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George Dobell at Guildford
July 12, 2012
Lancashire 425 (Horton 110, Croft 104*) for 7 v Surrey
Report : Cowan fights to earn instant cap
Report : Horton prospers but Surrey take important step
News : Pietersen keeps one-day door ajar
Matches: Surrey v Lancashire at Guildford
You could, were you so inclined, use Steven Croft as an example of many of the things that are wrong with English cricket. He is unlikely to represent England, he is not, at the age of 27, particularly young, and he is not particularly likely to bring crowds flocking to see him in action.
But Croft is a valuable player. A valuable county player. And it is such players who, by keeping the standard of county cricket high, ensure that future England players develop in a tough, intense environment that allows them to quickly adapt to the international game. Croft actually represents much that is right with county cricket.
Here, with his side in danger of squandering their strong start, Croft produced a characteristically pugnacious innings. Particularly strong on the pull, he also clips off his legs neatly, produced a few nice drives - including the one that took him to the fifth first-class century of his career and the second of this campaign - and one delightful late cut. And he did it against an attack containing five international bowlers.
It was a point made by Lancashire's head coach. Peter Moores, the former England coach and the only man to have led two clubs to the County Championship title, who believes the standard of county cricket remains high and sees great significance in that fact that four of England's current top seven scored centuries on Test debut.
"County cricket undoubtedly plays a significant role in the development of the England team," Moores told ESPNcricinfo. "You just have to look at the success of players coming into the team to see that.
"The standard is good and there are really good cricketers coming through. I don't see that the quality has been lowered at all. And, just as importantly, we have very few dead games or manufactured results these days. County cricket provides good entertainment. Perhaps we should push it more, just as we did when T20 was first introduced?
"When I played, from 1983 to 1998, there were some great players. But you could effectively have matches off as there was only one division. Now just about every game in the top division of the championship means something so the cricket is more intense and competitive than it used to be."
Moores refutes the suggestion that the increased difficulty in singing overseas players and Kolpak registrations and the incentive to field young players had resulted in any dilution in quality. "The reason the ECB made those changes was to encourage young, England-qualified cricketers the opportunity to develop," he said. "And it has. Fewer Kolpak players is no great loss, though I do think the rules over signing overseas players could be looked at. It would be nice if we could sign an outstanding young overseas player, but sometimes we are blocked because they haven't played sufficient international cricket to gain a work permit."
Moores is also coming round to the idea of domestic T20 being played on a Friday night through much of the season, but fears that producing a predictable schedule is difficult bearing in mind the introduction of the Champions League, which is usually played from mid-September, and the volume of domestic cricket played.
"The introduction of the Champions League has shortened the season," Moores said. "There are several carrots for participating in it, but the fact is that it is very difficult to find an acceptable schedule if you play the same amount of cricket within the same time frame. Playing T20 in a block may be best for cricketing reasons, but we are in the entertainment business and, if we want people to come and watch us, we need them to know when we're playing. People come on Friday nights and we need to have a season with rhythms that people understand."
Moores accepted that Lancashire, the defending champions, had not enjoyed the best start to the season, but felt the squad were developing nicely. "I think we have to accept that we haven't played quite as well as last year," Moores said. "We dominated 11 or 12 of the 16 games we played last year and that hasn't been the case this time around. But we have quite a lot of young guys in this team and, when that is the case, you are bound to have some inconsistency."
Certainly Lancashire were grateful for Croft's intervention on the second day of this game. Having slipped from 233 for 2 to 298 for 6, it appeared they were allowing Surrey back into the game. Ashwell Prince, vindicating Surrey's decision to delay taking the second new ball, was beaten by some turn and hooked his attempted drive to be caught at deep midwicket, before Tom Smith's optimistic attempt at a single was beaten by Zander de Bruyn's direct hit from mid off. Gareth Cross then attempted to pull but hit the ball straight to midwicket.
Glenn Chapple helped Croft add 121 for the seventh wicket in 29 overs. Chapple, who pulled Meaker for six and lofted Murali Kartik for four, was the aggressor at the start, but Croft was increasingly positive and at one stage took 15 off an over from de Bruyn. While he had enjoyed reprieves on 0 and 3 the previous day, he gave no further chances on day two and took advantage of a pitch that has become even slower and easier to bat upon to steer his side away from trouble.
Not that it will probably make much difference. Heavy rain curtailed the day by 49 overs, which means Lancashire have now lost 1,030 overs to bad weather so far this season. By comparison, they lost only 234 in the whole of 2011, though that was an unusually good year. The forecast for the next couple of days is not wildly encouraging either.
That will not help Kevin Pietersen. While, on the bright side, Pietersen has enjoyed five sessions of fielding practise, there is a real prospect of him going into the Test series against South Africa having had just one first-class innings since the last week of May.
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