Thursday, 24 March 2011

Various points

No major news to report today. That doesn’t appear to mean that people are any easier with the recent events at the County Ground, certainly not judging by the volume of e-mails I have received.

People aren’t happy and the AGM promises to be a feisty affair to say the least. I guess it will be a hot ticket and I hope people take the opportunity to ask all the questions that they’re asking me and don’t turn bashful.

Just one thing about the blog comments – please avoid personal insults and litigation-worthy statements. I will remove anything of that nature that I see as its my site and me that gets the grief if someone is unhappy. I’m always happy to see your comments – but don’t get personal about people, please.

Derbyshire struggled with the bat in Barbados yesterday, though I’m honestly not fussed at this stage. The nearest I could relate to how they must feel right now is perhaps going back to work after six months away from your desk. Even after a fortnight’s holiday the first few days can be hard going, so players need to iron out techniques and dust the cobwebs off their strokeplay.

By and large the bowlers have done pretty well and Jake Needham is making a strong case for regular involvement with both runs and wickets. I hope that Jake’s winter in South Africa with Phil Russell has worked, as he would give us a useful variant in all forms of the game.

Tony Palladino looks handy too at this early stage, while most of the batsmen have got some runs so far. Paul Borrington and Wayne Madsen both did well yesterday. The latter we know all about and he is a key member of the side, but this is a big year for Bozza. We know he has a good technique and can stick in there, but he also has to be prepared to play his shots when the chance arises. He and Dan Redfern both need to get through the ‘nice thirty’ syndrome that affects them and play innings of greater substance.

I remember reading Mark Butcher explaining how he took some time to realise how he was getting out at a similar stage with monotonous and frustrating regularity. The penny eventually dropped that he was concentrating hard and ensuring that his feet were moving and he was watching the ball until he got to twenty. Then he mentally relaxed and thought he was OK, resulting in his giving it away far too quickly. Once he acquired the ability to switch on and off his concentration between overs and wasn’t so mentally tired, he started to score with the frequency that made him an England regular.

It’s the same for wicket-keepers. Luke Sutton has spoken of the demands on him as wicket-keeper and captain and said that you learn to relax between overs or you are mentally ‘gone’ before the end of the day. We saw that with Lee Goddard last year and none of us can really appreciate the mental demands, the concentration required to bat for hours against people trying to make a ball do tricks. Batting on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is one thing, but again, batting for six hours when your livelihood depends on it requires a completely different skill and mind set.

I’ll be interested to see how Matt Lineker gets on this season. Over recent years he has been remarkably prolific in the Derbyshire leagues, but if he’s to translate that to the first-class game he will need to work harder than ever before. Every jump in standard makes the game harder, obviously, and batsmen will get fewer bad balls to put away. Bowlers will find they’ve less margin for error and fielders need to be on their toes all the time.

Even I found that. My club side once got promoted in four successive seasons, partly through league reorganisations. We suddenly found ourselves playing against some seriously good players who could bowl quickly and spin it a lot. Some of the fun went at that point. Facing a West Indian quickie on a park pitch where the ball exploded like a grenade was no laughing matter. My mental preparation became one of making a mental note to check my life insurance policy when I got home…

That’s why the World Cup minnows have largely struggled. Players can, if they’re good enough, raise their game for occasional one-offs, but only the best will survive over the long haul. That’s why Ireland did better than most, as they had around eight players with decent first-class experience. Its also why Kevin O’Brien failed after his day of glory against England. The combination of faulty technique and mental tiredness, coupled with the weight of expectation did for him.

For me, these issues are the problem with the ECB payments for playing age-bracket players. Some players acquire these skills fairly quickly, others later and some not at all. The history of the game is littered with late developers who became very good cricketers, but if we’re to effectively say “you’ve reached 23 without the necessary skillset – goodbye” we could miss out on a generation of talent.

Given the financial issues in the current game, few will get second chances and that’s quite sad.

In closing and on a lighter note, I read today that there were just 15 paying customers at the Kenya v Bangladesh World Cup game.

And we reckoned last year’s T20 attendances were disappointing?

PS I see Nottinghamshire have jetted out for the pre-season opener against the MCC. As ECB spokesman Fred Flintstone put it: “the pitches at Lords just now don’t allow for a good game of cricket, but those in Abu Dhabi do…”

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