Friday, 5 February 2016

Revolving door as players fly in and out

As an indicator of progress and the heightened standing of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, one has only to look at the players and staff who have gained recognition this winter.

Wes Durston has been to South Africa, Graeme Welch and Matt Critchley to Dubai and now Shiv Thakor to Oman and Bahrain. They may not be 'official' tours against top quality opposition but are a sign that the work being done at the club is being noticed.

Only a fool would say that there are no signs of progress, on and off the field. The media centre development is testimony to the off-field work, as is the Gateway building and splendidly refurbished pavilion. When I think back to the ground that I attended even five or six years ago it is a huge improvement, tribute to all who have been involved.

On it, progress is slower, as it was always going to be in weeding out under-performing seniors and giving youth its head, but there are good and encouraging signs and portents for the future.

The best Derbyshire sides over the years have been those where a sound group of seniors has given the stability to the younger element to express themselves. Barnett, Adams and Morris emerged through a batting line up where Hampshire, Wood, Steele, Wright and Kirsten flourished. Harold Rhodes had the benefit of Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin as early mentors. Mike Hendrick and Alan Ward came through alongside Brian Jackson and Rhodes. All of them had people to look up to and emulate, which is what is coming together at Derbyshire.

Young seamers should learn from Tony Palladino and Andy Carter, just as they will from Graeme Welch. If Ben Slater, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes need help, then Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen, Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford will be on hand.

I won't go out on a limb and forecast promotion and T20 finals day for us this year, but I have a feeling that we will improve considerably on last season. Cynics might say that wouldn't be hard, but those with semi-respectable memory will remember plenty of matches where an extra ten per cent would have got us across the line. Had we come out on the right side of those matches, a more respectable four-day placing would have been a formality.

As for the T20, we'd have made the knock-out stage for only the second time, as we threw away a couple of games and were beaten only by Kiwi brilliance in another.

Ten per cent. Not too much to ask over a winter from young players. Part of it in team spirit, some in fielding and the balance in personal improvement.

We'd be worth keeping an eye on then...

Postscript: nice to see the club's new Wisden honours board. I'm a big believer in celebrating the past, enjoying the present and anticipating the future. 

We have enjoyed some wonderful cricketers over the years and will see plenty more in the years ahead.

I am glad to see their efforts acknowledged.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Excitement mounts as signings of seamer and finisher are 'close'

Well, well...

There's a nice piece on the club site today, where chairman Chris Grant confirms that the signings of two new players ahead of the 2016 season are imminent.

“The plan is to bring in a second overseas finisher for the NatWest T20 Blast, as well as an experienced bowler, which could be on loan, but we will see" says our supremo, on the club site.

There are no other clues, nor should we expect them, but the key words would appear to be 'finisher' for the T20 role and 'experienced' for the seam bowler.

Both are exactly what we require, of course.  While Andy Carter and Tony Palladino will do a good job for us, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect both to remain fit through a long campaign, or at least not require a rest at some point. While Carter has professed his desire to play in all forms of the game, his workload, like that of all of the seamers, will need monitored.

If we are to enjoy a better summer, then those two still running in strong come September will be of paramount importance. It may be that Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor have improved on last year - I fully expect it. It could also be that Will Davis, Greg Cork and Harry White have caught them up, leaving us with an embarrassment of riches. Yet we should not expect miracles and should one of those lads reach 30-40 wickets we will be doing well. If two of them did, we'll all be doing a conga around the boundary...

As for the T20 role, it would thus appear a middle order batsman, or all-rounder, is our target. We all remember the horrid games we threw away last year, as the middle order showed all the resilience of a balsa wood aeroplane. 

It is about time that we made a decent fist of T20, though it is not for the want of trying in the quality of player we have recruited. I just have a feeling that this could be a better year in that format, given a little luck and the right final piece of the jigsaw.

Last year we missed Wayne Madsen and Alex Hughes in the middle order in crucial games, but the addition of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford gives a nice look to the batting. Wes, Ches, Hamish, Neil, Wayne and X make up a good top six, with perhaps Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor to follow.

We bowled pretty well in the competition last year, but again missed Ben Cotton at a crucial stage. Bowling in the Powerplay and at the death, he only went for seven an over, figures that Charl Langeveldt would have been proud of. Alex Hughes did equally well and his absence was felt with bat and ball, while Shiv Thakor was a revelation and handled the key periods of the high-pressure games with an elan belying his tender years.

Let's wait and see, but the right man could make a big difference to the supporter's perspective of our prospects.

Exciting times!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Question answered as we welcome the weekend

Slowly but surely we are getting through the torturous winter months and in a couple of days time the last month with no Derbyshire cricket to enjoy will be upon us.

Truth be told, the winter hasn't been too bad as yet, though yesterday's gales and heavy rain suggested it may have yet have things to throw our way. That was given even greater credence as I stood in my back garden ar 5.30am today, trying to spot the dog in the midst of a blizzard of substantial proportions.

Still, we're getting there and I have to doff my cap to the marketing guys at Derbyshire CCC for keeping a flow of videos and information going at a time when there's not a lot happening. The training videos and interviews on the club site are enjoyable and suggest we should lack little in preparation in the season ahead.

Congratulations to Matt Critchley on having his debut century voted the best of this millennium. I didn't vote, as I found it hard to split some of them and, as so often happens, the award goes to the most recent and best remembered. For the same reason you see One Direction and Take That win 'Best Band Ever' awards, which always amuses someone brought up on The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I suspect that history may, in the fullness of time, side with me on the greater importance to music of the last three...

Around the country, clubs are finalising their plans for the summer. Chris Gayle will be going to Somerset for a few games once more, where, as one wag pointed out on Twitter this week, he will doubtless see post-match interviews conducted by Julian Clary. I do think that there has been an undue media storm over his Australian interview, but he has been rightly reprimanded for a flip comment that was clumsy, attempted humour but came over as patronising.

It was nice to hear from Mark again and he asked the question as to how I saw our red and white ball teams shaping up. It isn't a question I can answer for white ball, as we don't yet know our T20 specialist(s). We may need to fill the role on a job share basis if the efforts of other counties are anything to go by, but if we can land a batsman like Martin Guptill or an all-rounder like Albie Morkel or Chris Morris I'd have no complaints. Mind you, if 'The Gup' returns we should re-brand as the Derbyshire Kiwis...

I think we will see another seamer join too, as one of Pop's irons in the fire must surely get hot. As to who it is and where he is from, we will need to wait and see. Don't take the lack of news as being lack of action, as I am sure that there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

To answer Mark's question, however, allowing for perhaps another man coming in, I don't see the team being too far from this, for the start of the summer on seaming tracks:

Godleman
Slater/Hughes
Madsen
Rutherford
Broom
Hughes
Thakor
Poynton/Hosein
Palladino
Taylor/Cotton
Carter

Like you, though I haven't seen them in the nets and have no knowledge of progress, form and fitness. As the summer progresses, Durston might come in for one of the seam bowling all-rounders to offer variation, but so too could Tom Knight or Matt Critchley, if their games have progressed. All three have an all-round game and could slot in nicely.

I remain excited at the potential of Tom Knight and if his bowling has 'grooved'  over the winter he has the ability to be a terrific all-rounder in the Ian Blackwell mode. So too could Critchley, though I am wary of placing unfair expectation on a lad still in his teens.

There is good and healthy competition for places and that can only be to our benefit.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Ken Roe

It is always sad when a good servant to the club passes, so it is with sadness that I note the death of Ken Roe tonight.

He served on the general committee for many years up to the late 1990s and was a long-standing chairman of the ground and pitches committee. Most recently, he was a club vice-president and was, in the words of the club's legendary groundsman, Walter Goodyear, 'a grand bloke'.

I think back tonight to a lovely chat that we enjoyed at the end of last summer, during the game against Leicestershire in September. As I usually do, I wandered around the ground enjoying the vantage point as I did so. Having taken a seat at one of the picnic tables between the press box and the scoreboard, I was joined by Ken, who asked if I had any objection to his smoking a cigar. I didn't.

We chatted about the game, Derbyshire's prospects, his life in Matlock and his time with the club. He told me how, in the years when he did the announcements during a day's cricket, the Derbyshire players used to 'doctor' his notes, especially the scores from around the country. Thus, Nottinghamshire might reach tea on 351, rather than 151, or may go into lunch with their innings in tatters on 70-8, rather than the reality, a more steady 70-0.

I knew who he was, but he didn't know me. Why should he, after all, though our final laugh came when he recalled some of his favourite players.

'Do you know some fella has done a book on Edwin Smith?' he said.

Yes, indeed. I confessed it was me. I told him I would be talking with Edwin at the meeting of the Derbyshire Cricket Society and he said that he hoped to be there. We shook hands and said goodbye as the shadows lengthened on a chilly cricket ground.

Sadly, ill-health meant he was unable to make the talk, but it was a pleasure to spend time talking to him and he will be remembered by many for the very best of reasons.

Rest in Peace, Ken. Yours was indeed a life well lived and thank you for all you did for the club over many years.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A tale of two left-handers

Tonight's blog recognises the talent of two very different left-hand batsmen, both of them, as they say, formerly of this parish.

First up is a warm well done to Usman Khawaja, for steering what had previously seemed the ironically named Sydney Thunder to their first Big Bash. They had previously been seen as the competition's version of Derbyshire, with only eleven wins in 41 matches. Nine of those have come under the now retired Michael Hussey, who skippered the side with a fine combo of flair coupled with common sense.

On present form, Khawaja could pick up a plank and caress boundaries. His timing is sublime and he played three innings in that competition that were as good as any I have seen. He will never be a bludgeoner, like Gayle or Pollard, but when you time a ball as well as he does, his modified technique and improved musculature sees the ball race away. I was wrong about him never being a one-day player and am happy to admit that.

I watched a good bit of the competition and can say without fear of contradiction that Derbyshire do not have a monopoly on batting collapses and naivety. What surprised me throughout was the number of sides that collapsed when a relatively easy run chase was in hand, or who threw wickets away in playing big shots when only working it around the field was required.

It is a pressurised game, without doubt and separates the men from the boys. The number of big names who have given it away when there was no real need has been remarkable, yet the same has happened at international level this week.

How India lost - rather threw away  - their fourth one-day game against Australia is beyond me. Yet they are increasingly a side where the top four bat like film stars and the rest like novice amateur dramatics volunteers. The brilliance of Dhawan, Kohli and Sharma is undeniable, yet after Dhoni the rest buckled and played ridiculous, expansive shots when all it needed was a little common sense.

Finally tonight, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is now retired from the international game, 45 runs short of Brian Lara's international record for the West Indies. Regular readers may recall my writing two years ago that he would never be allowed to pass Lara, and so it came to pass. Politics run high in the Caribbean and an attritional batsman like Shiv was never going to be allowed to be number one over the flamboyant, diametrically opposed Lara.

There will always be those who will say he was overly protective of his average, or that he batted too negatively. Truth be told Shiv was often the only way that the sides he played for scored big runs, so he did what he had to do. There were times when perhaps a Guptill-like blast may have served him and the team better, but you cannot argue with eleven thousand and counting Test runs.

We didn't see the best of Shiv in Derbyshire colours, although the work ethic of the man impressed all who worked with him. He batted for hours in the nets, reckoning it the only way  to prepare for doing so in the middle. His comments and insight into batting will have been precious for young cricketers.

For supporters, like me, there will always be something magical in casting the mind back to the voice announcing his arrival at the wicket. The best days had gone, but even in his later days, it was a privilege to watch his unique style and steady accumulation in Derbyshire colours.

In my dotage I may forget the minutiae of games, but never forget seeing Shiv Chanderpaul bat for Derbyshire.

Thanks to those that made it happen.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

12 years (and counting) for OfficeCare at 3aaa County Ground

I am delighted to note that the sponsors of this blog, OfficeCare, have extended their current deal for cleaning the 3aaa County Ground to a twelfth successive year.

While still behind the contract held for Derby County FC by two years, such longevity is laudable and indicative of a job well done and competitively priced.

The contract includes the cleaning of all indoor facilities, as well as the cleaning of all five thousand seats prior to the season starting. One should not underestimate the latter and I have first hand experience of the alternative, when we played Yorkshire at Scarborough two years ago.

My son and I arrived in reasonable time before the game but took considerable time in finding a seat as many of them in the stand behind the bowlers arm were quite badly mildewed. Those who got there before us had grabbed the better ones, so it was a case of working along rows until we could find a couple that were clean enough to sit on.

I mean no criticism of what is, after all, a club ground in this, but I have never gone to the ground at Derby in recent memory and found a dirty, as opposed to wet, after rain seat. Nor have I visited the toilets and regretted the experience, while the function facilities are always pristine.

It speaks volumes for the standard of work and explains why the contract keeps getting renewed.

Congratulations to all involved. Like Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst long ago, tick 'em off in singles...

Rallying cry from Welch, runs from Rutherford

'It's a big year for us', said Graeme Welch at the weekend, perhaps stating the obvious for some, but laying down the gauntlet to the players to perform this summer.

The cynics among the Derbyshire support (surely not?) will cite it being a marketing ploy ahead of the cut off for discounted membership. Of course it was, but it was also a statement of fact and I would like to think, intention.

I remain confident that progress is being made at the club. Opponents will suggest that we took a step back last year, at least in results, yet that was always a likely consequence of a summer in which youth was given its head and, through an unfortunate combination of injury and poor form, ended up with way too many senior players missing from the side at key points in the season.

In the final year of his current deal, Welch at last has the squad that he wants. OK, he would have preferred to retain Mark Footitt, but once the financial big guns came in, Mark's departure was largely inevitable. There was a brittle nature to our batting last year that recalled some of the darker days of the past, yet the portents are good ahead of 2016.

Wayne Madsen, Hamish Rutherford, Neil Broom. If one assumes that Ben Slater and Billy Godleman are a justifiably likely opening pair, the 'engine room' of the batting has a solidity and indeed class that we have not seen in many years.

All three have impressive averages in all formats of the game and our opponents will be wary of their firing this summer. Madsen's pedigree is well known, while Broom and Rutherford have excited the Derbyshire support with excellent performances for Otago this winter.

Last night saw Rutherford shine, this just three days after Broom scored a match-winning century for his side. He made 126 from just 90 balls, with 7 sixes and 10 fours, steering his side to an emphatic win over Wellington. That is always likely when you post 362-8 in 50 overs...

I have been a Derbyshire fan for closing in on fifty years now, but still get excited as the season approaches. While not going overboard with predictions at this stage, I expect, like Graeme Welch, a talented group of players to produce some exciting cricket this year.

If we can add one more seamer of experience and a proven T20 match-winner to the current squad, we have the talent to win a good share of matches and certainly to entertain.

That Welch and Matt Critchley have been in Dubai with the England set up is good for both as individuals, beyond doubt, but is also good for the county in the longer term. Working with the cream of the country's seam bowling talent is bound to have benefits for us when players near the end of contracts.

While not suggesting that we will soon be recruiting one of the bowlers currently in Dubai, these lads will return to their counties and discuss the experience with their team mates who are more peripheral figures in the county squad.

If you were a decent seam bowler, wouldn't the chance to work with a coach who comes with a personal recommendation  and endorsement appeal, when your contract was coming to an end? It would to me, for sure.

Just as Andy Carter said last week that he has learned from Graeme Welch, so too will Tom Milnes. He has come in 'under the radar' to a great extent and didn't set the world on fire in his few appearances last summer. Yet that was in a young team lacking confidence at season end. His performances at Edgbaston suggested he has something and he will push our home-reared talent for a starting spot in the side.

The potential is there and the excitement slowly builds...

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Hosein signs, Kiwis flourish and new member of the family...

Belated recognition today of Harvey Hosein's contract extension at Derbyshire today, the 19-year old having signed on until the end of 2017 at this stage.

That he is a precocious talent is beyond argument. His glove work is generally of a high standard, although there were occasional signs of sloppiness creeping in last season when perhaps the high level of concentration required slipped a little over a long period in the limelight.

The sky is the limit for the youngster, but first he needs to cement a place in the first team and to do that he needs to work on his batting. Again, the talent is there, but to nip ahead of the equally talented Tom Poynton he needs to contribute with the bat. The latter, coming into the final year of his current deal, will be in no doubt that he has a fight on his hands and will be working equally hard to be number one.

Undoubtedly we need more runs from that role this year, as we struggled last season. To be fair to Hosein, the teams in which he played and the injury situation sometimes saw him batting at number six, which he doesn't have the game for at this stage. In time he may well do, but to expect an 18-year old, as he was then, to be a master of each discipline is unrealistic. Eight is probably right for both Hosein and Poynton and hopefully the presence of our Kiwi middle order this year will serve us well.

Elsewhere, Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford shared an unbeaten partnership of 87 in 12 overs to steer Otago Volts to an easy eight-wicket win last night, the sort of pairing that Derbyshire fans will dream of in the summer months that are not that far away now. Broom has an unbeaten 69 from 76 balls, while Rutherford was unbeaten on 47 from only 39 deliveries. Nice work, fellas...

Two final points today - I couldn't believe people on Twitter yesterday denigrating England's emphatic series win over South Africa, saying that it was a poor standard of opposition.

Seriously? While the Proteas have missed Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, they have outstanding players in Amla, De Villiers and Morkel, as well as very good ones in du Plessis and Elgar. Such negativity always annoys me and people should be more willing to acknowledge a very professional effort by an up and coming England side. Not the best side South Africa have fielded, but then it isn't the best England one either and we outplayed them.

Finally tonight, I've been a little preoccupied in the past few days, as family Peakfan has a new addition in Wallace, an eight-week old Wire-Haired Fox Terrier. He is a perky little chap and is already well on the way to house training.

If Derbyshire's players prove as receptive to their winter's work,  we will have few complaints when summer comes.

With no apologies whatsoever, here's the first picture of him.

His Falcons hat will surely follow...

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Alex Hughes contract well deserved

The news today, that Alex Hughes has signed a new contract that keeps him at the club until at least the end of 2017, should be welcomed by all Derbyshire supporters.

Alex is not yet the finished article, but showed signs last year that his emergence is not too far away. His maiden century at Northampton will have done wonders for his confidence and it is a shame that two different but substantial hand injuries restricted his cricket thereafter. One should never underestimate the effect of such an injury and they can set any player back a little. Indeed, I remember chatting to seam bowling legend Brian Jackson and his telling me that a late-career broken finger was a major setback for him and he never felt the ball came out the same afterwards.

That was fifty years ago, of course and injury treatment has come a long way since then. Alex will be invigorated and enthused by a winter of good work in the nets and the gym and will probably cement a place in the side during the next two summers.

What I like about the player is his ability to score runs when they are most needed. I wouldn't necessarily back him every time if we were 300-4 when he came in, but at 50-4 he will dig in and battle it out. In one-day cricket his range of shots is good and his scoring rate impressive, making him an ideal man for the closing overs of an innings.

Then there is his bowling. In the past two years he seems to have added to his pace each winter and while he will never be an express bowler, he has progressed from being a purveyor of 'dibbly-dobbly' seam. He has good variations in pace, line and length which asks questions of batsmen and the truth is that he will only get better.

It was interesting watching the Big Bash from Australia yesterday. Usman Khawaja led off his side's innings with the kind of knock that I had never seen him play before. It was an exquisite first fifty, before he lost the strike and rhythm and rather gave it away in the end. Yet the Powerplay was packed with shots around the wicket that found the fence - and cleared it - with ease.

How? The answer came from Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Khawaja has 'beefed up' and is much bigger in build than the slight lad who played for us in 2012. A couple of minor technical adjustments meant he was hitting the ball cleaner and more powerfully than before and he looked, for the first time in my viewing experience, a one-day cricketer.

Which is what he and others have to do, of course and why these winters are so important to the modern cricketer. They can build up muscle to help them hit the ball further, or bowl the ball faster, while honing their technical skills to put the ball in the right areas most of the time.

That's why pre-season forecasts of our prospects are pointless, especially in a squad full of young players. Prophets of doom can be made look very silly by even a ten per cent progression of young talent.

If a few do better than that, as Billy Godleman did last year, then anything is possible.

I look forward to seeing Alex as a key man in the side in the coming seasons.

When it happens, remember I told you so...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Another century for Broom as Otago win

An unbeaten 124 from Neil Broom for Otago Volts overnight steered them to a three-run win in a gripping game against Northern Districts.

Broom's runs, made from 128 balls and containing nine fours and a six, underpinned a total of 298-6, in what Cricinfo strangely refer to as a 'low-scoring thriller'. Call me old-fashioned, but if I had seen the best part of six hundred runs in a day's cricket, I wouldn't consider myself as having been short-changed on the batting front...

Broom has been in good form all winter, while form has been a little more elusive for Hamish Rutherford. Perhaps the captaincy weighs heavy upon him, but as any cricketer knows, good and bad form can begin and end with the next innings. Rutherford is simply too good a player to remain out of sorts for too long. I am sure that both he and Broom will underpin a stronger Derbyshire batting line-up next summer.

Billy Godleman looked like he had 'arrived' last summer, while the name of Wayne Madsen on a team sheet almost guarantees runs. Both Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes will benefit from the competition that the other brings to the opening berth, while similar competition will ensure that Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor work hard at their games.

Hughes showed signs, in an injury-hit summer, of becoming close to what we need in the middle-order. A maiden century will have lent encouragement and there were sufficient one-day cameos to suggest he could be the real deal. He added a little 'oomph' to his bowling and has it in him to become a genuine all-rounder.

Yet so too does Thakor. We didn't see the best of the youngster last year, again partly through injury. He arrived as a batsman who bowled, yet finished the season almost the reverse. His batting never really came to the fore, but his bowling was a standout in the T20 and, given his age, will only improve.

With such talent and competition within the squad, expectation should be higher that we can post good totals for our attack to play with. While the loss of Mark Footitt is not inconsiderable, never underestimate player development, nor the impact it will have on the team's fortunes.

With that, I say farewell for another day.