Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Three sign summer contracts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admirable work all round, I'd say.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Something for the weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 October 2014

Monday musings - golden age?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll settle for that.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Something for the weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 13 October 2014

Monday, good to me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good news to start the week though!

More from me as the week progresses.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Davis news lights up dismal October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is roughly when I'll be back!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Fantasy League Roll of Honour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blog in winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Midweek musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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