Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Interesting news and topical comment

Randomly browsing the internet last night, as is my wont, I came across an interesting piece by Mark Eklid in the Derby Telegraph. Apparently Graeme Welch is looking for a 'death' bowler for the T20, something about which we are in strong agreement.

Look back to last year's competition and we racked up some impressive scores, but we lacked a bowler of experience and 'nous' to close up one end for us. A Charl Langeveldt if you will, who showed the savvy of his many years in the first-class game by canny bowling at a time when the batsmen were trying to hit him into a neighbouring county. They rarely managed it, as he hit a length with remarkable accuracy, whether that length was short, in the block hole or a wider yorker. He was as good an exponent of the art - which it is - as anyone I have seen. No wonder he has been recruited to South Africa's bowling coach ranks.

I wrote recently of watching the Australian Big Bash and while the batting for me lacked something during the tournament, what did impress me was some of the bowling. Last Sunday I watched one of the most remarkable final overs I can recall, as Clint McKay bowled a maiden. Not only that, but the poor batsman didn't connect with a single ball, utterly bamboozled by a clever bowler who appeared to have more variants of a slow ball than most of us ever knew existed. It was very smart bowling by an experienced and clever pro.

Likewise Brad Hogg remains a joy to watch, not just for his skill in bowling left arm chinamen and wrong 'uns, but for his sheer, unadulterated joy of playing cricket. One gets the impression that every day on the field is something that he celebrates as if it is his last, which at 43 I guess it could be. Hogg gives hope to aging cricketers everywhere and his introduction to the attack always brings a 'buzz' to the crowd who are rarely let down. If only all cricketers played with a smile on their face! I know it's a job and it can be tough at times, but for no other reason than he seems to love what he does, Hogg is one of my favourite cricketers.

It would be great if we could get such a bowler and I am sure that Graeme Welch has plenty of options. There were several very talented Aussies in the Big Bash, while there may be others, certainly in South Africa, who could equally do a steady job.

Speaking of bowlers and I was surprised to see David Wainwright selected for the spinning role in the club's fantasy side of the 21st century. Of course he is a good player, but so was Ant Botha and for me there was little between them.

Yet both were lesser bowlers than Robin Peterson, who showed himself a very good one in all forms of the game in his season at the club. Let's face it, he has played international cricket with some success too, so it was a surprise to see him overlooked, even before the merits of each as a batsman are considered. Maybe there was a little ill-feeling at his being perceived to use us as a stepping stone back to international cricket and relinquishing his Kolpak status as quickly as he accepted it. Mind you, he was neither the first and won't be the last to do that, so it shouldn't have affected things.

Still, we all have opinions, so here's my call on the seamers - keeping in mind we are choosing them for first-class cricket. There is some good competition in this category, but I'll go with Langeveldt, Welch and Footitt.

Why? Because they cover all the bases. Combine the respective abilities of the three and you have the perfect bowler. Line, length, movement, pace, common sense and something for any wicket you come up against.

I'd have loved to include the others, especially Kevin Dean, but this is tough company and tough decisions need to be made...

More from me soon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Blog reaches 750,000 landmark

Sometime tonight, the blog will pass three-quarters of a million views.

There's not much I can say apart from 'thank you' to everyone who keeps checking in. My apologies for things slowing down a little in recent weeks, but normal service should be resumed from here.

I'm pleased that the landmark will arrive on the day that we re-signed Martin Guptill, which makes it all the more memorable and hope that the coming months mark a fantastic season for Derbyshire, as well as for the blog. At the recent rate of summer usage, hitting the million mark this calendar year is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Thanks also to those who come to the blog through Sportskeeda, where more than half a million hits have been registered. If you enjoy the blog, please tell your friends and encourage them to get involved, to read and to comment.

Special thanks to the sponsors over the last few years and especially to Office Care, whose support has meant a great deal and for me took the 'look' of the blog to a new level of professionalism for which I am very grateful.

Back soon!

Guptill signing lays down a marker

If such action was required, the signing of Martin Guptill for the start of the 2015 county season has emphasised that Derbyshire mean business.

The tall Kiwi was one of the most popular of overseas players in his previous stint in county colours. He was one of the boys, friendly, approachable and very aware of the responsibility of his role. He took it seriously and set standards in the field, off the field and in his attitude with the bat.

The bottom line is simple. Guptill has swagger, in the nicest sense of the word. He goes out to dominate and to impose himself on the opposition. That self-confidence and self-belief rubs off on his colleagues.

It did in 2012. For all that we have enjoyed some fine overseas players over the years, I don't recall many who announced their credentials by smacking the overseas professional of the opposition into the middle distance, as Guptill did to Chaminda Vaaas in that season's opening fixture. It was a stroke that belied the cold and the fact that it was the first arctic game of the summer; one that said 'Here I am and this is what I can do'.

Which was pretty much what he kept on doing. His approach to the art of batting was such that failures were always likely. Occasionally the desire to dominate cost him when he went for his shots too early, but when it came off, as it frequently did, it was magnificent. His approach was diametrically opposed to that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for who occupation of the crease was of paramount importance, but the averages didn't lie. Guptill averaged a shade under 50 in the first-class game in 2012 and an impressive 70 in one-day cricket, when his assaults  - no other word will do - on the bowling made for some memorable cricket.

His effect on the side was considerable, though not just in his batting. There was the 'chirpiness' in the field, the voice heard encouraging his team mates on to greater efforts, to concentrate, to get the batsman out. There was also a wonderful pair of hands anywhere, speed over the ground and an example set. This wasn't an overseas player here to score a few runs on easier tracks and coast. He wanted to dominate and to contribute to success. He did that in spades.

Therein lies the issue. No one who has watched Martin Guptill in full flow will doubt his talent, but his Test average has slipped below thirty, his first-class average below that of the one-day game. He is 29 this year and has slipped out of the reckoning for Test cricket in a country that is getting together a formidable side. A good stint for Derbyshire would make all the difference ahead of a Test series in this country in mid-summer and that is a fine incentive if ever there was one.

Guptill carries on a lineage of opening 'dashers' that began with Arnold Hamer and continued equally memorably with Kim Barnett.  Both gave early impetus to an innings and there was an audible sigh of disappointment, of truncated enjoyment, when they went early. It is the same with Martin Guptill. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod as his opening partner, but both Ben Slater and Billy Godleman will enjoy batting with a player who always keeps the scoreboard moving. Guptill's early season partnerships with Paul Borrington were a major factor in the success of 2012 and the top order looks all the more impressive with him at its head.

His winter suggests that he is back into prime form after a period of injury and he has averaged just under 75 for Auckland, as well as producing some fine innings in the one day game.  Anything close to that sort of form will do us nicely and I am sure I'm not alone in anticipating that trademark drive back over the bowler's head, the follow through held nicely as the ball disappears over yonder sightscreen. Or the slog sweep that may well endanger those sat in front of the marquee, or walking behind it, for that matter. Batting from the other end, it might be an idea to check the insurance on the Lund Pavilion...there's a lot of glass there, well within his range.

All is well in the world, my friends. The Gup is back and things are boiling up nicely with a squad of rich potential.

Welcome home, Martin. It will be a delight to watch you once again.

Guptill returns for 2015

You read it right folks. The Gup is back...!

Martin Guptill will join up with Derbyshire for the first six weeks of the season, when he will play six County Championship and three T20 games.

It's a great start to the week, so good it inspired me to burst into song. Ahem....

Monday, Monday, so good to me
Marty Guptill's heading back to DCCC
Oh Marty Guptill, Marty Guptill almost guarantees
That come the season we'll be flying up the league...

With apologies to the Mamas and Papas and thanks to those at the club who made this happen.

More from me later.

Keeping up the musical theme, the boy is back in town.

Enjoy your Monday!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

It's all happening...there must be a season on the way!

As off-field events go, those of recent days mark a defining moment in the history of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

The reality is that in the next three years the 3aaa County Ground will change out of all recognition and undoubtedly for the better. The old ground was vast, cold and unwelcoming, while the current one has a certain charm though is somewhat rustic, featuring very obvious bits and pieces done at different stages when there was a little money to spare.

When it is complete, the new ground will bear little resemblance to the one that I photographed at the end of last season. Parts of it will be recognisable, but we will have facilities that are fit for purpose, that enable us to make money all year round, that offer function facilities second to none and make joining Derbyshire, from both a player and supporter perspective, a very attractive proposition.

It is exciting and should be seen as such by everyone. There will be those who like their little nook in a current place, but progress is important and the club is some way removed from the one that faced insolvency on several occasions in the not too distant past. As I wrote the other evening, all concerned deserve a big pat on the back for work of quite extraordinary magnitude.

Onwards and upwards...

Staying off the field, the latest 'recruit' to the 21st century fantasy side is James Pipe, one that I agree with one hundred per cent. I never got a chance to comment on this one due to other commitments, but for me it came down to a straight choice between Pipe and Luke Sutton. In another few years, there's every chance Tom Poynton could win such a vote, or Harvey Hosein perhaps, but Pipe was a very fine wicket-keeper batsman who is now an even better physiotherapist.

It boiled down quite simply for me - Pipe won matches for Derbyshire, while Luke Sutton saved us a few. The latter produced some gritty efforts in an average batting side, while James galvanised innings and pulled a win out of the fire on a number of occasions. If either Tom or Harvey can replace him adequately in the years ahead there will be few complaints.

Finally tonight, Mark Footitt has, apparently, not given up on his international aspirations and I can understand that after the Lions South African tour. Reports have suggested that the tour offered nothing new on either Liam Plunkett or Boyd Rankin, both of them strange selections when surely the purpose of such tours is to do just that?

Jonathan Trott scored heavily, but was always likely to as a class batsman, but of the bowlers only Mark Wood emerged with reputation enhanced. If the party made up the best of the supposed next tier of talent, then Footitt has a right to remain optimistic, especially if he starts the summer in good form. I still see his non-selection for South Africa as an opportunity missed, however.

Meanwhile, young South African batsman Theunis de Bruyn looks a likely international of the future after scoring 202 and 161 in his two innings. The youngster has a current List A average of 87 and first-class one of 60...hard to maintain but indicative of rare talent.

Indeed the winter has been good for the Saffers, as several players have emerged. Rilee Rossouw looks a good opening batsman, while Temba Bavuma has potential. I also like two all rounders I have seen, Chris Morris and David Wiese. Both bowl with decent pace and hostility, while hitting the ball a long way. I would be surprised if some of these players are not picked up by a discerning county in the next year or two.

I especially liked the look of Wiese, who handled a West Indian assault well. A player who scores his runs at 160 per hundred balls and bowls his overs at under eight, he would be an astute T20 signing for a county - assuming he fulfilled selection criteria. Such players are widespread in that country, with Johan Botha still proving himself a very good cricketer in the Australian Big Bash.

Botha is a modern cricketer and a good one. He has captained the Adelaide Strikers with flair to the semi-finals, his side finishing top of the group section, He has scored runs at 175 per hundred balls, finishing second in the averages in doing so, while bowling his overs for under seven runs each. He is a very good fielder and as such he can make a good career around the globe, even if he played no first-class cricket.

More from me soon.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Ground news reward for outstanding efforts

The news of Derbyshire's success in gaining financial support from the City Council is a landmark in the club's history.

The council cabinet is to be asked, at its meeting on Wednesday, to approve a package of loans and grants that would guarantee the county club’s eligibility to apply to be one of six host cities of the prestigious Women's World Cup tournament in 2017 and allow it to press ahead with its own development plans.

It would include a £2m bridging loan so that a new media centre can be constructed next winter at the racecourse end of the 3aaa County Ground and a £410,000 loan from the council’s regeneration fund to cover the cost of buying the freehold of the Gateway Centre.

It is money spent ahead of ECB funding coming through and means that the club takes on short-term debt, but I have complete confidence in the people at the helm of our club and everyone else should have too.

We are no longer run by amateurs, well-meaning or otherwise and in a couple of years time the ground will be unrecognisable from today, let alone the stark, unwelcoming place that it was for so many years.

All involved behind the scenes are to be congratulated on their efforts in gaining support for improvements that can only make the club more attractive for functions and events, as well as ensuring that the Gateway Centre is used to maximum potential.

Wonderful news and here's hoping that the council do one of its finest sporting institutions proud.

Not much else to report today, but I was interested to read in the Derby Telegraph towards the end of the week that Chris Grant feels that a franchise cricket T20 competition could run alongside the existing club T20, as well as a fifty-over and County Championship competition.

If they can find a space in the calendar to do that I will be impressed and have no objections whatsoever. What I don't want to see is my love of Derbyshire cricket being diluted through one replacing the other.

I don't see myself going to such games, but the target audience is families, as it is with the BBL and IPL and I dare say there will be plenty of support for such a venture.

If it feeds down money to the club that I support, then it would be churlish to have objections, but I'd sooner watch Derbyshire, good and bad, rather than England, or a World XI taking on Mars...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Fantasy middle order

The latest options for the Derbyshire Fantasy First-Class XI highlight the issues with such ventures.

The original idea was to select a side with two overseas players. Having picked Michael Di Venuto and Chris Rogers to open, those berths were already taken, thus rendering the overseas names to follow largely redundant.

I clarified this with the excellent people in the club's marketing team and got an immediate reply - there will be two sides named, one with two overseas players, and one with the players gaining the most votes.

Being an old-fashioned kind of dude, I am going with two overseas players and am quite happy with the ones I have in the side to open. I wouldn't have chosen anyone else over those two and in the paragraphs below I will tell you why.

Pretty much by definition, if you are bringing a player from the other side of the world, he should be better than you already have. If one assumes that a decent county player will average between 30 and 40 with the bat, I have an expectation that an overseas star should average 40 as a bare minimum and ideally over 50.

That's why Di Venuto and Rogers were such fine players. Although neither played in a strong Derbyshire batting side, they scored thousands of runs. The weight of the batting lay on their shoulders, but both seemed to thrive on the pressure, a mark of genuine talent and sense of responsibility.

If nothing else, the available options for the middle order confirm that, whatever else, Derbyshire have chosen overseas players fairly effectively. With only one domestically-reared player in the selection, it highlights some judicious recruitment, even if the results didn't always follow on from that.

I would have liked to see Chris Taylor among the options. I know he only played one full season with us, but in that summer he looked head and shoulders above most of his team mates as a batsman, in all forms of the game. Perhaps his lack of appearances counted against him, but Simon Katich is in there and only played thirteen first-class matches. That he was a fine player is beyond doubt, but I am going to go for players who made a more lasting impact on the county's fortunes.

My first is easy - Wayne Madsen. Watching the Derbyshire skipper grow as a county cricketer and as a captain has been a pleasure. He is a delightful and ever-improving batsman, as well as one of the nicest sportsmen it has been my pleasure to meet. I suspect his average will continue to climb and he will end his career as one of the very select number of genuine club legends. Enjoy watching him while we have him, as he is up there with the best in our history. A record of at least a fifty in every two matches that he has played is really something, especially after playing ninety games.

My second choice is Wes Durston. He can be a poor starter, his feet slow to get moving, but when Wes gets it right there are few better sights in the game. His stroke play can be imperious, dismissing the ball from his presence and he has played some spectacular innings. His forte is probably the one-day game, but as a game-changer with bat or ball, as well as a safe catcher anywhere, I would have Wes in my team every time.

My third choice is perhaps more contentious - Chris Bassano. He was a player I loved to see bat and his strokes were crisp and clean when he was in the groove. A naturally quick scorer, only his health issues with diabetes held Chris back from becoming a fixture in the county game. He would have had greater freedom to play those shots with such an opening pair and I would be more than happy with a top five of Rogers, Di Venuto, Madsen, Bassano and Durston.

The others? It is difficult to leave out the legend that is Chanderpaul, but his very best days were behind him when he played for us and I've already picked my two overseas stars and their records were better. Wavell Hinds could play but didn't score enough runs, while Travis Birt was a batsman of moods who found odd ways to be dismissed. Both were fine players when in the groove, but this is select company.

Run machine Simon Katich was a terrific player, but thirteen games isn't enough involvement in our history to get into my team, while Hassan Adnan was a mercurial talent. He had all the shots and time to play them, but only converted ten of 61 first-class scores in excess of fifty into centuries. He wasn't a great runner between the wickets either, so he misses out too.

I will be interested to see who other people select, but hopefully you appreciate my rationale and, for what it is worth, the quality of that top five.

Rogers, Di Venuto, Madsen, Bassano, Durston...yeah, I'd queue for tickets to see that batting side!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Franchises raise their head...again

Excuse the big sigh as I start this piece, but over on Cricinfo there's discussion regarding tinkering with the T20 format, yet again.

Not only are envious glances (or brazen stares) being cast towards the IPL, but now the success of the Big Bash in Australia is the catalyst for all manner of suggestions regarding the English T20 competition, under whichever moniker you care to choose. For Derbyshire fans of more recent vintage, that's the competition that we have thus far played abysmally, but spend each Spring convincing ourselves that this year could be different. Maybe this year will, but that is a subject for another piece in the future.

I'm not a fan of gimmicks. There, I have said it. I can live with Power plays and see the merits. I can understand and appreciate a 'super over' to decide a tie, and follow the logic of restrictions on bouncers. I just don't follow suggestions to spice it up with additional fielding limitations, more power overs and assorted nonsensical ideas. If it carries on, we'll soon be seeing the batting side getting double runs, if they make more than ten in an over from the bowling of a player who was born outside the county boundaries, but only if the names of the two batsmen at the crease can be rearranged by anagram into 'We are cocking up cricket, big time'.

I have watched some of the Big Bash and have not been all that impressed. Yes, there have been decent crowds for the franchise sides, but Australian cricket has created two sides each in Melbourne and Sydney and for me the cricket has been distinctly average. The bowling has been better than the batting, though whether because of sub-standard wickets rather than genuine skill I'm not sure.

In England there are effectively two choices - a T20 compacted into a month in the middle of the season, when the nights are longest and the weather potentially the best, or spread over several weeks to fill cricket grounds on Friday nights with those straight from work and looking forward to the weekend. That's the model we currently have and most in its favour is that it avoids burning out players too much. Against it is that luring a big name overseas star to play for one night a week is nigh impossible, meaning that counties generally have to be content with second tier stars from overseas. You can have success with some of those mind...

You will note the word 'potentially' in bold above. As I said when putting in my tuppence worth over on the site, there's less appeal in a game when you're sat with a heavy jacket on and wondering whether the drizzle is worth putting your brolly up, or it will simply convince the umpires it is time to take the players off.

I have said many a time on this blog that I am not a devotee of T20 and would sooner watch one four-day game over any ten of the shorter format. But it is cricket, Derbyshire play it and I would follow their fortunes if they were playing a one over a side competition in a barn. I entertain hopes that sometime soon we might actually become decent at it, but I really don't want it to be so complex that I need Stephen Hawking to explain the rules, nor do I wish to watch a composite East Midlands (or 'Mercia' side, as one correspondent called it) in action.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. For decades we have enjoyed local rivalries and attended games in the hope that we would hammer Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire, or Yorkshire, because we're not fussed in being so partisan. Their supporters are the same, so are those of Middlesex and Surrey, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The powers that be cannot expect such rivalries to be overturned on a whim and I couldn't ever see myself attending Trent Bridge and cheering on a side that featured, notionally, six of their players, three of ours and two from Leicestershire.

There's already a composite East Midlands side anyway, They play at Nottingham and feature the best of former Leicestershire talent, with the exception of Shiv Thakor, potentially the best of the lot.

And he'll be playing for Derbyshire. Long may that continue, and the meddlers stay out of our game.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Weekend warmer

If ever a weekend needed a warmer it is this one! Sleet, snow, rain and an arctic wind that would cut you in half...the season may be approaching, but it's a good job we start in April, giving it time to warm up...

This week I will be starting to run an interview with former Derbyshire opening batsman Alan Hill. One of the best opening batsmen we had in the modern era, Alan had a lot of fascinating stories to tell me of a period when almost every county had an express quick bowler, which made the lot of the opening batsman, somewhat akin to that of a policeman in Pirates of Penzance, not a happy one...

It is quite apposite, given that the club are now looking for votes for the best opening batsmen since the year 2000. There are four candidates, but I am happy to tell you my thoughts.

While I have massive respect for him as a cricketer and a man, Steve Stubbings has to be omitted from serious discussion in this company. He was a journeyman professional, the others outstanding overseas imports. There is no greater respect for what he did for the county than from me, but alongside such luminaries as Guptill, Di Venuto and Rogers he cannot realistically be considered.

Martin Guptill is another who brought much to the county cricket landscape. He is the only one on the list who we might retain hopes of seeing again and is a wonderfully entertaining batsman. His approach is to dominate and he did it often enough to reward the county faithful. I treasure the memories of his booming drives, in the arc between mid off and mid on, as well as the prolific slog sweep that sent the ball a long way when he connected properly.

Nor should his influence in the field and dressing room be underestimated, as his stint with us in 2012 was the catalyst for the promotion. With him in the team we were chirpy in the field and his willingness to be one of the boys was a factor in the team spirit engendered that memorable summer.

I base my choice on the side playing four-day cricket, or first-class as described in the publicity, but Guptill was a better all-round batsman than Chris Rogers. The latter was, and continues to be, a run machine in the longer forms of the game. though he has never proven himself over the shorter forms. It is a puzzle as to why, as he scores quickly once set, but over the longer games Rogers gets my vote.

It is a delight to see him making the most of belated international opportunity for Australia, at a time when he must have thought such chance had gone. His compact, well-organised game has worked well in the international arena and an average of a shade under forty shows he is at home in the environment.

In county cricket he was a run machine. Wickets often fell around him at Derbyshire, as he stood at the helm of an oft-sinking ship to steer the batting to calmer waters. At times he seemed to be batting on a different surface to the rest of the side and the bottom line is that you cannot argue with a first-class average of just under 60.

My other choice is simple. Michael Di Venuto was another whose prime was the same as that of many great players in Australia. The presence of Matt Hayden and Justin Langer limited his international opportunities, but that meant that the county game was graced with his talent.

First at Sussex, then for us and finally for Durham, Diva scored thousands of runs in an easy on the eye style. His rapier cuts and savage pulls linger in the memory, but he had a style that saw him at home in all forms of the game. Compact and secure in defence, quick to seize on any aberration in line or length by the bowler, Michael was a huge asset to the county. Many still puzzle over the decision to release him and retain the services of the less consistent Travis Birt, but Derbyshire's loss was very much Durham's gain. He became a key component of their title-winning sides and remained a player of talent and a man of great charm to the end of his career.

While it means that both the overseas roles in the fantasy side have been taken, it is an easy Buck and Diva decision for me.

Number three could sit with his pads off a little longer with those two opening the batting...

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Things starting to happen...

Confirmation that Jon Clare appears to be well on the way to recovery from his back problems is welcome news for Derbyshire supporters, as well as for everyone within the club.

Stories about his health and fitness have landed in my email box on a good few occasions in the past couple of years, while some of those elsewhere have been scurrilous and borderline defamatory. As I have said before, there is a big difference between 'There is nothing wrong with you' and 'We do not know what is wrong with you'. Thankfully, the contacts list of James Pipe finally got Clare a chance to be seen by someone who knew both what he was looking for and how to do something about it. The result is that the player appears likely to be fit by April, which is terrific news.

It is the last year of his contract and my only hope is that he makes a good fist of that year and then, if offered another deal by Derbyshire, shows the loyalty that the club has shown to him. There have been instances in professional sport where such loyalty has not been repaid and I hope that the player is fully appreciative of the time and effort that has gone into getting him fit to play the first-class game.

As I have said before, a Derbyshire team with him in it is undoubtedly a stronger one. A bowler capable of mid-80s mph and a batsman who can change a game in a short space of time, there is much to like. I have a suspicion that he and Wayne White are perhaps battling for the one place on the staff for 2016, possibly a reason for the latter's one-year deal, but so too could be the potential in Shiv Thakor, Alex Hughes, Tom Knight and Greg Cork as all rounders.

Speaking of all rounders, it is interesting to see the club's current poll on the best since the turn of the century (which makes it sound a lot longer than it is). I haven't voted, but find it difficult to go by Dominic Cork. How do you go past an international cricketer? Graeme Welch would be in the frame, as a cricketer I admired who will probably be looked back on as an even better coach , but you have to go with Cork. While his era as a player will not be looked back on as one of the more harmonious in the club's history, it would be churlish and silly to lay all of that at his door. There were strong characters in that squad, one that contained sufficient talent to do much better than it did if they had pulled together more often.

Further afield, it was interesting to see Charl Langeveldt brought in by South Africa as a specialist T20 bowling coach. Anyone who saw him bowl in that format saw a craftsman, one who could hit the right line and length more often than not and drop yorkers in with astonishing regularity. I have yet to see anyone markedly better than him at that, only Lasith Malinga of Sri Lanka running him close with Dirk Nannes a little behind.

Equally interesting was to see Jimmy Neesham omitted from New Zealand's World Cup squad. I like him as a cricketer, but his country are somewhat awash with all rounders of talent and Grant Elliott got the nod. They could be worth watching, especially when players of the calibre of Jesse Ryder and Colin Munro aren't in there. Thankfully Martin Guptill made the side and Derbyshire fans will be able to watch our fantasy T20 recruit for 2015 launch their innings in typically refreshing style. I'm also pleased to see Daniel Vettori back in the squad, a slow left armer of charm and skill.

And finally tonight, our dear neighbours up the road have signed Vernon Philander and Ben Hilfenhaus as job share overseas players for next summer. It will be the latter's first taste of county cricket, while the South African has previous stints with Somerset, Kent and Middlesex. Both are fine bowlers, but the crux for our East Midlands rivals is that for all their exciting component parts, they rarely seem to make for a cohesive whole that wins trophies. With their resources that has to be regarded as disappointing.

Or funny, depending on which county you follow...

Monday, 5 January 2015

And so...

2015 arrives. The year of the Falcons?

I am confident and the players have returned to training and are raring to go, by all accounts. There's now more of the close season behind us than ahead and we can look forward to the Spring and Summer.

I have watched some of the Aussie Big Bash this year and been largely unimpressed. The bowling is much more savvy than was once the case and the better ones mix up pace and line to keep the batsmen guessing. Too many of the latter seem to adopt a 'boom or bust' mentality that I just don't understand, appearing to have learned little from the better sides of the IPL.

For me, it is simple. If batsmen can score off most of the balls they face, a good score will be amassed. They don't need to go for four either. Even allowing for a dot ball per over, four singles and a four from the rest gives you 160, which can be defended. The best sides in IPL aim for a boundary early in the over, which keeps the pressure off.

Of course, you need to legislate for the wicket and the opposition attack, but at that level players can find gaps and time it so there are twos on the big grounds as fielders run in. That's why I think Dean Jones would have been a great T20 batsman, as his timing of a ball and judgement of a run was so acute. It is why Jacques Kallis is still a fine T20 player, despite not being a huge hitter. He works the ball, finds the gaps, pushes the twos. Any side with him in it has a player that they can bat around, as well as one who bowls good overs with the new ball. Class act, that's for sure.

I saw a bit of the West Indies in South Africa too and they look some way from a side. The series has reinforced my opinion that Shiv's eyes or reflexes are going a little now. It is wholly understandable, given his age and the quality of the home attack, but he looks an ordinary player now, and for a long time he has been much better than that. I know he got 50 today, but it was by a distance his highest of the tour and he looks out of sorts. Mind you, the West Indies batting seems to stop at five...

I don't expect him to play on at that level much longer, once he gets the 238 runs he needs to beat Brian Lara's West Indian record.

But what a player he has been - and it was a pleasure to see him in Derbyshire colours.