Burns had to fight hard to keep their wicket, with some good tight bowling from the Sussex bowlers, with Surrey going to lunch on 58-1 off 33 overs.

Burns was dismissed straight after lunch for 32, with Jordan claiming his first wicket against his old county, and Surrey had to be careful that their morning work wouldn’t be undone. But Wilson and
Solanki made sure that wasn’t to be, as they upped the rate considerably, with the Irish wicket keeper going to his first half century of the season. They put together a partnership that could be crucial in the context of the game, taking us to tea on 181-2, with Solanki registering his first 50 for his new county in the process.

However, Solanki was strangled down the leg side off the first ball after tea for 51. He’ll be happy that he’s got his first half century, but disappointed that he couldn’t kick on after he was looking very good indeed. De Bruyn came to the crease, and helped Wilson get to his first championship hundred since 2010, coming off 207 balls, but he could only make it to 124 before he was adjudged LBW off the bowling of Jordan in the second over of the new ball.

2 wickets in an over for Steve Magoffin then really turned the game on its head, swinging one back in at Steve Davies to have him LBW, before uprooting Roy’s off stump without scoring. De Bruyn looked to take us to the close 6 down with Batty, but the South African was caught on the crease on 31. Batty and Tremlett made sure we wouldn’t be all out today, consolidating the final 4 and a half overs to close on 301-7.

So, considering where we were at 3:40, that is a poor day all things considered. Wilson and Solanki looked at ease at the crease, but a stroke of misfortune got rid of Solanki, and as it always seems to do at the Oval, the new ball made a massive impact.

I’m overjoyed for Wilson, who has really deserved a place in the side, and his wild celebrations after reaching his century really showed what it meant to him. Solanki was looking dangerous until his dismissal, getting out at just the wrong time, and Davies and Roy received two superb deliveries from Magoffin. It is a worry that Smith has not managed to get to double figures in his two innings so far, but he did get a brilliant delivery from Anyon.

Tomorrow we will have to hit our straps early with the new ball, because that looks the best time to get wickets, and hope to gain a first innings lead, but that is easier said than done with a strong Sussex batting line up on a good looking pitch.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Unchanged squad for Sussex test

Chris Adams has named an unchanged 13 man squad for the County Championship game against Sussex, starting at the Kia Oval tomorrow.

That means that batsman Jason Roy has once again been left out of the squad, with Zander de Bruyn being favoured ahead of the 22 year old.

Here is the squad in full:

G. Smith (C)
R. Burns
A. Harinath
V. Solanki
Z. de Bruyn
S. Davies
G. Wilson
G. Batty
S. Meaker
J. Dernbach
G. Keedy
T. Linley
C. Tremlett

Even though the squad is the same, I do expect at least one change in the final X1. Last week’s draw against Somerset showed that we were a seamer light, with Keedy not proving effective on an unhelpful pitch for his left arm spin. Therefore, Tremlett is likely to come into the team in place of the former Lancashire bowler. You can’t rely on Tremlett in a 2 man seam attack, because he is liable to pull up with an injury, and he hasn’t played for 9 months, so he must play alongside Meaker and Dernbach.

Tim Linley is the other player in the squad who didn’t play last week. I do feel sorry for him after his unlucky season last year, but at the moment, the other bowlers are better than him, and have started the season well. However, Chris Adams has said that a thigh strain to Stuart Meaker will probably keep him out of tomorrows game, which is a blow, but Linley I'm sure will be desperate to show what he's got.
Smith and Burns will be continuing with their opening partnership, which didn’t last two overs last week, as the skipper looks to get his first meaningful contribution with the bat. Burns looked in great nick in his 115, and hopefully the pair can forge a partnership that Surrey fans have been wanting for years.

Arun Harinath will also continue at number 3, but after scoring just 5 last week, he will have to get a score in this game, as Jason Roy will be desperate to win his place back in the side, in whatever position. Vikram Solanki looked solid for his 30 last week, but he will also want to get a monkey off his back by getting a sizable score, with some fans doubting whether he should be in the side ahead of Roy. I still can’t get over the shot Zander played when he got out last week, but I hope he can find form in this game, because after last season, it doesn’t look like Adams likes to drop him. I also hope that Gary Wilson can get a score, because there is no doubt that he deserves a place in the team, but now that he is there, he must justify his selection.

Like us, Sussex have only played once so far this season, but they managed a heavy win over newly promoted Yorkshire. They have a strong line-up, with a Monty Panesar and a certain Matt Prior likely to play his first game of the season, and we also have to come up against two former players in RHB and Jordan, who certainly have something to prove.

Hopefully we can start the game well, unlike against Somerset, where only a fantastic partnership from Burns and Davies prevented a likely defeat. Smith will be desperate for a first win as captain, and with Middlesex winning two out of two so far, there is some catching up to be done!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Petersen and Buttler prevent unlikely victory

A 91 from Alviro Petersen and 94 from Jos Buttler secured a draw on the final day of the Championship game at the Oval.

Figures of 5-60 from Stuart Meaker wasn't enough for Surrey to complete an unlikely victory, as they had to settle for the 8 points.

With Somerset starting on 6-0, a lead of 24, the first session couldn’t have gone much better for us. The pitch was still looking good to bat on, but the bowlers worked hard to claim 4 wickets. Meaker first had Trescothick well caught by Gary Wilson in the slips, before sending Nick Compton’s off stump cartwheeling. Gareth Batty had Hildreth LBW in his 3rd over, before de Bruyn had Kieswetter in similar fashion, to give Surrey a sniff. However, Alviro Petersen was the bane in Surrey’s hopes yet again, as he compiled a quick half century just before lunch, in which Somerset went in on 110-4.

Petersen along with Jos Buttler continued in the afternoon session, putting together a partnership that eventually condemned the game to a predictable draw. 

However, Batty removed the South African 9 runs before a second century of the game, and when Meaker was belatedly brought on, the game burst into life. Meaker quickly sent Trego, Thomas and Overton back to the Pavilion to complete a much deserved 5-fer. To have any chance of victory, Surrey needed to dismiss Somerset before tea. But that wasn't to be, with Buttler falling 6 short of his hundred, when Gary Keedy claimed his first Surrey wicket, and hands shaken at 251-9.

So, I think that a draw was a fair result in the end. The game ebbed and flowed throughout the 4 days, with Somerset looking likely to forge a victory after day two, but the partnership between Burns and Davies put paid to that. And the fact that we had a chance of victory on the final day is testament to the character of our players.

Next week we come up against Sussex at the Oval, with the return of RHB and Jordan, as well as Panesar and Prior, so it is sure to be a tough game. The changes I would make to the team are to bring in Tremlett and Roy, and leave out de Bruyn and Keedy. De Bruyn's shot to get out in the first innings was one of a man who hasn't played for months, and Keedy looked ineffective, and if fit, Tremlett must play. 

Good job lads, continue to play how you have the last couple of days, and you will be fine. Not the dream start for Smith, but I think that he will be satisfied and encouraged by what he has seen.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Burns and Davies star on Day 3

Superb centuries from Rory Burns and Steven Davies have saved Surrey from a likely defeat on Day 3 of the County Championship game against Somerset at the Oval.

A terrific 159 run partnership between Burns (115) and Davies (140) dominated the day’s play, as the Somerset bowlers were left frustrated after their good work last night.

Resuming on 98-4, trailing by 286 runs, the first session went just as Surrey would have wanted. Davies and Burns started watchfully, with the latter bringing up his half century 20 minutes into the day, from a patient 151 balls. They began to look more comfortable as the session went on, with the pitch still looking good to bat on, as Davies also went to his half century. And 10 minutes before the lunch interval, Burns brought up his century from 237 balls with a whip through midwicket off the part time spin of Alviro Petersen, ending a superb session in which Surrey went in on 213-4.

The pair continued to shorten the Somerset lead in the afternoon session, but the partnership was broken when Burns was strangled down the leg side by Steve Kirby on 115. A fantastic knock from Burns, really showing his class and maturity when most needed. The loss of Burns didn’t deter Davies however, as he moved to a serene century with a single off George Dockrell. It was his first century since last May, which was against Somerset, and I am so happy for him, after he struggled badly last season with a variety of off-field issues. Gary Wilson was his partner, but he could only make 17 before edging behind off Thomas just before tea, to open up an end for Somerset.

However, Gareth Batty steadied the ship with Davies, and took Surrey towards Somerset’s total in the closing stages of the day, scoring 36 before Overton ended the 71 partnership, with Surrey trailing by just 29. Meaker fell for 0, before Davies was eventually caught for 147 off 269 balls, with Surrey declaring on 366-9, trailing by 18, giving Somerset two overs to bat tonight, in which Trescothick and Compton contemplated well to finish on 6-0.

So, overall, I think that we should be very happy with today’s proceedings, considering where we were last night. Burns did just what we needed someone to do, just bat time in the middle, and is growing into a great little player. The partnership with Davies was so vital, because if we lost a wicket early on and were 100-5, then it would have been difficult to even enforce the follow on, let alone get within 18 off Somerset’s score. Davies looked back to his best, which is fantastic to see, as he is such an important player in our middle order.

Unless something dramatic happens, this game will end in a draw. If I was Smith, I would have considered pulling the plug earlier, and try and nip a couple out. But that wasn’t to be, so we will just have to settle for the 8 points, which looked a way off after yesterday’s play.

Azhar's back for T20 stint

Azhar Mahmood, star of the Inaugural Twenty Cup win back in 2003, has returned to the Oval for this year’s Friends Life T20 campaign.

With the former Pakistan all-rounder becoming a British Citizen back in 2011, he will be available for all of the Twenty 20 campaign, and can be selected in the final X1 with both overseas players Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting.

Azhar spent 6 seasons with the club as overseas player from 2002 to 2007, and was a firm favourite with the fans, and it was a shame to see him leave after the 2007 Twenty 20 campaign to allow Harbhajan to come to the club.
Everyone knows the qualities that Azhar has. His ability at both the start and end of a Twenty 20 innings with the ball is unquestioned, leaving him the 4th highest wicket taker of all time in the shortest form of the game with 190. But it isn’t just his bowling that makes him one of the great T20 players, with his destructive batting winning many games for the variety of teams he has played for around the world. 2 hundreds and a strike rate of 136.57 speak for itself.

One reason for the signing of Azhar is due to the likelihood that at least one of Tremlett, Dernbach and Meaker will be involved in the England set up, which makes it a smart move from Adams. It also allows for the extra selection of a batsman, which is key in the T20 format if your top order don’t fire. And if on form, it might be our best looking T20 line up since we won the competition 10 years ago. A possible 11 of Smith, Davies, Ponting, Roy, Solanki, Wilson, Azhar, Ansari, Batty, Meaker, Dernbach looks very exciting indeed, and hopefully we can qualify out of the group for the first time since before Azhar left the club in 2006.

A question mark that may be raised by some fans and members of the media is that Azhar is no spring chicken anymore, with the 38 year old doing no help to the average age of the squad. There may also be questions over whether he has still got the ability to do what he has done before. And when it comes to his batting, there is no question that he is less consistent than he used to be, but he always seemed to rise to the occasion when he played against us for Kent over the last few years. He has however started well with the ball in this year’s IPL. Playing for the Kings X1 Punjab, he has taken 5 wickets so far in 4 matches, at his usual low economy rate of just over 6. And that is what he will also bring: control with the ball. Something that you cannot rely on with Meaker, and something we missed when Nannes was here last year.

Overall, I think that it is a good signing by Adams, even if it is pushing the salary cap, as he will add exactly what we have been missing in Twenty 20 since… well, since he left 6 years ago. Welcome back Azhar.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Somerset take advantage on rain hit Day 2

An awkward final session in which Surrey couldn’t get through unscathed, has meant that Somerset have taken control of the County Championship game at the Oval after a rain affected Day 2.

After bowling Somerset out for 384, Graeme Smith made just 2 in his first innings for his new club, as the home side slipped to 98-4 at the close, still trailing the West Country County by 286 runs.

Resuming on 344-8, it took all of an hour to remove the final 2 Somerset wickets. Jade Dernbach completed his 10th First Class 5 wicket haul, when he deceived Alfonso Thomas with a trademark slower delivery. Stuart Meaker finished the job with his second wicket, with Kirby edging to give Smith his first catch for his new team in the slips. Somerset 384 all out, which could have been slightly less, but considering where they were at tea yesterday, we will take that.

Big anticipation filled the ground as Smith made his way out to the middle with bat in hand, but 10 minutes later he was walking off, after edging Trego to slip third ball. Many probably expected that he wouldn't fire from his first innings, but let’s hope he can find some form quicker than Rudolph last season. That wasn’t the final wicket of the morning session, as Harinath also edged to slip, this time off Alfonso Thomas, on what turned out to be the final ball before lunch for 5.

Burns and debutant Vikram Solanki had a job on their hands after the break, in which they consolidated well, with the latter unleashing some sumptuous shots to get his innings going. However, they were stopped in mid-flow when the heavens opened, and a torrential storm meant that 3 hours of the day were washed out.

They resumed at a quarter to 6 on 66-2, for a tricky 16 overs spell in which survival was the sole aim for the Surrey pair. They managed to make it through the first 30 minutes, but Jamie Overton made the vital breakthrough when Solanki looked to pull on 30, and played on. Not a shot that was needed in the circumstances. Zander de Bruyn was in and out in a flash, as he also played on for just 1, and Somerset were starting to seize control in the game, as we went to the close on 98-4.

So, those two wickets mean that it was definitely Somerset’s day today. And that is the fine margins in the game of cricket. At two down, we would have been happy, 3 then it would have been even, but 4 means that we are on the back foot. Burns has down well to get to the close on 43, and he looks as solid as he did towards the end of last season, but a big 3 figure score is needed if we are going to get near Somerset’s total. Solanki looked good until a stroke of misfortune, but with the aim to survive, maybe to pull shot wasn’t the wisest move, and most Surrey fans know that de Bruyn hasn’t been in the greatest form over the winter, which has carried over to the County season. Davies found some form in pre-season, as did the next man in Gary Wilson, but if they fail, a big innings deficit could be around the corner.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

First day all square despite Petersen ton

On his last Championship appearance at the Oval in 2011, Alviro Petersen struck a sublime double century for Glamorgan, and it looked like the Somerset debutant would be on the way to another until a brilliant fight back from Surrey evened up events on day one of the County Championship match at the Oval.

While one South African opening batsman was grabbing all the headlines before the game, everybody seemed to forget that his Test Match opening partner was in the Somerset side today. However, by 18:00 this evening that had changed. His innings was a joy to watch for everyone but a Surrey fan, who are sick of seeing the sight of Peterson out in the middle at the Oval. His century came off of just 141 balls, and oozed class throughout, but a spell of 4-42 from Jade Dernbach inspired a Surrey comeback.

Marcus Trescothick won a vital toss and had no hesitations in electing to bat first, with good batting conditions predicted throughout the day. New captain Graeme Smith would have done the same, picking two spinners in Batty and Keedy, and therefore hoping to utilise them in the 4th innings on a spinning wicket. But that wasn’t to be, with just the 2 frontline seamers in Dernbach and Meaker selected.

That meant Tremlett was left out, even though he was fit, which I thought was odd, but Jade proved his doubters wrong early on when he yorked England opener Nick Compton without scoring. The usually consistent Meaker struggled to find a line and length early on however, and the part time swing of de Bruyn was quickly turned to. The next wicket wasn’t too far away, as Batty had the Somerset captain trapped in front with a ball that straightened sharply.

James Hildreth and Petersen eased to lunch on 115-2, with no-one except Dernbach really troubling the batsman, and it was the South African born paceman who got the next wicket. Third ball after the break, Hildreth looked to cut him away, but could unfortunately (for Somerset) only drag the ball back onto his stumps. A lucky break for Dernbach, but you’ve got to take all the luck you can get.

However, as with the previous two wickets, a partnership started to form quite rapidly, especially after Dernbach’s accurate spell came to an end. Meaker was still struggling to hit his straps, which is a bad thing when you only have two seamers in your side, and you can never rely on de Bruyn for a wicket. Batty and Keedy weren’t getting much purchase out of the wicket, and Petersen eased to his century 40 minutes before tea, in which Somerset went into in command on 235-3.

After the tea break, batting still looked quite easy for the Somerset pair, but a rush of blood from Craig Kieswetter led to him being stumped off Batty. That was just the break we needed before the new ball was available, in which Dernbach utilised perfectly. Off the first delivery with the new cherry, Jade bowled Jos Buttler with a superb in-swinging delivery in which the England ‘keeper had shouldered arms, and followed that up by having Peter Trego caught by Solanki at slip for a golden duck.

The bowlers kept it tight for the next 50 minutes or so, and were rewarded when de Bruyn finally removed Petersen for a superb 167. Take his runs out of the equation, and it would be a far different story. We were really back into the game when Meaker eventually got one right to bowl Jamie Overton 5 balls later, with Somerset closing 15 minutes later on 340-8.

Overall, I think Smith and Co should be satisfied with the day’s proceedings, as they could have been far worse. I personally would have played Tremlett instead of Keedy, and I think that many would agree with my thoughts, especially as fears that one of the 2 seamers would have an off day came true in the case of Meaker.

Jade was by far the pick of the bowlers, and according to Mark Church (who has seen him more than most!) it was the best he had bowled in Championship cricket, which is good to see so early in the season. Meaker will come good, and that late wicket will give him confidence, and on a good looking pitch to bat on, 5 wickets in the final session is a great effort.

Tomorrow morning we must roll them over quickly, i.e. not let them get near 400, and set about getting our heads down and trying to gain a first innings lead. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Smith fit for season opener

Captain Graeme Smith has been named in a 13 man squad to take on Somerset in the opening Championship game of the season, starting at the Kia Oval tomorrow. 

There were slight doubts over the fitness of Smith, after he missed South Africa's last ODI against Pakistan last month with recurrence of an ankle injury, on which he had surgery on last year. But, that seems to be ok at the moment, because if it wasn't, I don't think he would be risked in case he badly damaged his ankle, which could leave him out of action for months. 

Here is the squad in full:

G. Smith (C)
R. Burns
A. Harinath
V. Solanki
Z. de Bruyn
S. Davies
G. Wilson
G. Batty
S. Meaker
J. Dernbach 
G. Keedy
C. Tremlett
T. Linley

As you can see, there is no place for Jason Roy, with de Bruyn’s all-round abilities and Wilson’s pre-season form preferred over the inconsistency that Roy provides in this format of the game. He, and many others, will be disappointed that de Bruyn has been picked ahead of him, considering the elder hasn’t played since February. I’m glad to see Wilson in the squad however, as his form of last season in List A cricket, and what he has shown over the last month in pre-season, has warranted selection in the squad at least. The experience of Vikram Solanki has also been chosen ahead of Roy, even though Roy had a better pre- season than the former Worcestershire batsman, who will have to hit the ground running if he wants to keep his place in the side, with Roy desperate to win his place back.

Another notable absentee is that of Jon Lewis. Early season conditions do suit his style of bowling, as was shown at the beginning of last year, but the pace of Jade Dernbach and guile of the Viscount is preferred over the 38 year old. I would have certainly named Lewis in the squad, as he can also add vital runs down the order, with him being our leading run scorer in the Championship well into May last year. But, we shouldn’t be relying on a number 9 to get us runs, and the batsman before need to take some responsibility.

It’s good to see faith kept in Arun Harinath at number 3, after he impressed towards the end of the last campaign, but I believe that he needs to have a good year this year to cement a place in the side. Rory Burns will open up with the skipper of course, after also having a good end to last season, and many have tipped him to be one to watch this year.

The make- up of the side is still in question. At the AGM last night, it was reported that Adams said that an extra batsman would play this week, supposedly meaning that Batty wouldn’t be at number 7. Therefore, I think the top 7 of the list above will be the top 7 that takes to the field tomorrow, with Wilson batting at 7.

If we are presuming that will be the case, then Adams has the option of playing 2 spinners, in Batty and Keedy, and two seamers, with de Bruyn as a 5th choice. Or, play 3 seamers, and 1 spinner (possibly Keedy as Somerset have lots of right handed batsman) and de Bruyn once again as a 5th choice. I personally would go down the 3 seamers, 1 spinner route, with Tremlett, Meaker and Dernbach as my 3 seamers. However, I have a feeling that Adams will pick both Keedy and Batty because when Keedy was signed, he said he would play both in every LVCC game at the Oval. He could change his mind, but I think that it is unlikely.

Therefore, I think the 2 seamers that will be picked are Meaker and, if fit, Tremlett, with de Bruyn supporting them. Meaker is our most consistent Championship bowler, so should always be picked in my opinion, and on his day, Tremlett can be one of the most terrifying bowler’s in world cricket. Whether he has enough overs under his belt is another question, and I’m sure Adams and Smith will wait until tomorrow morning before deciding is he is ready for First Class action.

Somerset are fresh off the back of a 48 run defeat to Durham last week, but just the fact that they have played a game may mean that they are that little bit sharper at the beginning of tomorrow’s game. They also have arguably one of the best top 7’s in county cricket, with it likely to be: Trescothick, Peterson, Compton, Hildreth, Kieswetter, Buttler, Trego. That is a superb batting line up, and they are no mugs with the ball either, with Trego already hitting his straps last week against Durham.

Tomorrow is the start of a new era for Surrey County Cricket Club, with one of the great Test captains taking charge of our club for the first time. Don’t expect miracles straight away, because that would be silly, but things are definitely looking rosier at the Oval, and a good season is on the horizon. Come on the Rey!!

Monday, 1 April 2013

2013 Season Preview: County Championship

With the 2013 season just around the corner, and the first pre-season game getting underway tomorrow, I think it’s the right time to look forward and give my opinion on how we are going to do this season. The first competition I’m going to be previewing is the Liverpool Victoria County Championship, so here goes.

Due to obvious unforeseen circumstances last season, our Championship campaign didn’t go according to plan, finishing one place and 33 points ahead of the relegation places. It was a wonderful effort from Batty and co to keep us in Division One, and hopefully that can inspire us to greater things this year.

It is certainly a different looking squad to the team that beat Sussex in the opener at the Oval in 2012. The starting X1 that day was: Rudolph, Jordan, Ramps, de Bruyn, RHB, Maynard, Burns, Batty, Lewis, Meaker, and Dernbach. That’s 5 of the top 6 not at the club anymore for varying reasons, which has certainly left a big hole in the depth of our batting. This season will be the first for over 12 years that we won’t have Mark Ramprakash walking out to the middle at number 3, and those are big shoes to fill. However, I think we have the batsman capable to fill the void of Ramps, and can lead us to a successful season.

For the first time in a long time, perhaps when Batty and Newman were at their best, we hopefully have a solid opening partnership in Graeme Smith and Rory Burns. Smith has dipped in form of late for South Africa, in the ODI’s especially, but there is still no doubting the calibre of player that has been acquired. He’s arguably one of the greatest Test captains of all time, and when unavailable, will be replaced by another great captain of the past in Ricky Ponting. And for those doubting Ponting’s ability nowadays, he has recently been named Sheffield Shield Player of the Season, which isn’t to be sniffed at.  Burns looked very assured towards the end of last season, a natural opener who has the ability to score quickly but knows his limits well and hopefully will grow into the role this coming season.

In my opinion, the openers are the only two positions that are set in stone for the Championship opener against Somerset on April 17th, with selection headaches causing a problem for Adams. However, competition for places is always good in a squad, so here’s my team for the opening game:

Smith (C)
De Bruyn
Davies (W)

Apart from the openers, each position of my side could be challenged. Harinath at 3 did well at the end of last season, hitting 2 centuries in 6 matches, including one in that vital win against Middlesex in August, earning himself a new contract. Some however may argue that we need a more experienced head to come in at the fall of the first wicket, perhaps Solanki or de Bruyn, but personally, Harinath should be given a chance for the first few games at least, in what could be a make or break season for him.

A popular debate on Twitter is that of Zander de Bruyn, who is still to arrive in the UK, and many believe doesn’t deserve a place in the side. It’s true that he has had a poor season again for the Highveld Lions after a lean campaign for us in 2012. Therefore, many believe academy graduate Tom Jewell should be given a chance ahead of the 37 year old South African. However, I think with Burns and Harinath in the top 3, an experienced number 4 is, and all being well, Zander can rediscover the form he showed in 2011 and at the end of 2012 to some extent. His seam and swing can also prove to be (sometimes!) useful.

That brings us onto Vikram Solanki who joined mid-season last year. There is no doubting the quality of the man, but like de Bruyn, is he past it? Poor form for Worcester led to him getting dropped from the Championship side, but his knowledge and experience of the game is unquestionable, so I think he should be given a chance against Somerset. However, if he or de Bruyn struggle early on, then either Jewell or the unfortunate Gary Wilson should definitely be given a go, rather than Adams persisting on picking them, like he strangely did with de Bruyn last year. Wilson really does deserve a chance in 4 day cricket, but I don’t think Adams will start the season with him, so that’s why I left him out of my side.

It’s a massive year for Jason Roy I think. After a good couple of seasons, he fell away considerably last year, and in the Championship scored just 3 50’s from 21 innings. He is a far better player than his statistics suggest, but too many times he throws his wickets away in 4-day games, so this needs to be addressed if he wants to be a firm fixture in the LVCC line up.

Steve Davies is almost nailed on for the wicket keeper role against Somerset, but does face stiff competition from Wilson. Davies had a poor season last year, with just 1 century and 1 half century in his 12 matches, averaging less than 22. However, he suffered from depression towards the end of last season after the events that had occurred previously, so that is one reason for it. This year is the first for a while that Davies hasn’t been picked by England to carry drinks on a winter test tour, so here’s hoping a full pre-season with us can lead him back to his sumptuous best.

Now onto the bowlers, where the competition is even stronger. At 8 I’ve gone with Gareth Batty, and with April pitches not being too conducive to spinners, he is the sole spinner in the side. Adams did say when Gary Keedy signed that he would play 2 spinners in home LVCC games, but I don’t think that will happen in seamer-friendly conditions that are so frequent in the early part of the season. Playing two spinners, as we saw towards the end of last year with Batty and Kartik, will be vital at some points of the season, but not from the start.

Talk of those conditions lead me onto the subject of Jon Lewis. Despite falling away towards the end of last season, Lewis did have a good start to the campaign, and if the conditions suit his style of bowling, then that should be exploited to benefit the team. It could be argued that it’s not exactly building for the future playing the 38 year old, and others should be picked instead, but he won’t be playing every game in my opinion, just a select few.
The remaining two places speak for themselves really. Meaker was our leading wicket taker in the Championship last year and was a shining light in an otherwise bleak season for us, and his ability to turn a game on its head in a couple of overs is really quite something. If fit, then Chris Tremlett should play whatever. He’s been working extremely hard throughout the winter months, and if he can rediscover his form, then it is a huge bonus for us, because on his day he can be lethal.

Two bowlers I haven’t spoken about are Tim Linley and Jade Dernbach. Linley will once again feel unlucky if he is left out, after not getting enough opportunities last year, but Lewis’ ability to add vital runs towards the end of the innings is the reason I would start with him ahead of the Viscount. Without doubt Jade is our best Limited overs bowler, but I would put him behind Meaker, Tremlett and perhaps Lewis in the longer format, who all have a greater knack of picking up wickets at the right time. I’m not saying that Jade is a bad 4-day bowler, and will come in if Tremlett’s not fit, but in swinging conditions, Lewis wins the battle for me. Once pitches become quicker and harder, that’s when Jade comes into his own.

Overall, I believe that we have a strong squad heading into the Championship this year, and the fact that there are so many questions marks over who is going to play the first game speaks for itself. Towards the end of last season, there wasn’t this debate because frankly, we didn’t have the depth that we have now. It says it all when I’m at the end of the preview and I still haven’t mentioned Ansari, Dunn, Edwards, Sibley etc, so it’s a huge plus that we have so many options. Therefore, I think that with Smith at the helm, a good championship season for Surrey County Cricket Club is just around the corner.

Predicted League Position: 4th