Saturday, 5 April 2014

Ford names first Championship Squad

Where have the last 6 months gone? It’s that time of the year again where we prepare ourselves for the highs and lows of a county cricket season, as the first squad for the opening game against Glamorgan has been named.

There are no real shocks in the 12 that have been chosen to lead our charge for promotion to Division One after relegation last term, with the non-inclusion of Gareth Batty the main talking point. For the man who was captain for a large part of last season he will be hugely disappointed, but now that Zafar Ansari is available from the start of the season, having two spinners at this time of the year would be a poor decision.

Here is the full squad and my predicted starting X1:

Graeme Smith (C)
Rory Burns
Dominic Sibley
Steve Davies (WK)
Gary Wilson
Jason Roy
Zafar Ansari
Stuart Meaker
Tom Curran
Tim Linley
Chris Tremlett

Matthew Dunn

That isn’t the team I would choose, as I would select Dunn ahead of Tremlett, just for the fact that Dunn seems hungrier than Trem and he really needs to show what he is made of this season. Tremlett had a poor season in 2013 and it looks like he can only go downhill from now on, but it does seem likely that he will get the nod tomorrow.

It looks as if Tom Curran will make a Championship debut after making his First Class debut against Cambridge, and that is great to see. He is a great prospect and while the Easter break is in full flight, we should take advantage of his availability before he has to return to school. Known as a bowling all-rounder, he is yet to showcase any ability with the bat in the few games he has played, so it’s likely he will bat down at 9 in a rather long looking tail.

That will put a lot of pressure on the top 7 to get the bulk of the runs, but they have all shown reasonable form in pre-season. Smith comes in at the top, meaning Sibley will drop down to 3 which is no big headache to be honest, and hopefully he can continue from his last Championship performance from which he scored that memorable double hundred. Solanki continues to not be available with private family issues, which means an injury or two early on would create some problems for new coach Graham Ford.

Jade Dernbach misses out after being made to rest by the ECB after the ICC World T20, and even though I don’t think he would have been selected even if he was available, he will be a key player for us this year, as he needs to prove his many doubters wrong.

Overall it looks positive heading into the opening game tomorrow as Surrey embark on a new era under Ford. Question marks do remain in some areas though, with Smith’s form for South Africa earlier this year worrying to say the least, and as already mentioned Tremlett’s lack of pace and hunger currently. But I believe that this season will be far better than last’s (well, it couldn’t get much worse!) and if the youngsters are given a decent chance to showcase their ability, we will be in a fine place come the end of the campaign.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Dominic Sibley: Record Breaker

At the age of just 18 years and 21 days, Ashtead CC opener and still-schoolboy Dominic Sibley has broken all sorts of records on his way to an unbeaten 220 on a remarkable day at the KIA Oval.

Starting the morning unbeaten on 81, after Surrey’s highest opening partnership of the season between him and Rory Burns (82) yesterday, Sibley, understandably nervous, took almost 100 minutes of the opening session to register the 19 runs he needed to become Surrey’s youngest ever centurion in First Class cricket. But when the moment finally happened, a full toss from former England spinner Adil Rashid in which he swept to the deep backward square boundary, emotions of the highest order exploded out of the young man’s body as he realised what he had done.

What is most impressive though is that not once did he lose concentration, or if he did he did well to hide it, immediately focussing back on his job by hitting Rashid for another boundary the ball after he went to his ton. He was batting at the time with the world’s number 1 Test and ODI batsmen Hashim Amla after nightwatchman Tim Linley had been dismissed, which is a distant dream of most 18 year old’s who aspire to play First Class cricket. Amla was determined to catch Sibley up, with the pair putting on 236 for the 3rd wicket; a record against Yorkshire. Despite Sibley being on 85 when the South African walked to the crease, he only just managed to reach his 150 before his partner, who did it remarkably quicker than the 18 year old. It was Amla’s first century for Surrey after previously recording 4 half centuries, and he raced to 150 off just 151 balls compared to Sibley’s 394.

Amla fell for 151 and because of Sibley he will hardly get a look in in tomorrow’s press, but don’t underestimate the impact he most likely had on Sibley’s innings today. Sibley remained at the same tempo as he had done for the previous day and a half, determined to make a double hundred, whilst Vikram Solanki played as fluent as ever. He blasted 51 off 54 balls with 3 sixes, before he was caught on the fence looking to pass 1000 Championship runs in the season with a six, meaning he fell just 5 runs short of the feat.

Sibley kept going and moved more fluently than he had done earlier in the day to reach his 100 and when he danced down the track to Kane Williamson and hit him through the leg side for 4 when on 199, he created all sorts of records for himself. He has become the youngest batsmen to hit a double century in the County Championship since its inception in 1890. He is the second youngest batsmen to hit a double century in First Class cricket in England after the little known WG Grace. And he is also the 13th youngest batsmen in the history of the game to hit a double century in First Class cricket.

Just let those records sink in for a moment. Records for a boy who was only playing because Whitgift School gave him permission to miss four days of his A-Levels. Imagine when he goes back and all his mates ask him, “Dom, why were you not here this week?” and he can give them the answer that anyone would dream of. But no doubt they will all know of his wonderful achievement, as it has quite rightly been plastered all over media outlets across the web and most likely tomorrow’s newspapers.

I first became aware of Sibley when he was just 15, as he hit a double hundred for Ashtead in the Surrey Premier League against bowlers such as Jimmy Ormond. It was obvious he had an incredible talent, and he hit yet another double hundred for the Surrey academy last year, showing that when he bats big, he certainly bats big!

He played for the England Under 19’s earlier this year, hitting a century in one of the games, but a deep cut in his leg suffered on his YB40 debut kept him out of the Under 19 games against Pakistan this summer that he surely would have played in. He only made his First Class debut a couple of weeks ago, just after he turned 18, scoring 12 and 10 against Somerset before registering a duck at Edgbaston last week.

No one would have seen an innings of this magnitude coming so soon and with Surrey 572-4, a lead of 138, he will most likely try and add to his 220* tomorrow morning and try and add to the 9 hours and 41 minutes that he has spent at the crease.

All that is left to say is, Dom Sibley: remember the name.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Bears victory confirms Surrey's relegation

After giving Warwickshire a generous target on the final day, the inevitable has finally happened as Surrey have been beaten and therefore relegated to Division Two of the County Championship.

Two wickets last night kept us in the game, but our inability to produce the goods when opportunities arise has once again condemned us to defeat and a place in the bottom two of Division One. We could only manage 2 more wickets today, as a century from Ateeq Javid and half century from Chris Woakes meant that the hosts won the game by 6 wickets.

When Rikki Clarke played on to Tim Linley, after Stuart Meaker had earlier had Laurie Evans caught, with the score on 126-4, there was still a big chance that we could force home the victory that we needed desperately. But, as I’ve said, we failed to take any chances we’ve had. The pitch was still good to bat on today, but to only claim 2 further wickets is a poor showing, especially as a couple more would have got us into a rather long tail with Jeetan Patel at number 8.

However, that wasn’t to be and to be honest, we do deserve to go down. We haven’t been good enough when it matters this season and have had far too many disastrous sessions, which, in Division One cricket, you will struggle to get away with. The batting has failed all too often, with plenty of innings where not one batsman took on the mantle and scored big. Our bowling attack looks good on paper, but realistically in 4 day cricket it isn’t as potent as many think. Tremlett has been poor, Meaker missed most of the season due to inury, Linley has done what Linley does well but nothing too dramatic and Jade has been really inconsistent when selected.

So, where do we go from here? I will discuss this in more detail when I do an end of season review, but I might as well touch on it now. Many think that Division Two will do us good as it will allow us to play our youngsters, the likes of Sibley, Curran, Edwards, Dunn etc in an environment which doesn’t have the pressure of relegation. It will hopefully allow them to learn more about their own game, develop it and become better cricketers in the long term, rather than having that pressure constantly on their backs every time they step on the field.

I believe this squad is undoubtedly better than when we last went down in 2008, but there is a lot to be worked on. The opening partnership between Burns and Smith didn’t last long this year and Burns and Harinath personally faded away quite considerably towards the end of the year after good starts for them both. I would still stick with Burns at the top, but Harinath is one who has been given plenty of chances over the last few years, so I do wonder what will happen with him.

It was announced today that Zander de Bruyn has been released, so even though he didn’t perform this season, he needs to be replaced as well as bringing in at least two more batsmen/batting all-rounders to bolster that side of the game. That does of course come down to whether Jason Roy stays at the club. I personally would give him chance at number 5 or 6 in Division Two and allow him to learn how to play 4 day cricket, because he has the talent without question.

It was also announced today that Chris Tremlett and Gareth Batty had been given 1 and 2 year contract extensions respectively. That was a surprise to me to be honest, as both have been poor this season and I would much rather see our young bowlers be given a go ahead of them both when it comes to Division Two cricket and trying to rebuild a squad. Graeme Smith looks like he will be available for most of the 2014 season, so Batty won’t be needed as captain as much, meaning his place in the side won’t be definite anyway.

There are lots of things to discuss and as I said, I will do so more in a couple of weeks or so. But, the bottom line of it is that, despite the fight and commitment put in by the squad, we just weren’t up to the standard of Division One cricket.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Solanki and Davies give Surrey a sniff

It has taken until the 15th game of a long LV County Championship season for Surrey to put in a dominant batting performance, to give themselves a slight chance of pulling off one of the greatest relegation escapes of recent time.

Going into the game we knew that we had to win at all costs or we were (not mathematically) down and after the first day was decimated due to the weather, a sumptuous century from Vikram Solanki has given us a slim chance of pulling off an unlikely victory.

A wet outfield delayed the start of play even more and with us continuing on a precarious 59-2, Solanki and Amla had to bat positively once play got underway at 12:40. Bat positively is exactly what they did, as they built a superb 166 run partnership in just over 40 overs together to take us towards our first batting point in a couple of matches. The pair couldn’t quite see us through to 200, as Amla yet again fell short of a century, flashing at a Barker delivery when on 77.

Davies joined Solanki and once he got himself in, he began to play an array of shots that we have been accustomed with since his arrival from Worcestershire in 2010. It was clear that the target was to get as many batting points as we could before pulling the plug, and just after collecting our first, Solanki brought up his century in 155 balls.

The pair started to kick on even further but still batted sensibly, as Davies moved past his half century and Solanki quickly reached 150 for the first time in a Surrey shirt. 300 was soon 350 as we picked up a 4th batting point and Davies was in full flow, racing towards his second Championship century of the summer. However, with the partnership on 182 and Davies unbeaten on 99, Solanki was bowled for by Chris Woakes for 162. Davies’ century came up in the next over, off just 135 balls with 14 boundaries, and it was great to see him back to his best.

He was out next ball but he had already done a great job and Zafar Ansari and Gary Wilson got together to hit the remaining runs needed for maximum batting points, as we closed on 400-5.

I fully expect a declaration first thing tomorrow morning to give us a chance of bowling Warwickshire out twice, but the weather forecast isn’t the best, so it might be more like the afternoon than the morning. That could prevent us from pulling off the unlikely, but at least we have given ourselves a chance of doing it and let’s hope our bowlers can motivate themselves and put in a strong performance. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Another must win awaits at Edgbaston

Any sane person would say that Surrey’s Division One status is gone now, but I am still holding onto the slim hope that if we can somehow collect two big victories in our final two games we can stay up.

In all seriousness, I do agree with the majority that it does look very unlikely, but let’s not give the players an easy way out. They have put us in this position, not down to lack of quality in most cases, but down to periods of brainless cricket, lapses in concentration and failure to take control of opportunities that arise. It is their responsibility to put in their upmost to pull us out of the desperate position we find ourselves in, right until we our officially relegated to the second tier.

The first of the two sides we must beat is current champions Warwickshire at their home ground of Edgbaston and the same 14 man squad which was named for Taunton last week has been named today.

Here is the squad and predicted line up:

Rory Burns
Dom Sibley
Hashim Amla
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Steve Davies (WK)
Gary Wilson
Gareth Batty (C)
Tim Linley
Chris Tremlett
Jade Dernbach

Zafar Ansari
Stuart Meaker
Gary Keedy

That might be what I think the team will be, but isn’t exactly what I would go with. The top 3 would be same, despite either of them scoring a big score at the start of an innings of late. I’ve spoken so much about Zander de Bruyn over the season that I think I will be wasting my breath banging on about him again, because you know my opinion on him. I would go with Solanki 5, Wilson 6, Davies 7. Some would say that 7 is too low for Davies, but he has struggled for runs in this format for a good few months now and is far too inconsistent at the current time to be in the top 5 or 6.

Some of you may have noticed I have missed out number 4 and I would give that role to Zafar Ansari. You can argue that he hasn’t posted any score of note at all this season, so why does he deserve a place in the top 4 of our championship side? Well, whenever he has come in at number 7 we have always been in some sort of crisis. He then turns into ultra-block mode, doesn’t try to score runs and then gets out when batting with the tail. There has been lots of talk about Zafar on how much potential he has, with Chris Adams saying he will be captain of Surrey one day, but he is yet to make a big contribution, like a century or taking a 5 wicket haul. There is undoubted talent there but we are yet to really see it in the 4 day game apart from a couple of innings opening last season, so he should be given the chance up the order to prove to the fans what he can do.

When it comes to the makeup of the rest of the side, I would consider dropping Batty as he doesn’t offer much apart from captaincy at the moment, being very reluctant to bowl himself at Taunton last week. If he didn’t play however, that would leave our tail very long with Meaker at 8, even if he did find some form with the bat last week, but even he has been understandably rusty in the games that he has been back.

Anyway, it’s probably too late to be discussing team selections as the damage has already been done this season. I will always hold hope with Surrey, and we have proved miracles over the last couple of seasons, but I have to admit it looks a far tougher task than 2012.