Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Book Review - The Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012

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 our laptops.

It is from cricinfo that much of the information in the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012 comes, having changed its name to use the Wisden brand 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 around the globe are here from all of the Test-playing nations.

More than any similar books, however, it tells you not just what the players have achieved but how they play, with the potted biographies 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 Of course, in an age when cricket statistics are, through cricinfo, only a mouse click away, the statistics are out of date because of publishing schedules and the sheer quantity of international cricket these days.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 2011, the book doesn't reflect, for example, Martin Guptill's recent outstanding form, but one has to expect this and instead appreciate the book for what it offers.

That is 270 pages of information on the top stars of the modern international game, nicely produced and of a size and price that means you have the only books you really need on match days for just over a tenner.

Available on Amazon for just £7.18, the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012 is a worthwhile addition to the annual roster of cricket books and is recommended accordingly.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Something for Sunday

Apologies for the lack of blogs in recent days, but there's not been a lot of news on which to comment. Add to that the hectic nature of my work load, issues with our wi-fi and that much of this weekend has been taken up by confirming this year's holidays and I've not had too much time.

We're heading back to Tennessee this year in celebration of our son's 21st birthday. Its where he really wanted to go and the same goes for the rest of the family, so for just over a fortnight we'll be spending our time between Memphis and Nashville on what will probably be the last big family holiday before he hopefully graduates next year. I'll miss around half of our T20 campaign, but will keep in touch  - there's much to be said for a netbook and hotels with good w-fi!

I've also sorted out my other holidays from work and should manage a few trips to the County Ground this summer. Its a shame that we'll not be at Scarborough (I was keeping fingers crossed for that one...) and that we're not playing Scotland, but as things go I should see a fair bit of the side. I hope to make it for the first game of the season, actually, as I'm planning a trip to see my parents and should hopefully manage down for a couple of days. I'll make sure I have plenty of warm clothing, though a repeat of last year's early summer Derbados would be nice. I might stick my cricket gear in too, just in case Krikk is short for one of the games...

Good to see the club planting some trees to soften the landscape at the County Ground. It will take some time for them to grow, but once again you cannot fault the thinking as what was once a pretty barren ground is being transformed bit by bit. It is equally good to see Rana Naved, our new recruit, being selected for the MCC, in a week when I shared the amusement of those on the Forum at a Sussex fan. He claimed that they would probably get a better player than Naved, a comment that supposed a county who were outbid for his services would pick up a better player for less money. Unless there is a true altruist on the world stage I fail to be convinced by that one.

I've also been gathering some thoughts on Division Two prospects and at this stage see Essex as the strongest side. If they don't make runs with Shah, Bopara, ten Doeschate and Petersen in their batting line-up they will be concerned, while Masters and Willoughby make up a fine opening attack. By the same token, I don't feel they have much in reserve and the availability of the last three names among the batsmen is likely to be limited by tours and the IPL. As with any other side, a few injuries could make a mockery of any prediction and in recent years they have flattered to deceive. Greg Smith might make a difference, but will need to produce on a more regular basis than he did for us to do so.The other question is how big an effect the Westfield case has on the club and no one knows that at this stage

Yorkshire seem to be the favourites of a few people, but again their inconsistency is an issue. They shouldn't lack for runs, but I wouldn't swap their attack for ours and unless Rashid returns to form and others kick on they won't run away with things. Look at it this way  - they didn't worry us unduly last year, did they?

Northamptonshire have some good players but were heavily dependent on Vaas last year and how long he can keep going is anyone's guess. This week they signed South African Con de Lange, qualified to play after several years up here in Scotland. His record suggests a solid batsman and steady bowler, but 170 wickets at just under 40 is nothing to be overly excited about.

Likewise, I've seen comments that Kent will be contenders after signing Ben Harmison and Charlie Shreck, but I'm not sure what such comments are based on. Harmison hardly bowled last year and scored only moderately for Durham Seconds, while Shreck, though a good bowler on his day, rarely puts together a sustained run of fitness. If he does they will have a good bowler, but recent track record isn't great and they have lost some very good players.

As I've said before, I'll wait and see if there are any late signings before making my predictions. I think we currently look stronger than several sides on paper and I don't see anyone running away with things. Talent will be a factor, of course, but successful teams need luck with fitness, the weather and events on the pitch.

All I can say at this stage is that with the players we have, even allowing for inexperience, we should be in the mix and I will be disappointed if that isn't the case. If we can pick up one more seamer of talent I will revise my notional ideas accordingly.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Prospects and pennies

I see Yorkshire have announced a deficit of "only" £460K for last year, following on from one of £1.8 million the year before. I'm not so sure that there are reasons to be cheerful in those statistics, even when they claim they are a result of not staging a Test match in 2011. I wouldn't have thought you should budget to only break even if you get a "plum" Test match. There are some very average sides in the international game who may not prove the money-spinners they need, while with eight Test grounds they cannot bank on always getting a game. I'm not sure too many businesses would be happy with such figures and there must be some concerns among the fans of the white rose.

Over on the Forum, heads have turned towards pre-season prospects. I'll give you my thoughts nearer the season when we know the final line-ups of the different teams, but suffice to say that at this stage I am pretty confident that Derbyshire will battle against anyone. Some sides look stronger than others and I see no team as runaway winners of Division 2. A little luck and good team efforts will give any of them a better chance and I can't wait for the action to start.

Just 42 days to go and the Barbados tour comes before that...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Midweek musings

Last night it was like an internet cafe in our house. Our son was on one laptop doing some of his university work, while Mrs P was catching up on her e mails on the netbook.

Meanwhile Rachel, as diametrically opposed to the stereotypical teenager as you could wish, was on the second laptop doing some casual surfing. I suspected she would be my best chance of success to check something for me.

"Could you have a look at NewsNow?" I asked her "and see if there's anything on there about Derbyshire."

"Sure", she replied and brought it up speedily. It's a family favourite for all sorts of stuff.

"Hmmm. Looks like Derbyshire have headed up here for a new signing" she said, a smile, as always, not too far from her lips.

"Eh?" My curiosity was aroused. Had we signed Ally Evans? Or Richie Berrington perhaps?

"What's it say" I asked her. Actually I was on the point of ripping the laptop from her hands, but she is only 14 and really sweet-natured...

The smile burst forth. "Chairman hails signing as a massive coup.... must be one of those big Highland ones eh?..."

Reeled in like a sucker. Good job I love her to bits. It was the Matlock Mercury reporting on the signing of Rana Naved, rather than an environmentally sound method of ground maintenance they were piloting at the County Ground.

There's little else to report really. The names of those hoping for election or re-election to the committee have been announced. I hope that members see the sense in bringing Kevin Dean on board, but other than that I just want to see people in the roles who will back the Chairman and allow a very sound structure to flourish. No empire builders, just a good support network and people who have a job and can carry it out with the minimum of fuss.

On the playing side, we've been working away for weeks and will be heading off to Barbados in the near future. I'm very happy with the current state of the squad. Yes, it could do with a little more experience but I'll settle for the youth coming through together. My only concern is still that I feel we are light in seam bowling. With Palladino, Clare and Groenewald I feel we can match any in the division and if Turner and Footitt have worked on their lines over the winter, without sacrificing pace, they are a handful. Yet that is all we have. Matt Higginbottom should hopefully be over last summer's injuries, but he is the only one coming through the Academy who is of an age where he might get an opportunity. The likes of Greg Cork, Harry White and Will Davis have plenty of potential, but the idea of their playing first eleven in the coming season is unrealistic.

We only need a couple of early injuries - and bowling in March and April will test the best of muscles - and we're suddenly down to Hobson's choice. Like the rest of you I'm aware that Ally Evans is on trial, but whether he is yet ready for senior cricket only Krikk will know. For me, that is the biggest question mark over the squad and could be the factor that scuppers the season. We've got more spinners than the Indian side of the 1970s and plenty of batsmen. I'm sure Karl Krikken has a plan B in case anything happens to Tom Poynton and I have rarely looked forward to a season with such excitement.

Indeed, compared to other counties we're having a blast. Glamorgan's Marcus North is injured, Essex have the trauma of the Westfield case to get over and Gloucestershire have less money than Rangers. Meanwhile Hampshire have lost a lot of players, as have Kent and Leicestershire, and replaced them with others who are not obviously in the same bracket.

I'll not go so far as to announce promotion a formality, but if we could add one more seamer to our ranks pre-season I'd venture that we will be up there with the best of them. A good team spirit goes a long way - and Derbyshire have it in spades.

Finally tonight, there's a good feature on Ross Whiteley's winter in Australia on the England and Wales Cricket Board website. Well worth a read as we approach another season.

Catch up with you soon.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

And for example...

Two recent comments I have made on this blog were exemplified in the game between New Zealand and South Africa today.

One was that T20 matches are largely won by one player knocking it around for ones and twos while someone blazes away at the other end. Today AB de Villiers, a man eminently capable of the long handle approach himself, showed what a resourceful cricketer he is by doing just that while Richard Levi put the Kiwis to the sword.

de Villiers scored at a run a ball but concentrated on keeping the man who was seeing it like a football on strike. Levi responded by hitting an extraordinary T20 international century in only his second match, one that should see him make a tidy fortune in future IPLs.

Of course, one innings doesn't make a player, but Levi has shown this sort of form enough back home to suggest it was no fluke. Built like a rugby player but with a far better technique than that of an out-and-out slogger, Levi went to the same school as Dominic Telo, where both scored a remarkable number of centuries. Yet Levi has kicked on, whereas for some reason the former Derbyshire batsman never quite got there.

Which brings me to my next point. I asserted that there are plenty of fine batsmen in South Africa who would grace the county game rather than a succession of mediocre players effectively playing Tig as they fly in and out of the country for a few games. Justin Ontong showed glimpses of his talent the other day with four successive sixes at the end of the South African innings and there are plenty of others where they come from.

I'd reckon that Levi, Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Rilee Rossouw and Stiaan Van Zyl might be of more appeal to T20 crowds than others of recent vintage. For me, the biggest single improvement the ECB could make for the county game (apart from resigning en bloc...) would be allowing counties to bring in any one overseas player of their choosing, irrespective of international experience.

They might gain useful experience of our conditions and it might - MIGHT - come back to bite us. But by crikey, it would bring in the crowds. They used to flock to cricket matches as they never got to see the names that filled the newspaper sports pages in any other way. Nowadays, in an era when there's probably a reality show somewhere that shows them going to the bathroom, a few new faces would be a refreshing thing. I know there's visa regulations and the like to consider, but I wouldn't consider such things impossible to circumvent.

Not every county has a Guptill, Khawaja and Rana you know...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Guptill's brilliance

If you've not already seen these, here's a chance to see the brilliant run out of Hashim Amla by Martin Guptill the other day, together with a link to the massive six he hit from Tsotsobe.


Friday, 17 February 2012

Something for the weekend

Thanks for your comments and e mails about last night's piece, which were largely appreciated. Apart from the one that I deleted from - surprise, surprise - "Anon" which said it was "absolute rubbish". I'll happily allow comments if they are constructive and will do if they are critical as long as they fulfil two criteria. One is that you put your name to it and the other that you can justify it. Tell me why it's rubbish and I will reply, but random negativity, too long part of the psyche at Derbyshire, is simply not on.

The best comment I've seen on the Falcons Forum came from Chris, the moderator. "Why is everything always an argument? Couldn't it be that Don did well and Chris Grant will do well?" Quite. Friends and supporters will always have a preference, but Don Amott did his best - a very good best - for the club, as did such people as Will Taylor and Douglas Carr in the past. They all did their utmost to keep the club going through difficult times, but they are part of our club's past. Mr Grant is the present and, I hope, future for years to come.

Anyway, it's the weekend so no more petty squabbles please. Was there ever a more obvious man of the match than Martin Guptill for New Zealand today? A brilliant run out of Amla, a fine catch to remove de Villiers and then an unbeaten innings to see his side home, including a six measured at 127 metres among the four he hit.

I was looking at the current schedule of New Zealand's tour of the West Indies this summer and it is currently scheduled to start on June 28th. I just wonder if John Wright might consider Martin Guptill joining the squad a little later than the rest?  As I understand it, Guptill's last game will be the CB40 match against Sussex on June 10th, but if we could get him to stay on an extra fortnight he could play in the first five T20 matches, leaving Khawaja to play the second half. of the ten-match programme. That would still leave him five or six days to get to the Caribbean, leaving after our game against Leicestershire on 22nd June.

In his current form, Guptill is the main man in the Kiwi side and I would have thought a little competitive cricket would be of more benefit to him than a few net sessions.

Put it another way, it would be of immense value to Derbyshire...

Finally tonight, there's another good article on Cricinfo about our finances, which is well worth a read. I never knew we did weddings at the club... might see if Mrs P fancies re-stating our vows...

More soon - enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A remarkable effort

At a time when sports clubs are flirting with the dangers of administration, there is a lot to be said for Derby being the epicentre of those that are well run.

Derby County are probably one of the best organised in football circles, with Tom Glick having done an impressive job there. Having said that, the real accolades deserve to go to Chris Grant, Keith Loring and the rest of the commercial team at Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

A year ago we were in something of a mess. The committee had split into factions and Don Amott had announced his resignation as chairman. The internet was awash with indignant comment and the club was revealing losses of £180,000. Despite recording modest profits for each of the previous four years, the loss generated more interest in the media than those four combined. It was another argument for "getting rid" of small counties, those who don't produce England players, bring in all the Kolpaks and lose money, despite the ECB handouts.

The loss should not in any way be laid at the door of the admirable Keith Loring, one of the best Chief Executives in the county game. There were mitigating circumstances, but despite the best efforts of Loring and his excellent team, Derbyshire recorded a level of loss that was unsettling for fans.

After all of this, the club suddenly had a new chairman, a man who had only recently joined the commitee and was as surprised as the rest of us at his premature elevation to the reins. Chris Grant was known for having been an extremely successful businessman in London and for helping transform the fortunes of his local club at Swarkestone. There was a natural wariness from supporters when he took over - after all, he was succeeding a man, in Don Amott, who was a local boy made good - one of us. Everyone knew Don, liked him and respected him.

What few realised at that time was that Mr Grant was one of us too, a fan who wanted to put something back. Within weeks of taking charge he had gone through the cost headings of the club with Keith Loring and knew what we were spending in all of them - essential if things were to be turned around. They realised where savings could be made and where additional income could help to ease the burden. The season started encouragingly, but then there was the additional turmoil of the "Morris Affair". This is old ground now and while the facts have never been made public, one could only respect the speed and decisiveness with which the chairman acted - even if, at the time, it seemed extraordinary to lose the head of cricket mid-match.

Within weeks we had Karl Krikken at the helm and a new blueprint for the future, one in which young players were, for the first time, paid the going rate for their age and talents. The better ones were given the long-term security of contracts at an appropriate rate, contracts that saw them required to give back to the club with coaching of younger players, but given the opportunity to work towards coaching badges and future careers. The staff was trimmed, but those remaining, the key personnel of an exciting squad, were rewarded with enhanced deals from the savings and tied up on deals that were good for them and certainly for the club.

A development fund was set up, one that has enabled Ross Whiteley to play in Australia this winter and six players to hone their skills in India recently. Meanwhile Karl Krikken had the money to bring in specialist coaches where he saw fit, some of which will see world-renowned batting coach David Houghton return to the club this summer.

The club is, in short, professional from top to bottom. That professionalism deserves to come to the wider attention of the media as Derbyshire will not be seen as makeweights from now on. A young and talented group of players has been augmented with three exciting overseas imports; others are emerging from the Academy and locally-reared talent is beginning to form the nucleus of the first team squad.

Off the field the club's facilities are being recognised and utilised by local people, groups and organisations and innovative marketing campaigns are being rewarded, the club winning awards for their efforts. It is a far cry from the somewhat shambolic past, where despite the best efforts of well-intentioned individuals, the club rather lurched from year to year.

Rome wasn't built in a day and you don't build a cricket club in a year. But rock solid foundations have been laid over the last twelve months, foundations that could well see Derbyshire emerge as a genuine role model for cricket clubs, on and off the pitch, over the next ten years. For that we can be grateful to a small but very talented group of people working tirelessly behind the scenes and to Keith Loring, an outstanding Chief Executive.

Most of all, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Grant. In just under twelve months he has accomplished a remarkable amount and has worked long hours without taking a penny from the club. He had some early flak from misguided quarters but is an extraordinary asset to Derbyshire cricket.

We are extremely fortunate to have him and as a fan I thank him and the behind the scenes team at the County Ground for their outstanding efforts.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

T20 clarification

Thanks for your mails and comments re the T20 side I posted yesterday.

You'll gather that I am a believer in the benefit of experience in such matches. Some of the Australian sides in the Big Bash packed their eleven with lithe young fielders and were accordingly brilliant, but buckled when the pressure was on with bat and ball.

Tom Knight may not be available for much of the T20, likewise Peter Burgoyne, but may be an option on slower tracks, even with Durston, Hughes and Wainwright as spin options. All the seamers will be in contention, but Groenewald, Clare and Palladino will be focal points of our Championship and Pro 40 seasons and will need a break at some point. Rotated, as I think they will be, they should be fresh and up for the T20 matches as selected.

As for Messrs Redfern, Borrington and Lineker - their time will come. I think all could well have a role in future one dayers, but let's use the experience in the ranks for the pressure cooker nights of T20.

I think we'll do alright. Amazing what one signing does for your prospects eh?

Interesting piece on Usman

I don't know many of you are regular readers of Cricinfo, but there's an interesting  article on there about Usman Khawaja.

I don't know a thing about the writer, although some of those commenting below the piece seem to suggest he favours Shaun Marsh and has an axe to grind, but I present the piece to you at face value. Whatever the author says about Khawaja's integration with the Australian squad, the consensus was that he was a highly valued and appreciated member of Derbyshire's last season. In any walk of life there will be environments in which you are more comfortable than others and perhaps the weight of expectation weighed on Usman in the Aussie camp. He is, after all, seen as the heir-apparent for Ponting's slot at number three, a role not without an element of pressure, yet it seems that he has work to do.

What is clear is that the writer shares my concerns over Usman's scoring rate. He is a long way from a stonewaller but there appears a wider concern over his ability to keep a scoreboard ticking over when the bowlers are on top. Nothing is more annoying for a bowler than to be going for three or four an over when conditions are in his favour, especially when singles mean he has to continually adjust his line, possibly length, for different batsmen. Working the ball into space and keeping the runs ticking over is what separates the good and the great. None were better at it than Dean Jones and Peter Kirsten and neither were what I would call big hitters.

It also confirms that Usman has got two points to prove in the coming season, in scoring runs in sufficient quantities and in a manner to silence his doubters. If you're a regular reader of this blog you will know I have some reservations about him in the T20, where his lack of experience and achievement in the format is in stark contrast to that of Rana Naved, a specialist if there ever was one. Khawaja's run tally and style at the crease in the Big Bash suggested a player not wholly at ease in the format. For me, where he came unstuck was in trying the big shots, ending up caught in the outfield when not quite middling them. Far better would have been working the ball into gaps for ones and twos and allow the cleaner strikers of a ball greater licence to thrill.

Usman will never out-hit Wes Durston, Ross Whiteley, Rana Naved or Chesney Hughes, but he could make their life easier by affording them plenty of strike when they are going well. I wouldn't dare to compare my cricket ability with Khawaja, but I once shared in an opening stand of 110 in 9 overs for my club, my share being exactly nine - from nine balls. I simply worked a single from the first ball of the over and let my partner lose several balls in a neighbouring field before departing for 101...

Having said all that, at a time when overseas stars are a rare and precious commodity, Derbyshire have landed two outstanding batsmen in Khawaja and Martin Guptill and a genuine specialist for the T20 in Rana Naved. I expect all to play a significant and successful part in our forthcoming campaign.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Further thoughts on the new man

Well that's been a cracker of a day! At work a number of my colleagues were looking down in the mouth at the sad news emanating from Ibrox about Glasgow Rangers. A £45 million tax bill, potentially £70 million, is a shocker and indicative of shambolic management; a lot are wondering what it means for the future of their club.

"Never mind lads" I told them at lunchtime, "Derbyshire have signed Rana Naved, you can support a good team now..."

It was a joke of course, but highlights the feel good factor of this signing. I've only seen one negative comment (sigh...) from a "fan" who reckoned it was "not the world class player we'd been promised". Honestly, the occasional individual makes me think that if Chris Grant had bought the Back to the Future De Lorean and recruited Sobers 1966 and Barlow 1970 they'd still grumble. If seventy-plus one-dayers, Test caps and lengthy stints as a professional in England and Australia don't qualify you as world class, the entrance exam standard must have gone up when I wasn't looking.

Anyone who saw those statistics I produced at the weekend and watched the video clips I posted this morning has to appreciate that Rana is a very fine cricketer. I like his enthusiasm, which will be important for a young team and the fact that we're looking for him to impart some of his experience on those tyros. For me, Naved is Langeveldt with the added bonus of being a very handy batsman. He might well make a difference to our T20 fortunes, but only if the rest of the team do their stuff around him. One star will win nothing on his own, but leven players working together with the inclusion of a star name might just surprise a few peoplealong the way.

I just hope we use Rana better than Hobart did. For me, he's a shoo-in for two Powerplay overs and two at the end of the innings, but I'd like to see him bat at six. Hobart batted him at eight or nine, which was a criminal waste and cost them their semi-final. If he gets runs, he does so quickly and can take an average score out of reach. If he doesn't, then we have people below him who can see out the overs in less frenetic style.

For what its worth, I'd be inclined to go with a T20 side along these lines:

Rana Naved

With no disrespects to the very talented Usman Khawaja, Martin Guptill at the top of that order might even make me head down to the bookies for a bet on a quarter-final place, but Khawaja will have the opportunity to show people that he can come to terms with the demands of T20 and be the player that the rest bat around. I'd also bat Whiteley at three, where his ability to hit is offered the longest opportunity in which to do so. There's little merit in opening with Hughes, as more teams open with spin now, then switch to seam in the middle overs. The skipper can play any game and Rana at six could be spectacular. Park's bowling and brilliance in the field gets him my nod at seven, with other seamers and Knight being played on rotation and when available. Poynton and Wainwright are very good players to have so low, but would be handy insurance if things went pear-shaped on occasion. There's also eight bowlers, which will be handy on occasion.

Yes, I like this signing and I respect the vast amount of time and effort that went into making it happen. I'm especially pleased by the suggestion in today's Derby Telegraph that the club would like it to be a longer-term association. At 33, Rana Naved has three or four good years left in him and could be a vital component of experience in a young, developing side.

One final point - I hope the club check the fine print of their insurance policy. If Rana gets his range at the County Ground, his normal arc is roughly around where the pavilion and marquee sit. There could be a nice sponsorship opportunity there for a local glazier....

Derbyshire sign Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan!

Anyone see that one coming?

Me neither. I'm sure I read recently that Sussex had engaged their powerhouse all-rounder Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan for this year's T20. They, along with others, sought the signature of an inspirational cricketer who is a genuine name in the game. This time Derbyshire won out, securing the services of a real star in world T20 to the County Ground, in a move that should ensure healthy crowds for this season's fixtures, as well as improved prospects. It also amply illustrates that contacts in the wider game of cricket are alive and well at the County Ground.

What will we see? First, a player who gives 100% in any game he plays. Rana has given great service to Sussex and his time at Yorkshire was hindered only by a bad shoulder injury. He is a folk hero down in Tasmania, where they call him "The People's Mullet", reference to his flowing locks. His aeroplane celebration of wickets is enjoyed and his unerring ability to drop yorkers of varying pace into the blockhole have made him a player in demand. He doesn't have searing pace, but he has a quick ball, coupled with control and the ability, like most seam bowlers from Pakistan, to bowl a devastating yorker and mix it up while maintaining accuracy. Sixteen wickets at 15 for Sussex last year and a batting average of 24; fifteen wickets at 17 for Hobart, where he only batted three times. This is a player at the top of his game, a genuine go-to bowler, as you can see in these clips:




I like that run out. 32 needed from 2 balls and he's still aiming to keep the runs down. That's my kind of player...

His Test record was steady, rather than spectacular, though over a hundred wickets in one-day internationals highlights his forte. 626 first-class wickets at 24 is impressive, but 100 wickets at 19 in T20 pinpoints his strength. Those statistics I produced the other day seem all the more pertinent now.

He has been the overseas star for the past three winters in Hobart. This year he took them to the Big Bash semi-finals with fifteen wickets and but for some odd captaincy may well have taken them all the way. Rana didn't get in until over 40 were required with less than four overs to go, yet they got within seven of a shock thanks to some mighty hitting. His unbeaten 30 from just 14 balls was far quicker than anyone else managed in the match on a slow pitch.

His batting has no frills, like his compatriots Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. If its there, he hits it a long way, often over the ropes, yet five first-class centuries highlight him as more than just a slogger. If he is required to cover for Usman Khawaja in July when Australia A tour we will enjoy the services of a very good cricketer who can add valuable late order runs as well as taking wickets.

One story highlights why I rate him highly. I saw him at Denby in 2008, playing for Yorkshire 2nds on his way back from serious injury (a dislocated shoulder) and Derbyshire, thanks to a fine spell from Ross Whiteley, were in control of the game. When Rana came in, the game changed. His forty-odd from around 20 balls took us apart. So too did his three wickets later, when Freddie Klokker's century had put us in a strong position. You could have excused a player of his reputation not trying too hard in such circumstances, but his efforts won the game.

In short, Rana is a game-changer, exactly what Karl Krikken and Chris Grant set out to sign. I'm delighted that we have got him at Derbyshire for that very reason, but also for something else. We saw off the interests of other counties in acquiring his services and that hasn't happened too many times in my experience.It might be a start of the turning of the tide, where Derbyshire are seen from a totally new perspective by agents, fans and the media.

Last week I wrote that we could do with signing "someone like" Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan. We've now got the real thing. Start growing your hair folks, the Mullet will soon be in town.

And beware of low flying aircraft....

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The truth about outgrounds

There's a fair few comments about outgrounds at the moment and the decision not to play at Leek this year has upset three people at least.

I can understand their feelings. I'll be honest and admit there is nothing like watching cricket in a different, more intimate environment. Over the years I have loved Chesterfield with a passion that Derby could never match, the first sight of the ground as you cross the bridge from the town still a thing that makes me catch my breath. I used to enjoy cricket in the rustic environs of the bowl at Buxton too, until the perennial issue of rain became too great an issue. Heanor had its merits, if being just a tad too bijou for serious regular cricket, while Ilkeston used to be, if not much else, a little different. I never deemed it a favourite, though my Dad used to love his outings to Burton, primarily because he was from Church Gresley, just down the road.

There's nothing like an outground and there isn't a big equivalent that can match, for all their facilities, the fact that you feel you are in the middle of the game. I always disliked Trent Bridge and felt that you needed binoculars to see the boundary fielders, while Old Trafford never held any charms for me either.

The fact is, however, that all county clubs, not just Derbyshire, have had to rationalise their use of outgrounds. This wasn't a conscious effort to annoy fans from the furthest environs of the counties, but a response to various external pressures. First was health and safety. Planks across beer barrels for seating and the rickety old stands at Chesterfield don't fit with 21st century legislation. Food preparation has to be more closely controlled, as does the use of glasses and the facilities to wash them thoroughly. Fans had a right to decent toilet facilities too, not just a portaloo, convenient bush or a running urinal  that endangers footwear. I still remember my Dad setting off for the toilets at pre-revamp Chesterfield. "Needing the toilet again, Dad?" I asked.

"No son, but by the time I get round there and have stood in the queue I will do" he replied.

Then there's the cost. First you have to ensure that the club groundsman is on top of pitch preparation in various locations, then you have to up sticks and take all kinds of paraphernalia with you to the outgrounds. Boundary advertising boards, additional covers, marquees and seating to name a few. Then there's security and policing arrangements, car parking, transport logistics and more. You may need to clear it with sponsors who want their adverts at the main ground seen and have paid accordingly. If the outground cannot accommodate it, you have another issue.

Most of all there's the development money from the ECB to bring grounds up to standard and improve facilities. They will give that money for your headquarters, but not for an outground, even one of aesthetic appeal and certainly not something ramshackle. Do we turn round and say "no thanks"?

I'm as passionate about it being Derbyshire COUNTY Cricket Club as the next man (or woman). The club are too and offer incentives to members who travel.  By the same token, it's Derby COUNTY Football Club and no one expects them to play at Heanor and Alfreton, do they?

I don't subscribe to the club view, as one correspondent suggests just because its the club line. I do so because their decision, in this case, is made on sound economic grounds. How can we play a Wednesday night game against Durham? There's no floodlights, the traffic would be awful, people could struggle to get there in time from work, to get parked and to get in. They could play it n the afternoon, but then there'd be moans about taking time off work. Yes, there might have been a full house - but there might just as well have been a shedload of problems and complaints. Guess who gets the blame then? I'll complain about unfairness with the best of you, but not when the argument simply doesn't hold weight. With Chesterfield and TV accounting for fixtures, they had no option.

In 2013 if there's a viable Sunday afternoon game to play they will return to Leek and have said so. The club are also committed to Chesterfield and rightly so; it is a highlight of the season. We'll never see a return to the others I mention, but there's no need.

Especially when we have a constantly improving facility at the County Ground.

Interesting statistics

I watched Clint Mackay bowling the last over against India this morning and it must be one of the most difficult jobs in cricket. Boundaries are brought in on a lot of grounds, batsmen are wielding bats that are increasingly like clubs and most of the crowd want to see the ball disappearing into them with regularity. I'm reminded of the old WG Grace story, when he was given not out from an obvious edge. "They've come to see him bat, not you bowl" said the umpire, far removed from being impartial...

It got me thinking about the respective merits of quick bowlers in T20. Over the course of the winter I think most of us have come to realise that we could do with a genuine "go to" bowler for this year's competition, someone who could bowl two important overs in the opening Powerplay and two more at the death, when all hell is usually breaking loose. I looked at seamers whose names I have mentioned over recent months and who are hired hands around the globe for their ability to bowl a wide range of deliveries. They are widely regarded as the best of the best and demand is accordingly high for their services.

The results make interesting reading. For comparative purposes, I include Charl Langeveldt at the top. He is past his prime now, but has been widely regarded as one of the best in the business (and not just because he played for us, though it helps...) Apologies in advance for the lack of a table...

Name                                 Wickets       Average     Economy Rate
Charl Langeveldt                    118             19.66         7.40
Brett Lee                                  63             31.52         7.25
Shaun Tait                                97             21.58         7.85
Dirk Nannes                           169             20.89         7.14
Dale Steyn                                91             24.00         6.75
Morne Morkel                          62             23.58         7.09
Rusty Theron                            66             21.77         7.07
Fidel Edwards                          34             24.41         7.36
Umar Gul                                112              16.79        7.09
Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan            101              19.18        7.06
Chaminda Vaas                        57              20.12        6.84
Zaheer Khan                            75              28.64        7.72
Abdul Razzaq                          105              21.64        7.51

There are some surprises in there. I thought Brett Lee's average would be lower and that Vaas, Edwards and Khan would have taken more wickets. All of the figures are impressive though, given when these players generally do their bowling and they clearly highlight their talent. Most of them have negligible batting averages, nor the opportunity to bat; the two Pakistan players I mentioned yesterday, Rana and Razzaq, are the only ones with a batting average in excess of twenty, somewhat illustrating my point about their merits.

Sadly, the other thing about this list is that I don't see any of them being available. They are either signed up elsewhere, tied to a central contract or injured. Umar Gul isn't to my knowledge, but has only once been tempted to England, by Sussex last year. 12 wickets at 21 and a strike rate of 8.85 was far from bad, but not up to his overall standard, largely achieved in Pakistan. Theron was set for Northamptonshire at one point, but sustained a bad injury. While a good player, he's maybe not yet up to the standard and reputation of others here.

Who we end up with in 2012 is anyone's guess, but if one of these ever ended up at the County Ground we could consider ourselves extremely lucky.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Guptill the run machine

Martin Guptill has been in such a purple patch this winter that I'm aurprised he's not had a visit from Prince. Or Alice Walker, for those of a more literary bent...

For Auckland and New Zealand his last sequence of innings runs like this:

65, 49*, 18, 68*, 18, 70  - all T20 for Auckland
51 (Test Match)
70, 77, 85, 91*

Aside from the fact that Zimbabwe are his country's current opposition and more demanding tasks face him against South Africa shortly, Guptill's batting has been little short of remarkable. You still need to make them, whoever is bowling at the other end and human error or relaxation can cause an early dismissal against anyone. Yet Guptill has had a wonderfully prolific winter that augurs well for his arrival in these climes for the start of the domestic season here.

Yes, as I wrote earlier in the week, he could do with turning more of those 60s, 70s and 80s into tons for both his side and the record book, but at 25 Guptill has become one of the most destructive opening batsmen in the world game. There were another six sixes today and in his present nick one has the impression that Guptill could get runs with the proverbial "stick o' rhubarb". Or at least a balsa wood bat...

It augurs well. His List A and one-day international averages now sit over 40. His next task is to get the others up there too, a benchmark of a player of the highest class.

Which he undoubtedly is.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Something for the weekend

I was talking cricket with a couple of pals at work today and one of them asked me who I would most like to see named as Derbyshire's T20 "game changer" for this season. Neil is a Kent fan and somewhat despairing of what is happening to his club, while Donald is a Durham fan who is quietly confident of their chances for the season. He's also happy that they have signed Herschelle Gibbs for the T20.

 I've said before that we need something different. A hitter who can clear the boundaries would be good, but a quick bowler, a "go to" man in the style of Charl Langeveldt, would make a big difference. I wrote in the week that we had a good quota of batsmen and if we brought someone in we need to remember that someone else misses out. Much depends on the market and I see little sense in bringing in someone who isn't substantially better than what we already have, while signing two overseas batsmen might not make the most sense either...

I think our target, having given it thought, will be a seam bowler. For all the appeal of Duminy and du Plessis, we only have five seamers for a season's cricket at present. With a little luck that would get us through the Championship and Pro 40, but T20 is physically demanding and I think we need someone else to give them a breather.

Mind you, as I wrote the other night, available quick bowlers are in short supply, with Nannes signed by Surrey, Tait and Lee injured, Steyn and Morkel wrapped in cotton wool by South Africa. There's not many others out there, especially with Australia touring here for one-dayers in the summer and New Zealanders out of the reckoning (because otherwise we'd have had Martin Guptill).

Sadly, the type of players who would make a real difference are, to my knowledge, already signed. Abdul Razzaq is a super T20 player and made a huge contribution  to Leicestershire's win last season. Tight overs at the end of the innings and some power hitting to lengthen targets made a major contribution to the team. Razzaq was also a standout for Hampshire as they won it the year before - surely no coincidence.

In a similar vein is a player I watched and admired in Australia's Big Bash. Rana Naved-Ul-Hasan has given sterling service to Sussex over recent years and for the last three winters has become a folk hero in Tasmania, taking them to the semi-finals of the competition with his potent combination of yorkers and variations of pace. His dangerous hitting would have got them all the way too, if not for an odd bit of captaincy that left his arrival at the crease until too late.

That's the sort of player we could do with, but their counties know when they are on to a good thing and will doubtless be hanging on to them both. They offer something whether their team is batting or bowling and in an ideal world Karl Krikken and Chris Grant would source someone like that.

No tall order then. A six-hitter who bowls economically at critical times in the innings. Mission Impossible? Or is there someone out there in the world game that I've missed?

Elsewhere Leicestershire have signed Ramnaresh Sarwan, a good batsman who could turn out to be an inspired signing and who should be in a first-choice West Indian side. Weight and fitness issues have hampered him in recent years, but if he is fully fit they could have picked up a gem, one with a point to prove.

There have been a few critical comments around the blog and the Forum on the news that Leek has no cricket this year, but I'm with the club on this one. The timing of fixtures meant it was only feasible to play the Durham game there, but the traffic infrastructure of Leek with  people heading there in large quantities as others were leaving would have been an issue. I wouldn't have envied Keith Loring in trying to sell it commercially either - we've not developed the County Ground for nowt, you know.

Leek will return another year - the club have seen the possibilities there - but we need to trust some very professional people at the helm to do the best they can for our club.

Finally tonight, there's also a comment or two about the strength of the squad as the season approaches. I'll accept that we've lost senior players in Sutton, Smith and Jones without replacing their experience. Yet we've got to give young talent its head and fans need to remember that the only way we could keep key players such as Madsen, Groenewald, Durston, Palladino and Clare was by giving them improved deals commensurate with their talent.

Money only goes so far, especially in a small club like ours.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Saffer, so good,,,

Earlier today I mentioned that there could be a possibility for a quality South African cricketer as our T20 specialist and decided to have a look at a potential squad for England and who might not make the cut in a very strong cricketing nation.

Firstly, there are a number of guaranteed places in - for the sake of argument - a 17-man squad

Batsmen: Smith, De Villiers, Kallis, Amla, Rudolph, Petersen

Bowlers: Tahir, Peterson/Botha

Seamers: Steyn, Morkel, de Lange, Tsotsobe, Philander

Wicket-keepers - Boucher plus one (possibly van Wyk or Kuhn)

That's fifteen places and leaves you with other candidates for the remaining two:

Batsmen - Prince, Duminy, Ingram, Ontong, du Plessis

Bowlers - Theron, Parnell, McLaren, Peterson/Botha

The likelihood is that they would take one extra batsman, so only one from Duminy, Ingram, Prince, Ontong and du Plessis is likely to gain selection. Whoever it was, few would argue if we ended up with one of the others. Ingram is a top order bruiser, Prince less likely but a good player. Ontong has had an extraordinary winter and is a hard-hitting batsman and spinner, while the excitement would probably come with either Duminy or du Plessis.

Both are brilliant fielders, bowl useful spin and hit the ball with tremendous power. At 27, Duminy has never been lured to England, but missing out on tour selection would surely make him want to make a statement to national selectors. An excellent finisher of an innings, any county who signed him would get an outstanding cricketer.

The same goes for du Plessis, who had a couple of spells at Lancashire where he proved very popular. A dynamic player, his game is perfect for T20, though he hasn't yet returned the statistics to match that ability in the shortest form.

The bowlers are less inspiring but there are good cricketers. Theron is a solid and reliable seamer, as well as being capable of throwing the bat, while McLaren gave good service to Kent as an all-rounder. Botha racks up the air miles as a bowling all-rounder, while Peterson gave good value to Derbyshire in 2010. A return would be unlikely though - with Wainwright, Knight and Hughes, do we REALLY need four slow left-armers?

Finally Parnell. He seems to have been around for years, yet is still only 22. He dominated under-19 cricket but has found the step up difficult. Nonetheless, his T20 average is just 7 runs an over  and he is an able batsman with the ability to become a genuine all-rounder.

There's plenty of potential options out there, as I've said before...

Good talking points

There's an interesting piece in the DET today in which it is revealed that Derbyshire came close to signing Chris Gayle a few weeks ago, as well as having been in the frame for the likes of Nannes, Tait and Morkel.

To be honest, it doesn't suprise me unduly. With both Chris Grant and Keith Loring having gone on record with regard to a landmark signing, there was/is obviously  money available to attract the big names. The question was if Gayle needed a stint in England and then the challenge, as I wrote a few weeks back, was to convince him, like other big names, that "unfashionable" Derbyshire represented a worthwhile move.

Somerset won out, as Surrey did with Dirk Nannes and when the financial demands are met it comes down to which side is perceived to offer the more realistic opportunity for silverware, at least in most cases. It is effectively going to be that way, until a player is identified who either sees us as an opportunity to build a reputation, wants a challenge, or has no other offers.

There are still plenty out there though and, as I've written previously, more will be known now the IPL deals have been announced. I still think there is a good chance of a South African of quality once their tour party is known, but much will depend on who is available. There is a fine line between a "match-changer" and a decent player. The former is someone who will make a difference, the latter is one who only might.

There is a school of thought - and one that I would subscribe to - that if we can't attract someone really worthwhile we simply keep our powder dry and use what we have as a learning curve. There is another one, as mentioned below last night's post, that would see us instead move for someone like Chris Taylor from Gloucestershire, a player who is talented, experienced and readily available.

All these options have their up and down sides, though for the fans to see us as genuine contenders in T20 would probably need someone coming in. Such a concentrated form of the game does require people who can do something special in a different form to the norm. A player who can smash 50 from 25 balls, or can bowl tight overs at the death are your match-winners. Last year Andrew McDonald averaged 53 and Abdul Razzaq 29 for Leicestershire, while they took 14 and 18 wickets respectively at less than eight an over. In any other form of the game perhaps nothing special, but in T20 such statistics are gold dust.

In most recent years I might have agreed on a move for someone like Chris Taylor, or James Dalrymple, but now my concern is simple. Who would you leave out? Take this notional batting line up:


If we assume that five of those named, based on last year's performances and their roles in the club are close to automatic selections, there are already four talented batsmen competing for a place in the side. You might even add Slater to that in the coming season, maybe Siddique. Do we really need another batsman?

I accept that Park is likely to play in only one-day games and some might consider Borrington only a four-day player, but that isn't written in tablets of stone. Bozza scored hundreds of runs in one-day league games last year and has done well in two such matches in India. I wouldn't write him off in that form of the game as he has now filled out and is hitting the ball well. I'm long enough in the tooth to remember a young New Zealander named Glenn Turner, who was nigh-strokeless when he first played for Worcestershire but became one of the best one-day players of his era.

Similarly, and at odds with a correspondent on the Forum earlier in the week, Tony Borrington, for all he was a dogged batsman, played some excellent one-day knocks for Derbyshire, as did Alan Hill. "Bud" might have made a boundary-free century in South Africa to earn himself a perennial place in cricket quizzes, but also made the first 40-over ton for Derbyshire. Borrington made the second - see what I mean?

I don't think that we can afford to have at least four first-team batsmen in the Second XI, so would rule out a move for Taylor on that count alone. I accept the argument that we lack experience, but the only way to get that is by playing at the highest level. Maybe a case of short-term pain for long-term gain, but we might just see a few surprises along the way...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Less than two months...

The season is fast approaching and I can almost smell the linseed oil, or at least could if I had any...

 I don't know how many of you watched the footage of Martin Guptill's astonishing twenty-over innings for Auckland, but it made great viewing. Full marks to the club for getting it and hosting it. On another day Gup could easily have gone lbw early in his knock, but his stroke play was astonishing in its power and selection of the ball to hit.

What strikes me about him is how still he is when the ball is on its way. Yes, he makes pre-meditated moves outside off to carve the bowling to all points of the leg compass, but watch his head and how still it is as he lines the ball up. I genuinely think Guptill will be regarded as one of the world's top players in a couple of years. He only needs to go on to the tons with greater regularity, such as the other night against Zimbabwe. When I went to bed he was approaching 70 at a rate that left 200 a possibility, but departed before he'd made 80. A fine knock for sure, but the really great players turn those into hundreds most of the time. That being the case, I hope that Martin makes the transition from very good to great batsman in the course of the next six months...

On to other news and I feel sorry for Chris Taylor tonight, a man who has lost his contract at Gloucestershire because they can't afford to employ him. I understand he is taking legal action but am not sure of the grounds for this or the likelihood of success. The reality is that Taylor was a good and model county professional who often scored the hard runs for his county - the ones when they were needed. If I was a fan of the county I would be asking one question - would my club be better off with Taylor for a season, or Muralitharan for the T20 only? I would guess the salaries are comparable and for all Murali's legendary status I think he is a spent force these days with at least one dodgy knee.

I wonder what the fans at Derbyshire would have said if forced to choose, say, between Loots Bosman or Wes Durston in similar circumstances? Or Groenewald for a season v Langeveldt for T20? Similar considerations might see a choice somewhere between James Dalrymple for a year v a T20 specialist. It comes down to the club focus and, as Ben points out below the last post (cue bugles...) how seriously a club takes T20. Leicestershire's handsome profit last season owed a lot to their success in this competition. Making the knockout stages for the first time since Gandhi was a lad would undoubtedly swell Derbyshire's coffers and is the rationale behind the chase for a "game changer".

I've mentioned Brett Lee before and most of you will have read of his broken foot that rules him out for a few weeks. With Shaun Tait hors de combat with a recurring elbow problem, it isn't a good time for quick bowlers. While Derbyshire would probably prefer a strike bowler, the likelihood is that there may not be many options in that line. With South Africans probably wrapped in cotton wool ahead of their tour of England and Aussies over here for one-day games, it increasingly looks like coming down to Hobson's choice - or going for a boundary basher.

Either way, I'd guess we should be hearing more sometime soon, especially now we know who has (or more importantly hasn't) got IPL deals. Missing out on a lucrative Indian gig might just focus a few players and agents thoughts on England, don't you think?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Lucky boys

He bats attractively in the middle order and bowls accurate slow left arm. He's also an excellent fielder, but more to the point, Ravindra Jadeja is now $2 million richer thanks to the IPL auction. Even more remarkably, slow left armer Sunil Narine of Trinidad and Tobago is now $750K richer, this despite only having three first class and 40 one-day wickets to his name.

There's no real logic to the IPL auction and at times it is akin to taking a pair of your grandad's old pants along to Antiques Roadshow and getting them valued at six figures. I'm likewise unconvinced that Andre Russell of Jamaica represents value for money at $450K. Good luck to all of these guys, who have effectively secured their futures with this year's IPL, but you wonder who is authorising the spend. I could only be more surprised if Derbyshire announced this year's T20 game-changer was Richie Benaud...

 It is the disparate values that amazes me. The prices above are in stark contrast to $50K for Herschelle Gibbs, a much better value signing based on his Big Bash performances. Of other Big Bash stars, Brad Hodge must be seriously chuffed with $475K at his stage of career, while the Lazarus-style revival of Brad Hogg concludes with his joining Hodge at the Rajasthan Royals for $180K.  Robin Peterson will give good value at $100K, while the Delhi Daredevils have picked up a gem in Kiwi Doug Bracewell. I think he will emerge over the next three years as a genuine world-class all-rounder and at 21 he has the world at his feet. At $50K he represents a steal.

It makes you wonder what Martin Guptill will have cost, yet with the likes of Bopara, Sarwan, Klinger and the excellent Brendan Taylor unsigned, there's no guarantee that logic would have seen a big money deal. I'm just grateful that the genial Kiwi is back with us this season. It is evident from Tom Holdcroft's excellent interview on the club site that he enjoys his cricket in Derbyshire and I just hope that when he mentions young players "having a couple of big seasons coming up" it is an indicator that he might be up for a longer stay in 2013. There's not many better players around and available, that's for sure.

Mind you, with his compatriot Brendon McCullum a cool $900K richer tonight, I wouldn't blame you, Martin Guptill, for having a portion of that pie another year.

Because, as they said in that perfume advert a while back, you're at least worth it.

Khawaja in the groove

Exactly 100 from 106 balls for Usman Khawaja today in a fifty over game against Tasmania, as New South Wales made 230 all out.

Further fuel to the fire of my argument that the left-hander will score a lot of runs this summer for Derbyshire.

Looking good!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Something for the weekend

With less than a day to go, it is patently obvious that the vast majority of fans see Derbyshire being a respectable mid-table at worst in the coming season, while over half think we could genuinely mount a promotion challenge. Interesting....

Not just interesting, but indicative of the new-found spirit at the club. With young players performing well around the globe, Martin Guptill scoring for fun this winter and Usman Khawaja making more Test appearances, we seem to have moved forward. We've lost the loyal and popular Steffan Jones, but his performances were largely in the T20 last year and there may be an overseas replacement for him. Luke Sutton has gone too, but the potential of Tom Poynton is undeniable. If he can match Sutton's glovework and add pugnacious lower order runs there will be few grumbles.

 Finally, Greg Smith has gone, a mercurial talent who flitted brightly across our skies but didn't burst into flame enough for most. In his place is a less enigmatic cricketer in David Wainwright, less likely to score a breezy fifty but capable of an equal weight of middle order runs, as well as giving us the front-line spin bowler that was badly missed last year.

With five seamers of varying pace but undeniable wicket-taking ability and a batting line-up of intriguing potential - yeah, I could go along with a challenge in the four day game. It will need a good start, strong team spirit and a little bit of luck, which all teams need at some point.

Finally tonight, I've been amused by some of the rubbish spouted by people who should really know better over England's matches in Dubai against Pakistan. All of a sudden we're rubbish and Pakistan are the world-beaters. What utter nonsense. One team is in mid-season and prime form, the other has played little cricket in months and had very little warm up for what was always going to be tricky series on tracks the opposition knew far better.

At one time touring sides had half-a-dozen games to acclimatise before the business started. Now its a couple of days in the nets, two games if they're lucky and then time for putting reputations on the line. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Which is why it is doubtless the way things will continue.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Midweek thoughts

It was good to read more news of our boys in India on the club site, with Daniel Redfern (94) and Paul Borrington (76) steering us to a six-wicket win. With Peter Burgoyne taking three wickets and Tom Poynton four stumpings, it could be said with conviction that they did very well indeed. Such experience can only be of benefit with the season approaching and Paul Borrington looks like he is staking an early claim on an opening berth, making good runs in the two matches so far.

Having grown up together through the Derbyshire ranks, Redfern and Borrington could prove a useful mutual support unit in the batting ranks and I confidently expect both players to make a breakthrough this year. Redfern hinted at it last season, enjoying one real purple patch, while Borrington, now free from studies and hopefully fully recovered from last year's ankle injury that set him back a little, should get a chance to cement a role in the side as opening batsman.

Elsewhere, Sussex have confirmed the signing of journeyman Scott Styris for the T20, which for me is solid if unspectacular. More interestingly, Yorkshire hope to secure the services of Phil Jaques as a "local" player.

 I've got mixed feelings about this one, though I'd doubtless be more convinced by it if I were a Yorkshireman. On the one hand, the player has a British passport through his parents, which is fair enough, but is that substantially different to the recently retired Iain O'Brien, who married an English girl and was told he still couldn't play, despite having been resident for some time?

We have Michael di Venuto able to play with freedom on an Italian passport and Rikki Wessels able to play because he "runs a company" that makes a contribution to the economy and employs the requisite number of staff. There appear to be anomalies between what is fine for the visa people and what is acceptable to the ECB and surely we could get something that was workable and logical between the two?

My biggest concern is that Jaques has used his passport as one of convenience. First he is English and plays accordingly for Northamptonshire; then he is an overseas player for Yorkshire and Worcestershire, as well as an Australian international in eleven Tests. Now he wants to be English again. I've nothing against the player and he has been a very good cricketer, but if we're serious about doing the right thing by English cricket, aren't we just allowing another loophole to be exploited here?

For me the regulations should be clearcut. If you have played international cricket for another country, you are an overseas player. End of story. In addition, counties should be allowed to bring in any player from another country, irrespective of their international experience, as overseas star - but not in any other capacity, either Kolpak or passport of convenience. You could go back to two overseas players per side, but that is realistically not going to happen.

I'm thinking of some seriously talented players, especially in South Africa, who will never be seen in this country because of the sheer depth of talent there. People like Stephen Cook, son of Jimmy, who has a top score of 390 and a mid-40s average. The there's Richard Levi, Dean Elgar and Justin Ontong to name just three. All of them would be of greater interest to cricket fans here than some bloke who has played five one-dayers as a bits 'n' pieces man for New Zealand and the one who bats in the middle order for Zimbabwe and bowls a bit. I made them up, to prove a point, but you will all think of recent examples who appeared in the county game who didn't bring too much ability with their cricket bag.

I'm also thinking of my fellow fans. I would sooner go and see a quality cricketer who, simply because of the strength of his country's sport, cannot get an international opportunity, rather than someone who can, primarily because he's an average player in a poor side, but has got the requisite number of international matches under his belt.

I'm sure most of you would too. Why not let me know?