Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Blogmanay wishes..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, everyone!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

As the turn of the year approaches...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Yule blog...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Footitt Lions omission a big mistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sad news from the County Ground

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

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

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

Rest in Peace Ian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book Review: Frith's Encounters by David Frith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A worthy Christmas purchase? Definitely.

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