Sunday, 28 December 2014

As the turn of the year approaches...

I am no betting man, but I'd wager a shekel that mulled wine will have been required at Graeme Welch's house this festive season.

When the other season starts in precisely 105 days time, Welch has the nice, but unenviable job of squeezing a quart into a pint pot. For the first time in some years, there is genuine competition for all areas of the side and 'Pop' has to decide which is his strongest eleven to start the summer. Mulled wine is perfect for mulling...

The only area where there is no real competition at present is in the opening berths, where Ben Slater and Billy Godleman are the only natural openers. Having said that, either Ches or Wes could step up, as they have in the one-day game, while it is not unlikely that the early season option for Cheteshwar Pujara may be an opener.

In the middle order, he has genuine all-rounders in Shiv Thakor, Durston, Alex Hughes and Tom Knight, all of them capable of a place between five and seven in the order. So too, if he recovers his batting mojo of a few summers past, is Wayne White. Throw in Chesney and it is a long time since we had six players of such talent in the middle order.

These players afford balance to the side in any format of the game, lengthening the batting and offering more bowling options to Wayne Madsen. So too does Scott Elstone, who tailed off at the end of last summer but is a good batsman and useful spinner, as well as being a brilliant fielder. With all of these players, it is important to factor in progress to any assessment of their merit and in Thakor, Hughes and Knight we have three young players of real potential.

Thakor barely played last year, recovering from a nasty finger injury, but will be keen to make up for lost time. I have every confidence that his bowling, an admitted weaker suit, will take strides forward under Graeme Welch and his coaching staff and that Shiv will be seen as a genuine all-rounder over the next two summers.

The same goes for Alex Hughes. Anyone watching regularly last season will have seen a marked difference in the early season bowler to the one that finished it. He added several yards of pace and, having got an arduous first full season under his belt, he will be older and wiser this year. If he has worked on getting his feet moving a little earlier in his innings, Hughes could be the real deal.

Then there's Tom Knight. He has been around for a few summers now and it is easy to forget that he is still only 21.As was the case with Paul Borrington, it was circumstance that dictated his early elevation to the senior side and in many ways he wasn't ready. There was a danger that he could have disappeared or become a somewhat peripheral figure, but Tom showed signs last season of developing into another Ian Blackwell.

Time will tell if the reconstructed action produces the goods, but on several occasions last year Tom suggested himself as perhaps the cleanest striker of a cricket ball in the club. It is too early to call him a genuine all-rounder - only consistent production of the goods allows for that - but the potential is there.

In closing, it would be unfair not to mention a player who is as good an all-rounder as any, if his body allows him to be so.

Jonathan Clare has a big summer ahead. For the past two years he has cut a forlorn figure, walking around the boundary from nets to gym and back again. I hope, as all fans of the county do, that they have now got to the bottom of his back issues and he can progress to become the genuine county all-rounder we all expected.

If he does, with all the others I have mentioned, we're going to take some stopping in 2015...

1 comment:

Marc said...

I think we have most positions fairly well covered. Competition for places is never a bad thing and we have players for whom 2015 may prove a make or break season.

It,s a bit too soon to be selecting a starting XI yet a while,but I think most of those who ended the season in the team will probably start this one. I say most,because I do feel there are one or two players with question marks over their heads.

We have some younger players with potential but we need the likes of Madsen and Durston to lead the way. I still see Durston as a crucial player,not lest for his fielding and bowling. At 34 he,s no spring chicken but by the same token there is no reason he can,t play on for another three or four years yet.