Monday, 31 December 2012

Best wishes for 2013

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!

So I wrote at the end of last year on this blog. It turned out pretty well, didn't it?

Even optimistic old me didn't expect that the year would be quite as special as it transpired, even though I confidently predicted pre-season a promotion challenge. Realistically, I expected a third, maybe fourth place, but the eventual promotion - as champions, mind - was breathtaking, exhilarating and utterly memorable.

2013? Well, it will need a massive effort by all concerned to compete against the very best, but I am firmly of the conviction that this group of players could acquit themselves well in the top flight. We have two good additions in Billy Godleman and Richard Johnson, neither of them just squad players but ones with top flight experience and every possibility of getting better over the next few summers.

We will need our key players to stay fit, especially the seamers, while we will need a repeat of the marvelous team spirit that was a powerful  extra player for us last summer.

We'll also need a top overseas player, a role I hope to see filled in the next few weeks.

Finally we will need the cricketing public of Derbyshire to get behind an excellent group of players and stay behind them. They will lose games, as all sides do, but it will not be for the want of trying. With everyone's support, we might win our fair share too.

Never write off those Falcons.

And to each and every one of you, sincere best wishes for 2013.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Book Review: Grovel! The story and legacy of the summer of 1976 by David Tossell

It is apposite that I review this book the day after the sad and premature death of Tony Greig, who writes its foreword and is one of the main protagonists in an outstanding read.

I was eighteen years old that summer and remember watching Greig on Sportsnight in early June of that year making a flip comment that the West Indies were a fine team if you let them get on top of you, but less so if you get at them, as Lillee and Thomson had done so well in Australia. "But if they're down they grovel and I make them grovel".

Greig probably regretted the use of that word for the rest of his days. Had he only used 'struggle' or any number of other options it would have been fine, but the connotations of that word, used by a man of white South African background, caused ramifications that went way past that golden summer.

A golden summer it was, with parched, brown outfields testimony to endless, hot, dry days on which the touring side, brought up in such conditions, thrived. In many ways it marked their coming of age, with Gordon Greenidge emerging as a world-class opening batsman alongside Roy Fredericks, while Viv Richards gave the first true evidence of his greatness. With Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd to follow and Larry Gomes, Collis King and Lawrence Rowe fighting for the other batting slot, they had a galaxy of talent available.

They didn't have a spinner of note, but rarely needed one when the fast and nasty Andy Roberts was backed up by the raw, wild but very pacey Wayne Daniel and the smooth, lithe and scarily fast Michael Holding. Such a side would have been too much for most others in the history of the game, but against an England side that struggled with injuries to their (albeit slower) fast bowlers and persisted with a policy of experience, they were far too strong.

They cut a swathe around the counties that summer, with six players passing a thousand runs and a seventh, Rowe, only just falling short. No matter how hostile the attack, it always seemed to ramp up another level when Greig came in to bat. His brave century in the fourth Test at Headingley, followed by an unbeaten 76 in the second innings was in sharp contrast to the 51 runs in his other seven innings of the series.

As a spectacle it was a magnificent summer and David Tossell's excellent book takes you back there, aided by comments from some of the participants and others who, like me, only watched from afar. It is not simply a tour account, but as much a social history, the summer marking a sea change in the attitudes of supporters and players alike.

Over the ensuing years the West Indies dominated the world game as no side had ever done before,Aside from a 1-0, one wicket loss to New Zealand, they were unbeaten in a Test series until 1994-95, although an endless array of fast bowling talent saw accusations of 'bully boy' tactics levelled at them with good reason. This book considers these accusations and as a reflection on an era it is an extraordinary piece of work.

It is another excellent title from Pitch Publishing, who have produced some very good titles in 2012 and have much to be proud of.

So too does David Tossell, whose book deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in the history and development of the game.

I'll be reading this one again, that's for sure.

Grovel! The Story and Legacy of the Summer of 1976  is written by David Tossell and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available on Amazon for £10.39, as well as from all good book sellers

Tony Greig

That this is a blog about Derbyshire cricket doesn't prevent me from a few words about former England skipper Tony Greig, whose death was announced today.

A Test batting average of 40 and bowling equivalent of 32 is indicative of a genuine all-rounder and Greig's bristling batting salvaged many a tricky situation, often in the company of Alan Knott. His high backlift saw him found out by the West Indies pace attack, but who wasn't in that era? His bowling could switch from seam and swing to off-cutters, the latter responsible for a memorable England win in the Caribbean.

He was a very good captain, though not blessed with an especially strong set of players, though his unfortunate choice of words in 1976 saw England reeling at the hands of three seriously quick bowlers in Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel. Had anyone other than a man of South African background suggested that the West Indies would be made to 'grovel' it would have been of little consequence. As it was, the words were the catalyst for an unforgettable summer of calypso cricket.

He was later the catalyst of the Packer revolution, recruiting players to the cause and being well-looked after by the media magnate. He became a respected and honest commentator and someone who was always worth listening to, just as he was always worth watching.

He never made a century against Derbyshire, 82 being his highest tally, but he was a worthy opponent who always gave of his best. He was charismatic and entertaining, as well as being highly competitive, a potent combination

He will be sorely missed.

Friday, 28 December 2012

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 6: Peter Kirsten

By any standards against which you care to judge, Peter Kirsten was an outstanding batsman for Derbyshire.

The dapper South African made his reputation after being brought to the club by Eddie Barlow and after hitting local bowlers and Second XI players all over the place in our second team, he had a couple of range-finding seasons at the club.

1133 runs at 36 came in his first season, then 1148 at 32 in his second. Neither statistic was especially impressive, though those who saw his double century against Glamorgan at Chesterfield in that debut season will never forget the innings. After taking his time over the first thirty or forty runs, Kirsten flayed a decent attack and was nigh impossible to bowl at. That became a feature of his game, in much the same manner as Dean Jones later. His first half hour to an hour at the crease saw him take stock of the bowling and conditions then, if he got through it, would unveil an array of strokes rarely seen before and seldom since.

To say that Kirsten played beautifully through the covers ignores the fact that he had shots around the wicket. Once he was in, his fast footwork made him a bowler's nightmare and the runs flowed from his bat. Between 1980 and 1982 he scored nearly 5,500 runs in championship matches ALONE, with successive averages of 63, 55 and 65. The great thing about him was that he always seemed in total control of the situation, aware of the required run rate and exactly what was needed to attain it. He could hit sixes, but timing and placement were cornerstones of his game and he always seemed beautifully balanced at the crease as only the best players do.

His partnership with John Wright was special, left and right hander, each aware of the other's strengths, good runners between the wickets and capable of putting away the bad ball at will. They were great summers to be a Derbyshire fan. We only had that Lords final of real importance, but there was some great cricket and spectacular batting.

On one visit to Chesterfield I asked my Dad, who had watched Derbyshire since the war, if he'd seen anyone like Kirsten.

"Not in Derbyshire colours" was his considered reply. "Maybe Compton would be the closest when he's in this mood," Praise indeed and pretty illustrious company.

He looked for a year's break at the end of 1982 and was refused. I understand that he wanted to get an increasingly troublesome knee sorted, but Derbyshire wanted him to play. Man management was never a strength at Derbyshire pre-Grant and Krikken and an outstanding cricketer walked away from the club forever.

That knee had restricted his useful off-spin bowling and turned an outstanding cover fielder into one who was only marginally less effective close in. Logic should have seen him given that year off, then he could have returned to the club refreshed and ready to batter more attacks into submission. More than a few around the circuit might have somewhat perversely enjoyed that, as they had to face instead a West Indian named Holding...

Peter Kirsten returned to South Africa and continued to score good runs, though never as heavily as in those golden years between 1980 and 1982. His career average finished in the mid-40s, good but again perhaps not fully indicative of the talent of the player at his best.

He was lucky enough to get a handful of Test matches at the tail end of his career, as his country was readmitted to the international fold. He let no one down and played some important innings, but international cricket came too late for Peter Kirsten. Five years earlier and he could have taken on all-comers, but the movement wasn't so swift by then and the innings as a result were more dogged than flamboyant.

Yet no one who saw Peter Kirsten at his peak will ever forget the sight. In his baggy cap and with a slight build he could have been mistaken for Bradman at the crease. His team mates recall a quiet man, especially in his early years with the side, one who rejoiced in the nickname 'Charles'. This was the end product of a moustache that they reckoned made him look like Charles Aznavour, the French ballad singer.

Aznavour at his best was good, but Peter Kirsten was special, really special. In the pantheon of great Derbyshire batsmen, I would probably put Kirsten and Dean Jones on a par, with Mohammad Azharuddin and John Wright close behind. In terms of international attainment you might need to revise that order, but Kirsten was a true Derbyshire 'great'

That was pretty good company to be in but Kirsten was a match for them all.

A wonderful player, without a doubt.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Seasons greetings

I hope you all had a great Christmas and are now ready for the fun and frolics of the New Year.

There's little cricket news to report right now, although there was a pretty good article by Rob Steen on Tony Palladino over on Cricinfo. I know what the author means when he talks about our first "first class" trophy since 1936, but to disregard the various one-day trophies won by all counties since the advent of the Gillette Cup seems a bit silly. Either that or Mr Steen didn't do his homework, which would be surprising and unlikely for a writer of some talent.

It certainly wouldn't go do down well in Lancashire, where it's all they won until a couple of seasons back...

There was a low-key hoo-ha over Nottinghamshire's refusal to allow three of their players to participate in this years IPL, though I am with the county on this one. They employ the players and to lose Hales, Lumb and Patel for the key early weeks of the season would put them at a severe disadvantage. Don't for a minute think that I have much sympathy at any point for our neighbours, but the principle is key and remains so, irrespective of the county. Essex lost Bopara, Shah and ten Doeschate last summer and never really recovered from their slow start.

I've watched a fair few Big Bash games in recent days and also saw the T20 games between New Zealand and South Africa. I was looking out for players of ability that might interest counties but I've seen little in the Aussie competition thus far, aside from some trusty old veterans. The Adelaide Strikers came close to beating the Melbourne Stars today and would have won but for a bizarre idea of batting Kieron Pollard at five. Surely you want the men most likely to score quickly at the top of the order, maximising their time at the crease? Pollard slammed an unbeaten 65 from 43 balls but it was too little, too late as they lost by eight runs. With Pollard not getting in until the ninth over, it is fairly obvious where the problem lay.

As for South Africa B (which it effectively is) against New Zealand, I've been impressed by Henry Davids as a bustling, muscling opening batsman, though his rise is as marked as the fall of Richard Levi. The latter seems to be carrying too much weight for me, while he only seems to play through the leg side. Justin Ontong looked a fair player too, confirming his good recent seasons as a hard hitter, useful spinner and fine fielder.

New Zealand looked poor though and are missing too many players. Take Guptill and McCullum from that side and they would struggle in division two of the Championship.

It confirmed that there are not too many options of genuine quality out there for those counties still to secure the services of an overseas player. I remain hopeful that Derbyshire will secure the services of a good one though and I am sure that Messrs Grant and Krikken have spent a lot of time speaking with agents and players in recent months.

Maybe the early New Year will bring good news.

I hope so.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Unless something special happens down at the County Ground tomorrow, this will be my last pre-Christmas blog.

I'd just like to thank all of you for your continued support, comments and e mails over the past twelve months. The blog continues to grow and now has more hits per month in the close season than it did during it two years ago, which is appreciated more than you will ever know.

Early in the New Year I will be running a short series of articles based on an interview with former Derbyshire batsman and now successful writer Peter Gibbs, who kindly agreed to answer my questions about his writing and about his time playing for the county in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Then there will be a new season to look forward to, with division one cricket and an exciting young team to support, hopefully aided and abetted by an overseas player of some ability.

Between times, have a wonderful Christmas!

Special ton by Guptill

Thanks to those lovely people at, I saw a special T20 century by Martin Guptill against South Africa that single-handedly won New Zealand the game.

Guptill was sidelined from the first match with a nasty stomach bug, so bad, according to the commentators, that he was on a drip. He made a point today for a New Zealand side that was barely recognisable. Most of the major players were missing and after Guptill, Nicol and McCullum in the top three they looked short of batting, this after looking thin in bowling earlier.

Henry Davids looked a livewire in the Herschelle Gibbs mould at the top of the order for South Africa, while Faf du Plessis confirmed his talent with a delightful knock, as did last year's Yorkshire T20 import David Miller. Jimmy Neesham, a player I had never heard of, took one of the best catches I've ever seen to remove Davids, running back towards the boundary fully fifty yards before diving full length and holding it just inside the rope.

Then came Guptill and after a sedate start where he struggled for timing, he found his range and ended up with nine fours and six sixes. With one ball to go, he needed three for a century and four were needed for a win. No problem - Gup simply smacked the ball through the offside field to the boundary to complete a memorable century.

To be fair he should have been caught by either Robin Peterson or Quintin de Kock from a massive skied shot a couple of overs before. For some reason Peterson called, rather than leaving it to the keeper, then failed to get his hands on it.

The innings showed why Guptill is such a fine player though and there must have been considerable interest in India, where such an innings is likely to attract IPL interest.

Be honest - we wouldn't say no for next summer's T20, would we? It's just a shame that I don't really see it happening.

DVD Review: Champions Made in Derbyshire

For all Derbyshire fans, that final game of last season, against Hampshire at the County Ground, will live long in the memory. For those who were there, it was a quite extraordinary four days that ebbed and flowed like only a good four-day game of cricket can. That is why for me it was probably even better than those heady days at Lords. It was on home turf, and was with a young, largely locally produced side that was widely written off pre-season (though not by me...)

The club has rightly moved to release a DVD of the game in time for the Christmas market and it is a high quality product. Whether you approve or not of Sky's removal of live cricket from free-to-air television, they have taken cricket broadcasting to a completely new level and the coverage is excellent, the editing first-rate.

Sensibly, there are plenty of cuts to the fans, and most of the crowd, which was very healthy on the last afternoon, seems to be featured. There's even a glimpse of my Derbyshire cap at one point, just after Usman Khawaja reached his second innings fifty...

It is stirring stuff and the talent of such players as Whiteley, Wainwright, Palladino and Poynton is patently obvious. So too is the ability of Usman Khawaja. Watching his innings again reminds you how good a player he can be, but makes it all the more puzzling that he didn't make more runs in the season. He looked a player of the very highest class on that final afternoon, while the power of Ross Whiteley's final assault loses nothing with repeated viewings.

It is all prefaced by a few words from the skipper, Wayne Madsen, who played such a key role in the success of the season, while the post-match scenes of the player and fan celebrations highlight the importance of the win to all of them. Looking at the likes of Tom Knight, Alex Hughes and Peter Burgoyne brought home to me how many Derbyshire players have gone through entire careers without experiencing such success, while they have been fortunate enough to have done so at the outset of theirs.

It is a 'must have' for all Derbyshire cricket fans, especially when the availability of such coverage of our other successes is limited or non-existent. There is a nice bonus feature of our 1993 Benson and Hedges Cup Final win too, with comments by the likes of Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork, Chris Adams and John Morris. It was another golden day, the type that has been far too infrequent for most fans liking and the innings of Dominic Cork that day lies long in the memory.

So too will the efforts of a fine group of young players in 2012, a side that had been largely written off pre-season. This DVD is testimony to their efforts and also to the sterling efforts of a bright, diligent and innovative marketing team.

You can't really fault it. There will be a lot of DVDs given as presents this Christmas, but few will get the repeated play that this one will.

Derbyshire. Champions of Division Two. It still has a great ring to it...

Champions Made in Derbyshire is available from the club shop, priced £12.00, plus £1.50 postage. Call 01332 388101 or e mail

Friday, 21 December 2012

Something for the weekend

Ah, 'tis the weekend. And indeed, there's just four sleeps left until Christmas and just one more working day for me until I get four off (party at my place....)

My curiosity was aroused and my appetite whetted by an article that I came across this evening on the Sky Sports site. It suggested that a high profile player is in the pipeline and quotes Karl Krikken as expecting to have something sorted "early in the New Year, if not before". The article also suggests that neither Martin Guptill nor Usman Khawaja are expected to be that player.

While there's always the possibility that this is media guff, the fact that Krikk is being quoted suggests that news of our crucial overseas signing may indeed be just around the corner. A correspondent on the Forum goes as far as to name eight players and start a poll as to who fans would like to see in the role.

I felt moved to reply earlier tonight, as I felt that the point had been rather missed. The club has been pretty honest in their assertions that we are seeking a batsman of quality - which it must be, if we are to REALLY have a crack at division one. Too many on the list were bowlers, with most of the others unlikely because of the international cricket calendar.

I know no more than the rest of you at this stage, but have every confidence that if a big international name is available we will at least be in the mix for his services. I also feel that with an able and ambitious back room team, a squad of talented young players and, crucially, first division cricket we have a lot to offer. Having come close to signing Chris Gayle for last summer's T20, the money side cannot be the issue that was once the case, so we must be patient and trust in the skills of Chris Grant and Karl Krikken to net a top quality player.

Things have been moving around the country. Nottinghamshire have signed Ed Cowan for the first half of the summer, a signing that made me smile. Had Derbyshire picked up a likely Ashes participant, I could envisage the media having a little dig about our giving them a 'net' in English conditions prior to the series starting. As it is, there's been nothing much said about it, though it increasingly looks like there is a small pool of international talent to choose from next summer. The overseas players so far announced by counties are largely good professionals, rather than established international names.

Glamorgan - Marcus North
Gloucestershire - Michael Klinger
Hampshire - George Bailey
Kent - Brendan Nash
Lancashire - Simon Katich
Leicestershire - Ramnaresh Sarwan
Middlesex - Chris Rogers
Nottinghamshire - Ed Cowan (to July)
Somerset - Alviro Petersen, Abdur Rehman
Surrey - Graeme Smith
Sussex - Steve Magoffin
Warwickshire - Jeetan Patel

Smith looks the best so far at Surrey, though Somerset have picked up solid players - which you can do when you turn in £450K profits, of course. Our horizons may or may not be more modest, but as long as we can get someone who can nigh-guarantee a thousand runs he will do me.

Finally tonight, the Staffordshire press suggest that Audley all-rounder Rob Hemmings has earned a place on the Derbyshire Academy. This may be jumping the gun, but any 17-year old who can score a thousand runs for his club in a season has to be worth a look. Alan Hill is a good judge of a cricketer and apparently rates the lad, so that will do me.

That's it for now. I'll be back before Christmas with a review of the new Derbyshire DVD, together with seasonal greetings. Between times keep well...

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Midweek talking points

Thanks tonight go to Jack, who mailed me about a piece on the Forum. Apparently a correspondent on there was talking to a Derbyshire member who told him that Derbyshire were in discussions with a player who averages over 50 in Tests.

To be honest, I have been told the same thing by a couple of people, but the correspondent's worthy bit of research on the players in that category suggest one thing to me.

If Chris Grant and Karl Krikken can lure anyone from that list to Derbyshire for 2013, they deserve every possible plaudit and accolade. For the sake of convenience, those names are:

JH Kallis (SA) 56.92
KC Sangakkara (SL) 55.70
SR Tendulkar (India) 54.32
MJ Clarke (Aus) 52.33
R Dravid (ICC/India) 52.31
RT Ponting (Aus) 51.85
Younis Khan (Pak) 51.69
MEK Hussey (Aus) 51.67
S Chanderpaul (WI) 51.67
HM Amla (SA) 50.69
TT Samaraweera 50.37
V Sehwag (ICC/India) 50.05
DPMD Jayawardene (SL) 50.03 

The correspondent also suggests that Virat Kohli would be a good signing, which is undoubtedly correct, but I don't see Indians in the future county game.  For one thing, their contracts in the IPL preclude them playing any similar competition around the globe, so that's the T20 gone, while the tournament itself takes a good chunk of the first two months of the season out. When one considers that most of the better players are at least dollar millionaires, one questions the motivation for them. Yes, they would improve their games in doing so and be better prepared for their next trip to these shores with the national side. But given a choice between working for six weeks at home for $500K or six months abroad for $150K, who among you would go for option B?

I'm not going to be drawn into conjecture over names, but apart from Dravid (retired) Ponting (possibly likewise) and Younis Khan (a somewhat peripheral figure) all of those players seem massively important to their countries. Any one of them would be a massive asset to our side, but would require a remarkable effort to secure.

There will, almost certainly, be other names. Joe Root now averages over fifty in Test matches after two innings (not that I'm suggesting he's a Derbyshire target...) and there will be others who have high averages but less appearances. Faf du Plessis averages 146 in Test matches right now after his heroics for South Africa in Australia, though I doubt we could lure him to Derbyshire, as he has been made national T20 skipper.

The reality for 2013 is that most counties will need to lower their horizons to decent, rather than top drawer players. Today we read that Northamptonshire are 'chasing' John Hastings of Australia and Rory Kleinveldt of South Africa for their overseas roles next summer. "All-rounder" Hastings has three fifties in his first-class career and a highest one-day score of 41. Kleinveldt, to be fair, is another who boasts a Test average of 60, but sadly with the ball. Neither offers statistics that suggest competition for their services will be fierce, nor that Northamptonshire will have to chase very hard.

Sadly it is in such players that most counties will now seek to find diamonds. Sussex did very well last summer with Steve Magoffin, one of the best value overseas imports of 2012. If Hastings or Kleinveldt can emulate him next summer, they will have few complaints at Northampton.

As for Derbyshire, it would be good to have a Christmas present for fans, but player negotiations take time and we must be patient. If there is any truth in the type of player we are after, we may have some way to go, as competition will undoubtedly be fierce and we may or may not be ultimately successful.

Just keep your fingers crossed...

Finally tonight, warm congratulations to Usman Khawaja on his selection for Australia in the Second Test against Sri Lanka. I am sure we all wish him well and would love to see him in their squad for next summer's Ashes.

Good luck Usman!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Something for the weekend

There are a couple of salutory lessons with regard to T20 cricket from around the globe today.

The first is in what looks like an England series win in India, a country that for years has seen English sides emerge with tails between legs and soundly beaten. I mean to take nothing away from a highly professional English side in saying that the pre-eminence of laugh and giggle cricket on the sub-continent is costing them dearly.

Batsmen struggle to build big innings, while their 'spinners' struggle to bowl sides out. The latter are so used to mixing it up with quicker balls, slower balls, flight and yorkers that they don't seem to remember how to really spin it. In this final Test, India rekindled memories of the Seventies by picking four slow - I'll not call them spin bowlers. Ashwin and Ojha are decent bowlers, but they don't stand comparison to Chandrasekhar and Bedi, while Venkat and Prasanna were far better than their modern-day counterparts. For all the fact that his arm ball is useful, Jadeja, who earned more than $2 million in last year's IPL after frantic bidding, isn't as good a cricketer as David Wainwright.

He's a bits 'n' pieces player - a Dave Clark Five sort of cricketer, if you will (a joke for older readers...). He doesn't strike me as someone who will win many matches over the longer format of the game, but his country's obsession with the golden eggs of T20 has seen him elevated beyond his comfort zone. Nor will those sort of wickets do much to encourage people to attend Test matches on the sub-continent either. Strokeplay is difficult and anyone who moans at England's 'negativity' needs a reality check. Just as happened with Derbyshire in a few matches last summer, we can now play with a 'what we have, we hold' mentality and give 'em nowt.

Over in Australia, another issue for T20 arises with the standard of pitches. The 'Big Bash' is in danger of becoming an ironic moniker as the tracks, a number of which are 'dropped in' are simply not conducive to confident strokeplay. Of course,  'Slow and Two-Paced' doesn't work from a marketing perspective, but recent matches have suffered from being less 'Big Bash' than 'Big Disappointment'.

Totals of under 120 have become more common. There is an element of bowlers fighting back and learning new skills, but in many cases they just need to get it in the right place and the wicket, together with the batsmen's need to push on, does the rest for them. The last three games I have watched have seen first innings scores of 116, 134 and 113, while Perth Scorchers all out 69 against the Melbourne Stars was a combination of inspid batting and a firing Lasith Malinga.

It is good to see bowlers as more than cannon-fodder, yet the format needs runs to justify itself. The marketing across the globe of twenty-over cricket is centred on seeing fours and sixes a-plenty, not nudges and nurdles. There's nothing wrong with the latter in a different environment, but the crowds will only continue to attend if they've a fair chance of seeing the ball fly over their heads.

It is something that Derbyshire will need to address in 2013. Last year's wickets at the County Ground were very good, especially for the four-day game. For T20, you need the boundaries in to encourage the hitters, with wickets where they can follow through on shots with confidence of reward.

On other matters, there's a good piece on Tom Knight in the most recent issue of The Cricket Paper.
In it, he talks about his weight loss for the World Cup and the long term benefits that this will have for him, both physically and mentally.  He also refers to Monty Panesar as a left-arm role model, who the England Under-19s played against in the 2nd XI 2T20 last year. Within a few months of that he has been taking wickets again in Test matches. Knight also talks about the emergence of spinners through the T20 and the reporter refers to his excellent record in the format. The youngster seems to be targeting a regular place in the one-day side at this stage and, through that, into the 4-day game as well.
He also speaks highly of David Wainwright in a nice article, confirming the healthy and friendly rivalry for positions in the side that can only be a continuing source of encouragement.

It is good to see. 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Book Review: The Eccentric Entrepreneur - A Biography of Sir Julien Cahn by Miranda Rijks

Sir Julien Cahn was a man of contradictions, yet in many ways a renaissance man.

He built up a vast fortune as he established the largest chain of hire purchase furniture stores in the country, then spent enormous sums indulging in his hobbies - fox hunting, magic and cricket. In the 1930s he spent the modern equivalent of a million pounds a year on his own cricket team, one deemed good enough to have finished in the top half of the county championship  had they been able to take part. Think Lashings, but with players at their peak rather than old masters. Between 1923 and 1939 they played 621 matches and lost just 19 of them...

He acquired the services of the best players from around the globe and employed many of them in his stores so that they could retain their amateur status, though several qualified and played for counties with great success. His hospitality was legendary, accommodation usually provided at his opulent home, Stanford Hall near Loughborough, which had 170 rooms and 3,000 acres of land. He had a ground of first-class standard there and another at West Bridgford, together with a team fit to grace them.

Cahn played in many of the matches himself and captained the side, yet was a cricketer of ineptitude. He rarely made runs, yet few opposition bowlers wanted to dismiss him and risk missing out on the evening hospitality, which included food, entertainment and women. He rarely took wickets, though few risked hitting his gentle bowling, the surprise value of which was enough to dismiss the legendary Frank Woolley on two occasions.

There were precious few catches either. "Nowhere near me" he usually shouted, as he ignored the catch and thus eliminated the risk of injury. He wore pneumatic batting pads, inflated by a member of his staff to around 23lb of pressure. They were massive, yet he was never given out lbw, their greatest asset being in adding leg byes to the total.

Sir Julien took his team around the world on lavish tours, paying all expenses and introducing the game to distant lands, as well as playing in established cricketing outposts. He built up what was reputedly the finest-ever private cricket library, sadly split and much of it lost on his death. He was a generous benefactor of  Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, yet cricket was, while his major interest, not the only beneficiary of his largesse. The Nottingham Harmonic Society benefited, as he sponsored appearances by legendary voices such as Gigli, Tauber and Supervia, as well as outstanding musicians like Heifetz and Menuhin. He also bought Newstead Abbey and gave it to Nottingham City Council in perpetuity, but philanthropic gestures ran into the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.

He gave generous support to medicine and to agriculture. As Chairman of the National Birthday Trust Fund, he was instrumental in developing the first human milk bank for premature babies and in introducing the use of anaesthetics in childbirth. He indulged his passion  and talent for magic by buying expensive props for illusions so spectacular that he was invited to perform at the London Palladium Theatre. He built a magnificent art deco theatre at his home and thrilled in puzzling his audiences.

He was a man of commercial brilliance, rising to the top in an era of fervent anti-semitism, amid suggestions that his honours had been bought. He looked after his staff and his cricketers, yet was a complex man with his family, rarely interacting with his children and seeing his wife as a companion and convenience, rather than a friend and lover.

This is a remarkable, delightful, fascinating book, written by his granddaughter and first published in 2008. The subject is presented warts and all and one can only respect the vast amount of research that went into its writing. It is not without fault, primarily of a proof-reading nature, but for anyone interested in biography and social history it will be a pleasure to read.

It is not exclusively a cricket book, but any fan can only marvel at the obsession with the game shown by one of the great eccentrics of the inter-war period, someone who played a major part in the cricket scene of the East Midlands and England as a whole.

I've read a lot of books this year, but there haven't been any that I enjoyed more than this one. I would highly recommend it.

The Eccentric Entrepreneur: Sir Julien Cahn - Businessman, Philanthropist, Magician and Cricket-Lover is written by Miranda Rijks and published by The History Press. It is available from all good book shops, priced £12.99.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Midweek musings

My current absence from work due to what I'm now told is a lung infection had an upside today.

I'm now on the mend thanks to antibiotics that made my wife's eyebrows raise, thanks for asking, though her enquiry as to whether I was supposed to swallow them or put them up somewhere did make me wonder for a while. Still, they're having the desired effect and I can now talk and breathe without sounding like an eighty-a-day smoker on his last legs.

On doctor's orders I've been taking it easy, so throughly enjoyed a superb Big Bash match today, where a Brisbane Heat side with no major imported names beat a Kieron Pollard-inspired Adelaide Strikers on the last ball. The Strikers must have fancied their chances when they posted 185-8, Pollard hitting 48 from 23 balls without seemingly middling more than two of them.

Somewhat strangely, however, they'd omitted the fast but erratic Shaun Tait for a very ordinary-looking Michael Neser. Despite an early wicket for the underrated Johan Botha they whittled away at the total but still needed 15 from the last over, then four from the last ball. It duly went to the boundary, where a despairing dive from Michael Klinger required a replay to decide the ball had touched the marker.

It all made me hope to see Derbyshire win that sort of game in the next couple of years. Our focus must be the County Championship and I hope that our major recruitment of an overseas player is with the longer game in mind. Yet we really do need someone at the top of the innings who can muscle the ball to and over the boundary. Luke Pomersbach did that for Brisbane with an impressive 65 from 39 balls and Derbyshire could do with a batsman for the 2013 T20 who could do a similar job.

I'd be surprised if such an announcement were made anytime soon though. Players who don't make the IPL cut will be more amenable to a county stint, while those who fail to make their national squad for the ICC Trophy will be especially so. I think that a few talented South Africans would be an asset to counties, particularly when that country seems to have a surfeit of batting talent right now. The highly talented Quinton de Kock has made their national T20 squad, which is packed with talent but still omits Amla, Kallis, Duminy, Ontong and Ingram, to name just five.

While the first three for one reason or another won't be on the county circuit, Justin Ontong and Colin Ingram, like Richard Levi, Roelof van der Merwe and Johan Botha have much to offer discerning counties looking for proven records in the short form of the game. So too does Dean Elgar, a far better player than his pair against Australia suggested. When one also considers that Albie Morkel now seems far removed from the national squad, it isn't hard to see why that country is now up at the top of the world rankings.

With Chris Morris seen as a likely hard-hitting, aggressive bowling all-rounder and Henry Davids and Farhaan Behardian earning growing and glowing comments, they look set to be as big a force in the short game as in the Test arena. Certainly Martin Guptill will be under no illusions as to the challenge faced in the coming weeks in that country.

Finally tonight, I see Derbyshire are appealing to businesses for support ahead of the 2013 campaign.

I hope that they are successful. A top-tier sports team from the county deserves commercial backing and the benefits of being associated with such a side are obvious. The club are looking for £250,000 of additional backing ahead of the season, but with many ways of getting involved it would appear that they are quietly confident of getting people on board.

They deserve it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Book Review: The Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013

When I was a youngster there was always one book that I ensured went with me to every match that I attended - the Playfair Cricket Annual. Within its pages you could find any statistics you needed to ensure that the feats of the match protagonists were only a page turn away. I've not bought one for some time now, as the most up to date information is available on the excellent cricinfo website, saved as an early favourite on the family laptops.

It is from cricinfo that much of the information in the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013 comes, having changed its name to use the Wisden brand last year to good effect. Where it comes into its own is as a potted guide to the touring sides, the editor having to second guess the national selectors of the different teams with his selection of players for inclusion. So well is it done though that there are unlikely to be many omissions.Those seeking information on overseas professionals for the counties will also be rewarded, as the major stars from around the globe are here from all of the Test-playing nations. The book is now in its seventh year and is an excellent annual addition to the literature of the greatest game.

More than most of its kind it tells you not just what the players have achieved, but how they play, with the potted biographies both enlightening and rewarding. Of course, in an age when cricket statistics are, through cricinfo, only a mouse click away, the statistics are out of date because of publishing schedules and the sheer quantity of international cricket these days. Published in November 2012, the book doesn't reflect the most recent matches around the globe but one has to expect this and instead appreciate the book for what it offers.

That is 272 pages of information on the top stars of the modern international game, nicely produced and of a size and price that means you can have one of the only books you really need on match days and still get decent change from a tenner.

What's not to like?

The Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013 is edited by Steven Lynch and published by Bloomsbury. It is currently available on Amazon for £7.59 and is available from all good book shops.

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 5: John Wright

If one were to sit down and come up with the names of the truly great batsmen that have played for Derbyshire, the chances are that John Wright would make the top four alongside Dean Jones, Peter Kirsten and Mohammad Azharuddin.

If, however, you were to choose one player who, irrespective of the state of the wicket and who was bowling, would get his head down and graft, I can't think of many that I would place ahead of John Wright. For all that he had a fine array of shots and, like all good left-handers, was immensely strong off his legs and especially through mid-on, the thing that I most remember John Wright for was his 'leave'. He was the best judge that I have seen in the county colours of the ball to let go and had an unerring ability on a humid morning when the ball was swinging around to play only what he had to. The 'oohs' and 'aahs' of a myriad county seamers must have been music to his ears and if it bothered him at all he never showed it. Instead, he just leaned on his bat, chewed his gum and smiled.

That was another thing about John Wright. He smiled a lot and seemed to appreciate that being paid for playing cricket, while undoubtedly not easy, was something that a lot of us cherished. He was one of the more genial players on the circuit and was well-liked by cricket fans around the country.

He might have ended up at Kent, where he turned up for trials, but their surfeit of overseas stars saw him try his chances at Derbyshire, where 150 in a second team game convinced the county that they had found a good 'un.

He was that all right. From 1977 to 1988, Wright was a model of consistency, his second-wicket partnership for much of that time with Peter Kirsten giving the county perhaps the greatest solidity they have ever had in batting. To a Derbyshire fan of my vintage, thinking back to the two of them batting at Lords in 1981 will bring a wistful smile to the face. When they were in full swing, which was often, there appeared little that the opposition could do to stop them. Indeed, a sign of their ability was how the opposition last-day targets got higher and higher. For supporters who recalled all to easily Derbyshire's inability to score 200 in the last innings, seeing us chase down 250-300 was a joy, such a target usually reached through a century from one of them.

1982 was the peak. In that golden summer, Wright scored 1830 championship runs at 56, with seven centuries and five fifties. Kirsten scored 1941 runs at just under 65, eight centuries and six fifties. That summer I would listen for the cricket scores on the radio and Derbyshire always seemed to be something like 230-1, with both going like trains. They didn't let me down in person either and for two Derbyshire players to be within touching distance of 4,000 runs between them, even now, seems extraordinary.

They were good friends and shared a flat together for some time. I remember a former girlfriend of mine telling me around that time that she'd been out for a drink with some friends and chatted up by a "New Zealander who played cricket for Derbyshire". I was jealous, but more of the fact that she'd been chatting to him, rather than probably shows I wasn't all that serious about her, I suppose...

In 1984 Wright averaged over 60 and scored 1200 runs in just 21 innings, but by that stage he was job-sharing the overseas role with Michael Holding. Wright, in a delightfully self-deprecating way, told of how the opposition were always pleased to see his name on the team sheet in that period, as it meant that they wouldn't face trial by Holding. One got the impression that a lot of the enjoyment went for him at this time, something confirmed in his excellent autobiography, but he continued to give value for money and bad trots were few and far between.

He was a thinker about his game and team mates recall his gluing his top batting glove to the bat handle so it was in the right position all the time. They also attest to the origin of his nickname 'Shake', due to his messy kit bag, which he used to shake onto the dressing room floor in an attempt to find the cleanest gear. He was immensely popular in the dressing room and in 1976, when Eddie Barlow arranged a team bus for away games, Wright kept the players entertained with his singing and guitar skills. He was also willing to help with advice for younger players and few were surprised when he became a respected coach.

His dry wit continued in his successful tenure as coach of the Indian national team in the era of Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar. "The most important job is to make sure you get all the practice balls back"  he said, accepting that players of such talent needed little coaching.

A fine player John Wright and I will always remember his innings against the West Indies at Chesterfield in 1980 as perhaps the bravest I have seen by a Derbyshire player. It was a typical green-top and Messrs Roberts, Garner and Marshall were fast and nasty, most of the batsmen taking blows to the hands and body.

Wright took more than most, but made an extraordinary 96 from a total of 229. I am sure that the visitors wouldn't have grudged him that extra four runs in an innings of remarkable skill and courage. Wright went on to become the first New Zealander to pass 4,000 Test runs and remained a player that the opposition knew that they would need to dig out.

He was a very, very good player and it was a privilege to have seen him.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Monday musings

Chez Peakfan hasn't been a noisy place this weekend, as both Mrs P and I have been struck by an especially virulent bug that left us both, quite literally, speechless. Meanwhile both offspring have been hit by it in different ways, so the mood has been subdued, albeit for a short time.

The next couple of days should see everyone restored to full health, so I've taken the chance to catch up with a few outstanding blog tasks, such as adding a season countdown timer, which you will see on the left. Amazing the free things you can find out there on the web...

In common with most bloggers at some point, there has been a few issues with spammers in recent days. I haven't yet got to the point of having all comments approved before they go live, which will undoubtedly stop them, but I'll be monitoring the situation closely. Rest assured that if I do need to go down that path that your much appreciated comments will still appear - it just won't be immediately.

It has been a quiet few days for cricket fans, with the main news being the move to Sussex of talented but under-performing Surrey all-rounder Chris Jordan. He follows his former team mate and skipper Rory Hamilton-Brown to the south coast and could be a sound signing. At his best he can bowl quickly and hit cleanly, but someone needs to help him rediscover his mojo, Austin Powers style.

That someone could be Neil Burns, who Cricinfo reported recently had worked closely with Monty Panesar and Nick Compton. The former Essex, Somerset and Leicestershire wicket-keeper/batsman runs a cricket mentoring service, which helps players with the mental side of their game and enables them to perhaps open up more than might be the case with a county coach. The article says that Burns is now working with our new signing Billy Godleman, which, based on his recent track record, augurs well.

In the international game our former all-rounder Shahid Afridi has been dropped by Pakistan. Afridi is one of the game's most enigmatic players, at times capable of genuine brilliance which can just as easily be followed by mediocrity, depending on his mood. His talent is undeniable, but no one has managed to get sustained performance from him, which is a shame for the player and the sides he has played for.

One of my favourite players played another fine hand for the West Indies today against Bangladesh. Marlon Samuels was one of the few successes of the last West Indies side to tour England and has turned into a very consistent performer for them. Issues with his bowling action and a two-year ban in the light of match-fixing allegations disrupted his earlier career, but at 31 he is now a fine and perhaps underrated batsman who also bowls useful off spin.

I can see him being a valuable commodity in next year's IPL and the nine sixes in his 43-ball unbeaten 85, together with a tidy spell of off-spin, made him an easy choice as man of the match.

Finally, and staying on the subject of T20, Travis Birt continues to show his skills in the format in the Big Bash over in Australia for the Hobart Hurricanes. His unbeaten 57 from 40 balls saw them to an easy win over the Brisbane Heat and maintains his reputation as one of the more dangerous batsmen in the format.

Birt's career has never risen to the heights that at one point seemed possible when he played for us with mixed results, but he has found a niche in T20 as a solidly-built player who can muscle the ball to and over the boundary on a regular basis.

It's a handy asset for any side to have.

See you soon.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Something for the weekend

I woke early this morning and when I got downstairs realised that I would be in good time to watch the Big Bash match between Sydney Sixers and Derbyshire Old Boys - sorry, Sydney Thunder.

It is an easy mistake to make, as the Thunder batting was led off by Usman Khawaja and Martin Guptill, with Chris Rogers at three. It turned out to be a non-event of a match, as the Sixers won in a canter on a track that appeared somewhat two-paced.

The match reaffirmed my belief that neither Khawaja nor Rogers play this format well. Rogers played several horrid hoiks, aiming for the shorter boundary on one side with only sporadic success. He eventually edged through to the wicket-keeper after a sixteen ball cameo for 23 that never suggested permanence..

Khawaja played several flashing strokes through the covers but found the fielders consistently. Then he adopted a different tactic and opted to move across his stumps and whip Mitchell Starc through midwicket. The first time he played it was brilliant and it went over midwicket for six. The next ball went a little squarer for a one-bounce four. The third just cleared the fielder at mid-on, which should have set alarm bells ringing, but Khawaja went for the shot for a fourth straight time.

Against a poor bowler, on a good track and when you're seeing it like a football you can get away with it, but none of those applied and Starc, a canny bowler, fired it in a little more full and quickly and Khawaja was palpably leg-before.

The best T20 players pick the ball to hit and few would expect to get away with the same shot four balls running. Usman didn't and nineteen from sixteen balls was neither here nor there, especially when there are places in the national side up for grabs.

Most disappointing was Martin Guptill, making his only appearance for the Thunder. He looked nothing like the player that we admire at Derbyshire, seemingly hesitant on the front foot and hitting only one four in a twenty-seven ball stay for twenty. An article on Cricinfo in the week suggested that technical issues had crept into his game and for me he wasn't playing as straight as I have seen him in the past. A couple of long hops that he would usually have buried into a distant stand went unpunished and he looked like a player in need of either a break or a little technical help.

Nor would his humour have been helped by a stint "miked up" in the field. After answering a few of the usual questions (How's the pitch? Have you got enough runs? What do you do from here?) he said that it was his only appearance in the competition and he was heading for New Zealand after the game.

"Oh?" came the reply. "Who are you playing for out there?"

Now that was a daft question on two counts, as the questioner, a very well-known cricketer, should have known that Gup plays his cricket for Auckland. But as a professional commentator, paid to know about cricket, one might have hoped that he knew that New Zealand were leaving next week to tour South Africa.

Hope Gup is in better form for what will be a testing time at the hands of Messrs Steyn and Morkel.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 4: Eddie Barlow

Brilliant, battling, bustling Bunter Barlow.

Eddie Barlow was, and remains, my cricket hero. He was the first man to really capture my imagination when, in 1970, he was a star in the Rest of the World side that toured England when his native South Africa's tour here was cancelled due to political pressure.

I was eleven years old, very small and wore glasses. Those glasses had, at least for me, ruined an embryonic football career in which I was my school goalkeeper. I was pretty good too, until I realised that I couldn't see too clearly and started mishandling and missing balls that I should have held. Contact lenses weren't an option, so I started to wear glasses. My sporting 'career' was ruined.

Or was it? Barlow wore glasses, yet looked a better player than most of those on show, scoring centuries, taking wickets and catching anything that went near him. Football might not have been an option, but cricket seemed a sport in which I could at least contribute, possibly even do well. Forty years on, I'm still playing, the influence still there.

I remember watching the matches in that summer of 1970 with my Dad, and his telling me that Barlow was the man we wanted at Derbyshire. It was a pipe dream, but a nice one for all that.

Six years later, Eddie Barlow did come to Derbyshire. Maybe a year or two too late - he was 36 when he joined us - as his batting had declined. An eye player, he often got out early, but in his three years at the club he played enough innings of merit to show what he was like at his peak, from 1964-70. The highlight was an innings of 217 against Surrey at Ilkeston, when he emerged from a spell of poor form by caning a very good attack. There were numerous fifties, especially in one day cricket and Barlow did enough, as a batsman, to earn respect.

As a bowler - or boweller as we call them - he was different class. If we needed a wicket, he generally got one. If he got one, he often got two or three quickly. His short, bustling run produced great variety and he seemed to get wickets with balls that other bowlers would see head for the boundary. Don't get me wrong though, Bunter could bowl plenty of the unplayable variety. If he beat the bat he would catch the batsman's eye and fix him with a stare. We weren't used to players with that level of confidence, but Barlow had the talent to back it up. Look how he demolished England at Headingley in 1970:

As a slip, he was brilliant. Watching Bob Taylor, Phil Sharpe and Eddie Barlow as close fielders was an education. Barlow missed little, though sadly dropped an easy one in our Lords final when little went right and a win would have set the seal on an era. Yet it was as a captain that he entered legend. He got the players fitter than ever before and inspired them to deeds that few thought possible. Harry Cartwright, Tony Borrington, Colin Tunnicliffe and Alan Hill all became good county players under Barlow's tutelage. Few games were lost without a battle, as late order revivals by us and implausible batting collapses by opponents combined to revitalise our fortunes. Fielding errors were punished by the Barlow basilisk stare, but they were few and far between. Under Barlow, Derbyshire became a very good fielding side, one of the best until the current side. As Mike Hendrick once put it, if someone hit the ball into the next county, we could fetch it back faster than anyone...

Barlow also introduced Peter Kirsten to the club - not to mention Allan Lamb and Garth Le Roux. In 1977, Kirsten scored three successive centuries for the Seconds, before 'failing' with only 90... John Wright also made early appearances in his time at the club, so it is safe to say that Barlow could spot a cricketer.

It was a sad day when he decided to leave, but time waits for no man and there were business interests back home. Sadder still was news of his later illness and subsequent death. People talk about influential cricketers and their respective merits, but I saw Eddie Barlow and he is still the benchmark by which others are judged.

There are two sports headlines that will live with me to my dying day.

"Rams sign Dave Mackay" was one.

"South African legend Barlow joins Derbyshire" was the other.

I've just had goosebumps typing that last one. I hope I have them again someday, but that's a hard act to follow.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Midweek musings

All is fairly quiet on the county front at present, although the news today that there will be a celebratory DVD marking the championship win confirms that we have a marketing team alert to money-making possibilities. I look forward to seeing a copy myself in due course.

Over in Australia, Tom Knight continues to impress in his club appearances, scoring good runs and bowling steadily, no mean feat for a relatively inexperienced spinner on different tracks. At the other end of the age spectrum, Shane Warne is entertaining thoughts of a return  for the Ashes, something that is unlikely to concern England unduly, but is indicative of the paucity of Australian spin resources. I don't see it as anything more than a gimmick, as Warne surely realises that there's a world of difference between a canny four overs in the Big Bash and 20-30 overs a day in a Test match. I don't think for a minute that the shoulder and fingers will be up to it, even if the physique is as impressive as the hairline. I hope he doesn't do it, purely for the sake of the legend he was.

Knowing when the time has come is crucial to all players and going out at the top maintains the legend. Cricketers should be like stage performers, leave them asking for more, going out on their own terms. Ponting is going with reputation intact and I suspect that Tendulkar will not be too long behind him. Both have entered the cricketing pantheon and it would be a shame if their reputation was sullied by going on too long.

I still remember Fred Trueman in his final performances for Derbyshire, coming back for a few John Player League games. The action was still text book, the line and length were there, but the nip was gone and the feeling pervaded that there was undue reverence from a few batsmen, unwilling to take advantage of someone patently on the way down. Watching him lumber around the boundary, for those who remembered a keen and virile fielder, was a painful experience and there were few worse fielding sides in my experience than the Derbyshire side of that era, which also included the less than mobile Fred Rumsey in his final years.

As age mounts, bowlers lose their nip, batsmen the keenness of their eyes. At that point the former struggle to get good batsmen out, while the latter find the coordination of hands, eyes and feet a struggle. "Eye" players go first, while those with better techniques can last several years longer. David Gower struggled in his later years, so too did Eddie Barlow. Michael Slater's ascendant star burned out very quickly, poor technique and footwork coupled with erratic shot selection for increasingly poor returns. All were players who relied on a keen eye at the expense (at times) of footwork and their latter years were marked by periods of lower scores.

Technique players, like Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash  played on with success into their forties, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul will probably do the same. All three of those players have been more prolific after their 30th birthday than before it, having come to terms with their games and made adjustments to maximise their strengths.

It is always good to see. Mind you, that's mainly because I'm looking at things from an even more advanced perspective...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

All in good time...

Like me, a correspondent on the Forum picked up a Tweet from Derbyshire Chairman Chris Grant the other night.

"Could have been the best day off the field in the history of Derbyshire CCC" ran the quote, which naturally set a few minds racing into overdrive, especially as it came around the same time that Australian batting legend Ricky Ponting announced his retirement from international cricket.

I have to say that I don't think it is anything to do with Ponting and the key words in the Tweet are "off the field". Anything involving a player would logically be "on the field", not that I'm suggesting that negotiations should be conducted out on the square, of course...

Conjecture is pointless at this stage. For all I know - or any of you for that matter - we may have struck a deal whereby Madonna is sponsoring the Academy for the next ten years. Or maybe Jamie Oliver is taking over the catering, with Kelly Brook, Elle MacPherson and Kim Basinger lined up to wait tables. Maybe the club bookshop is being taken over by Waterstones. We don't know, but I'm sure that the club won't be too long in telling us.

It was all said by another Forum correspondent "We are so lucky to have Mr Grant at the helm". Quite. With Grant and Storey at the helm of our club we are professionally run. Members and supporters alike should sit back and enjoy the ride, as whatever news is forthcoming will undoubtedly be to the benefit of all of us.

Going back to Ponting, I am sure that if there was a small possibility of his being interested in a couple of seasons in England we would be making enquiries. For all that he now struggles early in his innings at the very highest level, his performances for Tasmania this winter have shown that he is still a very good player. Should any county manage to tempt him to this country they would reap the rewards. Not just for his batting - and he would breeze a thousand runs - but for his influence on a team. Ponting is up there with the best, but in his retirement speech he said that he was now planning to spend time with his other team, his family.

Yes, he could do that in this country, but I just don't have the vibes that Ponting sees a two-year slog in the English counties as his next career move. I might be wrong and I would be thrilled if Ponting let the world know that he'd always wanted to spend quality time in the Peak District, but I don't see it happening.

Such a player would, however, make a massive difference to our 2013 prospects. That we have a young, relatively inexperienced side is undeniable. The addition of a top-class, world ranked batsman would make the world sit up and notice. We all know how fast things are moving at the club and the signing of someone of that calibre would reinforce it for the outside world. As I've said before though, it is a shrinking market and if Derbyshire came close to landing such a player it would be a monumental achievement.

Elsewhere, Usman Khawaja scored 85 as Queensland beat his old side, New South Wales in a 50-over game last night, round about the same time that his national team mates have been left a piffling 632 to beat South Africa. They could bat out two days for a draw, but the chances of either happening must be on the anorexic side of slim. The Saffers are a fine side and it was good to see former Derbyshire man Robin Peterson back in their side and taking wickets. He adds depth to the batting and is more reliable with the ball than Tahir, who blows hot and cold at top level.

Former Derbyshire favourite Graeme Welch appears to be in poll position to take over from Ashley Giles at Warwickshire, which should spice up next summer's opening fixture even more. "Pop" is well-rated in coaching circles and fully deserves a crack at a top job.

Meanwhile, over in Bangladesh the West Indies shoot themselves in the foot after a good few months with some poor displays against Bangladesh in one-day matches. Their fortunes in the format seem heavily dependent on Chris Gayle, who Derbyshire came close to signing for T20 last summer. So much so, that when he fails it appears that there isn't a plan B, especially when the brilliance of Shivnarine Chanderpaul is kept for Test cricket and younger players come in. That's all well and good, but few of them seem to score any runs...

Finally today, a comment on the "appearance" of Andrew Flintoff in a boxing ring on Friday evening. The former Lancashire man won few friends in Derbyshire with his petty comments about us when he announced his retirement  from cricket. That he had got himself fit for a fight is beyond dispute, but the same cannot be said about a very well selected opponent.

Indeed, if I get stuck into everything as usual this Christmas I reckon I would still be in better condition to fight Flintoff before the New Year. Put it this way, even with a dodgy knee, Flintoff was never likely to be troubled by an opponent who looked incapable of quick movement.

Until the next time. Maybe we'll hear all about that news, sometime soon.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Memorable, for sure...

Ben Slater and Peter Burgoyne are in the formative stages of their cricket careers but neither is likely to experience a more remarkable game than the one completed today by their Southern Rocks side against the Mountaineers in Zimbabwe.

The Rocks side cannot have expected first innings lead when they were bowled out on day one for just 164, but their opponents were in turn out for 159. A first innings lead of five runs looked largely academic when the Rocks were bowled out in 30 overs for just 58, Burgoyne's 12 being one of only three double figure scores.

That left the Mountaineers a victory target of just 64 and with Test batsman Hamilton Masakadza and Essex batsman Mark Pettini in their side they must have fancied their chances. Yet they in turn were bowled out for just 26 in 15 overs on a wicket that must have been like a beach by the end.

Memorable doesn't come close to describing it and Dave Houghton can be rightly proud of his young side tonight.

In Australia, Usman Khawaja's hopes of big scores to stay in the minds of Aussie selectors after Ricky Ponting announced his retirement were dashed somewhat by two single figure scores against his old New South Wales side. He was dismissed lbw by Doug Bollinger on each occasion and would have hoped for better against erstwhile team mates.

Ponting's announced retirement from the international game appears likely to be followed by one from all first-class cricket at the end of the season, bringing down the curtain on a career where he will be remembered as one of the great batsmen of the era. At his best, "Punter" could play any kind of game and was a batsman of genuine class. His captaincy was criticised more than that of Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, though they had the benefit of an outstanding group of cricketers at their peak. Ponting had to oversee their descent from lofty peaks and the loss of world-class player after player.

As Clive Lloyd found with the incomparable West Indies of the 1970s and early 1980s, with four fast bowlers, Richards, Greenidge and Haynes you couldn't go too far wrong. The Australians had similar giants in McGrath and Warne, while Gilchrist, Hayden, Langer and the Waugh brothers were up there too. Ponting lost them all in turn and you simply cannot replace players of that calibre and maintain standards.

There may be suggestions of a county option for Ponting to finish off his career, but I don't see him doing that. I suspect a media career beckons, where he will undoubtedly do very well.

And be remembered as a legend.

PS Sports Personality of the Year looks like being a close competition this year. Team of the Year? There's only one though, eh?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday musings

Warwickshire at Edgbaston to start the problem there, then...

Yes, Derbyshire's return to division one sees our season neatly book ended by games against the reigning champions, while we follow that first match, starting on April 17 with an away game against Middlesex and then the first home match, against Nottinghamshire on April 29.

Thankfully a semblance of normality and sanity has returned and there is no repeat of last year's opening in March. There may not be that much difference in the temperatures, but starting the season in March seems ludicrous and increases the likelihood of early injury and especially muscle strains.

There's no Yorkshire fixture at Scarborough (boo...) and as yet no clarification of the venue for the eagerly-awaited (by me, anyway) game against Scotland on Monday, May 27. Cricket Scotland has still to finalise venues with the host clubs, though I suspect the choice will come down to either The Grange in Edinburgh, Uddington (outside Glasgow) and Aberdeen. The latter adds around two hours to the journey time of away sides, so I can't see many counties favouring that (let alone me...) Edinburgh is fine, though Uddingston would be my preference, not least  because its less than fifteen minutes from my house.

I don't worry too much about who we play and when, to be honest. Having been promoted, we knew we'd be playing the big guns at some point, so why not first up? If we play well, we'll hold our own at the very least, if we don't, we won't. Simple as that. There will be a lot of work done, on and off the pitch, between now and April to ensure that we are as ready as we can be.

Elsewhere in the world of cricket, Usman Khawaja must have missed Test selection for Australia by a whisker, while the highly talented Faf du Plessis ensured that South Africa emerged with a draw that they barely deserved. I've extolled the virtues of the South African for some time, but today he showed a more controlled side to his game, being better known for his T20 exploits for Lancashire and in the IPL. Fine player, du Plessis.

Anyway, I'll be back in midweek. Between times, keep well and keep in touch.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 3 - Lawrence Rowe

The news that Derbyshire had signed West Indian run machine Lawrence Rowe in the winter of 1973-74 was met with near disbelief.

Rowe had burst onto the international scene with a succession of innings that suggested a player of genuine brilliance. His early big scores were all made at his home ground, Sabina Park, Jamaica, but a triple century against England at Bridgetown, Barbados that winter whetted our appetite for a summer where runs would surely cascade from his bat. Would he score 1500? Maybe even 2000 runs?

On his debut against Sussex at a freezing County Ground, as far removed from Jamaica as you could be, Rowe stroked a delightful 94 against an attack including his winter adversaries, John Snow and Tony Greig. The innings showed him to be a stylish, elegant batsman with shots all around the wicket. Derby in early season was no place for the faint-hearted. but Rowe, who seemingly was loathe to leave the warmth of the electric fire in the dressing room, impressed everyone watching. This was despite wearing any sweater he could lay his hands on, making him look of far more substantial build than was the case.

I saw him several times that summer, sixteen years old and desperate for a sporting hero. I'd listened to the radio during the previous winter, as commentators waxed lyrical about his strokeplay. Dad and I just grinned at one another, envisaging Rowe leading a Derbyshire resurgence. We saw him play some of the most delightful cameos, thirties and forties of poise, beauty, charm and elegance, then were frustrated as he continually gave it away. Rowe often whistled as he batted - nerves, confidence or just an affectation? If the latter, it needed backing up with runs. If the former, maybe it was a factor in under-achievement.

That May, in a televised game against Gloucestershire played at Bristol, he eased his way to 71 runs, playing every shot in the book in what amounted to a batting masterclass. Deft late-cuts, a square cut like a rapier, a cover drive of genuine elegance, a hook for six when Brian Brain dropped one short. "His defensive technique is the best I've seen on a West Indian" said Dad, who had seen all of their post-war greats. He toyed with David Graveney, before playing around a straight one and departing in a most disappointing manner. It was as if he'd had enough, like watching a world-class tenor fluff the high C at the end of an aria otherwise sung faultlessly.

Watching Rowe, one was struck by two things - how still he was at the crease and how much time he had to play his shots. The fastest of bowlers appeared to be of little consequence, yet he kept finding ways to get out when he should have been filling his boots. He didn't so much hit the ball as caress it to the boundary, but was dismissed when his bat seemed as wide as a door. Have a look at the video below and see what I mean:

We listened to the cricket scores on the radio and it was always the same. "Lawrence Rowe made a stylish 38/45/56/72" - whatever, yet he never bettered that debut score. We saw him against Yorkshire at Chesterfield, again in the John Player League and he opened with Tony Borrington. He eased a four past mid-on and then added another with his text book cover drive, the front knee bending, the follow through held for the cameras. He was class, C-L-A-S-S. The Yorkies were about to be put to the sword, then suddenly he was gone. Run out, the bowler knocking Borrington's firmly-struck drive onto the stumps at the non-striker's end as he backed up too far. There was a draught across Queens Park from the heads being shaken as Rowe walked slowly to the dressing room with his head down.

So why didn't it work out for Lawrence Rowe? He was unlucky with niggling injuries, though there were suggestions in some quarters of hypochondria. John Wright's autobiography records a team mate telling him of Rowe undergoing a fitness test in the nets, batting on a wicket that was pretty poor. He never missed a ball, looked in a different league to anyone else and then to general incredulity, professed himself unfit. He suffered badly from hay fever, specifically an allergy to grass. In a 2007 interview, he said that his eyes were "constantly itching...sometimes I would go in to bat and I could hardly see". It explained a lot.

A knee injury hampered him to some extent, but "eye trouble" kept raising its head from people you spoke to and his later career was blighted by astigmatism in his leading left eye, something that couldn't be satisfactorily treated with glasses. Others suggested that he feared failure and disappointing people, the pressure building up inside him, something he refuted

He signed off with 26 against Northamptonshire at Derby, yet another innings that promised much but ended in disappointment. If we had known more about the seriousness of the eye problem we might have been more understanding, but Rowe was to remain a talent largely unfulfilled. A century in World Series Cricket, 175 against a fit and flying Lillee and Thomson, is still regarded as one of the finest innings played in Australia. There was another brilliant century in South Africa on the rebel tour too, but the good days for Lawrence Rowe became more sporadic. His career finished with a Test average of 43 and a first-class one of 38. His talent was enough for both of those figures to have been at least ten runs higher.

For a man who, when he batted, looked at least the equal of Viv Richards it was not enough. It just shows that all the talent in the world still needs a little luck. With a decent left eye, Lawrence Rowe would have been one of the all-time greats.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Something for the weekend

Thanks to Adam for his e mail today, in which he asked if I expected many more signings in the close season. After all, he said, now we know the membership prices it is important that we know more or less what the team is likely to be.

Well mate, to be honest (and I'm never otherwise) what you see is what you get. Apart from an overseas player, hopefully for the majority of the season and perhaps a different one for T20, I don't expect any more signings. For one thing, there's not been many players who have become available in the close season that struck me as substantially better than what we have. One or two perhaps, but not much more than that. Take Ajmal Shahzad, for example. Good bowler with international aspirations, but would you say he would walk into the current Derbyshire side? I wouldn't. He has good days, but if he is serious about playing at a higher level he needs to find a greater level of consistency. As things stand, I wouldn't drop one of Palladino, Groenewald and Clare to make a space for him and he sure wouldn't head our way to be first reserve.

Then there's the costs already incurred this winter. We have brought in two players who cover our biggest weaknesses, both of them players whose names have been mentioned in international terms in recent seasons. While Billy Godleman's career has stalled a little in the past two or three summers, he has the talent to become a big player for Derbyshire and such cricketers don't come for the salary of an unproven player. Likewise Richard Johnson. Time will tell if he becomes first choice with the gloves (his battle with Poynton will be fascinating) or if he makes it as a batsman, maybe opening batsman alone. Again, though, he was reserve keeper at the county champions, where he was presumably well paid and he would hardly move for less money and similar prospects.

Then, of course, there is money spent on extending and presumably improving the contracts of our best young players. That was 100% the right thing to do, as it would be galling to see them head to other counties who would then reap the rewards of the hard work over the past ten years or so. I have as much idea of the money involved as the rest of you, but my guess is that two new players on the wage bill, together with improved contracts and increased pension contributions for a few more will add at least £150K as a minimum to the playing costs. That's even before you factor in an overseas player, the cost dependent on the talent and reputation of the player(s) we manage to attract.

I have no worries about the money side, not with people of the calibre of Chris Grant and Simon Storey at the helm, but the onus will be on attracting more members, more sponsors, more corporate bookings to help to cover these costs. They will be confident of doing so, as top tier sport is always a more attractive proposition from a marketing perspective, but there can be no doubt about the challenges faced.

Perhaps the most facile comment I have read in recent weeks was a correspondent on the Forum, who asked when we were going to sign some "proper" players. The choice of words could have been better, but however it was expressed it was an insult to some very good players who are already on the staff, together with two very talented ones who have come on board since September.

I don't expect Derbyshire to take division one by storm, but anyone who expects us to roll over in the old style for some of next year's opponents will be in for a shock. As with any other side, there will be days when we do well and days when we are outplayed, but I don't expect us to lose through lack of effort. We will need our share of luck, of course, as had through 2012. If we lost Palladino and Groenewald to long-term injury I would be less confident, but if key personnel stay fit and the outstanding team spirit is maintained we will be in there scrapping.

Crucial, oh so crucial, will be that overseas role. As I was writing the last piece it struck me that a Dean Jones or Peter Kirsten-type batsman would be just what we need.

With no disrespects intended, if we end up with a Chris Harris or Jon Moss we will struggle, but I'm sure that those at the helm are well aware of the need for a 'big' player.

Whether we can get one is an eighteen carat, one hundred thousand dollar question.

Enjoy your weekend.

Membership rates tick the boxes

I have long espoused the merits of those at the helm of Derbyshire County Cricket Club and the news of next summer's membership rates does nothing but fuel the argument.

Keep in mind the fact that Derbyshire were champions last summer and will be playing against the creme de la creme of the game next year and you could be excused for expecting a price hike of some kind for 2013. Put it another way - were Derby County to reach the Premiership in football for 2013-14 you could expect your seat to cost you much more than in the current campaign.

But no. If you buy your ticket before the end of January, you can get it at this season's rate. An orderly queue should be forming ahead of Christmas at the County Ground, as a membership is the best gift that I can think of for a Derbyshire fan.

I especially applaud the new "Six Pack" initiative that gets someone into any six days of first class cricket that they choose for £55. The harsh reality is that there are many fans whose work or family commitments mean that they cannot get to as many games as they might wish. The Six Pack therefore represents excellent value and is indicative of a marketing team who are thinking about the needs of the club membership.

There will still be those who live at some distance and cannot guarantee even that level of attendance, and perhaps a "Weekender" allowing access to any three days could have had some appeal, but the options are many and they represent excellent value.

My son, a student himself, thought the Student membership at £50 "a bargain" and I hope it meets with the desired response. Of course, the challenge is that the start of the season coincides with the onset of examinations, while many studying in Derby will head home over the summer months. There should still be enough around the city to make it worthwhile though and £160 for a full summer of cricket is an exceptionally good rate.

With additional benefits to be had, including discounted drinks in the club bar, it would appear that the club have covered the bases and are looking after supporters every bit as well as they now look after players.

All involved are to be warmly congratulated on a piece of work that is both innovative and refreshing. Well done guys!

On Monday we get to hear the fixtures. I've already told Mrs P that Scotland in Glasgow or Uddingston and Yorkshire at Scarborough would be my Christmas well and truly sorted. The time off for both would be booked by close of play on Tuesday...

Meanwhile on the county circuit, Sajid Mahmood has signed for Essex, while George Bailey, Australia's one-day captain has signed for Hampshire as overseas player for 2013. For the former it represents last chance saloon and he will hope for greater success than that 'enjoyed' by Greg Smith down south. As for Bailey, he is a good cricketer who could turn out to be an inspired signing. The feeling persists that he is a better one-day option, but he will enjoy southern tracks and will score his share of runs.

Still, why should we care too much? Astonishing as it still sounds, we're playing in a higher division than those two sides next year.

Great, isn't it?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 2 - Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan

If Derbyshire fans were surprised at the signing of Chris Wilkins in 1970, there were more quizzical eyebrows raised when the club announced the signing of Indian off-spinner Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan for 1973.

It was hard to work out what we needed, to be honest, although a top batsman who bowled penetrative fast medium looked like it would cover obvious batting and bowling weaknesses. As a batting side we were fragile to the extreme, while our bowling seemed overly dependent on Alan Ward, fast but increasingly prone to injury, with back up from a lot of unproven seamers led by Mike Hendrick. Only the spin department seemed to carry potential, with Geoff Miller seemingly set for the big time and Bob Swindell showing himself a bowler who could really turn it, capable of taking advantage of turning tracks on his occasional appearances, taking five in an innings on four occasions.

So we signed a world-ranked off-spinner. The rationale was that playing alongside him would improve both Miller and Swindell, a logic that even distance struggles to justify. The likelihood of playing two off-spinners, let alone three, in any match was slim, so one would always miss out, usually both. When they did play, Venkat, as he was known, rightly got choice of ends so the youngsters rarely had the best opportunity. With Fred Swarbrook also in the mix, a spinner seemed the one thing that Derbyshire didn't need. Bizarre is the best word to describe it...

My school mates had a field day when the news broke.

"Can't wait for the fans to start chanting 'Gimme an S...gimme an r...gimme an i'" said Neil. "They'll have bowled ten overs by the time they've done. "Rentacaravan" was one moniker given to him, a lack of deference for a bowler of genuine quality. Mind you, they were Nottinghamshire fans, so it didn't really count...

That was the thing. Venkat WAS a class act. 450 wickets before he came to England with the Indian touring side of 1971, then 63 wickets on a tour where he was the fourth in ranking of a never surpassed quartet with Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Prasanna. He was, however, the best batsman and fielder of the quartet and showed himself a dogged tail end batsman with some nice shots. He was 28 when he arrived at Derbyshire and took 72 wickets in 1973, bowling well over 800 overs.

He scored over 400 runs and held over 20 catches too, fielding very well in the close positions, so his season was a long way from a failure. A second campaign saw a reduction to 49 wickets at nearly 40 each and question marks over his signing continued. In 1975 he had his best summer, taking 68 wickets at just 21, at the end of which the club declined to renew his contract.

Former team mates remember a gentle, thoughtful man whose subsequent success as a top umpire came as no surprise. He didn't drive in England, instead being ferried around by colleagues who enjoyed his company.

They enjoyed his ability to spin the ball too. From a short run up, a quick arm action sent the ball fizzing down the wicket, often fairly flat and almost always accurate. Eripalli Prasanna might have been the more favoured off-spinner by his country's selectors, but Venkat was a class act himself. 1390 career wickets at 24 confirms that and Derbyshire have had few, if any, better spinners in their long history.

Little footage of him in action survives, though he can be seen on Youtube, bowling the first ball on the footage and several others against England. He was just the wrong man at the wrong time, though those of us who watched him bowl long spells will remember a beautiful bowler; a man of genuine humility and a ready smile.

His umpiring success came as no surprise and he became one of the best in the world. History will not see him go down among the very best of our overseas recruits, but he was a long way from being the worst.

And if I see a better spinner in Derbyshire colours I will be a happy man.