Saturday, 31 May 2014

Hampshire v Derbyshire preview

The disaster that is our current T20 campaign should not, in a knee-jerk reaction, be allowed to mask the improvement that change has brought to the championship side.

Yes, we still await a win, but there was reason for optimism in the Gloucestershire game. A combination of gritty batting, penetrative bowling and being on the right side of helpful conditions for once combined to give us the upper hand in a game that simply lost too much time to the elements.

Graeme Welch has made changes to the championship side and, while in their early days, they have proved successful. Having started both campaigns with senior players, Welch discarded Messrs Godleman (average 11) Chesney Hughes (10) and Durston (12) after their struggles for early season runs. Logic suggests that a similar process may now follow in T20, in the understanding that those coming in can really only improve fortunes.

Thus far their replacements Paul Borrington (40) Scott Elstone (43) and Alex Hughes (52) have done well. Throw in the experience of Wayne Madsen, Marcus North and Stephen Moore and the batting has a more robust look. They will be tested tomorrow, however, by a Hampshire side that early season form suggests will be in the front-runners this year.

Aside from any runs they score, the involvement of the three younger lads has a marked impact on the vitality in the field. The catch held by Borrington against Gloucestershire could only have been held by someone with pace, courage and excellent hand/eye coordination. There was a lot of ground to make up to get under the looping bat/pad and Michael Klinger must have thought he would get away with it

Such catches give bowlers a huge boost and the agility and pace of these lads in the ring will save perhaps twenty to thirty runs in an innings. They don't go in the score book against their name, but it is a healthy credit balance before you go out to bat and should not be overlooked by supporters. It certainly won't be by team mates.

As we enter June, this season can probably be written off from a promotion perspective. We cannot discount the possibility of getting on a roll in the championship, but realistically Graeme Welch will look at his squad in match action and realise who he can count on, who will develop and who will need phased out.

He has already identified the talent of Scott Elstone as one for the future and I think he will do well. I fully expect to see opportunity given to other young players as the summer progresses, if only to see how they react to involvement in the senior match environment.

Lads like Greg Cork, Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor aren't far from consideration. Matt Higginbottom did pretty well last year and may get further opportunity, while Tom Knight will continue to pressure David Wainwright. For what it is worth, I feel that supporters will be more understanding of failure from such tyros than of those of greater experience.

Having said that, I expect little change for the Hampshire match, after the Gloucestershire improvements. They will come up against a side with strapping quick bowlers, aggressive batsmen and a canny skipper. They will need to be ready to battle it out and show the fight that Graeme Welch did on a cricket field.

Yorkshire was yesterday and you can't change that. Tomorrow is a different matter and we have to be much, much better.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Yorkshire v Derbyshire T20

At the start of the summer, I had genuine optimism that we might make a challenge in the four-day game and be improved in T20 cricket.

How wrong was I? We start June with no wins in any first team cricket and the T20, after four matches, might as well be used to try out players from now on.

I'm prepared to be patient, to allow the coaching structure to bed in and to await the changes in personnel that happens in the coming close season, but one wonders if there is more that could go wrong.

This time our opening bowlers are stuck in traffic and don't get to the game in time, so the side effectively picks itself and after a bright start of 33 from three overs, we limp to only 127, adding only 94 from the last seventeen overs.

Yorkshire, somewhat unsurprisingly, cruised to victory with six overs to spare and our status as the worst T20 side in the country, one cultivated over several summers now, appears to be intact for one more at the very least.

The skipper tried his best, as always, but I'm really clutching at straws to find positives right now.

More over the weekend.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire T20

Played two, lost two. We're playing the reigning champions and we're live on Sky.

Recipe for disaster or for a cricketing feast?

I genuinely can't call the Derbyshire side at the moment, but I remain convinced that we're a far better team than results have so far shown. I think we've yet to find our best side and that when we do, we will start to make an impact.

There's a certain irony in the fact that our 'poster boy' for T20 cricket is one I'd consider omitting on current form. Chesney Hughes isn't in great nick as a batsman and if we're only bowling him for an over, as in the last game, I'd be inclined to put Tom Knight in. I'd open with him, tell him to give it a slap and not worry if he gets out early. He could then bowl four overs and is a mobile fielder, so there'd be a lot to like in his involvement.

Wes Durston's bowling would keep him in, but his current struggles with the bat would see him drop down the order in my side, allowing Scott Elstone to take his place.

Here's my side - one in which spin would play a full and important part:

Hughes (A)

Four seamers and four spinners to give the skipper plenty of options, but let's see if we can make better use of the Powerplay tomorrow. If we're 65-3 in six overs, so be it, but we'll have a long batting line up to build things again and have the impetus for a sizeable score.

Northamptonshire have announced a thirteen-man squad that will be keen to maintain a challenge for their title. They have some powerful hitters in the side and if we don't mix the bowling up more than in previous games, I fear the worst, to be honest. Their squad:

Kyle Coetzer*
Muhammad Azhar Ullah
Ian Butler
Maurice Chambers
Steven Crook
Ben Duckett+
Rob Keogh
Richard Levi
Rob Newton
David Sales
Matthew Spriegel
David Willey
Graeme White

I hope for a better display and would love to report on a win tomorrow night.

That's assuming it stops raining sometime between now and then...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Derbyshire v Gloucestershire day 3

The Empire Strikes Back?

It's a shame that tomorrow's weather forecast is so awful, because Gloucestershire were in a fair amount of disarray when the close came tonight. They made 45-4 today on the type of wicket that we have faced in the last couple of games, suggesting that we're far from alone in struggling with such tracks.

Indeed, one very good judge whose opinion I respect told me tonight that he doubted Gloucestershire would have lasted another twenty-five overs with the way the wicket played. Of course, we bowled well too, something we failed to do when I saw us against Hampshire earlier in the summer.

The crux of our problem is simple but more complex to resolve. We need to get both the batting and bowling playing to potential, then we will win games. I look at our batting and see the potential for good runs; I look at the bowling and see guys who can take wickets regularly. One without the other rarely wins matches, but on wickets such as this, 275 is a good effort.

Against Essex this year we bowled well and batted badly. Against Hampshire we did the opposite. At Worcester we had an all-round nightmare, against Kent we fought back from a poor start. After tomorrow, there are still 44 days of championship cricket to be played, and while promotion is a distant dream at this stage, a couple of wins would see us rise through the table.

Earlier tonight I chatted for a delightful hour with former Derbyshire spinner Edwin Smith, a lovely man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket. In the course of our chat he told me that Cliff Gladwin used to tell the team of the 1950's that if they scored 250 they would win more often than not.  Of course, an attack that featured Gladwin, Jackson, Morgan and Smith was the stuff of legend, but the same goes today.

275 is a decent score and unless the wicket dries out (which the regular coverings have prevented in this game) those runs on the board will always be important. What was better in this game was the resolve shown by our lower middle order, a return to the form when we have played our best four-day cricket. If that can be repeated on a regular basis and our top order fires, we will move up the table.

Having said that, we'll see little more cricket in this match, so it will need to wait for now.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Derbyshire v Gloucestershire day 2

Today saw a good fight back by Derbyshire and while the weather looks like having the final say in this match, we are still very much in it at this stage. All we need is a return to the days of uncovered wickets and the next two days would have been a real barrel of laughs for Gloucestershire...

Scott Elstone confirmed his talent with an innings that showed the battling side of his many qualities, though there will be other days as the summer progresses that better suit his flowing strokeplay. He confirmed that he is much more than a one-trick pony and would appear to have cemented the number five slot for the immediate future - and rightly so.

It was also good to see David Wainwright in the runs. The Yorkshireman had built a reputation before he joined us as a battling lower order player and hasn't really fulfilled that role in Derbyshire colours. He has to now though, because Tom Knight is breathing down his neck and putting genuine pressure on him for the spinners role. With both making runs recently, it shows that they are far removed from bowling specialists and their battle for supremacy can only benefit the side.

I don't know how many of you saw the footage of yesterday's play on the ECB website, but it emphasised how hard the batsmen had to work for their runs. To my memory we have won only one toss this summer and chose that occasion to bowl indifferently. On other occasions, I'd have expected our seam attack to do what others have done to us, as batting has been hard work in the early season around the country.

Wayne Madsen acknowledged his error that saw Paul Borrington run out yesterday, which is indicative of the man he is. The compact, no frills style of the latter is suited to awkward tracks and whatever some may think of him I value his battling style. Yesterday could have been his day for the innings that made more people realise what he brings to a side, but it was sadly cut short.

The ball that hit Madsen on the helmet yesterday was the type that all batsmen dread and it sowed doubt in their minds. It wasn't unduly short, but it flew off a decent length and to hit a batsman of Madsen's ability shows how unexpected it was. Similarly, the ball that took Marcus North's off stump was unbelievable and came back into him with the trajectory of a boomerang. There's no playing such deliveries and as a batsman your only hope is that they miss you or your stumps when they misbehave in such a manner. The way our luck is going at present, that's not going to happen..

So to a third day which looks like being severely truncated, as does the fourth. I'd like to see some good bowling and plenty of reasons to be cheerful if we do get a chance to bowl in this game, but the possibilities of a positive result would appear slim.

More tomorrow - but I suspect it will be a minimalist piece with little play to write about...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Derbyshire v Gloucestershire day 1

The frustrating thing about being a Derbyshire fan in the early weeks of this season has been the way in which we have found so many different ways to shoot ourselves in the foot.

I'll not go over old ground just now, but today we appeared to have made a really good fist of our innings after losing another important early season toss. Whichever side had won it was going to bowl after a delayed start, so the portents appeared far from good.

Nonetheless, after the early loss of Stephen Moore, Wayne Madsen and Paul Borrington took us to the calmer waters of 74-1 at tea and we looked set for a decent first innings tally. Then Borrington was sent back, going for a third run and the descent began, ending with us 166-6 after 71 overs.

There were cameos by Messrs North, Hughes and Cross, but only Scott Elstone showed the combination of technique and resolve to stick in there, ending unbeaten on 36.

It was disappointing, but we live to fight another day and there's enough batting left to get us towards 250 tomorrow. Whether that is likely to be anywhere near enough to stay in the game is anyone's guess at this stage, but we'll know more around this time tomorrow.

Finally tonight, I've just watched the most extraordinary run chase as Mumbai scored 190 in 14 overs to beat  the Rajasthan Royals and qualify in the IPL. It was a remarkable effort with a series of bludgeoning blows from Kiwi Corey Anderson, who made an unbeaten 95 from just 44 balls. The match-winning six came off the very last ball and was hit by Aditya Tare off the only ball he faced.

Breathtaking stuff.

You'll gather from that my cricket was cancelled today. So from my great weekend as referred to on Friday, Derbyshire lost, Derby County lost and the cricket was off.

Good job I had a great night out with friends last night...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Derbyshire v Gloucestershire preview

Not the best of starts to the weekend, with Derbyshire's defeat last night being followed by the Rams going down unluckily at Wembley today. Still, that's sport for you and there's no point crying over either of them. Both sides need to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again. Bit like the old song says, really...

Derbyshire get the first chance to do that with a game at the County Ground tomorrow against a Gloucestershire side that is perhaps more than the sum of its parts. You don't look at their team sheet and think them especially dangerous, but they have produced some good displays this summer and will take a little stopping.

We need a win or an individual performance to lift the mood. Pre-season I was optimistic and felt that we could challenge for a promotion slot in the four-day game. I also felt, like Graeme Welch, that we had a better chance of success in the one-day matches, but there has been what a number of supporters - myself among them -  feel is tactical naivety so far. Unless there's a reconsideration of the short-form methodology sometime soon, it promises to be a long and not entirely pleasant season. More on that later in the week.

Anyway, back to the four-day game and there's likely to be a similar team to the one that faced Kent recently. Mark Turner is back in the squad, but my guess at this stage is that unless the wicket is especially green he will be twelfth man, leaving the following side:

Hughes (A)

As for the visitors, they have the in-form Will  Gidman as a bowling danger man,  while their batting line-up always seems to find someone to hold the innings together. Hamish Marshall has had a good summer so far, while Michael Klinger is due some runs and is a good overseas player.

Can we win? Of course.

Will we? I think I'll reserve judgement on that one...

Friday, 23 May 2014

Derbyshire v Lancashire T20

Another game, another loss.

A fine partnership between Brown and Croft helped Lancashire to recover from a difficult start with an unbroken partnership of 131 for the fourth wicket. The continued absence of North, a bowler with international credentials from the attack is a puzzle and I can only assume he has an injury. With Chesney only bowling one over, we had fourteen overs of seam that went for 127 runs.

Once again, however, our Power play was a somewhat lamentable misnomer. 39-1 from six overs when chasing 170 in 19 to win left us chasing ten an over for the remainder of the innings. That's a massive challenge for any side and is going to win no more than one match in ten - and that only if someone plays a 'special' innings.

It certainly didn't win us this one. While Durston bowled well tonight, five from ten balls as the innings required major acceleration was indicative of a batsman still struggling for form. Elstone and Madsen scored quickly when they came together, but we have to do something about the top order - and quickly.

Northamptonshire are next up in a televised match on Thursday and as reigning champions they are going to provide a stiff test. At this stage I'm far from convinced that we are up for it.

Let's hope for a better effort from the Rams tomorrow.

Postscript - warm congratulations to Scott Elstone on the contract that keeps him with us until at least the end of 2016. He has a lot of talent and perhaps we need to allow a naturally fast-scoring batsman an opportunity to move up the order.

We could use 24 from twelve balls during those crucial first six overs....

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Derbyshire v Lancashire T20 preview

Derbyshire haven't got a very good record in twenty-over cricket against Lancashire...

So read a preview I saw online today. No kidding, but then again we haven't got a very good record against anyone in this format...

We need to put it right. There's a good bunch of players at this club and it's time that they went out and proved it. While there's been a tough old start to the summer for well-documented reasons, we have a chance to start what is potentially a great weekend for old Peakfan with a bang.

After this game tomorrow, there's the big match at Wembley on Saturday, a night out with friends in the evening and then my first forty-over game since Gandhi was a lad on Sunday. The latter answers a player crisis of monumental proportions at my club, where we currently only have nine players for our match. If the two lads that Graeme Welch leaves out tomorrow fancy a hit, they're welcome to drop me a message...

Back to that game and the squad is pretty much as I expected, with a likely final choice between Jon Clare and Alex Hughes for one place, while Tony Palladino and Mark Footitt compete for the other - again, in my book. That would leave my side as follows:

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

That's eight bowlers and as long a batting line-up as you could wish for. There's also some quicker legs in the field and we can afford to give the openers their head in the first six overs. There's also an argument for sending in Tom Knight as a genuine pinch-hitter at the top, someone who would either clatter quick runs or get out, but it's a good-looking side and I don't think we could field a stronger one in this format.

Yes, there's five spinners, but they're different enough to bowl two or three overs each and keep the opposition guessing. If we're playing this game properly, at least four of them should be bowling

As for that opposition, Lancashire are a team without real stars, if one ignores Pakistan bowler Junaid Khan. There's no Ashwell Prince, James Anderson or Jos Buttler, but plenty of home-grown talent who we will underestimate at our peril. Kabir Ali is still a good new ball bowler, but we should be looking to win this game.

Their squad:

Paul Horton (capt), Andrea Agathangelou, Karl Brown, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (wk), Junaid Khan, Arron Lilley, Kabir Ali, Stephen Parry, Luis Reece, Tom Smith, Wayne White.

My forecast? I'll go for a welcome first win. That's if we don't make the same mistakes that littered the first, eminently winnable game last week.

And you?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Knight in line for Derbyshire

Further evidence, if it was needed, of the potential of our young talent was supplied by Tom Knight in the second team T20 matches against Durham today.

Keeping in mind that the visitors included the likes of Ben Stokes and Gareth Breese in their side, our young eleven did very well to come out of the two games with honours even.

In the first, a fine all-round effort by England man Stokes saw Durham to a win, despite a fine spell of 3-17 in four overs by David Wainwright and a top score of 33 by Ticknall's Tom Wood.

The second game produced sensational cricket, with Durham posting what appeared an unassailable 205-6 in twenty overs.

It would have been, except for an extraordinary innings from Tom Knight (pictured), who opened the batting and saw the team to victory with a brilliant, unbeaten 99 from just 54 balls, with seven fours and seven sixes. He was well supported by trialist Pete Drysdale, a New Zealander who played with great success for Spondon last year before joining Scholes in the Huddersfield League for this summer. Drysdale contributed 57 from 31 balls before Greg Cork came in and saw the team to stunning seven wicket win with seven balls to spare, finishing the game with a six. That is a serious run chase...

Some may find it hard to believe the difference in Knight, a lad who made his senior debut while still at school. There was criticism of his weight and fielding from some quarters, realistically from people who should have known better. How many schoolboys expect to be playing county cricket and are fit enough to do so? Likewise, it is unrealistic to expect such lads to field with the intensity of full-time professionals. Meanwhile, Knight's batting was competent, at best.

His bowling has always looked the part, however, from his debut against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in the T20 of 2011, when he looked not at all fazed by the big occasion. He is still only 20 but his all-round game has improved immeasurably in the intervening period, now as lean as the proverbial butcher's dog and someone who fields impressively. His bowling action is in the process of being re-modeled and during one of the lunchtimes in the recent Hampshire game he was being filmed and watched by Ant Botha, the spin bowling coach.

If this work results in a more 'grooved' action and enables the bowler to get more control and purchase, there will be no complaints, but it is his batting that has made people sit up. There were several examples of successful pinch-hitting on his trip to Australia a couple of winters back and he has contributed steady runs at all levels since this summer began.

He will be well aware that modern cricket offers less opportunities for a specialist like Panesar or Tufnell. More to the point, he will be aware that his quest for the lead spinner role at Derbyshire depends on his out-bowling David Wainwright, while being able to contribute a similar quantity of runs.

I think Knight will enjoy senior opportunities this summer while his new actions 'beds in' but will push strongly to be lead spinner from next year. By that stage I don't expect there to be much between the two left-armers and the performance money for a home-reared talent will be a persuasive argument  for Knight gaining prominence.

I'm convinced we'll see one of the left-armers in the side on Friday night, probably in the place of the absent Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Neither will let us down, but it is patently clear that Knight's cause cannot be ignored for much longer.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Phil Sharpe

I got home tonight and, after the customary hugs and greetings for my family, sat myself down in my favourite armchair to catch up on the day's cricket news on the BBC text.

It was there that I read of the death of Phil Sharpe after a short illness. Switching over to ITV4, I was just in time to watch two slip catches put down by Suresh Raina and Ravi Ashwin and my immediate thought was "Sharpey would have copped them with his eyes shut..."

He would too. While gladly accepting that the standard of overall fielding is massively ahead of the game that I first saw in the 1960's, there were good fielders then, too. And as slip fielders go, I have yet to see a better one than Philip Sharpe.

Despite averaging in the mid-forties for England and being a brave and stubborn player of quick bowling, his county record was fairly ordinary, just topping thirty. A twenty year career brought 'only' 29 centuries, perhaps indicative of a selfless manner in his earlier career, where he went for the bowling in a manner that approached rashness. Later his approach became more sedate and Derbyshire fans will remember him as an accumulator, rather than a dasher.

Truth be told, his best days were behind him when he joined us for two summers in 1975. He had been released by Yorkshire following a summer in which he had failed to score five hundred runs and averaged only seventeen. At 39, he was unlikely to get better and it was no real surprise when his first season saw him struggle past 750 runs at an average of only 23. Younger readers must appreciate that this was at a time when the county was seen as a rest home for those of impending retirement and Sharpe was but one of a succession of players who joined in that era.

The following summer he also struggled, but the news of his release, when it broke, made the final weeks of his career like a grand tour. Sharpe rediscovered the form of his finest years and indeed registered the highest first-class score of his career against Oxford University, a better side then than now.

He ended the summer with 1277 runs at 35, with four centuries. His girth and immobility in the field at that stage made him an unlikely fit for Eddie Barlow's blueprint for a successful Derbyshire, where, as Mike Hendrick once put it, if someone hit the ball for miles we would be quicker than anyone at fetching it back...

Yet to the end Sharpe remained a slip fielder of stunning brilliance. The latter is a much overused word but highly apposite here, because he caught swallows. His success was a combination of razor-sharp reflexes coupled with remarkable hand/eye coordination and an unbelievably understated method.

He took the ball late, often when it was past him and I don't recall seeing him dive at any point. The height and pace of the ball didn't seem to matter, but Sharpe would move to his left or right, sometimes bend and almost always end up with the ball in his hands and another batsman on his way to the pavilion.

In that 1976 summer, with Bob Taylor keeping wicket and Eddie Barlow at second slip, batsmen didn't need to look back once they had nicked it, as there was rarely a reprieve. He held 618 catches in his career and 47 in two seasons with Derbyshire. Many were brilliant, but undemonstratively so, as if Sharpe were channeling the spirit of a Yorkshireman of an earlier generation, Arthur Mitchell.

It was Mitchell who, seeing a colleague dive to take an attempted catch, said to him "Gerrup...tha's mekkin a fool of thaself..." It was anathema to Sharpe too but his expertise in the slips has never been surpassed.

If I live to see a better one, I will be a very fortunate man.

Rest in Peace Phil Sharpe. The heavenly slip cordon has just been strengthened.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Monday musings

At my morning break today, a friend asked me to take over from him on the pool table, as he had to go back to work.

He was getting well beaten by a lad who is a much better player and was probably glad he had to go. The thing was, within five minutes of me taking over the game, a number of our friends passed by.

"You're getting well beaten" was the gist of most comments and it was true, but a long way from the full picture. Truth be told, I had only two shots before the inevitable happened and my opponent potted the black to win the game.

It struck me on the way home tonight that this was very similar to the situation in which Graeme Welch finds himself. In much the same way, it is not fair to be overly critical when he, just like me earlier today, is playing with the cards he has been dealt.

And what a perverse old hand it has proved to be thus far. The Poynton tragedy, for all the support mechanisms put in place, had to have some impact on morale. Besides losing a man who was very close to everyone in the club, we lost a wicket-keeper who is pivotal to the team's on-field success. We'd already lost an all-rounder of considerable talent in Peter Burgoyne to a stress-related illness and then had a similar issue with our other wicket-keeper, Richard Johnson. Both players are, in my humble opinion, unlikely to play this season, so Welch was very quickly three good players down.

The loss of the two wicket-keepers was relieved by the signing of Gareth Cross, an excellent replacement, but the money spent on the ex-Lancashire man has probably taken away any remaining playing budget that was perhaps intended for a second T20 overseas player.

His senior players have had mixed form too, with a few batsmen and bowlers struggling to find their best in the summer's early exchanges. It has, in short, been anything but an ideal start.

Yet there have been glimpses of light that promise to turn into radiant beams. Both Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor have shown considerable potential with the ball, the Second XI look to be a good side and the Academy looks very strong.

Today we beat Yorkshire's Academy. Nothing to write home about, you might say, but we beat them fair and square and by some considerable margin. They have traditionally had the strongest of Academy sides in the past five to ten years, which goes some way towards explaining the success of their current senior side. We made 223 against them in fifty overs today, before bowling them out for 181. Greg Cork, another who will soon be pushing for a senior berth at his current rate of progress, took 5-29 while Tom Knight took 3-36.

They're unbeaten so far this summer and I watch their progress with great interest, because several of those involved will be in the Derbyshire side we hope for. I remain convinced that our fortunes will improve this summer and we will get some wins under our belt. We're making daft mistakes at the moment that will be eradicated and the wins will start to come.

Yet this summer isn't close to the time to start judging Graeme Welch, nor the club's coaching structure. Think back to when you started jobs and how you were after four months in post. Most people are coming to terms with the demands of the role and sorting out what their predecessor has or hasn't done. If it is a new position, you're identifying the demands of the job and what you need to do in different areas. If you're a manager, you're starting to suss out the staffing wheat from the chaff and keeping your fingers crossed that the former is in the majority.

It is exactly the same for Graeme Welch. I think that even at this early stage he will be aware of players he can rely on and others who, when the chips are down, don't quite have what it takes. He will weigh up the merits of younger players and ponder introducing them, piecemeal fashion, to get a taste of what senior cricket is all about.

Fans will criticise, because it's their raison d'etre in some cases, but most do it only for the best of reasons, that they want to follow a successful club. I think we will get one, but in the short term it will be as a qualified success, until Welch gets to bring in and bring through HIS players, ones who subscribe to his way of working and have the requisite mental toughness, as well as talent, to succeed.

I think a healthy number of the current Academy intake, as well as recent graduates, will make up the majority of that side. Some will fall by the wayside, but there is greater depth of talent in that age group right now than I have ever seen in the county, their abilities quite remarkable in young players.

Keep your eyes on their progress.

Be assured I will...

Sunday, 18 May 2014

League watch

Two fine all-round performances lit up the Derbyshire Premier League yesterday, both giving genuine medium to long-term hope for the future.

At Queens Park in Chesterfield, the home side posted a respectable but not much more 191-6 in their fifty overs against Dunstall, for who Scott Elstone took 2-26. Ben Slater made 64 to anchor the innings, before being run out by Academy youngster Callum Brodrick.

Then Elstone, oddly ignored on Friday evening, made a  typically stylish unbeaten 89, as Dunstall eased to a nine-wicket victory with more than five overs to spare. I sincerely hope such a performance is noted and a talented player is more involved next Friday against Lancashire.

Meanwhile, a low-scoring game between Denby and Alfreton was settled by a fine performance by Greg Cork. Denby struggled to 153 all out, with Cork's patient 63 from 110 balls anchoring the innings. Alfreton were always struggling and were dismissed for 105, Cork taking 2-14 in seven overs to complete a highly satisfying performance.

Wes Durston was also in the runs, with 79 against Swarkestone, who had much the worse of a draw against Ockbrook and Borrowash. It's good to see Wes back in some sort of form and I hope that his season can kick on from here.

Elsewhere, Middlesex's laudable idea of playing a double-header of T20 at Lords on a pleasant Saturday rebounded on them somewhat when they lost them both. Essex looked impressive in the first match, but one would have expected the home side to make a better fist of a moderate chase against Sussex in the second. I suppose it shows that we don't have a monopoly on disappointing performances, for the benefit of those who sometimes appear to think we do.

What it does do is lessen the pain for supporters in a an inadvertent way. I suppose if you lose two in a day you can only really feel the hurt once, afterwards.

Finally today, sage comments from Martin Moseling, a Kent member and cricket writer, regarding 'that' declaration in the recent Kent game. The background from the opposition side makes sense and I'm pleased to see that he too felt that Rob Key may have been better served in a quest for bonus points.

You can read it underneath the day four post on the Derbyshire/Kent game below. I don't want to go around the houses on this one again, but it is well worth a read.

Thanks Martin - and thanks to all of you for your continued comments, emails and interest.

Postscript - later this week I am looking forward to interviewing the legendary Derbyshire bowler Edwin Smith. If you have any questions that you would like me to put to one of our greatest spinners, please drop me a line.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The morning after the night before

The sight of Wayne Madsen, a classy, graceful player and one of the best batsmen the county has had, coming in at number nine last night was ample illustration of my dislike of T20.

Aside from a very occasional reverse sweep that goes awry, the Derbyshire skipper is incapable of playing an ugly stroke and it is indicative of the 'merits' of the short form of the game that such a player feels inclined to go in after all the long handle merchants have had a go.

Yet it need not have been so. While we lost this game by bowling wrong lengths and lines to Leicestershire's batsmen, the first six overs of each innings amply illustrates where we have work to do.

When the field has, perforce of regulations to be in, the batsmen can take risks in those early overs. Our opponents last night made 60-1 from their first six; we made 37-3. In losing by 27 runs, it is easy to see where we need to do better and can hopefully take things much closer.

Full credit to the side, especially Marcus North, in blazing 110 from the last ten overs, which was spectacular but cannot be expected to be replicated too often. Nor should it have to be, if we show a little more nous when it matters.

In a side with such a lengthy batting order, we could afford to give two or three of the top five a licence to thrill. Ches 'n' Wes should be encouraged to go in and bat as they did against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge last year, rather than take eight balls for seven and 29 balls for 28 respectively. If you're chasing 140, that's fine, but someone, other than Stephen Moore, had to go for it last night and none of our top four managed to do so. If there's little urgency in chasing ten an over, you may as well get an early bus home.

It was Chanderpaul's only game before returning to the West Indies and playing on, second ball, was a cruel blow. Yet North was immediately into his stride and seemed wasted at number five. Mind you, not as wasted as Scott Elstone, who didn't bat at all, despite being a naturally brisk scorer. Nor was his off-spin used, which poses the question as to why he was picked, as he's a much better cricketer than an unused number ten.

It's such inconsistencies that trouble me about last night. Why did North not bowl either, when spin was the most effective bowling of the night? Why did we bowl six straight overs of seam in the Powerplay, before seeing how a spinner got on? Even an over in that period might have made the batsmen think and have to adjust a little.

I caught sight of statistics today that made unpleasant reading. Only one county in each category, either batting or bowling, has made worse use of Power plays than Derbyshire. Historically, we average under seven an over with the bat, while we concede a boundary every five balls. I'd suggest that until we can improve such statistics our fortunes won't change.

Such things will doubtless occupy the mind of Graeme Welch before next weekend. We now have time for people to work at their T20 disciplines and improve them. I'd like to see a tweak or two to the team, one of them enforced in the absence of Chanderpaul. Don't expect a last minute overseas replacement, because my gut feeling is that any surplus budget for such a move will have been used up by the enforced signing of Gareth Cross for the summer. We may otherwise have pulled someone from the leagues or from overseas, but a less than affluent county must be down to the contents of the 'swear box' in the playing budget.

I'd bring in Tom Knight and Alex Hughes for the next one, replacing Shiv and Jon Clare. I think the latter needs bowling and there's a few other seamers I would push ahead of him in the queue at this stage, especially Tony Palladino. Knight has proven ability in T20 and is improved in all disciplines, while Hughes is simply too talented a young player to leave out.

I'd also tweak the batting order and tell Chesney to really go for it in the first six. We bat low enough to regroup if it goes pear-shaped, but if he and the naturally quick-scoring Stephen Moore fire, we could put a game out of sight.

My side, in batting order:

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

With five spinners and three seamers, let's mix it up with the ball too. One and two over spells, before the batsmen line them up. So often in T20, a third over goes for plenty and it's breaking the familiarity of line, length and pace that helps the bowlers compete against bats that are now so chunky that mishits go for six.

I came across one of my old bats in the loft recently and the edge was less than half that of my current one. Modern bats really have sides. Back in the 1960's, the great Majid Khan of Glamorgan proved a point about handling spin on a turning wicket  by playing them in a net session with the edge of his bat. He could have done that in matches with a modern bat...

Let's not panic. Losing last night didn't end our season, any more than it did that of the other teams who came out losers on the evening. It was a wake-up call though and work needs to be done.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Leicestershire v Derbyshire T20

This one had gone at the halfway stage.

Teams rarely chase 198 successfully in T20 and, let's face it, we never do.

Sixty off the last four overs, led by the admirable Scott Styris, left us a mountain to climb and despite a late charge, for too long we never got past the foothills.

I wasn't impressed to be honest. We used only five bowlers and twelve overs came from seam, all of them going for over ten an over. Durston and Hughes were tidy enough, but it posed the question as to why North wasn't used, nor Elstone. If we're only bowling five people, then one of them has to be Tom Knight, in the squad but not the team, while Alex Hughes' variation of pace would at least have been something, as well as adding zip to the fielding and batting.

Batsmen line you up in T20 and while Footitt's early spell was good, his later ones were summarily despatched. Groenewald and Clare are too similar and Clare probably undercooked after little match action this year. While IPL skippers rarely give bowlers more than two over spells and change the pace frequently, we didn't - and need to do it more.

Full marks to Scott Styris and to a Leicestershire side that got off steadily and built momentum through partnerships, which is, of course, the way to go in this game. We didn't. To stand any chance we had to maximise the Powerplay and 37-3 from six overs wasn't close to good enough. Chesney came and went, Stephen Moore played some typical shots but got out when he had just got going, while Shiv's parting shot was, sadly, a second ball duck. Durston was uncharacteristically slow, symbolic of his lack of early season form and 68-3 at halfway was a long way from what we needed.

A six from Taylor in the thirteenth over suggested Wes's touch was returning, but by that stage we needed almost fourteen an over and 28 from 29 balls at number three is, while good in most cricket, too slow in this, especially with such a total to chase.

Then came Marcus North, with an extraordinary innings of 90 from 47 balls, with five fours and six sixes. It was magnificent, posing the question as to why we kept him back to number five. Yet with five overs to go we needed 88 and MS Dhoni and Kieron Pollard wouldn't have managed that, even if we'd played this one at Heanor...

I don't know why it is, but we rarely play well against Leicestershire. This was better than the awful season finale of 2013, but a long way short of what we need to produce to do anything but make up the numbers in this competition.

With a couple of exceptions and despite that valiant late effort, not close to good enough, I'm afraid.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Leicestershire v Derbyshire T20 preview

I had into double figures of teams sent to me for the NatWest T20 Blast - thank you for that - and two things stood out.

One was that you mostly feel that spin - and taking the pace off the ball - is the way to go. The second was that there were no two teams the same. Which all goes to show, of course, that Graeme Welch has a tricky job.

Does he go with experience and include, for example, Wes Durston, our most consistent T20 player of recent seasons? Or does he bow to the growing claims of similar and younger model Scott Elstone? Then again, does he include them both?

Marc suggested a few days ago that he wouldn't pick Shiv, which wins the award for boldness but nothing else as far as I am concerned. It's not his forte, I agree, but he still averages 25 and played some good knocks last year. His average and strike rate are almost identical to those of Marcus North. Ideally I suppose a bona fide boundary clearer would have been perfect for while Chanderpaul is away, perhaps one who could bowl a few overs, but we've a solid and long batting side on paper.

Choosing a side is problematic, as much depends on the wicket, but I agree that spin is the way to go. Given we're blessed with people who can twirl (or fire in medium pace darts...) and bat pretty well, the choice is wide and varied.

I do feel that we need some young legs in there though. The top six pretty much picks itself, but with respect to all concerned, none of them are greyhounds in the field. The best T20 sides have fast, lithe fielders for the crucial long-off and long-on positions, positions that have become what cover point once was.

Watch the IPL and marvel at the speed and agility of the likes of Kieron Pollard, Faf du Plessis, Steven Smith and Virat Kohli in those areas. They hold crucial catches, make breathtaking stops and effect run outs that are beyond the compass of ordinary fielders, with their speed over the ground and fast, flat throwing arms. We need players in the side to do that, which accounts for my final lineup.

So, after much thought, here's my first choice side:

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

I can't split Durston and Elstone. They're similar players but Durston has proven explosive ability and would get a chance for me, despite his early form. As any cricketer will tell you, you're only an innings away from being in nick, even if runs are proving elusive. Shiv will be away after this game and I'd then be inclined to pick either Tom Knight or Jon Clare, depending on the wicket. Knight is much improved as a batsman, as evidenced by his top score in one match against Yorkshire today, while I see him as our number one spinner for some time to come.

As for Clare, I'd be surprised and very worried for his long-term career if he's not able to bowl a maximum four-over spell. His ability to reach and clear boundaries in the later innings would get him into my squad for most games, his selection subject to conditions and his fitness

Alex Hughes is a must, offering niggling variety with the ball, explosive qualities with the bat and fine fielding - a must for one of my distant straight fielders, along with Elstone. Cross is a very able number nine and Groenewald is capable of clumping with the best of them. I accept that Footitt can be erratic at times, but pace can be a match-winner and he has it.

With four spinners, North a much better bowler than in his previous spell with the county, as well as being a fine batsman, there's a steady attack that can be switched around by Wayne Madsen.

Is it a side that can do well? I think so, but we've hardly impressed in T20 and I'll hold fire for now. Last year we started well and finished awfully, the latest in a long series of disappointing short form seasons.

A low-key start to the season needs enlivened and perhaps tomorrow is when it all starts.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Derbyshire v Kent day 4

Last night I suggested that there were two ways that the final day of this game could go. Kent could have batted all day to accrue some batting points, or they could have declared overnight and faced a run chase on the final afternoon.

I didn't mention the option chosen by Rob Key, because it seemed a non-starter. Scoring quickly enough on a slow track to force a win seemed unlikely and the final decision, to declare 117 runs on and opt to try and bowl us out in just under fifty overs, seemed a tad optimistic.

Oh, they managed it in the first innings, on a wicket that had been under covers for thirty hours and would have given encouragement to a semi-decent club attack. But today the sun shone, the wind blew and after forty-five minutes of play, in which Kent had struggled to 30-2 in eleven overs, the moisture left the pitch and it became considerably easier to bat.

That being the case, I'd suggest that Key's declaration, far from being imaginative and bold, as described over on Cricinfo, was less that than dumb, perhaps combined with a hint of naivety and disrespect.

Did he really think, on such a wicket, that he could bowl out Derbyshire a second time? A pitch that was now dry offered few alarms and Stephen Moore and Paul Borrington did what you would expect your opening batsman to do on such a wicket. They batted Kent out of the game and saw the game to an early conclusion.

After it, Key said that the wicket was 'unbelievably flat' after the tribulations of the second day. For me, that makes the declaration even more odd. To expect Derbyshire to roll over and his bowlers to do better than ours had was just daft.

In the circumstances, having failed to agree on a declaration target with Wayne Madsen in the morning, he should have let his batsmen find form. He should have let Brendan Nash make a century and allowed his side to progress, probably with considerable serenity, to maximum batting points.

He missed out on four points that could be crucial at the end of the season. Sorry, I don't think that good cricket in the slightest.

Anyway, we got a first opening century stand of the season, which will give confidence to both Stephen Moore and Paul Borrington. They are players of contrasting, but equally valuable merit and I like a pairing where you have a stroke player and a 'sticker' together. I would like to see it given a good, long run as I think it will work.

Why? Because both can play.

More from me tomorrow, when I will tell you my T20 side...

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Derbyshire v Kent day 3

With a day to go of this game, there's two ways that it could pan out - always assuming that the weather turns a little more favourable.

It could be a dull as dishwater final day, where Kent bat to earn some points and everyone goes home with the cricket equivalent of a lucky bag from a kid's party - a few bits and pieces, but nothing of real substance to get excited about.

On the other hand, the two skippers could come to a morning agreement to make a game of it. Kent could declare overnight, we could have a merry old thrash before lunch and into early afternoon and then leave them a total to chase in the final innings.

There's the possibility of another Derbyshire collapse tomorrow morning, after the pitch has spent another day under covers, but also a risk for Kent in chasing a total that would start with the score at 108. It would, however, make for a day that identified the risks each side were prepared to take in attempting to win the game - and, indeed, promotion.

There is a danger of over-reaction in some quarters to yesterday's collapse by Derbyshire. Throughout a season of cricket, all teams come across wickets that heavily favour the batsmen, where the top order are expected to cash in . Then there will be others that are heavily weighted towards the bowlers, where conditions allow the flexing of muscles with genuine intent as bowlers remove their sweaters.

Such a day was yesterday. Doug Bollinger is a very good player with Test and one-day international wickets to his name and will have been very aware that the cards favoured him considerably. So too Darren Stevens, a cricketer of skill and experience who will have fancied a wicket that had been under covers for a day and a half, even had the atmosphere not lent itself to swinging the ball too. Put these two things together and there's no team would much fancy batting, especially one low on confidence and experience.

It is a well-known among cricketers and groundsmen that wickets spending long periods under cover while it rains 'sweat' and produce intriguing variables. If one acknowledges, as we all do on a regular basis, the skill, experience and talent of Moore, Madsen and Chanderpaul, is it not likely that something is afoot when all three go cheaply?

With four of the top seven making season debuts, it is little wonder that we struggled. Had the toss gone the other way, I have no doubt that the same would have applied to Kent. All things considered, Scott Elstone can be pleased with how he gritted it out, while Alex Hughes confirmed his talent with an unbeaten championship personal best that will doubtless be surpassed before too long.

It hasn't been the start we all envisaged, but there's a lot happened in the past few weeks that none of us expected, on and off the pitch.

Things will improve, but we all need to appreciate that there will be times when we don't do well because the other team is better and/or conditions are against us. We've no more right to do well at such times than any other team, as plenty of others are finding this summer.But things WILL improve.

Hold tight, my friends and try to enjoy the ride...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Derbyshire v Kent day 2

It was hardly unexpected, given that the wicket will have 'sweated' under covers for the best part of a day and a half, that Derbyshire struggled when play began today.

118 all out was still a disappointing effort, but with canny, experienced bowlers to call on in Doug Bollinger and Darren Stevens and the ball swinging around, we never got going. When Madsen and Chanderpaul go early, it is fairly clear evidence that batting isn't a picnic. Scott Elstone showed potential, as did Alex Hughes, but Graeme Welch will be surprised, I'm sure, to see his side capitulate quite so quickly.

The Kent bowlers were accurate and we need to do the same tomorrow. If we don't, there's the very worrying thought of a replication of Worcester lying full steam ahead.

I really hope not, but tomorrow we need to fight back.

Big time.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Derbyshire v Kent day 1

The only thing to say about today is that we lost the toss and will bat when the rain relents to allow play.

Tom Taylor was, predictably, the man left out of the Derbyshire twelve and we will see how our new-look line-up bats in due course, hopefully some time tomorrow.

Nothing more to say, really.

Oh, except SUPER RAMS!

One consolation of a very dismal  day's weather.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Taylor in the vanguard

Ticknall's Tom Taylor (pictured), as well as being perfect for headline writers of an alliterative bent (but I can do much better...) may not make his debut against Kent tomorrow, but has pushed himself to the forefront of the exciting crop of seam bowling talent in the club's academy.

I suspect that his senior debut will not be long delayed, especially if he keeps up his current levels of performance and progress, but the likes of Ben Cotton, Greg Cork, Will Davis and Jony Marsden will all be pushing hard in the coming months to force themselves into the senior reckoning. So to will Matt Higginbottom, who did well on limited opportunities last year.

They face a tough task, because Messrs Groenewald, Palladino and Footitt are fine purveyors of the art of seam bowling. They are not going to give up their places willingly and nor should they, but it is unrealistic to expect them to stay fit and play in all the cricket over the next four to five months.

With Jonathan Clare not bowling at present and Mark Turner whole-hearted without the results so far, these lads are realistically only an injury away from the big time. If they ever needed an incentive to work at their games, I'd reckon that is it.

It will be an exciting time for players and fans but as fans we must be patient and understanding. There will be days when things go their way, their bowling is economical and wickets fall. There will be others where, like most bowlers, the radar isn't quite locked on and they come up against batsmen of experience who milk them steadily and professionally. Such is the great game of cricket and it is one of the things that makes it so.

Mind you, I look forward to the day that I can write 'Ticknall's Tom Taylor trims tentative tail'. And if any of you use that as an example of alliteration in your English class, you will drop me an e mail, won't you?

In the Premier League today, Ben Slater got a good 90 for Chesterfield, where a potentially tight finish against Ticknall was ruined by the rain. Meanwhile, Tom Knight got four wickets for Swarkestone, for who Wayne White hit an eighteen-ball 43.

Sadly, there was only a single for Wes Durston in Ockbrook's win over Spondon. I hope he rediscovers his mojo sometime soon, as our best T20 batsman of the past few summers. As things stand, he'll need a little faith from Graeme Welch to get into that side for the first game against Lancashire.

More immediately, I hope we make a good start against Kent tomorrow. Good luck to the lads and also those at the IPro, where a Rams win would do just dandy.

Fingers crossed...

Derbyshire v Kent preview

While it is early days in his tenure, I have to say that I like what I have seen of Graeme Welch.

The results haven't matched the work and organisation thus far, but that will come. Especially when he carries through his promises to players to force their way into the side with performances in second team and league cricket.

That's what has happened. So we find Paul Borrington, Scott Elstone and Alex Hughes replacing Billy Godleman, Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes for the game against Kent that starts on Sunday. All of them are deserved promotions, with strong performances for their club sides reinforcing excellent displays in the second team. While Elstone started on the staff at Trent Bridge, the others have come through the Derbyshire Academy and will allay the unnecessary concerns of some that their claims have been overlooked.

It is nonsense, of course. As I wrote earlier in the week, Welch rightly went with greater experience to start the campaign but that didn't work in the matches so far. He may well revert to the personnel concerned at some point, but now is the time for the young guns to be given the opportunity that they deserve.

For Paul Borrington, it is another chance to show he has the ability to score runs at top level. In the final year of his contract, this is a big year for a player who has a sound technique and, as another player told me recently, definitely the mental toughness to succeed.

Opening batsmen have a tough gig. They go in to face big strapping bowlers when they are fresh and armed with a new ball, sometimes for just a few overs at the end of a day when it is crucial to avoid dismissal. Two summers ago I wrote of the importance of Borrington's disciplined efforts to the promotion campaign and it is much easier for the middle order to come in to face a ball that is thirty overs old to a new one. Borrington's self-discipline is capable of enabling that to happen.

Scott Elstone makes his championship debut. A month short of his 24th birthday, he needs a run in the side to show if undoubted talent can be translated to the county stage. A compact, stylish batsman, he scores quickly when well-set and offers an off-spin option and brilliant fielding in a natural swap for Wes Durston. Should he get going, the Derby faithful will enjoy watching an exciting player.

As for Alex Hughes, he looked a player of talent in flashes last season and a summer on looks to have progressed as a fluent batsman and seam bowler who is underestimated at your peril. I like and admire his commitment to the cause and am confident that he will become a stalwart of the Derbyshire side in the years ahead.

Gareth Cross makes his debut for the county too and will be a reassuring presence at number seven. I'm delighted to see Tom Taylor in the twelve-man squad, but would be surprised if he made the final side and feel he is there for the experience at this stage. Taylor has produced some excellent bowling this summer and looks a rich talent, though only a green track on Sunday will see us go with a five man seam attack. I expect David Wainwright to play, especially since the absence of Wes and Ches leaves us with only a debutant and Chanderpaul or Madsen  for spin.

The Derbyshire squad: Borrington, Moore, Madsen, Chanderpaul, Elstone, Hughes, Cross, Wainwright, Palladino, Groenewald, Footitt, Taylor.

As for Kent, they have announced the following twelve:

Rob Key, Sam Northeast,  Daniel Bell-Drummond,  Brendan Nash, Ben Harmison,  Darren Stevens, Sam Billings, Adam Ball,  Adam Riley, Mitch Claydon, Doug Bollinger, Matt Hunn

They are an enigmatic side, where runs are either a feast or famine. We need a little more in the wicket for the bowlers than there was in the Hampshire game and if that transpires have the attack to cause them problems.

Like all Derbyshire fans though, the greater concern is in the batting. Should some of the four new faces in the top seven fire, it will go a long way towards ensuring an improved performance.

Good enough to earn us a first win? With rain showers predicted for the first three days, I suspect this one will end in a draw.

But I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Cross in as Poynton and Johnson face spell on sidelines

The news that Tom Poynton is out for the season came as a blow, not just to the player himself and his family, but to the club and its supporters.

He will return and I have no doubt that the player will re-emerge next season as the wicket-keeping talent that we know he is. We're missing him right now. Not just for the excellence of his glove work or his pugnacious batting, but also for his presence on the field.

You know Poynton is there, because you hear him between every ball. Shouting, encouraging, energising. Teams need that sort of player, but we will now need to do without him until 2015.

We will also need to do without Richard Johnson. A victim of sports performance anxiety issues, his absence could also be lengthy and the club will doubtless afford him the time he needs, just as they have with Peter Burgoyne.

When Johnson's absence was first mentioned, but no illness specified, I had an idea that it may be a similar condition. It is again cruel luck for the player and the club and illustrative again of the pressures of the modern game. None of us on the outside can imagine those pressures and the need to perform on a regular basis.

I wish both Tom and Richard the best of luck as they begin their treatment and recuperation and hope that we see them back in training sooner, rather than later.

I mentioned the need for luck as paramount in Derbyshire's quest for success this summer and it is fair to say that Graeme Welch hasn't had a great deal of that so far. As well as losing several players to injury and ill-health, he has seen senior players start the campaign in poor form, ironically after impressing pre-season.

Yet one learns a great deal about someone in adversity and Welch has moved with commendable speed to sign Lancashire wicket-keeper Gareth Cross (pictured). It doesn't come as a great surprise, the player having made several second team performances in the past couple of weeks, but it is undoubtedly good news.

Cross is a fine player. He is a very good wicket-keeper, equally competent standing up as back, as well as being an able batsman who can score quickly or dig in as required. His signing allows Dan Hodgson to return to Yorkshire after the most brief of loan spells, where two innings produced but one run.

Perhaps this will mark a turning point in our fortunes and Welch has also moved quickly to change the team around for the Kent game on Sunday - but that's for another piece...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Few clues in the T20 warm-ups

There's been an encouraging couple of days for Derbyshire in the T20 warm-ups, though few clues as to what Graeme Welch sees as his strongest eleven.

There's been an experienced batting line-up paired with youngsters in one match, then a youthful batting side with experienced bowlers in the next. Then a couple of composite sides, albeit heavier in bowlers than batsmen. At the end of it all, we had three wins out of four, which we'd take when the serious stuff starts.

Of course, we don't know the standard of the opposition and given that Durham and Lancashire's first teams are both playing at present, it's safe to say that it wasn't the best that those counties had to offer. Still, you can only beat what's in front of you and another in the 'wins' column does the confidence no harm whatsoever.

I genuinely don't think I could call a first choice T20 side as there's 18-20 players who all have justifiable claims for a place in the side. Assuming all were fit and available, I think you'd say that Moore, Madsen, Chanderpaul, Durston, Chesney Hughes, North, Groenewald and a wicket-keeper were certainties.

That's eight players, all of them capable of runs and four of them  - five if you include Madsen - who can bowl.

Pick three from Elstone, Clare, Palladino, Turner, Footitt, Alex Hughes, Wainwright, Knight and Godleman, assuming you discount (perhaps wrongly) the claims of Slater (who top scored in one game today) and Borrington, who is in prime form. Who knows, one of the youngsters may have impressed sufficiently to force their way into plans.

Tough, huh?

I'd love to see your first choice side before the Lancashire game, then I'll let you know mine. We're obviously basing them on an assumption (not necessarily correct) that all of them are fit, while any team selection is based on the wicket concerned.

One interesting name in the second team of late is Gareth Cross, formerly of Lancashire. He's a very good wicket-keeper and able batsman, though he is registered with Minor Counties side Cheshire. My understanding is that this would render him ineligible for county championship cricket, but he could play T20 if required. Such a move would depend on the fitness of Richard Johnson and the terms of the loan for Dan Hodgson, of course, but a good wicket-keeper can be the difference between winning and losing in T20. I think it unlikely that Tom Poynton would be fit for at least the early stages of the competition and even more so that MS Dhoni might pop over for a few games ahead of the Indian summer tour...

Graeme Welch will be keen to ensure that he has this key role covered for the duration of this summer's domestic event and we'll doubtless know more in due course.

Finally tonight,  congratulations to Wayne Madsen for a new world record of 282 cricket ball 'keepy-uppies' with a bat in one minute.

I watched the footage tonight on the club's Twitter account and was quite envious. He gets more in the middle of the bat in one minute than I may well manage all summer  - if our ground ever dries out enough to allow play...

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Something for the weekend

It's been a busy old weekend but I didn't want it to pass without mention of a fine win by the second team on Friday.

Ticknall's Tom Taylor took 5-24 in nine overs, while Mark Turner took three wickets to complete a good match. There were a couple for Alex Hughes too, who also stated his fairly obvious credentials for the long season of cricket that lies ahead.

Taylor appears to be a genuine prospect. At 19 he bowls at a decent pace and tends to hit the back of length, perhaps in the style of Mike Hendrick in his pomp. Were Taylor to develop into another Hendo, few of us would have grounds for complaint. He will need to keep working, but the lad appears to have considerable potential.

I think that's something to focus on for Derbyshire supporters. As I stated earlier in the week, Graeme Welch quite rightly and sensibly went with his experienced players at the start of the season and you'd struggle to find a coach who wouldn't have done the same. Nonetheless, he will be aware of the talent that is in the second team and also emerging from the Academy.

As I write the Academy are 76-0 in their league match, with Tom Wood and George Sellers picking up where they left off against Northamptonshire in the week and Alvaston last weekend. While the acid test will be on how many of these talented lads emerge to become established in the senior side, I cannot recall a time when we had quite so many coming through.

They will enjoy more specialist, individual coaching than their predecessors too and critics of the setup should keep this in mind and defer judgement until we're much further down the line.

Yesterday saw a few Derbyshire players, past and present, in Premier League action. Kevin Dean turned back the clock with five wickets for Ockbrook and Borrowash, for who Wes Durston took two wickets, though the latter might have hoped for more than a brisk 24 when he batted, as they went down to Lullington Park in a tight finish.

Likewise, Billy Godleman scored only eight for Alvaston and Boulton, though 88 for Steve Stubbings and an unbeaten 55 from Andy Gray helped them to 209 all out. That looked to be enough to beat Ticknall, despite Tom Taylor's 4-43, as they slid to 64-7, but then the county's Mark Turner made an unbeaten 73 and steered Ticknall home by one wicket, aided and abetted by a rather unnecessary thirty wides...

Best all-round performance? That has to be Garry Park of Swarkestone. He scored 146 with nine sixes as they posted 298-5 in fifty overs against Marehay, getting fine support from Alex Hughes , who made 71 in just 62 balls. Park then took 6-58 as Marehay subsided to 133 all out. Hughes chipped in with two wickets and the two doubtless slept soundly last night!

He's a very good cricketer, Garry Park and I always enjoyed watching him bat, bowl and especially field. His final season at the club wasn't helped by an injury that he tried to play through, but he remains one of the very best fielders I have seen in the club colours, as well as a top bloke.

The first team will be in T20 action during this week's second team games and I look forward to seeing who stakes a claim for a place in the short form of the game. I've come up with a few versions of a Derbyshire side, but since we don't yet know the availability of Messrs Chanderpaul and North, the final eleven could change somewhat. North will, of course, offer a bowling option and we could theoretically have three spinners (Durston and Chesney Hughes included) in our top five batsmen.

That's one to look at down the line. For now, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Postscript - another win for the Academy, this time by 100 runs - 223-7 against Marehay's 123 all out.  Very good cricket by the young side!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Good effort by second team

Having declared on their overnight total, Derbyshire's second team took control against Worcestershire at the 3aaa County Ground today.

The visitors were bowled out just after lunch for 172, with Mark Turner taking four wickets, Tom Taylor three and Ben Cotton two.

They made a better fist of their second innings, ending on 132-2 when bad light stopped play. That's still 119 behind with a day to go, in a game that is a reversal in fortunes of the senior fixture between the sides.

Here's hoping for a morale-boosting win for the lads tomorrow, with encouraging individual performances to boot.

Derbyshire blind cricket team

I got an e mail today from Harry, regarding the Derbyshire Blind Cricket XI. One of his closest friends plays for the team and they have their first ever league fixture this Sunday, playing away at Lancashire.

The side currently play their home fixtures at Darley Abbey. They won there first ever game last year, a friendly against Lancashire. It has taken them a few years to get enough players to form a side, but this year they have a squad of around fifteen players, including some talented youngsters who Harry feels could play for England one day. 
They are known as the Derbyshire Owls and are on the look out for more players, especially youngsters.

 If you  know of anyone who may be interested, please mail me and I will put you in touch with Harry.

Good luck to the side in their future ventures. If there's Derbyshire in the team name, they'll get my interest...

Thank you

Big thanks to all those who check in, either regularly or occasionally and have now taken the blog past the 600,000 visits mark.

Also thanks to those who read the pieces as they are posted on Sportskeeda. Either today or tomorrow the views will pass the quarter million mark, which is humbling, flattering and a great reflection on the worldwide interest in Derbyshire cricket.

Finally, thanks to all of you for your regular comments and e mails, which are appreciated. We don't always agree, but there is a shared desire to see a strong Derbyshire County Cricket Club and it would be a funny old world if we all thought the same way..

This weekend I will start the series of interviews I did with club legend Brian Jackson recently.

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

All change...

I had to smile this morning, in reading a report on the Worcestershire CCC site regarding yesterday's second team game.

Leach and Whiles strike as Elstone hits opening day double century  read the headline, not truly reflecting a close of play score of 422-2. Even positive old Peakfan might have been tempted to use "Bowlers under the cosh at Derby" or something similar.

Anyway, it was encouraging to see Graeme Welch refer to changes before the Kent game. While Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes will doubtless be staples of our T20 and one-day sides, the reality is that neither has scored runs in four-day cricket for a year, yesterday being the anniversary of Chesney's massive innings against Yorkshire. With Billy Godleman also struggling to translate talent into runs, the likes of Scott Elstone, Paul Borrington and Alex Hughes must come under very close scrutiny for a role in the game against Kent that starts a week on Sunday.

Durston may survive, as he was batting well yesterday before getting a brute of a lifter, but I would be surprised if there were not at least a couple of changes for a game against Kent that takes on greater significance than seemed likely at the start of the summer.

The irony, of course, is that the scheduling for second eleven cricket between times is daft.  After their exploits yesterday, it is unlikely that the young tyros named above will get another knock in this game and the next scheduled three-day game isn't until the 27th May. Between times they get to play twelve T20 matches - two games per day against six sides - which is far from ideal preparation for championship cricket.

If one takes another of our promising talents, Ben Slater, who normally bats down the order in T20, he's not going to get a 'proper' bat in cricket for a month, at a time when we're in need of another opening batsman to partner Stephen Moore.

It is quite possible that Durston, Hughes and Godleman could find form in T20 and getting a few off the middle of the bat is often what it takes to get back into a semblance of form. Eddie Barlow, when coaching players in the nets, used to say "see the ball, hit the ball" and try to uncomplicate things. Yet there's a world of difference in the two games.

I've seen some very good limited overs batsmen who were walking wickets in the longer game, Thick edges and opening the face for four to third man is fine and dandy when there's no slips, but is a recipe for the long and lonely walk to the pavilion in the real thing. So too is playing away from the body, safe in the knowledge that the edges are likely to go wide of the wicket-keeper. Likewise, I've seen bowlers who offered control when they had men back on the boundary to cover the odd bad ball. Put men around the bat and they couldn't bowl accurately, or with sufficient guile, to get people out.

As first-class cricketers, of course, there is an expectation that you learn and master such skills. Unlike a team mate of mine, many years ago, who was on the verge of district selection as a pretty quick bowler. In a league match up here, playing for a new club, I was asked to field short leg to him, which I did (ah, the naivety of youth...)

I watched him turn to start his lengthy run and focused on the batsman. Next thing I knew I was on the floor with a lot of people around me. Gordon, it turned out, tended to lose his radar when he had fielders close in front of the wicket and had hit me with an especially erratic delivery. It remains the only time I've ever been hit on the head and was the reason why he never progressed...and why I never fielded close to him again.

I hope that Graeme Welch and his team have contingencies in place to allow players some real time in the middle in the coming weeks. With the senior T20 approaching, there will be a temptation to play Ches 'n' Wes as openers in the seconds, with Bozza therefore dropping down. With Elstone, Alex Hughes and, presumably, Godleman in the top six, you could have a situation where Ben Slater doesn't get a knock till seven.

Tough decisions to be made and this is where Welch will undoubtedly earn his money.

As I said in a comment below yesterday's piece, there's nothing massively wrong with the Derbyshire side, but we do need a team on the field where eleven people contribute. While we will be bottom of the table when we play Kent, I genuinely don't see us staying there.

Maintaining focus has to be a major factor. Conceding nearly two hundred runs after tea to Worcestershire on the third day made the last day a difficult one, while losing a wicket in attempting a second run to a former team-mate who had perhaps the best arm in the club was silly beyond belief.

When that side of things improves, we will.