Saturday, 22 April 2017

Kent v Derbyshire day 2

Kent 259 and 142-7 (Stevens 53 not)

Derbyshire 159 (Madsen 56, Stevens 6-47)

Kent lead by 242 runs

It was the Darren Stevens show at Canterbury today, as the soon-to-be 41 year old bowled us out with his old-fashioned medium pace and then scored a crucial half century to, in my opinion, put the game beyond us.

Stevens is a throw back to the days of Tom Cartwright and Derek Shackleton, bowlers who could run in all day and just drop it on or around a length, nibbling around a little to induce the false shot. At this stage of the season he is gold dust to his side, as the wickets suit him down to the ground. Our best chance of success here is to get him pulling a muscle while going for a quick single, as he is the standout bowler  in the attack.

He is also a classic case of the late maturing cricketer. He was a decent batsman who bowled a bit for most of his twenties, but became a genuine all rounder since he turned thirty. While youth in any side is an asset in the field, an old head in these conditions is worth its weight in gold.

Our profligate nature in the first hour of the game will be what cost us here, as cost us it will assuredly do.  For all the protestations to the contrary tonight, unless Stevens can't bowl and the wicket settles down, we will be likely rolled over a second time and lose by some distance.

It's disappointing, but we can't complain too much. We had the option of bowling and chose to do so, but in making such a decision, you need your main strike bowlers to find line and length, something that ours failed to do until they had 80 on the board, not far shy of the first innings deficit.

We fought back well in the final session tonight, indicative of the battling mentality now in the side, but we will need a lot more of that tomorrow.

Shiv Thakor and Wayne Madsen took the attack to the home side, but as Wayne said tonight, there is always a ball with your name on it, on this wicket.

I hope to see the battling continue tomorrow, but expect a heavy defeat at the end of it all.

If we can win this one,  I can win Miss World.

It would need something very special, in each instance.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Kent v Derbyshire day 1

Kent 238-8 (Reece 3-38, Davis 3-59) 

v Derbyshire

Earlier today, in my pre-match write up, I suggested that someone needed to put their hand up  as a wicket-taker for Derbyshire. Lo and behold, two men did and both Luis Reece and Will Davis took three wickets today.

There has been criticism of the bowlers so far, but we all need remember that at this stage of the summer, for batsmen and bowlers alike, there is a quest for rhythm that can at times prove elusive. As I have written on several occasions over the years, professional sportsmen can have their good and bad days, just the same as you and I.

For bowlers, that action needs grooved and things like the slope and the wind can impact on their ability to pitch the ball where they want on a given day. Bowling up a hill can be tough and you find yourself reaching for the crease, while going down you can find yourself going too fast and throttling back. It is particularly an issue for young bowlers and our two youngsters did very well today.

Reece was assisted by another blinding slip catch by Daryn Smit, who has enhanced the close catching cordon considerably, irrespective of anything else that he does. Tony Palladino bowled his normal, controlled spells without success, though that quest for rhythm thus far hasn't been realised for Shiv Thakor and Tom Milnes. Both are yet to hit their stride, but they will get there.

Tomorrow's challenge is to take the last two wickets quickly and Kent must have the best number eleven in the country in Matt Coles. Then, we need to build an innings and bat for a long time.

At 83-0 tdday, Kent were looking at 400 and we were looking down a barrel.

We fought back well and need to show similar application against a keen attack tomorrow.

Kent v Derbyshire preview

Every season there are sides whose early performances suggest a season of toil and struggle. This season, Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Warwickshire are such teams and their early displays have suggested that it could be a long summer.

Then there are those who go off like a train and produce individual and team performances that suggest they could be in the mix. Last week's opposition, Northamptonshire, are such a side, as are today's, Kent.

With Sam Northeast in sparkling form and at the head of a solid batting line-up, we will have to play at our best to come out on top in this one. With the evergreen Darren Stevens in form with bat and ball, they have Wayne Parnell as overseas professional and he is a part of a good home attack, which includes Matt Coles, a cricketer I really like. He may have attracted more news than he should have for off-field exploits, but Coles bowls some nasty balls, runs in hard and hits it harder.

Derbyshire name the same eleven that played well against Northamptonshire, plus Ben Slater, Charlie Macdonell and Ben Cotton.

I couldn't second guess the final eleven, with both Ben and Charlie scoring centuries this week that may earn them a role. I think Ben Cotton will play, after a good effort in the seconds, as there must be an element of doubt over Shiv Thakor's ankle for a lot of bowling. The other big decision is on whether Alex Hughes plays as a specialist batsman and slip fielder over the other two. Given he didn't bowl at all in that last game, one can only assume he is in the side to lengthen the batting, although the success of Darren Stevens, a similar bowler, on these early summer tracks may offer him an opportunity.

It should be a good game and our senior players can at least make the decision on bowling here, with it being an away game. In the continued absence of Hardus Viljoen, I share concerns over the taking of wickets and await someone allaying those concerns.

Maybe this is the one?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Post-match thoughts

Well, we lost an opening game of the season, not for the first time.

Yet in that loss, there was more than a suggestion that this could be a highly entertaining summer. It wasn't a game in which we were outclassed, as so often last year, To the contrary, we made the running for most of it, even without our fast bowling spearhead, Hardus Viljoen.

We were defeated because we tried to win the game and were not fully taking into account the length and strength of a very good visiting batting side. There was a time when five an over across 65 overs would have been a test. Now, when 200 from twenty overs is far from unusual, I think that we erred on the side of generosity with a declaration that lost us the match. Anyway, 'tis done now and we must move on.

Other downsides? The bowling didn't seem too demanding, with the honorable exception of Will Davis and Tony Palladino. Tom Milnes can do much better, Shiv Thakor's injury didn't help and Jeevan Mendis will come more into his own on warmer days and drier tracks. Luis Reece may prove only an occasional bowler, but will need to be tighter than he was in that game, while Daryn Smit will doubtless take wickets when his shoulder is fully restored to health.

That's really it, though. The positives far outweigh them. As a batting side we fought in both innings, when conditions were not at all in our favour and appear to have a solid opening pair. There were debates when Luis Reece was preferred to Ben Slater, but the latter, a player I really like, hasn't yet found his touch this year. He only got 14 yesterday for the seconds, while Charlie Macdonell hit an unbeaten 136, perhaps making himself the next in line in the process.

Shiv Thakor may or may not establish himself at three, but needs a run at the role, so with the rest of the batting largely stable, the thoughts over the next day or two will revolve around the bowling. A good performance in the seconds could see Ben Cotton or Tom Taylor elevated for the trip to Kent and we all hope that Hardus Viljoen is fit for that one.

We also held some excellent catches. Daryn Smit stood out with stunning efforts at second slip, but Wayne Madsen is a sound first slip and Gary Wilson set the tone behind the stumps. In that second innings run chase of Northamptonshire, we only conceded two extras, a level of discipline that is gratifying. In an attack that is best described as a work in progress, the least we should expect is that and hopefully greater penetration will come. No one should underestimate the value of a fast bowler at one end and his impact on all the others in the attack.

One final thing. We have a skipper who is prepared to risk losing, in order to win. It would have been very easy to bat all day on Monday and take practice in a match situation and a few points.

Billy Godleman tried to take more than that and is to be applauded. While it didn't work out this time, there will be others when it does.

It all suggested that Derbyshire watching this summer will be anything but dull.

Which has to be worth something, at the end of the day.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 4

Derbyshire 281 and 351-1 (Reece 168, Godleman 156 not)

Northamptonshire 307 and 330-7 (Levi 99, Newton 98, Mendis 3-84)

Northamptonshire won by 3 wickets

I have no doubt that supporter's opinion will be divided tonight.

On the one hand, Derbyshire were involved in a thrilling game of cricket to open the county season, one which went down to the penultimate ball and made for an enthralling afternoon for those in attendance.

On the other, we lost.

It would have been very easy to write off today as an easy draw, as I largely had. I suggested last night that only a contrived finish could change that, and so it came to pass.

I have only my good friends, Ranjith and Paul, to verify that at lunchtime today I suggested that our declaration was 15-20 runs short of challenging. That it went down to the wire was full credit to both teams and to the two captains. Rather than petering out around 5pm, the game went to the last over and as an entertainment form would have been hard to beat.

I just felt that, playing the current T20 champions, a side packed full of aggressive batsmen down to number nine in the order, 325 in 65 overs was very much on. If you break the innings into bite-sized chunks, it was five an over, or a hundred off each twenty. Against a side shorn of its main strike bowler, with another seamer who had a dodgy ankle and ending the innings with a leggie bowling who hasn't in a match since before Christmas and shoulder surgery, the visitors seemed to hold all the aces.

When they slipped to 124-4, courtesy of what I understand was another stunning slip catch by Daryn Smit, we were on top, but the game was taken away from us by Richard Levi. You have to give credit where it is due and Levi is capable of that, and has done it against international attacks. While Rob Newton kept them in the game, Levi won it for them with 99 from 79 balls. Yes, it hurts to lose, but you have to applaud something special and Levi produced it today.

I'm unsure why we didn't give Will Davis or Tony Palladino a last spell, and even more baffled why Alex Hughes didn't turn his arm over in the game. I didn't get the impression that the wicket was turning, so the merits of spin at each end was questionable, but maybe there were things that I'm not privy to.

Earlier, Billy Godleman and Luis Reece set a new county record for the first wicket,erasing Joe Bowden and Harry Storer from the record books forever with a stand of 333. I suspect that the earlier heroes faced bowling more demanding than today, though, certainly in this morning's session. Well done to both though, because the record books will still bear their names, irrespective of how they were scored.

It might last another 88 years, too...

More thoughts on the game tomorrow. Shame to start with a defeat, but we played positive cricket and have a lot of positives to come out of the match.

Pre-last day thoughts

While all three results are possible today, the thinking man or woman's money would be on the draw.

From our perspective, we are 116 runs on and would need to set them between 275 and 300 in perhaps 50 overs to win. For me, the rain has taken too much time out of the game and unless they served up 'buffet' bowling, the wicket hasn't been conducive to aggressive stroke play to get there.

Then again, and taking nothing at all away from our excellent opening pair's efforts, 142-0 doesn't suggest that the last day wicket would be a minefield on which to survive, so could we realistically take ten wickets in fifty overs, unless they collapsed as they did in the first innings?

To win would require a huge effort from all eleven players and a special one from at least one bowler. I don't think that Billy Godleman would risk a damaging loss by dangling too attractive a carrot in front of the visitors and we may just need to write this up as a very encouraging first game. A ton for either or both openers, especially Luis Reece on debut, would be most welcome.

Let's face it, Northamptonshire won their first game in a canter but they are in trouble here and would doubtless be quite happy with the draw.

For all the comments I have seen that suggest we should 'go for it', the reality is that of course they will, but won't risk undoing three days of very hard work with a silly declaration on the last day.

Because the usual suspects will then start saying 'same old Derbyshire'.

Which I suspect we're not.

More from me later. Sadly, work beckons so the desktop scoreboard awaits...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 3

Derbyshire 281 and 142-0 (Reece 69 not, Godleman 63 not)

Northamptonshire 307

Derbyshire lead by116 runs

It is hard to think a positive result can come here, in a match where run scoring at any rate has proved problematic. Nor, I think, will either side be prepared to risk all in an early season match where a loss would undo what to this point has been an encouraging start. Yet if it does come, Derbyshire are in the driving seat to dictate the terms.

Full credit again to them, and specifically to Billy Godleman and Luis Reece, for batting through to a century stand in which they had to make several 'starts' with rain delays. It is little more than we have come to expect from the skipper, who with Wayne Madsen has become one of the rocks on which we depend. For Reece, though, it marked an encouraging effort and start to a county career.

As I wrote before the season started, many people I spoke to on speaking engagements over the winter in Lancashire were astonished that they allowed him to leave.  Today's innings will have done his confidence good and I hope that he kicks on from here. A century tomorrow would be the icing on the cake.

Just a short blog from me tonight, as a good friend is over visiting from the US of A.

I will be back in more detail tomorrow, likely reporting on a draw, unless it turns into a raging turner on the last afternoon, or Ben Duckett goes berserk in a run chase.

Very encouraging though so far.

Well done lads.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 2

Derbyshire 281

Northamptonshire 291-9 (Holden 68 not, Duckett 53, Newton 50, Davis 4-55)

A day that ebbed and flowed at Derby today, with late runs from Alex Hughes and Tom Milnes edging Derbyshire to a decent first innings tally. By early afternoon, with the visiting openers putting on a hundred, it didn't look close to enough, before persistent bowling, loose shots and fine catching reduced them to 171-8. Matt Holden and Nathan Buck then put on a crucial stand of 89, before Jeevan Mendis got his second wicket of the day.

There were four wickets for Will Davis, who continues to look a terrific prospect and two for Shiv Thakor, who worryingly had to leave the field with an ankle injury in the final session. The absence of Viljoen's bazookas was felt, but Derbyshire can be pleased with a position of parity at this stage.

There were two puzzles for me today. Luis Reece bowled as first change, but never got an over afterwards, suggesting that he was either injured or oddly ignored. Meanwhile, Alex Hughes never turned his arm over at all and his skiddy medium pace may have been just the thing to break that ninth wicket partnership, given opportunity.

What we do appear to have is an excellent close catching combination, with Madsen, Smit and Hughes taking good slip catches and Wilson a good one down the leg side. Only nineteen extras conceded to the visitors 47 too, but we will want to finish the innings quickly tomorrow and not have too great a deficit to claw back on a wicket that continues to offer something for the bowlers.

Its a funny game. Sometimes as a captain you have the wrong bowlers on. Other times you have them on, but at the wrong ends. Today we struck a combo that worked after lunch and looked to be well on top - until that final session, when we rather let them get off the hook.

Where does it go from here? Well, we will need a lead over 250 on the final day and then hope that the wicket dries enough to help our Sri Lankan leggie. The batting will again be tested by a keen Northamptonshire attack tomorrow and must show similar resilience to the first innings.

Game on, for sure and if this close contest is a sign of things to come there will be few complaints by the end of the season.

Especially if we come out on top at the end...

Excellent Cricinfo piece on Barnett

Lovely article by the always-readable David Hopps on Kim Barnett over on Cricinfo.

You can find it here


Flexibility and bravery the key for Derbyshire

Competition for places is quite likely going to be key for Derbyshire in their quest for improved fortunes this summer.

So too will the bravery and honesty of the senior players who will select the side, along with captain Billy Godleman.

There was a time, as told to me by several players of senior vintage, when a young player had to produce the exceptional to get into the first eleven and displace a senior, capped player on the commensurate (not especially high) salary. Even then, after a failure or two, that young player would be back to the second eleven, who rarely played enough cricket for them to force a way back through. It was very much survival of the fittest and only what Jean Brodie would have called the creme de la creme would survive.

As it should be, of course. The county game is the pinnacle for most players, only the elite status of the international game beyond. The only way that a place in the side should be maintained is on a sustained level of performance, exactly the same way as one should be earned.

Last season, for example, irrespective of the fact that he had flown thousands of miles to get here, Neil Broom shouldn't have held down a place in the side all summer. His form simply didn't warrant it and a closing average of mid-twenties was more in keeping with a young lad learning the game, than that of an experienced player of international experience.

This year, I think things will be different and players will be aware that they have to deliver to retain a senior role.

There have been several comments about the absence of Harvey Hosein and Ben Slater from the lineup and both could be considered unlucky to be out of the side for the first fixture. Yet Hosein is competing against the vice-captain, who has had two innings and scored a century and 72. You cannot argue on such figures and while there is perhaps one on whether either could play as a batting specialist, you look at the current side and ask 'replacing who'?

Slater picked up a pre-season knock and in his absence Luis Reece scored a fifty and took three wickets in a good spell against Loughborough UCCE. After such an effort it would have been hard, unfair even, to omit him, but Slater's turn will come.

Players should not be in fear of their place and failing in two successive matches should not equate to being dropped. That only results in people not playing freely, to their and the side's detriment. Yet the senior players will see how people are in the nets and be well aware when a rest is needed.

The beauty of the current squad is that there is cover, ironically, for all but Hardus Viljoen. His absence, however long it is, will be keenly felt, as genuine fast bowlers are few and far between. Yet for Reece, read Slater, Macdonell or Wood. For Wilson, read Hosein, or Smit. For Hughes, read Reece, dropping down the order, or Cork, or Cotton. Maybe even Critchley. You could do that with them all at this stage, except captains present and previous, Messrs Godleman and Madsen.

We should not be a one-dimensional side this year. While doubts of our ability to take twenty wickets without Viljoen remain, they are based on a twelve-month old perception of bowlers who should have improved. Whether that improvement is enough, we don't know yet, but we have an attack to handle most wickets and batsmen who, I think, have the mental toughness to follow a big score on a 'road' with one of our own, rather than falter under pressure.

Do I think we can win something this year? Probably not, but right now we would all take brighter, competitive cricket and signs of progress. Trophies come from talent, attitude and luck.

We have two out of those three, but no one will win anything without their share of the other one at key points of the summer.