Saturday, 22 September 2018

One game to go

Four more days of cricket to go for Derbyshire, weather permitting, then the players can go away on hard earned holidays, while Dave Houghton arrives at the club and gets his bearings.

Signing Billy Godleman and Tony Palladino to new deals is good work already. Hopefully a new contract for Wayne Madsen isn't far behind, his current deal finishing at the end of 2019. With Luis Reece, Matt Critchley and Alex Hughes all contracted to the end of 2020, the nucleus of the squad that most would envisage in a first choice line up is in place.

That's the good news. The bad is that of the others there are no certainties to be with us in two summers time, not to mention 2019.

There's the wicket-keeping situation first of all. Harvey Hosein may have done enough, especially with his match-winning innings at Northampton, to secure a new deal. Yet that would be dependent on Dave Houghton's understanding of his worth. I think his glove work was better at the end of the summer, the result of hard work, but only time will tell if he can maintain a high standard throughout a long summer.

Of course, he needs opportunity to do that and my guess would be that unless there is a hidden gem elsewhere in county second team cricket he will get that chance next year. Neither Daryn Smit or Gary Wilson have done enough with the bat to take precedence, though we all know the former's ability with the gloves. In the season's closing weeks he has appeared a peripheral figure, however and one of Houghton's early jobs is to look at his wicket keepers and see what can be done. If Smit could score the runs he managed in South Africa, his glove work  would make him a shoo-in, but he hasn't done that.

Nor has Gary Wilson. He is a nice bloke, but the reality is that our vice-captain has scored two half centuries, highest score 66, in all cricket this year. Given that he has spent a fair part of it in the top five, it isn't enough by some distance.

Then there's the seam bowling. We are bowling sides out now, something we singularly failed to do in the pre-Barnett era, but there are question marks against both Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul. Both are among our highest earners, but Viljoen's 36 wickets at 32 isn't, for me, a strong argument on being value for money. There have been some hostile spells, but more dreadful ones than we should expect at this level. Pace without direction is no use and when Hardus goes off kilter it is generally spectacular.

As for Rampaul, thirteen wickets at 50 is a dismal return and the recurrence of his breathing issues at Lord's is worrying for his first-class future. At times he can bowl some canny deliveries, but too often he has looked worryingly ordinary and not especially fit.

As for the younger players, I'd be confident that Hamidullah Qadri has a long term future, one that I hope can be secured, but for others things are less clear cut. Will Davis played one first-class match all summer, which tells its own story. I would be surprised to see him retained, even more so if someone else didn't give him a try.

There's a good bowler in there, but maybe the mental side of the first-class game isn't yet right. Were it so he was surely worth more senior cricket than he got. Perhaps a change of environment will see him prosper. Maybe if his too fragile body bulks up he could do it, but it doesn't look good for a lad who has a lot of talent.

I think Brodrick and Gleadall will get opportunities, in time, but I don't think Anuj Dal has done enough to be retained. He seems a really nice lad, is terrific in the field and like a whippet between the wickets, but he hasn't scored enough runs, either in the second or first team. He always looks classy and stylish, as I have written before, but that counts for nothing if there are no runs in the scorebook.

We do need competition in the middle order and I would like to see at least one batsman and one bowler come in over the winter, aside from the change in overseas players that each season seems to bring.

As it stands the opening eleven for 2019 is a long way from completion.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Middlesex v Derbyshire day 4 - and Palladino signs new deal

Middlesex 423 and 199-7 dec

Derbyshire 295 and 210 (Godleman 105 not)

Middlesex won by 117 runs

A typical Billy Godleman century, brim full of cuts, nudges, glances and nurdles, was not enough to enable Derbyshire to salvage a draw at Lord's today.

He enjoyed some luck, as any batsman needed on the last two days. There was both variable bounce and lateral movement, the ball beating the bat with nigh monotonous frequency all day, but Billy did as Billy does and produced an outstanding century that made up exactly half of the Derbyshire total. He reached it with a straight six and his delight in scoring a century against the club that released him was tangible.

By then the Derbyshire innings was in disarray and no one else suggested permanence, which leaves us in sixth place in the table with just next week's game against Gloucestershire to go.

I will be down for the last three days of that match, or some of them, between doing stuff for my parents. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to meet up with friends old and new before the winter hits us once more.

The big news of the day, as well as the best, was that Tony Palladino has signed a new two-year deal with the county, that takes him to the end of 2020.

Why wouldn't he? For all the international bowlers who have come in during the summer, Tony has outbowled them all. He's much slower than all of them, but week on week shows the merits of bowling tight lines and lengths. The club's statement made it clear that his role will be a playing one only, and clarified that a bowling coach will be appointed to work under Dave Houghton.

While I think he would be slogged in T20, there is a role for Tony in fifty-over cricket and everyone knows that whenever he plays you will get one hundred per cent from him. With a team of Palladinos you could take on a lot of sides and I am thrilled to see his stay extended.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is farewell to Steve Stubbings today, who leaves to return to Australia. The club has announced its intention to recruit a bowling coach in his place, which makes sense when Dave Houghton can take care of the batting side.

I wish Steve, a genial giant of a man who always has a smile on his face, the very best in the country where he grew up.

He will do well.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Middlesex v Derbyshire day 3

Middlesex 423 and 199-7 (Robson 73, Critchley 4-60)

Derbyshire 295 (Critchley 105)

Middlesex lead by 327 runs

A century by Matt Critchley and some clean hitting by Hardus Viljoen and Lockie Ferguson saw Derbyshire safely past the follow on mark today at Lord's, but anyone watching the afternoon and evening play will be in no doubt that they will face a massive task to save this game tomorrow.

With balls lifting and keeping low in equal measure, batting was far from easy, especially in the morning session, which was delayed by overnight rain. Tony Palladino was leg before to one that kept very low, a ball after fending off one that lifted sharply. Ferguson's highest score of the summer included two clean hits for six, while Viljoen played with good sense. I think Hardus could be an even better batsman, because when he plays straight he has immense power and looks a good batsman. It is generally when the ugly cross-bat heaves come in that he gets into bother, but he served us well today.

Critchley reached his century with panache, which is his way, but got out to an unnecessary hook shot when there was still work to do. His innings was a fine one, however and he can be proud of being the youngest Derbyshire player to score a century at Lord's (Stan Worthington the previous youngest, courtesy of David Griffin on Twitter).

Middlesex built quickly on their lead but lost quick wickets before and after tea. Malan was very unlucky to be caught by Alex Hughes from a full blooded sweep, the ball going to him from Gary Wilson's heel at short leg, but the leg spinner bowled pretty well to complete (almost) a fine all round match.

Lockie Ferguson bowled some very quick deliveries and rapped our former loan player Martin Andersson on the helmet. For what it is worth, I think he bowls too much short stuff and for me his four day bowling is a bouncer/yorker combo to which good players become wise. He must be a handful to face, for sure, but I don't think he has the variations of Duanne Olivier. Mind you, I'd have him as a T20 player next season in a heartbeat...

Much to do tomorrow, then, before the season reaches its conclusion at Derby next week.

Postscript - two centuries in the match for Derbyshire seconds by Scotland's Andy Umeed against Sussex, as the side were robbed of a win by bad light. He followed a first innings unbeaten 128 with 101, as the run chase ended fifteen short of victory with four wickets in hand.

The batsman has been on Warwickshire's staff and recorded what is believed to be the second slowest championship century when he made one in 429 minutes against Lancashire last summer. One can only assume he is soon to be released by them and he could scarce have made a better impression than that.

Also in the second team is Somerset's batsman (and sometimes wicket-keeper) Finlay Trenouth. He once made 330 for their under-17s and has played for England under-19s with success. He has a reputation as a punishing batsman, but hasn't perhaps kicked on this summer at a county with a lot of young talent.

No hares around the park that we are signing them, but at least we are looking at options for another year. Or, if you are cynical, getting a team together from various sources for the final game of the summer.

Time will tell, my friends.

I will be back tomorrow.

Middlesex v Derbyshire day 2

Middlesex 423 (Holden 119 not)

Derbyshire 222-6 (Critchley 87 not, Dal 19 not)

Derbyshire trail by 201 runs

A season highest score of 87 not out from Matt Critchley gave Derbyshire a chance of avoiding the follow on at Lord's yesterday, after a top order collapse suggested we might be doing so well before the end of day 2.

It has been a disappointing summer for Critchley who, aside from a stellar performance at Chesterfield hasn't really delivered this year. No one doubts the talent that lies within, but he will hope to kick on next year under Dave Houghton, as a player of such talent should be scoring more runs than he has managed in 2018.

The same could be said about a few others, of course, and it is quite damning that with a potential three innings to go for everyone, the closest run tally to Wayne Madsen's 977 is over three hundred runs back in his slipstream. Wayne passed eleven thousand first-class runs yesterday and remains the Derbyshire wicket most prized by the opposition.

I am sure that Luis Reece would have matched Madsen this year and it was nice to see him back in the middle yesterday. A big innings would have been nice, but also a fairy tale after such a lay off, even though his leg before decision was deemed unlucky. At 62-4, when Harvey Hosein went second ball, we were looking down a barrel of considerable size.

Critchley and Billy Godleman began the fightback before the skipper's departure for a battling 28 in 150 minutes of batting. Gary Wilson also dug in and helped to add a further sixty runs, before an ugly swipe across the line saw him dismissed for 31. Like Critchley, a key component of the Derbyshire 'engine room' has to be disappointed with a summer in which his highest first-class score is just 66.

Anuj Dal kept the entertaining Critchley company until the close of play, surviving an appealed slip catch en route when the ball was deemed to have bounced. We will need more runs from both of them today to avoid the follow on, though Middlesex may choose not enforce it.

Plenty still to play for in this match, then, but the home side are well on top after two days.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Middlesex v Derbyshire day 1

Middlesex 350-8 (Robson 134, Holden 96 not, Palladino 4-66, Viljoen 2-74)

v Derbyshire

At 298-3, fifteen overs from the close, Middlesex were very much in the ascendancy and Derbyshire were looking down a barrel.

Yet by the close, the score had reached 350-8 and we were still very much in it, thanks to a superb spell of 4-3 in fifteen balls by who else? Tony Palladino. 49 wickets for the season now and another superb effort that kept us in the match.

Hardus Viljoen bowled quickly, but there was a little punishment for both he and Lockie Ferguson today. Palladino was his usual self, but Robson made a fine century, while Holden looks set to join him tomorrow, having benefited from a drop by Gary Wilson at slip earlier in his innings.

Hopefully we can wrap things up quickly tomorrow morning and then show similar application when it is our turn to bat.

More from me tomorrow.

Monday, 17 September 2018

There's a welcome return for Luis Reece to the Derbyshire ranks tomorrow, as Derbyshire play Middlesex at Lord's in their penultimate game of the summer.

A fourteen man squad has been announced and I guess the final eleven will depend on whether Reece is cleared to bowl or not. Based on recent performances Anuj Dal and Daryn Smit will be two to miss out, with, again on form, Gary Wilson the other. The squad in full:

1. Billy Godleman
27. Tom Lace
10. Luis Reece
77. Wayne Madsen
18. Alex Hughes
14. Gary Wilson
20. Matt Critchley
16. Harvey Hosein
65. Anuj Dal
11. Daryn Smit
28. Tony Palladino
7. Hardus Viljoen
69. Lockie Ferguson
41. Ravi Rampaul


Middlesex has named a 15-man squad that is a mix of youth and experience. They welcome Tim Murtagh and James Harris back from injury, while Martin Andersson, recently on loan with us, may well play against us tomorrow.

Their squad: Malan, Andersson, Bamber, Eskinazi, Fuller, Gubbins, Harris, Holden, Morgan, Murtagh, Rayner, Robson, Scott, Stirling, White.

Can we do three in a row?

Why not? There's a talented squad in the Derbyshire ranks and they will be full of confidence. 

Should be a good game, before next week's season finale at Derby.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Future a little clearer after Northampton win

Aside from the euphoria of the win at Northampton yesterday, a few things became clearer for me and perhaps a few other people.

Harvey Hosein must surely be a part of it.

There was a phlegmatic calm, not to mention a soundness of technique that was impressive in Hosein's innings yesterday. There was plenty of playing and missing by batsmen all day, but my recollection was that little went past his bat as he played straight and largely went well forward. This minimised the danger of lbw to the one that nipped back and, with the full bat width to work with in playing through the 'V', he batted with the minimum of fuss and maximum common sense.

Since his return to the side he has scored 58, 38, 8, 66 not, 10, 31, 30, 54 not. There is no arguing with such scores and he fully deserves a regular spot while he contributes in such a manner.

There is still the question mark over his role as wicket keeper, but what I have seen of him of late has been more impressive. Critics might point to 23 byes in the game just finished, as well as a grounded catch, but in Hardus Viljoen we have a bowler of notoriously scatter gun manner who often leaves the keeper with no chance when he fires one down leg side from wide of the crease.

It is a shame that we already have three wicket-keepers, because yesterday on Twitter Ned Eckersley announced that he was leaving Leicestershire. At 29 he would be the right age for us and, with a batting average north of thirty and fourteen centuries, the right calibre. As he has done at times for Leicestershire, he is good enough to play as a batsman alone, as is Hosein, of course. He always seems to do well against us and I would reckon that he will be known to Billy Godleman from their time on the Middlesex staff.

I wouldn't discount that one, but it would be dependent on money being available, which we don't know. It would also mean we had four wicket-keepers on the staff, but I could see merit in either Gary Wilson or Daryn Smit getting the second team captaincy next year. I don't think James Kettleborough has made the requisite runs to continue in the role and there would be merit in either of them taking it on, together with a coaching remit, under David Houghton.

Finally, for now, Anuj Dal. I am not yet convinced that a contract should be forthcoming and think that the next two games, should he play, are crucial for him.

He looks good at the crease, composed, wristy and classy. Yet the weight of runs to reinforce that at this level are not there. You could argue that at number eight he won't get the opportunity, but he has played a lot of classy cameos at different levels this year without the big scores to back up his claims.

In some ways it mirrors Dominic Telo, who some of you will remember. He came from South Africa on a Kolpak deal, looked balanced and classy at the crease, yet made no big scores to back up his obvious talent. Telo looked so composed that you were always convinced that today was the big one, yet it never happened.

Like Telo, Dal can obviously play, but I suspect that unless he converts an opportunity in the closing weeks of the season he will struggle for a permanent deal.

We'll see.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 4

Northamptonshire 255 and 199

Derbyshire 222 and 234-9 (Madsen 62, Hosein 54 not out)

Derbyshire won by 1 wicket

Phew!

You can have all the T20s that your heart desires, but this was proper, nerve-jangling, nail-biting, stomach-churning stuff. Four days of cricket that was like a prize fight, the sides trading blows and in turn gaining the ascendancy, before it all came down to one ball left in an over, Nathan Buck to bowl it to Ravi Rampaul.

To be fair to Ravi, batting exploits haven't littered his career like confetti at a wedding, but here he faced up to a bowler who had bowled well and with great hostility. It may have been the last delivery of the over, but it could have been the last of the match.

Yet after threatening a starring role, Buck blew his lines. A shortish ball, on Rampaul's hip, which he flicked with Caribbean wristiness to fine leg for four. Perhaps the worst ball that Buck bowled at the wrong time, but there will be no complaints in the Derbyshire camp.

In a summer that has been littered with close matches, this was up there with the best of them. Tony Palladino finished off the home innings this morning in quick time, before the early loss of Billy Godleman confirmed that the run chase would be a challenging one.

Yet the subsequent 94 run second-wicket partnership between the impressive Tom Lace and the always impressive Wayne Madsen suggested that we might stroll it, against the odds. They took their partnership into the afternoon before Lace went, then Madsen's dismissal put the game back in the balance. His excellent 62 left him 48 runs short of another thousand in the season, a fine effort.

The collapse was on when Gary Wilson inexplicably called for a single that was never there, then Matt Critchley, short of runs and confidence, was caught at slip. 116-2 had become 122-5 in the blink of an eye and the home side were suddenly favourites, with 111 still to win.

Then came Harvey Hosein. For the rest of the afternoon the youngster never looked in trouble, for the simple reason that he, like Madsen and Lace before him, played straight and through the 'V'. Batsmen got in trouble here when they played across the line and although Anuj Dal and Hardus Viljoen lent important support, we still needed nine when last man Rampaul sauntered to the crease.

Yet Hosein showed his growing maturity by shielding him, as well as his growing confidence with an audacious ramp over fine leg to reach an outstanding fifty. He declined singles to protect Rampaul from the rampaging Buck and deserved to score the winning runs.

That honour went to Rampaul, whose fist pump as the ball crossed the boundary showed how much it meant to him. The teams cheers could be heard over the radio too, rightly so as their fourth win of a progressive summer took them to fourth in the table.

I have seen plenty of abject run chases by Derbyshire over the years. Less a chase, than the hesitant limping of an arthritic snail. Here they battled it out, fought their corner and, when the denouement came, it was our own light heavyweight who took us across the line.

More thoughts from me tomorrow, but Harvey Hosein can be a very proud young man tonight.
He has got back into the team and, rather echoing my comments of early season, he has grabbed it with both hands.

The role deserves to be his now.

The spoils go to Derbyshire, after a fantastic game of cricket.

Talking Point: time for a transfer system?

The world of county cricket has been hyper-active for the past few weeks, with players changing counties with almost undue haste. In most cases the move has been from a so-called 'smaller' county to one of the bigger, Test ground clubs, who have the greatest income to enable them to make an offer that cannot be refused, or to simply buy out a contract.

While the move of Alex Lees from Yorkshire to Durham bucked the trend, he was a peripheral figure in the white rose camp and his move can be firmly labelled under 'greater opportunities'. Yet Durham have also signed Ben Raine, a cricketer I admire, from Leicestershire, who have spiralled after a decent mid-season spell. They also look likely to lose Zak Chappell to Nottinghamshire, which is hardly untrodden turf from a movement angle.

Aneurin Donald has gone from Glamorgan to Hampshire, Liam Norwell and Craig Miles will leave Gloucestershire for Warwickshire, while Ben Duckett and Ben Slater have moved to Nottinghamshire. The list is not exclusive but is indicative of a trend - the rich are getting richer AND they are taking the cream of the talent from elsewhere. The poor are not just getting poorer, they will soon be in a state of penury.

I have no issue with people moving to further their careers. We all do it and it is a right for everyone to improve their lot in life. Yet the counties who in many cases spend years in the development of a youngster from a very early age lose both the player and his ability to win games, yet get no compensation whatsoever. That money might enable them to retain another talent, or at least recruit someone from elsewhere who may go some way to being an adequate replacement.

Football is far from perfect, but if player A from a smaller club is the target of another, they get compensated to their valuation of the player, quite often with add-ons if that player moves elsewhere or gains international recognition.

Cricket clubs get nothing.

If the sport is to continue to be a competition between eighteen first-class counties, rather than one between eight elite and ten feeder ones, there needs to be recognition of the work and money that has gone into player development.

Take the case of Ben Slater. He was at the end of his contract, so was within his rights to look at the best offer available to him. Derbyshire, with a playing budget substantially lower, offered the best they felt they could do. Nottinghamshire simply trumped that figure, as you can when you have more in the first place.

If they had to pay Derbyshire a fee of, say £25K on top that, it might level the playing field a little. In the case of players in contract, if they had to pay £25K per year outstanding on that contract, as well as that transfer fee, you might see greater loyalty and less of the movement that resembles the national train network at times. At the very least, it would be money to put back into player development or to make a difference to their own signing budget.

There may be a greater chance of players gaining national selection from division one, but there would be a delicious irony if either Lancashire or Yorkshire, as seems likely, get relegated to division two this year.

Such status is unlikely to see Jos Buttler  ignored, while one assumes that the raft of Engand players in the Yorkshire camp, including Joe Root, will not be blanked because of their only occasional appearances in the game's second tier. Either way it means a Test ground county will play at a lower level, which may provoke a few wry smiles around the circuit.

My even greater concern is that the game goes the same way as Scottish football, where Celtic have such a monopoly that you can largely predict the winners of trophies before the season starts. It is going that way with Surrey, who are strolling division one to be county champions and have already reinforced a squad awash with talent by signing Liam Plunkett from Yorkshire and Jordan Clark from Lancashire.

Maybe it is to reinforce their appeal 'oop north', but they look set to dominate the county game over the next few years. With a playing budget that is to ours what Moby Dick is to Nemo the rainbow fish, the playing field is not just unlevel, it has more of a 'north face of the Eiger' perspective.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts, but would be surprised if there was great dissension on this one...

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 3

Northamptonshire 255 and 198-8 (Viljoen 4-51, Rampaul 3-53)

Derbyshire 222 (Hughes 75, Lace 38)

Northamptonshire lead by 231 runs

There's a battle royal going on going on at Northampton, on a wicket where runs can be scored with due care, technique and diligence, but bowlers can get their reward with bowling in the right areas.

So it proved in the final session for Derbyshire, though my gut feeling is that we let the home side get away in the first innings and in the afternoon session yesterday.

There were four wickets for Hardus Viljoen yesterday, though still a few of those horrific balls that makes the wicket-keeper despair. There were also three wickets for Ravi Rampaul, including an excellent caught and bowled that saw him get down faster than one might expect for a man of his build.

It does look like we will need to make something close to the game's highest score to win this one, though and that could be a challenge on a fourth day wicket.

Not impossible though, and with all results possible the game should be well worth following today.