Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Congratulations to Burgoyne

As pointed out by Alan below yesterday's post, warm congratulations go to Peter Burgoyne tonight for an outstanding century for the Rocks in Zimbabwe.

His unbeaten 102 came in just under five and a quarter hours and included eight fours and three sixes.

Following on from Ben Slater's 89 yesterday, it has been a great match for the Derbyshire youngsters, who are on a roll right now.

Long may it continue!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Good news from abroad

Derbyshire's young guns continue to impress in overseas cricket, with more fine performances in recent matches.

Ben Slater scored 89 on the first day of a four-day game for Southern Rocks against the Mashonaland Eagles today, batting 275 minutes and hitting nine boundaries. The innings gave his team a sound foundation for a close of play total of 259-4, with Peter Burgoyne unbeaten on eight at the close.

Ross Whiteley has also been in the runs in Australia, with scores of 68 and 59 so far, hopefully making up for limited opportunities with the England side in the Hong Kong Sixes.  When he got a chance he did well, with scores of 15 and 14 unbeaten, before closing with 22 in his final appearance.

Dan Redfern has only had one innings so far in Adelaide, but 38 runs should have given his new team mates the chance to see some trademark shots. He could do with a few more this weekend though, as his team chase an opposition score of 390-plus...

Perhaps most impressive has been the start made by Tom Knight, who is in Melbourne  - that's the Australian one, just in case you wondered. In the first T20 of the summer, Knight hit a dazzling 82 from just 57 balls, a score that will only be a surprise for those who are unaware of the work he has been putting in on his batting. There were several good innings for our Seconds last summer, while his rare outings for England Under-19s at the World Cup also saw all-round contributions that suggested a young player with much more to his game than skilful slow left arm..

Not that the bowling let him down, as Tom finished his match with a fine bowling spell, taking 2-16 in four overs, concluding a performance that should set him up nicely for the winter. Early contributions from overseas players are always welcome in any level of cricket and Derbyshire's youngsters can all be very proud of their efforts so far.

Competition for places is hotting up...never a bad thing.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Monday musings

It's late October and cricket seems a long way off right now.

The cold, wet and miserable weather doesn't help, but we're well into Autumn and the sunshine (sorry...) of summer is but a distant memory.

The Champions Trophy final was duly contested by a team of good hitters and tight bowlers (Sydney Sixers) and one with the benefit of home advantage (the Titans). The victors were a team of no real stars but one that had a good team ethic and players who did the basics right for the format. Hit hard, run fast, bowl accurately and field like demons - that's the T20 way. It was good to see the final contested between two such teams, rather than the mega-money elevens of the IPL.

It also reinforces the view that such teams CAN be winners, just as Derbyshire showed in 2012. Maybe there were, on paper, stronger sides in the division, but we finished on top of the pile with exactly that team ethic and a focus on doing the basics well.

Closer to home, there is a debate over the possible return of Usman Khawaja over on the Forum, largely due to a comment attributed to Karl Krikken in the Cricket Paper, which said that we were talking to the player about coming back. I'm sure that such a conversation has taken place, but am equally sure that Khawaja is perhaps a plan D or E for the county, should A, B or C not come to fruition. I mean no disrespect to the player in saying that, but it would be impossible for any definite plans to be made in that regard at present.

Why? Because the player rightly holds out hopes of inclusion in the Ashes tour party next summer. A good winter in Australia would set him up nicely, but until that party is announced next Spring, Khawaja is unlikely to sign for Derbyshire or anyone else.

By the same token, his form needs to improve, as his current first class scores of 88, 20, 28, 3, 19 and 26 are neither here nor there. A move to Queensland from Sydney may yet galvanise his chances, but Khawaja needs to make the transition from good-looking player who doesn't make enough big scores sometime soon.

Usman is a lovely bloke who fitted well in to the Derbyshire dressing room. Next summer, however, we really need the services of a player who will guarantee us a thousand runs in the top division and I am unsure whether he is that player. There is a danger that his two crucial and memorable innings against Hampshire rose-tint a season in which there were simply too many failures. Given that we are moving up a level, the re-signing of the player would, in my opinion, be a gamble. It may be that for a summer in which overseas players of the requisite international background are going to prove elusive, Khawaja is a better option than most. Yet Derbyshire's greater need is for a batsman with more experience, or one who is a regular and willing opener.

I don't see us going into a massive season without a player who satisfies at least one of those criteria. If we managed to pick up someone who did both you could put up the bunting, ring the church bells and shout it from the roof tops...

But it is a massive task for Karl Krikken and Chris Grant. It reminds me, funnily enough, of the sort of questions I used to get in mathematics examinations at school.

"Christopher and Karl are trying to sign a top-class batsman from overseas. The player concerned must be good, must want to play in England and must be available for the whole summer. They must also satisfy the English Cricket Board with their recent international appearances and must be affordable, as well as fitting into a very tight dressing room. They should also, ideally, have international pedigree and experience of opening the batting, as well as of English conditions.

Draw a Venn diagram to represent this..."

I jest, of course, but this is indicative of the challenge. If Messrs Grant and Krikken can identify an appropriate player and use their undoubted skills to get them to Derby, they deserve every conceivable plaudit from the fans.

The big question is: can they?

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book Review - Keeping Quiet by Paul Nixon (with John Colman)

Keeping Quiet: Paul Nixon: The AutobiographyPaul Nixon was a cricketer who earned the grudging respect of opposing fans, most of who respected his total commitment to the cause, whether it was for Leicestershire, Kent or England. You knew, watching the game unfold, that your team's chances of winning increased substantially when he was dismissed, as he either scored quickly or battled to save the game, depending on the needs of his side.

He was a very good cricketer, one who earned a reputation as one of the biggest 'sledgers' on the circuit and could always be heard when his team was in the field, urging them on to renewed efforts. I'll have to admit that when his autobiography dropped on to my door mat, courtesy of the publishers, it was not one that I might otherwise have bought, as he wasn't an obvious choice for 'the book treatment'. International recognition came belatedly for him and was far from extensive.

It just goes to show how wrong you can be. I would put this book into the top half dozen I have read on what it is like to play the first-class game. Some people, watching from the boundary edge, are intolerant of failure and find it hard to believe that playing cricket for a living can be difficult. This superb book tells it like it is and should be compulsory reading for those who are quick to criticise.

For a player who never seemed to lack confidence, Nixon's honesty about his battles with the mental side of first-class cricket are extraordinary, just as his account of understanding the effects of his dyslexia helped him to counter them. This took longer than might have been expected and he was a classic late developer, a substantially better player from his late twenties than earlier.

Equally interesting and amusing are his stories of 'sledging', or mental disintegration as it is known in some quarters. Getting under the skin of opposition batsmen was what Nixon did well, leading Steve Waugh in a foreword to describe him as "a mosquito buzzing around in the night, that needs to be swatted but always escapes." The player's admiration for Waugh shines through, not just based on the Australian's own talents for caustic comment ("Do you want to move the stumps closer? Because you really are s**t..." to Steve Kirby).

He is honest about himself and equally so about others. His disapproval of Mike Atherton's autographs, of Andrew Flintoff's attitude and of players who don't take their responsibilities seriously sets this book apart from many of its kind. The Hansie Cronje incident, match-fixing, the media and dressing room divisions are all tackled head-on and give supporters a rare opportunity to see what it can be like behind the dressing room door. Any Leicestershire fan who hasn't read it should be ashamed...

There are numerous tales of partying, sometimes to excess, while the seance held by Leicestershire players, which ended in their contacting the late Ben Hollioake, was one of the more unusual and fascinating things I have read in a cricket book. Through it all, however, shines a man who emerged from rural Cumbria and always gave of his best. Nixon was not a great cricketer, but in making the best of his assets he became a very good one.

And anyone who gets forewords from Sir Vivian Richards AND Steve Waugh had to have something going for him. With Christmas coming, you could add this book to your festive wish list with a degree of confidence.

Keeping Quiet by Paul Nixon and Jon Colman is published by The History Press and is currently available through Amazon for £9. It is also available through good book shops

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tyros sign

Peter Burgoyne, Alex Hughes, Ben Slater, Matt Higginbottom, Johnny Marsden. Some of those names are likely to become fixtures in the Derbyshire first team in the next few summers.

All are products of the club Academy, which continues to do excellent work under Howard Dytham and fans have a right to be excited about the potential of these young players.

Off-spinning all-rounder Burgoyne has already caught the eye at senior level with some high-quality bowling displays, while centuries last year for the second team and success in Zimbabwe this winter has confirmed a young player of precocious talent. At 18 Burgoyne needs only to keep working at his game and listening to his coaches and he could be an outstanding player in the years ahead. That Derbyshire have looked after him and signed him on for three years bodes well for player and club alike.

The same goes for Alex Hughes, another who produced some impressive one-day form last summer, although his three-year deal will follow completion of his studies at Worcester University next summer. Again, everything about him suggests a major talent, with bustling medium pace allied to a well-constructed batting technique. Hopes are high that both could be seen as genuine all-rounders in coming years.

Ben Slater and Matt Higginbottom get summer contracts for next year, giving each a chance to prove their worth at whatever level opportunities come. Slater has done himself no harm in Zimbabwe with a series of solid displays, while Higginbottom takes wickets and needs only to work at reducing the number of "four balls" bowled to challenge for a senior role.

On a summer contract for the first time is Johnny Marsden. I've not seen him bowl but understand he is pretty quick and I know he has done well for both the Seconds and for Chesterfield. Hailing from the High Peak, Marsden, like Higginbottom, marks an encouraging return for seam bowlers emerging through junior ranks, something that we haven't seen for some time. Should one or both continue to progress, it will be especially exciting, given the county's tradition in seam bowlers, while another opportunity for Ali Evans next summer gives us three bites at the cherry. Evans is another with the nice habit of taking wickets and the club is once again to be applauded in securing the services of players of unquestionable talent.

Of course, such news is often tinged with sadness and the release of Hamza Siddique confirms that natural talent doesn't always translate into a player becoming a top cricketer at county level. Siddique broke many records at Repton School and appeared a player with a big future. Yet it hasn't worked for him in recent summers, the impression being that he had gone back a little, or perhaps found his level. There was mixed success with opportunities for Cardiff MCCU and Siddique may need to look for opportunities elsewhere.

It is proof that there is no exact science in coaching young cricketers. Some get to a level and can go no further, some for technical issues, others because of the additional mental and physical requirements for the game as you move up the ladder. If one or more of those named above can progress to become first team regulars, Derbyshire's Academy will have justified itself.

The thinking money would be on that happening, without a doubt.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Monday musings

Thanks for your comments below yesterday's piece, which are welcome.  I'm not sure that I necessarily need entertained Mark, but thanks anyway! Mind you, a little bit of Alan's Slim Whitman impression might be well worth a listen, while I could see the similarity with Marty Robbins...

To respond to some of those comments, I'd be surprised if our need for an opening batsman transformed into an all-rounder, unless Shane Watson is turning his back on the Ashes to become Derbyshire's new talisman. I think that marginally less likely than the chances of me winning this series of Strictly Come Dancing. Mind you, I'd be better than Michael Vaughan...

Plans will be further advanced when the counties see the draft of next summer's fixture list, which should be sometime around now. They will then have an idea as to how domestic competitions are dovetailing with the international calendar and be better placed to see who might or might not be available. Demand will outstrip supply for the best players, so competition will be fierce, but I have every confidence that Derbyshire will be in the mix and working hard to bring the right player to the County Ground for that crucial overseas role.

In response to Anon, there are probably 'around' sixteen players who would be seen as viable first picks for the senior side, as well as a further half dozen who are in the up and coming bracket. I can't say that I counted them all up - there could be seventeen or eighteen - but the number was irrelevant. The point was that Karl Krikken is going to have the nicest kind of problem in his team selections next summer. If players develop as they might over the winter, he could have eighteen, nineteen, twenty players with justification for inclusion in one format of the game. That can only be a good thing.

Further afield, the Champions League T20 continues apace and there is surprise in some quarters over the poor performances of teams from the Indian Premier League. Not from me though, as Indian players haven't been travelling especially well and, unsurprisingly, they make up the bulk of the sides. I feel the eventual winners will be South African or Australian, with the Sydney Sixers playing above themselves as a genuine team (sound familiar?) while the South Africans, on home turf, are always a handful.

In some ways I'm quite pleased, as in any sport I will generally support the lesser lights, the underdogs. I'm not that impressed by success bought by an open cheque book, so can't get excited at the likes of Chelsea, ManchesterUnited and Manchester City dominating football, any more than Warwickshire, Somerset and Nottinghamshire doing so at cricket. Indeed, the question should be why the cricket clubs named haven't won more, given their resources.

I think that is why Derbyshire's success this summer was celebrated further afield than the county borders this summer. It was victory for the little guy, albeit a little guy with talent, like Rocky Balboa in the eponymous films.

Maybe, just like the films, we will see a few sequels in the coming summers. Unlike the films, they might just get better and better...

Until next time. Keep your comments and e mails coming.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Something for the weekend

All quiet on the county cricket front over recent days, though in the close season that should hardly come as a surprise. We've been spoiled in the past couple of weeks, with nigh-daily news releases from the club on signings on and off the pitch. It has, of course, been extremely heartening.

So too was the news that the ECB have had a climb down over fixture scheduling from 2014 onwards. The sad fact is, however, that they actually needed to present such a cockeyed initial idea to warrant one. How anyone at the organisational end of the first-class game could think weekends free of cricket was ever a good idea astounds me.

I appreciate that Sunday starts for championship matches is not ideal for some - those with church commitments for morning and evening fellowship among them - but such a problem will always be an issue for a subset of supporters with a preference for one format. I know a few keen cricket fans whose love of the one-day game has been subjugated to such commitments over many years, several of them among the clergy.

Still, Sunday starts should, weather permitting, guarantee fans some cricket, even if it requires committing a full day rather than the afternoon. The new schedule for fifty-over cricket sees two groups of nine, with eight matches played per side, four home and four away. There will obviously be the luck of the draw with regards to home advantage against specific opposition, probably of greater importance off the field than on it. I'm sure that Derbyshire would welcome home matches against Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire than away ones from a financial perspective, but in a crowded schedule something has to give.

Sadly the new competition allows no space for Scotland, Netherlands and the Unicorns. While the success of each side has varied, there is little doubt that increased exposure to the county game has improved the game north of the border. There are more Scots on county staffs at present than at any time in my memory and they are capable of making an impression on the county game just as Mike Denness, Brian Hardie, Terry Racionzer and, of course, Dallas Moir did in days gone by. I guess we'll see more county scouts racking up the miles on their travels, rather than waiting for the players to appear somewhere closer at hand.

Spreading the T20 over the season, primarily on Friday evenings, theoretically allows greater flexibility in the availability of bigger names for the competition, while also preventing a bad and static spell of weather from wrecking a competition as it largely did this summer. I am unsure how many top stars will commit to a spell in England for a twenty-over game once a week, however. Perhaps we will see a new rationale behind overseas recruitment, with one brought in for T20 and fifty-over games to make it worth their while. I would have thought maintaining form with a week between short innings or spells could be an issue, but such thoughts will doubtless occupy the minds of county coaches over the next twelve months before they need to do anything about it.

Overseas, there were 68 runs for Ross Whiteley in his first match in Australia last week, a game that ended in defeat for his side. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, Ben Slater and Peter Burgoyne continue to impress. Slater has made runs in most matches, though will be a little disappointed to have only gone on to fifty in one of them. Burgoyne has bowled with ever-increasing confidence, today producing figures of 1-17 in four overs of a 20-over match as the opposition racked up 176. That is an exceptional spell, especially when one considers that he opened the bowling.

I'm no more aware of the standard of Zimbabwe domestic cricket than the rest of you, but both boys have acquitted themselves well. Burgoyne in particular could push himself into contention for a regular berth in the one-day side with continued good performance. Mind you, so too could Tom Knight, another playing in Australia this winter. He made his debut for his club side in Victoria and took two good wickets, then top scored in a defeat against one of the stronger sides in the Victorian Cricket Association.

Knight, as evidenced in his efforts for the Second XI and England under-19s in recent months, is a much improved batsman. He needs to be, as such ability makes the difference when you have two bowlers of similar ability in contention for a place in the side. With Wainwright, Burgoyne and Knight all pressing, squeezing sixteen eminently capable cricketers into eleven places is going to be a problem of the nicer kind for Karl Krikken next summer.

It is a long time since we had such issues and is encouraging to see.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. See you soon.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Book Review - The Valiant Cricketer: the Biography of Trevor Bailey by Alan Hill

With the exception of Ian Botham, Trevor Bailey was the greatest all-rounder in English cricket after World War Two. Younger fans may state the case for Andrew Flintoff, but the Lancashire man's reputation was based largely on two outstanding series against Australia, with plenty of fallow periods in between.

Product DetailsI never saw Trevor Bailey play, but in the words of my father, you'd want him in your side every time. A schoolboy cricketer of prodigious feats and talent, he emerged from school into the austerity of post-war Britain and bestrode it like a colossus for well over a decade. In this time he won matches and saved matches with bat and ball alike, home and abroad.

His lasting reputation as a stonewaller, largely based on two or three rearguard actions that have passed into legend, is not entirely deserved. Bailey had, and could play all the shots. He frequently did for Essex, but on national duty he often subjugated the attacking urges in order to nurse the tail to a defendable total. That's what he did when he wasn't responding to a crisis by opening the innings, a model technique allowing him to handle the fastest of bowlers with bravery and considerable skill.

As a bowler he had all the assets required. Pace, accuracy, variations and a cricket brain second to none. When conditions required it he could cut down his pace and bowl cutters that posed problems for the great and the good. As a fielder he was reliable; as an able lieutenant and adviser to his captains he was priceless. 28,000 runs at 34; 2000 wickets at 23. Anyone still think Flintoff was better?

This is a delightful book by Alan Hill, who is a veteran of cricket biographies, with sterling efforts on Hedley Verity and Jim Laker among my favourites. It is nicely arranged, with the chapter on his family especially appreciated. So too is the obvious work that went into researching Bailey's school record, while the statistical section at the back of the book is one of the best that I have seen.

His time as a valued and succinct contributor to Test Match special is well covered, with Bailey's ability to encapsulate events in the minimum of words highlighted nicely. 'Very good bowler; bad day', 'Good county bowler, struggling at this level'  - the overly verbose contributors to the modern Test Match Special could learn a lot from him. Listening to Bailey and Fred Trueman on the radio was being granted an audience with cricketing gods. Vic Marks and Jonathan Agnew, for all their aural talents, simply don't compare.

Faults are hard to find in an excellent book, although a tale about Bailey and Trueman's inability to pronounce the name of West Indian spinner Raphick Jummadeen (sic) is given delicious irony with an incorrect spelling. Nonetheless, this is a fine book for those who remember when cricketing giants caught the bus to the ground and continued to visit their local club for social events.

Trevor Bailey was a truly great cricketer, fully deserving a book that does him justice.

Alan Hill has delivered just that and deserves every credit for a delightful read.

The Valiant Cricketer: the biography of Trevor Bailey is published by Pitch Publishing and is available on Amazon for £14.44 and from all good book shops

Another year for the batting guru

Close season eh? The gift that keeps on giving...

The period since the end of the season has been like a giant advent calendar. Every day you get up, have a look at the news feeds and see that we've agreed an extended deal for X or Y. It's great.Today it was news that Dave Houghton has agreed a deal for another year. At this rate we'll finish with, instead of the baby Jesus in the manger, news of a major international signing as overseas player...

It is heartening stuff and especially nice to see Derbyshire players that we want to retain more than happy to do so. It's not too long ago that each winter saw a steady procession through the out door, with the break up of a strong side that saw Morris, Adams, Rollins, Barnett, Bowler, Malcolm,  Cork and more head off to new clubs.

The difference is in the dressing room, of course. Assuming they are well looked after by the club, who wouldn't want to play somewhere you look forward to going into work each day? Cliques and factions are commonplace in a lot of clubs (been there myself in the past) and to manage to generate a positive atmosphere where everyone gets on is of enormous credit to chairman, coaches and captain.

The other day we read that Wayne Madsen wants to finish his career at Derbyshire, which is fantastic news. Younger players may be tempted at some point by bigger offers elsewhere, but again the fact that they are well looked after (in more ways than just salary) at Derbyshire is something that should encourage loyalty.

A sign of our progress could be seen today with the move to Glamorgan of Murray Goodwin. The Derbyshire of two or three seasons back could have made a move for a man who has been outstanding in the county game over the last ten years or so. I think he will do a sound job with young players in Wales, but that will be in division two. It was hard to see where the player could fit into Derbyshire's plans, something that many of us would never have thought possible - and certainly not in the top tier.

Our young batting line up will once again benefit from the services of one of the world's top batting coaches in 2013. If they continue to progress as several of them did in 2012 we will have no complaints.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Madsen signing the icing on the cake

Yes, I'll admit I got that one wrong...

I didn't think that there would be an immediate rush for Wayne Madsen to sign an extended deal at Derbyshire, but that perhaps makes it all the more pleasing that he has. So Derbyshire can now look forward to the next three years under their genial skipper, who made such a positive impression on everyone during 2012.

In every way, Madsen is a gem. He is a batsman of genuine class, especially if he gets to bat down the order, his best position in my opinion. He is a captain who makes sound decisions and leads a strong and united team, while in addition he is as good a role model, ambassador and figurehead as any club could wish for. That he has signed on the dotted line for a further three summers is excellent news.

Indeed, one of the best things about the close season so far is that virtually all of our exciting young side have committed themselves to a bright future. Three-year deals gives both player and club an element of reassurance and, importantly, something on which to build. Whatever happens to Derbyshire in 2013, the players will undoubtedly be stronger and better for exposure to a higher level and will have a further two seasons - even if things do not go to plan - to do it all over again.

I think that Derbyshire will surprise a few people next summer, especially those who predict that we will come straight back down. If we can secure the services of the right overseas batsman, we will have a competitive side with a good look to it. Godleman to open, then the skipper, Durston, Redfern and Whiteley to follow in whatever order they feel best.

Watching the Champions League T20 has further reinforced my opinion that relaxation of the qualification process for overseas players is now necessary. I know that the counter argument is giving players from overseas a learning opportunity that isn't reciprocated and that they then come back and thrash us. Yet in doing so you add in a few players who would probably bring in crowds as no one has seen them before.

Jean Symes did enough for Scotland last summer in the CB40 to suggest a player of real talent, a century against Durham being the pick of some punishing displays, while his slow left arm claimed useful and good wickets at times. His unbeaten 39 from just 23 balls steered the Titans to a fine win last night and highlighted a player using considerable common sense when faced with a ten-an-over target.

I also like what I have seen and heard about Chris Morris, who bowled very well against Chennai and then played well himself at the death. At 25, Morris averages a little under 40 with the bat and just 25 with the ball, recently taking twelve wickets in a match against the Dolphins with his aggressive fast medium bowling. A couple of South African friends rate him highly, yet he has some way to go to get anywhere close to a very strong national side. Recent selection for their 'A' side suggests there are eyes on him, but the country is awash with players who would be a massive asset to the county game.

Richard Levi, Justin Ontong, Rilee Rossouw, Stephen Cook, Farhaan Behardian, Dean Elgar, Colin Ingram - just look at the impact that the similar ability David Miller had at Yorkshire. Wouldn't you like an opportunity to see some of these players on a ground near you?

I know I would. Given a choice between a chap who qualifies because he has played enough one-day games for his country but isn't especially good, and someone who can't get the requisite matches in most cases because their country's cricket is so strong, which would you sooner have?

In the so-called wilderness years, relative unknowns such as Ken McEwan, Hylton Ackerman, Paddy Clift, Brian Davison, Clive Rice, Peter Kirsten and Chris Wilkins came to England from South Africa and Zimbabwe and made massive impacts on the county game.

As far as I'm concerned, a second wave is long overdue and would be very welcome.

As always, I would welcome your thoughts...

Madsen's turn for new deal

More good news this morning in that Derbyshire skipper Wayne Madsen has signed a new three-year deal with the county.

Just the sort of news to wake up to in a morning!

More later

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

2014 Talking Point

If, as they would have you believe, the proposed structure of the first-class game from 2014 is the result of the online surveys that 25,000 people completed during August, I can only make one assumption.

That the vast majority were completed by those in secure facilities as a break from making baskets and sewing mailbags.

There's no other logical explanation. Does anyone of sound mind vote for weekends with next to no cricket? As things stand, there is a better chance of seeing the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot playing as our overseas imports in the T20 than of seeing championship cricket at the weekend. By any standards, that is a cock-up of monumental proportions, as there is still nothing that compares to the ebb and flow of a county match.

Of course, there are quiet periods, when nothing overly exciting is happening, but then comes a flashing stroke, a brilliant catch or a superb delivery and your wandering concentration is brought straight back into focus. Given that midweek championship games are the preserve of the retired or those taking holidays (and few can take all of their holidays to watch cricket), what is the membership expectation of the ECB in such a suggestion? I cannot think that a membership for four 50-over home matches, whenever they will be scheduled, plus an estimated seven T20 home matches, primarily on a Friday night, will be an easy thing to sell.

Weekends were made for cricket. Finish a championship game on a Saturday, play a 40-over game on a Sunday afternoon, give the players a break midweek. Heck, play a 20-over game on a Sunday afternoon if it makes it work, but surely players would prefer to play in front of a crowd? No matter how good a four-day side Derbyshire may become (and I think they will be quite formidable in two or three years time), one assumes that they would appreciate a decent turnout to give them a boost, like the players of other counties.

I was lucky enough to see Derbyshire's first and last championship games this summer. We all know about the latter, but the opening game against Northamptonshire, albeit in weather where polar bears were enquiring about bar access to warm up, saw a crowd so sparse that meeting someone on a walk round the boundary edge brought scenes reminiscent of Stanley meeting Livingstone at Ujiji. Fast forward a few months and the crowds for the first two days against Hampshire, for all the laudable marketing efforts, were not overly impressive. They keep telling us that the four-day game is dying, but the ECB are doing their damnedest to nail the coffin shut with cockeyed ideas that are ostensibly reinforced by "research".

While in rant mode, nor can I see the appeal in 50-over cricket. I don't buy into the "vast difference between that and the 40-over game". It's ten more overs work for the players per innings and needs a full day to watch. Given that around ten overs in the middle is normally a case of nudging it around, I don't see the logic myself.

Take Joe Normal, cricket fan, married with a youngster. There's a big difference for him in telling his wife that he's off to the cricket on Sunday, probably leaving at 1pm for a 2pm start, than leaving at 10am. One of the great appeals when my Dad took me to matches when I was young was that we could have our Sunday dinner before heading to the game. Then we'd be back home for seven, having had a lovely afternoon (even when we lost...which was often...) You'd still see your family too.

Not any more, but if this nonsense goes through they'll schedule the fifty-over games for the odd spare midweek day.

That will leave Saturdays and Sundays free for going to Ikea.

And filling in more stupid questionnaires...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Monday musings

What a terrific player is Azhar Mahmood!

I got home tonight in time to catch the wickets he took for Auckland against the Kolkata Knight Riders and then admired a beautifully crafted innings that took his side to an easy victory over the Indian side.

I was especially pleased as I've adopted the New Zealand side for the tournament. They have few stars, Mahmood and Martin Guptill apart, although Lou Vincent got them off to a flyer tonight that was very much the springboard for success. Guptill gave it away tonight and will have been disappointed to get out as he did, but Mahmood looked a player of the very highest class. He has to be carefully placed in the field these days, but any 38-year old would need to be. He bowls canny overs and, at number three, gives you a player with the shots to build up the score in the Powerplay and the savvy to knock it around thereafter.

It was a very good, very professional effort and he's now won them successive matches with superb all-round cricket. You really cannot ask for more.

At the other end of the scale I got my first real look at the prodigiously talented South African Quinton de Kock over the weekend. At 19 he is an extraordinary talent, though some of his current impact is because he is largely unknown. He can certainly hit a cricket ball and I like the way that his coach lets him do his own thing. In 23 first class innings he averages nearly 64, while an average of 38 in T20 is equally remarkable. De Kock looks certain to be wicket-keeper batsman for South Africa for a long time, perhaps the most surprising thing in his fledgling career being a somewhat ineffectual Under 19 World Cup.

I've seen a suggestion on the Forum recently of a possible move for the lad in next year's T20, but that is unlikely to happen as he won't qualify for a visa, given no international experience at senior level. There's also a world of difference in the wickets between England and South Africa, though I'm sure some discerning club, as opposed to county side might pick up a gem, at the same time as he widens his cricket knowledge. Asking someone of such tender years to be your professional at county level is a massive risk, as Yorkshire fans will recall with an even more precociously talented player called Tendulkar 20 years or so back. It didn't work with him and I cannot think of many lads who could handle the pressure of such a role with minimal experience.

Elsewhere today, Sussex have picked up the experienced Scott Styris for T20 again. After his displays for them last year it is hardly surprising and the likes of Styris and Mahmood lend additional credence to my assertion that experience is a massive asset in T20. I accept that Rana Naved didn't come off for us last year, but the major players in T20 are generally the ones with a few summers and plenty of matches under their belt.

Finally tonight, I'm sure everyone's thoughts are with Martin Crowe, who, it has been revealed, is fighting lymphoma, a form of cancer that attacks the immune system. Crowe was one of the best half dozen batsmen that I have seen and rarely looked hurried, awkward or in trouble at the crease. He had a lot of injuries, especially knee problems, in his career, yet still averaged 56 and a score over 50 in less than every third innings. By any standards he was a special talent and I am sure that everyone wishes him the best in his battle for good health.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

T20 masterclass

As regular readers will know, I have written a lot over recent months about T20 batting and my thoughts on Usman Khawaja in the format.

For new readers, I never felt that Khawaja was a good pick for T20 for a variety of reasons. First and foremost was that he hasn't played much of it. Second was the fact that when he has played he has not looked especially adept at the format. That was partly because he isn't physically strong enough to muscle the ball away for boundaries when the bowlers are dropping it near, or into the blockhole, but mainly because rotation of the strike wasn't one of his strong points.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Khawaja is a bad player, as anyone who saw his two priceless innings against Hampshire will vouch for. Yet the secret of T20 is to pretty much score off every ball, even the good ones and keep the score ticking over with good placement and running.

As I've written previously, Simon Katich, Marcus North, Chris Rogers and a few more aren't T20 players either, all for similar reasons, yet all have been outstanding players over the past ten to fifteen years. They are all of similar build and none of them seem to have mastered the format, often getting out when they're trying to force the pace.

A good T20 batting display needs a player who can effectively play through the innings and, while keeping an end going, score quickly enough to enable the score to mount. Watching Jacques Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar in the format is an object lesson in how it should be done. Both are mature, sensible cricketers who quickly assess match situations and know what they need to do and when to do it. If someone is going well at the other end, they give them plenty of the strike; if ten an over are needed, they aim for a boundary early in the over and take pressure off.

A classic example of T20 batting came today in the Champions League T20. Jacques Rudolph is another who wouldn't be some people's first choice of a T20 player, but an average of 33 in it is very, very good. Rudolph played an admirable role as sheet anchor, ensuring that he was there at the end of the innings and that his team posted a total that at the very least would be challenging.

Of course, 83 runs from 59 balls is hardly the batting of a slouch and the South African left-hander played some delightful shots and displayed keen improvisational skills. While the Titans lost their way a little at the end of the innings (and new batsmen didn't use a little savvy and get Rudolph on strike) their tally looked more than enough after four overs of the Scorchers reply. I'm not sure that such a name, with Messrs North and Katich (23 from 28 balls) in the side, is especially apposite and once Herschelle Gibbs went it was pretty much all over.

I would love to see someone play that sort of innings for Derbyshire in T20. Martin Guptill is capable of doing so, but the chances of seeing him in 2013 must be somewhat slim. Someone like Rudolph would be superb, but again, the player and his country's international commitments look to legislate against it, as they do for so many stars of the world game.

We can only hope that Billy Godleman was watching...

One final point in closing today. How is it a Champions League when around half the sides in it aren't actually champions and four come from India? I accept that "International club teams that are good at T20, some of them better than others League" doesn't roll off the tongue, but this competition name is as silly as the Champions League at football.

But nowhere near as silly as the World Series at baseball, where only American teams compete...

Have a good weekend. Let's see what news next week brings.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

More good news from Zimbabwe

Good efforts once again from Ben Slater and Peter Burgoyne in Zimbabwe.

Playing for the Southern Rocks against the Mid West Rhinos in a Twenty20 match, Burgoyne made an aggressive 38 from 29 balls with two sixes and two fours, sharing a third wicket partnership of 74 with Slater, who opened the innings against an attack featuring two international bowlers.

Slater went on to an excellent 60  from 51 balls as his team posted 146-5. It is unlikely to be enough runs against a side featuring Brendan Taylor and Mark Vermeulen, but continues the very positive impression that both players have made out there so far.

Billy Godleman signs for two years

To some extent the signing of Billy Godleman, announced today by Derbyshire, is a gamble.

The player left Middlesex, home to a number of talented opening batsmen, in search of greater opportunity elsewhere. He washed up at Essex, where life cannot have been a great deal of fun in the past couple of seasons and where team spirit isn't something that has come easily. Far too many good cricketers have left, or more to the point have been allowed to leave that county in recent seasons.

Godleman is the latest and his search for the right environment in which to flourish now brings him to Derby. Yet a look at his statistics suggests a young player with the ability and attributes to be a success and perhaps Derbyshire is the right place for him at a crucial stage of his career.

There should be no question of his being a championship opener at the very least. Five centuries and seventeen fifties in 118 first-class innings confirms that the lad can play at county level, though he will want to improve on an average that is just north of thirty. I would be confident in suggesting that David Houghton knows him and rates him, while the player is well aware that Houghton and Krikken could help him to the international stage that seemed inevitable when he was scoring runs for fun at age group levels.

Making the first team at Middlesex when you are only 17 is quite an achievement, but like others who have gained such early promotion, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. All the talent in the world is of only marginal use if you are not physically, technically or emotionally ready for the first-class game. For a player who has been an automatic pick for so long, rejection and omission from a side can cause self-doubt to creep in, not the most helpful thing when you need to bide your time and be ready to take an opportunity when it arises.

Godleman is tall (6'3") so should get a good stride in, never a bad thing at Derby. He is not the most graceful of players - for those of a certain vintage, think John Edrich more than David Gower - but is exactly the sort  that Derbyshire need. Like most left-handers he is very strong on his legs, but perhaps has got into the habit of playing through the onside too frequently for his average's sake. I am sure that David Houghton will be aware of areas that he can improve the player, and am equally convinced that Godleman realises that this is a big opportunity for him. He sells his wicket dearly and any batsman who does that gets my vote. While any batsman can go early before hands, eyes and feet are in synch, the best players are the ones who "drink at the well" when they get to thirty and capitalise. As former Surrey opening batsman Andrew Sandham once said - anyone can get a duck, but only silly buggers get out for thirty on a regular basis...

At 24 it is silly to say it is last chance saloon, but Godleman will aim to translate undoubted talent into weight of runs for Derbyshire over the next two summers. The friendly team environment will help him considerably, as positive atmospheres are always more conducive to productivity and success.

I think Billy Godleman's signing is a shrewd piece of work by Derbyshire. If we can pair him with a top quality overseas player it will help, but a player of unquestionable ability now has the opportunity to cement a place in the county game in the top division. That must have seemed a long way off when he was released at Essex.

Time will tell if Godleman has the last laugh. But I wouldn't bet against the lad.

He can play, without doubt.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Another piece of an impressive jigsaw

I totally agree with Alan tonight in his comment below my earlier Dan Redfern article.

The slow "drip" of information about the club is a very shrewd way of keeping the club in the news at a time of year when cricket isn't high on the list of priorities for the sports reporters. It would have been easy to announce that six/seven players have signed new deals in one press release, but I'm impressed by the way that Derbyshire are revealing piece by piece, like an especially adroit cricketing burlesque. Not that I've ever seen a cricketing burlesque, just in case you wondered...

Like the others announced thus far, Redfern fully deserves a new, presumably much improved contract after what was quite frankly a much improved season. Again, I have to give top marks to the club for moving quickly to sign up players who might otherwise have had more affluent neighbours sniffing around them like dogs around a lamp post. Like, for example, exhibit A, Ajmal Shahzad. He quickly realised that leaving promoted Yorkshire for relegated Lancashire wasn't the wisest of career moves, one that Nottinghamshire capitalised on very quickly. Three clubs in seven months is quite impressive, even if suggesting that a benefit is unlikely to come the player's way anytime soon.

I think we will also see improved deals for Peter Burgoyne, Ben Slater and Alex Hughes in the near future, though with the first two in Zimbabwe it may well wait until the New Year. Burgoyne and Slater have made solid starts to their stints with Southern Rocks, Slater recording scores of 20, 39 and 46 in his first three limited overs games, good progress by any standards. Burgoyne has bowled steadily and scored 43 today in another heavy defeat for what is not an especially strong side. They are doing a solid job for their teams and for their own reputation and it is encouraging to see two lads of 21 and 18 doing just that.

I've seen suggestions that we now need to secure the futures of Wayne Madsen and Tim Groenewald, but I'm less sure that this will be high on the agenda at this stage. It was crucial to sign up the younger players and put them on enhanced, rather than basic deals, but both of the above have two years left on their current contracts, which, I would imagine, would be on decent terms as befits their status. A good season in division one would give both a decent bargaining tool for further improved contracts that I am sure they will be happy to sign in their respective roles as skipper and a senior player. I may be wrong, but that's my gut feel on two fine players who will undoubtedly be looked after by the club, whenever those discussions take place.

I would also be suprised if there were improved deals at this stage for Chesney Hughes and Mark Footitt. Such deals have to be earned and justified by good performance over a protracted period. While no one will doubt their talent, question marks remain over both players. Hughes' footwork is an issue at top level and he offered no real argument for a regular berth last season with weight of runs, while Footitt's fitness issues returned when he had started the summer well. Both need a big summer in 2013 and for both I am sure that the hard work starts now to do just that.

I've not seen much of the Champions League T20 with work commitments, but Yorkshire have done well so far. Rana Naved appears to be a spent force, a statement with which most Derbyshire fans will concur, while Azhar Mahmood continues to defy age with remarkable performances. It was good to see Martin Guptill in the runs, but that wouldn't come as a surprise to many. A shrewd side will engage Guptill for the IPL this winter and will doubtless reap dividends from doing so. 

In closing tonight it is sad to note the premature passing of Kevin Curran, who was a very fine all-round cricketer, first for Gloucestershire and latterly for Northamptonshire. A batting average of 37 from 16,000 runs and a bowling average of 27 from 605 wickets is indicative of a major talent and Curran was one of the best overseas players in the game for around ten years or so. He must have come close to an England cap after qualifying by residency, but was probably ruled out on his age. Nonetheless, he will be remembered as a punishing middle-order bat and penetrative seam bowler.

Any county that could find someone like him today would consider themselves very, very fortunate.

Redfern signs new deal

More good news for Derbyshire fans this morning as the club announced a new deal for Dan Redfern.

The player is now out in Australia at the Darren Lehmann Academy and will doubtless build on the progress he made during 2012.

More on this and other news later - quite a bit later, as its open night at our daughter's school tonight...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Well done to the Windies

Hats off to the West Indies for a fine win in the T20 World Cup. It was a tournament where no one seemed to give them real consideration as winners, despite the presence of several players who are star turns in the Indian Premier League.

Funnily enough, those names largely failed in the final, with Messrs Gayle, Bravo and Pollard doing little. The win came courtesy of one of the most improved players in the game, Marlon Samuels, a shrewd captain and underrated cricketer in Darren Sammy and one of the best T20 bowlers in the game, Sunil Narine.

Given the dominance of the West Indies in the 1970s and 80s with an attack of rare pace and hostility, there is considerable irony in the fact that they are now world champions over the shortest format because of a canny spin attack. Admittedly they were helped by wickets conducive to slow bowling, but it is no surprise that of the four semi-finalists three (include Pakistan) had attacks largely built around spin for the format.

It is accepted as the way to go in the modern game, always assuming that you have the bowlers to do it. I'm not sure that Badree is a world-beater, though he did a job, but Rampaul is a bowler of increasing variations and Narine is perhaps one of the best two or three T20 bowlers in the world. I'm less sure of his ability to get batsmen out when they don't have to go after him and his fledgling Test record is fairly ordinary, but Narine's long-levered off-spin creates panic in the T20. Last year's IPL saw him a standout and today he bowled beautifully. His ability to really rip an occasional ball leaves them wary to advance, while his variations are subtle and can only improve.

The likes of Samuels, Narine, Rampaul and the absent Dwayne Smith could and would all do a good job for counties in the English T20, but again, the likelihood of seeing them in 2013 is slim. Aside from the ICC Trophy, they have May series across formats against India and  July ones against Pakistan, so unless a player fell from favour, much as Wavell Hinds did a few years back, the chances of luring one to Derbyshire or anywhere else are slim.

Yet there are lessons to be learned in a competition where seam bowlers, irrespective of their pace, sit up to be hit with the slightest error in line or length. Just look what happened to Malinga today, bowling to a batsman in Samuels who was prepared to back himself in hitting through balls that were slightly overpitched. Spin is the way to success, making the batsmen force the issue and generate the power, often to their downfall. England Under-19s failed to recognise that in the recent World Cup, playing seam attacks who were meat and drink to good players while a talented spinner like Tom Knight sat twiddling his thumbs in the pavilion.

Next summer I think we will see a Derbyshire T20 side with two overseas batsmen, leaving the bowling in the hands of the domestic players. There's good reason to do so too, given that they were rarely collared this year. Such a side could - even assuming neither of the overseas players bowl - give you three, perhaps four spinners, with Whiteley as seam back up. There are any number of permutations, but given the increasing spin resources at Karl Krikken's disposal, it would be a surprise if we did not see them used increasingly in the one-day game next summer.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Book Review: Micky Stewart and the changing face of cricket by Stephen Chalke

It is always a delight to read a book by Stephen Chalke and this biography of Micky Stewart, one that has been a labour of love for the author for several years, is no exception.

Few cricketers can have seen such change in their professional lives as Stewart, a stalwart of Surrey through most of the 1950s and 60s. He led them through a difficult period in their history, when their outstanding side of the 1950s, one that had won seven successive County Championships, was breaking up. No side could survive the loss of such players as Bedser, Laker, Lock, Loader and May intact, yet Stewart oversaw a period of gradual improvement that culminated in championship glory in 1971, his final season as a player.

He led a pretty good side himself, of course. Geoff Arnold and Robin Jackman to open the bowling, Pat Pocock for off spin, Pakistan leg-spinning all-rounder Intikhab Alam and underrated all-rounder Stewart Storey made up an attack for all conditions, while Stewart, John Edrich, Graham Roope and Younis Ahmed ensured they rarely lacked runs.

Micky Stewart was an underrated cricketer, earning Test caps but never quite doing enough to cement a regular opening berth. Two half centuries in eight appearances perhaps did not reflect his true ability, although those old enough to remember his playing days will do so as much for the brilliance of his fielding close to the wicket. The Surrey side of the 1950s were renowned for catching what others wouldn't consider chances and, as Stewart explains, they fielded closer than anyone else, such was their confidence in the bowlers not to drop short and leave them in danger.

Stewart's passion for cricket shines through in the book and his return to cricket in a coaching role, first at Surrey and then with England, came as no real surprise to those who knew him. He introduced greater professionalism to the national team and memorably led them to success in Australia. It was a tour in which success was a result of forging strong individuals into a fine team, all of them coming to appreciate their role in and importance to the side. A subsequent tour was less successful, the off-field activities being highlighted by the infamous "Tiger Moth" incident featuring David Gower and Derbyshire's John Morris.

Nor were series against the West Indies especially successful, although given the strength of that nation's cricket at the time it was hardly a surprise. Yet Stewart and successive captains introduced new training methods and much of his work has become accepted practice in the modern game.

A fifty-year career is always going to witness change and Stewart's is no exception. Perhaps the greatest was around the role of the media. Things happened on tour and around the county circuit back in the 1950s and this book has plenty of amusing anecdotes that are always one of the delights of a book by the author. His question to a team mate about how to play during a follow on was met with amusement, before the realisation dawned that such was Surrey's dominance that in three seasons of the first-class game he'd never had to do so...

Characters abound, from former Surrey masseur "Sandy" Tait ("I could really hurt you with these hands, son...") through Jim Laker " heard the snap of his fingers then the zzzzzzz of the ball coming down the pitch"  to spectators "Call theself a selector? Tha couldn't pick a fine day..."

It is, yet again, a joy to read Stephen Chalke's work. While Stewart comes across as a man of cricket par excellence, the author makes you feel that you are sitting across a table in a local pub listening to him recount his tales, which is no mean feat. Having established a niche in cricket writing with his outstanding oral histories, Stephen Chalke has moved seamlessly into biography, this book following similar worthy efforts on Tom Cartwright and Bob Appleyard.

I have no hesitation in recommending it for a Christmas purchase.

Micky Stewart and the changing face of cricket is published by Fairfield Books and is available on Amazon for £15.66, as well as through all good book shops.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Something for the weekend

Sorry that I didn't mark Tom Poynton's signing of a three-year deal yesterday with a blog, but family commitments prevented me from posting.

It is another contract that is thoroughly deserved after a summer of remarkably consistent performance by a player in his first summer as a full-time cricketer. Following on from the signing of Richard Johnson, it also means that Derbyshire have two top quality wicket-keepers on the staff for the next three summers and the competition involved can only be good news for the county. I still feel that Johnson may also be seen as being a batsman of sufficient potential to play in his own right in the medium to long term, but time - and other signings - will tell on that one.

Similarly I missed commenting on the announcement of Derbyshire cricket's new "brand", a logo that will be worn by players from Derbyshire Cricket Board upwards. Reflecting the club's history, in the use of the good old chocolate, amber and pale blue, the more common dark blue of today and the date of the formation of the club,  it is clean, simple and perfect for requirements.

I could see young cricketers with thoughts of a career in the game looking down at their shirt or jumper and feeling quite proud. Thinking back to when I was that age, I know I would have been. Wearing the same badge as Wayne Madsen, Wes Durston or your favourite player - what's not to like? It is additional evidence of an increasingly seamless transition from junior cricket upwards and can only enhance the club's growing reputation as friendly and homely, offering genuine opportunity for young talent to flourish, if they are good enough

Anyone who follows Chris Grant's Twitter feed will have been interested in his tweet of yesterday which said "More announcements in the pipeline about existing players and new signings to strengthen where we need to for life in Div". One assumes from this that the coming week may bring more glad tidings, as the work of Mr Grant and Karl Krikken since the end of the season has been breath-taking in its intensity, speed and professionalism. Squad members that the club intend to retain have been offered longer, presumably improved deals, so we may well see news of contracts for Dan Redfern and some of the better of our young players.

Two of them, Ben Slater and Peter Burgoyne, are in action today in Zimbabwe, featuring for the Southern Rocks side against Mashona Eagles. Dave Houghton has taken over the very young Rocks squad, which has won very few games in recent years and as such has few expectations of success. When you think about it, that sounds something like Derbyshire of fairly recent vintage. Burgoyne and Slater can only benefit from exposure to foreign climes, wickets and cultures and will doubtless return as improved cricketers and men.

Staying in Zimbabwe, I read the other night that their cricket board are planning some additional tours for a fledgling side and the likelihood is that this could eat into the English county season. I can understand the rationale from their perspective as they were roundly outclassed in the World T20, but one supposes that this would make their skipper Brendan Taylor unavailable for county action this summer. Regular readers will be aware of my advocating a move for the player as an overseas for 2013, but additional national commitments would make this highly unlikely.

The player has a colossal workload as captain, star batsman and wicket-keeper since the retirement of Taibu. One wonders how long he, indeed any player, could sustain such demands, both physically and mentally, for any length of time. I cannot think of anyone else who has "enjoyed" such responsibility for long and it suggests that the player may be in great need of downtime to recharge his batteries whenever there is the chance.

Where that leaves Derbyshire in their quest for overseas players is the big question. The answer is "pretty much the same as everyone else". I have a feeling that the richest pickings for potential overseas cricketers next summer is likely to be South Africa, primarily because of their policy of picking different sides for Tests, one-day and twenty-over cricket. That sees more cricketers than might otherwise be the case picking up the requisite amount of international cricket to at least see them eligible to get a visa to play in the county game. 

Which is fine to a point, but next summer, aside from the ICC Trophy in this country, sees them tour Sri Lanka in July and August for a tour that includes three Tests, five one-day internationals and three T20 matches. Ho hum...

With the best Australians in England for the Ashes, the commitments of other countries are such that the only country currently fairly free is Bangladesh - who may, of course, be the intended opposition for Zimbabwe and don't really have an opening batsman of established class. Tamim Iqbal seems to have gone back a little and Shakib, their best player, isn't really what we need.

Tricky huh? So all Messrs Grant and Krikken have to do is identify a world-class batsman who is not needed for his national side, or is willing to turn his back on them, isn't interested in IPL, is available and willing to come to England for six months, and will pretty much guarantee runs in every format of the game.

Simple really, isn't it...


Southern Rocks 50-5 as I close, with Slater making a gritty 20 and Burgoyne 10. With all five wickets going to catches to the keeper, I think one can assume that it has been a baptism of fire for the Derbyshire lads. As the only players so far to make double figures against a side containing two international bowlers, they didn't do too badly.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Four in a week is good news for Derbyshire

So we now have Messrs Whiteley, Palladino, Clare and Durston signed up on three-year deals, plus David Wainwright on a four-year one. That's half a side sorted out quickly and professionally by Derbyshire, doubtless with improved deals for several others to follow. It is indicative of trust and support in talented young players who should continue to thrive when free of contractual worries.

The signing of all four was effectively a no-brainer, with Durston , the senior professional and vice-captain, a key signing. In two and a bit summers he has scored around 4,000 runs for the county and taken seventy wickets. The runs have been made in the most attractive of styles, the wickets often taken when we most needed them, while Durston fields well anywhere but with brilliance at slip, where he takes catches that some might not consider chances.

Like his team mates he has espoused the merits of the team and it is wonderful to see the enthusiasm and positivity that emanates from the club. After years of being also-rans, Derbyshire are enjoying their time in the sunlight. A bright young team has lots to offer and I would expect to see the likes of Wayne Madsen, Dan Redfern and Tim Groenewald on improved deals before too long.

Then it will be a case of when we sign new players. I am sure that Derbyshire will by now have held preliminary discussions with several players with a view to moving to the County Ground. Where it goes from there is down to those players and their agents.

As I wrote back in early September, division one Derbyshire is a more appealing prospect for players than the division two equivalent. A tight financial situation will legislate against our signing big names, as few players will move for less money, unless they have no other offers. I think that we will see another batsman, perhaps Billy Godleman, an overseas batsman and perhaps one more seamer. Over and above that, any moves will be dictated by increased sponsorship money.

I've seen reference to a potential return for Usman Khawaja, but I don't see it at this stage. For one thing, Khawaja could yet make the Ashes tour party with a good Australian summer, while I don't think that his shortcomings at one-day cricket are in his favour. We need a batsman who can play all formats with equal panache, supplemented by another of boundary-clearing potential for the T20. Khawaja is a very good player in the long game, but has much to learn over the shorter distance.

A tough ask, but for continued progress it's what we need. Third bottom in the top division would be a worthy effort next summer, any more than that would be remarkable.

Improved one-day performances, especially in the T20, would be a further indicator of progress.

Oh... and save something special for the game against Scotland up here, lads.

Durston's turn to sign

Wes Durston has become the latest Derbyshire player to sign a three-year contract at the club.

More good news, more later!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Clare the next to sign

I'm delighted to see that Jonathan Clare is the latest player to sign a new deal at Derbyshire, not just because it secures his future at the club for the next three summers.

It also puts an end to the nonsense that was started by party or parties unknown at the County Ground that the player was set to sign for Nottinghamshire. I always had my reservations about the story, as those of you who remember my mentioning it will recall and was convinced that the "story" came about either through misunderstanding or mischief.

Clare's words in today's press release highlight is happiness at the county and echoes the words of Ross Whiteley and Tony Palladino earlier in the week. Derbyshire's IS a happy dressing room  environment - why would players want to leave such a place for one that may be less enjoyable? I have no doubt that money talks and that any player could have his head turned on being offered obscene amounts of money, but I'm firmly with the club on their treatment of players. They look after them and deserve to reap the rewards of loyalty when the time comes for contract renewals.

Talking to several Derbyshire players at the end of the season, it was patently clear that they felt valued and appreciated at the club, something that everyone enjoys, especially in a working environment. To a man they spoke highly of Karl Krikken and Chris Grant and, that being the case, this spate of signings is hardly a surprise. I expect more to follow and would not be surprised if the club moved to secure the long-term future of David Houghton as batting coach.

Houghton has winter commitments in his native Zimbabwe but to retain his services for the pre-season and summer will be important for a club reliant on young players and needing experienced, high quality men to get the best out of them. Our best hope of attracting young batsmen from elsewhere is in the opportunity to work with a coach of world standing who can make them better cricketers. Houghton has proven ability in this area and will undoubtedly improve players who are prepared to listen.

I'm also pleased that the club are drip-feeding the news of these contracts to us. There must have been a temptation  to pool them all together, but good news, disseminated slowly, is what good corporate marketing is all about. Simon Storey's career in marketing will ensure that Derbyshire follow best practice in this area and keep themselves on the sports pages of the national press. We've not featured on them for the right reasons in a long time and it is heartening to read positive news on the club on an almost daily basis.

Further afield, my pre-tournament favourites for the World T20, South Africa, blew it with inconsistent and erratic team selection. One has the impression that they don't yet know their best side and each game brought a different batting line-up. Graeme Smith doesn't play this form of the game and I'm not convinced that for all he is one of the best three batsmen in the world game that Hasim Amla should open their batting either.

Players like Richard Levi, Colin Ingram, David Miller and Dean Elgar flit in and out of the side but I'd open with two men who have done so with success in the IPL for several years, Jacques Kallis and Faf du Plessis, with de Villiers batting at three to have as much time at the crease as possible. The secret to one-day success is in consistent team selections and batting orders, with each position having its own skill set. With players moving up and down the order like yo-yos, the South Africans were knocked out of a competition in which they looked a good pre-tournament bet. Nor am I convinced that Behardien, a good cricketer, is better for them at six than those named above, while Albie Morkel isn't quite the player that he once looked like becoming.

Sri Lanka on their own turf will take some beating, especially if Malinga locks those yorkers onto the base of the stumps as he did against England.

Finally tonight, how sad to see that Abdur Rehmann has been found to have taken a "recreational substance" in his stint at Somerset and now faces a lengthy ban from the game. Just when the country's cricketers were getting back on their feet after the various betting scandals, one of their brightest talents is taken from the game for what may be up to two years.

It is a shame for the country, which has produced so many outstanding cricketers in recent years, but an even bigger one for the player himself, who has shown signs of becoming a player of genuine world-class.

On that sobering note I bid you adieu for this evening.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Monday musings

There's not a great deal to report in the world of county cricket over the weekend.

The best news from a Derbyshire perspective was an encouraging debut 88 for Usman Khawaja, playing for Queensland against South Australia. While his Derbyshire stint was perhaps not as prolific as he or we might have hoped, the further exposure to English conditions must have helped his game. His two innings in that final match at Derbyshire clearly illustrated what a fine player he is and a strong winter back in Australia could yet see him make the England tour party next summer.

It was good to see the Rams beat our local neighbours on Sunday and it set me wondering about whether we will see something similar next summer when we play Nottinghamshire in the county championship.

I have to say that I feel some fans are perhaps guilty of building next summer into something more than it is. I know it will be difficult and my "goal" for Derbyshire is to finish third bottom, but I don't look at the fixture list in trepidation. OK, Warwickshire will be tough and on the evidence of two CB40 games this summer they would slaughter us, but I still maintain we're a better four-day side than over the shorter form of the game.

To be fair, Warwickshire hammered better sides than us this summer, while both Somerset and Nottinghamshire will be tough matches. Yet it would be a fool who overlooked the merits of the Derbyshire side, or more accurately the Derbyshire TEAM. There were comparisons made with Worcestershire on Sky during the Hampshire game, and I suppose that is inevitable, but I think that we're a better team. I see Middlesex as beatable and Surrey as a side in need of a major influx of talent over the winter months to compete. They have lost a lot of batting talent and will need to replace it to avoid a relegation battle themselves.

Sussex have a decent side but their peak was with Mushtaq as a bowling spearhead and Murray Goodwin as a batting lynchpin. Both are now gone and they look more vulnerable as a result. Steve Magoffin had an extraordinarily good summer and was a contender for overseas player of the year in my book, but whether he can replicate that without the novelty value is a moot point. Joyce and Nash are a good opening pair but none of their batsmen averaged 40 this summer, which tells its own story. Yorkshire have strengthened their weaker suit, bowling, with the addition of Jack Brooks and the likely one of Liam Plunkett, but I don't see them as title contenders.

Next summer will be a challenge, beyond doubt, but not an insurmountable one. Much will depend on the strengthening of respective sides between times, but if Derbyshire can show the resolve that they did for much of 2012, grit that was replicated by Derby County on Sunday, then we will be far from disgraced.

That's all I have to say at this stage.