Saturday, 25 January 2020

Greatest Derbyshire team chosen

As part of their 150th anniversary celebrations, the club's  supporters have voted for their greatest-ever eleven, within selected parameters. Those in the mix had to have played for at least five seasons, while there was a pre-determined balance to the side.

The final side selected read:

Kim Barnett
Peter Bowler
John Morris
Wayne Madsen
Peter Kirsten
Dominic Cork
Geoff Miller
Bob Taylor
Albert Rhodes
Les Jackson
Mike Hendrick

I agreed with most of that side, but would have made several changes. The problem with such ideas, of course, is that more recent players will always be picked. I would argue that a batsman with an average of thirty on uncovered wickets was every bit as good as one who averaged forty in more favourable conditions.  Similarly, one assumes that this is for four-day cricket and there is no prior knowledge of the wicket on which it will be played. Yes, the game was different pre-war, but one can only be a stand-out in the conditions of the time.

For me, Arnold Hamer would have been an opener. I didn't see him, but those whose judgement I respect deem him a wonderful batsman. Had he stayed with his native Yorkshire he may have gained international honours, but for ten years or more he led, some might say carried, the Derbyshire batting, often with little support. He was a big chap and wasn't a great fielder, but you judge people by the times in which they played and Arnold must have been a very fine batsman. So too Denis Smith, but he had more support in the batting side of the 1930s, which often cobbled together enough runs to bowl at.

Hamer and Barnett in full flow would be worth the admission fee alone and in dropping Peter Bowler I mean no disrespect to a fine cricketer whose contribution to the club I enjoyed.

I would have liked to have included Stan Worthington too, but can't fault the engine room of the batting, while George Pope would have been a strong candidate for seam bowling all-rounder, though Dominic Cork a logical, match-winning winner. Both had the winning mentality and I am happy to go with our T20 coach.

Geoff Miller was a very fine player and in his category was always the likely winner, though Les Townsend should have been in that section. 11871 runs and 832 wickets for Geoff Miller, with 32 five-wicket hauls. Townsend had 19555 runs at a higher average, plus 1088 wickets at a lower one, with 51 five-wicket hauls. He also made 22 centuries, while Geoff managed just the two. Reports suggest Les a ferocious hitter of spin bowling, with Tommy Mitchell recounting how he bowled to him in the nets and 'then ran away'!

As for the spinner, I would have loved to include Edwin Smith, but had to go with Tommy Mitchell. A mercurial bowler, very much his own man, he won an extraordinary number of matches throughout the championship decade. On the bad days, like most of his kind, he could go around the park, but on the good ones, when the ball was coming out as he wanted, he was by all accounts extraordinary.

118 five-wicket hauls, he took. One hundred and eighteen, that in a career of only twelve seasons. Let that sink in a little. Rhodes had 29, Edwin Smith had 51, and THEY were both outstanding bowlers.

Finally, the seam bowlers. Les Jackson was always going to be one, legend as he is, but my partner for him, dropping the father and bringing in the son, was Harold Rhodes. Mike Hendrick was an outstanding bowler, but Rhodes had pace, bounce and movement. He was just short of a thousand wickets for the county when he retired from first-class cricket at the age of just 33, accepting more lucrative employment elsewhere. Had he continued, he might have challenged the county record of Les Jackson, but figures never mattered to Harold

So my final eleven, for what it is worth:

Kim Barnett
Arnold Hamer
John Morris
Wayne Madsen
Peter Kirsten
Dominic Cork
Les Townsend (in correct category) or Geoff Miller
Bob Taylor
Tommy Mitchell
Les Jackson
Harold Rhodes

I can't complain though. Of the side chosen by supporters, the only one I didn't see was 'Dusty' Rhodes. I saw Les Jackson in a couple of charity matches and he was still pitching it on a line and length, several years after he retired.

When you are great, you are always great.

This side is so good, I would even watch them in a hundred-ball competition. But indulge me and let me enjoy five days of cricketing heaven.

Questions answered

With a little time today. more than I have had all week, it is time to answer a few questions!

Mark asked if I thought we might see a new wicket-keeper taken on, with Daryn Smit retiring to take up his coaching role.

The short answer is no. There are plenty of young keeper out there to play in the seconds, and Harvey Hosein has made the four-day role his own. Ben McDermott will keep in the one-day competitions and if we had an injury, it would be easy enough to take someone on loan.

Meanwhile. Gareth asked if I thought we might sign another batsman, allowing Luis Reece to drop to the middle order. Again, I suspect the answer is no. Luis likes opening and is happy to handle the workload of doing that and his share of bowling. With Sean Abbott and Michael Cohen strengthening the attack from last year, he may not have to do quite so much bowling in 2020, which will make his life a little easier.

As for Matt Critchley's contract situation, I am sure that Derbyshire are keen to extend his deal, but the player will want to see how this year goes. The increased stability at the club will be a strong argument for his staying, but interest from elsewhere will depend on him enjoying better form than last year. He did well in the T20, but his batting form was fragile and his bowling only sporadically effective in other formats.

This will be a big year for him, but a very good one will see the circling vultures drop lower. We can only do so much financially, but if he decides the grass is greener elsewhere, there is a logical successor on the staff in Mattie McKiernan. Hopefully recovered from his stress fracture of last year, he has a lot to offer with bat and ball, while his fielding will always be an asset.

Definitely something to keep an eye on, but while I would love to see Critchley stay at Derbyshire, I couldn't call it at this stage. He will be aware of the travails of his good friend, Ben Slater, at Nottinghamshire though, where after a fine start in the RLODC he had a tough year.

Sometimes the grass is anything but greener on the other side of the fence.

An interview with Tony Palladino part 2

You made your Essex debut in 2003. Who were the players and coaches who helped you at that stage?

Geoff Arnold and Neil Foster were two of my early mentors. They were both outstanding bowlers and helped me a lot.

It's funny, I have always been a big student of the game and yet today you get a lot of young players and they don't know who their coaches are, and what good players they were in their own time. I knew all about mine and what they had done in the game.

Having said that, I never needed a lot of work, because I had a natural 'clean' action. I got crossed over a bit when I was younger, but a lot of their advice was on how to get batters out. They told me to look at his grip, watch his hands, his feet, how he stands at the crease.

Real attention to detail!

It was. You'd learn that if a batsman held the bat high on the handle he would wanting to drive you, but lower down he was a puller and cutter. Little things, that meant a lot and you could adjust your length for them accordingly.

Nowadays we have analysts, of course, who can tell you how they score their runs, but back then it made a difference. The quicker you can work a batsman out, the quicker you can get him out!

I used to keep a notebook of how and where I bowled to specific batsmen, how I got them out and it was all very useful, before it was done for us. When I signed for Derbyshire I had a long chat with Chris Silverwood about that and he encouraged it, especially for players you had played against rarely, or perhaps hadn't played before.

It's interesting though, because you could have success against a player one year with them nicking off, but then the next year they would be further across, having worked hard on their footwork over the winter. So then you would perhaps look for a leg before, if they got too far across.

You have to be prepared to adapt!

Do the umpires say much? There used to be stories that they would sometimes offer advice, especially if they had been bowlers too?

Yeah, sometimes. I have a good relationship with the umpires, especially the former bowlers like Neil Mallender and Dave Millns. Pete Hartley is another; he's told me in the past that perhaps I needed to get my wrist stronger, if the seam was wobbling on the way down to the batsman.

It is all very cordial. You can learn from them. Neil Mallender has played a lot of cricket, not just in England, but in New Zealand and he will tell you how he adapted his bowling around the country and between countries.

He told me that when he had the successful Test at Headingley against Pakistan he completely changed his bowling style. He was previously a 'hit the deck' bowler, but made sure he pitched it up and swung it there.

I guess that was as challenge for Logan (van Beek) this year?

Yes, he had to learn to bowl a different length and with a different ball. It was a steep learning curve for him, but then every day is a school day!

Your time at Essex is best remembered, of course, for your exposing the match-fixing scandal that involved Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield. That must have been a hard time for you?

It was. It was a very tough time and it could have ended much better. I was encouraged to report what I had seen but there was no real support from the club. Of course, all the anti-corruption protocols came after that, so things have improved, but I felt that I was in trouble myself, because we were all interviewed by the Metropolitan Police. Merv and I ended up playing in the same second team, which wasn't easy, and it all dragged on pretty horribly.

It all worked out very well of course, when I got to sign for Derbyshire.

How did that come about?

Well, I knew someone who had John Morris' number and he came to see me at Billericay. I did well in the match and he had a word afterwards and said that he would be in touch.

I signed in November, a deal that was less than half what I was on at Essex – and I wasn't on a lot there!

I lived in a room above a pub that year, because it was all I could afford, but the club got good value out of that first summer...

So much for the exotic lifestyle of the professional sportsman!

Yeah! But you know, I knew that if I stayed fit I would play. At Essex, I only got a game if there were injuries and as soon as the player was fit I was dropped again, no matter what I had done. One year I took sixteen wickets in four games, but still got dropped - or 'rested' as they called it, when someone was fit.

The second year I was on the same money I was on at Essex, so that was OK.

And that was the promotion year, of course

Yeah that was my favourite year in the game. I got a hundred, a hat-trick, fifty wickets, we won promotion. It was a great summer, we had a really good dressing room, and I just revelled in being a key part of the side. Karl Krikken made me feel welcome and treated me well. If he rested me he made it clear that he really needed me for the game after that. Hearing that from a coach was great, and feeling wanted made a huge difference to my performances.

Friday, 17 January 2020

An interview with Tony Palladino - part 1

The word 'legend' is overused in the modern era,sometimes attributed to a player who scores a couple of fine goals in a football match, or take a few wickets at cricket.

For me, the word 'legend' should be used in the same breath as 'loyalty' and I would be wary of using it for anyone who didn't give a good chunk of their career to a particular club. In an era when players move around with nigh the regularity of a new ball, the word is rarely correctly used as far as I am concerned.

The true legends for Derbyshire are the long career men. Bestwick, Copson. Mitchell, the Popes, Rhodes (senior and junior) Hamer, Edwin Smith – it is a long and illustrious list.

Of the current squad, Wayne Madsen has achieved and justifies such a status for duration and deeds, while Billy Godleman is getting there. Tony Palladino is up there and deserving too.

Next year will be his tenth for the county. Players have come and gone in that period, but Tony has stayed fit, run in hard (usually from the Racecourse End at Derby) and remained one of the more affable players in county cricket.

I have known him for many of those summers and recall a long chat in the pavilion after we won the second division title in 2012. His open demeanour and ready smile are gifts not given to all, but they have been appreciated by Derbyshire supporters in particular.

I caught up with him at Derby, back in September. We sat in front of the Gateway building and chatted as Billy Godleman and Luis Reece went out to bat at the start of what proved a monumental stand against Sussex. My request for an interview had received a quick and positive reply and his easy conversational style prompted a few additional questions to those I had prepared.

He is a fine man and a fine cricketer, one to enjoy while we have the chance to do so.

So Tony, you're a London boy. Where did you start playing your cricket? At school or at a club?

I played for Tower Hamlets and played just one game of cricket for my school. But that game was seen by a chap who was involved in the London Schools set up and my first game for them was for the under-elevens at Arundel!

I played for them until under-15 level and then my Mum and Dad, who realised I had a bit of talent, enrolled me in Wanstead Cricket Club, where there was a good junior section. I played there until my late teens, but I didn't have a county at that time.

I was picked up by Essex at an indoor tournament where I was playing. It's funny, because I was born and bred in East London and so Middlesex was my county. I had one trial and game for them, but that was it. So I played for Essex Academy and it went on from there.

A lot of people don't realise how tough it really is to get into county cricket. As a young bowler, what demands did you face?

The step up in standard is massive, from even good club cricket. My second team debut was in 1999, when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was at New Road, Worcester and the wicket was so different. In club cricket you can often get away with half volleys, because they are so slow, but I was bowling what I thought was a good length and getting hit around the park. It was a steep learning curve.

There's also the demands on the body. You play club cricket once a week and bowl maybe twelve overs, then nothing until the next weekend, apart from a few in the nets. In my first-class debut I bowled the whole of the first day, then we were bowled out quickly and I was bowling again on the second afternoon, when I was still stiff from the previous day.

I think that is one of the problems with modern bowlers. There are all these restrictions on what they can bowl at fourteen, fifteen,sixteen, but if they are good enough they get to first-class level and are suddenly expected to bowl twenty overs in a day, when they are only used to ten!

And that's when the body starts to rebel...

Yeah. When I was captain of London Schools I bowled a lot. In one fifty-over game I bowled throughout at one end, as a stock bowler, keeping it tight. It didn't affect me and I don't think I have ever had a stress fracture. I may have done, but I played through the odd sore back and I think it stood me in good stead when there was a greater expectation of me bowling for a long time.

Sure, I had injuries, as all seamers do, as it isn't a natural thing to do. I feel really sorry for Olly Stone, who has been really unlucky with repeated stress fractures and I never had that. So I was able to bowl a lot and I guess be noticed as a result.

That's been a problem for a few at Derbyshire, of course?

That's right. The likes of Sam (Conners) and Alfie (Gleadall) have had back issues and it has hampered their development. You lose rhythm when you stop playing, then have to start again and all the while you still have to make that step up.

Today, for example, I bowled four overs before we started today, to get loose and get my rhythm. So the overs soon mount up and there's no getting around that. If you bowl a lot of overs one day, and your captain decides to enforce the follow-on, you have to get yourself mentally and physically ready to bowling the same number of overs with the same level of intensity on the following day.

The quicker a young bowler learns what they need to do to be able to do that, the better they will be. We all have our own routines – but you see some bowlers go and bowl a few overs around nine o'clock, then more in the pre-match warm up. If you then have to bowl twenty in the innings, you have bowled thirty in the day!

I don't bowl until the warm up. I go out in my whites around 10.45am, bowl a few balls in my whites and then I am ready to go. You have to manage your work load and your energy levels.

Especially for the T20, of course. I have spoken to a lot of old Derbyshire players and while they bowled a lot of overs, there was no real expectation that they threw themselves around in the field...

Oh that's right and you also have your fielding drills to do and you are expected to go and have a knock in the nets, because tail enders are few and far between now. You look at people like Jonathan Agnew and plenty closer to home, and they would rarely do much in the nets with a bat in their hand.

There's the story about the legendary Hampshire bowler, Derek Shackleton, whose pre-match warm-up was allegedly to comb his hair and have a fag. Yet he still took over two thousand wickets for them....

(Laughs) Yes and it didn't do him much harm! Again, it is what works for the individual that matters.

To be continued...

Priestley signs to add competition

I first became aware of the name of Nils Priestley a couple of years ago, when someone whose opinion I respect told me that he was a young player of considerable talent.

Back then he was a budding all-rounder, hitting the ball hard with long levers, as well as bowling swing at a decent pace. A few injuries have changed his bowling style to slow left-arm, which is a work in progress, but his batting remains clean and and uncomplicated.

He will not want for support as he develops his game, with Mal Loye freed from Academy duties to play more of a role with the senior squad, Daryn Smit taking his place, of course. There are good role models around him too and Nils may find himself rewarded for good early season form with some matches in the RLODC this summer.

Very much in his favour is a growing reputation as a dynamic fielder, which will always edge a player ahead of the competition when selection meetings take place.

Dave Houghton knows batting and batsmen and must rate the young left-hander. The rest is up to him, but judging by his comments on social media over the last 48 hours, he seems a grounded, sensible lad.

Getting on to the staff at a professional sports club is a fine achievement, but the real work starts now. Derbyshire has perhaps its strongest batting line-up since the halcyon days of Barnett, Bowler, Morris and Adams in Godleman, Reece, Madsen and du Plooy. Nils will doubtless fight hard to be considered for one of the places below them.

Such competition can only be good for all concerned.

Congratulations, Nils.

Go well.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Smit calls time on career for coaching role

Derbyshire's young cricketers really couldn't wish for a better coach than Daryn Smit, who today announced his retirement from the game, at the age of 35, to become the Head of the Talent Pathway at the club.

His remit is to increase the number of young players graduating from the academy into the first team, something that needs to be addressed in the years ahead. Plenty of exciting young players have appeared in the Academy in the last ten years, but too few have become established in the first-class game.

Smit's role will be to discover why and hopefully reverse the trend. Of course, Alex Hughes, Harvey Hosein and Sam Conners are all graduates, while Matt Critchley moved to Derbyshire from Lancashire. If Daryn can identify the cream of local talent and structure their progression through the ranks to become key components of a Derbyshire side, it will be a job well done.

He has been a very good cricketer, primarily in South Africa but also in Derbyshire. We never got to see his real talent with the bat, though there were a few cameos in T20 cricket that played a part in the success of the past two summers. His cricketing nous was appreciated by Billy Godleman, and one always knew that there was sound counsel available when things started to get tight.

But his a county blessed by a number of fine glove men over its history, Smit must have been up there with the best. In my experience, only Bob Taylor was better, but to be second to the best is no bad thing. He was always balanced, always in control, his hands like those of a magician as he removed the bails of batsmen lured down the track and beaten. It was always undemonstrative, with none of the flourish of some, but with high reliability.

He made the odd mistake, but doesn't everyone? The best ensure that these are the exception, rather than the rule and the ball dropped into his gloves with no noise, as if landing in a bed of cotton wool.
There were tough catches that were made to look easy, nigh impossible ones that were taken in two hands, as if they were routine.

He can have had few worse days on a cricket pitch than at Durham in 2018, when the second innings bowling of Messrs Viljoen and Olivier saw the byes rack up with bowling of hideous accuracy. Yet the truth was that the tally was nothing to do with him, and had Harvey Hosein been there too the total would have been unacceptable.Yet at the end of the day he was as charming and approachable as ever, happy to pass the time of day. The sign of a true sportsman, and gentleman.

He will doubtless play the odd game in the Lancashire League when he can, his shoulder hopefully restored to health after winter surgery, post-Finals Day in the T20. There he kept as well as ever, despite the handicap.

This summer, one assumes, Ben McDermott will keep in the one-day games, when he will undoubtedly fire our imaginations with batting of blistering quality. He could make the difference with the additional firepower that he has repeatedly shown in the Big Bash.

He will do well to match Daryn Smit behind the timbers though. If he does, we will have some player on our hands.

Congratulations on the new role, Daryn . I have every confidence that you will make a great job of it and look forward to following the academy fortunes under your tutelage. They will enjoy your easy, friendly manner, as the second team did last summer.

Go well, and thank you for some great memories.

Welcome back!

After an absence and holiday of over two weeks, Peakfan is back, ahead of a hectic year in which Derbyshire will celebrate their 150th anniversary as a club.

Happy 2020 everyone!

On social media today, the club has launched a search for its greatest-ever eleven. It is a fine and laudable project, though my caveat with this is the same as with any such polls. Social media is more often used by the young, therefore the results are heavily skewed by the better known , more recent players. I have seen several 'Best England side ever' polls, where the players were without exception from the last thirty years.

Was Graeme Swann really a better spinner than Hedley Verity, Jim Laker or Wilfred Rhodes? Was Alastair Cook better than Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton or Herbert Sutcliffe? It is easy to denigrate the efforts of players before World War One, and between the two wars. In many ways it was a different game, but good players were always good players and you can only be judged as being among the best of your time. A batting average of thirty pre-war, often on uncovered wickets, was likely the equivalent of forty-plus these days.

Thus, coming back to Derbyshire, Bill Bestwick must have been a fantastic bowler. With 1400 wickets at 21 he had to be, though for many today he is unknown. To take 147 wickets at 16, when he was 46 years old in 1921, was an extraordinary effort, needing outstanding skill, as well as a high level of fitness. He liked a pint or two, often enjoying them at lunch in the beer tent, but he could bowl. Usually did too, for a long time...

So too William Mycroft, back in the nineteenth century. He took 863 wickets with his left-arm pace for the county, at an average of only TWELVE. You could argue about the quality of wickets, and whether all of the opposition were particularly good cricketers, but cannot deny his eligibility to be considered in such an eleven.

I have already voted, and hope that a number of you do too. I would only urge you look at the records of those concerned, what they did for the team at that time and how they performed for the county on grounds of consistency and longevity.

Go to

In so far as my absence has been concerned, I haven't really missed anything. The Derbyshire players have done all of their fitness work and are now honing their techniques in the indoor school. I remain confident that the summer ahead will see us do well. Given good luck, the continued development of young players who have emerged and good fortune with injuries, this is a squad that will challenge.

To answer a question that I had a few times - do I think we should look at Aadil Ali, who has been released by Leicestershire, now Tom Lace has signed for Middlesex - I am not convinced.

He did alright at Leicestershire, but has reached his mid-twenties as a specialist, rather dour batsman and a highest score of only 80. I don't think he would be close to a one-day player and can't see him near a first-choice side. Maybe he would be decent cover for the RLODC, but I don't think we can offer full-time contracts for a few weeks of the summer. Were there money for such a thing, I would sooner have seen what Tom Wood could do, a deserving lad if there ever was one.

Given we have signed two quality overseas players and re-engaged Dominic Cork as T20 coach, I can't see there being lots of money being available. If there was, my suggestion would be someone better than we already have, not additional competition to what I regard a strong squad.

That's all for me for now. Starting this weekend, the first instalment of my interview with Tony Palladino, which I think you will enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas!

There is just time, before the season is upon us, to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and the very best for 2020.

Your support is essential to the blog and is very much appreciated. Thank you so much to those who have sent kind words and appreciations in recent days. They have all meant a lot.

I look forward to hearing from you all and hopefully seeing you next summer.

The year of the Falcons?

It could be, you know... 

Friday, 20 December 2019

Cork back for Vitality Blast!

And a very happy Christmas to you too, Derbyshire!

The news that Dominic Cork is returning for the T20 as coach is an exciting festive gift for us all and I am sure you are equally pleased as me.

Last season he inspired a fine brand of cricket from a very small squad, in which there was only one overseas player - and he was injured.

This coming summer, with two fine Australian cricketers in the side bolstering the batting and bowling, it is not fanciful to dream of a repeat of this year. Finals day is not beyond a talented squad, but no one will underestimate this side from now on. 

We know the talent in that squad and while the challenge is to eliminate, or at least reduce the times it lapses into mediocrity, there were sufficient examples of brilliant cricket last year to be confident in prospects. 

Corky will be keen to replicate or surpass last year's efforts and it would be a silly man who bet against him doing so.

Perfect news for festive cheer!

Roll on summer... 

Lace deal opens a door for someone

Like most of you, I entertained hopes that Tom Lace would be back in Derbyshire colours next summer.

His full season with us, on-loan from Middlesex, contained several innings that confirmed him as a player to watch. At 21, international recognition is very much on the agenda for a talented and stylish batsman and affable young man.

His season was curtailed by a nasty hand injury, but I know how much he enjoyed his time at the county.  It was patently obvious in every conversation I enjoyed with him over the summer. So too the friendships that he built up among the squad.

Signing a new deal at Middlesex would therefore have been a decision to think about. Yet a new administration, presumably guarantees of opportunity and a three-year and appropriately remunerated contract swung the deal for his home county. He had been there from the age of ten, so loyalty came into it too, of course.

Nor should we discount the fact that international recognition is more likely at a southern county than at Derbyshire. We may not like that, but the journalists who will 'push' a player's case are more likely to be present when they don't have to travel to do so.

I wish him well. He is a lovely, friendly lad with a ready smile and a shared love of dogs. I will watch his progress through next season and beyond with great interest and wish him all the luck in the world. The talent is there and I suspect the mental toughness is too, having already registered first-class centuries to dismiss one psychological barrier. 

As for Derbyshire, there is opportunity for someone. I understand that budget had been set aside for signing Tom, had he been available. That could now be spent on another batsman, unless Dave Houghton decides to go with what he has and elevate Anuj Dal or Fynn Hudson-Prentice in the order. 

Might it be for Tom Wood? All I know is that when we lose Reece, Madsen and du Plooy from the batting for the new competition, it leaves us short in that area.

Perhaps we will take someone on loan again? Maybe, but counties will be aware of the need for cover, at least for the RLODC.

We will see what happens in the new year. 

Between times, all that remains is to thank Tom for his time at the club. His style reminded me of a young Ian Bell when he was at his best, which was often. 

Don't be surprised if his career follows a similarly impressive trajectory.

And be proud of our part in his development. 

Go well, Tom. 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Weekend warmer

Apologies for the lack of blogging at the moment, but there is little to tell, for one thing and work in retail, together with family commitments is taking up a lot of my time as we approach the festivities.

Still, I have only three days to go until I finish for Christmas, so that makes up for it quite nicely and I look forward to a lovely family time, as I am sure most of you do too.

This week's big news is that the Derbyshire squad will head out to Zimbabwe in March for three weeks. There they will hopefully get plenty of outdoor practice, as well as two three-day matches, two fifty-over games and two T20s. There will also be 'life experiences' as Dave Houghton called it, and the chance to see a country that has had its share of issues in recent years.

Hopefully the tour does a little to help the cause of Zimbabwe cricket, which has slipped back of late from its heyday when Houghton himself was a member of a strong side with a number of talented players.

It will also be a return home for Dustin Melton, who will want to make an early impression in the chase after a first team slot. Last year's attack largely picked itself, but this year looks set to be much more competitive and Melton, with Sam Conners and Michael Cohen, will hope to stake an early claim for a senior spot.

Meanwhile, Fran Clarkson says she is delighted with the work ethic and the fitness training of the players as they build up to next season. In  just over a fortnight we can talk about 'this year's cricket', which seems somehow a little closer.

I'm looking forward to it immensely.

Friday, 6 December 2019

King of swing at Derby...

So Michael Buble is making an appearance at the Pattonair County Ground next summer.

Good news for the club coffers, I would think. A rival for Tony Palladino too, long established as the king of swing in Derbyshire...

In cricket matters, it was good to read of Dave Houghton talking about our challenging not just in the coming season but in the longer term. He has done very well to build a squad with the right spirit and personnel to do that and the possibilities of the current squad are quite exciting.

We all know that the batting has power and depth, something that will undoubtedly carry through to 2020. Houghton has addressed last year's weakness, an over-reliance on Ravi Rampaul and Tony Palladino, by recruiting a quality overseas seamer in Sean Abbott, together with South African quick Michael Cohen. They, with Dustin Melton will give us much more edge than last year and enable all-rounders Luis Reece and Fynn Hudson-Prentice to be all the more effective in not being over-bowled.

There will be times when our one bowling weakness, the absence of a quality spinner, may hurt us, but both Matt Critchley and Mattie McKiernan are young enough to develop as a spin-bowling all rounder.

It is all very exciting as we come to the end of 2019 and look forward to the 2020 summer.

The week's cricket has been dominated by the death of Bob Willis, the former England and Warwickshire quick bowler. He will forever be remembered for his feats in 1981, when 'Botham's match' could quite easily have carried his name forever, after a stunning second innings performance.

He was a fine bowler and a commentator who 'shot from the hip' in his summaries at the end of a day's cricket. His on-screen persona suggested a dour man, yet the tributes paid to him suggest a man quite different, one who was good company and a loyal friend.

Such a man is welcome in any gathering and he will be missed.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Fixtures out

Well, that's the fixtures out for the 2020 season, an event that somehow makes the season seem that little bit closer, even if we all know that we have a lot of winter to get through first.

The much maligned (often by me) ECB have got something right and at least put more cricket at the weekend than was the case before. It doesn't take Einstein to work out that if you play more cricket when people are off work, the greater the chance of more going along to watch. I find it astonishing that it has taken until this summer for the penny to drop in that respect.

The only issue, of course, is that the four-day game is consigned to the periphery of the season, rather than playing it in high summer. The irony of Jos Buttler commenting this week on the need for better wickets for the format was lost on many people, when we are committed to early season green tracks or late summer turners. Not that it matters, when Buttler and the England-contracted players are seen in the county game as often as I run a sub-ten second hundred metres.

As a consequence we have just thirteen days of Derbyshire cricket to follow from 22 July until the end of August, with only seven of those at home. It is poor fare, and especially sad that it comes in the summer of the club's 150th anniversary.

At least the RLODC sees us play Somerset, Surrey and Glamorgan, which makes a nice change, as well as playing Nottinghamshire at Grantham. There is a four-day game against Sussex in the scenic splendours of Arundel too.

I'm not sure, right now, which fixtures I will be attending. The Durham home game that starts on 8 May is a likely starting point, mainly for my only having to take one day's leave to attend most of it. Or I could wait until the Sussex game two weeks later.

After that I am struggling at present to reconcile family needs and eking out my holidays. I may take three days to go down to Durham in August, but it looks like much of my season's viewing may perforce be at a distance in 2020.

We'll see. I need to sort family holidays first, then take it from there.

Yet for the traditional cricket fan in your life, a warm fleece and a beanie hat seem like sensible Christmas gifts this year...

Friday, 22 November 2019

A measure of success

Billy Godleman on a trip to Nepal, Wayne Madsen starring for Team Abu Dhabi, Luis Reece signed up for the Bangladesh Premier League.

Four players picked up for the new tournament, with our two overseas players for the T20 both playing for Australia, No wonder people are starting to look differently at Derbyshire.

I am very excited about the 2020 season and look forward to seeing an exciting side play a purposeful brand of cricket. We may be on the verge of a golden period for the club and Dave Houghton deserves credit for how he has brought together a small squad of considerable talent and potential.

With others, including Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Matt Critchley, doing well overseas, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The announcement of the fixtures for next season, due shortly, will make it seem that bit closer and we can all start looking at where and when we can get to matches.

I always look for the Durham fixture at The Riverside, as it is as close as I get to a home game, while an early season home game at Derby affords an opportunity to say hello again to friends old and new. Even if you generally need too many layers for genuine comfort...

Between times, after Christmas, I will be running a series of pieces from an interview I did with Tony Palladino in September. We discussed his career with Essex and Derbyshire, as well as his hopes for the future, in an interview I thoroughly enjoyed with an engaging man.

Something to look forward to!

Friday, 15 November 2019

Hosein the latest to sign new deal

The news announced today, that Harvey Hosein has signed a contract extension at Derbyshire until the end of 2022, is welcome for a couple of reasons.

First, he's a good cricketer. He did well in four-day cricket last year, had a decent average with the bat, kept wicket pretty well and can still improve further. At 23 that is a given, as despite his being around for years, he is nowhere near his peak. Once he can marry his exemplary technique to greater power at the crease, he will be some player. I am sure he will work with Ben McDermott on that, a man who will likely keep in at least the RLODC next summer.

Second, it reaffirms the club's commitment to its own. Plenty of people, some within the support, feel we don't do that enough, though I am a firm believer that the cream will rise to the top if they are prepared for the graft that goes along with it. I also believe that we shouldn't just persevere for the sake of it. While I have long since acknowledged that players don't come to know their games until their mid-twenties, if there are signs earlier that it isn't going to happen, for some fundamental reason, we aren't sufficiently well off to hang fire 'just in case'.

Alex Hughes has managed it. There's been plenty of criticism in his direction over the years, but he has become a key part of the side as a gritty, sometimes flamboyant batsman, a tricky one-day bowler and a brilliant fielder wherever required. It hasn't happened by accident, but by a lot of graft. A willingness to get fit, play through injuries and work at his game.

So too Matt Critchley, OK, he isn't from our academy, but he has spent a few years with the club and has emerged from the second team to become a good cricketer. Again, there's plenty of work to be done to make the batting more consistent and the four-day bowling more penetrative, but Critch is a fine player, hopefully the next to sign a long-term deal.

Sam Conners could get there too. The whippy pace and bounce is there, he looks like he has all the raw components for success and he now needs to tap into that work ethic to get and stay fit. He and Michael Cohen could be long-term opening bowlers for the club, perhaps for some time after Tony Palladino and Ravi Rampaul retire, but the work starts now, for both of them.

It has been a very good winter, so far, for county supporters. I don't anticipate any more new signings, but I guess it depends on who becomes available.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Book Review: Back From The Edge: Mental Health and Addiction in Sport by Luke Sutton

A few years ago, I sat on the boundary edge at Chesterfield with the then Derbyshire coach and chatted about all things cricket.

It was a second team fixture, so afforded such an opportunity and the conversation moved on to the growing criticism of players on social media, especially on one platform, which was increasingly, at that time, a cause of concern.

The coach, who trusted me, went on to tell me about one player and the problems that he was currently experiencing in his personal life. It was fairly horrific and fully explained the dip in form that player was suffering, something to which the armchair critics were oblivious, of course.

And yet we should be, all of us. We all have bad days and periods in our lives when it appears that everyone and everything is against us. Our lives and performance suffer as a result, so why should it be different for sports stars? A job that many of us envy does not give them immunity to life's challenges.

That player wasn't Luke Sutton, but his brutally honest account of his struggles with alcohol and mental health issues should be compulsory reading for everyone who has ever gone onto social media to berate a player, irrespective of the sport. It is an important book that deserves a large audience, enabling a greater understanding of the subject among laypersons, inside and outside of sport.

To those of us on the boundary edge, Luke had it all. A good looking, super-fit sportsman from a privileged background, a reliable and admired county cricketer and sometime captain of the club, a man with a lovely partner and a future that seemed to be bright, in and out of the game. He was always approachable, friendly and professional, but that persona masked an increasing dependency on alcohol.

Like many others over the years, he partied hard and then trained harder still to get the nights of excess purged, but was tipped over the edge by the death of his partner, Nia, in a tragic car accident. It eventually saw him leave the county for a fresh start at Lancashire, but drinking became an increasing part of his life. Long nights became even longer days, mornings of waking up somewhere, anywhere - then starting all over again.

This is far from an easy read. How could it be, when you are a spectator at the gradual deterioration of a sporting hero? It cost Luke his marriage, yet it could, as his account of time spent in The Priory confirms, have ended so much worse.

His encounter with 'Jonathan', a successful lawyer who 'genuinely looked close to death' and knew he was drinking himself to an early grave is a harrowing one. Then again, so is the entire book, which is why people should read it. The list of sports personalities who have fallen foul of drink, drugs and addictions is a long one and continues to grow. Luke discusses several here, and while everyone wanted to be Gazza and chuckled at his excesses, his descent has been slow and painful. So too Robin Smith, whose battles with alcohol are well known. So too Ben Cousins, an Australian sporting deity with a nigh-perfect body, whose ability to party hard was 'admired', until it caught up with him and resulted in a  crippling drug addiction.

Don't buy this book expecting to see lots of anecdotes on Derbyshire cricket. It isn't that kind of book, though Luke tells of the 'incredible' support that he had from Dave Houghton in his time at the county. Things could have turned out very differently for him, except for interventions by Jimmy Anderson, Mark Chilton and Glen Chapple, who with their wives appear to have been wonderfully supportive.

The support of such friends is crucial for those facing mental health challenges and it is admirable that Luke, now a successful agent who has come through the other side and found love again, is brave enough to tell his story.

It shows what is possible, yet things could have turned out very differently. Indeed, for a long time that appears to have looked more likely.

He deserves great praise for his bravery in telling his story, warts and all.

At a time when mental health is slowly becoming less stigmatised and hidden, it is a very important read for all of us. With greater understanding comes acceptance and there are always people out there to help.

Back From The Edge: Mental Health and Addiction in Sport is written by Luke Sutton and published by Pen and Sword Books. It is available from all good booksellers, priced £12.99

Thursday, 7 November 2019

No news on Lace

The first club members meeting is tonight and I expect that at some point Dave Houghton will shed some clarity on the Tom Lace situation.

After the announcement of the signings of Sean Abbott and Ben McDermott in the last 48 hours, Lace would appear to be the 'outstanding business' for the county. Yes, in an ideal world we could do with an off-spinner of quality, but looking around the county circuit I don't see too many who are available and good enough to force a way in. Besides, with better luck with injuries, Mattie McKiernan could well enjoy more cricket next season.

This is already a strong Derbyshire squad. I agree with many of you on that and if we approach next season as professionally as we did the last we will do fine. Yet Lace showed last season that he could provide quality ballast in the engine room, averaging over forty and looking every inch a player of class, at the tender age of 21.

The problem is that he is still contracted to Middlesex for another year, while the even greater one is that I don't now see them willing to let him go, having already lost Dawid Malan to Yorkshire.

I know how much Tom enjoyed his time at Derbyshire last summer and he has made great friends among the squad. Were the decision his alone, I am sure he would be heading up the M1 to sign on the dotted line for Dave Houghton, for who he has considerable respect. Equally I am sure that Dave would have him signed up by now, were it a possibility.

Perhaps Middlesex have guaranteed him an early slot in the side next summer, as much as a sports side can ever do that, but if he isn't in the side then I wouldn't be surprised if a loan move was requested by him. The Lord's camp doesn't appear an especially happy one at present, from reports.

I'd equally be surprised if Derbyshire didn't make a prompt expression of their interest to sign him by putting in a 28-day notice at the start of June. There may be other interest, of course, but Tom is at an age where he needs the right environment and the right coach to get the best out of him. From what I have read and heard, I don't think that is at Middlesex.

It's awkward for Houghton though, because if Lace does stay down south, we end up a batsman down for the summer. If he becomes available and he has signed someone else, it is an even greater problem, because the budget will have gone.

The player I really feel for here is Tom Wood. I don't think there are many supporters who wouldn't want to see Tom Lace at the club, but Wood has done little wrong in the past three years. He has scored prolifically at all levels other than county, where he has had no chance and is now coming to his prime when we have our best batting side in a decade.

There may, of course, be an option for a contract for the RLODC, when we will be shorn of Madsen, du Plooy and Reece for this Hundred malarkey, but I'm not sure how many people around the country could drop commitments in other jobs to go and play cricket for a couple of months.

It is a big ask for any player to go from even top club cricket to county level, with no intermediate step. Maybe Derbyshire feel they can cope with the staff they have for the RLODC, assuming there are no injuries, but options may be very limited, for us and everyone else.

If anyone is going along tonight, do make sure to let us know what is discussed. I don't expect much more in the way of signings, after a busy old end of season and Autumn.

But you never know...

G'day to Ben McDermott as county go full Oz

It is a sign of advancing years when your club signs a new overseas player and your first thought is of his father...

Such was the case when I heard that Ben McDermott, son of Australian fast bowling legend Craig, was coming to Derbyshire as overseas player for the Vitality Blast T20 and Royal London One-Day Cup.

Having announced the signing of Sean Abbott yesterday, Derbyshire have completed a full set of Australians with the signing of McDermott, who at 24 has already established himself as a one-day specialist good enough to play for his country in eleven T20 internationals.

It is a very sound, common sense signing, a horses for courses affair. Abbott will play the early season four-day cricket and T20, while McDermott will join him in the short form and be the permitted player in the RLODC. Presumably, if the early season championship matches go well, a decision will be made down the line regarding someone for the final four-day games, but Dave Houghton, as he likes to do, has got his signings in early - and well.

Ben has a strike rate of just under 130 in T20 cricket, which is just less than Virat Kohli and a few higher than Steve Smith. I'm not claiming he is a better batsman than those two, but it gives an indication of the speed at which he scores his runs. With a List A average of 54 and a T20 one of 31, he can obviously play and a look at Youtube confirms him as a batsman who can clear the boundary on his day.

There is always a concern with big-hitting overseas players that they may come undone in English conditions. Loots Bosman didn't really come off, though an ankle injury didn't help him, while Shahid Afridi generally produced one innings a tournament, as we found out to our cost three years ago. I get the impression that there's more to McDermott than a slog, however and he was won matches with well-paced innings too. Perhaps he will be more Adrian Kuiper then, which would do quite nicely.

Interestingly, and reinforcing my assertion of it being a common sense signing, he is a wicket-keeper too, which would give us a genuine, dynamic batsman in that role. While Harvey Hosein is a talented young player, and Daryn Smit an outstanding wicket-keeper, neither has shown sustained ability to change a game with the bat in short form cricket. Ben would take his place in a top five with Godleman, Reece, Madsen and du Plooy, giving us a serious line-up along the lines of:

du Plooy

Welcome to Derbyshire, Ben.

God's own county awaits with considerable interest - and here he is in action.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Abbott seems perfect fit for Derbyshire

The signing of Sean Abbott, announced today by Derbyshire, ticks all the boxes.

Quick, with the ability to zip the ball about, he should enjoy bowling in early season conditions here. The Australian, who plays for New South Wales and the Sydney Sixers, has a fine record in all formats and was a stand out in last year's Big Bash competition.

At 27 he is coming to his prime and has the ability to make the national side, something that a good English summer could help with. The prospect of Abbott and Ravi Rampaul opening the bowling is an exciting one, perhaps supplying the missing ingredient from last season. What side wouldn't benefit from a quick and hostile opening bowler? Perhaps two, after the addition of Michael Cohen last week.

He can handle a bat too, as most of his countrymen seem able to do. Don't be surprised to see valuable late runs and some powerful hitting in the T20.

He has done very well to put the Phil Hughes tragedy behind him. It will always be there, of course, but it was an accident, the kind where perhaps the real surprise was that it hadn't happened before.

Of course, we shouldn't get too carried away. You don't need the longest of memories to recall how the signings of Billy Stanlake and Kane Richardson failed to go to plan this year and we all know that quick bowlers can pick up injuries at any time.

But if this goes to plan...well, we have an attack coming together to match the batting line up that produced so well last year.

With another overseas player to be announced tomorrow - and my money on another bowler for the second half of the summer - things are really looking good for 2020.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Sean.

You are joining the friendliest club in the country  - and one very much on the up.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Another young gem picked up as Michael Cohen signs?

Hands up, any readers in the UK who knew the name Michael Cohen?

Mine stays firmly down, though the latest signing by Derbyshire seems to be a young player of considerable talent, highly-rated as a quick left-arm bowler of some potential. At 21 he has time to get much better and from the videos I have seen of him, he looks capable of pushing for a first team spot.

I think I saw him at the 3aaa County Ground in the last game of the season, against Sussex. Dave Houghton was showing a young man around and I am sure it was Cohen. He played a couple of games for Nottinghamshire second eleven earlier in the summer and is no doubt another who is taking an opportunity to get out of South Africa while the chance is there and his prospects are stymied by the quota system.

We must be wary of getting carried away, however. Most of his cricket back home has been at semi-professional level, with limited exposure to franchise cricket with the Cape Cobras. Having said that, much the same could have been said about Leus du Plooy, and if this works out as well, few will complain.

Actually some might, as happened within minutes of the news going on Twitter.

'Another Kolpak at Derbyshire' cried some, while for others it was 'yet we let young local talent slip away'.

To which I would say this. First, the ECB gave no encouragement to the recruitment of young English players in The Hundred, so an example to follow has hardly been established. Most players recruited were overseas, Kolpak or experienced, with few sides taking a punt on a young man making a name in the game from this country. This would have been very easy for the ECB to enforce, by insisting squads had to include three under-25s, for example.

Second, from what I can see, Cohen is some distance ahead of Alfie Gleadall and James Taylor in his development. As I have previously written, we don't have the budget to let a couple of lads play second team cricket all summer, yet be some distance from senior standard. It is a harsh reality of the modern game. Surrey can afford to do it, like other big clubs, but we need a lean squad in which everyone could realistically play without any detriment to the standard.

Third, it appears to be fine that Surrey can sign Hashim Amla, but not for us to pick up a young player with a reputation to make. I acknowledge that Amla is a legend, but the rationale of signing him, as well as Dilshan, didn't leave any lasting legacy at Derbyshire. Nor, for that matter, signing Imran Tahir.  I don't buy into the idea that everyone will want to watch Amla more than a young unknown either. Just ask those who watched and thrilled at the contribution of du Plooy last year to get backing for that assertion.

Fourth, counties need to improve and find players where they can. With most of them losing a lot of players to the new competition, fringe players at these clubs will be needed to play at least in the RLODC. There is, one would assume less likelihood of a season-long loan for squad players, when you know you will need them down the line.

My ideal, like all of you, would be a successful Derbyshire side full of local players, like the one that won the championship in 1936, all of them born within the county. That will never happen again, because mobility of labour makes playing anywhere you want far easier, as do qualification regulations.

Which brings me neatly onto my final point. Cohen crucially has a European passport, which means he is NOT a Kolpak. The club's press release, doubtless after taking advice from the ECB, makes that clear. One would assume that should leave him clear of a potential cull of Kolpak players post-Brexit, but no one really has any idea on how that will unfold. When Irish players are classed as overseas, but Dutch players are fine to play on European passports, it is all rather muddy.

I read this week that counties may well be allowed two overseas in county cricket, which would enable the better ones to stay here under that heading. Yet given the way that most struggle to find players who are suitably qualified, or available at present, a rethink on qualification criteria may well be needed sometime soon.

Anyway, welcome to Derbyshire, Michael. I hope you enjoy yourself, find a new home in God's Own County and are successful at the friendliest club on the circuit.

For those who want a taster, here he is in action for the Cobras, the left-arm bowler in this clip earning praise from Dane Piedt.


Postscript - and here's one of him being interviewed