Thursday, 31 October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - K is for Kirsten: Peter Kirsten

There are four outstanding candidates for the best "K" to represent Derbyshire.

Simon Katich had but one season in our colours, in 2007, yet finished it with the highest average in a championship season by a Derbyshire player (75.52). He was an accumulator, someone who, having got in, rarely gave it away. By the same token, Katich was somewhat one-dimensional and really couldn't play the one-day game, while T20 appeared anathema to him. For me, his season at the club will be remembered for an outstanding championship season, but a limited overs one that was, at best, average. That season's T20 campaign as a team was, even with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat shambolic.

Adrian Kuiper was largely responsible for our Refuge Assurance win in his one full season with us. A useful medium pace bowler and good fielder, Kuiper's strength was that he could hit a ball a country mile and did so with remarkable frequency. Potentially close finishes that year were blown away by the brilliance, yet common sense of his hitting, showing a man with good judgement of the hittable ball. With Chris Wilkins he was the biggest hitter I have seen in Derbyshire colours and that judgement made all the difference. If a target  looked like it was getting away from us, Kuiper simply smacked a couple of boundaries and brought it within the realms of respectability again. It sounds easy, but isn't - despite the South African making it look so. Were he playing today he would earn a fortune in T20.

For me, Kuiper is just shaded into second place by Karl Krikken, largely by dint of service over a protracted period. By no standards would you say that Krikk was a conventional wicket-keeper. His farmer in wellingtons style, waddling between balls behind the stumps, was a long way removed from the textbook crouching manner, while he looked almost like a goalkeeper facing a penalty kick as the bowler's arm came over. Yet Krikk missed little over 400 games, often taking catches, especially down the leg side, that a more orthodox stance may not have allowed him to get to. He had great hands and an even greater mouth, a never-ending source of encouragement to bowlers from first ball to last.

As a batsman he was more than useful and should have scored more runs than he did, though the Derbyshire side of his time was blessed with greater batting talent than some of more recent vintage and Krikk often perished in the quest for quick runs. Having said all that, his greatest contribution to Derbyshire cricket may be yet to come...

For me, though, the number one simply has to be Peter Kirsten, with Dean Jones the best all-round batsman I have seen in Derbyshire colours. Kirsten could accumulate and would often get to thirty before you realised it and while you struggled to recall the strokes that got him there. Yet once he was in, the strokes were dazzling and he had them all.  From late cuts to sweeps, "Kirst" played all round the wicket and had lovely footwork. He was compact and composed at the crease and some of us called him the "Little Don", reference to the dapper and uncomplicated style that was reminiscent of the great Bradman.

His first two seasons saw him scrape past a thousand as he got used to English wickets as a young player, but from 1980 to 1982 he was as good a player as any in the country, recording 1895, 1605 and 1941 championship runs in successive seasons with averages of 63, 55 and 64.  In that 1982 season, with John Wright making 1830 runs, Derbyshire fans enjoyed two batsmen at the peak of their form and batting brilliance that had never been seen before, or since. Kirsten hit eight centuries that season and Wright seven. Derbyshire were usually 195-1 or similar at the sports bulletins, and there were matches when they hardly looked like getting out. So good were they, indeed, that opponents started setting ridiculous targets for us in the fourth innings of games, yet we sometimes we still got them.

Kirsten was a brilliant fielder and a useful off-spinner, at least until a knee injury started to cause problems.  A request for a year's break was met with a refusal and his release was a startling example of the way the club has shot itself in the foot too many times over the years. He was just 27 and approaching his prime at the time.

He would have graced international cricket and, although past his peak, at least made a dozen Test appearances when South Africa were re-admitted to the fold. When he reached a century against England at Headingley in 1994, I cheered more than if an Englishman had reached the milestone. While his Test average of 31 in no way reflects his talent, considering he was 37 on debut it was far from a disgrace.

57 centuries and 107 fifties; another ten centuries and 83 fifties in one-day games - oh yes, Peter Kirsten could play alright. I consider it an absolute privilege to have seen him in his prime and would be astonished if I saw anyone comparable in our colours in the future.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - J is for Jackson: Les Jackson

Les Jackson.

It has to be, doesn't it? If you asked every Derbyshire supporter to name a greatest ever XI, I find it hard to believe anyone would omit him.

There were other good candidates among the J's. His namesake Brian, who followed him into the Derbyshire side from league cricket, was himself a very good bowler and made up an outstanding opening attack with Harold Rhodes for a few seasons. There was also GR Jackson, a determined batsman and good captain who was largely responsible for bringing together the players of the 1936 Championship side.

Then there was Laurie Johnson, arguably the most entertaining batsman in the side from the early 1950s to mid-1960s. Born and brought up in the Caribbean, Johnson brought a range of untypical shots to the Derbyshire side in that period, all flowing drives and rapier cuts. His average may not have matched his talent, but Johnson was, by all accounts, a fine player to watch on the often rain-affected tracks that he and his generation played on.

Nor should we overlook the sterling efforts of Steffan Jones, nor the one season of brilliance that we saw from Dean Jones, a contender for the most complete all-round batsman we have seen at the club. Jones could dig in when the situation demanded, display all the shots that anyone could need and run like a whippet between wickets. Without doubt he was the best pacer and finisher of an innings I have seen in the club colours and he took the club closer to the Championship  than anyone else in recent memory, as an aggressive captain who unfortunately managed to polarise a dressing room full of strong characters.

Yet, at the end of it all, there is Les. I'm not old enough to remember him in his pomp, but Dad's eyes still mist over when he talks about him. We met him a couple of years before he died at the County Ground and it was the nearest I've seen my Dad to being tongue-tied in the presence of his hero. I still treasure a letter I got from him a few years earlier, when I wrote with a question, more in hope than expectation of an answer. Yet a reply was prompt, polite and much appreciated.

His figures speak for themselves. 1733 wickets at 17, twenty times taking ten in a match, 115 times taking five in an innings. You could talk for ten minutes about his greatest feats and not repeat yourself, but suffice to say that he was incomparable as a Derbyshire bowler.. He might have made it as an international too, but the powers-that-be decided that Les wasn't good enough, his action not aesthetically pleasing enough, for England, something that contradicted the opinion of the batsmen that faced him over fifteen years. Not bad for someone who was 26 before playing county cricket...

When they eventually brought him back in 1961, fourteen years after his one previous Test and at the age of 40, he let no one down. It is ironic that the Australians looked for his name in every England squad and were continually astonished that he was overlooked. Donald Bradman considered him the best bowler they faced in 1948, something that makes his subsequent omissions all the more startling. Les simply carried on bruising the ribs and fingers of batsmen year after year, as well as getting them out. In 1958 he took 143 wickets at under eleven runs each, despite cutting down his pace because of a bad groin injury, the sort that would have seen most men out for weeks.

Such things were of little consequence to him. Donald Carr once recounted, after finding Les in the dressing room with his sock and boot a mess of blood and pus from burst blisters, that he asked why he hadn't said something. Les simply shrugged. "You asked me to bowl skipper, so I bowled". Could any captain want for more from a bowler? When asked how he obtained such extravagant lift and movement he was typically modest. "I just wrap my fingers around the ball and bugger about with it until something happens". It usually did.

I saw him play only once, at Queens Park for a match between a Derbyshire XI and the International Cavaliers in September 1968, one of the games that were a precursor to the John Player Sunday League that started the following year. In the opposition were Geoff Boycott, Barry Richards, Ted Dexter, Mike Smith and Fred Goldstein, a South African opener who hit the ball with real power and played for Oxford University and Northamptonshire for a while. It was serious opposition - and Les was 47 years old and had been retired for five years.

He had Boycott and Goldstein lbw and finished with 9-1-19-2. Not bad for an old timer, but no real surprise.

In the context of Derbyshire cricket, Les was one of the golden greats.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Something for the weekend

Its very quiet around the county circuit at present and quite sad when the biggest story is an off-field matter, with a club cricketer in Derbyshire being banned for four years (two of them suspended) for posting a pornographic picture on Twitter with reference to the league champions, Swarkestone.

At best it was a childish thing to do, at worst it was nasty. Does the punishment fit the crime? Yes, probably. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you will know that I have a zero tolerance to those who feel they can spout poisonous nonsense from anonymity. The only thing you can say in favour of the person who did it was that he at least put his name to it, not that it justifies it in any way. If the photograph was of the kind that I understand appeared, there's frankly no excuse.

If nothing else it sends a warning across the bows of those who post on social media sites. As the Cricket Derbyshire top tips suggest, there is a social and moral responsibility, whether you like it or not, when you put your innermost thoughts 'out there'. A ribald comment made to a pal down the pub is transformed when it appears in print and it is something that people who blog or comment on line simply have to keep in mind, or pay the penalty.

There's been a few mails regarding the departure of Dave Houghton and it is a shame that one of the world's best batting coaches (as widely regarded) will not be with us next season. Yet tough decisions must be made and most fans would prefer to see an extra member of the playing, rather than coaching staff in such circumstances.

In a comment yesterday, Marc suggested that Steve Stubbings may take over as batting coach, which would be a meteoric rise for sure. Yet he did a fine job with the Seconds last summer and stranger things have happened. Few more popular or affable men have played for the county and he is certainly au fait with the local cricket scene.

Finally tonight, thank you for your mails regarding the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket. I will add another couple this weekend and then we've caught up again. I have re-written a few passages that I thought would benefit from it - especially of more recent players - and if nothing else I hope that it has raised awareness of the number of wonderful players who have appeared in the county colours over the years.

Enjoy your weekend and I hope you like the piece on one of the greatest..

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - H is for Holding: Michael Holding

There’s a fair decision to be made among the ‘H’ category, albeit one that comes down to two players as far as I'm concerned.

Two opening batsmen are worthy of consideration, both of them players who sold their wickets dearly. Ian Hall was a dogged battler in the 1960s who got to the middle and worked to stay there. Not for him the flamboyant shots – he accumulated runs and was a workmanlike player.

As was Alan Hill, although ‘Bud’ became a key member of the side in the 1970s and 1980s as the ideal foil for John Wright. They made a good pairing, though Hill at times struggled to shake off the reputation that once saw him make a century in South Africa without a boundary. It was ironic that he subsequently was the first Derbyshire player to make a Sunday League century, tribute to his willingness to work at his game and Eddie Barlow’s encouragement to hit the ball. Hill was never a flashy player, but if you were selecting a Derbyshire side to save a game you would want him in there fighting for you. He was very underrated and I had a lot of time for him.

Then of course there is Arnold Hamer, the best batsman of a fairly ordinary batting side in the 1950s and one who could play in whatever style the game and conditions demanded. His average of 31 in the first class game would probably be worth far more on the covered tracks of today, but Hamer, worthy a player as he was, is eclipsed by two bowlers of distinction.

The stature of the man in first place is illustrated by Mike Hendrick being ‘only’ second. Hendo was an outstanding bowler in the great Derbyshire tradition. The lineage that ran from Warren through Bestwick, the Popes, Copson, Gladwin, Jackson and Rhodes was safe with him. Not especially quick but hostile, no extravagant movement but enough to find the edge, Mike Hendrick was a class act.

Especially when he reached the international stage, some argued that he bowled too short, happier to keep the score down with short of a length bowling than to produce the probing outswinger that drew the batsman forward. Maybe that was so, but Mike Hendrick on a green top was hard to play and he grew up in a Derbyshire side that rarely had runs to play with. In the Championship you could usually bank on a few wickets, while in one day games he was rarely hit. You can ask for little more from a bowler and Hendrick was also a fine slip fielder, had a good arm in the deep and was an entertaining slogger in the way that tail-enders used to play.

It takes a special man to keep him from top spot, but Michael Holding was one of the all-time greats. Although his days of constant express pace were behind him when he joined us, he could still bowl an occasional ball of unfeasible velocity. David Lloyd told a tale about umpiring at Derby where the pitch was docile, yet Holding found the pace and bounce to produce a ball that removed the thumb guard from the glove of Northamptonshire batsman Robin Boyd-Moss and sent his thumb in several directions.

Occasionally he would turn back time and come off his full run, which remained an awesome sight, but Holding was also an able lieutenant to the fledgling skipper, Kim Barnett. Always willing to come on when things were tough and the score mounting, he was close to the ideal overseas player. There were times he seemed to get wickets by reputation, but whatever the length of that run, watching Holding was a joy for the connoisseur - unless you were 22 yards away.

He was usually good for some effective tailend clumping too, and had a safe pair of hands. John Wright once said that the opposition always seemed pleased to hear he was playing, as it meant that Holding, with who he shared overseas duties for a time, wasn’t.

I’ve written before of my reservations about a book that was written a couple of years back on one hundred Derbyshire cricket greats. Greatness can be defined in different ways, in a local, national or international context. However I try to define it, I can’t get anywhere near fifty from Derbyshire’s history.

Having said that, both Mike Hendrick and Michael Holding would be in that fifty. On a local scale Hendrick was a great player and on a national scale a good one.

Holding? He was a giant of the game by any benchmark, so has to be number one. An all-time great?

You bet.

Houghton departs as county economies begin

It is always sad when people leave your favourite sports team, especially when the parting comes as a result of finances.

David Houghton has left Derbyshire for the second - and one assumes final - time as a result of the cost-cutting measures alluded to last week. At this stage it is difficult to see if this is going to see a simple restructure of the existing coaches, or if he will be replaced in a like-for-like move.

Houghton is a good and articulate man who is passionate about his cricket. The under-performing batting line-up last season probably didn't help his case for retention, but a coach can only do so much for any club or individual player. There will always be those who thrive and respond under their tutelage, while others will struggle to interpret things being shown and explained.

A classic case came with Wayne Madsen, who moved on a level last year and freely acknowledged the role played by Houghton in improving his mental attitude, as much as his technique. Other players were less successful and I had a feeling last week that the current overhaul might see a change or two in the coaching set up.

It is sad, but Derbyshire can ill-afford to be complacent. Whatever the potential of the talent coming through from the club academy, it is vital that the right coaches are in place to ensure that it is fully released. The time was right for such a revamp after a season in which we were, after all, relegated.

What happens next? We'll need to wait and see, but we currently have a second team coach in Steve Stubbings, a bowling coach in AJ Harris and Karl Krikken in charge of it all. I'd guess that the designations will change in the winter months, if nothing else.

Worth keeping an eye on, for all of us.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - G is for Gladwin: Cliff Gladwin

There’s only one contender for the G-Man.

I’ll admit that Peter Gibbs was one of the more aesthetically pleasing batsmen of my formative years as a fan. He seemed to have more time than most and possessed a glorious cover drive. Indeed, that classic style was at odds with the more functional, perhaps attritional method of some contemporaries, but as a cricketer and contributor to the county’s fortunes he was light years behind my number one, Cliff Gladwin.

Curiously, Gladwin’s father, Joe, played with Tom Forrester, my ‘F’ of choice, but the boy’s talents far exceeded those of the father. Cliff made his first class debut in 1939 prior to the Second World War, but had to wait long years until hostilities ended and he was able to resume his first-class career. He was thirty when cricket resumed in 1946, but he took a hundred wickets that season and did so with metronomic regularity for the remainder of his career.

Although a solidly built man, he was light on his feet and had a short run up, followed by an easy action that meant he could bowl long spells. This can be seen on the Pathe news site by following this link:

Gladwin can be seen bowling at two minutes fifteen seconds, playing against New Zealand in 1949.

His record speaks for itself and year in, year out he bowled with rare control and hostility. There was no real pace, but Gladwin’s late swing saw many fall victims in his leg-trap, where he was wonderfully supported by Donald Carr, Alan Revill and Derek Morgan. 1653 first-class victims at eighteen each is testimony to his consistency and sustained hostility and no batsman in the 1950’s fancied coming to Derby or Chesterfield. Various accounts tell of injuries ruling players out when faced with Cliff and Les Jackson on a green top – and that was before the game!

One of the best accounts of Derbyshire watching in the 1950’s was published in the Derby Telegraph some time ago and was written by someone called ‘S.Williams’ Part of this description can be seen below:

"The County Ground at Derby in the 1950s was a dump in the real sense of the word, a place of gentle decay.

The ramshackle former racecourse buildings were often home to no more than a few dozen spectators because, when the weather was unkind, watching – and, no doubt, playing – at the County Ground was not for the faint-hearted.

The wind came whipping off the old racecourse, straight from the Urals it seemed, cutting through you like a knife. The facilities were awful: toilets that have been described as French Colonial; catering which made the worst that the old British Railways could offer look like a Savoy Grill buffet. Finding shelter from wind and rain meant huddling at the back of the Grandstand while keeping one eye on the toilet habits of dozens of pigeons cooing happily in the cavernous roof. Once settled on a fine day, though, I had eyes only for my hero.

It is exactly 50 years since I last saw him in action. His run-up began easily – no stuttering start like so many of his profession – and gathered graceful speed until his body moved into that classic arc and his broad shoulders propelled the ball on its way.

Quite simply, Cliff Gladwin was one of the finest cricketers that I have ever seen. Whenever Gladwin was on the field, something was always likely to happen, whether it was shattering the stumps, clouting a few late runs to frustrate the opposition, or running somebody out. In short, Gladwin was an entertainer, a character to help brighten up those austere years after the Second World War."

Gladwin played eight Test matches, taking 15 wickets at 38, figures that suggest he was just short of the highest class. Yet his greatest moment came in South Africa in 1948-49, when he scored a leg-bye off the last ball of the Durban Test to win the game.

“Coometh the hour, coometh the man,” he had announced on arrival at the crease, and he was as good as his word. He was 33 when he played the last of his Tests the following summer, but was one of the best bowlers in the country throughout the 1950s and could – perhaps should – have received greater recognition.

Whereas his partner in crime Les Jackson was philosophical about mistakes in the field, Gladwin could be fairly hard on team mates.

“Four for thirty-seven in nineteen overs…could have been four for thirty-three if that bugger had kept his legs together…” He knew his analysis TO THE RUN at the end of the innings and instilled in the young Harold Rhodes the need to make the batsman play everything and give nothing away. Rhodes, like Derek Morgan and Edwin Smith, often recounted how they got many wickets from batsmen taking a chance against them, having faced the opening pair for an hour or more with hardly a ball from which to score.

He could be outspoken, but people will always accept someone doing that when their actions on the pitch justify it. Cliff Gladwin set a standard of parsimony that has seldom been exceeded and is rightly regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever players.

An easy choice for best G. What would we give for another of his ilk?

PS - the picture above shows Gladwin bowling for Derbyshire in his pomp, with the field set for a bowler in command of his game.

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - F is for Forrester: Tom Forrester

I can safely say that Derbyshire have had few players of genuine talent whose names begin with F.

While we had high hopes of Travis Friend until his back problems, only two players whose names began with that letter have risen, not so much to the top, but from mediocrity.

One of them was Roger Finney, who for a few seasons looked like making it as an all-rounder. A medium pace left-armer, he could get the ball to move around and on occasion was a handful. He was also a batsman good enough to average 20 in the first-class game and stuck around like a latter day Fred Swarbrook. Just over 200 wickets was a fair return, but Finney’s spell at the top was relatively brief and he finished his career in the Minor Counties with Norfolk.

For me, the star turn is Tom Forrester, or Forester as he sometimes spelled his name (presumably when in a hurry…)

Forrester was a right arm medium pace bowler for Warwickshire from 1896-99 before registering for Derbyshire and playing for us from 1902-20. Born at Clay Cross, the move was a natural one, but he did only moderately in 1902 and 1903, played once in 1904 and then played no more cricket until 1910, when he was 37 years old.

In between times his game had improved, however, and in the four seasons preceding the First World War he gave sterling service. 1911 brought 62 wickets at 25, 1912 another 31 at 19 runs each and 1913 saw 65 wickets at 27.

The final season before the outbreak of war, 1914, was an especially impressive one. Seventy wickets at 20, twice taking ten in a match, was an admirable return for a man of 41, before cricket was effectively wound up until 1919.

Forrester the batsman was a left-hander good enough to make eleven half centuries, though an average of just 15 was far from spectacular. Although he returned briefly in 1919 and again in 1920, Father Time had caught up with him at last and he retired aged 47, after a career in which he took 347 wickets at 25, with best figures of 7-18. That well over half of them came after his 37th birthday is extraordinary but a long way from unique for that period .

He died in Nottingham in 1927. A steady cricketer, but not a legend, like the star turn in the Gs...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - E is for Elliott: Harry Elliott

After the decisions that went in to choosing letters A to D, even ET could choose the winner of letter E. Whatever way you look at it, the answer is going to be Elliott...

John Eggar was an attractive stroke player when available from teaching commitments in the late 1940s and early 1950's, while Peter Eyre contributed with bat and ball in the 1960's. Eyre's great moment, of course, came in the Gillette Cup semi-final at Chesterfield in 1969, when he took six Sussex wickets and was close to being unplayable.

However, the choice really comes down to two men, both named Elliott.

My second choice would be Charlie Elliott. An opening batsman of great determination, he scored over 11,000 runs for the county. His peak came after the Second World War, when he scored a thousand runs in six successive seasons. A career average of only 27 per innings was not spectacular, but in the context of the county game at that time he was a solid professional.

He later became a first-class umpire and was highly respected, standing in 42 Test matches. Latterly he served on the club committee for ten years, giving great service alongside his former captain and colleague Guy Willatt. He was the last of Derbyshire's pre-war cricketers to die, at the age of 91 in 2004.

Yet for me it was his uncle, Harry, who is number one. Born in 1891, he joined the county staff in 1920 after the First World War at the age of 29. There was no 'discrepancy', as the club site puts it, over his age. He simply lied about it and took four years off, as he would never have got a county contract at his real age of 29. He only revealed this fact at a players reunion in 1967, which meant his last appearance came at the age of 55!

He was a sticker as a batsman. always at his best when staving off a defeat. A first class record of only 14 per innings tells that he never fulfilled early promise, but he sold his wicket dearly and when runs were needed he had a distinctive 'mow' through mid wicket from one knee that brought him many runs.

While Bob Taylor later passed his aggregate of victims, Elliott still holds the club record dismissals in an innings, a match and a season. He also took more stumpings in a season than anyone else (30)and was a very good wicket-keeper over a career that spanned 25 years.

Most astonishingly, in 1935 he didn't allow a bye in 25 completed innings. This speaks volumes for the accuracy of the attack, but with two spinners in Townsend and Mitchell it says much more for Harry Elliott. After his career ended he became a successful first class umpire and county coach, while for years he ran a sports shop in Derby with Derby County footballer Sammy Crooks.

Derbyshire have been well served over the years by their glovemen. While Bob Taylor is still the benchmark, there have been few better than Harry Elliott, a deserved winner of the E award.

As for the Fs, there's not too many candidates, I'll warn you now...

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - D is for Di Venuto: Michael Di Venuto

Choosing the best player whose surname begins with the letter D is, like many of the others, a fairly difficult task, but after a little thought I came down to a top three with which I am quite comfortable.

It was difficult to omit Phillip De Freitas. He had made his name at Leicestershire and Lancashire before joining the county, but was a fine player for several seasons. A fast-medium bowler who could trouble the best, as one would expect with someone of his international experience, De Freitas was also a brilliant fielder and an explosive hitter who could turn a game in a short time.

While at times giving the impression, rightly or wrongly, that he wasn’t in the mood, ‘Daffy’ at his best was a very fine player who, with Dominic Cork, gave us two quality all-round cricketers in the lower middle order.

The same goes for Kevin Dean. At his best an excellent left-arm swing bowler, Dean looked like he was set for the very top when he first emerged, but injuries truncated his career. Although he was always capable of golden spells, they became more sporadic and his early retirement came as no surprise.

My third place, however, goes to long-time wicket-keeper George Dawkes, who was a fixture in the side, missing very few matches, from the Second World War to 1961. Tall for a wicket-keeper, Dawkes was nonetheless agile and had an excellent pair of hands. He took over a thousand victims, 254 of them catches from the bowling of Les Jackson. He held every catch in Jackson’s hat-trick against Worcestershire in 1958 and was a hard-hitting batsman who often enlivened an innings.

My number two, George Davidson, was one of the best of the county’s early professionals. Anyone who has read the memoirs of Levi Wright will know that Davidson was a mercurial character with a sharp tongue and an unerring ability to rub people up the wrong way. Wright’s wonderfully entertaining stories portray the Derbyshire dressing room of the time as not especially harmonious, but things were generally overlooked because Davidson was such a fine player.

On 43 occasions he took five wickets in an innings, ten times taking ten in a match with a best of 9-39. 621 wickets at 18 is indicative of a bowler of some talent, but it is the player’s batting skills that have earned him lasting recognition. 5500 runs at just under 24 isn’t spectacular, but on the wickets of the time Davidson was regarded as one of the top all-rounders. He hit three centuries, the highest of which saw him make 274 against Lancashire that remains the county record individual score. Even on this occasion Davidson’s stubbornness shone through, as he refused to give his wicket away or accelerate, which led to a game that we had dominated ending in a draw.

He died tragically young, at the age of 32 from pneumonia, but left his mark on the county and took a lot of replacing, the sure sign of a good player.

Which links neatly into my number one, and the outstanding Michael Di Venuto. Some may argue that we never replaced Diva and the decision to let our best batsman and fans favourite go still rankles, especially when the one-dimensional Travis Birt was preferred to him. The decision was perhaps brought on by Di Venuto’s back problems of the time, but it revealed an alarming lack of foresight, as has so often been the preserve of Derbyshire over the years.

This was the same county that failed to check Allan Lamb’s credentials to play as an Englishman when he was in our Second XI, and that cancelled the registration of Peter Kirsten when, had they simply retained it, they could have had him back with another overseas star after he had taken a season’s break from the game.

Di Venuto was a class act at county level. He was the rock around which Durham’s batting was built for several seasons and played all forms of the game with equal skill and panache. His Italian passport was an asset to them, and he was one of the best batsmen of his generation.

He was unfortunate in that, being at his peak at the same time as many other top Australians in a vintage era. Otherwise Michael would have doubtless translated his talent to the international arena and been admired by a wider audience. A first-class average of 47 suggests that he should have played more international cricket, but Australia’s loss was very much Derbyshire and Durham’s gain.

A brilliant fielder, especially at slip, Di Venuto was also one of the ‘nice guys’ of the game. In many ways he is the antithesis of George Davidson, by all accounts a curmudgeon, who on one recorded occasion reduced a team mate to tears...

Best D? Definitely Diva.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - C is for Copson: Bill Copson

When considering the best player to represent Derbyshire whose name began with the letter C, it is hard to disregard the claims of Sam Cadman, a worthy cricketer and a coach responsible for the production line of talent through the 1930s. Likewise those of Daryll Cullinan was a very fine batsman but in only one season. That being the case, there are only three real candidates.

Donald Carr was a fine player and captain of the county for a good part of the 1950s. Though probably just short of the top drawer as a batsman, Carr’s strokeplay was redolent of the true surfaces of the public school, rather than the green ones on which he played much of his cricket. He was also a useful spin bowler, but as a captain he got the best out of Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson. Conversely, it could be said that with two bowlers of such ability, backed up with the likes of Derek Morgan, Edwin Smith and Harold Rhodes, he had some impressive resources to call upon. With one more batsman of ability alongside Carr and Arnold Hamer, we may well have won another championship during that decade, but it was not to be. Carr captained an England XI in India too, but highjinks involving an umpire cost him any possibility of a permanent role.

Second place for me would be Dominic Cork. A man who polarised the fans, Cork’s combative personality and skills saw him win a good number of matches but lose a few friends over the years. Like Kim Barnett before him, Cork’s tenure as Derbyshire skipper saw high profile departures and a degree of acrimony, but few would argue that he was a player of rare talent.

No one who saw it will forget his innings at Lords against Lancashire, when an unpromising situation was turned into a winning one by Cork and Karl Krikken’s late onslaught. I don’t think Cork ever got the credit he deserved for the remarkable flick to fine leg (from off stump!) that he played off Wasim Akram in the final over. It was a shot that saw acclaim rain down on Viv Richards when he played it, and for me was an iconic moment that laid down the gauntlet to our opponents. Whether you liked or disliked Cork’s public persona,  most sides would be strengthened by his inclusion.

He has become an outstanding commentator on the game since retirement, unafraid to say what others might think. Spiky and articulate, Cork has been a very good player and will leave a lasting impression on the media.

Yet not quite good enough to take my top spot, which goes to Bill Copson. The coal miner from Clay Cross suffered periodic bouts of ill health and injury that truncated several seasons. But when he was fit, as he was throughout the championship season of 1936, he was deadly. There were 140 wickets at 13 that summer for Copson, who maintained the typically Derbyshire ‘grudging’ line and length that he married to rare hostility. His run was not excessive, but his long arms and 'whippy' action got considerable leverage.

The tactic for most of the decade was simple. If Bill (and brothers George and Alf Pope) could make inroads to the early opposition batting, Tommy Mitchell and Les Townsend would make short work of the lower order and tail. Over a thousand wickets at just under 19 suggests that Copson did that a few times over the years.

Indeed, for his first few overs he was perhaps as quick as any domestically-reared Derbyshire bowler until Harold Rhodes and Alan Ward burst onto the scene. Les Jackson was hostile, quicker than he looked, but Copson at full fitness gained excessive bounce and extravagant movement that destroyed batting line-ups.

Two examples of his prowess will suffice. Against Surrey at the County Ground in May 1936, a Derbyshire batting collapse (it has been known…) left the visitors chasing just 94 to win. At 49-2 they were coasting it at tea, but afterwards Copson ripped through the batting, taking 7-19 in 14 overs, five of his victims bowled and one lbw. A Derbyshire win by 16 runs looked barely possible, yet arguably served as the catalyst to the season. The following year he took 8-11 against Warwickshire, including seven wickets in 23 balls.

I once saw Derbyshire cricket in the period beautifully encapsulated within a paragraph. I cannot recall the author, but the essence was that there was a good crowd, a close field, a green wicket and a sense of expectation as Copson prepared to open the bowling. A shout came from an excited member of the crowd, the first word pronounced in the Derbyshire manner, to rhyme with howl and suggest that Copson was set to eviscerate the opposition.

“Bow-el boogers aht, Bill!”

He often did.

Copson didn't play cricket until he was 17, bowling a batsman with his first ball, a feat he was to repeat in the first-class game when he dismissed the England batsman Andrew Sandham of Surrey. On both occasions the prodigious movement was deemed a fluke, but that ceases to be the case when you’ve done it a few hundred times.

The excellent Basil Easterbrook, a fine cricket writer, described him thus:

His run up to the wicket was an easy affair and he seemed to hesitate fractionally before releasing the ball. He looked deceptively slow through the air, but he could make the ball swing and swerve either way very late and he also seemed to make the ball gather pace off the pitch. He either forced the batsman to make a hurried stroke or caught him totally unprepared. In his heyday he could bring the ball back so unexpectedly and so viciously that at times he was almost unplayable. Few men of pace in my lifetime have ever been able to extract so much out of an easy-paced, even lifeless, pitch.

His back problems, a result of his work down the pit, resulted in an unusual gait, often described as a ‘trudge.’

“Bill, tha bloody walks like Groucho Marx,” said Denis Smith, watching him walk from third man to bowl one day.

“Aye, and sometimes tha bloody bats like him,” replied the bowler, a laconic man, his face deadpan under a shock of red hair.

Nine wickets at Lords and 3-33 at Old Trafford against the 1939 West Indians suggested that Copson could have become a good international player, but his only other Test appearance came against South Africa in 1947, when he was 39 and past his prime. Nonetheless, three wickets saw him far from disgraced. That he headed the bowling averages on the 1936-7 tour to Australia and still didn’t play a Test speaks volumes for the selectors of the time; even more for a very good cricketer.

With better luck with health and fitness and without the loss of six seasons to the war, Bill Copson could have put the Derbyshire record for most wickets taken out of reach. Some have since surpassed his aggregate, but few better bowlers have worn the county colours.

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - B is for Barlow: Eddie Barlow

The concept of true greatness depends on the individual, but I would suggest that Derbyshire has had perhaps a dozen truly great cricketers in the wider form of the game in 140 years, and around twenty to thirty who perhaps bordered on that in their services to the county. One day I will have to quantify that more accurately…

So who is King B? There are more candidates than in the As, that’s for sure. Ian Buxton was a solid county all-rounder, who both batted and bowled steadily, while Peter Bowler was an excellent county opener. Both he and Ian Blackwell accomplished their major feats elsewhere though and it is indicative of the strength of the category that they earn only passing mention here.

Bill  Bestwick gave extraordinary service over many years, much of the time effectively keeping one end going when there was little support at the other end. He took almost 1500 wickets at 21 and remarkably had 147 wickets at just 16 runs each in 1921, when he was 46 years old. If there was an award for the greatest character in the club's history he would be a strong contender and he was a standout performer in what was, at that time, a very ordinary side.

Third place for me would be Ian Bishop. A fast bowler of lissom action, genial temperament and astonishing speed, Bishop would have been one of the all time greats had he been blessed with a more robust back. Changes in action cost him pace and crucially some of his ability to swing the ball at extreme speed, a potent combination. He could also bat and hit a fine century against Yorkshire at Scarborough, but in this company his contribution to the county cannot get a higher placing than third.

In second place would be Kim Barnett. Our all-time top run scorer and long-time captain, Barnett was perhaps the best locally produced batsman I’ve seen (though John Morris ran him close and was more orthodox.) His play through the off side was impeccable, although his curious, shuffling stance perhaps cost him greater international recognition, in much the same way that Les Jackson's slinging action saw him miss out on international opportunities. He was a good captain too, at his best when he had Phil Russell as a supportive and understanding coach. The down side was that for a lot of Barnett’s tenure there was considerable discord behind the scenes. While all of that cannot be laid at his door, it would be unrealistic to suggest he was always an innocent bystander.

What it is safe to say was that he remained a batsman of rare talent at county level, one of the best that the county has had. Despite the unconventional method, Barnett watching was always a joy.

Indeed, relegating him to second place is difficult, but while Barnett was every inch the star at local level, Eddie Barlow was an international star who transformed the county. Indeed, had the South African all-rounder not come to Derbyshire cricket and shaken it up from its foundations, I doubt we would have experienced the subsequent success.

Before he arrived we were at our lowest ebb, a poor side under Brian Bolus, but Barlow, through a strong work ethic, force of personality and sheer talent, made us a side to be reckoned with. While individually the side was of only moderate ability - at least on paper – collectively they were dangerous opponents who you discounted at your peril.

As an eye player, Barlow was past his best as a batsman, yet still produced enough innings to make a difference, some of them quite brilliant. If quick runs were required, Barlow would hit a quick 50. If we were under the cosh he might counter-attack, or would just as happily dig in to frustrate opponents. Irrespective of the style that he adopted, you always felt it was part of a plan and eagerly awaited developments. As a bowler he would always take wickets when they were needed, often in clusters as he changed the direction of a match. He caught most things that went his way too, usually at slip.

Yet it was his captaincy that set him apart. At first you’d see him make a bowling change and wonder at the rationale, yet it soon became evident as a wicket fell. Fields were changed and catches went to the man who had just been moved. Those making a mistake in the field and opponents would be fixed with a basilisk stare, often while those chunky forearms wiped perspiration from his brow. The game rarely stagnated as Barlow didn’t allow it, preferring to challenge the opposition as well as his own team.

It was a magical time to be a fan and I lapped it up like everyone else. We didn’t win every match, but we went down fighting and won many more than we were used to. The cricket was aggressive, whether batting or bowling and Edgar John Barlow was the hub, the catalyst, the star and our hero. We’ve had better batsmen and better bowlers, but none who so captured our imagination or had a greater influence. As a schoolboy at the time, watching the bespectacled Barlow gave me hope that I could play the game, irrespective of my visual shortcomings. Inspirational, for sure.

I’ve written before that two Derby Evening Telegraph headlines will stay with me forever. “Rams sign Dave Mackay” was one. “County sign Eddie Barlow” was the other. Both gave me goosebumps then and still do when I think about them.

Best B? Best any letter for me.

End of argument

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - A is for Adams: Chris Adams

The original idea for the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket came from Nathan Fern, then of the Derbyshire CCC marketing team. I presented my thoughts on the best candidates for each letter of the alphabet once he had done so and it generated a lot of interest.

That was three years ago and I've had several e mails asking if I could highlight the posts from earlier, as the readership is now considerably higher than it was at that time. So here they are in - somewhat unsurprisingly - alphabetical order. They are presented in the way in which they first appeared, but are now captured by labels for future reference and with the same header. Hopefully that will make them more accessible and I'd like to think that they will create talking points and generate comments over the long winter.

It could all have been done by web poll, but I'm wary of the merit of such polls as they give unfair weighting to the opinion of young people, who are generally (but not always) more technically competent and confident. You may disagree with me, but the comments boxes allow your opinions to be heard and I look forward to them.

As an example, I recently saw a web poll that declared Garry Barlow was the greatest-ever songwriter and Take That the greatest-ever group. I’m not so sure that you could discount Lennon and McCartney for the former, not to mention Gershwin, Berlin or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Are Take That better than the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones? Is Barlow a writer of greater, lasting material than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin? Not so sure...

Comparing players from different generations is impossible, as the game has evolved dramatically. WG Grace would probably not make 200 runs in a season today, but was a giant of his era and crucial in the development of the game. Was Wally Hammond better than Peter May, or was Dennis Lillee better than Harold Larwood or Tom Richardson?

Nathan’s first choice at A was the worthy Albert Alderman, opening batsman in the Championship side of 1936. For me, the selection was the antithesis of voting for modern players and was perhaps a vote for an old-timer for nostalgic reasons, especially coming, as it did, in a year when we celebrated our 140th anniversary.

Was Alderman better than Chris Adams? I didn’t see him, but my Dad did and reckons he was ‘workmanlike, but nowt brilliant.’ While his solid batting in 1936 contributed to the success that summer (as Denis Smith was woefully out of touch) he experienced many fallow seasons. He was a sticker, like Alan Hill and Steve Stubbings in more recent times and was probably worth a few runs more than his average suggests. Nathan pointed out that they were runs made on the uncovered wickets of the time and there were some truly great bowlers around in the 1930s, perhaps more than is the case today. By extension, there were some quite ordinary ones too, of a lesser standard than the average today. Alderman averaged 25 from over 500 first-class innings, largely at the top of the order.

Chris Adams’ form in 1996 could have won us the Championship and it was sad to see a player with so much talent ultimately flower elsewhere, as the highly successful skipper at Sussex. He played some fine innings for us though, learning a great deal from Dean Jones. He averaged just under 39 in first-class cricket and a run more in the one-day game, as well as an impressive 30 in T20. A very good player indeed, was Chris Adams.

Selecting Alderman also means that you overlook the claims of the brilliant Mohammad Azharuddin, who played some majestic innings for the county in an albeit brief stay. I would suggest that he played three of the best ten innings I’ve seen by a Derbyshire player, with his double century at Queens Park against Durham on a spinning track a quite sublime piece of batting.

It all comes down to preference. Alderman’s long service, Adams’ few seasons or Azharuddin’s year and a half? After a little thought, and aided by the way that the Indian genius (not a word I use lightly) left under something of a cloud, I’ll plump for Chris Adams. Perhaps if we’d noted his credentials and aptitude for captaincy a little earlier, the recent histories of Derbyshire and Sussex may have been considerably different.

In closing, a suggestion for what may prove the problem letters of X and Z.

For the former, I could give a few dozen examples of X-certificate batting over the years.

Z? No names, but there have been a few batsmen who have enabled spectators to catch up on their sleep.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - L is for Lee: Garnet Lee

Without fear of contradiction, I think I could say that Derbyshire haven't had an L of a lot of good players beginning with that letter. They could have though...

For those with memories stretching back as far as mine, you will recall the summer when Eddie Barlow brought over three young South Africans to gain experience with our Second XI. One was the man who featured in my previous article, Peter Kirsten. The others were Allan Lamb and Garth Le Roux.

As we all know, Lamb went on to become an England legend, yet typically of the Derbyshire administration of the time, no one thought to check his credentials when he appeared for our Seconds. What might have been accomplished by a Derbyshire batting line up of Wright, Kirsten and Lamb at 2, 3, 4? Le Roux was strong and fast, eventually sealing his reputation in World Series Cricket as well as on the south coast for Sussex. Either of those players would have been a certainty for top spot in this category, but I think we were all happy with the choice of  Peter Kirsten...

We shouldn't forget the example set by Charl Langeveldt, but he only had one full summer in our colours so I discount him accordingly. There's also Charlie Lee, a batsman who came to Derbyshire from Yorkshire and ended up with 12,000 runs at an average of 27. He had eight centuries in that tally but his self-deprecating sense of humour suggested that his style was not always to the fans liking. In one of the old club year books he wrote that one newspaper suggested it would be nice if he batted against the clock, rather than the sundial! He could hit though and on one occasion clumped Jim McConnon of Glamorgan for five sixes on a turning pitch, winning a game in the final innings that the off-spinner must have fancied was his for the taking.

My choice for L supremo, however, is Garnet Lee, pictured above, second left on the front row in a photograph taken in front of the Ilkeston pavilion in 1925, his debut season. Astonishingly, the all-rounder didn't play for Derbyshire until he was 38, moving across the border from Nottinghamshire, where he struggled to keep a regular place in the side over seventeen seasons. He then played for eight seasons and was a key man in an ever-improving side. In those years he scored sixteen centuries and just short of ten thousand runs. They were attractively made too, in a side not always known for batting solidity. At Northampton in 1931 he hit eight sixes in an unbeaten 141 and there were plenty of knocks that suited the demands of the game.

In addition, he had a career tally of 397 wickets with leg breaks and googlies at a very respectable average of 28, with 313 of those coming in Derbyshire colours. Eighteen times he took five wickets in an innings and his greatest performance came in 1927 against Northamptonshire. Lee won the match single-handed, scoring an unbeaten century, followed by bowling figures of 7-78 and 5-65.

Even in his final season, at the age of 46, he was good enough to score a thousand runs and take sixteen wickets, yet he realised that there was a lot of emerging talent at the club, much of it nurtured by Lee in his work with young players. The Pope brothers, Les Townsend and Stan Worthington were all-rounders of ability and Lee knew the time was right to step aside. He became a first-class umpire, staying on the list until 1949, while during the war he coached at Repton School, playing a major part in the development of future club captain, Donald Carr.

Garnet Lee gave Derbyshire an experienced player of quality, at a time when their young players had only potential. He gave them breathing space to develop and made a substantial contribution to the club's history.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Trio of County Ground contracts as off-field review commences

All those recent knee-jerk reactions of supporters were proved to be my predicted waste of time today, when Ben Slater was offered a one-year deal in which to cement a place in Derbyshire's future.

The comments flying around at the recent news that Slater wasn't being offered a contract 'at this time' were silly, as the statement suggested that such an award may well be pending 'something' - whether an analysis of finances, an agent being more sensible with demands or whatever. Some of those comments were patently unfair, as the one thing you cannot doubt now is the professional nature of the club set up. If a player warrants a contract and his demands are sensible he will get a new deal. If performance, conduct or demands doesn't allow for it, he won't. It really is as simple as that.

I had little doubt an offer would be forthcoming once the barrier had been overcome. Slater didn't pull up trees in last season's performances, but there was enough promise to suggest that his displays were building blocks for the future. That the lad has the strokes and technique is not really the issue. We need to see if he has the temperament now and he has work to do in the coming months to prove that is the case.

Equally interesting are the summer deals offered to seam bowling youngsters Greg Cork and Johnny Marsden. Press interest is likely to centre on the former (left), as it always will with such footsteps in which to follow. At nineteen, Cork junior bowls impressive left-arm seam that takes good wickets, hits a cricket ball very hard and fields brilliantly. There's not much to dislike in such a combination and I'm especially touched that our birthdays are only a day apart. OK, that and 36 years...

Expectation will be high, but I understand he's a grounded lad and will doubtless be encouraged to make his own way in the game by his coaches and father Dominic. We shouldn't expect the second coming, but hope for the continued development of a player who appears to have much to offer. He will be given opportunity if he works at his game, that's for sure.

Johnny Marsden is the least known of the three, but at twenty the word is that he is genuinely quick (too quick for the photographer who couldn't get his full head in the photo on the left...). Certainly that reputation has carried with him from his early days at Buxton CC and the opportunity to work at his game that the contract affords will be invaluable. Bowling coach AJ Harris has shown with Mark Footitt  that he can improve bowlers and I will watch his progress with great interest.

The signings follow on from my assertion last week that the progress of academy talent was the reason for the release of Ali Evans. That has been proven correct and the news releases suggest that Karl Krikken will now pursue other targets to further strengthen the squad ahead of 2014.

Such signings will come at a cost, of course and the review of the club's off-field spending is a sign that no stone is being left unturned in the quest to improve the playing budget. That such a review may ultimately result in job losses is unfortunate and will be worrying for personnel, but it is absolutely the right thing to carry it out. I hope that the requisite savings can be made without redundancies, but the number one priority has to be the playing side of any sports club.

I expect to see more news in the near future, so keep your eyes on the blog.

Enjoy your weekend. I hope to be back soon, with the next installment of the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Midweek musings

Time for a short hello from me, to let you know that I've not left the country, but am busying away on blog content for the coming weeks and months.

Last night I enjoyed another lengthy chat with Derbyshire legend  - a word used advisedly - Harold Rhodes, who was patience personified in answering my many questions on his career. There were some very interesting and surprising answers to them and it will go down as one of the most enjoyable cricket-related evenings of my experience. I now have to write it all up and hope to present part one to you in a few weeks time.

There's little happening on the county circuit right now. Leicestershire have announced that they are looking for a batsman and a bowler for next season, which presupposes that the rest of the side is fine, but more likely that finances permit little more. They have some talented young players, but most of them need to mature quickly for them to do anything but struggle in 2014.

What surprised me was the assertion of their chief executive, Mike Siddall, that Joe Burns, the young Aussie who replaced Ramnaresh Sarwan in the overseas role, didn't adapt to the overseas role as well as they hoped. I'm not sure what they expected, as the lad had less than fifty first-class innings in Australia and averaged forty. Exposure to English tracks was always going to be demanding, as it has been to overseas batsmen since they started coming here. Burns averaged thirty, pretty much what I'd have expected with his record and experience. Any expectations above that were naive and unrealistic. Surely they didn't expect the lad to carry a batting line-up that was, at its best, fragile?

At least they've signed on four players today and can be relieved that Ned Eckersley intends to see out his contract - presumably before joining Nottinghamshire for 2015, if past events are anything to go by...

Meanwhile, our northern neighbours Yorkshire will not augment their T20 side next year with David Miller or anyone else, instead relying on the highly-talented Kane Williamson in all formats, but perhaps recruiting a T20 specialist if he is selected for the Kiwi tour of the Caribbean in late May through to July.

I think a few sides will join them, as the format of T20 next summer is far from conducive to imports. How many can afford to keep someone in this country for one night of T20 a week for three months or more? How many players would want to kick their heels in order to do so? Maybe the solution of a recent correspondent to the blog might find some favour - that players are engaged to play as a league professional at the weekends and for the county on Friday nights. That might help the cost and might keep the player in question in better touch than would otherwise be the case.

Then again, the forementioned player might pick up an injury in a league match that ruled him out of the more serious stuff, so it would be a risky move. More likely, for me, is that a few counties might consider a Kolpak, someone who could play in all formats and offer better value for money, as they'd be more likely to retain form.

How many players offer the right combination of availability, qualification and talent is a moot point, but I suspect a few county cricket chiefs might be scouring the names of South Africans, West Indians and Zimbabweans who have recently dropped from national favour and could be worth a polite enquiry.

I'll be back soon. Keep smiling.

Only 69 sleeps to Christmas...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Something for the weekend

I love Sunday mornings.

A chance to relax, catch up with the news, do a few jobs that need attended to and look forward to a nice meal and whatever else the day is set to bring.

So it is that today I catch up with a few queries from recent days, either from comments or e mails received.

John asked what the Derbyshire players will be up to in the winter and if any of them will be heading off to Australia. The short answer to the first question is that they will go for a holiday and then return, to work on their fitness and technique ahead of the 2014 season. Cricketers today are largely on year-round contracts and don't need to take a winter job in security (as Allan Warner used to do) or digging ditches (where Mike Hendrick found himself on occasion).

Some will have outside business interests to attend to. Wayne Madsen, for example, will doubtless help his wife in her sports coaching business, while other players will work towards coaching badges with a view to a future career in the game. One of the features of the club's blueprint was that young players should work towards coaching badges and be able to 'give back' to the next generation, which is the most laudable of ideas.

The even shorter answer to John's second question is 'no'. The Australian experience for Derbyshire players last winter was hardly one we would wish to replicate. Ross Whiteley came back with his game far from enhanced and has subsequently left the club, Dan Redfern looks set to do the same and Tom Knight had to work on his technique, to my knowledge, after flaws crept in down under.

Given the club's tight financial situation, I'd have thought that the cost of such trips could be better utilised in other ways. With young players there's also the risk that different coaches might try to 'tinker' with their game in a well-intentioned, but ultimately detrimental manner and I'd be surprised to see the Oz experience repeated sometime soon.

Dan got in touch to say that there's less movement among players because counties carry younger squads with only established and contributing senior players. He's right and the finances and requirements of the modern game mean that few clubs carry senior professionals in their late twenties on decent salaries who are outwith the first team. The ECB incentives ensure good representation among the under 26's, but you'll not find too many above that age around the circuit and outwith the senior set up. Changed days indeed.

Finally, Greg suggested by e mail that we should go for a Kolpak to strengthen the side. I've mentioned this myself and the club's commitment to fielding 'nine plus two' in all matches certainly allows for it, but it depends on the right player being available at the right cost. I also think it more likely to have happened if we'd stayed in the top tier and, as I've written before, we need to ensure that any signing now will make a major difference.

I'd certainly be unhappy to see a route through to the senior side blocked by an overseas player who was only marginally better than what we have. If a good South African all-rounder who offered a seam-bowling option came on the market it would be useful, but I can't think of any who would satisfy the stringent ECB qualifying regulations, nor my own, for that matter.

One to think about, perhaps.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, 11 October 2013

When Sachin came to Chesterfield

All good things come to an end and that is no better proven than in the news that Sachin Tendulkar will retire from all forms of the game next month, after playing his 200th Test match.

By any standards by which you care to benchmark, Tendulkar has been one of the greats and must surely now be considered the best after Bradman. In my time I have been privileged to see some of the greatest players in cricket history and the likes of Garfield Sobers, Barry Richards, Viv Richards and Ricky Ponting have been a joy, even when they were making runs against the team I supported.

My Dad told me from an early age that I should always see both sides in any match and I’ve always done that, whether in football or cricket. Only the most partisan of fans could fail to enjoy the batting of such players as those above and Tendulkar has been touched by greatness since we first saw him as a teenager.

That was at Chesterfield in July 1990, when he played for an Indian team managed by the great Bishen Bedi. A pre-match pleasure on a sunny day was seeing the great slow left armer bowling a few in practice, a reminder of that classic, easy style that graced the game for so many years. Derbyshire posted 235 in 55 overs, with a fine century from Kim Barnett and runs from both Peter Bowler and John Morris. For a long time we looked like winning easily, especially when the visitors slipped to 88-4, with both Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev back in the pavilion. A notable scalp was on the cards.

The batsmen were all troubled by steepling bounce on a lively track, especially when Ian Bishop was bowling seriously quickly from the pavilion end. Bishop took an early wicket but had moral victories several times an over. The diminutive Tendulkar, coming in at number three, sparred at several balls and the battle seemed uneven, as if one of the world’s fastest bowlers was bowling at a schoolboy. Which is exactly what it was, of course. Bishop was a West Indian Test star, the youngster was barely seventeen years old and looked younger.

We continued to chip away at the Indian batting but no one could perturn the little player, who had an obviously impressive technique as well as the most phlegmatic of temperaments. He was not at all fazed by the occasional ones that passed his bat, but the longer he stayed there, the more time he appeared to have to play his shots, against all but Bishop. Even then he was working the lifting ball off his hip and there was a delightful, Boycott-like force off the back foot that brought a murmur of acknowledgement from Dad. “He can bat, this lad. I like the look of him” he said, which has always been the most effusive of praise from his lips. He's reminded me of that early judgement a time or two since then...

The calculation came down to a tricky twenty-odd from three overs and with Bishop to bowl at least one of them, it was obvious where the key to the game lay. Surely the youngster’s charming but charmed life against the scarily quick but genial Trinidadian couldn’t last?

It could. As Bishop dropped another ball short, climbing and homing in on the batsman’s chest, the fledgling maestro rocked back and pulled the ball a country mile over the trees by the old score box. It was an enormous hit for a player who looked too slight to produce such a shot, the result of fast footwork and impeccable timing. After that, the Indian side won in a canter, their young star finishing unbeaten on a superb unbeaten 105 out of 239-8, the win coming with just two balls to spare. His timing was impeccable, just like that of his retirement, with a planned final appearance in his beloved Mumbai.

Prior to that innings at Chesterfield, Sachin's previous best one-day score was just 36, so we were in at the start of something very special. He has subsequently scored a staggering 108 one-day centuries and has become a global brand and icon of his country - indeed the game as a whole. Despite living his life in the spotlight, he has remained a man of charm, modesty and consummate professionalism.

A Test average of 54 is impressive, but perhaps no more so than a one-day international one of 45, a first-class one of 58 and a T20 average of 33. He has also been a useful bowler and has had stints as captain. Perhaps the only disappointment has been that his international commitments have seen him spend only one season in the county game, a year with Yorkshire as a teenager. It was asking a lot of a young lad, no matter how talented, to adapt to life in a foreign country in such a key role and Tendulkar’s class came through in glimpses, rather than with the evidence of a mountain of runs.

Like many before him, however, the experience probably did him good and went some way towards the making of the batting maestro we have all enjoyed for over twenty years.

So too did that innings at Queens Park, Chesterfield.

Thanks Sachin, for a career touched by genius. It has been a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Midweek musings

If this week's county cricket news were to be visually represented in the style of a film, it would probably be as a derelict western town, with tumbleweeds blowing across the street. It's been that quiet...

Charlie Shreck, a good bowler whose career has been ravaged by injury, has been released by Kent. One suspects it is the final stage of a career that has brought him 432 first-class wickets at thirty runs each - a decent, but not spectacular return.

It would be hard to see another opportunity for a bowler who will be 36 in January and I'd certainly not advocate a move for him by Derbyshire. As I've said before, I'd back our seam attack against any in division two and want to see a natural progression from the Academy, through the second team and into the first eleven. The potential of some of those youngsters is considerable.

If I'm honest, I've only seen three players thus far announced as released who I'd have liked at the County Ground. One, Will Smith, has moved to Hampshire, presumably on an impressive salary. Another, Joe Gatting, would be an asset but will almost certainly stay down south. I am still not convinced that players brought up on southern tracks score heavily 'oop north' and I don't think there's any great likelihood of the former Sussex man being a trail-blazer in that respect.

The other who interests me is Stephen Moore. He only played two first-class games for Lancashire this summer, but they are awash with young batsmen, hence the decision to let him go. In the YB40 he averaged 27, while in T20 he was their highest scorer, racking up 338 runs at a strike rate of 143.

There will be those who, because they always do, will cry 'he's past it'. There will be others who wouldn't be keen as he's played for Lancashire. Then there will be those who, like me, will look at a player of 32 who has a first-class average of 36 and stroke their chins thoughtfully, something akin to a jazz fan in the midst of a long, long solo.

Moore can play. A one-day average of 30 and a T20 one of 29 confirms that. It may be that a move to a positive environment where he is valued would serve the player well. Few would be better from that perspective than Derbyshire, although whether we could get anywhere close to his Lancastrian salary, especially if there was competition for his services, is a moot point.

Given my track record of suggesting Will Smith the night before he was announced as a Hampshire player, the chances are that tomorrow morning he will be unveiled as a Worcestershire player once more. I'd like to think that his name has at least been mentioned in despatches down Derby way though. The memory of his blistering, 42-ball 74 at Old Trafford in July will no doubt linger, especially with David Wainwright, from who he took 23 in an over...

That's it for now. I'll be back soon, but now have the pleasure of writing up the first part of the interview I did with county legend Harold Rhodes the other night. He's every bit as nice a man as he was an outstanding bowler.

If I can do our chat justice, you're in for a treat in the near future.

See you soon.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Contract entitlement

There have been a few comments flying around in recent days with regard to players who have or haven't justified contract offers  on the basis of second eleven performances. As is all too often the case, such comments are largely based on supposition and conjecture, rather than fact.

I like facts. A larger part of my professional career has been based around the provision of information  and statistics to justify service improvements and initiatives and when you dig deep you can often find some worthwhile figures.

To be fair, I didn't need to dig too deep on this occasion, as the information is out there. A glance at the statistics that matter - the Derbyshire Second XI championship batting averages in this case - tells you all you need to know about eligibility or 'worthiness' of contracts.

Name M Inns N/O Runs Avg Top 50s 100s S/r 4s 6s %Team Ct St R/O
PM Borrington 9 13 2 457 41.55 107 2 1 41.32 61 1 16.61 6 0 1
S Elstone 7 10 2 369 46.13 110 1 1 66.01 53 4 15.67 7 0 2
B Slater 5 8 0 279 34.88 80 2 0 48.44 35 0 15.28 3 0 1
TC Knight 8 7 2 172 34.40 54* 1 0 50.74 16 3 10.15 7 0 1
WJ Durston 3 4 1 164 54.67 97 1 0 65.34 22 2 18.22 3 0 0
BA Godleman 6 10 0 150 15.00 36 0 0 54.74 24 1 6.91 7 0 0

That top six run scorer list perhaps holds only one real surprise, the presence of Tom Knight, a fast-developing batsman who could push hard for inclusion in the senior side next summer if he continues to work hard. Wes Durston is in there, on the back of four innings, but the key statistics are those of the other four batsmen.

The figures make awkward reading for Billy Godleman, whose first eleven statistics bear a fairly direct correlation to those in the second team. He would have hoped for more than 150 runs from ten innings, with a highest of just 36.

Paul Borrington tops the run scoring chart and has a healthy average of 42, adding to some improved first team displays in one and four-day cricket. Ben Slater averages just under 35 from less innings, given that he was in the first team squad for much of the second half of summer.

Scott Elstone? Top average at 46 and he scored his runs faster than even Durston, which speaks volumes for his ability to play shots and find the gaps. Were it not for the Slater 'issue', there would be no question of his deserving a contract. Nor should there be any more - and note also that his sparkling fielding also effected two run outs, while his off-spin may also be utilised, especially in one-day cricket.

There's no such thing as a contract entitlement. You get what you work for in life and are generally rewarded for good performance. On that basis, Scott Elstone thoroughly deserved his one-year deal and Paul Borrington justified his current one. Billy Godleman can be considered fortunate to have a two-year contract on last year's figures, while Ben Slater is considerably less so, at this stage.

You can't blame Elstone for that, though. Good luck to the lad - I hope he scores a barrow load of runs next summer.

I look forward to seeing him in Derbyshire colours.

Monday, 7 October 2013

What a busy old day!

Thanks to all those who took the time to get in touch by e mail or with comments over the past couple of days.

As always, I am grateful to hear from you and appreciate your interest both in Derbyshire cricket and the blog. The Ben Slater 'contract' has caused quite a stir, but I remain confident that the lad will be in Derbyshire colours next summer - and also that we will be in a good shape for a promotion push by that stage.

To answer a couple of fairly regular questions - I really don't spend ages on the blog, a question asked by Duncan, who is starting his own. I write quickly and usually have what I want to say in my head from my drive home at night. I'd say that the blog averages out at around half an hour per evening; sometimes more, sometimes less. Interviews take a little longer, but family Peakfan are a long way from deprived of my company and time...

The other question was why I remain positive after a season in which we were relegated. Simple - because there's a bigger picture. The club is well-run, with the nucleus of a side that will challenge next summer. The extent of that challenge will largely be dictated by winter recruitment and the progression of young players in the club.

As I wrote last week, I'd reckon you could name six of a first choice side next year right now. But if Chesney Hughes returns to full fitness, Alex Hughes and Peter Burgoyne make progress and we can get a good pair of openers together by whatever means, we won't be far from the business end of the table.

I don't do knee-jerk reactions, because in doing so you leave yourself open to looking an eejit after the next game. Teams win and  teams lose in any sport, but while it is disappointing when it happens, unless a side is in a very obvious nose-dive they normally turn it around. This Derbyshire side is somewhere between the ones we saw book ending the summer - perhaps not as consistently good as later season suggested, but certainly better than early displays suggested. Time and greater experience will aid improvement and I fully expect a championship challenge - with the right attitude from day one.

If technology had enabled me to write this blog at other stages of our history, such positivity would have been in short supply. It doesn't take a lot of thought to see the 'up' side of the current setup. Trust me, if you think it's been bad at times, you should have seen us pre-Barlow in the 1970's...

You got a prescription for anti-depressants with your annual membership.

Until the next time, my friends.

PS I didn't bother replying to the chap who asked why I blogged on Derbyshire when I obviously saw far less cricket than he did and therefore wasn't qualified to do so.

There were a few things I could have said, but I'm way too polite...suffice to say it is comment, not commentary. Been over that old chestnut before, old lad