Friday, 27 November 2015

Toss tinkering a good idea

No complaints from me about the latest bit of tinkering from the ECB, where in county championship matches next season, the away captain will have the opportunity to chose whether to bowl first. Should he decline to do so, the toss will then take place.

It takes away pitch 'preparation' that favours the home side, or at least gives them a 50/50 opportunity of getting off to a flyer on a wicket that gives bowlers undue assistance. Wickets must now be good cricket wickets, made to last four days and hopefully, by the end of the third, offering the spin bowlers sufficient assistance to merit inclusion in the side.

Those counties that have effectively frozen out spin bowlers in favour of a battery of seam and dibbly-dobbly swing bowlers will have to don their thinking caps. Derbyshire's Wes Durston may come even more into his own as a batting all-rounder, while both Tom Knight and Matt Critchley will have conditions that may be more to their liking.

Theoretically, it could see the overseas spinner becoming a prize commodity, but the game is hardly awash with prize tweakers at present. Not even in its ancestral home of India, where shocking pitch preparation has seen the home side trouncing South Africa on pitches that are barely lasting into a fourth day. I'd suggest it was a throwback to the Indian side of the 1970s, when such giants as Bedi, Prasanna, Venkat and Chandrasekhar made a trip to that part of the world the ultimate challenge to the batting technique against spin.

I don't see the current crop of spinners in that league, but the wickets they are bowling on would light up the eyes of a moderate club twirler, let alone a decent international bowler. Would it change pitch preparation if South Africa were offered the chance to bat each time? Of course it would. The writing is on the wall when the bowling is opened by an off-spinner.

I don't see the star Indian batsmen being unduly thrilled either. Much as big name batsmen never looked forward to playing at Derby in the days when one could barely spot the wicket from the rest of the square, nor can those used to 'filling their boots' on feather bed tracks be happy about the adverse conditions. Mind you, if they are winning, they will be resigned to their fate and accept it, albeit grudgingly, as they watch their averages plummet.

I don't see it changing much at Derby, to be honest. The advent of the Falcons stand did seem to produce a climatic microcosm, whereby the first session each day was challenging for batsmen and bowlers got their reward for skilled bowling. Our problem last year, certainly in the matches that I saw, was that we too often bowled too wide or too short in those sessions, thus giving batsmen a chance to watch the ball go sailing harmlessly by.

I am sure that Graeme Welch will this winter be stressing to his young charges that the key thing is to make the batsmen PLAY. A new man at the crease wants a few wide balls to assess the pace and bounce, rather than having to figure it out from something homing in on his stumps and body. A rejuvenated Tony Palladino and Andy Carter will enjoy their first sessions at Derby and be expected to set an example in that respect.

It was interesting listening to Graeme Welch yesterday, saying that he has 'irons in the fire' for a another seamer. The potential of the young brigade is obvious, but expecting one or more of them to become the 'real deal' over one winter is perhaps unrealistic. We need progress, but they will need periods of rest, too. As I have written before, Carter will, if he stays fit, get fifty-plus wickets this year, but Welch is savvy enough to realise that we need at least plans B and C for the coming year to be an improvement on last.

I am confident that the signings of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford will help our bowlers have something to bowl at this year, but we will need a team approach to all the disciplines if 2016, the eightieth anniversary of our county championship win, is to prove memorable for all the right reasons.

Postscript: I still fully intend to do a piece on the academy intake, but time has passed me by these last few days.

Hopefully this weekend...

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