Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday musings - golden age?

In the arts and  sport especially, golden eras are a known and common phenomenon.

Ask any fan of opera about its golden era and most would probably plump for the inter-war era, when giants such as McCormack, Tauber, Gigli, Ponselle, Melba and Pinza bestrode the operatic world with performances that even today sound as vibrant as they ever did.

Country music fans will doubtless plump for the period between 1955 and 1965, when the true greats of the genre were recording some of its finest-ever songs. With the likes of Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Don Gibson and Porter Waggoner in their impressive pomps, it would be hard to argue against it.

Then there's rock and the golden period between 1969 and the mid-1980's, when both the hard and softer rock fans enjoyed the greatest of artists, from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Free, to the less notorious and perhaps - for some - easier on the ear bands, largely originating from across the pond in the good old US of A.

Then there's Derbyshire sport - especially football and cricket. Are we about to enter a golden era?

Take Derby County. At the moment, I follow the games and largely feel confident that an excellent squad under Steve McClaren is always likely to get a positive result. There have been other times in the club's long history when there has been great success - most notably under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, then under Dave Mackay - but at those times the county cricket club was not enjoying one of its stronger periods.

Derbyshire County Cricket Club had a good side in the 1950s, but the football team spent most of that period in the lower divisions and one has to go back to the 1930s to a period when both sides, especially the cricketers, were among the best in the country.

Today? Derby County aren't back in the top flight yet, but in their present form they are going to take some stopping. In the process, they are playing an at times breathtaking form of football that entertains and gets results. Crowds  - always steady in a football city - are flocking back  to the numbers of the halcyon days and rightly so. The game isn't cheap these days, but some of the pain can be lessened if you leave at the end of the game feeling you have been entertained.

Likewise with our cricket club. In the closing weeks of last season, I watched Derbyshire play with a confidence and purpose - a swagger, if you will - that I haven't often seen. There was a ruthless purpose to the cricket and everyone seemed to know their role. If wickets didn't fall to one bowler, he kept it quiet and someone else chipped in. Runs were contributed down the order and the vibe was both positive and encouraging.

Both clubs enjoy a fine team spirit, evident from the way that they celebrate success and battle back in adversity. Both increasingly have sets of fans who see obvious signs of progress and improvement, the longstanding moaners of Derbyshire sport having been, if not silenced, quietened for the first time in many a year.

Good times, my friends and it may be that we're witnessing the start of a golden era of Derbyshire sport. As long as the current incumbents of the key roles at both clubs are left to get on with the excellent jobs that they do, I think we're all going to have a few years to gladden our hearts in our dotage.

I'll settle for that.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Something for the weekend

An interesting comment came from next year's Leicestershire overseas star, Clint McKay, today.

"The more Australians you get in the dressing room the better," said McKay, in the same piece in which the county were linked with a move for ex-Glamorgan Aussie Mark Cosgrove, potentially as captain. The latter went back home in an attempt to force his way into the national side, but realistically, that was always unlikely. A player whose impressive average was only exceeded by his waistline was always going to struggle to get into the international game, but he could doubtless do a job for them, though perhaps not in setting the standard in the 'beep' tests...

If nothing else, it would, should he impress, add to the relocation expenses paid by Nottinghamshire if they subsequently sign him on the back of positive performances. Sorry, but it is hard to be anything other than caustic, given their nigh-biennial raid on Grace Road. I can't say that I'd be a huge fan of any county turning to a league of nations approach for success, but I can understand the rationale to some extent.

They have brought on plenty of young players, but retained few of them. Why that should be is a question that only they can answer, as one would assume that nurturing young talent might inspire a collective loyalty. That, I'm sure, is something that Derbyshire will be hoping for from their current exciting crop of talent and perhaps the crux of the issue is how such young players are treated, on and off the field.

It is the same in any walk of life, of course. Look after people and they are more likely to stick around; failure to do so can often result in a fast turnover to the detriment of the organisation. My understanding is that the young players at Derbyshire are treated very well and are now being given opportunity. The latter has never been in short supply at our near neighbours, so maybe the greatest need is for someone to lead, to set an example, to create the type of team spirit that is so obvious at the 3AAA County Ground.

We went down the overseas route of course. Cricketers on a passport of convenience came through our doors fairly recently and many did fairly well. The likes of Chris Bassano, Ant Botha, Wavell Hinds and  Robin Peterson performed creditably, while others, such as Travis Friend, Michael Dighton and Stuart Law were less successful is sporadic appearances. It was always likely to be so, of course, as short-term engagements to fulfil a short-term need.

I wouldn't be averse to another Kolpak at some point, should the need arise and the right player become available. The club's blueprint allows for a 9-2 representation of English-qualified to overseas players, but the path we're now on is unquestionably the right one for our long-term aspirations.

For the sake of local rivalry and for the greater good of cricket, I hope that Leicestershire, a club with a proud history, come through these testing times. They have hit rock bottom and the only way is up.

But their next appointment, that of a cricket manager or supremo of undisclosed title, will perhaps be the crucial one.  I think that they are pretty much where we were five years ago, before Chris Grant came into the club and led the way on new levels of professionalism, on and off the pitch.

The right man with a vision can perhaps be the catalyst for an upturn in their fortunes.

I don't like to think of the alternative for them...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Monday, good to me!

The start of a new week always brings wistful sighs for those who love their weekends and just wish they could last a teensy bit longer. Like five days longer, in my case, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, as John Wayne once (allegedly) said in a film or two...

Still, the good vibrations (spot the ongoing musical references) continued with news that all but two of the Christmas party nights had been filled at the club, testament to a fantastic effort by the off-field team, as well as a response from the Derbyshire public to what is a wonderful facility in the marquee.

I am sure the events will go well and am equally sure that the money raised will go towards improving the club's playing resources, putting us on a more level playing field with other counties. The vast improvement on this side of the business in recent times has been quite extraordinary.

Then the membership fees for next year were announced and supporters will be pleased to see no massive hike in the costs of watching cricket. It is very good value, especially when one compares it to football and my guess is that those sensible enough to sign up are going to get good value next summer, with a lot of exciting - and successful - cricket in store.

On the field, the big news is that Graeme Welch admits we are 'in talks' with Cheteshwar Pujara over a return next summer. I don't know about you, but that's the best that I have heard in some time. I think back to the innings that I saw against Leicestershire and, notwithstanding the opposition attack not being the finest, it was one of breathtaking skill and poise.

It was interesting to read on Cricinfo that a number of Indian cricket fans are urging Pujara to ignore the IPL for this year and instead, come to the ultimate finishing school that is county cricket.

Given that last year he earned £190,000 from a peripheral role with Kings XI Punjab, that will be a tough gig to ignore. I think we will be looking at cover for the early summer, with Pujara (hopefully) coming in June for the second half of the season.

Good news to start the week though!

More from me as the week progresses.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Davis news lights up dismal October

The news that exciting, eighteen year old Academy seamer Will Davis (pictured) has been selected for the England Development Programme  comes as welcome relief for Derbyshire cricket fans.

Davis is the latest off a conveyor belt of talent emerging from the Academy. For too many years, the only seam bowler of note who came through was Atif Sheikh , now at Leicestershire. His inability to 'knuckle down' was apparently an issue with us and it is hoped that he learned his lesson and will go on to a decent county career with our neighbours. He shouldn't lack opportunity there, that's for sure and if anyone ever had incentive to work hard over the winter, then Sheikh has.

For Davis, however, the future is bright and he will take his place among the likes of Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor and Greg Cork, all of them fighting for a senior opportunity. I was amused to read on another site that we should make a move for Tymal Mills of Essex, which immediately raised the question "Why?" to my lips.

Mills is older than our quartet and that he has raw pace and some ability is undeniable. Yet he is a long way from a proven county bowler and to sign such a player, for me, sends out completely the wrong message to young players. Our own lads have some way to go, but they will doubtless work very hard over the winter and I expect to see them return stronger in 2015. Their potential is every bit as good as that of Mills, who appears likely to go to Sussex or Worcestershire.

I'd far sooner promote and offer opportunity to locally-reared talent, unless we can bring in someone who covers a gap or is noticeably better. There are a good few players of nomadic bent out there who will play anywhere for the biggest salary. There are others who want to be a part of something and are happy to take a decent reward for doing so, without being perceived avaricious. While I don't blame people for taking larger rewards, there is sometimes a bigger picture.

Take Gemaal Hussain. After years of trudging round counties for trials, he got a deal at Gloucestershire and had a terrific season in 2010, taking 67 wickets at 22. He could have had a decent, lengthy career there, on bowler-friendly tracks, but instead opted for a move to Somerset, where conditions were less favourable. In three seasons he took forty-two wickets at around 45 and drifted from the county game.

Greg Smith is another. Has his career really kicked on by moving to Essex? The answer is no, as he is far from a regular in the side. Like the policeman in Pirates of Penzance, the lot of a professional cricketer, approaching thirty and outside the first team, can not be a happy one. That's why I expect to see us sign Wayne White soon, offering him a more productive and beneficial environment than that at Old Trafford. With hard work, especially on his batting, White could get back to his best days at Leicestershire and be a major component of a Derbyshire side I expect to challenge seriously for promotion next year.

Around the circuit, another Greg Smith, the Leicestershire variety, has signed for Nottinghamshire. He is another player of talent, but he will be hard pressed to force into a batting line-up of big names and I'm unsure as to whether he has been especially well advised. I'm not sure I'd want my lad to sign for a club where the next big name is only a cheque book flourish away. Broad, Taylor, Gurney, Smith...maybe the solution for Leicestershire is to change their name to Nottinghamshire Seconds and get their full, financial support...

Didn't get their best player though, did they? I'm looking forward to seeing Shiv Thakor next summer and he's another reason for a smile on my face as we go through the worst month for cricket fans. While the players are doubtless soaking their weary bones in the Aegean or somewhere, we fans are resigned to six months (or approximately 180 sleeps if it makes you feel any better) till 'proper' sport starts again.

There's the Big Bash and IPL between times, but that is just an aperitif before we see our team back in action. Hopefully there will be some news from the club soon.

Which is roughly when I'll be back!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Fantasy League Roll of Honour

This year's Peakfan Blog County Championship winner, through the Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League, was Dean Doherty.

He saw off a late charge from Matthew Entwistle to stay top of the tree and win - well, nothing really, apart from the kudos of being top dog. Gary Cunningham finished a very creditable third  with Dean's second side coming in fourth.

The league came in 57th in the "League of Leagues" championship. A creditable performance, but the hard work starts here and I expect you all back for pre-season training in November. Sorry, I got confused with Graeme Welch there..make it April...

We were one team short of having medals for the top placing participants, so hopefully we can get past that next year and have, if not a medal ceremony, perhaps a photo of me putting the envelopes in the post to the winners, while whistling the national anthem...

I'm quite happy with my comfortably mid-table placing, especially since I didn't look at it after the middle of June and ended up with around a dozen unused substitute players.

Special mention does have to go to the near-psychic Tim Boswell. He entered the league with the appositely-named "And in last place". And they were, comfortably behind Paul Kirk's "Half Cut Cutters".

So Tim, with such form behind you, perhaps you can get in touch with a forecast on Derbyshire's prospects for 2015?

That's got to be worth a flutter for any fan who enjoys an occasional dabble with the bookies...

The blog in winter

Thanks to all of you for your continued support of the blog, wherever you read it.

Whether that support is financial (and thanks again to Office Care for their kind support over the past two summers) or in checking in on a regular basis, it is much appreciated. Your comments and emails are always appreciated and, while we may not always agree, they are usually well-written and well thought out.

This has been the biggest single year of the blog's development. and there have been close to a quarter of a million visits in the past six months. With an additional half million views through Sportskeeda in India, the pieces on Derbyshire cricket have now had almost a million and a quarter reads. More than in my wildest dreams? Yeah, you could say that with confidence...

With the cricket behind us for another year and the cricket bags stashed away in the loft, I won't be blogging every night, but expect to do so two or three times a week, depending on what is happening in Derbyshire cricket.

I will also be widening the net and covering broader cricket issues as they are relevant to the county and commenting on signings by our rivals ahead of the 2015 summer.

Other features will include interviews with past club players. I have recently completed an interview with spin bowling legend Edwin Smith, who took more wickets for the county than anyone else still alive, and am currently working on another featuring our long-serving opening batsman, Alan Hill. Both have given generously of their time and I hope that the finished pieces do two fine players justice.

I have also finished transcribing an interview with our legendary groundsman, Walter Goodyear and that will be worth a read. Walter is the only surviving direct link with pre-war Derbyshire cricket and his stories will hopefully prove as fascinating to you as they were to me.

I'll be back soon - between times, enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Midweek musings

The season isn't long finished but already the revolving doors at some counties are spinning apace.

David Balcombe has moved from Hampshire to Surrey; Hampshire have replaced him with overseas pairing Yasir Arafat and Jackson Bird, while Tymal Mills  - the man who would be Footitt - has left Essex, with Worcestershire his expected new home.

The latter will need to strengthen substantially to compete in the top tier of the county game. They looked an average team at best in the second half of the summer, having effectively climbed to the top of the table on the back of Saeed Ajmal's wickets. They are reputedly keen to re-engage him for next summer, but you can bet your bottom dollar that his action will be under intense scrutiny and it may be that the Pakistan cricket authorities are less keen for him to be closely monitored after remedial work.

Now comes news that Sunil Narine, perhaps the best one-day spinner in the world game, is under scrutiny, specifically around his quicker ball. Photographs on the web suggest that his arm is a long way from ramrod straight when he delivers this ball, although it would be premature to suggest a problem. Taken from some angles a number of great bowlers over the years have looked to have a suspicious  'kink' in their elbow at some point in the action, including undeniable greats such as Trueman, Lindwall and Larwood. Yet the hunt is on for bowlers whose action does not conform to accepted tolerance. It is, one would have to say, somewhat ironic, after years when certain bowlers have been allowed to play without question.

I think there's a few bowlers whose basic action is fair, but who get into problems when they try to bowl a quicker ball, or one with a little more spin imparted.  Hopefully Ajmal and Narine both get the all-clear eventually, as watching batsmen against top-class spin is one of the thrills of the great game.

On a local basis, today's news is that Kevin Dean is going to work as a 'scout' for Derbyshire, reporting back on the opposition, the wickets and potential signing targets.

He will undoubtedly fill the role well and it is further evidence of the professionalism of the new structure. On and off the field, there are few better organised clubs than ours and I remain confident that it will result in an excellent summer in 2015.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

No real surprises in club awards night

Mark Footitt was, as entirely expected, voted the Player of the Year at the club awards last night.

Wayne Madsen won the awards for the two one-day competitions, in which he batted splendidly, while Ben Slater deservedly took the award for most improved player. After the summer he has had, few could have been surprised.

Greg Cork was second eleven player of the year for some fine displays with bat and ball, while the highly talented Will Davis was the Academy equivalent.

There were also two awards each for Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein, doing their bit for the wicket-keeping brethren, while Footitt also won the LV County Championship player of the season award to complete a memorable evening.

Finally this year's recipient of the Spirit of Cricket Derbyshire award was Billy Godleman, for accepting with good grace the decision that saw him given out on 96 against Gloucestershire in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

If I'm honest - and I always am - then there should be one extra award - and that goes to Chris Airey, writer on the club website.

In describing the above decision as 'contentious' he wins the inaugural Peakfan "Restraint in the Call of Duty" award for diplomatic phrasing. No trophy, I'm afraid...just the kudos of a job well done.

I think a more apposite word was "appalling."

Billy and Chris - I salute you both.

Season Review - Derbyshire County Cricket Club

At the start of the summer, I wrote that it was important for supporters to give Graeme Welch and his coaching staff time. Roles that only began in the new year needed time to embed and there was a need for players and coaches to get to know one another.

That was always going to be the case, but early season events conspired against the coaching team. The loss of Tom Poynton in a car crash that ended his season and caused the death of his father was one that affected everyone, irrespective of the support mechanisms put in place. So too did the loss of Peter Burgoyne and Richard Johnson to stress-related issues that saw them leave the club. A short notice replacement wicket-keeper had to be brought in and Gareth Cross did as well as could have been expected in the circumstances. Yet the move necessitated using the funds for a second T20 overseas player, which impacted on the next stage of the season.

The first half of the summer was horrid from a fan's perspective and positivity was difficult. Yet we could well have won the season opener, but for a world-class innings from the current England captain on a rare county outing. That may have kick-started the season, but there followed a series of anaemic performances that bore no relation to the talent within the squad.

The T20 campaign was likewise awful, but again the side hinted at the ability by beating Warwickshire, who went on to take the trophy. Games were lost by poor use of the batting power play, by insufficient mastery of the requisite bowling skill-sets and by leaving bowlers on for too long, too often. Success in T20 comes down to scoring well in the first six overs, then building on it, followed by short, sharp one-over spells for bowlers, so batsmen don't get their range. We didn't do that and results were disappointing, yet again.

Yet the tour game against India marked a watershed. Young players came in and added enthusiasm, together with high levels of skill and the second half of the summer saw a different side. The Royal London One-Day Cup was marked with some excellent performances and progress to the quarter-finals, reward for fine cricket. We were effectively beaten by James Taylor, another batsman of international pedigree, who showed his worth in an innings of some brilliance that took the game away from us, though supporters could take heart from a battling display.

Meanwhile, the county championship season was turned around by a series of displays in which the words 'dominating' and 'ruthless' could be applied to Derbyshire cricket for the first time in a long while. Having the fastest bowler in the country helped and Mark Footitt blew away sides time after time with a series of superb and hostile performances. He deserves the utmost credit for turning around an injury-plagued career and earning Lions recognition this winter - as of course do the fitness and physiotherapy team that kept him going through a long season.

He was well supported by a seam attack which, by season end, had extraordinary depth and potential. While the departure of Tim Groenewald was criticised by some supporters at the time, by season end he had largely been forgotten, as Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton and Greg Cork emerged to show real promise in their fledgling displays. With Johny Marsden and Will Davis behind them, the seam attack looks set for a golden era. The admirable Tony Palladino continued to offer good value with bat and ball, while Wayne White came in on loan and suggested he would be an excellent addition for next summer if he can be signed on a permanent deal.

There remain concerns over the spin bowling, with Wes Durston's occasional off-spin doing far better than the slows of David Wainwright as specialist spinner. There is scope for Tom Knight to emerge as first-choice spinner next year, if the winter re-model of his action proves effective. His batting developed remarkably this year and he could be a special, all-round player if his work ethic is strong enough.

The batting was fragile at the start of the summer but picked up well. Credit has to be given to the coaching staff, as well as the players themselves, for turning around the careers of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston. The former emerged as a solid opener with a good range of shots when set, while Durston turned the clock back to his glory days with some scintillating displays, together with handy off-spin that often got wickets when most required.

Ben Slater came through to suggest we have at last found an opening batsman who could last us for years, while Alex Hughes showed enough with bat and ball to suggest he will be a real asset . Both will be better known next year, but I am confident in both of their futures if they work at their games. The difference in the bowling of the latter, between the start and end of the season, was marked, while Slater simply looked like he belonged at first-class level.

Shiv Chanderpaul was solid, without perhaps the aggregates of his pomp, but his influence on young players cannot be underestimated. However, his replacement, Marcus North, failed. There was a blistering T20 knock at Leicester in defeat, but he never looked fully fit to me. While the rationale of his recruitment as an experienced international batsman was clear, the glory days appeared behind a worthy cricketer and it simply didn't work in any format.

Nor did the signing of Gaz Cross, who played a few T20 cameos but little of substance, while his wicket-keeping swayed between competent and sloppy. In late season, supporters were given another taste of things to come when Harvey Hosein made the team, after finishing school. The youngster appears to have soft hands and takes a ball well, but his exemplary footwork makes awkward catches routine. His batting also impressed and he appears to have a very bright future. He will doubtless push the sorely-missed Tom Poynton all the way next year.

In the second half of the summer, Derbyshire earned around forty points more than the next best county. Such form over the full season would have seen them ease to promotion. Replication next summer will make them the team to beat and we proved ourselves a match for any in the division.

If we can recruit the impressive Cheteshwar Pujara for 2015, or as much of it as international commitments allow, we will take some stopping. While there are still some players on the staff with points to prove, we ended the summer able to field a side that had all made positive strides forward during the year, the first time that could be said  in a long time.

Wayne Madsen did a fine job as skipper. He seemed to learn a lot in the one-day role as the season progressed and remained the lynchpin of the batting in all formats. He is also an admirable figurehead and role model for the club and it continues to be a pleasure to watch him bat. Whether he can continue to captain in all competitions is a question only he can answer, as the demands are high, but he is a massive asset to our club.

Graeme Welch came with a strong reputation that had been enhanced at the end of the season. He knows that expectations will be higher next summer, but he has elevated and accelerated young talent and been rewarded. While some of the events of the summer represented a baptism of fire, he came through brilliantly and showed himself the right man for the job, unafraid to make tough decisions. Anyone watching the intensity of pre-match fielding sessions and the team spirit of the side in the closing months will be aware that we are on the right track and that 2015 could, with the right additions to the squad, be special.

As supporters, we can be enthused and must continue to encourage. The club is in excellent shape and the exciting off-field plans are indicative of a club that is extremely well run, on and off the field. As long as no one does something silly to rock the boat, we are well set for a very bright future.

Well done to all many sleeps is it till April?

Picture taken as I left the 3AAA County Ground after the Leicestershire win. The one at the top in mid-summer.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Strange, but true..

On my way to the cricket yesterday, I stopped at Morrisons garage near the ground to get some fuel.

As I was filling up (the car, I wasn't emotional at the thought of being at the cricket again..) I looked across the forecourt and saw an unmistakable face across from me.

'Twas Gregory Cork with his motor, a modest but nice set of wheels and a personalised number plate to boot. It struck me that it was the first time in all my years that I had seen a Derbyshire player out of context - i.e. away from the ground.

I've met celebrities in unusual places before. I once met American country music star Marty Stuart outside Marks and Spencer in Glasgow (he was playing there that night, he hadn't taken a wrong turn...) and I also bumped into - literally - the actress, Greta Scacchi in WH Smith. We had a lengthy conversation, something along the lines of:

Me - "Oh, I'm sorry.."

Her - smiling...remember that - "It's alright."

I'm sure she fell for my debonair charms, but then she was gone from my life forever. But she smiled at me and I remind my wife of that whenever we've seen her in films subsequently. Usually White Mischief, in which she played a part where she was gorgeous. And also naked for much of the time.

I didn't get a chance to chat to Greg, but the portents were good as I went into the ground and had a look at the newspaper. I was surprised by something that I read.

Sam Kelsall released by Nottinghamshire.

Really? I subsequently heard from a couple of contacts on the dark side (I jest, lads...) who told me that their club were planning to sign Will Root, brother of Joe, who had a fine season for their second team. Kelsall was apparently sacrificed so they could engage Root. Even moneybags Nottinghamshire have to balance the books...hold the front page!

It set me thinking though. Kelsall, a diminutive batsman of similar stature to James Taylor, came through the same, excellent Staffordshire system that has seen us benefit from Alex Hughes, Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor in recent times. He will be well-known to our club and its coaching staff and would be of value as an option in the opening berths.

While Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes have been one-day options, neither are really four-day openers. Kelsall could be. He averaged over forty for Nottinghamshire in the second eleven championship; over fifty in the one-day competition. While we have plenty of middle-order competition for next year, we don't at the top of the order. He is the right age (21) and right ability for us and, while I can see interest from around the circuit in such a player (er...Leicestershire for one) he would surely be attracted to an opportunity to join Welch's wonders. Crucially, he should also be affordable.

I have no idea if he fits the bill for Graeme Welch, but he seems a better fit, at least to me, for where we are going than someone like Stephen Peters or Matt Pardoe, released by Northamptonshire and Worcestershire respectively.

And if he turned out as well as Mark Footitt - we'd not complain, would we? Something to think on, over the weekend.

Enjoy yours. Tomorrow I drive back to bonnie Scotland.

Maybe I will see Greta again...