Thursday, June 6, Sur v War, all day
A suitably festive atmosphere at Woodbridge Road. So much so that chat and beer seemed of more consequence than the cricket. Chat, beer and nostalgia, as David Frith was signing a book about the history of the Guildford club. Nostalgia usually operates at a distance, of course, after a necessary interval of time; it would get too close for comfort, however, for two of the Surrey coaching staff soon after this fixture. This was to be the last home match that Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury would oversee.
Proximity is one of the great boons of festival cricket. The players are nearer to the crowd both on and off the field. I decided to loiter next to the pavilion – a reminder of younger days when I’d press the autograph book on Hampshire stalwarts of the late 1980s. Chris Adams was interviewed by a local hack; yet the rum bunch of Surrey diehards (I’m keen, but not catastrophically so) in front me knew about Glenn Maxwell and JP Duminy well before their arrivals were announced in the media. Tim Linley, surplus to requirements again, sat nearby, and simply his bearing reinforced one’s impression that he’s a good egg. Jon Lewis, likewise. He had made way the player returning from international duty after this county game had started: a Jade Dernbach chastened by the Black Caps. Dernbach’s frustrations, largely retrospective one imagines, came out with two petulant throws of balls blocked off his bowling back to the keeper. For all his eagerness to impress – commendably, he appeared first after tea to limber up again – it looked tetchy and peevish.
I couldn’t help but earwig a lengthy conversation between Salisbury and one of the many besuited veterans emerging with post-prandial frankness from the hospitality tents. It was Pat Pocock and I was privy to the unexpurgated version of the thoughts he gave later that week to BBC London about the quality, or otherwise, of spin bowling in England. It was a serious indictment of the coaching set-up, he felt, that we had only two Test-class spinners in the country. Youngsters are emerging, but getting lost in the T20 badlands, where the two key elements of the art, rhythm and wrist position, have gone for a burton. It occurred to me that the problem with the second of those international bowlers, Monty Panesar, is that he has an excess of (one-paced) rhythm and not enough variety in his wrist position.
Everyone knows that spinners are like fine wines; that they take years to mature. The problem today is that many are discarded like flat alcopops after a few sketchy Friday nights – or asked to bowl flat on those Friday nights, but not given air-time in the four-day game. It was interesting that The Cricketer magazine had a feature about just this very issue in its next edition following this game. Coincidence, of course, but a telling one. Take as an example Chris Schofield, rediscovered as a T20 bowler by Surrey but jettisoned at the end of 2011. He is still only 34 years old. He could now be in his prime. Or is that fanciful thinking?
Pocock’s solution takes time. It involves hours and hours of bowling and hours and hours of talking about bowling. His beef with today’s coaches is that they don’t make enough use of the grey hairs who are still around the fringes of the game (especially on days like these) and know whereof they speak. It was noteworthy in view of what has happened since – not only at Surrey but with the Aussies, too – that Pocock and Salisbury essentially represented the old and the new schools of coaching. Salisbury seemed reluctant to tell young players home truths, to expose them to opinions other than those of their approved, accredited coaches, for fear of putting their noses out of joint or undermining their confidence. Clearly, all players respond in their own ways, but this smacked of kid gloves. Shouldn’t every cricketer want to talk a little about cricket and how they might improve? Pocock seemed to be the voice of common sense, but maybe I’m getting old.
As for this match, Keith Barker, in his first championship game of the season, reached a rollicking century at No 8 for Warwickshire, and went on to hit his highest first-class score. We waited and waited and waited for the declaration. All us RickyWatchers had to go on was Ponting’s running onto the field, and even that showed dedication and verve. He evidently has to cross the rope last, but reach the middle first. Eventually, Jason Roy brought the innings to the close with three filthy wickets. Then we waited and waited and finally gave up on Surrey losing a wicket or two before the close. All in the hope of seeing Ponting bat. To be fair, Burns and Harinath were both busy and watchful, seeing off the lolloping left-arm swing of Barker and Wright’s surprisingly whippy right-arm seam. As I left, five overs before the end, Stuart Meaker was padded up as nightwatchman. An insult to every party.
Postscript: So, did Adams and Salisbury deserve the boot? Michael Vaughan was quick to tweet that this was cricket’s first football-style managerial sacking. Hard to argue with that. Promotion from Division Two and that one-day trophy won in 2011 are the obvious credits. Before the death of Tom Maynard, Surrey’s results in 2012 were so-so. One championship win from seven played, with three losses and three draws. Not good enough. Four out of four wins in the 40-over competition; two wins, one loss from three T20 games. Surrey were what their personnel suggested: a talented limited-overs squad with not much clue in the four-day game. In the latter format, I’m not convinced Adams ever knew his best side, as my previous mention of Surrey’s multiple opening bats suggested. He tried to fix the opener problem with Smith. Whether he was unlucky or plain gullible over that injury situation we may never know. The team has always done well with an attacking spinner. Having signed Smith as the overseas pro, his spin import was Gary Keedy. No real joy there. And among the seamers, there is no attack leader – Jade Dernbach, maybe, in one-day cricket, certainly not in the championship.
The issue about not developing young players is not clearcut. Adams leaned too far in that direction in 2011-12, and overcompensated at the start of this season. Some of Surrey’s boy-men have to consider whether they have made a strong enough case for themselves. Old saws at the Oval tell me Adams wasn’t interested in players outside the 1st XI and seldom watched 2nd team games. They question the rigour of the coaching and the drills (too much five-a-side footy) and the chain of command. Roles and responsibilities among the staff need to be properly defined and the appropriate framework chosen, they say. Envious eyes are cast towards Middlesex. Smith has two years to run on his contract. Gary Kirsten anyone?
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