Here we are at last, the time in the year when we can say, without fear of contradiction, that the cricket season starts this week. Well, as long as the weather stays fair…
The seasonal rituals are all being observed of course which heightens the sense of anticipation. The grass at home has had its first cut and is looking not too bad after the rigours of winter. A bit of feed and it should soon perk up,though I doubt it would ever be compared with the outfield at the County Ground. I was even up in the loft to see if either of my bats could do with a new grip and to make sure that my cricket jumpers still fit me. Thankfully they do, though I’d no such worries with my cricket shirt. Being someone who doesn’t like to feel restricted when I bowl, my shirt could probably accommodate Demis Roussos and still have room for me. Not that I’m suggesting I’d share a shirt with the Greek singer, of course…
My daughter was looking at the club yearbook this weekend. She’s not a fan but she’s a voracious reader and it was the nearest thing to hand after she’d finished the back of the cereal packet. She came to the page with the team pictures on it and spent some time perusing it, before coming out with the kind of telling comment that should not be the preserve of thirteen year olds.
“They look awful young, Dad.”
I think that’s a pretty shrewd summation of things, as with the exception of Luke Sutton and Steffan Jones there’s no one with extensive experience in there. That could be an Achilles heel as the season progresses, but the side could equally play without fear as a result. John Morris has said that the squad has the best work ethic and spirit he has known and that’s good enough for me.
Last week I wrote about our four day prospects and now it is the turn of the one day side to get the ‘treatment.’ While I am less confident in our abilities over the shorter form at this stage, I still feel that we have enough in the locker to surprise some teams and play good cricket.
As evidence I’d give you a potential top order of Durston, Hughes, Khawaja, Smith, Madsen and Park. That’s my suggestion, though Dan Redfern and Ross Whiteley could both force their way into that line up which offers promises of good runs. Add in Martin Guptill for the T20 and there’s some impressive firepower, as well as a group of outstanding fielders.
It is quite strange, as in the Championship my reservations are over which ones, Madsen aside, can get their heads down and play a long innings. I see the one day side packed with potentially explosive batting, but again, big totals only come about by someone playing a long innings and the rest batting around them.
Look at India and how they won the World Cup. Tendulkar usually anchored the innings, but on the occasions that he went Gambhir was happy to bat through. If he went, then Dhoni came to the fore and that is how we need to approach it. If the top six all make flashy twenties and thirties we won’t put a target out of reach, but if one or more go on to something more substantial, we’ll have a chance.
Then it will come down to the bowlers. Mark Turner made a name in the limited overs game for Somerset last year and could do well again, although he moved for greater opportunity in the longer format too. Mark Footitt showed against Middlesex in the Pro 40 last year that he can blow away a middle order when his rhythm is right, while the old warhorse Steffan Jones could play a key role in the shorter games, especially the T20.
Jake Needham should also get regular cricket in the short game, where he has regularly bowled well in recent seasons. He has a tough act to follow in Robin Peterson and how he handles the switch from trying to get people out to keeping them quiet and back again will be a big factor for both him and the team.
I’ve few qualms about Tim Groenewald, who I think is one of the underrated bowlers on the county circuit, but John Morris will be rotating his seamers as long as he has enough fit to enable him to do so. By July last year the only rotation for Groenewald and Jones was a few overs at third man or mid on, followed by a change of ends…
None of the above allows for a youngsters forcing his way through, which of course could happen. If Ross Whiteley continues to emerge as a hard hitting batsman and can cut out the bad ball an over that costs his bowling figures, he could lengthen the batting and further improve the balance of the side. Paul Borrington has worked hard over the winter to increase his range of strokes and could break into the Pro 40 side too, while Jon Clare has much to offer, though Morris will be wary of overworking him.
What I would like to see in the one-day game is greater use made of Wes Durston and Garry Park. I felt last year that both Chris Rogers and Greg Smith missed a trick with the two of them at times, bowling both less than they should. Their presence offers more options for the skipper as they take the pace off the ball, while if any team in the land has two better fielders I’d be very surprised.
So what does it all mean? Quite possibly a season of ups and downs, with the perennial frustrations of batting collapses here and there and bowlers going to all parts. Yet I look at the talent in the squad and am left with the impression that the potential is considerable and a few early wins might give them the confidence to go on to a good season.
As I wrote before, key to much of the campaign will be Luke Sutton’s contribution. The demands on the new skipper will be considerable, but if anyone can carry off the triple burden of scoring runs at seven, holding most of what comes his way behind the stumps and leading the side it will be him.
I’m looking forward to it. Roll on Friday.