Thursday, 28 August 2014

Poynton news a timely tonic

The news that Tom Poynton is recovering well from the injuries sustained in an early season car accident is about the best that Derbyshire fans could have hoped for at this stage of the summer, when trophies are out of reach.

That accident, which tragically took the life of his father, Keith,  cast a cloud over our early summer from which we struggled to recover for some time. For all the support mechanisms that were put in place, such an occurrence could not fail to have an impact on the others in that dressing room. It is a close one, not so much a team as a tribe and the impact will have been substantial.

They have done well to come back from there with more recent performances of encouragement, but we have missed 'TP' behind the sticks. Gareth Cross has done fairly well, without convincing everyone at this stage, but Poynton is the most complete player to emerge from the academy in recent years.

It isn't just his pugnacious batting, which will only get better, nor his undemonstrative glove work, which rarely slips below tidy and is often brilliant. Most of all we have missed Poynton's 'gobby' attitude in the field. It is a term I use affectionately and is crucial to any team. Watch any Derbyshire side in the field with Poynton behind the stumps and you will be immediately aware of a non-stop barrage of encouragement. It happens after every ball and the influence of Karl Krikken, never a man to use one word when five would do, is obvious.

If he is able to play a full and active part in pre-season training, which starts in November (seriously...) then we can all be grateful to the medical and physio team that have got him there. One thing is for sure - a Derbyshire side with Poynton in it will be so much the stronger.

Elsewhere, it appears that Marcus North may have played his last game for the county and that his battling innings at Trent Bridge will be his last in our colours. It hasn't been a huge success and when I have seen him he seemed much less mobile than I remembered. He has been a good cricketer, but his perceived value to us, as far as I could see, was as an all-rounder who might take his share of wickets with tidy off-spin, while contributing good runs in the middle order.

His spectacular assault on Leicestershire at the start of the T20 was as good as it got and he will be disappointed with his returns. When he bowled it appeared to be an afterthought and I can only assume that there was an injury that prevented it. There is no other logical reason.

Whether he retires at the end of the summer or goes on to another county is a moot point, but Marcus has been a good and worthy cricketer. At his best, which we saw in his first stint with us, he was very good indeed.

He deserves thanks for his efforts, as well as in the way that he conducted himself as a professional.

Finally tonight, I meant to extend my condolences before now to the family of former Derbyshire chairman, Trevor Bowring, who died earlier in the week.

Mr Bowring was a gentleman and I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions. A resident of Kelso in the Scottish Borders, he was kind enough to offer me a lift to Derby should I ever have needed one. It was an unnecessary, but appreciated gesture by a man who did a lot for the county club.

He will be sorely missed.

Postscript - I will be making a trip to the County Ground over the weekend to see the first two days of the Worcestershire game. I look forward to some good cricket, as well as seeing friends, old and new.

And if Craig is reading this - it will be good to catch up, my friend!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Responses to a few questions

The last few weeks have been manically busy, so a few minutes this evening gives me a chance to respond to a few of the more common questions directed at me recently.

Would I offer Billy Godleman another deal? 

In the light of recent form, yes. I think Billy looks a good batsman and whatever he has done with the batting coach, John Sadler, seems to have worked. Much will depend on who Graeme Welch has in his sights as new players and, as in all professional sport, you're only a regular until someone better comes along. 

For all his improved form, however, he really needs a big innings or two to cement the position and convince the doubters. For me, Ben Slater should be a championship opener and potentially more, but Billy has four matches to convince the people that matter that perhaps a one-year extension might be in order.

What about Jonathan Clare?

Well, he's contracted for another year but has been seen slightly more often than Lord Lucan on Derbyshire cricket fields in the past two years. I like the lad and I have enjoyed watching him play cricket, but if his perenially fragile body isn't allowing him to play, we have a major problem.

I know no more than the rest of you what his injury issues have been, but the reality is that a club with less resources than almost every other is paying what I assume to be a good salary for a player who simply isn't playing.

Will the winter see a parting of the ways and a deal over the remainder of his contract? I don't know, but there has to come a point where both parties accept the inevitable. Whether that is this winter or at the end of his contract is down to those involved.

If he is fit, Jon would be a first pick in a Derbyshire side, but he isn't, so anything is possible.

Is Wayne White likely to replace Clare?

Again I don't know, but it is a like for like replacement. Clare gave Derbyshire balance when he played. White, if we get him on a permanent deal, will do likewise.

What about Chesney Hughes?

He is another who is contracted. Chesney has lots of talent but it isn't translating to runs. I know he got 178 last week against a poor Nottinghamshire second team attack, but that doesn't really prove anything.

I would dearly love to see Chesney in prime form in the Derbyshire side, because at his best he is good to watch. With every month that passes, however, I feel it less likely to happen.

And what about Gareth Cross?

He's a good player. You don't hold down a role in Lancashire's side for several years without being one, but he did little pre-season work and has played catch up ever since. His glove work has been tidy on the whole, with a few days, like yesterday, where the standard has slipped. His batting is better than statistics perhaps suggest, as he's given it away in the selfless pursuit of runs a few times.

It will depend on who else is available and the respective financial demands. I see Tom Poynton as number one next year, assuming full recovery from his injury, and whether we can justify the cost of another senior keeper is a moot point.

I have seen several references to our moving for Steven Davies of Surrey, but these have been from supporters and the reality is that he's another player contracted to the end of 2015.

Still, contracts seem only to protect the player and rarely the club.Wayne White is contracted at Lancashire and it looks like he could move here. So were Ross Whiteley and Dan Redfern. If we're not going to go with Cross, it has to be someone substantially better, or cheaper. Time will tell.

And finally - are we on the right path?

Undoubtedly. Off the field we have the structure and outstanding people. On it, we just need to get the right personnel. I doubt that Graeme Welch will sort his entire staff this winter, but I suspect that we will start next summer in a much stronger position than this one.

There have been plenty of encouraging signs from young players this year. A winter of hard work on their techniques and overall fitness can only see them improve.

Throw in new, key personnel and the future is bright.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire One-Day Cup

This one went the way that most people expected, although for a good part of the day Derbyshire competed well.

Indeed, the early spells by Ben Cotton and the opening one from Tony Palladino were of a very high standard. To win the game, we needed to get into the home side's long batting line-up early and we did that, Ben Cotton removing both openers with a good ball and a fingertip respectively.

After that, the class of James Taylor, in particular shone through. Samit Patel is a fine player. but there's always a chance he may over-reach and his running is on a par with that of Chesney Hughes. Taylor could have been run out twice, but was saved by his speed, but an appeal for lbw by David Wainwright looked very close and pad-bat, rather than the bat-pad that the umpire adjudged it to be.

The fielding was a curate's egg. Wayne Madsen did some brilliant work, especially at short extra, but there were some poor throws and careless work throughout. I'd have to say that Gareth Cross has had better days - he was vocal and kept people on their toes, but a wicket-keeper sets the tone and he missed and dropped more than his share today.

To chase 314 to win, we needed something special from someone and the ideal person would have been Wes Durston, a naturally quick scorer. He went early, however and the chase looked doomed to failure from that point.

Nottinghamshire are a fine side - an affluent club, let's not forget - and even though they were missing several players they were not going to let this one slip. We needed to beat our highest-ever successful run chase of 286 to win and it looked an unlikely prospect.

Billy Godleman batted well for a while but played on unluckily, while Wayne Madsen built a decent partnership with Marcus North but holed out to extra cover, ironically a position where he had done so well himself.

It left a mountain to climb. I never felt Marcus North was in prime form and he's not looked fully fit to me this summer, perhaps the reason for his lack of bowling. He grafted his way to a workmanlike half century, but Alex Hughes didn't last long and neither did Scott Elstone. Both were undone by the wiles of Samit Patel and Elstone, to be fair to him, went to a superb catch by Chris Read.

There were some trademark lusty blows from Gareth Cross and David Wainwright probably played more fluently and innovatively than anyone in merry partnerships with Ben Cotton and Mark Footitt, but Nottinghamshire ran out easy winners by 85 runs.

It showed that much remains to be done, but this is a work in progress and it starts to go through the gears in the close season. The team can be proud of their efforts in making this stage of the competition from the unfortunate way that we started it two points behind the other sides in the group.

There's an obvious target for next year - let's go at least one better.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire preview

It was the weekend that kept on giving...

We signed Cheteshwar Pujara, Derby County won, then we signed Wayne White and now I managed to get the day off tomorrow to see the quarter final against Nottinghamshire. Be still my beating heart!

If this is the standard of winter recruitment, it promises to be a fascinating one. That both signings have potential for something long term, according to Mark Eklid in the DET today, is massively encouraging. Both Pujara and White have points to prove and reputations to rebuild, both positive indicators when signing players.

Pujara has already shown his unquestioned ability on the sub continent, but struggled, with almost all of his team mates, to come to terms with English seam bowling at Test level. Then again, he won't be facing Broad and Anderson every week on the county circuit and three matches for us would help him maximise his undoubted potential.

As for Wayne White, he would be a terrific asset. I have advocated a move for him, not just since this time last season, but since he was first touted to leave Leicestershire. He may have done well financially from the move to Old Trafford, but career-wise it has been a disaster. He is too good a player to be in second team cricket and now has a gilt-edged opportunity to prove his worth in an environment that will appreciate what he has to offer.

I don't see him as a threat to the role of Alex Hughes in the side, to respond to one question from today, as they complement each other. Alex is at present a batsman who can bowl useful overs, whereas Wayne's bowling is perhaps the stronger of two very good suits. I'd reckon they would be excellent at six and seven in the order.

I think White will be the third seamer for the remaining games, to answer another question, and adds depth to the batting. I would love to have seen him in tomorrow's team, but I don't expect changes from last week's win against Gloucestershire.

Why should there be? It was a fine team performance and a repeat tomorrow might just see us spring a surprise. Nottinghamshire are missing both Alex Hales and Harry Gurney, key performers for them this year. They have plenty of other good players, but the bottom line is that we do too. If we can make early inroads into a long batting line up, then bowl and bat steadily, you never can tell.

One thing that is for sure is that our lads will be up for the game. I hope to see a performance tomorrow and if we compete and challenge, as we showed at Trent Bridge last season, they could crack.

Their squad:

 Michael Lumb, Steven Mullaney, James Taylor, Samit Patel, Riki Wessels, James Franklin, Chris Read, Sam Wood, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Fletcher, Jake Ball, Brett Hutton

Bring it on boys!

Wayne White returns on loan to end of season

It's all happening at the County Ground...

News breaks this morning that Wayne White is returning to the County Ground on loan for the remainder of the season. He is available for the remaining four County Championship games, which, in the words of Graeme Welch, gives him a chance to showcase his talents.

The inference from this, of course, is that he would be available for a permanent deal should it go well and both clubs are able to come to an agreement regarding a release from his contract. White still has a year to go on his contract at Lancashire, but a player of his ability, age (28) and experience needs to be playing regular county cricket, not just odd games here and there.

He has been a standout performer for Swarkestone this summer, but that in itself is indicative of a lack of senior opportunity. Regular readers will know that I have previously advocated a move for the player and I am a big fan of his cricket and the way that he plays the game.

He is a naturally aggressive performer with bat and ball and offers genuine balance to a side in the middle order. This is a golden opportunity for him to kick start his career again and  I hope that he takes it. Both player and club would benefit if that happens.

I wish him well and am sure that supporters who have seen how well he did at Leicestershire will welcome him back with open arms.

More later, but that's a great way to start a new week!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Pujara signs in interesting county move

So the news that I picked up earlier on Cheteshwar Pujara turned out to be accurate. The Indian batsman has signed for the remainder of the championship campaign in a deal that ticks all the boxes as far as I am concerned.

There's little to dislike in a player whose first-class average is a shade under sixty. Granted, most of that experience has come in his own country, but it's still highly impressive. He will have a maximum of  eight first-class innings (which will make him long-serving compared to Chris Harris...) and should create a massive interest among the local ethnic community.

It is good to see the bonds built earlier in the season, for the visit of the Indian tourists, bearing fruit, though whether this was ever on the agenda at that stage is unlikely. I doubt that many anticipated the Indian batsmen struggling so badly with English conditions and it is to Pujara's great credit that he is the one player who is keen to do something about it.

Of course, he is not high on the IPL list and his future is very much planned around the Test itinerary, this despite a List A average of 53 and a highest score of 158. I wouldn't mind having a 'weak' one-day player like that in our side on a regular basis...

What  happens in the longer term is anyone's guess. It would be exciting, but perhaps fanciful, to imagine Pujara playing a longer spell with the county, but it is good to see us building bridges and  being a first pick for a world-class player ahead of other counties.

Supporters will undoubtedly enjoy Pujara. He is a classical batsman with a strong bottom hand, more Dravid than Sehwag, with an appetite for runs that we would all love to see sated at the County Ground in the coming weeks.

Full marks to Graeme Welch and Chris Grant, together with Simon Storey for making this happen.

The closing weeks of the season should be well worth a watch and both player and club should benefit from the association.

Pujara set for Derbyshire stint?

Indian news source Rediff reports this afternoon that batsman Cheteshwar Pujara has signed a deal to play for Derbyshire for the rest of the summer.

Cricinfo had previously reported that the player had sought permission to play county cricket, with Leicestershire supposedly favourites to sign him

The 26-year old, who has made plenty of starts on the current tour without going on to the big scores for which he is known, has supposedly opted for the county despite several offers from elsewhere.

He averages just under 59 in first-class cricket and over fifty in the one-day game, with a highest score of 352. That's not in one-day cricket, just in case you wondered...

With twenty-six centuries and twenty-five fifties in his short career so far, there is little doubt that he is a batsman of great talent and will undoubtedly benefit from the exposure to English wickets.

He made 81 against us at Derby earlier in the tour and the signing would create a buzz around the 3AAA County Ground in the remaining games.

“This will be announced soon both by the cricketer himself as well Derbyshire County Cricket Club," an unimpeachable source very close to the right-hand middle-order batsman told the website on condition of anonymity

 "No, it isn't for money, but for the experience of playing in English cricket, which is a challenge in itself for the best of cricketers, that Cheteshwar has decided to play for a county, which in his case happens to be Derbyshire County Cricket Club."

Fact or fiction? We'll doubtless know in the next 24 hours, but since the news is out there on the web, I'm duty bound to bring it to you. I'll accept the veracity of the information when I see it on the club site, but should it happen, Pujara will become the fourth Indian to play for Derbyshire, after Venkat, Mohammad Azharuddin and Mohammad Kaif.

More later, if this proves to be correct - or otherwise.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Speculation season starts

Nathan Buck. Shiv Thakor and Moin Ashraf.

All names I have seen linked with a move to Derbyshire today.

The Telegraph reports that we have made an official approach for the Leicestershire pair, both of them good young players with the potential to get better.

Buck is a strapping seam bowler whose development has perhaps been impaired by having to be both strike and stock bowler in an average attack. Injuries haven't helped him in the past couple of seasons, but then Mark Footitt had similar issues at that age and has turned out quite nicely. At 23 he has massive potential but that will have been spotted by a number of counties.

Thakor is less advanced in his development but at 20 has a string of impressive first team appearances to his name. A genuine all-rounder, he is a long way from the finished article but his ability is unquestioned. Again, demand for his services is likely to be high but I'd expect us to be able to compete up to his real, rather than anticipated value, as I don't think we'd go down the 'silly money' route of some clubs.

Ashraf? A good bowler and, if Yorkshire are offering him reduced terms, I'd expect him to be a decent punt for a move to Derbyshire, again given our inside knowledge of players from that county. Which, of course, includes knowing them warts and all. As with Azeem Rafiq, we will know his real value and whether he can make the step from promising talent to established county cricketer.

Worth keeping an eye on, that's for sure.

Something for the weekend

There's such a feel-good factor around at present that you would swear Christmas was coming...

Such is the difference that a win makes, yet the thing that I see in the comments on the blog and the emails I have received is that people understand and are buying in to what is happening at Derbyshire.

Don't get me wrong. I'll not pretend that we're now a great side, nor that we're about to win the Royal London One-Day Cup. It would be truly astonishing if we did, but Tuesday's game against a Nottinghamshire side that probably costs three times the salaries of ours will test us to the limit. The chances are we're in for a rude awakening, but at the end of the day, it is still eleven versus eleven. The thinking money will naturally be on Nottinghamshire, but we have something going for us that they don't seem to have in such abundance.

A couple of weeks ago I watched a very dispirited-looking Trent Bridge outfit fail to defend a large total against Hampshire and the body language of the players was telling as the game turned against them. Heads went down, balls weren't chased and there was a lot of staring and finger-pointing as the southern county hunted them down in style.

What I liked about Derbyshire last night was the chirpiness, the vibe, the team spirit, the celebrations. It was Musketeer-like, all for one and one for all and the coaching staff and captain are to be commended for getting the team to that state after all that has gone on this year. It was a Derbyshire against the world mentality and a delight to see.

Whether we lose on Tuesday or not and irrespective of the disappointing results of early summer, I feel that this will be seen as when it all began. There was a false dawn in 2012, but this year has seen the emergence of a group of young players who will likely be the nucleus of our side for years to come.

Slater, Hughes, Elstone, Taylor, Cotton, Cork, Knight, Hosein - in different ways and at different times they have shown their potential and worth this summer, while an experienced nucleus of Madsen, Durston, Footitt and Palladino have, as the summer has progressed, produced the figures one expects from senior professionals.

It is appropriate to acknowledge the efforts of the coaching staff in their development and also in the re-emergence of the likes of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston. Earlier in the season they couldn't buy a run, yet both have obviously worked at their game and look like the players that their reputations suggested.

There are obvious weaknesses - we're still overly reliant on the 'big four' and are not getting the input from the overseas role that we need, to name but two - but the team spirit and collaborative approach has done wonders in getting us to the quarter finals from a starting position of minus two points.

It was interesting to read this morning in the Telegraph that Derbyshire may look to sign an Australian batsman who doesn't make the Ashes tour for next year's overseas role. It could just be press talk, but there are plenty of fine players in that country and not all of them can make the tour party. I'd certainly not say no to Phil Hughes, one on the periphery of the national squad but whose averages across different formats would make him an asset. Mind you, successive double centuries against South Africa A in recent weeks have pushed his case once more...

We're moving in the right direction and while difficult decisions have had to be made, Graeme Welch has shown himself up to making them.

I'm already looking forward to next year and this one isn't done yet by some distance...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Derbyshire v Gloucestershire One-Day Trophy

 Derbyshire 271-7 (Godleman 96, Madsen 57, Elstone 37)
Gloucestershire 218 (Footitt 2-39, Wainwright 3-45)

Derbyshire won by 53 runs

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty proud of the boys tonight.

Last night I said that we needed a "Cometh the hour, cometh the man" moment. Instead, we had two variants - the plural, together with the Godleman...

I didn't see the Derbyshire innings due to a little thing called work, but I got home for the start of the reply and then caught the highlights later. I was really taken with the commitment of the Derbyshire players, who held some terrific catches and produced some stellar work in the field. Wes Durston held two fine catches of contrasting skill sets, Alex Hughes and Scott Elstone were brilliant in the field and the side was captained with a level of astuteness by Wayne Madsen (or is it Madsden, as Sky irritatingly call him) that was a delight to see. Nor should the constant 'chirping' of Gareth Cross be overlooked, keeping the field on its toes. Tom Poynton will have enjoyed that.

The bowling had its less directed moments, but the highs outweighed them. Star turn was Mark Footitt, who bowled scarily quickly at times. Certainly too quickly for poor Michael Klinger, who ended up in hospital with a broken arm after fending off a Footitt flyer.

There were a few erratic deliveries, but the merit of the bowler was obvious, not least to the commentary team. You could almost see the words "our Mitchell Johnson" running through their heads and there is little doubt that Footitt's pace is sufficient to unsettle any batsmen. Another winter of development and fitness work and...who knows?

Then there was the ball of the day from David Wainwright. The chinaman that bowled the impressive Chris Dent was stunningly effective and the bowler could not have bowled it better in his dreams. The initial comment of "his arm ball" seemed woefully inadequate to me at first viewing, the ball ripping across the hapless batsman far more quickly than an arm ball could ever do. His reaction was priceless, just as the impact was on the game and our season.

Gloucestershire fought well and were never out of the game thanks to some spirited hitting from Dent, Alex Gidman and Jack Taylor, but Derbyshire always seemed to have it under control and took wickets at the right times to peg them back.

Earlier there were fine innings in contrasting styles from Wayne Madsen, Scott Elstone (who fully justified his selection) and Tony Palladino, but the standout was Billy Godleman (pictured). He carried on in similar vein to Scarborough and anyone watching will realise that the lad can play. He has a sound technique, as well as shots around the wicket and was only denied a century by an umpiring decision that was, frankly, awful. The wicket-keeper did well for them throughout the game, but his appeal for a leg-side catch followed on from that of the bowler like the dying throes of a Mexican wave as it finished the final side of the stadium. It was poor and I felt for the lad. He produced a top effort though and can be rightly proud of it.

Meanwhile over at Old Trafford, Leicestershire collapsed like a pack of cards and a weakened Lancashire breezed to an eight-wicket win with twenty overs to spare, meaning we earned the right to a quarter-final away at the home of our dear local rivals on Tuesday.

They will start favourites and rightly so. We will be rank outsiders and the likelihood is that we will emerge on the wrong side of the result. But this is a young and impressive side who work for one another and the greatest achievement is in getting to this stage having started on minus two points. Write us off at your peril...

Top effort from our boys. We're all going to bed happy tonight...