Friday, 7 December 2018

Will the real Hardus Viljoen turn up?

The news of the success of Hardus Viljoen in the T10 tournament in Sharjah will have raised a few eyebrows among Derbyshire supporters.

Viljoen took 18 wickets in eighteen overs in the competition, which his team won. He bowled fast and accurately throughout and was voted player of the tournament.

It is time for him to do that in Derbyshire colours.

He signed a three-year contract for us and has thus far completed two of them. His first season was ravaged by injury and he didn't play before the T20, bowled much of that with a limp and then suggested brighter things with a fifteen-wicket haul at Hove that won us an end of season match.

Last season was a disappointment. He took 38 wickets at 32 runs each in the championship, decent enough for a county professional but not for a highly paid import. As I have said before, with great reward comes both expectation and responsibility and I'm afraid Hardus didn't get close. There were some decent spells in the T20 under Dominic Cork's tutelage (coincidence, or...?) but in the four day game there were spells that were embarrassingly inept .

I've never seen worse bowling than he produced in the second innings at Durham at this level, certainly not by someone of international reputation. It turned what should have been a formality of a win into a dreadful defeat, on a wicket where line and length were sure to bring results.

Clubs sign Kolpaks because they offer more than is available on the domestic circuit and effectively offer another quality overseas player. There are plenty of shining examples of their worth on the county circuit, but at this stage Hardus isn't one of them.

That's harsh, but true and I am sure that unless there is a massive turnaround this summer, it will be his last at Derbyshire. I can't see us renewing on the rumoured terms, for sure, but he has every incentive to attract future interest from the circuit in 2019.

If he can bowl in a similar manner to Sharjah through a long summer, he could be the difference between Derbyshire doing well and being among the also-rans. The effectiveness of Logan Van Beek will be enhanced if there is aggression and pressure at the other end, because batsmen will just 'sit on their bats' and play him out if they can get away at the other end.

Too often last season, Derbyshire had to use Tony Palladino as the one man who could bowl wicket to wicket when we lost Luis Reece to injury. With the fitness and form of Ravi Rampaul in question, Palladino gave crucial control and it was no coincidence that he took wickets, backing up good deliveries with ones where the batsmen couldn't score and creating pressure.

If Hardus arrives in the Spring in good form and with his radar locked on, we could have a decent summer. If we can force home a few of these winning positions from last year, top three in the four-day game should not be beyond us.

But it will depend on getting runs on the board, which I think we will do with Dave Houghton's input. Then bowling sides out twice.

If the real Hardus Viljoen turns up, that could happen too.

Will he?

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Derbyshire sign Logan Van Beek as overseas

There are a few reasons for me to applaud the signing of Logan Van Beek, the New Zealand A and Netherlands international, announced by Derbyshire yesterday.

For one, it must have snuck under the radar of most people in the county game. I had seen his name on score cards in New Zealand, but profess to knowing little about him, something I have in common with most, if they are honest.

Yet good judges in New Zealand, among them John Wright, rate him highly and there is a lot to like in a player who will know a good English summer will have serious career prospects. If he bowls the full English length (as opposed to breakfast) that Dave Houghton mentioned yesterday, he will enjoy our early season tracks. There will also be a novelty value in that few will know anything about him, which is never a bad thing.

One would assume that he will be a more affordable option than many too, with a reputation to be made, rather than one on which to coast. At 28 he should have done his filling out and one can only hope that he gets through the summer as free of injury as possible.

He looks to bowl at a decent pace, if nowhere near that of Lockie Ferguson, and will look to bring his career bowling average south of thirty, rather than slightly above it, as it currently is. He strikes me as a late developer and his recent statistics suggest that to be the case, but he will also lengthen the county batting. An average over 25 with the bat suggests a man who can handle the willow and he should be an asset across the formats.

It is a risk, but then most overseas signings are. It is better to under promise and over deliver and the player will not be weighed down with expectation as were some in our not too distant past. He goes for just under ten an over in T20, but again it is something to improve on in 2019.

I assume that he will be playing for us on a European passport, because he doesn't yet have the full international cap that would let him play here as a Kiwi.

That might not be far away though and he will be aware of the effects a good 2019 could have on his career.

What it does for Derbyshire is lengthen the batting and promise a lower order, with Hardus Viljoen and Tony Palladino, that can contribute valuable runs in a counter attack. With Luis Reece hopefully fit, the final place in the side could go either to a young seamer or one of our two spinners, Hamidullah Qadri or Matt McKiernan.

It would leave a likely first choice line up of

Van Beek

All very interesting and I wish Logan all the best, as I am sure you do too.

I'm very impressed with the way that Dave Houghton has so far gone about his work. We have key players with renewed deals, a good loan signing and now our overseas player in place, all before Christmas.

Finally, the news broke yesterday of the release of Callum Brodrick which had been 'out there' for a week or two.

At 20 he can hardly be said to have had infinite chances, but in a rebuilding job there will always be casualties. He didn't make the most of limited opportunities, but may come again if his health allows his cricket to prosper.

He must look at Tom Wood, Tony Borrington and Colin Tunnicliffe for examples of players who overcame early rejection to make it in the county game. Weight of runs in local cricket will always make people sit up and take notice, so I hope he does just that.

He is a nice player to watch and I wish him well in his future endeavours.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Lace signing sorts the batting line up

The signing of Tom Lace announced today on a season-long loan, pretty much sorts the batting as far as I am concerned for 2019.

Lace did pretty well last season in a few appearances and looked a correct and organised batsman who will thrive on the additional responsibilities that he will get at Derbyshire. His chances of breaking through at Lord's in the immediate future are slim, given their talented line up, but if David Houghton rates him as a batsman that will do me quite nicely.

A likely top six will be Godleman, Lace, Reece, Madsen, Hughes, Critchley, with Anuj Dal and perhaps Tom Wood in reserve. Add in a couple of overseas players who can bat for the T20 and it looks a decent line up that should score runs.

I commented on Twitter that a similar deal for a seam bowler would be nice. It is perhaps unrealistic to expect Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul to stay fit throughout the season, though both owe us a decent summer after a largely disappointing 2018. It may be equally unrealistic to expect Tony Palladino to take fifty wickets again, and we would then be down to the teenage seamers and whatever overseas player we manage to sign.

Someone mentioned Doug Bracewell the other day and that's not a bad shout. I don't see there being too many options and he would certainly fit the criteria of a bowler who knows how to handle a bat. So too might Joe Mennie, who did well for Lancashire last season but to my knowledge hasn't yet been re-engaged for 2019. Or maybe they might look again at Jason Holder, who was in the frame for 2018, or another South African, where we obviously have strong links.

It is all a minefield and you can get deals prepared then find them dashed by short-notice tours and the myriad T20 competitions around the globe.

What we shouldn't forget, however, is that we should have Luis Reece this year, which will make a huge impact in the field on early season wickets.

For me that overseas role is key, but there's a decent squad taking shape, and plenty of reasons to be cheerful at this stage.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The fixtures are out...

Those of you who heard me on BBC Radio Derby on Tuesday night will know that I have mised feelings on the season's fixture announcement.

This will be a watershed summer, one which will likely mark the end of cricket as we know it. The millions being poured into a competition that no one, aside from Peter Graves and his ECB cronies, seems to want will consign four-day cricket to the summer's peripheries, fifty-over cricket to an afterthought and our thriving, effervescent T20 to a sideshow.

It is all desperately sad and yet the signs are again there that the game is run by people who care little for those who follow the game, and not an awful lot more for those who play it.

Yes it is nice that we can now plan our trips for the summer and book a day off here and there, but how much nicer if we could watch cricket in the sunshine! The fifty-over competition is FINISHED by May 6, unless we make the knockouts, and seven rounds of the championship are completed before the middle of June.

That's not such a big deal, but a closer look at the fixtures shows that Derbyshire has only FIVE home weekend days of championship cricket all summer and only one of the fifty-over games is scheduled for a weekend day at home.

It is barmy. Almost as if the powers that be are trying their best to marginalise the game as it is and its appeal to the average working man.

Take me. I work three days a week but do the hours of four in compressed shifts. That gives me time to do things that I both want and need to do each Thursday and Friday. I get eighteen days leave a year and at least two weeks of those go on family holidays. So that leaves me eight days on my hobby, and any cricket in the first half of the week sees me needing to allow two days for travel in each direction.  If it was at the weekend, it would be a much different matter and a day of leave would let me see a couple of days cricket.

I am somewhat resigned to seeing less of my county in the flesh this summer on that basis. I will make the season opener and brave the arctic wasteland of early April and have the Durham RLODC in late April as a day trip on a Sunday.

After that? It isn't worth my while doing a six hundred mile-plus round trip for a T20, so unless I am down there my viewing will perforce be largely at distance.

Which is all rather a shame. But I am far from alone and I don't think that the ECB have any interest in the supporters and increasing the accessibility to the existing game.

And that, my friends, is worrying.

I will continue to study the fixtures and see where I might be able to get away, but it isn't easy.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Thoughts on the members forum

Thanks to Adam for the excellent write up of the forum earlier in the week, which made for very interesting reading.

The main thing that came out of it for me is that there isn't a lot of money to play with. We have rightly awarded improved contracts to the key core players, as well as offering deals to Anuj Dal and Matt McKiernan. There may be one for Tom Wood too, by the sound of it, which would be well-deserved after two or three seasons of heavy run scoring.

Daryn Smit as second team skipper? Regular readers will know I have suggested that since the end of the season and the young players and trialists could wish for no better skipper and mentor than Daryn. With an opportunity to work towards his level four coaching badge at the same time, it is a win-win situation for the club as they also have a ready-made replacement for Harvey Hosein should he pick up an injury.

Dave Houghton looks like he is going to offer opportunity to local youth, partly because of that lack of money but also because it is the right thing to do. There must be a few gems in local leagues - not just the Premier League - and the hope will be that we can unearth a few of them in the coming months.

I have never had the expectation that Duanne Olivier will return and I understand there are at least three counties hoping for his services. His biggest decision will be on whether he plays as an overseas player or turns Kolpak, but the likelihood is that he will ply his trade elsewhere, with Yorkshire my guess as his destination.

Your guess is as good as mine to a seam bowler who can handle a bat. There are plenty out there, but the number reduces when you take out the ones who are in the IPL and those who simply don't fancy the county grind. Hopefully we can come up with someone suitable in the coming months.

For T20 cricket, I would suggest our preferred duo would be Wahab Riaz and Mitchell Santner and if we landed them there would be few complaints. Both can bowl tight spells and play match-winning innings, but Santner's first challenge is to return to fitness after almost nine months out with injury.

Finally, the Viljoen and Rampaul situation. No Derbyshire supporter could doubt the credentials of the two experienced bowlers, but it is good to see that Houghton has made it clear that there are greater expectations of both, given that experience and the not inconsiderable sum spent on them.

Even allowing for more grass being left on the wickets, it would be asking a lot of Tony Palladino to replicate his fifty wicket haul of this summer, while someone has to replace the wickets of Olivier. It is unrealistic to expect the young seamers to be bowling sides out, so Rampaul and Viljoen need to step up their game.

There is an opportunity next season, with three sides getting promoted to the top tier. There's a good nucleus of players, but two or three injuries would soon scupper our chances.

We'll see what the coming months bring.

Finally today, warm congratulations to Wayne Madsen for his call up to the Pakistan T20, played largely in the Persian Gulf. He will play for Peshawar Zalmi in the tournament, alongside Dawid Malan, Liam Dawson and Chris Jordan, while our own Wahab Riaz is also in the squad, So too Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy, so there is plenty of talent in a squad that were losing finalists last time around.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Guest Blog: Members Forum - by Adam Oakley

I attended the members forum at Derby last night and I just thought that I would give a brief report from the questions raised.  Despite the terrible weather (cold and wet) there was a fair turnout and some good questions asked which covered most points of discussion.

The meeting started off with Simon Storey saying a brief piece about his departure and then Ryan Duckett also spoke briefly about Simon's legacy.  One gets the impression that Ryan is a strong candidate to take the role on full time, as this would give a seamless transition and by all accounts he has done some excellent work on the commercial side of things.

The bulk of the meeting was a Q&A session with David Houghton and I thought that he answered all his questions thoughtfully and intelligently and that he gave a good impression of himself as someone who knows cricket inside out.

He was asked about the type of culture he wants to create at the club and will he promote young talent from within?  He responded that he has always tried to do this and will do so again, highlighting the 2012 Championship Division Two promotion team and the likes of Borrington, Redfern and Ross Whiteley as players he had helped to develop in his previous spell here from the age groups upwards.  The young seamers at the club (Sam Conners, Alfie Gleadall and James Taylor) will be involved from an early stage next season.  There will be a squad of about 17 players, including the overseas player and two T20 overseas players, but he would like this to go up to 19 from 2020. 

He was asked about Tom Wood and he said that when he returns from Australia he will be looking at him and a number of other local batsman, including Rahib Ali of Ockbrook and Borrowash CC.  Someone asked if Chesney Hughes would be on his radar, but he thinks that Chesney has not progressed since he was batting consultant at the club under Karl Krikken, and that Chesney can look very good in some innings but is not consistent enough.  He was the first person to call David upon his appointment to declare his availability!

There was some discussion on Matt Critchley and the situation regarding his contract. He has been offered a new and improved contract, but these discussions have stopped for now.  David said that the reason behind this was that Matt has said that he has seen 3 different Heads of Cricket come and go in recent seasons and that he wants assurances that he can develop in a settled environment and not for David to become the fourth Head of Cricket to come and go fairly quickly.  Discussions will hopefully continue midway through next season if agreeable to all parties.

In terms of overseas players next season, Duanne Olivier is being courted by other counties and it seems increasingly unlikely that we shall be able to get him.  David would like a similar replacement, a fast bowler who can bat a little bit if possible.  There will be two T20 overseas players again, one of who will probably be a spinner.  Again there will be a T20 specialist coach employed. Dave supports this and said that T20 is a different game and compared it to being like the relationship between squash and tennis.

Discussions are continuing between Derbyshire and Middlesex regarding Tom Lace and a season long loan will hopefully happen.  Tom would be unavailable in games against Middlesex but there would be no recall option based on form.

Questions were asked about the fitness of Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul and their on field performances.  David said that he had spoken to Hardus and said that everyone expects more from him and we shall have to see what he offers next year.  Ravi will play domestic cricket in the Caribbean this winter and will have to work on his fitness next year if he wants to play and David added that as professional cricketers they have a duty to report fit and to maintain fitness. 

Daryn Smit will be 2nd team captain next year, with a view to becoming a coach at the club the year after. He is ECB level 3 qualified already and will work towards level 4.  There will be more coaching support available to the 2nds than before.

David would like to see slightly more grass left on the wickets next year. He again highlighted 2012 as a year when they played on such wickets.  Currently Neil Godrich (the groundsman) leaves 6mm of grass on the wicket but he would like to see 9mm left.  One day and T20 wickets will always be played on good tracks, as crowds want to see runs in these fixtures.

There was some off field talk about the 3aaa situation, 3aaa do still owe the club some money but it is highly unlikely that the club will ever receive this.  Discussions are ongoing with potential partners but there is nothing to publicly declare yet.

Simon also talked about the 100 ball competition and the 1.3 million per year that the counties can expect from 2020-2024. He said that the counties will definitely receive this money, whatever the tournament costs.  After 2024 is uncertain, as the new television rights deal could be reduced by up to 50%, so how this money is spent will prove crucial.  

I hope I have not missed anything of note and hopefully someone who attends the Chesterfield event on Thursday may give us an update.

Thanks very much to Adam for this fascinating update. I will give you my thoughts on it over the next couple of days

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Simon Storey departure leaves club a challenge

It's been another busy week up north for me, with  a couple of engagements at cricket dinners thrown in, so there was no opportunity to comment at the time on the news that Chief Executive Simon Storey is leaving the club, after six and a half years, to take up a similar role at Kent.

It is always difficult to comment on the departure of a key off-field figure, because the reality is that none of us are really sure what they do. Will Taylor, club secretary for 51 years in a similar role to that held by Storey, was respected for his loyalty to the club, liked for his at times quirky personality and humour, yet disliked for his parsimony and at times brusque manner.

In positions of authority it is always so and I recall being asked at interview for a senior role a few years back whether I would sooner be liked or feared as a manager.

Neither, was my reply. I would sooner be respected. In any role you cannot have everyone like you, because the nature of your decisions will always impact on some individuals to their detriment. But if they can see the rationale behind a decision and it is handled the right way, they can at least accept it a little better.

So it is that social media this week has seen comments of support for our departing chief executive, but others of a disparaging nature that suggest that he hadn't enjoyed the backing of the club's followers.

I have come to know him over the past six years and found him respectful of what I do, usually, though not always, supportive. From many sources, in and around the club, I hear of a man of considerable business acumen, as one might expect with his background, and one who undeniably has made the club more professional in its off field dealings than before. The amount of money generated by events in the marquee, by high profile concerts, the Women's World Cup and by the likes of recent Diwali and fireworks celebrations are testament to a man who has, with the support of a good staff, increased the club's revenue streams beyond the imagination of Will Taylor all those years ago.

Then, a banner on the County Ground advertising the local cinema was ground-breaking, even if it was the idea of Walter Goodyear. The legendary groundsman even introduced partnership working to the club, by means of a complimentary pass to the ground for the manager of the local cinema, in return for free cinema access for Walter and his family...

But I digress. Compare the ground at Derby with that six years ago and you get a true reflection of the worth of Simon Storey. It looks like a cricket ground now and the marquee, revamped pavilion, media centre and general improvements are there for some time to come in recognition of his hard work.

Conversely, and I have mentioned this before, the off-field spend has increased and, in comparative terms, that on cricket has decreased. That is my major gripe about his tenure, one he could, of course defend and has done to me. Not to the point where I was convinced, because the major spend on a sports club MUST be on the sport. When it drops, pro rata, as it has done, there must be questions asked.

I feel that whoever takes over the role has to look at an off-field structure that has become management-heavy and, for me and I know others, is taking too much money from the side of the business that is their raison d'etre. While commercial activity is essential for the club's future, so too is sufficient money to build on the playing foundations of last season.

While I have confidence that Dave Houghton and his team will do a good job, they can only do so if there is the financial support to bring in players better than those we have. Only Simon Storey and his interim successor, Ryan Duckett, will know if that is the case, but the club board needs to look closely at the role and the off-field management structure and decide if both are fit for purpose.

Rumours of senior off field salaries and bonuses have gone around the ground twice in the season just past and the board has to ensure that, while we are paying a fair rate to attract a candidate of suitable talents, we are not paying more than a club of our limited resources can afford, or justify.

The role is a key one and for me, ideally needs to be filled by someone of a sporting background. Wasim Khan is a fine example at Leicestershire, Rob Andrew at Sussex doing a similar job. It's not essential though, and Duckett, an approachable and pleasant man, could be a strong candidate. Yet there is now an opportunity to look at the role and underlying structures, save some money and plough it into the side of the club that most needs it.

This is not an assertion made from naivety. I was once part of a management team of five, which became three, which became two over the course of time. It was not a reflection on poor work by predecessors, rather an acceptance that things must change, be rationalised and be even more productive as a consequence. 

I wish Simon Storey well. His true legacy will doubtless become apparent in the months and seasons ahead.

The work starts now to find the right way forward for the club.

It is crucial that we get the role, the appointment, the salary and the underlying structure correct.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Poor county response to the passing of Chris Wilkins

I was quite disappointed to read, five weeks after the event, a mere five-line note on the passing of Chris Wilkins on the club website yesterday.

As the club's first overseas player, one who gave considerable entertainment to fans between 1970 and 1972, he deserved much better than that.

He wasn't, as referred to, a pinch-hitter, because that term is indicative of a player who is promoted up the order to hit it about. Aggression was the name of the game for Chris and in South Africa he largely opened the batting anyway. On that basis he was no more a pinch-hitter than Chris Gayle, Martin Guptill or Rohit Sharma are today.

Apart from in the opening weeks of 1970, when his technique was shown to be a little loose for early season pitches, Chris almost always batted at four for Derbyshire. He was a player who played his way, irrespective of the match situation, but while that must have frustrated team mates at times, it was wonderfully entertaining for supporters. You knew it might not always last, but enjoyed the sheer power of his hitting while it did. And when it was his day, you went home every bit as enthused as if watching a special knock from Kuiper, Gayle, McCullum and many others.

Throw in his useful seam bowling, brilliant fielding and ability to keep wicket and you have a player who would have travelled the world playing T20 today.

You can see my obituary of the player here

Finally, I haven't previously noted the passing of local club cricketers on this blog, but it is right to note that of Tony Pope, who died earlier this week.

I met him a few times, most recently at the funeral of Walter Goodyear. He was a lovely man, who had played cricket for Alvaston and Boulton and for the MCC more than anyone else. He played for Derbyshire seconds, but never reached the level of his father, Alf, or his uncle George, who served the county so well before and after the Second World War.

Nonetheless he took thousands of wickets at lower levels and crossed the globe in doing so.

He was a quite remarkable, genial and intelligent man and his autobiography is well worth reading .

Rest in peace, Tony.

Conners deal grounds for optimism

To be picked for your country's national side at age group level is an indicator of a cricketer of talent. When you take the field, it can be in the knowledge that in the eyes of the selectors you are one of the best eleven cricketers, for your age, in the country. It is quite an accolade.

Plenty have trod that path before but fallen up short of county standard, because each step along the way is more demanding than the one that preceded it. Yet the age group standard is indicative of a player of talent and thus, in Sam Conners, who signed a two-year deal with Derbyshire yesterday, there is a cricketer of considerable potential.

According to the club's press release, Conners is known to Steve Kirby, who must have had an input into the signing and must feel he has something to work with. I have seen him a couple of times and he has looked steady. Sometimes that is better than spectacular and both player and coaches will know that there is plenty of work ahead. I was taken with his accuracy, and any bowler will tell you that you have more chance of wickets if you make the batsmen play.

There has already been the stress fracture of the back, which seems to go with the territory for young quick bowlers these days, but Sam will doubtless work with the fitness and strengthening team to get his body 'right' for bowling quick over the course of a long summer. Kirby, a fine county bowler, had his share of injuries over the years and will be well-placed to advise him on the mental, as well as physical demands that lie ahead.

The same will go for Alfie Gleadall, another lad of genuine potential. In these two teenagers the future of Derbyshire seam bowling currently lies, yet there have been plenty before them who fell short. We can only hope that we now have the correct coaching set up and support mechanisms in place to enable the talent of these and other young players to flourish in the years ahead.

I wish Sam the very best of luck in the next two summers.

Friday, 2 November 2018

2020 - new ideas, same muddied thinking

After the announcement of the new format for county cricket from 2020, the ECB may have hoped for encouraging words from the people who watch the summer game.

It is hard to engender enthusiasm, however and even harder to escape the feeling that 2019 is the last summer of the game that we know and love. From 2020 it will be all change, not necessarily for the better.

With the constant drip feeds of information about 'the new competition' changing all the time, it increasingly resembles an anxious parent trying to get a child to behave. Now it 'might' be a franchise affair, privately run. I get the impression they keep dropping scenarios in with the hope that one will excite the media and supporters alike, that format then getting the green light. It won't happen, because the whole concept sucks like an industrial-scale vacuum cleaner.

What it has left us with is a new-style county championship from 2020, with a ten-team division one and an eight team division two. For those of an optimistic nature, that sees three sides promoted next year from Derbyshire's division, something that should rightly be seen as an opportunity, then two will be relegated and promoted each year thereafter.

With teams in the top tier playing only fourteen games, you will play some sides only once and that can only be to the detriment of those who play Surrey twice. While the allocation of fixtures may be based on a seeding system from previous summers, it is lop-sided and messy.

Then again, we will have a fifty-over competition played at the same time as the new competition, which will be missing the best 96 domestic players, as well as any from overseas. The latter, obviously, is so all of them can play in this new sooper-dooper competition that no one wants, but it all means that the fifty-over game effectively becomes a second eleven competition. There is an irony in counties having a warm-up match against 'Minor' Counties, because it would appear that they all will be. Maybe a chance has been missed to have a knockout, one in which the better minor county sides would have a genuine chance of creating a shock or two.

It's only real merit, praise be, is that it will not be geographically grouped. So we won't be playing all the same teams that we play year in, year out in the T20, thank goodness, but it is of scant consolation. There may be a chance to see a few outgrounds used again too, but the crowds won't flock to see second eleven cricket any more than they do at present.

Still, it will all be fine, because this new competition will more than make up for our disappointment in other areas, won't it?

Oh, OK...