Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Seconds and Academy shine

Having said to the media that he wanted Derbyshire's players to force him to pick them through performances, one can only assume that Graeme Welch has been suitably coerced by Paul Borrington and Scott Elstone today, who added 280 for the second wicket at the County Ground against Worcestershire.

Borrington's 121 was a second ton in successive days and indicative of a man in prime form, while Elstone, a wonderfully fluent batsman when he gets in, scored an unbeaten 212 as the side piled up an impressive 422-2 by the close, with Alex Hughes contributing an unbeaten 46.

Incidentally, for those who are espousing a recall for Jonathan Clare, you may not have noticed that he didn't bowl in yesterday's one-day game against the same opponents, suggesting that all is not as it should be in that well-built but sometimes fragile body.

Meanwhile, young pace prospect Will Davis took five wickets as the Academy bowled out their Northamptonshire counterparts for 200 today. It would appear that after a few fallow years, our production line of seam bowlers is somewhat akin to wait a while, then several come along at once.

There were two wickets for Hamaiz Mahmood from Moddershall Cricket Club in Staffordshire, and one also for George Sellers, who showed, after his century on Sunday, that he has more strings to his bow.

The latter was dismissed before the close for 24, but with Wood unbeaten on 70 and Lawley on 36 not out, the youngsters will be delighted to end the day on 143-1.

It is all grand to see and makes good reading after a disappointing day for the senior side.

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 4

I hope, when we're looking back at this season at the end of September, that this game is seen as its nadir and the turning point.

Because it was pretty awful.

I can handle being beaten. Forty-six years as a Derbyshire fan prepares you for that. I'd no issue with defeat last week against Essex, because we fought to the end and were effectively beaten by a top innings by one of the world's best players.

That excuse can't be made here, because I don't see Worcestershire as one of this division's top sides. Yet their one innings was like the delightful ice cream in the middle of two very dry, somewhat unpalatable wafers produced by Derbyshire, with the exception of Wayne Madsen. He stood at the bridge of the good ship Derbyshire, as it sank quietly beneath the waves.

I take no real pleasure in calling it correctly. When asked by my wife how I thought today would go, I said we'd be all out by tea. So it transpired and it made for miserable following. Goodness knows how bad it must have been for the hardy souls who were there. Ajmal is a good bowler, but he only needed to bowl twenty overs.

I don't agree with all of what Rob has said below the previous piece, though full marks to him for putting his name to it. To say that we always showed fight under Karl Krikken is patently incorrect - remember Yorkshire, at Chesterfield? That inept effort, where Madsen also stood alone bar for support from the badly missed Tom Poynton, marked the turning point of last year's campaign and I think that this one will do the same.

Nor do I disagree with Graeme Welch in going with his experienced men at the start of the summer. It was a logical move and, let's not forget, he's very much working with the hand he was dealt in so far as personnel are concerned. He's a shrewd man and a good coach and I'm sure that he's now starting to see that some are perhaps not up to the requisite standard, either technically or mentally.

A contributor on another site asked why, if Madsen and Chanderpaul can bat on awkward pitches, the others can't. The answer, simply and honestly, is that they're not as good. Fine cricketers, as you have to be to play the county game, but not good enough to be consistent performers. They will have their days in the sun, but I think - indeed hope -  that Welch will now want to see what else he has to work with.

Two such players were making their case very clearly in the second team match against Worcestershire today. Paul Borrington (121) and Scott Elstone (212 not out) each made centuries and should be pencilled in for the game against Kent in around a fortnight's time. Bozza is in the last year of his contract, while Elstone has a one-year deal and we need to know what they both have to offer.

We already know about Borrington, cry the cynics. But do we? Maybe he could be one of these later developers who finally realises that he can carry the vast weight of runs made at other levels into the first-class game. At a similar age, Wayne Madsen was a talented batsman in South Africa without consistent runs to back up those fighting his corner. At 23, Elstone has a rare gift of timing and scoring quickly (126 balls for his ton today, a double century in 211 balls) and should also be given an extended run. With handy off spin and brilliant fielding to offer, there's much to like about the Burton lad.

As there is with Alex Hughes, an all-rounder of abundant talent and energy who would bring much to a side, given time, in the middle order. Importantly, including these lads gives increased credibility to the stated long-term goal of producing local talent. There's plenty to be excited about in the younger age brackets, but they need time, as do the coaches, who lest we forget have been in post for less than four months. Supporters will, I feel, be more tolerant of the bad days of local lads who are learning their trade.

That's the thing with coaching. You can do all the work you like in the nets, but the bottom line is what happens to players when they get out into the middle. The poor championship form of Billy Godleman, Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes goes back to the start of last season, if we ignore Chesney's Headingley opus,  and while improved form will see them get them another opportunity, we need to see what others can bring to the table when all are patently struggling at present.

This wasn't, as I saw it labelled, a 'must win' match. Three games into a season, such talk is laughable. Back in 1964, Worcestershire won the championship after winning only one game in May and June, before it all clicked for them. On the evidence so far, we need major improvement to replicate that and may need to use this one to rebuild, try players out and strengthen further in the winter with players identified by the wide network of the coaching staff.

There's a lot of cricket left though and plenty of time to turn things around with swift and decisive action.

Back to the nets and the drawing board. We need to be much, much better by the time the Kent game comes around and the break we now have couldn't have come at a better time.

Postscript - warm congratulations to Chris Rogers for an extraordinary unbeaten double century in the successful Middlesex chase of 472 to beat Yorkshire, achieved for the loss of only three wickets. A wonderful player, one of the best county imports in the past decade.

But we know that...

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 3

Call me Mystic Peakfan, but I reckon I can predict the future for a few players tonight...

For Saeed Ajmal, I predict a sound night's sleep tomorrow, as he's going to be bowling a lot of overs on the last day. The expected deterioration in the wicket didn't really happen today and after a cautious morning, where runs and overs seemed to move at the same pace for much of the time, we were given a bit of a pasting in the afternoon and evening as our hosts added well over 300 runs. Alex Kervezee must wish he could carry our attack around in a holdall - that's three successive tons for him off our bowling...

Enterprising batting? Average bowling? I guess we'll see tomorrow. Both our spinners went for over a hundred, Wes going for around six an over and it's unlikely that we will find Ajmal quite such a profligate bowler when we have to bat for most of the day to avoid defeat.

I was surprised, to be honest. At lunch it seemed like an even game was in store and tomorrow would be largely academic. Now, we will need to show fighting spirit in abundance to get a draw from this, as today went very, very much the way of the home side.

Which brings me to my next prophecies.

I think Billy Godleman, Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston need better performances tomorrow, as the chasing pack are closing in fast. The struggles for competitive form of all three have been mentioned before, but without competition - and in other eras -  their places could still be considered safe.

Yet today in the second team, Paul Borrington made a brilliant, unbeaten 110 as they successfully chased 266 in fifty overs to beat Worcestershire. Alex Hughes contributed a cavalier 64 from 48 balls, after taking three wickets, while there were sound contributions from Messrs Elstone, Slater and Clare as the target was reached with six wickets and eight balls to spare.

By any standards, that is a good performance. Given that we have so often over the years chased such totals with the alacrity of a one-legged man in a fat suit, the side and John Sadler, the coach, are to be congratulated.

Nor should the bowlers be overlooked. Ben Cotton took 3-42 on what must have been a good batting track, while Tom Knight took 2-35 in ten impressive overs. Given that Graeme Welch told the squad to go away, score runs, take wickets and force him to play them, some have gone away and done just that.

The rest is up to the coach.

Tomorrow is a big day for a lot of players, both in and outside the team at Worcester.I hope that those who need to do so produce the goods, but am very encouraged that an orderly queue is being formed should they fail to do so.

Madsen for England?

Last night, Tim asked if I really thought Wayne Madsen would be considered by England.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first. At 30, he's not in the first flush of youth that modern thinking dictates should get national notice, though he has many more years in the first-class game ahead of him, hopefully in Derbyshire colours. Then again, Nick Compton was 29 on Test debut and there are plenty of examples of senior players (Steve Kirby anyone?) who have had Lions recognition in their late 20's and beyond.

Indeed, players know their games by that stage, the greatest flaw in the ECB only paying counties for playing talent up to the age of 26. Madsen has matured considerably over the past couple of summers and though a fine player when he arrived at Derbyshire, is much improved now. It does make you wonder how many other late developers are cast aside prematurely, but that's another argument for another day.

Then there's his nationality. There has been a 'kick back' on playing South Africans in the national side, though for me a player who has made Britain his home and observed all the qualification regulations has as much right to play for the national side as anyone else, if their performances warrant it. Wayne and his delightful wife Kyla have made Britain their home and only the accents betray their country of origin. For me, this shouldn't be an issue, though perhaps the Derbyshire skipper could cultivate an "Ey up lad, you want to coom and toss up" for the opposition skipper, if it made some more comfortable...

Ah, but that won't help either, because Derbyshire players don't get picked for England. I think that's fair comment and one could point to such luminaries in the club's history as Les Jackson, Harold Rhodes and Kim Barnett, all of who should have had greater national recognition. Each had scant reward for their outstanding county records and there was a 'rationale' for them all. Jackson was 'only a county bowler', yet out-bowled  almost everyone on the circuit and was the one that most batsmen feared coming up against. Rhodes was 'a thrower', but wasn't, merely a pawn in a bigger game, sacrificed in the authorities' quest to be seen to be doing the right thing, even if they weren't. Barnett was too unorthodox, with his walking stance and leg stump guard, yet scored more runs than most whose every movement came from the MCC coaching manual.

Mike Hendrick, Geoff Miller and Bob Taylor all had decent international careers, but would that have happened but for the Packer revolution that took a few players from the selection equation? I suspect not, which would have been a crying shame for all concerned. Miller may have had the best chance of doing so and his role with the national side in recent years should heighten awareness of what is required.

Not just because of Miller's new role at the club, I think that Derbyshire are now seen in a more favourable light than before. It is testimony to the way that the club is now run and the policies that they have adopted. We are now seen as advocates of best practice on and off the pitch and not as hicks from the sticks, at one time a rest home for the soon-to-be retired. Once the work in the academy brings forth genuine fruit, the transition will be complete.

Which brings us back to Wayne Madsen, a product of our satellite academy in Natal....

Yesterday I made the assertion that he had to be in the ten best England-qualified players on the county circuit. Try this one, as I did and see if you get the same result.

Ignore those on central contracts, already in the England set up, and go through the counties, one by one. Remember, you're picking them for four and five-day cricket and ask yourself this. If you could swap a batsman from those counties for Wayne Madsen without any detriment, how many could you come up with? Remember, we're talking about a man who was first to a thousand championship runs last summer - in division one - and we're not talking prowess at T20, where he usually bats too low to make any major impression. Even there he looks a class act, his hockey background making him one of the few players who can make a reverse sweep look a natural stroke. You are picking players solely to play 'proper' cricket.

I struggled to get to four, with reservations on them all. That's even before you consider his captaincy and an ambassadorial role for the club that few could match. There's a lot of good players out there, but does their recent record match Madsen's, or would you back them to play the sort of innings he did yesterday on a regular basis?

The bottom line should be that form and weight of runs is what counts. Madsen has looked in good touch this summer, following on from a magical 2013, and his appearance at the crease gives a look of solidity to the Derbyshire batting that it hasn't enjoyed for some time. Indeed, it too often appears that he, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, carries our hopes on his shoulders, something that appears not to have affected his form at all.

A class man and a top-class player, Wayne Madsen. They could do an awful lot worse.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 2

It would be very easy, after another day in which Derbyshire's batsmen largely struggled on an awkward wicket, to start this blog with a moan about our batting.

Yes, it's brittle nature remains a concern, especially between five and seven in the order, but with two days gone there is very little between these two sides. Runs on the board are always worth more on such wickets and it must not be forgotten that the Worcester ground spends a fair part of each winter under water. Batsmen face  the early season tracks with considerable wariness and anyone who prospers on them can count themselves as quite a player.

At which point, step forward Wayne Madsen. The skipper - Captain Fantastic, if you will - scored just over half of the team's score and ensured, with support from Shiv Chanderpaul and a healthily wagging tail, that we posted a decent tally and importantly took time from the match.

With more rain forecast, on and off, over the next couple of days, one of these sides will need to do something special to force a win. The speed at which Worcestershire made their evening reply suggested that they will not be scoring at four an over tomorrow and leaving us a tricky last day against Saeed Ajmal, a fine bowler.

It could happen, but it's unlikely. I felt for Dan Hodgson today, making his county debut. He will have run through that innings plenty of times but never come up with a scenario where he was leg before, first ball. That came after the early season struggles of Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston continued. With the seconds playing tomorrow, there will be a few people with justifiable hopes of forcing their way into the senior side in the near future.

We're not alone in the batting struggles, of course. There are plenty of teams and high quality batsmen struggling at this stage of the summer, rusty techniques and bowler-friendly wickets conspiring to make their quest for form an elusive one at this stage. Anyone who saw the ball that nipped back a long way to bowl Stephen Moore will hopefully appreciate the thankless task of facing a new ball in such conditions.

Which all makes Wayne Madsen's innings today all the more special. There are very few batsmen on the county circuit you would rate more highly than the Derbyshire skipper and I can't think of any I'd want fighting in our corner when things are tough. Except for Shiv Chanderpaul, and we already have him...

In the form of last year - and this, based on his efforts so far - Madsen can rightly entertain hopes of an England call-up. His South African background will not go down well with some, of course, but if you're looking at the ten best England-qualified batsmen on the circuit, Madsen must surely be in there.

Quite what would happen to our batting should he get the call is another question, but for his efforts on and off the pitch in his time at Derbyshire, there is no one more worthy than the affable skipper. It will be interesting to see how England's Moeen Ali fares tomorrow, a decent benchmark of Madsen's talents and efforts.

Wonderful Wayne Madsen. Thanks to him, we're still in there and fighting.

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 1

Sorry about the lack of a blog last night, but a combination of circumstances dictated otherwise.

Truth be told, there's not much to write about three overs of play in which we lost two wickets, one of them, according to Mark Eklid in the Derby Telegraph, to a ball that Stephen Moore left that 'shot back from three feet outside off stump' to bowl him as he left it. There's little you can do when that happens, but it should make for interesting viewing on the highlights...

Time to dig in today, then. More from me later.

PS Congratulations to George Sellers of the club's Academy (and Endon Cricket Club) for a sparkling 123 against Alvaston and Boulton yesterday. They racked up 276-4 and then bowled out Alvaston and Boulton for 67. There were good runs from Wood (51) and Brodrick (65 not out) in what was a comprehensive win by any standards.

Nice one lads...and also to the club for an excellent Twitter feed.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Worcestershire v Derbyshire preview

Derbyshire take on Worcestershire at New Road tomorrow and are forced to field their third wicket-keeper of the season, after an unspecified illness for Richard Johnson ruled him out of the side.

With Tom Poynton already missing and highly-rated academy youngster Harvey Hosein still at school, Graeme Welch has brought in Yorkshire wicket-keeper Dan Hodgson (pictured) on a month-long loan. He has done well in his appearances for the white rose county and averages in the mid-twenties with the bat from limited opportunities, as well as having a good reputation with the gloves.

He will be well known to wicket-keeping coach Simon Guy and the club is to be applauded for moving quickly and decisively in an awkward situation. If it turns out as well as the loan deal for Azeem Rafiq a summer or two back, neither county will have any complaints.

Tomorrow Hodgson and his new team mates come up against a Worcestershire side that welcomes back Pakistan spin bowler Saeed Ajmal to their squad. The veteran off-spin bowler is a good player and will add much-needed guile and experience to a side that lost their strike bowler, Alan Richardson, to a coaching role at Warwickshire when Graeme Welch moved to the County Ground.

There are a few less familiar names in their side but they cannot be underestimated. Former Derbyshire favourite Ross Whiteley will be keen to do well against his old team mates and, like our last opponents Hampshire, they have a long batting line-up, headed by England man Moeen Ali.

Their side: Mitchell (captain), Pardoe, Moeen Ali, Kohler-Cadmore, Kervezee, Whiteley, Cox, Andrew, Shantry, Ajmal, Morris.

As I write, there's no news on the Derbyshire squad, but I don't expect major changes at this stage. While the middle order from five to seven hasn't yet contributed weight of runs, there's too much talent there for knee-jerk reactions. Opportunities for the likes of Alex Hughes, Scott Elstone, Ben Slater and Paul Borrington may come, but all need to add weight of runs at club and second team level to the argument for playing them.

The same goes for bowlers, of course. While there's been good discussion on these pages in recent days on the make up and balance of our attack, none of us sees them in the nets and knows the current form and fitness of those concerned. Graeme Welch does and makes his decision on the side based on that, something that we must all respect.

With Ajmal in the home side's ranks, there will be an expectation of the wicket turning as the game goes on, so I would expect to see a role for David Wainwright in this one, probably at the expense of Mark Turner unless there are injuries in the seam bowling ranks we are unaware of at this stage.

Stephen Moore will be keen to maintain his good early season form at the county where he got his start in the county game, so there are a few sub-plots to look out for in this one.

The weather forecast isn't great for tomorrow, but better for the last three days. I have confidence in a Derbyshire squad that has competed well so far without firing anywhere close to its full potential. That being the case, I'm going to take this one as the game in which we come good.

With decent luck with decisions and the weather, accompanied by better fielding than we saw on the first day against Hampshire, I'm going for a first Derbyshire win here.

What about you?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The golden age of variety

 Apologies in advance to those who come across this piece on the web and expect to find a discussion on the London Palladium and Batley Variety Club...

There's been some very good and interesting discussion on these pages in recent days on the merits of playing four seam bowlers instead of a more balanced attack.

I don't think there were many times in the evolution of the game, prior to the West Indies XI of Clive Lloyd, where it happened. More often there would be two opening bowlers, a first change and then a couple of spinners. Sometimes a batsman might double as a fourth seamer (like Ted Dexter, Walter Hammond) or as a spinner (Bobby Simpson, Collie Smith) Most sides had an off-spinner, before 1960's there were plenty of leg-spinners and slow left arm spin bowlers were common. Blessed were the sides, like Derbyshire, where Derek Morgan bowled seam and then switched to off-cutters as the ball got older.

That's the thing the current Derbyshire side lacks. Ross Whiteley suggested he might become a genuine all-rounder before leaving, while both Tim Groenewald and Tony Palladino offer good lower order runs, without yet being able to call themselves genuine all-rounders (though it may yet come for both of them).

I understood the rationale of four seamers with the West Indies. They could play four quick bowlers and effectively bowled them all day. Each was sufficiently different keep the batsman guessing. Roberts was fast and skiddy, Marshall fast with swing, Holding fast and nipped it around, Garner fast with steepling bounce, Croft was fast and bowled from awkward angles. I could go on, but all of them challenged the batsmen with raw pace and the fact that there was something different going on. Then Viv Richards had a few overs and took wickets as everyone relaxed for a while...

That is why Mark Footitt is so important to our side, as the number of bowlers who bowl genuinely fast left arm - now or over the game's history - could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Mark can lose his line occasionally, but most bowlers can do that and his strike rate is as impressive as his more recent fitness record.

Groenewald and Palladino are proven county bowlers of quality (250 wickets does that for a man) and at present they would always be in my side. They usually take wickets and if they don't are tidy and make batsmen work. That's before you consider their contributions with the bat, which can neither be underestimated or undervalued.

Mark Turner? I think Mark is a lovely lad and he gives one hundred per cent in everything he does. When he lets the ball go it appears to be with every ounce of strength he has. In the field he has good hands and dives around with the best of them. He bowled well and with success in the pre-season game against Warwickshire, but in two championship matches so far has one wicket for 230 runs. In those same matches, Wes Durston has six wickets for 195 runs, while David Wainwright took 2-84 - and scored valuable runs - at Chelmsford.

Never having faced them, I'm unsure how different our three right-arm seam bowlers are in pace, but from the boundary edge it would appear that Turner is quickest, though the more erratic. I'd just like to see more variety in the attack, as unless you're talking express pace - and we're not - county batsmen must find them all fairly similar. On a helpful track that is no hindrance, but when the wicket isn't doing that much, variety and keeping people on their toes is the key to success.

I take on board Marc's point (below the last article) about a seamer getting injured during a match, but how often does that really happen? If there are pre-match doubt over the fitness of one, you play someone else. By extension, you don't pick seven batsmen, on the off chance that one breaks a finger taking a slip catch. 

This is where, for me, opportunity could come for young tyros in the weeks ahead. Alex Hughes, the best known, bowls skiddy medium pace, similar to Phil Russell of another era. He also bats well and offers genuine all-round potential, as well as, crucially, something different. So too does Greg Cork, who has the added bonus of being a left-arm seamer. I think Cork junior has some filling out to do, but the potential is vast. Speaking of which, there's also Ben Cotton, who's height offers variety, bringing the ball down from a different angle. Nor should we ignore the potential claims of Tommy Taylor, who bowled beautifully against a strong Swarkestone side for Ticknall last weekend and, as well as gaining movement with the ball, has the prize asset, with all of the above, of novelty value. How do you play someone you've never seen before?

Graeme Welch will be watching his players and assessing their medium and long term roles in the club. He has already gone on record regarding the seam bowling talent in the club's academy. For the weekend game at Worcester, I wouldn't be surprised to seeing a change in either the thinking or personnel.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 4

"Lead by 99. 43 overs left today. Can we force a result?"

So ran a tweet from the club this afternoon as Hampshire, a side with a long and highly competent batting order, lost their third wicket to Mark Footitt.

I was almost tempted to reply "No" but decided not to bother. Irrespective of morning newspaper columns to the contrary, there was a greater chance of my 'doing a Lady Godiva'  on a unicycle across the outfield than a result being forced today.

There was movement and there was an occasional erratic bounce as the game progressed, but neither happened with sufficient frequency for Derbyshire to bowl out a side that impressed me at the County Ground.

Hampshire bat long and have impressive, strapping quick bowlers who run in hard and bowl in the right areas. Kyle Abbott struck me as a very shrewd signing (if he stays fit) while Coles has the potential, if he learns from past mistakes, to become an England player. Tomlinson is a good, skiddy left-arm bowler and Ervine has been a steady county all-rounder for several years. They will be in the mix this summer, that's for sure.

Having said all that, Derbyshire had marginally the better of the game and can again take heart from their performance.I find it hard to believe that we can field as badly as on the first day again, while the batsmen and bowlers are slowly but surely finding rhythm and form.

There will be mild concern at the lack of runs in the 'engine room' of the batting, but this will improve, one way or another, with existing or new personnel. I'd have to say I'm not a huge fan of putting all the eggs in one basket in bowling and don't really see what four seamers offers if you pick the right three to begin with. There were times in this game when having a specialist spin bowler would have been handy, especially when Chesney appears to be bowling only a few overs in readiness for the one-day games. Worthy a bowler (and cricketer) as Wes Durston is, I don't see him as a bowler who will run through sides. A good foil for another spinner? Yes, most definitely.

Preparations now begin for the game at Worcester on Sunday. I don't expect major changes, but Graeme Welch will have a better idea of his new charges  after the first two games. If he wants a fourth seamer, he could always bring in Alex Hughes for his namesake and David Wainwright could come in for Mark Turner to give a better balanced attack. Then again, he could leave things alone and hope for a wicket that allows for a positive result with the same side.

I've every confidence that Welch will soon get the first win under his belt and there are a good few positives to take down the road this weekend.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 3

With a day to go and more stoppages likely tomorrow, it is difficult to see how a positive result can happen in this one.

The excellence of Stephen Moore and Shivnarine Chanderpaul batted us into a position of some strength, while another late salvo from Tim Groenewald took us to within touching distance of the final bonus point before the end came on 399.

Groenewald is such an admirable cricketer and invaluable to this Derbyshire side. He always bowls tight, usually with penetration and he has improved every season with the bat. Add to that the fact that he rarely misses a game and his importance is evident.

What is equally evident, at least from these early games, is that our middle order appears to have gone into the season a little 'half cooked'. Chesney Hughes, Wes Durston and Richard Johnson have all failed so far, their struggles in stark contrast to the form shown by the top order pre-season and subsequently. Perhaps a lack of time in the middle is the issue, but all will be hoping for improved form in the near future. Looking at it another way, there is every incentive for those out of the side at the moment to produce the goods and force their way in.

It isn't critical at this stage and is perhaps churlish to criticise a team that has scored 399, but we cannot always expect the top order to fire and runs at Worcester would be appreciated from any or all of the above.

With a day to go and Hampshire still 51 behind, I cannot see how a result can be contrived. Even the introduction of declaration bowling tomorrow would seem unlikely, as neither side will want to lose in such a fashion so early in the summer.

It looks a nailed-on draw, but sometimes this game can surprise you.

I really don't see it here, though.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 2

I'm not sure if the County Ground was playing host to a Charles Dickens convention today, but in late afternoon, as the shadows lengthened on a delightful Spring day, I'm sure I heard a collective outpouring from the Derbyshire diehards.

Please sir, can I have some Moore?

Apologies for the pun (but hey, we know each other now, don't we?) yet there can be no doubt that Stephen Moore convinced all those who watched that he is a class act, a very good player indeed. Those whose protestations to the contrary went along the lines of  "he can only play one-day cricket" were, indeed, shown to be talking absolute cobblers...

Back in December, when his signing was announced, I suggested that Moore would make a big difference to our fortunes and it hasn't taken him long to do so. From the time he took strike today he looked a quality player, the best non-overseas opener we have seen at the club in a few years. His defence was firm and assured, his cutting, pulling and hooking crisp, even brutal. I don't think I've ever seen someone reach a century with a CUT for six before, but Moore fairly threw the kitchen sink at a ball that landed pretty close to his watching family and doubtless enjoyed the deserved applause of the crowd thereafter.

It was a fine innings that received sound support from skipper Wayne Madsen after Billy Godleman got one that looked to keep low early on. Madsen survived a grueling going-over from South African Kyle Abbott and Matt Coles (Abbott and Coles-tello?) before being smartly stumped by Michael Bates. I was impressed by the Hampshire bowlers and especially by skipper Jimmy Adams, who on a somewhat tranquil track kept trying innovative field placings. At one point there were two short mid-wickets for Madsen and a short extra cover, while the plan was presumably to get Moore caught on the hook. Worthy plans both, though somewhat stymied by Moore skilfully pulling and hooking down and wide of the outfield.

Later in the day there was a chance to see the genius that is Chanderpaul and, for all the unorthodoxy of his stance, there is so much to admire in the West Indian. He is a most delightful touch player with exquisite timing and, with barely a shot in anger, he cruised to an unbeaten 35 by the close and a championship average of a piffling 162...

Earlier, the Derbyshire bowling was better and the fielding light years ahead of yesterday, though the demise of Hampshire was aided by some injudicious shot selection. Joe Gatting, after overcoming scores of 0 and 1 on his debut last week with an impressive 67, slapped Wes Durston down the throat of Chesney Hughes at long on, while Michael Bates ruined an impressive cameo by smearing the same bowler to deep mid-wicket where Moore held a fine, low catch.

Where does the game go now? I'm not convinced we can win this, even from a strong position, as the weather looks set to take time from the game and the wicket looks too good to bowl a side out, unless, Mission Impossible style, it self-destructs later in the game.

However, Derbyshire redeemed a fairly average first day with an impressive second that augurs well. It is not fair for anyone to judge the Welch revolution on three months or even on this season. He needs time to get together his choice of players and mould them as he sees fit.

Yet as I left the ground this evening I turned back at the door of the Gateway Building and looked across the resplendent turf one last time. The scoreboard was bright in the evening sun and the figures made impressive reading.

Derbyshire 203-2. Moore 106 not out, Chanderpaul 35 not out.

Such figures have not often been the preserve of Derbyshire sides over the years.

Well worth savouring, that one and well played Stephen Moore. It was a delight to watch that one.

Postscript: once again tonight it is appropriate to thank those whose company I shared and enjoyed throughout the day. It made the day even more special and I'm grateful for that company and your kind words.

I look forward to meeting up again as the summer progresses. Keep well, all of you.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire day 1

Apart from a seaside town, I cannot think of anything more depressing than a cricket ground in the rain,

As I pulled into the Gateway car park this morning, the rain was steady, if not of monsoon proportions and  while play seemed a long way from a forlorn hope, nor did it appear especially imminent.

Yet within half an hour of the scheduled start, the ground staff had worked their magic and play began, with the sun trying its best to peek between the clouds and cheer a small and hardy gathering of loyal supporters.

It wasn't too cold, although that may have had something to do with the six layers of clothing I wore. Anyone sitting nearby must have thought me of considerable girth, though truth be told as the day progressed I became more like a Russian doll, each layer being discarded to reveal a slimmer me in turn.

Derbyshire won the toss and Wayne Madsen opted to bowl. Truth be told, the early overs were steady from Tony Palladino and too wide from Mark Footitt. Openers Carberry and Adams were able to watch far too many balls harmlessly through to the keeper and although there was an occasional false shot and close 'leave',  a wicket didn't seem close.

Jimmy Adams is a very good player but the middle of his bat seemed to be in the dressing room today and it was no real surprise when he was first out. I thought Mark Turner bowled a good early spell but was more wayward after lunch and gave away too many runs. Mark Footitt mixed the odd good ball with some that were quick but inaccurate, while Groenewald and Palladino did what they usually do and made the batsmen work hard. Neither seemed at their penetrative best today, though Timmy G was, for me, the pick of the bowlers and hardly enjoyed the best of luck.

I was disappointed with the fielding today, which at times looked like Fred Karno's circus. There were some poor pick ups, erratic throws and careless overthrows in a display that was at best only of average club standard. Chances and half chances were missed too and after the first half hour I felt we were quite 'flat' in the field. It is an area where Tom Poynton was sadly missed, as Richard Johnson, while a perfectly good keeper, is less demonstrative - or noisy, as some might put it.

While the scores are fairly even at the end of the day, I think the visitors will be the happier, after a resolute batting effort that won few points for style but plenty for substance. Derbyshire will have expected to take more than five wickets having won the toss and will hope for better luck with the second new ball tomorrow morning.

I'll be along again to see it and hope to see a less sloppy fielding performance and batsmen who have to play at the ball, rather than being given time to assess the pace of the track with harmless stuff outside off stump.

Off the pitch it was a delight, as always, to meet up with friends old and new and I'd like to thank everyone for their camaraderie and chat. You know who you are and it was a real pleasure to see you all again.

I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow - weather permitting, If you see old Peakfan, please come up and say hello, as it is always a pleasure to put faces to names.

Tomorrow is, as Scarlett O'Hara once said, another day. 

Fingers crossed it is an improved one...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Derbyshire v Hampshire preview

Sorry about the lack of bloggery in the past couple of days but domestic commitments have meant that this side of things was a little quieter than usual.

Still, I'm back now and tomorrow Derbyshire will be entertaining Hampshire at the County Ground tomorrow with a better weather forecast in store than was showing earlier in the week.

Jonathan Clare misses out from the thirteen that travelled to Essex and I would think the final decision will be on whether Mark Turner retains his place, or is replaced by Tony Palladino. There is always the possibility that we could go with four seamers, but David Wainwright's good all-round game at Chelmsford may well ensure he gets the nod. As always, the final decision will be dependent on the wicket.

Hampshire have a solid-looking side, shorn of wicket-keeper Adam Wheater through injury and they bring the following squad:

Will Smith,  Michael Carberry,  Joe Gatting, Sean Ervine,  Jimmy Adams,  Liam Dawson,  James Vince      Michael Bates,  Danny Briggs,  James Tomlinson, Matt Coles, David Balcombe,  Kyle Abbott.

As I wrote earlier in the week, I am not concerned at the loss against Essex. One outstanding player produced an excellent innings that won them the game and Derbyshire's fighting effort on the final day bodes well for the summer.

The forecast rain over the four days suggests to me that we may need to wait for that first win, however, with a draw in a truncated game the likely outcome.

I hope I'm wrong though...

I'll be down at the ground on the first couple of days and look forward to seeing some good cricket and catching up with friends old and new.

And naturally I will be reporting back each evening.... hope to catch you down there!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire day 4

So there was a fine late effort from Derbyshire but my fears were realised as we went down to Essex at Chelmsford today.

Despondent? No, as we were essentially beaten by one terrific innings by a quality of player we will see little of this summer. Take away Alasdair Cook's effort and we'd have had that in the bag.

Yes, the batting must do better and it's unrealistic to expect the lower order to score more runs than the top order, but they will come again. Shiv looks like he's in fine fettle and the skipper fought well on the first evening. Both Stephen Moore and Billy Godleman got starts and the key now is for them to go on from there and make a worthwhile score.

Likewise, Wes 'n' Ches will need to add greater ballast to the middle order, but there's no point in overreacting to the first game of the summer. It was good to see David Wainwright get runs under his belt and Tim Groenewald's aggressive knock made us dream for a short time today. Both are good cricketers and will play a major part this season

Next up are Hampshire, who got a morale-boosting win today. They have plenty of good players, but so do we and we must aim to bounce back quickly.

I don't see many changes to the team, with Mark Turner, wicketless at Chelmsford, perhaps the most vulnerable. Tony Palladino and Jon Clare are both battling to replace him and the seam attack will be sharp, whoever gets the nod.

Onwards and upwards...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seconds update

An excellent unbeaten 134 by Rob Taylor and a useful all-round contribution from Ollie Freckingham ensured Leicestershire Second XI had a good first day against us today.

Leicestershire, fielding not far short of a first XI side, recovered from 72-4 to make 328 with Taylor and Freckingham (28) sharing the highest partnership of the innings for the eighth wicket.

Freckingham then picked up the wicket of Ben Slater as Derbyshire closed on 57-1. Paul Borrington (29*) and Scott Elstone (22*) remaining unbeaten.

The game at Grace Road started half an hour late as Derbyshire players got caught up in congestion on surrounding roads following an incident on the M1.
Opener Angus Robson made a hard-working 43 against some good Derbyshire bowling before being unfortunately run out at the non-striker’s end. The other wickets to fall in the first session were Greg Smith (3), Michael Thornely (9) and Josh Cobb (5).

Tom Wells and Lewis Hill each made 24 either side of lunch and when Wells was dismissed early in the afternoon session, Taylor came to the wicket. He unleashed a number of powerful shots down the ground, putting on 74 with Hill for the sixth wicket.

Taylor’s 50 came from just 49 deliveries with 10 fours and his hundred was recorded from 108 balls with 19 boundaries. He went on to hit a further four fours before Freckingham, Nathan Buck and Alex Wyatt were dismissed to end the innings.

Leicestershire side: Robson, Smith, Thornely, Wells, Cobb, Hill, Taylor, Sykes, Freckingham, Buck, Wyatt, Boyce.

Essex v Derbyshire day 3

So, 199 to win with five wickets left.

Logic and forty-odd years of cricket watching suggests that it isn't going to happen, especially on a last day pitch where the occasional ball is now keeping low. It shouldn't stop us trying and it won't, of course, but for me there's not enough runs in our lower order for us to win this one.

It is right that you pick your seam bowlers to take wickets, of course, and Derbyshire's have done well in this game, especially Tim Groenewald and Mark Footitt, but you wouldn't put your beer money on Footitt or Mark Turner playing the sort of lower order cameo to which we have become accustomed from Tony Palladino or Jonathan Clare. Their absence has left our tail looking longer than of late, not a criticism but a statement of fact.

Of course, while there's Shiv, there's hope, but Richard Johnson, David Wainwright and Tim Groenewald must dig in tomorrow and help the little master eke out those runs and get us at least to respectability.

The difference so far has been Alastair Cook's monumental seven hour-plus innings, without which we'd be sitting pretty tonight. He showed his class when it was needed, as has Chanderpaul, of course, yet to be dismissed in the game.

Sometimes you don't get the breaks in the game of cricket. Both Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston were caught down the leg side, always a cruel way to go, while Chesney was out to one that kept horribly low. Such misfortune tends to even out over the season, but in one that might otherwise have been close, you can live without them.

I don't expect to be reporting on a win tomorrow, but I hope that we take it closer to the wire and  show more than we did at the start of day two, when we were in a similar position. Nor do I think this is setting the standard for the season. Were it not for one world-class batsman at his best, we'd be in a winning position tonight.

Whether we get there tomorrow is down to another world-class batsman and whether he gets the support that he needs to pull off something extraordinary.

Postscript - nice to see a mid-afternoon score update from the second team game. I do hope we see these as the season goes on, as we will all be watching them with great interest.

Strong XI for Seconds opener

A strong side is playing for the Seconds at Grace Road today against Leicestershire.

There is every incentive for those involved to do well, with Graeme Welch having said that runs and wickets in second team and club cricket will force players into his reckoning.

The Derbyshire side: Borrington, Slater, Elstone. Hughes (A), Clare, Palladino, Cross, Hassan, Cork, Taylor, Cotton, Shepherd.

There's eight bowlers in that side and I would have thought both Jonathan Clare and Tony Palladino will be firing on all cylinders in the hope of making a senior start against Hampshire next weekend.

Perhaps the most interesting name in that side is that of Cross, who I can only assume is erstwhile Lancashire wicket-keeper Gareth Cross. He's a good player and was unlucky to miss out on a contract with the red rose county after they engaged England man Jos Buttler.

The need for cover while Tom Poynton recovers from his injuries was obvious and while there's some good lads in the Academy, keeping all day in a  four day game and maintaining concentration and standards  is something that takes time.

Cross has a good record and will be a good back up,  importantly keeping pressure on Richard Johnson to perform, which everyone needs to stay at their best.

I wish him and the team well.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire Day 2

"Whether the wicket eases is going to be a moot point, but it is hard to believe that Essex could bat as badly again, irrespective of the quality of the Derbyshire bowling."

So went my blog last night and my sooth-saying appears (sadly) to be alive and well. The reality is that one of the world's best international players showed his quality and, if not totally batting us out of the game yet, made it difficult for us to win it from here.

Certainly we'll need to bat with greater application than was shown in the first innings. There were some poor shots among the dismissals yesterday, while the tail folded with alarming speed this morning, leaving Shivnarine Chanderpaul high and dry at the other end.

There may be some who suggest that he might have shielded the lower order better, but he did all he could, having listened to the radio commentary. He turned down early over singles and left his partners only one or two balls to face. The problem was that they couldn't do so.

By the same token credit has to go to David Masters, one of the best county bowlers of the past ten years, for bowling straight and pitching it up, thus giving himself the best possible chance of taking wickets. He got good support from Graham Napier, another good county pro and then their batters took it away from us.

That's the thing with modern county cricket. If you play a side like Essex without their international players, things are a lot easier, unlike the old days when internationals played all the matches when there wasn't a Test match. You might say we're unlucky running into Alastair Cook, a player with a point to prove, but those are the breaks and you take it in the chin and fight back.

The first two days sum up beautifully the greatest of games. Yesterday we played excellent cricket and got our rewards. Today, we weren't so penetrative but ran up against a very good player who on the day was in the zone. There's not a great deal you can do when that happens except keep plugging away.

It will need a big and much improved batting effort to win from here, but the game is still alive. No titles are won and lost in the first game of the summer but  after winning the first day of the game, we were not really at the races in the second until the final session.

Room for improvement then, but we'll come across few better players than Alastair Cook this summer.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire day 1

On a day in which batting was never simple, Derbyshire ended it 45 runs ahead with five wickets in hand, after fifteen fell in total.

That they are in a position of some control, albeit with work still to do, is down to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whose masterful unbeaten 66 was the kind of innings you hope your overseas player will play for you when the chips are down, especially after your bowlers have done everything that could have been asked of them.

Praise is due to Wayne Madsen too, for battling away for thirty runs that were worth far more on other days, while Wes Durston opted for a more cavalier approach that worked fairly well before he gave routine slip-catching practice.

After the start given to them by Groenewald and Footitt, Derbyshire will be looking for a three-figure lead tomorrow as a bare minimum. Whether the wicket eases is going to be a moot point, but it is hard to believe that Essex could bat as badly again, irrespective of the quality of the Derbyshire bowling.

The key word for the day appeared to be discipline, with only three extras conceded in 37 overs. Tim Groenewald showed what a fine county bowler he is with his five wickets and hat trick, while it was interesting to read a correspondent on Cricinfo suggest there wasn't much between the pace of Footitt and that of Mitchell Johnson. All of which must have made Alastair Cook feel he was still in the middle of a very bad dream.

5-29 in nearly fifteen overs is high-quality bowling and doing it against the current England skipper was excellent timing by Footitt. One accusation that could be levelled at the current national side's attack is that it is very similar in pace and angle. The need for a left-arm quick of quality is considerable and Footitt, Tymal Mills and Harry Gurney of Nottinghamshire must all come under consideration as the summer progresses.

As for tomorrow, we need more of the same from Shiv and if he stays in until mid-afternoon and gets support from the lower order, the chances are that we will have built a match-winning total. I find it hard to believe that this will roll out to replicate the halcyon days of Taunton in high summer, so a decent lead and steady accumulation will be the order of the day tomorrow.

There's a long way to go, but if you'd offered us all this score last night we'd have slept nice and soundly.

Excellent effort by the boys - more of the same tomorrow, please!

Postscript - I enjoyed Iain O'Brien's commentary today. Another very promising start...

Essex v Derbyshire day 1 - lunch report

There was a lot of media coverage over the winter months regarding arrivals at the County Ground. We've had new players, new contracts and new coaches, but I can only assume that one new arrival slipped under the radar.

For surely we've picked up Hans Christian Andersen? Yet no fairytale ever matched that first morning of work by Derbyshire's seamers, with three wickets from an apparently quick and accurate Mark Footitt and four, including a first morning hat-trick, for Tim Groenewald.

At 44-1, James Foster's decision to bat first appeared to have been vindicated, but when Groenewald had England skipper Alastair Cook caught down the leg side, the slide began.

A classic hat-trick ensued - slip catch, bowled and leg-before, as Bopara, Smith and Foakes all came and went in quick time.

It was a terrific, memorable effort by the Derbyshire side, with good captaincy involved too. The important wicket of Napier went just before the break, well caught at fourth slip by Stephen Moore, just after he'd been put in there by Wayne Madsen.

There's still work to do yet and however many we get them out for, we then need to do better when its our turn in the middle.

Yet one thing is for sure.

As first mornings of the season go, they don't come much better than that.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Essex v Derbyshire preview

Actually, the only way isn't Essex.

Derbyshire's delayed start to the season sees us come up against England skipper Alastair Cook, as well as Ravi Bopara. There's also a strong attack with the evergreen David Masters alongside Graham Napier and international spinner Monty Panesar, so the challenge to Derbyshire is obvious.

Yet Essex are a division two side and have been for several summers, a side that flatters to deceive in which the whole doesn't necessarily add up to the sum of its parts. International calls hurt them, of course, but the side should have made a better fist of promotion challenges than it has.

Maybe this is their year, but Cook and Bopara will again miss large chunks of the county summer and much will depend on the depth of talent behind them. Owais Shah, a regular thorn in Derbyshire sides over recent summers, has gone, but ex-England wicket-keeper James Foster leads a side with a left-arm seamer of international potential in Tymal Mills, as well as ex-County Ground player Greg Smith.

Their squad in full:

Alastair Cook
Jaik Mickleburgh
Tom Westley
Ravi Bopara
Ben Foakes
Greg Smith
James Foster (Captain/wicket-keeper),
Graham Napier
David Masters
Monty Panesar
Tymal Mills
Saj Mahmood

Graeme Welch has named the same thirteen as for the Leicestershire game, with the only decisions being whether to play three or four seamers and who then misses out. That squad in full:

Godleman, Moore, Madsen, Chanderpaul, C.Hughes, Durston, Johnson, Clare, Wainwright, Palladino, Groenewald, Footitt, Turner

None of us have seen the players in practice and since all have done well pre-season it is a call I'll happily leave to the coach. It has been a difficult week for them, but the club's handling of things - including taking the players away for a hike in the Peak District, followed by a meal, quiz and a night in bunk beds, nine to a room - has been highly impressive.

The hurt won't have gone away from last weekend's tragedy, but the players will now be focused on moving forward and winning some cricket matches. This will be a tough one that will benchmark how well the side is prepared for a championship challenge and though it would be silly to read too much into a season opener, a winning start would be no bad thing.

There's an interesting sub-plot for this one too, as the game pits the two fastest left-arm bowlers in the country - Mark Footitt and Tymal Mills - against one another, assuming both are selected. Pace is nothing without control, of course, but it will make for interesting viewing.

With a positive forecast for the next four days, we'll get a chance to see what this side is made of.

My tip? I'll go for a winning start.

Come on lads!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tell me on a Sunday...

I was following the World T20 recently and with the IPL trophy around the corner once again, gathering together the world's greatest stars, I cast my mind back to a less commercial, more innocent era in the 1960s.

As you all know, most championship matches start on Sundays this year. Back in the early 60's, Sunday sport was a no-no and television largely awful or non-existent. The then extant Sunday Observance Act of 1782 made the day one for quiet contemplation, as there was greater chance of encountering a grizzly bear in your refrigerator than seeing sport on television.

When BBC2 appeared, there was a gap to fill in the schedules on Sunday afternoons and it was the then Controller of Programmes at the BBC, Huw Wheldon, who convinced the Board of Governors of the merits of his big idea. The Rothmans Cavaliers fixtures, that had become a feature of the English summer from 1963, became a staple of Sunday afternoon TV from 1965 to 1968, prior to the start of the John Player Sunday League the following summer. No worries in that era about tobacco sponsorship, eh...?

From week to week the team changed, but the Cavaliers side introduced some wonderful players to a wider audience than ever before. There was South African Fred Goldstein, whose approach to the game made our own later import, Chris Wilkins, look circumspect in comparison. Goldstein opened the innings to impose himself and match reports usually read that he 'batted beautifully for eight overs before holing out in the deep'. There were West Indians, Keith Boyce and John Shepherd among them, though Garfield Sobers was a much-appreciated regular. There were also occasional glimpses of the great South Africans; Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter, Lee Irvine. Best of all, from my perspective, you would occasionally see retired legends reappear, so there was a chance to see Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans once in a while. A Derbyshire side I saw play them had Les Jackson in the eleven, a legend who had been retired for several seasons.

All very familiar, isn't it? Of course, the results were spectacular and capacity crowds filled the grounds while large audiences viewed on television. Much of this was down to the quality of the cricket, though it shouldn't be overlooked that pubs across the country shut at 2pm on a Sunday, re-opening at 7pm, pretty much when the day's match had ended. For many people, the only place to get a beer on a Sunday afternoon was at the cricket, so to the cricket they went.

So impressive was the public response that Sunday championship cricket was trialled in 1966 for the first time, with play beginning at 2pm. Other sports started to follow suit and cricket authorities realised that there was gold to be had in a Sunday League, which started in 1969. It sounded the death knell for the Cavaliers, as the biggest names were by then engaged by counties, but Sunday cricket was now acceptable and the John Player League a huge hit.

And why not? There was a chance to see some of the game's greats, alongside some of its characters, with commentary provided by the dream team of John Arlott and Jim Laker. Arlott was the wordsmith, his bon mots worth listening out for and hanging on to, while Laker was more succinct, his economy with language and consonants the equal of his bowling a few years before. It was Laker who introduced me to the joys of Little 'arry Pillin' of Lancashire, a player whose lack of height gave this teenage boy of similar stature the thought that he could play the game.

There was also Jim Yardley, a left-hander who only had two shots - a dab through gulley and a pull - but made a lot of runs in doing so. Until I added six inches to my height one summer, they were the shots that scored 99% of my runs too...

They were golden days and were the catalyst for Sundays being a day of sport for millions, yet its worth remembering that the scoring rate in county matches today often exceeds that in the early summers of the John Player League, where 150 in 40 overs won more matches than not.

I hope that this summer's Sunday cricket is worthy of its predecessors and that Derbyshire fill it with a brand of controlled, aggressive cricket that has been the preserve of the best Sabbath sides for nearly fifty years.

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be nice, too.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Midweek musings

In the opening skirmishes of the county cricket season, it is always interesting to look around and detect potential patterns and issues for the various teams.

Lancashire pretty much stormed division two last year, but their batting looks very inexperienced for division one and they seem to have been caught cold in a manner similar to our travails at the start of last year. There's a lot of talent in their ranks, but the only batsman of any experience in that top order, Ashwell Prince, is going to have to score a lot of runs to keep them in contention.

Of course, the batsmen may learn quickly and they might also sign an overseas player to fill the gap, but laudably they are building for the future. The short-term one, it must be said, doesn't look unduly promising, as the Nottinghamshire attack that rolled them over was far from a first-choice one.

In our division, the wickets have tumbled but I don't think we can read too much into things yet. OK, apart from perhaps that my selection of Jim Allenby (4 wickets and an unbeaten 29 so far) for my fantasy team may prove a decent bit of business...

Worcestershire have signed Kiwis Colin Munro and Mitchell McClenaghan for different parts of the season, so with Saeed Ajmal seem to have the overseas bases well-covered, but they still don't strike me as a team to worry about unduly, unless they get on a run. Retaining Moeen Ali will help, though good form could seem him a part of a new-look England set up.

There was the wicket of England hopeful Varun Chopra for our own Johny Marsden, playing for Oxford University today, while last week's opponents Durham MCCU were back to their unduly profligate selves against Durham (short trip, that one...), conceding over forty extras after giving away seventy against us. I'd have thought that something to work on for the coach...

Finally tonight, there are thirteen teams (unlucky for some..) in the Peakfan Blog Championship as the summer began. Gary Cunningham  is the early leader, after sweeping three prizes last year, though the Peakfan Prime XI is hot - some might say luke-warm - on his heels in second place.

Not bad, since I have three Derbyshire players in my eleven and we've yet to play. We're two teams short of  being able to award medals at the end of the summer, so if anyone wants to make a late bid and get involved, please do so. 8031395 is the PIN for the league. Mail me if you need more information.

That's it for now - more from me in the next couple of days.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Players return to training

A return to the County Ground for Derbyshire's players today, after a traumatic and emotional weekend.

Losing a friend and loved one is always difficult and the start of the process is hardest of all. When my father-in-law passed away suddenly a few years ago, perhaps the most sage words were said to me by my then manager. "It doesn't get any easier" she said "and it will always hurt, but you just get better at dealing with it".

Five years down the line, it's hard to argue with that assertion. There's not a day goes by without us talking about him or thinking about him and it will be the same with Keith Poynton. That's the impact that the best of people have on those left behind and no one who knew him will ever forget him.

Things have to move on, however, especially at the cricket club, as I said this morning to Colin Bloomfield on Radio Derby. It is right and natural that the family take the time they need, but for erstwhile colleagues, things have to carry on as normal as possible in the circumstances.

I'm not sure if anyone heard the piece, just after the eight o'clock news today, but if you did I'd just like to clarify one point. Colin asked if there should be a memorial to Keith at the County Ground and my reply was that it was a matter for the club and the family to discuss and I'd prefer not to comment. For the record, it would be a nice gesture, but it is not appropriate that I, nor anyone else, should be party to that discussion, should it arise.

I'll also apologise for the lack of my usual dulcet tones, but a flu bug has left me somewhere between the late Arthur Mullard and Barry White vocally.

My thoughts, like yours, I'm sure, remain with the Poynton family and those closest to them.

May they find strength from each other and from the good wishes, thoughts and prayers of everyone in the days ahead.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

From Adam Poynton..

I've had over four thousand comments since starting this blog, but this morning received one from Adam Poynton, Tom's brother, which I can unashamedly say moved me to tears. It came in response to my earlier piece.

I reproduce it below. No further words are necessary.

Thank you Adam.

I have always been an avid reader of your blog ever since my brother started at Derbyshire many years ago.  My father and mother whilst never admitting it to me, were also avid followers.  I say this because it's so hard for a parent to read criticisms about their child but also because when things are going well the amount of pride that is generated is overwhelming.  It's not easy to be a parent of a professional sportsman but believe me when I say this there will not be another one like my Dad.

You have talked of greatness and there is no other word that best describes my dad.

The support we are receiving from the DCCC family is second to none. Tom is at home with us and receiving the best medical care that is available.

It's so hard to thank everybody who has sent us messages of support but they really do help us try to come to terms with this tragic situation.  It's quite unbelievable how many lives my father touched with his kindness and caring nature. He will never be forgotten by those who knew him. We received a card this morning from a family who's son my dad coached and he left a message in the card saying 'A Perfect Man - Someone you aim to be like'. Is there any more words that you could be proud of than that from a 17 year old aspiring cricketer?

I would like to make a special thank you to James Pipe, Simon Storey and Kerry Schofield from the club. As a family I do not know where we would be without their amazing support, which not only  supports Tom but also the rest of us.

Derbyshire make a big thing about being a tight knit 'cricket family' but at times like this you really do realise how cricket brings people together.

Thank you so much for your kind words Peakfan, my dad would have been genuinely blown away to realise what people thought about him.

Adam Poynton

Defining greatness

It is the most overused word in the language.

I got your favourite cereal at the shops today. Great. Your Mum was on the phone. Great. I put a new toilet roll on the holder. Great. We say it all the time and with respect to those concerned, it doesn't really mean a lot. It's not, by any stretch of the imagination,the correct usage of the word.

Yet there were several examples yesterday of the true definition, of  ability, quality, or eminence considerably above average.

The passing of Keith Poynton was that of a great man. One has only to read the comments of those touched by his life, who knew him and who called him a friend, neighbour, colleague or relative, to understand that.  I realised it when I last spoke to him, at the County Ground at the end of last summer.

We were discussing respective families and our pride in the success of our youngsters. Like any parent worthy of the name, both of us had spent many hours doing the things you do as they grow up. Encouraging them; helping them celebrate success; being there to help with disappointments; ferrying them here, there and everywhere to support their interests.

I mentioned that my son had recently graduated and was at that stage seeking employment and Keith was very interested. He made several telling comments, a couple of very useful suggestions and was genuinely helpful and interested in a young lad he had never met. It was not the interest of someone who was merely passing time in idle chit-chat, but that of a genuinely nice - yes, great - bloke who cared and whose time and company were appreciated in equal measure.

I looked forward to catching up with him and his lovely wife Sheena again in a couple of weeks time, but that sadly won't happen now. Yesterday's devastating news put paid to that, but it doesn't change my opinion of Keith Poynton. He was a lovely man and it was a pleasure to have known him.

In much the same way can the word be applied to the club that we all love and support. Perhaps you only really appreciate and understand the merits of people and organisations in adversity. By any standards against which you care to judge it, the conduct and communications of Derbyshire CCC, its players, staff and administrators over the past couple of days has been truly outstanding. Great, if you will.

 So too has been that of fans and the wider cricketing 'family'. There has been an outpouring of support that in the darkest of hours must have been of some comfort to the family. It came from far and wide, perhaps most touchingly from Marcus North in Australia, sending a message to a soon to be team mate. It must have rekindled his own emotions, coming so soon after he had to deal with the loss of his brother, also in a motor accident.

Derbyshire is a family club, a close-knit community where families are welcomed, known and involved. The conduct over the past couple of days from Chris Grant and Simon Storey has been impeccable, thoughtful and professional. The club's statements and tweets have been respectful and wholly appropriate in demanding circumstances and have made me even more proud to support such a club. All concerned deserve the utmost praise for their efforts.

Tom Poynton and his family will be struggling to come to terms with their loss right now. Tom will need time to recover from the physical and mental scars but he and his family will get there, with the support of a truly great club and an outstanding group of people. I wish them all well.

Rest in Peace, Keith Poynton.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Keith Poynton

Very sad news breaking this afternoon regarding the death yesterday evening of Keith Poynton, father of Derbyshire wicket-keeper Tom, in a motor accident. Tom himself was seriously injured in the same accident and has been detained in hospital with a suspected fracture and associated injuries.

It is devastating news for the immediate family and for the close-knit club, an extended one. I had the pleasure of the company of Keith and his wife Sheena on several occasions and their pride in Tom's success was obvious and a delight to see.

There are no suitable words at a time like this and it is only right and proper that tomorrow's game against Leicestershire has been cancelled after consultation between both clubs and the ECB.

My sympathy and I'm sure that of every other Derbyshire fan goes to the family at this difficult and tragic time.

Weekend musings

You can tell a new season is about to begin with the first comment about the blog on another site...

Thanks to Terry for pointing the reference out to me, but suffice to say, contrary to the comment made about this site, that criticism IS perfectly valid and acceptable on here. The caveat to that is, and will always be, that it is justified and constructive. Anything that verges on character assassination and personal attacks won't make it on here, but I've not had to censor a comment in two years, which speaks volumes for you all as regular readers and contributors.

It is fine to say, in short, that player X is out of touch and perhaps needs a break, but not say that he's rubbish, because by definition, to make it to county cricket or the fringes of it you have to be in the top one per cent of players in the country. If they are 'rubbish' I don't know what it makes the rest of us...

Just remember, in posting over the coming months, that a player's parents, family or friends may stumble across it and be a long way from happy. Keep it as you usually do and we'll have some lively, discussive debate going on from now until September.

The squad for tomorrow has been confirmed as I suggested last night and that's no great surprise, but what I really enjoyed seeing yesterday were the names of Ben Cotton and Greg Cork linked with first team appearances this summer. The former has aroused a fair amount of media interest in the past month, while the latter would perhaps slip below the radar but for that very illustrious name. All I have heard about both lads is positive though and I expect to see both of them feature in the senior side more frequently in the next couple of summers. They now have the specialist coaching that should turn their promise to genuine fulfilled talent and I look forward to seeing them develop.

It has been good to see the universal acclaim for the signing of Marcus North, a worthy and talented cricketer. I think our squad looks strong now and the only thing we lack is perhaps an overseas player who can give the ball a real hit in the T20. Whether there is budget for this I don't know, but the likelihood is that North and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will only have limited opportunities to play together in the competition. While players willing to be involved over a protracted period will be limited, I think that our ability to secure one would go a long way towards confirming Graeme Welch's assertion that he fancies us in the competition this year.

A likely top three of Moore, Durston and Hughes offers potential to maximise the Powerplay, not always something we have done, but another player to keep the foot to the floor would perhaps send out a positive message to our opponents.

Fingers crossed!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Leicestershire v Derbyshire preview: the season begins!

And so it begins...

It's been a long cold winter but Spring is here once more (perhaps a long, cold one?) and most importantly the cricket is with us once again. The birds are singing, lighter nights have arrived and Derbyshire could be set for a good season.

Well, we all hope so. Our first fixture sees a short trip to Grace Road and near neighbours Leicestershire, starting on Sunday. The game sees us up against Daniel Redfern, making his first-class debut for them in a squad that contains eight players under the age of 25.

Nathan Buck, Anthony Ireland and Charlie Shreck make up an interesting and useful seam attack, while Josh Cobb will want to translate obvious talent into a greater weight of runs this summer. They will lean heavily on former West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan to provide ballast to an inexperienced batting line up.

Their squad in full:

Buck, Cobb, Eckersley, Ireland, O’Brien, Naik, Raine, Redfern, Robson, Sarwan, Shreck, Smith, Taylor.

As for Derbyshire, I don't expect major changes from the side that played Durhan MCCU, although Wayne Madsen kept everyone guessing with his comments after that game. We could see Tom Poynton in for Richard Johnson, while both David Wainwright and Mark Turner will hope for an opportunity in the attack. Given that Grace Road in a wet April is some way removed from its appearance in a dry August, my guess is that Wainwright will have to wait for his involvement.

Injuries permitting, I expect to see us go in with this side, which you will remember well:


My forecast? With rain expected on Sunday and heavier downpours on Monday, there will need to be a combination of good bowling and inept batting to get a result in this one. If the weather stayed fair I'd fancy us for a good start, but we all know that cricket is a great leveller.

Much as I'd like to predict a winning start, the weather suggests it will be the winner here, so I will go for a draw to start the summer.

What do you think?

North a class replacement for Chanderpaul

Like everything else that emanates from the County Ground at the moment, the signing (or re-signing) of Marcus North by Derbyshire as cover for Shivnarine Chanderpaul makes perfect sense.

North is a time-served cricketer with plenty of experience, much of it, crucially, in England, where he has played for Durham, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Lancashire, as well as us, where he enjoyed a highly successful stint in 2006.

He stuttered a little for Glamorgan last summer, but returned to form in Australia this winter, where he has averaged just under 70; almost 900 runs in sixteen innings. Last week he was voted Sheffield Shield player of the year, in a season where he has more often than not opened the batting and had to overcome the personal tragedy of the death of his brother in a motor accident. The only surprise is that the signing comes soon after the announcement of his retirement from Australian first-class cricket, though that retirement was qualified with the comment that he would make himself available for the English county game, as well as pursuing business interests in the UK.At a time when securing the services of an overseas player of quality is increasingly problematic, could this be the start of a lengthy association? We'll have to wait and see on that one.

North is, in short, a class act, one that Graeme Welch knows well, having skippered him in 2006. He proved that class in Australian colours, of course, scoring five centuries in a Test career of just 35 innings, truncated by the depth of batting talent in his country. A mid-thirties average is relatively modest, as perhaps befits the man, but a first-class average in the forties highlights someone who can play. Any way you want it, too, as indicated by a 73-ball century against Leicestershire in 2007, that won him the Walter Lawrence Trophy for the season's fastest.

He will prove an admirable replacement for Shivnarine Chanderpaul and will presumably play alongside him when both are available in the T20, where his ability to work the ball around, as well as find the boundary, will be of immense value. So too will be his off-spin, which is good enough to have taken six wickets in a Test match innings against Pakistan.

If North can maintain his form of this winter and replicate that of 2006, when he averaged 93 in six innings, there will be precious few complaints. Nor should there be. He has proved himself a prized and valuable player over the past fifteen years and we have done extremely well to get him.

There can be no doubts at the quality of this signing. Congratulations to all at the club who made it happen.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Derbyshire v Durham UCCE day 3

As the weather closed in  - or perhaps more accurately, barely lifted today - the game ended in a somewhat predictable draw, despite a good afternoon effort by the Derbyshire bowlers in which the spinners had lengthy and encouraging bowls.

Especially good to see was Chesney back among the wickets and having two useful spinners among his top order batsmen offers flexibility in team selection to Graeme Welch. While there will be times, as the season progresses, that he will want a specialist spinner in the side, early on I think it more likely that he will perm four seamers from five and utilise the damp, green tracks.

I've had a few e mails asking who I saw as our biggest rivals for promotion spots and how I could be so confident about a promotion push. So here goes:

Essex - they always look a good side on paper, but it rarely seems to translate onto the pitch. They're unlikely to see much of Cook and Bopara, while David Masters cannot go on forever. They can beat anyone on their day, but fold too easily for the comfort of supporters.

Glamorgan - another team with a lot of good players, with Jim Allenby a consistent all-rounder. Jacques Rudolph will score his share of runs, but their attack blows hot and cold and I don't think they have what it takes for a promotion push.

Gloucestershire - their first choice side can be dangerous, but injuries leave them short of experienced cover. They will have their good days and always seem to raise their game against us, but I don't see them as promotion material. Very dependent on Michael Klinger for runs and he needs regular support

Hampshire - a decent batting side, but unless Matt Coles responds to his move from Kent and Kyle Abbott stays fit as overseas player, I can't see how they will bowl sides out in four-day cricket. A good one-day side, where they will fare better.

Kent - a strong batting line-up will usually get them runs on the board, but it is hard to see an aging attack staying fit through a long season. Doug Bollinger is a canny and underrated bowler but their spin bowling isn't the best and while I think they'll be in the top four, I think they will fall short.

Leicestershire - their conveyor belt of young players keeps rolling, but their squad is thin. They will need runs from Ramnaresh Sarwan and it would be nice to see Dan Redfern realise his talent, but their greater challenge will be in avoiding the wooden spoon.

Surrey - surely with Graeme Smith and Kevin Pietersen they should be promoted? Perhaps our greatest rivals and their seam attack of Dernbach, Meaker and Tremlett should be better than it showed last summer. They have a good coach in Graham Ford and really should - have to - go up. With that playing budget, they should be ashamed if they don't...

Worcestershire - having lost Alan Richardson, their attack will be very dependent on new overseas recruit Saeed Ajmal, who should be tired by September. If Moeen Ali is needed by England, it is hard to see anything other than a tussle for the wooden spoon., despite some young players of promise.

Any side that gets off to a good start will be hard to stop. We did it in 2012, Northamptonshire did so last year and the value of early momentum cannot be overstated, even if it often needs its share of breaks with the weather.

We have sixteen championship matches, 64 days of cricket and 192 sessions of play. If we win more of the latter than we lose we'll be up there at the business end, come September. We'll need our share of luck with the weather and injuries, but there is talent and depth in the Derbyshire squad.

Yeah. I feel confident.

In closing tonight, the club promises news of  'an exciting new signing' tomorrow, which I assume will be the overseas cover for Shivnarine Chanderpaul. I look forward to the news breaking tomorrow.

And of course, you can read all about it on here...

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Derbyshire v Durham UCCE day 2

While Derbyshire didn't make the most of the start given to them by the top five batsmen, it would be churlish to complain too much about a display that saw us take a first innings lead of 361.

Graeme Welch may be disappointed that 376-3 became 428 all out, none of the last six making double figures, but Derbyshire's key players have come up with the goods and will go into the first game of the season at Leicester full of confidence.

It would have been nice to see Wes Durston, Richard Johnson and Jonathan Clare make some runs, but their time will come and there won't be a lot of concern over that. Weather permitting, we should win the game tomorrow, but the vagaries of our climate are a thing we can do little about.

It's of little consequence for a game such as this, but if this was a key championship match and we lost a session of play, we might be a little more anxious tonight, seeking nine wickets to win the game. Of course, we'd still do it...

Something I have massive respect for is the attitude of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Pretty much straight off a plane, he could have been excused for going out there to smack it around, then give it away. But no, he bats in time-honoured fashion for over four hours, doubtless getting himself into a good place and feeling good by the time it ended nine short of the deserved hundred.

Tomorrow, I hope to report on a morale-boosting win, but if the weather has other ideas, c'est la vie.

We've done well in this one.

PS There's a good article on 'Pop' Welch on the ECB site. Well worth a read...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Derbyshire v Durham UCCE day one

Of course the opposition was hardly from the top drawer of domestic cricket, but the old adage of only being able to beat who is in front of you rang true at the 3aaa County Ground today.

Having bowled out the Durham UCCE for just 67 runs in 26 overs, Derbyshire proceeded serenely to 283-3 by the close, with Moore, Godleman and Madsen all getting more valuable time in the middle (and runs).

Importantly, the old master and the young pretender in Messrs Chanderpaul and Hughes were still together at the close and the prospect of Chesney batting with and learning from one of the game's greats promises to be one of the joys of the season. Shiv takes batting against them just as seriously as he does anyone else, as evidenced by his scoring rate, but he and we will benefit from his time in the middle and it would be good to see both players press on tomorrow.

Earlier, all the bowlers enjoyed a good and successful workout and there appeared to be good discipline in the Derbyshire bowling, which is something I like to see. More so than their opponents, who racked up a half century in extras before the close in an act of unnecessary profligacy. Tim Groenewald (pictured) laid down an early marker with five wickets in an impressive display

Another century (and a half) stand for Stephen Moore and Billy Godleman was good to see and both should be full of confidence ahead of our first championship match at the weekend. Meanwhile the skipper went for forty, but his pre-season form has been good and Derbyshire could hardly have hoped to be in better shape ahead of the business proper.

There was more good news at Oxford, where the University side there bowled out Nottinghamshire for just 237, our own Johny Marsden taking the wicket of Chris Read in the course of an underwhelming innings by our local rivals.

It made for a satisfying day all round and we can only hope for more of the same tomorrow. I hope we see some of the all-important lower middle order get some time at the crease, as there will be plenty of times this summer when their contributions are crucial to the result of the game.

Finally tonight, there's plenty of time - at least until the weekend - to enter the Fantasy Cricket league. Go to

More tomorrow!