Saturday, 31 March 2012

Pre-season prospects

Once again I would caution what follows with a health warning. Today was, of course, a pre-season friendly and you pay undue attention to them at your peril.

But having said that there was much to admire in Derbyshire's convincing win over Yorkshire today. The bowlers had another good workout and bowled with discipline, David Wainwright again highlighting what a fine acquisition he is going to be as a fine all-rounder. It was equally good - and surprising - to see Tony Palladino back so quickly from his fractured jaw, while amusing to see the Yorkshire website write off the loss as unimportant, having "bigged up" their win in Barbados....

Especially refreshing was the way that we continued to play the aggressive cricket promised when there were three down for 30-odd, and wonderful to see Dan Redfern hit his first exhilarating century in Derbyshire colours. There was another delightful innings from Ross Whiteley and important stabilising ballast from Wes Durston, but for me the Redfern knock is of massive importance for player and team.

Anyone who has watched the lad bat over the last four or five years can have had few doubts over his talent. I've several times compared him to a young Neil Fairbrother and there have been occasional comments around "fan" sites that he's not going to make it. The lad is still 21, for goodness sake and has so much time to play his shots that it is scary. Like Paul Borrington his average has suffered from premature elevation, brought into a side because of obvious talent before his physique allowed for any power. There have been plenty of cameos, but I sensed last season that Redfern was on the brink of the breakthrough, as I wrote on several occasions.

I think that part of his problem has perhaps been in not realising how good he actually is. It is ironic in the light of our winter signing that I once spoke to the lad when I was walking round the boundary at a Second XI game at Denby a few years back. He was fielding fine leg and I congratulated him on a couple of recent knocks in the senior side and asked if he fancied our chances that day.

"Maybe" he replied, "but you see who they have playing? Rana Naved!"

The awe of a fine player was tangible but I told him that he could handle Naved and the rest with no problem, which he thanked me for. He did too, but the exchange suggested a lad who wasn't blessed with the confidence that his talent merited. I think that he now realises he can get runs at this level and there was a realisation today, as I  followed the unfolding of the game, that I have not had for a long time with a Derbyshire side.

When we were three very good wickets down, I simply thought "no worries, Danny Red is in next". When Wes Durston went, the opposition must have watched Ross Whiteley approach the wicket with the commensurate level of apprehension that I felt in confidence. I said last night that I had few worries about our batting this summer and I genuinely mean that. How can you, with the talent of that top six and players like Wainwright, Clare and Poynton to follow? All of these players - perhaps even down to Tim Groenewald at ten - can score good runs and Derbyshire should take some bowling out this summer.

That was a good side out today and we've some bloke called Guptill flying in any day now...

Over on Cricinfo they must think Matt Lineker is so good that, like in the song "New York, New York" they've named him twice. Mind you, they also list Atif Sheikh in our squad. I must double check that they've removed Colin Tunnicliffe...

With Hamza Siddique batting for Cardiff UCCE today and Matt Higginbottom and Ben Slater in action for Leeds/Bradford, there was plenty of interest in minor cricket. Greg Smith scored 160 for Essex against a limited attack - it had to be, as good ones don't concede 500 runs in a day - while ex-Academy player Tom Hamilton scored a fine ton for the Cardiff UCCE 2nd XI.

There's lots of talent in Derbyshire cricket and most of it has only relatively recently stopped eating rusks. It promises to be an exciting summer for Derbyshire fans, but quite frankly I think that this will be just the tip of the iceberg, given the potential of the kids coming through from Howard Dytham's Academy programme.

Be still, my beating heart. The season proper starts this week...

Championship prospects - 2012

The 2011 season was one of encouraging progress - on and off the field - for Derbyshire County Cricket Club. It is perhaps natural to expect, especially if you are a dyed in the wool, fully paid up member of the county negativity squad, that this summer will see a step backwards. That has, after all, been par for the course over the past thirty years.

As the antithesis of the negative faction, I suppose it is natural for me to expect this season to be one of continued progress, but when I say that, it is not without genuine justification. For the first time in many years, Derbyshire seem to have the right team together both on and off the pitch.

Off it, Karl Krikken is a top qualified coach who has the additional benefit of being a good man-manager who has worked with many of the squad since they were young boys. He knows what they can do and they trust him to a man. Such reciprocal trust is important and ensures a good spirit in the camp. Krikken has also recruited his coaching staff well, with local heroes AJ Harris and Kevin Dean working with the bowlers and David Houghton returning to do the same with the county batsmen. All are good men, but the international reputation of Houghton as a batting coach par excellence augurs well  for a young batting collective that in quantity is among the best in our long history. Redfern, Borrington, Whiteley, Hughes, Lineker, Siddique and Slater are all players of genuine talent and if Houghton can help all to realise their talent the future is less rosy than vibrant red...

On the field, those young batsmen above, with the added expertise of Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston have the ability to post good scores in the long game, scored at a rate that allows the bowlers time to do their work. The first choice batting line-up is one that will occupy the thoughts of Karl Krikken and fans will all have their opinion. They shouldn't lack for runs, though, especially with a middle/lower order that includes Clare, Wainwright and Poynton.

Realistically, we need at least two of the young players to enjoy rewarding campaigns. Whiteley will be better known this summer, but has the raw talent to overcome second season syndrome, a sound technique coupled with brutal power once set. Redfern looks a player of the highest class at the crease and a first century will surely open the floodgates for a highly talented young man. Hughes had his travails against spin last year, but remains a remarkable young talent  who will enjoy a long career. Borrington and Lineker need to translate prolific league form to the county game but showed enough in limited opportunities last year to suggest they can make it.

We shouldn't leave the batting without mentioning two excellent overseas signings. Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja should be capable of 1300-1500 runs between them and with Durston and Madsen capable of reaching four figures I have few concerns over a batting line up with plenty of options.

The switch from the Tiflex ball may or may not affect the penetrative abilities of our seam attack, but I would back ours against any in the division given comparable conditions. With seam, swing and pace among them there should be something for most wickets, while as I pointed out the other night we have more spin resources than for some time. We won't see too much of young tyros Knight and Burgoyne this summer, but fans will watch their international exploits with considerable interest; both have major parts to play in the county's future fortunes and have glittering careers ahead of them.

Mark Footitt's pre-season form is encouraging and few sides will fancy facing him or Mark Turner as the wickets dry out from June onwards. Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald will always get wickets and Jon Clare is potentially an international all-rounder if he stays fit. Ally Evans is another who appears to have the knack of wickets, even from bad balls.

There are question marks. Can Madsen sustain his batting form with the cares of captaincy? Can Tom Poynton maintain his high standard through a long season? Can Wainwright prove to be the spinner we have lacked since Robin Peterson's departure? I think that the answer to all three is "yes" and a strong season is in store.

 IF the wickets are right - in other words, produce results - we get our breaks with the weather and injuries and hold our catches I think Derbyshire are capable of a top three championship placing. With a strong team ethic and a competitive spirit we have a lot going for us.

A good start would be handy, but I can genuinely see a promotion challenge in four-day cricket. A happy squad playing aggressive cricket could shock a few people this summer.

As for the opposition - that's for another day...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

What a difference a year makes

This time last year Derbyshire returned from a pre-season trip to find that their chairman had resigned, the precursor to a sequence of events that culminated in the Head of Cricket's departure mid-match a few weeks later and the introduction of Chris Grant and Karl Krikken to the senior roles.

Twelve months on and the season is more eagerly awaited than the opening of a "Swap Your Penny for a Twenty Pound Note" event. We have a bright young team under a talented, articulate and able captain and the promise is one offering aggressive and fearless cricket. What's not to like?

I should now be able to make the opening two days of the county season, so all I need is a little luck with the weather and the return of Derbados to enjoy next week immensely. A meal with my parents next Wednesday, celebrating 59 years of marriage (theirs, not mine...) then two full (please, Lord) days with my eyes firmly fixed on that most hallowed turf at the County Ground.

I also hope to catch up with a few people while I'm down and look forward to meeting some with who I have been corresponding over the last few months. I'll pay a visit to the club shop, the supporters club book shop and quite possibly anywhere else that will have me. I really love April...

There's something SPECIAL about the start of a season. Eighteen first class counties all start in the same position, all optimistic about the months ahead and all hoping for a little luck with the weather, injuries and the toss. Derbyshire will be the same as all of the others, but this year have reasons for genuine optimism. I still maintain we are short of one seamer, as that most arduous of tasks takes it toll on the most robust. We have no Steffan "Mr Indestructible" Jones this year, so three of our five front line seamers need to be fit most of the time. It could be fine, but late, breaking news of another one signing a summer deal will be met with considerable rejoicing in my house.

At the end of this week I'll be previewing our Championship and one-day hopes and telling you what I think will happen. I'll also look at our rivals' squads and give an honest appraisal of where we might finish, given a modicum of luck.

Eight days to go. Woo-hoo!!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Monday musings: The tour, the keeper and spinners

So, a tour that started somewhat inauspiciously with defeats in the opening matches ended on a high as the team got match fit. Barbados were roundly thrashed, Hampshire beaten in a pulsating game that saw reputations built and enhanced, while Yorkshire were outplayed in a 2-day practice match.

Yes, its pre-season and yes it would be stupid to make assertions on the basis of that, but the signs are good and Derbyshire would appear to have a talented squad together ahead of the new campaign. We knew that, of course, but a young side appeared to gel in the Caribbean and, although shorn of the services of many first team regulars, they gave an excellent account of themselves.

At least one of the pre-tour questions appears to have been answered, as captaincy seems not to remotely faze Wayne Madsen. It is too early to say whether Tom Poynton can establish himself as a first-class wicket-keeper but again, the signs are good. Poynton is a very solid, competent keeper and is capable in the long term of scoring good runs for the club in the next ten years or more.

A correspondent below the last post asks how many runs Poynton might score this year. I'm not going to put the lad under unnecessary pressure by saying he'll get 500 - he is likely, after all, to be batting no higher than number nine - but for me anything over 300 is a bonus. As I wrote last week, more important to Derbyshire is that at this stage he establishes himself as a wicket-keeper who catches most things that go his way and sets a vociferous and high standard in the field. Realistically, if he got more runs than I suggest the likelihood is that the guys above him have got us into problems too often for comfort.

I'll say one thing though - the people that have him down as a one in fantasy cricket simply haven't a clue. The lad is a genuine talent and will surprise a lot of people in the coming season - but not me. He has good hands, and has looked a player of real promise for several seasons.

This is his time and he has the chance to prove it.

Equally it was great to see David Wainwright and Tom Knight both bowling lengthy and excellent spells against Yorkshire. Knight burst onto the scene last summer but the photographs from Barbados reinforce what I had already heard - that the lad has lost a lot of weight and is now much more prepared for the county game. There was unfair criticism in some quarters of his fielding last year, but in a couple of months he went from being a good club and school cricketer to someone who was bowling at international stars. None of us have ever done that, nor were we remotely good enough at that age and Knight did astonishingly well in the circumstances.

We'll not see much of him this summer due to international commitments but I have no qualms about Knight whenever he plays, as he is simply a very good cricketer who can and will only get better. He has recovered well from a nasty injury and the healthy competition between him and Wainwright can only benefit the club.

Nor should we discount the spinning abilities of Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston. It would appear that left arm spinners are like buses - you wait for ages on one turning up and suddenly you have three at once! Hughes is a different bowler to the other two in that he fires it in at a pace closer to slow medium on occasion. Yet he is very effective and gives Wayne Madsen another weapon in the field, as does Durston. For all that he appears to spin the ball, differently if not uniquely, off his middle finger, Wes gets good wickets and was a very special signing by John Morris.

Nor should we discount the abilities of Daniel Redfern or Jake Needham. Redfern could yet develop his bowling, if he ever gets to turn his arm over with so many ahead of him, although his classy batting is always likely to remain his stronger suit. Needham was unfortunately injured in Barbados, but is another ready to step in if an opening arises.

Finally there's the number one option, David Wainwright. Crucially he also offers plenty as a solid lower middle order batsman and fine fielder, but if he can pick up 30-40 Championship wickets Derbyshire will be at the business end of the table come September.

Have Derbyshire ever had such options in spin bowling? No -  the slow bowling options for Wayne Madsen this summer are many and intriguing. We may not yet have a modern day Mitchell, Rhodes or Miller, but we'll not lack for options when the shine goes off the ball.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Something for the weekend

Just because Derbyshire won the Plate Final last night I'm not about to change my mind on the fact that pre-season results don't matter all that much.

Having said that, trophies are trophies and a win in the kind of game they enjoyed with Hampshire is especially sweet, as well as being rewarding. It is, after all, only a couple of years since that county won the T20 and they have a clutch of the best regarded young players in the country.

Then again, ours aren't so bad either. Let's not forget that half of this side probably wouldn't be in a first choice T20 XI, yet they did remarkably well in a pulsating finish. I was racking my brains on the last time I'd followed cricket so captivating at that time of night and reckon it was when Lawrence Rowe was caressing England's bowlers to all corners of the ground, the winter before he joined us in 1974. Lying in my bed at that time, listening to Rowe rack up the runs and imagining what he might do for Derbyshire was a great thrill.

It never really worked for Rowe in England, but the lads in our current side offer genuine rich potential. Batting was obviously less straightforward than against Barbados earlier in the day, but Wayne Madsen ensured that our total was at least competitive. Madsen's apparent composure under pressure later was notable, but his ability to steer a weakened side to a defendable total was encouraging.

With Hampshire coasting at 50-0 in the seventh over a win seemed scarcely possible, yet between them slow left-armers David Wainwright and Chesney Hughes ripped their batting apart. Hughes has had a good all-round tour, but Wainwright will be especially pleased to return fine figures after working hard in partnership with the captain in our innings.

Nor should we forget the fielding, which was apparently very good and highlighted by Paul Borrington's arrow-like throw from the boundary to run out the dangerous Sean Ervine, a man who could well have won them the game. Bozza is an excellent fielder in a team full of them and is another who has enjoyed an encouraging tour so far.

Finally it came down to Mark Footitt. How many of you groaned, as I did, when his first ball in the over conceded an erratic five no balls? With five to win from six balls I was set to switch off but decided to see what happened next. Three wickets in five balls, all from searing yorkers, finished the game and saw Derbyshire win by one run, at the same time that Footitt finished with a remarkable 4-11.

“I just wanted to run in and bowl as fast a yorker as I could in that last over. When the first ball went for five I thought ‘oh no’ but then I got my line right and got the reward for a long winter practising that particular delivery” said Footitt afterwards.

If he can bowl like that on a regular basis we might just have a one-day team to be reckoned with. Last night I wrote that it was an important season for him.

He could have picked no better way to set out his stall to make it a good one.

Well done lads. Make sure you bring that form back with you!

PS Again warm congratulations to Tom Holdcroft for an outstanding Twitter feed last night. Last year this varied between average and poor, to be perfectly honest. The signs are that fans will be much better informed this time around, something we can all be thankful for.

Silver (plate) ware!!

What a remarkable game of cricket was the Plate Final between Derbyshire and Hampshire last night.

With the southern county coasting at 50 for no wicket in the seventh over the game appeared done and dusted. Yet good fielding and a remarkable last over from Mark Footitt led to a one run win, the "Derbyshire Nannes" clean bowling three batsmen in a frenetic finale, despite having started the over with a loose full toss that cost five.

It might only have been a friendly and was pre-season at the end of it all, but a win in such tight circumstances will do a lot of good for our young side.

More later!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Wes 'n' Whiteley shine

Maybe Wes Durston and Ross Whiteley will be known as the "Bajan Bazookas" henceforth. Certainly the demolition job that they did on Barbados today will undoubtedly live long in the memories of those that saw it.

Durston's 93 from 62 balls, with ten fours and three sixes, would have been the innings of the match in most circumstances, but in comparison to what followed from Whiteley it was almost pedestrian. An unbeaten 75 from just 34 balls is an extraordinary rate of scoring and most of his six sixes, at least according to the Twitter feed, seemed to be out of the ground.

A total of 213-3 was an exceptional effort and while the bowling was presumably not of the standard faced previously on the tour, you can only beat what is in front of you. When Wes followed his exploits with two wickets with his first two balls, the game was effectively over and the fielding and bowling restricted the hosts to 115-8 in 20 overs and a win by 98 runs.

It was a heartening effort and the individual performances and the win will do no harm whatsoever. While the side is effectively picking itself from those with the requisite number of body parts, the game gave clear signs that batsmen are finding their range and bowlers are beginning to hit steady lengths.

It is encouraging to hear the positive noises about Mark Footitt, who faces a challenging season in the last year under his existing deal. No one can deny the lad has tremendous talent and bowlers who can hit over 90mph while bowling left arm are as common as snowfalls in the Kalahari. Yet thus far in his career he has had too many injuries, has bowled too many poor balls and has lost rhythm too easily to be anything more than a bit part player. He is capable of more, as anyone who saw him blow Middlesex away in the Pro 40 at Derby will vouch for. That night Footitt was scarily fast...

I hope he can keep it going, take forty wicket as a minimum, run in hard and bowl fast for most of the season. As I've said before, in Footitt and Mark Turner we have two of the fastest bowlers in the country - not just divison two, but the country. Yet pace without a modicum of accuracy is of minimal value at county level. If those lads can harness the two, few sides will fancy facing Derbyshire.

Time to go. Dinner beckons, then American Idol. Some great young singers on that show, which puts our reality music to shame.

Catch you again soon!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Book Review - Derbyshire CCC Yearbook 2011

I got the latest edition of the Derbyshire Yearbook through my door earlier this week, so thought it appropriate to make it the latest book review on this blog.

I have collected this every year from 1970 and still clearly recall getting my first one at the County Ground. It was a baking hot day, we beat Surrey and Chris Wilkins played a typically breezy innings. There was a lot to be thankful for that day. It was the centenary edition of the year book, marking that of the club, although the book itself only started in 1954. Under FG Peach and AF Dawn the book was good value and gave excellent potted match reports that, even from a distance, made you feel like you had actually been there.

That 1970 edition is still my favourite and I have subsequently bought another two copies as it has been well-thumbed. The numerous articles by former players make for stimulating reading and, although it took me the best part of twenty years, I eventually managed to complete a full set, which I have kept going.

I'd have to say that I sighed a little when the format changed to A4 a few years back. I understood the commercial reasons, but that full set doesn't look the same on the shelf nowadays. Nor is there as much reading as there once was. The golden era of the yearbook was under the auspices of the late Stan Tacey, a genuinely lovely man who gave me my first opportunity to write about Derbyshire. I had an article in it for a few years and got a free copy as payment, though the other contributors helped make it a stimulating and lengthy read.

These days it retains its usefulness, especially with the updated statistics section, while the reports of the chairman/head coach et al and chronology are worthwhile. That the T20 matches merit only a potted score, as in Wisden, suggests, rightly or wrongly, that it isn't worthy of too great a consideration. Given it accounts for a sizeable percentage of our income, however, one would have thought it worthy of more, especially when we have Rana Naved coming this season. I would hope his exploits merit expansion in next year's edition.

Speaking of Naved, it is also disappointing that we couldn't have come up with a better picture on page 34, which is a couple of years old and pre-tonsorial enhancement. The pictures are perhaps the most disappointing aspect, with exposure issues throughout. The one of Naved on page 7 isn't much better, while that of Martin Guptill on page 31 could easily feature on a new round in "A Question of Sport", probably named "Who the hell is that?" Meanwhile that of Mohammad Azharuddin on page 45 is like a photographic negative, while others are under or over exposed. The worthy efforts of the commercial team have been let down a little in the print quality this year, without a doubt.

In short - the yearbook is always a worthy addition to the season's books, its arrival heralding the start of a new season. The amount of work that goes into it is substantial (I know, from personal experience of publishing) and it shouldn't be too far from the armchairs of fans throughout the season.

It's just a shame that the print quality isn't better.

Better days

Bruce Springsteen fans will recognise that title above, and it is quite an opposite title for tonight's piece, with improved news from Emergency Ward Ten - or, as its better known, the Derbyshire dressing room.

Tony Palladino will not miss "weeks" as suggested by a specialist in Barbados, but will in fact be fit for the season opener, according to the one that he has subsequently seen in London. This suggests that the first specialist perhaps had the words "gas fitter" after the name of course, or perhaps he was a professional prankster intent on giving Derbyshire fans an attack of the glums...

Anyway, good news. With Mark Turner nearing fitness, Krikk seems happy with the form of Messrs Whiteley and Footitt, as well as Jon Clare, so maybe we won't yet be opening against Northamptonshire with an attack of Chris Grant and myself. I'm quite disappointed that Krikk let it slip he'd been offered bowlers on loan already - I thought he'd keep that between the two of us....

Back to the tour and tomorrow we play an emerging players side in another match. I just hope that we see opening opportunities for Paul Borrington and Matt Lineker. Before the tour began one of the questions on the lips of fans was the likely opening partner for Martin Guptill when the business starts. Chesney Hughes has done well so far - he knows the wickets better than anyone in this part of the world, of course - but there has been no opportunity for Lineker thus far and he deserves one, without doubt.

So too does Borrington. An unbeaten 23 against Leicestershire was followed by a breezy unbeaten 25 from 18 balls last night, both batting down the order. While fully appreciative that these are friendlies, I see no merit in Borrington batting so low. As an opening batsman he could have anchored a chase in both games and from a technical perspective would have been better equipped to do so than Jon Clare. I've written recently that there is a case for Clare, a hard-hitting batsman, to bat higher in one-day cricket, but I don't see that being in the nose-bleed territory of opening batsman.

For one thing batting against a world-class bowler holding a hard new ball is a world away from facing the same guy with a ball that is much older and softer. For another, I think Clare's work load needs to be carefully managed. He is on record as wanting to move on to the next level this year and could well do that as a lively fast medium bowler who hits the deck and a batsman capable of hitting tiring bowlers to all parts. The likes of Botham, Imran and Flintoff rarely moved up the order with success, but found their niche in the side from where they could make an impact.

Such things always smack of desperation to me. I recall the 1969 Gillette Cup Final when Alan Ward was sent in early to address a declining run rate. "Why are they doing that"? I asked my Dad.

"Because they're panicking" was his prompt reply. I don't know if anyone's done any research on it, but I don't think the success rate of hitters going up the order can be greater than 10%. Maybe I've over-elaborated on this point, but for me, opening batsmen should open. If they don't, you're effectively suggesting that you made a mistake in picking them in the first instance. When, more often than not, the hitters fail you are usually down to 15-2 or somesuch, no base at all for a run chase. What a side needs is a canny player to knock it around and let the others play the big shots.

Just my opinion, of course.

In closing, it is gratifying to hear good reports of Tom Poynton's glovework so far. For me, any runs the lad makes this season are a bonus and the greater need is for a sound wicket-keeper who sets a standard in the field. I think he will do that and, once established, will relax at the crease and start to contribute valuable runs. He's a good player, young Poynton and will be a fine asset to Derbyshire cricket.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Another day, another defeat

24 hours after their heavy defeat against Leicestershire in a 40-over game, Derbyshire suffered another in a 20-over game against Yorkshire. Two decidedly ordinary batting performances in two days, though there are mitigating circumstances.

Karl Krikken is trying things at this stage. Jon Clare opening, Gary Park in the middle order, Paul Borrington at 7 - I don't see many of these as options when the business starts, but it is as well to try them out while there is an opportunity.

Of course, Krikk's hand has been forced by early injuries. Redfern jarred his knee in the field, Palladino is on his way home with a broken jaw, Groenewald is recovering from knee surgery and Turner from a stomach operation. It is not what any of us would have wanted and effectively leaves us with only Footitt and Clare as an opening attack. With no Greg Smith, we're very short of seamers and while Ali Evans is apparently a bowler of some potential, few would see him as a first choice seamer at this stage, which is what, at present, he is set to be.

Logically a move for a bowler - on loan or otherwise - when they return home looks increasingly likely and I'm sure that Krikken is mulling over options at this moment.

Of course, the two defeats haven't been without promise. The wicket-keeping of Tom Poynton has been very good, Chesney Hughes has both batted and bowled well and Paul Borrington has played two unbeaten cameos at the end of innings that suggest he will make a push for a regular berth this season. Wayne Madsen has also done well with the bat, but the busiest man on tour in the coming days is likely to be James Pipe, who has to patch up a few more people than he would have liked...

Early season niggles are nothing new and while winning is a good habit, losing two from two friendlies is nothing to be unduly upset about. I would like to see us field a more 'normal' side in the next match though. I'd open with Borrington or Lineker and go with Durston at 3 and Madsen at 4, a tactic that worked well last year. There is an argument for promoting Clare, but I'd put him at six behind Whiteley. For one thing I don't think his technique is sufficiently secure yet to open and for another we can't afford to overburden the lad when he's one of only two fit seamers...

Elsewhere, Somerset continue with their plan to recruit a World XI by being linked with Ricky Ponting, while over on the Forum someone questions why we've gone to the Caribbean. Ho hum...because you have nigh-guaranteed cricket, which you wouldn't have here. An opportunity to stretch muscles in a warmer climate is more likely to be successful than doing the same in England at this stage. The injuries we've sustained are largely carried over from last year and are the result of accidents, which no amount of planning can alter.

Finally tonight, a big pat on the back for Tom Holdcroft at the club, who I asssume has been responsible for the excellent Twitter feed on the two matches thus far. Over by over updates are essential in such matches and it augurs well for the season. I was critical of our Twitter at times last year, when there were occasions that updates happened just twice a day, but this was really impressive. Well done!

Monday, 19 March 2012

First day woes in Barbados

I'm not overly concerned about the fact that Derbyshire have been on the wrong end of their game against Leicestershire today. Pre-season matches count for nothing when the action proper begins, but today was a good workout for the bowlers and fielders, even though they spent much of it fetching balls back that had been hit to all parts by Messrs Cobb and Du Toit. Both are dangerous players and against bowlers shaking off the rustiness of winter were always likely to do well once they got going.

What was more surprising to me was that Cobb continued to bat having reached a century. Surely, in a match of this kind, where players need time in the middle, he should have been retired  to give some of their middle order time at the crease? I'd like to think that Derbyshire might have done things differently, but, Hughes apart, none of our batsmen really got going. Plenty of time to put that right and while runs are runs in any form of the game, I'm more concerned that we have them tuned up for the start of the season.

My biggest concern was the injury sustained by Tony Palladino. A broken jaw will take a week or two to settle down and means immediately that we are a seamer short. My concerns about the depth of the seam attack, expressed over the winter, immediately come to the fore.

To my knowledge there are still players out there who could do a useful job as an extra seam bowler for us, among them Steven Cheetham from Lancashire and Chris Whelan, who was surprisingly released by Worcestershire. Indeed, the latter looked a decent bowler when he took four wickets against us at Derby in the T20 last year and I'm still firmly of the opinion that one of those lads would be useful for us in the next six months.

131-7 chasing 307 as I close is a hammering, but one I'd sooner have now than later. It shows there is still much to do.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Something for the weekend

There will be several songs going through the heads of the Derbyshire players today as they make their way to the warmer climes of Barbados for the pre-season tour. We're Going To Barbados, Island in the Sun, On the Beach - why, maybe even I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts...

The tour will effectively finish off pre-season preparations and will give them a chance to get sun on their backs and their run ups worked out, while batsmen should get some valuable time in the middle. Most important of all, it will give players who will spend much of the next six months together an opportunity to bond as a unit, while giving Karl Krikken a chance to try a few things.

Don't read too much into batting orders and team selections in these tour games. Krikk will want to look at various options and scenarios and everyone will get a chance to stake a claim for a place. I remember that last year Ross Whiteley played some good knocks, some of them for a composite XI of players from the different county clubs out there. This time around he is an established player and there is a lesson in that for other young players - work at the game and success WILL come.

In the photograph in todays Derby Telegraph, the players look as lean as the proverbial butcher's dog. Young players such as Redfern, Hughes, Borrington, Whiteley and Poynton could all kick on this season and we've not had such a clutch of young talent for many a year. Tom Knight and Peter Burgoyne will too, though we're unlikely to see too much of them with their international commitments for the summer. Younger players must see the strides such lads are making and think "I want some of that". Maybe in a couple of years we'll be heralding the advent of Ben Slater, Hamza Siddique, Greg Cork and Harry White as young players of genuine quality...

Interestingly Ally Evans has made the trip, suggesting the young Scots seamer via Loughborough has impressed in the winter nets. Several people have told me that Evans swings the ball, never a bad asset and if he gets his lines right can trouble batsmen. He took enough 2nd XI wickets last year to suggest he could be worth a summer contract at least and this trip could clinch a deal for him.

I like the noises emanating from the club. "Fearless and aggressive cricket" say Karl Krikken and Chris Grant. "Train hard and work for each other - no stars" says Steffan Jones from a distance. The captain exudes authority and serenity and I think will do well. They have an excellent coach in Karl Krikken, while the bowlers will have the support of AJ Harris and Kevin Dean. The batsmen will have a world-renowned coach in David Houghton, someone who strips down techniques and keeps it simple - much as Krikken did today.

"I think it's basically a matter of doing the same things and getting more experienced at doing it," he said.
"Some people start to think they have to do something different but the best cricketers do the basics the best. Look at Sachin Tendulkar – when he gets a half volley, he smacks it for four and when it's a good ball, he blocks it. That's basically it.

"What the players need to get in their heads is to keep executing everything the same way and you just get better at it. When people start trying to expand their game, supposedly, and try to hit the off-spinners over extra cover, that's when things go wrong."

Quite. If we get the basics right for much of the time between now and September we will do pretty well.

In closing tonight, Kent have picked up Brendan Nash as their overseas player for this season. Fans may be a little underwhelmed at their signing a 34-year old specialist batsman with only nine first-class centuries, but Nash could be a solid signing. A left-hander in the Larry Gomes/Shiv Chanderpaul/Jimmy Adams mode, he might just give them middle order ballast, important in the post-van Jaarsveld era. Adams is also a shrewd coach, but will have his work cut out in the south east.

Mind you, it makes you wonder how Nash, Chanderpaul, Gayle and Sarwan can't get in the West Indies side for varying reasons. Seeing their capitulation to Australia today made you weep for the current standard of Caribbean batting.

Oh, my Haynes and Greenidge of not that long ago...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Let the action commence

The cricket season starts on Saturday.

I've got all my equipment looked out. Gloves, wellingtons. wheelbarrow. spade. shovel....

We're in the embryonic stage of putting up our new pavilion. 'Tis a thing of beauty, replacing a building that, while functional, most definitely wasn't. It had two dressing rooms of decent size, an undercover link corridor (useful when it rained) and a viewing/tea room, which had plenty of chairs from various sources and went through numerous replacement panes of glass from those who had perfected (and timed) the hoik over mid-wicket.

Alas it is no more. In its place, after 26 seasons of good use, is a wonderful structure that cost £14K new but was bought by us from a local tourist spot. They'd purchased it for a tea room but neglected to seek planning permission before erecting it. So down it came and into storage after only three weeks, where it sat until an enterprising club member came to hear of it and negotiated a remarkable £2K for it, including transportation to the club.

We now have to build it, which is a job for an early April weekend. Think the scene in Witness, where Harrison Ford and the Amish are erecting barns and all sorts of stuff in a day and you will have some idea of our plans. With two dressing rooms that could house 'proper' teams, a tea room AND a viewing room, not to mention toilets, we'll be in the lap of luxury in jig time... hopefully.

The tradesmen among our number reckon they can build it in a weekend with enough labourers to help and assistance from the weather. Saturday is the back-breaking stuff. Sixteen holes, 1.5 metres square and 1 metre deep need to be dug, then filled with concrete. Assuming all the people who said they would be there turn up we should be fine, but no doubt one or two will wake up on the morning with a sniffle, an ingrown toenail or an acute case of duvet dependency. We'll see, but none of us are planning a hectic Saturday evening...

On the pitch there's little to relate at present. The club are having a sale of last season's merchandise and I hope that at least one extra large white cricket shirt is left when I get down there in 2-3 weeks, just the job for my cricketing forays this year, as my current shirt is starting to look a little threadbare (bit like me, really...)

Steve Claridge made nice comments about Wayne Madsen, which anyone who has met the genial South African will vouch for, while the players will be getting set for Barbados any day now.

All this and the Rams beat Forest the other night. What we'd give to see our lads replicate that to their cricketing counterparts this summer! Its just a shame that the edge was taken off the win by the mindless morons with pathetic chants about the late Forest chairman. Neither funny nor clever, this is the sort of thing I would hate to see creep into cricket and is another reason why I don't really bother with football too much these days.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Monday musings

I've been reading about some of the "innovative" plans to raise money for Glasgow Rangers FC in the past few days and one of them is to hold a series of sporting dinners. I'm not sure how many of these you would need to run to help, but would probably need at least three dinners a day for 25 years as a conservative estimate, just to cover the interest payments...

It got me thinking about cricket dinners though. I've done a fair few of them as a speaker myself and they have largely gone well. In most cases those attending are there to enjoy themselves and unless you haven't prepared are largely appreciative of your efforts. I'm very much in the anecdotal side of cricket speaker as there aren't really that many cricket jokes - three, to be precise, at the last count.

The clubs I've spoken at have been appreciative of my efforts, perhaps mainly because I charge much less than most. With a lot of clubs on a tight budget, there are few that can afford a big name, even if they could afford to bring one from down south. Plenty of anecdotes of former players, the background to the blog and a toast to the game of cricket has largely worked well - apart from one occasion.

I was booked to appear at an east coast club one Friday evening, a talk that required a ninety minute drive in both directions. To add to the fun, it was very wet and extremely windy, so by the time I got to the venue after work it had already been a hard gig. When I got there I found that I was not the only speaker, as promised, but the third.The first was from the club and was suitably ribald after the dinner, handing out awards that were not always sought after. The second was a comedian, who used all of the three cricket jokes, leaving me a mental re-write and then came out with thirty minutes of blue humour that would have made Bernard Manning blush and essentially revolved around bodily emissions of any kind. By the time he had finished, it was already 11pm and 90% of those in attendance were feeling no pain whatsoever. Indeed, several were slumped in chairs uttering the type of phrase made famous by Father Jack in television's Father Ted.

My introduction to talk about the great game of cricket was warmly received, but the talk was a long way from what the crowd wanted at that stage. I was reminded of when Jerry Lee Lewis, miffed at Chuck Berry being top of the bill in his place at a concert, set fire to his piano and, as he walked off, said "Follow that, boy" to Berry. I set fire to nothing, especially what remained of the listening audience's imaginations. There was polite applause at the end and some nice comments afterwards, but I didn't feel it went especially well and getting home around 2am hadn't been part of the game plan either. The running order was wrong and it is something I've subsequently asked when I've been engaged to speak at dinners.

To playing matters and Yorkshire's green light to sign Phil Jaques as a "local" player has left them free to sign a bowler as their overseas star and probably left them as favourites for Division Two this summer. If they don't win it with the talent at their disposal then there should be serious questions asked. With other counties still to finalise their squads though, you'll need to wait another couple of weeks before Peakfan's Predictions hit the blog.

In that time Derbyshire will hone their skills in Barbados and should return fit, tanned and bonded. A few wins on the forthcoming tour would be no bad thing - winning is never a bad habit - but is a long was from the raison d'etre of it all. More important is that players get time in the middle and an opportunity to get the winter out of their legs. Runs and wickets will be handy, but the preparation for when the business starts is all important.

See you soon!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Interest keen as the season approaches

It is ironic that a county with the smallest membership of all the first class counties is reporting record levels of interest in the club via its web site.

The site has improved over the last few years and now has much better content and navigation, as well as an impressive new look. Interestingly, the figures mirror the development of this blog, although it has only been going for three-and-a-half years. Indeed, the close season usage of this site is now higher than that in the summer even two years ago, with regular readers from eighteen different countries.

This latter fact interests, as well as flatters me. Interest in Derbyshire cricket doesn't wither and die when you move away and the desire for information about the club cannot be fuelled by conventional media sources, as most are only interested in the bad news. Even within the UK I have had e mails from Wales, Sussex, Cornwall, Lancashire, Scotland, Cheshire and Hertfordshire - all of them from Derbyshire fans who still love the club yet, because of their life circumstances, can only get to occasional games - or none at all.

Distance may be the major issue, but for most, people with families and jobs that occupy them five or six days a week, there are other factors - that games are often not on when they have a day off at the weekends and could potentially make a trip to see their team, or are at a stage where the game is effectively over.

I've covered this before - the club are naturally grateful for all those who live close enough to attend regularly, but one should never discount the level of interest or passion for the club in those who stay further away. I live 300 miles away, yet would put my passion for the club up there with anyone. Mind you. I stay several thousand miles from Nashville, yet still read the online Tennessean newspaper every week...

Another thing that interests me is the positivity among fans, something that has grown over the time I've done this blog. That in itself is a sign of progress, but the number of negative comments and e mails I receive about the club now are a small percentage of what I had when I started the blog. There will always be a few people who have axes to grind, of course, but most are aware of what the club is trying to do and appear to be supportive.

Of course, the acid test will come when the action starts. Be prepared for ups and downs, my friends, as that's what you get from young players. I think the coming season will see us playing an exciting brand of cricket under a young and able new captain. There will be days of euphoria, when we play above ourselves and produce individual and collective brilliance, but there will be others where the intensity drops and the performance suffers accordingly. It happens with young players, just as it happens with the more experienced - as we've seen at Derbyshire over the years.

Between them Karl Krikken and Chris Grant have put together a young, bright squad, not forgetting the role played by John Morris in bringing some better players to the club. If I had one wish for the coming season - aside from a trophy, of course - it is that Derbyshire fans get behind and keep behind the team for the campaign. Remember that, win or lose, they are trying their best - but on occasions, when they come up against players and teams in form, that might not be enough.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

All rounders or...?

There are some interesting comments on the Forum tonight about the respective credentials of Ross Whiteley, Jonathan Clare and David Wainwright as all-rounders.

I suppose to some extent the jury is out on all three, but they offer intriguing potential and variety. All three have shown their batting talents, while to have a left and right arm seamer and left arm spinner among all-rounders of potential is a luxury few sides enjoy.

Ross Whiteley first appeared as a left arm seamer in the Kevin Dean mould, but if you've read this blog since I started it you may recall my suggesting that his batting might develop, as he struck me as a clean hitter in the Ian Blackwell mould. Last season's performances amply illustrated that Whiteley had arrived as a batsman with good technique who could hit the ball a country mile when set. At the same time his bowling seemed to have gone back, a habit of dropping one on leg stump with annoying regularity costing him runs as he "lost" his action. Yet the signs from Australia are good and Ross would be a huge asset if he could be seen as a third or even fourth genuine seamer  in the side.

That's the way with all-rounders. The young Sobers was a bowler who could bat and then it clicked. The young Kallis was a batsman who bowled and then found a few yards of pace. The young Hadlee was effectively a rabbit with the bat, while the young Imran Khan looked not especially talented with bat or ball until he filled out. Likewise Wayne Parnell dominated junior cricket as an all rounder of brilliance, yet has found batting at senior level a bigger problem than bowling. Its a tough job, the decathlon of cricket, the master of all trades. It needs a strong physique to carry off too, as Andrew Flintoff, another who soared only occasionally in his youth, will testify.

Jonathan Clare has a strong physique but only last season overcame the mental scars of serious injury. Unless you've had a serious shoulder injury you don't know how hard it is to bowl quickly again and Clare had a really serious one that caused him to miss a lot of cricket, yet saw him return when he was not perhaps ready. I once missed a year of bowling with a rotator cuff injury and barely bowled a ball with any menace for a year after that. For a club player like me that was no big deal, but for an 85mph seamer like Clare its the difference between a quick yorker and cafeteria bowling. Similarly his confidence at the crease was affected and the player rarely bats above seven or eight in one-dayers anyway, hardly the position from which to build an average.

As for David Wainwright, a first-class batting average of 32 is impressive for someone who has batted low for Yorkshire and indicative of talent. He already has two first-class centuries and could easily add more as I expect him to bat at seven for Derbyshire. He will be seen as a replacement for Greg Smith and while not as adaptable as the South African, who could bowl seam and spin, I would argue that his spin is perhaps a more useful weapon for a Derbyshire side starved of experienced twirlers since the departure of Robin Peterson. I could see Wainwright passing 500 runs and 40 wickets in the Championship. If he does, we will enjoy a good year.

I'm a hard task master and have always regarded a genuine all-rounder as someone who averages more with the bat than he does with the ball. Such a qualification would mean some good players over the years were discounted as such, including, at the moment, the three players named above. Yet using the four day game - the only one where comparisons are fair - as a benchmark, Clare averages 28 with bat and ball, Wainwright 32 with bat and 35 with the ball and Whiteley 38 and 70 respectively.

All can improve on those figures in the season ahead and convince any doubters of their all round talent. And when one considers that we have Peter Burgoyne coming through and Rana Naved for the T20 we're pretty well off.

And that's without including the merits of Wes Durston, Chesney Hughes and Dan Redfern, the latter someone I feel could easily bowl more than has been the case in recent seasons. Batsmen who bowl, maybe - but a handy asset for the new skipper.

Teams nearing completion?

As if to prove my point in last night's piece, Glamorgan today announced that New South Wales all-rounder Moises Henriques will replace Marcus North at the start of the season and that he is likely to bat at number five.

Hmmm... not sure what that says about their batting to be honest, as Henriques, a player with a Portuguese passport who could feasibly play in England with that if he gave up his Australian ambitions, is a decent player, but not more than that. In nearly fifty first class innings he has yet to reach a century (or anything close) and his bowling, while useful, isn't his strongest suit.

He is an athletic lad and in his favour played the innings that won the Big Bash for his side, but when I've seen him he looks a little loose in technique, not ideal for early season English tracks. Glamorgan, like a few other sides, will have been struggling to find someone available and affordable and put it this way - I'm glad we've got Guptill and Khawaja and would be slightly underwhelmed were I Welsh...

Closer to home, some of you may have read that Tom Knight missed out on an England under-19 tour to Bangladesh due to a bicep injury. I understand that the youngster is responding well to treatment and will probably join his Derbyshire team mates in Barbados for the pre-season tour, ahead of what may be a busy summer with county action and the Under-19 World Cup.

As those who saw him last year will testify, Knight is a precocious talent and seems to have a canny head on his young shoulders. He was a feature of the one-day side last year and may well be this summer, as the World Cup commitments would appear to leave him free for the T20 and perhaps the Pro 40. I don't expect him to feature in too many Championship matches with David Wainwright in the side, but he has time on his side and is likely to be a fixture of the county side for years to come. He has worked hard on his fitness over the winter, which never did anyone any harm and two left arm spinners of quality would be a real asset to Karl Krikken for the T20.

Not long to go now folks...

Monday, 5 March 2012

A point of clarification

I'd an e mail from Mike today, suggesting that I was perhaps unfair in suggesting that Martin Guptill, Usman Khawaja and Rana Naved were not world-ranked stars. I can assure Mike and anyone else who reads the blog that this was not meant as criticism, nor as a slight to players who I admire greatly for their ability and their willingness to pitch in as "one of the boys".

Indeed, in so far as players willing and able to play the county game go, there will be few better in the county game this year. I expect Guptill and Khawaja to comfortably exceed a thousand Championship runs between them - they have to, if we are to be competitive - and for Naved to be a stand-out in the T20. Why? Because he is one of the world's top T20 bowlers, as figures I produced on the blog recently substantiated.

My point was and is that unlike in the 1960s, 70s and 80s the real stars of the world game can no longer be lured to England. For Richards, Procter, Lloyd and Holding read Kallis, Smith, Ponting  and Steyn. With their central contracts and IPL deals (if they wish) such players need county cricket today like I need a Robin Reliant as my next family car...

Therefore the next tier down - the up and comers if you will - are in demand and Derbyshire in Guptill and Khawaja have two of the best. In Naved we have a world-class operator who has been a success in England, Australia and Pakistan and his experience will be invaluable to a young side.

In short, we have the best available players within our budget. Could any county ask for more?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sunday something

With only a month to go before the season starts, there can't be many cricket fans who aren't feeling excited right now. Depending on your age and penchant, you will soon be dusting down the deckchairs, checking that mice haven't lodged in the picnic basket over the winter months and that your replica club sweater still fits. Then comes that moment when you realise that the team name or colours have changed over the winter and you're going to have to buy a new baseball cap, shirt and the other ephemera that is part of being a cricket fan.

There may or may not be any more players at Derbyshire (though I still keep fingers crossed for a seamer) but I remain convinced that we are in good shape, perhaps the best we have been in some years. Yes, I'll accept that we are packed with inexperience and that will undoubtedly cost us on occasion in the season ahead, but we will be playing aggressive, attacking cricket - that's the message coming from Wayne Madsen, our new skipper.

Madsen isn't daft though. In his interviews he is sensibly clarifying that there will be times when as a side you need to dig in and grit it out. There will be times when he, as captain, will need to look to stem the flow of runs and frustrate players out. There might be a lot of those situations, depending on how the switch from the Tiflex ball works for his bowlers, but that is where you see the side that has the genuine team spirit.

For Derbyshire to do well this year, every single member of the eleven that takes the field has to be giving one hundred per cent in every game. This is a team without a world-ranked star - and I mean no offence to Messrs Guptill, Khawaja or Naved in saying that - but with a young squad of players who share a common goal. I'm thinking back to when Somerset had Garner and Richards, not to mention Botham. The other players could sometimes coast in the knowledge that these players would usually bail them out. Likewise when the likes of Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Clive Lloyd and Michael Holding could be lured to the county game, as it kept their money coming in. These men were genuine giants of the world game.

What we have at Derbyshire - and at the other counties today - are very good players who are not quite yet at the pinnacle of their profession. Guptill could well be there in the next couple of years, Khawaja has the ability to do so if he kicks on in the same period, while Naved is now retired from international cricket but is still a very fine cricketer, one that we are very fortunate to have.

Yet the fact that the players have things to prove works very much in Derbyshire's favour. The history of the county game over the past 40-50 years is equally littered with the names of those who came with big reputations that were not substantiated and those who often went through the motions unless the cameras were around.

I think that Wayne Madsen has got the Derbyshire captaincy at exactly the right time. First of all, he has inherited a good dressing room from Luke Sutton and has an excellent coach and man manager in Karl Krikken to work with. That is crucial because there are more than a few clubs who appear to have a divisive element if what one reads in the media is correct. Such an environment is fine in a winning team, but when it all goes pear-shaped things can go horribly wrong and recriminations can be damaging.

Secondly Madsen has some very good young players to work with, as well as some canny senior heads. Messrs Durston, Groenewald and Palladino will be important to him when the action starts, players who have been in different match situations yet are still young and hungry enough to be prepared to battle when the need arises.

Thirdly, Madsen himself is now a man of the county. He moved to Derbyshire when John Morris picked him up from a successful league career and he and his wife are now settled in the area, his wife having built up a successful sports coaching business. He feels happy at the club and is liked and appreciated by his team mates and members alike. His form suffered a dip last season, but Madsen is too good a player for such a dip to be anything other than temporary. Indeed, by season end he was back to his best and reeled off successive scores of 45, 28, 50 and 64 in the one-day games in which he captained the side, suggesting that captaincy didn't affect his game in any way but positively.

His first decision will be important; where he bats in the order. There are merits in both his opening and in his going in at number four, but for me his dropping down allows us to assess the merits of Paul Borrington and Matt Lineker, at least in the Championship. Both have been extraordinarily prolific in local cricket and this is the time for one - or both - to show that they can cut it at a higher standard. The only way we will know the answer to that is if they get the opportunity to do so. With the places of Durston, Madsen, Redfern and Whiteley relatively secure (at least for me) and Guptill or Khawaja taking another berth, Bozza, Lineker and Chesney Hughes are effectively in competition for one place, which introduces a little pressure to perform on a regular basis.

Wayne Madsen is the second South African-born captain in Derbyshire's history. Given the first was the remarkable Eddie Barlow he has a tough act to follow. Yet he starts with a better, fitter and younger squad than that inherited by Barlow and has an opportunity to make his own place in the club's history.

I'm sure we all wish him well and while I'm not going to burden him with the expectation of a trophy in his first season, I'm confident that fans will enjoy Derbyshire cricket under Wayne Madsen.

Good times lie ahead, my friends.

PS For those who will argue the merits of Barlow's side: yes, I know we had Miller, Hendrick and Taylor but the first two were young and untried pre-Barlow and in danger of failing to progress. Bob Taylor was a great wicket-keeper but apart from him we had too many old, unfit senior players and young untried kids. I feel confident in my assertion that the current crop of youngsters are genuinely exciting and can start an era of success in Derbyshire cricket.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Midweek musings

35 days to go and I'm taking advantage of a day off today (don't feel too jealous, it's because I'm working on Saturday...) to catch up on the old bloggery.

A few looks at the Newsnow site has confirmed I was right to hold on my predictions for the coming season as there are still a lot of signings going on. Middlesex are apparently in talks with Lasith Malinga, who is keen to play and live in London, presumably one of the reasons he declined an approach from Derbyshire. One assumes that he will bowl better for them than he did against India the other day, when his eight overs went for 97 runs and he appeared to be bowling in an invisible blindfold. Malinga is a very good bowler, but his technique is so unique that any slight change sees the ball go off anywhere. On his day, which is often, he is a fine bowler, but Middlesex will hope for better than that for what they will probably have to pay.

Talking of blindfolds - or at least masks, I'm guessing that Scott Newman will play in one this season as cricket's Loan Ranger. First he's at Surrey, who loan him to Middlesex, where he signs. Then Middlesex loan him to Kent for the start of the coming season, a deal to be confirmed in the coming days. If Essex lose any more players to the IPL, England or tours, expect to see him there before season end as he completes a full set of south east counties. I've seen Newman bat quite brilliantly, but he is fallible early in an innings and has never quite realised early promise.

Jimmy Adams at Kent is promising "a couple" of new names (one of who will be Newman) and after losing James Tredwell and Azhar Mahmood to various overseas commitments his squad looks like Mother Hubbard's pantry before she does a big shop. Perhaps they could move for Jamie Dalrymple, who as the season approaches is still without a county and is surely too good a player to be lost to the county game altogether?

Meanwhile "oop north" Lancashire have signed Ashwell Prince for Championship and 40-over cricket this season, a very solid signing that confirms he is unlikely to make the South African tour party. That is hardly surprising, given the depth of talent in that country and the fact that they have to bring some through or risk losing too many star players at the same time - which happened to Australia.

As for Derbyshire, there's little news emanating from the club just now, but plenty going on. It was gratifying to hear of the work being undertaken by the younger members of the first team squad with the club Academy. Such work serves a dual purpose, because in helping other, younger players it makes you think a little more about your own game. When bad trots come along - as they do, no matter how good you are - you are perhaps better able to work out ways of self-help, like keeping your head still and playing a little straighter than you have been. Working on coaching badges helped me, so for people who can actually play the game to a high level it must be a great asset. Full marks to the club in introducing this idea, which will also help immensely with club spirit.

In closing, I must share with you a surprise I got last night, when my club released the work of one of our members, who has spent hours working on the club records. Apparently I still share the club's highest ever partnership for the third wicket, eighteen years after it was made in 1994. I'm not sure what is the biggest suprise - that it is still the record, that is was REALLY eighteen years ago or that we actually beat one of Scotland's better club sides that day. The partnership was 141, which is the second highest in the club history and I can only conclude that if I batted that long today I would probably be bed-ridden for at least 48 hours...

See you soon!