Sunday, 6 April 2008

2008 Season Preview: Gloucs

Colin Crew assesses Gloucestershire's chances of success in 2008.

2007 in a nutshell:
2007 was a fairly predictable season for Gloucestershire with some decent performances in the one day formats, including a Twenty20 final, but limited success in the longer game. GCCC notched just 3 wins in the County Championship, only just managing to defend a fourth innings lead of 415 at home against Northants and having to wait until August for their second victory. As ever, the bowling attack was more successful when trying to contain in the one day game than bowl the opposition out over four days and Gloucestershire never looked remotely like challenging for County Championship promotion.

2008 prospects:
More of the same? Gloucestershire have some pedigree in the one dayers and know how to win tight games, so can perhaps hope for more success this season. Their form in four day cricket has fallen away further since relegation however and there has been little investment in new players in order to rectify this. In addition, many of the established players such as Craig Spearman, Jon Lewis, Steve Kirby and Chris Taylor are now in their thirties and although some of the younger batsmen have shown promise, the same can scarcely be said of the bowlers. A limited over triumph and a County Championship season spent outside lowerst echelons is probably as much as the realists amongst the Nevil Road faithful would dare to hope for.

Although no batsman made 1000 first class runs in 2007, 19 centuries from eight different players suggest that runs, at least in County Championship Division 2, should not be too hard to come by. Gloucestershire will however have to wait until the 9th April for the ECB’s deliberations over the registration of former Kiwi international and ICL ‘rebel’ Hamish Marshall. The absence of the fuzzy-haired batsman would leave a hole in the top order that even the potential deluge of runs from the bat of Marcus North would be unlikely to fill.

Three of the available batsmen, North, Spearman and Alex Gidman, will be shoo-ins when fit. With the ECB unlikely to back-track over Marshall, this will probably leave 4 or 5 batsman scrapping over 3 places in the top order. Grant Hodnett and Kadeer Ali, both now 25, could be said to have had ‘breakthrough seasons in 2007 and there is hopefully more to come from them at the top of the order. Bristol-born Chris Taylor had a better year in 2007 but with both his age and average now just over thirty, he is by no means a certain starter. The dark horse might be the newly arrived Irish international Will Porterfield and if given a chance, the young left-handed opener could prove an ideal foil for Spearman.

Of the others, David Brown’s seam bowling is a handy addition to his aggressive middle order batting. Jackson Thompson comes with a reputation as a big hitter in club cricket but is largely an unknown quantity at first class level. Steve Adshead is likely to continue with the gloves and bat in the Number 7 spot, but it will be hoped that his consistency and an average of around 30 will both improve this season; following Jack Russell into the GCCC side has been an unenviable task for Adshead. In the limited chances he has had, Stephen Snell is yet to convince that he would be a better option though.

On the evidence of the last few seasons, perhaps that should be bowler? Excluding occasional injuries and his sojourns as a mostly non-playing member of the England side, Jon Lewis has been head and shoulders above the rest of the Gloucestershire attack and has been largely unsupported in his role as the team’s main wicket taker. Kirby on his day can be a more than useful partner but it is sad to relate that one must look back quite a few years to the Lewis/Smith/Harvey triumvirate for a seam attack with real match winning potential.

As good a player as North is, an overseas bowler, or bowling all-rounder, may well have been a better signing for 2008. Only Kirby took more than 30 first class wickets in 2007.

Of the current crop of seamers, Carl Greenidge and Mark Hardinges have had variable success and are now both around thirty, whilst the younger players such as Anthony Ireland, Tom Stayt, Will Rudge and David Brown have had limited opportunities thus far. Ireland is still only 23, achieved reasonable ODI figures during his international career with Zimbabwe and will be hoping for an extended run in the side at some point. There is certainly a real need for one or more of these players to step up their game.

The spin bowling option will be provided by the two orthodox left armers, with the wily veteran Ian Fisher more likely to play a containing role in limited overs cricket whilst the youngster Vikram Banerjee hopefully continues his development in the four day matches. New signing Matthew Gitsham, a leg spinner, is something of an unknown quantity at first class level, but at 26 he has time on his side.

Probable Championship side:
Gloucestershire will again suffer from not having a true all-rounder on the staff, or a wicketkeeper who can bat at 6 or above like Chris Read or James Foster. As such, even with everyone fit, fielding a side with any real balance will be difficult. Marshall’s availability – or the probable lack of it – will shape the middle order.

It seems likely that either Hardinges, Greenidge or Ireland will fill the role of third seamer. Hardinges may get the nod as he at least offers something with the bat, which none of the other bowlers do. Without him, the tail starts to look worryingly long, although selecting a third seamer based on batting ability is an indictment in itself of the lack of quality bowlers available.

The likelihood is that Gloucestershire will start most County Championship matches with four specialist bowlers and that Gidman and North will therefore be needed to provide back up seam and spin.
Possible XI:
CM Spearman
Kadeer Ali (WTS Porterfield?)
GP Hodnett (HJH Marshall?)
MJ North
APR Gidman
CG Taylor (?)
SJ Adshead
MA Hardinges
J Lewis
SP Kirby
V Banerjee

Key Man:
It is likely to be Lewis yet again, as both captain and premier bowler. With the possible exception of Kirby, he looks to be the one bowler capable of taking enough wickets in a match to enable Gloucestershire to challenge in the four day game. Gidman will once again have a big part to play and North looks a sound bet for a thousand or more first class runs.

Rising Star(s):
A few candidates, but not perhaps an outstanding one. At 26, Gidman can no longer be considered a ‘youngster’ but one senses in him that there is talent still to be fulfilled. Will Porterfield’s success in ODIs suggests that in time he may be able to establish himself at the top of the order.

But young slow left armer Vikram Banerjee, described by his Cambridge University teammates as having "fingers like Paul Daniels", could be the one to watch later in the season if given more attacking fields and more runs to play with than he was during 2007.

Captain and Coach:
It’s been all change at Nevil Road with Mark Alleyne, employed in a coaching role for the past three seasons, ending a 22 year association with GCCC. It has to be said that his years as captain were generally more successful than those as coach, but ‘Boo Boo’ has been a fantastic servant to the County and will be missed.

Jack Russell, a true Gloucestershire hero, will take over as ‘Team Mentor’, assisting skipper Jon Lewis, although it not clear from the title or Russell’s explanation exactly what his role will be. There is also a rumour that this may be a short term appointment and that he is merely keeping a seat warm while the club attempt to entice John Bracewell back for 2009.

With new President Tony Brown and Chairman Mike Smith appointed, the GCCC backrooms are now filled with ex-players with a real sense of the clubs past success and history, but whether this can be translated to the field is another matter. Jon Lewis has recently stated that the target is to aim for promotion to Division 1 of the County Championship, but this would be a major and unexpected achievement with the current playing staff.


Chrispy said...

Like you I would be worried by the lack of a good allrounder and spinner. Banerjee didn't develop quite as was hoped last year, not helped by match circumstances and Fisher has never been an awesome threat in four day cricket, but can at least bat. Hardinges is a bit of a jack of all trades, without excelling at any, while Ireland hasn't delivered on his potential. Meanwhile Grenidge and four day cricket don't seem to mix. If Lewis and Kirby go down it will be a big problem.

Hamish Marshall is desperately needed as is a big season from Alex Gidman and Marcus North, who is yet to convince me. 6th at best and possibly a limited overs run/challenge.

Colin Crew said...

Well, at least the ECB has seen sense and GCCC, it's fans and in particular Hamish Marshall will be most grateful on this occasion.

Early signs against Derbyshire were average to good and the form North has shown with the ball suggests we may rely on his off-spin and look to use 4 seamers during the early weeks of the season, rather than picking a specialist spinner.

Just a shame the rain intervened on Saturday, although Derbyshire were by no means out of the game.