There was a bit of cricket news this week that surprised me - and I am at a stage of my life where I am not so easily surprised...
Former Shropshire batsman Richard Oliver turned down a contract with Worcestershire, where he was offered only a one-year deal, a season after bursting so spectacularly into the first-class game.
I saw him bat a couple of times and was impressed by his crisp, decisive stroke play. He was a late arrival in the county game at the age of 24, but averaged forty for his county and looked set for a decent first-class career. The lad can fairly tonk a cricket ball.
This year, he was less successful and was undoubtedly the latest, but not the last batsman of talent to experience the travails of second season syndrome. Few escape it, their technique having been examined by bowlers and coaches and the smallest chink in their armour being exploited.
The better players come through it, sometimes in the third season, but for others it takes a while longer. Look at Billy Godleman, a teenage prodigy at Middlesex but only establishing himself as a county cricketer to be relied upon, seven or eight years later.
I'm not sure what surprised me most, to be honest. That he was only offered a one-year deal, or that he turned it down.
I can see the county's stance. There is no ECB money to be had and they have some talented young batsmen already. Yet Oliver showed that he could score runs a year earlier and hasn't lost that ability. It needs someone with the patience to tease it out again, albeit with the slight risk that he might, just might be a one-season wonder.
Look at Daniel Redfern. In 2012 he appeared to have made the breakthrough he had threatened for years. Yet the next year was a disaster and, after an uninspiring couple of seasons with Leicestershire, it would appear that he will have to play in the Minor Counties to rediscover the talents that he was given in abundance. Attitude? Technique? Only he knows the answer to that one.
I assume Oliver has had interest shown from elsewhere. Probably Leicestershire, who seem to be signing up batsmen from around the county as if they were completing a football sticker book. Got Pettini, got Dexter, got Horton...not got Oliver.
Were I a Worcestershire fan, I would have liked to see him given a two-year deal. I accept that for an unproven talent, one year takes the risk out of it for them and keeps the player aware of the need to perform. Coasting is not an option, but nor, by extension, is relaxing and displaying your best form.
I think that another county could pick up a gem in Richard Oliver and I hope will give him the contract that his talent justifies. I'm not necessarily suggesting Derbyshire, because I still have confidence that Ben Slater will become a reliable county batsman, but I hope that a lad with a first-class average of 30 from only 36 first-class knocks gets another opportunity
Anyway, I'm off now to start reading the new autobiography by Chris Adams, which arrived at my door today, courtesy of those lovely people at Pitch Publishing. I will be reviewing it in the next couple of weeks and look forward to it immensely.
Enjoy your weekend!