Thursday, 24 April 2014

The golden age of variety

 Apologies in advance to those who come across this piece on the web and expect to find a discussion on the London Palladium and Batley Variety Club...

There's been some very good and interesting discussion on these pages in recent days on the merits of playing four seam bowlers instead of a more balanced attack.

I don't think there were many times in the evolution of the game, prior to the West Indies XI of Clive Lloyd, where it happened. More often there would be two opening bowlers, a first change and then a couple of spinners. Sometimes a batsman might double as a fourth seamer (like Ted Dexter, Walter Hammond) or as a spinner (Bobby Simpson, Collie Smith) Most sides had an off-spinner, before 1960's there were plenty of leg-spinners and slow left arm spin bowlers were common. Blessed were the sides, like Derbyshire, where Derek Morgan bowled seam and then switched to off-cutters as the ball got older.

That's the thing the current Derbyshire side lacks. Ross Whiteley suggested he might become a genuine all-rounder before leaving, while both Tim Groenewald and Tony Palladino offer good lower order runs, without yet being able to call themselves genuine all-rounders (though it may yet come for both of them).

I understood the rationale of four seamers with the West Indies. They could play four quick bowlers and effectively bowled them all day. Each was sufficiently different keep the batsman guessing. Roberts was fast and skiddy, Marshall fast with swing, Holding fast and nipped it around, Garner fast with steepling bounce, Croft was fast and bowled from awkward angles. I could go on, but all of them challenged the batsmen with raw pace and the fact that there was something different going on. Then Viv Richards had a few overs and took wickets as everyone relaxed for a while...

That is why Mark Footitt is so important to our side, as the number of bowlers who bowl genuinely fast left arm - now or over the game's history - could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mark can lose his line occasionally, but most bowlers can do that and his strike rate is as impressive as his more recent fitness record.

Groenewald and Palladino are proven county bowlers of quality (250 wickets does that for a man) and at present they would always be in my side. They usually take wickets and if they don't are tidy and make batsmen work. That's before you consider their contributions with the bat, which can neither be underestimated or undervalued.

Mark Turner? I think Mark is a lovely lad and he gives one hundred per cent in everything he does. When he lets the ball go it appears to be with every ounce of strength he has. In the field he has good hands and dives around with the best of them. He bowled well and with success in the pre-season game against Warwickshire, but in two championship matches so far has one wicket for 230 runs. In those same matches, Wes Durston has six wickets for 195 runs, while David Wainwright took 2-84 - and scored valuable runs - at Chelmsford.

Never having faced them, I'm unsure how different our three right-arm seam bowlers are in pace, but from the boundary edge it would appear that Turner is quickest, though the more erratic. I'd just like to see more variety in the attack, as unless you're talking express pace - and we're not - county batsmen must find them all fairly similar. On a helpful track that is no hindrance, but when the wicket isn't doing that much, variety and keeping people on their toes is the key to success.

I take on board Marc's point (below the last article) about a seamer getting injured during a match, but how often does that really happen? If there are pre-match doubt over the fitness of one, you play someone else. By extension, you don't pick seven batsmen, on the off chance that one breaks a finger taking a slip catch. 

This is where, for me, opportunity could come for young tyros in the weeks ahead. Alex Hughes, the best known, bowls skiddy medium pace, similar to Phil Russell of another era. He also bats well and offers genuine all-round potential, as well as, crucially, something different. So too does Greg Cork, who has the added bonus of being a left-arm seamer. I think Cork junior has some filling out to do, but the potential is vast. Speaking of which, there's also Ben Cotton, who's height offers variety, bringing the ball down from a different angle. Nor should we ignore the potential claims of Tommy Taylor, who bowled beautifully against a strong Swarkestone side for Ticknall last weekend and, as well as gaining movement with the ball, has the prize asset, with all of the above, of novelty value. How do you play someone you've never seen before?

Graeme Welch will be watching his players and assessing their medium and long term roles in the club. He has already gone on record regarding the seam bowling talent in the club's academy. For the weekend game at Worcester, I wouldn't be surprised to seeing a change in either the thinking or personnel.


Marc said...

I just wish to clarify a couple of things, Peakfan to rule out any slight mis-understandings. In your article you say "playing four seamers instead of a more balanced attack".

I,m all for playing a balanced attack,unless there are compelling reasons for loading a team with one particular type of bowler. The point i,m trying to make is that we do have a balanced attack with Durston in the team,providing the bulk of the spin. His presence allows for the four seam option. Conversely,if Wainwright plays aswell,we can only accomodate three seamers unless we weaken the batting.

There may be occasions when two spinners is prudent and three seamers sufficient for our needs. I have no problem with that as a concept,but on what at the moment are seamer friendly pitches,we need four options,in my opinion.

We are far more likely to pay the price for having a weak seam attack than a shortage of spinners,something we endured for many seasons following Miller,s retirement.

Players do get injured during matches.We had it with both Palladino and Clare last season and you may have noted the former bowled only six overs in Hampshire,s second innings. Perhaps it was tactical,I don,t know. I would like to see Clare given a run in the side now,though I do take your point that one or two of the youngsters may come into contention in due course. I,m a firm believer in rotating the seamers,giving them all a fair share of the workload and having the odd break. People may disagree with my stance and i fully accept that. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Peakfan said...

Think we agree to disagree on this one Marc! No one could convince me that 4 seamers anda spinner with 900 first class overs in 12 years is balanced. I love Wes as a player but he is a fill in and back up spinner. Dino wasnt bowled as the game was going nowhere. My assumption of Clares omission from the squad was injury niggle. Hope not though...

Mark said...

Turner not good enough Peakfan, simple as that. Was shockingly expensive last season and we just can't afford him to keep gifting runs to the opposition, whilst taking very few wickets in the process. Alex Hughes for me.

Sam said...

Have to agree with the general consensus that Turner shouldn't be in the side. I think he should be restricted to the one dayers, and the policy that of holding Palladino just for the championship should this year be applied to Footitt to keep him fresh. Clare is the obvious replacement, who will take more wickets than Turner and contribute more runs with the bat. Unless Wainwright is going to bowl at his best, of early 2012, then I see little merit in playing him at all with 4 of the top 6 able to bowl spin. Peter Burgoyne is the one I would rather see play, but obviously he is unavailable for selection at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I recall my earlier comment on this subject made reference to DECENT seamers, which was not made in direct relation to our own lads, but reflected upon my general thoughts that three good 'uns should do the job more often than not - barring injuries, which don't crop up that often, at least not to the point where a bowler is rendered inoperative.

If our lads are on top of their game, a player such as Wainwright can still have a part to play on a typical early season green top. He may not run through a side, but he can offer variety and, importantly, control. How often have we seen troublesome partnerships snuffed out from the introduction of a different variety of bowler. Although not a spinner, the gentle seam of Dougie Walters is a case in point. Graeme Swann had a regular knack of knocking over batsmen as soon as he came on to bowl (we will all reflect in time on how good he really was for England).

That all said, I am not completely against four seamers on occasion, but variety amongst the group really needs to be there, unless you have that rare luxary of four world class performers. A mix of speedsters, left armers, and genuine swing specialists can work.

I take your point Peakfan, young Master Hughes would offer good value in our side if he can produce the runs at, say, six in the order. Although, perhaps not a front line seamer, he offers the skipper a useful option and has shown he can take a few wickets here and there.

At this stage, the coach has focused primarily on the more experienced squad members, which is a logically direction to take. However, I would expect a few younger lads to come into the reckoning as the season develops.

I just hope we see that first victory soon, irrespective of which bowlers are fielded.


Marc said...

This has been an interesting debate which,for the time being,has gone about as far as it can. I will just end with a couple of points picked up along the way. Durston has not bowled a phenomininal number of overs but that,s largely down to the path his career has taken,thus affording him only limited opportunities until arriving on our doorstep.

I,m not suggesting he is a world class spinner or anything near to that,but he is useful,takes wickets and has a reasonable economy rate. The question is whether Wainwright is really that much better. For me the answer is no. Another commentator suggests he brings control. Well,he used to,but there was little evidence of that being the case last season. I underline the fact we cannot afford him simply as a stock bowler,when we have a perfectly viable alternative.

I sincerly hope Wainwright comes good and I will be among the first to credit him.The only way he can do that is by taking wickets.

Peakfan said...

Yes excellent comments folks. The bottom line is that the coach picks the team and knows why player A is included and B omitted. Which none of us do but can only guess at. Good debate and thank you!

Tim, Chesterfield said...

I've nothing against Turner but it seems madness to pick him in the side. His career stats aren't great and he's far from a kid who's likely to improve. Given he adds nothing with the bat he would be way down the list for me.