2007 in a nutshell:
There was disappointment for the Gladiators in the County Championship as the club finished a measly seventh in Division Two, mainly because of some inept batting displays. They narrowly survived in Pro40 Division 1 to avoid being condemned to the second division in both formats. Gloucestershire were unfortunate to miss out on the semi-finals of the Friends Provident Trophy, courtesy of net run rate, as Essex made it through instead. The only real success of the season came in the Twenty20 Cup for the Gladiators, as they made it all the way to finals day, where they eventually finished as runners-up to Kent.
It is difficult to see how it can really get any better for Gloucestershire this year. Marcus North has been brought in to strengthen the batting line up along with William Porterfield. Both are still looking to establish themselves in the English county game, with North having flattered to deceive on previous visits to these shores. Apart from those two additions there have been no real changes, other than on the coaching side, where Mark Alleyne has yet to be replaced. It is hard to see the club getting near the promotion slots in the County Championship, with sixth place a more realistic finish, but there is a strong possibility that the side will again be dangerous in limited overs cricket, especially during the early stages of the season, when seam and not spin should dominate.
Veteran and beneficiary Craig Spearman will be joined by William Porterfield at the top of the order and with the likes of Hamish Marshall (registration permitting), Marcus North, Alex Gidman and Chris Taylor to follow, the team should be capable of putting solid totals on the board, especially in limited overs cricket, where Stephen Adshead, David Brown and Mark Hardinges can all contribute quick lower order runs. Kadeer Ali and Grant Hodnett will likely spend the majority of the season on the sidelines, form permitting, although Ali will likely feature more in limited overs cricket.
In Jon Lewis and Steve Kirby, Gloucestershire have an excellent new ball bowling attack, more than capable of exploiting the sometimes moist pitches of Bristol, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Anthony Ireland is a very capable accomplice who has impressed for Zimbabwe in International Cricket prior to his decision to leave the country, but he has yet to excel in county cricket. Mark Hardinges and Alex Gidman offer gentle medium pace which will be used more in limited overs cricket. On the spinning front the club will once again rely on Ian Fisher, who will be supported by part timers Marcus North and Chris Taylor. This is the county’s greatest weakness though and they will be hoping that slow left arm bowler, Vikram Banerjee, can overcome a rather disappointing 2007 to emerge as a possible threat to Monty Panesar. The nomadic Carl Greenidge is again likely to be disappointed by his lack of action.
On the face of it Gloucestershire appear to have a reasonably strong top five and opening bowling partnership. However there are a lot of nearly men lurking in this side (Spearman, North, Taylor, Kirby) and they will all need to perform consistently if the club is to challenge for honours. Jon Lewis and Alex Gidman will both be looking for further England recognition and if they get it they will be impossible to replace, as the squad is littered with average players. The spin bowling slot is up for grabs and certain games could see the Gladiators competing without one, especially early doors, where the allround talents of Mark Hardinges may be favoured, especially in limited overs games. Chris Taylor starts as favourite for the final batting slot but the youngsters will be pushing him hard for his place, so he needs to start the season well, while the young David Brown will be looking to develop his swing bowling and build on a belligerent fifty, made on his debut in 2006.
It comes down to two players I think (Three if Marshall turns out). The first is captain Jon Lewis who is the only Gloucestershire player to have been given full England honours in the past decade. The county will rely heavily on his bowling and tactical nous if they are to enjoy a successful campaign. The second, and my pick, is Alex Gidman, a dangerous player, who is on the verge of England selection. He is a powerful player, whose allround contribution will prove decisive on many occasions for Gloucestershire this year.
One could be hard to find, which is part of the problem at Gloucestershire. Thomas Stayt is the only young Englishman capable of making a breakthrough this year, but it is far more likely that one of William Porterfield or Anthony Ireland will make the big impact required of a rising star. Ireland has struggled with his economy rate so far, so I am going to go for William Porterfield, who the county will rely on to fill the troublesome opening birth alongside Craig Spearman. If he performs as well for the Gladiators as he has for Ireland then the county could find themselves with a very good player indeed.
Captain and Coach:
Currently there is no news on who the new coach will be, which is hardly an ideal situation to be in, just a fortnight away from the new season. Somebody will need to step into the breach if the club is not to endure another season of misguided stagnation. Jon Lewis is a capable, if not spectacular captain and an excellent talisman for the club. England’s neglect of him is Gloucestershire’s gain and the opening swing bowler will give his all to the cause and try to instil some more mental toughness into his team mates.