Bilal Shafayat has one major aim for 2007 - to help us bouncestraight back to the top flight in the Liverpool Victoria CountyChampionship.
He knows it will be a tough task to overcome our rivals butbelieves we have the strength in depth to finish top of the pile,having spent the past two seasons playing in Division Two withNorthamptonshire.
We caught up with him to get his assessment of the competition andthe players to watch over the summer - starting with ourselves.
“I don’t want to tempt fate but we have to be lookingat winning immediate promotion back to Division One. We have agreat balance of players in the squad from the experience in thetop order of Jason Gallian and Stephen Fleming to the firepower ofDavid Hussey, Chris Read and Mark Ealham at five, six and seven,and seamers who can all win us matches on their day.
“Hopefully myself, Will Jefferson, Mark Wagh, Samit Patel andRob Ferley will just add to the mix. I can’t say enough abouthow great it is to be back playing at Trent Bridge - I’mitching to get back into the dressing room and looking forward towalking back out on to the pitch.”
“They have been reviving themselves for the last few yearswith the appointment of Dave Houghton as director of cricket andtheir decision to go and look for young talent such as ChrisTaylor.
“Then they’ve brought in quality overseas batsmen inSimon Katich and Travis Birt, while Ian Harvey can now qualify as aKolpak player. Add those types to the likes of experiencedcampaigners like Graeme Welch and Kevin Dean and I think if yougive them a couple of years, they will be challenging fortrophies.
“But their problem might be taking 20 wickets in a match, asthey’ve lost their leading wicket-taker Steffan Jones toSomerset.”
“A dangerous team and while they’ll be looking to theiroverseas players in Andre Nel, Andy Bichel and Danish Kaneria totake the wickets, their batting line-up is very strong.
“You’ve got the likes of Alastair Cook, Andy Flower andRavi Bopara at the top of the order, while Ronnie Irani and JamesFoster do a great job of holding the middle order together.
‘With Irani as skipper they’re a very passionate sidewho always back themselves. It’s bound to be a tough game andour bowlers will need to be on fire. Hopefully Will Jefferson willbe able to give us some of his inside knowledge.”
“He might not be skipper this year but Glamorgan aredefinitely going to be feeding off Robert Croft. He’ll stillbe their main man on the bowling front but unless he and DeanCosker are firing, bowling sides out twice might be theirproblem.
“They’ve lost James Franklin, who offered them a lotlast season with ball and bat, and although Jimmy Maher willstabilise their top order, they’ll be a bit of a mix andmatch side.”
“A very capable unit with the ball in hand and they have onlyadded to that by signing Umar Gul and Ashley Noffke as theiroverseas players.
“Jon Lewis leads the pack very capably while Steve Kirbyalways runs in hard and gives it 100 per cent.
“Then they’ve got Hamish Marshall and Marcus Northsharing duties on the batting front, and Kadeer Ali is a talentedbatsman who I went on tour with for England A back in 2003-04.
“They’ve got a nice little ground and it’susually good fun to play there. They always have a loyal followingand it generates a bit of atmosphere.”
“In many ways they are similar to my old side Northants. Theymight not have any star names but they all work very hard as ateam. You never know what version will turn up on the day but theycould potentially be dangerous.
“In the past they’ve been a bit short on the bowlingfront but now they have Stuart Broad, you know they’ll bestrong with the new ball. HD Ackerman quietly goes about his jobaccumulating runs - he scored more than 1800 in first-class cricketlast year - and holds everything together.
“Paul Nixon of course is anything but quiet and I’msure he’ll be even more in our face and ear following hisEngland call-up.”
“A good side and they’re bound to be aiming forpromotion along with Essex. Their batting line-up must be one ofthe strongest in Division Two - Ed Smith, Ed Joyce, Nick Compton,Owais Shah - and if Chaminda Vaas, Richard Johnson and MuraliKartik provide Chris Silverwood with some back-up, their bowlingattack will be up there too.
“I always look forward to playing at Lord’s. It’sthe second best ground in the world after Trent Bridge and I thinkit inspires everyone who plays there to produce somethingspecial.
“In 2005 I hit 85 not out off 46 balls at Lord’s in aNational League game. It was one of those days where everything Itried came off - and I’d love to go on and make a hundredthere.”
“My old team-mates are a competitive bunch who always look topick up results at Wantage Road, where they can prepare a pitch tosuit their spin attack.
“But I think they might be short of a couple of experiencedseamers for away games, despite signing former Notts boys RichardLogan and David Lucas, along with Johannes van der Wath as one oftheir overseas players.
“Northants have a small budget and work around that as wellas they can. They really are a great group of people and I intendto keep in touch with them - but I’ll still be looking to getone over on them.”
“You’re always guaranteed runs at Taunton and withJustin Langer and Cameron White in the team, we’re going toneed to be on top form when we’re bowling.
“They could be the dark horses for the season becausethey’ve got so many big hitters in the line-up now.We’ll definitely need to get Langer out early, White can takea game away from you very quickly, and Ian Blackwell will be readyfor action after missing so much of last season with injury.
“Add that firepower to the experience of their bowling attackand you’ve got a potential surprise package.”
THURSDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2017
ENGLAND v WEST INDIES