Sunday, 21 January 2018

Madsen misses out on IPL as another proposal is aired...

According to the excellent David Hopps of Cricinfo, Wayne Madsen is one of three English cricketers who have been omitted from the long list hoping to get into next weekend's IPL auction.

A further 21 will be in that auction, but it is not lost on me that Madsen and Rikki Wessels, two of last summer's best T20 Blast batsmen, haven't made the cut, along with the somewhat ambitious Monty Panesar, who few have ever seen as a limited overs player and who currently plays Minor Counties cricket when is isn't dancing (and falling) on ice.

I'd reckon about half of the contingent won't make it anyway and from a Derbyshire perspective, the loss of our best batsman would have been a major blow. Yet it is a shame, because he is one of the best players of spin in the country, a skill that is especially effective in India.

Those in the auction from here are Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Steven Finn, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Tom Helm, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Tymal Mills, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

Personally, for that format there are plenty of players in there that I would omit in favour of Madsen and Wessels, but we will each have our thoughts on that one.

Moving back home and proposals for a conference-style county championship that they feel could commence from 2020 have been aired by chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon from Yorkshire.

The main proposal is that three parallel conferences of six begin the season, and another three conferences of six – divided on merit – conclude it, with prize money for the winner almost doubling to a million pounds.

The main issue for me is that you have too many potential 'David v Goliath' matches in the first conference, plus the format creates one extra four-day match when authorities seem hell-bent on reducing fixtures. On the other hand, maybe the absence of some of the big-name players from the top counties may address the imbalance, which is why I linked this piece as I have. Play Yorkshire, Surrey or Nottinghamshire without their England men and your chances improve. Perhaps lower tier players may raise their game against their supposed betters, but on the face of it I struggle to see how the format would raise the standard of the national game.

I would happily make the fifty-over competition less intrusive, but given that it is a format that England play better than most, I don't see that happening. The irony that we do well in it as things stand is not lost on me, nor should it be on anyone else.

I will again reiterate that the sport is sadly riddled with people who suggest knee-jerk change in the light of a lost international series. Has introducing a premiership in football improved the England side? No, because English players make up only a third of squads, but mixing it with many of the world's best hasn't improved their standard, nor made them an elite force at major tournaments.

If they haven't worked it out yet, sport is a cyclical thing and every generation a player or two comes along, sometimes because of and other times despite the system, and produces the goods. How much money has been pumped into British tennis over the last thirty years and how many world-class players has it produced?

South African domestic cricket is beset with problems, but there are signs that despite them they are now starting to produce some seriously talented young players. New Zealand has a powerful squad, but they lose plenty of series, as do India, with some of the finest players in the world at the moment. By spooky coincidence, most of the losses are away from home. Who'd a thunk it, eh?

Just as England's system was 'bad enough' to lose the Ashes this winter, so it will be good enough to win them back in this country, then lose them the next time that we go on yet another under-prepared tour. Then some silly bugger on an inflated salary that he struggles to justify will come out with another idea to 'transform' a domestic game that has little wrong with it.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - the more it changes, the more it's the same thing.

That's about the size of it...

Those proposals:

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Net footage makes season closer

Despite several inches of snow that has covered our gardens and streets in the past few days, the cricket season seems closer now. We're getting through January, then have one more month until we can say that cricket starts 'next month'.

There have been a few signings in recent days. Lancashire signed Joe Mennie, an Australian fast medium bowler with one Test match to his name, as their overseas player for the season. His first-class record is OK, but it is not a signing that will have had people looking the membership hotline. Then again, he could be the latest in a long and successful line that includes John Hastings and Steve Magoffin and the red rose county will hope for similar results, as will Durham, after signing Nathan Rimmington through his UK passport.

Down the road, Leicestershire will have their overseas role shared between Mohammad Abbas and Sohail Khan. The two fast medium bowlers have excellent first-class records, though, as we found last year with Jeevan Mendis, overseas figures don't always tell the truth about players as the standard can be variable. Both have OK international records, but the signings will have been made with one eye on the city's sizeable ethnic population. If they can get a few more people into the ground and produce some decent statistics, then they will have done their job.

Over in Australia, Matt Critchley hit 149 for his Sydney grade side to suggest he is in decent nick. I think he will start the summer at six in the Derbyshire side, then what he makes of the position will dictate where it goes from there. With a seamer as overseas in early season, he and Wayne Madsen will offer spin variation, unless we slip Hamidullah Qadri into the side on a likely wicket.

There is a nice solidity to the batting line-up, assuming all are in form, with good men outside of it. Getting the right signatures for those overseas roles could make for an interesting old summer.

Brian Sellers: Yorkshire Tyrant by Mark Rowe

I have long since been a fan of the literary output of the Association of Cricket Statisticians (ACS), way before they agreed to publish my book on Edwin Smith a few years back. Their titles are generally on players whose careers have not necessarily seen them playing at the highest level, but whose lives and exploits are worthy of recognition for all that.

So it is with Brian Sellers, a man who was not in the top rank of cricketers, ending his career with a batting average of 23 after eleven seasons, with just four centuries. Yet, like Arthur Richardson, his Derbyshire counterpart in the 1930's, his contribution to the county's history should be measured in more than runs in the scorebook.

He generally got those runs when the side's need was greatest, though in an eleven that was usually packed with players of international quality, that wasn't too often. He was willing to sacrifice his average for the team when a quick thirty was needed ahead of a declaration, or to get his head down and face the bowling when conditions were in favour of the opposition bowlers.

Yet it was as a captain where he ruled supreme, indeed ruled absolutely. In a Yorkshire side that was full of characters, most of them with strong opinions on the game and how it should be played, Sellers made it clear from the start that he was in charge. He knew, like they did, that he wasn't a match for them as a cricketer, but he set a standard in the field and ensured that everyone knew their place and what was expected of them. He may ask their opinion, but the final decision was his and his alone.

A side of such talents should have dominated the county game and they won the title in seven of the eleven summers in which he led them. Sellers ensured that inter-personal differences and ambitions were subsumed into a side that was formidable. Everything was geared towards them winning match after match, usually scoring high and then bowling sides out twice. That is less of an issue when you have Bill Bowes to lead the attack and the peerless Hedley Verity to bowl as the wicket started to turn. Likewise, a side with Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Maurice Leyland was always likely to make runs, but Sellers ensured that they did so in a way that fitted the needs of the team.

He does not come across as an especially likeable man. He was forthright, boorish even, with a need to be the centre of the attention in social settings. One is left with the impression that he was respected, rather than liked, but that probably didn't worry him too much.

In 1946 he was Yorkshire captain, then helped to select the England side to tour Australia, on which he reported for the Yorkshire Evening Post. It was a bizarre turn of events, perhaps propitious as it turned out, as he became chairman of the county club from 1959-72. Heavily involved in the departure of county legend Johnny Wardle in 1959, he was subsequently behind those of Brian Close and Ray Illingworth, his no-nonsense style at odds with changing times. Given the success of the last two at Somerset and Leicestershire respectively, he ended a long association with the club far less auspiciously than it began.

This is a worthy read of a county game long gone. The amateur captain, wealthy beyond the dreams of the professionals that he led, yet in charge of their careers and destiny. Sellers did it better than most and the author does an excellent job in this absorbing read.

Brian Sellers: Cricket Tyrant is written by Mark Rowe and published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, priced £15. You can order it here or by calling 0113 278 4286

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Philander for Derbyshire?

The news breaking this afternoon through the Cric Buzz website that  Derbyshire are keen to bring South African all-rounder Vernon Philander to the county is very exciting.

The all rounder is one of the best new ball bowlers in the game, as evidenced by around 180 Test wickets at 21 each. At 32 he is at the height of his powers, as he showed with his six second innings wickets as he bowled South Africa to victory in the first Test against India last week.

He has come through a sticky period of injury and, according to the website, early discussions have been positive.

Of course, nothing is sealed at this stage and neither a deal is finalised nor permission granted for him to play here by the South African cricket authorities. This could be declined, or they could put stringent limits on what he plays that makes a deal unrealistic.

The thought of Viljoen, Philander, Rampaul and Davis/Palladino in the same attack is a mouth-watering one, however and we must hope that first of all the story is true, then that Derbyshire can get it over the line in a manner that makes the signing worthwhile.

Well worth keeping an eye on!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

England's travails and Taylor's county switch

I had an exchange of messages on Twitter the other evening with Michael Vaughan (yes, that one) after the former England skipper and now broadcaster came up with the suggestion that we should play a couple of county matches abroad at the start of the season. This will help our players better prepare for overseas tours, even if it ignores the fact that the ones most likely to tour are on central contracts and unlikely to play.

I wasn't impressed, and said so. He retweeted my response and acolytes were quick to come to his defence. 'What ideas have you got?' was the standard reply, which I was happy to give - and to expand on now.

I fail to see how funding overseas matches in April and May for eighteen counties - or even the ones in the top tier - will improve our overseas fortunes in November and December. Ignoring for a minute the fact that members pay a membership to watch their side and few have the money to travel abroad to do so, it remains a crackpot idea of considerable cost, which would far outweigh its benefits.

Peakfan's step one to improving things - pick the right people. I like watching James Vince bat, as he is an aesthetic delight, but his chances of sustained success on hard, bouncy tracks with an array of quicks probing off stump were always slim. Mason Crane is a talented young bowler, but played less four-day cricket last year than Matt Critchley, so why Adil Rashid was omitted for wickets where he has enjoyed success is beyond me. So too is that we picked an array of right arm fast medium bowlers that made up an attack of 'Stepford Wives' proportions. Then we pick Gary Ballance, barely see him on the pitch and decide he's not up to a subsequent tour of New Zealand. How? They got at least one of those decisions wrong, for sure.

Second  - allow all touring teams a proper warm up. It is no surprise that most international series are won by the home team, because visitors turn up out of season and accordingly under-cooked.  Teams come here, play two or three matches against second elevens and subsequently get rolled over in Test matches. On this tour, England's batsmen and bowlers alike struggled for rhythm, because all the nets in the world won't make up for time in the middle.

In 1970-71, when Ray Illingworth led England to the Ashes, there were EIGHT warm-up matches before the first Test, three against state sides. The players were ready and a more even tour was a consequence. I'm not saying we need to return to such lengths, but surely five or six good standard matches pre-series might make for a fair competition, as well as generating money?

Third - sort the county schedule. The usual detractors have said that there are too many counties, which is never an issue when England win, of course. Cut the county game down to six sides and see us rule the world, say some. I don't follow the rationale that choosing your best eleven from seventy players is better than selecting from two to three hundred of comparable standard.

With half the county schedule played on low, slow early season wickets, is it any wonder we struggle on hard and fast tracks? The only time we play on such wickets is probably the T20, when they are going at pretty much everything and getting out as England's players did consistently on this tour.

Ah, but no one watches county cricket anyway. Of course they don't, because to do so you either need to be retired, not working or taking annual holidays. As I have written before, outside of the polar days of early season, Derbyshire has TWO weekend championship days of home cricket all summer.

There are 26 weekends between the first one in April and the last in September. For what it is worth, I would make county cricket three divisions of six teams, each playing the others home and away. So that's ten weekends, Friday to Monday sorted.  Then start the summer with a fifty over competition with two leagues of nine, playing Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday. The four top teams in each league play quarter finals, then the rest follows on.

That is seven to eight weeks at the start of the summer for the league and knockouts, then you start the four-day game in late May or early June. Play them all Friday to Monday, maximising the crowd and accessibility. Stick the T20 in somewhere in the middle, playing Friday nights and Sunday, then finish with the second half of the championship.

There would even be time to include more warm-up games for touring sides and an end of season five day north v south, to look at potential tourists. It would make for greater intensity, with most sides retaining an interest in promotion or relegation throughout and being unable to coast. Every game would be important, better preparing players for the challenge of international cricket.

Lastly, give our former stalwart Steffan Jones a senior bowling role in English cricket. His assertion that we are moulding bowlers who pass gym tests but continually break down makes great sense.  Ask the old-timers and they will tell you that they got fit by bowling, not bench pressing their own body weight. If a few people listened to him, we might find an English quickie again who can match verbals with venom.

Enjoy, as I did, Steffan's paper on 'The demise of the anti-fragile bowler'

Finally today, I am pleased to see that Tom Taylor is back in the county game with a contract at Leicestershire. His talent is obvious, but so is Derbyshire's desire for more immediate success than his slow development afforded.

While there has been no official statement to the effect, my guess is that the club wants a leaner playing staff and space within that for the talent moving through the academy to gain earlier exposure to second team cricket.

If we don't think that the likes of Taylor, Rob Hemmings, perhaps in turn Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes will make it, then we need to allow others the opportunity to do so. It is tough, but that is professional sport for you. Let's see if young lads who are dominating in age group cricket can learn to do so at the next level, rather than becoming blase about their talent and wasting crucial development time.

Other counties are bringing through young players who are producing regularly in their early twenties, while ours are generally several years older. Hopefully the work of Mal Loye and senior players with the academy boys may seem them ready sooner.

There's only one way to find that out.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Taylor and Hemmings releases no real surprise

It is always sad to see the release of players from the club that you support.

If I'm honest, which I always try to be, there is no real surprise, however, in the departure of Tom Taylor and Rob Hemmings.

Both are talented cricketers, because you don't get on to a county staff without having that little 'extra' that is required. Hemmings rarely got near the first team and I was more surprised when he wasn't released at the end of last summer, the rationale presumably being the contract dates. He scored his runs in the second team and took wickets, but rarely in sufficient quantity to make people sit up and take notice. With a more established look to the senior middle order, something special was needed and it just didn't happen for him.

Perhaps for Tom Taylor, whose brother James has recently won a contract at the club, the situation was less clear cut. He can play all right and showed talent with bat and ball, suggesting that there is a good cricketer in there, trying to get out. He could get wickets and good ones too, but mixed up the occasional 'jaffa' with a few too many that required no attention from the batsmen, together with one an over that was a boundary ball.

I don't think he was ever the same bowler after he went away to work with the potential England performance programme and a stress fracture to the back resulted in a remodelled action. Sixteen wickets last summer in the mid-thirties was pretty much what he has sustained through his time on the staff and there was, I think, a fear that he hasn't 'kicked on' as we might have hoped.

His batting was useful, though perhaps without the expectation that he would develop into something more than a bowler who could handle a bat. He was a handy night watchman and, the next morning, often showed himself able to play some shots.

He may be one of the many late developers of course. He may ship up somewhere and, when it all clicks, he will become a county stalwart, like Paul Taylor did at Northampton. Then again, he may return to the leagues and once more come to our attention as a more mature player, as Colin Tunnicliffe and Tony Borrington once did.

Yet in the short term, I struggled to see when he would play in 2018. With the club chasing an overseas seamer who can bat for the start of the summer, and Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul two of the first names on the team sheet, openings appeared thin. Then there's Will Davis, hopefully fit and firing, with Ben Cotton ahead in the pecking order too, not to mention the evergreen Tony Palladino.

Later in the summer, when at least one spinner will play regularly, the opportunities were likely to be even slimmer and the parting, though sad, makes sense. The idea of a senior eleven primarily made up of youngsters making their way seems to have been abandoned, replaced by one of players justifying their place by a sustained level of performance. With young players elsewhere establishing themselves more quickly in their county eleven, patience with a lad who had sixty wickets in four summers probably wore thin.

I hope he uses the release as a catalyst for success elsewhere, but there will now be an expectation, I think, for young players to make a more immediate 'mark' on the county game. With a few talented seamers coming up in the academy and plenty of experienced help for them on the staff, there will be greater expectation on the next generation. More chances for them to play in the second team too, the only way that they can really hope to develop their game.

I wish both Tom and Rob the best in their future endeavours, as I am sure you do.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Book Review: Over And Out - Albert Trott The Man Who Cleared the Lord's Pavilion by Steve Neal

One of the thrills of doing this blog over the years has been getting sent copies of cricket books for review by publishers. I have seen some that were less impressive, others that will stand the test of time.

This is one of the latter.

Albert Trott was one of the big names of golden age cricket. A man good enough to be picked to play five Tests in which he averaged 38 with the bat and 15 with the ball, took 26 wickets and was never picked again.

There were factions and rivalries to blame for his omission from the 1896 Australian tour to England, together with a feeling that he was a player of mercurial talent who suited himself, rather than the needs of the team. He liked to attack the bowling when he had a bat in his hand, but often did so before well set, to the detriment of his average. As a bowler he had the lot, bowled in a round arm style that could put in a fast one, just as easily as he would swing it or spin it when conditions suited him. He was not averse to buying wickets either when the batsmen prospered and he could be expensive. Yet in the variety of his skills he was a precursor of the modern one-day bowler, a format that would have suited him down to the ground

For around a decade he was a stand out player in the Middlesex side and a player that people came to watch. His reputation was made on a July day in 1899, when he hit Monty Noble of the visiting Australian side over the Lord's pavilion. He remains the only man to have done so, yet it perhaps summed up Trott's life that such a monstrous hit only counted for four under the rules of the day, the ball ending up in the garden of the house of a dressing room attendant, still within the confines of the ground. In that year and the one to follow, Trott scored over a thousand runs and took over two hundred wickets, figures that confirmed him as one of the giants of the age.

His batting deteriorated after this, attributed to his intent to replicate the feat. His batting became more that of exciting cameos, yet when he middled them, they continued to go a long way. His bowling was a force for some years, but a lifestyle in which he celebrated hard and enjoyed the drinks bought him by well-wishers affected his fitness and physique. In his early thirties, he could have been mistaken for someone 15-20 years older and while he still held catches that his team mates, a notoriously poor fielding side, would not have considered chances, his form was latterly elusive and he drifted from the game.

Trott took four wickets in four balls and then the hat trick in his benefit match in 1907, ending the match early as a consequence and robbing himself of a considerable amount of money. The latter proved elusive when his career ended, cricket having been his only life and interest. A spell as a first-class umpire was truncated when he suffered badly from dropsy, being admitted to hospital for fluid to be removed from his legs and his abdomen.

By 1914 he had had enough. Writing his will on the back of a laundry ticket and leaving his wardrobe and £4 in cash to his landlady, he shot himself in his bed and died immediately, aged only 41.

Contemporaries tell of a man who struggled away from the limelight and a circle of friends, or hangers-on, as we might call them today. A kindly man and a character, perhaps a little too fond of the drink for his own good and less willing to look after himself than others, who played for much longer at a time when players would continue well into their forties.

Trott was a very fine player, perhaps, for a couple of seasons, a great player of his time. He has been well served in this admirably researched and well written book by the author, who in turn has been treated well by Pitch Publishing. I would have liked to have seen a career record at the back, but that is a minor quibble.

You get to the end of this book knowing more about Victorian and Edwardian society and about Albert Trott, a flawed genius, but a man who entertained.

Not a bad epitaph, as they go.

Over And Out: Albert Trott - The Man Who Cleared The Lord's Pavilion is written by Steve Neal and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book sellers.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy new year everyone, and I hope that the one ahead is full of everything that you wish for.

And we wish for, in the case of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Yesterday, after a quiet time, came news that the announcement of our two main overseas roles may not be too far away. In an interview on the club web site, Kim Barnett said that an overseas spinner for the second half of the summer and T20 Blast, as well as a seam bowler for the RLODC and the start of the championship matches should be announced 'soon'.

Both can bat, continued Barnett, so a little teaser there for us to ponder.

My dream ticket signing in the spinning role would be Afghan sensation Rashid Khan, who at 19 is probably the best young spinner I have seen. He has traveled the world in 2017 and played T20 cricket in India, Australia and the Caribbean, starring in all of them. A bowler who can turn it viciously both ways, I thought that top batsmen might have worked him out by now, but that is far from the case.

His googly is his most potent weapon, yet no one seems to pick it with confidence and the bowler's astonishing averages of just 14 to 15 runs per wicket seem set to continue for a while yet. He is going for less than six an over in the T20, which is quite extraordinary, while his control is remarkable.

Perhaps the different wickets in England might be the making of him, or they may find him wanting, but a brave and ambitious county would offer a young man of huge talent the opportunity to broaden his experience and skills. I would love that to be Derbyshire.

I have discounted Imran Tahir, as the last we heard he wanted only to play T20 and can otherwise only throw Jeevan Mendis back into the frame after his early summer stint last year. I suppose South African Keshav Maharaj could be an option, but after that I struggle for genuine contenders who could handle both required forms of the game and have batting ability.

The seaming all-rounder? I have earlier this winter noted the claims of Jason Holder, the West Indies skipper, but otherwise suspect that our strong South African links might bear fruit.

Seam bowlers who can bat, but are less likely to have IPL involvement might include Duanne Olivier and Andile Pheluhkwayo. Both, I think, have the requisite international appearances, something that may exclude Dane Paterson, who I liked the look of last year against England and Dewald Pretorius. Wayne Parnell's angle may offer another option, but he is a regular IPL pick, as is the excellent Chris Morris.

All conjecture, of course, until we are told otherwise.

Fun all the same though...

Sunday, 31 December 2017

And finally...

In the closing hours of 2017, a chance to wish all of you, wherever you are, the very best for the year that lies ahead.

In the season just past, that now seems a distant memory, Derbyshire made decent strides forward. The T20 can be looked back upon with considerable satisfaction, providing more memorable moments than that competition has managed in the previous five. If we can persuade John Wright and Dominic Cork to return, then recruit a couple of top players for the competition, we could easily manage the same, if not better, next year.

In the four-day game, I suspect our season may have panned out differently had Hardus Viljoen been available all summer. If he starts next year in the same form he ended this, has the expected support from the experienced Ravi Rampaul and perhaps an overseas seamer who can bat in April, then our championship may be less the form of also rans, more that of promotion candidates. With, fingers crossed, a fully fit Will Davis in the mix, we should bowl sides out.

Neither of our two batting lynch pins, Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, were in their best four-day form last year, but there was enough progress elsewhere in the side to suggest next summer could be one to excite us.

Here's hoping.

To you and yours, enjoy your evening and I hope that 2018 brings everything you wish for.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas wishes - and John Wright's festive single

The next few days are going to be busy for family Peakfan, as well as for all of you, no doubt, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas.

After the travails of the year, our family is looking forward to this one especially. Sylvia is doing really well now, I am pleased to relate and should be back to her best in the months that lie ahead.

I would like to thank all of you who have checked in regularly throughout the year and those who have contributed your thoughts from time to time. That's ten years that I have been doing the blog now and it continues to grow, each successive year bringing more hits than the ones that preceded it.

I am proud of that, and flattered. What started out as a means of getting in touch with 'one or two' Derbyshire fans out there now has seen readership increase to 34 countries. It is always a particular pleasure to hear from those far away, whose support of the club continues undiminished despite the miles in between. Please continue to get in touch and I will always reply, as and when I can.

Thanks also to those who have bought my two books and in answer to your questions, the Edwin Smith one is long since sold out, with copies now popping up on ebay from time to time.

In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation continues to sell well and the box that I had pre-Christmas has been reduced to one last lonely copy. Festive delivery won't happen now, but if anyone would like to buy it, suitably inscribed, please get in touch. Copies are still available, while stocks last, from Amazon and your local book shop.

Every so often something blog-related happens that surprises me and that happened overnight, when I got an email from Rodeo Records in New Zealand. My thanks go to Aly Cook for the link below to John Wright's Christmas single, which I hope that you enjoy as much as I do. As a seasoned traveler to Tennessee, country music is close to my heart and this is a song that will doubtless seep into your sub-conscious and find you singing or humming the chorus in the days ahead.

I will say with confidence that Derbyshire has the best Christmas song in county cricket this year.

Maybe that's a portent of things to come in 2018?

Enjoy the video - and your Christmas!