Saturday, 18 February 2017

Fixtures sorted - at last!

It has taken a while since they first came out, but  I have at last managed to finalise my holidays, work commitments, family stuff and book requirements in time to get some cricket matches in the annual schedule. Let's declare today a national holiday to celebrate...

I don't know how it is for you, but this year's fixture list isn't Peakfan-friendly. There's no home cricket in June and our family holiday is in August, so that's two months gone from the schedule immediately. Early April is usually only recommended if you enjoy extreme cold, while I have so many work and other commitments in May that it is largely out of the equation too.

But I have got there and my cricket commitments - also known as 'seeing how the folks are and what they need done' are now in three neat mini tours. There's a lot of mid-week games this year, the problem being that I then need to use three days leave for one day of cricket, which isn't particularly handy.

Funnily enough, my first game will be at Durham, weather permitting, on April 27, when we play them in an RLODC fixture. I have always fancied a trip to the Riverside, so this is it. After the game, I will drive south and pull in the home game in the same competition against Northamptonshire on Sunday the 30th, before driving back home on the Monday.

My next trip will then be at the start of July, when I will pull in at least the first two days of the Chesterfield Festival (memo to self: take wellingtons...) which has been in my plans for some while and marks the 50th anniversary of my first trip there quite nicely. I hope to meet up with old friends there and it would be wonderful to see my favourite ground bathed in sunshine for the duration (but without a monsoon preceding it, like last year).

Then I have the full match set aside in September for the last home game against Kent, which could - who knows - be quite an important one.

I have a couple of other 'windows' where I might manage something and, if we do well in the T20, I would aim to overlook my dislike of T20 to go along should we make the nigh-mythical Finals Day. I'd actually take group qualification as progress, but one lives in hope.

Of course I would love to see more, but as I have previously written, it is getting the balance right between life's many commitments, something I think I have done quite well. If the ECB another year would start more four-day cricket on a Saturday, my viewing prospects will improve dramatically.

In the past I have had quite a few emails from people who have said that they'd have come along for a chat and a drink had they known when I was coming down, so there it is, well in advance and I am always happy to have a natter as I wander around the ground!

Enjoy your weekends...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Some good lads at Derbyshire

Whatever else you might say about Derbyshire CCC, there are some good men in the squad.

There's Tony Palladino, man enough to stand up to match fixing when it would have been easier to turn a blind eye. Wayne Madsen, winner of a sportsmanship award for 'walking' when given not out by an umpire, then giving a percentage of his testimonial proceeds to charities. Now Billy Godleman, donating a third of his prize money for the PCA Scholarship Award to the local YMCA.

These are the actions of good men of fine character, aware of their status in life and wanting to give something back to people and causes that matter to them, as well as protecting the image of the game that they love. It is refreshing to see and all of them are to be commended on their generosity and professionalism.

Speaking of which, Imran Tahir destroyed New Zealand today in the first T20 at Auckland, taking 5 wickets for just 24 runs. It may not have been their first choice side, but once again it showed what a fine bowler he is and how difficult he is to face in this format. Perhaps the only way to play him with confidence is to just work it around, as his variations seem too much for those set on greater feats. He is quite a bowler and I look forward immensely to seeing him in Derbyshire colours.

Back home, it was great to see England legend Jack Russell working with Derbyshire wicket-keepers Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein today. It appears to have been a similar masterclass to that enjoyed by Matt Critchley with Shane Warne and the players must pick up a lot in working with players of such status in the game.

All the work of Kim Barnett, of course, whose contacts book seems impressive in its depth. The variety of the pre-season work has been impressive and it deserves to be successful when the action starts.

With a little bit of luck and a flying start...who knows?

Board fall out unfortunate

Yesterday, one day after the announcement of Chris Grant's departure, came news that the parting may not have been all that amicable after all.

On BBC Radio Derby last night, departing Business Director, David Booth, said that there was a 'majority feeling' among the surviving Board members that it was time for a change at the top and that there were specific concerns regarding 'right and proper behaviour'  and 'a lack of engagement with business people' with regard to the Chairman.

I know both Chris and David and like both men. Each has worked hard to achieve success in their respective fields  and has done so. Each has made a fine contribution to our cricket club, the chairman's six years falling short of David's near decade of involvement, on first the club committee and then the Board.

Mr Grant refuted the claim and, unless you were party to discussions around that board table and aware of what was going on, I suppose you pay your money and take your choice on which story to believe.

What I will say is that the complete overhaul of the Board came as something of a surprise to me and to change five of its six members in one fell swoop strikes me as excessive, whatever the needs of fulfilling the requirements of governance.

Succession planning can take various forms, of course and perhaps the presence of Jason Fage is deemed sufficient for a smooth transformation, but to have five new faces on a six-person committee, irrespective of the talents of those involved, will take a little time to bed in. They need to get to know one another, then learn how to work together. Talented or not, that takes a little time.

Perhaps the presence of another experienced head may have been beneficial. Indeed, on my chats with Derbyshire supporters and members over recent summers, there have been a few who thought that David Booth might himself have made an admirable chairman. Well respected and well engaged in the local business community and a lifelong fan of the county, there was a strong argument for him taking over the 'hot seat', if only for a two-year term to buy a little more time.

I have no arguments against the incoming chairman, Ian Morgan, who I am sure will do a fine job, as evidenced by his strong CV. Similarly, the other new members of the board are well able to fulfil their roles. That new board is:

Administration Director                     Jason Fage
Business Development Director         Ian Morgan
Facilities Director                               Ian McFarlane
Finance Director                                 Hari Punchihewa
Legal Services Director                      Kirpal Bidmead
Cricket Advisory Director                  Mike Hendrick

My only other comment? As long as Kim Barnett and Mike Hendrick can work well together, the on field stuff should be quite special this summer.

I only hope that there are no more off-field distractions.

We have had more than enough of that at Derbyshire over the years.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Grant leaves with mission (partly) accomplished

The news that Chris Grant is not standing for re-election as chairman at Derbyshire County Cricket Club comes as a surprise, yet in some ways as no surprise.

The Derbyshire chairman has made a great impression on Derbyshire cricket and on the wider cricket world since coming into post and there were always strong possibilities of him going on to greater things (if there are greater things than being chairman of Derbyshire...)

A role with the governing board of the ECB seems likely and Grant's wish to avoid a conflict of interest in doing the two jobs together has meant a parting of the ways with the county of his birth.

Six years in such a job is a great commitment and to his immense credit he has worked tirelessly on the club's behalf for no personal gain. I'm not sure that the club could have afforded what he put in anyway and having a man with his background, passion for the club and willingness to 'press the flesh' and get involved will have been appreciated by most.

Of course he will have regrets. In every job you will have those and there will be aspects of his time with the club that I am sure that he would do differently, with the great benefit of hindsight. I know from my chats with him that he took no pleasure from the departures of John Morris, Karl Krikken and Graeme Welch, but the world of professional sport is an unforgiving one and tough decisions need to be made at times.

None of them were taking the club to where we hoped to be and there were issues with all. Krikken came closest to the ideal, gaining a division two championship with a side that played aggressive cricket, something that sadly dissipated in the top tier as we immdiately fell back down the following summer. Morris recruited a better class of player than we had seen for some time, while Welch encouraged youth and sowed the seeds for a potentially fine side in the future. They were good men, but for varying reasons their tenures were shorter than they might otherwise have been.

Perhaps bringing a once-disaffected Kim Barnett back into the fold will prove his defining moment, a man who had lost contact with the club once more involved and leading a winter of recruitment that has been better than any in living memory, one that might just see a return to the excitement of 2012.

Which is what Grant has worked for, of course. He came into a club that, if not down on its knees, was about to announce an overdraft that sent a bell ringing as the end of the round came. As he said to me in his interview for my last book, had steps not been taken at that point to address some serious areas of concern and overspending, there may well have been a supermarket on the site of the ground now.

How things have changed. Each year since has yielded a small, yet significant profit, one that confirmed us as among the best run clubs in the country. He has worked well with his long-time friend Simon Storey, a chief executive of some brilliance and transformed a cricket team in an open space into a cricket club in a stadium, one which hosts events of local and national importance and will form a focal point of this summer's Women's World Cup.

Off-field affairs have never been more encouraging and this has enabled the club to recruit in both a prudent and exciting manner. While some big name recruits failed, prospects for this summer are bright and the additional revenue streams that have been created have played a full part in this.

Like anyone in any walk of life, Chris Grant will have his detractors, but he can leave the role with his head held high. If one judges success in any position as leaving things in a better place than when you started, he has exceeded all expectations.

We didn't build on that wonderful summer of 2012 and I guess that will be his one big regret, but Derbyshire are in rude health, with excellent facilities, a competitive staff and an off-field operation that, pound for pound, will stand up against the very best in the country.

I am sure that all of you, like me, wish him the very best in his future ventures, though I know it will not be the last time we see him at the 3aaa County Ground. He is much too big a fan to give up on that.

I know little about Ian Morgan, his replacement as chairman, other than what is on the official CV. As a lifetime supporter and a shrewd businessman he has the key attributes for success.

He will know all too well that he has some big shoes to fill and I will discuss the new appointments, his included, in a future piece when they are announced.

For now - Chris, thank you.

Onwards and upwards - for you and for Derbyshire.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Case for Hughes retention far from compelling

I don't know how many of you follow overseas cricket in the winter, but those who do may have noticed some continued poor form from Chesney Hughes, playing for the Leeward Islands in the West Indian domestic competition.

In twelve innings, the powerful left-hander has made only 289 runs at an average just over twenty and with a highest score of just 54.

Without doubt it is sad to see, as Chesney, at 26, should be at the stage where he has his game worked out right now. Instead, his form, from the last two months of last summer and into the winter back home, has been very poor. Instead of a player coming into his cricketing prime, Chesney appears to be in a premature decline.

It would, I think, be very brave of any county to take a punt on him right now. We all know that at his best he could be an imposing, compelling sight, hitting through the ball and watching it disappear with the power of the great West Indian batsmen of the past.

Yet his good days were becoming more sporadic and Ches-watching on the bad days was painful. The feet didn't move, he looked cumbersome at the crease and could be a liability to his partner with some poor calling and running.

There was considerable criticism of the decision to let him go and the all-encompassing 'couldn't agree terms' phrase was used once more. Was his desire to play back home, rather than stay here and work on his game an issue, or were the financial demands too great?

Who knows, outwith the club, but the reality is that recent suggestions that he could be worth chatting to again, about that Neil Broom position, are unrealistic.

It is also telling that, almost five months after the season ended, he still doesn't have a county for 2017. He may have wanted time to think, but there have been no suggestions of interest from anywhere, which is strange, at the very least.

We will all recall Chesney's good days, when boundaries didn't seem big enough, he held on to blinders in the field or he took someone's wicket with his slow left arm 'darts'.

Based on his winter form, however, I don't see a queue of county coaches building up any time soon for his signature and there is a strong possibility that a player of talent could be lost to the county game, at least for the time being.

Whether he has the appetite to work on the very obvious weaknesses in his game, only he can tell, but to remain a first-class cricketer of any merit, he simply has to. Every player enjoys peaks and suffers troughs of form over a career, but Chesney's trough has gone on a little too long for comfort.

I wish him well, as I am sure you all do.

Tahir top of 50 and 20 over world rankings

Terrific news this morning, as Imran Tahir moves from third to first in the world rankings for one-day internationals, having already moved ahead of Trent Boult and Sunil Narine in the short form of the game.

It is exciting, ahead of what promises to be a special 2017 season and Imran is to be congratulated on his achievement. He is a clear example of a bowler who has worked at his craft and, although fairly late into the first-class game, he has become pretty much the complete bowler over the past twelve months.

His puzzling combination of lateral and top spin, combined with clever changes of pace and flight, make him a very difficult bowler to get on top of. He took a little 'tap' in this week's one-day internationals. but one was on a very good batting wicket and on the other he bowled a more miserly second spell after his first one was expensive.

There isn't a bowler in the game's long history who has never been hit around the ground, but the key is in how you come back and Tahir's skills and fitness suggest he will be playing the game for some time yet.

Our other summer leggie, Jeevan Mendis, took 5-97 for his Tamil Union side in the week, but they were beaten by an innings by the Sri Lankan Army side. He has had a good winter though, taking 32 wickets at 26 and scoring 414 runs at a shade under 40. We would take those statistics in Derbyshire colours, that's for sure. The way he bats, he is either going to get runs quickly or not at all, but we must hope for a quick acclimatisation and weather that isn't too cold for him to feel the ball between his fingers!

Finally today, it was interesting to see the words of Ashwell Prince, who as coach has revitalised the Cape Cobras franchise in South Africa after dreadful early season form. Prince, such a fine overseas player for Lancashire attributed it as follows:

"It was important for me that we went back to the kind of thinking where senior players drive the standards. They were around in the days when the team was winning and now they are around when the team is struggling. They know where the team needs to be and what it needs to get back to winning." 

Rather similar to what Kim Barnett has suggested we do at Derbyshire, bring in senior players with a winning mentality, who know what is required in tight situations and have the nerve and the skills to get their team across the line.

All rather exciting, isn't it?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Old Trafford event a big thrill

I had the very great pleasure of a trip to Old Trafford last night, for a talk to the Lancashire and Cheshire Cricket Society about my books, blog and all things Derbyshire cricket.

What a lovely bunch of people! They were a very friendly and knowledgeable bunch and after a short break, almost 45 minutes of questions after a similar length talk confirmed their interest and we covered a wide range of subjects. There was concern over the signing of Shiv Chanderpaul, interest in Derbyshire's winter work and plenty of discussion about the relative merits of the various forms of the game.

Interestingly - but I suppose unsurprisingly from an audience of established cricket lovers - there was little interest in a city franchise cricket tournament, as proposed by the ECB. There were people there from across the two counties and those from outwith Manchester would find it very difficult (or impossible) to support a team that bore that name. Old rivalries die hard across sport and this is something that the marketing gurus advising the ECB seem to have overlooked. When I was asked if I could, as a Derbyshire supporter, get behind an East Midlands side playing at Nottingham, my answer was simple - no.

As I said last night, the only way that they can draw audiences of the desired quantities to this new form of the game is by changing the rules and making it all the more gimmicky, unrecognisable, perhaps, from the game we love.

So look forward to cannons firing confetti bombs into the crowd when a six is hit, players in fancy dress costume, bowlers allowed one ball an over from twenty, instead of 22 yards. Daft? The rule book could well be tossed out of the window for this one. They have to be radical to stand a chance of filling stadiums.

What a horrid thought.

If anyone out there is part of a cricket club or society that would like to book me as a speaker, please drop me an email to the usual address - peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

I am more than happy to help out and discuss options, either for an evening through the summer  or for next winter's calendar.

It wasn't cricket weather last night, pouring with rain, but Old  Trafford is an impressive site. I was especially impressed by the warm welcome from reception and security staff, who were personable, professional and efficient.

Thanks to everyone for that and to all those who came along. A particular thanks to Peakview, who came along to say hello and lend support.

The gesture was very much appreciated.

Thank you, my friend.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Box office Tahir

Another day, another masterclass in leg spin from Imran Tahir today.

2-21 in 9.2 overs with 41 dot balls...considering the Sri Lankans are reasonably adept players of spin, having plenty of their own, they haven't come to terms with our man at all on their current tour. He seems so full of confidence and to me looks better than he has ever looked. It augurs well for the summer ahead and Derbyshire can be excited at his addition to the squad.

It has been a fairly quiet week and we are still none the wiser as to whether there will be a new Broom or we stick or twist, if you will. Then again, we are hardly likely to know and have no right to expect an announcement. I have little doubt that work will continue behind the scenes for a T20 player and possibly, just possibly for another Kolpak.

That last word has become synonymous with the game in recent weeks and the divide is even between those who are for and those against. I'll be honest, if the people coming over are of top quality and will enhance both the team and the overall standard of competition, I have no issue with it.

Derbyshire could quite easily go on being 'good old Derbyshire', making a modest profit each year, playing ten youngsters and gaining patronising plaudits for doing so, yet getting beaten way too often for supporters tastes. Or we can bring in some overseas help and improve the team dramatically. As long as the majority of the Derbyshire side is from this country and the people who come in improve our fortunes, I can live with it.

I want more, with respect, than Andrew Gait and Dominic Telo. I want players of proven pedigree, like Hardus Viljoen and if the opportunity came along to sign another at some point and it improves the chances of my side being a winning one, you can count me in.

The best players will still come through and one assumes that any such signings would be to enhance what we have, offer something different and put a few more bums on seats. That's what the game needs and a few 'box office' players, here for the season rather than a flying visit, will be a shot in the arm for the county game. You can't wait for Tahir to take a wicket and run half way to the Gateway, can you? I know I can't.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now. In closing, I would just like to say that I am looking forward immensely to my speaking engagement at Old Trafford on Monday evening, when I will be talking to the Lancashire and Cheshire Cricket Society about the blog, my books and all things cricket.

The weather is set fair for the trip and we're all getting through the winter rather well.

Roll on summer...

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

T20 'script' becoming formulaic

There was an interesting piece over on Cricinfo the other day, with regard to the Big Bash League in Australia.

In 35 matches, including the final, 28 teams decided to bowl first. The seven sides that opted to bat all regretted it, because they all lost the matches in question.

It is a telling statistic and reinforces what I have espoused on here for years - that batting second affords a far greater chance of a win in the short format game.

Why? A range of reasons. First of all, when you bat first you have no idea what represents a good score on a wicket and in over-reaching, quite often end up 20 runs short of par, as batsmen fail to realise that 160 would win it, aim for 180 and end up getting bowled out for 145.

I'm no first-class cricketer, but skippered a club side of limited ability through nine seasons of T20, in which we won far more games than we should by adopting this method. We had three/four decent batsmen who could then pace their innings, knowing full well what they had to do, rather than giving it away. The perils of batting as it got darker were outweighed by this and we claimed some prize scalps, as opponents strived for scores that would have tested India, rather than a motley collection of amateurs.

Alex Wakely of Northamptonshire says that they prefer to bat second as they bat so deep and the presence in any side of a couple of lower order 'biffers' who can clear the ropes is of huge value. If you get to the last couple of overs now, with shorter boundaries  and bats like cudgels, anything under thirty with a man 'in' offers good possibilities. That is when your top bowlers come in to their own, but the odds are firmly in favour of the batting side when one six and some adroit placement and running can turn the game your way.

There are grounds - Nagpur, where England lost on Sunday being one - where the wicket gets slower and runs harder to score as the game goes on, but crowds, sadly, don't turn out for T20 to see bowlers, unless they are real magicians. Mitchell Johnson was brilliant in the BBL, while Imran Tahir gives a rare sense of expectation when he takes the ball in his hand, but crowds want to see a ball heading their way on a regular basis.

It was good to read about Tahir on the same website yesterday, where it said that he rarely bowls a bad ball these days. I think he is a classic spin bowler who, like most of his kind, has got better with age and is now at a stage where he can pitch his many variations at will.  At 37, I could see him playing on for another five or six years and losing little over that period. He is box office material and while some say that his wicket celebrations are over the top, supporters identify with someone who so obviously enjoys his game.

Long may he play it and hopefully the coming season isn't the only one in which we see him in Derbyshire colours.

Finally today, and answering Michael, who emailed me over the weekend, the two Big Bash players who most impressed me this year were Chris Lynn and Marcus Stoinis. Lynn is an incredible hitter of a cricket ball and would be a huge catch for any side over here, while Stoinis, a good bowler as well as a fine batsman (as he showed yesterday against New Zealand) would be a very canny signing.

Yet neither can play here. Unless they have changed, my understanding of the rules is that any player who wants an overseas contract in the county game must have either one Test match or 15 T20/one day appearances for their country in the preceding 24 months. Neither of those two come close, so it must remain a pipe dream for counties, at least for now.

Nor, sadly, and to answer another question, do I expect to see Martin Guptill back for the T20. He has been announced as the captain of the Guyana Amazon Warriors (now THAT's a name!) for the Caribbean Premier League and its timing would mean that 'The Gup' could only play four, maybe five matches here.

One of his team mates is Chris Lynn.

Now their fans are set for some serious entertainment...

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Support from far and wide for Derbyshire cricket

It was good to read this week that Derbyshire's innovative and impressive membership campaign has thus far recruited over 150 new members. It deserved to, as the pricing of £139 for a season's county cricket viewing makes it a purchase of wonderful value.

Yet it should never be considered that Derbyshire support and a passion for the club and its cricket, is the preserve of members alone.

Back in the days of gaslight when I started this blog (so it seems), my reason for doing so was simple - to see if it would enable me to make contact with any other Derbyshire supporters out there on the internet.

Never in a million years did I imagine it would take off as it has, nor that it would enable me to make more friends and acquaintances than I ever felt possible. I have exchanged regular emails with people living all over the UK and have had occasional messages from others overseas, as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States. I have become friends with former and current heroes, managed to get two books published and had more fun in the process than one could ever imagine.

Support isn't the sole preserve of those whose personal circumstances allow them to go to most or all home games, nor those whose lifestyle allows them to travel the country with their interest. Hats off to all concerned who do, as I'm sure their dedication is appreciated, but this is a shout out to many others who, for a myriad of reasons, are simply not able to do so.

When I was a lad, between the ages of nine and twenty-two, I was rarely away from Derbyshire matches. I lived locally and my Dad, or friends, regularly used to attend with me. Further education intervened a little, but long summer holidays meant I could still get along to more games than I missed. I saw the dark days of the early seventies in fine detail, then enjoyed the Barlow years along with everyone else. I saw many wonderful cricketers along the way. They were glorious days.

My job then took me to Scotland, a country that I love dearly and I have been there ever since. Every April I wish I was closer to the best place on earth, Derbyshire, but I know that, for now at least, my life will continue to be where my job is, my son works and my daughter studies. Family contentment is a big thing for me, like many others, so I accept that my opportunities to attend games are limited. Even more so, as the needs of elderly parents, north and south of the border, increasingly eat in to available time to go and see some cricket.

As things stand, with a range of other things on the go, I will perhaps manage between six and eight days cricket this summer, assuming that the 'family stuff' doesn't take priority between times. I will be down for the first two days of the Leicestershire four-day game in May, all being well, then the first couple of days of the Chesterfield Festival, when I hope to meet up with an old friend or two and am praying it doesn't rain. I had hoped to see the season opener, but couldn't get time off work. Maybe no bad thing, based on seasons past, when I have sat in the stand with more layers than a show-stopper cake on The Great British Bake Off.

I'll make a couple of days late season too, but the fixture schedule is such that I need a decent forecast and at least three days to make it worthwhile, one for traveling in each direction. You don't do a 650-mile round trip without planning and I have book stuff that needs to fit into my holiday allocation, along with family breaks. T20, with ten hours driving for three hours cricket,  isn't realistic, unless I am down there for other reasons.

Does it make me less of a fan? Of course it doesn't. The very occasional critic of the blog has usually used the 'you're never at games, so how can you comment?' tactic, rather overlooking the fact that the blog is and always will be an opinion piece. I don't write commentaries on games and am grateful for the comments of those who were there to fill in the blanks that are there between many press reports.

Yet, when you have watched enough cricket, you know how Billy Godleman square cuts, Wayne Madsen cover drives and Imran Tahir bowls. It doesn't stop me from wishing I was there on the good days, and being glad that I wasn't on the bad, yet nor does it change the fact that there is no one any more passionate about the club, its performances and its ongoing and gratifying stability. There's plenty of others like me out there too.

You might look at 150 new members and think that's good, or you may think 'is that all?'. In the context of football support, it is perhaps small beer, but the comments of people on here who have come back in to the fold and plan trips to see Derbyshire this summer for the first time in many years is gratifying.

Interest in Derbyshire cricket is booming. We have recruited well and the on field 'offer' this summer is the best it has been for some time, while off field there are 'proper' facilities. There are genuine reasons for optimism and that will result in a few more planned trips, IF it translates into results and improved performance.

For those, like me, whose attendance is limited, feel free to pitch in with comments, to mail me when you wish and to share in that passion. If you are able to get along more frequently, enjoy every minute and remember that there are a lot of people out there, all over the globe, who are slightly envious of you and are following every ball on a phone, tablet, computer or television somewhere far away.

But  sharing that passion, all the way.

And massive supporters, as they have always been.