Sunday, 30 October 2011

Something for the weekend

There was a classic case of "every dog has his day" in Australia today, as New South Wales wicket-keeper Daniel Smith, a teammate of Usman Khawaja, made his first century at the age of 29.

And what a century! 185 not out from 123 balls as his team chased down 323 to win in 50 overs and won with ten overs to spare. It was a remarkable effort and I mention it merely because it appealed to my love of the underdog. Smith only plays when Brad Haddin is unavailable and I love to see such people flourish when opportunities arise.

I got a delightful e mail the other day from a Derbyshire fan in Romania and was interested to see that he started to support the club for a similar reason, the club being seen as perennial underdogs. I think that is starting to change and is perhaps the greatest benchmark of progress at the club. For a long time we have been seen as minnows, but I firmly believe that we are moving forward, confirmation of that hopefully coming next season.

Following on from my last article, I would just like to confirm that I have the greatest respect for Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja and would be delighted if we confirmed them in overseas roles for 2012. I think they both did OK last year and would expect greater returns if we confirmed them for next year in the light of their experiences.

What I do feel is that a modification to the qualification rules for overseas players might be of benefit across the counties. With virtually the entire top tier of international talent removed through IPL and the international calendar, maybe the cricket authorities need to work with immigration and return to the days when counties could bring in an overseas player of their choice, irrespective of international experience. Chris Wilkins would never have played for Derbyshire under such regulations and what an entertainer we would have missed. Keith Boyce could likewise never have entertained Essex fans, while most counties have similar success stories over the years.

Looking at some of those names in the previous piece, I feel quite strongly that there are counties who would enjoy greater benefit from an overseas player keen to make a name, than from a fair to middling overseas player who gets an opportunity by dint of playing in a weak side.

Examples? At 29, Stephen Cook, (pictured) son of former South African batsman Jimmy, has been a run machine in South Africa for years. A top score of 390 and 22 centuries in 111 innings suggests a very fine player, yet one out of the international reckoning because of the strength of their domestic cricket. Compatriot Rilee Rossouw is another fine player, as is Dean Elgar and I'd venture that all of them would score heavily in England - certainly more than a few of the "have passport, will travel" brigade I have mentioned. There might be greater appeal for fans too, seeing a few unknown entities for the first time. Similarly, Australian Michael Klinger is a good player who would have scored good runs in England had the opportunity been there for him. These are but a few examples and there are others.

Such players would, like many before them, offer something new to the county game and wouldn't cost the earth. The opportunity to showcase their skills to their national selectors would be a massive incentive to them and there would be considerable benefit to clubs and fans alike.

Surely more than there currently is when having to choose from players who qualify, but only by dint of being, in some cases, an average player in a mediocre side, one that has enabled them, through that mediocrity to make the requisite qualifying international appearances?

As always I welcome your comments...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Because they're (not) worth it?

There was good news about the signing of Peter Burgoyne on a two-year deal this morning. The youngster, whose season in 2012 will see him complete his school education before becoming a full-time professional in 2013, is the latest to put pen to paper over the last couple of months as Karl Krikken and Chris Grant have tied up the signatures of all the major members of playing staff who were coming into the final years of contracts or had come to the end ofan existing deal.

That being the case, it amused me that a contributor on the Falcons Forum had posted "Give Us More Signings." To be fair it was a piece on our winter signings over the last fifteen years which was well-researched and illustrated that we had got a lot better over recent years in picking up players of decent quality. That had a lot to do with John Morris' eye for a player and ability to convince them Derbyshire was the land of opportunity, but I don't see us spending winters looking for announcements of new signings in the years ahead. Rather, we will ensure that our own young talent is tied to the club as far as possible and their skills will be augmented by picking up an occasional player of proven quality.

A few days ago I suggested that counties might eventually sacrifice signing an overseas player of minimal experience for an older professional of ability if there were people around with the right talent. Jamie Dalrymple is a worthy example and I could see a lot of merit in picking up such a proven all-rounder on perhaps a three-year deal over a second or even third tier player from overseas. Many of these can only play for three months between tours, before handing over the role to another nomad from warmer climes and most are simply not here long enough to make a worthwhile contribution.

Take a look at these Championship stats from last year:

Derbyshire - Guptill 537 at 38, Khawaja 319 at 39
Durham - None apart from T20
Essex - Tsotsobe 5 wkts at 77
Glamorgan - Petersen 1069 at 42
Gloucestershire - Williamson 831 at 36
Hampshire - Tahir 28 wkts at 24
Kent - Riaz 13 wkts at 34
Lancashire -  Maharoof 281 at 31, 14 wkts at 50
Leicestershire - McDonald 312 at 39 and 8 wkts at 38
Middlesex - Rogers 1300 at 54
Northamptonshire - Vaas 403 at 26 and 70 wkts at 21
Nottinghamshire - Voges 845 at 44, Bravo 248 at 35
Somerset - Kartik 285 at 28 and 26 wkts at 35
Surrey - Ojha 24 wkts at 12, Arafat 20 wkts at 48
Sussex - Naved 180 at 15 and 27 wkts at 34, Parnell 15 wkts at 41
Warwickshire - Chanderpaul 539 at 89 Yousuf 353 at 32
Worcestershire - Shakib 7 wkts at 18 Wright 31 wkts at 27 Ajmal 17 wkts at 28 Roach 14 wkts at 40
Yorkshire -  Rudolph 318 at 45

Dalrymple averaged 36 with the bat in a truncated year and took ten wickets at 44, not suffering in comparison to some very average figures above. There were successes, of course.Vaas was a standout for Northamptonshire as Rogers was at Middlesex, while Ojha's late season wickets were crucial for Surrey but no more so than the 1300 runs scored by Zander de Bruyn as a Kolpak. Likewise, Neil McKenzie exceeded a thousand for Hampshire but they were still relegated and others like de Wet and Myburgh were singularly unimpressive.

T20? Another mix and match to be honest...

Derbyshire - Guptill 476 at 34
Durham - Miller 212 at 26
Essex - Styris 220 at 37 and 7 wkts at 23, Southee 130 at 15 and 22 wkts at 19
Glamorgan - Petersen 423 at 32, Cosgrove 293 at 20
Gloucestershire - Williamson 248 at 17, 9 wkts at 25, Muralitharan 12 wkts at 31
Hampshire - Afridi 180 at 20, 17 wkts at 11, Tahir 17 wkts at 16
Kent - Riaz 20 wkts at 20, Langeveldt 15 wkts at 31
Lancashire - Maharoof 59 at 11 and 10 wkts at 23, Junaid 12 wkts at 11
Leicestershire - MacDonald 600 at 52 Razzaq 300 at 30 and 19 wkts at 24
Middlesex - Rogers 154 at 22, McLaren 136 at 13 and 14 wkts at 33
Northamptonshire - Botha 245 at 20, 12 wkts at 24, Vaas 2 wkts at 44
Nottinghamshire - Hussey 357 at 39, Voges 434 at 30
Somerset - Van der Merwe 169 at 56 and 4 wkts at 31, Pollard 234 at 39 and 12 wkts at 27, Kartik 17 wkts at 21
Surrey - Arafat 71 at 23 Nannes 19 wkts at 20
Sussex - Naved 118 at 23 and 16 wkts at 15, Gul 12 wkts at 21, Parnell 6 wkts at 33
Warwickshire - Patel 11 wkts at 31
Worcestershire - Shakib 110 at 9 and 19 wkts at 16, Ajmal 16 wkts at 11
Yorkshire - None

Again, some decent performances but a lot that are nothing to write home about as far as I'm concerned.


Book Review: Golden Boy - Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket by Christian Ryan

In many ways Kim Hughes always struck me as a throwback to a bygone era. His cavalier style of batting, with little regard for the match situation, would not have been out of place in the Cardusian "Golden Era" prior to the First World War. With a landmark beckoning, Hughes often aimed to reach it with a towering six. Sometimes it came off spectacularly, but on others he perished and there can be few big name batsmen who have missed out so often in the 90s as Hughes had a tendency to do. His strokeplay was vivid, innovative and eye-catching, though his self-confessed tendency to decide on the stroke before the ball was delivered could also lead to his downfall. To do that when seeing it like a football is one thing; to do it on a regular basis is not the most sensible of approaches.

A Test average of just under 40 is indicative of talent, but not at the very highest level and a player with Hughes attitude - one similar to Michael Slater, Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle and a few more - will always entertain and infuriate in equal measure. As he showed in the centenary Test at Lords, Hughes was like the little girl with the curl: when he was good, he was very, very good - though when he was bad...

I've read a good few books over the years that purported to be "explosive" and this is one of the few that genuinely lives up to the billing. A number of the main protagonists declined to be interviewed for it and the author, Christian Ryan, has done a remarkable job in piecing together the story of an Australian dressing room at a time of turmoil from those willing to talk. There was a lot going on of course - the Packer revolution, rebel tours and big name/big ego players was a recipe for disaster, unless overseen by a player of equable temperament and ability.

Kim Hughes was just short of that and the attitude of the Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee does not show them in the best light. Lillee, trying to knock Hughes' head off at every net session; Marsh, seemingly undermining him at every turn with his own captaincy ambitions thwarted and the Chappells offering little in the way of support and plenty that could be construed as antagonistic. Hughes' carefree attitude sat poorly with them and they made their dissatisfaction patently obvious to most observers, certainly those with more than a passing eye on the Australian dressing room. He was too flashy, too unreliable, too much the outsider to their inner circle. His ultimate breaking down at the press conference as he resigned the captaincy of the national side was more remarkable by the fact that it took so long to happen, given the pressures he faced from inside and outside of the side.

Kim Hughes' career spiralled downwards as his eye went and his foot movement became more leaden. A less than perfect technique being shown up by the physical and psychological bombardment of the West Indies of the time, an unrelenting attack that was always going to test a happy and compulsive hooker. His final years were a melancholic parody of a batsman capable of genuine brilliance as he found various ways of getting out, infuriatingly when well-set.. Yet having played club cricket in Scotland for thirty years, I can vouch for the fact that every overseas professional is still compared to Hughes' spectacular year for Watsonians in Edinburgh before he made the international scene, while those who saw his rapier-like bat in action at Lords in that centenary Test saw batsmanship of a calibre rarely equalled, let alone surpassed. That he was a player of brilliance was undeniable. The reality is that there were just too few days when it lasted long enough to make a real difference.

The author has produced a masterful book that will live long in the memory. Perhaps too sensationalised for some tastes, but if you like your cricket books to make you think, raise your eyebrows and shake your head, this is undoubtedly one for you. As a 'several flies on a wall' account of a disintegrating dressing room, one overly reliant on a handful of ageing players, it is up there with the very best of its genre.

With Christmas coming, I would start slipping hints to the love of your life. This is a seriously powerful and thoroughly engaging read .

Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket is published by Allen and Unwin and the paperback is currently selling for £7.36 on Amazon

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Closing in fast...

Well, the blog is rapidly closing in on 200,000 hits, a figure that at present usage should be reached sometime next week. I'm especially grateful for your support at a fairly quiet time of year when there is little news to report, in all honesty. I could branch out and cover wider cricket issues but there's loads of sites you can go to for that, so I would rather continue to supplement the titbits of Derbyshire cricket information with some book reviews that may be of interest, especially as we approach the festive season. If, like me, you're asked what book you would like for Christmas, I hope that these reviews might be of interest.

I've had a good few sent to me this year by publishers and will be reviewing another couple over the next few days. If you want to look back over reviews, simply enter the term "Book Review" into the search box at the top of the page. I'm grateful to an increasing number of publishers who send books to me and am continually impressed by the high standard of books over the course of 2011.

As for Derbyshire news, there's not a lot. Martin Guptill missed New Zealand's game today, while Usman Khawaja will be en route to South Africa, where the home team returned to form and thrashed Australia the other day. There was a fine performance by Morne Morkel, a player I would love to see in Derbyshire colours sometime, perhaps in T20, if he could be bothered and we could afford him. He is fast, awkward and gets a lot of bounce at his height, not bad attributes for a fast bowler...

Such news will have to wait though. I don't see many T20 players being signed around the country till the IPL auction is complete and we see who has and hasn't got deals. There are usually a few surprises, more often than not of the "how the heck are they paying him $100K?" in relation to an Aussie player with less first class experience than Tom Knight. Good luck to all those who can get the big pay day on the back of (presumably) their fielding ability. Being purely selfish, I just hope that Martin Guptill is overlooked, as otherwise any idea that he could join Derbyshire for the early season will be well and truly kyboshed. December will reveal all.

Finally tonight, thanks to those in the Netherlands and Romania who are currently making those countries the third and fourth heaviest users of the blog. As always, I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Something for the weekend

Another day, another century for Martin Guptill in Zimbabwe as he steered New Zealand to a comfortable win. Guptill is in a splendid run of form, albeit against a less than top-class attack.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor is fast making himself an overseas player who could come under consideration for part of 2012. His century today was his second in succession and he has become the most reliable component of a somewhat inconsistent line up. Given the limitation on options, Taylor could feasibly find himself in England next summer, having recently taken good runs from a decent Pakistani attack. Like Martin Guptill, he had an early reputation for getting dismissed when well set, but at a similar age he seems to have discovered greater powers of concentration coupled with improved shot selection.

Elsewhere, the South African selectors must have read my last piece as both Jacques Rudolph and Ashwell Prince have been recalled to their Test side. Confusingly, however, their muddled selection continues with Duminy, McLaren and Parnell all dropped and Vernon Philander brought in. For all their rusty struggles thus far, I think they will have too much for Australia in five-day cricket. If not, serious questions need to be asked over a bunch of players of undoubted quality who just don't seem to fire often enough.

Also omitted is Alviro Petersen, who is supposedly considering a Kolpak return to Glamorgan next summer, Marcus North already having taken his overseas berth. For a county with financial issues and at least two highly paid players in Graham Wagg and Jim Allenby, it strikes me as surprising, but maybe they are going for broke after a disappointing 2011 on and off the pitch.

That's pretty much it for tonight. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


I came across an article today that said Kent have whittled down a list of sixty candidates to replace Joe Denly and Martin van Jaarsveld. Are there that many batsmen of county standard currently available? I would assume that an overseas player or players must make up a fair percentage of them, as I would currently struggle to think of ten players who would improve Derbyshire, let alone sixty. I expect them to be at the forefront of those pursuing James Dalrymple, therefore keeping him in the south. Even in their current financial straits, the release of those two should enable good offers to be made, such as the one that looks set to keep Azhar Mahmood with them for another two seasons.

I've been down south over recent days and there has been little happening. The forum is seriously quiet (pleasant after some of the recent shenanigans) and the only county-related news I have come across is another century for Usman Khawaja for New South Wales and more runs for Martin Guptill in Zimbabwe. To be fair, their attack shouldn't worry a player of Guptill's ability too much, though Khawaja's effort should keep him at the forefront of selectors minds over in Oz.

I still find it hard to believe how erratic South African form can be, watching them collapse against Australia yesterday. They are currently missing AB de Villiers through injury but that batting line up should be capable of so much more against a weak Australian attack. I think inconsistent selection is part of the problem and they don't seem to know what their strongest side is. Kallis, Smith and Amla are certainties in the batting, as are Steyn and Morne Morkel, but the rest of the side seems to change with the frequency that most people reserve for underwear. Duminy blows hot and cold, Prince seems out of favour (a player I rate) Ingram, Petersen and several others compete for the remaining places with no current consideration for Jacques Rudolph, in my opinion an outstanding player (who we nearly had at Derbyshire...sigh...)

In the bowling they also flit between an array of spinners and seamers with none really given an opportunity to cement a place and presumably suffering as a result. It is consistency of selection that generates team spirit, which in turn often produces results, the team pulling together at key points in the game.

I hope that we see that consistency from Karl Krikken next season. There are times when players need a break and half the job in being a top coach is knowing when that is. Yet the earlier that Krikk can identify his first choice line-up for most circumstances the greater chance of that team developing the collective spirit that will stand them in good stead for the next campaign.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

It's oh so quiet...

I really disliked that song but it is somewhat apposite for the current state of affairs in the cricket world. Nothing happening in the world of Derbyshire cricket, while international matches tend to be of a somewhat dull and inconsequential nature. If someone can explain to me why, weeks after stuffing them here in the summer, England B are now playing a dull series against India I'd be curious to know. Ah, 'tis the pursuit of filthy lucre...

I do think that there is too much needless, mindless, pointless international cricket played just now and couldn't really care less about some of these series that are going on around the globe. That the West Indies were bowled out for just 61 for Bangladesh today was pitiful, but when you look at their team shorn of Chanderpaul, Gayle and Sarwan and it isn't a team at all. It is barely one with them, to be honest.

Shahid Afridi, a man of Derbyshire vintage at a time we didn't really have one, has announced he's not really retired, merely resting, like a few thespians I know. That must be his third retirement and is not to be confused with his next two, one of which may be the real thing. Or may not be...

Worcestershire have announced they are seeking a big name overseas player - good luck with that lads. I can't think of 18 available big names to go around the circuit, so I'm guessing we'll see a sub-standard or two along the way. It's interesting to me as to whether some counties with budgets tight might be better forgetting an overseas and signing an experienced professional. My own thoughts are that picking up a Dalrymple or Afzaal might be more worthwhile than bringing three blokes from foreign climes for two months each. I can live with  two overseas players in a season, but unless through injury I see no point in playing 'tag' with overseas stars. Some take so long to acclimatise that the salary, flights and accommodation, coupled with their results, makes for a hefty mistake. Given that there are few names out there who would increase the requisite 'bums on seats' in the overseas ranks, I can see a time coming when a lot of teams cease to bother.

Anyway, that's it for tonight. Hopefully more news tomorrow.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Something for the weekend

After an improved season on the field for Derbyshire, one that ended with success for the club Academy, comes more good news with the club harvesting a top marketing award off it.

It is a deserved reward for continued excellent work by a small team that has played a significant role in turning around the financial fortunes of the club. They are to be warmly congratulated on their work and I look forward to seeing more enterprising initiatives in 2012.

Back on the pitch, I don't think I can recall a close-season with less players being released. A few have come to the end of contracts and opted to move on, like Martin van Jaarsveld and Joe Denly at Kent and Greg Smith at Derbyshire, but last year saw a sizeable clearout of older players around the game and this year has seen a few more.

The latest casualty of the ECB age-related payments would appear to be Chris Schofield at Surrey. He has had a decent career, illustrated by 237 wickets at 36 and a batting average of around 30. Yet the likelihood of another deal on the county circuit would appear remote, as happened last year with his erstwhile team mate Usman Afzaal. Such players a few years back would have moved to another county with no problem and considerable competition, but it is increasingly becoming a young man's game. The rights and wrongs of that are well-documented and the merits of the time-served professional are evident in such players as Darren Stevens and Wes Durston.

Durston averaged 30 by the time he reached 26 years of age, but now boasts a first-class average of 37 after successive first-class season averages, albeit sometimes with minimal opportunity, of 46, 57, 54, 22 and 41 since he passed that landmark cricketing birthday. Meanwhile at the age of 26, Stevens averaged a shade under 20 with the bat and had only two wickets with the ball. This has now increased to 34 and he has become one of the most underrated all-rounders in the county game, last season taking 41 wickets at 21, as well as proving one of the best players in T20.

Such players can be seen around the county circuit and there is a temptation to say "what if?" with regard to plenty of others around the counties who may have been prematurely released. The game, especially in its history, is full of late developers, David Steele of Northamptonshire and Derbyshire being a classic example. So too was Graeme Welch, who at 26 had 150 wickets in six summers at an average nearer forty than thirty. Few may have seen him as a genuine talent who would go on to take over 250 wickets in five season for Derbyshire.

What the regulations have done, of course, is put paid to a number of players, and there were plenty over the years, who appeared to coast through seasons, doing just enough, especially in the later season, to get their contract extended. Competition for places on county staffs is now fierce and while the rewards for the successful are greater, opportunities for the late developers are harder to come by and require unprecedented levels of consistency to be maintained.

In closing today, I'm pleased to mention a sparkling century by Usman Khawaja for New South Wales today in a 50-over match against South Australia. He and Phil Hughes (96) put on 212 for the first wicket as his team amassed 261-3, Khawaja making 116 from 137 balls. As I close, however, they look like losing, with their opponents 163-3 needing 99 in 16 overs after good knocks by Michael Klinger and Callum Ferguson.

See you soon.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

More than a little uneasy...

I've been writing this blog for over three years now and if you are a regular reader you will know that I offer opinions freely. We all have them about a lot of things and I am continually flattered that you check in on a regular basis to read mine on Derbyshire cricket.

This is a piece I've thought long and hard about, to be honest and I'm prepared to stand in a minority of one when I receive your comments and e mails, but I still think this needs to be said.

Over on the Forum, a relatively new contributor "therealdeal" is attracting attention with stories of what is happening inside the club. There is a temptation to write it off as someone else with a 'story', but he/she seems too consistently informed and plausible for that. No doubt the veracity of the comments will be proven in coming weeks and months, but I feel considerable and increasing unease at the disclosures, which is what they appear to be.

Why? Because I feel there's a big difference between the standard post saying "I was talking to a mate down the pub and he told me..." and someone, either inside the club or close to them, giving away information that is intended and entitled to be kept within it, until those in charge decide the time is right for it to be revealed. There is a genuine danger, in someone trying to make a very minor reputation, that individuals could be hurt or embarrassed and that potential work on signings could be dashed. I know this for a fact, because we almost missed out on a player a few seasons back, when someone "went public" and alerted another county to a player's availaibility when he had yet to sign on the dotted line. Someone chanced across an article on the web, though not the Forum, nor indeed this blog, just in case you wondered.

No names, of course. Like I say, the club is a business and as such is entitled to carry on its work without a "mole" potentially ruining work. I hear a lot of names and stories, but am well aware that there may be issues in revealing most of them, so choose not to do so. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that the people behind the scenes working to do X and sign Y have a right to reveal that information at a time that they feel is appropriate. I've written before that one of the greatest thrills of my sporting life was picking up a newspaper and reading "Derbyshire sign Eddie Barlow." If somebody had revealed that in advance, it would have taken a lot of the edge off the news.

I've also written before that people should be very careful in what they post on the internet. If I wrote something detrimental, or something that compromised the business or reputation of the company that I work for, I would be sacked - end of story. All staff are aware of that, whether using blogs or social networking sites, so we don't do it. It is written into our contracts of employment for one thing and quite honestly doesn't seem right to 'bite the hand that feeds you' anyway.

If Derbyshire are going to sign  - and I stress I'm plucking two names at random here - Brett Lee and AB de Villiers for the T20 this season, they have a right to reveal that news when it suits them and when all the requisite contractual work has been completed. If they release a player, they and that player have a right to private discussions about the parting of ways remaining confidential. There are legalities of business confidentiality that for me are currently being compromised and I wouldn't be at all happy if I was involved in the club. As you can see, I'm not too happy and I'm outside it...

"Ah,,," I hear you say, "old Peakfan is afraid of someone stealing his thunder." Actually, no. Over the last two seasons there is only one signing that I had not heard about, through accident or design and a number of sources, in advance. Yet I chose and will continue to choose to defer revealing that information until it is officially released by the club - assuming I do hear about it, of course. Once it hits the press feeds and the embargo date it is fair game, but prior to that point it rather smacks of pettiness, one-upmanship and, to be frank, stupidity. Something akin to copying the homework of the clever kid in school and taking the credit for it.

If I worked for Derbyshire County Cricket Club and went public with information on internal matters I would expect to be sacked if caught. If I was a mate of someone in the club who gave me information, I would keep in mind the fact that he/she could face that fate if I was silly enough to put confidential information in the public domain. A quiet and confidential conversation in a pub between two trusting mates is one thing. Putting it out on the web for the world to see - and expecting to retain anonymity - is daft beyond belief.

"I need some more news" cried one contributor to "therealdeal" the other night. I'm sure we all do, but it should come from the right party at the right time. We're cricket fans for goodness sake, not junkies craving a next fix.

PS Don't look at my blogs from now on and second guess....if I mention names, for example, like Dalrymple and Cheetham, it is merely an opinion, not the result of inside information. Sometimes the opinion of those that matter simply happens to coincide with mine..

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just a thought...

A week or so back I suggested that we needed to bring in a young seamer from somewhere to augment that area of the attack for next season. Today I read that the bowler who could potentially do that was released by Lancashire.

Steven Cheetham is the bowler, a player with minimal first-class cricket yet a decent record in the few one-day games he has played. He took nearly 50 wickets for their Second XI this summer but was well back in the pecking order at the club.

At 6'5" he gets plenty of bounce with his fast-medium bowling and as a northerner will be used to the the wickets. Chris Adams thought enough of him to take him on loan at Surrey in 2010 where he did OK with limited opportunities. At 24 he has a lot of cricket in him and is probably the best released young seamer of the winter. Yes, his inexperience would be a gamble, but he might just be one of those players who needs and would thrive on opportunity.

With money tight, I could see merit in such a move, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dalrymple leaves Middlesex

At another time in our history - or evolution if you will - I could have seen Derbyshire being interested in Jamie Dalrymple's departure from Middlesex today.

Whether the player would ever consider a move north would have been another thing, but on the face of it there is much to like and admire in him. He is a player I respect for wanting to better himself and take on a senior role with a club, rather than meander down a slow road to eventual retirement. I also respect him as a cricketer, a solid batsman, more than useful off-spinner and excellent fielder who did a decent job as captain at Glamorgan before last winter's cull there left his position as skipper untenable. Press reports suggested that the Welsh dressing room was not the most unified of places, something that the captain has to take some responsibility for. Compare it with Derbyshire's and the positive "vibe" emanating from Luke Sutton's leadership if you will.

I could have seen him fit in well at Derbyshire, batting at five or six. With Dalrymple, Wainwright, Clare and Whiteley in the side you would have four players capable of genuine all-round status. Yet I don't see it happening, in response to a couple of e mails I received today.

Why? Because the improved contracts for key players have probably accounted for most of an already limited budget, while the player's age (30) probably mitigates against it. If we didn't have that solid skipper in Luke Sutton I might have been keener, but thankfully we do. I'm currently reading a fascinating book that I will shortly review, in which former Australian wicket-keeper Rodney Marsh talks about how difficult it is to keep wicket to a high standard and captain a side. Sutton did remarkably well last season in that respect and while he would have liked a few more runs, there were not too many wicket-keepers exceeded his first-class tally. His one day opportunities were limited and he can hold his head high at the end of an excellent campaign.

A player like Dalrymple would improve most sides, but I don't see a massive pursuit for his services in the light of the regulations for age-related payments. I am unsure where he might get the senior role that he obviously craves, but I wish a good, solid county professional well.

Until the next time - thanks for your e mails and keep them coming!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Congratulations to Whiteley

A big well done to Ross Whiteley who made an immediate impression for his new club side, Prospect, in Adelaide.

72 runs and five wickets is a pretty good way to show people what you can do on debut. Keep it going Ross - we will watch your winter progress with great interest!

Something for the weekend

"We can beat anyone" said Somerset's temporary wicket-keeper Steve Snell a couple of weeks ago during the group stages for the Nokia Champions League in India. That assertion was a reasonable one, yet neglected the closing words for the sentence, which read "...unless it's a big game."

This is, without doubt, another golden age for Somerset and it may yet go on to match the era of Botham, Richards and Garner. Yet the reality is that despite all of the victories, daring deeds and performances of real brilliance they haven't won anything. They are obviously a county with greater resources than most - one has only to look at the quality of player they have signed to see that - yet the litmus test of a successful side is silverware. That may come in the next few years as a number of talented young players have come to the fore, but it will be interesting to see when there is a sea-change in the attitude of supporters.

Most (note I said most...) like to see a side doing well and winning more games than they lose, but as a side develops the attitude to near-success will change among some from "well done, good effort" to "chokers." It is an unfortunate reality that success breeds greater expectation and with it a demand for constant improvement.

We are an example of that, an embryonic one if you will. After a few years of stagnation, John Morris came into the club and took us forward in some areas, yet found himself surplus to requirements for reasons that have been hinted at yet not officially confirmed. Karl Krikken came in with the usual breathing space for new managers and acquitted himself well, the team winning its share of matches and only falling down due to a lack of experience in some match situations. His challenge now is to build on that in the coming summers, slowly and steadily being perfectly acceptable to most.

To a great extent, of course, success in sport is increasingly due to the haves and have nots. Derbyshire are never likely to be a wealthy county, never having been one over 141 summers. Yet the county is increasingly a role model for small clubs around the country, mixing fiscal propriety and commercial ingenuity to good effect and keeping their heads above water with remarkable consistency, albeit with the exception of last year.

The only way that a club like Derbyshire - and there are plenty of others around - can take silverware is by an outstanding team ethic, an organised structure that brings through and retains young talent and the reality that most of the side need to perform to potential on big occasions. That is how Leicestershire, a side of similarly modest means, won the domestic 20-over league last year. They had some exciting young talent, but the crux of success was the big match performances of Razzaq, MacDonald, Henderson, Hoggard and Nixon, players who have seen it all yet still retained the spark of ambition and a competitive edge.

Of course, when you come up against opposition of genuine class none of that will count for much, as Leicestershire and ultimately Somerset found out in India. It is no coincidence that the two teams that will compete in the final are from the IPL and that the two best 20-over cricketers in the world will be in direct opposition. The Royal Challengers Bangalore should logically never have chased down 204 to beat New South Wales after Dave Warner had one of those days when it went right for him. Yet Chris Gayle blitzed 92 from 41 balls to leave it a stroll, departing in the 14th over with 162 already on the board. Similarly Somerset should have chased down 160 to beat Mumbai Indians, yet were blown away by the remarkable Lasith Malinga, with assistance from the underrated James Franklin.

The reality is that if you put those two into any English county side for the T20 (aided with a few hundred thousand pounds and their very unlikely desire to play) they would win the competition at a canter. Yet the IPL will always have their attention and will continue to make them vast amounts of money based on their remarkable performances, offering riches that no county, even the more affluent, could match. Both will command seven-figure sums in 2012, so what attraction would there be in even an offer of 150K for perhaps ten matches? It's sad, but inescapably true.

In their absence, teams will jockey for position and one will emerge triumphant, but when it comes to a best of the best showdown, as you see in the Champions League in football each winter, the teams with the money to pay for the best will always come out on top.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Money, money, money

There are some interesting and pertinent comments from the chief executive of Warwickshire CCC, Colin Povey today. As the club tries to work out how it can pay back a £20 million debt to the Council for ground improvements in the light of no Tests in 2013 and 2014, his comments are expecially valid.

"We want to bring our own cricketers through when we can, not least because that means they are good value cricketers. If Chris Woakes, for example, came in from somewhere else he would be a lot more expensive.

As for overseas players, I think we are happy with not bringing hired guns for a few T20s. I don’t see the value in paying Kieron Pollard to come and play four or five games and then not be available if you get to the Champions League.

The overseas-player market is lower-cost now simply because most of the top players are not available. During my time here we signed Dale Steyn – what would he cost now? It’s irrelevant because he is not available full-stop. But someone like Shiv Chanderpaul is good value because, while he is top quality, he is no longer centrally-contracted, so a period in English cricket is a good proposition for him."

It is hard to argue, even if the club has a far greater budget than Derbyshire. By the same token, we don't owe £20 million to anyone and have good people at the helm of the club, people who, if they stay in post will ensure Derbyshire as a club remains both competitive and solvent.

The two major points are obvious. The first is that it is crucial for club's to identify, develop and encourage their own young talent, exactly as Derbyshire are doing. Not all recruits to a county Academy will progress, for a variety of reasons, but if enough of them do it will be enough to keep things ticking over nicely as a viable concern. I am very optimistic over Derbyshire's current crop and feel that we have the right people in place and the right environment for them to prosper.

Secondly, the days of the big-name overseas player have largely gone. Eddie Barlow was the best paid overseas player in the country when we signed him, earning more than Sobers, yet the modern value of his salary (around £80K) wouldn't interest anyone in the light of IPL. Thus the days of the £150K overseas player have gone and in their place are the next level of player down, still good, though commanding lower salaries. The problem there, however, is finding one who :

A - is available for the full summer, or at least enough to make it worthwhile


B - has the requisite recent international experience to qualify for a permit.

That's not to mention...

C - they are fit enough and in good enough form to be worth the effort, as well as being able to work within a team ethic.

It can easily backfire, as Essex found out last season with Tsotsobe. Read this, if you didn't at the time, to find out how it can all go horribly wrong.

Derbyshire struck gold last year with Usman Khawaja and Martin Guptill, Up and coming players with the right attitude. Yes, both would have liked more runs than they ended up with, but there were enough encouraging signs and noises from both sides to suggest that the experience could well be repeated.

"Hope to be back soon" said Guptill on Twitter, while Khawaja welcomes Ross Whiteley to a winter in Adelaide in a Sydney stopover. For me, it sounds like we could well see two eminently likeable and talented young men back at the County Ground in 2012. Maybe my old deerstalker isn't what it once was, but if I was a betting man I'd be putting some on them being back next summer.

That's a result as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Random ramblings

Quite a lot has gone on in the game today, but it is only fair to start with the sad news of the death of Graham Dilley. "Picca" was a decent cricketer and a good coach who will forever be remembered for his exploits alongside Ian Botham in 1981. He bowled quickly and could hit a ball hard on occasions. 52 is way too young to die and my heart goes out to his family. Rest in Peace Graham.

Closer to home I had a look at the excellent newsnow site today and did a double take. I was sure a leading article said "Derbyshire sign Dravid" when in fact it was a local newspaper report on Derbyshire signing David (Wainwright). Thrilled as I am with the Wainwright signing, I was momentarily disappointed that we had not picked up the Indian batting legend as an overseas star...

Over on the Forum there was also one litigation-worthy comment earlier today which has prudently been removed at the first opportunity by the administrator. It is neither fair nor sensible to put personal comments about individuals into the public domain and everyone should keep that in mind. I know that I have written about that before, but everyone should keep it in mind when posting on the internet. Fair, critical comment is one thing, but personal comments are neither nice nor clever.

I was sorry, though not surprised to see that Leicestershire are to allow James Taylor to talk to other counties. I had a feeling that Martin van Jaarsveld was the replacement for him when the signing was announced last week. Despite winning the T20, the county are far from wealthy and cannot pay big money to five or six players. I think Taylor will succumb to the predatorial approaches of either Warwickshire or Nottinghamshire and whoever lands him will get a smashing player. Mind you, if there's any justice he will be with England in the next couple of years, so they may not reap the dividend of his talents for too long.

That's pretty much it for tonight. Keep well and keep reading - remember, it's only 177 sleeps until April...

Monday, 3 October 2011

Monday musings

This is quiet time in county cricket, as players, having said their goodbyes to team mates and staff head off for well-deserved holidays prior to reconvening in the nets in a few weeks time.

The Champions Trophy in India is a mild diversion, if only to marvel at how far Chris Gayle can hit a cricket ball, but for me there's no cricket like Derbyshire cricket. Good, bad or indifferent, they're still my team and I'm sure many of you feel exactly the same.

The conjecture continues about the overseas role, as it will do until we confirm names. I've seen mention of Phil Hughes and various other New South Wales batsmen, but most of them would not get visas. Hughes is a fine player, even if England found him out a little, but I'm unsure as to whether he would want another county stint after his successful spell at Middlesex.

I was intrigued yesterday when looking at the enhanced blog stats from Blogger. In the past month the biggest use of the blog has been from the following countries - in order:

New Zealand

I was quite staggered by that and am assuming that the usage is made up of people on holiday or business in these places, or ex-pats. Whatever, if any of them are you, I would love to hear from you and how you came across the blog! Any ideas for additional features are also appreciated from all of you.

I'd just packed my cricket gear away last week when I got a call asking me to play an indoor match in a couple of weeks time. Now it has snowballed to three matches and its the first time I've played indoor cricket since Gandhi was a lad. OK, maybe not that long ago, but I'd guess that Peter Kirsten was our overseas player at the time, which dates it a little. It promises to be fun and should help me keep in trim, having lost six pounds last week on the decorating diet, aka not having enough time to eat...

 Finally tonight, I'm planning on a lightning trip down south in a couple of weeks time, also known as a "use the holiday allocation before you lose them" trip. To be fair, this is much nicer than "use the holidays up to decorate the house" so I'll go and see my folks down south for a few days before winter sets in and the really busy season for the company I work for.

If anyone fancies meeting up for a drink and some cricket chat while I'm down, drop me an e mail to the blog address (peakfan36atyahoodotcodotuk) and we can sort out a time and place. Always good to meet up with like-minded individuals!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book Review - When Cricket Was Cricket by Adam Powley

The latest book I have been sent for review is a bit of a curate's egg, to be honest.

Published by Haynes, long-established and perhaps best known for their wide range of technical manuals, especially for cars, this is the latest book in a series that has covered the photographic histories of several football clubs.

Visually it is a joy and the photographs are, as one might expect from the Mirrorpix archive, of a very high standard. I have to say that I would have liked to see more older photographs, although that is purely a personal preference and fascination. Those on show are an eclectic and excellent mix of club, school, social, county and international cricket and where this book comes into its own is as a coffee table book. It is a pleasure to pick up and I have even seen my wife and daughter, neither of them cricket fans, looking through it in recent days. There is even a picture of cricket at Buxton; Derbyshire v Lancashire in 1939, with the scoreboard reading a somewhat typical 36-2 from 20 overs. Les Townsend and Stan Worthington are the unidentified batsmen, starting a third wicket stand of 145 runs after the recent dismissal of Albert Alderman.

Others are redolent of a more innocent age. A 1949 crowd scene for a county match at Llanelli shows supporters sitting on planks between two beer barrels, something that health and safety concerns wouldn't allow today, while a 1908 shot of a match in progress, seemingly taken from the gulley position, is of breathtaking clarity.

Where I am less convinced, however, is in the text. The author, Adam Powley is better known for his work on football and although he has largely done a decent and informative job there are irksome errors. Some Americanised spellings for starters, while the mis-spelling of "Dennis Lillie" shouldn't have got through the proof-reading stage. There are also factual errors in the text. Lance Gibbs was not one of the leading Test bowlers of the 1950s - he only made his Test debut in 1957-58 and had just 25 Test wickets by the end of the decade. A reference to former Glasgow Govan MP (and fine cricketer) "the Badar Islam" is sloppy - it was his name, not title - while a reference to the "great Northern League side, Nelson" will surprise those who have played with and against them in the Lancashire League for generations.

My major complaint, however, is in the presentation of the greats of the game. Few would argue with the identification of such players as Hobbs, Hutton, Tendulkar, Richards and Boycott, among others. Yet the logic of including their bowling averages in the potted biography accompanying their photographs escapes me, as none were front-line bowlers. Similarly we read of the great Malcolm Marshall's Test batting average of 18, inconsequential compared to his bowling one of 20 which should have included a reference to  his 376 Test wickets. This is fine and appropriate for genuine all-rounders like Imran Khan and Garfield Sobers, but does no favours for specialist legends of the game.

Maybe I am being picky, but a book that looks as impressive as this could have attained perfection. I have seen many pictorial histories of the game over the years. From an illustrative angle this one is up there with the best, but the text would have benefited from a little additional TLC.

In short? Worth a purchase for the pictures beyond doubt, but be prepared for some textual inconsistency.

When Cricket Was Cricket is published by Haynes Publishing and written by Adam Powley. Priced £18.99, it is currently selling for £9.50 on Amazon.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Book Review - Frank Sugg: A Man For All Seasons by Martin Howe

The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians is long established as a publisher of high quality cricket books. Their titles play an important role in the literature of the game and they are always well researched, written and produced.

This latest title is no exception and is a worthy addition to the list. As much a social history as sporting biography, it tells the story of nineteenth century cricket star Frank Sugg. He started out at Yorkshire, spent a couple of seasons with Derbyshire and then made his name with Lancashire, where he became a good enough player to represent his country twice against Australia. He subsequently started and ran a chain of sports shops in an era when this was popular among cricketers, before the business collapsed along with Sugg's personal fortune, primarily as a result of the First World War.

There were rumours of gambling problems, though never substantiated, yet the player is beautifully presented  in this book. He "never had a day's coaching in his life" yet managed, through a somewhat rustic technique where defence was often a last resort, to become a free-scoring batsman in a powerful Lancashire side over a ten-year period. Expansive drives and pulls were his trademark shots, often played too early in his innings to the detriment of his average. It is interesting to note that after taking ten seasons to reach one thousand runs for the first time, he then did so five times in the next six. Such opportunity would be unlikely to come his way today but Victorian crowds appreciated his approach to the game, one that could sometimes be more effective than the 'blocking' approach of some contemporaries.

His spell at Derbyshire was brief and largely unsuccessful, yet didn't prevent him from getting a bad reception when he first returned with Lancashire, one so bad that the visitors discontinued the fixture for four years. He was also a useful footballer, playing for several clubs including Derby County, but it appears that history, or the man himself, over-stated his importance in the sport. He was, however, the first player to score a hat trick for the Rams, in 1884.

What comes clearly from this excellent book is that Frank Sugg was first and foremost an entertainer and a man with a flair for publicity. His career in club and first-class cricket was studded with spectacular innings, although the very nature of such an approach dictated that there would be periods of failure too. His cricket annual, highly collectable and rare today, ran from 1894 to 1905 and was a fascinating read, with potted biographies and scores, photographs and a fund of anecdotes, as well as top tips for budding cricketers ("rise early, take a cold bath; cleanse the bowels...")

His business career ultimately fell apart, with family feuds leading to a somewhat acrimonious end to it all and there were subsequently a number of failed ventures, as well as two years as a first-class umpire. He at least had a stable domestic life, but his relationship, as a twenty-seven year old cricketer in the public eye, with a girl of seventeen would interest today's tabloids, though not being that unusual in the Victorian era. They later enjoyed a lengthy marriage that produced a son and three daughters, but the sad ending to his life and subsequent burial in a pauper's grave was the culmination of a 'rags to riches and back' life.

The book is beautifully researched and written, as well as being pleasingly and appropriately illustrated. It deserves to do well and, if you are looking for a cricket book that will fascinate, interest and educate you in equal measure, this is one for you.

I would heartily recommend it.

Frank Sugg: A Man For All Seasons is written by Martin Howe and published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians priced £12.