Friday, 20 February 2015

Something for the weekend: Madsen for England?

I awoke before my alarm this morning..half an hour early to be precise, at 5.30am.

After the usual stretches and yawns, realisation hit me that I could grab an extra half hour of the cricket if I got up at that time and I pottered through to the bathroom, showered and went downstairs.

That's when I found it was all over.

Notwithstanding a fine spell of seam bowling by Tim Southee, a very underrated bowler, the England batting was as limp as a two-week old stick of celery. Maybe Geoff Boycott's much-vaunted Mum could have done as well, with the proverbial stick of rhubarb.

The highlights made uncomfortable viewing but the reality is that the tour selection was muddled. We take the captaincy from one player out of form and give it to another who is only infrequently in it. Morgan is a decent cricketer, but an eye player who will never be consistent. He will have days when it all falls into place, but his technique isn't up to examination by the very best.

We left out one of our best one-day opening batsmen, a man who did very well in the Big Bash, Michael Lumb, as well as an all-rounder who is capable of brilliance in Ben Stokes. That's before we go over the old ground of KP. Should he be in the side? On talent, it is hard to say no.

The brutal reality of the first two games is that we have no bowlers once the openers have been seen off. The support attack has been treated with disdain and Steve Finn had two horrendous overs last night that will give him nightmares. In his defence, Brendon McCullum has done that to better bowlers and is a beast with a bat in his hands. Anyone who can leave Martin Guptill in his wake has serious talent and McCullum slaughtered an England side that was very ordinary at best.

Which makes the news that Wayne Madsen is now qualified to play for England all the more interesting.

Over the past two summers, the Derbyshire skipper has been as consistent a batsman as any in the country. Perhaps last year he could have done with converting more of his fifties into centuries, but Madsen exudes a confidence and exhibits class that has not always been the preserve of Derbyshire batsmen.

There was a feeling that he couldn't play the one-day game, but that was laid to rest last summer with a series of sparkling innings in all formats, without any discernible weakness. With shots all around the wicket, Madsen is the complete batsman now, the lynchpin of a batting side that has displayed frailties but looks a better unit after prudent winter recruitment.

Is Madsen good enough for England? In my opinion, yes. Whether he will be picked, given the backlash against overseas players, especially those from South Africa, is a moot point, but if he gets off to a flyer he has to put his name in the frame.

He will need to be much better than the alternatives elsewhere though, because our players do. Yet in Madsen and Mark Footitt, at the very least, we have two players who can have genuine aspirations for the international arena.

Our chances of success are better if they stay with us, of course, but we are getting a side together, beyond doubt. Next up, again if he hits his stride early, will be Shiv Thakor, a batsman who bowls but with genuine potential as an all-rounder. There's others behind them too, with a host of young seamers who could easily have horizons beyond the county game.

Will Davis is the latest. Behind Messrs Cotton, Taylor and Cork in the pecking order right now, but a bowler about who I have heard only good things. It will be fascinating to see who makes the most progress in the coming season, but Davis looks set for experience with England's under-19s, where I hope he gets better treatment than Tom Knight did.

Davis is the latest, after Taylor and Cotton, to emerge from the rich source of Staffordshire cricket and they are doing fine work there. Alex Hughes is another and all of them could play major parts in the county club's glittering future.

Enjoy your weekend. I'm working tomorrow, but on the up side, the season is only two months away.

PS Nice marketing and PR work this week, as the skipper delivered memberships to lucky individuals. They are not missing many tricks down at the 3AAA County Ground these days and it is great to see.

Friday, 13 February 2015

World Cup prediction - New Zealand

In response to several emails - and just before the tournament begins tonight - here is my fancy for the cricket World Cup.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - New Zealand.

Australia are the team for them to beat, especially when both sides are on home turf, but that New Zealand batting side, even without Jesse Ryder, is an awesome machine.

Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi - any of those players can take a game away from you in quick time. Their attack is less potent, but the return of Daniel Vettori will give them important control in the middle overs and if they can bowl decently that batting machine will win plenty of games.

Of course Australia will be in there, but I feel they need Dave Warner and Aaron Finch to fire at the top of the order, as the middle order, with the exception of Steve Smith, looks more fragile.

As for the rest, South Africa can be in there, but have a nasty habit of 'choking' at the last hurdle. Much will depend on Amla, De Villiers and du Plessis with the bat, while Steyn's fitness and form is crucial to their chances.

The West Indies have no chance, as the game is sixty overs too long for them. India won't win it, simply because it is not in India and Sri Lanka rely too heavily on aging maestros who are lacking in quality support.

You never know which Pakistan side will turn up on a given day, but if you were looking for a dark horse, they might spring a shock. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh won't. Scotland and Ireland will acquit themselves well but ultimately in vain.

Which leaves England. I see them as much the same as South Africa. There is special talent in the side, but an impressive batting line up too often sees only one man contribute and that's not enough.

Similarly, after the opening bowlers, I am not convinced there's anyone that teams will worry about. Given that Sussex and Kent couldn't decide who wanted James Tredwell last year, it doesn't suggest he will wreak havoc in the opposition. The back up seamers can be very expensive and I see England as quarter-finalists, unless a few more players step up to the plate.

I would love to see your, what do you think?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Role Models

In an era when the public perception of top sports stars is one of people with far too great a sense of self-importance, it is refreshing to write on a few people who do not conform to that stereotype.

First this week comes news of a 'no swearing' initiative at Derby County. While not a zero-tolerance policy, it is refreshing to read of a top sports club taking its responsibility to fans, especially younger ones, to a different level.

Most people swear occasionally. As my old Dad has always said to me, down the pit if a load of coal dropped on you and hurt, as loads of coal tend to do when they connect with the human body, you either cried or swore to get it out of your system. Somehow it seemed to help, much as it does if you stub your toe or trap a finger.

Yet swearing shouldn't be accepted and for me isn't acceptable in mixed company. Call me old-fashioned, but I switch off if in the company of those whose every sentence is accompanied by an Anglo-Saxon utterance. Or I say something about it, depending on the company I am in.

While Derby County's approach is steeped in psychology and not allowing the 'inner chimp' of self-control to escape. it is refreshing to see sports stars moderating their language and being aware of their status as role models, on and off the pitch. 

It made me think of similar things at Derbyshire, where one doesn't have to look too closely for men of admirable character.

You have Tony Palladino, a man who was big enough to make a stand against corruption in the game at his former county. It would have been easy for Tony to have buried his head in the sand, once he knew what was happening at Essex, but instead he was big enough to say 'This is wrong' and do something about it. He will always be a sporting hero in my eyes, if only for that act alone and irrespective of his fine efforts on the field.

There is Wayne Madsen. As affable a man as ever walked on a cricket pitch, I cannot think of a better role model for a sports club than the Derbyshire skipper. His conduct, attitude and appearance are always first-class and we are fortunate to have such a man as captain. There are few who would walk, aware that he had nicked a ball to the keeper, as Madsen did at Chesterfield two summers ago and such an action both exemplified the man and highlighted that sport could be played in the right spirit, even at its higher levels.

Then there is Tom Poynton.

Few would have blamed the wicket-keeper had he kept a low profile after the tragic loss of his father in a car crash at the end of last season. Together with the injuries he sustained in that same accident, many would have been laid low and it would have been perfectly understandable. Surgery meant that he missed the entire season and he could have kept his head down and stayed out of the limelight.

Instead, he threw himself into the community role that he was given to build bridges with the city's ethnic communities and by general admission did a fantastic job. That work was a major factor in the club attracting Cheteshwar Pujara to Derby at the end of last summer and may well see him return for another spell this year. He also project managed the Club Golf Day at Morley Hayes and helped to deliver the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation Healthy Heart Campaign.

In raising the club's profile in the community, it made a good contribution towards the securing of Council support for ground redevelopment and the player's friendly, outgoing personality has won him many friends in the wider community.

It has also earned him massive respect within the game. He has faced adversity and the challenge of getting fit for his sport once more and while doing so has shown that sportsmen really can make a difference.

He is fit to resume his career this summer and I am sure that everyone will be thrilled to see him (and hear him!) back behind the stumps once more. The award of a Professional Cricketers' Association Personal Development Scholarship for his work is well-deserved

His Dad would have been very proud.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Weekend warmer

So memberships at Derbyshire are up on the same time last year...the Gup Factor seems to be having quite an impact.

While it is easy to pin the credit for this on our overseas batting star, I think the reality is that supporters realise that he will be the icing on the cake of what appears increasingly likely to be a very strong Derbyshire side.

You know why? Because I don't think anyone, hand on heart, could call a first-choice side for this summer right now. There are quite a few unknowns - will Jon Clare be fit, will Tom Knight's bowling have come on, will the young seamers come through - but they are all positives.

When was the last time that we had four seam-bowling all rounders, like Thakor, Hughes, White and Clare? Or two very good wicket-keepers, as in Poynton and Hosein? Or the quantity of seam bowling that we enjoy? Who will partner Martin Guptill? Who will get the nod in the middle order - and equally, be unlucky to miss out?

The depth and talent in the squad is impressive and the transformation in a few months quite remarkable. Wind back to early/mid summer last season and there were moans when Tim Groenewald left the club and results were hardly going our way.

Not any more. The emergence of Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton and Greg Cork would not have happened had Graeme Welch not made the brave decision to let Groenewald, a worthy player and good club man, leave the club, ultimately for Somerset. It may not have seemed so at the time, but it may well turn out to be a defining moment.

It showed that Welch is unafraid to make the big calls and, as was shown by subsequent events, he was absolutely right in that decision. He will doubtless be decisive in his selections this summer and he will ensure that this squad is perhaps better prepared than any in our history.

Of course, what matters is how it translates on the pitch. The pre-season tour will be important for staking a claim to an early season place, but by crikey they're going to have to play well to keep them this year.

All of which suggests that if you haven't got a ticket yet, you would be well advised to do so sometime soon...

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Weekend warmer - Rhodes and Jackson achievement should be recognised

It has been a fairly quiet week for on field activities at Derbyshire, so perhaps this is the time to comment on one or two off field things.

The building refurbishment seems to be going well and the regular updates from the club have been both welcome and impressive. Everything seems to be on schedule for the season, which is heartening for players and supporters alike. I cannot wait to see the new facilities at the start of the summer, which promises to be even more exciting than usual.

The week brought news of a new job for Tom Holdcroft, the club's Media and Marketing manager, who is set to move to Nottinghamshire as Media and Communications Manager. It is a great opportunity for him and one that is fully deserved. In eight seasons at Derbyshire he has dragged the club's off-field activities into the 21st century and done a fantastic job.

When I think back to the club's website, communications and image at that time, there is no comparison to today. Tom deserves full credit for a job well done and will take some replacing. I would like to thank him for the help that he has given me over the years and wish him all the best in his new role. It is a shame that it's on the dark side, of course, but in life you go where the opportunities are.

He will do well, though I hope he's reporting on the wrong side of results when our two teams meet!

Finally today, it is a year for anniversaries. We had the recognition of Winston Churchill's death and it's fifty year anniversary last week. It is seventy years since the end of World War Two and also fifty years since something quite extraordinary happened in Derbyshire cricket.

In 1965, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson were first and second in the national bowling averages. I am no statistician (and if anyone can prove me wrong please get in touch), but understand that this is the only occasion this happened in the history of English county cricket. It is certainly unique for Derbyshire and I hope that it is marked by the club at some point during the coming season.

I will certainly do a piece on it during the coming months, because the efforts of the two that summer were quite extraordinary. Rhodes, now 78, took 119 wickets at eleven runs each, while Jackson, now 81, took 120 wickets at just over twelve runs each.

When one considers that behind them in third, fourth and fifth place were Brian Statham, Tom Cartwright and Fred Trueman, the magnitude of the achievement becomes clear.

While celebrating the promise of the present and anticipating that to come, I feel it is very important that Harold and Brian are recognised for their efforts fifty years ago during this summer. Both were outstanding bowlers and would have been so at any stage in the game's evolution. They would be worth a fortune in the modern game and we are fortunate to have them still with us to celebrate those achievements.

I hope that such recognition is forthcoming and look forward to reporting on it in due course.

More from me in the week.