Monday, 26 June 2006

Remember me?

With England currently experiencing an injury crisis like no other in recent years can the seemingly forgotten Chris Tremlett of Hampshire County Cricket Club shake off a string of injuries and stake a claim for a regular place in the England team?

Standing at 6foot 7inches tall, Tremlett has the ideal natural attributes for a fast bowler. Although not of the pace of Stephen Harmison, the son of Hampshire director and former county seamer Tim Tremlett and grandson of Somerset and England player Maurice Tremlett, shares much in common with the Durham pace bowler.

Like Harmison, Tremlett has the height and action to trouble the world’s best, but also like Harmison, his aggression levels are not always there, something which held Tremlett back until his breakthrough season in 2005 when he was thrust into the England One Day International side for the Natwest Series against both Australia and Bangladesh. In his three limited overs appearances thus far Tremlett has averaged 22.20 with the ball and has struck every 29.20 deliveries with an economy rate of 4.56. Such figures are incidentally almost identical to his figures in List A cricket.

Having joined a select few players in taking a wicket with his first ball on first class debut against New Zealand A in 2000, Tremlett ended with match figures of 4 for 16, most impressive indeed. He went on to gradually progress in Hampshire’s team and also through the England U19 ranks. Then in 2004, after a fruitful start to the season, Tremlett was named in the preliminary England squad for the ICC Champions Trophy on home soil.

Although he failed to make an appearance during England’s most successful One Day International campaign in recent years, he was at the beginning of 2005 named in the 25 man England development squad.

Given his chance against Bangladesh later that summer in the Natwest Series, Tremlett impressed and was famously denied a hat trick when bowling to Mohammad Ashraful. The perfect ball to an incoming batsman caught an inside edge and landed plum centre on the top of the bails above middle stump. The ball ricocheted off with the bails failing to be removed though. However Tremlett had done enough to suggest that he could go on to be an international bowler of some class and he was to play two more One Day Internationals against Australia and Bangladesh respectively until Simon Jones returned from injury to rightfully take his place in the Ashes winning side.

Having been named as 12th man for the first four Ashes encounters, when Jones was struck down by injury during the fourth Test at Trent Bridge it was somewhat ironic that James Anderson, a veteran of many a Test match as 12th man, to the detriment of his promising career, was called up in place of Tremlett to be considered along with Paul Collingwood for the deciding rubber.

Tremlett went on to finish the season with Hampshire playing a role in the C&G Trophy winning campaign and helping his county to second spot in the County Championship Division One, after a dubious arranged declaration from David Fulton’s Kent. Plagued by a slight discomfort throughout the backend of the season Tremlett did not enjoy the same kind of form as he had done at the start of the year though. Nevertheless his performances over the season were deemed promising enough by England’s selectors to merit a place in the squad to tour Pakistan during the winter.

Unfortunately for Tremlett though, the discomfort in his hamstring, which he had been taking cortisone injections to negate, turned out to be more serious than initially believed and he was ruled out of that tour to Pakistan as well as the later tour of India. Then at the start of the current domestic season Tremlett was again ruled out by yet further set backs in his recovery from surgery, crucially breaking down in the County Championship game against Sussex.

Only recently returned to full fitness, Tremlett is still finding his rhythm and form, having had some inconsistent spells of bowling since his comeback. He has still managed to average 25.53 with the ball though in the County Championship, taking 15 wickets with best figures of 4 for 43. Such figures compare with his career average of 26.40 and strike rate of 47.68. On his one appearance in the C&G Trophy against Ireland he returned figures of 1 for 39 from ten overs.

The Hampshire bowler has gradually been improving and now that the most un-fast bowler friendly game in cricket is over for Hampshire for another year, he can focus on his County Championship and Pro 40 performances over the coming weeks and months. If he can once again show his early season form of 2004 and 2005 then Chris Tremlett must surely travel to Australia in November to provide able cover for England’s injury prone bowling unit. If he is to break into the England team and sustain his place however, he will have to demonstrate more aggression when facing the opposition.

Whilst England’s bowlers continue to go round on the injury merry-go-round though, the latest victim being Liam Plunkett, it is encouraging to know that there are players out there of the ability of Chris Tremlett who are eagerly awaiting their next appearance for England. With the latest injury to the talismanic Freddie Flintoff set to rule him out of the current Test match series against Pakistan as well as the upcoming One Day Internationals and the experiments with Sajid Mahmood and Kabir Ali seemingly failed for the time being, Tremlett may yet get the chance to impress upon us all his undoubted ability to be a quality international bowler sooner rather than later, along with the returning James Anderson.

Chris Pallett

Thursday, 22 June 2006

'Freak' or Unique?

An old favourite answers the call at Gloucestershire CCC, reports Colin Crew

For a county which has fielded such world-class stars as Mike Procter and Courtney Walsh, the impact made by overseas signings at Gloucestershire in more recent years has been disappointing to say the least. The likes of Shabbir Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Upul Chandana have failed to live up to billing and the appearances of Nathan Bracken, James Franklin and Ramnaresh Sarwan have been so brief as to barely warrant mention. Even the rampaging Mike Hussey failed to reproduce his Northants form during his brief stint and the one notable exception, Jonty Rhodes, could not be persuaded to stay on and add to the five tons and 1,293 runs he collected during 2003.

But for five years spanning the turn of the century, Gloucestershire benefited enormously from the street smart cricket of Australian Ian Harvey and now, admittedly through accident rather than intention, they seem set to do so again during the whole of the 2006 season. Affectionately dubbed ‘The Freak’, few players without Test Match experience can ever have had such a galvanising effect on a county side, with ‘Harv’ arguably proving the most vital cog in a well-oiled one day cricketing machine which claimed no less than seven trophies in five years, ending a twenty two year wait for silverware in dramatic style.

The dual signing of Kiwi pair Hamish Marshall and Shane Bond, both available for the majority of the 2006 English domestic season, looked good enough on paper. But even the least cynical of the Nevil Road faithful would not have been rushing to the bookies to put their money on Bond being the County’s top wicket taker come September and sure enough, yet another injury prevented the New Zealand quickie taking up his post in May.

The smarter signing from the start might well have been the ever improving and previously employed Franklin, an opening bowler now boasting both a Test century and a first class double ton. But with the left armer Glamorgan-bound, into the breach has stepped the flamboyant Harvey. Originally intended to be a short term signing until the arrival of the two ‘Black Caps’, 350 runs, two hundreds and 12 cheap wickets in five games suggests that even at 34, the Victorian all-rounder should be a more than adequate replacement.

To describe Harvey as unconventional would probably not do justice to either the man or the adjective. A formidable force with both bat and ball in all forms of the game, he has also elevated the one day game into almost a science. If the occasion dictates, Harvey, the only man so far to make three hundreds in Twenty20 cricket in England, strikes the ball as cleanly and as far as almost anyone. But he also abhors the ‘dot ball’ and employing well timed sweeps and lofted drives, he manufactures at least one run off almost every delivery he faces.

The modern style of attacking one day cricket practically dictates that successful seam bowlers must be able to produce a well disguised slower ball, but Harvey has a veritable collection; off breaks, yorkers and even ‘back of the hand’ stuff. There have been few better bowlers in the ‘death’ overs in recent times, with Harvey consistently managing both wickets and economy on the biggest of stages.

Harvey’s perceived ‘defection’ to Yorkshire prior to the 2004 season was surely felt more keenly at Gloucestershire than any departure since the languid Jamaican Courtney Walsh boarded a plane to Kingston for the final time in 1998. But a few more swashbuckling centuries and productive first change spells will no doubt bring about forgiveness and as ‘Hurricane Harvey’ careered towards yet another one day century against Surrey on Sunday off just 80 deliveries, doubtless the watching Gloucestershire fans were left wishing he had never been away.

It is hard to imagine that a side containing Harvey would have surrendered its First Division status in both competitions so meekly as Gloucestershire did in 2005 and although it would be a great deal to expect for him to inspire the Glosters to such heights as they achieved during his first stay, Ian Harvey’s place in West Country cricketing folklore is already assured. Freakish only in that such all round talents belong to one man, a match winner with both bat and ball such as Harvey will be tough to replace.