Tuesday, 31 March 2009

What a philosophical lot...

So half of those who voted reckon that Derbyshire will win some and lose some this season. Fair enough really. We're probably not world-beaters (yet!) but I'd hope that we're more competitive in one dayers especially this year.
Yet one third of you felt that we were going to be a surprise package this season. Hopefully that means we'll be even better than expected, rather than worse. Before the departure of Charl Langeveldt to the IPL I'd have been with you and still think we can improve on last season if he returns fit and well from his 20/20 sojourn.
Of course, a small percentage think we'll be rubbish, while a slightly larger one thinks that we'll be hotter than hot.

Not long till we find out now!

Anyway, time for this week's poll. Stuart Law - inspired bit of business by John Morris or a desperate signing of a player past his peak? You decide.

No blog tomorrow as I've got my first pre-season nets at the club. Two hours in a new sports facility and we're treading on virginal matting and drawing the nets out for the very first time. Fantastic.

Just hope that I can move on Thursday morning and that I don't ache in places I never knew I had.

See you soon!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Derbyshire Legends 10 - John Morris (1964 - )

With a new season around the corner, the time is right to continue the series on the finest players to wear Derbyshire colours and it is apposite to make the first one of 2009 the current Derbyshire coach.

It was patently obvious when John Morris first appeared for Derbyshire that he was a player out of the ordinary. Having been brought up on what my Dad always called "Nudgers and Fudgers", it was refreshing to see a young Derbyshire player who was not afraid to hit the ball and who played many of his best shots in front of the wicket. On his day he looked as good as anyone around and it was inevitable that international honours would come his way.

Yet John Morris will ultimately go down in history as a man who didn't quite make the most of his talent. His three Tests saw him average just over 23 while eight one day internationals produced a similar return. Like Kim Barnett, he was deserving of greater opportunity but did himself no favours with the infamous Tiger Moth episode on the Australian tour of 1990-91. He returned from the tour effectively written off as a maverick, but Morris was to play innings of brilliance on a regular basis for another decade before his retiral in 2001.

Sadly, a number of these were played for Durham from 1993 and then for Nottinghamshire. Morris became disaffected with the Derbyshire dressing room and it became patently obvious that he was going to leave. I recall a Sunday fixture at Derby when he was captain for the day and disappeared to deep square leg for a time, looking thoroughly bored. He subsequently made a habit of scoring heavily against Derbyshire, even if form was increasingly evasive as the years advanced.

Yet at the end of a career when he racked up 52 hundreds and 104 fifties, Morris will go down, not just as an ultimately unfulfilled talent but as a batsman who at times bordered on genius. In our successful Sunday League Refuge Assurance win in 1990, we had an excellent batting side and the triumvirate of Barnett, Bowler and Morris gave the innings wonderful starts. With Bruce Roberts, Adrian Kuiper and Chris Adams to follow there was plenty of firepower yet one always felt that Morris vied with Barnett as the best of all. Kuiper was the finisher supreme, yet "Animal" and Barnett were the key wickets. At Taunton that year, in response to a Somerset total of over 250, the pair opened our reply with a stand of 232 that thrilled all who saw it with the sheer brilliance of the strokeplay. The game was won off the last ball as Kuiper smashed a huge six to end one of the better run chases in our history.

Now John Morris is at the helm as club coach and it could yet be that his greatest legacy to Derbyshire cricket is in the creation of a young and talented squad that plays in his own image. Articulate, intelligent and affable, Morris' stock may yet run higher in Derbyshire folklore and we must hope that he is allowed time to develop the squad still further.

Don, John and Bob

There were two especially good pieces of news came from this week's AGM at Derbyshire.

The first was that Don Amott has been voted in as Chairman. The highly successful local businessman has been a huge asset to both Derbyshire cricket and to Derby County over the past few years. He was one of the consortium that restored a degree of sanity at Pride Park when the club looked set to go down the plughole, but his role at the County Ground has been even more valuable.

Besides appearing to be a voice of reason behind the scenes, the Amott era has restored a level of equilibrium to the club that seemed unlikely a few years back. We came to dread the winter months when there'd be the usual in-fighting and blood letting, usually ending with someone resigning in a fit of pique over (usually) playing matters and often the role of Messrs Cork or Barnett in the club.

Don Amott has led the club with great skill, copious amounts of charm and a rare affability. I've met him a couple of times and been impressed by his outgoing personality and his unending courtesy and willingness to talk to people. The latter is essential for such a role and Mr Amott has it and then some. At the same time he has not been afraid to make decisions when required, with the departure of David Houghton mid-season being a fine example of this. Both he and his wife have experienced illness in the past year although both appear on the road to recovery. I'm sure that I'm not alone in wishing them both better health for the future and in thanking Don for his work at the club.

He has sponsored various things throughout his tenure, with the electronic scoreboard being a fine example of his munificence. Then there's been kit sponsorship, match balls and more. The club and its supporters owe him a debt of gratitude and I hope that his involvement in the club continues for many years to come.

The other good news was the election of Bob Taylor as President for two years. "Brilliant Bob" we used to call him, back in the days when one of the highlights (sometimes the only one) of watching Derbyshire was trying to hear any noise from the ball hitting his gloves when he took returns from the outfield. So well did he take the ball that there rarely was. He seemed to suffer less than most keepers from broken fingers and it was an education watching him. I always fancied keeping wicket when I was young and it was all down to watching Bob. Sadly, natural talent was somewhat lacking (although byes were not) in my case so I contented myself with what might have been...

Like Don Amott, Bob was always aware of the role model aspect of being a public figure and he was always happy to talk and sign autographs. Curiously, having said that I never did manage to get his so there's something I need to address if possible in the near future.

With people like Don Amott and Bob Taylor behind the scenes, Derbyshire are as well equipped as any side in the country. I'm also still firmly in the pro-Morris camp for what its worth. His investment in Messrs Clarke and Doshi last season failed to produce anything worthwhile, but he should still be applauded for his work in attracting them here in the first instance. Similarly, selling Derbyshire to Charl Langeveldt and Wavell Hinds was good business, as was appointing Chris Rogers as skipper.

This winter has been relatively quiet, but Morris has put together a sound, youthful squad of talent and promise and his winter recruits have added versatility and talent. I'm convinced the signing of Garry Park will be a masterstroke - why else would Durham have wanted to keep him? Tim Groenewald has more to prove but he may well enjoy life after Edgbaston (who wouldn't...)

As for Stuart Law, we have signed a 40 year old who has played first class cricket for 20 years and averaged over 50 per innings. You cannot argue with those statistics and if he produces some of his best form we're going to enjoy this summer - big time.

Further thoughts on Langeveldt...

While I was washing the dishes earlier (yes, I'm a domestic God, just ask my wife - ha ha!)the realisation dawned that Langeveldt's absence for the FP Trophy will possibly mean that we could play that tournament with no tail whatsoever. Let's just revisit that side with Charl out:

Chris Rogers
Dan Birch
Stuart Law
Wavell Hinds
Garry Park
Greg Smith
James Pipe
Jon Clare
Graham Wagg
Tim Groenewald
Jake Needham

Considering Needham boasts a first class average with the bat that is close to his age (22) and Groenewald boasts FOURTEEN sixes in his 200-plus List A runs, we bat all the way down. John Morris may opt for the control that a fit Tom Lungley brings to the attack but he can also bat and could be accommodated by shuffling the order with perhaps Greg Smith opening with Chris Rogers.

Let's also not forget that Dan Redfern isn't in here. A bold move may see Morris open with Redfern and Rogers. Surely the best young batsman we have produced since Kim Barnett would benefit from time to play himself in, while potentially sharing the crease with two outstanding Australians? The extra responsibility was the making of the young Barnett and we can't leave this young tyro languishing in the Seconds for too long. Let's get him in and see how he goes.

Finally I spoke to my mate last night who plays for Scotland having grown up and played his early cricket in Brisbane. He told me he'd bowled at Stuart Law in Grade cricket and reckoned he was one of the very best players he'd ever bowled at and that his bat when he was in full cry looked the width of a door. Considering he played against the best in the last World Cup that is quite an accolade

And for someone who has watched enough Derbyshire players over 40 years apparently batting with an iced lolly stick, that was quite reassuring...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Final thought on the IPL

Meant to put this earlier, but the earlier news of Charl playing in the IPL took me back a few years.

More than a few in fact, as I recalled going to bed the night before Derbyshire were playing Hampshire in a televised game.

Being a good lad, I remember getting in bed after saying my prayers, which finished something along the lines of

"Please God, let Derbyshire win tomorrow but let Barry Richards make a good score"

Amazingly, both things came to pass...

So you'll understand me when I hope that Charl has a fantastic IPL and proves himself the world class 20/20 bowler we know he is.

However, I hope they get hammered in every game so he's back over here as soon as possible!

Charl goes so come on down...

After the early part of the week being spent in a state of excitement following the signing of Stuart Law, it is back to earth with a bang as news comes through that we will lose the services of Charl Langeveldt to the Indian Premier League between 18th April and 24th May.

By my calculations (albeit quick) that rules him out of three Championship matches and all but one/two of the FP trophy matches, depending on the time of his flights subsequently. It is, beyond a doubt, a blow to Derbyshire's prospects, especially in the one day competition that I saw as our best bet this season.

To be fair, however, there was little they could do about it. While the odd fan here and there may be outraged by his lack of loyalty, could anyone in their heart of hearts say that they wouldn't do the same? The chance to earn more in a month than in the rest of the season would tempt anyone. I enjoy my job, but if someone offered me another where I could just work for a month and earn the same money I would snatch their hand off...

So the onus now lies on others to fill the gap. Logic suggests Tom Lungley will be first choice to take his place, so long as his body is fully recovered from last year's various strains and pains. If not, there would appear an early opportunity for Tim Groenewald. Neither could be claimed to be as complete a bowler as Langeveldt, but both bring something extra to the side.

Lungley can dismiss the best on his day and when he has rhythm is himself a potent force. It is an important year for him after last season's problems as the club cannot carry an injury-prone bowler. Tom is also a worker in the field and offers something with the bat, although not as much as his double century in the local leagues a year or two back suggested. He and Graham Wagg are great mates and I suspect that one could feed off the success of the other. We'll see...

Tim Groenewald could otherwise get an early opportunity to impress. Known as a lively fast medium bowler who hits the deck, he has yet to fulfil the early promise he showed in his native South Africa, but could just be a later developer and another who benefits from a change of county. In recent years we've had Tim Munton, "Pop" Welch and Graham Wagg from Warwickshire. The latter two were unqualified successes while Munton was still a fine bowler. If Groenewald shows that level of ability we'll be more than happy.

He also brings a reputation as a fine fielder and a huge hitter of a ball in the lower order. It may be that the compromise is that Lungley plays the Championship matches and Groenewald the one dayers, which would certainly have its merits as an idea.

Only John Morris knows the answer to this little dilemma. We'll know in due course the effect this may have on our season, but for now I'll happily think that this threat to our side's success may just turn out to be an opportunity to a couple of players who need one.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The missing link? My 50-over side...

Yes, he's 40 and he'll not be as mobile as he once was in the field, but the acquisition of Australian-with-a-British-passport Stuart Law may turn out to be a masterstroke by John Morris for a number of reasons.

For one thing he has solved the mystery of the missing Clarke money. I mentioned a couple of weeks back that perhaps there was an ace up the sleeve for the 20/20, then when I heard Chris Rogers was playing the full season thought that I'd got it wrong. Then we sign Law for the FP Trophy and 20/20 and everything is clear. There's also an option for him to play in the Pro 40 later in the season and from what he says on the Derby Telegraph website a possibility for next season as well.

We signed Ron Headley back in the 1970's on a similar basis, although it's fair to say that Headley, although a fine player, was not of the same class as Stuart Law. He played some good innings and shared vibrant partnerships with Eddie Barlow, but Law is signed as much for what he can teach as what he can do. And let's not forget how many runs Graeme Hick scored for Worcestershire in the past two seasons.

Interesting - and pleasing that Law won't play 4-day matches as I think our batting is adequate for that. The side I highlighted last week for the Championship has enough to post totals that will win games, but my concerns were for the one day side. On far too many occasions last year we collapsed horribly when faced with moderate chases and the side seemed to panic when the run rate exceeded six an over. Realistically, seven - even eight - an over with wickets in hand doesn't need everyone to come out batting like Babe Ruth.
If Stuart Law can help our batsmen understand that good placement and quick running can make eight an over WITHOUT BOUNDARIES we'll be half way to a decent one day side.

Take a 50 over match. If a team scores just four an over from the first 25, then six an over from the second 25 they'll score 250. That wins more games than it loses. Yes, I know that conditions can make such scores implausible, but is four singles an over such a problem? I don't think so.

I'd reckon that people will now look at our one day side and be impressed. We've international players at the top of the order, a bunch of all rounders, a fine wicket keeper batsman and good bowlers. Given that the one day season opens with the 50-over FP Trophy, here's my first choice side:

Chris Rogers
Dan Birch/Tim Groenewald
Stuart Law
Wavell Hinds
Garry Park
Greg Smith
James Pipe
Graham Wagg
Jon Clare/Tim Groenewald
Jake Needham
Charl Langeveldt

Dan Birch would make my one day side as opener because he just might take a side apart in the early overs. Alternatively, and more of a gamble, the huge hitting Groenewald could go in as a pinch hitter. Buck will play around whichever one and anchor the innings and Law will do what he has always done so well. With Wavell to slap it around at four, Park and Smith to run quickly and hit hard in the middle and Pipe and Wagg to follow....tasty huh?

Jon Clare is a tremendous prospect but also a young player who must not be overworked. I see him as an integral member of the four day side but one who may need breathers in the short form. With Jake at ten there's plenty of batting and then there's Champagne Charl to finish off.

There's also seven, eight - maybe nine bowlers here. Let's not forget that Law was Lancashire skipper last year and was good enough to be the first Queenslander to steer them to a Sheffield Shield win and play 51 one-dayers for Australia. Even if his star is on the wane, I suspect there's enough in the tank to worry sides as he walks out to bat. As for hiding him in the field, I really don't think that will be necessary. He'll not be the team whippet, but he'll be no Fred Rumsey or Ole Mortensen either. Fielding might be another reason to try Groenewald as a pinch hitter or move up either Wavell or Smith to open as Dan Birch isn't a natural mover or especially lithe.

Whatever else, this signing has made the season even more eagerly anticipated and also rendered my poll redundant! Despite a lead for "we'll have good days and bad", the question on "we're a batsman short" doesn't apply now - so I've changed it and we'll start again.

Nice work Coach Morris... I may be alone but I like your style. Unlike last season's big money signing, this feller has nothing to prove, as he's been there, done it and not only bought but printed the T shirt.

The club site reports that membership sales are way ahead of the game. After this news they could well be on overtime in the office...

Monday, 23 March 2009

Stuart Law signs for one day cricket!

Ai caramba - and similar expressions of excitement - we've signed Stuart Law for one day matches this season...

The Queenslander has been one of the most successful imports in the game over the last ten years or so and is English qualified after several years of residence.

At 40 you could say that his best days are behind him, yet Graham Hick remained a potent force, especially in one day cricket, when he was considerably older than Law and the Australian has kept himself in very good condition.

He also gives Derbyshire something that we have lacked - namely an experienced batsman who can teach some of our young tyros how to pace an innings. The thought of Chris Rogers and Law in partnership will whet the appetite somewhat and in one signing John Morris has transformed our one day side into one worth watching.

Again, cynics may say that his signing is blocking the path of a young batsman, but surely a season spent playing alongside Law, listening to what he has to say and learning from his approach to the game can only be good for the likes of Messrs Redfern, Borrington, Smith et al?

We now know where the Rikki Clarke money has gone. Have to say that I'm pleased with this one and feel that Law has more to offer than last season's one day opportunities for Lancashire suggested.

Darn it, I'll need to revise this week's first choice one day side now!

From the Derby Telegraph

"In yesterday's game, a partnership between Garry Park (82 not out) and Greg Smith (75 not out) took Derbyshire to 230-4 and they bowled the island side out for 140, with Jake Needham taking three wickets".

No, I'll not go overboard and get excited about beating the Isle of Wight, but I am encouraged that three players who we need to do well in 2009 all started in good fettle yesterday.

We all know (or should do) that there'll be a decent or better return on the investment in Chris Rogers, Wavell Hinds and Charl Langeveldt. I'd be confident that James Pipe and Graham Wagg will also do well this season as they always do.

As I said in this blog a couple of weeks ago, our success will be determined by the lesser or younger lights stepping up and becoming good county players, rather than simply players of promise. Greg Smith has looked a talent for several years now but has thrilled and infuriated with equal measure. Garry Park must have hoped to score early runs for his new county and has done so, while Jake Needham should get a lot of bowling this season as our uncontested first choice spinner.

That all three of them came up with the goods is encouraging. It doesn't make them world-beaters, but let's just say if any of them replicate that when the serious stuff starts (and especially in a Lords final!) we'll be pretty pleased...

The cynics might say that the other 4 batsmen only got 70-odd between them, which is slightly worrying, but let's err on the side of optimism. A win's a win and no bad habit to get into, irrespective of the opposition.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Three for three...

I know, that's the kind of score we're used to when Charl and Waggy are set loose on the opposition...

Yet the poll on the blog last week resulted in a threeway battle for who you all thought should take on the first drop for Derbyshire this season in the Championship side. While everyone had at least one fan, the claims of Wavell Hinds, John Sadler and Garry Park appear to have the most backing from supporters.

Like most of you I would discount the claims of the others. Dan Redfern would be in my first choice side as he is a precocious talent who should be encouraged, but I feel that number three is too high for him as he makes his way into county cricket. Given that he didn't even bat there for England Under 19s it is unlikely that he would do so for Derbyshire. Last season I was convinced that Dominic Telo would make that berth his own and was disappointed when he endured a miserable summer. He didn't even make a case for inclusion with a weight of runs in the Seconds and surely needs a good start to force his way into the side. It is a big year for him, as I would have thought it unlikely that John Morris would offer another contract for a player who has thus far been a peripheral figure without a good summer from the South African on a Portuguese passport.

I was surprised that there wasn't more support for Dan Birch, who probably played more in that position than anyone last season. Dan the man has plenty of power and has shown it in flashes for the county, without suggesting that he had made the transition from League lasher to County player. He often looks heavy on his feet for me and that can be a cause of his downfall when he plays away from his body. Yet who is to say that this may not be the year when he finally emerges?

Wavell Hinds is a fine player and his Test record suggests that much. He played well in spells last season and we could do with big runs from him this year. I feel that his best chance of that would be batting at five and away from the new ball, as the Wave has a reputation in the game for having a lazy front foot. He is eminently capable of batting well with the lower order and turning good starts into big scores and I hope that he goes in a little lower in the Championship. We need at least 800 runs from Wavell this year in the four day game and he has every chance of doing that in the right position.

There was little to choose between the top two. John Sadler has plenty of experience in the role at Leicestershire and turned in some gritty displays with little reward for us in the early season. He then disappeared to the Seconds and returned for the one day side when injuries hit later in the season. To be fair, at that point he did as well as anyone and I couldn't argue if he was given a chance to cement his place in April.

Yet the signing of Garry Park from Durham was a good bit of business by John Morris. He is a dashing batsman, superb fielder anywhere, useful medium pace bowler and handy stop gap wicket keeper. I would find it hard to understand why he left a tabled offer at Durham, the County champions, for anything other than some form of assurance of opportunity at Derby. He will undoubtedly play a major role in the one day side but he has been a heavy scorer for the Durham Second XI and has done well in limited first team opportunities there. Indeed, had it not been for a brilliant last game century by him at Scarborough a couple of years ago, Durham would have been relegated, so they could argue he has played a major role in their success. While I would not be disappointed to see Sads in the key role, my instinct suggests that Park should have an early opportunity to make the place his own.

Only in writing this piece have I realised that we have plenty of batsmen who may well not make the side. With Birch, Telo and either Paul Borrington or Steve Stubbings on the sidelines, we have decent players awaiting opportunities, yet the feeling remains that we may be a batsman light. What do you think? That's this week poll - thanks to everyone who voted last week.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

In a bit of a tizz

So they're all up in arms now about the Aussies coming over for an extended net prior to the Ashes. First Middlesex sign wunderkind Phil Hughes and then Kent sign Stuart Clark to get him match fit and firing on all cylinders for the Ashes.

As I said in a recent column, nice one guys! Arguably our best shot of winning the Ashes in 10 years (since all their best players retired) and we give the next generation 6 weeks to acclimatise in our conditions, get used to the tracks and the weather and be ready to stuff us again.

Anyway, enough about England, this is all about Derbyshire. I've nailed my colours to the mast before and will again. There'll always be an England but Derbyshire is where its at. If you gave me a choice of an Ashes win this summer or us taking a trophy I'll sing Beneath the Southern Cross I Stand with the best of them...

Nice to see (albeit somewhat ironic) that Tom Lungley came out of the fitness tests as our top man a couple of days back. Last year he'd have come a distant third behind my late lamented gran and Tripod the three legged dog. Yet Tom in form and fit is a very good bowler who can dismiss the best batsmen and make a fair few runs too. If he stays fit and the other seamers do too, we could surprise some teams this year.

Interesting to read that Chris Rogers was voted Player of the Year for the Australian one day season after scoring five fifties in ten innings at an average of around 45. Two Michaels (Klinger and ex Derbyshire man Dighton) did similarly for their state sides but what probably swung it for Buck was that he's never been rated a one day player over there and it was one of the reasons he left Perth for Melbourne. Vindication a-plenty...

Interestingly he only played one 20/20 match for Victoria. The negative in me suggests that this is because he's not suited to the short form. However, negative rarely surfaces for long with me and I'm telling myself that he's set to transform our game in the mini me of cricket.

It needs some transforming...

Finally, a friend mailed me the other day to ask how I rated our chances this year and who we had as an overseas player. As I typed my reply, I started to feel quite optimistic. Chris Rogers, Wavell Hinds, Charl Langeveldt. Three Test players. All rounders in Graham Wagg, Jon Clare, Dan Redfern and Greg Smith. A top keeper/bat in James Pipe. Young emerging players in Paul Borrington, Jake Needham, Garry Park. If we assume (can we?) that a year older equates to a year better and wiser, this could be a really good season.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A month to go!

The sun is in the sky, the crocus are through and the daffodils are poking their foliage through the earth as a new Spring dawns...

It's OK, you've not clicked on the new site for poets anonymous, but I'm filled with the joys of a new Spring and a summer full of promise and excitement. That's not just because we're heading off to Tennessee this summer again (our fourth trip) but because, like most years at this time I'm full of optimism about Derbyshire's prospects.

To be fair, I usually am and end up with major disappointments so this year I've told myself to be a little more cautious about how we're going to do. Make no doubts about it, if this side plays to potential they are more than capable of holding their own in one day cricket and, given reasonable breaks in the Championship, could conceivably gain promotion in the long - dare I say proper - form of the game.

Those breaks are to do with the fitness of players and the weather being kind to them and I'm sure that fans of most counties across the country are feeling equally optimistic given similar good fortune in these areas. For Derbyshire, logic suggests that we'll be really lucky to get our pace attack through the summer unscathed and this is where our hopes may fall. I would back Langeveldt, Wagg, Clare and Lungley as a quartet against any in Division 2. With Greg Smith hopefully fit after last year's serious injury and Tim Groenewald to back them up, maybe even force his way in, the seam attack has plenty of potency.

Yet Charl has had to pace himself this winter in South Africa, playing mainly one day matches, while Tom Lungley missed most of last year with a succession of injuries. Waggy finished last season close to a physical wreck (but kept going) while Jon Clare could be due the second season blues that find out so many players as their style becomes known on the circuit. The loss of one or two of these may mean that teen prospect Atif Sheikh comes in the frame but it would be worrying if our hopes were to depend on a talented yet raw youngster.

Pressure would then fall on the spinners to win matches and again there are question marks. Jake Needham improved last season and looked like he could become a good spinner, but with the occasional support of Dan Redfern and Greg Smith he carries our spin bowling hopes. What happens if he too gets injured? Mark Lawson from Yorkshire has a short term contract at the start of the season but April and May isn't the time for leggies to shine as a rule, even top class ones. I remember vividly when we had Shahid Afridi for the early season a few years back and he barely turned a ball in his time with us, so Lawson has a lot to do. I'm sure that John Morris will base Lawson's potential on his ability to do damage on dryer mid-late season tracks as we're otherwise likely to hit problems in away matches in Wales and Northampton...

If Chris Rogers carries his winter form for Victoria into the Championship we'll have no worries on the batting front, but he should not have to carry things all the time. There is enough talent in the squad for the batting to post totals that enable the bowlers to set close fields and put pressure on the opposition. Steve Stubbings will partner Rogers early season while Paul Borrington is at University, while I think Wavell will drop down to four or five so he's away from the new ball. I'd be surprised if Dan Redfern doesn't get a crack at four and Smith should be at six, which leaves several players fighting for first drop in the Championship side.

So: Dan Birch, Dominic Telo, John Sadler, Garry Park. Who would YOU pick? All have their merits. Birch is an improved batsman although not yet the Sandiacre Slugger who has destroyed league attacks. If he could cut out the silly dismissals and also show he can concentrate for long periods in the field he is worth a shout. Telo is a fair player but likewise needs to realise that bright 30's are neither here nor there at this level. Sadler is a player with great powers of concentration and a good range of strokes, but needs to build again after a poor 2008. Meanwhile Park has arrived from Durham with a reputation as a dashing stroke player who is not the best of starters but can score very quickly once he is in. Added to that he is arguably the best cover point in the country and probably has a 20-run start from his work in the field.

So there you have this season's first poll. Let's see who you would like to see at number three this year. I'll tell you my choice next time, but for what its worth, the rest of my April Championship side for 2009, assuming all players are fit and in form, would be:

Chris Rogers
Steve Stubbings
Dan Redfern
Wavell Hinds
Greg Smith
James Pipe
Graham Wagg
Jon Clare
Jake Needham
Charl Langeveldt

In future articles I'll give you my one day side and my 20/20 side and will also give my forecasts for where we'll finish this season. Not long till the blog is back in daily action. I'm soaking my fingers in methylated spirits in readiness!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Moribund tracks will kill the game

I'm taking advantage of a day off to wash the cars... theoretically. As it is, the rain is pelting down (call it a pre-wash if you will) and I'll not be out there until it stops.

There's little Derbyshire news at present. Geoff Miller has done a little coaching in at the club and has imparted some of his knowledge on Jake Needham and Dan Redfern. No bad thing, as we'd settle for a Geoff Miller in the middle order these days. Redfern currently strikes me as a batsman who can bowl, Needham as a bowler who can bat. Both have the potential and enough time on their side to become genuine all-rounders. A thought that crossed my mind when reading the article was "where's Greg Smith"? Does his absence from the photo mean he's going to revert to seam again, or was he just not around? I suspect the latter, as his versatility is useful to the club, just as long as a jack of all trades ends up mastering one of them.

Chris Rogers has now passed a thousand runs in the Sheffield Shield this winter at an average of just under 75. It augurs well for the coming season, though Rogers' satisfaction of a job well done will have been tempered by the success of Phil Hughes in South Africa, making two centuries in only his second Test. He must now have cemented a place in the England tour party and therefore have eliminated Rogers from discussions. Their loss is our gain and his success only emphasises the depth of batting talent in Australia.

I got an e mail from someone who disagreed with a recent post in which I criticised Middlesex for signing Hughes ahead of the Ashes tour and effectively giving him a "net", while at the same time advocating we sign a top batsman - maybe an Aussie - for the 20/20. My answer was simple. Hughes has never experienced English conditions and could have been found out on our tracks, whereas we'd be signing an experienced player who knew what things were like here. There's no comparison between a 20-over slog and Test cricket anyway, whereas Hughes will get some long stints in the middle in the Championship. Very short sighted signing in my humble opinion and nothing will change that.

For what its worth, I understand that Rogers has signed for the full season this year, with no planned break for the 20/20. You may see this as a good or bad thing, as Rogers the one-day bat isn't the beast that dominates four day cricket. His presence at the top of the order should, however, guarantee the pre-requisite for that form of the game in that someone bats out the innings. If Rogers scored 50-60 in each match and the rest thrashed around him, one would hope we'd post scores around 140-150, which wins more games than not. He's not a huge hitter, but we've plenty who are and hopefully a little more nous at the top of the innings might see us more competitive.

Rogers good winter form is encouraging, but I'm saddened by the moribund nature of tracks around the world this winter. In their most recent game, Victoria posted 806-8having bowled out Queensland for 302, with the match petering to a tame draw. Its all the Vics wanted before the game, but does nothing for the appeal of the game. Its the same with Test cricket this winter. The tracks in the Caribbean have been hopelessly in favour of batting (first Test apart) and the wickets for the recent Pakistan/Sri Lanka series were the same.

Whenever I talk cricket to people who say they don't understand it, their biggest problem is how a game can be a draw after 4 or 5 days. I relate to that and feel that there are a lot of modern batsman basking in the glory of decent averages on featherbeds. With covered wickets, small seams on balls, lbw rules and increasingly docile tracks, batsmen have never had it so good. You watch the averages this year. There will be 20-30 players averaging over 50 with the bat, maybe 3-4 under 23 with the ball.

What would you sooner watch this season at Derby? Us posting 575, our opponents 550 and then a tame last day? Or a game of 200-300 scores - maybe even less - with a battle on the last day for runs as bowlers made use of conditions that offered something for them? The problem is, once wickets tumble on an opening day the pitch inspectors are twitching their noses and jumping into cars with the home club wondering if they'll be docked points. I'm not advocating that pitches should be minefields and those where there's irregular and dangerous bounce need to be frowned upon. Yet pitches with a little green top, offering lateral movement and help to those prepared to bend their backs must be encouraged.

If I had a son who was a potential county cricketer, I'd encourage his batting ahead of his bowling. These days, the bowler who can come through a season with an average under thirty is a rare breed and it is the new benchmark. Batting should be more challenging. A hard-fought 60 can be of greater value in a match than 150 in the next fixture ever could be, yet there are players around - and I'm not referring to Derbyshire- who cash in on the feather beds and don't try too hard when things are against them.

Maybe it is time that the adminstrators started to address the imbalance in the game and we tried uncovered pitches for a season, or bigger seams on balls. I suspect that a few inflated batting egos around the game would be pricked as a consequence and the game as a whole would be more entertaining as a result.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

March 1st

I like March.

Its the first time I start to think we're through the winter as I'm generally home in something close to daylight. There can be some dodgy weather during the month but the sight of bulbs coming through and flowers appearing suggests that nature is ready to burst forth for another year.

Most of all, March is when you can say "the cricket starts next month".

What a great thought! We've almost made it through the rain (with apologies to Barry Manilow), snow, sleet, fog and ice and can look forward to waking up in the morning to sunshine piercing the blinds. OK, we can hope that happens occasionally...

Next month I'll start the nightly rituals that only the true cricket fans appreciate. The evening viewing of the weather and how it is likely to affect not just YOUR day where you live but Derbyshire's where the game is on. You keep your fingers crossed for sunshine initially (when we're batting), followed by a little humidity (when we're bowling). You love to see the little sun symbols then, if things go pear-shaped, hope to see the dreaded clouds when we get to the last day with four wickets in hand and 250 still to get...

I'll watch Sky Sports News each evening hoping to see a few highlights of games and again mutter when it appears that all other games have cameras at them apart from ours. Until the third day when we have a bad one and suddenly our wickets are falling for all to see.

I'll keep my eyes on teletext (when I can)and hope that the delayed updates mean wickets are falling too quickly for them as we bowl, while its just a technical fault when the opposition are.

Most of all I'll hope that we can move forward again this year. While I still feel that our best chance of success is in the four day game, I really want to see the one day side play better cricket this year. For me, the signings of Garry Park and Tim Groenewald will help towards that, but that's on paper.

If they do the business when we get out on the grass I'll be as happy as the rest of you