Monday, 25 January 2021

When will we see your like again?

I wasn't sure whether to head this piece with a reference to The Corries O Flower of Scotland or the Three Degrees When Will I See You Again. Living north of the border, the former seemed more apposite, so I will go with that.

We have made late January in a month that seems to have gone on forever. But things are picking up. Our tubs have the shoots of fresh life coming up, while my parents have each had their first dose of Covid vaccine with no ill effects.

Me? I seem likely to get my first at the end of February or early March, with the second to follow sometime in April, maybe even May. It seems to knock on the head, even at this early stage, any hope of getting down to Chester le Street to see Derbyshire play Durham, even if we are allowed into grounds in small numbers by then.

Indeed, I am resigning myself to again seeing no 'live' cricket this summer. Of course I will be watching the live streams, though I pine for seeing old friends at the ground and enjoying the chat as we watch our heroes. We don't yet know what the full season format will be but July and August are likely to be ruled out for me by family stuff and work commitments. One of these years I must get down to Chesterfield, but it doesn't look likely this time around.

It's a pity, but I am looking forward to watching Ben McDermott in our colours and we seem to have pulled out a special player in the Australian wicket-keeper batsman. He certainly strikes a clean ball and will be worth watching, just like the rest of the side.

If we can get Sean Abbott over too, our side will be a match for most. With depth in batting, plenty of players with reputations to build and youth very much on their side, this will be a very exciting summer. 

I can't wait!

Sunday, 10 January 2021

The countdown is on..

By my quick calculation this morning, we are now only 88 days from Derbyshire'opening match of the 2021 season, against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

At a time when the days seem so short and are bitterly cold, that though is welcoming. We are still no wiser as to whether supporters will be welcome, but I would bet a shiny shekel that most supporters would take settling down in front of their smart TV or computer right now, if they couldn't. 

No doubt the work is going on behind the scenes, while Ben McDermott appears in fine form over in Oz. He seems to be endangering those outside grounds as much as those within and appears to be a terrific hitter of a ball. That shouldn't mask the fact that he is a fine batsman, however, as he is far from a slogger. 

There will be a quandary, however for who takes the T20 team this year. Hard as it is to say it, I am not sure that Billy Godleman would get into a first choice T20 side as things stand. My top seven would be Reece, McDermott, Madsen, du Plooy, Wood, Hughes and Critchley, for what it is worth. There is serious firepower in that line up and I would certainly utilise Tom Wood, behind a top four that would make the thirsty salivate.. 

I mean no disrespect to Billy, who will doubtless score heavily in other formats, but a break would do him no harm and the captaincy could go to Luis or Alex. 

If we can pick up Sean Abbott to open the bowling, he offers additional batting power and the team starts to shape up well. 

It is something to think about in the coming weeks, for sure. 

Stay well, and keep in touch! 

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Merry Christmas!

There is just time before the festivities and excitement start to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the best for 2021.

If has been a challenging year for all of us. Many have lost loved ones and the changes to our lives have presented fresh challenges. 

I apologise for the comparative lack of winter blogging, but while I escapes the worst ravages of Covid-19, I have had the issue of what doctors think is 'long Covid' to deal with. It saw me off work for four months in the summer and struggling with chronic fatigue since. Writing has been more of a challenge than it ever has been, or should be, so I have been putting out what was required, when I was able to do so.

Hopefully the passing of time will aid recovery and by the time April comes around I will be more like my normal self. 

I haven't said anything up to now, but I know there are others in a similar situation and I hope it reassures you that you aren't alone. Thankfully my family are fine and we have a lovely Christmas to look forward to. I will get there too, but I just wanted to assure you that I haven't lost interest in the blog! 

Thank you all for your support in 2020 and here's to a 2021 that is full of exciting cricket and a Derbyshire side that, while young, can compete with the best.

I look forward to seeing them, hopefully in person, at various parts of the summer. 

Keep well and have a lovely Christmas and New Year! 

Friday, 18 December 2020

Kirby leaves for Somerset

There is a big appointment coming up for Derbyshire at the end of January, as Steve Kirby leaves his role as county bowling coach to take on a similar position at one of his old counties, Somerset.

He has made a big impression in the last two years and been a major factor in the development of young bowlers. He helped Mikey Cohen settle in this country by having him lodge with him and is credited for his role in their development by several young bowlers.

It was always likely to be a short term role for a highly regarded coach. He has made a big impression and the key for Derbyshire is now in the appointment of the successor. 

Having lost the services of Ravi Rampaul with the fall out from Brexit, then decided against offering a new deal to Tony Palladino, the club has thrown all its eggs into the youth basket where bowling is concerned.

Of the current bowlers on the staff, only Luis Reece can be considered experienced at this level, with Messrs Conners, Aitchison, Cohen, Melton and Hudson-Prentice all having much less than a full season of the first - class game behind them. They will hope that Sean Abbott is able to become the attack's spearhead, assuming he is allowed to play by the Australian cricket authorities, but the new bowling coach will have an obvious key role at the club.

Many will look to Tony Palladino as an option, which I would be happy with. Yet I understand he is starting a new role outside the game in the new year and he may or may not wish to return to county cricket. 

Perhaps former county favourite Graham Wagg could be another option, though whether he is ready to call time on his playing career is a big question. There was a time when Steffan Jones would have been perfect, but he has a globe-trotting niche as a fast bowling expert now and we would be unlikely to be able to afford him.

There will be other options and plenty of interest, for sure. 

The importance of the appointment cannot be underestimated. 

Thursday, 17 December 2020

First round of four day fixtures out

The fixtures are out and we can start planning annual leave, days in the sun and watching Derbyshire play some cricket.

Theoretically, at least. 

Covid-19 notwithstanding, I would like to think that at least socially distanced cricket watching may be possible next summer. We have a strong group with reigning champions Essex in it (playing at Chesterfield too!) while Durham, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire make up the numbers.

It is always Nottinghamshire, of course and would be if we were having a karaoke competition. But we showed last year, in that most memorable of games at Trent Bridge, that we can beat them. There is no one to be frightened of and Dave Houghton, on the club site today, has reason to be bullish about our chances.

I am most excited about the away game against Durham. The scheduling of this means I  could see at least three days of the game and not need to take annual leave, so I will keep an eye on that one, for sure.

Mind you, it is in April. The Riverside is pretty chilly at the best of times and I will need to ensure plenty of layers of clothing for that one!

Playing each side home and away in the first conference makes sense and here's hoping for plenty of dry weather, an end to Covid and some fine cricket from the Derbyshire side...

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Melton signs on as overseas player

With no disrespect intended to an extremely likeable bloke, today's announcement of Dustin Melton as one of Derbyshire's overseas players for 2021 will have raised a few eyebrows.

I cannot think of another player who has been given such a 'gig' after a short first-class career in which he has taken just ten first-class wickets at 38 runs each.

It is a leap of faith in some eyes and undoubtedly a surprise.

And yet, if you give the subject due consideration, it makes a lot of sense. In limited appearances last season, Dustin took eight first-class wickets at 29, bowling with pace and hostility, not unlike a latter-day Ole Mortensen in his aggressive style. He ran in hard, zipped it about and got good wickets with a high level of fitness that let him bowl for long spells. He showed, in bowling the successful final over against Leicestershire in the T20, that he handles pressure well. 

I liked him when I first saw him in the second team, his pace disconcerting a few at that level, though his wayward, nervy debut against Australia was not fully indicative of his talent.

He can still be prone to a wayward spell, as in the second innings against Lancashire at Liverpool last year, but there is potential there. His progress under Steve Kirby is marked and another winter of work should see further development.

Dustin will take a place in a young seam attack featuring Ben Aitchison, Michael Cohen, Sam Conners and possibly an overseas seamer, with good support from a plethora of all rounders.

I suspect that the challenges of finding overseas players for next year played a part. No one knows what the global impact of Covid-19 will continue to be, or how much cricket will be played at this stage. A limited number of players will want to commit to such a role, especially in a slog around the county circuit for several months. Finances will also play a part, with the club's income streams reduced this year and potentially next.

Engaging Melton while he qualifies to play in this country by residence makes sense in the long-term. The experience may benefit us for years to come and I have no doubt that he will work very hard to continue his improvement. By 2022 he should be English-qualified. 

I wish him well. With Ben McDermott also engaged for one-day cricket, one assumes the third permitted overseas player (two can play in any match) will be a seam bowler or an all rounder. No doubt close tabs are being kept on Sean Abbott, but a player who will offer with bat and ball, especially in the one-day game, will be highly prized. A spinner would be nice for late season, but there aren't too many in the world game who are willing or able to come. 

In closing, congratulations to Dustin. He is a lovely bloke, unless he is 22 yards away with a ball in his hand. The club's social media today highlighted what it means to him and how grateful he is for the opportunity. 

It could turn out to be an inspired bit of work by Dave Houghton and is worth keeping an eye on.

With decent luck and continued hard work, Dustin will get his share of wickets next season. 

And beyond. 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

McDermott confirmed for 2021 one-days

Regardless of whether he keeps wicket or not, Ben McDermott will be a massive player for Derbyshire in one-day cricket next summer.

The powerful Australian top order batsman is the first confirmed piece of the overseas jigsaw for 2021. His presence in the Blast and the Royal London Cup will give a huge boost to an already powerful top order.

At 25 he has already played two T20 internationals for his country and has a highest score of 114 from just 58 balls. His explosive power seems perfect for opening the innings, though he could equally be used for late innings rope-clearing impetus.

His ability to keep wicket will also enable us to play an extra batsman or bowler and already our batting line up for the one-day game looks powerful.

It also gives Derbyshire supporters an extra incentive to follow the Big Bash in Australia, even if that competition has more gimmicks than is good for the game this year. 

Here's hoping that Ben's stint in county colours, sadly delayed from this year, will be a long and successful one.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Ben! 

Friday, 20 November 2020

Book Review: A Celebration of Derbyshire County Cricket Club 150 Year Anniversary by John Shawcroft

For any Derbyshire cricket fan, the writings of John Shawcroft are the standard by which others should be judged.

He has done several books over the years, including the outstanding Local Heroes, on the 1936 Championship winning side, as well as the original version of this book, the centenary history of the club up to 1970.

I have two copies of that book, a using one which is well-thumbed and another that is fairly pristine and signed by numerous County legends I have met over the years. With those books among my desert island picks, it was a reasonable bet that I would find this one to my taste. 

I opted for the subscriber edition, in recognition for what the club has meant to me over the years and quite frankly it is magnificent. 

The book has been updated, of course but the original text (with any amendments required) is enhanced still further with photographs from the club's archive and others taken by David Griffin. It breaks the text into manageable chunks that can be read in a tea break, or before lights out at bed time. They are fascinating and contribute to a book that should be on every county supporters Christmas list, if they haven't already got it, of course.

Bob Taylor's foreword sets the scene nicely and his photograph at the end neatly bookends the 256 pages that simply fly by. 

I am flattered to have been included in John's acknowledgements at the front and it is nice to see the input of former players over the years acknowledged too. As the author says himself, their anecdotes add the seasoning to the text and make it all the more special. 

If you are a Derbyshire supporter you really must own this book, as it will rekindle memories for all of you. If you don't support the club you should still buy it, because it is an overview of the county scene over 150 years that will be tough to beat. 

Warm congratulations to John and to David Griffin for their work.

The final product has met all expectations. And then some...

A Celebration of Derbyshire Cricket:150 Year Anniversary is written by John Shawcroft and available from Derbyshire County Cricket Club

Friday, 13 November 2020

Good news on and off the pitch

Old Supporter beat me to the draw this week, with his update on the superb form shown by Sean Abbott and Ben McDermott in Australia.

Abbott's extraordinary form has seen him called 'the country's form player' and he currently averages 130 with the bat, to go with fourteen wickets at the same average. It has earned him a call up to his country's Test squad and rightly so.

He has been around the international setup for a while but the strength of Australian quick bowling has kept him out of contention up until now. Yet such stellar form cannot be ignored and he may well get a game or two this winter. What that would mean to Derbyshire's chances of him coming over next summer is anyone's guess. On the one hand it could give him the chance to broaden his experience, but they might also want to protect him from overwork.

Meanwhile Ben McDermott is averaging nearly seventy and has been racking up some big scores. Frustratingly he gets out before adding to his list of first-class centuries and that will be something he will want to build on. Four fifties so far is good going, but he will hope that is the basis for progress, rather than the pinnacle. 

Both players are hoped to take up the contracts that were there for last summer, subject to clearance by the Australian cricket authorities. 

Meanwhile, back home Nick Potts has won a rookie contract with the club after impressing in training and for the England development set up.

At 18, he is the latest from what is becoming a very good academy production line and it is encouraging to see this starting to produce the goods after too many barren years.

They have a good man in charge with Daryn Smit and I fully expect to see more lads coming through to join what is a young senior squad.

All this and an imminent vaccine too.. who knows, we might get to see some cricket next year, live and in the flesh. 

Now THAT would be special! 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

150th to be celebrated next year

This week's news, that the club's 150th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021 was welcome, if expected.

There were a lot of events planned, some at the embryonic stage and others further advanced, but for me it always made more sense to celebrate in the year of the playing of the first match. 

The public meeting to agree the club being established was in November, 1870, but the first game was played in May of the following year.

It is wholly appropriate that the celebrations take place in the 150th year after that game, though of course with the centenary celebrated in 1970, the next celebration ideally had to follow on. 

There will doubtless be merchandise available, which I look forward to purchasing and if it is of comparable standard to the commemorative book I received this week, written by John Shawcroft, there will be no complaints.

A full review of this will appear soon, but for now I will say but three words. 

It is magnificent. 

Book Review: The Life Of A Sports Agent - The Middleman by Luke Sutton

Agents eh? The ruination of sport and the root cause of many of its issues. They make loads of money, rip off their clients, don't really do that much and are perceived as 'sharks' by perhaps too many people for comfort.

And yet.. like any other profession there are a minority who tarnish the good name of plenty of others, working quietly and professionally under the radar. Like Luke Sutton, the former Derbyshire cricketer and captain. 

Regular readers will recall my review of his fairly harrowing first book, which dealt with his ultimately successful battles with his addictions. Many were oblivious to this in his playing days, just as there will be plenty who are unaware of the range of work involved in being a successful agent.

I am grateful to Luke for sending a copy of his excellent book to me ahead of its publication date at the end of this month. It is a really good read, full of relatable stories and names that will aid understanding of the work that agents do.

What impressed me most, as in his first book, is his honesty. He doesn't claim to have got everything right, freely admitting to mistakes along the way, but that is only natural. We are all human after all, but the detailed 'case studies' of his relationship with four very different clients are fascinating.

There are cricketers James Taylor and Jimmy Anderson, Olympic gymnast and social media star Nile Wilson and Olympic hockey gold medallist and now multi-faceted personality Samantha Quek, all profiled in detail alongside others, who flit in and out of the pages.

Each has enjoyed their time in the limelight but have faced challenges away from it. Taylor's heart condition that caused his premature retirement is well-documented, but hearing it from a man who first helped support him and then find a new career is fascinating. Equally so that of Wilson, who had it all yet could quite easily have lost it, but for support from his family and an agent who had 'been there' himself. Meanwhile Quek emerges as a shrewd and talented young woman, savvy enough to reject lucrative modelling offers so as not to distract from what she was really about, an articulate, personable and knowledgeable commentator on a range of sports, who was helped by an honest agent to escape the restrictive 'bubble' of hockey.

Luke's honesty and support will have been appreciated by all of them. It is not about signing lucrative deal after deal, it is being there for them in the bad times, advising them correctly on the many offers that come their way, being organised, understanding the media and working with them. Indeed, what impressed me was how his clients were encouraged to develop their interactions and profiles on social media and use it properly. 

'The highs are beautiful, but the lows can be very dark' he writes. By the end of the book I was left with the feeling that were I sufficiently famous I could work with someone like Luke. Friendly, accessible, supportive and seemingly calm under pressure, he has established a strong roster of clients and understandably so. 

The book is a must read for anyone thinking of such a career, but also for those who enjoy a different angle on sports, celebrity and the challenges faced by those perceived to have it all. 

Cricket fans will find much to enjoy, as the likes of Peter Moores, Haseeb Hamid, Tom Moores and plenty of others flit through the pages. Yet the real fascination for me was in seeing how Quek and Wilson, successful in niche sports, were helped to become broader and successful personalities outside of the sports that made their name. 

It deserves to do well and I would heartily recommend it to be added to your festive wish list. 

The Life Of A Sports Agent: The Middleman is written by Luke Sutton and published by White Owl, priced £12.99.

Available from all good book shops. 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Young trio sign new deals

There was good news for three young Derbyshire players yesterday, as Tom Wood, Nils Priestley and Mattie McKiernan were all awarded contracts for 2021.

For McKiernan it is a chance to show himself as more than a talented bit part player, an opportunity to stake a claim as a regular. We know he can bat a bit, bowl some useful leg spin and field brilliantly anywhere, but those disciplines need to kick on now, in much the same way showed by Anuj Dal in 2020.

For Priestley, it is a proper chance to show what he can do. A powerful batsman and developing spinner, he is made for the short forms of the game, but had little opportunity this year to enhance his claims in league and second eleven cricket. A winter of hard work around his studies could see him make the next step in 2021.

As for Wood, it is well deserved and some may say overdue. It is also reward for consistency at all levels below the first - class game over several years. His challenge, if you like, is to show that someone who doesn't look a natural athlete can still score heavily at County level. I am not saying he is fat, as he is some way from that, but he is a powerfully built lad and in an era where whippets are expected, he doesn't conform. Having said that, he has a good pair of hands and showed in two innings at Headingley this year that he is not fazed by status or reputation. He is, in short, a very good batsman. 

Tom, Alex Hughes, Nils, Brooke Guest and Harvey Hosein can all stake a claim for a place in the county top six, especially in the four-day game. Then again, with continued development so can Anuj Dal. With such healthy competition Derbyshire can continue to develop as a club. I think we are a couple of seam bowlers light, at present, but that recruitment likely lies ahead over the winter.

I just wondered if there might be interest in Graeme Wagg, who has rejected an offer from Glamorgan to pursue an opportunity elsewhere. While he is of comparable age to Tony Palladino and Ravi Rampaul, he is an experienced all round cricketer who remains in good form, based on last summer. He likely has two or three good years in him in all formats, or could do a Darren Stevens and go on still further. 

While not in favour of signing cricketers for one last pay day, as was once our raison d'etre, a return to the club where he made his name might make sense for player and club, if the money was right. We don't have experience among the seamers and an old head with plenty to offer them, as well as lengthening the batting, holds appeal. 

We'll see, but as the rain lashes down on our windows, next summer cannot come quickly enough. 

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Next year's format announced

All things being equal, Derbyshire will have fourteen four-day fixtures next summer.

All we need now is a green light in the intervening period for supporters to attend, together with ECB scheduling that sees them played across weekends and there is much to like for the fan of traditional cricket. 

Groups have been worked out based on this year's performances, thus Derbyshire are in a group with Essex, the reigning champions, Durham, Nottinghamshire (of course), Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Each will be played home and away, with the top two going into the first division of the next stage, the next two the second, etc.

The final groups will see each team play four matches, with their average points against the team they played in the first group carried through. The final positions will decide prize money and if the same format is then retained for 2022, it will decide the seedings.

I am OK with it, even though it is yet another group with our dear neighbours, who seem to follow us around. Essex will be a challenging but nice change, while few would not enjoy a trip to Worcester. 

We now need to see how the next few months pan out and how the squad shapes up. By my calculation we currently have 16 on the staff, including the two overseas and two wicket keepers.

Decisions will need to be made on others in the near future, both existing staff and prospective incomers. 

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Aitchison signs two-year deal

Spookily enough, within seconds of publishing my last post, news broke of a two-year deal for Ben Aitchison.

It is well-deserved. Once he had got a nervous early spell out of his system at Trent Bridge, Ben looked the business. He has a grooved action and looked in control of the ball at all times. I am sure he would have been an asset in the T20, but an ankle injury sustained in warm ups ended his season prematurely.

I have high hopes for young Mr Aitchison and expect him to take a lot of wickets in the years ahead. Under the shrewd tutelage of Steve Kirby he will only get better.

One to watch, for sure. 

Good work by Derbyshire in securing his services and it is good to hear how happy he is after his first summer with us. 

Planning begins with caution for 2021

Like other counties around the country, Derbyshire have begun planning for next season, our 150th, as early as ever but with caution.

They cannot do otherwise at present, with uncertainty on when off field income generation can resume and if spectators are likely next summer. 

One would hope that will be the case, but the lucrative concerts, the fireworks night and the festive parties will all be impossible this year. It has put a sizeable hole in finances and the club will doubtless be careful on what they do at present.

What they will almost certainly do is offer contracts to players who have impressed on short term ones. That being the case I will be massively disappointed if there is no announcement of a deal for Ben Aitchison soon. He could have done little more this summer to earn a permanent deal and I see him as a fixture in our side for the next few years. 

Likewise, if there is any justice in this world Tom Wood will get a deal. My astonishment at his lack of opportunity, especially in the T20, has yet to dissipate, but a season contract is right for both player and club. 

I still feel he has a role at either three, with Wayne Madsen dropping to five, or at five himself, where his power would be useful against a tiring attack. Of course, both Alex Hughes and Matt Critchley will have designs on that berth, but competition is seldom a bad thing. 

There are a few players being released around the country, but question marks on finances will preclude new signings for many at this stage. I think both Luke Wells and Harry Finch will get a deal elsewhere, having surprisingly been released by Sussex, while Toby Lester is too talented a left arm seamer to not get picked up after his Lancashire release.

If not signed elsewhere, he struck me as a 'Derbyshire' signing. He will be well known to Mal Loye and several members of the staff, with only a question mark over his fitness in the past. A talented bowler though, for sure.

Several Kolpaks have been released around the shires, but my understanding, as I have written before, is that both Michael Cohen and Leus du Plooy will be fine. They have European passports and can continue to work towards being England - qualified.

The case of Dustin Melton is less clear. While he qualifies on grounds of residence next year, I understand that this may be too late for him to be considered for a deal in 2021, other than as an overseas player. 

I like him a lot and rate him, but think that is unlikely at this stage, so we may need to wait to see him in county colours again-- if there is still interest, of course.

With Palladino and Rampaul both presumably gone and McKiernan and Priestley at the end of deals, we look to be low on numbers at this stage.

Expect things to happen,  but apart from those already on the staff, perhaps not yet. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Bert Richardson

With the passing of Bert Richardson, Derbyshire cricket has lost one of its few remaining 1950s players.

Indeed, from the fine team that started that decade, only Edwin Smith remains, thankfully still in good health as a conversation this week confirmed. Harold Rhodes is still with us too, as are Keith Mohan and Peter Eyre, but many of those heroes are long gone, but not forgotten.

Bert Richardson was not a regular in the Derbyshire side, but he played 27 first-class matches between 1950 and 1953, with a best score of 29. He was an orthodox slow left arm bowler and took 33 wickets, with a best of 4-39 against Hampshire. The advent of Edwin Smith in 1951 saw his opportunities dwindle and he drifted from the county game two years later.

He was a regular at former players events for many years, but had been in poor health for some time. I had hoped to interview him for my second book, but it proved to be impossible. 

He was the earliest surviving county debutant, a mantle that now passes to Edwin Smith.

Rest In Peace, Bert. 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Tony Palladino: an appreciation

 It will be a very different Derbyshire next season, with no Tony Palladino running in from the Media Centre end after ten years of service. With Ravi Rampaul also unlikely to return, unless as an overseas player, there will be little experience in the seam attack.

At 37, Tony was unlikely to be the bowler that he has been and any deal was only likely to be for one year anyway. From the club's perspective, he will be one of the bigger earners but generally only plays one format, so I do appreciate the rationale.

It is also hard to be overly critical of the decision without knowing the plans that Dave Houghton has and who is (presumably) going to come in. The one sure thing in sport is that however good or loyal you have been, the end comes for everyone and it is rarely on their terms.

That there is an abundance of talent in the young seamers who played this year is undeniable. Ben Aitchison, Michael Cohen, Sam Conners and perhaps Dustin Melton will be the ones for next summer, with support from the all rounders and, one assumes, an overseas player. That the county, like others around the country, has to balance the books post-Covid 19 is also undeniable. I don't know the true picture, but without a lot of off-field income the playing budget must have taken a hit and the only way to try and sort that is in players at the end of contracts. From the club's perspective again, the savings from Tony and Ravi may enable recruitment in key areas and/or allow us to stay within view of a break even, or at least minimise the loss.

But it hurts. It will be hurting Tony right now and anyone who has been in similar positions will empathise. He has been an outstanding cricketer for the club, since his arrival from Essex. You always knew that he would test techniques, take wickets and at the very least keep things quiet on the shirt fronts. He ran in as hard at the end of the day as he did at the start and over the course of those ten seasons was a reliable bowler, the club's highest wicket-taker of the 21st century.

He could bat too. There was that memorable century against Australia A, plenty of key contributions when others had failed and some uncomplicated hitting that enlivened many an innings. I always got the impression of a good team man, another reason why, in ideal circumstances, he would have been useful for one more year to advise the young bowlers, take a spell when the going got tough.

But it is not to be. I feel for supporters too, as many would have loved the opportunity to say goodbye and wish him well in person. I have got to know Tony over the past decade and always enjoyed the experience. We had a long chat in the bar in the aftermath of the title win in 2012, plenty of others when I was able to visit the County Ground at other times. He was no different to me than to plenty of others, friendly, courteous and thoroughly professional, always with a regular smile. 

At the end of the day 'professional' is the most apposite word for Tony. I have recorded his career with us in interview last winter, which you can find if new to the blog. I wish him the very best for his future and suspect that someone will end up with a very good coach when he gets the opportunity. They will get a top bloke, for sure.

It has been my pleasure to watch him and to get to know him. The club will continue, of course and although he will be hurting right now, I am sure that his next role is just around the corner.

For all the young bowlers at the club, Tony Palladino has set the benchmark for you. If you can reach his standards on the field and be as well-regarded off it, you will do all right.

Go well, TP. You will be sorely missed and thank you for the memories.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Dean Jones

The desperately sad news today of the death of former Derbyshire overseas player and captain, Dean Jones, has cast a shadow over the world of cricket. 

'The Professor' was a thinker, analyst and commentator on the game which he graced for many years. He was one of the finest Australian middle-order batsmen and even now would likely get into an all-time one-day side from that country. 

His time at Derbyshire was short, but memorable. 

The dressing room of the mid-1990s was full of talent, yet a strong-willed and disparate bunch of players often seemed to lack direction. The atmosphere could change as frequently as the wind direction, but one had the feeling that if someone could galvanise this group of players they could do something special.

There had been a number of blunt-speaking players in our legendary team of the 1930s, of course, but Arthur Richardson had overcome any personal shortcomings as a player to lead the side with considerable skill to top three positions in 1934 and 1935 before taking the title in 1936. Something similar looked feasible in 1995, but a dressing room that was all too easily fragmented needed a strong leader.

Enter Dean Jones for the 1996 season, as close to the stereotypical Australian as you could wish for. Hard as nails, blunt and with a never-say-die attitude that was just what the doctor ordered. With the benefit of hindsight it was never going to last, but it was, without doubt, magnificent while it did.

Jones was a fixture in a fine Australian side and came with the reputation as being perhaps the best one-day batsman in the world, a title for which only Michael Bevan could challenge him. By the end of the 1996 season, 'Deano' had confirmed himself as an outstanding player, but proven it across all formats. He had also, despite a brusque, often confrontational persona, managed to turn a side of talented individuals into a team that came tantalisingly close to championship success.

Jones scored 1502 championship runs at 52 that summer, but he inspired Chris Adams to over 1700 runs, while Kim Barnett contributed 1400. Adrian Rollins passed a thousand too, while Karl Krikken averaged 40 from almost 900 runs down the order. Individually and collectively, there have been few seasons when Derbyshire have batted better. Jones added a further 1151 runs at 68 in the one-day games. 2653 runs in a summer led firmly by example, which was the Deano way. 

Having addressed Derbyshire's perennial weaker suit, an attack featuring Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork and Phil de Freitas was always likely to win games. Jones set bold fields, encouraged and cajoled his charges and finished the season with a side that managed second place behind Leicestershire. With his friend and coach from Victoria, Les Stillman, Jones became an instant hero. Younger players loved him, older ones, for a season at least, tolerated and responded to his way of working. 

As a batsman he had all the shots, strong on anything short, unforgiving on the overpitched ball. His footwork was quick and precise, with perhaps his strongest area between mid-wicket and mid-on. A strong bottom hand, like MS Dhoni today, often saw any bowling shortcomings treated savagely in that area. 

 Yet it was his running between the wickets that seemed an even stronger suit and so impressed me. When he was batting, ones became twos, twos became threes... Derbyshire looked professional, challenging....good. We took quick singles, where previously batsmen might have held the pose of a correct defensive stroke. It was magnificent to watch.

Like Peter Kirsten before him, Jones played himself in and worked the ball around before unveiling a wide array of shots. He was not a stylist, like Mohammad Azharuddin, but generally looked to be balanced, composed and in control at the crease. In over forty years of cricket watching, he remains the best pacer of a run chase I have seen, never seeming to panic if the run rate mounted. He worked the ball around, timed his shots so there were two to a boundary fielder, chipped over the infield and clubbed it to and over the boundary . He would have made a fortune in the IPL, so it is ironic that his death, from a heart attack, came while employed as a commentator on that competition. 

The 'season of Deano' was magnificent yet, like all good things, it could not last. He returned for 1997 but went home in June, the dressing room once again split into factions. Senior members of the side found his abrasive style of leadership hard to deal with and a player with a track record of fall-outs back home decided he simply didn't need the hassle. His departure set off a chain of events that arguably took fifteen years from which to recover, ensuing winters seeing the gradual departure of key members of a very good side.

Whatever his personal foibles - and we all have them - cricket history will see Dean Jones as an outstanding player. His many fine Test innings, including the legendary one at Madras where he ended up on a saline drip after eight hours in the intense heat, confirm he was much more than a one-day scamperer. While he was batting, irrespective of the match situation, you always felt there was a chance of salvaging something. That is a rare and special gift for any player.

His commentary career was not without controversy but he came through it and was respected as an honest and analyst and commentator on the game that he graced for many years. 

Rest in Peace, Deano. 

You will always be a legend in Derbyshire. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

End of season T20 Blast review

Writing a review of the T20 season this summer is quite different from last year, and indeed from writing the Bob Willis Trophy review a few short weeks ago.

We never got going this year in the short format and frankly didn't look an especially good team.

There were mitigating circumstances, of course. We played all our matches elsewhere, there were no overseas players and we badly missed Ravi Rampaul, not just for the wickets he took or the tight spells he bowled, but also for the effect on the opposition. They had to take greater risks against the others when Ravi was at one end and in much the same way that others profited when Jackson and Gladwin were bowling in their usual parsimony, wickets often fell as a consequence. Fynn Hudson-Prentice was also missed, a thigh injury wrecking his season and robbing us of not just a fine bowler but a dangerous batsman. Nor was Ben Aitchison available, likely the most accurate of the youngsters who debuted in the summer.

Yet selection was odd. At one point Alex Hughes was omitted, which seemed strange for a player who would be first on many team sheets for this format. He responded as most would expect, but the decision to drop him was puzzling. Even more so the omission, until the last game, of Tom Wood. 

His game is naturally aggressive and you can look around the counties and see the successful sides all have a top order dasher. There was no real surprise in that he scored a 31-ball half century against a decent home attack, more so in that Dominic Cork opted not to include him until then, when the top four was misfiring like an old car. The non-utilisation of a lad who has been the most prolific home-grown batsman in at least a decade at lower levels remains a mystery. If there is any justice, an opportunity to break into the top five next year should be forthcoming, because in common with many of you I don't think he got that this year. For the life of me, I can't rationalise that one.

Last year the success of the side was in a top four who chased down any target or set one beyond the compass of most opponents. It was clear, when we lost however, that it was to sides who generally opened the bowling with slow bowlers. Both Luis Reece and Billy Godleman are fine players, but more destructive against seam than spin. We rarely got a start and were quickly two down, too quickly, too often for comfort. The change should have been made earlier, proactive rather than reactive, because we had been 'sussed'.

For all his success last year, I am not sure Billy is a right 'fit' for T20 and until we score at more than six an over in the powerplay, we won't win many matches. Maybe next year a T20 specialist skipper is needed, letting Billy concentrate on the formats where he is undoubtedly excellent and letting him have the breather which all players need. He averaged 'only' a run a ball in the competition, which really isn't enough.

While perhaps not the force of his younger years, Wayne Madsen remained the key wicket and, as the best player of spin in the club, would be an obvious choice at the top of the order another year. He and Du Plooy scored the only other fifties in the ten matches, which was the crux of the problem. Any of the top four were likely to be sought after for the Hundred after last year's exploits, but Madsen's top average of 24 told a story. Luis Reece played only one innings of note and looked jaded after a lot of work in the four-day game, while Du Plooy for the first time slipped from a lofty pedestal. Both will surely return to erstwhile glories next year, when normality hopefully resumes

Matt Critchley and Alex Hughes played some handy cameos and largely reproduced their 2019 form with the ball, but there were insufficient runs to play with and neither was able to play a game-changing innings when required. This was mainly because they had to press the accelerator from the start - such cameos would have been fine in a better performing batting side.

Of the seamers, Dustin Melton looked the best, perhaps that latter-day incarnation of Ole Mortensen in his intensity, though with some way still to go in the sustained accuracy to match the aggression. Michael Cohen troubled with his pace and, with a better radar could be a serious talent, as could be said for Sam Conners in this format.

Mattie McKiernan finished top in the economy averages, and is a solid, if not spectacular player. The same could be said of Anuj Dal, whose bowling might have been better utilised and whose fleet-footed running was an asset in the field, as well as the closing overs if he got in. Meanwhile the two wicket-keepers shared duties, although Brooke Guest looked better suited to the style of batting required than Harvey Hosein. They are equally good behind the stumps and it will be interesting to see if either forces their way ahead in 2021. However, in a limited staff there is likely to be discussion on whether another keeper is the right way forward for next year, when Ben McDermott is pencilled in to play. Mind you, McDermott and Wood might be an opening pair to savour...

As for the coach, it may be that we go a different way in 2021. Dominic Cork is shrewd and intelligent, so will know a coach is only as good as his team statistics in the season just finished. Despite last year's success and the mitigating circumstances, one win in ten games and the worst record in the country confirms a disappointing campaign. Most noticeable was a drop in fielding standards, which reached its nadir on that awful night at The Riverside.

With four coaches already on the staff, perhaps the additional cost could go to the playing budget next year, with Mal Loye a likely candidate for the T20 role. 

As always, I welcome your thoughts on any or all of the above, just as I appreciate your support through the last few hectic months.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Derbyshire v Yorkshire

Still away at present, folks and won't see the game today.

Please put your comments in below and I will again make them live as soon as I  able.

Fingers crossed we finish with a win!