It’s a sure sign that the season is fast approaching when fans start to select their first choice sides for next season, as is happening on IMWT.
It is something I enjoy doing myself, but I’m going to keep my powder dry until I know who our overseas players are for 2011.
There’s a natural assumption that John Morris is going to replace his overseas opening batsman in a like for like swap, but I would think that far from a done deal. Indeed none of the players I see as likelier signings are opening batsmen, which leaves suggesting teams difficult.
If Morris changes things around with a middle-order batsman, an all-rounder, spinner or seamer it will obviously skew any suggested sides. The loss of an opening batsman isn’t a major problem as long as the man coming in makes a good contribution, of course. Chesney Hughes and Paul Borrington can both open alongside Wayne Madsen, while Wes Durston could feasibly do so having enjoyed success in the one-day game. That’s even before we know how Matt Lineker will take to the county game. Why, in his last stint with us, Luke Sutton even opened the batting on occasion – we’re awash with them!
Those first three places in the order will be the key to our season though. Two years ago we were getting to lunch at 95-1 or better, with Rogers, Madsen and Garry Park all enjoying strong seasons. Last year we were all too often 20-2 in no time, with the middle order exposed to the new ball.
These are all crucial berths. While to some extent four to six in the order can be interchangeable, not everyone can bat in the top three with success. Only John Morris knows his plans for these positions, all I can say is that Chesney Hughes has said he enjoys opening and wants to do so, while we never filled number three adequately last season apart from when Chesney batted there. ..
So there’s an issue straight away, though a return to 2009 form for Garry Park would sort number three quite nicely… unless that’s the preferred berth for our new man.
See what I mean?
Similarly there’s a few people selecting Jake Needham in a first choice side, which is laudable as an idea, but I doubt there would be four pitches a season that would justify playing a specialist spinner. Unless Needham returns from his South African winter as the new Hugh Tayfield, my guess is that he will feature in a fair share of one-day games with four-day matches in Wales and (maybe) Northampton.
Given that we’ve signed Mark Turner and Tony Palladino this winter to add to a decent seam line-up, logic suggests our pitches this year should favour seamers, or at least give them a sporting chance. Greg Smith, Wes Durston and Dan Redfern can bowl spin of varying quality if required, even if just to change the pace or hasten a second new ball.
While I would love to see a Derbyshire-reared spinner taking stacks of wickets I would be surprised if pitches this summer were prepared for our current resources in that area. I still think Needham has potential, but spin bowling is a long apprenticeship. Graham Swann had some fallow years at Northampton before he emerged as a top player, but he had batting ability to carry him through. Look around the counties and so too do most of the spinners who play regularly.
I think that to become more than a peripheral figure Needham will need to improve his batting or bowling and probably needs Greg Smith out of the picture. Smith’s versatility, while very useful to the side, is the biggest barrier to his progress and unlike Needham his batting and bowling are probably equally strong suits. I’m not advocating getting rid of Smith, who is a very good cricketer, but we all know his situation and that he may look elsewhere at the end of this season.
Needham may yet have to wait a while longer, but can advance his cause considerably when he has opportunities this season. In between times, he has to bowl well on a regular basis in the Seconds, work at his game and be ready when the chance is there.