Friday, 20 July 2018

About last night...and the Head of Cricket role

It was nice to see a lot of comments after last night's fine performance, for a change. Too often in the past it has been a rush to get in first with criticism and I like it when people are even-handed in the praise and criticism. Thank you for that.

Was it a perfect performance? Is there such a thing? It was very impressive and fully justified the signings of Calum MacLeod and Lockie Ferguson, that is for sure. Every catch that went up in the air was held, some of them far from easy, though they were made to look so. Derbyshire looked up for it in the field, where fast, keen bowling was backed up well.

I thought our hosts looked dreadful. I know there are plenty of examples in cricket history of players not conforming to the athlete stereotype, but I smiled when the commentator said that Ben Duckett looked like he had lost a bit of weight. In that side I would do and they looked less fit than my erstwhile cricket club. Immobile and leaden-footed in the field, they were no match for a Derbyshire side that fielded very well.

I agree with some of you that we should even now be looking at a full-time contract for MacLeod from 2019. He has a sound technique and plays the ball late, his tremendous form coming from how closely he watches the ball. An excellent hockey player, it is no surprise that he and Wayne are the best two sweepers in the club, but it was the range of shots that caught my eye. He's not a 'six over cow corner' hitter, but a proper batsman, who can late cut and glide with the best of them. His fine catch at slip set the tone for the innings too, when Duckett was quickly despatched by the excellent Ferguson.

And irrespective of results before last night, he has been a stellar pick up by John Wright. I would go as far as to say he is the best one-day bowler we have had since the days of Charl Langeveldt. His nigh-metronomic ability to drop the yorker in on target is testimony to a lot of work and to do so while nudging or passing 90mph needs real talent. With Duanne Olivier for the first half of the summer, we have been well-served by our overseas players this year.

It was good to see Hardus Viljoen bowling better last night too. I have been critical of him in recent weeks, simply because he has bowled badly. When you are well paid, the tolerance of supporters to poor performance is less and expectations higher. He did well last night and with Ferguson and Wahab Riaz he made up an impressive pace trio.

Any watching cricket coach with ideas of applying for the Head of Cricket role must have ended the evening well aware that there is talent to work with at the club. Since I have had the question asked a few times, I will tell you who I would want in the role.

In short, ideally, someone new to the club, but my first choice would be John Wright, because I think his calm and genial manner might bring stability at a time when it is needed. He also has the gravitas and CV nonpareil.  My second would be Grant Bradburn, because he has made a reputation of doing well with limited resources around the globe, again an asset for this role, while having a useful insight to the club through this T20 stint.

I have no idea if either will apply, but they would be my first two choices.

After that, someone new to Derbyshire. That would exclude Chris Adams and Dean Jones for starters. Both will have their followers and both are extremely able men. They were terrific cricketers too and have had coaching success, but in each case I am just not sure. I think the blunt style of Jones might get a positive early reaction, but could see his abrasive manner being counter-productive over time, just as it was the first time around. One thing he would do would be to get the maximum from players, but I am not sure about him at this time.

With Adams, he had success at Sussex, when the club had decent money to play with, but did less well at Surrey where they had even greater resources. Could he manage on a shoestring budget? I am not sure. He will have his supporters, but I am trying to distance romance from reality

Going back didn't work for John Morris. It didn't work with Karl Krikken either (2012 notwithstanding), while Graeme Welch struggled with the demands of the job as opposed to being a bowling coach. Kim Barnett wasn't given the control he needed to make it work, nor the time.

All these men, good men, can point to success stories, but ultimately all were dismissed. Maybe our expectations for Derbyshire cricket are set too high, but for me we need fresh eyes looking at the club, from top to bottom and back again. An overseas coach would be fine, or a suitably-qualified professional from the county game.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Northamptonshire V Derbyshire Vitality Blast

Too often over the years we have watched Derbyshire fluff their lines when it came to a live TV performance. It was if overcome by the spirit of Greta Garbo, reluctant in the spotlight in her later years.

Yet tonight they gave a virtuoso performance, a tour de force if you will and ran out easy winners against our hosts, who shared bottom place before this game.

Very thoughtfully they prepared a fast and bouncy track for arguably the quickest attack in the country and suffered as a consequence.

It might all have been academic but for the best batting performance of the competition so far, with the magnificent Calum MacLeod scoring a century of rare quality. While the hapless Sky commentators (who were calling him Cameron at one stage) tried to rationalise it as a poor attack, MacLeod hit so cleanly that its quality didn't matter. Nor was it slogging, with deft glances and clean sweeps amid an array all round the wicket.

The tempo was set by Billy Godleman, wearing one of Lockie Ferguson's tops. He hit the first ball for four and gave the innings a great base, built on by MacLeod  and Wayne Madsen. Their century stand took the innings to a total of dominance and a late sparkle from Matt Critchley meant we had a defendable score for once.

In reply our hosts never got going. The hugely impressive Ferguson removed the dangerous Duckett with his first ball and bowled a spell in which his fastest ball was 93.6mph. This was missed by the commentators who were prattling on about The Open at the time but he was the quickest of the fast bowling trio, with Viljoen next. Hardus did well tonight and it was a welcome return to form.

So too did Ravi Rampaul who showed his nous at the death and got more movement than anyone on the night. Yet Alex Hughes deserves mention for four wickets and a canny spell when he varied his pace and length to great effect.

The bowlers were well supported in the field and Anuj Dal was especially impressive. It looked a better team and the fielding was in marked contrast to Northamptonshire, whose unfit looking squad were pedestrian in comparison.

Fair play all round and well done to those concerned. I thought Gary Wilson skippered the team well and switched his bowlers around at the right times.

It was good to watch and makes you wonder why we can't do that more often. They will face sterner tests, but at least are up and running.

In closing, I have to say that the Sky commentary team was perhaps the worst I have heard yet. Mark Butcher seemed to spend all night trying to be smart with Ebony Rainford-Brent and neither seemed to have a clue what was happening. Rob Key was as bad and it confirmed why I usually watch with the sound down.

They have a long way to improve.

Derbyshire showed that they have it in them tonight. And it was a pleasure to watch.

Well done guys.

Accountability, transparency and governance - postscript

To illustrate what I referred to earlier, I'd like to offer you the Yorkshire T20 game at Headingley.

You will recall that this was originally scheduled for July 13, but was switched from that date to Monday 30 July, so that fans would be able to see the England World Cup match that was being played that evening.

Now Gloucestershire decided that the game they had on that date would still be played, but with a 3pm start. It may have inconvenienced a few, but they felt that the game could be played and everyone could be home or in the bar to watch the football afterwards.

We - I would think to Yorkshire's mirth - agreed to switch the date completely. A decision almost certainly made by no one on the cricket side, as Kim Barnett had left by that point. Yet whether that decision was made at Board level, or by the Chief Executive, it means that Derbyshire will play not a weakened Yorkshire, but one that will have David Willey, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and Kane Williamson available for selection.

Had we had a greater cricket input on the board, the decision would surely have been made to change the time. Inconvenience a few and lose some of the potential gate, but maximise Derbyshire's chances of winning by not playing against their big guns. Dig our heels in and say no. So what if they are not happy?

It annoys and frustrates me to see that kind of thing happening. We talk about percentages being the difference between winning and losing a cricket match.

Well, there's a few per cent swung against us before we start.

Accountability, transparency and governance

Three words keep recurring in many of your recent comments, phone calls, and emails about the current issues concerning Derbyshire cricket. Those words are ‘accountability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘governance’. 

There is widespread anxiety about the club’s current state. It is fuelled by recent dreadful results and performances, of course, but there seems to be a sense that poor performance on the pitch is closely connected with difficulties off it. We don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, and frankly we don’t need to. It has become abundantly clear that all is not well with Derbyshire cricket, and has not been for years. Since 2012, in fact, when the bright new dawn too quickly became a dark and threatening day.

At least we have a proposed new structure in place and there will soon be a new Head of Cricket who will, we all hope, galvanise our club. 

That's fine and dandy, but it’s vital to get this appointment right, and this again raises issues of who is responsible for that appointment, and the process that is followed. That process needs to be transparent and sound, taken by people who are accountable for the outcome. If it isn’t, my concern is that the problems we have been experiencing will soon recur.

There will be some very good people who apply for the role of Head of Cricket, yet frustratingly one of the best-qualified candidates, Kim Barnett, is not in the running.  

A look at the job description suggests that we MIGHT have things right this time, the successful applicant having budgetary responsibility, identification of new players and the sports science personnel under his umbrella. That pitch preparation is linked in is also a good idea. There are the requisite skills being demanded and responsibilities being pointed out, but I have a big concern here

Who is doing the interviewing?

When one is recruiting for a senior role, it is a major decision for any organisation. It is of paramount importance that we get this appointment right, because we appear to be on the verge of yet another period of instability. If the panel is to comprise current board members, there is only Colin Tunnicliffe on it with any experience of playing first class cricket. He could quite easily be outvoted on a decision by people with limited experience of the game at that level, who opt for an easy life or a popular choice. 

Contrast this with Leicestershire, a club with similarly limited resources that was a laughing stock not long ago. They are still not a major force, but unlike us, they seem to be making real progress. Can it be a coincidence that their Chief Executive was himself a first class cricketer, as well as someone with management expertise? Of course, we need board members with skills other than playing cricket, but if accountability and governance are to mean anything, then the present board HAS to be judged by results on the pitch, just as much as the players and the coach. And ever since we gained promotion in 2012, our results on the pitch have been largely dire.  

Whoever interviews for this crucial role, there should be more than a token representation from the cricket side. Could the Professional Cricketers Association, for example, be involved? I think this is at least worth considering, to ensure the 'transparency' I have mentioned before. An alternative would be to involve a working party of former players for the club who have its best interests at heart and who have a good understanding of what it takes to achieve success in first class cricket.

Because otherwise it seems likely that the outcome is already a foregone conclusion, and the job will go to one of two candidates, Mal Loye or Chris Adams.

Mal has done excellent work with the club's academy and a lot of talented young players are starting to emerge. An internal appointment may sometimes be the right one, as long as it is made with sufficient transparency and accountability. If it isn’t, it becomes not only the easy option, but an option that lacks credibility – and that would handicap, and do a disservice to, the man appointed.

Likewise Adams would be the romantic appointment, the local boy done good who comes home to lead us to the promised land, just like he did at Sussex. Intriguingly, he is gaining support on Twitter already. But how would it work in the long run – and how long would he stay with us?

Chris Adams was a terrific cricketer, a combative player who translated that into a competitive edge and used it to become a fine captain, then coach who pulled together a sleepy club at Sussex and made them a force to be reckoned with. But given the concerns that supporters are expressing about accountability and governance at the club, he may well struggle to repeat that fine achievement. He's a proud man, one of integrity and he will want to do things his way. Rightly so, if he is publicly accountable for the club's record and reputation. He is a good man and was a terrific player, but so were Karl Krikken, Graeme Welch and Kim Barnett and look how that ended.

This will be a massive winter for Derbyshire and it needs to be right, from the very top down to the bottom. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out from various comments in social media of late that things are awry. 

I want a Head of Cricket elected by transparent process that commands respect and confidence among the supporters. If this results in the appointment of Mal or Chris, fine. But an 'easy fix' simply won’t work. I want him selected and ultimately to be a part of a board that is fit for CRICKETING purpose and that understands the game is more than just pushing numbers around a spreadsheet. 

So I’d like to see a commitment on the part of board members to spend a specified minimum amount of the time watching our team. That way, they can see the performances for themselves, and also connect with supporters in a way that my postbag suggests simply isn’t happening at present.

There are eminently qualified, extremely able people who are steeped in Derbyshire cricket who can contribute a great deal to the club board. 

When the time for election comes in February, we need more of them involved.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire preview

Played four, lost four, live on Sky tomorrow evening, against a side in the same position.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, we can't get any worse than having lost all of our games, so you could look on tomorrow as the start of the good times, if you are of an optimistic bent, or one where the frailties of the current set up are exposed to the nation, if you are less positively inclined.

Tomorrow we come up against a batting line up of such quality that their current plight is surprising. If you put it together with our bowling, there would be the nucleus of a pretty decent team, yet their situation mirrors our own and suggests that appearances can indeed be deceptive.

There is a recall for Billy Godleman to the Derbyshire fifteen tomorrow and I won't even try to call a final eleven. Northampton used to be a spinner's paradise but more often favours seam these days, so the wicket tomorrow will be the driver for the final eleven. As I wrote the other day, we have missed another left-hander at the top of the order, but we have also seemed a bowler light. Read into it as you will, but the final eleven will be from:

Slater, MacLeod, Godleman, Madsen, Hughes, Critchley, Smit, Wilson, Viljoen, Rampaul, Sharif, Dal, Brodrick, Ferguson, McKiernan

The home side's squad is as follows:

Levi, Duckett, Cobb, Wakely, Coetzer, Crook, Procter, Prasanna, Kleinveldt, White, Hutton, Sanderson, Buck, Vasconcelos

Fingers crossed we can get ourselves off the mark, albeit against a side that has punched above its weight in this format in recent years.

As always, I wish the boys luck and hope that they acquit themselves well.

No doubt Sky's commentary team will have plenty to say, one way or another.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Better news as Conners makes England under-19 debut

It has been a rough week or two for Derbyshire, but the news that Sam Conners has joined Alfie Gleadall in being selected for England under-19s this summer is encouraging.

I have seen them both in action and both are lads with talent. Gleadall is the fastest, but will need to not push his young body too much in that respect as he grows. It was a problem we had with Will Davis, who has gone from 'boy most likely to' to 'boy who may not make it' in two summers where he has played little cricket.

When I saw Will at Belper recently, his pace had dropped considerably. Quick enough to take wickets at second team level, but without, perhaps, the resilience to make it, mentally and physically. We will see, but professional sport is unforgiving and both Gleadall and Conners appear to have overtaken him at this stage.

Conners isn't as quick as Gleadall, at least from the boundary edge it appears that way, but he is quick enough to be handy and zips it around. Both of them are young enough to learn and develop still further, which is the important thing.

It is also why today's news that Lockie Ferguson will stay to the end of the summer is encouraging. He can help the lads in his time with us and they can tap into the psyche of the fast bowler from New Zealand.

I'll be back tomorrow with a preview of our televised game at Northampton on Thursday.

Both sides are currently winless, so something has to give..

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Northampton beckons

There is undoubtedly a parallel universe in which Derbyshire's game against Northamptonshire on Thursday night would be a table-topping affair, with the winner getting the spoils of top place in the albeit strong northern section.

Except in the real one, you couldn't be further from the truth.

Northamptonshire have had their struggles, with injuries to key personnel coupled with poor form leaving them, like Derbyshire, without a win in four matches.

Mind you, their problems seem inconsequential compared to ours.

Yesterday was very disheartening for me and, from the mailbag, for many of you too. Yet it was only the latest of a series of such disappointments and right now, more than at any point in my years of writing this blog, I struggle with the club's direction.

Our four-day captain doesn't make the T20 squad. Our highly-paid Kolpak signing isn't in the side either. Our T20 captain is, but really shouldn't be on performances, then astonishes many people by saying that yesterday's loss was down to the respective power plays. To some extent he is right, but far better had he said 'and by the way, I made a pig's ear of the run chase and I am also accountable'.

We leave out a young lad who has been one of the brighter  aspects of the T20 so far in Anuj Dal, continue to pick two wicket-keepers and also another Kolpak in Ravi Rampaul whose better days appear sadly to be behind him. This imbalance leaves us either a batsman or a bowler short, whatever the selection. We put a slogger in at three yesterday, which didn't work and never seemed likely to do, as I doubt Riaz has batted that high in his career. We bring in, granted with success, Calum MacLeod but in three matches have had him at three, five and two in the order.

What the heck is going on?

Part of last year's success was in consistency of selection. We had left-right-left-right at the top of the order, we had good balance between bat and ball and we played as a team. We used power plays effectively, we bowled to a plan, we batted to a plan. This year's version appears to have been destroyed before anyone got to see it and things are apparently being winged from day to day. I know I am doing a disservice, but it is how things appear to the many supporters around the country.

Four games in, our hopes of T20 qualification appear as likely as mine of coming first in the Grand National as the winning horse. So we need to see if there are possibilities for the future, as well as having a chance of winning a game or two.

My team for the next few games would be:

Slater
MacLeod
Hughes
Madsen
Dal
Critchley
Smit
McKiernan
Riaz
Sharif
Ferguson

I'm well aware that the omission of Viljoen, Wilson, Rampaul and Godleman sees well over a quarter of a million in salaries on the sidelines. Yet I struggle to fit any of them into a first choice side in this format, on current form. Which tells you all you need to know on why we are struggling. Will the coach be big enough to tell the skipper that he isn't cutting the mustard? Will the captain be big enough to fall on his sword and say he shouldn't be picked? Who is making the calls in this format?

This year Gary Wilson has made 17 (from 14 balls at the death) 28 (28) 6 (6) and 6(11). 57 runs from 59 balls. If he is to play it must be instead of Daryn Smit, a far better keeper, who has made 1 (1) 15 (9) and 28 (24) - 44 runs from 34 balls. I know which way I would go...

Will we win matches with that side? I don't know, but we can't lose more than we are at present. And we might at least get some pointers for the future from a season that has gone from one full of promise to annus horribilis.

How different might it have been with Mitchell Santner and Luis Reece in the side? Quite a lot, because two such all-rounders in any side would enhance it. Recent history may then have been considerably different.

We'll never know, will we?

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lancashire v Derbyshire Vitality Blast

A fourth straight defeat for Derbyshire today at Old Trafford and this one, for me, ranks the worst of the lot in this year's Vitality Blast.

We SHOULD have chased down 158 in twenty overs, after the bowlers had done a good job in pulling Lancashire back from a good start. There was an overall good effort from the bowling unit in limiting the home side, when they looked set for a total nearer 200 at one point. Special praise for Matt McKiernan in a promising debut, while Matt Critchley held a stunning caught and bowled. Riaz and Ferguson again did well, as did Alex Hughes, but we fell embarrassingly short on 145-7.

At one point, with Wayne Madsen and Calum MacLeod going well, I thought we might win our first match of the season. Yet the dismissal of MacLeod brought in Gary Wilson, who batted twelve balls for just six runs.

Some might say that Daryn Smit and Matt Critchley should have got us home, but by the time they came together the run rate had climbed to over ten an over, their spinners choking our advance just as ours had done to them. Yet Wilson came in at 81-3 in ten overs, and when he was out, at the start of the fifteenth, we had added only fifteen runs more. We needed 77 from the last ten overs which came down to 62 from the last six...

I accept he is out of nick, and has been for some time. So why, in that case, is he playing, and why is he batting that high in the order? With Critchley, Hughes and McKiernan in the pavilion, all of who can hit a ball, it made no sense at all.

For me, unless a big decision is made to drop the captain, we won't win many matches in this competition and will be battling Northamptonshire for the wooden spoon. If we cannot chase this sort of total, wins are going to prove very elusive.

Even more disappointing was the omission of Anuj Dal. Unless the lad was injured or unwell, it made no sense to omit a player who has done better than most in two appearances this year.

Genuinely baffled and hugely disappointed tonight.

There's nothing more to say, I'm afraid.

Derbyshire v Nottinghamshire Vitality Blast

With the exception of Lockie Ferguson and Calum MacLeod, there is no Derbyshire player will look back on last night's local derby with Nottinghamshire with any pride.

The bottom line is that this Derbyshire side, in the absence of Luis Reece, looks short of a bowler whichever eleven takes the field, but also looks short of around three batsmen. The excellent streams provided by the county have enabled me to see most of the games so far and at no point has our batting looked like being able to score anywhere near the runs we need to win matches at this level. Similarly the bowling, far from being the potent force we hoped for, looks fairly run of the mill.

Viljoen, a high cost Kolpak signing, is so unimpressive in the nets that he isn't getting picked, Rampaul looks a considerable distance from a bowler who has played this format around the world and Critchley looks shorn of confidence with bat and ball. Alex Hughes bowled well though, as he often does in this format, but in that company he shouldn't be a stand out.

Meanwhile Wahib Riaz is OK, but I wouldn't probably go further than that. He doesn't look like he will run through a side any time soon and, while rhythmic, hasn't yet suggested that the pace is still there. That is in direct contrast to Lockie Ferguson, who came as perhaps the most 'under the radar' overseas signing we have made, but looks a very astute piece of work from John Wright.

Ferguson has a beautifully disguised slower yorker, but a blindingly quick  fast one, which in turn accounted for three Nottinghamshire batsmen last night. This could have been a closer game had he been able to bowl more, as he troubled Dan Christian, but the visiting captain and Tom Moores took Nottinghamshire to a total that last year would have been within our compass. This year, it was seriously outwith it.

Ben Slater set off like a train, but as too often happens when he does he got out and skied a catch to square leg. At no point thereafter did we look remotely like chasing down the required total. Alex Hughes came in at three but was run out when oddly running on a curve, rather than straight, Matt Critchley looked a little better but didn't last long, while even Wayne Madsen looked out of touch and made only six from 14 balls.

Gary Wilson doesn't look like scoring runs any time soon and didn't. The captaincy must be the only thing keeping him in this side, as his slowness between the wickets and in the field is far from an asset to it. For me, he looks less likely to score runs than Daryn Smit, a far superior keeper, so should also hand over the captaincy to the South African. Anuj Dal, fresh from scoring 60 from 30 balls for the second team, was oddly kept back to number eight, again looked inventive but was out in a vain attempt at a hopeless pursuit.

MacLeod looked a good player again, but would have been better at three than five. With limited options available, and another game this afternoon at Old Trafford, my side against Lancashire would be as follows:

Slater
Dal
MacLeod
Madsen
Hughes
Critchley
Smit
McKiernan
Riaz
Ferguson
Rampaul

Derbyshire are a better side and a better collection of individuals than they are showing at present, but three defeats from three matches, together with far too much self-inflicted damage, is leaving them well adrift of the rest of this group.

Sadly, it is hard to see it improving any time soon, unless someone produces something very special.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Greetings from Berwick on Tweed

Good morning to all of you, no doubt a little down after England's World Cup exit last night in many cases. We watched the game in the local golf club in Berwick on Tweed, where we are on holiday, which hopefully explains my silence over the past day or two. It has been fairly quiet by recent standards at the cricket, so I have taken the time out to spend with my family.

Still there's cricket action to look forward to tomorrow, as we entertain Nottinghamshire at the 3aaa County Ground. We will need to be a lot more impressive with the bat than we have been to get anything from this game and while I believe we would be better chasing, rather than setting a target, we haven't yet taken anywhere near the requisite number of runs from the Powerplay to get far in this competition.

There is little can be done with the batting either, except maybe tweak the order. Perhaps it is time for Matt Critchley to drop down and let someone else open with Ben Slater, but he remains our best chance of getting off to a flyer. Perhaps the return of Hardus Viljoen would give us the fifth bowler we missed against Worcestershire, but only if he bowls like someone who can see where the stumps actually are. Then there's the wicket-keeping position, which is filled well by Daryn Smit but means that Gary Wilson, the captain, is in the field where he is some way from an asset.

Would John Wright be bold enough to drop his captain? I haven't been impressed by Wilson's batting so far and a bold move would be to give the role to Smit, who made a good fist of it last year when Wilson was on Ireland duty. They could alternatively look at Alex Hughes again, but either way there is plenty to occupy the minds of the coaches between times.

We'll find out soon enough but one man who will not be involved is Chesney Hughes, despite a second big century in successive matches for the second team. I feel for him and for Tom Wood, both playing and doing well for the second team after being released previously by Derbyshire, but it would be a big step for either to be re-engaged. Perhaps Ches is older and wiser now, more in touch with his game than he was and certainly lighter than before. Yet re-signing would be an admission of an earlier error in some eyes, even if both players have improved.

We will see what the winter brings, but the most important thing, for me, is to ensure that all of our current players are on deals that guarantees their staying at Derbyshire to the end of and hopefully beyond their current deals. Whether contracted or not, we all know that players move for greater opportunity or reward and that counties have previously bought out contracts of players they want to sign. It would be careless in the extreme if we were to lose any of the young players who offer promise for the future, as reports suggest is the case with Ben Slater.

On the likes of Ben, Matt Critchley and Luis Reece the club's future depends and we need to do the right thing by all of them to ward off the usual predators.