Saturday, 29 November 2014

Good question from Sam

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

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

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

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

Hughes (A)

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 November 2014

White signs on one-year deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Better news on Clare despite long absence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I am sure you will.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

At last, some news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Quiet times...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Midweek musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 November 2014

Something for the weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Weekend warmer

That was a warm day yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Peakfan/Derbyshire supporters

This is an excellent site - I am most impressed.

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

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

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

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

So, please visit us at this link: