Sunday, 2 August 2015

Book Review: A Flick of the Fingers - the chequered life and career of Jack Crawford by Michael Burns

To the uninitiated, Jack Crawford burst onto the Edwardian cricket scene like a meteorite, a teenage all-rounder who bowled deadly off spin and produced a full range of sumptuous shots. He became Surrey's youngest centurion and England's youngest player.

Yet, as so often happens in a meteoric rise to fame, things didn't quite adhere to the script afterwards.

A row over captaining a weakened side against the Australians, something that is commonplace today, resulted in a fall out and ultimate life ban from his county. He emigrated to Australia and established himself as one of the game's great all-rounders, then moved to New Zealand, but his career and life were dogged with controversy.

He married and deserted a teenage Adelaide beauty, dodged involvement in the Great War and returned to England to divorce, re-marry and fade into middle-aged obscurity, but also produced some astonishing feats on a cricket field, two of his greatest innings coming in his thirties.

A strong candidate for the greatest cricketer produced by Repton School, Crawford could play innings that dazzled and could bowl out the best of batsmen. A career batting average in the thirties and a bowling one of twenty runs per wicket confirms his talent, but the overriding feeling from Michael Burns excellent book is of a talent wasted.

Crawford played his last first-class match at 34, having settled his dispute with Surrey after the war. His innings of 144 against the Australian Imperial Forces side of 1919, which largely became the great Australian side of 1921, was widely regarded as the innings of his life. The last wicket stand with Tom Rushby, which added eighty runs, saw the tall, bespectacled Crawford score all but two of them, so well did he 'farm' the bowling. Playing for an Australian XI in New Zealand in 1914, he made 354 (14 sixes, 45 fours) and added 298 in 69 minutes with the legendary Victor Trumper.

This book is admirably researched and is one of those rare ones that you learn from. Crawford's father was chaplain of a mental hospital, set up after William Gladstone's now horrifically titled Idiot's Act. This divided the insane into lunatics, idiots and imbeciles, something I never knew and that made me read further on the subject. A book that does that has always served its purpose.

Crawford is a worthy subject of such a book. The term 'flawed genius' is perhaps apposite when considering his talent, but then many of us aspire to moderate success on a cricket field and never hit the heights attained by a man who was one of the greatest of his age.

It is a fine book and a worthy addition to the excellent output of Pitch Publishing, one of the leading sports publishers in the country. If your interest in the game extends to the people who helped to make the modern game, then I would strongly recommend buying a copy.

A Flick of the Fingers: The Chequered Life And Career of Jack Crawford is written by Michael Burns and published by Pitch Publishing.

It is currently available from Amazon at £15.58 and can be ordered through all good bookshops.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Surrey v Derbyshire RLODC

First up tonight, warm congratulations to Mark Footitt on his selection for the England squad for the fourth Ashes Test at Nottingham.

Whether he plays is in the lap of the Gods, but I am sure that there would be cheers the length and breadth of the county should he get a call that is well deserved. Mark's performances over the past few seasons are the equal, at least, of any bowler in the country and there will be few batsmen around the circuit who would admit to enjoying facing him at the business end of the wicket.

The first Derbyshire player to be named in an England squad since Dominic Cork in 2002, he is in the squad for Guildford tomorrow and will hope to impress against Surrey. With Scott Elstone retaining his place after a fine century for the seconds this week, the final selection will come in the morning when we see the wicket.

Surrey are flying high in the table and have a lengthy batting line up headed by the evergreen Kumar Sangakkara. Their squad:

Gareth Batty (capt)
Zafar Ansari
James Burke
Rory Burns
Sam Curran
Tom Curran
Steven Davies
Jade Dernbach
Ben Foakes
Tim Linley
Jason Roy
Kumar Sangakkara
Gary Wilson

They will be a strong test for us, in a side without an overseas player, but I expect a battling performance from our side, if only to help erase the awful memory of the championship meeting between the two sides at Derby. That was the nadir of our season and things have steadily improved since then.

More from me tomorrow.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire RLODC

It was a day that kept on giving for Derbyshire fans today, after the frustrations of Bristol. Indeed, it ended in a win of some professionalism, as diametrically opposed to the other night as could be possible.

It was due to two performances, one a portent of things to come, the other indicative of the new-found confidence of a player who could easily have slipped from the county circuit a couple of year ago.

The first. of course, came from Matt Critchley, an all-rounder of great promises who took his first List A wicket today, then followed it with three more as the opposition went after him. He stood up to the test very well and, after the criticism of his captaincy the other night, Wes Durston deserves credit for having faith in a young bowler.

I have spoken to several very good judges in recent weeks and all have told me that we should treat anything positive that Matt does with the ball over the next five years as a bonus. Much as spinners, per se, take years to reach their peak, leg-spin is the most difficult of arts. By the same token, when it is bowled on a helpful wicket, it can be wonderfully effective and Matt will sleep well tonight, aware of the major role he played in restricting the total of our visitors.

Josh Cobb played the sort of innings that makes one wonder why he bats so low in other cricket and without him we would have had an easy task, but our batsmen set about the task well, with Billy Godleman leading the way with a fine, unbeaten century.

That's over 850 runs in all cricket this summer for Billy, who was well supported by Wayne Madsen after Wes Durston was adjudged leg before.  There was even time for the exchange of some choice words with Rory Kleinveldt after a ball change and a claimed catch behind, something that often makes Billy all the more focused. He has had a very good summer so far and there should be more runs to come.

It is rare to be able to write of a Derbyshire run chase that was accomplished without alarm and with complete professionalism. Tonight they did that, so just as I was critical of Wednesday night, I am happy to praise a very good response today.

Equally good news came off the field, with the news that Hamish Rutherford has signed up for the whole of next season, aside from any international commitments. At this stage, his country don't have any in our domestic season, although late additions and training camps can never, of course, be discounted.

What it does, of course, is give us consistency in our overseas role next season. Rutherford has shown himself already to be a player of some considerable talent, crucially a man with a reputation to build. A thousand championship runs next summer and another 500-plus in other cricket will be a strong argument towards inclusion in his national side, of course.

Perhaps equally important, however, is that it gives Graeme Welch the knowledge of how and where he can strengthen his squad.

He now has a confirmed opening batsman, or first-wicket down, of class and with a thirst for runs for the whole of next summer.

If he is looking for a Kolpak, or someone with an English passport, he can look to other areas of the side with a degree of confidence.

A good effort today. Fifth in the group at the halfway stage and everything to play for.

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire RLODC

Sorry about the lack of blog last night and its just a short note from me this morning.

We can win this game, with a squad that is rightly unchanged. There was little wrong with the performance or personnel at Bristol, aside from a manic last four overs that cost us the game. As I wrote then, credit the opposition for the courage of their convictions, but the wheels came off and we would have won that game 99 in a hundred times.

It was good to see Wayne Madsen admit team culpability over the last ball error, because it was. Someone should have been 'switched on' enough to notice that we had too many fielders on the leg side; if two umpires can spot it, eleven players should be able to.  'Commitment, attention to detail and professionalism' was, as several people pointed out yesterday, what I noted as crucial - and exactly where we fell down. A very good side can fall down in some areas and still win, but a developing one needs to get most things right, or will struggle. Just as we saw, really.

Our visitors have won the two T20 games between the sides so Derbyshire will be wanting to get onto the win column between the sides.

There's enough in the tank to win this one.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire RLODC

Derbyshire 274-5 in 48 overs (Rutherford 110, Madsen 106 not)

Gloucestershire 205-4 in 35 overs

Gloucestershire won on D/L

It is hard to know what to say tonight.

We beat Somerset handsomely, lost to Yorkshire narrowly by Duckworth/Lewis and were then given tonight's game by the same calculation. Rain interruptions left Gloucestershire needing 68 from the last four overs, something I saw as I was on my last break at work. Easy-peasy from there, thought I, well aware of how well we had bowled at the end of games this year.

What I didn't know was who had to bowl those overs. No criticism of Matt Critchley, but Wes Durston, who has taken on the captaincy, will have expected to use Ben Cotton and Shiv Thakor at the death, not, because of D/L, have to use those who had not already bowled seven overs.

You have to give credit to the home side, because they got there. Jack Taylor played a highly impressive cameo of 41 from 14 balls, but one has to say that a team should be capable of defending seventeen an over. The batsmen chanced their arm and got away with it, but we should still have been capable of holding off their charge.

Indeed we would have done so, but for something that incurs my greatest criticism. We were unprofessional at the last.

The captain will bear the brunt of the flak, because them's the breaks when you take on the role. You make a good bowling change or set a clever field, you are the bees knees. You do something wrong, you're considerably less than that. To be fair, having too many men on the leg side is a pretty basic error, but I don't hold Wes solely responsible. There were eleven players on that pitch and surely one of them should have spotted it and said something?

It all rather ruined a fine batting effort, when Hamish 'Signhimup' Rutherford and Wayne Madsen scored sublime centuries and took us to a position of strength. We could and should have won from there, but for rain and, when it mattered, people simply not thinking about what was happening.

They will be disappointed tonight, but from such adversity things are learned. We have developed a nasty habit of losing close finishes and it is frustrating to be so close and yet so far. Having said that, we are playing decent cricket and if we cut out the errors, can still qualify from this group.

On Monday night I was happy to admit that we ran a good side close and were a little unlucky in the grand scheme of things.

Tonight, not to put too fine a point on it, we threw it away.

At the end, I found the only thing I can say.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Clive Rice

For me, the true judgement of an outstanding all-rounder is simple. Were you to take one of their skills from them, could that player still stand as a first-class player?

Think through a few supposed all round talents in the modern game and the answer is probably no. Yet Clive Rice, who died today, was a giant of a cricketer in an age when they were not in short supply. A fair indicator of his standing in the game, and certainly at Nottinghamshire, where he starred for many seasons, was that it was unlikely they would have swapped him for any of them.

Following Garfield Sobers as overseas player was a thankless task, but Rice, admittedly with a better standard of team mate, did more than the great West Indian at Trent Bridge, which was some achievement. While Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and his Nottinghamshire team-mate, Richard Hadlee were regarded as the four great all rounders of the time, only Rice's lack of international cricket stopped him joining that quartet.

As a batsman he could graft or he could take the game away. 48 hundreds and 137 half centuries confirm his talent, together with another eleven tons in the one-day game. Those runs came at an average in excess of forty, while his 930 wickets came at a cost of just 22. There were a further 517 in the one-day game too, as Rice became a man for all occasions and cricket formats. He was county skippers from 1979 to 1987, leading them to trophies and being a skipper in the Eddie Barlow mode - setting the tone, getting on the front foot and keeping his team on top by personal deeds and force of personality.

By the time South Africa was readmitted to the international fold he was 42 and past his best. He only got three one-day games, but plenty of fine players before him got less. I read of his ill-health only recently and it came as a shock to hear of his passing today.

Nottinghamshire were and are our rivals, but they have perhaps never been better than when Rice and Hadlee took the new ball on helpful tracks. Watching them mark out their run ups made you fear the worst. Watching them walk to the wicket was exactly the same and they rarely let the side down. Both were scrappers, fierce competitors who got the best from helpful bowling conditions, then somehow scored runs when the opposition fancied them too.

Clive Rice was a giant of the game. I mourn his passing and will remember him as one of the best players I have seen.

Rest in peace, Clive.

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire RLODC preview

Derbyshire head to Bristol tomorrow for a game that could see them establish a place in the group's likely qualifiers. Defeat wouldn't end our hopes, but this is a game we can win with commitment, attention to detail and professionalism.

Gloucestershire have some good players, but this summer they have more impressed me as a team that is better than its constituent parts. Skipper Michael Klinger is the 'name' player, but the rest are largely players who fly below the media radar. Having said that, there are some good ones among them and we will need to be at our best tomorrow to beat a side chosen from this squad:

Michael Klinger (c), Chris Dent, Gareth Roderick (wk), Benny Howell, Geraint Jones, Kieran Noema-Barnett, Jack Taylor, James Fuller, Craig Miles, Tom Smith, David Payne, Will Tavare, Liam Norwell.

We keep the same squad as for the first two games, with the addition of Ben Slater. Graeme Welch will announce his final eleven when he has seen the wicket - and probably the weather - tomorrow, but there's enough in this Derbyshire side to secure another win.

I'll report on that tomorrow and keep my fingers crossed that we quickly return to winning ways.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Derbyshire v Yorkshire RLODC

Yorkshire 239-6 in 42 overs (Ballance 69)

Derbyshire 189-9 in 29 overs, chasing 197 to win (Rutherford 56, Godleman 45)

Yorkshire won by seven runs

I have to say I don't really understand Duckworth/Lewis.

How we came to be chasing only 42 less than Yorkshire made in 13 overs less, when they had an uninterrupted innings remains a mystery to me. I know it is all about acceleration and what they might have done, but my life's too short to try and fully understand its intricacies and nuances.

That said, Derbyshire made a very good fist of their run chase tonight and, against the best side in the country, made them fight to the end to hold on. That they did was down to experience and know-how, but our young side can be proud of how we grafted and took it to the wire.

The bowling again held its own against a good side, one with most of its available big guns included. Maybe we could have made better use of the two spinners, whose eight overs went only for 33, Matt Critchley doing well on his List A debut. Yet no one let us down and as in the game at Taunton yesterday, a young attack did an admirable job.

The batting did likewise. Restored to his best place as an opener, Billy Godleman played a fine knock and Hamish Rutherford, with support from the lower order and especially Tom Poynton, almost took us to what would have been an unlikely win. When he was caught on the boundary, from the final ball of the penultimate over, the game was up, but it was a very good effort. Brooks, Patterson and Bresnan, experienced campaigners all, held their nerve and we just hadn't enough in the tank to cope. Again, an experienced finisher in that slot might have made a difference in a narrow finish, something that Graeme Welch will be more aware of than any of us.

Irresepective of the result, it was a game that augurs well for the remainder of the competition. Yes we were beaten, and the churlish will doubtless say that a loss is a loss, irrespective of the margin. I'm not one of them though, because that was an excellent effort.

If we replicate those skills and the intensity shown tonight, more wins will come in this competition.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Somerset v Derbyshire RLODC

Derbyshire 134-7 in 14 overs (Madsen 45, Durston 29)

Somerset 74 all out, set 104 to win in ten overs

Derbyshire won by 29 runs

When I awoke this morning and saw a video of Taunton in the rain on Twitter, the likelihood of play seemed remote. Especially when the regular updates suggested that the rain had, had got torrential again...

Nonetheless, the ground staff worked wonders and the game was eventually set for fourteen overs, ironically the shortest game we have played all season. Winning the toss in such games is often crucial - and we lost it.

Yet by the end of that innings, I felt confident. We had the equivalent of a near-200 score in T20, which will win you more games than you lose. Star turn was Wayne Madsen, with 45 from 27 balls, while Wes Durston enjoyed himself on his return to his earlier stomping ground, making 29 from 19 balls. There were late innings cameos from Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes and the total looked competitive, at the very least.

The only surprise, indeed, was in such a short game going with Billy Godleman at four. I rate Billy as a cricketer, but this isn't his game and asking him to play the key role of pushing it on from there is akin to asking me to play the role of Johnny Depp in a biopic of the actor. He brings a lot to the side, but we have quick scorers who could and should have gone in earlier, leaving him as an insurance policy if it went pear-shaped.

Still, short boundaries plus big hitting batsmen (even without Trescothick) could have spelled trouble without disciplined bowling, but by crikey we bowled well. From Mark Footitt getting the dangerous Jim Allenby in the opening over, the grip was tightened and never subsequently loosened.

20, 21, 21, 23. That's the age of that attack, Footitt apart and they bowled so well. Compare that to Tim Groenewald's three overs for 35 for total vindication of Graeme Welch's decision to release the South African last summer. Good a bowler as he was, the coach quickly spotted the talent in his young charges and realised that they needed opportunity. With Tom Taylor and Will Davis outside this eleven, not to mention the older Tony Palladino, the potential is obvious. So too is the need to praise Welch for their development, which has been remarkable across the board in just twelve months.

It is one of the things in all sport. As young players come through, their potential needs to be encouraged and Tom Poynton will be well aware that Harvey Hosein will be pushing for top spot with the gloves. At 18, he may be a couple of years from that role outright, but with two players of even equal talent, the younger will always win out, just as Hosein would do himself in ten years time if another, younger challenger comes along. Competition is good for any team and we are getting this now throughout the side.

Thakor may not have made the runs that he or we might have expected this summer, but his bowling has come on a long way. Cotton has been a revelation in the matches he has played and Greg Cork is starting to make a strong case for inclusion. Indeed, a couple of very good judges have told me that they believe that Greg's stronger suit may yet turn out to be his batting, suggesting that he may not be living in his Dad's shadow for too long.

Meanwhile Alex Hughes again did his stuff, with quick runs at the end of the innings, plus two tight overs again, while the catches were held. In short, we were professional and polished, with the skipper doing his job with regular bowling changes that worked. Can you ask more from a performance?

Yorkshire tomorrow, who will doubtless be seeking a revenge for Chesterfield, but that doesn't take away from a good start in this competition.

Played one, won one. Top of the league. No, I'm not having a laugh...

Well done lads. It'll be a jolly old journey home tonight.

Somerset v Derbyshire RLODC

Forgive the use of the acronym, but do please get used to it, because the idea of typing 'Royal London One-Day Cup' on a regular basis in the next couple of weeks doesn't thrill me unduly...

Tomorrow, or rather today as I type this, Derbyshire play Somerset at Taunton in  the first match of a competition that will test their resilience and their Sat-Navs in equal measure. Whatever criteria were used to draw up the schedule, logic doesn't appear to have been one of them. Between tomorrow and next Sunday, the route seems somewhat akin to the old American rock 'n' roll tours, where bookers picked up gigs anywhere and everywhere with scant disregard for the distance in between.

Sunday in Taunton, Monday in Derby, Wednesday in Bristol, Friday in Derby and Sunday at The Oval is like the bad old days of the John Player League, when championship games were interrupted by cross-country hikes with little regard for the welfare of players. After throwing yourself around all day, you ideally don't want to be sitting in a car for several hours, perhaps explaining why we have taken another bowler on loan, just in case.

At least the competition sees us play largely different opposition to the T20, which is something. Despite their being a first division side, this Somerset side is beatable, with no Gayle and no Trescothick from the T20. Their squad, captained by the dangerous Jimmy Allenby:

Jim Allenby (capt), Tom Abell, Michael Bates, Tom Cooper, Lewis Gregory, Tim Groenewald, James Hildreth, Jack Leach, Johann Myburgh, Craig Overton, Jamie Overton, Peter Trego and Max Waller.

As for Graeme Welch, he has matched a youthful-looking opposition with an equally young Derbyshire squad of rich potential:

Wes Durston
Billy Godleman
Hamish Rutherford
Chesney Hughes
Wayne Madsen
Alex Hughes
Shiv Thakor
Tom Poynton
Matt Critchley
Greg Cork
Ben Cotton
Mark Footitt

One would assume that Matt Critchley will be twelfth man, but there is good depth to the batting that at some point will bear fruit. The duration of the innings and the less frenetic manner of the cricket should suit us. If we can bowl with similar professionalism and skill as we did in the shortest form of the game, there is no reason why we should not do well in this competition.