Sunday, 10 April 2016

The rivals

There's been a lot of pre-season pieces written around the country in magazines, newspapers and online. Looking at some of them, you would think that we may as well not bother turning up. A curious feature of all of them is that in 'departures' from last year's staff, no one mentions David Wainwright, which seems odd.

Mind you, one or two seem to have overlooked the signing of Neil Broom, too, which suggests that not all that much homework was done ahead of writing the pieces concerned. Yesterday I read a piece by All Out Cricket, which forecast us as coming bottom of the table. Time for the anti-depressants, methinks...

As I said in my previous piece on our prospects,  I won't be gung-ho to suggest we will stroll the title and sole promotion place, but what I will say is that it is a very open division and we have an equally good chance as the rest. Last year, Surrey and Lancashire seemed to have the resources and staff that the rest could only envy and so it transpired. Lancashire got off to a flyer and never looked back, while Surrey took a while to gain momentum but then deservedly took the second promotion berth.

This year? Bear with me while I go through the others.

Essex - perennial under-achievers who finally changed their coach and will hope Chris Silverwood gets the best out of fine players. They have some good batsmen, but Reece Topley has gone to Hampshire, Graham Napier retires at the end of the summer and David Masters struggles for fitness. One of their new dual-passport bowlers needs to fire because I don't see how they can regularly bowl sides out twice.

Glamorgan - Jacques Rudolph guarantees runs and Graham Wagg had a golden 2015, but both players need consistent support and for me there are too many question marks on their all-round game for promotion. Craig Meschede is a solid signing, but better than us? I don't think so.

Gloucestershire - James Fuller has gone to Middlesex and they have the excellent Michael Klinger arriving in June, but they are another side in need of a bowler to emerge. Gareth Roderick is a good player, but asking him to skipper, as well as be wicket-keeper and a key batsman is a big 'ask'. They did very well to win the RLODC last year and as such are an object lesson to all.

Kent - Plenty of batting, which for me made signing an overseas batsman (Tom Latham from New Zealand) an odd move. He will score runs, but they seem to be pinning their hopes on James Tredwell and Adam Riley spinning sides out. Kagiso Rabada should give them a boost for six weeks around July, but again, bowlers need to emerge.

Leicestershire - They have strengthened more than most, with the arrival of Neil Dexter, Mark Pettini and Paul Horton suggesting they should not struggle for runs. Mark Cosgrove will also score heavily (sorry...) but both Wayne White and Clint McKay need to stay fit for them to bowl sides out. Ben Raine remains a good all-round cricketer and they should be an improved side.

Northamptonshire - With similar, possibly worse financial issues than Leicestershire, they only carry a squad of fifteen full-time professionals. If injuries hit they will struggle and the loss of David Willey to Yorkshire is a big one. A solid side if they all stay fit but that asks a lot over a long season and their seam attack of Kleinveldt, Azharullah and Stone will be tired by September.

Sussex - came down last year after a lot of injuries hampered their summer. They have brought in Danny Briggs from Hampshire to replace the retired Michael Yardy and will have high hopes that Ross Taylor will bring runs from New Zealand. The death of Matt Hobden may have a residual effect on them, but a seam attach of Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Jordan and Steve Magoffin is the best (on paper) in the division. The team to beat, for me.

Worcestershire - a tight-knit squad that has lost two or three players from last year and is lacking experience. As a relegated side they will be among the favourites, but probably need Matt Henry and Kyle Abbott to take a lot of wickets in their shared overseas role to sustain a challenge. Shouldn't lack for runs, though.

There you have it. Sussex probably the team to beat but a division in which every side can have genuine and realistic expectations of a decent summer. The ones that emerge from the pack will enjoy (and need) their share of luck with the weather, wickets, decisions and fitness but will also need to play consistently.

A good start, as we showed in 2012, can be the catalyst to great things and we will hope to build on an excellent pre-season tour and produce the goods.


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