With the eyes of the cricket world upon him, Graeme Smith began his new County Championship career by picking the wrong team, captaining like he’d taken a blow to the head and lasting three balls with the bat. As starts go, this was not the most auspicious. Were it not for a combination of slapstick Somerset batting and Jade Dernbach embracing his inner genius, Smith’s debut would’ve been even more of a fiasco.
Ah, Dernbach, if anybody loved him he’d be the ultimate Marmite cricketer. Instead, his is the direction in which all bile is hurled whenever he pulls on an England shirt. Regardless of how well he bowls, regardless of how many wickets he takes, if Jade Dernbach is playing, criticism Jade Dernbach will get. The thing with the Tattooed Tormentor is that he often doesn’t help himself; in one day cricket his determination to bowl as many variations as possible can turn his bowling into a dreadful mixture of wide long hops and loopy full tosses. When he bowls ‘properly’ – that is, restricts the slower balls to an absolute minimum, cranks himself up to top speed and pitches the ball up – he is a very good fast bowler and one who could, perhaps, get himself into the Test match reckoning before long.
Before the yelps of derision reach a crescendo, it’s worth pointing out that England fans very rarely see that side of Dernbach; partly because he doesn’t seem to trust his stock ball in limited overs cricket at the top level and partly because there’s not much opportunity to showcase that part of your game in the shorter forms. Particularly when you get pigeon-holed as a death/powerplay overs specialist, as Dernbach has been.
England’s fast bowling stocks have dwindled somewhat over the past year, with Chris Tremlett perennially injured, Stuart Broad generally inconsistent and Graham Onions carrying the drinks superbly, so there is an opportunity for one or two to force their way into the reckoning with a good season this year. Chris Wright, who took career-best 6/31, and hat-trick hero Toby Roland-Jones both pressed their case this week and may well be the front-runners as things stand, but Dernbach should not be discounted and should certainly not be prejudged on his one day form. He bowled superbly against Somerset on the opening day, removing Nick Compton, James Hildreth, Jos Buttler and Peter Trego, before completing his five-fer on the second morning. By anyone’s standard those are some notable scalps, and his performance was even better given that Stuart Meaker (who did redeem himself with his five wicket haul in the second innings) seemed intent on peppering the fine leg boundary with some truly appalling bowling and that Surrey had gone in with two spinners ahead of Tremlett, neither of whom was that effective. Dernbach carried the attack on the first day and without his efforts Surrey would have been in big, big trouble.
He may not be the most popular choice but while everyone gets carried away with the alternatives, if Dernbach bowls like that more often than not the selectors might have to sit up and take note. The Ink Man is coming.