Thursday, 28 February 2013

A sad and worrying week

There have been a couple of stories from the world of county cricket that have saddened me this week.

One was the inquest into the death of the highly talented Tom Maynard, a Surrey batsman of genuine international potential whose passing affected and touched so many people. The inquest told how it seemed that the player had been a 'frequent' drug user, taking cocaine, among others, on a regular basis in the months before his death.

It would be naive and foolish to think that he was the only player on  the county circuit who was or is doing so, just as it is difficult to believe that there was no awareness of this within his county colleagues. Surely erratic behaviour must have manifested itself over the course of the past year and there will be a few former team mates and officials at the club who are currently asking themselves 'what if'?

A few years back there was a rife drug culture at Warwickshire, with several high profile players (there's no need to name them, they're well enough known)  being found to have taken banned and illegal substances. The authorities, namely the ECB, have to make it clear to county cricketers that there will be increased and rigorous checks during and after matches, with stringent penalties for anyone found to have done something that they shouldn't have.

There is not and cannot be any defence for someone who knowingly takes drugs, whether performance-enhancing or otherwise, when involved in professional sport. One would hope that professional sport has learned from the likes of the Lance Armstrong scandal, seeing it debased as a commodity by people who, lets face it, are cheating, whether it is themselves, their team mates or their supporters.

Temptations will always be there for professional sports people and the appropriate authorities and bodies need to ensure that support and guidance mechanisms are in place at both a national and local level.

If any good can possibly come from the loss of a young man with the world at his feet, the world of cricket has to be seen to be squeaky clean from now on, with increased and random drug-testing as a standard.

It is the only way forward.

Elsewhere I was saddened by a headline that read 'County announce improved figures', in  reference to Glamorgan's financial statement for the year. It was the boldest, most positive spin that could possibly have been put on an operating loss of £316K for the season. Yes, it was substantially better than the £2 million that they lost the previous year, but I'm not sure that I'd be getting overly excited.

Any business that loses over £300K in an albeit wet summer has got problems and however one cares to write it, nothing changes that. A similar deficit was returned by Sussex and, while it is all very well to blame the weather and the Olympics, the fact remains that losses of such magnitude are unsustainable for counties of limited financial means.

You can sell land to artificially massage the figures, but unless you're sitting on an estate the size of Chatsworth you can only do so once. An increasing number of counties will need to look closely at the business model being run, with considerable success, by Derbyshire and aim to adopt it themselves.

Attracting players to your club by paying silly salaries in pursuit of short term success is all fine and dandy, but the medium to long term goal surely has to be to sustain county cricket. I'm not so sure that some of these counties are doing themselves many favours at this point.

Finally tonight, warm congratulations to the three players who have been awarded honorary life memberships of the club today.

Frank Griffith and Steve Goldsmith were journeyman professionals, though neither sustained long-term first team slots at the county. Frank will always be remembered for his wonderful final over, primarily at the very dangerous Neil Fairbrother, in our Lords win of 1993 and has rightly entered into county cricket folklore as a result of that. Steve was a hard-hitting batsman and useful seamer, as well as being, like Griffith, a very fine fielder.

Neither will enter the pantheon of the truly outstanding Derbyshire cricketers, but they gave their all for the cause and no one can ask any more than that.

As for the third Martin Guptill, there is little to say that has not already been said. He is undoubtedly one of the nicest and most popular players to ever don the county colours, while anyone who has watched him in full flight has seen one of the finest sights in the modern game.

I only hope that we see him back again this summer. A Derbyshire side with Guptill opening the batting has a far better chance of T20 progress than one without him. I can think of few players in the world game that I could say that about.

Like the rest of you I will be keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Encouraging sounds from the forum...

Between the tweets emanating from the cricket club and the comments from those who attended the County Ground last night, there are encouraging signs with regard to the membership vote over the new proposed Advisory Board.

A streamlined organisation makes eminent sense, especially when it places the focus squarely on specialisms within the existing structure. Indeed, one of the major frustrations in reading member comments of late has been in those who wanted to see voting options and a range of candidates.

With the utmost of respect for those concerned, why should there be and how could there be? It would presuppose that the county is awash with people of the requisite skill set, which is a laughable premise in the extreme.

There was a comment made below my weekend post on the member vote where "Anon" expressed his disappointment at the lack of supporting statements with regard to the candidates, something that the club has remedied today

In their defence, with the exception of Sir John Gains, whose highly impressive CV accompanied the information pack sent out to members, the rest are so well known that to a large extent the club had little need. The forementioned gentleman's track record is so impressive that it should be deemed a coup of monumental proportions to have him involved  - on a voluntary basis, mind - at a time when we are looking to completely revamp the County Ground. I have little doubt that Sir John could earn a fortune in any number of advisory roles and the thought of someone - anyone - standing against him is laughable.

The same goes for the Chairman, a man of some considerable standing in the city and an admirable Finance Director-elect, much as it does for David Booth, a man of excellent reputation in the local business community and our current vice-chairman. Then there's Rob Tice, an admirable contender for Legal Services Director, a solicitor of wide and acclaimed skills in the area of employment law.

 All of them are a perfect 'fit' for their roles, as of course is Kevin Dean, as Cricket Advisory Director. Kevin was a very fine player for the county, is a link between the club and the leagues and, to add even more strength to the argument, is also a successful businessman.

In all honesty, who would you stand against people of such professionalism  and reputation? Who could you wish for to better represent you and your club? They'd have to be flying low beneath the radar, as I'm unaware of anyone comparable.

Which leaves us, of course, with David Griffin as Administration Director. David has given good service to the club and has a knowledge of it and its affairs that few can match. He has received criticism over the years from some quarters, some of it down to petty jealousy, but the reality is that he has done a meticulous and at times thankless job very well since 2005.

It is, perhaps, the one role that some people might sit and think 'I could do that', yet it is one that requires a level of skill and talent, self motivation and organisational ability that few would wish to try or would be in a position to fulfil to the requisite standard.

Over the years, in various sports clubs, I have held a range of positions, including captain, vice-captain, treasurer, secretary, match secretary and social convener, All required a level of commitment and a willingness to get a job done and my club mates were appreciative of the efforts I put in on their behalf.

Yet for all that experience I wouldn't dream of standing in such elite company, even if my circumstances made it more realistic. I hope that fans realise we are truly fortunate to have people of such talent willing to work, free of charge on our behalf.

And, as I've said before, I hope they vote the current plans through.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Monday musings

Tonight's award for the most optimistic man in world cricket goes to Australian, Moises Henriques, speaking after his battling unbeaten 75 prevented an innings defeat in the Chennai test.

"We haven't lost this Test yet, there is certainly a lot of hope, from my point of view you just don't know what can happen." said Henriques.

Hmmm. Forty runs on with a wicket in hand, a day to play and a favourable weather forecast...nope, on consideration Moises - you've lost, Even old Peakfan would struggle to find hope and positivity on that one...

It was a shame to see Martin Guptill forced to miss the series against England with injury, but the enforced rest will do him good ahead of the summer tour here. It won't do our chances of signing him any harm either, as Guptill has barely had a break in the past eighteen months. A mixed tour of South Africa has, however, been followed by fine form back home, so it is somewhat ironic that he now misses several weeks while recovering from surgery.

I was also sorry to read of the injury sustained by Gary Ballance in Australia while playing for England Lions in Australia. He sustained a nasty facial injury and had to retire hurt after making an unbeaten 73 as the Lions lost a fourth successive match.

I really rate Ballance and would love to see him back at Derbyshire one day, but he has been part of a Lions squad that lost two players through disciplinary issues and hasn't perhaps had the team spirit that it might have enjoyed. Their Australian counterparts seem to have played as a unit and have reaped the rewards.

Such an effort will be important for us in the coming summer. If the side can replicate the team spirit that served us so well last summer and Wayne Madsen can demonstrate more of the cool, calm leadership that marked him as a captain of some talent, we're going to do alright.

Only 43 days to go. Amazing eh?

In closing, later this week I hope to have some important and exciting news about the blog as it comes to the end of its fifth year on the web.

Make sure you check in to find out all about it!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday talking point - the new Committee Governance Structure

Tomorrow night at the County Ground, the club are running a Forum on the new Committee Governance Structure, something that is set to to be replicated at The Pavilion in Chesterfield a week later.

If you haven't already voted and aren't sure why you should be, or why you should be supporting the club, you need to attend one of these meetings. I understand that senior officials from the club, together with potential departing committee members, will be speaking to explain why this change is needed and why it has their full support.

That the proposal has their support is the crucial factor in this, just as it is telling that our former chairman Don Amott has thrown his weight behind the proposals. Irrespective of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the club, Mr Amott remains a loyal and passionate fan of Derbyshire cricket and clearly sees this new structure as the only way forward.

The club needs a 2/3 majority in order to implement the changes, which is why I am a little worried by some of the comments being made over on the Falcons Forum. There appears to be, sadly in all too typical Derbyshire fashion, a few people with petty enmities and inconsequential issues that may jaundice their vote, or stop them voting at all.

I'm reminded of my standard retort to those who at different times have bemoaned the state of the country, yet didn't bother to get off their backsides and cast a vote that thousands of people spent lifetimes fighting for. If you don't vote, don't bother moaning, as you have no right to do so. You have an opportunity here to support YOUR club, shape its future and enable us, in the short, medium and long term to compete on a level playing field with everyone else, Indeed, in many respects we will be up with the leaders and when was the last time you could say that about Derbyshire cricket?

OK, Peakfan, why are you so bothered about the result of this election? Why, only last week a correspondent on this blog suggested that my piece sounded like a club statement. I'd take that as a compliment, as it must therefore have been professional...

I'm bothered because I care. I'm bothered because I want to watch Derbyshire cricket into my old age, perhaps be one of those old codgers sitting on the boundary edge swathed in blankets, wearing an industrial-sized jacket and maybe even moaning that things aren't how they used to be.

Except I won't be. IF these changes go through, I'll be sitting in a lovely stand, maybe perched somewhere in a new pavilion, watching a Derbyshire side competing against the best in a ground that is both compact and atmospheric, an ampthitheatre; a theatre, if you will, of dreams. I'll be watching a strong Derbyshire side, made up of shrewd recruits from elsewhere alongside the cream of Academy product, all topped off, like the sweetest of cherries, with an overseas player of substantial international reputation. It would be, could be, should be great.

But what happens if some poor, misguided, ill-informed souls decide that they won't vote, or because so-and-so is going to be on that committee they're against it?  Or because the postal service isn't good, it doesn't get their vote as a consequence? Come on guys, if you're going to moan, make it something the club can control. Short of getting the staff into cars to hand deliver to every member, the club can hardly be held to account for the vagaries of the post...

Look at it this way. If you'd prefer to keep so-and-so off a new committee structure of any other name, remember that he would be on the old one anyway. If you think it should be more of an open vote, answer me one question: why? Why should membership of the new structure be a free-for-all, rather than see professional people with the exact, essential skills our club needs take it forward? Old Bert might be a card in the tea room and stand everyone a pint in the bar. He might ensure we have an ample supply of toilet rolls in the loos on match day and report back that members aren't happy with the quality of a pint. But is he going to stand up and fight for £1.5 million of ECB money and know how to draw up the plans to implement its use? Is he going to ensure that  the club can afford and attract an international star to the club, or design and lead on the revamp of the ground. Of course he isn't.

There is and will be a role in the club for Old Bert, but not on this overarching board. It HAS to have a strategic overview, capable of competing at cricket's top table and fighting for Derbyshire's continued presence at it. It has to have people with the requisite credentials involved, or we will be seen as a laughing stock in the corridors of power. It has to have, in short, the people currently nominated to be the first incumbents. In due course, anyone with those skills could be elected in their stead, but by golly, they will need the same level of talent.

I get on really well with my neighbour, but I wouldn't get him to service my car. I wouldn't ask my daughter to give me a filling in a painful tooth, or my son to diagnose a pain in my knee. I have some great mates, but I wouldn't vote them on to the new Supervisory Board. We have to have people with the right skill-set involved, simple as that, and we have to adopt this new structure. There is no alternative.

OK, there is. We could leave things as they are, then watch as Derbyshire become increasingly marginalised, outflanked and poorly funded, as the ECB won't in the future bail out a club whose management structure isn't fit for purpose. For all our improved membership this year, the only way that a club like Derbyshire can survive and thrive is to modernise, streamline and become ever more professional in the nicest sense of that word.

If we don't, we will die. I am ever more convinced that in the next few years a county cricket club or two will fold.

Your 'yes' vote in the coming weeks will help to ensure that Derbyshire isn't one of them.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Constructive comment and praise time...

I was looking for information on the club site today and stumbled onto the player profiles.

I can only assume that they are works in progress or were done by someone detached from the club or using an old template that they didn't modify.

Why? Well, have a look at

I'm quick to praise a very good marketing team, but there are serious boo-boos here.

Chesney Hughes - right arm medium? That's a heck of a change of action over a winter...
Jonathan Clare - only right arm medium? Surely he's faster than Alex Hughes? He was coming up on Sky at 85mph last summer.
Wes Durston - right arm medium? Since when?

Sorry to be picky guys, but they need changed pretty quickly!

On a different tack, I was delighted to hear from Bob at Buxton Cricket Club. They've done a lot of work in sourcing old photographs of Derbyshire at the ground, in conjunction with the Buxton Advertiser and have done a fantastic job.

Full credit to everyone involved, as these pictures bring back wonderful memories for me and others of my vintage of happy days in the 'bowl' at the rustic but charming ground - at least when it wasn't raining! Those used to modern sightscreens and facilities may baulk at seeing tarpaulins, but Buxton was a terrific outground that saw some wonderful cricket over the years.

I've linked to the site on the left of the page - please pay them a visit as it is richly deserved.

A personal favourite? It has to be the immaculate defensive from that most elegant and correct of players, Lawrence Rowe. The poise of the player is obvious and I still wonder how he didn't score more runs with such a textbook technique.

Anyway, well done!

Postscript: the club site has now been amended, so well done to those involved for making the changes quickly.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Midweek musings

So its adieu to Anthony McGrath, an all-rounder of some considerable talent for Yorkshire and the middle-order ballast on which many a Yorkshire lower order recovery was built.

I reckon that he will be sorely missed by our northern neighbours as they also prepare for the top tier. He gave them both experience and class and they will find it hard to replace. With Joe Root looking increasingly likely to be a part of England's summer plans, the Yorkshire batting will need a bit of a revamp, with additional responsibility thrust on the shoulders of Gary Ballance.

We'll see pretty soon, but I don't think they will find life especially easy this season. Taking 20 wickets regularly could be an issue for them, but much will depend, for them as for all sides, on keeping their main bowlers fit. Nor will their batting be quite as prolific in the

Elsewhere it is sad to see Matt Coles of Kent and Ben Stokes of Durham being sent home from the England Lions tour for indiscretions. It is not spelled out why, but reading between the lines isn't too difficult. In days gone by players went a little wild between and in the course of games, as a read of the autobiography of most old players will tell you.

It's a different game now though and the importance of proper preparation is instilled in players from youth appearances upwards. I know how much work Tom Knight put into proper preparation after his somewhat premature elevation to the Derbyshire side and he lost a lot of weight in preparation for the Under-19 World Cup.

Players can no longer turn it on or off at a whim and must maintain a professional attitude at all times, in fairness to themselves, their team mates and, of course supporters. I'm pretty sure that Derbyshire's players will have partied hard after last season's final match, but am equally sure that they worked very, very hard all summer to fully deserve that.

I hope that Coles and Stokes, talented cricketers both, get an opportunity at international level again.

They've just not given themselves the best of starts.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Monday Musings

As Oliver points out below yesterday's post, there's something quite satisfying about Martin Guptill's recent return to form against England.

As we all know, 'The Gup' is a batsman of undeniable class and I still find it hard to believe that none of the IPL sides were willing to sign him up this year. I was going to write 'take a punt' there, but there is no risk in signing a player like Guptill. he generally gives himself the best opportunity to do well by playing straight and through the 'V'. When he hits a bad trot, it is usually because he's started to play across the line a little more and needs only to go back to basics.

His driving is a feature of his game and that long stride he gets in enables him to go over the top to any slight variance in length. I really hope - as I am sure you all do - that we can get him for the T20.

Can you just imagine sitting down at the County Ground to watch Derbyshire bat and out walk Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Martin Guptill? Cricket doesn't get much better than that and there should be every expectation of a great public response if Guptill agrees to sign after the ICC World Cup.

A Derbyshire challenge in the T20 is long overdue and after last season's experiment with a death bowler in Rana Naved, which unquestionably failed, the county's tactics look set to change with two hitters at the top of the order - and rightly so.

I'd like to see Chanderpaul bat it through as far as possible, a most able of sheet anchors, allowing the rest to play the shots around him. If he could do that, Derbyshire will mount decent totals and have the bowling, especially slow ones, to strangle the opposition response.

I'd say even at this early stage that I don't expect Messrs Palladino and Groenewald to play much T20. We need them to stay fit through to the end of the season, and while there were critics of Palladino's absence from the tournament last year, it was fully vindicated by season-end. Yes, he may have bowled well and struck some lusty blows - but he could easily have tweaked a hamstring, or injured a shoulder diving around the field.

It is easy to say that T20 is 'just four overs' for bowlers, but there's a lot of running, diving and fast throwing, any of which can cause a nasty long-term injury. Expect to see Mark Turner spearhead the T20 attack, with plenty of spin support and cameo appearances by Groenewald and Clare.

Fingers crossed we perform this year!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 10 - Mohammad Azharuddin

Even though I have now passed (in some style, might I add...) my half century, I hope that it is still understood that I never saw the legendary Indian batsman who once bestrode English cricket like a colossus, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinjhi.

Descriptions of the majesty of his batting abound, most notably from the pen of the great Sir Neville Cardus, who waxed lyrical about the bat being a magician's wand in his hand, his wrists of steel and the fact that no bowler could contain him when it was his day.

Much the same could be said about Mohammad Azharuddin.

'Genius' is a much overused word these days, but never has one been more apposite than for the Indian maestro who was Derbyshire's overseas player in 1991 and 1994. There were days when he didn't look especially interested, often when the game was in an especially dull phase and the weather was as grey and inhospitable as English weather can get.

Yet give him the sun on his back, a top bowler to bat against, a large crowd or a challenging wicket and Azharuddin could produce batting of spell-binding brilliance. On such days, one felt that he could have used a chair leg or the proverbial 'stick of rhubarb' and still sent the bowling to all parts.

An innings by Peter Kirsten was one of efficiency, playing himself in and then opening up. Dean Jones was much the same, perhaps with a more obvious desire to dominate the bowler and the opposition. Azharuddin was more of an artist, frequently producing strokes that seemed scarcely possible, often leaving it late before choosing the final destination of the ball. He rarely seemed to hit it hard, like a Hayden or Gilchrist; exquisite timing generally caressed it to the boundary, or over it, depending on his whim at the time.

In 1991, Azharuddin scored 2016 first-class runs for Derbyshire at a shade under 60. There were seven centuries and ten fifties  in his innings that summer, as well as a further 500 runs in one-day matches. No matter how impressive the batting of those around him (and the likes of Barnett, Bowler, Adams and Morris were no slouches) Azharuddin took the art of batting to uncharted waters, much as he had done at Lords against England in 1990.

He was unable to come back until 1994, which is when, straight off the plane, he played the finest innings I have seen in my 45 summers of watching Derbyshire.

It was given the most scenic of backdrops, Queens Park, Chesterfield. Durham racked up 625-6, then bowled us out for 341, enforcing the follow-on. The wicket was turning increasingly and the likelihood of Derbyshire batting out a day and a half looked remote. Chris Adams and Peter Bowler took us to 169-3 before Azharuddin came in, when the fun really started.

Adams and Azharuddin took us to a relatively calm 305-3 before the former departed just short of a century as the wicket deteriorated. From there it was a steady procession, but Azharuddin scored a century before lunch on the last day as he moved from 72 to 172. Remember, this was in a situation where his side were in peril...

He opened the day with a square cut of such timing, such panache, that the ball was rebounding from the boundary boards before most supporters picked up where it had gone. Left-arm spinner David Graveney was the obvious danger man and Azharuddin used sublime footwork to get down the wicket and negate the turn, several times hoisting him over the boundary at long off and long on.

Former Derbyshire man John Morris was by this stage at Durham and was stationed in front of us on the boundary. When exhorted by his captain to 'go back on the rope', Morris, always ready with a quip, turned to the crowd and said 'The only way I'll catch this bloke is to get up in one of these trees'...

So well - so majestically - did Azharuddin play that the game was almost saved, until Phil Bainbridge finally got him with one that 'stopped' and the Indian was well caught by John Morris at orthodox mid-on for a quite wonderful 205, scored from 270 runs while he was at the wicket. Everyone else after Adams looked like they were batting for perhaps the first time in a long while. Azharuddin looked, and was, on a different planet. It was a quite extraordinary innings for which 'genius' was the most - no only -  apposite word. We lost the game, but those present had a memory to last a lifetime.

That season ended in a degree of acrimony, Azharuddin leaving early for his international commitments but requesting that Derbyshire honour his contract in full. It sullied another year of memorable knocks, especially in the one-day games, where he averaged over 70. There were times when one almost felt sorry for those trying to bowl at him, as he seemed to have two or three shots for any ball they cared to bowl, as well as time to play them. The nature of the parting left a return impossible, but it was undoubtedly magnificent while it lasted.

Like his Derbyshire spell, Azharuddin's cricket career ended in well-documented controversy and his future involvement in the game remains in doubt. No one who saw him at his best will forget the wristy magic of his batting, however and while not perhaps a genuine great of the game, he was up there in the next tier.

Those who saw him bat will remember it for the best of reasons. Can any cricketer really ask for more?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Healthy profit for Derbyshire

Make no bones about it, the news that Derbyshire has reported a profit of £23,310 for the season of 2012 is a mini-miracle. The figure may well have been even higher has it not been but for the necessity to purchase industrial-sized containers of ointment to treat trench foot...

I jest about the latter, of course, but it was an appallingly damp and miserable summer, one that would have been deemed eminently forgettable but for the fact that we emerged as the best side in division two. Champions, just in case anyone has memory issues on a Saturday morning or wants to bask in the thought for a little while longer.

For the point of record, such a profit was around £4K more than that announced by Nottinghamshire earlier in the week. If one compares the size of the two clubs, Derbyshire's achievement is all the more remarkable. That is six times in seven years that the club has finished in the black and sincere congratulations go to everyone involved.

The amount of hard work and organisation that £23K reflects needs to be recognised by supporters and is indicative of a club in which everyone plays their part, on and off the pitch. From the warm welcome given by gate staff, to the professional attitude of the girls on reception. From the willingness of the marketing team to work long hours to make sure that we're kept informed and those involved in corporate events to ensure the function is special. Everyone has played a part, not just the team that performed so well in 2012.

It's the little things that make a club stand out though. The willingness to chat to supporters, sign autographs, pose for photographs or attend an event is crucial in the public perception of the club and it is here again where Derbyshire score heavily. It is a well-run club, but it could be that, yet distant, perhaps aloof.

When I have spoken to players, or their wives and partners, the thing that comes through time and again is their sheer enjoyment at playing and being somewhere where they feel both valued and appreciated. It doesn't happen at every club (no names, of course...) but when it does there is a greater likelihood of loyalty, a commodity that will be of inestimable value to Derbyshire in the years ahead.

If we can retain the young talent that is currently forcing its way through, the likelihood is that a young side that is nowhere close to its peak will thrive and flourish over the next five summers. We've got young batsmen coming through, spinners in Peter Burgoyne and Tom Knight and - wait for it - some seam bowlers of genuine potential after a somewhat barren period. Keep your eyes on the Academy and Seconds this summer, because from the likes of Higginbottom, Evans, Davis, Marsden and Cork our next genuine county seamer will emerge. I fully expect at least one of these lads (bear in mind that some are younger than others) to make a strong push for higher recognition this year.

Having said all that, we are now entering a crucial two to three weeks in our club's history. The vote to change the way that it is run will be taking place and it is vital, absolutely vital, that every member takes the opportunity to support the club's plans.

Continued ECB support for such things as ground development is dependent on county clubs moving with the times and introducing management structures that are fit for purpose. The ECB naturally want to ensure that the money that they hand out is going to be spent prudently and wisely by people who have specific skill-sets relevant to the job in hand. Willing volunteers are one thing, but for Derbyshire to be able to move with the times and be one of the trail-blazers, the club needs member backing of their plans.

If you need to hear more, attend the Forum at the County Ground a week on Monday, or the one at Chesterfield the following week, where you'll hear committee members, including those who will not have a likely role in the new structure, stressing how crucial your vote is to our future.

Don't think 'I'll not vote as it doesn't matter' as you couldn't be more wrong.

And if you vote against it, out of some misguided feeling that we're alright as we are, then you are effectively giving a first tender kiss of death to a club that is on the verge of something special.

There may be cricket club casualties in the next ten years as the figures being announced around the country verify.

Your 'yes' vote in the next couple of weeks will ensure that Derbyshire isn't among them.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A quick hello

Sorry I've been quiet for the past few days but a potent combination of heavy work load, domestic commitments and a faulty dongle have accounted for that,

I'm currently in God's own county for a short break to celebrate my parents 60th wedding anniversary, quite an achievement, I'm sure you'll agree. Today has been the celebration (Valentine's Day eh?) and tomorrow I have a little time to myself for the first time in a few days.

There's been little to report. I enjoyed Dave Griffin's photo journal of the season on the club site, while the blogs from the Sri Lankan party have been entertaining.

Speaking of which, the big news this week is that I've been asked to contribute to Cricinfo this summer on Derbyshire's fortunes, the first of which should appear with a pre-season preview. I'm thrilled at the opportunity to write on such a massive site, while the extra traffic that is drawn to this one is no bad thing. I'll naturally link to the Cricinfo stuff in due course, but please stick with me on this blog as your support means a great deal.

I also got a new bat grip today, purchased and fitted at Owzat-Cricket (thanks guys!) so am ready for the coming season on and off the pitch.

More from me over the weekend, when I'll be back in the bosom of my family and with reliable wi-fi.

At least the dongle has held out to the end of this short piece. Mind you, if we sign Jacques Kallis on a Kolpak tomorrow I may struggle...

Till the next time.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Monday musings

Anyone else a little disturbed at the financial pictures being revealed around the county circuit at present?

While we've not yet heard Derbyshire's final tally, we know that a 'modest' profit has been returned (for that, we salute everyone at the County Ground). That is far from the case around the country, however.

Leicestershire lost £250K. Kent's figures will 'not be great', while county champions Warwickshire lost £668K. Teletext announced that it came after profits of £327K in 2011, though it somewhat misses the point. That profit was the result of a one-off land sale at Edgbaston, without which they would have made another loss of some magnitude.

It is not all bad news. By trimming £350K from their costs, Northants made a modest £22K profit, while
Somerset returned a handsome profit, courtesy of a big and growing membership. It is good to see, but the word on the street is that there are others due to announce losses that are not far short of catastrophic.

It's ironic to a point that some of the biggest clubs are in the greatest difficulty, but many of them are living way beyond their means. From the size of their staffs to the salaries paid to entice players from other counties; from the amount spent to attain international ground status to the ongoing expense of maintaining them.

Whether they like it or not, counties are going to have to look at counties like Derbyshire and how they have consistently ended on the right side of the line in recent summers. Worcestershire ended up with a surplus of over £200K in the summer just ended, but there's again factors to consider. They made the money from a land lease and cannot count on such income every summer.

As Derbyshire realised a few summers back, turning the club into a 365 days a year enterprise is crucial to ongoing success. A great appeal of the plans for the new ground is that it will give them even greater conference and function capacity, as well as vastly improved media facilities. Both are essential if the club is to continue to progress and the sooner that others realise it is the way to go the better.

See you during the week.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Something for the weekend

So the Derbyshire contingent that was India-bound has ended up in Sri Lanka, after what must have been a somewhat arduous 14-hour delay at Mumbai airport.

I once spent seven hours with my family at Philadelphia airport, which was among the longest stints of my life, so the thought of spending twice that fills me with dread. Still, according to the tour diaries being filed on the club site by Richard Johnson and Tom Knight, the club at least arranged for them to spend that time in the executive lounge there, which will have made things a little easier. Once again, top marks to the top brass at the club for working quickly because of an 'international incident'.

The details of that can be seen over on  Cricinfo and the Board of Cricket Control India (BCCI) seem to have had a hissy-fit over media rights and a proposed IPL tour of Ireland and Scotland. It wouldn't need a genius to work out that such a deal might compromise relations between the celtic cricket authorities and the ECB. That Derbyshire managed to salvage something quickly from an unfortunate situation again speaks volumes for the organisation at the club.

Speaking of which, there's a fine article by Mark Eklid on the Derby Telegraph site, explaining the club's plans for the ground and the importance of the membership vote in its favour.

It is patently clear that a 'yes' vote is the only vote. In my humble, but perfectly formed and considered opinion, any member who votes against the plans is acting purely out of self-interest and/or ignorance of the facts. There will be a few who may wish to continue the status quo, but quite frankly it would be stupid to do anything but support the plans.

Why would you not want professionals, eminently qualified for the requisite responsibilities, carrying them out? Why would you, instead, want a well-intentioned but less able amateur to take those decisions that affect our club's future?

Vote for the new structure and sit back to enjoy the ride my friends. Vote to retain the status quo and condemn our club to a future of mediocrity, something similar to what has been a larger part of our past.

Finally tonight, a terrific century by Ross Whiteley for his side in Adelaide augurs well for the coming season. An in-form Whiteley will be a huge asset to us in the coming summer and he has been in sparkling nick over the past few weeks.

Long may it continue.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Derbyshire's Club Strategy

Last night I wrote about Derbyshire's chairman Chris Grant and his contribution to the club over the past two years. The efforts of successive chief executives, Keith Loring and Simon Storey should not be overlooked either, nor the sterling work of an award-winning marketing team.

The heightened professionalism of the club was confirmed today with the publication of the club's strategy, taking us up to 2019. Speaking as someone who has been involved in dozens of such things over the years, it has two things to commend it straight away - a logical and relevant time span, together with brevity.

I've started to read strategies in the past clean-shaven and ended up with designer stubble by the time I got to the end. The one produced by Messrs Grant and Storey is pertinent, thought-provoking and eminently sensible. It will enable the club to grow, on and off the pitch and should ensure that on field efforts are supported by business sustainability and financial security.

Few sports clubs in the country are currently debt-free and Derbyshire already have an enviable model for others to follow, but the publication of this strategy should enable the club to move to a new level.

Given that the strategy is essentially a six point plan, it is only fair that I give my thoughts on each.

Cricketing Success

For most, this is the obvious one and great strides have been made in the signing of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Billy Godleman and Richard Johnson, as well as in securing the long-term services of the best of our senior and upcoming talent. A laudable intention to maintain a 9:2 ratio of home to overseas players ensures that we will benefit from ECB funding, while presumably not excluding the recruitment of the right Kolpak should one become available in the future. It also covers the involvement of players as they qualify and is an eminently sensible move. So too is the involvement of players in coaching, something that prepares them for life after their playing career as well as developing the next generation.

Outstanding Customer Experience

The proposed development of the ground is a real eye-opener and is perhaps the news that the chairman referred to in his Twitter feed a couple of months back. Those of us who grew up with the awareness that Derby was regarded as the 'toilet' of the county circuit are entitled to smile at the news. A new-look ground for 2014 if planning permission is granted? What's not to like? If the ground could be made more compact, more stadium-like, yet still retaining its identity, there is no reason to dispute the possibility of future international status. Even less reason to argue against the ambition...

Engaged and Loyal Supporters

There was a marked improvement in the club's marketing last summer and that has continued apace over the winter, with impressive campaigns resulting in substantial membership  increases and business buy-in. I think we will see further activity on this front before the season and involving the members and fans is a sure way to earn continued support. The current campaign Proud to be Derbyshire is innovative and laudable. We may still have some way to go in stopping commentators call us 'Derby' but the people that matter know that we are Derbyshire, a side representative of the county.

Community Involvement

Any initiative that ensures a seamless approach to the promotion of the game in the county gets a thumbs up from me. The kids knocking a ball about in a school playground, pretending to be their county hero, are the next generation of players and supporters. Not everyone can be a great cricketer, but enjoyment is even more important and the creation of a post to coordinate community cricket is a step in the right direction. A local club aids community identity and should be a conduit to the county ranks if the system is in place. Another fine idea.

Financial Stability

Those are two words that would never have been used in the same sentence as 'Derbyshire cricket'  a few years back. It is to the immense credit of all concerned that Derbyshire is now seen as a model of how a small county cricket club can be run. There was a growing awareness of this over the past five summers, but last year's success showed that stability could go hand in hand with success and player development.

Strong corporate governance

For me, perhaps the biggest. Management by committee is an outdated model, the larger the committee, the more unwieldy it is. By the time everyone has justified their involvement by having their say, the meeting has gone round in circles. A number of worthy people have served on the Derbyshire committee over the years, but that doesn't mean that the current set up is right. An increasingly professional club needs the right people on a Management Board, people who are specialists, experts in their field.

Such a model is run, for example, by Somerset, while Sussex are going along a similar path, one seen by the ECB as the way forward. It would mean a streamlining of the current committee structure, but result in more defined roles for the people who are best qualified to fulfil them. My understanding is that members will be asked to vote on the proposals, but I would hope that, given the committee members have already given it their backing, that the membership will follow suit.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone would want to see their club, one on the edge of the big time, run by enthusiastic amateurs and volunteers when the opportunity is there to have professional people who are specialists do the job for them. As pointed out in the Derby Telegraph today it will remain a members-owned club; it will just be one that we can be increasingly proud of as it grows into one of the best.

When it's your turn to vote on the proposal, I'd ask yourself one question. The next time you feel unwell and in need of medical advice, would you sooner see the receptionist or the doctor?

I'd hope that little analogy helps you make up your mind.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Chris Grant

It is almost two years ago that Chris Grant took over the reins as Chairman of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

He'd been involved in the club committee for some time and cannot have expected to be offered the senior role as quickly as was the case. Nor was it the easiest of baptisms, with the fall out from the resignation of Don Amott substantial. I'll admit to being unimpressed with the way that it was all handled at the time, though I was prepared to wait and give the new man the benefit of the doubt.

I'm glad that I did. Mr Grant threw himself into the role with a vigour that confirmed how he had made such a success of his career in the city. Supporters knew of the work he had done with his local club at Swarkestone, not just as a benefactor but as someone who organised the club, sorted their finances, made them aware of financial opportunities and ensured, with the assistance of some good people, that the club was as well run as any you'd care to mention.

They were sound principles, but would they - could they - work at county level? The new chairman spent time familiarising himself with the cost headings of the club and understanding where, why and how we were spending our money. It was essential for a county that had long existed on the edge of penury and was time well spent. With a full picture of our finances, a man who had forged a brilliant career in that field was well placed to help us to move forward.

There was an early playing decision to make when it was decided to dispense with the services of the then coach, John Morris. The latter had done a solid job, but rumours persisted that he had 'lost' the dressing room. The parting of the ways was sudden and decisive, with Karl Krikken elevated to a role for which he seemed eminently suited.

Results didn't immediately improve, but team spirit did. The genial Krikken is a hard man to dislike and the dressing room responded to his less abrasive style of management. Meanwhile Grant presented to the world his blueprint for the club, one that saw a change in emphasis, with young players given opportunities that they had previously lacked. They were put on to decent contracts too, but were expected to justify them by undertaking coaching qualifications and work with younger players, as well as producing performances to justify their salary.

The chairman took over the negotiation of contracts, a logical move. It left Krikken to concentrate on the cricket side, with the chairman's substantial contractual experience proving of immense benefit. Senior players also saw improved deals, again performance-related as they should be. It became patently clear that Derbyshire was no longer going to be a rest home for the aging  professional, or the Kolpak looking for a nice pay day. Players had an incentive to do well and were rewarded for doing so.

2012 was unforgettable. We came close to signing Chris Gayle for the T20, as well as Lasith Malinga, but didn't get the breaks we needed. Young, hungry and talented overseas players, Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja, did come and were a catalyst for a championship title. Off the pitch, the chairman recruited a highly regarded Chief Executive in Simon Storey, who took over from the admirable Keith Loring and ensured a seamless transition and continued development off the pitch. The club is set to record another profit, a remarkable feat in a dismal summer of weather where others struggled.

Indeed, the only remaining 'issue' was the lack of a 'landmark' signing, promised to supporters in the aftermath of taking on the new role. It was a comment made in the euphoria of appointment, without perhaps full appreciation of the difficulties of overseas recruitment in these days of congested international calendars.

Yet even here Chris Grant came up trumps. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, world number two batsman and only just deposed as number one, was engaged for not one but two summers, with a possibility of a third. Promotion was followed by shrewd recruitment of young talent in Billy Godleman and Richard Johnson, while outreach by the club moved to new levels. The local business community has become more involved, the marketing has become more sophisticated, the club has become more professional, with a lot of good and talented people working tirelessly in support.

The chairman has shown a willingness to contribute himself, part funding the pre-season tour as well as other activities, but it his business acumen that has been a godsend to the club, as well as his unerring ability to do the right thing. One has only to follow his Twitter account to realise how Grant involves, thanks and energises people, inside and outside the club.

He is immensely popular among the players and it was best summed up by Tony Palladino, speaking to me in the euphoric aftermath of the championship win last summer. "I'd do anything for that bloke" he said, nodding towards Grant, who was working the room as a man in his role has to do, but few do better. They all would and the deep affection that the players have for the chairman is patently clear. He looks after them and they, to a man, respect him.

So it is with supporters and members too. It would be the most curmudgeonly of souls who couldn't appreciate the work done by the chairman in less than two years. Yet there are no banners around the ground, no boundary boards with his name on them. Grant has thrown himself into the development of his local club - OUR club - with passion and considerable skill.

Today came news of a major new sponsorship deal, with, the Alfreton-based mobile phone retailer. It went some way towards funding the move for Chanderpaul and was doubtless the result of hard work by both Grant and Simon Storey. It is further evidence of a county's community getting behind its cricket team, perhaps for the first time.

In a club whose history stretches back 140 summers, these are golden days. I would urge every Derbyshire fan to enjoy them and to get down to the County Ground and support their young and talented team.

While you're there, if you see Chris Grant walking around the ground, as he likes to do, make a point of thanking him for a job well done.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Monday Musings

Sincere congratulations to all involved at Derbyshire County Cricket Club for their efforts in increasing membership of the club by over a hundred per cent, year on year. With 20% of that figure made up by new members, together with 364 junior members, the club has done very well so far.

The figure is still much lower than that of the 'big' counties, but it is always likely to be so. Like me, however, fans can see the genuine efforts being made to close the gap, on and off the pitch. The league title last summer did no harm, of course, while the signing of Shivnarine Chanderpaul serves clear notice that Derbyshire do not intend to simply make up the numbers and simply bask in the glory of last September.

There is every possibility that the figures will be further improved before the season and they fully deserve the support of people in the county. For those close enough to take full advantage, membership of the club represents outstanding value, while the new six-pack is a bargain for those whose commitments limit their free time.

Congratulations are also due tonight to Michael Di Venuto, who has been appointed batting coach of the Australian national side. Diva was, of course, a highly popular player at Derbyshire and his experience will be a great asset to his country ahead of the coming summer's Ashes battle.

Finally tonight, it is good to see Dougie Brown at last getting a crack at a top job as he takes over at county champions Warwickshire. Brown is very popular up here in Scotland and was a very good county professional, one big enough to remember his roots in the game. He was a major figure in enabling his old Scottish club to raise the money for an overhaul of the drainage system, which was good to see.

He was also in the frame for the top job at Derbyshire when John Morris took over and deserves this opportunity.

Just as long as he doesn't get off to a flyer when May comes...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The IPL auction

Sometimes the subject matter for a blog can take a little while to gel, especially in the close season. On other occasions, it sits up and effectively says "Please write about me"...

Today is one of the latter and, in the words of Cilla Black, what's it all about, Alfie?

Year after year there is no logic to the buying patterns and the sums involved. It is as if someone has been given a trolley dash in an unfamiliar supermarket and told that they have a minute to buy as much as they can, with little reference to what they actually need.

Why else, for my first example, would the very talented Phil Hughes go for $100K, Ricky Ponting for $400K yet Glenn Maxwell for a cool million dollars? This is the Glenn Maxwell who scored an unbeaten 50 for the Aussies against the West Indies the other day, but whose previous innings in T20 and one-day matches were 11, 13, 3, 17, 5, 8, 9 and 8. He took three wickets in those games too, so that's alright...

Outside of the Mumbai Indians, does anyone think that is money well spent? No disrespects to the lad, who can hit a good ball from time to time, but that's either inspired or downright crazy, with my money on the latter. Look at it this way, if notionally you were given the choice of the three names above for this year's T20, how many would pick Maxwell? You'll gather that I wouldn't.

Mumbai also paid $450K for Nathan Coulter-Nile, who I saw regularly in the Big Bash and who bowled well on occasions without suggesting he was quite THAT good. Pune Warriors outdid them with $700K for Kane Richardson, a seam bowler of some talent, but still only 22 wickets in T20 in 20 matches. Still, at 21 the lad is now financially secure, so good luck to him.

Talented South African all-rounder Chris Morris was another big winner, starting from a base price of $20K and eventually seeing his services secured by Chennai for $625K. I rate Morris and have said so on this blog in the past, but there's a heck of a lot of justification required when he steps out onto the pitch.

Yet the logic goes beyond the money spent. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) spent $625K on Sachithra Senanayake, a Sri Lankan spinner of considerable talent, yet they already have Shakib Al-Hasan, Sunil Narine and Iqbal Abdulla, all of them fine spin bowlers. How many do they really need, especially when Shakib is a genuine all-rounder?

My final example? Despite the above, no bids for proven players in the format, such as Scott Styris, Aaron Finch, Adam Voges, Herschelle Gibbs and Martin Guptill. All of them very good cricketers and I cannot get my head around why they were unsold. Jesse Ryder went to Delhi Daredevils for $260K, yet there were no bids for Guptill, something I find extraordinary, especially after his superb century against the South Africans recently.

I can only assume that a somewhat mediocre record in India thus far is the reason, but the 'rejection' may work out for Derbyshire, as the genial Kiwi can now get a break that he so badly needs ahead of New Zealand's tour of England, the ICC Trophy and (hopefully) Derbyshire's T20 campaign.

Very strange though. As Mrs P put it this morning, it's like giving a quid a tenner to buy some nice sweets and seeing them emerge from the shop, not with Lindt chocolate, but with an industrial-sized bag of penny chews...

Don't worry Martin, you're loved and appreciated in Derbyshire. Come and join us for a season of excitement instead.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Something for the weekend

Seven of Derbyshire's players are again heading out to India for training and experience against spin bowling at the Pune International Cricket Centre.

The party, led by skipper Wayne Madsen, also features Dan Redfern, Tony Palladino, Mark Turner, Richard Johnson, Tom Poynton and Tom Knight. They will be away from February 5 to 16 and it is a golden opportunity for all of them.

Poynton and Johnson can both hone their wicket-keeping skills against the spinners, while all of them will benefit from batting against the local talent, something that can only help them as they prefer for the coming summer.

The presence of Palladino and Turner may surprise some, but both will get a chance to run in and get early rhythm on grass, rather than on hard surfaces indoors. They will both have a role to play with the bat, of course, as will all the Derbyshire eleven in every match this coming summer. The important contributions of Poynton, Palladino, Groenewald and others last summer rescued a few perilous causes. It would be silly to think that such input will not be required on occasions this summer, irrespective of the additional batting talents of Billy Godleman, Richard Johnson and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

In other news, the club are advertising for a new Strength and Conditioning coach after the departure of Luke Storey to an overseas role. The importance of this position cannot be overestimated, as Storey played a major part in keeping our seam bowlers in particular  fit for most of the summer. At a time where the sheer volume of cricket sees many bowlers around the country missing chunks of the summer through injury and niggles, the fitness of our seam bowlers was a major factor in the winning of the championship.

I'm sure the club will get plenty of applicants for the role and am equally sure that they will find someone eminently capable of doing the job.

Finally tonight, Northamptonshire have given up on signing South African Rory Kleinveldt for an overseas role this summer after he took too long to get back to them. Instead, they are now talking to Australian seamer Trent Copeland, who at 26 seems to have only a slim chance of selection for the Ashes tour party.

Still, the possibilities of stepping into the breach in the event of injury do not seem to have passed him by, especially if he is already in the country and match-fit. I'm not sure whether Copeland is a Test standard bowler, nor if he will end up signing for Northamptonshire. But I know one thing.

He's not daft, that's for sure.