Thursday, 30 April 2015

Footitt: the case for England

There was a time, back in the early days of this blog, when the mention of Mark Footitt's name brought forth a veritable postbag of responses.

He wasn't that fast, said people who hadn't faced him at 22 yards. He was unfit. He was erratic. He was a liability. He was a Nottinghamshire reject. As is the way with life, people - supporters, mind - were quick to focus on what he couldn't do, rather than look at, and be grateful for what he could do.

That, in Mark's case, has always been to propel a cricket ball down 22 yards as quickly as anyone in the country. No one ever doubted that, but this very rare talent was subsumed beneath plenty of counter arguments. Few wanted him in a limited overs side, because he could go all over the place. There was a time when his wicket-keeper du jour was probably glad of his omission too, saving full length dives to leg and off in the vain hope of stopping the more than occasional wild one, when his action let him down and the ball became cannon fodder for the batsman - assuming he could reach it.

Having made his debut in 2005 at Trent Bridge, he got to the end of the 2012 season with 72 wickets to show for seven seasons in the first-class game. It was a poor return and a reflection on perhaps an equally poor level of fitness. He was far from an automatic choice in a Derbyshire side that won promotion that summer, when Footitt took only eleven wickets.

At the end of that season he had an operation to remove a disc from his back that was pressing on either a nerve or his spinal cord. There was a chance that he might never play again, but thanks to the skill of the surgeon, together with that of James Pipe, the Derbyshire physio, he was ready for Derbyshire's summer in the top tier with an improved level of fitness and a stronger 'core' that enabled him to bowl fast for longer spells.

He took 42 wickets that summer, looking like our best bowler in a campaign where we started dreadfully slowly and were ultimately relegated, despite a late-season surge that saw unlikely victories. He showed he could trouble batsmen at that level, as well as get them out.

Then came 2014. It was the year when his body was fully repaired, his action more grooved  and his run up became smooth and awe-inspiring. There was no coincidence in that it was Graeme Welch's first summer in charge, a man with an impressive reputation as a coach of seam bowlers. Footitt troubled everyone and dismissed many. Several players headed for the local emergency rooms after being hit on the head or body by bowling that was simply too quick for them. Australian Michael Klinger was one, his forearm broken by a quick, rising delivery in a one-day game where Footitt was the difference between the sides.

For the first time in many years, we had a weapon to top and tail an innings. He was simply too quick for some opening batsmen with the hard new ball, as well as remaining so for nine, ten, jack, some of who showed less than willing to get behind a ball coming from a fast left-arm bowler.

Therein lies his real value. The game has had very few GENUINE fast bowlers of the left-arm variety. Wasim Akram, Dirk Nannes, Mitchell Johnson, perhaps Sobers on an occasional delivery, but that's it. New Zealander Trent Boult showed the value of that pace and angle in the recent World Cup, while England chose to tour South Africa with their Lions side without Footitt, who attended only  pre-tour nets.

The South Africans in turn made hay while the sun shone against an array of right-arm seamers of similar pace and style. This was much as England suffered in the World Cup for their Stepford Wives cloning of an attack, as those of us in the know back home muttered oaths about selectorial sanity, bias and inadequacy.

He took 106 wickets in all competitions in 2014. No one else came close to that. Presumably those in the corridors of power wrote it off as a fluke, unlikely as it is that someone could be so prolific with luck alone as a weapon.

2015 has begun with more of the same. Twelve wickets in his first two matches, the second played on a wicket that became increasingly slow and moribund. In the second innings, he bowled more overs than anyone, 34 in total and took six wickets. Throughout he sustained a high level of pace, whether bowling over or around the wicket. He was and is a constant threat. His captain, Wayne Madsen, admitted afterwards that the wicket-keeper and slips stood several yards deeper for him, so quickly was he still coming through at the end of the innings.

Of course, if England continue to ignore him, it will be to Derbyshire's benefit. Any attack with him in it is all the stronger and those of us who have watched him over the past two summers are convinced that his time is now. At 29 he is fast, fit and firing, his body strong and his talent undeniable. He may be playing in division two, but he's dismissed enough talented players, including overseas batsmen, to confirm he could stand easily alongside the best.

He should play against New Zealand this summer, although opportunity to blood him was missed in the Caribbean. Like Mitchell Johnson, he can be considered a late developer, but like Johnson, one takes the rough with the smooth. He might go for a few boundaries against a batsman prepared to chance his arm, but he could equally easily blow away a top order in a short, sharp spell.

If there's any justice, common sense or, indeed sanity in English cricket selection, Mark will get an international opportunity this summer. If he doesn't, the consolation prize will be that he will spearhead the Derbyshire attack in a strong challenge for a return to the top tier.

Is that over-confident? Not really. I've watched him bowl often enough to justify it.

We love him to bits at Derbyshire. The wild tyro has become a class act.

Godleman suspension disappointing but no surprise

For Derbyshire fans, still glowing in the aftermath of the exciting win at Bristol, the news of Billy Godleman's suspension came as a disappointment.

He will miss the next two matches, just when he appeared to have established himself in the side, which is perhaps more frustrating for him than for us. I'm not going to comment on the incident, as I have only read about it, but the reality is that Billy had 'previous' and in such circumstances was going to be on the wrong side of the decision.

Reports suggest that Chesney Hughes will come into the team as his replacement, but that is not guaranteed, at least for me. His reputation should earn him an opportunity and thankfully he scored 88 in the first innings against Glamorgan in the second team game that finished today to keep in the frame.

There are other options, however. Martin Guptill could move up to open, Wayne Madsen could move to three and either Scott Elstone or Tom Knight could get an opportunity. The seconds beat Glamorgan (propitious, huh?) today, chasing 271 to win at Derby and doing so by seven wickets. Elstone scored 106 from 113 balls, while Singh made 84 before being run out. I don't know the latter, but would be pleased to hear from anyone who can update me on his background. When they were dismissed, Tom Knight and Tom Wood steered us to an impressive and composed win with time to spare.

Then again, they could always include David Wainwright, on a ground that often offers some spin, so the options are out there for Graeme Welch, most of his staff making strong cases for inclusion in the senior side.

More from me later, or tomorrow, depending how the time goes!

Postscript - 'Singh' is Rammy Singh, released last year by Durham and a former England under-19 player. He is 22 years old and presumably on trial, so not a bad effort in the circumstances. A diminutive player, he apparently hits the ball a long way.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 4 - the first win!

Gloucestershire 275 and 411 (Footitt 6-94)
Derbyshire 545-9 and 142-3 (Godleman 51, Guptill 31 not)

Derbyshire won by seven wickets

When it came, the end was rather like the beginning and the middle, fully justifying my favourite word of praise for a sports team.

It was professional.

It was also, despite impressive individual performances, a team effort in which everyone made a contribution. With plenty of second team players making strong cases for inclusion in the side, each and every player in the first team effectively said 'you aren't having my place' and produced the goods to back up their argument.

Full credit to Gloucestershire, who made us work, itself reassuring to see. In recent years there has been plenty of times when the rudder and the commitment seemed to dissipate in the face of resistance, but not today and not now. We remained competitive and committed and, in the end, reaped the rewards.

It was good to see another start from Billy Godleman and Ben Slater, who are showing signs of becoming the opening pair we have sought for years. That, in turn, makes life much easier for the middle order, coming in against a softer ball and able to score quickly and allow time to bowl out the opposition.

This was the 'Derbyshire way' with our best sides over the years. There have been times when we've not had an especially good batting line-up, but the runs they made came quick enough to allow the bowlers valuable time. So it was here. Had we not scored almost 500 on day two, we would not have won this, as there wouldn't have been time.

All of which make Martin Guptill's efforts the more remarkable. 227 in the first innings, an unbeaten 31 in the second. 14 sixes in the match, a Derbyshire record along with his eleven on the second day. Then he holds three catches out of four that only the exceptional would consider an opportunity. His slip catch yesterday, one-handed in front of Wayne Madsen at first slip, was astonishing, while the one at leg gulley from the day's last ball was another example of hand/eye coordination at its best.

We are fortunate to have the genial Kiwi with special talent. With one match of his stay to go, he averages 97 and has once again made a huge impression, on and off the pitch. I hope we can get him again and for a longer period, because his influence on this side is hard to overstate. Amla and Dilshan are both great batsmen, but they will have to go some to match 'The Gup'.

As for Mark Footitt, he is deserving of a piece to himself, which will follow tomorrow or Friday, depending on time. Let's just say that his pace, skill and fitness was the difference today. The wicket was dead and only genuine pace was going to make the required breakthrough.

Mark has it. He has it all, in fact and it is why no one will look forward to playing us this year.

A win is a win. This brought us maximum points and may well be looked back upon as a catalyst, achieved with five players aged 23 or under and ten who are qualified to play for England.

It has to count for something...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 3

Gloucestershire 275 and 253-6 (Footitt 3-34)
Derbyshire 545-9

Gloucestershire trail by 17 runs with four second innings wickets left

Allowing for the current weather projections being accurate, Derbyshire should be able to wrap up a thoroughly deserved victory sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Early morning rain showers are expected to give way to sunshine towards lunchtime, with a dry and sunny afternoon to follow. While there are still four wickets to take and dangerous Kiwi Hamish Marshall is one of them, logic suggests that even on a wicket that has eased we should bring things to a favourable conclusion..

Congratulations to Harvey Hosein for his maiden first-class fifty today, doubtless the first of many for the youngster. Together with Tom Taylor, he enabled us to declare a piffling 270 runs ahead and have time for a good bowl before lunch.

Full credit is due, however, to the home side, who battled hard second time around. In South African-born Gareth Roderick they seem to have unearthed a batsman of some talent, appearing a potent combo of Shiv Chanderpaul and Kim Barnett at the crease, an open stance accompanied by a substantial shuffle. Mind, there's worse people to look like out there...

A Gloucestershire side including two players of South African origin and three from New Zealand took some digging out, but Derbyshire stuck well to their task. Palladino was wonderfully accurate and parsimonious once more, Taylor more expensive but taking the key wicket of Roderick. Then there was Mark Footitt, whose raw pace gives us a bowler that, even on a docile track, can surprise a batsman who is set.

So it was with Geraint Jones, who has endured a tough game as skipper, and Kieran Noema-Barnett. Both fell to what were labelled 'extraordinary' catches by Martin Guptill, who is surely one of the finest all-round fielders in the world game. Such talent brings positive results and the Derbyshire Kiwi cannot be kept out of the game. Maybe we should toss him the ball his current form he will be a certainty for the remaining wickets...

Four wickets to go, a few runs in hand and, theoretically, plenty of time. While taking nothing for granted, I hope to be back tomorrow to report on a job well done.

Professional. That's the right word for it so far.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 2

Gloucestershire 275 all out
Derbyshire 511-8 (Guptill 227, Thakor 83, Slater 56, Godleman 44, Hosein 43 not)

Derbyshire lead by 236 runs

This was one of those days where, in ten years time, the number of people who saw it will have at least quintupled.

When Derbyshire scored 500 in a day against Cambridge MCCU, I qualified my enthusiasm for the feat by reminding everyone that it was not a first-class attack. Well, today we scored 487 runs against one...

It was an astonishing day's batting by Derbyshire, perhaps made all the more so by the fact that Wayne Madsen, Wes Durston and Alex Hughes made three runs between them. All will play a major role as the season progresses, but today was all about Martin Guptill.

To be fair, I should first acknowledge the efforts of his team mates. I am sure he will acknowledge the value of an 88-run and 26 over opening stand by Billy Godleman and Ben Slater, who are showing all the signs of developing into a good pairing. On a day where, despite the scoring rate, the ball nipped around, that meant Guptill came in with the shine off the ball, with a sound base for playing his shots.

At 191-4, after the quick departure of Wayne and Wes, there was a danger that the two first innings may have been close, but those fears were dispelled by a stand of 190 in thirty overs between Guptill and Shiv Thakor. The latter confirmed his batting credentials with an innings that on another day would have earned him the headlines. Five boundaries in one over, as he and his partner accelerated after tea, showed that he will be a major factor for us, allied to his ever-improving bowling.

Again, when he and Alex Hughes went in quick succession, the end could have come quickly, but Harvey Hosein enjoyed the best seat in the house as Guptill endangered neighbouring properties with trademark booming drives and slog-sweeps. The young wicket-keeper didn't score in a fifty partnership, but later played some fine strokes himself to underline his rich potential.

But what can you say about Martin Guptill? 227 runs, including a hundred in each of the last two sessions. 29 fours and 11 sixes as he hit 182 runs in boundaries and reduced the fielding side to the role of curious bystanders. There are few better sights in cricket when he is in full flow and I am sure I am not alone in wishing I had been there to see it. To think we still have Amla and Dilshan to come...

We scored 241 runs after tea today...AFTER TEA. 236 runs ahead with two days to go, the game is there for taking, although greater second innings resistance and the intervention of the weather cannot be discounted.

What a display. It will have made a few people sit up. a Derbyshire side playing such aggressive, purposeful cricket and taking a game by the scruff of the neck. They should sell a few more tickets down at the 3aaa County Ground after this one.

Magnificent. There is simply no other way to describe it. Can you imagine the Gup with us for a summer?

We'd have Nottinghamshire fans taking out memberships...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 1

Gloucestershire 275 all out (Roderick 76, Footitt 3-72)
Derbyshire 24-0

Gloucestershire lead by 251 runs

On early season wickets, most captains winning the toss will think about batting, look at overhead conditions and probably decide to bowl. When the sun is high and the wickets  are less green, batting becomes a more favoured option, but today was one where Wayne Madsen decided his bowlers offered the best chance of gaining the ascendancy in the match.

That being the case, it was imperative that we bowled out our hosts today and for a long time that looked unlikely. Gloucestershire batted confidently in the morning and went to tea at 227-4, looking well-set for around the 350 mark, at the very least.

I'm not sure what was said at the tea interval, but Derbyshire came out with vigour renewed. In old days, that might have been the result of a couple of pints, the favoured pick-me-up of Bill Bestwick, or even a couple of shots of 'fizz' as preferred by those of an earlier vintage.

Madsen's men regrouped in a more conventional fashion, bowled far more tightly and took the last six wickets for just 48 runs, the last four for just ten runs. It helps when one has the Footitt howitzer in the armoury, his pace too much with the new ball for Noema-Barnett and Norwell, but there was greater discipline post-tea than seemed to be the case before it.

There were two more wickets for Alex Hughes, whose propensity for taking needed wickets was commented on last week. He snaffled the dangerous Hamish Marshall, as well as fellow-Kiwi Fuller, both leg before wicket, in another admirable spell which evidenced why a fifth seamer, perhaps bowling in a more 'skiddy' style, can often bring dividends.

Special mention tonight for Tony Palladino, whose near 21 overs went for only 41 runs and saw him take two wickets. It was the kind of economy that I like to see and showed how important he is to the side.

There was no last-wicket century stand this week, so we were left with a tricky six-over spell to face before the close. This was handled with a degree of panache by Slater and Godleman, who scored a breezy 24 runs in that time.

By the end it amounted to a pretty good day for Derbyshire. We now need to show similar concentration with the bat and maybe, just maybe, we could be in a healthy position by this time tomorrow.

Good effort though, lads.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire preview

Two unchanged teams will meet at Bristol tomorrow, which was always likely to be the case at this early stage of the season.

If you pick a team for the first game and then change it, the inference is that you got the selection wrong initially, so few counties will tinker with their sides until the current players have had at least one more opportunity.

Our hosts tomorrow have some good players and others with reputations to build, a little like us. They will give us a good test of both ability and of mental strength after the loss to Lancashire and it will be fascinating to follow the game over the next few days.

The Gloucestershire squad:

Will Tavaré
Chris Dent
Gareth Roderick (wkt)
Hamish Marshall
Geraint Jones (capt)
Kieran Noema-Barnett
Peter Handscomb
James Fuller
Matt Taylor
Liam Norwell
David Payne
Tom Smith
Craig Miles

Tavare and Dent are a good opening pair, while former England and Kent wicket-keeper Geraint Jones is a new recruit and playing as a batsman. Noema-Barnett is in from New Zealand on a British passport, while Aussie Peter Handscomb is on a similar deal. Their batting is, I think, a stronger suit but Derbyshire will need to sustain their focus for four days and twelve sessions, assuming the weather doesn't interfere too much.

I expect the same side to take the field for us, namely:


We are a good enough team to bounce back from the Lancashire defeat and win this one. I still expect us to mount a promotion challenge this year and winning this is a good way to start.

If the weather allows it, my tip is smiley faces all round by Wednesday.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Weekend warmer

Thank you for your emails and comments after the Lancashire game, which were, as usually, well made. I thought I'd take a few moments before the next match to respond to them, where necessary.

Tom Knight in the team, as suggested by Mark? He will be a strong contender for the one-day matches, as a clean hitter, excellent fielder and good bowler. I think that the club are taking their time with his bowling, as evidenced by his only bowling four overs in the second team game at Northampton. To be fair, we were awash with spinners in that game anyway and there seemed little point on a terrific batting pitch to bowl someone who had worked hard on his action.

His day and time will come. He is a good cricketer and I am less bothered about the comment of  'Anon' that he would get 'hammered' at county level, based on his league form. In the medium to long term he will take his share of county wickets and, like every other bowler, will get some stick at times.

I once hit a Scotland bowler for four boundaries in an over. It didn't make me a better player than him (I wasn't) but I chanced my arm and got lucky. His figures took a hammering, my street cred went up but I never deluded myself that I was a better player. I remain confident that Tom Knight will become a very good county cricketer, though whether as an all-rounder, a batsman who bowls or a bowler who bats I couldn't say.

He would really only be in my championship team right now if Wes was unavailable and if his new action could be trusted. You don't often need two spinners in a side in April, May and June and only the coaches know if he is more likely than David Wainwright to fill such a role if required. Wainers scored an unbeaten 92 to earn a draw for the seconds yesterday, almost matching what Knight did in the first innings. He was stating a case for inclusion, just as Tom Poynton did.

Losing a point in that first game for a slow over rate was silly and unprofessional. We're better than that and sixteen overs an hour shouldn't be an issue, even with an attack largely made up of seam bowlers. I don't expect to see it happen again and am sure that the issues around it have been amply addressed within the confines of the dressing room.

As I said the other day, there's no need for knee-jerk reaction. I don't expect major, if any, change, for the next game because the perceived first eleven are better than they showed at Derby. Gloucestershire have some good players, but they're no Lancashire and I expect an improved performance from Sunday, weather permitting.

Finally for now, congratulations to Huw Lloyd who leads the Fantasy League after two matches, just ahead of Robert Tomlinson. Modesty forbids my saying who rose from nineteenth to seventh this week (ahem...) but I will be more surprised than any of you if it lasts.

I fully expect several key selections of my side to contract a mystery ailment later in the season, just when they are showing form and just after I have used my final substitute...

See you soon.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Derbyshire v Lancashire day 4

I would be lying if I said that today's result and performance wasn't disappointing.

As you will have read last night, I had no real expectation that we would knock off the biggest chase in our history against an attack led by two international bowlers, on a helpful track with a swinging ball.

I did hope that we would take the game into a little longer than marginally post-lunch, however and the speed of the demise was a disappointment. Our batting is long and supporters will expect a better standard of performance and greater resilience than that, without doubt.

However, it is the first game of the season, we were playing a good team and the difference was, essentially, their four overseas players/Kolpaks. Prince and Petersen made big runs, Siddle blew away our top order in the first innings and Jarvis ran through us in the second. The irony of a team managed by a recent England coach fielding four non-qualified players is obvious, but Lancashire fans will not be worried. The end justified the means and they were on the right side of the result, as, assuming they all stay fit, they should be for much of the season. Indeed, there should be inquests at Old Trafford if they don't go up...

What about Derbyshire? Well, for much of this game we competed against a strong side, but the game ran away from us in the last session yesterday. Only the players will know if the level of intensity slackened, that having disposed of the Lancashire tail in jig time in the first innings, there was an expectation that the last pair would fold quickly. They didn't and a hundred stand completely changed the game and the mindset of those involved, as it so often does.

260-ish was gettable, 360-plus was suggesting we boldly go where no one has gone before - at least not us and not on a fourth day wicket.

We will regroup and we will come again. Today hasn't changed my expectations - maybe if we'd lost like that to Glamorgan it would have - but it has highlighted that we need to be on top of our game for 96 overs and three sessions of every day, or we will suffer.

It is a blip in the foothills of the climb and I expect a reaction to it at Bristol on Sunday.

There are plenty of positives to take from the game and more came in the second team game at Northampton, where Tom Poynton clearly confirmed that he will not allow Harvey Hosein to be first choice keeper without a fight.

Yesterday Northamptonshire racked up 448-6 declared, with Kyle Coetzer scoring an unbeaten 250 and Matt Critchley, fresh from his unbeaten 92 from 41 balls for the Academy, taking 3-69 with his leg spin.

Today, Poynton and Tom Knight combined in a stand of 163 after Scott Elstone had been dismissed for 63. Poynton made 103 from 107 balls, with nineteen fours and a six, while Knight went on to an imperious unbeaten 156, with sixteen fours and five sixes, as Derbyshire declared in turn on 364-4.

The home side had reached 146-2 in their second innings by the close, no doubt setting us a run chase tomorrow afternoon. It serves to illustrate that those outside the team want to be involved and the two Toms will get their chances as the season progresses.

Full marks to both of them for getting their heads down. I shall follow that game tomorrow with great interest.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Derbyshire v Lancashire day 3

Lancashire 293 and 345 (Prince 97, Davies 89, Croft 70, Taylor 6-61
Derbyshire 274 and 27-2
Derbyshire need 338 more to win

For two and a half days, Derbyshire and Lancashire have slugged it out like a couple of prize fighters, both working to gain the initiative, neither giving nor seeking any quarter.

It is a sign of how far Derbyshire have come that they have been able to stand toe to toe with a side likely to be in the promotion mix come September. I think we will be up there too, as there are many worse sides in the division, but this game got away from us in the final session today.

At 245-9, a lead of 264, this game was in the balance, but Alex Davies' bold hitting in the final session today took the game away from us. I'm not being negative, but we have successfully chased in excess of 300 to win only a handful of times in our long history.

It is not all doom and gloom. Where there is Gup, there is hope and there are some good batsmen to come in this Derbyshire side. We bat long and showed that in the first innings, but just as Lancashire's big name players stood up to be counted when they batted, so must ours do the same tomorrow.

The ball is doing a bit, but Lancashire proved that it is possible to score runs on it. As is almost always the case at Derby, it will nip about before lunch and the longer Tom Taylor can hang in there and see off the opening overs the better. I wouldn't put my house on our scoring 338 in a day, but I wouldn't expect us to roll over either and if a couple of players get in, the runs can come quickly on a dry outfield.

It may be turning a little, but I'm with Marc, as he posted yesterday on this one. Kerrigan is a useful bowler, but he's not Bishen Bedi and there's no reason why we shouldn't make a decent fist of things tomorrow.

Star of today, and I suspect many tomorrows, was Tom Taylor (pictured), whose six wickets represented a terrific effort by a 20-year old in only his sixth first-class match. He used the new ball well and throughout was accurate and economical, not always things one associates with fledgling county bowlers.

He has a bright future, as does this Derbyshire side, but I suspect they will need to battle at their best to get anything from this game.

Hashim Amla signs for Derbyshire!

We're spoiled you know. We had Shiv Chanderpaul for the past two summers, we re-sign Martin Guptill and we engage one of Sri Lanka's greats, Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Now we have, albeit for a short time, one of the world's greatest batsmen in Hashim Amla covering the mid-season gap that appeared likely to be problematic.

Hashim Amla. Ranked three in the world for both Test and one-day internationals. A man who, at times, appears to be playing on a different wicket to the bloke at the other end (remember his innings against us at The Oval for Surrey, when everyone else struggled?) He averages over fifty in Test and one-day internationals and is, quite simply, one of the greats of the modern game.

He is also the subject of one of my favourite cricket comments, when a broadcaster who really should have known better, said that Amla's bat was 'quite literally a wand'. I think he was mistaking him for Harry Potter, to be honest, though I appreciated the sentiment, if not the use of language...

Genius is a much over-used word in sport, but Amla is worth it - as you can see from this excerpt from Wikipedia:

In January 2011 Amla became the fastest cricketer to reach 2000 Runs in ODIs in his 40th ODI innings. Recently, he became the fastest cricketer to score 20 ODI centuries. He is currently ranked by the ICC as the world's number 3 batsman in Test and ODIs. Amla became the first South African to score a Test match triple century when he scored 311 not out against England in 2012. In the 57th innings of his one-day international career, Amla became the fastest batsman to score 3,000 ODI runs, requiring 12 innings fewer than Sir Vivian Richards. Also on 8 December 2013, he became the fastest batsman to score 4,000 ODI runs, requiring 8 innings fewer than Sir Vivian Richards. In his 57th match, Hashim Amla became the fastest cricketer to reach 10 centuries in ODIs. In 2013, Hashim Amla became the first batsman since Ricky Ponting to head both the Test and ODI rankings at the same time in the latest ICC charts. In 2014 he became the fastest cricketer to reach 15 centuries in ODIs in his 86th inning. In the same year he became the fastest cricketer to reach 16 centuries in ODIs in his 94th inning and fastest cricketer to 17 centuries in ODIs in his 98th inning. He scored 5 hundreds in ODIs in 2014. On 16 January 2015 against West Indies he became the fastest to reach 5000 runs in ODIs in his 101st inning. On 18 January 2015 he became the fastest cricketer to 18 centuries in ODIs in his 102nd inning. On 3 March 2015 he became the fastest cricketer to reach 20 centuries in ODIs in his 108th inning. He has scored ODI centuries against all test playing countries and only the 4th person to do so. He was named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the year in 2013.

Amla has had three similar stints before, playing for Essex, Nottinghamshire and Surrey with great success. While there is a danger of failure in 'revolving door' recruitment, it is reduced when the player concerned is as good as the South African, as well as having such high standards. I have every confidence he will prove a success in his brief stay and will now try to work out how and when I can see him.

Next time you're down at Derby and happen to bump into Chris Grant and Simon Storey, make sure you thank them for the sterling work they are doing for our club. Time was when we recruited less stellar names to our colours, largely because we hadn't the contacts nor the collateral for anything else.

Now, with the work going on behind the scenes, the playing budget has increased and we can see the evidence of things with our own eyes. Guptill and Dilshan, two of the stand-outs of the recent World Cup, are with us, as now is Hashim Amla, a man with more records to his name than Richard Branson had when he ran Virgin record shops.

He will be with us in May, for two championship and three T20 matches, the first of his appearances being in the championship game against Northamptonshire, starting on May 10, which will also be my first sighting of the county 'in the flesh' this year. Now that's what I call a lucky coincidence! I assume that Dilshan's July absence is currently being looked at, but this will take some topping.

Hashim Amla of Derbyshire.

I can't believe that I just wrote that...

Seconds start their campaign

Our second team start their season today, with a three-day game against Northamptonshire at Northampton.

I am sure that we will field a strong side, given the number of talented players outside the eleven, while our hosts have a lot of experience themselves.

Kyle Coetzer, the standout Scotland player in the World Cup and Steven Crook  are joined by the likes of Rob Newton, David Murphy and Ben Duckett, while paceman Maurice Chambers also has a run-out as he returns from injury.

A number of trialists - including fast bowler Gemaal Hussain, who enjoyed one very good season with Gloucestershire before moving to the less friendly bowling conditions of Taunton and not doing so well - are involved too, so opposition will be strong.

Good luck to them.

Finally, for now, Nathan Rimmington made his debut for Plumtree this weekend and eased himself back into the game with a fine all-round performance in a friendly.

He took 1-10 in six overs (love that economy rate!) before hitting an unbeaten 76 as his side won by four wickets. Not bad for someone easing back into match fitness after not playing for several weeks since the end of the Aussie season.

It augurs well.

Now, let's hope for seam-friendly conditions at Derby in the first session today...then settling down for the rest of the day...

Monday, 20 April 2015

Fascinating tweet tonight...

It has taken me a while but I am slowly but surely embracing the world of Twitter.

Why, I am now only six short of a hundred followers and having made that opening statement, much akin (I understand, you appreciate...) to that made my alcoholics and drug users in the world of rehab, I have to admit to not yet being prolific.

I now follow a few different people and am glad that I did. Tonight, Kevin Dean tweeted "Wow! You thought our overseas players were good so far? I might just have another for you"

That was closely followed by Chris Grant tweeting that the next overseas signing will be announced before lunchtime tomorrow.

Oh boy...

Derbyshire v Lancashire day 2

Lancashire 292 and 36-3 (Taylor 2-13)
Derbyshire 274 (Durston 85, Godleman 76)
Lancashire lead by 55 runs 

At the end of day two of what appears an absorbing contest on a good cricket wicket, one thing is clear.

If Lancashire can be reasonably used as a benchmark of the best that the division has to offer, then Derbyshire are set for a good season. The visitors are 55 runs ahead with seven second innings wickets left. The key partnership is the current one, between the two of the visiting side's three Kolpak players. If we can dismiss Petersen and/or Prince early tomorrow (ideally both) then we should not have to chase much more than 200 in the final innings. I suspect that we'd prefer the chase to be under that, if at all possible, given that five of our wickets went to spin.

You would have got long odds, were you inclined to visit your local bookie, on Guptill, Madsen and Thakor all getting ducks today. These things happen and do to everyone, but the fact that Derbyshire still came close to parity on first innings speaks volumes for the battling spirit in the side.

At 26-3, with our two best batsmen back in the pavilion, long-time supporters might even have feared the follow-on, but Billy Godleman and Wes Durston first stabilised the innings and then became more expansive, unfurling a full range of strokes to seize the initiative. It was a fine start to the summer for both batsmen, Godleman making an early positive statement in a big season for him. To be fair, it merely confirmed the positive 'vibe' about his game from the tail end of last summer, as he and Wes put on 148 in just 32 overs.

Durston in such form is a delight to watch and it is encouraging to see him in the runs at the start of a summer in which he will skipper the side in T20 matches. There was encouragement too in the late runs of Alex Hughes and Harvey Hosein, who with support from Tony Palladino took is to within 19 of the visitors tally.

'This is a big last eleven overs for Lancashire' wrote someone on Cricinfo's live feed. Indeed it was - and they struggled. Having bowled Reece in the first innings, Mark Footitt did for his opening partner this time, while Tom Taylor, given the new ball, responded in the best way by having Reece caught behind and night watchman Peter Siddle caught in the slips. This, coming after he summarily ended the visitor's innings this morning, made for a fine day for the young seamer.

It is all to play for at the middle of the match. With a good weather forecast, a positive result, one way or the other, seems likely and that first session tomorrow is huge in a fledgling season.

Aggression. Attack. Achieve. They're not the right words for the 3aaa County Ground's sponsors, but they're pretty close to what we need tomorrow.

The game is there for the taking after two good days of cricket. Games can be won from such positions and we have worked hard to get here.

Who is going to step up and do the business?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Derbyshire v Lancashire day 1

Lancashire 292-8 (Petersen 115, Palladino 3-70) v Derbyshire

At the end of what appears to have been an excellent day's cricket, Derbyshire's skipper Wayne Madsen felt that Lancashire had been allowed off the hook.

The game is still even, but from 55-4, the red rose county will be delighted by the application shown by their lower order, led by one of their Kolpak recruits, Alviro Petersen. He is a good player, as he has shown in previous county stints and showed all of his experience in battling through tricky pre-lunch conditions.

At that point one sensed we were a wicket away from breaking through, but the experienced South African showed that runs could be scored with sufficient application. Derbyshire bowled with discipline, led by Tony Palladino's three wickets, while two each for Mark Footitt and debutant Shiv Thakor showed that there was something in the wicket for seamers.

By the same token, wickets largely fell around the two new balls and batting became easier thereafter. We are very much in this game and we will not know the significance of this score until we have batted ourselves. A solid opening stand would help us considerably.

All in all it was a good effort in the field against a side that most critics suggest will bounce back to the top tier this summer. The only surprise, for me, was that it took until the 50th over and a century stand had been compiled before Alex Hughes turned his arm over. He has established a reputation as a wicket-taking bowler and I thought he may have bowled before that, especially when Petersen and Smith had handled everyone else with increasing authority.

A worthy effort then. Let's hope that our own efforts with the bat are equally stoic and tomorrow night I am reporting on an impressive batting display.

One sleep to go...

And then the action begins...

Can't wait!!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Derbyshire v Lancashire preview

I suppose the big news of the day, as Graeme Welch announced his first 'proper; match squad of the summer, was that Harvey Hosein had got the gloves ahead of Tom Poynton.

I couldn't have called that one, to be honest and was always likely to feel sorry for the one who lost out. At 25, Tom Poynton will have had his supporters, on grounds of both talent and sentiment, but it would have been tough to drop Harvey Hosein. At 18, he would appear to have the world at his feet, with excellent hands and a better than average talent with the bat. I suspect that he will move up the order as he matures and will eventually settle in the top six. Full credit to him for getting the nod - he will know he needs to work hard and perform to stay in poll position.

As I have written before, it reminds me of when Leicester City, in the 1970s, found themselves with the world's best goalkeeper in Gordon Banks, at the same time that they had a huge young talent in Peter Shilton. It was a tough decision, but one that had to be made.

The rest of the squad is largely that which played against Cambridge MCCU, with Chesney Hughes and Tony Palladino added. I would be surprised if Chesney played, and suspect the final place will be between the two young seamers, Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton. That would leave a final eleven as follows:

Hughes (A)

Wayne White misses out for now, but there will be plenty of opportunities ahead for him and the rest of the squad, with plenty of cricket between now and the end of September.

Lancashire arrive with Peter Siddle as overseas player, ahead of the arrival of James Faulkner, and with Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen in their side, they have plenty of overseas input. Former Leicestershire seam bowler Nathan Buck will add firepower to their attack, which lacks injured veteran Glenn Chapple. Their squad is as follows:

Tom Smith (C), Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (W), Paul Horton, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Luis Reece, Peter Siddle.

It is a good side, but tribute to the way that we have progressed is that I don't look at it and fear the worst. There will be games we lose this season, because that happens in sport, but I expect Derbyshire to give Lancashire a good run for their money.

It is a tough game to call, but if we have luck with the toss and weather, hold our catches and show the level of intensity that was the hallmark of our cricket at the end of last year, we can win it. Playing one of the promotion favourites early offers a useful benchmark of where we are. There are worse teams in the division and none that are markedly better than the red rose county.

If we can win this one, the portents are good.

So what do you think?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Midweek musings

I would probably give serious consideration towards the donation of a body part to be at the 3aaa County Ground this week.

Which part is perhaps subject to prior knowledge of the weather, to be honest. It took around six months for some bits of me to return to a normal colour after sitting watching the first day of the season against Northamptonshire in 2012. I don't recall being that cold before watching cricket, even with sufficient layers to have made a passable sightscreen had I lingered behind the bowler's arm.

Old Chaminda Vaas was the one I felt sorry for. He laboured in to bowl with the alacrity of a stuffed moose and the ball was coming out at a speed you'd expect the forementioned beast to muster. I felt sorry for fielders who had a red leather cricket ball coming towards them in such conditions, even with the now obligatory early-season hand warmers.

This week's game looks to be more favourable weather-wise and the game should be a good test of Derbyshire's potential. We shouldn't forget that we have a young side, nor that Lancashire are probably one of the favourites for the division. The addition of Australian James Faulkner to a side that already boasts Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince as Kolpaks is indicative of their strength, if not necessarily to their concern over the future of English cricket.

That's something that has struck me in the opening matches this summer - the number of overseas hired hands there are in games. Several sides have two or three players on either Kolpak deals or passports of convenience, more than in recent summers. The other thing that hit me was the large number of extras, Leicestershire 'starring' by bowling 45 no balls in the first innings against Glamorgan, who sportingly conceded 45 extras to reciprocate.

In the top tier, Sussex gave away 33 to Hampshire in their second innings, Nottinghamshire 36 in the Middlesex second innings - it is unnecessary and in some matches could be costly. I expect our lads to bowl with far greater discipline this summer, even allowing for the odd wild ball that nothing and no one could stop.

In other news, Nathan Rimmington (pictured) has arrived (and to prove it, he's here...) and will be playing some league cricket in the coming weeks ahead of the T20. He is a very good player and I expect his reputation to be considerably enhanced in the next few months. As a death bowler he is near Langeveldt standard and we have needed that in recent seasons.

It's all very exciting and to almost quote Martin Guptill on Twitter, there's only two sleeps to go...

Finally tonight, a mention for the Academy side, who started their season at Ticknall on Sunday.

They made 258 from their 50 overs, with Matt Critchley hitting an unbeaten 92 from just 41 balls. In reply, Ticknall had reached 54-4 when rain intervened, Adam Wheatcroft taking two wickets. I'd suggest they were robbed of a win, but it was a solid effort by the youngsters.

I hope to give them a mention through the season when I catch up on their news and, like you, wish them all a lot of luck.

Postscript - a big thank you from me to Office Care Commercial Cleaning, who have very kindly agreed to renew their sponsorship of the blog for another twelve months. It has resulted in a new-look header (thanks to Karl at Silver Birch Creative) and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Putting a result in perspective...

I don't know how good Cambridge MCCU are in comparison to their equivalents around the country, but I wouldn't have thought there would be that much between them.

That being the case, our demolition of them inside two days was all the more impressive, since almost all the other games ended in high-scoring, three day draws. There were some impressive performances among them too, with a sprinkling of centuries. Cambridge, quite simply, didn't get into it, or more to the point, we didn't allow them to.

Our Sunday opponents, Lancashire, didn't terrify Leeds/Bradford, even allowing for time lost to the weather and the momentum lies with Derbyshire ahead of that game.

Below yesterday's post, Paul asked if I thought we should have batted again and set them a gazillion to win, giving opportunities to those who had less time in the middle in the first innings.

No, is my short and sweet answer. An hour in the nets back at Derby would probably be of equal merit to facing that attack, probably more so, even allowing for the value of batting in the middle. There was little to worry about to be honest. Slater has been in top nick and simply feathered one down the leg side, Durston batted well and holed out on the boundary and Hughes got a second baller, which can happen to anyone. Again, though, he has been in top pre-season form and I have no concerns about him. Importantly, neither does Graeme Welch.

For me, they showed they could put a side under pressure and that Wayne Madsen has enough bowling to allow short spells and keep people fresh. There is sufficient variety in the seamers to allow something for most wickets and, at the end of it all, a win is a win. Beating anyone with a day to spare sends out a message. Being 750 on, when the game ends in a draw does very little.

Old Brucie used to say points mean prizes. In cricket, wickets mean points and we took fifteen in less than a day, after scoring over 500 on day one.

Seriously, you have to be impressed. But the skirmishes are over.

The battles will soon commence.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire day two

Derbyshire 535-6 dec
Cambridge MCCU 95 (Footitt 4-35) and 176 (Thakor 4-24)

Derbyshire won by an innings and 264 runs

As they did yesterday, Derbyshire displayed consummate professionalism in blowing away the student side inside two days of cricket.

There was more fight in the second innings, but the merits of having a number of bowling options were clearly displayed. Mark Footitt bowled them out in the first innings, but in the second, the home side displayed greater resolve and saw off our first three seamers.

The introduction of Alex Hughes saw the wickets start to fall. Hughes is a player who makes things happen, two short spells in each innings producing three wickets to go with a run out. I am not worried about his second ball duck, as he has already shown himself a player who gets runs when they are needed - a 60-4 type of player, rather more than a 350-4 one. His time will come but he clearly highlighted his value to the side.

As too did Shiv Thakor. An unbeaten sixty, followed by match figures of 5-38 clearly highlighted his talent and he will be a big player for us this summer. Tom Taylor bowled tidily and Wes chipped in with three wickets to end the innings, something he does so often.

On to the Lancashire game then. Stiffer opposition waits, but this exercise was one of getting runs on the board and taking twenty wickets.

They did it admirably in an impressive start.

Nice work lads.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 535-6 (Guptill 161 retired, Madsen 131, Godleman 60, Thakor 60 not)
Cambridge MCCU 32-5 (Footitt 2-23, Taylor 2-8)

Ignore the fact that we weren't playing an especially strong side, as you can only ever beat what is in front of you. The bottom line is that, as opening days of the season go, we cannot have had one so dominant in our club history.

I'm no statistician, but I'll wager a few pounds that there have been few cases of teams scoring over 200 in each of the first two sessions of a game. If the game plan was to go out, score big and bowl them out twice, then we carried that out to the letter today.

The word 'domination' doesn't quite do it justice, because from the moment that Billy Godleman took five boundaries in an over, Derbyshire's batsmen took the student attack apart. Ben Slater was unlucky to be 'strangled' down the legside, but Godleman batted well and Martin Guptill (pictured), in the company of Wayne Madsen, accelerated past the two hundred mark by lunchtime. Yes, you read that right, lunchtime.

Afterwards, Guptill hit successive sixes from the first two balls of the afternoon as he and the skipper added 215 in 29 overs. The genial Kiwi sailed past his century and then cut loose before retiring, having just taken 24 runs from an over. How many he would have made had he batted on is anyone's guess, but in retiring he allowed Wes Durston valuable time in the middle. Alex Hughes failed, but someone always does on such days, before Shiv Thakor and Harvey Hosein underlined their talent with a century stand in just seventeen overs.

There was an air of inevitability about the centuries for Guptill and Wayne Madsen, both players of the highest class, but to see Thakor and Hosein racking up the runs was equally exciting and bodes well. Hosein's knock makes Graeme Welch's decision on his first choice wicket-keeper a very interesting one...

When the home side replied, Mark Footitt launched his season with a wicket first ball, adding another as he and Tommy Taylor destroyed the Cambridge top order.

At the end of day one, we are 503 runs ahead and the opposition have five first innings wickets left. I assume no one will argue it is a position of some dominance...

Sterner tasks lie  ahead for sure, but as a statement of intent, as an assertion that we will be playing aggressive cricket, we couldn't have bettered day one of the 2015 season. The eyes of the media will doubtless have been on Kevin Pietersen at Oxford, but Derbyshire fans will sleep well tonight, very much aware that they are going to be royally entertained this summer.

Bring it on!

Book Review: Summer's Crown - the story of cricket's County Championship by Stephen Chalke

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am parochial when it comes to my cricket. Yes, I am a cricket fan per se, and will happily watch people playing it on a beach, but county cricket is my thing. I follow England, but given the choice between a strong Derbyshire or national side, I will take my county every time, thank you.

I still regard the County Championship as THE competition and, that being the case, I was always likely to enjoy this book by Stephen Chalke, one of my favourite cricket writers, on its history from its origins in the late nineteenth century.

Yet to say that I like this book in no way does it justice. Indeed, even in the face of tough opposition from some of the author's other work, this is a tour de force. Seriously, it is that good.

The only negative I could think of is that reading this in bed will leave you in danger of looking like Mike Gatting after Malcolm Marshall rearranged his nose in the Caribbean a few years back. It is a weighty tome, but it could not have been done in such detail in any other way. It is lavishly illustrated, with many photographs I have never seen before, such as that of William Whysall's funeral cortege going through Mansfield, where I went to school. The photographs of old grounds and players are well researched and complement the text well and the overriding feel of the book is one of quality.

The text? As I expected it is outstanding, coupling relevant facts from the decades and years in question, with just the right number of anecdotes to keep it light and interesting, as well as informative. I have been reading cricket books for closer to fifty years than forty, yet came across facts and stories that I had never seen before. Some of these stories can only have been unearthed by someone who has chatted to old cricketers, as they are some way removed from the formulaic rehashing of old tales picked up from numerous books over the years. The author's love of cricketers, as well as cricket, shines through and makes every turn of the page a joy.

The statistics are sufficiently detailed and the layout of the book is attractive. A big plus is the font size, perfect for those, like me, whose vision is some way removed from being 20/20 and who might still struggle if they ate industrial quantities of carrots.

I have not yet finished it, but know that as soon as I do I will want to start again, probably picking up something that I missed the first time around. At £20 it isn't the cheapest book on the shelves, but given its quality it is actually very good value. As we embark on another season of county cricket, this is a book that you could keep in your match day bag, to bring out when the weather is inclement and you need something worthwhile to help you pass the time.

Of all the cricket books I have read over the years, this is probably my favourite. Seriously, it is that good, so do yourself a favour and buy one while stocks last.

Be assured, this one is set for 'classic' status.

Summer's Crown: the Story of Cricket's County Championship is written by Stephen Chalke and published by Fairfield Books. It is currently on Amazon for £20 and is also available from all good book shops.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire preview

To quote Bruce Springsteen, it's been a long time coming, but now it's here.

The season starts tomorrow (weather permitting) and Graeme Welch has named his first twelve of the summer as follows:

Ben Slater
Billy Godleman
Martin Guptill
Wayne Madsen (captain)
Wes Durston
Shiv Thakor
Alex Hughes
Harvey Hosein
Tom Taylor
Wayne White
Ben Cotton
Mark Footitt

It is a young-looking squad, with six of them having graduated through the club's ranks and Welch's assertion on the club site today that there are 'still places up for grabs' against Lancashire next week suggests that not too much should be read into the selection.

I'd see seven of the squad as likely to play next week, with the other positions still to be fought for. As I have said before, however, there is little point in trying to second-guess Welch this summer, as the team has nearly as many good players outside it as in it. The club will, as the coach says, aim to bat big, then bowl them out twice. With seven bowlers in the above squad, Wayne Madsen will have plenty of options in the field, even if he ignores his own useful off-spin and that of Martin Guptill, who once took 3-37 in a Test match against Pakistan.

They will take the opposition seriously, as you would expect, but if we can't handle a team like this, I'd be a little worried. Expect a focused display and plenty of claim-staking going on. One assumes that an opener or seam bowler will drop out on the day, but time will tell.

Cricket's back!

Postscript. I was double-checking that Guptill bowling performance on Google today and, having typed in 'Martin', his name came up before 'Freeman' (of the Hobbit) and 'Luther King Jr'.

To be fair, that's impressive company to precede...

Contract extension for Tom Poynton

More pleasing contractual news from the 3aaa County Ground today, as Tom Poynton signed an extension that keeps him at the club until the end of 2016.

It comes at a good time, a couple of days before the action starts and ensures that the club retains the services of two very high quality wicket-keepers. Whichever way the decision goes, the man who gets the nod will know that he has to maintain focus and level of performance as there is a strong option waiting in the wings.

Harvey Hosein looks like a player with a huge future, but Tom Poynton is a competitor, a man who has come back from the worst of personal circumstances to the verge of a return to first-class cricket. He can be proud of his efforts, as his family will be proud of him.

I wish him well in the coming summer. If Harvey Hosein gets the nod, Tom will push him all the way. If it goes otherwise, then the most vocal Derbyshire wicket-keeper since Karl Krikken's pomp will be back in action.

Your afternoon snooze will never be the same...

Friday, 10 April 2015

Fantasy League update

Two days before the season (and points scoring) starts, we now have sixteen teams in the Peakfan Blog Trophy, so for the first time we will have medals up for grabs at the end of the season!

Who'd have thought silverware would be available? OK, probably pewter, but still something to look at in years to come and think 'That was my great season'.

Maybe not, but nice all the same. There's still time to join and you are all very welcome to get involved.

Just follow the link on the left of the page to do so. Any questions, please drop me a line.

I will update everyone on league positions as the season progresses and thanks to everyone who has got involved so far. I also hope to maintain the message board if anyone has any comments.

I'm off to see if there's anyone I have missed in my team of all the talents...

Richie Benaud

I never saw Richie Benaud play cricket, but contemporary accounts and those who are old enough to see him have told me that he was one of the greats. So too have some of those who played against him. He was a leg-spinner of guile, coupled with skill and great intelligence, which made him one of the greatest protagonists of the art. He was a fine fielder, as well as a batsman capable of scoring runs quickly, often when they were most needed.

He showed that against Derbyshire at Chesterfield in 1953, his first tour of England, scoring 70 in fine style after Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson ripped through the early Australian batting. He then took two wickets as we were bowled out for just 69 and over the next ten years confirmed himself as one of the world's finest players.

Above all he was a captain nonpareil. Only Frank Worrell in the era ran him close, but Benaud barely missed a trick on the field, combining great knowledge with a willingness to take risks, if in doing so, he had a chance of winning. If he couldn't, he could close up shop with the best of them, while always getting the best out of his team mates and moulding them into a formidable side.

Yet for a generation he was best known as the voice of cricket. I am not old enough to remember him as a player, but I well recall, as a child, listening to Benaud, John Arlott and Jim Laker and hearing cricket commentary of a standard that has never been reached since.

It wasn't always what they said, it was what they didn't feel the need to say. There was an economy of words that recognised that the viewing public had an idea of what was going on and didn't need every last nuance explained to them. When they did speak, it was clear, concise and to the point. When Richie said 'That's four' as the ball left the bat, you knew it would be. When he called the delivery that dismissed the batsman a 'jaffa' you waited for the replay to see exactly what had happened. He was rarely wrong.

In my early teens, I remember batting in the nets at school and imagining Richie Benaud commentating on my shots. 'That's a super shot by the young fella' was a staple of those commentaries, even as I tried to assure myself that Richie wouldn't have picked up the edge for what it was and instead recognised it as the deftest of late cuts as I opened the bat face at the last minute. One always seeks approval when young and for me, it was Richie Benaud who recognised my latent talent - at least until Eddie Barlow came to Derbyshire and the voice in my head changed accent.

He leaves behind a host of memories as the greatest of them all. Arlott and Laker were the kings of Sundays, but Richie came out for the Gillette Cup and its successors. It was always a thrill to see Derbyshire on television with Benaud commentating, one that never really left me. His comments were sage and succinct, an object lesson for some of his current counterparts, even if he always pronounced 'Kim Barnett' with the emphasis on the last syllable, unlike the rest of us. Maybe he was right...

Now, as happens to us all, he is gone. His output had dwindled in recent years and news of his final illness was sad, yet the end still came as a shock. If one can leave this life having made a lasting contribution in some way, then it was a life worth living.

As a player, commentator and man, Richie Benaud did that.

I like to think that there's a cricket match due to start soon and a grey-haired man in a smart suit is taking up position behind a microphone to unravel the mysteries of the game and to highlight the skills of its participants.

Rest in Peace, Richie. It was always a pleasure.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Durston role makes sense as Guptill arrives

The sun is out, the temperature is rising and the first 'proper' game for Derbyshire is drawing close. On Sunday we play Cambridge MCCU (I know, 'proper' stretches a point somewhat, but it has to be better than two days of sixty and thirty over innings, valuable as they are for practice).

They lost heavily to Leicestershire today and any side that our neighbours can beat by 344 runs doesn't suggest top quality. If we can get some batsmen 'doing a Madonna' and getting into the groove, it will do me fine. The bowlers are getting some overs into their legs and seem to be bowling with discipline and purpose at this early stage, which is good to see.

Today, the Kiwi has landed, as Martin Guptill and his delightful wife Laura arrived for a look around the new facilities, ahead of the weekend game (he's playing, she's not...) It is a huge boost for everyone to have the genial giant back in the ranks and I hope he has brought his World Cup form with him so we can get off to a flyer that can be so important to a season.

Equally interesting was today's news that Wes Durston (pictured) has been appointed skipper of the T20 side, as well as signing an extension to his contract that keeps him at the club till at least the end of next season.

It is a sensible move, following on from similar things at other counties. As captain in four-day cricket and fifty-over games, Wayne Madsen has plenty on his plate, especially as he is the man around who the batting revolves. Captaincy is hard work and needs an alert mind, but the T20 role is hugely demanding in the field. Every ball is a battle to be fought and won and may need a fielding change. The mental side of the job is demanding and even in club cricket, where I skippered a side for nine successive seasons, I found the short form of the game far more demanding than the longer one.

Wayne will benefit from being able to focus on his batting, while Wes will prove an admirable replacement. He is an intelligent man and, by extension, will be an intelligent captain. He is our highest-ever scorer in the format and one of our most canny bowlers. He is brilliant in the field and brings considerable experience to bear in the role. What's not to like?

Like pretty much everything at the club these days it makes sense. A sign of how far we have come is that no one has made a laughing stock of themselves and claimed it was indicative of a fallout behind the scenes. There were times - and not that long ago - that someone going out to their car brought stories of it being indicative of internecine strife.

Not now. This is as happy a bunch of players as one could wish to see and the footage of them in training or at media day suggests people who thoroughly enjoy each other's company. While it is not impossible to do well with people who don't get on (the Middlesex side of Mike Brearley's era tolerated, rather than enjoyed the company of some members), a good team spirit is a major asset.

As we build up to the Cambridge MCCU game, I'm not sure we should read too much into the side selected. I think that Graeme Welch knows his team, injuries permitting, for the opening championship game against Lancashire at this stage and that all the tricky decisions have been made. There will be people who are unlucky to be omitted, but that makes their league and second team displays all the more important. Making a case, in whatever match they play, will be crucial for everyone on the staff.

That's it for now. I will be back before the Cambridge game with further thoughts and would love to hear yours, as we get into the season.

And don't forget to enter that fantasy league. Scroll down for details and get your team registered!

Postscript - thirteen teams in there so far..two more and we will be eligible for medals....

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Another encouraging display at Edgbaston

Since the last time I posted, we have learned that Martin Guptill has become the latest to 'fall' to the curse of the county contract. Admittedly it is a good curse, one which has seen him recalled to the New Zealand Test setup. It hardly came as a surprise to those of us who know who good 'The Gup' can be, nor to Derbyshire, who had contingency plans in place for such an eventuality - as we knew they would, of course.

The thinking money is on Tillakaratne Dilshan coming over early, though there are, according to media reports, other options available. However it pans out, it looks like they will be joining up with a squad that is high in confidence and playing some good cricket.

Today we made 241-4 in 60 overs against Warwickshire, with Ben Slater and Wayne Madsen recording fifties and everyone else getting some time in the middle and runs under their belt. The side that took the field was very similar to the one I suggested the other night, but whether one reads too much into that at this stage is anyone's guess.

Warwickshire passed the hundred mark for the loss of two wickets in reply, with Ben Cotton and Mark Footitt taking a wicket apiece. This isn't the time to be firing on all cylinders; rather ensuring that all cylinders are well greased and ready to slip into top gear when circumstances allow and dictate it. I am quietly confident in the goings-on down at the 3aaa County Ground and feel we could see some terrific cricket this summer.

I was amused tonight to read Wales Online and how Mark Cosgrove is in 'ominous form' ahead of his return to Wales as Leicestershire skipper. Cosgrove scored 92 from 90 balls as our neighbours made 303 against Cambridge University. Useful as time in the middle is, I get the impression that the various university attacks are not the most potent of forces. Not too many first-class batsmen will lose sleep over facing them, unless the wicket is a bit of a minefield, which might not be far from the truth at this stage of the summer.

We play Cambridge next and although their bowling is opened by 'Pollock' I expect our batsmen to get some balls on the bat and make an early impression. A final case to state for an opening berth, maybe a seam bowler's place, the wicket-keeping role...all very interesting and we will all watch developments...

Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Pre-season preview part 2 - The County Championship - Smells Like Team Spirit

For the first time in many years, it is almost impossible to pick a first choice side at Derbyshire this summer.

Time was, and not that long ago, the interested supporter could probably name nine of a first choice eleven and get pretty close to the full side. Not so now, as Graeme Welch has assembled and cultivated a squad  - a genuine squad - that has depth in most positions, especially in seam bowling. To the club's great credit, many are academy products.

A few people were aghast last summer when Tim Groenewald was allowed to leave the county. Those same people will be a little sheepish now, as the popular seamer's departure enabled Welch to accelerate the development of young bowlers who impressed him as soon as he arrived at Derby last year.

The giant Ben Cotton, not yet fully filled out out at 21 but able to move the ball around at decent pace, stands out in any company, but Tom Taylor, another from Staffordshire, has made a positive impression since his elevation to the senior side, bowling back of a length in a style not dissimilar to Mike Hendrick. A year younger and competing for a place in the senior side is Greg Cork, son of county legend Dominic. Word is that Cork junior has filled out and gained pace over the winter, his left-handed style giving him an advantage and Welch a nice option. With England under-19 spearhead Will Davis and Harry White, brother of Wayne, in the next age group down, the county's seam bowling depth will be envied by most other counties.

Mark Footitt will again spearhead the attack and supporters, together with opening batsmen around the country, will wonder why he hasn't yet got an England call. The identical and insipid nature of the national attack in the recent World Cup was there for all to see, never an accusation to level at the left-handed Footitt. He hit enough helmets, thigh pads and arm protectors last year to suggest pace well above the routine and while the odd ball still goes askew, he is a much-improved bowler under the tutelage of the highly-regarded Welch.

With support available from the reliable Tony Palladino and Wayne White, as well as all-rounders Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes, the seam bowling has enviable riches to exploit most surfaces. There is less in the spin cupboard, but Wes Durston winkles out batsmen with his off-spin, while David Wainwright and Chesney Hughes have big seasons ahead of them. Two moderate summers have followed an excellent 2012 for the former, while Chesney will at last be able to add his left-arm 'darts' to batting which supporters will hope is back to its best, now he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

A key man could be Tom Knight, who has apparently emerged from a winter spent working on his action with an improved action that should help him take more wickets. Still only 21, despite being around for a few summers, Knight could emerge as first choice spinner this year, his claims enhanced by his ability in the field and a talent to hit a ball as cleanly as anyone in the club. A comparison with Ian Blackwell comes up when discussing his talent and he could play a leading part in all cricket as the summer progresses.

It will be great to see (and hear!) Tom Poynton back behind the stumps after last year's tragedy, though he will be pushed hard by Harvey Hosein, at eighteen a player of real potential with both gloves and bat. His debut at The Oval last year was Boy's Own material and pre-season form suggests he is ready for an opportunity when it comes.

The side is blessed with a number of all-rounders. Wayne White has rejoined from Lancashire and brings experience and talent, while after two seasons blighted by injury, Jonathan Clare will be available in May. It will be the equivalent of a new player, his back problem having finally been diagnosed and hopefully sorted by surgery. With new signing Shiv Thakor a player of special talent and Alex Hughes keen to build on last year's positive impression, batting depth would appear to be more likely than in recent summers.

A question mark remains on the batting, but there are reasons for optimism. Two of the World Cup's top five batsmen, Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan, will share overseas duties and their dynamic style should complement whoever is chosen to open alongside them. Billy Godleman played some innings of quality at the end of last summer, but Ben Slater is likely to get the first opportunity after good pre-season form, following on from twin centuries in the last match of 2014. He is one to watch and his compact style could prove an excellent foil for the overseas men.

Batting success will once again revolve around Captain Fantastic, Wayne Madsen. Now England-qualified, he is simply a class act. Constantly improving as a captain and a strong figurehead for the club, he is one of the nicest men in cricket and massively important to the side's hopes of success.

He and Welch have forged an all-important bond and created a vital twelfth man in team spirit. There was an air of inevitability in watching the county towards the end of last summer, wickets always appearing around the corner as a tight unit cranked up the pressure, the skipper making regular bowling changes to make the opposition work. If that can be re-created early, the catches stick and Guptill and Dilshan replicate their international form, Derbyshire can be in the promotion shake-up by the end of the summer.

There are two potential issues. The batting has to be more robust and we also need a spin option to take advantage when the wickets start to turn. None of ours in the recent past have hinted at a fifty-wicket season, but we will need close to that from any combination of them to succeed in the later season.

I've been asked many times for my side to start the season and have already stated that it is tough. For the record, here is my best effort as we start with experience, but you could replace almost anyone, apart from Guptill, Madsen and Footitt, without major detriment.

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

There are seven bowlers, a depth of batting and some very good players outside the eleven. Graeme Welch can rotate bowlers to keep them fresh and that will be crucial when we hit the closing weeks of the season.

If we can get off to a flyer...who knows?

Friday, 3 April 2015

Pre-season preview part one - County Championship Division Two - the rivals

When assessing the likelihood of a successful season for Derbyshire, one first has to look at the opposition and see what we are up against. In another piece I will look at Derbyshire, but today I would like to look at the other teams in the division.

Truth be told, it is a strong league. If one were assessing clubs merely on size, then we would be perennial also-rans. The likes of Essex, Surrey, Kent and Lancashire are big clubs, with big budgets. They are able to enter the bidding whenever a player comes on the market and can offer serious money to lure them to their club.

Yet the bottom line is, for all that, they are in the bottom tier, along with Derbyshire. They may have the resources, but something has to be missing. Here's my assessment of their respective strengths ahead of the season, taking them in alphabetical sequence.

Essex - they will always score runs and have a long batting order, but success depends on whether Cooke and Bopara spend a lot of time with England. The concern would be over an attack that has lost Tymal Mills and is heavily dependent on 37-year old David Masters and 35-year old Graham Napier. Last year Jesse Ryder produced some remarkable bowling figures and for me they will need more of the same from a man who has spent much of the winter injured.

"The Don" in The Cricketer magazine had them as champions, but they will need very good luck with injury to be in the frame, unless Monty Panesar can rekindle erstwhile glories and Masters has one last golden summer.

Glamorgan - new skipper Jacques Rudolph will need to score a lot of runs, alongside Kolpak signing Colin Ingram, to give them a chance. There are early season question marks over the fitness of Michael Hogan and the loss of Jim Allenby will hit them hard. The loan signing of Craig Meschede for the summer will help, but they are another side who seem short of bowling, already supposedly looking at the loan market.

Graham Wagg will need to play at his best to offset the loss of other key players and I see them as a side in transition.

As are Gloucestershire. Having lost both Will and Alex Gidman, much will depend on Geraint Jones as the new skipper, along with Michael Klinger. Peter Handscomb, an Australian batsman on a UK passport, is an interesting signing, as is Kiwi all-rounder Kieran Noema-Barnett, on similar terms. I'm not really a fan of such a 'league of nations' approach, though some jewels can be discovered, as we found with Wayne Madsen. I suspect they will have a tough season though.

Kent appear to tie invisible bungee rope to their players when they leave, as, like boomerangs, all come back. Joe Denly, Matt Coles, James Tredwell - they have all gone under various arrangements and returned. They strike me as a team likely to challenge, but their seam attack isn't the strongest and I wonder how long the reliable Darren Stevens can keep going. They won't lack for runs and will be a threat in a run chase, but I struggle to see them bowling sides out twice on a regular basis.

The lack of an overseas player may be a deciding issue for them.

Lancashire look our closest rivals and have a strong squad. They have picked up Nathan Buck from Leicestershire and the talented but inconsistent George Edwards from Surrey, but now need an overseas player to start the season, as Peter Siddle is in the Australian Ashes tour party. They already have Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince as Kolpaks, so the red rose county aren't going whole-heartedly local. 

Seam bowling depth could be their undoing though and the loss of Kyle Hogg and Glen Chapple, the latter to semi-retirement, will be a tough act to follow. Expect plenty of turning tracks for Simon Kerrigan...

I can't see anything but struggle for Leicestershire. Cobb, Thakor, Buck, Smith and Ireland have all gone, the latter a decent one-day bowler as we often found. Clint McKay is an experienced opening bowler and Mark Cosgrove will punch his weight (insert your own jokes...) as opening bat and skipper, but Andrew McDonald will earn his money as coach in what looks likely to be a tough season for them, on and off the field.

It has been a winter of change for Northamptonshire. The side will have a different look, with Andrew Hall and David Sales gone, along with James Middlebrook and James Kettleborough, but they have recruited well.

Rory Kleinveldt could be a good signing as opening bowler, while Josh Cobb needs only runs at first-class level to be deemed the player of ability we all know he is from one-day cricket. He and Richard Levi (another Kolpak) will make a good one-day opening pair, while the return to fitness of David Willey and Alex Wakely will make them a decent side.

I expect them to challenge, but lack of depth in bowling could be an issue for them too if injuries hit.

Why are Surrey in division two? They make more marquee signings than the bloke who arranges the Queen's garden parties, yet somehow the sum of the parts never equals 'team'. With Kumar Sangakkara and Kevin Pietersen in the batting, alongside Jason Roy, Rory Burns and Steven Davies, they should score a bucketful of runs. Ben Foakes has signed from Essex and David Balcombe from Hampshire, but the crucial factor will once again be team spirit.

That's a commodity they have lacked in recent seasons and if they can discover it, they should stroll the division. Then again, they should have done that in recent summers with other big names.

There or thereabouts, but Graham Ford as coach is probably the key man.

Biggest rivals for Derbyshire, if we produce the goods? Surrey, Lancashire and Northamptonshire.

Wooden spoon? Leicestershire or Glamorgan.

Over to you...what do you think?

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Bigger and better than before - The Peakfan Blog Trophy - Fantasy Cricket

Admit're all quaking in your boots (or slippers) at the assembled talent of 'Peakfan's Plodders' in the Telegraph Fantasy League.

My crack eleven are aspiring to mid-table mediocrity this year, just as it has for the last two seasons. I have selected eleven good men and true, but only one from our club at this stage. Not that I don't expect them to do well - it's just that I don't want to jinx too many people

Anyway, if you would like to participate in the Peakfan Blog Trophy in Fantasy Cricket this summer, get yourself over to the Telegraph site and register a team. For your ongoing convenience I have added a link in that section on the left of the blog.

When asked if you want to join a league, the name is the one above and the PIN is 8031395.

Stuart Wilson won our league last year, his side got the most runs and he had the best starting XI. The only way is down, my friend! Adam Rice was runner-up and Peter Webb won spoon. This year, if we get fifteen teams the top three will qualify for medals, while when we win (confidence, huh?) the League of Leagues, there's a £500 prize, aside from individual prizes of great magnitude.

So what are you waiting for? Get your team(s) in before the action starts in ten days time.

Hopefully this year I will remember I am in the league after July.

And Chris won't sub his entire team in frustration by the end of April....

Good luck, everyone!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Early (revolving) doors at counties

As if to highlight the perennially difficult issue of recruiting overseas players, the last few days have proved problematic around the circuit.

Lancashire thought they had recruited a potential match-winner in Australian Peter Siddle, while Middlesex were set to benefit from his fellow countryman Adam Voges. Then both, somewhat surprisingly in some eyes, were selected for the Ashes tour, leaving those two counties to look elsewhere for overseas recruits.

Today, Younis Khan pulled out of his contract with Yorkshire to instead make himself available for the Pakistan national side's tour of Bangladesh. He has been replaced by Cheteshwar Pujara, who had previously been linked with a return to our colours.

It is all somewhat confusing, not to mention frustrating for supporters of those sides. I'm not sure why Pujara has ended up at the white rose county, when fairly recent reports suggested a return to us, but we've now nailed our mid-season colours to an Australian or New Zealand mast and time will tell who fills that position.

It is a shame that we won't see Pujara at Derbyshire this year, but few will complain when the alternatives are two of the world's best batsmen in Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan. If they play to their potential, we will get runs and entertainment a-plenty.

All these changes seem to be a little too much for Cricinfo, which two weeks before the season seems to be struggling with the current make up of county squads. A cursory glance at them reveals Wayne White still to be on Lancashire's staff, while ours still contains Paul Borrington, Peter Burgoyne, Chris Durham and Johny Marsden. White is also playing for us, so the casual fan checking the state of county staffs may find it all a little too much at present.

In closing tonight, I again plan to run a Fantasy Cricket League this summer and I hope that we get enough entries to qualify for medals at the end of it all. I will be posting on this in the next week, so please check in regularly for further details.

Who knows. Perhaps the winners might be getting medals at the same time as Derbyshire players...