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.