Sunday, 22 March 2020

The wait continues...

So no cricket until the end of May, which surely guarantees that April and May are two of the best months of weather we have seen in years...

I hope that I am wrong, but I can see our wait for the greatest of games going on for longer than that. Perhaps we will get some cricket in between July and September, but what that delay does for the game at all levels is a moot point.

I know my old club side started to struggle when an ageing drainage system that we could not afford to replace cost them a lot of matches, even when the sun shone brightly. Players started to find other things to occupy their time and when we managed to get back onto the field, availability was increasingly a struggle.

It may take some time, but I hope that people support their local and county clubs, during and after this crisis. I have no idea what form the county game will take for the remainder of this summer, but I hope that there is some four-day cricket, even friendlies, because otherwise the game doesn't work for me. Six hours each way for a Vitality Blast game doesn't work, twelve hours of travelling for three hours of cricket. I am not alone in that, so just hope that whatever cricket is manufactured for a potential start date doesn't ignore the traditionalists, of which there are many.

As I said the other day, I will try and produce new material to keep the blog interesting and fresh, even though there will be no live cricket to write about for the next eight weeks at least.

Whether the cricket we have coming up will feature our current overseas players is another question. It will all depend on the dates, the competitive element and the speed at which a semblance of normality can be restored.

England's land may still be green and pleasant, but it is an odd one, right now.

Stay safe everyone. Keep in touch and see you on the other side.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Concern around the counties

According to a report in the Telegraph, around half of the counties could become bankrupt if the Coronavirus outbreak allows no cricket this summer.

That sobering thought is one to make a man choke on his cornflakes, yet should hardly come as a surprise. Cricket, like any other business, depends on cash flow and  without the major injection from the T20, especially, many will struggle. It is not just the crowds at the cricket, it is the potential cancellation of money-spinning events, income from refreshments, memberships...we could go on.

Given that the ECB have ploughed a lot of their reserves into the competition that no one wants, were I a betting man I would have a flutter on any cricket from July onwards, which is being mentioned as a potential start date, comprising that competition and a rearranged T20, with little to no four-day cricket for traditionalists such as me.

Having said that, the counties will still get their ECB money, which will be a lifeline for many. We are also fortunate to have announced that record £400K profit, and there will be additional concern around the country where results have been less impressive.

They could feasibly play into October, of course but at this stage, when the goalposts are changing all the time, we have no idea when we can return to even a semblance of normality. When sport is allowed to return there will be plenty of it competing for attention and we can only hope that the Championship in football doesn't end up scheduled on the same night as a T20 game, with an inevitable loss of income in what is very much a football city.

I am sure that the return of sport and access to amenities that we have perhaps taken for granted for too long  will see bumper crowds. It is why I see this as a silver lining for the ECB, because if the return of sport is their competition on national television, there may even be hardened cynics who will tune in for their 'fix'.

It is a major concern and like many others, fortunate to have been born well away from the disruptions of world wars, something I had hardly considered. A summer without cricket is like twenty-four hours without daylight. Much as I enjoy my football, cricket is and will always be my first love. Yet we must all keep it in perspective, when there are thousands dying now and likely in the weeks to come.

It presents additional challenges, of course. Not least for Derbyshire, who were due to celebrate their 150th anniversary this summer. I would assume that serious consideration is being given to postponing the celebrations to next year, which will not be strictly accurate, but allows time for the many ideas they have come up with to be planned with a greater degree of confidence.

I am sure that there will be plenty of commemorative merchandise in production, perhaps already at the club. There will be those who feel that we should still celebrate it in the truncated summer that we MAY have left.

My own thoughts are that it should be delayed until 2021. They could sell the merchandise, by all means, but ideas that I have seen for a cricket match, gala dinners and events with large crowds expected are going to have a question mark over them for some time to come. Northamptonshire's Alex Wakely has bowed to the inevitable and deferred his testimonial until next year, so to me it makes sense.

As for me, I will continue to write blog pieces when there is news, and hope to at least mark the anniversary with a series of pieces on memorable matches from our history.

I don't expect to see any cricket sometime soon, though.

All we can do is keep fingers crossed.

Your comments on the above are gratefully received, as always.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

And then...

No sooner had it begun than the Derbyshire players are set to return home, in light of the corona virus.

It makes sense, and is not at all unexpected. With sporting events around the world being cancelled, and other clubs on overseas tours returning home, it was only a matter of time before we did so.

Pre-season will now continue at the Pattonair County Ground.

As for the season itself, who knows what is going to happen?

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Derbyshire ease to pre-season opener win

Derbyshire 174-5 (du Plooy 79* Madsen 44, Dal 22*

Zimbabwe Select XI 126-8 (Chari 42, McKiernan 2-25)

Derbyshire won by 48 runs

What a pleasure it is to be writing about Derbyshire cricket again after the long winter!

How long it lasts, of course, is down to circumstances beyond cricket control, but the fielded eleven did all that could have been expected in their tour opener, played over 20 overs.

There was a touch of deja vu in the performances. After the early loss of Critchley and Reece, the openers, Madsen breezed to 44 from just 28 balls, before Leus du Plooy played in the accustomed manner for an unbeaten 79 from just 51 balls, with 6 sixes and 3 fours. He got fine support from Anuj Dal , who made an unbeaten 22 as the pair added 83 from the last seven overs.

du Plooy hit three successive sixes at one stage and it whets the appetite of supporters quite nicely.

The Zimbabwe XI lost two early wickets to Ravi Rampaul and Mattie McKiernan, before a third wicket stand gave a little hope. They were never up with the rate, however and a flurry of wickets towards the end gave the innings a lopsided look.

Rampaul once again was a standout, with 2-14 in his four overs, while credit goes to McKiernan, who opened and closed the bowling after missing most of last summer. Two leggies in the side was interesting to see, and McKiernan, like Rampaul, bowled sixteen dot balls. Tony Palladino played but didn't bowl, Billy Godleman didn't play and Alex Hughes skippered the side.

The only concern was Sam Conners not finishing his fourth over, but hopefully he did so as a precaution, rather than anything serious.

We'll not read too much into it, but it is always good to get a win, something they accomplished with a lot to spare.

PS Conners was later revealed to have had cramp in his foot, so nothing serious! 

Friday, 13 March 2020

Derbyshire return record profit to end year of great encouragement

After one of the most encouraging on-field summers in many years in 2019, Derbyshire put the icing on the cake today with the announcement of a profit over the year of £402,000.

It is a club record and worthy of huge congratulations to everyone involved in the off-field side of things. They run a tight ship and there is little to spare in the staffing, but it shows what can be done when everyone has a job to do, knows it and does it to a very high standard.

There was a time, in the early days of this blog, when I was critical of the way the club was run, but it is very hard to do so today. It is a friendly set up and the warm welcome from all involved is a pleasure.

It is easy, as a supporter of the cricket side, to become blase about the 'other stuff'. Yet it is in the success of that other stuff that the club can develop and thrive. Together with their income from the new media deal, the success of the annual fireworks show, the festive parties, concerts and meetings contribute to a very healthy picture. As did making Finals Day for the first time, which put a handy £57K into the coffers, while record attendance receipts saw an additional £91K.

It has helped Dave Houghton to strengthen this winter, while there are plans to increase the seating, replace the scoreboard and install new toilets, as well as enhancing the concessions around the ground.

I was only saying to my Dad the other night that I couldn't recall being so enthused with the set up and staff of both my football and cricket teams as I am at present. Phillip Cocu is doing a sterling job at Derby County, while Dave Houghton gives off similar calm vibes, of a man who knows what he is doing and how to take the club forward.

'Underestimated no more' is the tag line used often in social media posts from Derbyshire, and they are right. There will be few teams turn up to play us this summer and expect us to roll over, as the side is packed with professionalism from top to bottom.

If we can display another ten per cent improvement in the playing personnel when we get to the season opener, what a belter 2020 may turn out to be.

A record profit as we begin our 150th anniversary year.

Winning a trophy would make it a very, very special one indeed.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Pre-season tour begins - and the end for Fantasy Cricket

Derbyshire's players fly out to Zimbabwe tomorrow on a three-week tour.

At the invitation of Zimbabwe Cricket, they will play two three-day matches, two 50-over matches and two T20s on the tour, which runs until March 29.

It will be ideal preparation for a summer in which only the foolhardy will discount the talent in the squad. I know that I have been optimistic in seasons past, but there are now real grounds for optimism among supporters, with a strong and relatively young squad that covers most of the playing bases. As long as we have the same level of commitment - and I suspect that is a given, with who we have at the club - we should be challenging this summer.

I am especially interested to see how our attack goes, with more options than previous summers. If two or three of them fire, then the batting should enable us to win games in all formats.

I look forward to following and reporting on the tour matches.

Also eagerly awaited will be the return of the county's excellent streaming service, this year enhanced as they have sorted the issues that previously saw the radio commentary out of synchronisation. I only occasionally listen to cricket commentary on TV or radio, but plenty do and this will improve the experience for them.

One thing that won't be around this summer is the Fantasy Cricket League. The Telegraph announced this week that they won't be doing it, for the first time in a quarter of a century. It is sad, especially when they cite a lack of interest in county cricket as the reason, but there's not much that we can do about it. Apologies to those whose enjoyment of the summer was enhanced by the challenge, but it is very much out of my control.

You will see my thoughts and comments on the club, its cricketers and events as usual and I hope that many of you pitch in with comments as the season progresses.

They are always appreciated!

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Palladino highlights bowling depth

One of the many things that I like since Dave Houghton took over as at Derbyshire is how he has steadily, within budgetary constraints, built the squad and covered the obvious weaknesses.

Leus du Plooy arrived last season to make a huge difference to the batting, while Fynn Hudson Prentice came in as an all rounder and looked a real asset with bat and ball. Anuj Dal showed signs of turning from top order bat into talented all-rounder, while Dustin Melton, in limited opportunities, showed obvious pace, to which the addition of greater direction could make a dangerous bowler.

This winter has seen the signing of Sean Abbott, who should be real handful with the new ball, as well as that of South African left-arm quick Michael Cohen. There is now both variety and strength in depth, with the evergreen Tony Palladino and Ravi Rampaul again likely to lead the line, with Luis Reece as further all-round support.

I'm expecting good things from Sam Conners this summer too. He has all of the assets a quick bowler requires and good people around him from who to learn. If he gets it right and is blessed by good luck with his fitness, he could be quite a player.

There's even a good spin option to Matt Critchley, with Matt McKiernan restored to full health after last year's stress fracture, while Aussie Ben McDermott will offer an excellent alternative to Harvey Hosein behind the timbers in one-day matches. I am sure Harvey will score a lot of runs in four-day cricket and offer good ballast to the batting in that format.

Good times lie ahead and I have seldom been so confident of a summer's cricket.

Finally today, in this whistle-stop blog, I read that Tom Wood is again racking up the runs in Australia. A sparkling innings of 120 this weekend made it 200 runs in three innings from his short trip over there for some warm weather nets and training.

I am not yet sure whether he will be a part of the Derbyshire squad until mid-summer, with his contract ostensibly for two months to cover the club during the RLODC. The ECB has new rules that require all second team players to be paid £70 a day, rather than be paid just travel expenses, so the club will have to look closely at the additional costs incurred. Yet logic suggests that we would want someone who is playing regular cricket stepping in for the RLODC.

We will see in due course.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Social media, celebrity and doing the right thing

Back in the day, when I was a young pup sitting in the Osmaston Stand at Derby County's Baseball Ground, or on the boundary at Derby, Chesterfield, Ilkeston, Buxton, Heanor or wherever, you would hear plenty of comments.

I would now be typing this on a sun-kissed beach, had I been given a fiver for every expletive overheard, or every denigration of a player. You pays your money, you have a right to express your feelings, to some extent.

It has always been so, right back to when Bill Bestwick, dropped by Derbyshire for an indiscretion, could be heard loudly castigating his team mates from the boundary edge at Worcester, fuelled by anger, frustration and a few too many beers.

Of course it is tough when someone in your team 'messes up'. Whether it is Richard Keogh stabbing the ball, at full stretch, to an opposition striker in a Wembley play-off, or a Derbyshire player dropping a catch that goes on to lose us the match, it hurts. Yet it is so important to remember two things. They didn't do it on purpose and they are only human.

Because we all make mistakes, in work and in life. He (or she) who maintains otherwise is a liar. I know I have, but mine have only resulted in late changes to plans at work, perhaps the shake of a head from a senior colleague, a quiet word from my manager. Not my public vilification by people who really should know better, or are of little consequence.

For sports and media stars, personalities and those in the public eye, everyone now regards them as fair game. In the skewed eyes of those who are not, they need to be whiter than white, flawless, impeccable in all that they say and do. And of course, devoid of all error.

It is nonsense. Because even if they are paragons of virtue, the ne'er do wells will tell you they are hiding something, as no one is that wholesome. It is a no win situation for most and I applaud those who attempt to interact, just as much as I do those who wouldn't touch social media with a barge pole.

To this day, my Dad will tell you that the old Hollywood stars knew how to behave themselves, while sports stars and celebrities never 'carried on' like they do today. My protestations to the contrary will never change his opinion, despite many documented and oft-retold incidents about their lives. The hedonistic lifestyles of Hollywood stars saw all sorts of shenanigans, carefully covered by the publicity machines and helped immensely because few people had cameras to instantly document their frequent indiscretions, no social media upon which to comment on them.

To be fair, the average sportsman from earlier times had little shenanigans money, which was part of the reason they got up to less. Only in the 1960s did some footballers start to get paid commensurate to their talent, while most cricketers waited for a good while longer than that. There was the odd exception, but only that. An early chat with Edwin Smith informed me that his wife earned more as a weaver in Chesterfield, than he did as a capped and respected county cricketer in the 1950s.

Today, however, every indiscretion is across social media like a virus. Everyone is an expert, with more coaching badges and experience from a computer game than any highly-qualified sports coach could ever obtain. Even if their own sporting prowess is limited to punting hopeful long balls in a Sunday League game, or managing a couple of streaky boundaries now and again in lower league, or social cricket, they know best.

I always show deference to those who have done it at the highest level. Of course I have an opinion, which is why I write this blog, but I wouldn't attempt to tell a county opening batsman how to play a tearaway fast bowler, or what they should do on a fourth day track that is turning sideways.

Yesterday's tragedy surrounding TV star Caroline Flack should be a warning to everyone, in both media and social media, just as Luke Sutton's outstandingly honest recent autobiography should be.

We only see the public persona of a celebrity or sports star. We don't know anything about the inner torments that they go through on a regular basis, nor have we a right to do so, until they feel the time is right. Over the years that I have written this blog, I have been made aware, because I have been trusted, of the challenges facing certain players. Things going on in their lives that would make life a challenge for anyone, whether illnesses to loved ones, health issues, money problems and more. Knowing these things helped me in my writing, though I like to think that I would have maintained the requisite understanding and discretion anyway.

This blog came out of the cesspit that was the old BBC 606 site, when I read many of the comments and felt them unnecessary, thoughtless and crude. My occasional contributions were well received and I started putting them down here. From the start and to this day I have vetted every comment, not because of my inner control freak, but because in putting my thoughts 'out there' I feel there comes a strong sense of responsibility to those I write about.

I hoped that one day players and their families might read what I wrote. I have been humbled to find over the years that they do, flattered that they trust me enough to tell me things, grateful for their kind words and ongoing friendships with both them and family members.

Yes, I will say that X is out of form, or Y played a bad shot. I might say that we delivered an inept display, but I won't tell a top player how to play their game. There is usually less than an inch on the bat between a ball that sails into the crowd and one that is caught on the boundary edge, much less between one taking the edge and missing it.

I once heard an opposition supporter, fuelled on beer, asking a bowler in his team why he hadn't tried to stifle our batsman, who had run amok, with slower balls and 'mixing it up'.

With an icy stare came the reply. 'Because the three slower balls that I bowled he hit out of the ground and he had an answer to everything I tried'. There you have it. Sometimes, your best just isn't good enough, no matter how hard you try.

The hypocrisy in the media and social media today is appalling. Tweets and articles hurriedly deleted, erasing any evidence of their contribution to yesterday's sad event. It wasn't the first, it won't be the last, but we must all remember the important part that we have to play. When your favourites do well they will enjoy your plaudits, but they need your support so much more when they endure the inevitable rocky patch.

As the old Nottinghamshire favourite George Gunn once said to a young team mate, in a rich vein of form, 'Drink at the well, son, there's always a desert approaching'. Sage words, indeed.

As we fast approach another cricket season, I look forward, as I always do, to your comments.

But whether on here or elsewhere, before you press the 'send' button, always read it back and ask yourself one question. If the subject was stood in front of you, would you say what you are about to say?

If the answer to that question is no, then an edit is in order.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Sixty days...

Hard as it was this week to contemplate, when walking around the village with my trusty sidekick Wallace  in the hail, wind, rain and snow, we are getting through the winter now.

The Spring bulbs are poking ever more confidently through the soil, the evenings are getting noticeably lighter and a realisation dawned on me this morning - not just that it is Valentine's Day...

Derbyshire's season starts in two months time. Or sixty days, if you will.

This will be my fifty-second summer supporting the county. The enjoyment that I get from that is undiminished, even though this season sees the opportunity to watch my team in high summer limited to fifty-over cricket, with many big names missing.

Further examination of the fixtures has confirmed that my trips to see us in person will be pretty limited. When games run Thursday to Sunday, as in previous summers, getting down for matches is easy enough and has no impact on my annual leave entitlement. I work compressed hours in the first three days of the week to get the rest off, but a lot of my potential strips are stymied by the timings this year.

Even my annual trip to Durham is unlikely. The four-day game would need three days of annual leave, while the T20 game there, which I would have attended, is on our son's birthday. Call me old-fashioned, but my family holidays get most of my leave, so I must content myself with watching by stream for the most part.

Maybe I need to take premature retirement...

I am sure we are in for a summer of entertainment, however. Last summer was one of the best for a long while. Dave Houghton recruited well, on and off the pitch and the players played a sustained level of excellent cricket for most of the summer.

With good signings this winter, I think that we are in for a good summer this year.

Regardless of whether I am there or not.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

An interview with Tony Palladino part 3

What were the factors that combined to make the championship side successful that year?

Well, Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja scored over a thousand runs between them. We had a good bowling attack – not outrageous, but workmanlike. There was myself, Tim Groenewald, Mark Footitt was just feeling his way back, and Jon Clare. All were experienced enough to know their game and of course we had Wainers (David Wainwright) who spun us to a few wins. We batted a long way down, too. I was often at ten that year and Timmy, a good batsman, was usually eleven, unless Mark played.

We had a great dressing room too. A bit like this year, when there are no egos and superstars but we all worked hard together

Team spirit is often undervalued, isn't it?

Oh yeah, and I have played in dressing rooms where people actively hated each other. You would see players not dive if the bloke they didn't like was bowling, or run them out if they had the chance to do so. It could all get very toxic and it's happened to me two or three times in my career.

You don't play your best cricket in those situations.

Your century against an Australian side must have been a source of pride. Was any coach responsible for your batting improvement?

Not really. I had always had a good eye and it all just seemed to come together. I worked on my batting over the winter, which is never to your detriment.

It was a pretty good pitch, I got a few away early, then I gave the spinner a bit of tap and suddenly I was in the sixties or seventies. The ball wasn't doing much and I just kept going.

Did you get nervous as the landmark got closer?

No. I hit a couple of fours to take me to 99 and then I noticed that mid off was quite deep. Mentally I had worked out that if the right ball came I would nudge it to him and that's how it worked out!

You are closing in on 500 first-class wickets. Is that a target for you, or do you just take the games, and the wickets, as they come?

I'm on 464 at the moment...

I'm impressed by that!

(Laughs) I only know because Griff (David Griffin) told me today! I have two more matches this season (sadly he was injured) and am contracted for next year. I'm not getting younger and have had a niggle in my ankle this year, but I am hoping to get there next season, while I am still doing a good job for the side.

You have never been seen as a regular List A bowler over your career. Has that been a source of frustration for you, as you have always been very economical in first-class cricket?

It all started when I joined Derbyshire. I was doing well in the championship, so John Morris would rest me for the one-days and then Karl Krikken came in and wanted to keep me fresh for the four-day game too. It went on from there really, but as you get older you play less T20 as many see it as a young man's game. I like to think there's still room for me and my 'dibbly-dobblies' in the game!

But on average I have played twelve or thirteen four-day games a summer for Derbyshire, so maybe I couldn't have done that and played all the one-day games.

Professional sports people today have to put up with their every move being dissected in the media and social media. Do many of them read what is written about them, or do they tend to be selective, or avoid it altogether?

People are different. I do and sometimes what I read spurs me on. If I see something that isn't true I comment about it. Of course, if I have had a bad game and someone says something, you take it on the chin, as long as it isn't nasty or overly aggressive. A few others read it too, but some don't like to.

When I was at Essex there was a bloke who gave a lot of stick on their fans forum. I registered and asked him if he wanted to meet for a coffee and sort out the problem, but he said he didn't want to. Some are happy being keyboard warriors and would never dare say anything to your face and they just wouldn't sit down like you and I are today.

To be fair, Tony, I don't recall many people ever having a bad word to say about you in your time in Derbyshire. Maybe an odd comment on not bowling so well on a given day, but never more than that. You have always been very approachable and it has been appreciated.

Thanks Steve. I think it comes more naturally to some people than others, but I was a cricket supporter before I was a first-class player. I remember how it made my day when a player would stop and have a word, so I try to 'give back' if I can. They are the people who give you energy when they applaud and I still get a buzz from the ripple of applause when I go down to the boundary after taking a wicket. At the end of the day, you can't expect respect from people if you don't do the same for them. There's no harm in exchanging pleasantries and signing autographs, posing for a picture or whatever.

It's nice to be nice!

You have got through a long career now - who are the best batsmen that you have bowled at ?

Marcus Trescothick was always difficult for me when I was younger. I think as I gained experience I would have done better against him, as my skill set improved, but back then I used to swing the ball into him, as a left-hander, and he would either clip me off his pads, or sit back in his crease and punch me away.

There are others who always seem to score runs against us, but I tend not to dwell on such things as it can create negative energy. Nick Browne at Essex always seems to score runs against us, but I never think I can't get him out. All it takes is one ball...

Mark Ramprakash early in my career was a very good player, while Mark Cosgrove is another. He's a very good batsman and he doesn't let a bowler bowl too many dot balls as he doesn't like you to settle. He will run it down to third man off the face of the bat and keep it ticking over.

Daryl Mitchell too, at Worcestershire. He never gives his wicket away, so when you get him out you know you have earned it.

When you get into first-class cricket, does it take a while to get used to the different gradients of squares? I noticed Dustin Melton struggling at one end against Australia, but he was better when he switched ends.

It can do. I always prefer to bowl from the Racecourse, or Media Centre end at Derby, but as you get older such things don't really affect you. Canterbury has a big slope at one end, and at Lord's it took me a while to get used to the slope. I used to want to bowl at each ground so the slope helped my outswing, but then found it was going too wide, so I was more effective from the other end.

On that subject, if it was up to me I would have more second team cricket on the county grounds. Neither in batting or bowling do club wickets gets you prepared for the senior level. I played on a second team pitch this year and the ball never bounced higher than the logo on your pad. It was a shocker, but bowlers can get flattering wickets and batsmen look poor on such tracks.

You'd get a better idea of a player's worth with less games on good wickets, than cramming in more on wickets that are really sub-standard.

What do you see yourself doing when your playing career ends? You've been doing your coaching badges, I understand? Level three?

That's right. I would like to go into coaching, but when I finish playing there may not be an opportunity or vacancy for me. But I will keep my fingers crossed that there will be something, ideally at Derbyshire but otherwise at another county or a school/university.

And when you come to the end of your career, how will you look back on it?

I'll be proud. I was very lucky to get another bite at the cherry when it could all have been finished. I came to a good club who have looked after me and I think that I have repaid them over the years.

I have a medal at home that has pride of place and I am grateful for the support of those who came to matches, year in and year out. I am proud that along the way I have given a bit of enjoyment to people and they hopefully know I have always given my best.

It has been a career in entertainment, when you have done and said all. I consider myself very lucky and privileged to have been paid for a long time to play cricket and do a job that I love.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Laurie Johnson - an obituary

I never saw Laurie Johnson play cricket, but I wish I had.

By all accounts, in his prime he was something special, his driving in particular a thing of beauty. Many a cover point had the bruised hands as testament to his timing, though more often than not, on the frequent good days, the ball fizzed past them to the boundary rope.

It was not always so. When he first played for the county he struggled for a few seasons. County wickets bore little resemblance to those in his native Caribbean, yet his class told, as it always will, in the end. 

He first came to notice in the fine Swarkestone side of the late 1940s and early 1950s, one of a number of players from the Caribbean who made them a strong side. 

With conditions in his favour, his front of the wicket style, honed on the hard tracks of home, was in contrast to that of many team mates, who offered a less aesthetic approach to scoring runs.

It was a shame that he came to his prime later in the 1950s and through the early 1960s. He would have been the perfect support for Arnold Hamer in a brittle batting line up, those extra runs perhaps making a difference in some fine summers between 1951 and 1955. With Gladwin and Jackson at the peak of their powers, a second championship win might have ensued with another prolific batsman. 

As Hamer did in the previous decade, Johnson often carried the Derbyshire batting in the early 60's. He was an excellent fielder too, with a good pair of hands and a throw that accounted for the unwary. He even kept wicket on occasion, highlighting his importance to the side.

I had hoped to speak to him for 'In Their Own Words', but a phone call to his home near Birmingham brought a polite refusal.

'I am really grateful for your interest, but I am afraid my memory isn't what it was', he said. We spoke briefly, then said goodbye.

His passing leaves Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes and Peter Eyre  as the remaining regular members of that fine side of the 1950s, the contributions of the first two acknowledged by the club presidency in the past two years. Hopefully Peter is the next to be offered and accept the role.

Rest in peace, Laurie Johnson. At your best you gave a great deal of pleasure to many people. 

Can anyone aspire to more? 

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

A busy weekend

Old Peakfan is safely returned to the bosom of his family, after a weekend in God's Own County, followed by a delightful stop off in Sheffield to talk to the local cricket society last night.

It was a terrific evening, with a good crowd, plenty of laughs (in the right places!) and some interesting and well-considered questions. An early departure this morning saw me home just after midday, with a chance to catch up on the two big stories of the weekend.

Thank you to everyone at Sheffield for making it a memorable, thoroughly enjoyable evening. If you are interested in engaging me for a dinner or cricket society meeting, just drop me an email, or DM me on Twitter. I am not always available, but if I can, I will try to help out.

The big county news was that of a two-month contract for Tom Wood, which will see him almost certainly play for us in the Royal London One-Day Cup, as well as being available for three championship games. With Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen and Leus du Plooy involved in the 'other' tournament, there will be places up for grabs in the batting line-up of the senior side.

Tom would have hoped for a longer contract and it isn't clear if he will be available to play second team cricket in the earlier season. I hope he is, but after several seasons on the periphery of the club, no one could blame him from getting on with his life at this stage. If you are not on the staff, my understanding is that you get travel expenses and accommodation only to play in the second team, which works well for the club, but less well, of course, for someone who has bills to pay.

By the same token, this hard-earned opportunity will be all the more challenging if Tom goes from league cricket at the weekend to facing albeit weakened county attacks in the RLODC. It is not ideal, and yet it is an opportunity for all that.

Those involved in the Derbyshire Premier League know he can play. He's a big lad and perhaps not the most fleet-footed in the field, but he has a safe pair of hands and he just might make a decent fist of this. All he needs is a little luck and that opportunity, which to this point has been denied him by our strongest batting line up of the generation. A couple of good scores, or displaying a solid level of consistency might see him translate obvious talent into the most persuasive argument of all - runs in the score book.

As a long-time champion of the lad, I really hope it works out for him. Fairy tales sometimes do come true and his success would be special for him, his family and those who have believed in him over several prolific summers in second team and league cricket, as well as in the Australian first grade.

Warm congratulations, Tom!

The other news was the government advice that Kolpak contracts could be concluded at the end of the coming summer, which always seemed a likely consequence of Brexit. According to reports, this is regardless of the length of deal that a player has, but I would be very surprised were this not challenged en bloc by those plying their trade under that collective banner.

Common sense dictates to me that players should, at the very least, be allowed to fulfil existing contracts, before their counties have to make a decision on whether they are worthy of an overseas deal. Word is that as a 'softener' to counties, two overseas will be allowed once more, which will be easier for some than others. We could theoretically have Ravi Rampaul and Leus du Plooy, whereas Hampshire would need to choose between Kyle Abbott, Fidel Edwards and Rilee Rossouw.

I suspect this story will 'bubble under' over the summer, but I don't yet expect the Kolpaks to be worried at this stage, when hardly any terms of the agreement are known, period.

There is a subsidiary question over those playing here on European and British passports, of course, with Michael Cohen in the latter category. One would assume that British passports would be a green light to continue, whereas European ones may be more problematic.

It is a minefield and a mess. Good luck to whoever has to work this one out....

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Greatest Derbyshire team chosen

As part of their 150th anniversary celebrations, the club's  supporters have voted for their greatest-ever eleven, within selected parameters. Those in the mix had to have played for at least five seasons, while there was a pre-determined balance to the side.

The final side selected read:

Kim Barnett
Peter Bowler
John Morris
Wayne Madsen
Peter Kirsten
Dominic Cork
Geoff Miller
Bob Taylor
Albert Rhodes
Les Jackson
Mike Hendrick

I agreed with most of that side, but would have made several changes. The problem with such ideas, of course, is that more recent players will always be picked. I would argue that a batsman with an average of thirty on uncovered wickets was every bit as good as one who averaged forty in more favourable conditions.  Similarly, one assumes that this is for four-day cricket and there is no prior knowledge of the wicket on which it will be played. Yes, the game was different pre-war, but one can only be a stand-out in the conditions of the time.

For me, Arnold Hamer would have been an opener. I didn't see him, but those whose judgement I respect deem him a wonderful batsman. Had he stayed with his native Yorkshire he may have gained international honours, but for ten years or more he led, some might say carried, the Derbyshire batting, often with little support. He was a big chap and wasn't a great fielder, but you judge people by the times in which they played and Arnold must have been a very fine batsman. So too Denis Smith, but he had more support in the batting side of the 1930s, which often cobbled together enough runs to bowl at.

Hamer and Barnett in full flow would be worth the admission fee alone and in dropping Peter Bowler I mean no disrespect to a fine cricketer whose contribution to the club I enjoyed.

I would have liked to have included Stan Worthington too, but can't fault the engine room of the batting, while George Pope would have been a strong candidate for seam bowling all-rounder, though Dominic Cork a logical, match-winning winner. Both had the winning mentality and I am happy to go with our T20 coach.

Geoff Miller was a very fine player and in his category was always the likely winner, though Les Townsend should have been in that section. 11871 runs and 832 wickets for Geoff Miller, with 32 five-wicket hauls. Townsend had 19555 runs at a higher average, plus 1088 wickets at a lower one, with 51 five-wicket hauls. He also made 22 centuries, while Geoff managed just the two. Reports suggest Les a ferocious hitter of spin bowling, with Tommy Mitchell recounting how he bowled to him in the nets and 'then ran away'!

As for the spinner, I would have loved to include Edwin Smith, but had to go with Tommy Mitchell. A mercurial bowler, very much his own man, he won an extraordinary number of matches throughout the championship decade. On the bad days, like most of his kind, he could go around the park, but on the good ones, when the ball was coming out as he wanted, he was by all accounts extraordinary.

118 five-wicket hauls, he took. One hundred and eighteen, that in a career of only twelve seasons. Let that sink in a little. Rhodes had 29, Edwin Smith had 51, and THEY were both outstanding bowlers.

Finally, the seam bowlers. Les Jackson was always going to be one, legend as he is, but my partner for him, dropping the father and bringing in the son, was Harold Rhodes. Mike Hendrick was an outstanding bowler, but Rhodes had pace, bounce and movement. He was just short of a thousand wickets for the county when he retired from first-class cricket at the age of just 33, accepting more lucrative employment elsewhere. Had he continued, he might have challenged the county record of Les Jackson, but figures never mattered to Harold

So my final eleven, for what it is worth:

Kim Barnett
Arnold Hamer
John Morris
Wayne Madsen
Peter Kirsten
Dominic Cork
Les Townsend (in correct category) or Geoff Miller
Bob Taylor
Tommy Mitchell
Les Jackson
Harold Rhodes

I can't complain though. Of the side chosen by supporters, the only one I didn't see was 'Dusty' Rhodes. I saw Les Jackson in a couple of charity matches and he was still pitching it on a line and length, several years after he retired.

When you are great, you are always great.

This side is so good, I would even watch them in a hundred-ball competition. But indulge me and let me enjoy five days of cricketing heaven.

Questions answered

With a little time today. more than I have had all week, it is time to answer a few questions!

Mark asked if I thought we might see a new wicket-keeper taken on, with Daryn Smit retiring to take up his coaching role.

The short answer is no. There are plenty of young keeper out there to play in the seconds, and Harvey Hosein has made the four-day role his own. Ben McDermott will keep in the one-day competitions and if we had an injury, it would be easy enough to take someone on loan.

Meanwhile. Gareth asked if I thought we might sign another batsman, allowing Luis Reece to drop to the middle order. Again, I suspect the answer is no. Luis likes opening and is happy to handle the workload of doing that and his share of bowling. With Sean Abbott and Michael Cohen strengthening the attack from last year, he may not have to do quite so much bowling in 2020, which will make his life a little easier.

As for Matt Critchley's contract situation, I am sure that Derbyshire are keen to extend his deal, but the player will want to see how this year goes. The increased stability at the club will be a strong argument for his staying, but interest from elsewhere will depend on him enjoying better form than last year. He did well in the T20, but his batting form was fragile and his bowling only sporadically effective in other formats.

This will be a big year for him, but a very good one will see the circling vultures drop lower. We can only do so much financially, but if he decides the grass is greener elsewhere, there is a logical successor on the staff in Mattie McKiernan. Hopefully recovered from his stress fracture of last year, he has a lot to offer with bat and ball, while his fielding will always be an asset.

Definitely something to keep an eye on, but while I would love to see Critchley stay at Derbyshire, I couldn't call it at this stage. He will be aware of the travails of his good friend, Ben Slater, at Nottinghamshire though, where after a fine start in the RLODC he had a tough year.

Sometimes the grass is anything but greener on the other side of the fence.

An interview with Tony Palladino part 2

You made your Essex debut in 2003. Who were the players and coaches who helped you at that stage?

Geoff Arnold and Neil Foster were two of my early mentors. They were both outstanding bowlers and helped me a lot.

It's funny, I have always been a big student of the game and yet today you get a lot of young players and they don't know who their coaches are, and what good players they were in their own time. I knew all about mine and what they had done in the game.

Having said that, I never needed a lot of work, because I had a natural 'clean' action. I got crossed over a bit when I was younger, but a lot of their advice was on how to get batters out. They told me to look at his grip, watch his hands, his feet, how he stands at the crease.

Real attention to detail!

It was. You'd learn that if a batsman held the bat high on the handle he would wanting to drive you, but lower down he was a puller and cutter. Little things, that meant a lot and you could adjust your length for them accordingly.

Nowadays we have analysts, of course, who can tell you how they score their runs, but back then it made a difference. The quicker you can work a batsman out, the quicker you can get him out!

I used to keep a notebook of how and where I bowled to specific batsmen, how I got them out and it was all very useful, before it was done for us. When I signed for Derbyshire I had a long chat with Chris Silverwood about that and he encouraged it, especially for players you had played against rarely, or perhaps hadn't played before.

It's interesting though, because you could have success against a player one year with them nicking off, but then the next year they would be further across, having worked hard on their footwork over the winter. So then you would perhaps look for a leg before, if they got too far across.

You have to be prepared to adapt!

Do the umpires say much? There used to be stories that they would sometimes offer advice, especially if they had been bowlers too?

Yeah, sometimes. I have a good relationship with the umpires, especially the former bowlers like Neil Mallender and Dave Millns. Pete Hartley is another; he's told me in the past that perhaps I needed to get my wrist stronger, if the seam was wobbling on the way down to the batsman.

It is all very cordial. You can learn from them. Neil Mallender has played a lot of cricket, not just in England, but in New Zealand and he will tell you how he adapted his bowling around the country and between countries.

He told me that when he had the successful Test at Headingley against Pakistan he completely changed his bowling style. He was previously a 'hit the deck' bowler, but made sure he pitched it up and swung it there.

I guess that was as challenge for Logan (van Beek) this year?

Yes, he had to learn to bowl a different length and with a different ball. It was a steep learning curve for him, but then every day is a school day!

Your time at Essex is best remembered, of course, for your exposing the match-fixing scandal that involved Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield. That must have been a hard time for you?

It was. It was a very tough time and it could have ended much better. I was encouraged to report what I had seen but there was no real support from the club. Of course, all the anti-corruption protocols came after that, so things have improved, but I felt that I was in trouble myself, because we were all interviewed by the Metropolitan Police. Merv and I ended up playing in the same second team, which wasn't easy, and it all dragged on pretty horribly.

It all worked out very well of course, when I got to sign for Derbyshire.

How did that come about?

Well, I knew someone who had John Morris' number and he came to see me at Billericay. I did well in the match and he had a word afterwards and said that he would be in touch.

I signed in November, a deal that was less than half what I was on at Essex – and I wasn't on a lot there!

I lived in a room above a pub that year, because it was all I could afford, but the club got good value out of that first summer...

So much for the exotic lifestyle of the professional sportsman!

Yeah! But you know, I knew that if I stayed fit I would play. At Essex, I only got a game if there were injuries and as soon as the player was fit I was dropped again, no matter what I had done. One year I took sixteen wickets in four games, but still got dropped - or 'rested' as they called it, when someone was fit.

The second year I was on the same money I was on at Essex, so that was OK.

And that was the promotion year, of course

Yeah that was my favourite year in the game. I got a hundred, a hat-trick, fifty wickets, we won promotion. It was a great summer, we had a really good dressing room, and I just revelled in being a key part of the side. Karl Krikken made me feel welcome and treated me well. If he rested me he made it clear that he really needed me for the game after that. Hearing that from a coach was great, and feeling wanted made a huge difference to my performances.

Friday, 17 January 2020

An interview with Tony Palladino - part 1

The word 'legend' is overused in the modern era,sometimes attributed to a player who scores a couple of fine goals in a football match, or take a few wickets at cricket.

For me, the word 'legend' should be used in the same breath as 'loyalty' and I would be wary of using it for anyone who didn't give a good chunk of their career to a particular club. In an era when players move around with nigh the regularity of a new ball, the word is rarely correctly used as far as I am concerned.

The true legends for Derbyshire are the long career men. Bestwick, Copson. Mitchell, the Popes, Rhodes (senior and junior) Hamer, Edwin Smith – it is a long and illustrious list.

Of the current squad, Wayne Madsen has achieved and justifies such a status for duration and deeds, while Billy Godleman is getting there. Tony Palladino is up there and deserving too.

Next year will be his tenth for the county. Players have come and gone in that period, but Tony has stayed fit, run in hard (usually from the Racecourse End at Derby) and remained one of the more affable players in county cricket.

I have known him for many of those summers and recall a long chat in the pavilion after we won the second division title in 2012. His open demeanour and ready smile are gifts not given to all, but they have been appreciated by Derbyshire supporters in particular.

I caught up with him at Derby, back in September. We sat in front of the Gateway building and chatted as Billy Godleman and Luis Reece went out to bat at the start of what proved a monumental stand against Sussex. My request for an interview had received a quick and positive reply and his easy conversational style prompted a few additional questions to those I had prepared.

He is a fine man and a fine cricketer, one to enjoy while we have the chance to do so.

So Tony, you're a London boy. Where did you start playing your cricket? At school or at a club?

I played for Tower Hamlets and played just one game of cricket for my school. But that game was seen by a chap who was involved in the London Schools set up and my first game for them was for the under-elevens at Arundel!

I played for them until under-15 level and then my Mum and Dad, who realised I had a bit of talent, enrolled me in Wanstead Cricket Club, where there was a good junior section. I played there until my late teens, but I didn't have a county at that time.

I was picked up by Essex at an indoor tournament where I was playing. It's funny, because I was born and bred in East London and so Middlesex was my county. I had one trial and game for them, but that was it. So I played for Essex Academy and it went on from there.

A lot of people don't realise how tough it really is to get into county cricket. As a young bowler, what demands did you face?

The step up in standard is massive, from even good club cricket. My second team debut was in 1999, when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was at New Road, Worcester and the wicket was so different. In club cricket you can often get away with half volleys, because they are so slow, but I was bowling what I thought was a good length and getting hit around the park. It was a steep learning curve.

There's also the demands on the body. You play club cricket once a week and bowl maybe twelve overs, then nothing until the next weekend, apart from a few in the nets. In my first-class debut I bowled the whole of the first day, then we were bowled out quickly and I was bowling again on the second afternoon, when I was still stiff from the previous day.

I think that is one of the problems with modern bowlers. There are all these restrictions on what they can bowl at fourteen, fifteen,sixteen, but if they are good enough they get to first-class level and are suddenly expected to bowl twenty overs in a day, when they are only used to ten!

And that's when the body starts to rebel...

Yeah. When I was captain of London Schools I bowled a lot. In one fifty-over game I bowled throughout at one end, as a stock bowler, keeping it tight. It didn't affect me and I don't think I have ever had a stress fracture. I may have done, but I played through the odd sore back and I think it stood me in good stead when there was a greater expectation of me bowling for a long time.

Sure, I had injuries, as all seamers do, as it isn't a natural thing to do. I feel really sorry for Olly Stone, who has been really unlucky with repeated stress fractures and I never had that. So I was able to bowl a lot and I guess be noticed as a result.

That's been a problem for a few at Derbyshire, of course?

That's right. The likes of Sam (Conners) and Alfie (Gleadall) have had back issues and it has hampered their development. You lose rhythm when you stop playing, then have to start again and all the while you still have to make that step up.

Today, for example, I bowled four overs before we started today, to get loose and get my rhythm. So the overs soon mount up and there's no getting around that. If you bowl a lot of overs one day, and your captain decides to enforce the follow-on, you have to get yourself mentally and physically ready to bowling the same number of overs with the same level of intensity on the following day.

The quicker a young bowler learns what they need to do to be able to do that, the better they will be. We all have our own routines – but you see some bowlers go and bowl a few overs around nine o'clock, then more in the pre-match warm up. If you then have to bowl twenty in the innings, you have bowled thirty in the day!

I don't bowl until the warm up. I go out in my whites around 10.45am, bowl a few balls in my whites and then I am ready to go. You have to manage your work load and your energy levels.

Especially for the T20, of course. I have spoken to a lot of old Derbyshire players and while they bowled a lot of overs, there was no real expectation that they threw themselves around in the field...

Oh that's right and you also have your fielding drills to do and you are expected to go and have a knock in the nets, because tail enders are few and far between now. You look at people like Jonathan Agnew and plenty closer to home, and they would rarely do much in the nets with a bat in their hand.

There's the story about the legendary Hampshire bowler, Derek Shackleton, whose pre-match warm-up was allegedly to comb his hair and have a fag. Yet he still took over two thousand wickets for them....

(Laughs) Yes and it didn't do him much harm! Again, it is what works for the individual that matters.

To be continued...

Priestley signs to add competition

I first became aware of the name of Nils Priestley a couple of years ago, when someone whose opinion I respect told me that he was a young player of considerable talent.

Back then he was a budding all-rounder, hitting the ball hard with long levers, as well as bowling swing at a decent pace. A few injuries have changed his bowling style to slow left-arm, which is a work in progress, but his batting remains clean and and uncomplicated.

He will not want for support as he develops his game, with Mal Loye freed from Academy duties to play more of a role with the senior squad, Daryn Smit taking his place, of course. There are good role models around him too and Nils may find himself rewarded for good early season form with some matches in the RLODC this summer.

Very much in his favour is a growing reputation as a dynamic fielder, which will always edge a player ahead of the competition when selection meetings take place.

Dave Houghton knows batting and batsmen and must rate the young left-hander. The rest is up to him, but judging by his comments on social media over the last 48 hours, he seems a grounded, sensible lad.

Getting on to the staff at a professional sports club is a fine achievement, but the real work starts now. Derbyshire has perhaps its strongest batting line-up since the halcyon days of Barnett, Bowler, Morris and Adams in Godleman, Reece, Madsen and du Plooy. Nils will doubtless fight hard to be considered for one of the places below them.

Such competition can only be good for all concerned.

Congratulations, Nils.

Go well.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Smit calls time on career for coaching role

Derbyshire's young cricketers really couldn't wish for a better coach than Daryn Smit, who today announced his retirement from the game, at the age of 35, to become the Head of the Talent Pathway at the club.

His remit is to increase the number of young players graduating from the academy into the first team, something that needs to be addressed in the years ahead. Plenty of exciting young players have appeared in the Academy in the last ten years, but too few have become established in the first-class game.

Smit's role will be to discover why and hopefully reverse the trend. Of course, Alex Hughes, Harvey Hosein and Sam Conners are all graduates, while Matt Critchley moved to Derbyshire from Lancashire. If Daryn can identify the cream of local talent and structure their progression through the ranks to become key components of a Derbyshire side, it will be a job well done.

He has been a very good cricketer, primarily in South Africa but also in Derbyshire. We never got to see his real talent with the bat, though there were a few cameos in T20 cricket that played a part in the success of the past two summers. His cricketing nous was appreciated by Billy Godleman, and one always knew that there was sound counsel available when things started to get tight.

But his a county blessed by a number of fine glove men over its history, Smit must have been up there with the best. In my experience, only Bob Taylor was better, but to be second to the best is no bad thing. He was always balanced, always in control, his hands like those of a magician as he removed the bails of batsmen lured down the track and beaten. It was always undemonstrative, with none of the flourish of some, but with high reliability.

He made the odd mistake, but doesn't everyone? The best ensure that these are the exception, rather than the rule and the ball dropped into his gloves with no noise, as if landing in a bed of cotton wool.
There were tough catches that were made to look easy, nigh impossible ones that were taken in two hands, as if they were routine.

He can have had few worse days on a cricket pitch than at Durham in 2018, when the second innings bowling of Messrs Viljoen and Olivier saw the byes rack up with bowling of hideous accuracy. Yet the truth was that the tally was nothing to do with him, and had Harvey Hosein been there too the total would have been unacceptable.Yet at the end of the day he was as charming and approachable as ever, happy to pass the time of day. The sign of a true sportsman, and gentleman.

He will doubtless play the odd game in the Lancashire League when he can, his shoulder hopefully restored to health after winter surgery, post-Finals Day in the T20. There he kept as well as ever, despite the handicap.

This summer, one assumes, Ben McDermott will keep in the one-day games, when he will undoubtedly fire our imaginations with batting of blistering quality. He could make the difference with the additional firepower that he has repeatedly shown in the Big Bash.

He will do well to match Daryn Smit behind the timbers though. If he does, we will have some player on our hands.

Congratulations on the new role, Daryn . I have every confidence that you will make a great job of it and look forward to following the academy fortunes under your tutelage. They will enjoy your easy, friendly manner, as the second team did last summer.

Go well, and thank you for some great memories.

Welcome back!

After an absence and holiday of over two weeks, Peakfan is back, ahead of a hectic year in which Derbyshire will celebrate their 150th anniversary as a club.

Happy 2020 everyone!

On social media today, the club has launched a search for its greatest-ever eleven. It is a fine and laudable project, though my caveat with this is the same as with any such polls. Social media is more often used by the young, therefore the results are heavily skewed by the better known , more recent players. I have seen several 'Best England side ever' polls, where the players were without exception from the last thirty years.

Was Graeme Swann really a better spinner than Hedley Verity, Jim Laker or Wilfred Rhodes? Was Alastair Cook better than Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton or Herbert Sutcliffe? It is easy to denigrate the efforts of players before World War One, and between the two wars. In many ways it was a different game, but good players were always good players and you can only be judged as being among the best of your time. A batting average of thirty pre-war, often on uncovered wickets, was likely the equivalent of forty-plus these days.

Thus, coming back to Derbyshire, Bill Bestwick must have been a fantastic bowler. With 1400 wickets at 21 he had to be, though for many today he is unknown. To take 147 wickets at 16, when he was 46 years old in 1921, was an extraordinary effort, needing outstanding skill, as well as a high level of fitness. He liked a pint or two, often enjoying them at lunch in the beer tent, but he could bowl. Usually did too, for a long time...

So too William Mycroft, back in the nineteenth century. He took 863 wickets with his left-arm pace for the county, at an average of only TWELVE. You could argue about the quality of wickets, and whether all of the opposition were particularly good cricketers, but cannot deny his eligibility to be considered in such an eleven.

I have already voted, and hope that a number of you do too. I would only urge you look at the records of those concerned, what they did for the team at that time and how they performed for the county on grounds of consistency and longevity.

Go to

In so far as my absence has been concerned, I haven't really missed anything. The Derbyshire players have done all of their fitness work and are now honing their techniques in the indoor school. I remain confident that the summer ahead will see us do well. Given good luck, the continued development of young players who have emerged and good fortune with injuries, this is a squad that will challenge.

To answer a question that I had a few times - do I think we should look at Aadil Ali, who has been released by Leicestershire, now Tom Lace has signed for Middlesex - I am not convinced.

He did alright at Leicestershire, but has reached his mid-twenties as a specialist, rather dour batsman and a highest score of only 80. I don't think he would be close to a one-day player and can't see him near a first-choice side. Maybe he would be decent cover for the RLODC, but I don't think we can offer full-time contracts for a few weeks of the summer. Were there money for such a thing, I would sooner have seen what Tom Wood could do, a deserving lad if there ever was one.

Given we have signed two quality overseas players and re-engaged Dominic Cork as T20 coach, I can't see there being lots of money being available. If there was, my suggestion would be someone better than we already have, not additional competition to what I regard a strong squad.

That's all for me for now. Starting this weekend, the first instalment of my interview with Tony Palladino, which I think you will enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas!

There is just time, before the season is upon us, to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and the very best for 2020.

Your support is essential to the blog and is very much appreciated. Thank you so much to those who have sent kind words and appreciations in recent days. They have all meant a lot.

I look forward to hearing from you all and hopefully seeing you next summer.

The year of the Falcons?

It could be, you know...