Sunday, 5 October 2008

Plunkett to become a Pear?

Since writing in a previous article that Worcestershire need to sign a quality fast bowler to partner Simon Jones and Kabir Ali for the club’s bid to stay up in Division One, it has come to my attention that Liam Plunkett is unhappy at Durham and wants a chance to play more regular cricket to try and claim his England place back. For me, Steve Rhodes should drive up to Durham himself and get the boy signed.

Despite not playing much (seven championship games) he still managed to hit two fifties down the order, and took 16 wickets at 32.5. Whilst this average would not scare most Division One batsman, he was in and out of the side and is likely to face competition once again from Harmison, Onions, Davies and whoever else the champions sign.

Often much maligned as an England cricketer, he did show potential in his handful of showings for his country. One of Duncan Fletchers “bits and pieces” players, he played for England’s ODI team in their worst run in history, and despite this still took 37 wickets in 27 matches.

Still only 23, Plunkett has massive potential, and if he needs first team cricket to realise this then there is no reason at all why this shouldn’t be at New Road.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Worcestershire Season Review

Final placings: (My Prediction)
Championship Division Two – 2nd; (2nd)
FP Trophy – 3rd, South West Conference; (Group Stage)
Twenty20 Cup – 5th, Mid/West/Wales Division; (Group Stage)
Pro40 Division One – 7th (4th)

Worcestershire began the 2008 season with high hopes of regaining their division one status in the county championship, as well as cementing their place as one the most consistent one day teams in the country. Boosted by high profile winter signing Simon Jones, as well as the promise of young talents such as Darryl Mitchell, Stephen Moore and Steve Davies being nurtured by the more mature Kabir, Hick and Smith it looked as though the season held real promise.

At the beginning of the campaign Worcestershire found themselves with an Aussie leading the attack, as surprisingly Simon Jones was injured! Steve Magoffin came with a good pedigree from Western Australia, and was filling in for the internationally committed Fidel Edwards. Magoffin bowled manfully, for long spells throughout the start of the season and when he left mid season it was with a respectable 23 wickets at 32. However, the real early season column inches were being filled by the other two seamers, Kabir and Simon Jones. It was almost a certainty that one or the other would take a five wicket haul every innings, and before injury curtailed Jones’ season he had taken a staggering 42 wickets at just 18.

The other star performer of the early season was Stephen Moore. The first man to reach 500 championship runs (in a really poor season for batsmen all over the country) Moore finished the season with 1288 first class runs at 54 with 5 hundreds. He finally signed a new deal with the club during the season and is now firmly established as one of the finest openers in the country.

As well as Worcestershire’s solid start to the championship campaign there was a more than reasonable attempt at the Friends Provident Trophy. Although the value of this trophy seems to be rated higher than the Pro40 league, it is unlikely that any Worcestershire player would complain too strongly if this early season farce was scrapped. With too many games affected by the weather, this is simply a distraction and a further congestant to the fixture calendar that the players don’t need. With too many dead overs in the middle the game lasts too long and doesn’t make for attractive viewing.

In terms of other domestic one day competitions Worcestershire failed to deceive again in the T20 cup, and despite possessing such potential stars as Solanki, Hick and Ali Worcestershire just can’t seem to get to grips with twenty over cricket. Again, Hick was the clubs highest run scorer in the competition and this is just one area in which the club will struggle to replace the great man.

Strangely, although having to contest a place in the end of season play off in the Pro40, this was probably the clubs most successful one day competition. It certainly was for one young man, who after an impressive season in championship cricket (698 runs at 38) had a blistering finish to the season in the Pro40. Steve Davies scored 491 runs at 82 in Pro40 and if another good season follows next year an England call up surely cant be too far away.

However, despite all of the seemingly endless one day games Worcestershire marched on in the championship and in an amazing spell won four out of five championship matches, three by ten wickets and the other by an innings. This really was the spell when promotion was clinched for the club.

Eventually the club stumbled over the line, hampered by injuries to key players (including, unsurprisingly Jones) and eventually lost the title to rivals Warwickshire.

Funnily enough, this was not the biggest event of the final few weeks of the season. A fairly innocuous 14 made at Kidderminster, ironically the ground where he first came into English cricket, saw the end of the greatest career in the modern game. Graeme Ashley Hick was forced to retire before the end of the season and there is nothing to said really apart from thanks Graeme, and enjoy your retirement because we have certainly enjoyed watching you over the last twenty-odd years. A staggering 64000 runs in all cricket make him the highest run scorer ever, and although he is humble about his achievements now – that is the way of the man – I am sure one day he will look back and allow his chest to swell just a little with pride about his career at New Road.

So, to the future. Who replaces the great man, and who do Worcestershire need to bring in to survive in the now ultra competitive division one. The batting has looked vulnerable, and Moore will need a couple of new recruits around him to take the pressure off. Spin bowling has been lacking as Gareth Batty’s powers have waned over the last couple of years and the seam department still looks light on the ground, especially with the possibility of Simon Jones breaking down at any moment.

Player of the season:
Tough to choose between Kabir (59 wickets @ 18.74) or Moore (1288 runs @ 53.66). The fact that Moore carried the batting on his own on more than one occasion gives him the edge.

Most disappointing player:
Fidel Edwards for not turning up would be the easiest to say, but probably Gareth Batty. 393 runs @ 28 and 25 wickets @ 38 makes pretty poor reading and this is possibly an area for Steve Rhodes to look at. However, he has been bowling on a soggy New Road pitch and may profit from drier grounds such as Hove, Trent Bridge and Taunton.

Back to back 10 wicket wins in the middle of that purple patch in July confirmed the club were headed for promotion.

Difficult to pick one on the playing side, but it would probably be the retirement of the greatest Worcestershire batsman ever. However the club choose to honour him will be fitting, but not only is he one of the greatest cricketers of the modern era, he is a terrific human being, too. A sad loss to our game.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Don't Blame Patto

So, Darren Pattinson’s selection last week turned out not only to be a controversial one, but ultimately a fairly unsuccessful one, too.

However, do not make the man a scapegoat for what was a terribly under par performance by the whole England team. All he has done is run in and take wickets for Notts, and it is surely the England selectors who should shoulder the blame.

What happens next is an interesting one, though. Many commentators have speculated that England now have a duty to nurture the bowler so that he is not left as one cap wonder, but surely this would further infuriate genuine test match prospects such as Hoggard, Harmison, Onions, Bresnan, Tremlett and Jones.

As for the immediate future, England have a lot of decisions to make before the 3rd test starts at Edgbaston. Many point towards the bowling as being toothless and lacking a cutting edge, but the batting has hardly been up to standard either. For me, there are only Pietersen, Bell, Flintoff and Anderson who deserve their place for the next test.

I have not included Stuart Broad in that short list, and that will probably raise some eyebrows. However, his bowling average is going up as quick as his batting and this is no good for a bowler. I believe he needs time to go and work on his game in the county circuit to prepare himself for the Aussies.

As for the batsmen, the Ambrose experiment has not worked, and it is time to bring back a keeper who could bat at six, Matt Prior. Granted he shelled a few out in Sri Lanka, but Adam Gilchrist was never perfect with the gloves – and he had quite a decent career.

Vaughan, Cook and Strauss have looked out of their depth for the most part against South Africa and need to get runs in the last two tests in my opinion to cement their places for the winter tours.

It will certainly be interesting what the selectors decide to do, but do not expect the wholesale changes that the situation perhaps calls for, that is not the style of the current crop of selectors.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

a bad day at the office, preceded by a strange declaration

Two days since my last blog, and in that time Worcestershire let slip a perfect opportunity to win the first game of the season against the Bears, and then slipped to a crushing defeat at the hands of that canny one day team, Gloucestershire.

On day three of the championship game against Warwickshire, the Pears pushed home their advantage, with Solanki and Hick’s centuries adding to Moore’s ton in the first innings to give Worcestershire a seemingly unassailable lead. However, for some inexplicable reason, Solanki waited and waited to declare, leaving his bowlers just 16 overs at the end of the day, with a lead of nearly 500. With the weather forecast pointing towards showers on the last day this seemed a very strange decision.

However, he seemed when, just two overs after lunch Kabir took the wicket of Luke Parker to leave Warwickshire reeling on 109-7. That, however was the last of the meaningful play, as Tony Frost dug in for a 110 ball 46, and helped by 18 (78) from Botha salvaged a draw.
The late, negative declaration from a captain who has shown in the past he is not scared to risk losing to gain a victory was a baffling decision, and hopefully this cautiousness will not transcend for the whole season.

One reason, perhaps for the negative declaration could have been that Vikram was worried about the strength of his bowling attack. Simon Jones, who didn’t take the field after the first day with a ‘sore neck’ was a big miss from the line up, and with only Kabir and Gareth Batty he knew he could rely on he could have been worried that the attacking instincts of Maddy, Westwood or Poonia could have caused trouble. However, I would say this was a far too cautious, and VIkram will have some explaining to do.

Onto Bristol for the Sunday, and there were, as expected – and required in the case of Jones – some changes from the championship team for the opening match of the Friends Provident trophy.

Worcestershire will have high hopes for this trophy this year, as they performed well in limited overs competition towards the end of last year.

The one unexpected absentee from the team sheet was Graeme Hick who, having averaged over 70 in the pro40 at the end of last season, must have been left out to rest him for more important games. If this is going to be a common trend that that will please Moeen Ali, who was given his chance. The other change was debutant Chris Whelan, the winter acquisition from Middlesex, in for Jones.

The game did not start well, the opening pair of Steven Davies and captain Solanki both being removed by Steve Kirby with the score on 20. The redhead could be pushing for England contention this summer, and early wickets in one day competitions will do him no harm at all. Moeen and Steve Moore fell soon after, and Daryll Mitchell came to the wicket to join Ben Smith, with the score on just 46. These two put on somewhat of a recovery mission, putting on 129 before Mitchell fell for a nice looking 63. This, however, signalled a collapse, the next three wickets falling for just 22, and the innings closed on 221-8, a rate of 4.5 p/over never looking like quite enough.

And so the case was proved. The Gloucs top order feasted on some distinctly average seam bowling from Worcestershire, Gareth Andrew going for 53 off 6 overs, Kabir for 48 off 7 and Magoffin, at 6 p/over being the most economical. Chris Whelan did grab a couple of wickets, but these too were expensive and Kadeer Ali (63), Hamish Marshall (57) and Craig Spearman (64*) saw the Gladiators over the winning line with 14.4 overs to spare.

It was a disappointing result for the Pears, who will be hoping that the return of Simon Jones and Matt Mason will not be too far away, as judging by this bowling attack not too many teams will fear facing Worcestershire. The batting, too, was a concern. I don’t believe chopping and changing the order really works. Mitchell proved here he is a capable batsman, and he and Solanki could do a job up the order. Steven Davies, I feel, can be more effective I the middle overs, working the ball rather than hitting for big runs at the start.

The county championship resumes for Worcestershire on Wednesday against Leicestershire, and this is a must win game for the Pears if the feel good factor of the first three days of the new season is not going to quickly ebb away, as this game is followed by a visit from Somerset Sabres next Sunday – a match that will be tough to say the least.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Moore finally dismissed, but Worcs on top

Steve Moore was dismissed for the first time this season, but he and Vikram Solanki had put on an exciting 141 to put Worcestershire firmly in command of this tie.

The day started well for the Pears, Kabir dismissing Lee Daggett – the night watchman – in his first over. Then Trott and Poonia put on 83 before Batty had Poonia caught at slip with what looked like his famed ‘doosra’. The Bears offered very little resistance after this, and their last three wickets actually fell for no runs, Gareth Andrew clearing up the tail on his county debut, finishing with 3-37.

Mitchell was once again out cheaply, but then Moore and Solanki came together. Moore, with a series of cuts and slashes behind square, and Solanki with numerous glorious drives, including one straight drive for 6, put the pressure firmly on Warwickshire. When Moore was dismissed late in the day it was only after he and the captain had led Worcestershire to a lead of 191, and surely the Royals will be looking for quick runs early on day 3 to press home this advantage.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Worcs perform as predicted on opening day

Worcestershire’s first day of the 2008 season followed just how I predicted, with an average to poor batting display built around one score of note being followed up by a very encouraging beginning with the new ball.

The day started well enough, with Daryll Mitchell and Steve Moore putting on 33, albeit very slowly. However, when Mitchell was trapped in front by Lee Daggett for 7 it was the start of somewhat of a collapse, and we soon found ourselves 83-4, Solanki, Smith and Hick all following the youngster back to the pavilion. Steven Davies offered Moore support in a cameo of 22 off 27 balls, but after he and Batty got out in successive balls it was looking ominous for the Royals.

However, Kabir offered Moore some assistance and weighed in with a typically extravagant 36 from 43 balls. In was in this partnership that Moore brought up his fifty, from 228 balls – a dogged start from the opener. As soon as Kabir got out to Ant Botha the Worcs tail offered very little resistance and the three pears were all out for 249 – typically frustratingly 1 short of the next batting point. Moore carried his bat for 109 off 253 balls – a brilliantly gritty display which could prove invaluable come the third and fourth days of this match.

However, as suggested our strength this year is in our quick bowling department, and Kabir, Magoffin and Simon Jones all picked up a wicket each as Warks finished the day precariously placed on 39-3, with cloud cover expected for the start of day two.

Warks Match Preview

Team: Mitchell, Moore, Solanki, Smith, Hick, Davies, Batty, K Ali, Andrew, Jones, Magoffin

Prospects of Play:

Day 1
Cloudy with sunny spells
Top Temp - 11
Day 2
Mainly sunny with some cloud
Top Temp - 17
Day 3
Cloudy with chance of rain later on
Top Temp - 11
Day 4
Top Temp - 13

Match Odds:
Warks: 8/11 Worcs: evens