Friday, 30 December 2011

The end of the year

Even for me, not really a fan of T20, there was much to admire in the Big Bash game between Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Renegades today. "It's still cricket, love" I told Mrs P as I made my way downstairs this morning to watch the game, leaving the rest of the family to have a long lie-in.

For one, there was superb fast bowling, hovering around the 90mph mark, from Dirk Nannes, Fidel Edwards and Shaun Tait, as well as high-class leg spin from an obviously injured Shahid Afridi. The three wickets taken by the latter marked the turning of the game, especially when he dismissed Usman Khawaja.

Khawaja had a mixed game, with two catches of real brilliance and a classy-looking 17 runs. While he worked it around, allowing Chris Gayle to blast away in his traditional manner, it was hard to see the Thunder side losing. Nor, at 101-1 in the fifteenth over, chasing another 40 from 32 balls, should they have done so. Yet Khawaja gave it away, launching Afridi, Gayle-like without the power, to a man on the deep mid-wicket fence and the game turned.

The new men found Nannes (4 overs for 10) and Tait far too much for them and I was left thinking that the Thunder, missing their skipper Dave Warner, were a two man side. Gayle eventually perished in the deep, starved of the strike and no doubt frustrated that no one had the nous to push a single. His 75 was by a distance the best knock of the night on a slow pitch, redolent of the County Ground of recent vintage.With a modicum of support it would have been a match-winning innings and deserved to be.

How Khawaja and his team lost this match will have made for an interesting post-match discussion and I'd like to think that a Derbyshire side would have made a better fist of things. They were in such a strong position that it only needed a little common sense to be applied, though I fully understand that knocking the ball into space when it is being delivered with pace and accuracy is perhaps easier to suggest from the comfort of one's armchair...

Anyway, it was worth getting up for, which was the main thing and if Derbyshire are looking for a strike bowler to top and tail an innings, those on show would be worthy of discussion. I still think Tait prone to erratic spells - his first over today went for 16 - yet his last three went for only 14 at the death, fast lifting deliveries combined with searing yorkers to keep the batsmen guessing. Nannes meanwhile was fast and straight, his first ball coming in at 91mph. Some loosener...

I haven't a clue who Derbyshire are chasing for the T20 as we enter 2012, but, like the rest of you, I eagerly await the breaking of the news. A genuine fast bowler, like Nannes or Tait, maybe Brett Lee, would give us something quite different and would make a few teams more wary of facing us.

As we enter 2012, I'm sure I speak for all fans by wishing all connected with Derbyshire CCC a Happy New Year. May 2012 be the year of the Falcons - and the year that you all keep checking in for news and thoughts on Derbyshire cricket, of course!

Thanks for your support in a record-breaking blog for 2011 - I look forward to hearing from you next year.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

All quiet on the cricket front

I hope you all had a good Christmas and are now ready for the fun and frolics of the New Year. Chez Peakfan that generally means staying up playing games until the early hours while listening to Jools Holland and consuming food and (largely) soft drinks.

There's certainly little in cricket to distract me from the family at the moment. I've continued to watch the Aussie Big Bash when I've had time and am increasingly of the impression that spinners, as Derbyshire found last season, often keep things tighter than the quicks. That is partly down to the fact that the quickest bowlers can just as easily go down fine for four off either edge as they can drop it into the blockhole or just short of a length. In the Big Bash I've seen some very quick and good deliveries from the likes of Tait, Rana Naved, Nannes, Edwards and Lee, but at the same time seen them top edged for fours and sixes. Such is the lot of the speed merchant, but a genuine quick does bring excitement to a game of cricket that quite often isn't there when the medium pacers are operating.

Part of the attraction for me is in the thought that perhaps one of these guys is Derbyshire's T20 target for 2012. For all the appeal of Steyn or Morkel, I don't see Cricket South Africa letting them play and potentially be injured before their national side tour England. All the other potential quicks are out there in Australia and I'm enjoying the game of "what if?" when the games are on. I have a day off on Friday (only because I'm working on Saturday...) and look forward to watching what promises to be a fascinating match between Melbourne Renegades and Sydney Thunder. The former have the formidably fast opening pair of Tait and Nannes, while the latter boast Fidel Edwards, who bowled some quick 88mph stuff in their last match.

Best of all, Tait and Nannes will be bowling at "our" Usman Khawaja and the quite remarkable Chris Gayle. I've watched cricket for 45 summers and don't think I've ever seen a player hit a ball so far, so often as the tall West Indian. People like Adrian Kuiper, Viv Richards, Ian Botham and Chris Wilkins were talented hitters, but Gayle is simply brutal. He is also better with age and seems more willing to bat it through than he was even two or three years ago. To average forty in T20 is spectacular and the only shame about the game is that Dave Warner is in the Australian Test side - unless their game finishes tomorrow, which it might. Gayle and Warner together could be quite something, though, like the partnerships between Ian Botham and Viv Richards used to be, they could be brief as they attempt to outgun one another.

Players like Gayle and Warner - even, believe it or not, our old friend Travis Birt - have made a difference thus far in the competition, simply because they bypass any field the opposition skipper cares to set by clearing the ropes. You can't set a field to stop someone like Gayle when he hits eleven sixes, as he did in the Thunders' game against the Adelaide Strikers in the last match. Likewise Birt and Owais Shah both hit three "maximums" as the Aussie commentators love to call them today and a successful side HAS to have one or two players who can be expected to do that. There's maybe not that much between a run-a-ball scoring rate and 1.5 - but you'll win more matches with the latter, for sure.

If I'm honest - and I'm never otherwise, or there's no point my doing this blog - I think a fast scoring bat will win you more T20 games than a bowler for one simple reason. He can face and affect up to 120 balls in the innings, where any bowler, no matter how good, can only determine the outcome of 24. Ain't no rocket science to the argument, although if your strike bowler removed the opposition hitter early in his spell, that one ball could be mighty useful...

I don't know who Derbyshire will end up with for the T20, but I look forward to finding out. And if Messrs Krikken and Grant between them could identify a fast-scoring batsman AND a strike bowler I think we would do much better than has historically been the case.

Not to mention filling those cracking seats in the stand and a good few more besides.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Santa's coming!!

In a few short hours, the man with the long white beard (Santa, not WG Grace) will be winging his way across the skies bringing Christmas goodies to those that deserve them and have been good. Hopefully that includes me, but I'm sure it will include some Derbyshire players too. Here's what I think Santa will bring some of them this Christmas.

For Wayne Madsen it has to be a copy of Mike Brearley's book "The Art of Captaincy". If the new skipper can follow the England legend's lead we will do pretty well next season. Meanwhile, Wes Durston, Ross Whiteley, Tim Groenewald and Tony Palladino will get a copy of "Groundhog Day". If 2012 is like 2011 for those players we will have no complaints whatsoever.

Paul Borrington and Matt Lineker will get a year's extended warranty on the bats they used to such good effect  in the leagues and Second XI last summer, together with a stool to ensure that this year they genuinely make a step up. Chesney Hughes will be delighted with his dancing lessons from Aliona Vilani, the Strictly Come Dancing champion, which will ensure that he is as light on his feet as Muhammad Ali and twice the already very talented player he is because of it.

Dan Redfern will get a Paul McKenna hypnosis DVD, the consequence being that Redders will break through that century barrier and go on to become a run-scoring legend for the county. Tom Poynton might be a little disappointed with his large tube of superglue, but if he liberally applies it to those gloves next summer we will have few complaints about our new glove-meister...

Mark Footitt and Mark Turner each get a sat-nav to ensure that their deliveries always get to the intended destination by the best route, while both of them, together with Jon Clare  will get a copy of the new Steffan Jones fast bowlers fitness workout DVD, "I'm Tough As Nails, Me" to ensure their bodies are in sync with the demands of fast bowling for a full season.

Jake Needham and David Wainwright will both get a spinning top, something they will hope to see a lot in 2012, while Tom Knight and Peter Burgoyne will get the same, together with an atlas. The latter will remind them where they are in what promises to be a hectic and well-travelled year in which they will visit various countries and hopefully appear in the Under19 World Cup.

Finally for Karl Krikken, an envelope bearing the signatures of Usman Khawaja on a dotted line for the second half of 2012, together with those of Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga for the T20. I know that the last two aren't going to happen, but magical things happen if you make a wish at Christmas - at least, that's what I always told my kids. I watched Gayle yesterday smash eleven sixes for Sydney Thunder, Khawaja's team, and allowed myself a brief fantasy in which he was doing that for Derbyshire.

It's a nice thought to take into the Christmas season. Have a good one everyone - and thanks for your continued support of the blog in 2011.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Big Bash

Thanks to those nice people at Bet 365 I've watched a few of the games in the Aussie T20, the so-called Big Bash. For those who don't know, you can register on their website and, for a minimum balance of £5, watch live streaming of all sorts of sports for free. Good, reliable streams too and well worth the money, even if, like me, you never bother to place a bet.

Anyway, I have watched a few games and today saw Shaun Marsh play a fine innings that contained a dazzling array of shots. Admittedly he was helped by one of the more shambolic fielding performances I have seen, with run outs, stumpings and catches missed with a frequency that suggested an unofficial award for worst fielder was attracting numerous entrants. There was also Shaun Tait, bowling at 93mph but with zero direction. Strike bowlers are fine if they can control the ball, but Tait reaffirmed my belief that he is an expensive luxury, one good ball an over accompanied by some genuine rubbish that Marsh, once used to his pace, treated with disdain.

Its a puzzle why no county has made a move for Marsh, who can play all forms of the game with equal skill, though averages around 40 suggest a very good, rather than outstanding player. Which brings me neatly to an expansion on a comment I made on the Forum yesterday. For me, in T20 cricket your top three should be your best batsmen and/or the ones who give you the best chance of taking full advantage of the Powerplay. After all, they have the full innings at their disposal and can shape an innings from the outset. Those who follow may have limited opportunity and thus should only be attaining high averages if the top three isn't working well.

Look at Derbyshire last season. No issues with Martin Guptill, but Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes only had one innings each of substance and our best average came from Ross Whiteley who was more often number six. Marsh today scored his unbeaten 99 from just 52 balls, a singularly impressive rate that it is hard to imagine anyone, sans Guptill, matching in our colours. Such performances dictate, make and break matches and, as I've written before, Karl Krikken will need to give some thought to his best batting line up in T20, especially if Usman Khawaja turns out to be part of it.

Khawaja has to open, presumably with Chesney Hughes, who looked leaden-footed against spin last year. Alternatively, you could go with Durston, who did so well as opener the previous year, but either way I'd suggest Ross Whiteley as number four, where his clean hitting would have more chance to influence games. With Madsen then at five, a resourceful player of spin with a wide range of shots, the batting would be pretty steady, even without the presence of a genuine master-blaster.

What makes a huge difference in this cricket is fielding, which is why I still see a role in this competition for Garry Park. He did well in it last year, when a shoulder injury meant he rarely bowled, but his fielding was, as always, a joy. I would always have Park in my one-day side assuming he was fit and in decent form, while Clare and Poynton would offer decent lower order ballast, as would Wainwright if things went pear-shaped and a rebuilding job was required.

Whatever combination of bowlers was used (and it would be nice to have an overseas player who could use the long handle like Rana Naved has done for Tasmania), I think Derbyshire are capable of matching any side in the field. On such factors are games won and lost.

No doubt something Krikk will be reinforcing to his young charges as the build up to 2012 continues in the New Year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Overseas - but who's coming over here?

At a time when many counties are facing financial difficulties, it is nice to read Keith Loring saying that "large sums"  are available to Karl Krikken ahead of the new season.

By the same token, it is not news. We have known for some time that money has been set aside for "a strike bowler" for the T20, while the second half of the season's overseas role is up for grabs. Add in the money from the retirement of Luke Sutton and yes, there is a fair old pot in there.

Of course, Mr Loring is absolutely correct in saying that little can happen until IPL and international schedules are known. I've written before that we could sign someone like Malinga, Lee, Morkel or Steyn, then find them injured in the IPL and us up a creek without a paddle. Then again, we could be if we make no moves and play a waiting game.

I still think Usman Khawaja will be the man for the second half of the campaign, as I cannot see him making the Aussie one-day set up. I think he could win us 50 over and four day games with his batting, but don't see him as a T20 player at this stage, as I wrote the other day. Neither were Simon Katich or Marcus North, both of who played the format for us, as well as Chris Rogers. All fine cricketers, but not explosive enough to win matches where an innings only lasts for 120 balls. I watched Katich and North play in the Big Bash at the weekend and it didn't seem right. Cultured cricketers both, when the team's need cried out for a more rustic approach and a need to clear the infield and the boundary.

 Leicestershire showed ther route to success in T20 - two talented all-rounders who could score quickly and bowl tight in McDonald and Razzaq, backed up by tigerish fielding. Derbyshire's tactic in T20 may well be for a spearhead and one other seamer, backed up by spin from Durston, Hughes and Wainwright. Because of the congested calendar it is hard to find worthwhile names who will be tempted by what we have to offer in comparison to the riches of the old Raj. It is romantic, exciting and ultimately pointless to think of Gayle coming over, while Dave Warner and the main players of Australian one-day cricket will be on tour here at the time.

I still think there would be a good chance to persuade a top South African over ahead of their tour here in July, especially some of their fringe players. Pairing, for example, JP Duminy and Rusty Theron would make us a side to reckon with. though for that matter, the muscular ex-Spondon man Colin Ingram and Theron might cost less than Brett Lee, Morne Morkel or Lasith Malinga and might be considerably better value. Ingram is having an excellent winter but won't make the cut in the Saffer team ahead of Messrs Kallis, Rudolph, Smith, de Villiers, Amla and Prince. A powerful hitter to give early impetus to an innings would be crucial to success, but so too would someone like Theron, who bowls a full length, varying his pace to good effect at the death.

Allowing for my guesswork on who may or may not be both affordable and interested, we could do much worse. By the same token, it is who Krikk comes up with that really matters.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Something for the weekend

Again, apologies for the lack of posts this week but a combination of little news and too much work has been the reason. Anyway, I'm back now for a Saturday morning roundup of the week's important events.

First, the club have reached an agreement with Andrew Brown, a worthy man who gave good service to the club as a batsman who never quite established himself as a senior player, despite some plucky knocks, as well as in a coaching capacity. Whatever happened earlier in the year, Brown was caught up in it and his future now lies elsewhere. Like all Derbyshire fans, I wish him well in new ventures.

There were few runs for either Martin Guptill or Usman Khawaja in the Test match between their respective countries in Tasmania, though on a dodgy wicket that was hardly surprising. There's still no news on whether Khawaja will join us for the second half of the season, though that may be just a matter of time. As I have said before, I think he is a fine player, though I'll confess to reservations over his ability in the T20, a format in which he has minimal experience. He is obviously a player of very high class, but so was Chris Rogers and he wasn't a T20 player either. If Khawaja does sign and his contract includes appearing in the T20, I hope that he proves me wrong and I will gladly acknowledge the fact if he does so.

Dave Warner played a lone hand in the Australians second innings and is now being taken seriously as a "proper" batsman, not just a slogger with a good eye. You don't make a score like that on a "sporting" track without being able to play and I'll hold up my hand as someone who had written him off as nothing more than a tonker. I'm happy to revise that opinion, not just in the light of one innings, but several played by the player over recent months. As I write, he is holding together Sydney Thunder's run chase against the Melbourne Stars, an unbeaten 55 from 86-4, suggesting that his side will stand or fall on his efforts, especially after the early losses of Gayle and Khawaja.

Over on the Forum there are "rumours" that Martin Guptill is going to play IPL after all, apparently voiced by "someone in the pub". With respect to those concerned, I'll wait and see if anything emanates from the club before I get overly upset about this one, as anyone can start a story. Why, only yesterday I had a call from Chris Grant asking if I was free to bowl my spin variations in the T20 next season. After protracted discussions, where my price rose to a Belgian Bun and a cappuccino, I signed on the dotted line. Can't get enough spinners in that game, even if one is less mobile than he used to be, thanks to a dodgy left knee...

That was a joke, by the way...

In a related story, I was mildly amused to see Somerset announcing the signing of Vernon Philander for the early part of the season, as long as he doesn't get picked for the IPL. Given the player is on fire at present, I'd have thought the chances of him not getting an IPL deal are remote and Somerset's announcement will reek of a few that Derbyshire have made over the years. There was a time when Langer/Jayawardene/Rudolph/Yousuf/Astle and others were announced, only to fall foul to scheduling or injuries that some of us never knew existed as body parts.

I don't know the contractual situation at Derbyshire, but would like to think that Martin Guptill signed having thought it through and that was it. Should anything happen to the contrary it would do no one any favours. I haven't a clue how some counties are going to get an overseas next year and some have said they may well not bother. Maybe I should make myself up a bogus CV and tout myself around a few clubs as Etienne van der Leiderhosen, an all-rounder from Cape Province. It's worked before in professional sport...

England Lions announced their winter touring squad and for the first time in what seems around ten years there was no place for Steve Kirby of Somerset. The penny must have finally dropped that the player is now 34... no places for Derbyshire players, but there's plenty of young talent in the Derbyshire squad and such a place is something for them to aspire to in the coming seasons. 

Finally today, it was good to get texts from the club regarding the fact that three Christmas parties were in full swing there last night. On such events will the club flourish and that level of usage can only help to swell the coffers, thoroughly justifying the outlay on the marquee and other venues. In turn, it will help the club to retain their young talent and attract others. I wish all concerned the best of luck with their continued efforts.

Have a good one!

PS Warner 95 not out from 45 balls as I close. Not bad...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday musings

I'd a smile this morning when looking at the report of an extraordinary Test between Australia and New Zealand, which the visitors ended up winning by seven runs despite a fine unbeaten century by Dave Warner. In the course of the Aussie innings, Phil Hughes was once again caught by Martin Guptill. Poor Hughes has been found out against the lifting ball by the Kiwis, as England did last winter and it prompted a comment of wit by ex-Aussie (and Somerset) spinner Kerry O'Keefe.

 "If Hughes nicked himself shaving I reckon Guptill would pop out of the medicine cabinet with a bandaid" he said, a reflection of our man holding him three times in four innings between second slip and gulley. A small man, Hughes will need to work out a technique against the lifting ball as he'll get a lot of it from now on. You can expect hm to get plenty next summer, now he's signed on the dotted line for Worcestershire. He'll get plenty of runs for them, as there's not the same skill sets evident at county level as he will face on the Test scene, but he'll need to practice his ducking or hooking, that's for sure.

Elsewhere, ten sixes Kieron Pollard still couldn't steer the West Indies to a win over India and their batting, shorn of Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul gives a new dimension to the word "brittle". It doesn't lack talent, but the days when enough players make a worthwhile contribution are sporadic in the extreme. The days of Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd et al seem like a lifetime away.

Over on the Forum there have been comments on the lengthy contracts at Derbyshire, old ground as far as I'm concerned and I don't plan to belabour the point here. Suffice to say that if you are going to invest 7-10 years in the development of young players from 10-20, surely they are worth persisting with, if they show any real talent, until they are 26? All of our young players need to show year on year progress and I get the impression through the use of development plans that one good year in three, just before the contract is up, will not be the road to success in the chosen career. There are plenty of lads pushing through behind the current staff and the onus will be on all of them to move forward each year whenever they have an opportunity.

Some will undoubtedly fall by the wayside, which is part of life. I've coached enough kids myself over the years to know there are some look terrific at 15 but never kick on, while some are later developers who suddenly develop physically and mentally and become good players in their late teens and early twenties. Karl Krikken and Howard Dytham will have their ideas about the young players at Derbyshire and I look forward to seeing which of them become club stalwarts in the years ahead. By giving the cream of them three-year contracts, they have given them the stability to play without fear and to develop in their own time. At the end of the day, that's what happens - for some, the penny drops a little quicker, but this embryonic stage in our club's development may well turn out to be something well worth remembering.

There will be frustrations along the way, but as one contributor pointed out on the Forum tonight, you don't watch Derbyshire EXPECTING to win trophies. Yet there's a chance that might change in the years ahead.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Something for the weekend

I'm working this weekend so won't have as much free time as usual. Yesterday's gales slowed the retail trade down but the busiest week of the year is about to start and time is, as they say, money...

That being the case I'm penning (or keyboarding) a few more thoughts on our new skipper and some observations based on comments and articles around the internet. As I would have hoped, the new skipper has been greeted with pretty much universal approval. Wayne Madsen is a class act and will prove so again. There have been a few comments about his struggles - compared to his previous uninterrupted successes - last season, but to be fair to Madsen he had sorted things out by season end, his last innings being 50, 64, 26 and 73 before struggling like most of his team mates on a bunsen burner at the Oval.

I was more than a little surprised to see a couple of comments regarding "improving the squad". Including summer contracts we currently have a staff of 25. It is, without doubt, a young one, but that is the way to go if we aim to build a successful club. We could theoretically shortcut success by signing a few older and available heads, but would we be much further forward if, for example, we signed Usman Afzaal, Jamie Dalrymple, Tom New and a Kolpak seamer? We might win a few games, but such players would be largely after a payday which, because of their age and circumstance, would cost us much more than their salary in ECB payments. Not quite the road to hell, but certainly the road to financial ruin in this economic climate.

I am enthused by this Derbyshire squad, both in its youth and potential. We potentially have four all-rounders in Durston, Whiteley, Wainwright and Clare, while Tom Poynton's pugnacious approach to batting will, given a little time, see a reminder of the style we became accustomed to with James Pipe. Wainwright gives us a spin bowling all rounder that we have lacked, his common sense approach to batting likely to prove very useful. Durston, Madsen and Redfern would make for a solid and prolific middle order and the only question mark will then be at the top of the innings.

Of course, we have Martin Guptill until June, so no worries there, but the challenge will be to see who partners him. Madsen could choose to open himself, of course, but we then have Paul Borrington, Chesney Hughes and Matt Lineker outside the team vying for one place. If, as I expect, Usman Khawaja rejoins us from June we will need to switch things again, the Australian presumably slotting in neatly at number three. Given we still have Garry Park eligible for selection, not to mention the likes of Ben Slater and Hamza Siddique coming through, does anyone else feel we are short of batting?

I don't.

 We have Wainwright as a specialist spinner, who will get support from Messrs Durston, Hughes and (I hope) Redfern, which leaves us with the seamers. In Jon Clare, Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald we have a strong trio, with fast, but thus far erratic and injury-troubled support from Mark Turner and Mark Footitt. There is no Stef Jones this time to offer control in the one-dayers and no Greg Smith to bowl useful seam and spin. No matter how reliable they are from a fitness perspective, Palladino and Groenewald cannot play every game, while Clare carries expectations with bat and ball and has an even greater workload.

Don't get me wrong. I rate Turner, who showed in spells last year that he could be fast and nasty, as did Mark Footitt. But unless they improve their lines and lengths over the winter, track record suggests that when it goes wrong for them it does so horribly, especially in the one-day game. Irrespective of the talent and depth in the batting, we can't chase 240 whenever it goes pear-shaped...

Unless Krikk has a masterplan that revolves around playing an all-spin attack in one day games ("Those six little pals of mine, Wainwright, Needham, Durston, Hughes, Knight and Burg'yne") we need another seamer to share the workload and give these guys a breather. I know we are looking for a strike bowler in the T20 (Brett Lee, Morne Morkel, Rusty Theron or "Slinger" Malinga would do nicely...) but a seamer to cover for injury or loss of form and compete for a senior role in the real stuff would do nicely.

After careful consideration, Peakfan's pick would be Steven Cheetham. Quick enough and tall enough to be awkward, I think this lad would do us well. He wouldn't cost the earth and at 24 is physically developed and can keep bowling for long and hostile spells.

"Steven is a young bowler with terrific physical attributes, who bowls wicket to wicket and is very much at the start of his career," said Chris Adams of Surrey when he took him on loan in 2010. He didn't let him down either with a few wickets, including four against the Unicorns. he took stick in a couple of games, but again, if you play cricket for long enough that will happen to any bowler.

 Add Cheetham to that squad and, whisper it quietly, we might surprise a few teams next year.

 Remember, you heard it here first...

Wayne's World...Derbyshire's new skipper

Full credit to Chris Grant and Karl Krikken in announcing a successor to Luke Sutton with impressive speed.

That the new skipper is Wayne Madsen is no great surprise, especially given that he held the role, and made a decent fist of it, in a number of one-day games last season. An intelligent, affable and articulate man, he knows his cricket and is settled locally, having signed a new three-year deal to the end of 2014 fairly recently. A good team man, he will lead by example and will ensure that the team spirit engendered by Luke Sutton last year is maintained.

If you read yesterday's posts you will know he has my vote and I look forward to seeing him grow in the role and encourage a young outfit to express themselves, play positive cricket and get results. Perhaps one of the early decisions is where he will bat in the order. He was a middle order batsman in South Africa and was turned into an opener with success by John Morris. A few challenges last season saw him drop back down to number four and, as the best player of spin in the side, I see that as his best position - especially as we already have Messrs Guptill, Borrington, Lineker and Hughes who can open.

The reaction of players to captaincy can differ. Some thrive on the responsibility, while others find the weight of expectation cramps their natural style and has an adverse effect on their game. I think Madsen will do well and, like all Derbyshire fans, wish him the very best in the role.

May his tenure be a long and successful one. Who knows, maybe Wayne Madsen will be the man who oversees the resurgence in Derbyshire cricket?

PS Up here in Scotland, the term most frequently used for youngsters is "weans", which is pronounced the same way as our new skipper's christian name. I look forward to seeing the progress of Wayne's weans...

Thursday, 8 December 2011


To my knowledge, there are only a handful of seam bowlers who have been released by counties and are currently unattached. Of course, there could be a few more out of contract that I am unaware of, but the likely candidates, should Derbyshire choose such a route for improving the staff after the retirement of Luke Sutton are as follows:

Ben Harmison
Decent cricketer who can bat pretty well, but worryingly barely bowled a ball for Durham Second XI last summer. Has had his injury issues but may thrive, like Will Gidman did at Gloucestershire, in a different environment. Will need to be fitter than he has shown over the last couple of years, however.

Robbie Joseph
Has had sporadic success for Kent and once made the England Performance Squad, but at 29 is still prone to be erratic. Given that Marks Footitt and Turner tend to be the same, I feel we need someone who offers a little more accuracy. Not convinced he would add anything to our squad.

Steven Cheetham
14 wickets in one day games for Lancashire in four years but at 6'5" he has all the necessary attributes. A prolific wicket-taker in Second XI cricket and as a league professional, at 24 Cheetham could be a bowler worth pursuing and shouldn't cost the earth as he needs to impress.

Naqaash Tahir
At 28, Tahir is a good bowler, capable of bowling at good pace. 139 career wickets at 29, with ten four-wicket hauls and two five-wicket ones suggests a bowler who can get men out. Given our success with Messrs Munton, Welch and Wagg from Warwickshire, could we strike it lucky for a fourth time? Another who has had his injuries, but a likely option.

Of course, Karl Krikken may consider he has a big enough squad and much will depend on how much Ross Whiteley improves over the winter, but I feel that five seamers may be insufficient for a long summer.

Still, it's Krikk's call...

Cool hands Luke

Given that we now know he was battling depression, had a hand injury and faced, with his wife, concerns over the health of their daughter, the astonishing fact is that Luke Sutton did as well as he did last season.

Add into the mix the shenanigans around the departure of John Morris and Andrew Brown and that he was still big enough to stand up and take some of the heat and you get some idea of the measure of the man. Yes, Sutton as a batsman was a shadow of the one we saw in his first stint at the County Ground. but he was still good enough to score 500 Championship runs, something few others managed around the country, especially those batting down the order. There was an occasional dropped catch too, but not many and Sutton's glovework remained a solid feature of Derbyshire's improved outcricket that his successor, presumably Tom Poynton, will have to work hard to match.

Keeping wicket, especially at first-class level, is akin to being a goalkeeper at football. Others in the side can make mistakes and few will notice, whereas a wicket-keeper's errors, like the football custodian, tend to be exaggerated and emphasised. That being the case, Sutton did a fine job and when one considers that he also held the captaincy his efforts were extraordinary and deserving of the highest praise.

Most of all we will miss the captain, the old head in the dressing room. As a player with three counties behind him, Sutton had been involved in match situations that undoubtedly helped when things got tight. He led a happy and united squad and was a major factor in an improved Derbyshire side in 2011.

In the light of what we now know, I hope Derbyshire fans, when commenting on our form and fortunes in the future, think twice before being overly vitriolic. You never know what is going on in people's lives and it is patently unfair to make comments such as some of those that were hurled in Sutton's direction last season, especially when he struggled for runs in restricted limited over opportunities. I'm not sure what some expected, to be honest, when he often came in with two overs to go. Anyone who has played the game knows that you're on a hiding to nothing in such circumstances and for every time you blaze 20 from six balls there are plenty when you lob a gentle catch to mid-wicket, victim of the need to hit before you're used to the pace of the wicket and the bowling.

I'd like to thank Luke Sutton for being a very good Derbyshire cricketer in both his stints for the club. Irrespective of anything else he was a role model for his peers, polite with fans and always, always one hundred per cent committed to the cause.

He will be missed. Thanks Luke.

Chris Grant says that his replacement will be announced within days and although I'm sure the club have known of this for some time, my guess is that the successor will be from within. The thinking money would be on either Wes Durston or Wayne Madsen, though with 56 and 63 first-class games behind them respectively they are some way short of extensive experience. Madsen, however, has shown loyalty to the club that perhaps deserves to be rewarded. A player of genuine talent, his dip in form last season will only be temporary and an opportunity to lead the side may be the catalyst to greater things. He would be my choice and I think the players will respond to the promotion of an intelligent and articulate man who has become a vital cog in the side. Durston or Tim Groenewald would make an able deputy and I feel a young side would continue to develop with such men at the helm.

As for the wicket-keeping role, while I have seen suggestions of looking for an experienced replacement, I see no merit in the idea. We have an obviously able young prospect with bat and gloves in Tom Poynton and this is now his time. If we are serious about an Academy side, we need to blood players when the opportunity arises and that is now for TP. I'll accept there is no experienced backup, but Chris Durham is highly thought of and if these lads don't get the opportunities we will never know how good they can be.

For what it is worth, after some thought I'd be inclined to use the money from Sutton's salary for another seamer. While I would be far from unhappy if we moved for Jamie Dalrymple, I feel our greatest need in the squad is for another experienced seam bowler. Quite who is available is unclear, but we only need a couple of injuries to Messrs Groenewald, Palladino, Clare, Footitt and Turner and we have a major problem. The one weakness of the current Academy is that there is no obvious seam bowler ready to burst onto the scene. I'd like to see that change in the coming months.

It will make for an interesting time, that's for sure.

Sutton set to retire?

If the Daily Mail's assertion that Luke Sutton is set to retire is correct, then Derbyshire will lose a good cricketer, a solid captain and an outstanding man.

There is fair credence to the story, of course. The player did a blog in the newspaper last summer, so they would be as likely as any to break the news first. Similarly, the players extensive interests outside the game suggest he will not be looking around for his next move, nor ending up on the umpire's panel sometime soon.

Of course, until we hear it from the horse's mouth it remains only conjecture. There will be time enough for an appreciation of the player, if required, but my first thought on hearing the news was that it would leave us very short of experience but with the consolation of the budget to bring someone in. We will also need a new captain.

I have no doubts that Tom Poynton is a good enough player to take over behind the stumps, though how well he adapts to week in, week out cricket at the top level we will need to wait and see. I do feel, however, that we need some experience in a side that would otherwise notionally read, from the start of the season:


There's talent a-plenty in that line-up, but no major experience. Given that the 'landmark signing' won't happen for well documented reasons, not least because we've now signed Martin Guptill, any injection of experience is likely to have to come from the domestic market - at least unless we go down the Kolpak route, which I think unlikely.Let's not forget that Sutton's departure will see us shorn of three experienced players from last year, Jones and Smith being the others. I'm all for giving youth its head, but there has to be a balance, unless next year's shirt sponsors are Mothercare and we're renaming our HQ the Bugaboo County Ground...

Does that see a move for Jamie Dalrymple? A solid player of good experience, he offers a lot to a side as a batsman, off-spinner and fine fielder. His departure from Middlesex was because of his leadership aspirations and there are not many counties where such an opportunity might present itself. By the same token, his stint as skipper at Glamorgan was not overly successful, stories of a divided dressing room with strong characters making it into the media. How much the captain could or should have done about it is a moot point and much would depend on his remit within that club.

As for Kolpaks, I don't see any obvious candidates in South Africa, the only qualifying country with enough players of talent. Some might suggest Robin Petersen, but his chances of a Kolpak deal must be marginally better than mine, having walked straight back to the international fold having renounced it to take up a county deal. Again, we don't need another slow-left armer either.

Of course, there are other options. One would be to make Wayne Madsen or Wes Durston captain and use the money from Sutton's salary to bring in another seamer, perhaps one with greater experience than we might otherwise afford. Looking at the team above raises the question of who you omit to hypothetically play Dalrymple. Is there sense, or merit, in bringing him in to take the place in the order of Redfern, Hughes or Whiteley? Had we not signed David Wainwright he would have been a good  - very good - number six or seven, but we have, so...

What I will  say is that whoever picks up Dalrymple will have a good player who, at 30, is coming into his prime. Aside from the fact that his signing would mean three young batsmen outside the team, he would also give great balance. Players good enough to bat in the top five who can also bowl good off spin are not readily available and, should Derbyshire do so, we could then field a balanced side of three/four seamers plus two spinners.

Like I say, it is all conjecture at the moment, but confirmation would mean that Karl Krikken has to make some interesting decisions regarding the future make up of his squad.

We will watch with interest.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Book Review - Golden Mondays by John Shawcroft

The latest book that I have been sent for review requires me to express an immediate interest. Recently I was asked to name my three desert island books and I had no hesitation in the first two, both by the same author. They were John Shawcroft's "History of Derbyshire County Cricket Club" and his masterful "Local Heroes" about the 1936 Championship winning side. Those books are never far from my bedside and they have been read and re-read on numerous occasions. So when I received the latest offering from the author, courtesy of the Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians, I was naturally excited.

"Golden Mondays: the Story of Cricket's Bank Holiday Matches" is exactly that, an account of the highlights of such fixtures from the earliest days of the County Championship through to their effective swansong in the late 1990s, although occasional quirks of the fixture scheduling allow them to take place to this day. The halcyon days of such traditional fixtures as Nottinghamshire v Surrey, Derbyshire v Warwickshire, Gloucestershire v Somerset and, of course, Yorkshire v Lancashire are long gone, victim of a modern need for revenue over established though declining rivalry, not to mention two-division and one-day county cricket.

When Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday Monday were introduced as part of the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, which regulated public holidays, cricket soon recognised the possibilities. The new holidays, coupled with the emerging Saturday half-day, were of massive social importance and their popularity was reflected in huge attendances at county cricket matches on those days. For people working in factories and coal mines, the opportunity of a day in the sun while watching their sporting heroes  was irresistible.

As one might expect with the author and publisher, it is beautifully researched and produced, with a good number of photographs. For cricket fans of a certain age, among who I now number myself, it is a stroll down memory lane, a reminiscence session on paper. Names and matches leap out from the page and the personal observations from the protagonists are both pertinent and enjoyable.

Criticisms? Well, there are perhaps not enough of the latter. Maybe I have been spoilt by the wonderful books of Stephen Chalke, but the book would have benefited from more personal anecdotes, as a few sections are a little dry, potted match accounts following one another in quick fashion. I also feel, given the likely demographic of the target audience, that the text size of the book is a little on the small side, though I am fully aware of the cost implications in increasing this and subsequently the number of pages.

In short? It is not, unlike the author's previous works, indispensable, but it is well worth the money for an enjoyable stroll down memory lane. For the young cricket fan in your life I would not necessarily recommend it, but for the older afficianado with an interest in the game's rich history and the perennially engaging fixtures and people that have made it so, you will find this well worth the money.

John Shawcroft's "Golden Mondays: the story of Cricket's Bank Holiday Matches" is published by the Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians, priced £20. It can be purchased by going to their web site via the link below

Remember - Christmas is coming...

Something for the weekend

For fans of Derbyshire cricket, there was something fascinating in seeing Martin Guptill bowl to Usman Khawaja in the Test match between their countries the other day. It was a smart bit of captaincy by Ross Taylor just before lunch, knowing that the encounter would be lent a little extra spice by their club loyalties. It may well have been a surprise to some too, considering Guptill never bowled a ball for Derbyshire last summer.

Yet he boasts a Test-best of 3-37, suggesting either that he had one day, against India, where he got lucky, we were unaware of his talents (which I find hard to believe) or he had a bit of an injury that meant we saved him for his more recognised skills. Given that we had many games last year without a recognised front-line spinner, I'm inclined to go with one of the last two options, though the likelihood of him bowling in Derbyshire colours must be less given that we now have David Wainwright and that Wes Durston looked to improve as the season progressed.

Usman Khawaja was unluckily run out when called for a sharp single the first ball after tea by Ricky Ponting, suggesting that either Khawaja hadn't "switched on" or that Ponting was a little twitchy. You can make your own mind up on that one. Our man looks more than able at this level though and just needs to go from playing innings that are competent to ones that are match-changing. At any first-class level, twenties, thirties and forties are OK, but by that stage you are seeing it pretty well and should really be going on to bigger scores.

Meanwhile, comments on the Yorkshire CCC forum suggest that Derbyshire's match against Yorkshire in the CB40 on May 20th could well be at Scarborough. Our club site says the venue has yet to be confirmed and there will be plenty of Derbyshire fans who would look forward to a day - and night - at the seaside, myself included. As I've written before, one of my remaining cricket ambitions is to watch Derbyshire there, though I'm starting to realise that playing for or against the club in a charity match is looking increasingly least unless they fancy a pre-season friendly north of the border....

James Taylor has joined Nottinghamshire - surprise, surprise, as Cilla used to say, while there's little other movement in county cricket. In fairness, there were far less players released than in recent seasons, clubs securing their young and productive older talent quite quickly. There will still be some out of contract players looking for better deals, but most will have their futures secured by this stage.

Returning to Usman Khawaja, there was interesting comment as his talents in T20 on the Forum last week and, as I've written previously, I'm not sure it is his natural game. He is in the Sydney Thunder T20 squad for Australia's "Big Bash" but I can't see him opening when they have Dave Warner and Chris Gayle in the squad. Where you would bat Khawaja is a moot point. Opener would be one option, asking him to bat through and the rest play around him, but his style is less suited to capitalising on the early overs when the field is in. Still, that's a decision for if we sign him and confirm him for that competition too.

That's pretty much it for now. I have another book review coming up shortly - in between times, have a great weekend!