AFTER an unsuccessful day at the Cheltenham races this year, I should realise I am not a betting man! However, few should have bet against new Somerset signing Alviro Petersen as Somerset took on Surrey last week. Having scored 210 for Glamorgan at The Oval in 2011 and made a ton on his Test debut for South Africa, Petersen clearly had form. In hindsight, I should have tried to claw a few quid back… if only it was that easy!
Before last week, there was a solid trivia question that would have had me flummoxed: Who was the last ‘Somerset’ batsman to score a century on debut for the county? Bizarrely, it had been Andrew Strauss who notched up a century for the club while guesting against the Indian tourists in 2011. I’m sure the most ardent Somerset fan hadn’t forgotten that.
Fast forward to The Oval last week and it was Petersen who became the latest player to achieve this feat with a first-game ton. Not only that, but he broke a Somerset record for the highest aggregate runs on Somerset debut, with 167 in the first innings and 94 in the second. A fantastic first-game effort from the South African.
The Imperial College of London defines Value for Money (VFM) as “whether or not an organisation has obtained the maximum benefit from the goods and services it acquires and/or provides, within the resources available to it.”
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Though it is too early to fully equate (mathematical jargon aplenty today) if Petersen will add up to the full sum of his parts and provide excellent VFM over the duration of his stay with Somerset, he could not have made a better start. He has instantly endeared himself to the Somerset faithful who will be itching to watch him bat against county champions Warwickshire at Taunton this week and, hopefully, he will continue where he left off at The Oval.
Somerset nearly always get it right with their overseas players. The illustrious names that have graced the County Ground at Taunton in recent years point towards an environment where international players are well looked after, enjoy their cricket and as a consequence, are motivated and proud to represent Somerset. Justin Langer, Graeme Smith, Cameron White, Ricky Pointing, Abdur Rehman are just some of the great players who have thrived and most importantly, returned.
It is worth noting, of course, that these players don’t come cheap. Though county cricket works to very different economics to our elite football counterparts, you still need to have a sizeable cheque book to attract big-name players. Somerset have crucially found a way to provide a sustainable income to back up the policy of consistently obtaining high-quality international players. This is testament to the organisation off the field, which facilitates the income to improve the playing squad.
The signing of high-quality overseas players is not simply about having the funds. In the age of the IPL and a packed international schedule, it takes a vast amount of planning, foresight and I suppose a bit of luck as to who will be available and when. It was, of course, disappointing that Chris Gayle turned out to be a no show for Somerset last season, which was actually as a result of his decision to return to international cricket and resolve his dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board after initially signing a contract with Somerset. It did, however, lead to an unfortunate turn of events, which left Somerset desperately trying to secure overseas stars that subsequently fell through for various reasons out of anyone’s control. Though frustrating for supporters, this is symptomatic of the modern game and, I fear, unavoidable, however informed or financially resourced the club may be.
It has been a strange start to the season for the Gloucestershire players. After the hard winter slog that is pre-season training, and an encouraging first performance against Essex, they have had ten days without a competitive game. Today, they will be chomping at the bit to face a resurgent Northamptonshire, who will be full of confidence after their demolition of Essex last week.
At the start of the season, there is always energy and exuberance to get the campaign off to a flying start and the anticipation of what the season may hold is always an exciting feeling. I’m sure the Gloucestershire lads will have been working hard on their skills at training this week, though I’m positive there will have been an envious eye on the second round of matches that were taking place.
Gloucestershire are not without their injury worries. James Fuller has a broken finger and has joined Ian Saxelby (bicep injury) and Paul Muchall (knee) on the sidelines. It will be interesting to see which young and inexperienced seamer they will plump for and my gut feeling is that it will be Craig Miles, rather than the even less experienced Matt Taylor and Graeme McCarter. It is a tough ask for any young bowler to come into the side and replace Fuller, as he seems to have an extra yard of pace than any other Gloucestershire bowler, and was the pick of the attack at Chelmsford, unsettling the Essex batsman with his raw speed.
Miles had a taste of first-class cricket two years ago and that will be of comfort to John Bracewell as he will know what is expected and what length to bowl on the harder and flatter first-class wickets.
Miles is a type of bowler that relies more on his slight of hand to deceive batsmen than Fuller, who has the ability to beat batsmen for pace. Though Gloucestershire may be losing the venom of Fuller, they may have more of a swing bowling option in young Miles, who can be just as effective at Nevil Road, where it can aid swing bowling. Whatever happens, Gloucestershire will be desperate to chalk up a win and make up for last week’s watching and waiting.