Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Blogmanay wishes..

Thanks to Mrs P for the festive title for tonight's piece, one that means more to those north of the border than elsewhere, no doubt.

It's been a good year and one that added a quarter of a million views and more to the site, as well as another 350,000 on Sportskeeda. Interest in Derbyshire cricket is alive and well.

This time last year I was writing about the new coaching structure and Graeme Welch was the popular choice to become the head of it. Almost a year down the line, the club is in a better shape and the potential is considerable. The player turnover has been quick -  faster than planned or perhaps hoped for - but anyone comparing the staff at this stage to a year ago can only conclude it is better.

With overseas additions (at least) in the New Year, Wayne Madsen's promise of 'tough, relentless, aggressive cricket' will make Derbyshire a tough team to beat in 2015. I am still less than convinced of our one-day credentials. especially in T20, but am happy to be proved wrong. They did it, to some extent, in the Royal London Cup last year and played some terrific cricket along the way.

Expectation will be high this summer and a good start is important - but I can't wait for it all to begin and tomorrow it will be - and will feel - closer.

Happy 2015 everyone. Thanks for your support, encouragement, messages and emails this year. I look forward to many more in the year ahead.

And in closing, thanks to Office Care  for their support over the past two years. I hope we can continue this, which has enabled the blog to be ad-free and more professional-looking and am very grateful to all concerned who made it happen.

Cheers, everyone!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

As the turn of the year approaches...

I am no betting man, but I'd wager a shekel that mulled wine will have been required at Graeme Welch's house this festive season.

When the other season starts in precisely 105 days time, Welch has the nice, but unenviable job of squeezing a quart into a pint pot. For the first time in some years, there is genuine competition for all areas of the side and 'Pop' has to decide which is his strongest eleven to start the summer. Mulled wine is perfect for mulling...

The only area where there is no real competition at present is in the opening berths, where Ben Slater and Billy Godleman are the only natural openers. Having said that, either Ches or Wes could step up, as they have in the one-day game, while it is not unlikely that the early season option for Cheteshwar Pujara may be an opener.

In the middle order, he has genuine all-rounders in Shiv Thakor, Durston, Alex Hughes and Tom Knight, all of them capable of a place between five and seven in the order. So too, if he recovers his batting mojo of a few summers past, is Wayne White. Throw in Chesney and it is a long time since we had six players of such talent in the middle order.

These players afford balance to the side in any format of the game, lengthening the batting and offering more bowling options to Wayne Madsen. So too does Scott Elstone, who tailed off at the end of last summer but is a good batsman and useful spinner, as well as being a brilliant fielder. With all of these players, it is important to factor in progress to any assessment of their merit and in Thakor, Hughes and Knight we have three young players of real potential.

Thakor barely played last year, recovering from a nasty finger injury, but will be keen to make up for lost time. I have every confidence that his bowling, an admitted weaker suit, will take strides forward under Graeme Welch and his coaching staff and that Shiv will be seen as a genuine all-rounder over the next two summers.

The same goes for Alex Hughes. Anyone watching regularly last season will have seen a marked difference in the early season bowler to the one that finished it. He added several yards of pace and, having got an arduous first full season under his belt, he will be older and wiser this year. If he has worked on getting his feet moving a little earlier in his innings, Hughes could be the real deal.

Then there's Tom Knight. He has been around for a few summers now and it is easy to forget that he is still only 21.As was the case with Paul Borrington, it was circumstance that dictated his early elevation to the senior side and in many ways he wasn't ready. There was a danger that he could have disappeared or become a somewhat peripheral figure, but Tom showed signs last season of developing into another Ian Blackwell.

Time will tell if the reconstructed action produces the goods, but on several occasions last year Tom suggested himself as perhaps the cleanest striker of a cricket ball in the club. It is too early to call him a genuine all-rounder - only consistent production of the goods allows for that - but the potential is there.

In closing, it would be unfair not to mention a player who is as good an all-rounder as any, if his body allows him to be so.

Jonathan Clare has a big summer ahead. For the past two years he has cut a forlorn figure, walking around the boundary from nets to gym and back again. I hope, as all fans of the county do, that they have now got to the bottom of his back issues and he can progress to become the genuine county all-rounder we all expected.

If he does, with all the others I have mentioned, we're going to take some stopping in 2015...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Yule blog...

Sitting down in my favourite armchair this evening, I told the family that I was going to do one last blog pre-Christmas. My daughter suggested I call it a Yule blog, so I did...

There's not much to report on, to be honest. The party season at The 3AAA County Ground appears to have gone swimmingly and any success there is going to impact on playing fortunes next summer. The more off-field money we earn, the more is ploughed into the playing side.

Graeme Welch will doubtless be happy with his charges at this stage and recent tweets suggest that the players are all passing their fitness tests with ease. Hopefully that will still be the case when they return from the Christmas break and all of its culinary temptations.

Welch has work to do in the New Year, but I am sure the groundwork for summer deals has been done by now. We may or may not offer terms to Azeem Rafiq, who spent time training at the club, but he has done that elsewhere and time will tell if he is deemed a worthwhile acquisition, or if someone else offers 'funny money' to secure his services. I am more than happy to leave that one with the coaching staff, who are better qualified than any of us to assess his merits.

There's also an overseas role to fill, with a T20 specialist needed too if we can find one. I suspect the former will be easier than the latter and very much dependent on the IPL auction early next year. Last week Cheteshwar Pujara was released by Kings XI Punjab and is potentially in that auction, should he decide to put his name in the frame. It was no surprise, Pujara only playing six matches for them last year. He averaged 25, which was no disgrace, but his run-a-ball strike rate was somewhat dwarfed by such big hitters as Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell and David Miller.

Not only would a long spell at Derbyshire improve Pujara's long-term Test ambitions, getting plenty of one-day cricket under his belt would do him no harm either. From Derbyshire's perspective, it would be a decided asset to have a batsman in the side who is not deemed a one-day batsman, yet averages 54 in List A cricket with ten centuries. I'll take five such failures in my batting side any time!

He is not an explosive bat for T20, though one around who an innings could be built. Oh for a Guptill at the top of the order, a player to take full advantage of the early Powerplay and give us the kind of start that so often sets the tone for an innings. As before though, who wants to commit  to two months in England, playing once or twice a week? Not too many of the big names, unless those with a point to prove.

The other day I watched a delightful innings by Michael Hussey in the Australian Big Bash. He made 96 and in the process something of a mockery of the decision by Mumbai Indians to release him. So too did his opening partner, Jacques Kallis, who was released by KKR. Both will surely be snapped up by a discerning owner in the new year, but if they don't, I would suggest both players would be highly sought after by county sides. Past their prime, yes, but still very good cricketers? Undoubtedly.

That's it for tonight. Like most of you I will be busy tomorrow, so all that remains is to thank you all for your continued interest in the blog and Derbyshire cricket. I hope that you all enjoy a wonderful festive season and I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of it.

Once I have posted this, I will add the penultimate part of the interview with Walter Goodyear, which has attracted a lot of mail and comments. Thanks to all of you for those too. I phoned Walter to let him know how pleased people were and he seemed astonished in the level of interest.

A man of humour, knowledge and humility. Not many of those around...

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Footitt Lions omission a big mistake

When I saw that the England Lions squad had been announced, I had every expectation of seeing the name of Mark Footitt among those named.

After a summer in which he blew away one batting side after another and proved himself adept in fifty-over cricket as well as the four-day game, there was no logical reason for Mark to be omitted. If the country was awash with hundred-wicket bowlers of massive potential I could understand it.

The truth is, it isn't. I'm unsure what more our selectors need to know about Boyd Rankin (31), who has played international cricket of different types since 2007 and not really looked at home. That he is an improved bowler, largely due to the efforts of Graeme Welch when he was at Warwickshire, is undeniable. Is he quick, accurate or good enough to get into the national team on a regular basis? I'm less sure.

The same goes for Liam Plunkett. He is 30 in April and has over forty international appearances. If we need to know more about him, surely people haven't been paying enough attention? Again, he's a decent bowler, a good all-round cricketer, but there's little to learn from his involvement in such a tour.

Then there's Jack Brooks, another bowler I really like but who, at 31 next summer, is unlikely to improve further. I think he's a good player and has been a key member of Yorkshire's attack, but am unsure whether his pace is enough for the international arena, or that he has quite enough for that level. By the same token, I can't really argue the merit of trying him overseas, in much the same way that Footitt should have been tried.

Craig Overton is a talented young cricketer and fully deserves his place, but the waters appear muddied by the selection of Matt Dunn of Surrey and Mark Wood of Durham. Both have potential, but the former's record of 64 wickets in 21 matches at a cost of 32 runs each suggests he needs more cricket at his current level, rather than demanding elevation to a higher one. Wood has 70 wickets in the same number of games, at eight runs per wicket better average. At 25 next month, I'd say he had a better case, though critics will suggest that bowling at The Riverside gives seam bowlers a chance to impress.

Mark Footitt is recently 29 and consistently the quickest English bowler in the country. No one likes fast bowling, not even those who play it well. There's always the danger of the quick one that is simply too fast for ordinary reflexes, as Mitchell Johnson has shown recently and plenty of others have done through the history of the game.

In making a case for Brooks and Wood, on the basis of their potential and recent feats, it is hard to ignore those of the most prolific bowler in the country. I don't accept that Mark only took them in division two, because the previous summer he bowled exceptionally well in the top tier. If you are using that argument, then Matt Dunn's record should also be questioned.

The Aussies are coming next summer. I am sure that Michael Klinger went back home with his broken arm last year and told people about a lightning-quick left arm bowler who did that. The ball that got Jacques Rudolph, another player of proven international pedigree, at Derby last year was nigh-unplayable. Fast, hostile, awkward - Mark has it all. The radar can sometimes go awry, but it can for most bowlers. You take the rough with the smooth and last year Footitt was a smooth, well-oiled machine that cranked it up to eleven on a regular basis (Spinal Tap reference there...)

I can't help thinking that in the omission of Mark Footitt from the Lions tour, the selectors have missed a trick. A major problem of the England attack is its 'sameness', a battery of right-arm seamers broken up by an improving but realistically only adequate off spin bowler. We have a party of right armers heading to South Africa this winter, those concerned presumably next in line for if things go wrong against the oldest enemy.

If they select Mark next summer, it is without prior international experience and is an admission of a mistake in the selection of this tour party. For Warren, Copson, Pope, Jackson and Rhodes read Footitt. In my opinion, the lad has had poor treatment and deserved better.

All he can do is pick himself up, again go through county sides like a whirlwind next summer and keep his fingers crossed.

For the time being, England's loss is very much Derbyshire's gain...

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sad news from the County Ground

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ian Gange yesterday.

Ian has put a lot of time into Derbyshire County Cricket Club and it is sad to report his death. It is always a shock when these things happen, even when the person has been ill for some time, as was the case with Ian.

I met him a couple of times and he was passionate about his cricket. He will be sorely missed.

Rest in Peace Ian.

On the field, it is good to read of the positive experience that Mark Footitt had in South Africa with the Lions Development squad. After the mess that was made of Devon Malcolm a few years back, when the coaches started to tinker with an action that was good enough to have got him to Test level, I was slightly concerned that Mark may have a similar experience.

It appears to have gone well though and he will rejoin the rest of the squad after Christmas as the push begins towards the start of the season. Once we get to the turn of the year I will start the season countdown once more.

Elsewhere around our division, John Bracewell has left Gloucestershire. He has done a magnificent job for them over the years, often in trying circumstances and his successor has a tough job on their hands.

Meanwhile, in what has to be a festive appointment, Rudolph will not only be leading the sleigh but also Glamorgan next summer, as Jacques is the new leader of the pack down Wales way. Erstwhile County Ground favourite Graham Wagg has thrown his hat into the ring for the one-day captaincy, following the departure of Jim Allenby to Somerset.

With that, I bid you a farewell for tonight and, news permitting, will be back before the festivities.

Now for the next part of the well-received (thank you!) series on Walter Goodyear

Monday, 8 December 2014

Book Review: The Final Over - The Cricketers of Summer 1914 by Christopher Sandford

Christopher Sandford is a well-established author on both sides of the Atlantic, with twenty biographies published on such diverse subjects as Godfrey Evans, Steve McQueen and Harry Houdini.

His latest book is a tour de force. As each page is turned, my overwhelming thought, based on a number of years in research, was "Where on earth does he get this information?"

The answer is from personal and war diaries, contemporary newspapers and magazines, plus private papers. Out of 278 professional cricketers at the start of the war, 210 of them signed up to fight. 34 never returned. Others were unable to return to the game because of injury, but it would be a disservice to suggest that the book was only about those in the first-class game.

It covers the many public schoolboys, some of them players of huge potential, who went away to the conflict and never returned. Of the sides that played the game in that last summer before the war, an estimated average of three per side died, a staggering and tragic statistic.

The book travels from the parties of Chelsea and Mayfair to the front lines of the Western Front. We see and share the domesticity of the players concerned, hope for their safe return and then see them torn to pieces in the most savage of war theatres.

It claims to be a 'gripping moving and fully human account' and delivers on that - and more. I cannot remember the last time I was so fully absorbed in a book, so keen to turn the page but so intent on every word on them. It is as well written as it is researched and I can think of no higher tribute.

With household names flitting in and out, like Fred Trott, W.G. Grace and Victor Trumper, all living out their last days away from the war, the author paints a vivid and frankly brilliant picture of the end of an era. While having a longstanding interest in the period, I have rarely seen it brought to life as it is here.

 Only one thing stops it from being absolutely perfect. I found the font a little small, maybe more a reflection on my eyesight than the book, but taking it up a little would have been appreciated, though adding to the production costs. It is a minor point.

I got to the final page and was disappointed to have done so. It will be read again in the near future and I will enjoy each word once more. If you are remotely interested in social history and that of the greatest of games, you really owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy. Get it on your Christmas wish list and look forward to a spellbinding read.


The Final Over - the Cricketers of Summer 1914 is written by Christopher Sandford and published by The History Press. It is available on Amazon for £12.91 and from all good book shops

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book Review: Frith's Encounters by David Frith

One of the great thrills of my time in writing this blog has been the contact it has brought with former Derbyshire players. Having spent the best part of fifty years in watching, admiring and, in my callow youth, idolising them, it is a pleasure to now speak to them and listen to their wonderful stories of lives in cricket.

I am fortunate in that I've yet to meet one who was less than friendly, wasn't supportive of what I was doing nor keen to be involved. I am grateful to all of them.

David Frith has been meeting, interviewing and acquiring collections of memorabilia from cricketers for several decades. He is up there among my favourite half-dozen cricket writers and has produced some excellent work, especially on cricket and cricketers prior to the onset of the last world war. His Bodyline Autopsy remains one of my favourites on the game.

This book is a collection of articles that first appeared in The Wisden Cricketer and The Cricketer between 2007 and 2012. There are seven new pieces and the articles are, as is always the case with anything by the author, a delight. The names roll across the pages like a Who's Who of the game. Bowes, Compton, Cowdrey, Hutton, Larwood, Miller, O'Reilly, Rhodes...to have made the acquaintance of such people must have been a joy.

Or was it? Some of them appeared to have been awkward, a few cantankerous and a small minority worth neither time nor effort. Depending on your stance on the matter, the author's candour in reporting this, warts and all, is either refreshing or, at times, a little painful.

This is especially so in the first chapter, which is a run through those not quite worthy of making the book's final cut. There is an element of what appears to be score-settling in a couple of cases, while the author's honesty extends to remembering one former Australian hero for 'his pugnacious attitude and, alas, bad breath'. Whether the reader needs to know such things is open to debate; less so is Mr Frith's unerring ability to paint tiny, colourful vignettes that bring the subject to life.

As he says within the text, in shaking the hand of Wilfred Rhodes, one is a handshake away from W.G. Grace - and dismissed him, several times. In reading such a book by David Frith, one is immediately in the company of their greatness and all the better for it.

If you have the back copies of the magazines then you have much of what is here, though the convenience of them all in one nicely produced volume cannot be overstated. The new pieces, on the likes of David Bairstow, Tony Greig and Peter Roebuck are honest, even if the latter smacks somewhat of being wise after the event.

All in all it is a fine purchase. Some parts you will find controversial, but the great thing about the author is that he doesn't dodge subjects and it makes the reading far better than more anodyne, readily available material would have been.

A worthy Christmas purchase? Definitely.

Frith's Encounters is written by David Frith and published by Von Krumm Publishing. It is available through Amazon, priced £13.49 and from all good book shops.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Good question from Sam

There's a good question from Sam below yesterday's piece, asking what my line-up for the season's opening game might be.

Picking sides from a distance is tough. We don't know the full staff yet, nor the type of wicket it will be (though I will hazard a guess at green, so early in the summer). Much will depend on who shows good form pre-season or in the nets and only the coaching staff are privy to that.

The great thing about the staff now is that you have White, Clare, Thakor and Alex Hughes as seam bowling all rounders, Wes and Ches as spinning all rounders, as well as David Wainwright. If a deal was eventually done for Azeem Rafiq, he would be in the equation too. Perhaps most of all, Tom Knight's re-modelled action could see him a serious contender. The lad knows how to bat, that's for sure. We also need to identify an early season overseas player and his preferred batting position would affect things - hey, he might even bowl!

I'd doubt Clare would be fit for that stage after his surgery, but you could have a lengthy batting line up and cover the need for spin, if only as a change of pace, with a side similar to:

Godleman
Slater
Madsen
Overseas
Thakor
Hughes (A)
Durston
Poynton
White
Palladino
Footitt

You could mess around with the order a little to your heart's content, but I wouldn't see that as far away from the first choice side. Sam's right that White and Clare would be good calls for T20 as they both bat and bowl, but Graeme Welch has an embarrassment of riches in seam bowling especially. Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton are knocking on the door and it will ensure that those 'in possession' keep performing.

If Jon Clare regains full fitness, when the tracks start to offer more for the spinners, if we sign Rafiq - all of these will ensure there will be serious decisions to be made! To be fair, though, that's a lot better than the 'Hobson's choice' selections that we have had in the not so distant past.

As I say though - only the coaching staff can call this and I doubt they could at this stage.

PS And no, I haven't forgotten Harvey Hosein...who could, after his efforts last year? I still think he starts as number two behind Tom Poynton, but he will push him all the way.

Friday, 28 November 2014

White signs on one-year deal

After enjoying a successful loan spell at Derbyshire last summer, the return of Wayne White on a permanent deal, as announced today, is no surprise.

What may cause a few eyebrows to be raised is the duration of the deal. A few people may have expected a two-year offer, but I see considerable common sense in the agreement of one year.

Let's face it, Wayne is a good cricketer. He can bowl quickly, take wickets and hit a ball very hard. He is a better batsman and bowler than he showed in his two years at Lancashire and this offers him an opportunity to confirm that he is actually the player that Leicestershire enjoyed, in his time at Grace Road.

There is a gamble, of course. His batting looked like it needed work last year and for him to hold down a place in what looks like a competitive eleven next year, he will need to contribute runs down the order, as well as proving a reliable first-change bowler.

The other side of things is that for me he will be in direct competition with Jonathan Clare. If the latter recovers from his longstanding injury worries, he is a very similar player to White and the question is whether a first-choice side can accommodate both. With Clare in the last year of his deal, there is a major incentive for both players to stake a claim for that slot at seven or eight.

Of course, in saying this I am assuming that Mark Footitt will not be required by England. If he is, it opens up a role for both alongside the reliable Tony Palladino. We also need to factor in an expected improvement in the bowling of Shiv Thakor, who was attracted to us by the thought of working on that aspect of his game with Graeme Welch. As if that weren't enough, Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor, Greg Cork and Will Davis will be knocking at the door and there is going to be a lot of competition for the seam bowling roles.

I think White is a good cricketer, but his career has gone off track in the past two summers, which from a career perspective have largely been wasted. For different reasons, Jonathan Clare, a player once spoken of in England terms, has lost his way and we thus have two players of great talent at the crossroads, something akin to Robert Johnson, perhaps.

The onus is on both to make 2015 their best summer for some time. If they do, the likelihood is that with everyone else contributing we will have a memorable campaign.

Of course, from White's perspective, the season opener against Lancashire, announced today, really had to be scripted. It is an early opportunity to show his worth and to stamp his considerable ability on the county cricket landscape.

Don't bet against it - and if he pulls his game together, look forward to watching a very exciting player.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes

It would be inappropriate to allow today to pass without reference to the tragic death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes.

The injury he sustained in the game between South Australia and New South Wales turned out to be a million, maybe billion to one freak accident, albeit one that ended with the worst of results.

I never met him, but I enjoyed watching him bat and his best years probably lay ahead of him. At 25, like most people in a profession that they love, he had the world at his feet.

There have been the expected calls to improve helmets, ban bouncers or change the ball, understandable but knee-jerk reactions to the accident, but it is important to keep a sense of perspective, in this as in other things.

No helmet would have protected the player from the blow, the ball hitting him on the neck and compressing his vertebral artery. Any modification to the current style to include a neck guard would probably make the helmet excessively heavy and/or hot. Designers will perhaps look at options, but in the long history of the game there is only one previously recorded death in this manner.

It is a hard game, played by tough people. The ball is hard and hurts when it hits you, but it has always been so. As I said to my family this morning, until around forty years ago, there was no such thing as a helmet for cricket. People got hit, people got hurt. Few, thankfully, died.

Phillip Hughes was a fine cricketer and apparently an unassuming man. Keep him and his family in your thoughts, but as you do so, spare a thought for Sean Abbott, at 22 a rising Australian pace bowler. Having bowled the ball that hit Hughes, he will be all over the place right now, but he cannot blame himself.

He was simply doing his job. It was another ball in another game and while he will need time to come to terms with the tragedy, he should remember that. He was trying to get a wicket for his side, nothing more, nothing less.

Rest in peace, Phillip Hughes. As a cricketer and a man you will be missed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Better news on Clare despite long absence

The news breaking tonight is that Jonathan Clare has had surgery on a longstanding back issue.

As reported by the BBC, the player had surgery on Monday, as he explains.

“The problem grew from an old stress fracture when I was 16. All of the stress was going onto one side which is not a great thing to be doing when you’re a bowler.

“I went to London for a nuclear-spect scan and that found all the hotspots of where the stress was, so we finally had a path to go down and sort it out.

“I’m now looking at a four to six-month recovery period. Fingers crossed, I will be fit for late April or early May."

I really hope that this sorts the issue for the lad. No Derbyshire fan would argue the point that at his best he adds depth to the batting and quality to the bowling. He has an excellent pair of hands and has the potential, at 28, to play a part in the future for the club as an all rounder of considerable talent, at his best.

There is a big difference between 'there is nothing wrong with you' and 'we cannot find what is wrong with you'. Sometimes the latter can be frustrating for all concerned, but I will be keeping my fingers crossed that this marks the end of Clare's nightmare.

As I am sure you will.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

At last, some news

The news that broke yesterday regarding Wayne White's release by Lancashire should have caught the eye of most Derbyshire cricket fans.

Given that he spent the closing weeks of last season on loan with us and his brother has a summer contract at the club, one doesn't need to don a deerstalker to work out that Derbyshire are likely to be favourites for the player's signature.

There will be those who point to his Lancashire record and suggest that he isn't good enough. I disagree. I look at the figures he produced with bat and ball at Leicestershire to confirm that White has talent in abundance. You don't produce those statistics without the ability - nor do you lose that talent. Likewise his figures for us in that loan spell suggest that he still has it.

For one reason or another, it didn't work out for White at Lancashire. Sometimes the environment in which a player finds himself isn't right, for whatever reason. Look at Rikki Clarke when he was at Derbyshire - he could hardly buy a run, wasn't great with the ball and was a big mistake. Yet his form at Warwickshire has been excellent and few would turn him down were he to express an interest in a return under the current administration.

If we pick up White, I will be thrilled and regard it as a key piece of the jigsaw, but we will hear more about that in the next few days I am sure, if it is going to happen.

Changing tack, the signing by Glamorgan of Colin Ingram on a Kolpak deal has been met with comments elsewhere as to why we didn't sign him. The player is known locally, after a stint as professional for Spondon, so there was a natural fit.

For me, we don't need him. There was a time I might have said we did, but looking at our staff for next year, I'm unconvinced that a decent, but no more than that, Kolpak is necessary. Assuming he is to bat in the middle order, Ingram would thus have taken the place of either Pujara, Madsen or Thakor in a notional line up for next summer. I see no logic or common sense in any of those being replaced and, when we have young talent starting to emerge, it would send out completely the wrong message.

I am sure he will get his share of runs for Glamorgan, who may well be keeping a welcome in the hillsides but are not exactly furthering the cause of Welsh talent in their recruitment policy. Ingram will join Jacques Rudolph and Michael Hogan from overseas, signings that will make them competitive but at what cost?

In closing today, I was saddened to see the awful injury sustained by Australian Phil Hughes last night, one that has left him critically ill in hospital. I had earmarked the player as a potential early summer signing by Derbyshire, as one of the brightest young batting talents in the country and someone with a point to prove.

What it means to his future cricket career is anyone's guess, but in the short term the most important thing is for him to recover.

I am sure that everyone will join me in wishing a young player of great talent the very best for a speedy and full recovery.

Postscript - with today's news regarding Azeem Rafiq training with Derbyshire so they can have a look at him and work with him in the nets, I think I called it pretty well in my last post...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Quiet times...

There's not much happening down at Derby right now. Let me correct that and say that there's doubtless lots going on, but nothing that is especially newsworthy at this stage.

Over on another site, there's a suggestion that Derbyshire are 'about to sign' Azeem Rafiq from Yorkshire. I'd be wary on that one.  Not that I don't think him a good cricketer, but I just don't think we would sign a player, effectively sight unseen, who struggled to get a game in Yorkshire. Whether we might have a look at him in the nets at some point is a different matter, but I would be surprised if Graeme Welch handed out the suggested two-year contract on a hunch, as he is simply not that kind of bloke.

With Wes Durston to bowl off spin and Chesney, David Wainwright and Tom Knight to offer slow left arm, any spinner who comes in has to be better than our available options. I'm not sure that anyone has seen enough of Rafiq in recent months to make an informed call on that one, so if there is any interest from Derbyshire, don't expect things to happen in the near future.

There's been a little movement in the circuit this week, with Jim Allenby leaving Glamorgan for Somerset and Craig Meschede moving in the opposite direction, at least for the short term, on a season-long loan. Allenby will be sorely missed in Wales and has so often been the difference between their being competitive or not.

Nick Compton has also left Somerset, presumably to return to London, while Steven Davies has extended his contract with Surrey, knocking on the head suggestions that he may be about to move to Taunton too.

Nearer home, Leicestershire's Andrew McDonald has confirmed that he will not be at Grace Road before the start of April to take up his coaching role. While the Australian says that it is a 'workable' issue, I would be less sure of that if I were a Foxes fan.

Graeme Welch started in January and found the first few months of the season tough - how much tougher for a coach who will barely know the names of players by the time the action starts? McDonald may do a good job in the long term, but his playing commitments back home are not giving him an ideal base from which to start his next career.

That's it from me and my scribe for now. More soon, and I hope you enjoy the second instalment of the Walter Goodyear series.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Midweek musings

Earlier tonight, thankful for the help she has given me in the last couple of weeks with typing up this blog, I told my daughter that when anything happened to me she could carry it on for me.

The look on her face told of her feelings all too clearly. Read into that as you will, but suffice to say that the blog may take on a more literary bent at that point, perhaps dedicated to romantic poets, or may lean towards some of the early gods of British rock...

For the time being (and hopefully for some time to come) it shall remain dedicated to the cricketing fortunes of God's own county. Truth be told there's not much to tell at present, though impressive progress is being made on the building work at the 3AAA County Ground. I would expect nothing less, given the involvement of Sir John Gains in the Supervisory Board.

A man involved in some of the biggest and most prestigious building projects of the past thirty years will treat such a job as a light, but pleasant aperitif. I would say that we are lucky to have him, but there's no luck involved in approaching the best people and getting them involved. It is simply professionalism, something that we are becoming better known for these days.

In cricket terms, the players are working hard. There has been plenty of footage on the club site and their Twitter feed and the training seems both challenging and innovative. I can't say I have seen people carrying barrels over sets of stumps before, but would hazard a guess at it improving the 'core' of players and their sense of balance too.

It is good to see Tom Poynton back with a bat in his hands, as much as it is to listen to Shiv Thakor waxing lyrical about the training methods and how much he is enjoying it. If this lad hits his best form next summer we will be in for a treat, because he is a terrific cricketer. I fully expect him to become a genuine all-rounder in the next few years, rather than a batsman who bowls a bit, which he is at present.

That's it for now... more from me (or Rachel...)  over the weekend. Thanks for the nice comments and mails about the start of the Walter Goodyear series. I hope that you all enjoy it as it continues.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Something for the weekend

Thanks for your continued support of the blog and apologies for the lack of blogging in the past week or so. A hand problem continues to be irksome, so thanks to Rachel for her help in typing up this one for me!

Mark Footitt was beaten by Derby County's Jake Buxton for the Derbyshire Professional Sports Person of the year award but can be proud of how far he has come to get to that stage. Buxton had a wonderful season for the Rams last year and is fully deserving of the award, but Mark must have run him close with his golden summer for the county. Here's hoping that it is one that he replicates in the years ahead!

Ajmal Shahzad has left Nottinghamshire, where he had little opportunity and has headed for Sussex, were he will doubtless enjoy the conditions at Hove from time to time. Meanwhile Middlesex have replaced Chris Rogers, highly likely to be in the Ashes tour squad, with Adam Voges, also formerly of Nottinghamshire. The latter is a decent player, but will find the shoes of Rogers almost clown-sized to step into. They will do well - or put another way, will need to do much better - to survive in division one next summer.

The 2015 Academy intake was announced earlier in the week and those named were:

Rahib Ali
Callum Brodrick
George Sellers
Hamaiz Mahmood
Rob Hemmings 
Robert Peat 
Tom Ball
Callum Parkinson 
Ryan Bramwell 
Harry Killoran

Those named are a good cross-section of the cricket disciplines and the pathway of these players to progress to the county ranks is now more clear and established than it has ever been, with a natural progression through the age groups. 

All the players fully deserve their selection and I look forward to hearing of their progress in the next twelve months!

More from me over the weekend, when I will be starting the first of the winter interviews with former club personalities.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Weekend warmer

That was a warm day yesterday.

While south of the border was reminiscent of down Mexico way as the sun shone, north of it was more overcast but still very pleasant. It was, indeed, t-shirt weather and I can't ever remember that on the last day before November sets in. Normally at this time of year the adventurous make do with a body warmer, while those who feel the cold are on to their medium weight jacket, also known as the one that has a detachable fleece.

It was lovely and doubtless served as encouragement for the Derbyshire players, who have largely got holidays behind them and report back for pre-season training on Monday. The concept would be alien to many former professionals, for who starting in March could be a tad premature, but should ensure that they're in tip-top condition when the action begins in a few months time.

Off the pitch there was a club competition to come up with Halloween names for players. I misunderstood it, to be honest and thought that it was current players only. Had I only known, I could have added the likes of Bill Corpse-on, Tommy Witchell, Scare-old Rhodes and Alan Devill to the mix. Alas, 'twas not to be but I did like Demonic Cork. It was quite apposite, as if we show our late-season form next year, the opposition won't have the ghost of a chance against us...I'll get me coat...

Finally today, I had a mail from Chris, regarding a new cricket forum for Sussex fans for which they are trying to get more interest and contributors from other counties. His mail, with his permission, is copied below and get in touch if it is something that floats your boat:

I wish them luck in the venture - and I will see you again soon!

Hello Peakfan/Derbyshire supporters

This is an excellent site - I am most impressed.

Why don't you come and join us during the long Winter months on the recently created 'Unofficial Sussex CCC Forum'. We had a vibrant MB before but due to various reasons where our Club wished to detach themselves from an official Sussex CCC Forum, we have created a new 'unofficial' one in recent months and are presently seeking additional Members from other counties.

The topics range from match-fixing and the financial difficulties faced by county clubs to players like KP (a very vibrant discussion in recent weeks!), Matt Prior, Chris Jordan and Luke Wright. Anything that is topical is discussed. There is even a cricket blog attached to the forum written by a cricket journalist covering a wide range of subjects.

We have former newspaper journalists and other cricket/sports writers posting regularly alongside members from the Sussex Hierarchy. Our cricket coach, Mark Robinson, is a regular reader as well as a fair number of Sussex CCC players. 

The posts are rarely dull and often contentious, offering lively debates and discussion, where decorum and respect are strongly encouraged.

So, please visit us at this link: 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Three sign summer contracts

The first on field news for some time came today, with news that three young Derbyshire cricketers have been awarded summer contracts for 2015. Will Davis, Harry White and Adam Wheatcroft will all benefit from time spent working with the county coaches and alongside more established team mates.

Davis is, of course, the best known and his call up to the England Development Programme followed a successful season as Academy captain that ended with him voted Player of the Year. His talent is obvious and his potential quite substantial, if he continues to work at his game and listen to the coaches.

Wheatcroft is another seamer and has graduated through the junior ranks, also doing well for Alvaston and Boulton in the Premier League. Having just turned twenty, he has a chance to push for greater recognition after some encouraging second team displays in the past summer.

The third of them, Harry White is - wait for it - another seam bowler, but of the left-handed variety. Brother of Wayne, who returned with considerable success towards the end of the summer, Harry is another to come through the Academy but failed to gain a staff place initially. To his credit, he has gone away, worked at his game and returned to get an opportunity.

All three will be well aware that there are plenty ahead of them and Messrs Footitt, Palladino, Taylor, Cotton and Cork - not to mention Jon Clare if he returns to fitness - are ahead of them in the queue, even before considering the options afforded by Shiv Thakor and Wayne White, should he sign on a permanent deal.

It is down to them and after a few years of worrying scarcity, it appears that our seam bowling cupboard is packed to overflowing. They could not wish for a better coaching set up to get the best from them and their progress will be watched very closely.

And if you were one of those who made a purchase or two from the club book shop over the summer, then allow yourself a brief pat on the back, as these deals have been part-funded by the proceeds.

Admirable work all round, I'd say.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Something for the weekend

Apologies for the lack of blog activity this week, but in all honesty there has been little to report.

Aside from the encouraging news that only two Christmas party nights remain free at the 3AAA County Ground, there was little of any importance for Derbyshire fans. Indeed, for county cricket fans across the country there was little to get overly excited about.

At international level, the sad end of the West Indies tour of India has sent tremors through the international game. Is this going to happen again and can the Caribbean stars be trusted not to do so if things don't go their way? The gap between the haves and have nots in their cricket is substantial and it looks increasingly likely that the biggest names in their side will perhaps be seen only in T20, or laugh and giggle cricket in future. It is where the money is, after all, but the abandonment of the tour was, in my humble opinion, the wrong way to go about their business.

The international game is falling apart. Besides the West Indies issues, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are the international equivalent of Leicestershire, while Pakistan can only play away from home. India control the international game with their unhealthily dominant IPL, England, Australia and South Africa busy about and jockey for position, while Sri Lanka and New Zealand, like the words of the old song, hang on in there baby.

It makes me wonder what happens to the future tours of the West Indies and what that means to Shivnarine Chanderpaul in his quest to become West Indies cricket's leading scorer. If there is no cricket, even Shiv can't score runs and this would be a sad way for his outstanding efforts at international level to end.

That's really it for today. A hand injury is currently limiting my typing and I'm grateful to family members for helping out at present.

What a great job they have done! Thanks guys...hopefully normal service will be resumed in the not too distant future.

Bye for now - and don't forget to put your clocks back tonight...

Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday musings - golden age?

In the arts and  sport especially, golden eras are a known and common phenomenon.

Ask any fan of opera about its golden era and most would probably plump for the inter-war era, when giants such as McCormack, Tauber, Gigli, Ponselle, Melba and Pinza bestrode the operatic world with performances that even today sound as vibrant as they ever did.

Country music fans will doubtless plump for the period between 1955 and 1965, when the true greats of the genre were recording some of its finest-ever songs. With the likes of Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Don Gibson and Porter Waggoner in their impressive pomps, it would be hard to argue against it.

Then there's rock and the golden period between 1969 and the mid-1980's, when both the hard and softer rock fans enjoyed the greatest of artists, from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Free, to the less notorious and perhaps - for some - easier on the ear bands, largely originating from across the pond in the good old US of A.

Then there's Derbyshire sport - especially football and cricket. Are we about to enter a golden era?

Take Derby County. At the moment, I follow the games and largely feel confident that an excellent squad under Steve McClaren is always likely to get a positive result. There have been other times in the club's long history when there has been great success - most notably under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, then under Dave Mackay - but at those times the county cricket club was not enjoying one of its stronger periods.

Derbyshire County Cricket Club had a good side in the 1950s, but the football team spent most of that period in the lower divisions and one has to go back to the 1930s to a period when both sides, especially the cricketers, were among the best in the country.

Today? Derby County aren't back in the top flight yet, but in their present form they are going to take some stopping. In the process, they are playing an at times breathtaking form of football that entertains and gets results. Crowds  - always steady in a football city - are flocking back  to the numbers of the halcyon days and rightly so. The game isn't cheap these days, but some of the pain can be lessened if you leave at the end of the game feeling you have been entertained.

Likewise with our cricket club. In the closing weeks of last season, I watched Derbyshire play with a confidence and purpose - a swagger, if you will - that I haven't often seen. There was a ruthless purpose to the cricket and everyone seemed to know their role. If wickets didn't fall to one bowler, he kept it quiet and someone else chipped in. Runs were contributed down the order and the vibe was both positive and encouraging.

Both clubs enjoy a fine team spirit, evident from the way that they celebrate success and battle back in adversity. Both increasingly have sets of fans who see obvious signs of progress and improvement, the longstanding moaners of Derbyshire sport having been, if not silenced, quietened for the first time in many a year.

Good times, my friends and it may be that we're witnessing the start of a golden era of Derbyshire sport. As long as the current incumbents of the key roles at both clubs are left to get on with the excellent jobs that they do, I think we're all going to have a few years to gladden our hearts in our dotage.

I'll settle for that.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Something for the weekend

An interesting comment came from next year's Leicestershire overseas star, Clint McKay, today.

"The more Australians you get in the dressing room the better," said McKay, in the same piece in which the county were linked with a move for ex-Glamorgan Aussie Mark Cosgrove, potentially as captain. The latter went back home in an attempt to force his way into the national side, but realistically, that was always unlikely. A player whose impressive average was only exceeded by his waistline was always going to struggle to get into the international game, but he could doubtless do a job for them, though perhaps not in setting the standard in the 'beep' tests...

If nothing else, it would, should he impress, add to the relocation expenses paid by Nottinghamshire if they subsequently sign him on the back of positive performances. Sorry, but it is hard to be anything other than caustic, given their nigh-biennial raid on Grace Road. I can't say that I'd be a huge fan of any county turning to a league of nations approach for success, but I can understand the rationale to some extent.

They have brought on plenty of young players, but retained few of them. Why that should be is a question that only they can answer, as one would assume that nurturing young talent might inspire a collective loyalty. That, I'm sure, is something that Derbyshire will be hoping for from their current exciting crop of talent and perhaps the crux of the issue is how such young players are treated, on and off the field.

It is the same in any walk of life, of course. Look after people and they are more likely to stick around; failure to do so can often result in a fast turnover to the detriment of the organisation. My understanding is that the young players at Derbyshire are treated very well and are now being given opportunity. The latter has never been in short supply at our near neighbours, so maybe the greatest need is for someone to lead, to set an example, to create the type of team spirit that is so obvious at the 3AAA County Ground.

We went down the overseas route of course. Cricketers on a passport of convenience came through our doors fairly recently and many did fairly well. The likes of Chris Bassano, Ant Botha, Wavell Hinds and  Robin Peterson performed creditably, while others, such as Travis Friend, Michael Dighton and Stuart Law were less successful is sporadic appearances. It was always likely to be so, of course, as short-term engagements to fulfil a short-term need.

I wouldn't be averse to another Kolpak at some point, should the need arise and the right player become available. The club's blueprint allows for a 9-2 representation of English-qualified to overseas players, but the path we're now on is unquestionably the right one for our long-term aspirations.

For the sake of local rivalry and for the greater good of cricket, I hope that Leicestershire, a club with a proud history, come through these testing times. They have hit rock bottom and the only way is up.

But their next appointment, that of a cricket manager or supremo of undisclosed title, will perhaps be the crucial one.  I think that they are pretty much where we were five years ago, before Chris Grant came into the club and led the way on new levels of professionalism, on and off the pitch.

The right man with a vision can perhaps be the catalyst for an upturn in their fortunes.

I don't like to think of the alternative for them...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Monday, Monday...so good to me!

The start of a new week always brings wistful sighs for those who love their weekends and just wish they could last a teensy bit longer. Like five days longer, in my case, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, as John Wayne once (allegedly) said in a film or two...

Still, the good vibrations (spot the ongoing musical references) continued with news that all but two of the Christmas party nights had been filled at the club, testament to a fantastic effort by the off-field team, as well as a response from the Derbyshire public to what is a wonderful facility in the marquee.

I am sure the events will go well and am equally sure that the money raised will go towards improving the club's playing resources, putting us on a more level playing field with other counties. The vast improvement on this side of the business in recent times has been quite extraordinary.

Then the membership fees for next year were announced and supporters will be pleased to see no massive hike in the costs of watching cricket. It is very good value, especially when one compares it to football and my guess is that those sensible enough to sign up are going to get good value next summer, with a lot of exciting - and successful - cricket in store.

On the field, the big news is that Graeme Welch admits we are 'in talks' with Cheteshwar Pujara over a return next summer. I don't know about you, but that's the best that I have heard in some time. I think back to the innings that I saw against Leicestershire and, notwithstanding the opposition attack not being the finest, it was one of breathtaking skill and poise.

It was interesting to read on Cricinfo that a number of Indian cricket fans are urging Pujara to ignore the IPL for this year and instead, come to the ultimate finishing school that is county cricket.

Given that last year he earned £190,000 from a peripheral role with Kings XI Punjab, that will be a tough gig to ignore. I think we will be looking at cover for the early summer, with Pujara (hopefully) coming in June for the second half of the season.

Good news to start the week though!

More from me as the week progresses.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Davis news lights up dismal October

The news that exciting, eighteen year old Academy seamer Will Davis (pictured) has been selected for the England Development Programme  comes as welcome relief for Derbyshire cricket fans.

Davis is the latest off a conveyor belt of talent emerging from the Academy. For too many years, the only seam bowler of note who came through was Atif Sheikh , now at Leicestershire. His inability to 'knuckle down' was apparently an issue with us and it is hoped that he learned his lesson and will go on to a decent county career with our neighbours. He shouldn't lack opportunity there, that's for sure and if anyone ever had incentive to work hard over the winter, then Sheikh has.

For Davis, however, the future is bright and he will take his place among the likes of Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor and Greg Cork, all of them fighting for a senior opportunity. I was amused to read on another site that we should make a move for Tymal Mills of Essex, which immediately raised the question "Why?" to my lips.

Mills is older than our quartet and that he has raw pace and some ability is undeniable. Yet he is a long way from a proven county bowler and to sign such a player, for me, sends out completely the wrong message to young players. Our own lads have some way to go, but they will doubtless work very hard over the winter and I expect to see them return stronger in 2015. Their potential is every bit as good as that of Mills, who appears likely to go to Sussex or Worcestershire.

I'd far sooner promote and offer opportunity to locally-reared talent, unless we can bring in someone who covers a gap or is noticeably better. There are a good few players of nomadic bent out there who will play anywhere for the biggest salary. There are others who want to be a part of something and are happy to take a decent reward for doing so, without being perceived avaricious. While I don't blame people for taking larger rewards, there is sometimes a bigger picture.

Take Gemaal Hussain. After years of trudging round counties for trials, he got a deal at Gloucestershire and had a terrific season in 2010, taking 67 wickets at 22. He could have had a decent, lengthy career there, on bowler-friendly tracks, but instead opted for a move to Somerset, where conditions were less favourable. In three seasons he took forty-two wickets at around 45 and drifted from the county game.

Greg Smith is another. Has his career really kicked on by moving to Essex? The answer is no, as he is far from a regular in the side. Like the policeman in Pirates of Penzance, the lot of a professional cricketer, approaching thirty and outside the first team, can not be a happy one. That's why I expect to see us sign Wayne White soon, offering him a more productive and beneficial environment than that at Old Trafford. With hard work, especially on his batting, White could get back to his best days at Leicestershire and be a major component of a Derbyshire side I expect to challenge seriously for promotion next year.

Around the circuit, another Greg Smith, the Leicestershire variety, has signed for Nottinghamshire. He is another player of talent, but he will be hard pressed to force into a batting line-up of big names and I'm unsure as to whether he has been especially well advised. I'm not sure I'd want my lad to sign for a club where the next big name is only a cheque book flourish away. Broad, Taylor, Gurney, Smith...maybe the solution for Leicestershire is to change their name to Nottinghamshire Seconds and get their full, financial support...

Didn't get their best player though, did they? I'm looking forward to seeing Shiv Thakor next summer and he's another reason for a smile on my face as we go through the worst month for cricket fans. While the players are doubtless soaking their weary bones in the Aegean or somewhere, we fans are resigned to six months (or approximately 180 sleeps if it makes you feel any better) till 'proper' sport starts again.

There's the Big Bash and IPL between times, but that is just an aperitif before we see our team back in action. Hopefully there will be some news from the club soon.

Which is roughly when I'll be back!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Fantasy League Roll of Honour

This year's Peakfan Blog County Championship winner, through the Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League, was Dean Doherty.

He saw off a late charge from Matthew Entwistle to stay top of the tree and win - well, nothing really, apart from the kudos of being top dog. Gary Cunningham finished a very creditable third  with Dean's second side coming in fourth.

The league came in 57th in the "League of Leagues" championship. A creditable performance, but the hard work starts here and I expect you all back for pre-season training in November. Sorry, I got confused with Graeme Welch there..make it April...

We were one team short of having medals for the top placing participants, so hopefully we can get past that next year and have, if not a medal ceremony, perhaps a photo of me putting the envelopes in the post to the winners, while whistling the national anthem...

I'm quite happy with my comfortably mid-table placing, especially since I didn't look at it after the middle of June and ended up with around a dozen unused substitute players.

Special mention does have to go to the near-psychic Tim Boswell. He entered the league with the appositely-named "And in last place". And they were, comfortably behind Paul Kirk's "Half Cut Cutters".

So Tim, with such form behind you, perhaps you can get in touch with a forecast on Derbyshire's prospects for 2015?

That's got to be worth a flutter for any fan who enjoys an occasional dabble with the bookies...

The blog in winter

Thanks to all of you for your continued support of the blog, wherever you read it.

Whether that support is financial (and thanks again to Office Care for their kind support over the past two summers) or in checking in on a regular basis, it is much appreciated. Your comments and emails are always appreciated and, while we may not always agree, they are usually well-written and well thought out.

This has been the biggest single year of the blog's development. and there have been close to a quarter of a million visits in the past six months. With an additional half million views through Sportskeeda in India, the pieces on Derbyshire cricket have now had almost a million and a quarter reads. More than in my wildest dreams? Yeah, you could say that with confidence...

With the cricket behind us for another year and the cricket bags stashed away in the loft, I won't be blogging every night, but expect to do so two or three times a week, depending on what is happening in Derbyshire cricket.

I will also be widening the net and covering broader cricket issues as they are relevant to the county and commenting on signings by our rivals ahead of the 2015 summer.

Other features will include interviews with past club players. I have recently completed an interview with spin bowling legend Edwin Smith, who took more wickets for the county than anyone else still alive, and am currently working on another featuring our long-serving opening batsman, Alan Hill. Both have given generously of their time and I hope that the finished pieces do two fine players justice.

I have also finished transcribing an interview with our legendary groundsman, Walter Goodyear and that will be worth a read. Walter is the only surviving direct link with pre-war Derbyshire cricket and his stories will hopefully prove as fascinating to you as they were to me.

I'll be back soon - between times, enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Midweek musings

The season isn't long finished but already the revolving doors at some counties are spinning apace.

David Balcombe has moved from Hampshire to Surrey; Hampshire have replaced him with overseas pairing Yasir Arafat and Jackson Bird, while Tymal Mills  - the man who would be Footitt - has left Essex, with Worcestershire his expected new home.

The latter will need to strengthen substantially to compete in the top tier of the county game. They looked an average team at best in the second half of the summer, having effectively climbed to the top of the table on the back of Saeed Ajmal's wickets. They are reputedly keen to re-engage him for next summer, but you can bet your bottom dollar that his action will be under intense scrutiny and it may be that the Pakistan cricket authorities are less keen for him to be closely monitored after remedial work.

Now comes news that Sunil Narine, perhaps the best one-day spinner in the world game, is under scrutiny, specifically around his quicker ball. Photographs on the web suggest that his arm is a long way from ramrod straight when he delivers this ball, although it would be premature to suggest a problem. Taken from some angles a number of great bowlers over the years have looked to have a suspicious  'kink' in their elbow at some point in the action, including undeniable greats such as Trueman, Lindwall and Larwood. Yet the hunt is on for bowlers whose action does not conform to accepted tolerance. It is, one would have to say, somewhat ironic, after years when certain bowlers have been allowed to play without question.

I think there's a few bowlers whose basic action is fair, but who get into problems when they try to bowl a quicker ball, or one with a little more spin imparted.  Hopefully Ajmal and Narine both get the all-clear eventually, as watching batsmen against top-class spin is one of the thrills of the great game.

On a local basis, today's news is that Kevin Dean is going to work as a 'scout' for Derbyshire, reporting back on the opposition, the wickets and potential signing targets.

He will undoubtedly fill the role well and it is further evidence of the professionalism of the new structure. On and off the field, there are few better organised clubs than ours and I remain confident that it will result in an excellent summer in 2015.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

No real surprises in club awards night

Mark Footitt was, as entirely expected, voted the Player of the Year at the club awards last night.

Wayne Madsen won the awards for the two one-day competitions, in which he batted splendidly, while Ben Slater deservedly took the award for most improved player. After the summer he has had, few could have been surprised.

Greg Cork was second eleven player of the year for some fine displays with bat and ball, while the highly talented Will Davis was the Academy equivalent.

There were also two awards each for Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein, doing their bit for the wicket-keeping brethren, while Footitt also won the LV County Championship player of the season award to complete a memorable evening.

Finally this year's recipient of the Spirit of Cricket Derbyshire award was Billy Godleman, for accepting with good grace the decision that saw him given out on 96 against Gloucestershire in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

If I'm honest - and I always am - then there should be one extra award - and that goes to Chris Airey, writer on the club website.

In describing the above decision as 'contentious' he wins the inaugural Peakfan "Restraint in the Call of Duty" award for diplomatic phrasing. No trophy, I'm afraid...just the kudos of a job well done.

I think a more apposite word was "appalling."

Billy and Chris - I salute you both.

Season Review - Derbyshire County Cricket Club


At the start of the summer, I wrote that it was important for supporters to give Graeme Welch and his coaching staff time. Roles that only began in the new year needed time to embed and there was a need for players and coaches to get to know one another.

That was always going to be the case, but early season events conspired against the coaching team. The loss of Tom Poynton in a car crash that ended his season and caused the death of his father was one that affected everyone, irrespective of the support mechanisms put in place. So too did the loss of Peter Burgoyne and Richard Johnson to stress-related issues that saw them leave the club. A short notice replacement wicket-keeper had to be brought in and Gareth Cross did as well as could have been expected in the circumstances. Yet the move necessitated using the funds for a second T20 overseas player, which impacted on the next stage of the season.

The first half of the summer was horrid from a fan's perspective and positivity was difficult. Yet we could well have won the season opener, but for a world-class innings from the current England captain on a rare county outing. That may have kick-started the season, but there followed a series of anaemic performances that bore no relation to the talent within the squad.

The T20 campaign was likewise awful, but again the side hinted at the ability by beating Warwickshire, who went on to take the trophy. Games were lost by poor use of the batting power play, by insufficient mastery of the requisite bowling skill-sets and by leaving bowlers on for too long, too often. Success in T20 comes down to scoring well in the first six overs, then building on it, followed by short, sharp one-over spells for bowlers, so batsmen don't get their range. We didn't do that and results were disappointing, yet again.

Yet the tour game against India marked a watershed. Young players came in and added enthusiasm, together with high levels of skill and the second half of the summer saw a different side. The Royal London One-Day Cup was marked with some excellent performances and progress to the quarter-finals, reward for fine cricket. We were effectively beaten by James Taylor, another batsman of international pedigree, who showed his worth in an innings of some brilliance that took the game away from us, though supporters could take heart from a battling display.

Meanwhile, the county championship season was turned around by a series of displays in which the words 'dominating' and 'ruthless' could be applied to Derbyshire cricket for the first time in a long while. Having the fastest bowler in the country helped and Mark Footitt blew away sides time after time with a series of superb and hostile performances. He deserves the utmost credit for turning around an injury-plagued career and earning Lions recognition this winter - as of course do the fitness and physiotherapy team that kept him going through a long season.

He was well supported by a seam attack which, by season end, had extraordinary depth and potential. While the departure of Tim Groenewald was criticised by some supporters at the time, by season end he had largely been forgotten, as Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton and Greg Cork emerged to show real promise in their fledgling displays. With Johny Marsden and Will Davis behind them, the seam attack looks set for a golden era. The admirable Tony Palladino continued to offer good value with bat and ball, while Wayne White came in on loan and suggested he would be an excellent addition for next summer if he can be signed on a permanent deal.

There remain concerns over the spin bowling, with Wes Durston's occasional off-spin doing far better than the slows of David Wainwright as specialist spinner. There is scope for Tom Knight to emerge as first-choice spinner next year, if the winter re-model of his action proves effective. His batting developed remarkably this year and he could be a special, all-round player if his work ethic is strong enough.

The batting was fragile at the start of the summer but picked up well. Credit has to be given to the coaching staff, as well as the players themselves, for turning around the careers of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston. The former emerged as a solid opener with a good range of shots when set, while Durston turned the clock back to his glory days with some scintillating displays, together with handy off-spin that often got wickets when most required.

Ben Slater came through to suggest we have at last found an opening batsman who could last us for years, while Alex Hughes showed enough with bat and ball to suggest he will be a real asset . Both will be better known next year, but I am confident in both of their futures if they work at their games. The difference in the bowling of the latter, between the start and end of the season, was marked, while Slater simply looked like he belonged at first-class level.

Shiv Chanderpaul was solid, without perhaps the aggregates of his pomp, but his influence on young players cannot be underestimated. However, his replacement, Marcus North, failed. There was a blistering T20 knock at Leicester in defeat, but he never looked fully fit to me. While the rationale of his recruitment as an experienced international batsman was clear, the glory days appeared behind a worthy cricketer and it simply didn't work in any format.

Nor did the signing of Gaz Cross, who played a few T20 cameos but little of substance, while his wicket-keeping swayed between competent and sloppy. In late season, supporters were given another taste of things to come when Harvey Hosein made the team, after finishing school. The youngster appears to have soft hands and takes a ball well, but his exemplary footwork makes awkward catches routine. His batting also impressed and he appears to have a very bright future. He will doubtless push the sorely-missed Tom Poynton all the way next year.

In the second half of the summer, Derbyshire earned around forty points more than the next best county. Such form over the full season would have seen them ease to promotion. Replication next summer will make them the team to beat and we proved ourselves a match for any in the division.

If we can recruit the impressive Cheteshwar Pujara for 2015, or as much of it as international commitments allow, we will take some stopping. While there are still some players on the staff with points to prove, we ended the summer able to field a side that had all made positive strides forward during the year, the first time that could be said  in a long time.

Wayne Madsen did a fine job as skipper. He seemed to learn a lot in the one-day role as the season progressed and remained the lynchpin of the batting in all formats. He is also an admirable figurehead and role model for the club and it continues to be a pleasure to watch him bat. Whether he can continue to captain in all competitions is a question only he can answer, as the demands are high, but he is a massive asset to our club.

Graeme Welch came with a strong reputation that had been enhanced at the end of the season. He knows that expectations will be higher next summer, but he has elevated and accelerated young talent and been rewarded. While some of the events of the summer represented a baptism of fire, he came through brilliantly and showed himself the right man for the job, unafraid to make tough decisions. Anyone watching the intensity of pre-match fielding sessions and the team spirit of the side in the closing months will be aware that we are on the right track and that 2015 could, with the right additions to the squad, be special.

As supporters, we can be enthused and must continue to encourage. The club is in excellent shape and the exciting off-field plans are indicative of a club that is extremely well run, on and off the field. As long as no one does something silly to rock the boat, we are well set for a very bright future.

Well done to all concerned...now...how many sleeps is it till April?

Picture taken as I left the 3AAA County Ground after the Leicestershire win. The one at the top in mid-summer.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Strange, but true..

On my way to the cricket yesterday, I stopped at Morrisons garage near the ground to get some fuel.

As I was filling up (the car, I wasn't emotional at the thought of being at the cricket again..) I looked across the forecourt and saw an unmistakable face across from me.

'Twas Gregory Cork with his motor, a modest but nice set of wheels and a personalised number plate to boot. It struck me that it was the first time in all my years that I had seen a Derbyshire player out of context - i.e. away from the ground.

I've met celebrities in unusual places before. I once met American country music star Marty Stuart outside Marks and Spencer in Glasgow (he was playing there that night, he hadn't taken a wrong turn...) and I also bumped into - literally - the actress, Greta Scacchi in WH Smith. We had a lengthy conversation, something along the lines of:

Me - "Oh, I'm sorry.."

Her - smiling...remember that - "It's alright."

I'm sure she fell for my debonair charms, but then she was gone from my life forever. But she smiled at me and I remind my wife of that whenever we've seen her in films subsequently. Usually White Mischief, in which she played a part where she was gorgeous. And also naked for much of the time.

I didn't get a chance to chat to Greg, but the portents were good as I went into the ground and had a look at the newspaper. I was surprised by something that I read.

Sam Kelsall released by Nottinghamshire.

Really? I subsequently heard from a couple of contacts on the dark side (I jest, lads...) who told me that their club were planning to sign Will Root, brother of Joe, who had a fine season for their second team. Kelsall was apparently sacrificed so they could engage Root. Even moneybags Nottinghamshire have to balance the books...hold the front page!

It set me thinking though. Kelsall, a diminutive batsman of similar stature to James Taylor, came through the same, excellent Staffordshire system that has seen us benefit from Alex Hughes, Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor in recent times. He will be well-known to our club and its coaching staff and would be of value as an option in the opening berths.

While Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes have been one-day options, neither are really four-day openers. Kelsall could be. He averaged over forty for Nottinghamshire in the second eleven championship; over fifty in the one-day competition. While we have plenty of middle-order competition for next year, we don't at the top of the order. He is the right age (21) and right ability for us and, while I can see interest from around the circuit in such a player (er...Leicestershire for one) he would surely be attracted to an opportunity to join Welch's wonders. Crucially, he should also be affordable.

I have no idea if he fits the bill for Graeme Welch, but he seems a better fit, at least to me, for where we are going than someone like Stephen Peters or Matt Pardoe, released by Northamptonshire and Worcestershire respectively.

And if he turned out as well as Mark Footitt - we'd not complain, would we? Something to think on, over the weekend.

Enjoy yours. Tomorrow I drive back to bonnie Scotland.

Maybe I will see Greta again...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 3

Derbyshire beat Leicestershire by over 400 runs today. Or was it 4000? Either way, we destroyed them. It was ruthless, purposeful cricket of a kind I have seldom seen from a Derbyshire side and a heartening way to go into the winter months.

It was another memorable day. Ben Slater (left) duly completed his second century of the match to join a small and select band to have done so, while also cementing a solid-looking average of 46 for the summer. Onwards and upwards for young Ben, I think.

He was a little edgy as the century approached and survived a loud appeal for caught behind on 99, but the century came from an edge to third man and the relief washed over the ground.

Then we were treated to a century of sublime quality by Cheteshwar Pujara, who only lifted the ball once (for six, over mid-wicket) and played a range of shots that hasn't been seen in these parts since the halcyon days of Azharuddin.

It was wonderful. There were rapier-like cuts, on drives full of wristy, eastern promise, pulls that reached the fence before anyone moved...and the cover drives....one so perfectly bisected the two fielders that he could scarce have done better had he used a protractor before playing it. Another was a thing of such beauty that people around me gasped. It was a privilege to see such a player in our colours.

He stays admirably still at the crease and the only movement is a tap, then another of the bat. Pujara has so much time and when he decides the ball is fractionally short, or wide, or over-pitched he dismisses it from his presence with a flourish. The field was moved to plug gaps, yet the next shot went to where the man was moved from. A century looked likely from the moment he took guard and when it came it was to a standing ovation. If we can get him for next summer there is such a treat in store.

Wes Durston played an extraordinary innings and hit eight fours in his forty. His timing was as crisp as ever and he even played a 'draw' stroke that was popular in Edwardian times at one point, playing the ball to square leg under a raised front leg to the bemusement and amusement of the opposition and crowd simultaneously. Anyone watching could have handled another half an hour of Wes and 'Puj' in full flight.

Yet when Leicestershire batted it was a different game. They are a club in crisis and it showed, though nothing should be taken from Derbyshire. The Footitt flyer ran in from the City end and simply blew them away. Greg Smith was bowled by one that sent a stump cartwheeling and he was simply too fast for them. Dan Redfern was leg before to complete a miserable return and the visitors showed little stomach for a fight.

Later, when I got home, I found that the BBC Sports team had announced their County Championship team of the year and Footitt wasn't in it. Seriously, these people are paid as experts?  He'd be in mine as one of the first names on the list.

The Derbyshire pace attack was impressive and backed up by a field in which Harvey Hosein again impressed. He made several awkward takes look easy and his footwork is so good that he takes balls down leg side without the need to dive that earns applause from supporters. Those in the know appreciate that good footwork negates the need to do that and Hosein has a very good future ahead of him.

One final point. The presence of hundreds of school children today added an atmosphere that I have not known before at Derby, especially for an end of season game. They were quite brilliant, chanting "Derby" and cheering every run, especially by Pujara. The club is to be congratulated on the signing and the links they have fostered with the community. I hope that they strengthen next season.

An end of season round up will come over the weekend, but Derbyshire have made great strides this summer, after a slow start. Back them and we are set for a fine future, on and off the field.

In closing, thanks to everyone whose company I shared and thoroughly enjoyed today. Your chat made a great day even better and I look forward to seeing you all again next summer - and hearing from you over the winter.

Postscript - I stood next to Ben Cotton, chatting this evening after the game...by crikey, he's big! In Scotland they call things smaller than him mountains...

Tom Knight signs new deal

After witnessing a dominating performance by Derbyshire yesterday, news comes this morning that all-rounder Tom Knight has signed a new one-year deal.

It is gratifying news. While Tom has hardly featured as a bowler this year and his action is in the process of being remodelled, his batting has come on remarkably and there have been several explosive innings at all levels of the game.

The player is a game-changer with the bat and I assume that the award of only a one-year deal, rather than the two offered to other players, recognises that his bowling is a work in progress. Coaches wouldn't tinker with a bowler's action unless they had identified a flaw that would prevent that player getting good players out. I can only assume that while Knight was a bowler capable of controlled spells in one-day cricket, a change to his action may result in his being a match-winning bowler in the longer game. Such a move earlier in his career may have worked wonders with Jake Needham, always a good one-day bowler but less able to take advantage of friendly tracks where he needed to bowl sides out.

I will await news of his winter work with interest.

Knight at his best would be a potent addition to any Derbyshire side.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 2

I walked to my car in the Gateway car park tonight and put on my sun glasses. Not just because of the glorious, late evening sunshine, though it was an extraordinary day for late September, but for witnessing a Derbyshire performance of utter dominance. Bright future? You gotta wear shades, my friends...

If this was a boxing match, it would have been stopped at tea. Quite honestly, the Derbyshire side I saw today look the best side in the division and may well have been promoted had their run started a little earlier.

The side bowled with purpose and fielded with an intensity that was refreshing to see. A fine opening attack of Footitt and Palladino was backed up by an equally impressive back up in White and Cotton. Alex Hughes also bowled well and the side caught impressively.

Footitt celebrated his call up to England Lions camp with some deliveries of searing pace, while Palladino bowled beautifully and completely outfoxed Dan Redfern with a fine delivery that saw a stump cartwheeling. It wasn't the happiest of returns for Redfern and a side that looked short of talent and spirit.

Ben Cotton impresses me more with every viewing and his batting namesake Mr Slater looks totally at home at this level. I also thought Harvey Hosein a keeper of remarkable talent.

I reckon we will bat till mid afternoon tomorrow then set Leicestershire a notional 450-odd to win.
They'll not get close. Not playing this sort of cricket.

A poor opposition notwithstanding, if we play like this next season we will be promoted. Simple as that.

More of the same tomorrow lads...I look forward to it immensely. A second ton for Slats and a viewing of Pujara  will suit me nicely...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 1

Perhaps Derbyshire would have preferred to bowl first today, but after losing the toss against Leicestershire, they will be pleased with a final total of 289, especially when the visitors were two down for twenty-five by the close.

I'm not convinced that this one will run until day four, so my cricket-watching on this short family break will likely be truncated. Still, if the summer ends with a home win, few will complain.

Many congratulations go tonight to Ben Slater (pictured), who scored his maiden century for the club. It was an innings that dug us out of a hole and was well-deserved. Young Ben has perhaps snuck under the radar a little in the analysis of our bright young things, but, as Sir Geoffrey Boycott may have said on more than one occasion, "roons are roons." No matter that he will face better attacks in his career, he will always remember a first ton and those runs look the same in the scorebook, no matter who was bowling.

In the process his season average eased north of forty. Any batsman would be pleased with such a return and I am delighted for the lad and his family. It was the ideal way to celebrate the award of a new two-year contract today and I am sure that we will celebrate plenty more centuries in the summers that lie ahead.

The rest of the batting was sketchy. Cheteshwar Pujara found himself on the end of a dismissal that ranks either as unlucky or careless, depending on your viewpoint, while Wes seemed to be going like a train when he went somewhat off-track and hit the ball down the throat of deep mid-wicket. A century seemed there for the taking and he will be disappointed to miss out.

There were a few late blows from Tony Palladino and Ben Cotton, the former expected now, the latter seeming to have a fair bit to offer with the bat, but we might have hoped for 300 at least from 186-3, the total when Wes departed.

I think Alex Hughes is ready for a break after a long first season and Wayne White needs to work on his batting over the winter to restore his game to the genuine all-rounder status it was in his Leicestershire days.

Yet further congratulations were due in the evening gloom as Mark Footitt took his hundredth wicket of the summer in all competitions. There are hardly the adjectives to describe Mark's efforts this summer, especially when one considers the number of games he has played in comparison to his earlier career.

A second wicket for Tony Palladino before the close saw Leicestershire in some trouble at 25-2 by the close.

All things being equal, our trip down south should see me at the County Ground to see their position deteriorate tomorrow.

Not a vintage day for Derbyshire by any means, but a memorable one for Ben Slater and Mark Footitt - and we're currently in the box seat.