Rather than re-hash the standard pre-season forecast that can be read elsewhere, I thought that, for a change, it might be more enlightening to apply a standard business model when evaluating the team’s prospects in advance of the 2017 (although I acknowledge that for many of us we’ve already heard enough management-speak during the past winter, thank you very much)
On the pitch the strength is clearly in the seam bowling. Ball (who after last season’s exploits must be considered the no.1 bowler at the captain’s disposal), Broad (nothwithstanding the fact that he has not appeared in a winning Nottinghamshire team since 2013), Pattinson, Gurney, a slimline Fletcher (ahem…), Wood, and Hutton, are a high calibre group of bowlers, who together with the youngsters, Kitt and Blatherwick, ought to be capable of winning a substantial number of games for Nottinghamshire, as long as the wickets are not too benign. However, anyone who has watched four day cricket at Trent Bridge in recent seasons will know that this has not always been the case. I can’t be the only one who finds it amusing when certain media commentators, who clearly only visit the ‘Home of Cricket’ (© Graeme Swann) when there is international cricket being played, waffle on about ‘green seamers’ being the norm here. How many bowler friendly pitches have been prepared at Trent Bridge in the last three seasons? Not many.
The wicketkeeping berth is also well provided for. There is one last hurrah before the departure of Read (what will summers be like without him?). Riki Wessels performed better that expected, if truth be told, as his deputy last year (although it did deprive the team of its best outfielder), and we have the prospect of watching the genesis of Tom Moores hopefully lengthy Trent Bridge career. At least small children should be safe from having to view Taylor’s wicketkeeping for the forseeable future…
The team also has bags of experience in both batting and bowling, which ought to count for a lot in the coming season. Outsiders must look at the group of players available at Trent Bridge and wonder how they managed to get relegated in 2016. Of course they didn’t get to see some of the performances…
The team should also benefit from a new Head Coach. Having twice previously coached teams to County Championship wins, his record is beyond dispute. It is not intended as a slight on Mick Newell, but he’d done the job for 12 years and must have grown stale, something which I’m sure was transmitted to the players. Paul Franks, appears to have made a fine start to his coaching career and will hopefully prove to be an able assistant, supported by Ant Botha and James Pipe. Certainly, ‘The General”s commitment to the cause is beyond question.
A Masters degree is rocket science is not required to see that the batting, and in particular, positions 3-6 were the biggest source of problems in 2016. Rather worryingly, the personnel appears unchanged for 2017, so we must hope that the poor performances which were endemic last year are rectified by the players themselves, or that Root and Moores have progressed enough to replace those who under-performed. It is not unreasonable to expect that Wessels can get his career back on track after a terrible season in 2016. Hopefully, last year was just an aberration. Taylor is in the last year of his (allegedly very remunerative) contract. His performances in the second half of 2015 and during 2016 were underwhelming to say the least. We’re given to understand that he returns 10kgs lighter and more determined. We have to hope that what’s at stake for him drives him to improve his performances.
I suspect that I’m the only one who feels Michael Lumb’s best cricket, in the County Championship at least, is behind him. Similarly Greg Smith has never convinced in red ball cricket. Samit? Well, Samit’s just Samit, isn’t he?
I’ve previously written in this blog of my belief that the size of the squad is too small, and once again, nothing has been done to address this. In 2016, no First Division county had a smaller squad, and for the second winter running, no signings have been made from other counties. Long gone are the days when Nottinghamshire could be considered to be poachers of the prize talents of their rivals. In 2016, the team were actually quite fortunate with the relative paucity of injuries. How few points would have been gained had they had an injury crisis doesn’t bear thinking about. Already Mullaney’s early season injury leaves a gaping hole at the top of the order and, as it stands, Nottinghamshire appear less able that most to cope with a combination of the demands of international cricket and the number on injuries which are an inevitable consequence of the wear and tear of county cricket.
The lack of a front line spinner capable of dismissing quality batsmen, has long been an issue, and it will be again this year. Many fingers will be crossed that the seamers will be able to do most of the damage. Plus ça change…
Having such a small squad does present opportunities for young players to establish themselves. The prime candidates to do so being Moores, Root and Kitt. Obviously Jake Libby will start the season as the first choice in the opener’s berth. Equally, once again it seems that Matt Carter’s opportunities will be limited to matches away from Trent Bridge. Expect Libby to make appearances in the 50 over team for the first time, and for Luke Wood to make more appearance in this competition too.
The injection of youth also should improve the fielding of the 50 over and T20 teams. For a few years now, the Outlaws have been one of the weaker fielding sides around, a situation which has been partially masked by performances with both bat and ball. In the T20 in particular, the Outlaws have been often shown up. Fletcher, Gurney, Taylor and Lumb are all poor fielders for one reason or another. Broad, Hales and Ball are average at best. You cannot hide that many fielders in a T20 game.
The team may also benefit from the move of Alex Hales to no.4. Personally, I feel that no.5 would be better, but the move has a certain logic. Everyone is aware of his frailties outside the off-stump. Equally, everyone is also aware of his talent and ability to take a game away from the opposition. If his attitude is right, he could help to provide the missing middle order runs.
It does, for once, feel that the club have got the overseas births right for this year. The retention of Dan Christian for the T20 Blast was a no-brainer, even allowing the fact that his bowling is quite hittable at times. His power and experience are invaluable. Whilst many of us would have loved to see Imran Tahir re-appear in the T20, the fact is that he just didn’t take wickets when required in the County Championship last season. It will be interesting to see if he fares any better for Derbyshire. The recruitment of the Indian-born Kiwi, Ish Sodhi, looks a sound one. Leg spinners are very productive in this form of the game and he has a good record, taking his wickets at a low average and with a low economy rate. James Pattinson too, has the potential to be a match winner in the first half of the season. There aren’t many 90mph+ bowlers knocking around in Division Two.
On paper, Nottinghamshire look to have a good chance of bouncing back straight from Division Two. I’m not as confident of this actually happening as the bookmakers, who are offering very short odds. Nottinghamshire have a talented yet brittle squad, and international call-ups are bound to affect them more than probably any other side within the Division. Hales, although persona non grata in the Test set-up, is still a certainty for both forms of white ball cricket. Broad is in the reverse situation. Ball is on the fridge of both teams, but may yet be available for more of the season that seems apparent at the moment, if Mark Wood can stay fit and available for England.
I suspect that it was always the Nottinghamshire’s intention to play no more than two of Broad, Ball and Pattinson in any one Championship game anyway, however the ECB’s statement on player availability has effectively made the decision for them in the early games. James Pattinson’s fitness record is not great, so how many games he will play is anyone’s guess. Given the fitness record of Messrs Siddle and Bird, I suppose that we should be thankful for small mercies.
The expectation that Nottinghamshire will bounce back will be high, however the Second Division looks stronger that it has done for a few years-amongst the teams one would expect to finish in the top half anyway. Sussex appears to be second favourites, and have a strong bowling attack. Similarly, Durham’s bowling attack has historically been too good for most First Division batting line-ups, so if they can keep Rushworth and Onions out on the field, then few will be able to cope with them and you can expect them to make early inroads into their penalty deficit. Kent’s strength is in their batting and they’ll be driven on by last year’s near miss. There was probably no team in the country more enjoyable to watch than Worcestershire’s youngsters last year , and I expect Leicestershire to continue their improvement too. They appear to have recruited cannily. You can say what you like about the ethics of the recruitment of South African fringe players into County Cricket, but there’s no doubt that Leicestershire, Sussex, and a few others are stronger for it.
Call me a pessimist, but I’m predicting a 3rd place finish…