Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes

It would be inappropriate to allow today to pass without reference to the tragic death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes.

The injury he sustained in the game between South Australia and New South Wales turned out to be a million, maybe billion to one freak accident, albeit one that ended with the worst of results.

I never met him, but I enjoyed watching him bat and his best years probably lay ahead of him. At 25, like most people in a profession that they love, he had the world at his feet.

There have been the expected calls to improve helmets, ban bouncers or change the ball, understandable but knee-jerk reactions to the accident, but it is important to keep a sense of perspective, in this as in other things.

No helmet would have protected the player from the blow, the ball hitting him on the neck and compressing his vertebral artery. Any modification to the current style to include a neck guard would probably make the helmet excessively heavy and/or hot. Designers will perhaps look at options, but in the long history of the game there is only one previously recorded death in this manner.

It is a hard game, played by tough people. The ball is hard and hurts when it hits you, but it has always been so. As I said to my family this morning, until around forty years ago, there was no such thing as a helmet for cricket. People got hit, people got hurt. Few, thankfully, died.

Phillip Hughes was a fine cricketer and apparently an unassuming man. Keep him and his family in your thoughts, but as you do so, spare a thought for Sean Abbott, at 22 a rising Australian pace bowler. Having bowled the ball that hit Hughes, he will be all over the place right now, but he cannot blame himself.

He was simply doing his job. It was another ball in another game and while he will need time to come to terms with the tragedy, he should remember that. He was trying to get a wicket for his side, nothing more, nothing less.

Rest in peace, Phillip Hughes. As a cricketer and a man you will be missed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Better news on Clare despite long absence

The news breaking tonight is that Jonathan Clare has had surgery on a longstanding back issue.

As reported by the BBC, the player had surgery on Monday, as he explains.

“The problem grew from an old stress fracture when I was 16. All of the stress was going onto one side which is not a great thing to be doing when you’re a bowler.

“I went to London for a nuclear-spect scan and that found all the hotspots of where the stress was, so we finally had a path to go down and sort it out.

“I’m now looking at a four to six-month recovery period. Fingers crossed, I will be fit for late April or early May."

I really hope that this sorts the issue for the lad. No Derbyshire fan would argue the point that at his best he adds depth to the batting and quality to the bowling. He has an excellent pair of hands and has the potential, at 28, to play a part in the future for the club as an all rounder of considerable talent, at his best.

There is a big difference between 'there is nothing wrong with you' and 'we cannot find what is wrong with you'. Sometimes the latter can be frustrating for all concerned, but I will be keeping my fingers crossed that this marks the end of Clare's nightmare.

As I am sure you will.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

At last, some news

The news that broke yesterday regarding Wayne White's release by Lancashire should have caught the eye of most Derbyshire cricket fans.

Given that he spent the closing weeks of last season on loan with us and his brother has a summer contract at the club, one doesn't need to don a deerstalker to work out that Derbyshire are likely to be favourites for the player's signature.

There will be those who point to his Lancashire record and suggest that he isn't good enough. I disagree. I look at the figures he produced with bat and ball at Leicestershire to confirm that White has talent in abundance. You don't produce those statistics without the ability - nor do you lose that talent. Likewise his figures for us in that loan spell suggest that he still has it.

For one reason or another, it didn't work out for White at Lancashire. Sometimes the environment in which a player finds himself isn't right, for whatever reason. Look at Rikki Clarke when he was at Derbyshire - he could hardly buy a run, wasn't great with the ball and was a big mistake. Yet his form at Warwickshire has been excellent and few would turn him down were he to express an interest in a return under the current administration.

If we pick up White, I will be thrilled and regard it as a key piece of the jigsaw, but we will hear more about that in the next few days I am sure, if it is going to happen.

Changing tack, the signing by Glamorgan of Colin Ingram on a Kolpak deal has been met with comments elsewhere as to why we didn't sign him. The player is known locally, after a stint as professional for Spondon, so there was a natural fit.

For me, we don't need him. There was a time I might have said we did, but looking at our staff for next year, I'm unconvinced that a decent, but no more than that, Kolpak is necessary. Assuming he is to bat in the middle order, Ingram would thus have taken the place of either Pujara, Madsen or Thakor in a notional line up for next summer. I see no logic or common sense in any of those being replaced and, when we have young talent starting to emerge, it would send out completely the wrong message.

I am sure he will get his share of runs for Glamorgan, who may well be keeping a welcome in the hillsides but are not exactly furthering the cause of Welsh talent in their recruitment policy. Ingram will join Jacques Rudolph and Michael Hogan from overseas, signings that will make them competitive but at what cost?

In closing today, I was saddened to see the awful injury sustained by Australian Phil Hughes last night, one that has left him critically ill in hospital. I had earmarked the player as a potential early summer signing by Derbyshire, as one of the brightest young batting talents in the country and someone with a point to prove.

What it means to his future cricket career is anyone's guess, but in the short term the most important thing is for him to recover.

I am sure that everyone will join me in wishing a young player of great talent the very best for a speedy and full recovery.

Postscript - with today's news regarding Azeem Rafiq training with Derbyshire so they can have a look at him and work with him in the nets, I think I called it pretty well in my last post...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Quiet times...

There's not much happening down at Derby right now. Let me correct that and say that there's doubtless lots going on, but nothing that is especially newsworthy at this stage.

Over on another site, there's a suggestion that Derbyshire are 'about to sign' Azeem Rafiq from Yorkshire. I'd be wary on that one.  Not that I don't think him a good cricketer, but I just don't think we would sign a player, effectively sight unseen, who struggled to get a game in Yorkshire. Whether we might have a look at him in the nets at some point is a different matter, but I would be surprised if Graeme Welch handed out the suggested two-year contract on a hunch, as he is simply not that kind of bloke.

With Wes Durston to bowl off spin and Chesney, David Wainwright and Tom Knight to offer slow left arm, any spinner who comes in has to be better than our available options. I'm not sure that anyone has seen enough of Rafiq in recent months to make an informed call on that one, so if there is any interest from Derbyshire, don't expect things to happen in the near future.

There's been a little movement in the circuit this week, with Jim Allenby leaving Glamorgan for Somerset and Craig Meschede moving in the opposite direction, at least for the short term, on a season-long loan. Allenby will be sorely missed in Wales and has so often been the difference between their being competitive or not.

Nick Compton has also left Somerset, presumably to return to London, while Steven Davies has extended his contract with Surrey, knocking on the head suggestions that he may be about to move to Taunton too.

Nearer home, Leicestershire's Andrew McDonald has confirmed that he will not be at Grace Road before the start of April to take up his coaching role. While the Australian says that it is a 'workable' issue, I would be less sure of that if I were a Foxes fan.

Graeme Welch started in January and found the first few months of the season tough - how much tougher for a coach who will barely know the names of players by the time the action starts? McDonald may do a good job in the long term, but his playing commitments back home are not giving him an ideal base from which to start his next career.

That's it from me and my scribe for now. More soon, and I hope you enjoy the second instalment of the Walter Goodyear series.

An interview with Walter Goodyear part two

The 1930s were a golden era for Derbyshire cricket. Were you a fan at that time?

I was never a cricket fan! It was just a job and when you're out of work you do anything to get money coming in. That's what I was happy to do, until the day that I retired.

Was there much difference in pitch and ground preparation between Derby and Chesterfield?

I had a hand roller at Chesterfield and a motor roller at Derby! That one at Chesterfield was 15cwt. Two of us had to push it, though I did it alone sometimes when there was no one else about. It used to pull your guts out, but it certainly kept you fit!

At Derby there was much more than cricket. There was Derby Amateurs football club, five hockey teams, National Westminster Bank with different teams – it was a constant battle to keep the ground in a decent condition. All the teams wanted to play as late as they could to prolong their season and I was forever replacing divots and trying to keep the ground half decent for the cricketers, who needed the best surface, of course.

It wasn't an easy life, that's for sure.

How did the move to Derby in 1938, when you too over as head groundsman come about?

Harry Fletcher, the groundsman at Derby, died and Stan Worthington, our top all-rounder, lodged with him. On Stan's recommendation I was offered the job outright, no interview or anything. I only saw it as a short-term thing though. I should have gone back home after the war and I regret not doing that, as I've said.

It was a racecourse then as well. Mr Smedley was the race course manager. He gave me decent money for working on it, but he also gave me a paddock ticket for the course, as a thank you for what I had done. Now, I wasn't interested in horse racing at all, but a friend of mine was commissionaire at the Regal Cinema at Chesterfield and he moved to do the same job at the one in Derby. I told him to give the paddock ticket to the cinema manager, so he could come to the racing whenever he wanted. In return, I got complimentary tickets for the cinema whenever I wanted!

The cinema was in East Street, halfway up on the left hand side. The Derby Building Society is there now. I also got to go to the theatre, and to the Hippodrome for free too. Old Walter did all right out of that and I had to wheel and deal throughout my days...

Were there many differences between the two squares and the way they played?

Chesterfield was much easier to manage. The thatch was better - you had to rake cricket grounds to get the turf to the texture you wanted - and of course the surrounds were much nicer. The drainage at Derby was dreadful and the water went down a seven-inch pipe that stopped at the pavilion. Whenever it rained, it used to back up and flood, but there was never any money to sort it.

A few years ago they wanted to excavate the square at Derby and they dug down around ten inches to do so. Once they had it dug out, they went for lunch and came back an hour later. It was full of water! There's a very high water table there and that was always an issue until they spent some money on the drainage.

I could take you to Derby now and show you where there's a well on the ground. It dates from the time before the Grandstand Hotel, when there was a farmhouse there. The well belonged to the farm. It is covered with large slabs of concrete, so nobody's likely to fall down it in a hurry...

Peakfan note: On a visit to the ground this past summer, I asked current groundsman Neil Godrich about this. He showed me where the well is, not too far inside the boundary in front of the Gateway Centre. If we're ever a fielder short, that's the first place to look...

By all accounts it wasn't a very nice ground at that time?

Ooh no. It was depressing to look at. It was always cold, even in the summer. Other teams didn't like that and ours weren't that keen either! Especially the batsmen, who always knew when they came to Derby that they would get a green wicket with plenty of grass left on it.

They didn't have a choice though. They got MY wicket and for a long time I prepared them for Les Jackson. People used to turn up for matches and ask me how it would play. My answer was usually the same. “If we win the toss we'll put the buggers in and Les will have three or four wickets before lunch.”

He usually did, you know. If he didn't, I was for it!

It never turned much at Derby. Chesterfield did, but only later in the summer did it ever turn much at Derby. Mind you, Tommy Mitchell could spin it there. He could spin it on anything.

How many staff did you have there?

Staff? You must be joking! There was a bloke named Joe Thomson who helped me when he could, but everything else was down to Walter...whether it was moving or relaying the square, I had to do it all myself...

I subsequently helped Joe Thomson by getting him to Chesterfield to work on the ground at Clay Cross and put some money in his pocket. There were the ground staff boys, but with a few exceptions their hearts weren't in it and they were in too big a hurry to get home to be that much use.

Later on I got some help but it was youngsters off the dole – they weren't interested, with the exception of one. That was Steve Birks, who has gone on to become a very well-regarded groundsman at Trent Bridge, of course. He was a good lad, willing to listen and to graft.

Were there opportunities for you to move?

I could have gone to Lords in 1977. Donald Carr asked me if I would be interested in moving down there, but I told him that I was too old by that stage – I was sixty. I said he should go to Nottingham and get Jim Fairbrother, which he did. Jim was a very good groundsman.

To be continued - photograph courtesy of Walter Goodyear/Derby Evening Telegraph and shows him on the motorised roller at Derby.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Midweek musings

Earlier tonight, thankful for the help she has given me in the last couple of weeks with typing up this blog, I told my daughter that when anything happened to me she could carry it on for me.

The look on her face told of her feelings all too clearly. Read into that as you will, but suffice to say that the blog may take on a more literary bent at that point, perhaps dedicated to romantic poets, or may lean towards some of the early gods of British rock...

For the time being (and hopefully for some time to come) it shall remain dedicated to the cricketing fortunes of God's own county. Truth be told there's not much to tell at present, though impressive progress is being made on the building work at the 3AAA County Ground. I would expect nothing less, given the involvement of Sir John Gains in the Supervisory Board.

A man involved in some of the biggest and most prestigious building projects of the past thirty years will treat such a job as a light, but pleasant aperitif. I would say that we are lucky to have him, but there's no luck involved in approaching the best people and getting them involved. It is simply professionalism, something that we are becoming better known for these days.

In cricket terms, the players are working hard. There has been plenty of footage on the club site and their Twitter feed and the training seems both challenging and innovative. I can't say I have seen people carrying barrels over sets of stumps before, but would hazard a guess at it improving the 'core' of players and their sense of balance too.

It is good to see Tom Poynton back with a bat in his hands, as much as it is to listen to Shiv Thakor waxing lyrical about the training methods and how much he is enjoying it. If this lad hits his best form next summer we will be in for a treat, because he is a terrific cricketer. I fully expect him to become a genuine all-rounder in the next few years, rather than a batsman who bowls a bit, which he is at present.

That's it for now... more from me (or Rachel...)  over the weekend. Thanks for the nice comments and mails about the start of the Walter Goodyear series. I hope that you all enjoy it as it continues.

Monday, 10 November 2014

An interview with Walter Goodyear: part one

There are many thrills that have come my way since starting this blog and the one that keeps on giving is the contact with club legends. I've interviewed a good few of them now and each has been a pleasure.

None more so than my interview with one such legend who never bowled nor hit a ball for the county, but was a major part of the cricketing landscape at first-class level for almost half a century.

Walter Goodyear was the groundsman's groundsman, a man who had forgotten more about his art than most ever know. From 1932, when he started work at Queens Park, Chesterfield, to 1982, when he retired, he prepared wickets specifically, as you will read in the coming weeks, for our rich array of seam bowlers.

They weren't so much Derbyshire wickets as “Walter wickets”. He knew what the club wanted and prepared them impeccably. Anyone winning the toss would fancy a bowl, the extra grass offering early help to any seam bowler worthy of the name and willing to bend his back. For much of his time we did very well, because the conveyor belt of quick bowling talent kept producing the goods...Copson, the Popes, Gladwin, Jackson, Rhodes, Jackson again, Ward, Hendrick...the list went on. Yet you could get runs on them too, because when the 'green' went off it, the wickets were simply good for cricket.

Walter Goodyear is 97 now but still as sharp as a tack. Old age doesn't come alone, as the saying goes, but he is philosophical about his lot, despite losing both his wife and son to accidents that perhaps could and should have been prevented. He is refreshingly honest and funny - wonderful company, in short. I asked for an hour of his time, thought it might take two and ended up with him for four. I could have stayed much longer, just listening to his tales and he even offered to share his lunch with me...

In the preparation for this piece I managed to speak to Steve Birks, now groundsman at Trent Bridge and one of the most respected in the game. He got a start as a groundsman under Walter Goodyear, spending twelve months with him at the County Ground from 1981 to 1982.

He was the biggest single influence on my career, without a doubt” he said. “He was quite a fearsome character and a lot of people were frankly terrified of him. But he took me under his wing and I remember he would tell me to fetch my flask and we'd go out on the square and have our lunch, or a tea break. If you listened to him, you couldn't help but learn, because he knew it all.”

Steve joined the ground staff from a Youth Training Scheme, making such an impression as to being the one from that scheme that Walter still remembers with a great deal of fondness.

Did he have any particular memories?

“He was brilliant. I loved the guy to bits and he remains one of the greatest characters I have met in the game. The play that Peter Gibbs did a few years back, Arthur's Hallowed Ground, was Walter to the life. It was brilliantly done and captured him as he really was. The man is a legend in our circles and anything I have achieved in the game of cricket owes a great deal to Walter Goodyear.”

He is the last man standing. No one else survives from pre-war Derbyshire cricket and if they did, it is unlikely that their memory would be as acute as his. A groundsman at Chesterfield and Derby in his time, he is also a decorated war hero, fighting both at Anzio and in the North African desert. He is one of the legendary Desert Rats, living on your doorstep.

In the course of our chat I found out that his best friend during the war was my late uncle, my Dad's brother Bill. It was an extraordinary and unexpected coincidence, but then Walter Goodyear is, by any standards against which you care to judge, an extraordinary man.

Meeting him was and will remain a great pleasure. I hope that you enjoy hearing his story as much as I did.

Tell me about your early life - where were you born?

I was born at Chesterfield on February 1st, 1917 and brought up in Southwell at a doctor's house. My mum was a char lady and we were there until I was five, when I moved to Hasland, near Chesterfield with my Mum. My Dad was a farmer, then went on the railway. I had a sister but she died when she was young, from peritonitis.

My father was very bad-tempered – you might even say vicious - and my three brothers and I got some rough treatment at times. I got the brunt of his anger and I was picked on, to be honest. All of us served in the forces in the war, but we all got through it.

You took a job as assistant at Chesterfield cricket ground at Queens Park in 1932 when you were just sixteen. How did that come about?

Well, I went on the park at 14, then went to the pit for a while, as so many did. I was then asked to go back to Chesterfield, specifically to help out on the cricket ground. I worked with Fred Pope, who was, of course, the father of our bowlers, George and Alf.

There was plenty of work on at that time. There was a first and second team, a Wednesday side and a Thursday police team. All those wickets needed preparation but they were marvellous years. I should never have left, if I'm honest, as I enjoyed it much more than Derby. I was employed by the Chesterfield corporation and not by the cricket club.

I was 'King Dick' there. A friend of mine called me recently and told me that he had been listening to a piece on the local radio. It had said that I was apparently the most important person in Chesterfield in 1938! I used to wind the market hall clock, the parish church clock, help councillors and do various bits of charity work.

When I moved to Derby, I had to go into digs and if I am honest, I never settled there as much as at Chesterfield. I still love Queens Park...

To be continued...

Friday, 7 November 2014

Something for the weekend

Thanks for your continued support of the blog and apologies for the lack of blogging in the past week or so. A hand problem continues to be irksome, so thanks to Rachel for her help in typing up this one for me!

Mark Footitt was beaten by Derby County's Jake Buxton for the Derbyshire Professional Sports Person of the year award but can be proud of how far he has come to get to that stage. Buxton had a wonderful season for the Rams last year and is fully deserving of the award, but Mark must have run him close with his golden summer for the county. Here's hoping that it is one that he replicates in the years ahead!

Ajmal Shahzad has left Nottinghamshire, where he had little opportunity and has headed for Sussex, were he will doubtless enjoy the conditions at Hove from time to time. Meanwhile Middlesex have replaced Chris Rogers, highly likely to be in the Ashes tour squad, with Adam Voges, also formerly of Nottinghamshire. The latter is a decent player, but will find the shoes of Rogers almost clown-sized to step into. They will do well - or put another way, will need to do much better - to survive in division one next summer.

The 2015 Academy intake was announced earlier in the week and those named were:

Rahib Ali
Callum Brodrick
George Sellers
Hamaiz Mahmood
Rob Hemmings 
Robert Peat 
Tom Ball
Callum Parkinson 
Ryan Bramwell 
Harry Killoran

Those named are a good cross-section of the cricket disciplines and the pathway of these players to progress to the county ranks is now more clear and established than it has ever been, with a natural progression through the age groups. 

All the players fully deserve their selection and I look forward to hearing of their progress in the next twelve months!

More from me over the weekend, when I will be starting the first of the winter interviews with former club personalities.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Weekend warmer

That was a warm day yesterday.

While south of the border was reminiscent of down Mexico way as the sun shone, north of it was more overcast but still very pleasant. It was, indeed, t-shirt weather and I can't ever remember that on the last day before November sets in. Normally at this time of year the adventurous make do with a body warmer, while those who feel the cold are on to their medium weight jacket, also known as the one that has a detachable fleece.

It was lovely and doubtless served as encouragement for the Derbyshire players, who have largely got holidays behind them and report back for pre-season training on Monday. The concept would be alien to many former professionals, for who starting in March could be a tad premature, but should ensure that they're in tip-top condition when the action begins in a few months time.

Off the pitch there was a club competition to come up with Halloween names for players. I misunderstood it, to be honest and thought that it was current players only. Had I only known, I could have added the likes of Bill Corpse-on, Tommy Witchell, Scare-old Rhodes and Alan Devill to the mix. Alas, 'twas not to be but I did like Demonic Cork. It was quite apposite, as if we show our late-season form next year, the opposition won't have the ghost of a chance against us...I'll get me coat...

Finally today, I had a mail from Chris, regarding a new cricket forum for Sussex fans for which they are trying to get more interest and contributors from other counties. His mail, with his permission, is copied below and get in touch if it is something that floats your boat:

I wish them luck in the venture - and I will see you again soon!

Hello Peakfan/Derbyshire supporters

This is an excellent site - I am most impressed.

Why don't you come and join us during the long Winter months on the recently created 'Unofficial Sussex CCC Forum'. We had a vibrant MB before but due to various reasons where our Club wished to detach themselves from an official Sussex CCC Forum, we have created a new 'unofficial' one in recent months and are presently seeking additional Members from other counties.

The topics range from match-fixing and the financial difficulties faced by county clubs to players like KP (a very vibrant discussion in recent weeks!), Matt Prior, Chris Jordan and Luke Wright. Anything that is topical is discussed. There is even a cricket blog attached to the forum written by a cricket journalist covering a wide range of subjects.

We have former newspaper journalists and other cricket/sports writers posting regularly alongside members from the Sussex Hierarchy. Our cricket coach, Mark Robinson, is a regular reader as well as a fair number of Sussex CCC players. 

The posts are rarely dull and often contentious, offering lively debates and discussion, where decorum and respect are strongly encouraged.

So, please visit us at this link: 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Three sign summer contracts

The first on field news for some time came today, with news that three young Derbyshire cricketers have been awarded summer contracts for 2015. Will Davis, Harry White and Adam Wheatcroft will all benefit from time spent working with the county coaches and alongside more established team mates.

Davis is, of course, the best known and his call up to the England Development Programme followed a successful season as Academy captain that ended with him voted Player of the Year. His talent is obvious and his potential quite substantial, if he continues to work at his game and listen to the coaches.

Wheatcroft is another seamer and has graduated through the junior ranks, also doing well for Alvaston and Boulton in the Premier League. Having just turned twenty, he has a chance to push for greater recognition after some encouraging second team displays in the past summer.

The third of them, Harry White is - wait for it - another seam bowler, but of the left-handed variety. Brother of Wayne, who returned with considerable success towards the end of the summer, Harry is another to come through the Academy but failed to gain a staff place initially. To his credit, he has gone away, worked at his game and returned to get an opportunity.

All three will be well aware that there are plenty ahead of them and Messrs Footitt, Palladino, Taylor, Cotton and Cork - not to mention Jon Clare if he returns to fitness - are ahead of them in the queue, even before considering the options afforded by Shiv Thakor and Wayne White, should he sign on a permanent deal.

It is down to them and after a few years of worrying scarcity, it appears that our seam bowling cupboard is packed to overflowing. They could not wish for a better coaching set up to get the best from them and their progress will be watched very closely.

And if you were one of those who made a purchase or two from the club book shop over the summer, then allow yourself a brief pat on the back, as these deals have been part-funded by the proceeds.

Admirable work all round, I'd say.