Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire day 4

So there was a fine late effort from Derbyshire but my fears were realised as we went down to Essex at Chelmsford today.

Despondent? No, as we were essentially beaten by one terrific innings by a quality of player we will see little of this summer. Take away Alasdair Cook's effort and we'd have had that in the bag.

Yes, the batting must do better and it's unrealistic to expect the lower order to score more runs than the top order, but they will come again. Shiv looks like he's in fine fettle and the skipper fought well on the first evening. Both Stephen Moore and Billy Godleman got starts and the key now is for them to go on from there and make a worthwhile score.

Likewise, Wes 'n' Ches will need to add greater ballast to the middle order, but there's no point in overreacting to the first game of the summer. It was good to see David Wainwright get runs under his belt and Tim Groenewald's aggressive knock made us dream for a short time today. Both are good cricketers and will play a major part this season

Next up are Hampshire, who got a morale-boosting win today. They have plenty of good players, but so do we and we must aim to bounce back quickly.

I don't see many changes to the team, with Mark Turner, wicketless at Chelmsford, perhaps the most vulnerable. Tony Palladino and Jon Clare are both battling to replace him and the seam attack will be sharp, whoever gets the nod.

Onwards and upwards...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seconds update

An excellent unbeaten 134 by Rob Taylor and a useful all-round contribution from Ollie Freckingham ensured Leicestershire Second XI had a good first day against us today.

Leicestershire, fielding not far short of a first XI side, recovered from 72-4 to make 328 with Taylor and Freckingham (28) sharing the highest partnership of the innings for the eighth wicket.

Freckingham then picked up the wicket of Ben Slater as Derbyshire closed on 57-1. Paul Borrington (29*) and Scott Elstone (22*) remaining unbeaten.

The game at Grace Road started half an hour late as Derbyshire players got caught up in congestion on surrounding roads following an incident on the M1.
Opener Angus Robson made a hard-working 43 against some good Derbyshire bowling before being unfortunately run out at the non-striker’s end. The other wickets to fall in the first session were Greg Smith (3), Michael Thornely (9) and Josh Cobb (5).

Tom Wells and Lewis Hill each made 24 either side of lunch and when Wells was dismissed early in the afternoon session, Taylor came to the wicket. He unleashed a number of powerful shots down the ground, putting on 74 with Hill for the sixth wicket.

Taylor’s 50 came from just 49 deliveries with 10 fours and his hundred was recorded from 108 balls with 19 boundaries. He went on to hit a further four fours before Freckingham, Nathan Buck and Alex Wyatt were dismissed to end the innings.

Leicestershire side: Robson, Smith, Thornely, Wells, Cobb, Hill, Taylor, Sykes, Freckingham, Buck, Wyatt, Boyce.

Essex v Derbyshire day 3

So, 199 to win with five wickets left.

Logic and forty-odd years of cricket watching suggests that it isn't going to happen, especially on a last day pitch where the occasional ball is now keeping low. It shouldn't stop us trying and it won't, of course, but for me there's not enough runs in our lower order for us to win this one.

It is right that you pick your seam bowlers to take wickets, of course, and Derbyshire's have done well in this game, especially Tim Groenewald and Mark Footitt, but you wouldn't put your beer money on Footitt or Mark Turner playing the sort of lower order cameo to which we have become accustomed from Tony Palladino or Jonathan Clare. Their absence has left our tail looking longer than of late, not a criticism but a statement of fact.

Of course, while there's Shiv, there's hope, but Richard Johnson, David Wainwright and Tim Groenewald must dig in tomorrow and help the little master eke out those runs and get us at least to respectability.

The difference so far has been Alastair Cook's monumental seven hour-plus innings, without which we'd be sitting pretty tonight. He showed his class when it was needed, as has Chanderpaul, of course, yet to be dismissed in the game.

Sometimes you don't get the breaks in the game of cricket. Both Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston were caught down the leg side, always a cruel way to go, while Chesney was out to one that kept horribly low. Such misfortune tends to even out over the season, but in one that might otherwise have been close, you can live without them.

I don't expect to be reporting on a win tomorrow, but I hope that we take it closer to the wire and  show more than we did at the start of day two, when we were in a similar position. Nor do I think this is setting the standard for the season. Were it not for one world-class batsman at his best, we'd be in a winning position tonight.

Whether we get there tomorrow is down to another world-class batsman and whether he gets the support that he needs to pull off something extraordinary.

Postscript - nice to see a mid-afternoon score update from the second team game. I do hope we see these as the season goes on, as we will all be watching them with great interest.

Strong XI for Seconds opener

A strong side is playing for the Seconds at Grace Road today against Leicestershire.

There is every incentive for those involved to do well, with Graeme Welch having said that runs and wickets in second team and club cricket will force players into his reckoning.

The Derbyshire side: Borrington, Slater, Elstone. Hughes (A), Clare, Palladino, Cross, Hassan, Cork, Taylor, Cotton, Shepherd.

There's eight bowlers in that side and I would have thought both Jonathan Clare and Tony Palladino will be firing on all cylinders in the hope of making a senior start against Hampshire next weekend.

Perhaps the most interesting name in that side is that of Cross, who I can only assume is erstwhile Lancashire wicket-keeper Gareth Cross. He's a good player and was unlucky to miss out on a contract with the red rose county after they engaged England man Jos Buttler.

The need for cover while Tom Poynton recovers from his injuries was obvious and while there's some good lads in the Academy, keeping all day in a  four day game and maintaining concentration and standards  is something that takes time.

Cross has a good record and will be a good back up,  importantly keeping pressure on Richard Johnson to perform, which everyone needs to stay at their best.

I wish him and the team well.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire Day 2

"Whether the wicket eases is going to be a moot point, but it is hard to believe that Essex could bat as badly again, irrespective of the quality of the Derbyshire bowling."

So went my blog last night and my sooth-saying appears (sadly) to be alive and well. The reality is that one of the world's best international players showed his quality and, if not totally batting us out of the game yet, made it difficult for us to win it from here.

Certainly we'll need to bat with greater application than was shown in the first innings. There were some poor shots among the dismissals yesterday, while the tail folded with alarming speed this morning, leaving Shivnarine Chanderpaul high and dry at the other end.

There may be some who suggest that he might have shielded the lower order better, but he did all he could, having listened to the radio commentary. He turned down early over singles and left his partners only one or two balls to face. The problem was that they couldn't do so.

By the same token credit has to go to David Masters, one of the best county bowlers of the past ten years, for bowling straight and pitching it up, thus giving himself the best possible chance of taking wickets. He got good support from Graham Napier, another good county pro and then their batters took it away from us.

That's the thing with modern county cricket. If you play a side like Essex without their international players, things are a lot easier, unlike the old days when internationals played all the matches when there wasn't a Test match. You might say we're unlucky running into Alastair Cook, a player with a point to prove, but those are the breaks and you take it in the chin and fight back.

The first two days sum up beautifully the greatest of games. Yesterday we played excellent cricket and got our rewards. Today, we weren't so penetrative but ran up against a very good player who on the day was in the zone. There's not a great deal you can do when that happens except keep plugging away.

It will need a big and much improved batting effort to win from here, but the game is still alive. No titles are won and lost in the first game of the summer but  after winning the first day of the game, we were not really at the races in the second until the final session.

Room for improvement then, but we'll come across few better players than Alastair Cook this summer.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire day 1

On a day in which batting was never simple, Derbyshire ended it 45 runs ahead with five wickets in hand, after fifteen fell in total.

That they are in a position of some control, albeit with work still to do, is down to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whose masterful unbeaten 66 was the kind of innings you hope your overseas player will play for you when the chips are down, especially after your bowlers have done everything that could have been asked of them.

Praise is due to Wayne Madsen too, for battling away for thirty runs that were worth far more on other days, while Wes Durston opted for a more cavalier approach that worked fairly well before he gave routine slip-catching practice.

After the start given to them by Groenewald and Footitt, Derbyshire will be looking for a three-figure lead tomorrow as a bare minimum. Whether the wicket eases is going to be a moot point, but it is hard to believe that Essex could bat as badly again, irrespective of the quality of the Derbyshire bowling.

The key word for the day appeared to be discipline, with only three extras conceded in 37 overs. Tim Groenewald showed what a fine county bowler he is with his five wickets and hat trick, while it was interesting to read a correspondent on Cricinfo suggest there wasn't much between the pace of Footitt and that of Mitchell Johnson. All of which must have made Alastair Cook feel he was still in the middle of a very bad dream.

5-29 in nearly fifteen overs is high-quality bowling and doing it against the current England skipper was excellent timing by Footitt. One accusation that could be levelled at the current national side's attack is that it is very similar in pace and angle. The need for a left-arm quick of quality is considerable and Footitt, Tymal Mills and Harry Gurney of Nottinghamshire must all come under consideration as the summer progresses.

As for tomorrow, we need more of the same from Shiv and if he stays in until mid-afternoon and gets support from the lower order, the chances are that we will have built a match-winning total. I find it hard to believe that this will roll out to replicate the halcyon days of Taunton in high summer, so a decent lead and steady accumulation will be the order of the day tomorrow.

There's a long way to go, but if you'd offered us all this score last night we'd have slept nice and soundly.

Excellent effort by the boys - more of the same tomorrow, please!

Postscript - I enjoyed Iain O'Brien's commentary today. Another very promising start...

Essex v Derbyshire day 1 - lunch report

There was a lot of media coverage over the winter months regarding arrivals at the County Ground. We've had new players, new contracts and new coaches, but I can only assume that one new arrival slipped under the radar.

For surely we've picked up Hans Christian Andersen? Yet no fairytale ever matched that first morning of work by Derbyshire's seamers, with three wickets from an apparently quick and accurate Mark Footitt and four, including a first morning hat-trick, for Tim Groenewald.

At 44-1, James Foster's decision to bat first appeared to have been vindicated, but when Groenewald had England skipper Alastair Cook caught down the leg side, the slide began.

A classic hat-trick ensued - slip catch, bowled and leg-before, as Bopara, Smith and Foakes all came and went in quick time.

It was a terrific, memorable effort by the Derbyshire side, with good captaincy involved too. The important wicket of Napier went just before the break, well caught at fourth slip by Stephen Moore, just after he'd been put in there by Wayne Madsen.

There's still work to do yet and however many we get them out for, we then need to do better when its our turn in the middle.

Yet one thing is for sure.

As first mornings of the season go, they don't come much better than that.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire preview

Actually, the only way isn't Essex.

Derbyshire's delayed start to the season sees us come up against England skipper Alastair Cook, as well as Ravi Bopara. There's also a strong attack with the evergreen David Masters alongside Graham Napier and international spinner Monty Panesar, so the challenge to Derbyshire is obvious.

Yet Essex are a division two side and have been for several summers, a side that flatters to deceive in which the whole doesn't necessarily add up to the sum of its parts. International calls hurt them, of course, but the side should have made a better fist of promotion challenges than it has.

Maybe this is their year, but Cook and Bopara will again miss large chunks of the county summer and much will depend on the depth of talent behind them. Owais Shah, a regular thorn in Derbyshire sides over recent summers, has gone, but ex-England wicket-keeper James Foster leads a side with a left-arm seamer of international potential in Tymal Mills, as well as ex-County Ground player Greg Smith.

Their squad in full:

Alastair Cook
Jaik Mickleburgh
Tom Westley
Ravi Bopara
Ben Foakes
Greg Smith
James Foster (Captain/wicket-keeper),
Graham Napier
David Masters
Monty Panesar
Tymal Mills
Saj Mahmood

Graeme Welch has named the same thirteen as for the Leicestershire game, with the only decisions being whether to play three or four seamers and who then misses out. That squad in full:

Godleman, Moore, Madsen, Chanderpaul, C.Hughes, Durston, Johnson, Clare, Wainwright, Palladino, Groenewald, Footitt, Turner

None of us have seen the players in practice and since all have done well pre-season it is a call I'll happily leave to the coach. It has been a difficult week for them, but the club's handling of things - including taking the players away for a hike in the Peak District, followed by a meal, quiz and a night in bunk beds, nine to a room - has been highly impressive.

The hurt won't have gone away from last weekend's tragedy, but the players will now be focused on moving forward and winning some cricket matches. This will be a tough one that will benchmark how well the side is prepared for a championship challenge and though it would be silly to read too much into a season opener, a winning start would be no bad thing.

There's an interesting sub-plot for this one too, as the game pits the two fastest left-arm bowlers in the country - Mark Footitt and Tymal Mills - against one another, assuming both are selected. Pace is nothing without control, of course, but it will make for interesting viewing.

With a positive forecast for the next four days, we'll get a chance to see what this side is made of.

My tip? I'll go for a winning start.

Come on lads!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tell me on a Sunday...

I was following the World T20 recently and with the IPL trophy around the corner once again, gathering together the world's greatest stars, I cast my mind back to a less commercial, more innocent era in the 1960s.

As you all know, most championship matches start on Sundays this year. Back in the early 60's, Sunday sport was a no-no and television largely awful or non-existent. The then extant Sunday Observance Act of 1782 made the day one for quiet contemplation, as there was greater chance of encountering a grizzly bear in your refrigerator than seeing sport on television.

When BBC2 appeared, there was a gap to fill in the schedules on Sunday afternoons and it was the then Controller of Programmes at the BBC, Huw Wheldon, who convinced the Board of Governors of the merits of his big idea. The Rothmans Cavaliers fixtures, that had become a feature of the English summer from 1963, became a staple of Sunday afternoon TV from 1965 to 1968, prior to the start of the John Player Sunday League the following summer. No worries in that era about tobacco sponsorship, eh...?

From week to week the team changed, but the Cavaliers side introduced some wonderful players to a wider audience than ever before. There was South African Fred Goldstein, whose approach to the game made our own later import, Chris Wilkins, look circumspect in comparison. Goldstein opened the innings to impose himself and match reports usually read that he 'batted beautifully for eight overs before holing out in the deep'. There were West Indians, Keith Boyce and John Shepherd among them, though Garfield Sobers was a much-appreciated regular. There were also occasional glimpses of the great South Africans; Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter, Lee Irvine. Best of all, from my perspective, you would occasionally see retired legends reappear, so there was a chance to see Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans once in a while. A Derbyshire side I saw play them had Les Jackson in the eleven, a legend who had been retired for several seasons.

All very familiar, isn't it? Of course, the results were spectacular and capacity crowds filled the grounds while large audiences viewed on television. Much of this was down to the quality of the cricket, though it shouldn't be overlooked that pubs across the country shut at 2pm on a Sunday, re-opening at 7pm, pretty much when the day's match had ended. For many people, the only place to get a beer on a Sunday afternoon was at the cricket, so to the cricket they went.

So impressive was the public response that Sunday championship cricket was trialled in 1966 for the first time, with play beginning at 2pm. Other sports started to follow suit and cricket authorities realised that there was gold to be had in a Sunday League, which started in 1969. It sounded the death knell for the Cavaliers, as the biggest names were by then engaged by counties, but Sunday cricket was now acceptable and the John Player League a huge hit.

And why not? There was a chance to see some of the game's greats, alongside some of its characters, with commentary provided by the dream team of John Arlott and Jim Laker. Arlott was the wordsmith, his bon mots worth listening out for and hanging on to, while Laker was more succinct, his economy with language and consonants the equal of his bowling a few years before. It was Laker who introduced me to the joys of Little 'arry Pillin' of Lancashire, a player whose lack of height gave this teenage boy of similar stature the thought that he could play the game.

There was also Jim Yardley, a left-hander who only had two shots - a dab through gulley and a pull - but made a lot of runs in doing so. Until I added six inches to my height one summer, they were the shots that scored 99% of my runs too...

They were golden days and were the catalyst for Sundays being a day of sport for millions, yet its worth remembering that the scoring rate in county matches today often exceeds that in the early summers of the John Player League, where 150 in 40 overs won more matches than not.

I hope that this summer's Sunday cricket is worthy of its predecessors and that Derbyshire fill it with a brand of controlled, aggressive cricket that has been the preserve of the best Sabbath sides for nearly fifty years.

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be nice, too.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Midweek musings

In the opening skirmishes of the county cricket season, it is always interesting to look around and detect potential patterns and issues for the various teams.

Lancashire pretty much stormed division two last year, but their batting looks very inexperienced for division one and they seem to have been caught cold in a manner similar to our travails at the start of last year. There's a lot of talent in their ranks, but the only batsman of any experience in that top order, Ashwell Prince, is going to have to score a lot of runs to keep them in contention.

Of course, the batsmen may learn quickly and they might also sign an overseas player to fill the gap, but laudably they are building for the future. The short-term one, it must be said, doesn't look unduly promising, as the Nottinghamshire attack that rolled them over was far from a first-choice one.

In our division, the wickets have tumbled but I don't think we can read too much into things yet. OK, apart from perhaps that my selection of Jim Allenby (4 wickets and an unbeaten 29 so far) for my fantasy team may prove a decent bit of business...

Worcestershire have signed Kiwis Colin Munro and Mitchell McClenaghan for different parts of the season, so with Saeed Ajmal seem to have the overseas bases well-covered, but they still don't strike me as a team to worry about unduly, unless they get on a run. Retaining Moeen Ali will help, though good form could seem him a part of a new-look England set up.

There was the wicket of England hopeful Varun Chopra for our own Johny Marsden, playing for Oxford University today, while last week's opponents Durham MCCU were back to their unduly profligate selves against Durham (short trip, that one...), conceding over forty extras after giving away seventy against us. I'd have thought that something to work on for the coach...

Finally tonight, there are thirteen teams (unlucky for some..) in the Peakfan Blog Championship as the summer began. Gary Cunningham  is the early leader, after sweeping three prizes last year, though the Peakfan Prime XI is hot - some might say luke-warm - on his heels in second place.

Not bad, since I have three Derbyshire players in my eleven and we've yet to play. We're two teams short of  being able to award medals at the end of the summer, so if anyone wants to make a late bid and get involved, please do so. 8031395 is the PIN for the league. Mail me if you need more information.

That's it for now - more from me in the next couple of days.