Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Congratulations to Geoff Miller

Warm congratulations to Geoff Miller, who has been awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours listing.

It is fully deserved, both for an excellent career in the game, as well as an exemplary stint as national selector. During his tenure, England became the best side in the world...since his departure, recent events suggest we have slipped somewhat alarmingly from that lofty perch.

Thanks to all of you for your support in what has been another year of quite astonishing and humbling growth of the blog. The usage has climbed by almost 200,000 visits in that time and early in the New Year the very unexpected (at least, when I started) half million barrier should be broken.

May 2014 be a good one for you and your families, as well as for Derbyshire CCC. I have a feeling that we're in for a really good summer, given the usual luck on fitness and the appointment of the right man to the top coaching role.

All the best, my friends - and thank you!


Sunday, 29 December 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - S is for Smith: Denis Smith

As with the 'R' category before it, the list of players whose surname began with the letter S is lengthy and most impressive.

The earliest was FR Spofforth, who spent three part-seasons with us between 1889 and 1891 when he had been one of the finest bowlers in the world for the previous ten to fifteen years. An Australian, he took 853 wickets at just under 15 in his career, but so few of them were in Derbyshire colours that he doesn't merit inclusion in the mix here.

The same could be said of two other players. Phil Sharpe was a fine batsman and outstanding slip fielder for Yorkshire over a number of seasons, before moving to us for the final two summers of his career. He still caught flies at slip, but Eddie Barlow's demands on fitness levels saw Sharpe retire after two years.

Similarly David Steele enjoyed three summers with us at the end of his career as an obdurate batsman and handy left-arm spinner. He produced some decent displays, but his greatest deeds were achieved in Northamptonshire colours and again he's not included in the top three here.

Other worthy cricketers have to be excluded too. David Smith, a stubborn and occasional explosive opening bat in the 1960's; Fred Swarbrook, a left-arm spinner of genuine talent and lower-order batsman who sold his wicket dearly; Keith Stevenson a decent seam bowler who could move it around, but had to move to Hampshire for regular cricket; Steve Stubbings, a popular and conscientious opening batsman, who always gave of his best.

There's also wicket-keeper batsman Luke Sutton, a fine player, especially in his first stint at the club, while Shahid Afridi flitted briefly across our firmament, but without the success that characterised most of his long and illustrious career. Going back in time, mention must also be made of Harry Storer, yet another obdurate batsman who went on to great success as a football manager at Coventry City and Derby County.

Yet the top three largely pick themselves. In third place is an off-spinner who would, if he played today, walk into the England team.

Edwin Smith took over 1200 wickets for Derbyshire, despite often playing on wickets that were prepared for Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson, not to mention Derek Morgan. To some extent he got the scraps that were left, but with the knowledge that he was expected to perform when conditions were in his favour. It was a peculiar kind of pressure, but he usually handled it well. He took five wickets in an innings on 51 occasions, ten in a match four times. He turned it enough, not excessively, and flighted the ball to keep batsmen guessing. When conditions were good for batting, his control of line and length kept it quiet; when it started to turn, he was always a handful.

He was a stubborn bat too, capable of holding an end up to secure an extra point, or a valuable first innings lead, while he was a safe and reliable fielder in most positions.

A fine player, yet not good enough to break the top two, because this is top quality company.

In second place is William Storer, a professional of exceptional talent on the variable wickets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Uncle of Harry Storer, he gave wonderful service over an eighteen-year career, scoring 13,000 runs at the respectable, for that time, average of 28. He was a good enough leg-spinner to take 232 wickets at 33, while also a  very competent wicket-keeper who held nearly 400 catches and took over fifty stumpings. Now that's real, all-round talent! Good enough to play six Test matches, Storer was a player who helped to keep Derbyshire a solid side before the First World War, in stark contrast to the years that immediately followed it.

Yet first place simply has to go to a batsman who, on the good days that were many, was often compared to the great Kent left-hander, Frank Woolley. Denis Smith (second right in the back row in the above photo of the 1936 champions) was a tall, elegant left-hander who, until the advent of Kim Barnett, was the club's leading run-scorer. He tallied almost 22,000 runs over a career that ran from 1927 to 1952, although a number of seasons were lost to the war, that would otherwise have put him out of sight of anyone. From 1934 to the outbreak of war, his season aggregates were, successively, 1599, 2175, 1421, 1914, 1234 and 1597. Given that when he returned after the war he passed the thousand mark another four times, it is fair to say that his peak years and perhaps six to eight thousand runs were taken from him.

He usually opened the batting and the ethos of those highly successful years was for the batsmen to score runs quickly enough to give the bowlers time to win games. A career average of 32 probably doesn't reflect Smith's true value to the side as a batsman who invariably gave the side a sound but brisk start, often in the company of Albert Alderman. He earned two Test appearances and averaged a respectable 32, but his career was largely spent in Derbyshire colours.

I never saw him play, but descriptions suggest him as a left-handed Barnett, full of glorious shots through the covers but, like all left-handers, strong off his pads. His footwork wasn't the fastest, but you don't score the volume of runs that he managed through being slow.

When his career ended he became county coach, a post he held for many years. He was a hard task master who insisted on nets being taken in the proper manner, with a withering put down for anyone who he felt was getting above themselves.

"My old suit has cleaned up well" he said to one young player who was showing off his new threads, while a would-be fast bowler who drove off fast and loud in his car after nets was dismissed with the comment "if he drives like he bowls, he'll not hit owt..."  His hard attitude was explained as being because cricket was a hard game "and no one holds your hand out in the middle".

One of the game's characters and one of Derbyshire's finest.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

And the prize for the year's most gullible goes to...

A correspondent on another site, who suggests that 'Jack' Kallis (sic) is coming to Derbyshire on a Kolpak deal...

This is all down to the news being 'broken' by Tim Groenewald on his Twitter feed, with the deal breaker apparently the banter of Mark Footitt...

Come on! As regulars will know, he'd have been my fantasy player for Derbyshire for years, but he has enough going on in his life right now without county cricket's grind. Such a suggestion ignores the fact that Timmy G obviously had tongue firmly in cheek, and that Kallis can play, should he choose, T20 around the globe for much more money than we could ever offer.

It also ignores the fact that we have no one to broker such a deal at present, until the new Elite Performance gaffer is in post. Mr Grant is the best chairman this club has ever had and is excellent in contract discussions. However, he doesn't cross the line to become the man identifying the talent and is simply the one who, with Simon Storey, completes the deal.

If Kallis comes to Derbyshire, I may well be next year's winner of the X Factor, as well as the winning horse in the Derby.

That's how likely I see it being...much as I'd have loved to see it happen when he was at his best.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A festive message

Unless something breaks very suddenly news-wise down Derby way, this will be my last post before Christmas.

Like everywhere else, there's plenty to do and time is short to do it. Still, though the kids are older now, there's still something magical about the season - and Christmas isn't bad either....

The cricket seems a long way off right now, whichever direction you choose to go and there's some dark nights ahead of us. Still, the shortest day is now past and before we know it thoughts will turn more often to prospects in 2014.

If I'm honest, mine are already heading that way and I've plans to play a few more games as well as continue to develop the blog. I'm very pleased with the way things have gone in the close season so far, with contracts offered, signed and extended, as well as picking up an opening batsman of considerable pedigree.

There's plenty of time between now and April to evaluate prospects in detail, but there's a lot of good work gone on at the County Ground in the past few months and fans can be reassured by that and by the fact that the Board are working tirelessly to create something special at Derbyshire.

The next news that breaks will doubtless be our new cricket supremo, a much easier word than the job designation. When it does, I will naturally be reporting it on here and look forward to doing so.

All that remains, for now, is to wish you all the very best for Christmas. Thank you for your support in 2013 and here's to another fine summer for Derbyshire next year.

More before the New Year!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Book Review - Bradman's War by Malcolm Knox

This is my last book review of 2013 and is up there as one of the best I have read all year.

Malcolm Knox is a fine writer and this detailed look at the 1948 'Invincibles' from Australia, who visited these shores under Donald Bradman, reads like the most exciting of novels. They were a fine side, though the austerity of post-war England and the ongoing issues with rationing meant that they were fitter and stronger than the sides they faced. Many of the county sides featured players from the pre-war era, most of them too old and too slow for the powerful physical specimens who confronted them. Younger players were very inexperienced and it was a one-sided contest.

The cricket authorities played into their hands as well, agreeing to a new ball every 65 overs that meant their key pace bowling spearheads, Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, could lead the attack, come back for another burst then have the advantage of a hard new ball after tea. While the side had good spinners, they became a secondary consideration as Bradman aimed to batter the England side into submission. His experiences against Harold Larwood and Bill Voce in the winter of 1932-33 still rankled, as did the way that England had ground his side into the dust at The Oval in 1938, racking up 903 runs as Bradman was carried off with an ankle injury. The plans of his players, and those of England, to resume the Ashes in a new spirit of friendship were dashed very quickly

Bradman agreed to return to England for one last time in 1948, not content to play the hoped-for fun series in the euphoria of post-world war Britain, but intent on getting his own back on an England side that had a small number of good players but too many who were past their prime. He wanted to win not just the Test series, but to go through the tour unbeaten and leave an indelible memory on the cricketing public. He managed that, but at a cost.

It was a tour he nearly didn't make after periods of ill-health, but while not the player of ten years earlier, his side had depth in batting and two of the greatest-ever fast bowlers. Bradman's methods saw him come into conflict with members of his team, many of who had gone through the pressures of war and wanted only a pleasant sporting release against people they had fought alongside. There was a definite rift between those who had served and Bradman, who had been invalided from the war. Their discomfort at the tactics used is well-documented and the tale beautifully told.

It is a fine book and a memorable one. The depth of research is admirable, as the tour is documented in match by match detail. There's only one error, unfortunately repeated twice in reference to a Derbyshire player of the time. We never had a player named 'Fred' Pope, who was apparently in the England reckoning in that summer. We did have Alf Pope and perhaps 'Alfred' is where the confusion has arisen, but he didn't play county cricket after 1939. His brother George is the player referred to and I hope the error is corrected in a future paperback edition.

While it is probably too late to slip a Christmas hint to the someone special in your life, I'd heartily recommend this book to someone who likes a good read, enjoys cricket history and has a few quid in gift money to spend after the coming festivities.

It is definitely worth it.

Bradman's War is written by Malcolm Knox and published by The Robson Press. It is currently available on Amazon for £13.20 and is available through all good book shops

Friday, 20 December 2013

Huge debt of gratitude due to Karl Krikken

Had he decided to throw his hat into the ring for the role, the chances are that Karl Krikken would have been a strong contender for the post of Elite Cricket Performance Director at Derbyshire CCC. By no standards could his tenure have been deemed a failure - indeed, he led the county to a trophy, that memorable second division title in 2012.

Yet Krikk opted not to apply for the new role, for reasons known only to him. Maybe his pride was hurt, maybe he didn't want the hassle of interview preparation, maybe he has something else lined up already. The usual confidentiality clause over the parting means we shall perhaps never know, but the undeniable truth is that we are losing the services of a loyal and admirable club man, one who has served us well  for twenty-seven summers.

As a wicket-keeper, he was unorthodox in much the same way that Kim Barnett was with the bat, but equally effective. Ignoring the edgy, non-stop technique behind the stumps, with a rolling gait that compared to a farmer in wellingtons trudging through a muddy field, he had as good a pair of hands as any of his contemporaries. That goal-keeping stance, the subject of disparaging comment among cricketing purists, enabled him to get across to some catches, especially down the leg side, that others wouldn't have got anywhere near. His agility, allied to that glove work, made him a worthy part of an illustrious lineage that went through Harry Elliott, George Dawkes and Bob Taylor.

He was as good a batsman as any of them and played a number of pugnacious knocks, often against the clock or as declaration approached. He batted selflessly and an average of 22 was respectable for a player who generally batted at seven or eight in a side with some handy players.

After retirement as a player he took over the club's fledgling Academy and was responsible for the start of a procession of players into the first-class game. Critics would say that few of them have become established county cricketers and that's a fair point, but Krikk's affable persona, his passion for the game and his technical knowledge served him and them well.

Much as it did when he took over the senior role from John Morris in 2011. Taking over such a position mid-season was never going to be an easy gig, especially when the role saw him dropped into a dressing room where a few people were unsettled. It is to Krikken's eternal credit that he poured oil on troubled waters, smoothed ruffled feathers and turned things around sufficiently to enable the memorable division two title a year later.

He was aided by some shrewd overseas recruitment. Martin Guptill had a massive influence on early-season fortunes, while Usman Khawaja, while perhaps just short of international class, played important knocks when they were most needed. Last winter saw the signing of a genuine legend in Shivnarine Chanderpaul and all three, importantly, proved to be team men with talent, a combination that not all counties manage to secure.

Last season saw relegation confirmed in the last game and Krikken had his share of issues to contend with, before a late-season resurgence almost saw an escape of Houdini magnitude. Injuries to key personnel didn't help, there were off-field issues with a couple of players and the team seemed surprisingly in awe of their opponents at the start of the summer.

Crucially, there were a few occasions where we seemed tactically naive or undercooked, the team outflanked as much as outplayed by opponents of negligibly greater talent. Some of it could be written off to inexperience, but there were occasions where strong situations were squandered and the undeniable fact was that, despite those sterling late-season efforts, we were relegated.

Ongoing naivety - some might call it carelessness - also cost us in the one-day game. Having looked a decent T20 side in the early games for just about the first time since records began, good bowling efforts left victories there to be had against Lancashire at Old Trafford and especially against Yorkshire at Chesterfield. We only needed to work it around and rotate the strike to take the points, yet it proved a task too far. It was a disappointment, especially when large crowds turned up, encouraged by early displays, then it all went horribly pear-shaped against Leicestershire, in a display that could only be described as awful.

Such issues are, I think, behind the change to the coaching set up. There's not that much between Derbyshire and the better sides, as some of the cricket we played last year suggested. Perhaps it comes down to better preparation, a change in emphasis, a different approach, better use of technology. Had he thrown his hat into the ring, Karl Krikken might have been a strong candidate, with a wider-ranging remit and a different structure. So that it is clear, I fully support the move to overhaul the coaching set up, further evidence of an ambitious club that is not prepared to simply make up the numbers. To fault the process is to accept mediocrity and I think our squad is better than that. We needed to get the best man for the role and this exercise should ensure that we do that.

Of the expected candidates, my choice would be Graham Welch,  a coach of growing reputation who is known to make innovative use of technology as well as being a fine coach and excellent man-manager. I think that 'Pop' would be the man to build on the ground work of Karl Krikken and it will take a good man to top him in an interview process. Chris Adams will have his supporters and did an excellent job at Sussex, but external events conspired against him at Surrey and ultimately cost him his job.

More on that in due course, but for now, it is only fair to say thanks to Karl Krikken for a job well done. In the evolutionary process of our club, John Morris started the ball rolling from some pretty dark times, while Karl Krikken gave us a first taste of success and our highest championship placing for some years.

The next man has to take it on, but for now it is time to thank Krikk. He gave it his all and no one can ask for more.

Stephen Moore signs to fill key county void

The signing of South African-born former England Lion Stephen Moore, announced today on Cricinfo and on the chairman's Twitter feed, is one that should make a considerable contribution to our fortunes in the coming season.

It was patently obvious last year that we lacked experience at the top of the order, a player who had seen the varying situations that first-class cricket had to offer and had handled them well.

Such a player is Stephen Moore.

Critics will say that he wasn't a regular in Lancashire's side, but with their first choice batting line-up, that was no disgrace. He continued to prove himself a very dangerous batsman in the one-day game, playing a savage hand at Old Trafford against us in the T20, but he is far from a one-trick pony.

Moore came close to England recognition at one point in his career and is a powerful stroke player with a wide range of shots that he is unafraid to play. A first-class average of around 37 is impressive and indicative of talent, while maintaining one-day equivalents of just over and under the thirty mark in List A and T20 cricket highlights a cricketer with a sound all-round aptitude for batting.

Crucially, he will give our innings a start that will both move the score along and provide valuable help to whoever from the young trio of Chesney Hughes, Paul Borrington and Ben Slater who earns the right to partner him.

He is an intelligent man who could easily have left the game for a business career, but he will be keen, no doubt, to do so on his terms and with another season or two of personal and team success under his belt. His signing is a sound one and having advocated the merits of his signing a time or two over the past few months, I am delighted to see that it has come to pass.

It gives us a solid-looking batting lineup for next year, with a number of options in the top six.

Good business? Yeah, for sure.

Karl Krikken departs Derbyshire

News breaking this morning is that Karl Krikken has opted not to apply for the post of Elite Cricket Performance Director and instead has left the club in a negotiated settlement.

It is sad news, but perhaps not fully unexpected.

I will be looking at this in greater detail later tonight.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Good news on the fitness front

Whoever turns out to be the elite cricket performance director at Derbyshire CCC next summer - and we should probably know about that for the New Year, if not for Christmas - they will be considerably assisted  by the news from the fitness suites at the County Ground.

First Jonathan Clare professes to be well on the way to full fitness and ready to resume his role as a wicket-taking bowler and dangerous batsman in the lower middle-order. Then Chesney Hughes announces that he is several weeks ahead in his return to fitness and has had a few hits in the nets.

It is heartening news. Neither was anywhere close to full fitness last summer, something that put us on the back foot. While Hughes was able to bat, any shoulder problem was sure to affect him to some extent and it stopped him from bowling at all. I don't think it made any real difference to the four-day game, where his bowling is used sparingly, but in one-day cricket his left-arm spin is a handy weapon and often slows the scoring rate or takes valuable wickets. I'm sure Wayne Madsen would have enjoyed having it at his disposal in the T20, at the very least.

As for Jon Clare, it was patently obvious that fitness was elusive last year. On the occasions that I saw him, his bowling was not even close to 75% of full pace, which is hardly surprising if his back hurt each time he bowled. At his best he is capable of being around the 85-90mph mark, which makes facing him a challenge, even before he starts nipping it around. Injuries notwithstanding, he took wickets in his sporadic appearances but couldn't bowl any lengthy spells, meaning that picking him as a third seamer was a risky venture.

At his best, Clare will come on after the early inroads made by Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald and keep up the pressure. He will also score good runs at seven (he says he fancies batting six, but I'm not so sure at this stage) and has the ability to see a bad ball early and launch a counter-attack. As a good fielder anywhere, he is, in short, an all-round cricketer of considerable talent.

At a time when the national side looks set to be in transition, Clare has the greatest of incentives to get fit and get his career back on track. He has only to look to the example of Ben Stokes to see what is possible and the best years of his career should lie ahead of him.

If Wes Durston can return to the punishing form of 2012 and Scott Elstone can make the most of a second opportunity in the first-class game, we have four players of genuine, all-round talent to compete for places in the different competitions. While Elstone is better-known as a batsman, his displays for Dunstall and for the Second Eleven have suggested that his off-spin could be useful too. He's obviously aware of this, having highlighted the fact that he is working hard on his bowling in a recent interview.

With the addition of another batsman, I think our squad is well-equipped for 2014. Much will depend on the coaching set-up and we'll doubtless hear the news on that in the next few days.

Life is never dull at Derbyshire, that's for sure.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - R is for Rhodes: Harold Rhodes

Writing this piece on the run up to Christmas, it strikes me that it is a shame we never did sign Rudolph at Derbyshire...

Jacques Rudolph very nearly became a Derbyshire player, but cried off with a need for shoulder surgery and went on to become a major force for Yorkshire over several seasons. His form was spectacular, but would he have got top place in a very strong 'R' category?

Probably not, because there's some major talent. One cannot allow the category to pass without mention of Arthur Richardson, no great player but still the only man to lead Derbyshire to a county championship title. He never made a century for the club, but had a wonderful habit of scoring runs when they were most needed. An average of only nineteen tells a tale of an ordinary batsman, but Richardson was a gritty fighter and pulled together a group of strong individuals to make Derbyshire an outstanding side in the 1930s.

Moving forward, Alan Revill was a doughty batsman and wonderful fielder for the Derbyshire side of the 1950s. He scored a respectable fifteen centuries for the club, but also held almost four hundred catches. Good judges have told me that he had one of the best pairs of hands they have ever seen and I'm not going to argue with a record like that.

Then there's Adrian Rollins, a very good opening batsman over several seasons who hit the ball extremely hard and had a fairly sound technique to back it up. His career was ended prematurely by injury after a move to Northamptonshire, at a time when the advent of winter saw a revolving door installed at the County Ground and far too many good players go through it, never to return. A mid-thirties average is indicative of a talent that never quite reached full flower, but left good memories for supporters.

Another player I enjoyed watching was Bruce Roberts, whose background was in Northern Rhodesia and whose style somewhat indicative of that. He was a poor starter to an innings, but when he got going was a fine stroke player, very strong in front of the wicket. He was also a useful medium-pace bowler and a stopgap wicket-keeper, though an average of just over thirty isn't enough to get him top spot in this company.

In third place is Chris Rogers, who has played for four counties and seemed destined to only win a solitary Test cap, until a belated call-up last summer saw him look as good as any of the Australian batsmen, something that has continued to be the case this winter.

In Derbyshire colours, Rogers often carried the batting, much as Michael Di Venuto did before him and he remains a compact, organised player who knows his game and plays within his limitations. He's not a hitter and has largely found T20 cricket a challenge, but will be remembered by Derbyshire followers as a batsman of rare talent, charm and class.

Yet for me, it comes down to a father and son, a spinner and seamer.

Albert Ennion Groucutt Rhodes was better known as 'Dusty' and was one of the countless cricketers whose careers were severely truncated by the Second World War. He emerged from the conflict as the replacement for Tommy Mitchell, who opted for the greater financial rewards of league cricket, and was a very fine bowler until 1954, as well as a batsman good enough to score four centuries. On five occasions he took a hat trick (four of them for the county) and he offered a fine alternative to the seam of Gladwin and Jackson. He took over 650 wickets, despite losing six summers to the war and later became a successful and highly-regarded umpire.

Sons of sporting fathers have a very difficult path to success and relatively few have surpassed the parental exploits, but Harold Rhodes was, by any standards, a wonderful bowler. Although his career was unfairly and unnecessarily tarnished by accusations of throwing from a couple of umpires, Rhodes maintained a remarkably high standard of bowling throughout his career with the club.

Derbyshire County Cricket Club has been blessed with its fair share of outstanding seam bowlers over its long history, but none of those reared locally were quicker than Rhodes, who remained so for a long period. Alan Ward was perhaps the same pace at his best, but had a much shorter period at his peak.

In considering top spot in a category blessed with very good players, I have taken longevity into account. Chris Rogers was a very good player, but for a shorter period than 'Dusty Rhodes'. Harold was one of the top three seam bowlers in the country for ten years or more and was shockingly ignored by national selectors.

England's loss was Derbyshire's gain though and Rhodes finished his first-class career with over a thousand wickets taken at under twenty. He was quick, when conditions and the match situation warranted it, but he was also unfailingly accurate. The first alone will trouble batsmen, but when coupled with a rhythmic action and pinpoint accuracy he became the scourge of the county circuit, even when playing under untolerable pressure.

As I have written before, I am slightly biased as he was a childhood hero, but Harold Rhodes was a standout performer, not always in an especially good side.

If you want more information on his career, you can read more in the ongoing interview I had with him recently. While some will find it hard to believe I overlooked Chris Rogers, I can only say one thing.

He was - and remains - a very fine player. But I saw Harold Rhodes...

Postscript - what happened to Q? We've never had a player whose name began with that letter!

Something for the weekend

Party time at my place tonight, as family Peakfan now have a holiday booked in the delights of Scarborough, a break coinciding with a cricket match that - by sheer coincidence of course - is happening during that stay at the ground there.

That's the penultimate thing checked off my 'to do' list as far as cricket is concerned, always assuming that the day dawns with bright sunshine, the gulls are circling and they're fast running out of sun cream and ice cream. Being on the east coast, the resort is prone to what, in Scotland at least, is known as harr, when the mist rolls in from the sea, much as it did in Paul McCartney's Mull of Kintyre. I've always found it a funny word, one I struggle to say without adopting a piratical voice like Long John Silver in Treasure Island.

It is something to look forward to and I'm sure there will be a good representation among Derbyshire fans on the day. Hopefully we're not dodging the raindrops, but for now I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed and hope for a four-day break in the resort that is blessed by the very best of English summer.

From the Birmingham Mail this weekend comes news that Graham Welch has thrown his hat into the ring for the Derbyshire Elite Cricket Performance Director role. Besides being a job title that makes me look for a computer shortcut, it is confirmation that the role will attract some strong applicants.

Few will be better qualified than Welch, one of the most popular Derbyshire players of the past twenty years. It wasn't just that he was a very skilled seam bowler who had to retire far too soon, nor a batsman good enough to contribute valuable runs down the order. It was the fact that he was always approachable and happy to talk to supporters. I've little doubt that a thicker skin may be required for the different role, but Welch will be a strong candidate for the post.

He has done an excellent job as bowling coach at Essex, where the likes of Graeme Napier, Reece Topley and Tymal Mills improved under his tutelage, while his work at Warwickshire has seen Chris Wright, Keith Barker and Boyd Rankin improve dramatically.

As I have written previously, I have a lot of respect for Karl Krikken as a man and as a coach. Should he choose to apply for the role, he would himself be a worthy candidate, but we now know that there is at least one other strong option and it will be interesting to see how it all develops.

It will do so soon enough, with the closing date for applications being noon tomorrow. I'm sure we're all watching developments there very closely.

Time to go now and wonder whether I should change my final cricket ambition from playing a match for Derbyshire, to coaching them. The chances of the former are, I'd have thought, somewhat slim at this stage, but the latter?

About the same. I'll leave this one to the professionals...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Further thoughts on the new structure

Thank you for your comments on the new cricket structure at Derbyshire County Cricket Club, which are, as always, appreciated.

That's the case because they're pertinent and well thought out. I don't think for a minute that we will have a coach for each of the itemised disciplines - we couldn't afford it for one thing - but there will be 2-3 people who will have a remit that covers them all in turn.

I'm not going to start a hare around the park by suggesting how it would work in practice - I'm not up for the role, for one thing - but that will be something that the applicants will need to address in due course. There are, in Karl Krikken, Steve Stubbings,  AJ Harris and Howard Dytham some very good people already in post. This exercise will identify if there are others - better, or more suitably qualified - who are out there.

Maybe there aren't, but I'd expect to see a number of applicants for the roles, as befits a key position at a county that is no longer simply making up the numbers at the bottom of county cricket. As 'Anon' points out below yesterday's post, no one can accuse the club's Board of standing still, their work ethic and desire to make things work being laudable.

Certainly they deserve better than some of the nonsense being spouted elsewhere, where the disrespect for highly motivated and talented people is unnecessary, petty and rather pathetic. As I alluded to in a comment earlier today, I think a couple of the correspondents on the Forum have 'revealed' who they are with recent comments. Axes to grind? I think so, but I'm on there only when I'm alerted to something by an e mail or comment, rather like a lot of other people, or so I'm told.

As for the new role, I could see a couple of erstwhile Derbyshire favourites being in the frame.

Chris Adams has had a sabbatical from the game after his departure from Surrey and would doubtless welcome a return to the county where he got his start. His experiences at The Oval weren't especially positive, but Adams did an outstanding job at Sussex as player, captain and coach. He will doubtless come under consideration should he choose to apply.

As would another former player, Graeme Welch. He has earned impressive comments for his work at Essex, before he moved to Edgbaston and a role at the county where he got his start in the game. Last winter he lost out to Dougie Brown for the top job there and may be keen to get a crack at the top role at a club where he remains a firm fan favourite.

We cannot discount the left-field applicant either. Few would have seen Jason Gillespie as the man for the top job at Yorkshire, but he came from Australia and did an outstanding job. There may be similar applicants for the Derbyshire post, which would make for an interesting short list and interview process.

Above all though, there's Karl Krikken. I feel for a lovely bloke who is passionate about his cricket at this time. I've been there myself, as I wrote last night and it is far from fun. Yet if we are genuine about seeing a Derbyshire side challenge for cricket's top honours, we need to ensure that the process and the personnel are spot on. For varying reasons we fell short last year, though confidence is high that a strong challenge can be mounted in 2014.

This exercise will ensure that whoever gets the job is the best man available and has the mandate to take the club forward over the next few years. That person will have the contacts, the track record and the high level experience to ensure that Derbyshire are not found wanting in their off-field preparation.

One final word - the club has put a relatively short lead time on the application and interview process. This will ensure that it is as painless as it can be for the current incumbents, while focusing the attention of would-be applicants and allowing the successful candidate to have a lengthy lead-in to the season.

Another example of why you simply have to ensure professional people are at the top. They think about such niceties.

It promises to be an interesting few weeks. Whatever happens, you can read my thoughts about it here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Thoughts on the coaching structure changes

There are, in life, two types of people in relation to change. Goodness knows, in a thirty-year and counting career I have seen enough tweaks to systems, processes and personnel to write a book on it.

Some people - and understandably - feel threatened by it. When you're told, as I've been on a couple of occasions, that you have to re-apply for your own job, it's a long way from fun. The uncertainty is everywhere and for all of those involved it is a nerve-wracking time.

Then there's others who embrace it and see it as an opportunity to stake a claim, or make a statement; perhaps reinforce and underline the job they do and how well they do it.

There are a few comments flying around tonight, as there always are, but largely the contributors elsewhere miss the point. It is no more the role of Karl Krikken to 'sort' the coaching set up than it is a head of department in any organisation. Such a duty falls to the directorate and so it is in the cricket club structure.

Let's not jump to conclusions here. We may end up with the same personnel at the end of the process that we have now, but is it really 'chaos' as one correspondent elsewhere points out elsewhere? No, it is a long way from it. What we have are experienced professionals checking that the personnel and structure that is in place at OUR cricket club is the best that it can be. They are, in short, doing their job and carrying out their committee role as they are expected to do.

It would be easy to sit back, look at the current coaching staff and wear a contented smile. Derbyshire lads all, doing a job that we're fairly happy with. We battled well last year and there were a good few positives to come from the summer.

Yet we were relegated, let's not forget that. Why not take stock of the situation and see who else might be out there, someone who may have a genuine interest and track record in a strategic role at the club? It might be there's no one better qualified, more able or more suited than the current personnel. Then again, there could be someone who would be simply perfect to take us on to the next level.

This hasn't been a knee-jerk reaction. The club has done its homework; it has consulted with the current coaching and playing staff and has done its research on best practice elsewhere - not just in cricket, but in other sports.

It strikes me that there are parallels with recent events at Derby County. Like many other fans, I was disappointed to see Nigel Clough depart, a man who had done a good job, stabilised the club and put together a good bunch of players.

Was he getting the very best out of them? On the basis of recent weeks under Steve McClaren, no. At the end of this process, we may have the same or a very similar set up to that we have now, or it could be radically different. We may have some of the current personnel, or we may have none of them.

My heart goes out to all of those involved in the process, as it isn't fun. Yet for all those who purport to want only the best for Derbyshire cricket, tell me this isn't the right thing to do and I'll need to accuse you of a few porky-pies...

Because it is.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Midweek Musings

The second Test starts down under tonight and I am sure I am not the only one who expects an improved England performance, after the debacle of the first match.

There's been enough newsprint generated by the performance, the sledging, Jonathan Trott and the breakdown of Anglo-Australian relations (nothing new there) to destroy a rain forest of reasonable size. I'd make just three comments on it.

First, when will we realise that international teams need more than four or five days of practice in foreign climes to be ready for the serious stuff? Not all that long ago, teams arrived and played five or six warm-up games which gave all concerned an opportunity to acclimatise. The players aren't better today - they still need time to get used to the light, heat, bounce, movement, find the length to bowl and get the feet moving. All the nets in the world won't get you match fit, if you don't play matches. That's several tours running now that we have been rolled over in the first match and with the expense put in to tour preparation, one would hope that someone in a position of power might have said "hang on...we need more time in the middle before we start".

Second, what happened to poor old Jonathan Trott was a dreadful shame, but he was but the latest in a long line of cricketers who have suffered from what appears to be depression. While most of us would have loved the opportunity, the pressures of first-class cricket, especially at the top, cannot be underestimated. For anyone in a relationship, it must be incredibly difficult. You play all summer, often away on the road, then have a week or two at home before heading out on tours for the winter. Yes, it will be a good life, I'm sure, but if you're missing the wife and kids AND struggling for form, it will be a difficult one.

Especially when everyone watching knows what's wrong with your game and tells you how to sort it. They'll likely all be different ideas too, but when you're not thinking straight because you're pining for home, sorting it out might be a step too far.

It reinforces my long-held and oft-stated opinion that supporters should be wary of what they write and how they do so. It is naive - no, make that stupid - to think that players and their families won't see what is written and won't care. They will, even if the comment is made by someone with little or no appreciation of the niceties of the game and its demands. Shrugging it off is easy when you're in or near form, but cricket is perhaps unique as a team game where the individual is left exposed and challenged. When the difference between the middle and edge of the bat is around three inches, there's little margin for error...

Finally, I still think we erred in the selection of bowlers. It was a point covered by Harold Rhodes when I interviewed him and I'm concerned that we've picked tall bowlers who will get steepling bounce, without necessarily having the requisite skill to put the ball in the right areas. I think Steve Finn a good bowler, but he is young and prone to bad days, while neither Tim Tremlett nor Boyd Rankin, for me, are consistent enough in line and length to challenge the best.

I feel that Graeme Onions should have been ahead of the latter two and I just hope we don't live to regret the omission of the best day-in, day-out bowler in the county game.

Closer to home, I'm pleased to see the Derbyshire players working hard towards next summer at this early stage. Not all that long ago, you'd see the committed sides returning to pre-season in January, ready to work off the Christmas excesses. It's a different game today and the level of fitness of these lads is quite extraordinary.

I'm also enjoying the advent calendar on the club site. Sadly there's no chocolates (now that would be a good trick!) but the idea and the content is excellent. All concerned are to be commended for both the idea and the implementation.

Finally tonight, a couple of answers to recent e-mails. Don't I think supporters have a right to know what happened with Dan Redfern? No. Whatever has happened is between the employer and employee, as it is in most organisations. I'm sure few of you would want the reasons for your departure from a job aired to all and sundry, so why should this be any different?

Do I think that we've finished with winter signings? Again, no. I think we will still be in the hunt for an experienced batsman, especially an opener, while the issue of cover for Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the summer, should he be selected for the West Indies summer Test series against New Zealand and Bangladesh - five Tests in all - needs to be addressed.

The good news is that the schedules for both Australia and South Africa are fairly clear for the English summer of 2014, so good-quality cover might be more readily available than last year.

Something to think about on these long winter nights...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - P is for Pope: George Pope

There have been some very good cricketers whose name begins with the letter P in Derbyshire colours.

The earliest was George Porter, a fast-medium bowler of considerable talent whose availability to the Derbyshire side between  1881 and 1896 was severely limited by ill-health, together with the realisation that he could make more money as a league professional . When he was able to play, he regularly took wickets, as 130 wickets at just 21 each suggests. A chimney sweep to trade (not many modern equivalents, I'll wager) he was only 46 when he died in 1907.

Fast forwarding a few decades, one of the more attractive Derbyshire batsmen of the late 1960s onwards was Mike Page. From 1968-1973 he was a very consistent performer, largely at number three, and once set had a wide range of strokes and an un-Derbyshire (for the time) willingness to play them freely.

A Lancastrian by birth, Page reeled off his thousand, or near it, every season and a fine summer in 1970, when he scored over 1300 runs at 41 saw him come close to national consideration. It was not to be though and he left the game in 1975 at the age of just 34, following a testimonial that raised £3,500.

Most supporters will retain a soft spot for James Pipe, whose wicket-keeping between 2006 and 2009 was of a very high standard, fitting neatly into the great Derbyshire lineage. He was also an explosive batsman, capable of scoring very quickly once set and usually contributing five hundred-plus valuable lower-order runs a season.

He has subsequently forged a fine career as club physiotherapist, where his skilled work, no doubt aided by his cricket experience, has ensured that players have the best possible support in getting back to full fitness after injury.

Yet the best player in this category has to come down to a choice between two brothers.

Alf Pope was a very good seam bowler and handy tail-end 'clumper' in the great Derbyshire side of the 1930's. His breakthrough season was in 1934, when fifty wickets suggested a bowler with something to offer. There were 87 wickets in 1935, then 99 in the championship summer of 1936, taken at just 18 runs each. By the time the Second World War came along, Alf had taken 555 wickets at just 22 each, impressive pickings when one considers that Bill Copson, Tommy Mitchell and his brother were also testing and troubling the country's batsmen.

He was thirty when war broke out and didn't reappear afterwards, though he remained a fine bowler in the leagues for many years.

Good a player as he was, he has to take second place to his brother, George.

I never saw George Pope play. In fact, he'd retired 11 years before I was born. He is, however, one of my favourite players because of his deeds and the legion of stories about him. Another of that tough breed of ex-mining industry players, George was, by any standards - even Brian Close standards - a tough nut. He did, after all, counter the short bowling of Larwood and Voce by chesting them down - remember, this was in an era before chest pads, thigh pads and various protective accoutrements became de rigeur for the professional batsman.

Excellent judges maintain that the two best all-rounders in the world just after the Second World War were Keith Miller and George Pope. George taught Miller how to bowl the outswinger when they played on opposing teams in the Victory Tests of 1945, just as he taught the leg-cutter to Alec Bedser, the one that he had learned himself from the great Sydney Barnes. Bear in mind that at this time George was 34, and had lost his peak years from 1939 to the global conflict.

He was a crucial cog in the wonderful Derbyshire side of the 1930's. A batsman who could either sell his wicket dearly or hit the ball to all corners, depending on the needs of the side, he averaged 28 with the bat. That's not so impressive, you might say, but the success of that side was in scoring enough - just enough and quickly enough - to give the bowlers a chance to bowl out the opposition twice. Sometimes a quick 30 or 40 was needed, and George did the business before holing out. His highest score came in his final season, 1948, when he hammered Hampshire to all parts in an unbeaten 207. His premature retirement at just 37 was down to his wife's ill-health and he was still a fine player, achieving the double. A hundred wickets at seventeen each, 1152 runs at 39..quite a player.

His bowling was typical Derbyshire, movement both ways, grudging every run and bristling with aggression. 677 wickets at just under 20 speaks of a very fine bowler, and those who faced George (and his brother Alf) knew they were in for a torrid time. Some said he wouldn't take wickets abroad, but his one real foray overseas, to India in 1937-38, saw him take 58 wickets at 15, figures that for anyone would be seemed outstanding. He wasn't quick, but kept batsmen on their toes and moved it just enough to get the edge of the bat, or beat it. You can see him in action in this clip on the excellent British Pathe website, at one minute, eight seconds.

Stories about him abound. Like the one where the all-conquering Yorkshire side of the 30's were scenting victory and the field crept ever closer. Skipper Brian Sellers at short leg had to duck to avoid two lusty blows by George.

"I say Pope, I believe you're trying to hit me" said the Yorkshireman.

"Aye, and if you stay theer any longer you'll be in no bluddy doubt" came the reply...

The cut and thrust of the border battles against Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire often brought out the best in him, and his bald head would glisten with sweat as he pounded down ball after ball of relentless probing fast medium for the batsman. He had many great days, but his only reward from the Test selectors of the time was one match against South Africa in 1947 - shades of the later treatment of Les Jackson.

His greatest day? Derbyshire v Somerset at Chesterfield in June 1947. Somerset 68 all out. Pope 21-11-34-6. We then thrashed a quick 231, then put them back in after tea.

They were all out for 38. George took 7-16 in nine overs and the game was done in a day.

Not bad for a man worth one Test. If he were around today, he'd be making a fortune in the IPL.

And be worth every penny...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Redfern departure not a surprise

It is always sad when a cricketer of genuine potential fails to realise it.

For every top player, in any sport, there are dozens more who might just have got there but for some intangible factor that legislates against their development. For some it is a technical issue, for others mental, while some are simply incapable of the self-discipline to make the most of their talent.

I've played with a few over the years, including one lad who got himself wrecked on booze the night before an important regional trial, where he had every chance of selection. He failed miserably and he never made it past the "highly talented, but..." grouping in which he found himself.

To that grouping - at least for now - must be added the name of Dan Redfern.

Dan can play cricket, without doubt. He can make batting look the easiest thing on earth and as someone who saw his maiden century for the club, I can vouch for how good he looked at his best. The drives were a delight and the ball was despatched with the degree of elan that is the preserve of the very best. His technique looked organised and compact; he looked, in short, a player.

That was two seasons ago, when the long-awaited breakthrough finally arrived - or so we thought. The summer of 2013 should have been the one in which Redfern announced himself as a genuine contender in county cricket's highest tier. Yet it didn't happen, nor indeed did it ever look likely to do so.

It was quite disappointing to see a batsman of such talent reduced to a bit-part role as a T20 spinner, firing it in briskly at the batsmen's feet. The bowling looked OK, but the batsman we knew and respected simply wasn't there. Occasional gritty innings that usually failed to develop into anything substantial were among far more where cavalier shots, often inappropriate for the match situation, resulted in an early demise. All players go through such phases, but one had only to walk around the ground to hear stories that did the player few favours.

These stories are alluded to by Mark Eklid in today's Derby Telegraph and today's news came as no surprise to me, especially after the engagement of Scott Elstone a few weeks back. Elstone is a very similar player, capable of batting and fielding brilliance, together with useful bowling.

There will, as it is the nature of the supporter 'beast', be those who blame the club and say that more should have been done, but I disagree.

When a player with the natural talent of Daniel Redfern is allowed to leave, two years before the end of his contract, things must have broken down way past the point of rescue. Confidentiality clauses will dictate that we may never know the full extent of the issues here, nor are we entitled to; such is the way with employer/employee relations.

What is sad is that a player of potential has failed to realise his talent, nor justify a decade of investment in it by the club. Time will tell if he does so elsewhere, or becomes another of those "highly talented, but..." statistics.

The ball is firmly in his court now. As for Derbyshire, we move on.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Scarborough at last...

The fixtures are out and we have a cricket week at Chesterfield, more than a few games that look winnable on paper and a fifty-over game at Scarborough...

Oh, be still my beating heart! All things being equal, I hope to see our lads take on the Yorkies at my favourite ground outside of the county. I can close my eyes and hear the sea right now, the only thing to check being how the date ties in with the school calendar and whether it is a solo trip or a family one.

I think that game, together with the four-day fixture at the Cheltenham Festival, will see good Derbyshire away support and I'm pretty happy with the way its been drawn up. I'm still not convinced that counties will find it easy to get overseas stars for the drawn-out T20, but perhaps that will lead to a levelling of the playing field, if not an increase in the crowds to see the bigger names.

The more I have thought about it, the less I am convinced  that the English T20 should try to compete with the IPL. It will never have the appeal of the latter, nor the mass audience to engender the atmosphere that the IPL alone manages to do. Even the capacity crowds against Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire last summer were on a different scale, akin to comparing the voices of Bjork and Maria Callas.

Our T20 is what it is; a harmless diversion for those who have neither the time nor inclination for the real thing, the proper game...the four-day game.

There's plenty of time to discuss our chances in the respective competitions, but while I'd share in the general enthusiasm should we win another one-day title, nothing matches success in the four-day game. To come out on top after 64 days of championship cricket, you have to be a very good side playing fine cricket. You can't win the one-days without doing that, but there are less stringent demands.

Never mind. The countdown starts now. By the weekend, there'll be a countdown timer on the blog...

Friday, 22 November 2013

Weekend warmer

Thank you for all of your kind e mails and comments on the opening part of the interview with Harold Rhodes. If you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed chatting to him and writing it up, I will be a happy man!

It is all fairly quiet on the cricket front right now, although the imminent release of the 2014 fixtures in the coming week is something to whet the appetite. I understand, from a contact on the Gloucestershire side (thank you, my friend!) that Derbyshire will play their away game against them in the delightful environs of the Cheltenham Festival. Assuming that is the case, that should be a 'must' for those planning the away trips, as it is one of the most scenic spots for first-class cricket, as well as being well-attended.

I also understand that there have been comments on another site about Shivnarine Chanderpaul  not returning in 2014. Sadly, this fits into the 'making a story out of nothing' category, as the player has already confirmed that he WILL be back next summer.

Looking at the international calendar he may well be recalled for a Test series - possibly two - by the West Indies during the season, which may well mean that we need to draft in cover for him. That's a bridge to be crossed as and when though. I'm certainly not going to set a hare across the park until the future international intentions of both the player and the West Indies cricket authorities are known.

Finally tonight, the next in the A to Z of Derbyshire cricket should see the light of day over the weekend. There's some decent players in there, but top spot should, I think, really be signalled by puffs of smoke.

That's a clue, if there ever was one...

Enjoy your weekend.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - O is for Ollivierre: Charles Ollivierre

As was the case with the letter N, finding the best Derbyshire player whose name began with the letter O didn't give too many options. Still stunned that I could find no room for Kim Barnett ahead of Eddie Barlow, perhaps this is the time to concoct some fictitious Irish roots - Kim O'Barnett, to be sure...

Alas, no and I must be content with the nine names at my disposal that contain largely worthy, if not outstanding players.

There's Leonard Oliver, a left-handed batsman from Glossop whose career spanned the First World War. He gave decent service over three hundred first-class innings, but an average of a shade over twenty leaves him out of the running.

Moving forward, there's also Billy Oates, who was solid from the mid-1950s to mid-1960's without really establishing himself. In 214 innings he reached the fifty mark on 28 occasions, but only twice went on to three figures. A Sheffield man, he was a solid, if unspectacular cricketer who was respected by his colleagues and supporters alike.

Another Yorkshire import who did well for us for a few season was Steve Oldham. 'Esso', as he was known from those initials, was a medium-pace bowler who wobbled it around a little and was capable of getting good wickets. He took 273 of them in a career that started at Yorkshire and then enjoy four seasons with us from 1980 to 1983. He was a willing workhorse whose action let him bowl long spells, but his lack of pace saw his annual wicket haul sit around the thirty to forty mark at a cost of over thirty. I liked him as a player, but for me he's not quite breaking in to the top two.

Second place goes to Tim O'Gorman, a Surrey man who was an exception to my assertion that southern players have rarely made runs up north, certainly not for us. Between 1987 and 1996, O'Gorman was a solid player in the middle order, usually batting at five. He wasn't the best of starters, but if he got in there were shots around the wicket from a player who was good to watch.

Whenever I think of him, it is for his fifty at Lords against Lancashire, a typically gutsy display that helped to turn around a failing innings and give us a platform from which to build a match-winning score. His retirement for a career outside the game at the age of just 29 took us several seasons from which to recover, but he has made an excellent fist of that career and deserves full credit for it.

My number one? Going back into the mists of time, it is Charles Ollivierre.

Ollivierre was the first black West Indian to play county cricket. He came to England with the predominantly white West Indies side in 1900 and was the standout batsman with an average of 32. Allowing for the difference in climate and wickets, that was an excellent effort for a 24-year old player. In his game against Derbyshire on that tour, he was dismissed for three in the first innings, but made an unbeaten 23 in the second when opening the innings.

Derbyshire were sufficiently impressed by his displays to ask him to qualify for them and he played as an amateur from 1902, working in the Glossop offices of businessman, politician and Derbyshire player Samuel Hill-Wood. He played some aggressive innings in non-first-class cricket between times, but qualified from July 1902 and averaged 41 that summer.

His second season was the same as that 'enjoyed' by others before and since, his average falling to just over twenty as canny bowlers worked him out to some extent. 1904, however, saw him in prime form and 1268 runs flowed from his bat at an average of 35, a number of those innings played on wickets best described as sub-standard.

The highlight was his role in what has been known for decades as 'Perrin's match'. It was played at Queen's Park, Chesterfield, where Ollivierre's first sight of the town's crooked spire the previous summer had reputedly seen him dunk his head in a bucket of cold water, thinking he was still the worse for wear from the previous night's revelry!

The game, between Derbyshire and Essex, was played from July 18-20 in 1904, a Monday to Wednesday. Nonetheless, around two thousand people were present at Chesterfield to see the first day against a strong Essex batting side. None of them could have predicted what was about to unfold.

On a very hot and sunny day, Essex reached 179-3 at lunch. Remember, this was at a time when a six had to be hit out of the ground rather than just over the ropes. The prolific P.A. Perrin, a tall, elegant batsman was unbeaten on 79. In the afternoon he reached his century then cut loose until he was badly dropped by Bill Bestwick, always a poor fielder, at mid-on. The unlucky bowler was Arnold Warren, who then took two wickets in two balls to leave the visitors on 314-6. That was as good as it got though, as Perrin moved on from his good fortune and finished the first day unbeaten on 295 from a total of 524-8, having hit 58 boundaries...

Next morning, the last two wickets added 73 as Essex were all out for 597, Perrin unbeaten on 343 with 68 fours. Avoiding the follow on was to be a huge task, with 448 required, but Derbyshire openers Levi Wright and Ollivierre put on a century stand in 55 minutes and at lunch were on 144 without being parted. The West Indian reached his century in 95 minutes and although Wright was out at 191, Bill Storer came in and added a further 128 in 75 minutes. Ollivierre reached his double century in 190 minute with a five and 33 fours, only the third Derbyshire batsman to do so, and a celebratory drink was taken out to him.

He was eventually dismissed for 229 and had frequently hit fours from balls pulled through mid-wicket from around off stump. At the close Derbyshire had almost saved the follow on at 446-4, the day having been watched by around three thousand fans who had their money's worth!

The final day was cooler after the blistering heat of the earlier days and we were all out for 548. The game seemed a certain draw, but before lunch Essex collapsed against opening bowlers Bill Bestwick and Arnold Warren and were in disarray at 27-6, each bowler having taken three wickets.

The crowd grew in the afternoon as word spread of a possible result, but Essex recovered to 80-6 before a double bowling change brought a breakthrough, the innings then subsiding to 97 all out with one player unable to bat. Warren was a tall and wiry bowler, reckoned to be one of the quickest in the country, and finished with 4-42.

Play was to continue until 6.15pm, so Derbyshire had 125 minutes to score 147. It looked a tricky challenge in the light of the Essex collapse and when Wright went with just eleven on the board, Essex must have fancied their chances. Ollivierre was again in prime form though and reached a run-a-minute 50 with eight fours, the hundred coming up in just sixty minutes. At the start of the final hour, Derbyshire were 108-1 and needed only 39 to win, Ollivierre on 74.

Both the West Indian and Storer were keen to reach their milestones of a century and fifty respectively, the latter because he would then, as a professional, be entitled to a bonus. The remaining runs came in 15 minutes, with Ollivierre on an unbeaten 92 (15 fours) and Storer on 48 as the game ended with 45 minutes and nine wickets in hand. Maybe missing out on his bonus was the crux of a comment attributed to Storer, who said that "England should be for the English", a comment that at best was churlish.

Ollivierre had two more seasons of reasonable returns and occasional brilliance, his batting being compared to that of the great Ranjitsinjhi and especially strong in cutting and on the leg side. He retired at the end of 1907 because of eyesight issues but has gone down in cricket history as the first top black West Indian batsman. 
 
For that reason I cannot overlook a gifted player who was a trail-blazer and became a firm fan favourite.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Incremental deals for Slater and Higginbottom

There's more good news for Derbyshire fans today, as news comes that both Ben Slater (left) and Matt Higginbottom have signed incremental deals for next summer.

Such deals aren't going to make the lads rich - they consist of a basic salary which is enhanced by good performance - but provide them with an opportunity to work on their game and remain involved. They also incentivise good performance and both players will doubtless be keen to do well in 2014, as that would top up their salaries and improve the club's prospects into the bargain.

At a time when finances are under review, whatever the preferences of the players may be, the deals represent good value and common sense for the club. They retain the services of the players and will doubtless reward them if the performances come. Such deals exist for a lot of professions and the degree of common sense that has been applied in this case is hard to argue.

Both players have shown potential, but not yet enough to justify a full contract. The danger, I suppose, was that another county could have come and made them a better offer, but that cannot have been an option with two such novices.

I'm sure everyone wishes them well and I hope that they have successful summers.

Elsewhere, Worcestershire have signed Saeed Ajmal, who should take a hatful of wickets in division two, always assuming that his country's administrators don't have him flying around the globe every other week to some tinpot tournament or another. More than any other nation, Pakistan seem to be involved in mini-series in distant cricketing outposts with what appears to be ever-changing personnel.

Worcestershire have presumably checked Ajmal's availability and if he is around for the long haul and stays fit he should ensure them a good summer.

Meanwhile Nottinghamshire have engaged Australian seamer Peter Siddle for next summer. Again, if he stays fit it is a good signing, as he is a bristly customer who will run in hard and bowl aggressively. The question mark may well be over his fitness, which has been an issue for him in recent years, but if he stays fit he should give their attack an edge that it has lacked of late.

Speaking of bowlers who run in hard and bowl aggressively, this week will see the start of my series of interviews with club legend Harold Rhodes. I hope to run it at a rate of one a week until Christmas and I know you will enjoy his tales of his Derbyshire career.

All things being equal, tomorrow should also see the next installment of the A to Z of Derbyshire cricket, which looks at the letter O.

There's some interesting options...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Midweek musings

Congratulations to Shivnarine Chanderpaul on reaching the remarkable landmark of 150 Test match appearances in tomorrow's second Test against India.

To some extent it has been overlooked, as the match also heralds the final appearance of the great Sachin Tendulkar, but it is a final opportunity to see two of the great batsmen in the same match. It would be a delight for the connoisseur to see a century for each of them, but Shiv's biggest issue in the West Indies side remains finding people who can stay in with him at the other end.

Comments still fly around to the effect that he should be batting higher, but the top order looks pretty strong on paper and its about time that some of them started to justify those much vaunted reputations and played Test matches in the requisite manner, rather than as an extended T20.

As we know better than most, Shiv will sell his wicket dearly at all times. He might go quickly, as any player might do before he is set, but you seldom see him go out and bat as if he can't be bothered. That comes over very well in an excellent article on Cricinfo, which is well worth a read.

And he'll be back at Derbyshire next summer...great stuff, eh?

Back at Derby, the players are in pre-season training, which as a statement of intent is one that would be hard to better. Gone are the days when players had to find winter employment to keep paying the bills - now they are able to spend the winter months improving their fitness and honing their skills. Rightly so, too. When April comes around once more, those players will be well prepared and some, hopefully most of them, will show the benefit of the hard work.

Finally tonight, it is good to see that the club is moving forward with the plans to improve the County Ground. They appear to be getting assistance from the local authority to seek funding packages, rather than direct funding from Derby City Council, but the precarious state of local government funding across the country doesn't make that the biggest surprise, at least as far as I'm concerned.

They are rightly keeping all options open, but I still see the development of the current headquarters as the likeliest option. I wonder if iPro fancy having naming rights on a cricket, as well as football ground in the city?

See you soon.

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - N is for Newman: Paul Newman

With the greatest of respect, there is far from a stellar cast from which to choose the best player whose name begins with the letter N in the club's history.

The best of the earlier brigade was undoubtedly Ernest 'Nudger' Needham, whose style of batting was nicely encapsulated by the nickname. Over a career that stretched from 1901-1912, Needham ground out 6,500 runs at an average of twenty. Not spectacular, but invaluable for a poor side in which he played the sheet anchor role with genuine northern determination. There were seven centuries and a highest score of 159 for the Chesterfield man, who died just before the start of the 1936 championship season.

Moving forward a few decades, the likes of Tom New, Marcus North and Jake Needham flitted across the scene with flashes of talent, but not for long enough to warrant top spot. New had a loan period with the club in which he kept wicket adequately and played some useful knocks, but failed to win a permanent deal and some disparaging comments about his stint at the club on his return to Leicestershire did him few favours.

North did very well in a short-term stint as overseas player, but his Australian commitments legislated against other than the six innings he played in 2006. He racked up 461 runs at 93 in those knocks and played a few one-day games into the bargain, but subsequently has worked his way steadily around the circuit, playing for five counties so far and enjoying a solid international career.

Jake Needham looked an off-spinner of genuine potential for several summers and bowled particularly well in one-day games, but the feeling grew that he was less of a threat in the four-day game. Pushing the ball through he bowled with good control, but the need for more air to dismiss county batsmen saw his length suffer a little. Many worse players have had longer careers for the club, but Jake was a victim of the ECB regulations and simply hadn't done enough by the time he was 26 to merit retention.

Which leaves my number one choice; the man with the film star name - Paul Newman.

From 1980 to 1989 he was a key member of the county attack and on his day could bowl quite quickly. He wasn't lightning fast by any means, but he could hurry batsmen, especially in his earlier career.

My abiding memory of him is of the Nat West quarter-final at Derby in 1981, when we were drawn at home against Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee's Nottinghamshire. It was a glorious day and the ever-reliable duo of John Wright and Peter Kirsten gave us a platform at 77-1. Then Kirsten played his favourite paddle sweep and lobbed a simple catch to Clive Rice off Eddie Hemmings, Wright was run out and the innings subsided to a seemingly inadequate 164 in our 60 overs.

When the visitors replied, Newman came in hard and had Weightman leg before wicket. Then Paul Todd and Derek Randall took them to 75, before Randall was also lbw, this time to Barry Wood. The wicket sparked a collapse and Nottinghamshire were soon 81-5, before the dangerous Todd and Hadlee, then Bruce French sparked a fightback.

There were plenty of overs in hand, but Newman came back again, after excellent bowling from David Steele, Colin Tunnicliffe and Steve Oldham, to york Kevin Cooper and then end the fighting knock from Todd to seal a memorable win.

He ended his Derbyshire career with 315 first-class wickets at 31, along with another 187 in the one-day game, before going into the Minor Counties. There he played for both Staffordshire and Norfolk with considerable success, only ending his career in 2004 when he was 45 years old.

He was a good cricketer. Perhaps no star, like his namesake, but an honest county professional who always gave of his best.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Book Review: The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life For His Country And His Name To A Legend by Brian Halford

Few cricketers have been afforded the honour of a biography after a career that encompassed a mere two seasons of first-class cricket and only fifty matches. Percy Jeeves is far from a household name among cricket followers, although that surname, appropriated by PG Wodehouse after seeing him in action at Cheltenham in 1913, is of far greater literary fame.

Having said that, Jeeves' story is one that thoroughly deserved to be told and it is apposite that I am reviewing it on Armistice Sunday, the player having lost his life in the carnage of the Western Front on 22 July, 1916. Only two years earlier, he was starring for Warwickshire after being overlooked by his native Yorkshire and was making a great impression on the English county cricket scene.

In those fifty first-class games, he played several  hard-hitting innings and made 1200 runs, although his average of just sixteen was perhaps not a true reflection of his talent. He was a fine fielder too, with a good pair of hands and a strong arm, but it was as a bowler that Jeeves looked set to hit the heights.

In those two summers he finished with one short of two hundred wickets at a shade over twenty runs each. Bowling right arm, somewhere between medium and fast, he was probably over-bowled but looked set to be the fulcrum of his side's attack for years to come. He got movement, often extravagant and late, but was very accurate and took many of his wickets through clean bowling batsmen, often when they were well set with a ball that had extra nip.

He was only 26 at the outbreak of war and, having qualified for Warwickshire, doubtless looked forward to a long career. His name was already being mentioned in terms of national selection and his ability to bowl long spells without losing hostility made him hugely popular with the county supporters.

Then came the war and Jeeves, who played his last game for his county in August 1914, volunteered to serve in the October, one of 100,000 men who rushed to enlist in the first weeks of the conflict. They said it would all be over by Christmas, but that was far wider of the mark than any delivery bowled by the player.

After training, he was sent to France and soon, with thousands of others, discovered the true horror of perhaps the worst-ever conflict. Waist-deep liquid mud, rotting corpses, infestations of rats and lice became the daily challenge, along with nights spent under a single damp blanket for 'warmth'. The true horror can only be imagined, but the author does an equally fine job in conveying the daily nightmare as he does in recounting the everyday life of the pre-conflict cricketer.

It is a wonderful book, worth far more than most of the formulaic cricket autobiographies you might pick up on your travels. The author shows a keen eye for detail and the benefit of considerable research that brings the player, his life and times together in a memorable, if ultimately heart-breaking read. A number of the protagonists who flit across its pages died in the same conflict and one is left with a considerable feeling of loss by the end.

Percy Jeeves is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial near the Somme battlefield. His body, like that of many more, was never found as he moved from the cricket field to the Elysian equivalent in a forlorn and hopeless attack on a fortified German position. He died in the attack alongside 231 colleagues of his regiment, a man cut short in his prime like so many others from all walks of life.

Brian Halford's book deserves a wide audience. I'd go as far as to say it NEEDS to be read. Percy Jeeves won plenty of cricket matches for his county, but gave his life for his country.

It was the ultimate sacrifice and the author has made a major contribution to cricket literature with this memorable book, that is deservedly among the contenders for the 2014 Cricket Book of the Year.

The Real Jeeves: the cricketer who gave his life for his country and his name to a legend is written by Brian Halford and published by Pitch Publishing. It is currently available on Amazon for £11.55 and is also available from all good book shops.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Weekend Warmer

It didn't take long for David Houghton to find a new position after being released from his coaching role by Derbyshire.

Somerset is the next port of call for Houghton, who will take on the task of turning a misfiring collective of batsmen into better players. I think we may see the careers of Marcus Trescothick and Nick Compton move on again, as Houghton would appear an especially good coach of more mature players, who perhaps know their game better. That can be evidenced by his work with the likes of Wayne Madsen and Graeme Hick, players who were perhaps blessed with the talent to assimilate Houghton's teaching and use it to improve their already better  than average games.

I wish him well. In an ideal world he would have remained at Derbyshire for a while longer as a decent and worthy man who is a world-renowned coach. Tough times require tough decisions, however and if the money can be better used on the playing staff, then it will have been the correct one.

On to other matters and the club's membership fees have been announced for next season. They show a modest increase which is justifiable - after all, what doesn't increase in price these days? County cricket still represents excellent value, certainly in comparison to football and the club is to be commended for keeping the increase within reasonable bounds.

There will, of course, be those who moan and say that "we shouldn't be paying more for second division cricket", but I'd reckon they will be in a minority. Most will see a club working hard to retain parity among more affluent rivals and won't grudge money that is stated as going towards the playing budget.

Finally tonight, some of you may have missed the names of the coming year's academy intake, good cricketers of talent, all. They are:

Will Davis, Harvey Hosein, Mykylo Bird, Callum Brodrick, Rob Hemmings, Rahib Ali, Harry Killoran

They represent a good cross-section of cricketing talent and the progress of academy alumni on to the club staff will be watched by all of them with considerable interest.

Finally tonight, this weekend should see the next instalment of the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket, this time with the letter 'N'. I'll have to be honest, the selection was hardly awash with major names, but I've plumped for a player who many of you will remember, who didn't quite make the standard that at one time looked likely.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Madsen signs three-year contract extension!

Without fear of contradiction, the best news of the post-season came tonight, with the announcement that Wayne Madsen will remain a Derbyshire player at least until the end of 2016.

It is wonderful news, as the club can continue to be built around our talismanic leader, who was first to a thousand championship runs this summer and will undoubtedly move forward as a batsman again next year. With Madsen and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the engine room, Derbyshire will have a batting side well-equipped for division two, with the potential to develop further.

Supporters will doubtless be thrilled with this news, as I am. There would undoubtedly be interest from other counties in the club skipper, but the news that he has opted to stay with the county that gave him an opportunity in the first-class game speaks volumes for a man who is widely admired, inside and outside the county.

After a long and busy day, that's news to gladden the heart!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Academy duo 'book' summer deals

More good news on the contract front today, with seam bowling giant Ben Cotton, together with Tommy Taylor, earning summer contracts for 2014.

The cost of those contracts has been largely covered by proceeds from the club book shop, which shows that as well as providing a diverting time on match day, the much-improved facility is making a genuine and substantial contribution to the club.

Both Cotton and Taylor are, like Johny Marsden and Greg Cork, young bowlers of considerable promise. In an ideal world, Tony Palladino, Tim Groenewald, Mark Footitt and Jon Clare will be fixtures in the first eleven in 2014, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see one of the above lads get first team opportunities.

All are at the start of what could be long and exciting careers and if just one of them makes the grade the club's Academy will have done its job. There is a 'buzz' about all of them though and the healthy competition to be the first to make the grade can only be of benefit to the club.

By the end of this month we will have the 2014 fixtures and the season will seem all the closer, even if there will still be a long way to go. Supporters across the country can start to plan their breaks around fixtures, home and away.

And we'll all start to dream about a repeat of the 2012 season.

With the right tweaks to the playing staff, it could happen, you know...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Weekend Warmer

It's been a busier week than many of late in the world of cricket, but a week of late shifts at work has meant that my time to blog has been severely curtailed. Now, on Friday night, I've got time to comment on them at last.

Thanks for your continued kind comments about the 'A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket'. For the benefit of those wondering how the sequence leaped from K to M, L and Garnet Lee started off the continuation of the 'old' series, before I relaunched what had gone previously in response to reader comments. It seemed a bit of a cheat to print it again so soon afterwards, so there you go. Those who want to see it can do so by scrolling down the page and it is in the left hand pane of previous articles in the past month.

The club site had an interesting piece this week on what players are getting up to in the winter. As I suggested a week or so back, none of them appear to be heading to Australia this winter, which hardly comes as a surprise. Scott Elstone's Twitter account towards the end of the summer seemed to suggest that he was going, but presumably his county contract has changed those plans.

I'm with the club on that one. When three out of three who went away last winter failed to benefit, it suggests that the expense simply isn't worthwhile. I've no doubt that the life experiences for the players concerned are invaluable, while Ross Whiteley found love. Yet that's hardly the point - we could get players on Take Me Out and save a fortune...

Elsewhere around the country, a number of players have signed new deals with their respective counties, though in most cases few of us knew they were out of contract anyway and I don't think any of them would have strengthened our squad. Discussions are doubtless going on behind the scenes that we will hear about in due course, but at this stage it appears that there are fewer established players on the market than in previous years.

Thanks to Martin Chandler, who got in touch with a link to a excellent article he has written  on Alan Ward, while thanks also go to Bob for sending me on the full picture of Johny (the spelling he prefers) Marsden, which I have great pleasure in posting on the left to highlight a very nice, high action from a young Derbyshire bowler of considerable talent

Over in India, MS Dhoni has been critical of the batsman-friendly wickets for the one-day series against Australia. He is absolutely right. A true game of cricket offers batsmen an opportunity to score runs but bowlers a chance of wickets if they bend their backs and work hard on the ball to obtain movement. On the evidence of the series so far, the game would have been equally well served by siting a bowling machine at either end and lobbing balls down on a length for the batsman to hit as far as they could.

Such wickets make for dull cricket. If you merely want to see fours and sixes it's probably fine, but for those of a more discerning nature, cricket is - has got to be - much more than that. It's seeing a top bowler make a batsman work for runs and that player be good enough to get them. Or seeing a fine batsman stopped in his tracks by a ball of considerable guile from a bowler who got the help he needed from a sporting track.

I hope they sort the current imbalance for the West Indians, who have started their tour over there. A certain Mr Chanderpaul, erstwhile of this parish, started his tour with a century in around three hours of batting.

I can almost see his eyes lighting up from here...

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - M is for Morgan: Derek Morgan

It is a good job that I have had time to think about the next categories in the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket, because the letter M throws up a number of worthy candidates.

There's Devon Malcolm for starters. 1054 first-class wickets at a shade over thirty, 128 Test wickets at 37 and a legendary performance that destroyed the South Africans in 1994 at The Oval. Devon was seriously quick when his rhythm was there, although there were plenty of occasions when the radar went AWOL and he could go around the park. He was a wonderful sight in his prime and was probably the club's fastest British-born bowler, a statement only contested by Harold Rhodes and Alan Ward in their respective primes.

Then there's Geoff Miller, a very fine all-rounder with 12,000 first-class runs at 26 and 888 wickets at 28. He made important contributions at international level too and was one of the best spin bowlers to appear for the county, his partnership with Fred Swarbrook being our best-ever tweaking combination. Miller looked such a class batsman that it was a surprise he made only two first-class centuries to go with 72 half-centuries, but was a very fine cricketer indeed. More recently he has played a major role in England's resurgence as national selector, a job he did to a very high standard.

Tommy Mitchell was a very fine leg-spinner of the 1930's, who was just short of international standard but took almost 1500 wickets for the strong Derbyshire side of that era. If Bill Copson and the Pope brothers could make an early breakthrough, which they frequently did, Mitchell regularly disposed of the rest in fine style. Like most others of his kind he could be expensive on a bad day, but could also conjure a victory from nothing on the good ones, which were frequent. He took five wickets in an innings on a remarkable 118 occasions and ten in a match thirty times, though such form failed to translate to the international game, where his eight wickets cost 62 runs each. Nevertheless, those wickets were taken in only ten full seasons and the Second World War probably prevented him going way past two thousand wickets and a record that would have stood for all time.

How about John Morris, a supremely talented batsman who compiled 21,000 first-class runs, most of them from front of the wicket strokes that most could only dream of. With over fifty centuries and an average of 37, it is perhaps unfair to say that his talent remained unfulfilled, but on his day Morris looked the complete batsman. Only his impetuous nature got him out on occasions and he was capable of much more than three Test caps. Watching him bat with Kim Barnett marked halcyon days for Derbyshire supporters and it is unfortunate that the careers of two of our greatest-ever batsmen were ended in the colours of another county.

There's also Ole Mortensen, an aggressive seam bowler from the unlikely source of Denmark. His loud exclamations of frustration when he beat the bat - which was often - became a feature of the local cricket scene and 434 first-class wickets at just under 24 told of a genuine talent. He was parsimony personified in the one-day game, when he often bowled through at the start of an innings. When one considers seam bowlers who fitted into the 'Derbyshire tradition', you have to include one who started out as a tax inspector in Denmark, rather than being whistled up from a pit shaft.

Nor can one overlook the claims of Wayne Madsen, a very fine batsman, increasingly impressive captain and outstanding ambassador in the current side. In a few years time, Madsen's claims may become even stronger, but for me there's only one candidate for top spot.

That's Derek Morgan (left), who between 1950 and 1969 scored over 18,000 runs at 25, as well as taking 1248 wickets at the same average, the mark of a genuine all-rounder. Add in fielding that saw him hold 573 catches and run out numerous batsmen with lithe, athletic work in any position - fielding so good that he was a regular England twelfth man - and you get an idea of the measure of the man.

He was a functional, rather than attractive batsman to watch. He had the shots, but often chose not to play them as he conducted his latest master-class in rearguard actions, salvaging a Derbyshire innings that had not gone to plan - how often has that happened over the years?

Uncovered wickets often made batting hazardous in the 1950's and early 1960's and Morgan battled on many occasions to keep Derbyshire alive in matches. A good example  would be the game against Hampshire at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day. No other batsman made more than 19 on a treacherous pitch, but Morgan's second innings 46 made the difference before he became the game's only bowling change and finished the game off with three wickets for four runs in the visitors forlorn run chase.

He would have had many more wickets, but for the fact that for a long time he lived off the remaining scraps once Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson had wreaked havoc on the opposition. Most who saw him regarded him as a 'canny' bowler, capable of bowling brisk seam with a newer ball before switching to slower off-cutters if the conditions dictated. He and off-spinner Edwin Smith were admirable foils for the legendary opening duo, though Morgan took a step back when Harold Rhodes emerged in the late 1950's, more often coming on as second change.

Were it not for the presence of Trevor Bailey in the England side, Morgan would have won many more England caps, notwithstanding the bias against his chosen county by the selectors of the time. Later in his career he became a shrewd captain of a weak Derbyshire side, the eleven of the late-1960s masking poor championship form with a Gillette Cup run that took them to the final in 1969.

In the face of such opposition as named above, a cricketer has to be pretty special to be seen as the best.

Derek Morgan was one of the greatest players to appear for Derbyshire, so without reservation he would be my choice.

Postscript - the picture at the top of the page shows Derek Morgan (standing left) with Alan Revill to his right, Seated: L-R - Edwin Smith, Cliff Gladwin, Arnold Hamer, John Kelly, George Dawkes, Les Jackson.

Now one of those bats would be worth owning...