Saturday, 19 November 2016

Spin frailties offer county hope

If, like me, you have watched England's batsmen combating spin on their winter tours of Bangladesh and India, you will share my optimism for the English summer of 2017.

They're not very good, are they? The side's batting reminds me of the little girl with the curl in Henry Longfellow's poem - when they are good, they are very, very good but when they are bad they are horrid.

Sure, three players made centuries in the first Test, but that was on a wicket where batsmen of international class really should have cashed in. Here, where the track is more conducive to spin, most of the batsmen have looked ill at ease against the Indian spinners.

My friend, Ranjith and I discussed the game yesterday in a break from lunch. He is from southern India, 'Venkat territory', as he puts it and is himself a talented leg-spin bowler.

'I've been on that ground a few times', he told me, 'and sometimes the cracks in the wicket are visible from the boundary'. It doesn't augur well for a fourth innings, when you are already two hundred behind after the second.

The conversation switched to Derbyshire and I told him of our signings of Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis. His eyes lit up, as talk of such players will do, to one of the 'brethren'.

'They will win you matches', he said. It turns out that Ranjith is a big fan of Jeevan Mendis from his IPL days and rates him highly as a bowler and batsman.

I've seen less of him than Tahir, but his record suggests he has something different to offer and, with no one on the circuit having played him, the novelty value in itself may be considerable. As I have said before, if we get the wickets right, the impact of two high-quality spinners will be considerable.

So will that strike bowler, whenever announced. Do you stick or twist, bat on a seaming first day or on a turning last? If we are getting a man of a similar calibre to the previous winter signings, it will be well worth the wait and might see sides wondering how to combat a revitalised Derbyshire.

There's been a lot of talk on the Harvey Hosein/Gary Wilson battle behind the timbers in the last few weeks. We are lucky to have two such players on the staff and both are capable of playing as a batsman only, but as the newly-appointed vice-captain, I expect Wilson to start in the role. Yet when you think about it, there are only (for me) three players who are automatic picks, assuming fitness - Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Shiv Thakor.

The rest, winter overseas imports aside, will have to prove their right to a place in the starting eleven. Such competition can only be healthy from a team perspective and is a sign that we are starting to climb from a season that will be seen as 'ground zero'.

Two final things before I close. It is good to see John Sadler get straight back into the game with the second team coaching role at Leicestershire. I think their young batsmen will thrive with his genial approach and I wish one of the nicest men in the game the very best of luck.

Finally, over in the Caribbean, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is still doing what comes naturally for Guyana.

Now 42, Shiv has started the season with scores of 91 and 81 not out, the first winning a game for his side, while the second took them to a competitive total. Like old man river, Shiv just keeps rolling along  and his work ethic and willingness to occupy the crease is an object lesson to many a young batsman.

More from me soon!

Postscript: 'ball tampering' after sucking a sweetie? What is going on with such daft accusations in Australia? If a player is found to be roughing up the ball with something in his pocket, or lifting the seam, I get it.

Yet obtaining reverse swing by sucking a sweet? Are we going to have end of over tests on the man bowling the next, to ensure there's nothing on their saliva to help them? If we are now telling players they can't suck a sweet or chew gum, we may as well pack the game up as a bad job.

Batsmen have got way too much in their favour in the modern game, not least bats that are more like flat pack wardrobes than their earlier equivalents and much shorter boundaries. When did you last see an all-run five?

If the Australian media think that their erstwhile greats never got a ball to swing after a few vigorous chomps on a stick of Juicy Fruit, they are deluding themselves and insulting the intelligence of those who watch the game.

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