Thursday, 24 April 2014

The golden age of variety

 Apologies in advance to those who come across this piece on the web and expect to find a discussion on the London Palladium and Batley Variety Club...

There's been some very good and interesting discussion on these pages in recent days on the merits of playing four seam bowlers instead of a more balanced attack.

I don't think there were many times in the evolution of the game, prior to the West Indies XI of Clive Lloyd, where it happened. More often there would be two opening bowlers, a first change and then a couple of spinners. Sometimes a batsman might double as a fourth seamer (like Ted Dexter, Walter Hammond) or as a spinner (Bobby Simpson, Collie Smith) Most sides had an off-spinner, before 1960's there were plenty of leg-spinners and slow left arm spin bowlers were common. Blessed were the sides, like Derbyshire, where Derek Morgan bowled seam and then switched to off-cutters as the ball got older.

That's the thing the current Derbyshire side lacks. Ross Whiteley suggested he might become a genuine all-rounder before leaving, while both Tim Groenewald and Tony Palladino offer good lower order runs, without yet being able to call themselves genuine all-rounders (though it may yet come for both of them).

I understood the rationale of four seamers with the West Indies. They could play four quick bowlers and effectively bowled them all day. Each was sufficiently different keep the batsman guessing. Roberts was fast and skiddy, Marshall fast with swing, Holding fast and nipped it around, Garner fast with steepling bounce, Croft was fast and bowled from awkward angles. I could go on, but all of them challenged the batsmen with raw pace and the fact that there was something different going on. Then Viv Richards had a few overs and took wickets as everyone relaxed for a while...

That is why Mark Footitt is so important to our side, as the number of bowlers who bowl genuinely fast left arm - now or over the game's history - could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mark can lose his line occasionally, but most bowlers can do that and his strike rate is as impressive as his more recent fitness record.

Groenewald and Palladino are proven county bowlers of quality (250 wickets does that for a man) and at present they would always be in my side. They usually take wickets and if they don't are tidy and make batsmen work. That's before you consider their contributions with the bat, which can neither be underestimated or undervalued.

Mark Turner? I think Mark is a lovely lad and he gives one hundred per cent in everything he does. When he lets the ball go it appears to be with every ounce of strength he has. In the field he has good hands and dives around with the best of them. He bowled well and with success in the pre-season game against Warwickshire, but in two championship matches so far has one wicket for 230 runs. In those same matches, Wes Durston has six wickets for 195 runs, while David Wainwright took 2-84 - and scored valuable runs - at Chelmsford.

Never having faced them, I'm unsure how different our three right-arm seam bowlers are in pace, but from the boundary edge it would appear that Turner is quickest, though the more erratic. I'd just like to see more variety in the attack, as unless you're talking express pace - and we're not - county batsmen must find them all fairly similar. On a helpful track that is no hindrance, but when the wicket isn't doing that much, variety and keeping people on their toes is the key to success.

I take on board Marc's point (below the last article) about a seamer getting injured during a match, but how often does that really happen? If there are pre-match doubt over the fitness of one, you play someone else. By extension, you don't pick seven batsmen, on the off chance that one breaks a finger taking a slip catch. 

This is where, for me, opportunity could come for young tyros in the weeks ahead. Alex Hughes, the best known, bowls skiddy medium pace, similar to Phil Russell of another era. He also bats well and offers genuine all-round potential, as well as, crucially, something different. So too does Greg Cork, who has the added bonus of being a left-arm seamer. I think Cork junior has some filling out to do, but the potential is vast. Speaking of which, there's also Ben Cotton, who's height offers variety, bringing the ball down from a different angle. Nor should we ignore the potential claims of Tommy Taylor, who bowled beautifully against a strong Swarkestone side for Ticknall last weekend and, as well as gaining movement with the ball, has the prize asset, with all of the above, of novelty value. How do you play someone you've never seen before?

Graeme Welch will be watching his players and assessing their medium and long term roles in the club. He has already gone on record regarding the seam bowling talent in the club's academy. For the weekend game at Worcester, I wouldn't be surprised to seeing a change in either the thinking or personnel.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 4

"Lead by 99. 43 overs left today. Can we force a result?"

So ran a tweet from the club this afternoon as Hampshire, a side with a long and highly competent batting order, lost their third wicket to Mark Footitt.

I was almost tempted to reply "No" but decided not to bother. Irrespective of morning newspaper columns to the contrary, there was a greater chance of my 'doing a Lady Godiva'  on a unicycle across the outfield than a result being forced today.

There was movement and there was an occasional erratic bounce as the game progressed, but neither happened with sufficient frequency for Derbyshire to bowl out a side that impressed me at the County Ground.

Hampshire bat long and have impressive, strapping quick bowlers who run in hard and bowl in the right areas. Kyle Abbott struck me as a very shrewd signing (if he stays fit) while Coles has the potential, if he learns from past mistakes, to become an England player. Tomlinson is a good, skiddy left-arm bowler and Ervine has been a steady county all-rounder for several years. They will be in the mix this summer, that's for sure.

Having said all that, Derbyshire had marginally the better of the game and can again take heart from their performance.I find it hard to believe that we can field as badly as on the first day again, while the batsmen and bowlers are slowly but surely finding rhythm and form.

There will be mild concern at the lack of runs in the 'engine room' of the batting, but this will improve, one way or another, with existing or new personnel. I'd have to say I'm not a huge fan of putting all the eggs in one basket in bowling and don't really see what four seamers offers if you pick the right three to begin with. There were times in this game when having a specialist spin bowler would have been handy, especially when Chesney appears to be bowling only a few overs in readiness for the one-day games. Worthy a bowler (and cricketer) as Wes Durston is, I don't see him as a bowler who will run through sides. A good foil for another spinner? Yes, most definitely.

Preparations now begin for the game at Worcester on Sunday. I don't expect major changes, but Graeme Welch will have a better idea of his new charges  after the first two games. If he wants a fourth seamer, he could always bring in Alex Hughes for his namesake and David Wainwright could come in for Mark Turner to give a better balanced attack. Then again, he could leave things alone and hope for a wicket that allows for a positive result with the same side.

I've every confidence that Welch will soon get the first win under his belt and there are a good few positives to take down the road this weekend.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 3

With a day to go and more stoppages likely tomorrow, it is difficult to see how a positive result can happen in this one.

The excellence of Stephen Moore and Shivnarine Chanderpaul batted us into a position of some strength, while another late salvo from Tim Groenewald took us to within touching distance of the final bonus point before the end came on 399.

Groenewald is such an admirable cricketer and invaluable to this Derbyshire side. He always bowls tight, usually with penetration and he has improved every season with the bat. Add to that the fact that he rarely misses a game and his importance is evident.

What is equally evident, at least from these early games, is that our middle order appears to have gone into the season a little 'half cooked'. Chesney Hughes, Wes Durston and Richard Johnson have all failed so far, their struggles in stark contrast to the form shown by the top order pre-season and subsequently. Perhaps a lack of time in the middle is the issue, but all will be hoping for improved form in the near future. Looking at it another way, there is every incentive for those out of the side at the moment to produce the goods and force their way in.

It isn't critical at this stage and is perhaps churlish to criticise a team that has scored 399, but we cannot always expect the top order to fire and runs at Worcester would be appreciated from any or all of the above.

With a day to go and Hampshire still 51 behind, I cannot see how a result can be contrived. Even the introduction of declaration bowling tomorrow would seem unlikely, as neither side will want to lose in such a fashion so early in the summer.

It looks a nailed-on draw, but sometimes this game can surprise you.

I really don't see it here, though.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 2

I'm not sure if the County Ground was playing host to a Charles Dickens convention today, but in late afternoon, as the shadows lengthened on a delightful Spring day, I'm sure I heard a collective outpouring from the Derbyshire diehards.

Please sir, can I have some Moore?

Apologies for the pun (but hey, we know each other now, don't we?) yet there can be no doubt that Stephen Moore convinced all those who watched that he is a class act, a very good player indeed. Those whose protestations to the contrary went along the lines of  "he can only play one-day cricket" were, indeed, shown to be talking absolute cobblers...

Back in December, when his signing was announced, I suggested that Moore would make a big difference to our fortunes and it hasn't taken him long to do so. From the time he took strike today he looked a quality player, the best non-overseas opener we have seen at the club in a few years. His defence was firm and assured, his cutting, pulling and hooking crisp, even brutal. I don't think I've ever seen someone reach a century with a CUT for six before, but Moore fairly threw the kitchen sink at a ball that landed pretty close to his watching family and doubtless enjoyed the deserved applause of the crowd thereafter.

It was a fine innings that received sound support from skipper Wayne Madsen after Billy Godleman got one that looked to keep low early on. Madsen survived a grueling going-over from South African Kyle Abbott and Matt Coles (Abbott and Coles-tello?) before being smartly stumped by Michael Bates. I was impressed by the Hampshire bowlers and especially by skipper Jimmy Adams, who on a somewhat tranquil track kept trying innovative field placings. At one point there were two short mid-wickets for Madsen and a short extra cover, while the plan was presumably to get Moore caught on the hook. Worthy plans both, though somewhat stymied by Moore skilfully pulling and hooking down and wide of the outfield.

Later in the day there was a chance to see the genius that is Chanderpaul and, for all the unorthodoxy of his stance, there is so much to admire in the West Indian. He is a most delightful touch player with exquisite timing and, with barely a shot in anger, he cruised to an unbeaten 35 by the close and a championship average of a piffling 162...

Earlier, the Derbyshire bowling was better and the fielding light years ahead of yesterday, though the demise of Hampshire was aided by some injudicious shot selection. Joe Gatting, after overcoming scores of 0 and 1 on his debut last week with an impressive 67, slapped Wes Durston down the throat of Chesney Hughes at long on, while Michael Bates ruined an impressive cameo by smearing the same bowler to deep mid-wicket where Moore held a fine, low catch.

Where does the game go now? I'm not convinced we can win this, even from a strong position, as the weather looks set to take time from the game and the wicket looks too good to bowl a side out, unless, Mission Impossible style, it self-destructs later in the game.

However, Derbyshire redeemed a fairly average first day with an impressive second that augurs well. It is not fair for anyone to judge the Welch revolution on three months or even on this season. He needs time to get together his choice of players and mould them as he sees fit.

Yet as I left the ground this evening I turned back at the door of the Gateway Building and looked across the resplendent turf one last time. The scoreboard was bright in the evening sun and the figures made impressive reading.

Derbyshire 203-2. Moore 106 not out, Chanderpaul 35 not out.

Such figures have not often been the preserve of Derbyshire sides over the years.

Well worth savouring, that one and well played Stephen Moore. It was a delight to watch that one.

Postscript: once again tonight it is appropriate to thank those whose company I shared and enjoyed throughout the day. It made the day even more special and I'm grateful for that company and your kind words.

I look forward to meeting up again as the summer progresses. Keep well, all of you.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 1

Apart from a seaside town, I cannot think of anything more depressing than a cricket ground in the rain,

As I pulled into the Gateway car park this morning, the rain was steady, if not of monsoon proportions and  while play seemed a long way from a forlorn hope, nor did it appear especially imminent.

Yet within half an hour of the scheduled start, the ground staff had worked their magic and play began, with the sun trying its best to peek between the clouds and cheer a small and hardy gathering of loyal supporters.

It wasn't too cold, although that may have had something to do with the six layers of clothing I wore. Anyone sitting nearby must have thought me of considerable girth, though truth be told as the day progressed I became more like a Russian doll, each layer being discarded to reveal a slimmer me in turn.

Derbyshire won the toss and Wayne Madsen opted to bowl. Truth be told, the early overs were steady from Tony Palladino and too wide from Mark Footitt. Openers Carberry and Adams were able to watch far too many balls harmlessly through to the keeper and although there was an occasional false shot and close 'leave',  a wicket didn't seem close.

Jimmy Adams is a very good player but the middle of his bat seemed to be in the dressing room today and it was no real surprise when he was first out. I thought Mark Turner bowled a good early spell but was more wayward after lunch and gave away too many runs. Mark Footitt mixed the odd good ball with some that were quick but inaccurate, while Groenewald and Palladino did what they usually do and made the batsmen work hard. Neither seemed at their penetrative best today, though Timmy G was, for me, the pick of the bowlers and hardly enjoyed the best of luck.

I was disappointed with the fielding today, which at times looked like Fred Karno's circus. There were some poor pick ups, erratic throws and careless overthrows in a display that was at best only of average club standard. Chances and half chances were missed too and after the first half hour I felt we were quite 'flat' in the field. It is an area where Tom Poynton was sadly missed, as Richard Johnson, while a perfectly good keeper, is less demonstrative - or noisy, as some might put it.

While the scores are fairly even at the end of the day, I think the visitors will be the happier, after a resolute batting effort that won few points for style but plenty for substance. Derbyshire will have expected to take more than five wickets having won the toss and will hope for better luck with the second new ball tomorrow morning.

I'll be along again to see it and hope to see a less sloppy fielding performance and batsmen who have to play at the ball, rather than being given time to assess the pace of the track with harmless stuff outside off stump.

Off the pitch it was a delight, as always, to meet up with friends old and new and I'd like to thank everyone for their camaraderie and chat. You know who you are and it was a real pleasure to see you all again.

I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow - weather permitting, If you see old Peakfan, please come up and say hello, as it is always a pleasure to put faces to names.

Tomorrow is, as Scarlett O'Hara once said, another day. 

Fingers crossed it is an improved one...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire preview

Sorry about the lack of bloggery in the past couple of days but domestic commitments have meant that this side of things was a little quieter than usual.

Still, I'm back now and tomorrow Derbyshire will be entertaining Hampshire at the County Ground tomorrow with a better weather forecast in store than was showing earlier in the week.

Jonathan Clare misses out from the thirteen that travelled to Essex and I would think the final decision will be on whether Mark Turner retains his place, or is replaced by Tony Palladino. There is always the possibility that we could go with four seamers, but David Wainwright's good all-round game at Chelmsford may well ensure he gets the nod. As always, the final decision will be dependent on the wicket.

Hampshire have a solid-looking side, shorn of wicket-keeper Adam Wheater through injury and they bring the following squad:

Will Smith,  Michael Carberry,  Joe Gatting, Sean Ervine,  Jimmy Adams,  Liam Dawson,  James Vince      Michael Bates,  Danny Briggs,  James Tomlinson, Matt Coles, David Balcombe,  Kyle Abbott.

As I wrote earlier in the week, I am not concerned at the loss against Essex. One outstanding player produced an excellent innings that won them the game and Derbyshire's fighting effort on the final day bodes well for the summer.

The forecast rain over the four days suggests to me that we may need to wait for that first win, however, with a draw in a truncated game the likely outcome.

I hope I'm wrong though...

I'll be down at the ground on the first couple of days and look forward to seeing some good cricket and catching up with friends old and new.

And naturally I will be reporting back each evening.... hope to catch you down there!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards and upwards...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seconds update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essex v Derbyshire day 3

So, 199 to win with five wickets left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong XI for Seconds opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish him and the team well.