Monday, 30 March 2015

New facilities testimony to new mentality

Last week I had the opportunity for a look around the new facilities at the 3aaa County Ground.


Whether a player or supporter, the change is astonishing. The players benefit from vastly improved facilities (and rightly so) that gives them the space to spread out in the dressing room, each with their own 'pod' with storage and power. Generously sized, after considerable input from the players, the pods give space for personal belongings and equipment and are most impressive. So is everything about the new player facilities, especially the viewing options afforded. They can watch from within the dressing room, on a balcony outside it or from a private part of the seating in front of the Gateway.

Credit is due to all involved for the vision to transform tired old facilities and give the players something to enjoy and to be proud of. Which is what supporters can do with the new-look pavilion.

In front of it, with the old administration buildings gone, along with the indoor school, is a huge expanse of parking space. The development potential for the medium to long term is considerable, but I never realised just how much land was there. With the vegetation behind the old indoor school cleared, the place looks three times the size.

From a very first sight of the front of the building, it screams 'This is Derbyshire'. The new vestibule is bright and airy, the club crest on the mat a nice touch and the lift welcome. As for the first floor - it is simply magnificent.

The club now has the option of catering for small meetings, or one large one. Partitions can easily increase or reduce capacity and the overall appearance is classy and impressive. The bar is well-sited, the 'mood' lighting a nice touch and the sound system a world apart from what we had in the past.

Outside, the balconies have been extended and offer considerable seating space, with the old cheap plastic chairs a thing of the past (thankfully!) Looking out over the playing surface, I could quite easily see myself with a favourite new vantage point, though the stand might well retain my loyalties, affording a wonderful angle and aspect for cricket-watching.

It is breathtaking and brilliant. Yes, I am biased, but I loved it. Seeing the players come out from somewhere new will be strange, but they now have their own area, something to which they have every entitlement. With training and changing facilities in the same building, we now have a 21st century facility to match the club's ambition. Equally important, for a club with aspirations to stage bigger matches, the players now have somewhere that can be securely 'locked down' for their use only.

This is phase one and everyone involved deserves credit for the vision, the standard of workmanship and the way in which the job was completed to schedule. It is something to look forward to seeing on your visits this summer.

It augurs well for the next stages. Other teams will not dislike coming to Derby now.

Apart from when we beat them...

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Portents good as season approaches

Has there ever been a better pre-season than this one?

The tour to Dubai was a great success, while yesterday's 45-over practice match at Leicestershire also suggested that the team is well-prepared and ready to go when the action proper starts in just over a fortnight's time.

With the workload shared around, Leicestershire's batting looked a little thin as all of the bowler's got a valuable workout. Wayne Madsen will doubtless look forward to days in the field when his specialist bowlers can be supported by all-rounders of the quality of Shiv Thakor, together with Alex and Chesney Hughes. Variety of pace and angle of bowling will serve us well in all forms of the game and will be invaluable on wickets where batting is more straightforward.

There is a real battle for the role of opener alongside Martin Guptill and both Ben Slater and Billy Godleman played an unbeaten hand yesterday to reinforce their claims. Both have left-handedness in their favour, but my own thoughts are that Slater, especially, would be hard to omit after a very strong pre-season. Considering he ended last year with twin hundreds in the match against Leicestershire, he could scarcely do more to state his case.

It is such things that suggest how much stronger our squad has become. Billy Godleman has done little wrong either, while Chesney Hughes hit a sparkling century on the tour to re-state his claims, either at the top or in the middle order.

Such things make it difficult to pick, or even attempt to second guess Graeme Welch's first choice sides this year. For the first time in a long while, I quite honestly feel that you could include any one of around eighteen players without detriment to the side. I would suggest that the overseas player, Wayne Madsen and Mark Footitt would be certainties in the championship side, but pretty much every other place is up for grabs.

Exciting stuff, for sure!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Classic semi-final a triumph of cricket

A late week at work allowed me to watch the last few hours of the New Zealand v South Africa World Cup semi-final today and what a classic it was.

There was brilliant batting, incisive bowling, wonderful fielding and in all honesty, a game that neither side deserved to lose. I felt that had  rain not intervened, South Africa may have posted close to 350 and the battle between two fine batting sides was impressive.

David Miller played a terrific innings, as did AB de Villiers and Francois du Plessis, but the start given by Brendan McCullum meant that New Zealand were always up there. McCullum is an extraordinary hitter, probably only surpassed by Chris Gayle and certainly more mobile than the West Indian now.

Yet it was quite telling that the Kiwi success was built on two 'lesser lights' after all of their much vaunted top four were back in the pavilion. Martin Guptill was sold down the river by Ross Taylor and there's room for improvement in the running between the wickets of the two players when together. Grant Elliott and Corey Anderson did a terrific job in consolidating and building the innings and it was fitting that Elliott, who looks as if he will be a good asset to Leicestershire in the T20 Blast this summer, turned into a hero, as he bludgeoned Dayle Steyn over the boundary for the winning six in an extraordinary finish.

South Africa will look back on opportunities missed. Elliott should have been run out and there were a few errors crept in to an otherwise brilliant fielding effort. AB proved he can bowl as well as field brilliantly, bat and keep wicket, so is pretty much the complete cricketer. He also showed dignity in defeat but after an outstanding tournament didn't deserve to come out a loser.

Yet for New Zealand it is their first final and fair play to them for a competition in which they have played aggressive, dynamic cricket of the kind I hope to see us play this summer. I expect them to meet Australia, who are a better all-round side than India. The latter's batting is often a thing of genius and brilliance, but they will need it as I don't think their bowling in the same class. Australia's hitters will take advantage of a largely pop gun seam attack and Ashwin will have to produce something special to keep them to a manageable total.

If they can put Australia in and keep them to less than 300, India will have a chance, but I expect an Australia/New Zealand final, which is what I suggested before it all started, what seems like a year ago. There have been shorter wars than this World Cup and while I have a lot of sympathy for Ireland in particular, who looked a better side than associate status suggested, there were too many largely meaningless games that were easily identifiable by sparse crowds.

In closing, congratulations to New Zealand. I like them as a side and have huge respect for a lot of their players. Daniel Vettori is still as resourceful a player as there is in the world game and a pleasure to watch twirling away, while Trent Boult looks a really high quality seam bowler.

And to be very parochial about it all, how nice would it be if one of our own was a World Cup winner?

If that happened, I don't think Martin Guptill will need a flight to get here. He will float on air...

Postscript...three wickets in the Sheffield Shield final for Nathan Rimmington, in a game that has almost redefined 'attritional'. Victoria need only to avoid defeat to take the trophy and seem to have set that out as their game plan. A draw looks likely, but let's hope for success for another of our players eh?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Book review - Lost in the Long Grass by John Barclay

John Barclay was a teenage prodigy who perhaps never lived up to that early promise. He first played for Sussex at the age of 16 and played for England Young Cricketers in the same side as our own Geoff Miller. Both went on to give sterling service to their counties, although Miller's off spin developed more and he had the international career that never came Barclay's way.

The latter developed into a gritty opening batsman and bowled his off spin well enough to take over 300 first-class wickets. The self-doubt that perhaps acted as a barrier to progress runs through this book, as does an endearing, self-deprecating style that sees him never take his life too seriously, though hinting at bouts of depression that have been more commonly acknowledged in recent years.

Barclay's strength was as a captain of considerable flair and skill, who got the best out of his team and was prepared to be unconventional and innovative to do so. He was, in short, a cricketer of considerable intelligence, who went on to become a respected administrator of the game; all of which makes the quality of this book no real surprise.

There are 24 sketches of people with who he came into contact in his cricket career; team mates, opponents, a groundsman, cricket writers and even a closing piece on his dog, Robert. They are far from conventional 'career by numbers' pieces: rather they are endearing character sketches that capture quite delightfully the essence of the subject. The subjects are brought to life for those who never met or saw them and are a delightful aide memoire for those of my age and older, transporting the reader back to a time when the game seemed less professional and in some ways the better for it.

There are anecdotes a-plenty and most of them new, at least to me and I've read a lot of cricket books. The author has a lovely turn of phrase ' Miandad still saw me as a long-lost friend, presumably because most of his friends had been lost forever over the years' as but one example. His piece on Peter Roebuck, written before the latter's tragic death, suggests a troubled soul, while the one on Viv Richards is a masterpiece 'As a bowler he was somewhat akin to a penguin padding about on the beach, whereas, as a batsman, he resembled the penguin's majesty of movement in the sea.'

There is a Sussex bias to the portraits, but that is to be expected as he got to know the likes of John Snow, Imran Khan, Tony Greig and Ian Gould so well. Yet this is a hugely enjoyable book that makes each turn of the page an eagerly anticipated pleasure, the 'cast list' thoughtful and well-chosen, each helping us to see the person within.

There are a few typos, including a surprising mis-spelling of Barry 'Duddleston' in both text and index, but this is a relatively minor point. In his third book, John Barclay has produced an admirable addition to cricket literature. Then again, coming from Fairfield Books, the company of my favourite modern cricket writer, Stephen Chalke, that is no real surprise.

One final point - the layout is excellent. The font size, unlike a few others I have read recently, is perfect, the drawings are appreciated and the book is perfect for 'dipping into' before bed.

Buy this - you will not be disappointed. I will keep my fingers crossed for a follow up.

Lost in the Long Grass is written by John Barclay and published by Fairfield Books. It is available from the publisher and is also currently on Amazon, priced £15.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Guptill's glory

Breaking news...two of the World Cup's top five batsmen will be plying their trade at Derbyshire this summer, together with a very good bowler whose ability to use a new ball and 'close' an innings should make us a much better T20 side than in recent years.

Martin Guptill's innings against the West Indies last night was extraordinary. Launched with a textbook straight drive which he replicated twice more in the following over, just about the only error in his innings was a clip off his legs that was juggled, then dropped by Marlon Samuels when he had made only four. 233 runs later, Marlon must have felt a tad sheepish.

Truth be told, he did the world of cricket a favour, because it was a masterclass  of  Guptill's best bits - the perfectly vertical bat as he played his straight drives; the inside out drive that sends the ball soaring over mid off (and the boundary there); the slog sweep that generally sends the ball fifteen rows back - in such a vein he is a wonderful sight. That he did it in a World Cup quarter final was special, but he did it with such panache, such extraordinary acceleration, that it was breathtaking. I read earlier that his last 137 came from 52 balls and by the end he was treating the bowlers with complete disdain and hitting them into the middle distance and onto the roof of the stadium.

Equally striking was his humility afterwards. 'I realised I needed to start hitting boundaries once I got a hundred' he said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he'd hit some pretty impressive ones already and was scoring at a rate that an English batsman would have been quite content with. It was just another day at the office for a modest man of high talent who is a pleasure to watch.

As it will be this summer at Derbyshire. It speaks volumes for the off-field team at the club that we could identify the availability of and negotiate successfully with two batsmen of the status of Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan, then bring them to the 3aaa County Ground.

It speaks equally well of the players that they have bought into what is happening at the club and they want to be a part of what they see as a success. I expect to see Derbyshire play some vibrant, aggressive, attractive cricket this summer in all formats. I'll reserve judgement on T20 success, given our track record in the format is akin to Sammy the Snail's success rate in the 100 metres, but by crikey, we should be worth watching in that format, as well as the others this summer.

The opening overs of our innings should be driven by world-class batsmen, while those of the opposition should see their batsmen trying to do something with yorkers that home in on their toes. We've not had a bowler like Nathan Rimmington since Charl Langeveldt; we've not had a batsman like Dilshan and Guptill since the latter's previous stint with the club in 2012.

Last weekend I looked at our squad, after an impressive pre-season tour and thought we could do pretty well this summer. In the past seven days we have signed a world-class opening batsman and a top-class opening bowler to go along with a man who has just made the highest-ever score in a cricket World Cup.

Seriously. Aren't you excited?

Because I know I am...

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nathan Rimmington signs for T20

There will doubtless be those who, seeing the name of the player that Derbyshire have engaged as a 'death' bowler for T20, will ask a very short question. Who?

On the face of it, Nathan Rimmington, at 32, isn't a household name. He is still five wickets short of a hundred in first-class cricket (though may reach that landmark in the Sheffield Shield final that starts this weekend) and has only 65 wickets in T20. The statistics aren't as impressive as those of, say, Tillakaratne Dilshan, where justification is unnecessary.

But they don't tell the full story.

That's because the more discerning will have seen Rimmington in action and know what an impressive bowler he is. Indeed, his efforts have led Western Australia to the Sheffield Shield final, taking 32 wickets at just 23 runs each, bowling with accuracy and hostility. His figures are better than both the highly-regarded Nathan Coulter-Nile and Michael Hogan, who has done so well over the past two summers here for Glamorgan.

In T20, despite bowling at the start and end of the innings, he has conceded only just over seven runs an over and was the first man in Australian cricket to take a hat trick in both twenty and fifty over cricket. He is a very good and highly-skilled bowler, exactly the sort of man that Derbyshire need.

I am surprised we have got him, as Hampshire had high hopes of engaging him for the summer and using the player's British passport to do so. He played one T20 match for them last year, but the southern county's loss is very much Derbyshire's gain. Earlier in his career he had serious injury issues, but has now come through these and become one of several talented and underrated seam bowlers who are just outside the national side but who have mastered the art of seam bowling.

I wouldn't have said he was 'fast' - not Footitt fast - but he is quick enough to trouble good players and has enough command of the ball to get them out.  There aren't many ahead of him in the Australian national averages and if that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is. There is an interesting T20 bowling tutorial by the player, sporting an impressive beard at the time, here

In recent seasons we have largely lacked two things in T20 cricket. A batsman who could lead from the front and maximise the opening overs when the field has to be in, and a bowler who could keep his nerve when the opposition were going for it at the top and tail of their innings.

With Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan we clearly have the former. For me, Nathan Rimmington will give us the latter. Some may not know much about him now, but by the end of the summer, I expect you to be impressed, just as I have been whenever I have watched him in the Big Bash.

It represents a very sound signing of an extremely professional and very underrated bowler and excellent work, once again, by all concerned.

Now enjoy some footage of our new man, courtesy of Youtube. He features throughout, but there are two wickets around 3'50 on the video below.

Going to work with a smile on my face again today...


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Interesting tweets from 3aaa County Ground

There were two interesting tweets emanating from the home of cricket (not that one) today.

The first, which caused slight consternation, quoted Wayne Madsen as saying that Tillakaratne Dilshan is going to bring the X Factor to Derbyshire. I'd never realised that he was the Sri Lankan Simon Cowell and had visions of Graeme Welch and his coaches at a team selection meeting, calling in a young batsman.

"You've had a rollercoaster of a season so far. It's been an incredible journey that you've had and I'd like to thank you for your commitment. We couldn't have asked for more, but as you know, we've a game coming up and there's tough decisions to be made...

I know you wanted more than anything to get into the side and bat at five, shoring up the middle order for us. But I've got some bad news."

(camera focuses on gulping Adam's apple and eyes filling up)

"You're not going to bat number five. I'm really sorry."

(bottom lip trembles and tear rolls slowly down cheek of the batsman)

"You're going in at number THREE!!!!"

(Cue emotional music and hugs all round as we all realise what a load of guff it really is)

Thankfully it was news that Dilshan's skills will bring something different to the side, an assertion it is hard to argue with. Worry ye not about his duck against South Africa today. The man is a class act.

I'm still buzzing with the Dilshan news , so much so that I can now spell 'Tillakaratne' without having to double check the spelling. It is exciting stuff and to have both Martin Guptill AND the Sri Lankan ace really is spoiling us.

The other tweet today came from the chairman, saying that 'we will be announcing the next piece of our overseas player jigsaw tomorrow morning'.

There are two things there. The first is that it specifically says 'next' and not 'final'. My guess is that it will be the announcement of the 'death' bowler and confirms my assertion last night that we will have someone to cover the July period when Dilshan goes away.

Having thought more about it today, I am convinced that the new man will be from Australia. A number of bowlers impressed me in the Big Bash, so there are a few out there, while those on the fringe of the Ashes party will be keen to impress. The only other countries with feasible options (New Zealand and South Africa) will be touring here in one instance and have their best bowlers resting after the IPL in the other. Indians aren't allowed to play, the best Pakistan players are signed and there aren't many elsewhere I can think of. So...

The identity will be revealed in due course - and I'll be checking my phone for news early tomorrow, as I'm sure you will. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Further thoughts on Dilshan

Well it's been a jolly old day today, after the breaking news on the signing of Tillakaratne Dilshan this morning. I am sure that Derbyshire loyalties for the remainder of the World Cup will be divided between New Zealand (aka Martin Guptill) and Sri Lanka (home of 'The Scoop')

Both sides have outstanding batting line ups. Sri Lanka's outstanding veterans, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan, are enjoying outstanding form and can make a mockery of any run chase. Angelo Matthews is another fine player and they will be tough to beat. The bowling is not quite so strong, especially since Lasith Malinga's pace has dropped, but their spin variations will keep teams guessing.

I'm going to go for them to beat South Africa tonight/tomorrow, a side of all the talents but which often seems too reliant on AB de Villiers when things get tough. If the South African batting 'clicks' they can beat anyone, but at times the top order seems oddly brittle and their bowling is heavily reliant on Dale Steyn having pace, rhythm and direction. We'll see soon enough.

Earlier today, Sam asked if I thought we would see someone recruited for the busy July period while Dilshan is away. My answer is simple - yes.

We simply cannot afford to lose impetus at such a key stage and I suspect the number one target may be Cheteshwar Pujara. The club is so professionally run these days that there will doubtless be plans B, C and D in place, though I suspect those targets will be batsmen.

While I agree with Sam that Adam Milne looks a terrific pace talent for New Zealand, we're hardly short of seamers and we'd need a major injury crisis to sign another from overseas.

We are still to announce our 'death' bowler for T20 but I suspect that he will come from Australia. The success of the Big Bash this winter put a few players in the spotlight and some of their seam bowlers seem to have mastered the skills of such bowling far better than their English counterparts. They have several good bowlers who won't make the Ashes party, so that would be my educated guess.

I'll be back soon. Sleep well, my friends.

Dilshan is coming to Derbyshire...come on Sri Lanka!

Dilshan signs for Derbyshire!

161 not out, 44, 62 and 104...

That's the last four Word Cup innings played by Tillakaratne Dilshan.

And he's coming to Derbyshire...

One of the giants of the modern game, Dilshan will play all formats for the club in two stays during 2015, news that will doubtless excite all supporters. At 38, the player's recent scores suggest that he is still at the height of his considerable powers and his presence, especially in one-day cricket, will add considerably to the batting firepower.

Dilshan has over a hundred centuries to his name in all cricket and has earned a reputation as one of the finest and most destructive opening batsmen in the world game. Anyone who saw him demolish Mitchell Johnson with six successive fours in an over a couple of weeks back will be well aware that this is not a star living off past glories, but a player who can make a big difference to our one-day ambitions, especially in T20. A typically wristy batsman from the east, blessed with the crucial gift of timing, he will be well worth the admission fee.

Failure to fully utilise the early power plays in an innings has cost us dear in T20 and too often we have limped along at six an over. losing wickets in the process, while our opponents have raced away with ten an over or more. If we can find the 'death bowler' alluded to by Graeme Welch a month or two back, T20 afternoons and nights could be quite special down Derby way.

With Dilshan we are not just getting a batsman though. He is a very useful off spin bowler who has gone for under seven an over throughout his T20 career, but has also picked up 39 Test match wickets, as well as over a hundred in one-day internationals. He is also one of the finest cover points in the game and has a safe pair of hands.

What a thing to wake up to on a Tuesday morning - Dilshan at Derbyshire in 2015. We can look forward to a few airings of the 'Dilscoop' - his own invention that sends the ball over the wicket-keeper's head - but also to a batsman who will light up the game when he gets going.

Here he is in action, with 104 from 57 balls against Australia. Watch, admire, anticipate...

Fantastic work by all involved - the season can't come soon enough!

More later.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Last game loss a reminder of work to be done

After a near-perfect tour, Derbyshire went down by 36 runs to Middlsex today, despite a battling display by another young eleven.

Alex Hughes was again a standout performer, taking three wickets in an over and conceding only 25 runs in his four-over spell. Ben Cotton also bowled well in a display that was notable for its discipline, only Wayne White bowling any wides or no balls. Middlesex scored 188-7 and that was a tall order for a young batting side.

As clouds crossed the stadium, three early wickets were lost, including Wayne Madsen first ball, which left too much to do. While Alex Hughes top-scored with 30 to complete a fine all round game and Shiv Thakor got 27, the innings ended at 152 in the final over.

It shows there is work to do, especially in so far as capitalising on the early Power play is concerned. Yet it is churlish to worry unduly about such things at this stage, especially as the top order bore little resemblance to what I expect to play in the T20 this year.

It has been a fine start though and on their return the work will go on. There are a few early injuries to sort out, but plenty of time at this stage in which to do it.

Yet several players have staked a claim and Graeme Welch will have plenty of food for thought on the long journey back from Dubai.

Safe traveling lads - and well done.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Another day, another win - another convincing argument

Although the rules of the two-day game against Worcestershire changed as it progressed, Derbyshire were declared winners today and produced another fine day of cricket.

After our 276-3 in two sessions on day one, Worcestershire struggled to 237-7 in their two sessions. Curiously, all the wickets today fell to left-arm bowlers - with two to Harry White and one each to Greg Cork, Chesney Hughes and Tom Knight. All will have enjoyed their success but Hughes and Knight have each come a long way to get to this stage.

Chesney hardly bowled a ball last year as he fought back from a serious shoulder injury and was missed. While his left arm spin could hardly be deemed slow (he's quicker than me off my long run...) it is a potent weapon, especially in the one-day game.

As for Knight, his action has been remodelled and grooved better than a flower power classic. A proper bowl will have done him the world of good and the wicket will be a timely boost of confidence.

In the Worcestershire one session second innings, they reached 126-3, with wickets to the Hughes boys and one to Shiv Thakor, leaving Derbyshire 88 to 'win'. They did this with some ease, making 114-4, largely thanks to an unbeaten 67 from Ben Slater. There were early dismissals for Chesney, Alex Hughes and Tom Poynton, but all have runs under their belt and Wayne White got a few in the middle of the bat today.

Slater continued the good impression made at the end of last season and looks increasingly like a potential county opener for years to come. I have watched him bat several times and like his uncomplicated method. He is a busy little player who could become a good one-day bat, as well as a lynchpin in the longer game. One to watch, that's for sure....

One game to go, that a T20 friendly against Middlesex. It would be good to finish with a win, but it has been an excellent tour regardless. A lot of young players have put their hands up and made a case for selection and we've not seen the likes of Footitt and Durston yet.

Finally tonight, I had to smile yesterday when I read a piece that said we had 'a couple' of decent all-rounders at Derbyshire. A couple...I wonder who that is, between Durston, Clare, Hughes x 2, Knight, Thakor and Wainwright? Always assuming you excuse the very handy with a willow Tony Palladino...

Some funny ideas about cricket in some places...

Postscript: a few days after writing of the merits of Brendon Taylor of Zimbabwe, Nottinghamshire sign him on a Kolpak deal. It leaves the country with only a couple of international quality players and in my eyes a far worse side than Ireland.

It is yet another typical move by Nottinghamshire though. Do they have a youth policy worth a light, other than the one run by Leicestershire?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Good news continues from Dubai

By any standards
this has been a terrific tour for Derbyshire.

Asked to bat on the first day of a two-day match, we ran up a not inconsiderable 276-3 by tea, Wayne Madsen making a fine hundred and Harvey Hosein (pictured) a highly impressive 92, with sixteen fours.

In reply, Worcestershire reached 103-2, with a wicket each for Tom Taylor and Wayne White.

The skipper's hundred had an air of inevitability about it. He is such a good player that his duck in the first innings of the tour came as an eye-opener, but he has been unbeaten in two innings since and will again, as he has been in recent summers, be the key man in our batting line up. Rarely in my experience has an English-qualified batsman (as he now is) exuded such an air of authority at the crease as Madsen, whose calm, unhurried demeanour at the crease is always a pleasure to watch.

As for Hosein, he looks an astonishing talent. Still only eighteen, his glove work is assured but his batting appears to have the potential of something special. Good judges were very impressed by the serenity of his half century off the Indian tourists last summer and he is another of the young brigade to throw down the gauntlet to a senior player and say 'I want that place'.

It is wonderful to see. Tom Poynton made good runs in the opening T20 of the tour and will probably be seen as the senior man, but Hosein looks set to push him all the way, which can only be good for both players and for the side as a whole.

Let's not forget that Worcestershire are a division one side this year, although I suspect they will find it tough to hang on to that status, especially if Moeen Ali is retained in the England setup.

Derbyshire will be doing everything to join or replace them in the top tier of 2016 and have done little wrong at this stage in that quest.

Very, very impressive.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Pop's Pups thrive as Whacker Thakor takes charge...

It is great to see Briggs of Burton sponsoring the club's pre-season tour. Had they not done so, the thinking money would have been on Farley's doing so, such was the age of today's side that played a UAE Invitational XI.

A win by 71 runs was the perfect follow-up to yesterday's victory over Worcestershire, albeit against lesser opposition. By the same token, you can only beat what is in front of you and Derbyshire's victory appears to have been ruthless and professional, only as close as it was because Ben Slater's occasional spin went for four successive sixes.

It was good to see the skipper get some time in the middle and runs after his duck yesterday, but the batting highlight was Shiv Thakor's assault on the bowling. Against any attack, 97 from 49 balls is serious stuff and with seven sixes and the same number of fours, the new recruit underlined his credentials in red felt tip pfor all to see.

Don't be fooled. Thakor is a long way from being a slogger and can play the longer game with equal skill, but he suggested today that he will be a potent weapon in the middle order, following on from his 'death' bowling yesterday.

Leicestershire have produced some very good cricketers in recent seasons, but I have every confidence that perhaps the most exciting of them all may have signed for Derbyshire and have his best years lying in front of him. He will face tougher challenges but has made an immediate impact and you can only hope for that when joining a new team.

Then it was the bowlers turn and Messrs Cork, Taylor, Cotton and Davis, average age 20, ensured that the home side never got close. All four cemented the positive impression they have already made and shared nine wickets between them.

Which is all very exciting. A young side intelligently captained by Scott Elstone had an excellent run out and a number of players have already stated their case for the coming season. We've not seen Mark Footitt, Jon Clare or Wes Durston yet, but I am sure their chance to get a little rhythm will come in the two-day game against Worcestershire that starts tomorrow.

Graeme Welch will be sleeping well tonight, as will his coaching team. The only problem looks like fitting fifteen or sixteen in-form players into an eleven-man team. Time was when we struggled to find four to go with a handful in decent nick...

Progress, my friends. I'm quite happy with that.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Pre-season starts on winning note

One should never read too much into pre-season matches.

Results are less important than team efforts, while individual displays, staking early claims for a place in the side when the proper stuff starts, are the most precious of commodities.

That being the case, there will have been some satisfied smiles being worn in Dubai tonight, as Derbyshire not only turned around what looked a losing position to win, but had some sparkling and encouraging individual efforts to celebrate.

It was a young team, that perhaps bore little resemblance to most people's first choice side on previous form, but they posted an impressive 298-9 in 50 overs. Star turn was Chesney Hughes (pictured), with an impressive-sounding 112 after opening the batting, while Alex Hughes made 60 and Tom Poynton an unbeaten 44. It was a fine effort after being four down for too few at the start.

In reply, Worcestershire appeared to be easing to a win at 203-3 in 34 overs, but three wickets for Alex Hughes, together with two each for Wayne White, Tony Palladino and Shiv Thakor, saw Derbyshire end up winners by six runs.

For Chesney, it was the best possible start. His career has stood still over the past two seasons, a few lusty cameos in T20 notwithstanding. Perhaps his game has been over-complicated by well-meaning coaches and if Graeme Welch and his team have stripped it back to basics, then the early portents are good. He is a beast when in full flow and a decided asset at his best, with bat and ball.

As for his namesake, Alex simply produced the sort of display to which I think we will become accustomed in the years ahead. Regular readers will know how impressed I have been with him over the past couple of summers and for me he could become the Derbyshire Paul Collingwood. Net footage suggests his pace has increased further, which it will as his body develops. His 3-25 in a high-scoring match was a sterling effort and, like Chesney, he has staked a strong claim for a starting role.

Equally pleasing were early runs from Tom Poynton, sorely missed for most of last summer. Tom can contribute good and aggressive runs down the order, has an excellent pair of hands and, quite frankly, was possibly heard back at the 3aaa County Ground today. You need that from a keeper and the 'Pavarotti of the Pitch' is back and firing on both lungs...

It was also good to see Shiv Thakor taking death overs and to read of him mixing up his pace and getting wickets in doing so. At 23 and 21, Alex Hughes and Shiv have massive careers ahead of them, while the 25-year old Poynton and 24-year old Chesney simply highlight the potential in a very good and youthful group of players.

Of course, as happens with any team in any sport, there will be days when it doesn't come right and when we are on the wrong side of the result. Yet the possibilities for this summer are intriguing and I am increasingly convinced that this group of players could take Derbyshire into a very successful period, leading up to the 150th anniversary of the club in 2020.

It was telling that my greater interest today was in our pre-season friendly, rather than the inept showing by England against Bangladesh that saw them knocked out of the World Cup. For all Eoin Morgan's protestations that the players are good enough, they had a funny way of showing it in this tournament. The batsmen looked hapless and the bowlers jaded and it was no surprise to hear Nasser Hussain echo my comments about the 'sameness' of the attack. Four right arm seamers and two part-time off spinners allows opposition batsmen to line them up and England, quite rightly, return home with tails between their legs.

Questions will quite rightly be asked of those in senior positions and it would be a shock if there were no repercussions. Reports suggest that players heads are filled with dossiers and too much information on the opposition  - alright in sufficient quantities, but if overdone perhaps building them into supermen. I recall Don Revie being accused of similar years ago as England football manager and while you should know your opponents, perhaps we went too far across the line with the current set up.

Peakfan's tip? Jason Gillespie as next England coach...remember you saw it here first...

Finally tonight, a big 'well done' to Neil Bates, who provided excellent updates on today's play from his 3aaa apprenticeship. It is a big opportunity for him, one that will be envied by a few people, but he took it very well. If he keeps up that standard throughout the summer, none of us will have any cause for complaint.

Hey, he may even become a lucky mascot...

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Player moves as season approaches

A further sign of Derbyshire's progress in recent months came today, when I was asked if I thought Derbyshire would be interested in the newly-released Hampshire all-rounder, Matt Coles.

Good cricketer as he is, my answer was a very easy 'no'.

Twelve months ago the answer would have been different. Then we had only Mark Footitt, Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald who you could describe as genuine county standard seam bowlers. With Jonathan Clare missing in action, we were in big trouble if someone went down. Then we released Groenewald after contract discussions and people wondered what we were doing.

Now we all know what Graeme Welch knew all along. We have a bus load of promising young seamers coming through, have Wayne White signed for this summer at least and Jonathan Clare - whisper it quietly - hopefully fit for the first time in a long while.

With such talent on the staff, why would we want another seamer, especially when Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes bowl it more than respectably too. Coles' track record of indiscipline would be a concern for potential employers, though I am sure there will be offers out there for a lad who has plenty of talent as a counterbalance.

In the last couple of weeks we have seen Lancashire sign Peter Siddle as their overseas player, Nottinghamshire have picked up Darren Sammy for the T20 Blast and Somerset have signed the explosive Corey Anderson for the same competition. Leicestershire meanwhile have signed another talented Kiwi, Grant Elliott, while making a bold offer to Kevin Pietersen to play in the same competition, something that appears set to fail due to his Caribbean Premier League commitments.

Derbyshire's overseas stars post-Guptill this year have still to be announced and quite possibly still confirmed, but I have a good feeling about the coming season...

Finally today, I watched the closing overs of the two best games of the World Cup so far today. South Africa, as I have written before, imploded against Pakistan, the most mercurial of sides. Only AB de Villiers took them close against a side that for once showed its true mettle. It was nice to see two very good bowling performances in what was an excellent game of cricket.

In the other, Ireland saw off a late Zimbabwe charge to win again, although the game changed with a controversial 'catch' by John Mooney on the boundary that removed the impressive Sean Williams. For me, it was six, because Mooney's heel definitely moved the boundary marker, albeit slightly as he completed the catch. Yes, he had the ball in his hands so had technically completed the catch, but he should have tossed it into the air while he sorted his feet.

It decided the match, as Ireland won by five runs, but will remain a talking point. Fair play to the Irish side, who have played some good cricket. If they took Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin back they would be a far better side than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. For what it is worth, I think they are anyway.

Zimbabwe are heavily reliant on Williams and the excellent Brendon Taylor, who looks a class apart from his team mates. I remain surprised how he's not yet had a county offer, although his country's near total dependency on his batting, wicket-keeping and captaincy probably leaves him needing a break.

Enjoy your weekend - I'll be back soon.

Welch's war cry sounds optimistic note

'What do you think of the hashtag DCCCINUAE' I was asked today by a friend.

Well, it's a rough deal in Countdown...

Anyway, our lads should be there by now, doubtless enjoying temperatures considerably different to back home, even ahead of a supposedly balmy weekend. It offers a chance to bond still further, get some sun on their backs, practice batting and bowling outdoors and limit the risk of pulling muscles as bowlers come in off full runs.

It is ideal and idyllic, in supposedly wonderful facilities, so there is much to like.

What I especially liked today was the reading of Mark Eklid's excellent interview with Graeme Welch in the Derby Telegraph. The confidence of the coach in his squad shone through and his comments about the change in the likes of Tom Taylor, Greg Cork and Tom Knight merely emphasised what I wrote in last night's piece. Thankfully there was no mention of Ben Cotton having grown, or we'd have been sorted for an extra floodlight pylon...

There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic and I can't recall a stronger looking squad in many years. There is competition for places in batting and bowling, as well as behind the stumps. I couldn't begin to pick a first choice side at present, itself a reflection on the improvement in the squad.

I read a couple of interesting pieces today. One was by George Dobell on Cricinfo, where he lamented the decline in pace of Steve Finn, who has gone from pace bowler to fast medium merchant in around a year. Dobell, a very good writer, goes on to say his place is in danger from the likes of Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett and Boyd Rankin. All well and good, but once more it is the same old, same old.

Right arm fast-medium ad infinitum...I am unconvinced by any of those named at international level and none are in the first flush of youth, still to be labelled in the 'promising' category. Mark Wood is younger and talented, but will need to show he can take good wickets away from the Riverside to take the next step.

I cannot understand, even now, why Mark Footitt didn't get games for the Lions in South Africa, but England's loss is very much our gain. All he can do is start the summer as he finished the last one and if he produces enough of what Brian Jackson used to call 'hob-shatterers' early on, he has to come into the frame. You may get the odd erratic ball from Mark, but you get some rip-snorting fast ones as well and if he is in the groove there's few batsmen will fancy his left-arm pace coming at them from the pavilion end.

The other piece I read was from the Burton Mail, and refers to Chris Grant's recent visit to the Needwood Cricket Lovers Society. Apparently we turned down a chance to host a Bryan Adams concert (shame, as his Summer of '69 was allegedly written about our Gillette Cup Final appearance that year...) but hope to attract Elton John in the future.

Well we can do now we've turned the square. I'm afraid Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me would have been way too poignant when the setting sun used to interrupt the T20s in previous years...

At which point I will get my coat...enjoy your weekend. And for those in Abu Dhabi, don't forget the sun cream!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Abu Dhabi do...county head for Dubai

There's only 45 days till cricket starts again. Proper cricket, involving a team that a man can be really bothered about.


I've watched the World Cup on and off but that viewing has been largely restricted to weekends. Watching a start at 3am isn't conducive to getting up at 6.30am for work, so I have watched what I can, when I can.

My pre-tournament favourites have all impressed. New Zealand look good, if a little gung-ho with the bat at times. Australia have a powerful batting line-up too, while South Africa's is firing on all cylinders right now, albeit against bowling that is at times barely first-class in standard. India cannot be discounted, but aside from Ashwin I don't think their attack holds the terrors of the other sides.

England have disappointed, but I'm not in the least surprised. The attack is like watching the Stepford Wives...wave after wave of right arm fast-medium, interspersed with off-spin that is functional at best. It cries out for a left-armer (well hello, Mr Footitt...) of any pace and just some variety. You can't say that Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Finn aren't good bowlers, but good batsmen are lining them up and working them around the field for fun.

It all gives incentives to Derbyshire's players as they round off a sterling pre-season effort by heading to Dubai. As they do so, it crossed my mind today that we have rarely had so many seam bowlers pushing through as we have at present.

With a 'senior tier' of Footitt, Palladino, White (major) and Clare, you then add in Taylor, Cotton and Cork. Yesterday came news of summer deals for White (minor) and Davis, all this before one considers the offer from Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor.

What is so good about the young contingent is the variety they bring. There is Ben Cotton's height and movement off the seam; Tom Taylor's swing; the different angle of the left-handed Greg Cork. Disregard to some extent what you saw of these lads last year, because a winter of physical development can make a huge difference to a young bowler. All of them could be a few yards faster this year, just as Alex Hughes was between the start and finish of the summer last year.

Then there's Will Davis and Harry White. The potential of the former has been recognised by England and the young player recently admitted that Graeme Welch had taught him to swing the ball both ways now. White, younger brother of Wayne, will doubtless dream of one day playing alongside his sibling in Derbyshire colours and again, his angle of attack gives him something special. I wish both players the best of luck for the coming summer and look forward to hearing about and reporting on their successes.

Indeed, it is a summer with so much to look forward to. I cannot wait to see Shiv Thakor in our colours and think that he could be a massive player for us in the next few years. So too could Tom Knight, yet another with all-round capabilities.

For me, Knight is one of the cleanest hitters of a cricket ball in the side and showed his potential last summer. If, over the winter, the coaches have managed to 'groove' his action and got him spinning the ball more, we could have a serious talent on our hands. Don't be surprised if he forces his way through to a senior spinning role in the next few months. For me the only barrier to that might be the possible signing of Azeem Rafiq from Yorkshire. It was reported several months ago that he was training with the club and I am impressed with how there has been no knee-jerk signing. By this stage they will have had a good look at him and made a decision, one way or another, probably after working on his own action along the way. David Wainwright will need to be at the top of his game to see of the challenge, that's for sure.

As the season approaches, I will be looking at some of the key areas in the side and the decisions that will have to be made by Graeme Welch.

Finally tonight, warm congratulations to all involved for the modest profit returned over the past twelve months.

To manage this for the fourth successive season is a wonderful achievement for a small club with a relatively modest budget. There are plenty who would swap that for their own figures, including champions Yorkshire, who recorded a deficit of £300K last year.

Congratulations to all concerned!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Dave Mackay

Of course, this is and will always be a blog on Derbyshire cricket, but I cannot allow the night to pass without acknowledging the passing of one of my childhood heroes, Dave Mackay.

A couple of years ago, when Derbyshire signed Shivnarine Chanderpaul, I wrote on these pages that it gave me similar shivers to when Derby County signed Mackay for the (even then) piffling amount of £5000.

At 33 and after broken legs he was past his prime. He wasn't especially fast, but Brian Clough sat him alongside young players in Ron Webster, Roy McFarland and John Robson and they did his running for him. In turn, Mackay told them when and where to run, arranging the back line like no one else in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Igor Stimac.

I got his autograph once, standing outside the old player entrance at the Baseball Ground. It took pride of place in my autograph book and I still recall him smiling at me as he said 'There you go, son' and handed it back. I lived off those words for weeks.

I will always remember him, barrel chest jutting out, as he led the Rams onto the mud bath we laughingly called a pitch. They came out at a fair pace and Mackay looked like a man with no time to waste. On the pitch he exuded calm and control. I remember him 'flipping' a ball to Ron Webster in a crowded goal mouth on one occasion, effectively saying to the opposition 'you might be attacking, but you're going nowhere'. There was a back heel pass another time, the confidence it showed almost tangible. He shouted and cajoled his young charges, his example making McFarland one of the country's greatest-ever centre-backs and Webster and Robson far better players than ever looked likely.

Mackay was simply fantastic and I still recall a tackle on the former Aston Villa winger, Willie Anderson, as the George Best lookalike burst towards the penalty box. Mackay hurtled across like a runaway train and took the ball off his toe as he prepared to cross, albeit taking the player too. It was the only time I ever heard a player squeal on a football pitch and there were plenty of laughs in the old Osmaston Stand as the Villa man picked himself up off the floor.

Signing him for Derby County was akin to picking up a 33-year old Beckham, except Mackay was better at most of football's disciplines. He didn't take many free kicks or set pieces, but at everything else he was a master. To watch him play was a privilege. He could spray passes, tackle harder than anyone, head the ball and organise a side. Whatever Brian Clough did off the pitch, Mackay did on it. Like Clough, he was better than most.

As a manager he showed bravery in his handling of the fall out over Brian Clough's departure, then set about building a side that was arguably more exciting than his predecessor's. How could it fail to be, with players like Charlie George, Bruce Rioch and Francis Lee, alongside Kevin Hector, Archie Gemmill and Alan Hinton?

He won the league and was sacked when we were subsequently far higher in the table than we have ever been since. It was silly and unnecessary, the only people suffering being the fans, who never saw their side reach such heights again. It was a team of all the talents, with footballing defenders like Todd, McFarland and the graceful David Nish. Mackay managed a team in his own image, perhaps a little gung-ho at times but wonderful to watch.

The word 'legend' is bandied about unnecessarily today. You acquire such 'status' by scoring a goal against a local rival, or playing for more than two seasons for your club. Dave Mackay won the lot at Hearts, then did the same at Tottenham Hotspur. At a time when most players are winding down their careers, he perhaps climbed his highest mountains at Derby, turning a rag, tag and bobtail outfit into an established and good First Division side inside three golden seasons.

They are years that will live long in the memory for those lucky enough to see them.

Just like Dave Mackay. He is up there tonight in the football pantheon and would be in my all-time team every single time.

Rest in Peace Dave. And thank you for the golden memories.

It truly was a privilege.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Something for the weekend

Apologies for the lack of blogging in the week but it has been fiercely busy at work and domestic responsibilities and other things have rather taken up a lot of my time. Don't for a minute think that the blog is losing its appeal for me, just that there's a few balls being juggled right now. No tittering now at the back...

I heard this week that a shortened version of my interview with Walter Goodyear is appearing in this month's issue of Groundsman magazine. Astonishingly, given that he has been a member since 1946, it is the first time that Walter, at 98, has appeared in it, so I am thrilled for him. As I said at the time, meeting him was one of the highlights of my time in doing the blog and I have kept in touch with a most remarkable man with a rich fund of stories. He's also told me a few more things and I intend to visit him again in the coming weeks and have the voice recorder switched on...such memories are priceless and I am glad that I was able to capture them for posterity.

I've also been doing some prep work in advance of doing some umpiring in the coming season up here. I have had to retire from playing because of the hand problem that affected the blog pre-Christmas, but want to remain involved in the game and getting a qualification seemed the ideal way to go about it. So I will be doing some league games up here in the season ahead and am looking forward to it. I just need to cultivate an image umpire wearing a sombrero...don't think that's been done yet...

Congratulations to Will Davis on his selection for England under-19s. From what I have heard, this is a young lad with every possibility of a fine career if he works hard. I look forward to reporting on his career in the months and years ahead.

Thanks also to those who have been in touch with comments and suggestions by email. Special thanks to Simon, for alerting me to Mick Newell's suggestion of a regional 'super academy' to cover the East Midlands. The unstated aim, presumably, must be to save them petrol money flitting between Leicester and Derby to look at players worth taking, while the cynical, myself among them, might suggest that they already have one at Trent Bridge.

But it is at Leicester...

For a county of its size and status, Nottinghamshire's record in producing county players is shockingly bad and there are many who dislike them for the ensuing poaching of the players from other counties. I don't mind saying that I am among them and it must be frustrating for Leicestershire fans to see their erstwhile favourites lining up just down the road.

I am pleased to see Derbyshire's policies bearing fruit, the work started by Karl Krikken and Howard Dytham now being brought to fulfilment by AJ Harris and Steve Stubbings. There is as rich a crop of talent coming through now as there has ever been and I expect to see several of them make substantial steps forward in their careers this summer.

With less than two months to go, that's an exciting way to finish a blog!