Thursday, 27 February 2014

You just have to be impressed...

It's impossible not to be impressed by the goings-on at the County Ground over recent weeks.

On and off the field, Derbyshire look like they are moving in the right direction. There are vastly improved communications to enjoy, as well as innovative film of the players in training - player cam is great and I suspect a whole lot less dangerous than facing our quick bowlers in the flesh.

There's good news to enjoy too - Chesney is fit, batting AND bowling; the whole squad is fully fit and raring to go. Training regimes appear to be demanding, pressurised and enjoyable, as well as highly innovative. Eye tracking? I'll bet we've never used that one before, though it sounds massively beneficial and indicative of a level of professionalism that we haven't previously attained at the county.

There's also yoga and I cannot think any fan can fail to be impressed by what Graeme Welch has brought into the club in his brief tenure in charge. Welch, with his coaches, has the opportunity to build something very special at Derbyshire and I cannot wait for the cricket to start.

In any coaching reshuffle in any sport, there will be players who respond to increased opportunity, new ideas and a change of tactics, while there will also be those who either stand still or whose progress is less marked. It will be fascinating to see who steps up to the plate in what looks set to be an exciting summer.

I've also been impressed by the items in the ongoing club auction and the generosity on the part of players. I'm sure that some of these things would have been treasured by the players for the efforts that they represent, but the response has been very good. I'd have been up for a few of them myself, but the prices went outside my price bracket and deservedly so.

The players deserve maximum respect for their efforts and I hope that the final tally is worthy of the work and initiative that has gone into it.

Finally tonight, thanks to all of those who got in touch last night after the blog reached half a million hits. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated, as is your ongoing support.

See you soon!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

An interview with Chris Taylor part one

You made a breakthrough at Yorkshire in 2001, having played in the Academy and Second XI for several seasons. That must have been a big moment for you and your family?

It was, Steve. I had come through the ranks at Yorkshire and done well in the seconds. I had six or seven centuries to my name for them and two days before the game against reigning champions Surrey at The Oval, I had a call from Arnie Sidebottom, to say that I was playing.

I was 19/20 and didn't sleep between times, thinking about the big moment that I had dreamed of for so long. They had a very good all-round side and facing Martin Bicknell and Ed Giddins was a tough baptism for me. After that, I had another few games that summer, got a few starts but didn't go on to a score to make a point.

Then your first first-class half century came the following season – another big moment?

I spent the pre-season working really hard, with the ambition of getting into the team, but it was a strong batting line-up. My first senior game of the summer, curiously enough, was also against Surrey and I remember facing Alex Tudor bowling very quickly down the hill, while Saqlain Mushtaq was turning it a lot at the other end. It was a tough baptism, but I got an unbeaten 52 and was thrilled with that, even though we were beaten by an innings and plenty.

In the next match I opened the batting against Warwickshire at Headingley. They had New Zealander Shane Bond as the overseas pro and he'd recently been 'clocked' at 95mph in a Test match. His first ball was a bouncer to my opening partner, Vic Craven. It went over his head and over that of wicket-keeper Keith Piper, going for a one bounce four byes.

Neil Mallender was umpiring at my end. He turned to me, pulled a face and said 'Jesus...that was quick...'

I managed another fifty against an attack that included my future Derbyshire team mate Mo Sheikh and was quite pleased with myself. Then I got to play in the Roses match, live on Sky and was out for a duck in each innings, second ball each time. Not one of my better memories!

Over the following three summers, you only got eight first-class matches. That must have been a frustrating time in your life?

Yeah, the most I got was three consecutive games, but the batting was very strong. There was Vaughan, Lehmann, White, McGrath, Lumb, Blakey – it was tough to break through into that side as a young player.

There were precious few one-day opportunities there either, fairly strange in the light of your form for Derbyshire in the format. Why was that – was it ever explained?

I was very much seen as a potential opener in the four-day game and advised to concentrate on that. I think I scored 34 centuries for the second team, and three double hundreds, yet no one at any point seemed to consider that I could adapt my game to play in the shorter formats.

In the winter of 2005-6, you moved to Derbyshire. How did that come about?

It came to a head at Yorkshire in 2005. I had a poor run with the bat, but I got engaged to Charlotte, which was the only bright spot of the summer. Then, all of a sudden, it went right and in three innings for the seconds I had consecutive scores of 160, 210 and 140-odd.

Former England skipper, Ray Illingworth was always my mentor. At that time he wrote or 'ghosted' a column for the Yorkshire Post and he missed few opportunities to bang the drum for me. Yet no matter what I did or what he wrote, David Byas, the coach, didn't seem to rate me.

The next time I met Illy I told him I was giving serious thought to packing it all in. He told me to wait a while and give him a few days. Apparently he gave Dave Houghton a ring at Derbyshire and a couple of days later, Dave phoned me, completely out of the blue. He told me some nice things, the sort that you always want to hear, and said that he saw me as number three at Derbyshire in all forms of the game.

He invited me down to the club and that invitation extended to my family, who all had a nice day out. It was in stark contrast to Yorkshire, where families were usually not welcome and were regarded as a distraction!

Then, all of a sudden, there was the offer of a two-year deal at Yorkshire, but I'd had enough of it by that stage and was happy to go to work with a man who had a proven reputation as a coach and man manager.

 What were your early impressions of your new team mates? There were two Tasmanians in Michael di Venuto and Travis Birt for starters...

It was great. Dave Houghton was a terrific coach and I liked what he had to say. At Yorkshire it was all about Trueman, Close and Boycott – the legends. Here, the environment was much more friendly and exactly what I needed at the time.

There were a few new guys. Steffan Jones, Graham Wagg, James Pipe – we all came in together and bonded really well. From a personal point of view, it was nice to be told to pad up and face the bowling machine and bowlers at the start of a net session, rather than being tagged on to the end as an afterthought.

Charlotte, my wife, quit her job as a trainee solicitor and became Personal Assistant to Peter Gadsby at Derby County. We moved into a rented flat at Mickleover and were very happy.

I was lucky enough to get runs from the start and got a hundred in my first innings for the county in the Parks against Oxford University. When I got to my century, I launched into a mad celebration that 'Pop' Welch still ribs me about today. It just felt so good, though, so right at Derbyshire.

Half a million hits and going strong...

Thank you.

That's really all there is to say tonight, as the blog reaches a special landmark of 500,000 hits. I'm very proud and not a little humbled by your continued interest in all things to do with Derbyshire cricket. When I started the site, back in 2008, I wasn't sure how long I would do it for, but each year over the intervening period it has enjoyed one hundred per cent exponential growth, thanks to all of you.

It's funny, because this week I managed to solve a problem that has puzzled me for some time and it is all down to Mrs P.

Behind the scenes on the site, the hits are now at 569,000 and I had no idea why there was such a discrepancy. Then I bought my wife a tablet for her birthday (the computing kind, not a vitamin pill...I'm not that cheap...) and helped her set it up.

A few minutes later I asked her how she was finding it.

"It's great" she said, "I'm on your site just now". Flattered by this, as she's not an habitual visitor, I sat down next to her to see how it looked on the screen. The hit counter didn't display. Nor did it if I refreshed. Indeed, nor did it when I tried for the first time ever on a mobile phone. So those of you who are accessing the site through tablets and mobiles aren't being picked up, but, in the grand scheme of things, it matters not a jot - although your continued interest most certainly does.

To all of you who check in regularly through whatever means, a sincere thank you. Likewise to those who come to the site through Newsnow and to those who have accounted for a further 170,000 views through Sportskeeda,

And at the risk of making this like an acceptance speech, thanks also to Officecare for their sponsorship, which has helped not only to make the blog look more professional, but has also made a contribution to the biggest single year of growth since it began over the past twelve months.

Onwards and upwards, just like Derbyshire.

It's a good start to what should be a terrific season and to celebrate, the start of the Chris Taylor interview, as promised.


Monday, 24 February 2014

Monday musings - Redfern signs for Leicestershire

Thirty-five days to go...

Today's the day that Daniel Redfern, erstwhile of this parish, secured pastures new and a two-year deal at our near neighbours, Leicestershire.

It represents an opportunity for Redfern to rebuild a career that appeared to be heading nowhere last season, when he slipped so far down the pecking order that his starring role was as a bit part off spin bowler in T20. On his rare appearances with the bat, he seemed to find a way of getting out, usually when he was on the point of being established at the crease.

It made painful viewing, especially for those who had followed his progress from the Academy, through to the second team and into the first eleven. In 2012 he had looked on the verge of something special and produced some brilliant innings, but his career would now appear to be at the crossroads.

I've said before that Redfern at his best is reminiscent of Neil Fairbrother, working the ball around and capable of brilliance, like so many left-handers, when given width outside off-stump. For some reason, last summer that strength had become a weakness and the number of catches to slips and gulley, as well as to the men in front of square, was indicative of someone whose game wasn't 'there'.

I wish him well and only the churlish would do otherwise. While there were issues off the pitch last summer, Redfern gave off his best in county colours. It is ironic that his debut for the Foxes will be against us and I only hope that a resurgence in his career comes after we've got that one out of the way...

Elsewhere, Doug Bollinger, a worthy and canny bowler, has signed for Kent after missing out on an IPL deal. I suspect he will do well and that county has done well to secure his services, as well as Brendan Nash, who will now play as a Kolpak. The latter has proved an inspired signing and has contributed well over the past two summers.

Finally tonight, the blog should hit the half million mark in hits tomorrow, at the regular winter usage level. To mark it, I will be starting the interview with Chris Taylor, which you don't want to miss. Before the season I will also be running another that I conducted with seam bowling legend Brian Jackson, who was both interesting and entertaining.

Then we'll be into the season and there will be the highs and lows to report on, all over again.

I'm hoping for a surfeit of highs this summer - but we'll see what you all expect in a pre-season poll that I will be running in the next few weeks.

See you soon!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sage comments from the south

Thanks to David for alerting me to a message on the Forum from 'Sussex Shark', in response to my reference to that county's parlous financial returns. I don't post on there, Shark, for a variety of reasons but am more than happy to respond here, as well as printing your worthwhile comments in full.

Peakfan - I saw in your midweek musings you mentioned about Sussex recording a loss of £630K which raises a number of questions / concerns from me:

Loss of £630K compared with £325K in the previous year. How did we manage to make such a big loss in a year when we had the Aussies and also had good weather for the Twenty20? In 2014 we have the world cup and if the last six weeks are anything to go by the weather may not be as good this year. Then what? Could we see a seven figure loss?

Commercial and marketing departments have had a shocking year. Presumably if we are going to employ an external team to do the marketing the current marketing team will be made redundant. No point having two people doing the same job! Plumpton use an external marketing company.

Who are the sponsors who are defaulting on paying £87K? Farnrise?

Why have wages and salaries gone up nearly 10% at a time when most people are getting nothing or very little in the way of pay increases? Two extra players?

Talk of creating £1.5-£2m of off-season revenue is optimistic to say the least. If it was that easy how come no one has managed this at anytime up to now?

Jim May tried to justify the loss by saying there was only 40 days of cricket. However, I don't accept this excuse as one look at Plumpton Racecourse accounts for last year shows they made a healthy profit from just 16 days of racing a year by keeping a close eye on its costs and maximising off-season revenue through events and sponsorship.

Sussex have been operating beyond its means for some time and without Spen Carma's money and ECB handouts would have gone bust.

Horsham festival is now under threat unless the sponsors raise £15,000 in the next two weeks. Currently they have raised just £100. If this is not met the Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire games will be moved back to Hove.

Your informed insight into that county's finances are appreciated, but worrying for anyone who follows and cares about the county game. Any business losing the best part of a million pounds over two years would have to be concerned and it seems to me as if the county - like a few others - are conducting their financial affairs with the assumption that they will continually be bailed out by the ECB if things go wrong. It is not, by any means, a sustainable business model

Sussex are no different to Leicestershire, Kent, Surrey, Warwickshire or any number of other counties. They have to learn to cut their cloth to suit - and fast. How many people, if they earn £20K a year, go out and spend £30K?  Derbyshire as a county has led the way in prudent financial management and Northamptonshire's success last summer came after they had undertaken a major cost-cutting exercise based on our own. 

I totally agree that talk of generating two million pounds in off-season revenue seems unrealistic, even on a southern weighting. Maybe if you held major concerts on your ground it would be feasible, but how many clubs do that, or would want to, in the winter months when the likely damage to the outfield would be considerable?

It does make it all the more surprising that the county has engaged a second overseas player in Yasir Arafat for the T20. As for the salary increases, it is a double-edged sword. Again, you should only pay what you can afford, as Derbyshire do and then hope that players buy in to the club's ethos and ambition. There are a good few examples of counties who are paying over the odds for players to retain their services, presumably on the rationale that if they don't, someone else will. Sadly, such players and their agents are bleeding the game dry, as there's simply not the money to go around.

I suppose that is the underlying rationale behind the ECB incentives. Such contracts can only self-perpetuate for those who are producing on a regular basis as they get older, thus improving the overall standard of the competition.

But by the same token, should only do so if they are affordable and are not taking the club to the brink of penury. I've said before that I'll take slow and steady consolidation at Derbyshire over a five-year spending blitz that jeopardises our long-term future.

I've not changed my mind on that one.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Book Review - A Half-Forgotten Triumph: the Story of Kent's County Championship Title of 1913 by Martin Moseling and Tony Quarrington

OK, from the start I will declare a specific interest in this book, as anything covering the so-called 'Golden Age' prior to the First World War will always arouse my interest.

It was an age of gentility, innocence and huge interest in cricket, with the first-class calendar featuring some of the giants of the game's history. WG had gone, but youngsters like Jack Hobbs and Frank Woolley had emerged to capture the imagination of the large cricketing public. They read about these players, but to see them had to go to games. And did, in large numbers.

Woolley was, of course, a batting genius, subject to periods of fallibility but more often than not a player of extraordinary charm who could make batting look like the easiest thing in the world. By the time his career ended in 1938, he had amassed a staggering 59,000 first-class runs, not mention 2,000 wickets with slow left-arm and over a thousand catches. It is safe to say that we will never see his like again.

He was a poor starter, but once set aimed to dominate the bowling, his carefree attitude accounting for a first-class average that just cleared forty, but ensuring the love and admiration of generations of cricket followers. He was a mainstay of the side at the age of 26 in 1913, but by no means a one-man band.

Opening batsman Wally Hardinge was close to 2,000 runs, one of eighteen occasions on which he passed a thousand runs in stylish manner. James Seymour was an excellent number three and outstanding fielder, while Edward Humphreys was another who, like Seymour, passed 1500 runs in an excellent summer for the 'Garden of England' county.

Like all good sides they  had people down the order who contributed runs when most needed and in Fred Huish had a wicket-keeper worthy of a place in an outstanding lineage through Ames, Evans, Knott and Downton.

Seam bowler Arthur Fielder often made early breakthroughs, but Kent had the greatest slow left arm bowler of the period in Colin Blythe. While his powers were on the wane - and the book points out that he was set to retire from cricket to become a coach after the war in which he was killed - he was still good enough to take 145 wickets at just 15 in the season.

2,500 wickets at 16 in a career. The statistics are extraordinary but reflect a bowler in complete control of his powers. Like Yorkshire's Wilfred Rhodes, his greatest weapon was flight, turning it just enough to beat the middle. He enjoyed success against batsmen who 'took him on' in the spirit of the day, but from a classic action bowled long spells without any diminution of his powers.

The fixture lists of the time meant that counties didn't necessarily play all of the others and Kent's success came despite no fixture against a fairly mediocre Derbyshire side of the time. Common sense dictates that this side may have disposed of us very easily...

This is a terrific read and deserves a far wider audience than Kent fans alone. Martin Moseling is an occasional contributor to the blog and the authors deserve full credit for a book that is an absolute delight from start to finish. Lavishly illustrated, with pictures of players and grounds from the period throughout, I savoured every  turn of the page.

It is a book I have had for some time, but took my time over. Now it is finished, I may just start it all over again. Shortlisted among the cricket books of the year, it certainly makes it into Peakfan's top three.

 A Half-Forgotten Triumph: the Story of Kent's County Championship Title of 1913 by Martin Moseling and Tony Quarrington is published by Sports Books and is available through all good book shops. It  is also available from Martin Moseling by e mailing

Midweek musings

A day off for old Peakfan today, as it is Mrs P's birthday. I'm not revealing the age, but, as she points out to me on such occasions, she's still a good few years younger than me..hopefully she's going to enjoy her day, which includes not a single cricket-related gift...

On to the cricket and I hope that you keep an eye on the club's Twitter account in the next couple of weeks, as a wide range of signed goodies are going to be made available through an auction. It is a similar idea to that arranged by Northamptonshire's Alex Wakely, in aid of Help for Heroes.

Wakely raised nearly £3,000 from his auction, which included his T20 medal, which went for an impressive £780. Derbyshire's auction is split between fund raising for the pre-season trip and their three chosen charities. With a range of signed shirts and bats, along with other cricket memorabilia available, it promises to do well and deserves to do so.

Star draw, of course, will be the auction on the day of the Player's Lunch on  March 5th, when the last remaining medal from the 2012 county championship win will be auctioned off and is sure to attract a number of bids.

Get yourselves over to Twitter in the coming days and support a laudable venture as much as you can.

On to other things and Sussex have just announced a loss of £630,000 for last season, which is worrying from all angles. They are perceived as a well run club, but that level of loss shows the challenges of the modern first-class game and they need to put robust measures in place to avoid a repeat. If that was an announcement made by Derbyshire, I would be very concerned.

Meanwhile Kent are close to announcing the signing of an overseas player for the summer, reportedly one who went unsold in the recent IPL auction, which narrows it down to a lot of names. The player concerned 'will be available for the whole season' but their accompanying comment of stringent financial controls suggests it may not be one of the game's bigger names. Sometimes that can work for you though, as Warwickshire have found with the excellent service from Jeetan Patel in recent summers.

Meanwhile, work goes on at the County Ground and it is only just over a month until the first game (albeit pre-season). I suspect that Derby in March may be marginally cooler than Dubai, but the pre-season preparation will doubtless serve our lads well, especially given the quality of opposition to be faced.

That's enough from me for now. Back to Mrs P and her day.

Now, where are those candles...and will 35 fit on the cake...?

Should be me earning some brownie points now!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket: V is for Venkat - Srinivasaraghan Venkataraghavan

In the absence of any Derbyshire cricketer whose name began with the letter U, we move quickly on to the V category. Unusually, in such a small group, all three have something worthy of consideration, though one is a clear winner by some margin.

Matthew Vandrau was born in England but brought up in South Africa and made his Derbyshire debut at the age of 21 in 1990. Over the seasons from then to 1997, there were occasions when he looked on the verge of a breakthrough and becoming a regular in the side. He looked a composed and classy batsman and a first-class average of twenty, while not spectacular, suggested a player of talent - one possibly better than the position that he filled in the order.

He was a good fielder too, while seven five-wicket hauls in 59 first-class matches (twice going on to ten in a match) showed off-spin ability that was above average. It never happened though and he drifted out of the first-class game at the age of 28 when, in fairness, he was a long way from the worst player on the staff and would doubtless have prospered from greater opportunity. In missing out on that, he was in good company over my years of following Derbyshire cricket....

Just after the second world war, Pat Vaulkhard made a belated debut for the county at the age of 35, having played for Nottinghamshire in a few games before the conflict. He quickly showed himself to be an attractive batsman with a penchant for six hitting, usually from a well-timed 'punch' with minimal backlift over the arc between mid-off and mid-on. That aggressive nature, the product of an amateur status that left him less in fear of his place than others, often saw an early demise, but supporters enjoyed the days when Vaulkhard got going.

In that 1946 season he made his only first-class century, against his former club at Trent Bridge. He made the most of it and went on to a score of 264, for a long time the second-highest score in the club's history before being overtaken by Chesney Hughes last season. His partnership with Denis Smith that day, a small matter of 328 runs, remains the club's highest for the fourth wicket.

Yet neither can match the number one, an outstanding off-spinner from India at a time when his country was awash with them and he couldn't establish a permanent role in the national side.

Srinivasaragahavan Venkataragahavan was not a name that rolled easily off the tongue, nor was it one you saw on the back of many shirts, even had such a thing existed back in the 1970s for supporters. There was a joke around that time that the Derbyshire innings rarely lasted much longer than the time it took to spell his name in full, though we were all happy to use the shortened form of 'Venkat'.

He was a class act. He had 450 wickets before he came to England with the Indian touring side of 1971, then took 63 wickets on a tour where he was the fourth in ranking of a never surpassed quartet with Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Prasanna. The latter was his main rival for a regular spot in the side and gave the ball more air, but Venkat was the best batsman and fielder of the four and showed himself a dogged tail end batsman with some nice shots, a talent that was required far too often for comfort. He was 28 when he arrived at Derbyshire and took 72 wickets in 1973, bowling well over 800 overs.

He scored over 400 runs and held over 20 catches too, fielding very well in the close positions, so his season was a long way from a failure. A second campaign saw a reduction to 49 wickets at nearly 40 each and question marks over his signing continued, but in 1975 he had his best summer, taking 68 wickets at just 21, at the end of which the club declined to renew his contract.

It was a strange engagement. The club's best two young players at the time appeared to be fellow off-spinners Geoff Miller and Bob Swindell and the argument was that Venkat would help them both mature and pass on the wisdom of his experience. Of course, it didn't really work out like that. Miller ended up, on his infrequent appearances, bowling at the least favourable end, while Swindell gradually drifted from the scene despite some impressive displays.

Former team mates remember a gentle, thoughtful man whose subsequent success as a top umpire came as no surprise. He didn't drive in England, instead being ferried around by colleagues who enjoyed his company and easy conversation.

They enjoyed his ability to spin the ball too. From a short run up, a quick arm action sent the ball fizzing down the wicket, often fairly flat and invariably accurate. Eripalli Prasanna might have been the more favoured off-spinner by his country's selectors, but Venkat was a fine bowler. 1390 career wickets at 24 confirms that and Derbyshire have had few, if any, better spinners in their long history.

He was just the wrong man at the wrong time, though those of us who watched him bowl long spells will remember a beautiful bowler; a man of genuine humility and a ready smile.

His umpiring success came as no surprise and he became one of the best in the world. History will not see him go down among the very best of our overseas recruits, but he was a very fine bowler indeed.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Action continues as season approaches

Sorry about the lack of blogging since the weekend, but varying commitments have left me with precious little time to do anything outwith work and family requirements. Not that I grudge them, of course (certainly not the latter) but it's meant that I haven't had time to do the blog.

I have to say that I am loving the soundbites coming from the County Ground at present. It was heartening to read how Graeme Welch rates the current Academy graduates and feels they are as good as anything he had to work with at Warwickshire. It would be easy to dismiss this as a flip comment, but I don't get the impression that Welch is that sort of man.

I had an idea that he would like the look of Ben Cotton, Jon Marsden, Greg Cork and Tommy Taylor, while I assume he is also referring to the likes of Matt Higginbottom, together with spinners Peter Burgoyne and Tom Knight. There's a lot to like and it is telling that his qualification of the comment was that they need to get fitter. All would appearhave a decent chance of making county cricket if they are prepared to put in the hours to get to the requisite level of fitness.

As I have written before, the key to success in the next few years is in getting a better strike rate in the academy talent establishing themselves in the county game. The only one to get close to doing so thus far is Tom Poynton, a very good wicket-keeper and improving batsman. Dan Redfern looked like he had, but fell back badly last season and is still looking for a deal elsewhere, while Ross Whiteley hinted at the requisite standard before also going off the boil. While the county game has plenty of examples of those who have made early impressions, never to be fulfilled, we need to get some of those named above through as county regulars.

Of course, batsmen Alex Hughes, Paul Borrington and Ben Slater will all be fighting for senior recognition, but all will need to produce at league and second team level to support their cause. The expanded coaching staff will doubtless spread their net wide in watching league cricket and it will be interesting to follow the progress of the batsmen under John Sadler's tutelage in the twos.

Elsewhere this week, Yorkshire have followed the very shrewd signing of Kane Williamson as overseas player with that of explosive Aussie Aaron Finch. The latter will share overseas duties with Williamson and they will make an exciting double act in T20. Finch is a basher and such predecessors as Loots Bosman and Dave Warner will vouch for the fact that twenty over cricket in this country is  not perhaps as easy as they might have hoped. I think Finch will make a positive contribution at Yorkshire, but there will be a learning curve on some of the greener tracks.

It is a similar deal that Derbyshire will presumably seek for the second overseas, or at least the cover for Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Whether our more modest budget covers a 'name' is a moot point and we still don't know the full extent of the West Indies tour commitments this summer. Nor do we know the sort of player that Graeme Welch wants, but I wouldn't say no to a player like Australian George Bailey.

I see him as a player that a discerning county could lure here, especially after he missed out on the South African tour. Like many before him, Bailey may see good form in the English county game as a route back into the national side and his excellent T20 record would be a major plus to anyone looking for a quality player.

Mind you, as his country's one-day skipper he wouldn't come cheap, nor would he lack for suitors if he intimated his availability. Perhaps our horizons may perforce be more modest, but Welch will have a network of contacts and I have confidence that we will pick up a very good cricketer.

More from me at the weekend, including the latest in the A-Z of Derbyshire Cricketers.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Fifty days to go...

Aren't you excited about our season's prospects with just fifty days to go?

I know I am and I am very positive about how well we can do in the coming summer. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect our Pop-ular coach to win everything in sight, but I have, perhaps like Charles Dickens, got great expectations for the next few seasons.

Besides heightening the intensity of training, having greater resource to coach with and, let's not forget, a good-sized squad, I think that with the current structure of coaching our net has been widened  for young players of talent.

Traditionally, Derbyshire has pulled from the county itself and Staffordshire, but getting the likes of John Sadler and Simon Guy involved might see greater possibilities to the north. Of course, many will gravitate through to Headingley, but there's no reason why we shouldn't benefit from a net that can be cast wider than ever before.

I'm very keen to see how the fight for batting places shapes up, who wins the battle of the keepers; what our first choice seam bowling permutation is. There's also a spinning berth up for grabs and while David Wainwright perhaps starts in poll position, I'd reckon that there's considerable excitement chez Knight and Burgoyne. Either of those two, with good winter and pre-season work, could become premier spinner. Let's face it, both have a massive incentive to do well, as there's a spinning role in the national side up for grabs. At their ages, they have time on their side but good summers will bring them to the eyes of selectors.

On the basis of last summer, Peter Burgoyne has genuine talent and potential as a batsman who can deliver useful off spin and field brilliantly. Tom Knight is much improved with the bat and in the field and in my opinion the more developed bowler. David Wainwright will be well aware that he has to up his game from last year to hold off their challenge and all three should benefit from the specialist coaching of Ant Botha.

On to other news and it's been a busy old time for me. Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Chris Taylor, who was every bit as engaging and honest as I hoped he would be. I'm finishing off the interview in the next few days but can promise you a piece that will be a real eye-opener for all county fans. I'm very grateful to Chris for giving up his time and I'd urge you all to check in regularly for that one.

This week I am speaking to a club legend of an earlier vintage, seam bowler Brian Jackson. Thanks go to Harold Rhodes for putting me in touch with Brian, a bowler I never saw but wish I had. There may be a few who are unaware of his talent and reputation, but suffice to say that having been pulled from league cricket at the age of 29, he then took over 450 wickets in six summers at less than 19 runs per wicket. That is the mark of a very good player and when no less a judge than Harold tells you that he would be his fantasy new ball partner, even ahead of Les and Cliff, you have to sit up and take notice.

I am looking forward to our chat immensely and look forward to sharing his thoughts with you in due course.
If anyone has any questions you would like me to ask, please mail me at the usual address which you can find down the left-hand side bar.

That's it for now. My grass may not tell the same story at present, when it looks like it may be June before I can cut it, but the season is fast approaching.

I must go and check out my kit in the next few weeks...

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A dissenting voice and wonderful memories...

Of all the many comments and mails I have received in the past few days, almost all have been in support of the new coaching set up at Derbyshire.

Apart from a couple, the most recent being last night. And it was from...guess who..? Anon...

"Why on earth do we need a wicket-keeping coach for two top quality keepers, who are both better than the new guy. Total waste of money".

I'm assuming that the pun on new 'guy' was unintentional and I didn't know whether to laugh or shake my head. So, what my perennial friend Anon is saying is that coaches have to be better players than the people they are coaching. A bold, but somewhat naive assertion methinks....

Here's a test for you. Go through the current county set up and the coaches of each. Were the men in charge better players than those currently under them? In most cases, the answer is a resounding no. They were good, don't get me wrong, but to suggest that in most cases they shone like beacons in their playing days is fanciful at best, crass at worst.

What most, if not all of them have is the ability to spot flaws in others, help them to eradicate them and become better players. They are generally good at man management - or need to be - and be au fait with technical changes and improvements in the game. There's better players at Durham than Jon Lewis was, or Geoff Cook for that matter, but without their guiding hand, their attention to detail and their technical knowledge, it is unlikely the silverware would have ended up in the north-east last summer. The same goes for Northamptonshire's David Ripley, a solid wicket-keeper batsman and no more than that, but a man who steered them to the T20 trophy last year. Mike Atherton or Alec Stewart don't have that on their CV...

To suggest or suppose any manager has to be better than the people under him is a somewhat facile argument that simply doesn't hold up. If you take the case of Simon Guy, he was a solid keeper who  lost out through being at the back of a queue of  good ones at Yorkshire, most of who were better batsmen. He has become a very well respected coach and his knowledge of the wicket-keeping art has allowed him to give back to the game by passing it on to others. His ability to do so was recognised by the ECB, where you don't generally get taken on if you're not up to the task.

Yes, Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson are good keepers. They may or may not be better than Guy was - though let us not forget that all players have bad days - but their need for specialist coaching remains considerable. If you were training an electrician, you wouldn't necessarily ask a joiner to do it on the basis that he also used tools. Likewise, the need for specialist support is paramount for the greatest of cricketing specialisms. Most can be an adequate stopper, but there's much more to the art than that. There is, after all, only one in a team and that man can make or break a fielding side.

Nor is Simon Guy's remit with those two alone. There are the younger lads coming through, but he will also be involved in specialist clinics for talented young keepers around the county, showing them the best methods. Only last week on the Big Bash, the commentator's were showing how a young Aussie keeper missed out on a run out by not following modern thinking when a throw comes in. He was behind the stumps, always the way we were shown at school, when in fact the current thinking is that by being just in front, taking the ball early and drawing your hand back to the stumps (with the ball in it, of course) you can save a fraction of a second that sometimes makes all the difference.

Beyond doubt Simon Guy will improve Poynton and Johnson and will be able to give them more time than Karl Krikken could ever afford. Yet his greatest contribution may well be in discovering their successors, instilling good habits and training methods and watching them for any slight errors creeping in. How Lee Goddard would have benefited from that, when his glove work went awry...

Finally tonight, thanks again to Jeff for a tip on the Somerset v Rothmans Cavaliers game at Taunton in 1967, which you can see over on Youtube. It brought back great memories for me, when Sunday afternoons were spent in front of the TV when there was no match on, watching the stars of the day. As is patently obvious from the footage of the great Garfield Sobers bowling, the stars didn't put all that much in to it, but were generally good enough for the county sides they faced.

The footage is grainy, but shows the great talent of Hampshire's West Indian Roy Marshall, spraying sixes over extra cover, a rare shot of the time. There's also the quick feet of Australian Bobby Simpson, while the majesty of the Sobers cover drive near the end was worth watching alone.

All that with pealing church bells in the background and even a chance to see some bucolic swings from subsequent Derbyshire favourite, Fred Rumsey. In a sign of how the game has changed, Fred, never the most lithe of movers, is nonetheless good enough to get under a couple of huge hits to hold them with a degree of elan at deep mid-on. The position is now reserved for the best fielder in the side, the fleet of foot and highly athletic with capacious hands.

Fred was good, but his best mate would never have called him that.

Great memories though and I hope you enjoy the eighteen minutes - with Elysian commentary from John Arlott - as much as I did.

Thanks again Jeff!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Changes well received...

Plenty of e-mails for me tonight and not a single dissenting voice among them.

Yes, the changes in the club's coaching set up make eminent sense to just about everyone, for reasons that I documented this morning. I would, however, take issue with a couple of comments I have seen or received.

'Anon' - it's almost always 'Anon' - says that there's too many coaches. An assertion to which my response is an even more brief 'How'?

Players can really only improve from regular and sustained access to good coaching and the qualifications of the people that we have brought in speak for themselves. Level four coaching is not something tackled nor achieved by the faint-hearted and you have to have serious ability to reach that level. While the people who have come in will be an asset to the Madsens, Groenewalds, Palladinos and Moores of the staff, the benefits for younger players is incalculable.

I'm thinking of young batsmen like Borrington, Elstone, Hughes (both of them) and Slater. Bowlers like Knight, Burgoyne, Cotton, Marsden, Cork, Taylor and Higginbottom. Young and developing wicket-keepers in Poynton, Johnson and Hosein. Their abilities should emerge at an accelerated rate with people able to devote more time to them and their needs. All are fine players, as you have to be to make the staff of a first-class county, but to kick on to the next level - to their becoming county stalwarts and regulars - they need a support network in place to hone their game and their physical and mental readiness for the most demanding of levels.

That's how I see first-class cricket. Each level of the game brings its demands, but to become an establised first-class player puts you in the top 2-3% of those playing. Of course there's international cricket to follow, but you go into that with the awareness that you have a game that can handle most of what is thrown at you.

I don't see there ever being a scenario where the coaches are sitting around with the Racing Post, waiting on someone to approach them for advice on their game. Rather they will be taking sessions, watching local cricketers, getting involved and ensuring that there is as seamless a link between local and club cricket at all levels as is possible.

Supremo Welch will call the shots, pull the strings and ensure that the needs of players are met and they cross the line to play in the best condition they have ever known, mentally and physically. It is all incredibly exciting from a fan's perspective, so I can only imagine how it will feel from the playing perspective.

That all this has happened at little more cost to the club than the old set up is extraordinary. Mr Grant and the board deserve every plaudit for their vision and enterprise in including the Derbyshire Cricket Board in discussions. The club for a long time was stymied by the conflicting needs of clubs against county. Now, they're singing from the same hymn sheet and it is great to see.

The other near-negative comment was from the Derby Telegraph, where someone said that he hoped there was money left for players. Really? Does the person not look at the staff, as I do, and think it is one of the most encouraging we've had in years?

We've got one of the best batsmen in the world, together with a captain who was one of the most prolific in the country last year. We've also signed a man who was very close to England honours at one point -  and is still a very good player - to open the batting. We've a clutch of talented young batsmen, any one of who could kick on to something special this year, together with two excellent wicket-keepers.

Then there's arguably the strongest seam attack in the division this summer. Be assured that few sides will fancy facing them on a helpful track, while we have three spinners with justifiable grounds for staking a claim for a regular place.

That's before we consider the Academy talent, where the seam bowling appears especially strong. Yes, it would be nice to sign Kallis on a Kolpak, but realistically, aside from cover for Chanderpaul when he is on international duty and maybe (only maybe) a T20 specialist, I don't think we need anything else.

Bring them on, let them loose, reap the rewards. That has to be the way from now on. The Derbyshire way.

I think we're on the verge of something special and there's a lot of people in the world of cricket looking at us tonight with widened eyes.

And more than a little envy...

A new coaching structure with considerable common sense

The new coaching structure at Derbyshire County Cricket Club is sound and well thought out, covering, as it does, all the bases in the county's cricket needs.

It is a team with a strong Derbyshire background - a factor that should not be underestimated - and some highly impressive coaching credentials, not to mention considerable first-class experience. That in itself will be of value to the younger players, as the psychological side of the first-class game is one of its biggest hurdles.

There may be a cynic or two who queries the number of coaches, but their remit covers both senior and Academy/age group cricketers. Others may query the cost, but my understanding is that the Derbyshire Cricket Board have helped to fund the appointments. The club now has a structure that will identify and nurture young talent better than has been the case before. Cricket at all levels within the county can only benefit. Most importantly, the players at the club will.

So who are the new men?

Many will recall John Sadler (left) as a doughty fighter as a batsman, who has more recently set up his own successful cricket academy in Yorkshire. He is well regarded and his new remit as batting coach sees the club engage one of the highest qualified batting coaches in the game. Assisting him will be Steve Stubbings, whose role will be primarily Academy-focused, but with scope to offer support at a higher level, as and when required. Stubbo did an excellent job with the second team last summer and fully deserves a role in the new structure. Both of these will be seen by supporters as sound appointments and if they can pass on their never-say-die attitude to the next generation of county batsmen there will be no cause for complaint.

Graeme Welch will, of course, lead on seam bowling, but will have support from AJ Harris. It is good to see the retention of the latter, as he seemed to do a good job last year. Like Stubbings, his main focus will be the development of younger players and his experience can only benefit the young talent emerging through the Academy. I look forward to seeing how our seam bowlers, already players of considerable talent, improve with Welch's input and they will be a key component in our quest for honours this summer. Meanwhile, the likes of Ben Cotton, Greg Cork, Jon Marsden and Tommy Taylor have a very good chance to progress under coaches of excellent pedigree.

Much as we have a clutch of seam bowlers emerging, so our spinners will benefit from the talents of another erstwhile county favourite, Ant Botha (left). He has been lured back from a successful coaching role in Australia to look after their development and it will be interesting to see how Peter Burgoyne and Tom Knight progress through his mentoring. Botha was a good professional, a more than useful spinner and a batsman who rescued his fair share of lost causes in the company of Pop Welch. His role will include assisting in the coaching of batsmen and his growing reputation as a coach in Oz suggests he will do an excellent job.

Which leaves Simon Guy, a wicket-keeper of considerable talent for Yorkshire and another level four coach who has worked in the England set-up. He will be the specialist wicket-keeping coach and will bring an array of new techniques and methods with him that can surely only improve our established senior keepers in Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson, but will also aid the development of the very talented Harvey Hosein. Interestingly, Guy pioneered the development of a face mask for wicket-keepers that gives facial protection but better visibility with lighter weight than a conventional helmet. Whether we will see these on the pitch this summer is a moot point, but Guy is another young coach with impressive credentials. That he has been lured to Derbyshire is proof of how this  has captured the imagination of the wider professional cricket community.

Meanwhile, the importance of fielding to a top side is recognised with the engagement of Cookie Patel, formerly fielding lead of England Women's successful side, who has worked with a number of county sides as one of the game's leading fielding coaches. Another level four coach who is highly regarded within the ECB set up, his skills and experience should see Derbyshire as one of the best fielding sides in the country in the coming season. We didn't always look that last year, so this is another development that will be enjoyed by supporters  - as well as by the county's bowlers..

Finally, Howard Dytham remains as Academy director, another role that is fully deserved as he has done fine work with the young players around the club's catchment area and is well-respected. With greater support from former professionals, we should hopefully see players emerging better placed to make an early, positive impact in the first-class game.

My thoughts? It makes a lot of sense. We now have an array of specialist coaches, all of them eminently qualified for their new roles and the DCB support means that we are paying little more for this set up than we were for the previous one. The difference being, of course, that the players have far greater access to support mechanisms and coaching resource. While there are no guarantees in professional sport, our chances of success have to be improved with the addition of such impressive personnel.

I am impressed and heartened by this announcement and would be surprised if there were any dissenting voices. Of course, we'll be better placed to judge its true effectiveness when we have seen how the players perform, but there must be genuine excitement at this announcement.

Over on the club site, Chris Grant says that he feels we make progress every day. So do I. There's a lot to like in this and it's a cracking start to the week.

Onwards and upwards lads.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Video for the weekend

Thanks to a message I received from Jeff, there's a great video for you to watch this weekend - the footage of our Nat West semi-final win against Essex at the County Ground in 1981, which is now on Youtube.

It makes terrific viewing, being one of the earliest indications of the talent we had unearthed in Kim Barnett. There was the all too typical collapse when in sight of the winning post, but Paul Newman's swing to the leg-side boundary from the game's penultimate ball gave us the chance of a win, a single being needed from the last to win on fewer wickets lost.

How many times must Norbert Phillip have replayed that final delivery in his head? Ninety-nine times in a hundred he would have run - no, walked - to the stumps and removed the bails to run out Newman as he sprinted for the non-striker's end. As it was, the pressure got to a worthy cricketer and he threw wildly and missed the stumps as well as the man trying in vain to back up.

A funny thing, pressure. It comes in many different forms and affects people in different ways. My old Dad faced it every day down the pit, always wondering if it was safe, or if today was the day that he or one of his friends was injured, or trapped. I guess you can work on your skills until the cows come home as a cricketer, but nothing will really prepare you for the situation at the end of that game. Some thrive on it, or seem to, holding a key catch with nonchalance or striking the last ball for a boundary, while others fold. Luckily for us, Phillip failed at the crucial moment - and we all know what happened at Lords...

On the playing front, it's good to see better news for Leicestershire fans, with the announcement that both Ramnaresh Sarwan and Charlie Shreck will play at Grace Road this coming summer Both are good cricketers; the former's international days surely behind him now and the latter a good opening bowler when he stays fit. I'd be surprised if the signings galvanised their summer, but they will fare better with them in the side, that's for sure.

Closer to home - for me, at least - warm congratulations to Scotland in making the World Cup. They have some good and improving players, though there's one major issue for them, which is unlikely to go away. With the involvement of the 'Scotland qualified' players from the county circuit, they are a decent outfit, but when these lads return to their counties in April, the second tier isn't as strong. Of course, it is unlikely to be, as the gulf between amateur and professional cricket is vast.

I still think Preston Mommsen, Natal-born, is a cricketer good enough to do a job at county level, though whether anyone offers him the opportunity is another thing. At 26 he still has time on his side and his batting record, especially in one-day cricket, suggests him as a player who could yet be worth an extended county trial. He's had a game or two at Leicester, Kent and Northampton, but hasn't had the best of luck on those occasions. Two centuries, a ninety and a seventy in the recent qualifiers set him apart from most others in the competition, and useful off-spin and excellent fielding make him an asset to the Scots.

I wish him and the Scots well - but they'll never usurp Derbyshire in my affections, no matter how long I live here...