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...

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Kirby announced so coaching team in place

As I wrote last week, Steve Kirby was duly announced as Derbyshire's assistant and bowling coach on Friday and the team that will hopefully take us forward is now in place.

A busy old week has prevented me blogging until now, but truth be told, there is little of importance at this stage.

The club appears to be doing well off the pitch, with a sell out Diwali event last night and a fireworks extravaganza coming up, though I don't expect to hear too much of playing activity in the near future.

The new coaching team will get to know each other and there may well be offers getting put together for a player or two, but these things tend to move quite slowly. Agents will want the best deal for the players they represent and will take all the time they need to find the right one.

If we don't end up with Duanne Olivier as overseas, or a Kolpak, I wouldn't be surprised to see an Aussie or New Zealander in that role, given John Wright's role in things. He will know players from that part of the world very well and will hopefully come up with something special, if required.

Before that, in all likelihood, the fixtures will be out and I can start planning my trips, like all of you, in 2019.

Back soon, as news and time permits!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

New bowling coach almost there

The fact that Times journalist Lizzy Ammon tweeted on Thursday the name of our new bowling coach, coupled with it matching the name given to me a couple of weeks ago, means I am happy to pass comment on it, this wet Sunday morning.

Unless there is considerable crossing of wires, Steve Kirby, currently head coach at the MCC, will become our new bowling coach sometime in the course of the next week.

It would represent quite a coup for the club, as he has a growing reputation in coaching circles and has worked with the MCC Young Cricketers and Academy with a positive impact. He would come with a number of contacts and when I heard the name, it made a lot of sense .

He will be well known to Dave Houghton, of course, from his own time at Lord's and our Head of Cricket will know he can work with him. Presumably a move back up north will suit him too, as well as an opportunity to get into the county circuit.

Though born in Bury, Kirby made his name playing for Yorkshire. He was released by Leicestershire after an injury and was taken on, to great success, by the white rose county after success in the Lancashire leagues.

After success there he moved first to Gloucestershire and then to Somerset, enjoying a successful, though injury-plagued career in which he took almost 800 wickets between first-class, List A and T20 cricket. He was a regular pick for England Lions too, but never got the full England call that might have come in his best summers.

He was a combative player and if he signs and can mould one or two in his own image there will be few complaints.

Doubtless all will be revealed in the coming days.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Interesting news on Tom Wood from Australia

A scour of the overseas media outlets revealed this little gem on Tom Wood, from the Victorian press.

WOOD FIRES IN OZ!!

Derbyshire cricketer Tom Wood  has got off to a flying start in his third tour of duty in the land down under. 
Playing for Frankston Peninsula CC for the second year running, Wood started the campaign with a 96 in the grade A Victorian premier league, one level below state cricket. He backed it up this weekend with 141 in the 50 over competition, helping Frankston record their first win in the campaign. The out of contract ex-Derbyshire batsman played last season for the county in the second eleven, in an attempt to get another contract, amassing 1089 runs across all three formats. 
In addition he scored 1103 runs for his club side Ticknall, helping the south Derbyshire club to their first ever premier league and cup double. With no contract available at his home county, Wood remains far from despondent.  “The season was ultimately a failure, as my main aim was to force my way into the first team and a second county contract. Unfortunately that did not work out. However there were many highlights for both club and county with the top one being part of Ticknall's league and cup double. 
Dave Houghton has offered me the chance to play for the 2s again next season and if I work hard on my game throughout the winter and get the required runs for the seconds next year who knows? My only dream is to be a first class cricketer and I’ll keep working hard to achieve that goal. It’s nice to get the new campaign off to a good start and repay Frankston's faith in me as their overseas pro.'
I think Tom deserves an opportunity next year, when he will doubtless score a lot of runs again at those levels. He hasn't had much in the way of first team opportunity and perhaps a prolific winter and a good start back home might see him get that chance.

He averaged over a hundred in 2016, with several major innings for the second team and the Unicorns and while it dropped in 2017, it was far from a disaster and he had a couple of injuries, which didn't help.

2192 runs in all cricket last year suggests a bloke who must surely be worthy of opportunity, perhaps before we bring in someone from another county on loan.

After all, if he never gets the opportunity, how will we ever know if he can hack it at county level?  He will be 25 next May and at the stage where he has pretty much worked out what he can and can't do. By the sound of it, there's more of the former than the latter.

It is hard to argue against those statistics and I wish him well.

Work to be done as 3aaa ceases trading

I have had two or three emails and messages asking if Derbyshire County Cricket Club has major issues now that Aspire, Achieve, Advance (3aaa) has announced that it has ceased trading.

The short answer is 'no'. I feel sorry, as we all do, for those whose careers and lives are impacted by this closure, but from a cricket perspective it is no different than if a deal with a sponsor comes to an end.

The county will need to find both a new ground and shirt sponsor, but I have no doubt that they will already be on the case and speaking to people about this.

Whether the two end up being the same company is a moot point, but there will be companies out there who want to work with and have their name associated with a top sports club.

From our perspective, this couldn't have happened, if it had to do so, at a better time, as they now have around six months to sort things ahead of the 2019 season.

They will.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Bowling coach appointment 'imminent'

It has been another quick week and one without a lot of news from a Derbyshire cricket angle.

Doubtless there has been plenty going on behind the scenes as Dave Houghton gets his feet firmly 'under the table' and I understand that news on the appointment of a bowling coach is imminent.

I have heard a name and as it has come from three separate sources I don't doubt the veracity of the information. It is not for me, however, to set a hare around the park and announce someone ahead  of the official announcement for very good reasons.

First up, legal niceties will need to be adhered to and the person concerned will need to work a period of notice in his current role. He already has a good job and it would be quite a coup for the club to have a man of such quality.

Second and most importantly, Dave Houghton and the club have done all the work on this and deserve the credit and the publicity that the announcement of the name will bring. In the years I have done the blog I have never once broken news ahead of a club announcement, though once or twice have second guessed a signing with the application of common sense.

All I can say about this one is that the apparent successful candidate had a very good county career and has a growing reputation as a coach. I would deem it quite a coup for Dave to get him through the door on that basis.

More on that when the news breaks, but otherwise it is all quiet on the western front, as players take well-earned breaks.

Earlier in the week, someone wondered whether we might have been in for Billy Root, who moved from Nottinghamshire to Glamorgan.

I would have been surprised. He would have been on a good earner at Trent Bridge, one higher than we would have wanted to match. He is a talented lad, but I'm not sure he would have been worth it, an average of thirty no better than we already have. He may go on to a fine county career, but it didn't seem a good 'fit' for us.

In the absence of a move for an experienced Kolpak (and the money with which to do so) someone like Andy Umeed, who has also been mentioned in recent comments, might be a better option. Capable of batting in the middle order or open, he has shown potential at Warwickshire and might be worthy of further opportunity at the age of 22.

Finally, to respond to a couple of emails, Chesney Hughes? He played some big innings in the second team this summer and will be known to Dave Houghton from his time as batting coach.

Could I see him getting another deal? Yes, but only if his agent realised that he wasn't in a strong position to ask for silly money. At 27 he could be seen as coming into his prime, but conversely could be seen to be a boat that has sailed.

Like many other things in professional sport, most of it is only conjecture until announced by the club concerned.

We will see in the months ahead.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Houghton interview gives interesting pointers

Yesterday's interview with Dave Houghton on the club website gave some interesting pointers for the future.

“We will look at a couple of loanees, but we need to up-skill our youngsters. If you recruit you can often block the path for youngsters and we’ve got some good youngsters coming through" said the Head of Cricket.

He is absolutely right and the potential in the likes of Gleadall, Conners, Taylor and Qadri is without question. Yet it would be naive, I think, for supporters to expect them to step into first team cricket and make an impression when second team cricket, for most, has proven a challenge.

As it was always going to, of course. While Qadri is the most advanced, the others have all had injury challenges. The potential of Gleadall with bat and ball was obvious at Durham this summer, but he needs to be wary of pushing his young body too much, as they all do. They are only 17/18, so need to be carefully monitored.

The interest in a return for Duanne Olivier was worthy of note, but as I have previously mentioned, other counties will be keen on his services and Houghton referred to 'other irons in the fire'. One would assume that the likeliest source of these would be South Africa and New Zealand, given the county links with those countries. 

There was no mention of a Kolpak signing, though that may be considered if deals were reached to release either Ravi Rampaul and/or Hardus Viljoen. There are one or two from South Africa who may consider such an offer, especially those in their thirties whose international opportunities may be coming to an end. 

Such players as Farhaan Behardien and Chris Morris may be among them, but the key factor is the qualification ruling. Unless a foreign player has an EU passport, they cannot be signed as an overseas or Kolpak unless they have played either one Test match or 15 one-day/Twenty20 internationals in the two years prior to the official application for paperwork. That would exclude a few others who came to my mind and South Africa are getting canny in not giving Test caps indiscriminately, then risking losing the player. 

As for loans, they would make sense in our current financial state. There is an obvious 'in' at Middlesex, where Houghton has spent the last few seasons, while Surrey must surely be an option for a loan bowler, given they have so many. Two Currans, Morkel, Clark, Clarke, Dernbach, Plunkett, McKerr and Meaker is an embarrassment of riches. They might even go for Olivier...

Don't discount our dear neighbours in Nottingham either. Their signing of three batsmen and a bowler in the season's closing weeks looks like leaving a few players facing second team cricket and players like Jake Libby, Chris Nash and Billy Root will struggle for regular first team chances.

We'll see.

Enjoy your weekend.