Friday, 27 November 2015

Toss tinkering a good idea

No complaints from me about the latest bit of tinkering from the ECB, where in county championship matches next season, the away captain will have the opportunity to chose whether to bowl first. Should he decline to do so, the toss will then take place.

It takes away pitch 'preparation' that favours the home side, or at least gives them a 50/50 opportunity of getting off to a flyer on a wicket that gives bowlers undue assistance. Wickets must now be good cricket wickets, made to last four days and hopefully, by the end of the third, offering the spin bowlers sufficient assistance to merit inclusion in the side.

Those counties that have effectively frozen out spin bowlers in favour of a battery of seam and dibbly-dobbly swing bowlers will have to don their thinking caps. Derbyshire's Wes Durston may come even more into his own as a batting all-rounder, while both Tom Knight and Matt Critchley will have conditions that may be more to their liking.

Theoretically, it could see the overseas spinner becoming a prize commodity, but the game is hardly awash with prize tweakers at present. Not even in its ancestral home of India, where shocking pitch preparation has seen the home side trouncing South Africa on pitches that are barely lasting into a fourth day. I'd suggest it was a throwback to the Indian side of the 1970s, when such giants as Bedi, Prasanna, Venkat and Chandrasekhar made a trip to that part of the world the ultimate challenge to the batting technique against spin.

I don't see the current crop of spinners in that league, but the wickets they are bowling on would light up the eyes of a moderate club twirler, let alone a decent international bowler. Would it change pitch preparation if South Africa were offered the chance to bat each time? Of course it would. The writing is on the wall when the bowling is opened by an off-spinner.

I don't see the star Indian batsmen being unduly thrilled either. Much as big name batsmen never looked forward to playing at Derby in the days when one could barely spot the wicket from the rest of the square, nor can those used to 'filling their boots' on feather bed tracks be happy about the adverse conditions. Mind you, if they are winning, they will be resigned to their fate and accept it, albeit grudgingly, as they watch their averages plummet.

I don't see it changing much at Derby, to be honest. The advent of the Falcons stand did seem to produce a climatic microcosm, whereby the first session each day was challenging for batsmen and bowlers got their reward for skilled bowling. Our problem last year, certainly in the matches that I saw, was that we too often bowled too wide or too short in those sessions, thus giving batsmen a chance to watch the ball go sailing harmlessly by.

I am sure that Graeme Welch will this winter be stressing to his young charges that the key thing is to make the batsmen PLAY. A new man at the crease wants a few wide balls to assess the pace and bounce, rather than having to figure it out from something homing in on his stumps and body. A rejuvenated Tony Palladino and Andy Carter will enjoy their first sessions at Derby and be expected to set an example in that respect.

It was interesting listening to Graeme Welch yesterday, saying that he has 'irons in the fire' for a another seamer. The potential of the young brigade is obvious, but expecting one or more of them to become the 'real deal' over one winter is perhaps unrealistic. We need progress, but they will need periods of rest, too. As I have written before, Carter will, if he stays fit, get fifty-plus wickets this year, but Welch is savvy enough to realise that we need at least plans B and C for the coming year to be an improvement on last.

I am confident that the signings of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford will help our bowlers have something to bowl at this year, but we will need a team approach to all the disciplines if 2016, the eightieth anniversary of our county championship win, is to prove memorable for all the right reasons.

Postscript: I still fully intend to do a piece on the academy intake, but time has passed me by these last few days.

Hopefully this weekend...

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Good news comes in threes for Derbyshire

A 64% increase in the overall attendance in Derbyshire's T20 attendances reflects the a national boom for the format and amply illustrates the earning potential for the county - IF we can get better at the shortest form of the game.

The improvements in our bowling last season were well documented and easy to spot. It is not hard to see how there could be further progress if the bowlers kick on still further in 2016. Ben Cotton, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes all looked vastly improved bowlers and with support from others could make up a handy attack in the competition. They bowled tight lines, fired in the yorkers to good effect and kept the batsmen guessing. With more winter work on mixing up the pace, our attack should be both young AND talented.

Which makes the news from New Zealand of Neil Broom's continued good form all the more exciting.

Broom currently averages over seventy for Otago and the thought of he and Hamish Rutherford alongside Wes Durston, Wayne Madsen and Chesney Hughes in the line-up must whet the appetite of Derbyshire fans - even before we appoint a T20 specialist. Add in Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor - both of who will be keen to improve on this year - and we should bat deep.

Where we fell down last year was in some fairly abject batting performances, with games given away by batting collapses that at times stretched credibility. The loss of Wayne Madsen and Alex Hughes for several matches didn't help our cause and too often we needed a little nous in the middle when the key phases of the game commenced.

If Broom, Rutherford and our mystery man can inject that much needed experience and common sense, we might just see a Derbyshire side that wins more than its fair share of T20 matches.

We'll see.

Finally tonight, the new intake for the club Academy has been announced. For some, that may be run of the mill news, but one or two of these lads could quite possibly in the first team in a couple of years time.

I will look at them in more detail another night, time permitting, tomorrow.

Adieu, until then.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Book Review: Stumps and Runs and Rock n' Roll: Sixty Years Spent Beyond A Boundary by Tim Quelch

Part cricket book, part social history and part homage to popular music, Tim Quelch's latest book is the story of a life spent following cricket, primarily as a supporter.

He is late into cricket book writing, but as Stephen Chalke has so admirably proven, that should be no barrier to success, nor to the reader's enjoyment. That the proceeds from his books go to charity is laudable, but no charitable urges are needed to support a book that is enjoyable from start to finish.

The author's strength is an ability to come up with a phrase that takes the reader, almost effortlessly, to the action. Wes Hall 'pounded in off a prodigiously long run, that began just yards from my cupped chin' beautifully captures the fascination of the game for the ardent follower, while Derek Underwood 'waddling to the wicket with the menace of a reclusive accountant,  bewildered by exposure to dazzling daylight' encapsulates a great bowler in a phrase that John Arlott would have enjoyed.

I don't recall reading a cricket book before where the subject veers from Madonna to David Gower in the course of a paragraph, and any page that name checks both Jimi Hendrix and Curtley Ambrose has much going for it, at least for me. It is the surprise element that keeps the reader going, especially when the subject matter is well-known. The ardent cricket fan knows what happened in a given Test series, but the way in which Quelch presents his material is unique and thoroughly engaging.

The passage on Devon Malcolm's nine for 57 against South Africa in 1994 is superb and took me back to when I lay on the floor with my young son playing with Thomas the Tank Engine toys, yet with one eye willing the Derbyshire man on to even greater efforts. Such is the gift of fine writing, taking the reader back to that time and place, while for those too young to experience it, telling it like it really was. 

There are fascinating insights into a personal life that leaves one wanting more too, with genuinely funny anecdotes rubbing shoulders with others that remind of the daily challenges that we all experience. It leaves the reader wanting to know more about the author, yet confirms his genuine talent in knowing exactly when to let it go. Few readers will end the book without feeling that the author would make wonderfully engaging company in a day at the cricket.

Tim Quelch deserves warm congratulations on a book that should be indispensable for those of a certain age, as well as required reading for those who want to find out what English cricket has been all about during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Definitely one for the Christmas stocking and a book that will get you through the dark nights until it all starts again next April.

Stumps & Runs & Rock n' Roll: Sixty Years Spent Beyond a Boundary is written by Tim Quelch and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available on Amazon for £17.99 and is also available from good book shops.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Footitt selection a triumph for Derbyshire

I read a couple of pieces on Mark Footitt's England call-up yesterday.

One was from Graeme Welch, who said that Mark's selection for the England tour of South Africa was more to do with Derbyshire than Surrey. The other was from a friend, ever the wag, who said that Mark must have improved since he left Derbyshire...

Welch is almost right, yet I would have said that the selection had everything to do with Derbyshire and nothing to do with Mark's new home. Unless, of course, that contribution can now be measured in his being closer to where the journalists are, never to be umderestimated in national side selection process.

Were it not for Derbyshire, Welch and an outstanding fitness and conditioning team, it is quite possible that Mark would have been out of the game at this point. They were not exactly queuing around the block when he left Nottinghamshire, where he was acknowledged as a bowler of pace, but variable accuracy and disappointing levels of fitness.

Indeed, he took only 23 wickets in four summers at Trent Bridge, which increased to 49 in the following three years at Derbyshire. Then, at the age of 27, it all clicked and his final three summers brought 202 first-class wickets. It was a combination of factors - growing into his physique, being properly coached, getting fitter than he had ever been before and feeling appreciated.

The latter is important for any cricketer - indeed, anyone in any working environment and I just hope, for Mark's sake, that it is replicated at both The Oval and in the England set up. We all know that he can still lose his radar on occasion, but he is increasingly likely to produce the spell, or the ball, that will challenge the very best.

With the retirement of Mitchell Johnson from the international arena, Mark has the potential and, hopefully, the opportunity, to become the fastest left-armer in the international game. I hope that they look after him and I hope he goes on to do so.

If he does, it is down to his hard work and that at the 3aaa County Ground. Nothing else.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Quiet old week ends with Heritage Launch

Not much news emanating from the 3aaa County Ground this week, as the winter really set in, at least north of the border. I was on the verge of starting my own ark at one point, so much rain has fallen. Were it the first day of a four-day game, I would be confident that the game was a wash-out for the duration.

The players have been back in training and have no doubt had sore hands and muscles over the past few days. The video clips on the club's Twitter feed have been excellent and it shows that the work has started in earnest. We can only hope that the players find a double-figure percentage increase across the board in the coming summer, consigning 2015 to a dim and largely unsatisfactory memory.

For me, this is the hardest part of the year. County cricket is slipping into more distant memory itself and the next instalment seems a long way off. Whether there will be player news, pre-Christmas, is anyone's guess, but mine is that it will be a long time coming. Players and agents will await the quieter post-Christmas period before making decisions on their futures, certainly those from overseas, where finalised tour schedules are not yet complete.

Off the field, I am pleased to see the club's archive launched today, with a lunch at the 3aaa County Ground. Such a facility is long overdue and the photographic collection, largely the result of a collaboration with the Derby Telegraph, is a welcome addition to club resources.

Over the years I have seen various items of memorabilia appear on ebay - player caps and blazers among them - and thought that the club needed such a resource to keep these items in the public domain. Private collections are all well and good, but I would be delighted to see a permanent facility where the blazers, caps and sweaters of other club legends can join those of Stan Worthington and Les Jackson on display. The same goes for match balls and bats - my summer visit to the Camp Nou and the astonishing memorabilia of FC Barcelona shows what can be done, if someone has the foresight to start things off.

Today's launch is the first step along the way and I am delighted to see it.

Warm congratulations to everyone involved.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Thrilled at Edwin Smith book review

I was absolutely thrilled tonight to get home to a tweet, with a link to a review of my book on Edwin Smith.

That it came from one of my favourite cricket web sites was one thing, but I was absolutely delighted to get a review as favourable as this one, from Martin Chandler.

It came at a time when the supply of the book is dwindling. The reprint has sold very well and there are considerably fewer than a hundred remaining. With each day bringing fresh orders through ebay or email, I expect the book to be sold out - and gone forever, bar for the second-hand market - by Christmas.

Do make sure to order your copy by emailing me at peakfan36atyahoodotcodotuk. A copy signed by Edwin and I is £16.80, including postage and packing. You can also get a copy by searching ebay under 'Edwin Smith cricket book'.

Thanks very much to Martin for his kind words and to all those who have thus far bought a copy of the book.

I look forward to others getting in touch in the very near future.

Future bright for Knight and White

I wasn't going to miss out on a potential headline like that now, was I?

The engagement of Tom Knight (pictured)
and Harry White on one-year deals is one of those that might slip under the radar on a busy news day, but be assured that both have the potential to be big players for Derbyshire.

Cynics will point to the fact that neither played much senior cricket last season and Knight, one of our bijou collection of spinners, barely turned his arm over in club or county cricket. Yet such comment belies the fact that people who know the game far better than any of us feel that he has what it takes to be a serious player. His destructive ability with a bat in his hands is well known to local cricket fans and if the coaching team have changed his bowling in a positive manner, he could be a very good all-round asset.

As I have written before, Tom was formerly a spin bowler with good control but with insufficient flight and turn to dismiss good batsmen on anything other than a helpful track. If I play devil's advocate for a moment, that might have been enough to make him a useful one-day cricketer, in a similar way to Stephen Parry is at Lancashire. The latter has played only nine one-day games in eight summers, yet is a key member of their one-day side.

Yet I don't think we have the resources at Derbyshire to employ single format players and it is in both the player's and our interests to take time to mould him into something more at a formative stage of his career. In doing so there is, of course, a danger that he could fail to recapture the bowling skills of his teenage years, but also the possibility that he could be transformed from a decent cricketer to one who is quite special. Given the dearth of English spin bowlers at present, I'd suggest it was a 'gamble' worth taking.

White is less far on in his development, but has height and his left-handed style as an advantage. Now Mark Footitt has gone, Harry and Greg Cork have an opportunity to battle for the 'variety' role in the county's seam attack. A change of angle is always an asset for an attack and both have an opportunity to work with one of the country's finest seam bowling coaches.

Good news in my book.

I look forward to seeing how they both progress.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Broom solo effort fails to help Otago to win

Another fine innings by Neil Broom has given Derbyshire fans a tantalising taste of what they might expect next summer.

Broom opened the batting for Otago in their T20  game against Central Districts and top-scored with an unbeaten 70 in a total of 141-8. He faced only 49 balls, which suggests his team mates didn't do an especially good job of giving him the strike, but was not enough to prevent defeat by four wickets.

It doesn't look an especially strong side, truth be told, with Nathan McCullum's presence at five in the batting order a few places too high. He has been a decent cricketer, though not in his brother's class and his spell of two for 19 in four overs made the opposition work harder than might otherwise have been the case.

Other than that it has been another quiet week, the main news being the encouraging attendance of Derbyshire cricket legends at the Heritage lunch next weekend.

It is good to see the heroes of the past being recognised and celebrated. For me, Derbyshire County Cricket Club isn't just about those who are currently treading the green sward in the county colours, but every bit about those who gave years of loyal and fine service to the club.

Chatting to a number of these players in recent months has helped me to understand that sometimes they can feel distanced once their playing days are done. If it did nothing else, this project is worthy for reintegrating them with the club, yet it has done so much more.

I was lucky enough to see some of the sterling work that has been going on when I was down for the end of season Leicestershire game. Everyone involved deserves a pat on the back for their excellent efforts, which I hope continue to bear fruits in the months and years ahead.

It is the right way to go about things and I am delighted that it has gone so well for them.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No fan of city re-branding

I have been looking for the chance to write about this for a while, but my recent hectic schedule at work and home has prevented me commenting as I wanted to do.

Gloucestershire are, apparently, considering the re-branding of their T20 side as 'Bristol' and have asked their members what they think of the idea. Given that they play all of their cricket there, with the exception of a handful of fixtures at Cheltenham, there is a certain logic to it, though less so, I'd have thought, if you live in an outlying part of the county.

Whatever else they do in their excellent attempts at reviving and upgrading our club, I hope that the people at Derbyshire never think that changing the name to 'Derby' is a good idea. It annoys me intensely when the Sky cameras are there and the commentators (Paul Allott and Nick Knight are the worst offenders) use the moniker when referring to our side.

There is a lot of offence taken in that missing syllable and way too much history to just toss it aside like yesterday's newspaper. We may now play all but one week of our season in the city, but historically it was never so. Chesterfield was the predominant playing venue for many years and enjoyed large crowds as a rule. Ilkeston had its share of games, especially the Nottinghamshire fixture, while Burton-on-Trent, Heanor and Buxton had their moments. Each had their charm, too, albeit of a fairly rustic variety in most cases, the toilet facilities being basic in the extreme.

Developing the 3aaa County Ground made sense from a financial perspective and the changes have been dramatic and pleasing, yet it would be naive in the extreme to believe that the majority of match day support is from the city alone. I am sure that the club will have statistics on the domicile of members, but the casual, but interested supporters are a well-travelled breed.

I love to walk around the ground on match days and chat to people I know, or who I want to get to know. They hail from Buxton, Matlock, Glossop, Bakewell, Crich and Belper, or from outwith the county boundaries. I am a Ripley man and we share a passion for the COUNTY cricket side. It is, after all, what they are called; Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

I am not sure what Birmingham Bears got from re-branding thus. Would people in the city suddenly realise after all this time that they had a cricket team in the city? Did a swathe of local arctophiles come forward to pledge their undying support, thanks to the new name? I suspect not, that it was just a gimmick and perhaps irritated more than it impressed.

There is nothing wrong with and much to like in the name Derbyshire Falcons. The traditionalist  in me can live without anything other than the county name, but I can go with the flow on that one.

Never drop the 'shire' though, gentlemen. It means a lot to us folk outside the city. I like Derby, but I am passionate about the county, the Peak District and the stunning scenery that makes you proud to hail from that part of the world.

Yes, I'm a Peak fan.

Lashings competition winners

Congratulations to Huw Lloyd, who was the first name pulled out of the hat by my daughter and wins one of the Lashings CC signed cricket shirts.

Sam Shelton wins the other and their prizes will be in the post in the next couple of days.

Thanks to everyone who entered!