Wednesday, 29 January 2014

All quiet on the county front...

Just a quick word from me to prove that I am still in circulation...

There's little happening on the county front at present, but we should hear, by the weekend, the club's coaching team to take us forward. I am sure that the decisions are made, but the contractual niceties must be observed and quite rightly so.

The players continue to work hard in the nets, which will only increase in its intensity as the season approaches. One has only to look at the video footage to see the work being put in and how much the players are enjoying it. Long may that continue...

And with that I bid you adieu. I'll be back as soon as the news breaks...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

A sad and cautionary tale from a neighbouring shire

Apologies if that headline sounds as if it was lifted from Tolkien, but I was quite saddened today to read the article on Cricinfo regarding the parlous financial state of our neighbours, Leicestershire.

It could quite easily have been us. Were it not for exceptionally good management and an outstanding off-field team, there is little difference between the two counties. Indeed, their recent history is more trophy-laden than ours, but there has to be considerable doubt over the long-term viability of the club. This despite their excellent record in producing county and international cricketers, of course.

My understanding is that we have the smallest playing budget in the country, which suggests that Leicestershire are paying above market rates for players, as they are a team with few stars. The likes of Thakor, Eckersley and Cobb are decent talents, but the club have made some unwise decisions on the playing front and off-field trauma has never been far away in recent seasons.

After a loss of £250,000 last year, another sizeable loss must be a major concern for the supporters. It is an old ground and one that requires regular and major expenditure, the two combining to make a millstone around their necks.

For all the young talent in the squad, they desperately need someone to pull things together, both on and off the field. As we know all too well, young players can give your playing fortunes a short-term shot in the arm, but long-term consistency can prove elusive as they find their way in the game. A mixture of experience and youth is required to be a competitive side, but experience costs...and therein lies the dilemma.

Beneath the piece there are an assortment of comments, from realistic and sympathetic to the somewhat crass. 'The answer is to combine counties'  - yawn - to 'they need a sugar daddy' - which I assume is a clumsy way of saying benefactor.

I'm less sure. What they appear to need is the robust business model introduced at Derbyshire and a similar salary structure that rewards good performance and encourages consistency. I'm less convinced that rich benefactors are a good thing from a long, or even medium term perspective. They might throw money around for a season or two, but as football has shown on countless occasions, that counts for little without a structured and methodical approach to recruitment and the day-to-day running of the club.

Chris Grant could quite easily have done that at Derbyshire, but instead has chosen to create and implement a business model and structure that should be sustainable in the long term and ensure that the club is run on a sound footing for years to come. I hope that supporters appreciate what we have here, because there will be more than a few envious glances across the country.

New board, new coach, new coaching structure, plans for a stadium revamp, or move, good young talent coming through and a talented set of players - all this over and above the committed off field team to which I have already referred. Now the prediction of another season in the black - albeit after some tough decisions being made - despite considerably more money being diverted to the playing budget.

We should have a good season this year and I am cautiously optimistic about our prospects. But I have every confidence that we are building for the long-term, not just a win or bust mentality that could go horribly wrong.

And I am very comfortable that it is the right thing to do.

In closing tonight, the news of a pre-season tour does come as a surprise, but is a sound move. Guaranteed good weather and excellent conditions, top quality opposition and a chance to get everyone loose - it has to be applauded. Once again a huge debt is owed to Mr Grant for his contribution to the cost, but the commitment of the players in paying the rest is laudable.

Continued off-field work will raise additional revenue and the club will leave no stone unturned in their quest to be among cricket's elite.

I'm impressed - and I wouldn't bet against them achieving their goal either.

Friday, 24 January 2014

A surprise contact

The greatest thrill for me over the five years of writing this blog is the contact that it has brought me with Derbyshire supporters, as well as players past and present. I had no idea that such things might happen when I started things off, but it remains a thrill to chat to people whose cricket I have enjoyed and whose willingness to become involved has been a constant pleasure.

The latest such encounter came the other night, when, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from former Derbyshire and Yorkshire batsman Chris Taylor. I knew that Chris had started a cricket coaching business when he left the first-class game, but had no idea that he was behind All-Rounder Cricket of Headingley, Leeds, which is now the sixth largest cricket retailer in the country – no mean feat from over 120 specialists. His Pro Coach business is also the largest cricket coaching company in the country, so he has done extraordinarily well to develop them both in just five years since his premature retirement from the first-class game.

As Managing Director of All-RounderCricket, Chris offers a wide range of equipment to suit all ages, abilities and pockets and is, of course, ideally placed to advise on the best kit for your needs.

He speaks very fondly of his time at Derbyshire and has kindly agreed to an interview on the blog in the near future. It promises to be a fascinating read, as a successful first summer was followed by a second that held frustration for all parties, especially supporters. It ended in a departure that was both ill-timed and unnecessary.

As I wrote last weekend - coincidentally – Chris was a stylish batsman who looked a cut above most of his peers at the time and the club could ill-afford to be so profligate with its talent to allow one of the better ones to go. There will be more about that in due assured that I will be asking about a story that I have heard mentioned a few times in the intervening period...

Anyway, I'm happy to offer a link, in return, to the All Rounder Cricket site, which I am sure you will find both interesting and useful - it is below the side bar advert for blog sponsors, Officecare. Between now and the start of the season I also hope to offer readers information on some special offers - and there may even be a competition or two!

Watch this space...

PS Any questions that you would like me to ask Chris? Drop me an e mail over the weekend...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

RIP Graham Stevenson

It is always sad - and a sign of one's own advancing years - when reading of the death of someone whose cricket enlivened your boyhood.

Such a player was Graham Stevenson, the Yorkshire all-rounder whose early death was announced today after a recent stroke. Fifty-eight is way too young to die and for those who recall his vibrant, energy-filled displays for club and country it is a sad day.

He had everything as a cricketer except, perhaps, the nous to always play the right shot at the right time, or just to keep things tight rather than go for the wicket ball every time. He was a similar kind of player to Phil De Freitas - he could hit a ball as far as anyone and bowl aggressively enough to keep good players on their toes and guessing. He had one of the best arms I have seen, probably only matched in my recollection by former Essex stalwart Keith Boyce.

When I think of them both it is on the boundary edge, swooping and throwing in flat, hard and over the stumps, time after time. Maybe the memory plays tricks, but nothing seemed to go in on the bounce, irrespective of the distance of the boundary.

Above all, he had a never-say-die spirit that was loved by Yorkshire supporters and appreciated - albeit grudgingly at times - by opposition fans. He walked out to bat with a smile on his face and with an air that suggested the game was not yet dead, even if the scoreboard said differently.

Geoff Boycott called him one of his favourite cricketers, which coming from an all-time great is as good an accolade as one could wish for. Had he been born twenty years later, his dynamic style of cricket would have earned him a fortune in T20, where he would have been in demand across the globe.

A sad day, then. But those who saw him play will never forget a competitor and a raw talent as good as anyone. He may not have reached the real heights, but he entertained.

For any sportsman, there can be no greater epitaph.

Rest in Peace, Graham.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The countdown is on...

69 days and counting...the season is approaching, my friends and aren't we all glad about it?

Hope you like the countdown timer on the left of the blog and it will serve as a daily reminder until you look out the picnic set, thermos (and thermals) to head down to the County Ground once more.

It's nice to get the discussions going again too, after we all start peeking an inquisitive nose outdoors to test the air. Marc followed my post last night with a couple of observations that are worthy of further discussion - thanks as always for your thoughts, Marc.

Saturday afternoons would, of course,  be the ideal for most cricket fans to enjoy T20, but the scheduling of championship matches to start on a Sunday means that the day will largely be used for traveling purposes. All concerned will be keen to avoid the frantic journeys that sides had to undertake on Saturdays to play in the old John Player League, followed by another one to resume the three-day game they were involved in on the Monday.

You can't have it all ways though and there will be plenty who are excited at the thought of being able to see championship cricket - which, let's face it, has been our recent forte - on one of their days off at the weekend. Some will pine for the good old days of forty-over cricket, but based on last season's experiences, when they seemed to squeeze the games in without much thought at any old time of week, this has got to be worth a try.

I think Marc is right in his assertion on the number six berth affording opportunity in the one-day games. Richard Johnson and Alex Hughes will both be keen to claim such a role, though so too will the very talented Scott Elstone. I understand he has been working on his off-spin over the winter to offer additional bowling options, while his ability to score quickly will be noted, as will the fielding that saw him called up as England twelfth man in the past.

Graeme Welch has quickly realised that he has considerable talent at his disposal and the secret to success will be unlocking the potential in various players. Billy Godleman could get a new lease of life after last summer's travails and potentially form a strong opening pair with Stephen Moore. Some of our young seamers may emerge, as could one or both from Peter Burgoyne and Tom Knight. The talent is undeniable and the forthcoming coaching appointments will make for fascinating reading.

Finally, Marc suggests we may have to be selective in our use of Shiv Chanderpaul, given his age. Another fair point and, like all players of advancing years, the skipper needs to be canny in where to position him in the field. I watched Murali last weekend in the Big Bash and he's slightly more mobile than the perimeter hoardings now - but invaluable to his side. There are two or three places you can 'hide' a fielder, depending on the favourite areas of the batsmen, which is very much at odds with days gone by when I recall two or three fielders we had to hide...

Injuries limited Shiv last year, but he still averaged 51 in the forty over games and 34 in T20. I'd take that as an average from all my top five right now, if someone wants to offer it. My own thoughts are that if you have a batting legend on your staff and he's fit, he plays.I expect big things from Shiv this year and will be surprised if he doesn't aim to put a slightly disappointing return in the four-day game to rights.

Different opinions, but that of Pop Welch is the one that matters. Like Krikk before him, he knows how players shape up in the nets, their fitness and what's going on in their lives, then has to use that information to choose the best team for the wicket and the opposition.

We all base ours on the understanding that our chosen eleven is in prime form and fitness, which is often far from the case. I'm sure we'll all enjoy having our say in the coming months, but must remember that we don't have all the information at our disposal.

Sixty-nine days to go....where did I put that bat....?

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sincere thanks to Officecare

I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to Officecare, Derbyshire's premier cleaning company, for extending their sponsorship of the blog for another twelve months.

Their support has enabled the site to take on a more professional look and allowed me to drop the Google ads that a number of people felt were intrusive.

I look forward to breaking the magical half million barrier in the next few weeks with their logo on the home page, as well as to continued improvement by the club that we all love in the summer that lies ahead.

Good times - and thank you!

Monday musings

Tonight's musings is partly prompted by the most common topic of recent e mails I have  received and also by a T20 signing by Sussex last week.

Yasir Arafat was picked up by the southern county for his fourth stint with them and he will undoubtedly prove a shrewd signing, as very much a T20 specialist. Four tight overs and a quick twenty-odd makes you a 'game-changer' in the modern parlance, if not exactly a world-beater in old currency...

He may prove one of the few, as I struggle to see how counties will recruit for the newly titled 'Blast', which is presumably one up from Australia's Big Bash but leaves scope for expansion into a 'Mega-Boom' in the future. I jest and don't wish to be cynical at a worthy marketing ploy, but there is an issue in this for me.

I totally understand the rationale in having these games mainly on a Friday evening. What could be a better way to start your weekend than a couple of drinks at the cricket in the company of friends? Hopefully seeing your favourites win, a few sixes hit over your heads and some entertainment thrown in - what's not to like in that as a concept?

The problem is in the overseas recruitment. A major factor of T20 thus far has been in the quality of imports, which although it will never rival the IPL - there's not the money, for starters - has brought over a few different players for supporters to enjoy. Thus, the likes of Gayle, Warner, Tait, Gilchrist and Malinga have played with varying degrees of success, when the chances of their playing on the county circuit were marginally higher than mine of being this year's Miss World.

How many big names will agree to a stint this year, when the group stage alone lasts for over three months, primarily played on a Friday evening? Try as I might, I can't see the likes of Gayle, Kallis, Bravo et al opting to kick their heels for six days for a thrash around at the weekend. Nor do I see the 'revolving door' policy of them flying in and out of the country work, as it would appear a recipe for disaster. They would barely acclimatise and run the risk of seizing up on long flights, even before considering the costs that would be incurred. Ask Essex, who flew in Dwayne Bravo for a key game a couple of years back at a supposed cost of £10K, then saw him out cheaply and hit around the park. No wonder...

The only thing that might work was if a suitably qualified (i.e international) player was plying his trade in the local leagues and turned out for the county on a Friday night. I'm thinking of someone like Colin Ingram, who played the local leagues in Derbyshire, albeit before he became better known and, I daresay, expensive. Maybe a suitable professional in the local league could be the way to go, but there would be difficulties to overcome. Not the least might be, in a strong club side, playing an intensive T20 on a Friday night, a league match on Saturday and a cup match on Sunday. Also how a league side could afford, or go part way towards the signing of an international cricketer...

When you think about it, Derbyshire have already strengthened their T20 hand considerably with the acquisition of Stephen Moore. An average of not far shy of thirty in that format is impressive and an expected top five of Moore, Hughes, Durston, Chanderpaul and Madsen will give us a good chance of being competitive, at the very least. Having an Albie Morkel-type figure in at six would be great, but I doubt the real thing would be interested in such a long spell over here. If he was, I'd like to think he'd be used a little more cannily than last season, when we not only failed to bowl his full spell on occasions, but left him till too late in the batting order.

If I was a betting man, I'd say the thinking money was on no additional overseas player, purely on the grounds of availability. We will undoubtedly secure cover for the absence of Shivnarine Chanderpaul on West Indies Test duty, but since the dates of those tours are as yet unknown, we'll not know more about that just now. That player will play all competitions, of course, and Graeme Welch will presumably want a player of confirmed quality.

Before then we'll know the coaching set up at the club and it will be good to see those who will help 'Pop' lead us onwards and upwards - probably in the very near future.

Finally tonight, I am delighted to announce that Officecare, Derbyshire's leading professional office and commercial cleaning company, will again sponsor the blog for the next twelve months. I am thrilled to have their continued support and to have made good friends with some extremely nice  - and very talented - people there.

A sincere thanks from me - hopefully you will help me celebrate the half million hits mark in the next few weeks!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - T is for Taylor: Bob Taylor

When I sat down to look at the candidates for the best player to wear Derbyshire colours whose name began with the letter T, I expected there to be more candidates than immediately came to mind.

Yet there wasn't. A triumvirate of Taylors is worthy of passing mention before we look at the top three, with Will Taylor being the first. His greatest playing claim to fame was the dismissal of Learie Constantine's father in the tour match of 1906, but he went on to become club secretary for an astonishing fifty-one years until 1959. He saw the club through some very dark financial periods that coincided with perhaps their greatest sustained period of competitiveness, certainly from the early 1930s onwards.

There was also Chris Taylor, who looked a class above most of what we had in 2006, before disappearing after the 2007 season in what appeared a case of poor man management, though there were doubtless faults on both sides. Nor should we overlook Paul Taylor, although he was discarded by the club before going on to take over 550 first-class wickets for Northamptonshire. One of the most consistent county bowlers of the 1990s, his left-arm seam eventually earned him two England caps.

It is another left arm bowler who is third in my list. Colin Tunnicliffe was a solid county professional who took over 300 wickets for the club. He had a kind of 'rolling' run up that always reminded me of a dog, out for a walk, straining to escape the leash, but he was very effective and picked up his fair share of wickets with late swing. Colin was a fan's favourite, as you knew you were going to get total commitment from him, irrespective of the match situation.

He was also a hearty tail end batsman, capable of powerful blows, with his starring role coming in the Nat West final of 1981. His 'clumping' of Northamptonshire's Sarfraz Nawaz enabled us to get past the post when it looked like the game had been thrown away. Few will forget the last ball drama and Geoff Miller's headlong dive to make his ground, but 'Tunners' had bowled steadily and played a vital late hand. His contribution to the club will never be forgotten, that's for sure.

Second has to be all-rounder Les Townsend, who was a very powerful all-rounder through the 1930s after a lengthy apprenticeship in the previous decade. County leg-spinner Tom Mitchell recalled that when he bowled to him in the nets he used to run quickly out of the way, as the ball often came back at a rate of knots! Although the batting of that side could be inconsistent, Townsend's arrival at the crease was always of interest, as he was generally aggressive and hit ferociously once set. From 1932 to 1938 he breezed past a thousand runs each summer, his golden year being 1933, when 2268 runs flowed from his bat, a tally that included six centuries and ten fifties. His 'arc' was generally between long on and long off and spectators were often kept on their toes in that area of grounds.

Aside from his batting in 1933, he also took one hundred wickets at just eighteen with his off-spin. Considering that he usually only came on when Bill Copson, the Pope brothers and Tommy Mitchell had been tried, he took an astonishing 1088 wickets in his career at just over 21, taking five in an innings on fifty-one occasions. In most other categories he would deservedly have been number one, but this is no ordinary category.

Because in first place is the greatest wicket-keeper I ever expect to see, Bob Taylor.

In a side that lacked real stars, the standout players in the first Derbyshire side I saw were Harold Rhodes and Bob Taylor. Rhodes bowled quickly, though near the end of his career when I saw him, but Taylor was neat, unobtrusive and remarkably consistent.

One of my earliest cricket lessons was my Dad telling me to 'listen' to Taylor taking the ball, whether the bowling or throws from the field. I wondered what he meant, but soon understood, as there was barely a sound. The ball always seemed to be taken cleanly, no matter how wide the delivery or erratic the throw. His footwork was exemplary one rarely saw him diving for balls down the leg side, his quick feet getting him into position for a more conventional 'take'.

When he had to dive, for thick edges, the ball usually stuck, and keep in mind that this was before the advent of modern gloves with webbing between thumb and forefinger that at times in the intervening period has approached the size of a baseball mitt.His reflexes were impressive too, as can be seen in this clip of a catch from Australia's Kim Hughes off the bowling of our own Geoff Miller

Indeed, the greatest surprise was when he conceded byes, as evidenced by the murmur that went around the ground on such occasions. We assumed that the ball must have hit something the umpire hadn't seen, or spun viciously from the rough. It was hard to accept that our hero was a mere mortal.

His England call came late, after Kent's Alan Knott opted for the Packer money that revolutionised the game. Knott was another outstanding 'keeper, though not quite as good as 'Brilliant Bob' behind the stumps, in the eyes of others less parochial than most of us, who would allow no argument. Where Knott scored was as an impish, innovative, pugnacious batsman who often steered a failing England innings to a competitive total. Bob couldn't compete on that playing field, generally being a dogged battler who sold his wicket dearly but ended his career with an average of sixteen, around half that of the Kent man.

When he made the Test side, he made fifty-seven appearances and confirmed what Derbyshire folk had known for around a decade. There were just three half-centuries, but glove work of such a high standard that it barely mattered. Bob didn't need to play catch up, having given lives to opposition batsmen. Catches were held with the minimum of fuss and the fielding generally seemed tidier because Taylor made it so. Watching keepers since has been like having a Rolls Royce for your first car. Everything afterwards will do the job, but its not quite the same thing...

In 1986, having spent the afternoon in the hospitality tent at Lords during a Test Match against New Zealand, Bob was called up from a two-year retirement with the agreement of Jeremy Coney, the Kiwi skipper, after Bruce French was hit on the head by Richard Hadlee. He kept without blemish for much of the final session at the age of 45, wearing borrowed kit.

He did have his wicket-keeping gloves in the car, though. He was always prepared, Bob Taylor and here's my summation, as a bloke not overly renowned for hyperbole.

He was a fantastic player... a true great.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Encouraging signs, impressive noises

It is hard to be anything other than impressed by the activities at the County Ground in the past week, since the arrival of Graeme Welch.

While few, if any of us, can be aware of how things were done under Karl Krikken, the comments coming from those that matter - the players - suggest that the events of the past week have come as a major change, a pleasant surprise and a shot in the arm.

Starting work at 7am would appear a departure from the norm, but the early, pre-breakfast fielding drills, ahead of intensive fitness work and net practice is a country mile from the days when pre-season training consisted of a few stretches, a run around the outfield and a few balls at half pace in the nets. The argument was, of course, that you got fit by playing and there were plenty of bowlers in previous eras who bowled a thousand overs a summer, something that most don't get close to in two, today.

Yet the fitness levels are higher and the intensity of the modern game and the commensurate demands placed on minds and bodies, means that the less fit will struggle. Looking at the footage of the early work at Derby and reading Mark Footitt comment that its been the most intensive week he's ever known, suggests that we'll not fall short on those grounds...

Already, Welch is analysing how and why we came to lose matches last summer with one crazy session of cricket. For much of most games we competed well, then threw it away with either poor batting or occasional cafeteria bowling. Eliminating, or at least reducing such sessions will go a long way towards making us a team to beat next summer. If the cricket is played at high levels of intensity and commitment, the quality of the players should come through.

I'm also heartened to see the advertisement for a 'highly motivated and skilled Performance Analyst'. Before the usual suspects who moan and groan about our displays dig out their CVs, such a role is exactly that used with success by Welch at Edgbaston. Recording, breaking down, analysing and utilising footage of players in action is a professional and thorough approach to coaching. It can be used in studying your own players, as well as those of other sides and will once more increase the professionalism of our club.

I look forward to seeing increasingly innovative fielding positions for specific members of the opposition, our lads aware of the fact that player A tends to drive uppishly early on, player B tends to fall over as he's playing the on-drive and lift the ball, while player C moves across so far that leg stump is opened up. Such work will be the result of study, not simply hazy, anecdotal recollection from seasons past.

Until the cricket starts, of course, they will all be signs and noises, but the ground work is being done and we should be ready to hit the ground running in April.

The next pieces of the jigsaw should fall into place this week, when I assume interviews for the other coaching roles will take place. Who has applied, how many we're seeking and what their roles will be remains a mystery for now, but you can be sure that Graeme Welch will have a clear idea of the type of personnel he needs. My guess is that the standard will be high and the finalised structure will leave us well-placed to move forward as a club.

Personally, I can't wait...

Monday, 13 January 2014

Coaching roles up for grabs

So this time next week is the closing date for the applications for those wishing to work under Graeme Welch in the coaching team at Derbyshire.

It is, once again, an eminently sensible move by the club, rather than merely slotting in those who were left without roles from the previous set up. I am sure that those concerned will apply, but we have to see who is out there and capable of taking our players on to the next level.

Again, quite rightly, there is no specification on the number of coaches being sought, though one would assume that we would need one for the Academy and Second XI, as well as a batting coach. Much will depend on the budget we have and the financial demands of the applicants, but I am very confident that at the end of the process, which should be the end of this month, we will have a sound coaching set up which will serve us well.

Elsewhere, you may have read that the self-effacing (I jest) Lord MacLaurin has pinned the winter Ashes failure fairly and squarely on county cricket and suggests the cure to our ills is - wait for it - to chop six counties from the current roster and fixture list.

Notwithstanding the fact that his assertions have no greater credibility than those of anyone else, his typically knee-jerk reaction completely ignores one crucial point. There was little wrong with the county game when England were top of the world rankings. After one bad tour, suddenly it is all because the little counties are clogging up the system and preventing the creation of a cricketing master-race.

I could spend the next half an hour writing my thoughts on his spurious arguments, or I could direct you to the best article that I have seen on the county game this year, by David Hopps on Cricinfo. Mr Hopps is an excellent writer and he beautifully sums up my thoughts in one perfectly-formed package.


Friday, 10 January 2014

David Griffin leaves the Board

It was announced tonight that David Griffin  is leaving the club supervisory board to enjoy a watching brief with the club he has supported, like me, for most of his life.

Fifteen years of involvement in a club's management structure is a long time and David is to be congratulated on the work that he has done over the years. Prior to club AGMs there were always moans over his perceived role on another site, yet no one ever showed the willingness to put the time into the club that he did, or stand for office.

Having been involved in various roles at clubs in a range of sports over the years, I am as well placed as anyone to realise just how much work goes into the positions, which has been undertaken for minimal financial reward in that time, largely expenses. The gulf between such a role at that level and at a busy amateur sports club can be multiplied several times and David is to be congratulated for the way in which he has ensured that Derbyshire ran smoothly from an administrative perspective throughout an often difficult and turbulent time in its history.

His work on the club's governance structure was invaluable in funding bids, while his increasingly impressive photographs have provided a valuable and appreciated record of recent seasons.

From an administrative perspective he will be a hard act to follow. I'd say he'll be missed, but that suggests he is going away, and hopefully he will get a greater chance to relax and enjoy the cricket from the boundary edge, being seen as often as ever at county matches around the country.

For all your efforts David, thank you.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The merits of a top coach

The encouraging noises coming from both Graeme Welch and the senior personnel at Derbyshire County Cricket Club seem to confirm what the vast majority of supporters believe.

That we can really start to move forward from here.

As I have written before, John Morris started the ball rolling by bringing a better quality of player to the club than we had latterly become used to. Karl Krikken stabilised a rocking ship and brought silverware and the club's highest position in the county championship for a number of seasons. The job of Welch and whoever he chooses to work with him is to take us back into the top tier and this time keep us there for the long term.

Welch will be well aware that he has considerable talent at his disposal. In skipper Wayne Madsen and Shivnarine Chanderpaul he has two of the best batsmen in division two. In Palladino, Groenewald, Footitt and Clare, probably the most imposing pace attack. He has a choice of two good wicket-keepers, options with spin and an array of younger batsmen and seam bowlers who are there to benefit from his coaching talents.

Coaching is in many ways like teaching. There will always be those who respond to your efforts and progress at a sometimes remarkable rate, either through the acquisition of the requisite skills and/or confidence. There will be others who don't, either because they don't have those skills or cannot develop them to the right standard.

If you look around the county circuit, most of the coaches were good players, without being exceptional. While there are exceptions, the really outstanding players seem to go into the media and talk or write about the game, rather than pass on their skills and talents to the next generation. Is this because the ones who have become very good professionals had to work at their own games and learn the skills concerned, rather than just being naturally talented and not having to think too hard about how they do it?

I'll give you a personal example. When I first came up north, I was primarily a back foot player and had some very good coaching from a former county player who was the club professional. He had less than twenty first-class games under his belt, but was a superb coach and a number of us flourished under his guidance. I started to play front foot shots properly and regularly, with the ball going where I wanted far more than had previously been the case. The coach had the knack of breaking down strokes into their constituent parts and we largely felt confident when we got into the middle that we would score runs.

After a couple of seasons, he was replaced by an up and coming Australian for who great things were predicted. Indeed, the player came close to a national call-up and finished his career with an average of around forty. He made it look absurdly easy in our club matches, yet he was a distinctly average coach who had no idea how to help a player struggling for form, either with a few kind words or assistance in the nets. Our side was one to be reckoned with under the former; very ordinary, albeit with one outstanding batsman, with his replacement.

I think that 'Pop' Welch will be outstanding at Derbyshire and look forward to being proved correct in that assertion. He will need time to get things as he wants them, but he has a three-year deal which affords him that time. He has the opportunity to assess and develop some of the youngsters who are emerging from the Academy, hone their skills and boost their confidence. Based on his track record, he could well galvanise the careers of some of the older players too, the introduction of innovative coaching ideas giving them a new lease of life.

What is refreshing is to see him talk about competing in all three competitions, as we have seemed for too long to take the one-day games only as a means of giving young players exposure to the first-class game. We have been competitive for only the first few games of a competition and have then looked a somewhat anaemic outfit, playing a low-calorie version of our four-day game. While preferring the longer format myself, the others bring in the money and improvement in them would enhance our growing credibility on the county circuit.

Graeme Welch is 'itching to get started'. I think I speak for all supporters in saying that we can't wait for April to see the brand of cricket his side produces.

And especially to see who, among his players, really responds to that magical coaching elixir that he brings with him...

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Graeme Welch - a Pop-ular Choice

Coming straight to the point, I think that we have given ourselves the best possible chance of improvement as a club with the appointment of Graham Welch to the newly-created role of Elite Cricket Performance Director. In my humble opinion, the board are to be congratulated on the very shrewd appointment of a coach with a positive and growing reputation within the game.

He has already proved his credentials as a coach at Essex and more recently at Warwickshire, where the development of young bowlers, in particular, has been down to his influence. A measure of the esteem in which he was held at Edgbaston was the number of players who professed themselves unhappy when he was overlooked for the top job there after the departure of Ashley Giles. Dougie Brown, a man in the frame for the Derbyshire coaching role a few years back, got the job and has done a sound, if unspectacular job at this stage, but Welch appears to have something special to offer. And we look set to benefit.

Aside from his coaching credentials, which are substantial, he will be a good manager of men. He's a genial character, but while being approachable will, I'm sure, be no one's fool. He's also a very canny tactician who has made excellent use of technology in his preparation for games. As we all see from the highlights packages of matches, the footage is there to be used. The good coaches tell their players where to bowl to players, but the very best let them see video footage of dismissals, how and where to bowl to them. Welch is firmly in the latter camp and has been a regular advocate and user of such technology at Edgbaston.

Crucially, the appointment will be seen as the right one by most Derbyshire fans, for who Welch is still very much a hero. He was an excellent player in a fairly ordinary side and will be more aware than most what needs to be done to take Derbyshire on to the next level. There is no doubt in my mind that there is sufficient talent in this team and coming through from the academy, to turn us into an established, top tier side in county cricket. All it needs is the right coaching set up and the attention to detail that is a prerequisite of modern cricket. I look forward to seeing greater common sense applied to some of our tactics - run chases conducted with a greater elan than some I have witnessed, which sometimes appeared to be a potent combination of the Keystone Cops and Corporal Jones working in tandem. I also expect to see bowlers working in the right areas and not feeding the favourite shots of opposition players. If that still happens, it will be down to a lack of individual expertise than preparation.

I mean no disrespect to Karl Krikken in saying the above, a man for who I have the utmost respect and admiration in his efforts for the club. There was much to like in his work with the side, yet once he declined to apply for the new role, the die were cast for a successor. Of all the names supposedly in the frame, Welch was the one that always looked the right fit.

I wish Graeme Welch well and in closing recount one story that serves to illustrate the man. A number of years ago, my son, father and I went to the County Ground to see a pre-season game. It was a very cold day and the players outnumbered the fans, but we applauded, albeit with gloved hands, some fine strokes from Chris Bassano, who could be a very good player when his health issues allowed it.

Around the boundary came Graeme Welch, fresh from a net session and sweating profusely, trailing all of his gear behind him. My son, young and impressionable, had his autograph book with him and the two of us approached the player to ask for his signature. It would have been easy - and perhaps understandable - if he'd said 'not just now' or something similar, but to his great credit he stopped and signed with the air of someone who was happy to be asked.

More than that, he chatted to the three of us for the best part of fifteen minutes and then turned to my son.

"Come on, young 'un. Let's go over to the pavilion and get all the others to sign that for you".

Can you imagine my son's reaction? Fast forward to today, I told him the news that Welch was our new cricket supremo.

"That's brilliant. He's such a nice guy" was the response. A number of years later, a small gesture has left a lasting impression.

Welch is a top bloke - and a very good coach to boot. I reckon we'll find that out in the coming seasons.

Welcome back to Derbyshire, Pop. You're home, lad.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A few thoughts on the Ashes

England were outplayed, out-thought and out-battled, but I'd not go so far down the line as some, in saying that this is a great Australian side.

Sure, they played some very good cricket, but insufficient preparation meant they started against an 'undercooked' England who never recovered. It was an England side that itself is in transition and the tour marked a watershed for a few players. Swann will not return to international cricket, Trott and Prior may not do so, others didn't look up to the requisite standard.

I'm unsure where the Swann replacement will come from, as the county game doesn't appear awash with international quality spinners. Tredwell is a better one-day than four-day bowler, Panesar isn't the bowler he was and Borthwick, while talented, cannot yet be expected to run through international, nor county sides. Expect jostling for places next summer, as it appears an open selection at the moment.

As for wicket-keepers, Bairstow has yet to convince as an international batsman and strikes me as a competent, rather than good wicket-keeper. There are a number of alternatives, but Kieswetter has very bad days with the gloves (remember Taunton last year?) Foster and Read will be deemed too old and there's not too much between the others. There is scope for someone to make a name for themselves with good displays in the early summer in 2014, for sure.

England were stymied by poor selection. Neither Tremlett nor Rankin, for me, are in the same league as Onions, who was omitted from the tour. Carberry is a good county player but doesn't appear to have the game for international cricket; Compton may have been a better choice. A symbol of the disarray the side fell into was the selection of Carberry over Root for the final Test. The latter is a player with a very bright future and exceptional talent and would always be in my side. We need to build the new side around Root, Broad, Anderson and, of course, Cook, with others to justify places on their county form. Few seem to justify a central contract at this stage.

There has been criticism of Cook, but he's not become a bad player overnight. Like many captains before him, he struggled to maintain his own game in a losing side and the pressure became too much for him. In the absence of viable alternatives, he would remain my skipper, at least in the short term. He remains a batsman of high quality and will score many more international runs.

Kevin Pietersen? Without doubt a wonderful player, but more of an 'eye' cricketer and when the eye starts to go, the errors creep in. Aberrations are, of course, more forgivable in a winning side, but while Pietersen may come again, regular injuries and the need for long-term reconstruction may dictate that his remaining international cricket is in the one-day format. Memories of his horrific mow across the line in the fourth Test will live in a few memories, but won't hopefully tarnish better ones of an outstanding batsman.

As for Australia, they did well and full marks to all concerned. A better judge of their talent will be next month's tour to South Africa, when we'll see if the assertion that their pace attack is the best in the world stands up. Personally, I'd take Steyn, Morkel and Philander to trump them. Johnson bowled superbly, but let's not forget that this was a man deemed not good enough to make last summer's tour. He was at the top of his game and bowled very quickly, but at 32 he won't get quicker, while time will tell if his body will now hold up for sustained periods.

That, for me is the issue with this side. When they return to defend the Ashes in 2015, the key men in this side will be at the veteran stage, if selected. Chris Rogers will be 38, as will Brad Haddin, while Ryan Harris will be 36. Johnson will be 34, like Shane Watson, whose body may not stand the constant cricket in between, much the same as skipper Michael Clarke and seamer Peter Siddle. Can they hold back time? I'd be very surprised, as no one has managed to do so before.

I've not seen enough, coming through, in the Big Bash to suggest the next generation will be able to maintain this series' lofty standards and the problem that they will have in England will be that few of their young contingent will have lengthy English experience to draw on. Such experience enabled Rogers to handle England well, but he's the only batsman in the side who has served his time and honed his craft in this country. Having said that, Steve Smith fully justified my assertions over the past couple of years that he is a star in the making and will be the lynchpin of any future Australian elevens. I'd love to see him as our cover for Chanderpaul this summer...

Down but not out...bloodied but unbowed. The task is now on to rebuild the England team, but the Aussies will know full well that they only have eighteen months or so of this current side before they need to do the same.

If that...

Weekend warmer

Its nice to read Wes Durston's blog today, talking about the excitement of returning to the nets and training with cricket less than three months away.

It is, of course, a big summer for Wes, the second of his current three-year deal and one in which he needs plenty of runs and a good few wickets. No one knows better than him that last season was some way below expectations for a senior player and a return to the golden form of 2012 will be important.

It would go a long way towards making it a successful summer for the team, as a fit and firing Wes Durston in the middle order, or at the top in T20, would go some way towards making us a force to be reckoned with. A top three of Stephen Moore, Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston would give us a good chance of brisk starts, while having him anywhere in the top six in the championship offers balance, as his off-spin is a useful weapon, especially as a partnership breaker.

If both he and Jonathan Clare were fit and in form, our side takes on a stronger look that should enable a promotion challenge under the new cricket supremo.

It does look as if there's a delay in the announcement for this role, which was intended to be in place for tomorrow. There could be any number of reasons for that to be the case though, from the person concerned having a notice period to the current incumbents being informed or offered roles in the new structure, as well as plenty of things in between.

It is much more important to follow protocol and etiquette and do it right, than pander to the 'needs' of supporters to see the announcement as soon as possible. I am sure that we will see an announcement this week, but for all we know the successful candidate may want to bring someone with them which would, of course, impact on the new structure and the roles of the current post-holders within it.

Patience is the key and we will all know soon enough. I have every confidence that we will have a very strong candidate in place by the end of the week.

In between times, enjoy the rest of your weekend, root for the Rams against Chelsea this afternoon and look forward to a golden summer of Derbyshire cricket!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year thoughts

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope that the annual festivities were enjoyable for you all, whether you chose to spend them in the company of friends and relatives, or simply wait till it was all over and sleep through it all...

I think we will all be celebrating in the next couple of days, as the announcement of Derbyshire's elite cricket performance director should be made known. You will all have seen, as I have, the names that have been mentioned in despatches, although there's always one that is more left-field that may have required consideration. I remain hopeful, however, that Graeme Welch will get the nod from the interview process.

That's despite an article in the Birmingham Mail, in which the Warwickshire Chief Executive, Colin Povey, states that 'what we offer here is better than what's on offer at Derbyshire'. I'm unaware of the respective salaries for the roles, but I find it hard to believe that being number two is better than being the top dog in an organisation. As Assistant Coach at Edgbaston, Welch has an increased remit, but he will be ambitious and keen to extend himself with the opportunities the job at Derbyshire affords.

Despite Mr Povey's protestations to the contrary, Welch cannot have felt it to be the case, or he wouldn't have thrown his hat into the ring for the job. We'll doubtless hear soon and I'll naturally report on it as soon as the news breaks.

It was refreshing to see young county seamer Ben Cotton thanking the book shop volunteers for the funding that enabled his summer contract, together with those of Tom Taylor and Greg Cork. Everything that I have heard suggests that these lads, with Jon Marsden, have genuine potential and it is precisely the reason why I feel that our top job should go to a recognised coach of seam bowling talent. If we can get a couple of these lads through to the first-class game, it will be a massive step forward. Though to be fair, all steps that the giant Cotton makes are massive...

Elsewhere, you will have read the sad news of the death of Gerald Mortimer. I'd like to add my condolences to his family, as someone who enjoyed his writing for the Derby Telegraph over many years. Whether reporting on the Rams or the cricket club, he combined an obvious passion and knowledge with a rare choice of words, while coming across strongly as being as big a fan of the two sides as anyone. Not all  local media personalities support the club that they are paid to follow, though they doubtless develop an affinity over time. Mr Mortimer's great strength was that he appeared to be one of us, something that lent greater credibility to his many pieces.

The Derby Telegraph has been blessed with a very strong succession of sports writers over the years - roles I would have loved myself if I'm honest - and the passing of Gerald Mortimer marks the loss of one of the very best.

Further afield, cricket appears to have a new star in Corey Anderson, the New Zealand all-rounder, who smashed a remarkable century from just 36 balls against the West Indies. At 23, he seems set to add a few zeroes to his bank balance at the forthcoming IPL auction, though it would be unwise for people to build up a player whose record so far is steady, rather than spectacular.

I'm less convinced that an albeit stunning century against an attack that shows less adherence to line and length than most is indicative of genius, rather than a decent player having a spectacular day. When it has been replicated against keener attacks I'll be more than happy to do so, but it's unfair on the lad to be saddled with the comments that have come his way in the last 48 hours.

He'll doubtless get a lucrative gig in India and will be on the radar of counties now for the T20 - there being relatively few left-hand all-rounders on the circuit.

Let's not set him up for a fall though. I've seen that happen way too many times over the years, some of it with players much closer to home than the young Kiwi.