So, Leicestershire next for Derbyshire and the first home game of the season. Last year they brought us down to earth with a bump after the Oval success and they have again started well. Considering that they only have a squad of sixteen they are a side who generally punch above their weight, although that is always easier in the early season before injury niggles set in.
There’s no news yet on their side, other than that Wayne White looks set to miss out against his old county, while Paul Nixon may be fit to add experience to a youthful and talented batting line up.
My first interest tomorrow will be seeing how the wicket plays, as the progress of the square in its second season after turning will be a big factor in our fortunes. Last year understandably saw some slow tracks that offered a little early help to bowlers but made strokeplay hard work. That certainly impacted on batsmen in the one day games and we would hope for a little more pace this year. Certainly our quick bowlers will hope for encouragement for bending their backs and it would be good to see Marks Footitt and Turner, fit and firing, getting batsmen to hurry their strokes.
The big talking point from comments on here in recent days appears to be the opening berth alongside Wayne Madsen. Paul Borrington looked a certainty to have a run before his ankle injury and the absence of Usman Khawaja in the last game gave our top three an unfamiliar look. The Australian looked likely to miss out from my reading between the lines of the Derby Telegraph this morning and the twelve is:
Madsen, Park, Durston, Hughes, Redfern, Smith, Sutton, Clare, Groenewald, Turner, Palladino, Lineker.
For what its worth, I might have moved Chesney to open at Bristol and had Garry Park at three, where he scored his runs two years ago. Then again, Chesney may be enjoying his middle order slot and he scored runs there. Wes Durston opens in T20 games, but is he opening batsman material in the longer format? Is there an argument for giving a home debut to Matt Lineker? If we don't try him, we'll never know if he can cut it at this level.
Although he’s done it before, I don’t see Luke Sutton as an opener as its asking too much of the man, which brings us back to Garry Park. There have been a few unkind and unfair comments about him in the past few days. Yes, he had a difficult second season, as many before him have done, but he was man enough to go in first, an unfamiliar role, after such a run for the good of the side. It was a selfless thing to do and a gamble. If it had come off we’d be acclaiming John Morris for a shrewd idea and the player for his bravery. It didn’t, but it was one game and shouldn’t necessarily spell the end of the experiment.
Opening the batting is much different to going in lower down, even at three. You have to contend with completely fresh bowlers, a hard ball, early movement and the pressure of needing a good start. Even at club level, as skipper for nine years, I lost count of the number of times people told me “I don’t want to open.” Above all, their fear was being the first man out, which I guess is another pressure.
Len Hutton, still my Dad’s favourite batsman after all these years, failed on both his Yorkshire and England debut, yet returned to become the best batsman of his generation. I recall Graeme Gooch experiencing problems too when he first moved up the order and he was a fair player…
Garry Park may never open for Derbyshire again or he may be in that role tomorrow. Whatever, we need to offer him encouragement and wish him the best for it. He will never be Len Hutton, but we’d settle for a Paul or Tony Borrington or an Alan Hill. As John Morris said this week, the batsmen need to be patient and see the shine off the ball, then wait until the bowlers tire and the bad balls come, as they always do. If he does that and only makes thirty, life for the later batsmen should be considerably easier and he’ll have done his bit for the team.
Gloucestershire was last week. We’ve got a game to win, starting tomorrow.