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With the next practice session postponed until March 16 owing to school exams, it’s time for the half-term report on those players who have been attending nets at the wondrous Ashcroft facility. One wonders why the ECB wasted millions on building an academy when they could just have turned up at Ashcroft to take advantage of the poor lighting, feeble nets and worn out mats….

The new season is approaching and the players have shown some promising (and not so promising) signs of talent. The bowling looks encouraging, the batting looks funny.

So, in no particualer order of merit is a review of the players and their progress so far . . . . . . . . . .



He has benefited from a crash course from former England skipper Mike Gatting and looks ready to blossom with the bat in the coming year. His batting has come on considerably and his extra effort and commitment has now provided him with the chance to get the ball off the square. There is every chance that 2006 may see him score a boundary in front of the wicket. His bowling has also looked promising and he has shown good control and accuracy. Shame he won’t be required to turn his arm over due to his keeping duties.


His rehabilitation after last year’s disappointing form has not exactly gone smoothly. Suffered the embarrassment of being bowled by Wayne Cutts with two consecutive deliveries (it may be time to cut out the reverse sweep) and has also been cleaned up by the likes of Steve Bexfield (twice), Matthew Freeman (twice) and Chris Austin (via his bollocks). Amidst the sound of falling timber he has shown that he can still hit the ball with authority and was even seen to use his feet against the spinners. He has produced a pair of corking deliveries to bowl Colin Keeley and Mohammed Qumar.


He has come storming in off his long run and delivered plenty of bouncers over the course of the season so far, causing problems for Darren Lunney in particular. Bexfield has shown that he is not afraid to dish out the short stuff but has proved rather more circumspect about receiving it. He has only batted twice and tends to go in at the end when the bowlers are tired. The concern is he may be short of pad work by the time the season starts in earnest come April. Despite using his famous charm he was unable to secure a discount for the nets by wooing the lady who collects the money


His appearances to date have been limited by attending a coaching course in Australia (something like that) although he has proved in his brief time at the crease that he is still capable of mixing fairly sublime shots with truly dire ones. Typical left hander really.


Attended the first session but since then has been absent after choosing to concentrate on football. Fair enough.


Work commitments have restricted his attendance but he has proved that he still has the ability to hurry the odd batsman, especially if the batsman in question happens to be a tail ender. Cerasale has bowled with accuracy and some pace although as is to be expected of a bowler of his advancing years the velocity has dropped slightly. There’s no doubt that he can still hit the ball hard and straight and he has taken advantage of some tasty longhops to pepper the far wall. He has also stood still in disgust at the familiar barrage of balls that have slid miles down the leg side.


Not as regular an attendee as in recent seasons but he has proved that he has the ability to build on last season’s solid effort. He looked very good at first and hit the ball with great power before losing some momentum. The disappointment of being bowled twice by Wayne Cutts raised the issue of his judgement against quality spin but in general he has batted with authority and bowled with sufficient pace and venom to suggest that the first ball of each new spell in 2006 may be directed at the stumps rather than midwicket.


The great one has apparently decided that he does not need to work on his batting and has yet to pick up the willow. Only time will tell if that is a wise decision but you have to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that the man with the career average of 3.28 knows his own game. However, his bowling has come on considerably and he has removed numerous batsmen with his combination of flight and guile and the odd abysmal shot. He still has the tendency to soil himself at the merest sight of the batsman coming down the wicket but he is proving that he is ready for an expanded role with the ball in 2006.


Freeman was something of a revelation in the early weeks as he bowled with real venom and fire and routinely beat the defences of the club’s finest batsmen – and those of Chris Latino. Even more impressive was his ability to run in and bowl for the best part of an hour without having to make a rapid exit for the toilets or go home after 15 minutes because he felt ill. Looks to have rid himself of some of his many injuries – the hypochondria looks to have been treated – and he seems ready to explode this season. Then again he hasn’t turned up for the last three weeks so he may have accidentally disembowelled himself with a spoon or amputated his hand with nail clippers.


Keeley has made just one appearance to date and it’s fair to say that his batting did not impress the selectors. With concerns surrounding his long-term ability to bowl due to frequent undiagnosable injury, the selectors had hoped that he would demonstrate renewed prowess with the bat. Unfortunately his lone spell at the crease suggested plans to turn him into an all-rounder look as doomed as the long abandoned attempt to transform Simon Warrington into an opener. Keeley’s time at the crease was marked by the frequent sound of leather on stump as his wooden defence was breached time and again wasting his much needed practice time by realigning the stumps.


Latino’s first appearance was one to forget as the stumps were hit early and often but since then he has demonstrated ample bravery and the desire to get in line with the ball. Unlike some more experienced players he seems to have grasped the concept of the forward defensive. Has made significant strides and looks capable of an expanded role in the coming year.


His bowling is a joy to behold – especially if you happen to be the batsman. A lovingly gift-wrapped long hop is served up with an invitation to smash it into the next county and it’s difficult to resist such an overture. No one does. His batting continues to frustrate as he shows an ability to play some fine shots square of the wicket but undermines this with some fairly dreadful flat-footed wafts outside off stump. Not at his happiest against quick bowling but he remains determined to improve and we should all admire his effort.


Offley’s Worst Ever Fielder™ has enjoyed mixed fortunes with the bat so far. At times he looks a fairly talented player who moves his feet well and gets into line. And – sadly – on other occasions he looks like a handless clod who needs a diagram to show him which end of the bat to hold. His last appearance at the crease involved a fairly determined bid to secure the number 11 spot but there is still time to salvage the situation. His bowling continues to frustrate, if only for the fact that he seems able to summon up a speed and venom rarely seen outside. Not afraid to pin the odd batsman or to appeal for LBW regardless of where the ball pitches


The paceman has added another yard of pace this year and has shown the ability to bowl with serious speed. He has shown that he can hurry batsmen with his speed and has also demonstrated good movement and accuracy. His batting remains a work in progress and he still mixes too many ugly flails with shots of real promise. However, he has proved that he has the timing to hit the ball with real power and promises useful runs down the order providing he doesn’t get a straight one first up.

TATTERSALL, MARK: GRADE C-Tattersall marked his only appearance at nets by leaving early without paying. Apparently a trip to the nets is the same as a trip to the bar for him – something to be done at other people’s expense. Since then he has been sidelined due to a serious harpoon wound sustained on his honeymoon as Jamaican fisherman reacted in terror to the sight of a whale floundering in the shallows.