Friday, 31 December 2010

IPL decisive in overseas hunt.

As highlighted in my piece No Way Jose a few days back (see below), the Derby Telegraph today ran an article on John Morris confirming that he will wait until after the IPL auction on January 8 and 9 before pursuing his preference of overseas player.

He's absolutely correct to do so. A major source of vitriol on the boards in recent years has been players who have signed for Derbyshire then ended up unavailable because of a hastily arranged tournament of some description. There's also been a few injuries, but we lost a few good ones over the years, including Mohammad Yousuf, Mahela Jayawardene, Nathan Astle and Jacques Rudolph. I wonder if recent history might have been a little different had Rudolph come to Derbyshire? Yorkshire would certainly have missed those runs he subsequently scored in their thousands.

Most interesting in the Telegraph piece was the revelation that Greg Smith and Wes Durston are involved in the auction. I would be surprised if either were signed up, which isn't disrespectful of their ability but more an acknowledgement of the rich array of talent that these sides have to choose from. Of the two, Durston for me would stand the better chance, as he did quite well in India for Somerset last winter and people might remember his aggressive batting and brilliant fielding. We'll see what happens, but I would expect them to be available to John Morris from the start of the season, rather than missing the first two months as would otherwise be the case.

Morris also confirmed in the article that he doesn't have too much money to spend, again reinforcing my view of the type of player we'll be looking at. He has a number of irons in the fire and will just need to see which of these is interested, eligible and affordable. It may come down to Hobson's Choice, but there will be a few players overlooked and I would expect the Head of Cricket to move quickly once these commitments of potential players is known.

In other news, Luke Sutton expects to play an aggressive brand of cricket, which should surprise no one who has seen this excellent professional through his career. Sutton was my preference as skipper and I think John Morris has 100% done the right thing in his appointment. I look forward to seeing developments at the County Ground and think there will be a few people progress this year under his leadership.

Elsewhere, Tom Maynard has left Glamorgan as expected, after the club dispensed with the services of his father as coach, as well as James Dalrymple and Mark Cosgrove as full-time overseas player. I predict a season of struggle for the Welsh county and Alviro Petersen will have a big job on his hands to build team spirit ahead of a new season. I'd be surprised if Graham Wagg hasn't wondered what he's got himself into over the past few months...

That's it for now. Late night beckons tonight, so have a good one - see you next year!

Five years ago

As regular readers will know, 2011 marks the 35th anniversary of Eddie Barlow's arrival at Derbyshire County Cricket Club. 1976 was the start of a three-year association that galvanised the county and transformed us from also-rans to a team that could play – and beat – the best.

The first instalment of a series that will celebrate his time with the county will be published on January 3rd, but I didn't want today, December 30th to pass without noting that it was five years ago that Eddie passed away while on holiday in Jersey.

It was a sad loss for his family in particular, but also for the game of cricket. Barlow's commitment was legendary, and having read the excellent autobiography that my lovely wife got me for Christmas, I'm even more in awe of the man's passion for excellence and his achievements wherever he went.

Derbyshire was one of them, and I hope you'll all check in on January 3rd to read that first instalment. I plan to publish two per week and I hope that you find them as interesting to read as I did to write, thanks to a lot of help from people who were involved.

In between times, assuming little happens tomorrow that is worthy of note, I would like to wish all of you a very happy New Year. England have just retained the Ashes - here's hoping there's similar euphoria around Derbyshire cricket sometime soon!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Nice idea from Italy

I got a lovely e-mail from Marco in Rome the other day. Christmas Eve it was, and Marco revealed that he is a mad-keen Derbyshire fan, though he has never lived in the area. It illustrates again the pulling power of the county and how many people follow their fortunes.

Marco suggested that one method that Derbyshire could try to improve their fortunes was the Moneyball method, used with great success in baseball. Now I have to admit that baseball has never been a sport I have followed, though I went to a game in Memphis a few years back and enjoyed the family experience of the game.

Anyway, Marco highlighted that the Oakland Athletic baseball team, with a playing budget of 'only' $41 million, became competitive with bigger clubs who spent three times as much. As explained in Wikipedia:

"The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball."

In cricket terms, it essentially means that you pay less attention (though naturally some) to batting and bowling averages and more to the other things that people bring to the side, like fielding, team spirit and attitude. It was used successfully in the first year of IPL by the Rajasthan Royals in selecting a team. Players could win matches with brilliant fielding and a quick thirty as much as those who  scored more runs but were less interested in the team ethic.

It is, of course, what Eddie Barlow brought to Derbyshire cricket in the 1970s and Dean Jones in a later period. You get people playing as a unit and the unit is an unstoppable force. When everyone realises that eleven performances are essential to win matches (unless you have a couple of outstanding individuals) success is generally a consequence. It has been done in other sports too - Ipswich under Alf Ramsey and Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough had few outstanding players, but they worked for one another and it brought dividends. Leicestershire won the T20 with an average team that never knew when they were beaten.

If John Morris and Luke Sutton can fashion a strong team spirit for 2011 then Derbyshire can also be competitive. Whether they formalise an interest in the Moneyball system I can't say, but the principles are sound ones and I expect to see our teams work under a captain that I trust to lead from the front.

Thanks for your mail Marco and for your kind comments about the blog - and do keep in touch!

On a different tack, I can only assume that another correspondent the other night isn't a regular reader when he said that I never criticise Derbyshire. I do, but I try to make it constructive and don't do it for the sake of it, like some. When we play badly I say so, when I think things could be done better (eg membership rates, querying why we built a stand when we can't fill the ground) I say so. At the end of the day though, as I've said before ad nauseam, I am a fan. I could probably support a team that won more trophies quite easily, maybe Nottinghamshire as my folks live inside that border, but that's not going to happen...

And that next trophy, whenever it happens, will be all the sweeter because of that.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Like everyone else I’ll probably be very busy in the coming days, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued interest in the blog. The level of hits has remained steady through the close season and I’m both grateful for your responses and touched by your kind comments.

I recently got an e-mail to say that this is currently the sixteenth most popular cricket blog in some internet rankings. I don’t pretend to understand how they work it all out, but it illustrates how many people are interested in Derbyshire cricket. I don’t write about anything else, unlike the fifteen above me, so there’s a lot of you out there.

So whether you’re in England, Scotland, Europe, America, Africa or Australia – and I’ve had e-mails from supporters in all those places – thanks for your continued interest, have a great Christmas and I’ll see you all again sometime soon!

Eddie Barlow - an appreciation

My series on Eddie Barlow that will commence in the early New Year has grown arms, legs and wings. As regular readers will recall, Eddie came to Derbyshire in 1976, so next year marks the 35th anniversary of that arrival.

As well as Eddie’s widow Cally, who has been very generous with her time, I’ve now had contributions from a number of players from that era, to who I am incredibly grateful.

Tony Borrington, Alan Hill, Harry Cartwright, Geoff Miller, Mike Hendrick and Bob Taylor have all contributed, as has Gerald Mortimer, who saw the period from the press box and knew Eddie very well. So has the club’s Honorary Secretary David Griffin, who, like me, saw a lot of the cricket in that period from the boundary edge and recalls it with great affection.

Their comments have helped me to put together a deserved appreciation of a man who did so much for Derbyshire cricket.

Look out for it starting sometime soon.

No way, Jose...

There’s been a couple of comments in response to last night’s piece on overseas players and who we’re likely to be able to afford for 2011.

I’ve been asked why I can’t see that there has to be a lot of money left after the departures of Chris Rogers, Robin Peterson and Graham Wagg.

I’ll explain why.

Tom Lungley has gone and been replaced by Mark Turner. That was probably a like for like cost, as Somerset wanted to keep him and he was referred to as “top of the wanted list.”

Ian Hunter has gone and been replaced by Tony Palladino – John Morris said it had been worked out “at no extra cost to us.”

John Sadler left, as did Lee Goddard. The latter was probably not on a big contract, but has been replaced by Luke Sutton, a senior cricketer. His higher salary has presumably now been reviewed in his favour, in the light of the additional responsibility of captaincy. So not much change left out of that, perhaps?

Which leaves Peterson, Wagg and Rogers. Let’s set aside the former skipper’s salary, as we know he’s being replaced, along with any small positive balance from above to give John Morris a little extra leeway.

What hasn’t been taken into account yet is a likely cut in the playing budget, which could easily account for the salary of one of the remainder, either Wagg or Peterson. Look how many Gloucestershire have had to release, as well as Kent, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Sussex. We don’t know the level of any cut, or if there’s been one, but if Keith Loring has managed to protect us from that in the current economic climate I’ll nominate him for New Year’s honours and the Nobel Peace Prize…

So that could remove Wagg or Peterson’s salary from the equation. Finally, remember we’ve signed Matt Lineker, while Wayne Madsen and Chesney Hughes have both signed extended, and I’d have thought substantially improved contracts. Both came in as untried players but have developed into key members of the side, presumably seeing that reflected in their new deals. Remember too that Wes Durston is now a full-time cricketer on a senior salary, rather than being on a one-day contract and getting a few extra games on a ‘pay as you play’ basis. Add in assumed incremental increases for other players (does your salary stay the same every year?) and that’s the money for the last player gone.

All that’s left is the money paid to Chris Rogers, which won’t attract a current, top international. As I’ve said before, Rogers was a fine player, but wasn’t a Test player and didn’t command the salary of one. In previous jobs I used to book bands and artistes and know full well what TV exposure and chart success does to fees. The same thing happens with international status in sport.

Now there’s an element of supposition involved in all of the above, but I think its closer to the truth than imagining John Morris sitting in his office with a massive wad of cash and a grin on his face, having convinced Matt Lineker to play for free and Madsen and Hughes to sign new deals on their original salaries. That’s why I think he will be recruiting in a limited market for his overseas player; not through lack of ambition, not through tight fistedness, but simply because of the harsh realities of economics.

If you haven’t got the money, you can’t buy the product.

Ignore the fact that we’ve a millionaire on the committee, maybe two, perhaps more for all I know. They have families to support, as well as business interests. They are involved because of their love of Derbyshire cricket but that shouldn’t have to extend to opening their wallets. If they do it is welcome and appreciated, but it is their money that they have earned and their decision – no one else’s. Don Amott has been very supportive of the club over the years but is also a shrewd businessman who will want to see the club run to a sound business model within our modest means.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that nothing is likely to happen until after the IPL auction on January 8 and 9, when we will see which players are picked up by the various franchises. To illustrate the problems faced, Wasim Jaffer, who I mentioned as a potential signing the other day, could well find himself signed up. If so, he would probably be unavailable to anyone, be it county or club side, until the start of June…

Just for once you might pity Yorkshire. They have SIX players involved in the auction – Bresnan, Shahzad, Sidebottom, McGrath, Lyth and Gale. Any that are picked up - and the first three must have a decent chance – won’t be available for the first seven Championship games plus one-day fixtures in that period. They could be fighting relegation by the time those players return.

So in closing, forget the really big names, as it isn’t going to happen. They’ll be enjoying the fun and frolics of the IPL while our season gets underway amid an array of handwarmers, flasks and sweaters. John Morris will need to find someone who isn’t going to be involved and has a massive task on his hands.

On the bright side, most clubs are in the same boat. Only seven counties have thus far named an overseas player and a few have said they may not be able to afford one, putting us a little ahead of the game.

Hmmm…I wonder if Chris Harris is free?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

In Dreams...

Thanks for your comments to last night’s piece on the overseas player for 2011. I’d have to say though that there’s more chance of me getting the role than Hashim Amla or AB de Villiers.

Why? Because both are way out of our league financially and de Villiers is scheduled to have elbow surgery after the World Cup, according to reports. Both are also likely to be involved in IPL and such players simply don’t need county cricket. The rewards from a county contract in comparison are almost laughable. If you can make £400,000 or more for a month in India, why would you consider six months in England for (my guess) £70,000? I enjoy my job, but if someone offered to pay me more money for working one month a year I’d be a blur on the way out of the building…

Ask yourself this – IF ( that’s a big if) a big name player could be paid enough to make it worth his while, what would he need to do to justify the expense? Given what Chris Rogers achieved on what we paid him, I would suggest a batsman would HAVE to score a minimum 1750 Championship runs – plus at least 1,000 in one-day games. In addition, anything short of a trophy would be failure.

Derbyshire simply don’t have the money and for that matter few counties do. The ones with a wealthy benefactor might persuade a big name to make a cameo appearance in the T20, but I have reservations about this sort of thing. What happens if that benefactor loses interest – or dies, as sadly happened to Matthew Harding at Chelsea a few years back? Cricket’s finances are currently on a knife edge, something that Derbyshire’s have been on for most of their existence.

A read through John Shawcroft’s masterpiece of a club history will tell you how many times the club has diced with financial disaster. Will Taylor’s prudence kept us afloat for years between and after the wars, but several times only the generosity of individual benefactors kept us solvent. Comparatively speaking we are much better off today, but John Morris still has the lowest budget for players in the country and there is no escaping that fact.

Another player who could come under the microscope might be Aussie Nathan Hauritz. He’s a good cricketer – an experienced bowler who can bowl with control in all forms of the game, and an ever-improving batsman. Centuries in his last two innings for New South Wales have cemented his claims as an all-rounder and I still can’t see how Steve Smith and Xavier Doherty are deemed better spinners. He had an excellent season as a professional in the Lancashire League a few years back and would do a solid job. Then again, he could force his way back into the Test side in between times...

Much would depend on Jake Needham’s confidence when he returns from South Africa, but if the greater need of the team is a steady, experienced spinner over a batsman, Hauritz looks the best that is currently available. I wouldn't expect him to run through teams like Muralitharan used to, but I could see him scoring 600 runs and taking 30-40 wickets
Christmas is coming and I’d quite like a top of the range Mercedes - but I’m quite happy with my second-hand Toyota Avensis that does a similar job at a price I can afford. John Morris will be looking around the world game, making numerous calls and seeing who might be available to do the same for Derbyshire.

He'll sort it. No worries on that score.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

More changes at the County Ground

So, not only is Luke Sutton back at Derbyshire but he is installed as skipper. Having been impressed by him in that role in his previous stint, I'm delighted with this turn of events.

First and foremost, a captain has to be worth a place in the side (unless he is especially gifted as a skipper) and with Sutton we have no fears in this regard. An excellent wicket-keeper and, in his first spell, very solid batsman capable of opening the innings on occasion, Sutton led from the front and will do again. He is exactly what the team needs and, having suggested it myself on this blog, I am very pleased with the turn of events.

Of course, it appears that this may be a consequence of Greg Smith's inconclusive contract talks and John Morris is absolutely right in not giving him the captaincy at this stage. Trying to skipper, bat well, bowl seam and spin then worry about your contract negotiations was a recipe for disaster. I rate Smith as a cricketer, but the workload on him was already considerable and there was a fairly obvious tailing off in his level of performance last season. That being the case, either he or his advisor was misguided in choosing this time to renegotiate a deal. Such things need to be done from a position of strength, in Smith's case after a prolific season with bat and/or ball. As it is, it smacks of someone returning to work after several weeks off and asking for some time off…

While the door appears to be open for Smith and he has not yet closed it on the county, my guess is that he needs a very good summer this year for an agreement to be reached. As John Morris rightly has said, at this stage Smith's financial requests don't match the club's valuation of the player. While a certain section of 'supporters' will see it as a lack of ambition, we cannot be held to ransom by players and live beyond our means as a consequence. Too many counties have gone down this route in recent years and it has come back to bite them big time.

While I'm not going to claim trophies await Derbyshire in 2011, there is enough talent in the young squad to be competitive and push for decent placings. We now have the right skipper in place and await news of our overseas star, the final piece of the jigsaw according to John Morris.

I'm convinced we don't have the money for a massive international name, so anyone with expectations of seeing a Kallis, Ponting or Vettori at the county may as well start to moan now. For me, the hunt will be on for a player who is perhaps on the next tier down yet still has much to offer. I came across this in a recent Yorkshire Post and I would be far from disheartened, merely as an example, to see this chap at the County Ground next summer:

 If we could get a man with a first-class average of 50 who has two Test double centuries to his name I would be thrilled. To have averaged around or over 100 in each of his last three seasons as a league professional suggests a level of commitment ideal for the job, while 2,000 runs in a league season is extraordinary by any standards.

Wasim Jaffer currently averages 91 this winter in India, confirming him as a player eminently worthy of consideration. He may have rejected Glamorgan, but travelling from a West Yorkshire home to Derby wouldn't be a massive trip. I would also like to think that we could beat the money on offer from a Huddersfield League contract too, but his record is such that other counties could be interested and we could be priced out of a deal.

Jaffer will not be the only one of that calibre available, but is used as an example of what might be possible. Given he has captained Mumbai for two years or so and has not yet been on the losing side he has a lot to offer. As with Eddie Barlow, it seems strange that a man with such a good record (he also averages mid-forties in the one day game) has reached the age of 32 without a county opportunity. Many worse players have been recruited in recent years. We've had one or two at Derbyshire...

The added bonus would be that Jaffer is out of the international reckoning in India and would thus be available for a full season. Being equally adept at all forms of the game, I would see him as a sound, potentially affordable signing. It might even attract some of the local ethnic population, a demographic not especially well represented in the club membership as things stand.

As I said, there are others out there though, so we'll wait and see who John Morris comes up with.

Sutton the new skipper

As suggested should be the case in this blog recently, Luke Sutton has been named the new Derbyshire captain.

More on this welcome news later.

Monday, 20 December 2010


I was sorting through the stuff in our magazine rack yesterday and came across the 2008 Club Yearbook.

On page 31, there are the photographs of the 20 members of the playing staff for 2009.

Still there from that time - and mind that is only two years - are Borrington, Clare, Groenewald, Needham, Park, Redfern, Sheikh and Smith - eight in total.

Gone are Birch, Hinds, Hunter, Langeveldt, Lawson, Lungley, Pipe, Rogers, Sadler, Stubbings, Telo and Wagg - 12 in total.

They have been replaced by Hughes, Sutton, Footitt, Turner, Lineker, Jones, Madsen and Durston, plus an array of youngsters and an as yet to be named overseas player.

The squad is younger and of a higher quality. The right overseas player could be a catalyst for a decent season, but key to this will be the money we have available.

Tomorrow I'll look at this position and who we might see at Derbyshire.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Something else for the weekend

Another thing occupying the minds of fans at the moment is the dearth of cricket at outgrounds next season. While Chesterfield still has its cricket week, there’s no Yorkshire fixture in any competition there, while Leek appears to have been overlooked.

I addressed this in a piece the other night. The additional costs of staging cricket on outgrounds are considerable and in times when money is tight there are obvious savings to be made in concentrating resources. Given the excellent development work at the County Ground of late, there is little logic in playing a lot of cricket elsewhere.


Where I have a degree of sympathy is with regard to the respective fees for ‘full’ and ‘country’ members. Someone from the Derby area can pay £150 and watch their team on the doorstep - a steal, especially in comparison to a football season ticket. With the majority of members deemed ‘local’, I’ve no problem with that.

Yet you don’t qualify as a ‘country member’ unless you live in excess of 35 miles from the County Ground. So are still expected to pay top dollar, despite potentially bearing the costs of a 60-70 mile round trip. Thirty-five miles is a fair distance to cover and perhaps 25 miles might be a fairer figure to start the discount. When people talk of voting with their feet and not renewing memberships it suggests things need to be addressed.

The other side of it is that ANYBODY outside that 35-mile radius has then to pay £130. That would include me, living 330 miles away and able to get to only a handful of games a season for fairly obvious reasons. I know from your e-mails that there are people in similar or worse situations geographically who would still like to be involved.

Now I remember a few years ago when the club offered a membership for people like me. I forget what it was called, but probably something like ‘Living at the Ends of the Earth’ category. It cost around £25 and included open tickets for two or three games of your choice, offering access to member facilities at home and to an away ground without member facilities. It was value for money and I was happy to pay it. I was supporting the club and could call myself a member, albeit a distant one.

Why not resurrect that? Membership for the geographically challenged…

At last week’s club cricket dinner I suggested to a couple of my pals, both Durham fans, that we should take a trip down to the Riverside next season to see the T20 match there. They didn’t fancy it, not at the thought of my gloating when we beat them, but because ‘it’s three hours down there and three back, only lasts three hours and you can often predict the winner after five overs.’

I couldn’t argue. While football fans think nothing of travelling the length of the country for 90 minutes of action (a term often used loosely) many cricket fans won’t bother when the opening powerplay can make or break a game.

The other problem is that many members are older – perhaps those best placed to get full value from a membership – and as such loathe T20. My Dad does. He said he’d rather have a branding iron applied to his nether regions than go to another one. When I asked what he disliked, he’d gone through “pyjamas, slogging, loud music, drunks, daft dancing, daft blokes on stilts, silly gimmicks and chanting” before taking another breath…

A T20 membership for fans though – maybe one each for adults and juniors that offered value for money - would encourage regular attendance, even when the TV cameras were there, results weren’t going our way and the weather far from balmy. Have a country member version of that as well and the world’s your lobster, as George Cole once said in Minder.

The alternative would be to put up the membership fee and make it inclusive of T20, at least ensuring that the club got additional money if they didn’t get the bums on all of the seats.

Finally, a big name overseas star who performs well in the format, wickets that encourage stroke play and decent weather would make an irresistible package.

Shame we can’t control the latter. The rest is manageable though.

Something for the weekend

As is always the case, there’s a mixture of comments around the boards on the winter signings so far. I never cease to be amazed by human nature in that so many people are quick to criticise without giving an opportunity. I’ve been an amused onlooker of late as various ‘fans’ on 606 have had to eat humble pie, having declared James Bailey and John Brayford a waste of space when they were signed by Derby County.

Several months later they are the most consistent players and I hope that similar acts of contrition are to be seen in due course from those who have been quick to comment negatively on Mark Turner and Tony Palladino. As I wrote yesterday, both are an improvement on what we had and now need regular cricket to move up a level. With Luke Sutton an impressive ‘new’ wicket-keeper and Matt Lineker a batsman we can only win with, I’m quite satisfied with the winter work thus far.

Again though, I can’t understand the fixation over Morris needing to replace Wagg, Peterson and Rogers. I’ve written before that Wagg’s replacement is already in situ with Jonathan Clare, while Rogers will probably be replaced by an overseas batsman who may also come in as skipper.

As I wrote on IMWT last night, we don’t know the cuts to the playing budget and my guess is that an international batsman would cost more than Chris Rogers. The latter was a very good player, but not a Test batsman. Such status puts you in a different league in terms of the salary you can command and I’m sure Morris’ budgeting has kept that in mind.

We must also remember that John Sadler’s role in the Seconds has to be addressed in some way, whether through internal reorganisation or recruitment. That role will be crucial, as bringing through a group of talented young cricketers is essential for a county of modest resources.

Replacing Peterson was never going to be easy, as spin bowling all rounders capable of nearly 500 runs and over 50 wickets are as common as bulls that can yodel. The simple answer is that John Morris can’t replace him, as there’s no one out there. Perhaps if David Wainwright had wanted away from Yorkshire or Simon Kerrigan from Lancashire we might have been interested, but when people say we must replace Peterson, my answer is ‘who with?’

Given the financial penalties incurred, a county has to be pretty sure of their Kolpak recruit to go down such a path. With only Zimbabwe, South Africa and the West Indies to choose from, the potential signings become a very select band. The player concerned also needs recent international experience, which then further restricts the search. Zimbabwe don’t have a decent spinner, while the West Indies only have Nikita Miller, other than Suleiman Benn. Miller has a good record in the Caribbean, but such is the standard of wickets there and the paucity of talent that it is hardly a glowing testimonial.

South Africa? With Botha their one-day skipper and Paul Harris the Test spinner of choice it leaves just Rolof van der Merwe and…er… Robin Peterson. The former has never struck me as a top-class spinner, while the latter burned any bridges he had by going back to the international fold on his return to the country, having renounced it on joining Derbyshire. There’s more chance of me having the Christmas number one than Peterson being considered for another Kolpak deal.

So there is no one, outside of Harry Potter (who would be good for a spell or two..) leaving John Morris to reshape rather than replace his squad, something I think he’s done pretty well. Spin bowling duties will now be left with Greg Smith and Wes Durston, with Jake Needham coming in as required and probably playing a lot of one day cricket. If Jake returns from his South African winter with his confidence to bowl to close fields in helpful conditions enhanced, talk about a new spinner will be largely redundant.

Of course, we could bring back former Somerset off spinner Omari Banks from Anguilla. But only so that someone could ask ‘Dino’ Palladino who the new recruit was and he could reply ‘That’s Omari…’

I should be on the stage…

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thoughts on Palladino

While a worthy cricketer who always gave of his best, Ian Hunter has struggled over recent summers. In that respect his departure from the club, with a year to go on his current contract and by mutual consent, was perhaps not entirely unexpected.

To be fair, when his rhythm was right and the ball was swinging, ‘Sticks’ bowled some good spells and most of us will remember times when he looked a bowler of talent. Sadly, a constant battle against injury meant that the fight for rhythm became increasingly elusive, as ultimately did the fight for fitness itself. Last season he effectively missed the whole campaign and there were major question marks against his ability to fulfil that contract in 2011.

There is always a degree of sadness when a decent cricketer and good man leaves the club and this is no exception. Yet John Morris has moved quickly to fill the vacancy and has signed Essex bowler Tony Palladino on a two-year deal. The move was rumoured a couple of weeks back and mentioned on this blog, so thanks to the Essex fan who got in touch about it. Remember, Essex didn’t release him, so are well aware of his merits.

On the face of it, with Jones, Footitt, Clare, Turner, Sheikh and Groenewald we were not too badly off, but Sheikh is unproven at this level and Jones cannot go on forever. If injuries hit we would once again have been down to the bare bones. One would assume that Steffan Jones retains a coaching role (he may even have bowlers to coach this year) and will play mainly one-day matches, leaving the seam attack as Footitt, Clare, Turner, Palladino and Groenewald. They are less experienced than Hunter and Lungley, though cynics might say it was of little use when the latter were infrequently fit to play. Crucially, there are reputations to be made, and hungry cricketers of talent are worth their weight in gold.

Palladino comes in, as Mark Footitt did last season, with a few injury absences to his name, but that goes with the territory - name me a seam bowler in the modern game who hasn’t. It is hard work and they’ve also to dive around in the field and contribute a few runs. Changed days from the Jackson/Gladwin era and before, when an outstretched boot was the concession to agility from the bowlers and all that was expected of them.

Critics say he can be expensive and loses his radar from time to time, but I tend to take a more pragmatic view. Five-an-over in List A and seven-an-over in T20 is hardly cafeteria bowling. In addition, Palladino, like Footitt and Mark Turner, takes wickets with impressive regularity. Eight four-wicket and two five-wicket hauls in 52 matches is impressive, as is a career record of 117 wickets at 34 with limited opportunity. Comparisons may be odious, but Lungley took three five-wicket hauls in ten years, as did Hunter and neither took four in a Championship innings.

Palladino is thus more penetrative and crucially four years younger. With opportunity he can get better, which realistically wasn’t going to happen with the other two. All things considered, John Morris has again strengthened the squad. Two aging bowlers of questionable fitness have been replaced by two who are not yet at their peak.

If we can get them all fit and keep them that way, we have a nucleus of attacking bowlers with the ability to take wickets. That inexperience may see them expensive at times, but their strike rates suggest that we could take the wickets required to win Championship matches next season.

For me, that’s progress.

A top overseas star in the Spring, after IPL and international commitments are known and we’ll do all right.

Derbyshire sign Palladino

News this morning that Derbyshire have signed Essex seamer Tony Palladino on a two year deal, replacing Ian Hunter whose contract has been cancelled by mutual consent.

It was rumoured a couple of weeks back and its good to see the deal has come through.

More from me later!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Grounds for disappointment

There's a few murmurs of discontent around the boards tonight at the lack of cricket at outgrounds in the coming season, especially for Derbyshire.

I can understand the disappointment, as I'd really hoped for a game against Yorkshire at Scarborough. As regular readers will know, it is my last remaining cricket ambition to see the county play there, but it won't happen next year. Nor do we seem to be playing at any outgrounds elsewhere, which is a shame but symptomatic of the times, I'm afraid.

The fact is that preparation of wickets and grounds costs money. Transporting equipment and boundary hoardings does too, then there's the erection of marquees, perhaps additional security/stewarding. A county would have to be very confident of making money to bear such costs. There's also health and safety issues, not the least in food preparation and hygiene at grounds where space is at a premium, and car parking concerns to address in some places. This is why Leek seems to have been a one-season experiment, with the cost/benefit analysis coming down on the wrong side of things.

I'd share disappointment that there's no T20 at Chesterfield, but that will be the reason, my friends. Its one thing doing it for Cricket Week there, when you only have to ship there and back, but to do it two or three times doesn't make financial sense. I'm not privy to the club receipts, but presumably the additional crowd for last year's T20 against Leicestershire at Chesterfield didn't balance out the costs of shipping all that gear.

A lot of money has gone into developing Derby and we now need to make it work. I mentioned last week the need for a big name draw as overseas player, but key to next season is going to be the tracks there. Crowds are less likely to turn up for matches where a good score is 130 in a T20. Most want to see the ball appearing in their midst, preferably deposited their by our players.

We need more pace too. When we have Marks Turner and Footitt, Sheikh  et al, a slow track is probably the last thing we want. If the groundstaff can get a bit of pace and life into the wickets while still keeping them sporting, I would suggest we have a better chance of success than if the bowlers need semtex to remove batsmen.

Anyway, I've got a few dates pencilled in already for potential trips and can't wait for it all to kick off.

One final thought. Gloucestershire away in the first match? We'll be saving money from the off. Two nights accommodation maximum then home on the third afternoon.

With a win under our belts of course...

Monday, 13 December 2010

Something special for the New Year - Eddie Barlow celebration

Next year will mark 35 years since the late, undeniably great Eddie Barlow arrived in Derbyshire to transform our cricket fortunes.

I wrote about him recently, when suggesting that the club’s greatest player beginning with B should be Barlow and not Kim Barnett. Barlow shook the club to its foundations between 1976 and 1978 and made us a side to be reckoned with. His three years at the club were, without doubt, the most memorable that I can recall as a Derbyshire fan, aside from the summer of Dean Jones. I saw a lot of cricket in that period and I’ll unashamedly say that Eddie Barlow was, and still is my major cricket hero. Given I’m past the stage of having new heroes now, I suppose he always will be.

To mark the anniversary, I will be producing a series of articles in the New Year based on a recent interview with Eddie’s widow, Cally. I am extremely grateful to her for taking the time to answer the many questions I had with unfailing good humour.

I am also grateful to David Griffin at Derbyshire County Cricket Club, for his recollections of the period and for filling in a few gaps, as well as to several former players for their comments on a golden period in the club’s history.

Their input has helped to create a fascinating insight into the player and the man. Hopefully it will help to while away the winter as we approach a fresh new season. How apposite would it be if the anniversary could be marked with further success?

I would be grateful for any of your memories too. If you watched Derbyshire during this period, or played with Eddie, I would love to hear from you. Contact me in the usual manner – peakfan36@yahoodotcodotuk

Just note that the ‘dots’ in the middle should be dots. I’ve written it that way as otherwise I’ll be bombarded with a hundred e-mails about a relative who has died in Africa leaving me his/her fortune. You’d be amazed at how many I apparently have out there, though at the rate they’re apparently dying in car and plane crashes there can’t be too many left…

The fixtures are coming...

The fixtures are out tomorrow and I have to say that there’s one thing on my mind at present.

SURELY this is the year when we play Yorkshire at Scarborough? I’ll be mailing my favourite hotel there by the end of the day if so. Given that we’ve again got the Netherlands in the CB 40 instead of Scotland, I reckon I’m due one.

Fingers (and toes) crossed…


This isn’t a criticism of the club site, because I know that the quote came from a national newspaper, but isn’t the reference to Thomas Spencer-Wortley as a ‘solo Il Divo’ somewhat odd?

Why not call him the Derbyshire Russell Watson or Paul Potts – maybe even, if he’s good enough, the Derbyshire Rolando Villazon? If we’re going to sell the guy, how about the Peak Pavarotti? I’ve seen him better described as the ‘English Josh Groban’, which at least makes sense. There’s no doubt that he can sing.

As it stands though, it’s like calling Billy J Kramer a ‘solo Beatle’…

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Smith in form

There was a century for Greg Smith for the Mountaineers in Zimbabwe today.

118 in an all out total of 283 was a fine effort. Coming in with his side 23-3, Smith batted 257 minutes and hit 13 boundaries in his innings, adding 150 for the fourth wicket with Mark Vermeulen.

Good to see him back in batting form - hope it continues through to our season!

Something for the weekend

Sometime next week – most likely on Tuesday – we should know the fixtures for 2011. Despite a few doom and gloom merchants on the various boards and despite having lost some big name players, I’m reasonably optimistic at this stage.

Why? Partly because I think we still have a core of talented players at the club and partly because I find it hard to believe we could have such bad luck with injuries as we did in 2010. A fit Wagg and Clare would have made a massive difference to our fortunes last year and while the former is gone, Jonathan Clare’s fitness will be like having a new signing. He’s already shown his ability to score runs and take wickets, so…

Similarly, several batsmen had their problems last season, with Garry Park, Greg Smith and Wayne Madsen less prolific than previously. For Park and Madsen it was, perhaps, the advent of second season syndrome and both will come through it. Smith simply had to do too much bowling. Only the really outstanding can bowl seam, switch to offspin with the old ball, then go and score big runs on a regular basis. Garry Sobers and Mike Procter were cases in point, but it takes its toll on the body and something, at some point, has to give. With the added burden of captaincy last year, Smith actually did pretty well, but I’d still like to see someone else in that latter role to ease the burden.

With Wes Durston eager to prove a point to Somerset, and Matt Lineker, Paul Borrington and Dan Redfern keen to break into the side, there should be good competition for places. All that without mentioning Chesney Hughes. While he may find things tougher second time around, the lad is a class act and could surprise a few people.

I also look around the country and see counties in turmoil. Kent, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Glamorgan – none have had to look too far for trouble this winter and several have been decimated by money issues. As my old mammy used to say, if you ever think things are bad, just look around you. Of course, if what is around you is your fault it doesn’t help too much, but you get my drift…

As I pointed out on IMWT the other day, John Morris is quite rightly playing a waiting game regarding his overseas star and needs to know who is available. Suggestions that he’s ‘missed the boat’, as suggested by a correspondent on IMWT are ludicrous and patently unfair, given the huge amount of work that goes into getting one person to say yes.

I think that there may be several Australians more willing for a county stint than before. If they lose the Ashes (and I think they will) the fallout will be substantial. Besides a few older players who may lose central contracts, there may be a few who could see a successful county stint as a window of opportunity.

One such would be Cameron White, long regarded as one of his country’s more gifted players. At present he seems to be seen as a one-day specialist for his country, but if Katich and North lose their Test places and Ponting retires from the international game, he could well be in the frame for a wider role. Captain of his state, he is a dynamic batsman, brilliant fielder and more than useful leg spinner. At 27, an impressive season in the county game, especially as skipper, could help his cause immensely, resurrecting his international ambitions as such stints did for Simon Katich and Marcus North. The added benefit in such a player would be his ability to play all forms of the game, though the down side may be his salary demands.

If I was White, I would see a season in England, scoring 2,000 runs and taking 30-40 wickets, as an ideal showcase opportunity. In my humble opinion, doing that would be of greater long-term benefit than faffing around in a tinpot one-day competition somewhere that told no one anything new. For White it could easily lead to the ultimate prize as national skipper. Michael Clarke’s fragile back and fragile relations (according to some) with his team mates may legislate against him succeeding to the captaincy, but only if there is a viable alternative. White has been cited as a future national skipper for years, but this is close to being his time. Miss out now and the chance may not come again.

Of course, Australian international commitments may rule him out, and regular readers of this blog will know that only South Africa and New Zealand are free of international commitments next summer.

But the signing of a player of that standing would be a statement of intent by Derbyshire. With excellent facilities at the County Ground and increased capacity, we now need a charismatic personality to lead the team, set an example and draw the crowds with a vibrant brand of cricket. Chris Rogers was a fine player, but he wasn’t THAT sort of player. In my humble opinion, such a signing, in the volatile context of current county cricket, could define the season.

Cameron White would be one such man. If John Morris could land someone of that calibre, 2011 could be the year the Falcons fly.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

News at last.

Sadly, yet again today I'm on enforced leave, with the scarily snowy and icy roads pretty much impassable round here. A 10 minute journey from the railway station to my house yesterday took nearly four and a half hours, with those roads still being very poor today.

So here I am, in a cosy living room. Or at least, it would be if the central heating hadn't packed in and the engineer wasn't stuck in snow and all vehicles off the road today. Still, the emergency heater is pleasant and I can't complain too much as there's many worse off.

Anyway, fixtures, I'm reliably informed will be out next week. That's when we can all start to plan what matches we'll get to and start to dream of sunny weather and Derbyshire wins. OK, maybe both is pushing it, so lets settle for overcast conditions and whuppin' the opposition more often than not.

Worcestershire hope to sign Shakib al Hasan for a couple of short periods next summer around his international comitments, while Gloucestershire's John Bracewell has said that he can't afford an overseas player next year, and only has £40,000 to spend on a new player. That might get him his preference, a T20 player, or he could go for a decent county professional for that money. Either way, with the 'out' door creaking from overuse this winter, Bracewell will have his work cut out to make his side competitive next summer.

Recently I suggested that Bristol could be a logical home for Mark Cosgrove, which obviously won't happen now (unless he becomes their T20 specialist of course.) Gloucestershire's erstwhile overseas star James Franklin looks set to join Lancashire, according to reports, while Nottinghamshire hope to confirm David Hussey as their man for 2011. He's given them great service, but may yet fancy a Test call up if the Aussie batting continues to show the fragility that it has thus far in the Ashes.

I still think that John Morris will keep his powder dry for the time being and see what happens in the coming months. There may be considerable fall out from the Ashes, with players becoming available and some being elevated to the international side because of the frailties of others. With Simon Katich now out, Phil Hughes might get another chance, while Marcus North must be very close to being dropped.

While we'd all like to see our man named and start to dream, I'd sooner wait and get the best man possible. There's also a lot of cricket to be played between now and April and we've been down the path of seeing our international star withdraw through injury before - too many times...

Anyway, that's it for the time being. Time to see if I can clear more snow...

See you soon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Weekend thoughts

Sorry it has been quiet on the blogging front for the past few days but there's been precious little to report on the county front.

Zander de Bruyn moved from Somerset to Surrey, which surprised me. He's a good player in Division One with one of the better county sides, yet has moved to Division Two. I would think it is purely a financial move, but could turn out a shrewd one for the Ovalites as de Bruyn is only a year away from getting a British passport. He will compensate them for the likely loss of Mark Ramprakash for most of next year and may mark another swing in the Kolpak market.

I understand that the demands of some domestic players are such that counties can even take the hit of financial penalties from the ECB and be better off signing a decent Kolpak. Now that such players need recent international experience to qualify, such players as Neil McKenzie, de Bruyn and (probably) Makhaya Ntini make attractive propositions. The latter will almost certainly appear in the county game next summer and on the basis of his form for Kent last year would be an inspired signing.

By my very quick calculation, there are 25-30 players who were released last season by their counties currently without a deal and that, as we approach Christmas, tells its own story.

Elsewhere, Greg Smith has bowled some parsimonious spells of late for the Mountaineers in South Africa, most recently 15 overs for just 24 against the Matabeleland Tuskers (imagine that name on the back of a size small shirt!) Greg has been a little short of runs, but  there's a lot of cricket left over there.

As for the Ashes, I'm ever more convinced that England will win easily. The Aussie attack looks pretty innocuous to me. I'm baffled by how far Mitchell Johnson has gone back and the rest look like a fairly ordinary county attack. Johnson was suggested by a correspondent on 606 recently as an overseas player for us next season, but I don't see it. At 29 he should be approaching his peak, whereas right now his career appears in decline. As for their spinners, while I never thought Nathan Hauritz a world-beater, surely he's better than Xavier Doherty, who looks little better than a net bowler?

The Aussies do have a lot of good batsmen, as evidenced by the likes of David Hussey, Adam Voges, Michael Klinger, Shaun Marsh, Phil Jaques and Phil Hughes. One of these would do nicely for us next season, though I suspect one or more may earn recalls before this series is out. Katich and North are both close to last chance saloon and I still feel that Shane Watson is better suited to the middle order.

Otherwise that's it for now. Unless there's more overnight snow I should manage work tomorrow for the first time since Tuesday after a lot of digging this weekend and its only three weeks until Christmas...

Es are good...

After the decisions that went in to choosing letters A to D, even ET could choose the winner of letter E. Whatever way you look at it, the answer is going to be Elliott...

John Eggar was an attractive stroke player when available from teaching commitments in the late 1940s and early 1950's, while Peter Eyre contributed with bat and ball in the 1960's. Eyre's great moment, of course, came in the Gillette Cup semi-final at Chesterfield in 1969, when he took six Sussex wickets and was close to being unplayable.

However, the choice really comes down to two men, both named Elliott.

My second choice would be Charlie Elliott. An opening batsman of great determination, he scored over 11,000 runs for the county. His peak came after the Second World War, when he scored a thousand runs in six successive seasons. A career average of only 27 per innings was not spectacular, but in the context of the county game at that time he was a solid professional.

He later became a first-class umpire and was highly respected, standing in 42 Test matches. Latterly he served on the club committee for ten years, giving great service alongside his former captain and colleague Guy Willatt. He was the last of Derbyshire's pre-war cricketers to die, at the age of 91 in 2004.

Yet for me it was his uncle, Harry, who is number one. Born in 1891, he joined the county staff in 1920 after the First World War at the age of 29. There was no 'discrepancy', as the club site puts it, over his age. He simply lied about it and took four years off, as he would never have got a county contract at his real age of 29. He only revealed this fact at a players reunion in 1967, which meant his last appearance came at the age of 55!

He was a sticker as a batsman. always at his best when staving off a defeat. A first class record of only 14 per innings tells that he never fulfilled early promise, but he sold his wicket dearly and when runs were needed he had a distinctive 'mow' through mid wicket from one knee that brought him many runs.

While Bob Taylor later passed his aggregate of victims, Elliott still holds the club record dismissals in an innings, a match and a season. He also took more stumpings in a season than anyone else (30)and was a very good wicket-keeper over a career that spanned 25 years.

Most astonishingly, in 1935 he didn't allow a bye in 25 completed innings. This speaks volumes for the accuracy of the attack, but with two spinners in Townsend and Mitchell it says much more for Harry Elliott. After his career ended he became a successful first class umpire and county coach, while for years he ran a sports shop in Derby with Derby County footballer Sammy Crooks.

Derbyshire have been well served over the years by their glovemen. While Bob Taylor is still the benchmark, there have been few better than Harry Elliott, a deserved winner of the E award.

As for the Fs, there's not too many candidates, I'll warn you now...