Sunday, 27 September 2015

David Aust wins Fantasy League

Congratulations to David Aust, who won the it by some considerable margin, and to Dean Doherty, whose two teams came second and third in the Fantasy League.

If both gentlemen can contact me with their address details, I will get their medals in the post.

David came 29th in the league overall, a terrific achievement.

Thanks to everyone who got involved!

Where do we go from here?

Any suggestions of where we go after a disappointing summer have to be qualified by the reality that resources are limited. We cannot move for every experienced player who comes on the market, one because we don't have the money and two because they don't guarantee results either, as evidenced this summer.

Significant money was spent on world-class players with a poor on-field return. While supporters will point to who Leicestershire are signing or have signed and ask 'why not us?' they were presumably deemed no better than what we have. Paul Horton averaged the same as Alex Hughes this year, Neil Dexter considerably less. Sometimes - a lot of the time -  we cast covetous glances in other directions without real justification for doing so.

James Vince, Jimmy Adams, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Rob Keogh, Alex Wakely, Hamish Marshall, Gareth Roderick, William Bragg, Ravi Bopara. How many of those would you say would improve our batting? Yet all, a few select names at random, aggregated no better than Chesney Hughes or Ben Slater and/or averaged less than Alex Hughes in the season just ended. Most supporters would leap at the chance of signing Bopara, yet he averaged 28 from 565 runs in 21 innings...

The feeling remains that we are light in the lower middle order, on both runs and experience. For me, this is a role that Wes Durston fills next season. Number seven, coming in to counter-attack when the bowlers are tiring and, hopefully, nursing the tail while offering a valid spin bowling option. As far as one could guess at this juncture, a first-choice side next year would look something like this:


The batting looks capable of runs with the two New Zealanders in there. Carter, if we keep him fit, WILL take fifty wickets and there is a reasonable depth to the side.

Yet there are many unknowns. Will Footitt stay? Will the young bowlers emerge at the rate we need? Will one of the wicket-keepers score 600 runs? Will people stay fit? Will there be any more signings?

I suspect we may not go overboard on signings. Hopefully a quality batsman for T20, but one who translates that talent into weight of runs. A Guptill, McCullum or Bailey would be nice, but everyone would chase them if available. Another experienced seamer maybe, but it was interesting listening to a revered football manager on the radio yesterday.

'How do you produce young footballers?' he was asked. 'Play them' was the quick reply. 'They need to play games, be in situations, make their mistakes and have their struggles. Then they will become players, if they are good enough.'

Sage words and equally relevant to cricket. Over the past six months, I have interviewed around twenty former and current Derbyshire stars for my second book, which should be out next year. One of my questions in our chats was 'at what age did you think you knew what you were doing as a first-class cricketer?'

The answer, in all cases, was between 26 and 30. That the ECB doesn't reward clubs for playing home-reared talent at that age runs the risk of some not getting there, but the message is clear. Perhaps expectations of returns from young players needs to be tempered in some quarters, because you cannot often fast track experience. Let's just say that I am more inclined to believe people who have been there and done it, than those who think they know the game.

Some are writing off young players because they 'haven't made it' after between forty and eighty first-class innings. Yet our player of the year, Billy Godleman, is now 26 and has hit the jackpot after 180 first-class knocks. Wayne Madsen has had 229, Wes Durston 184. They are our most consistent batsmen across the formats and there's a reason for that.

 Contrast that with Ben Slater, who averages 29 after just seventy innings, or Chesney who averages 31 after 105, even Alex Hughes who has still only had 43 knocks in the senior game, less than they used to have in a single season, back in the day.

It is the same for bowlers. Mark Footitt has bowled twelve thousand balls in the first-class game, Tony Palladino nineteen thousand. Tom Taylor has bowled two thousand, Cotton fifteen hundred. That's a lot of learning ahead and others are further back in the queue.

That is why we reap the rewards, because they have that experience, married with genuine talent. There will always be the especially precocious, but there aren't many Roots and Stokes out there. Even looking at their records at 24, they have 135 first-class knocks and have improved because of that exposure, coupled with the requisite talent and a desire to work hard.

Not all will make it. If three of our current crop become established county cricketers or more, we will have done well. Some will fade in the next couple of years and join the thousands of talented players who were 'nearly' there. Others will realise that the work required to realise their dreams has to start now, because there are opportunities for them if they are prepared to put the hours in.

Painful as it may be at times, we need to keep playing them. Enjoy their successes, be more tolerant of their failures and hope that they realise that to get to the stage where Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen or Mark Footitt are, they need to work their socks off and listen to their coaches.

If they have it - and people better qualified than any of us think that they do - then we will eventually reap the rewards.

Season review - the bowlers

When reviewing the bowling for the season, at least in the four-day game, it is effectively a case of 'Footitt and the rest'.

Mark bowled almost two hundred overs more than anyone else and stayed remarkably fit once more. He was not quite as destructive as twelve months before, but that was largely down to being used as shock and stock bowler. On his day he remained a handful and while an occasional delivery left the wicket-keeper with nowhere to go, his presence in the attack usually offered wickets.

Tony Palladino remained economical and was the second leading wicket-taker, but was hampered by a knee injury from mid-season and had to be nursed thereafter. So too did Tom Taylor, who did well at the start of the summer but struggled as it went on. Second season syndrome hit a few players and Tom now knows what he needs to do to become an established county cricketer.

Ben Cotton bowled well in the one-day games and showed an ability to keep batsmen quiet, but the next step for a genial giant is to become more effective in the four-day game. Perhaps the addition of Andy Carter, an aggressive cricketer, will rub off on him, as I was left with the impression that Cotts has more pace and much more aggression to be unleashed before becoming the finished article.

Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor were key members of the one-day attack and both bowled some excellent spells, though neither can be considered regular four-day options at this stage. They may get there, as both have time on their side, but hard work is needed to hone their skills still further.

Other young bowlers flitted in and out, displaying promise. Greg Cork did well in one-day games and may emerge next year, while Will Davis and Harry White showed promise in their game against the Australian tourists but are a little further back in their development.

Wayne White missed the start of the summer with injury and took wickets on his return, but was then released from his contract for whatever reason, to return to Leicestershire, where he enjoyed his best days. People will have their own thoughts on his departure, but it has happened and we must move on.

The spin department was effectively Wes Durston, another who missed a lot of cricket with a side strain. He continued to offer a viable spin option and perhaps next year may become a needed number seven, offering runs and an option other than seam. On the basis of this summer, Chesney's 'darts' are largely a thing of the past, although I still feel that Wayne Madsen should bowl himself more, if only for a little variety and for the surprise value.

With Tom Knight's bowling a work in progress, Matt Critchley emerged from nowhere to make a dazzling debut century and bowl some useful spells of leg spin. Yet it is silly to expect him to take on the mantle of lead spinner next year at eighteen. One of these young players will hopefully progress, but both are many years short of knowing their trade. I asked three former Derbyshire spinners during the summer when they felt they knew their trade and was told 'between 27 and 30'. Enough said, really...

Will Mark Footitt leave this winter? Only the player and his agent know the answer to that, although he will need to balance offers from elsewhere with cost of living (down south) and the support mechanisms in place that have kept him on the field. If he leaves, there is undoubtedly a gaping hole in our seam bowling and any prospects for next year will be dependent on Carter and Palladino being fit and younger options making considerable progress over the winter months.

No unbridled optimism from me at this stage, that's for sure, yet lesser expectations and flying in under the radar may be better than carrying the excess baggage of big names that fail to live up to expectations.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Season review - the batsmen

A season that started with excitement, generated by the hired guns from overseas, ended with disappointment and a gradual realisation that in every competition this summer, sad to say, we shot ourselves in the foot.

There were both encouraging individual and team performances, but a young team has to learn to finish off winning positions - and fast. In every competition, games that were effectively won were somehow thrown away, a mixture of inexperience. tactical naivety and poor cricket combining to render what might otherwise have been deemed a satisfactory summer a disappointment.

That the team can play cricket was evidenced by teams that they beat. It is many years since Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire were all beaten in the same season, each victory being memorable. Yet sadly so were some awful displays, especially in the County Championship, while gifting the game to the eventual winners, Gloucestershire, in the RLODC will go down as one of our worst displays of collective naivety. While six times out of ten the umpires may not have spotted the fielding transgression, that none of the players did was poor and unprofessional.

The four-day game saw us at our worst. While two players reached their thousand runs, the rest of the batting was brittle and no one else averaged thirty. Most batsmen had good days, but not enough to convince anyone, inside or outside the county, that we are a good batting side. Injuries were partly to blame, causing inexperienced players to have to bat too high in the order.

Only Billy Godleman of the batsmen made major positive strides. He has turned his career around with hard work and is now a very polished, effective opening batsman. Wayne Madsen also scored a thousand  runs, although a hand injury cost him several matches and vital rhythm as the season got into full swing. Several others did well, but consistency is the issue that needs addressed. I think Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes will compete for an opening berth next year and both will hope to surpass the 800 runs of this year. They had prolific spells and days when form looked some way distant, but the talent is there.

Alex Hughes scored a maiden century but was hampered by a broken thumb, split webbing and a fractured hand at different times. An average of 35 was higher than supposed 'big name' prospects around the country, while his bowling in one-day games was excellent. He and Shiv Thakor could be in competition next year, the latter having a poor year with the bat but making great strides with the ball. He has a 'golden arm' but needs to show improved form with the bat next season to cement a regular place in the side. Meanwhile Scott Elstone has to progress past the 'nice cameo' to a regular meaningful contribution to convince supporters he is of the requisite standard.

Neither wicket-keeper scored close to enough runs this year. While both kept adequately, the modern role needs all-round contribution that both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein struggled to fulfil. While time is on the latter's side, Poynton will know that next year, the last of his current deal, is crucial for his first-class career. Like Elstone and Chesney Hughes, contributions have to be more frequent.

The biggest disappointment? Half of the overseas input. Martin Guptill did what he has always done for us, while Hamish Rutherford suggested that he could be a huge player next year, one able to play all forms of the game with equal skill and success.

Yet for all the protestations of their use in the dressing room, Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan were huge disappointments. Neither got going and while their presence put Derbyshire cricket on the map in the world game, we needed the runs that neither managed. While accepting it is hard to fly in and perform immediately, the stature of both players should have guaranteed greater success.

It didn't and neither will be remembered by supporters as an especially worthwhile recruit, very disappointing in the light of their reputations and the cost to the club.

The season in short? Promising displays in the RLODC and the T20, but an awful summer in the four-day game that should have been our strength. Too many winning positions squandered and must do better next year across the board.

Tomorrow - the bowlers

Friday, 25 September 2015

The next few days and months...

A journey north for me tomorrow and over the coming days I will be looking back at the season and where we need to improve for next year.

Thanks for your support through a testing summer  - please keep checking in over the months ahead, with plenty lined up...

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 4

Leicestershire 329 and 363

Derbyshire 352 and 331-8 (Hughes 101, Madsen 66, Slater 56, Godleman 51)

Match drawn

As a game of cricket, this was a quite wonderful way to end a season. With the sun shining brightly across the 3aaa County Ground, I am sure that I was not alone in thinking wistfully of the next six months or so without the greatest of games. Yet that sadness was qualified with the sight of, not for the first time this season, Derbyshire simply throwing a game away that was in the bag.

At 285-2 with nine overs to go, we needed 56 to win. Despite the loss of wickets from there, we only needed thirty from five, yet in the end, ran up ten runs short. It was a madcap, frenetic display of batting that cried out for someone to use a little nous and, like George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes long ago, simply get 'em in singles.

One by one, batsmen perished in assaying ambitious shots, or attempting runs at which Usain Bolt would have balked. You have to give credit to Leicestershire's bowlers, but the bowling wide of the stumps and putting nearly everyone on the boundary caused greater vexation for our players than one might have hoped.

I'd have to say that the visitors are a somewhat graceless bunch on the pitch, a comment borne out of watching them, their actions and words over four days. It was easy to see why they had been docked points earlier this season and they did themselves few favours today, as did a somewhat boorish section of support. I can only hope that the chap with the vuvuzela ended with it in an uncomfortable place on the way home, because there is no need  for that in four-day cricket.

The Derbyshire top four batted splendidly. Openers Godleman and Slater hinted at a fine pairing next year, while Chesney showed how good he can be when he gets his feet moving. Meanwhile Wayne Madsen again passed his thousand and confirmed his role as the lynch pin of the batting.

After that? Oh dear. I can only say that we need people to step up to the plate next year and a ten to fifteen per cent improvement across the board. Either that, or we need someone in the lower order who appreciates that winning a game of cricket isn't simply about slogging the ball to all parts and running as if your tail is on fire...

To clarify for anyone commenting later, I attribute no blame to Tom Knight in blocking the last four balls. Had he not done so, we could quite easily have ended the season with an embarrassing loss, which would have really sent the the postbag into overdrive.

He was acting on instructions to, as evidenced by the word from Ben Cotton, when he came in. I don't blame the reverting to 'what we have, we hold' one bit.

But by crikey, it was a shambles at the end and should never have got to that stage. The one that got away? Truth be told, there's been too many of them this year.

There's a lot of room for improvement this winter, that's for sure.

Postscript - thanks to all those with who I enjoyed chat and discussion, not just over the last four days, but over the season. It has been a pleasure to spend time in your company.

Roll on April...

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 3

Leicestershire 329 and 307-7 (Cosgrove 126 not)

Derbyshire 352

Leicestershire lead by 284

'The pitch looks a bit flat now', I observed to a Foxes fan, as we chatted while the slowly set on both day and season tonight.

'It should do' quoth he, 'Cossie's been running up and down on it for four hours..'

It was a bon mot I enjoyed, probably more than an evening session that meandered. A need to get the over rate up (grrrr....) saw Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston fairly rattle through their spells. I don't understand why the skipper doesn't bowl himself more, even for two or three overs, because he induced more false shots than we saw in the afternoon. If only for variety, I'd like to see him bowl more next year - it could bring dividends.

At the start of the day, our tail wagged with unaccustomed vigour and a feared deficit became a pleasant lead, largely thanks to a stand between Tom Milne and Ben Cotton, both showing they could handle a bat. When Mark Footitt and Cotton ripped out three wickets, including the pale shadow of his former self, Dan Redfern, the possibility of a win in three days reared its head.

Then Mark Cosgrove and Aadil Ali turned the game with a stand of 144, before the latter was out to the last ball before tea. He is fast becoming a thorn in our sides, but the captain did a fine job and showed that girth is somewhat immaterial if you can play. He will never look an athlete, but Cosgrove scores runs. Lots of runs, and when he raised his century the respect and applause from the Leicestershire fans spoke volumes for his impact on them.

It somewhat overshadowed what Cricinfo are calling tonight Mark Footitt's farewell appearance for us. If it is, then he has gone out in style with ten wickets so far, possibly eleven, judging by the reaction when a loud appeal for a catch down the legside by Tom Poynton was adjudged not out. If Mark leaves over the winter (my guess would be Surrey should it happen) then it will leave a void in our attack of sizeable proportions.

Covering that is a subject for another piece, down the line, but I will for now pay tribute to a bowler who has completely turned around his career. He took his 250th first-class wicket for us today and his level of fitness and commitment could not be faulted. Irrespective of what happens, I wish a genial, pleasant lad the very best.

So we look like chasing 300 to win tomorrow, a total of Everestian proportions for Derbyshire sides over the years. It is fair to say that to get close, either Billy, Wayne or Wes needs to score big, but a team effort should make a fist of it in the final two sessions - IF we get a start.

Let us not forget that this is effectively a second team attack and defeat would be another in a string of disappointing championship displays.

Yet let's close on a high and congratulate Billy Godleman on both the winning of his 'cap' and being voted supporters player of the year. As the one man who has made considerable strides forward, he was a greater certainty than Usain Bolt in a hundred metre sprint against tortoises. Others have made steps forward to a lesser degree, far too many have, for now, stagnated a little.

I will look at that in the coming days, but for now, adieu.

I will see you at Derby tomorrow, for the season denouement...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 2

Leicestershire 329
Derbyshire 281-7 (Madsen 95, Slater 70)

Derbyshire trail by 48 runs

If anyone saw someone of greater girth than Mark Cosgrove at Derby today, it may well have been me, in my seven layers of clothes. It was cold, the first official day of Autumn seeming to be one when the central heating of the sun was switched off.

Derbyshire batted well in part. Ben Slater looked workmanlike and talented in his 70, before rather undoing the good work with a lax drive. with neither Billy Godleman nor Chesney Hughes getting going today. Wayne Madsen looked imperious at times, closing on a century and passing 8000 career runs, before being bowled after tea. That was especially surprising as he had missed few balls in the afternoon session in which the visiting attack looked the ordinary that it is, in the absence of key bowlers.

I didn't see the post tea cricket, having headed off to get organised for Grassmoor and Edwin Smith tonight, but I am told that it was pretty murky when they returned after a lengthy hold up for bad light. Given we lost two quick wickets in that time, it appeared that the visitors were the sole beneficiaries of that return. It was a pity for Tom Knight, who appeared unfazed by the conditions until that point.

It looks more like a last afternoon run chase is on here. Wayne needs another 51 runs for his championship thousand, while others will hope to go into the winter with better form than they showed in the first knock.

We'll see. Thanks to those whose company I shared over the first two days and to those who turned up at Grassmoor tonight. 

All thoroughly enjoyed!

Postscript - Nottingham Post reports that Notts offered Andy Carter a new deal but he opted to move to us.

Nice to read. Be in no doubt that if he stays fit he is very much a fifty-wicket bowler for next summer. Close to the finished article and will be a key member of a competitive side.

Andy Carter signs

Yes. I get this signing and see much merit in it.

Andy Carter is a good bowler. Tall, aggressive - an in your face bowler with good averages and of an age where he should kick on, with coaching and support from Graeme Welch, together with the fitness work that has transformed the career of another Trent Bridge old boy, Mark Footitt. He can bowl accurate bouncers and yorkers and is quick enough to have the batsmen hopping around - what's not to like?

At 27, our Ginger Warrior Mark 2 has much to offer a young attack. He has proven in the past that he can take wickets, but has not managed to stay fit for long enough to do it in sufficient quantities. 91 wickets at 27, plus good one-day and T20 strike rates and averages, suggest that this could prove a very shrewd piece of business by Derbyshire.

He has the extra years of experience the young brigade lack, suggesting that he could be a focal point of the attack and allow the youngsters to come in and out of the side as their form and fitness allows. He bowled very well against us for Glamorgan on loan this summer, taking four wickets, and has proven a handful on wickets giving any help. His stint in Wales was impressive and he took four wickets in an innings in three successive matches for them, before returning to Trent Bridge.

I also like the quick way in which business has been conducted. Sign him up and get him into the training and fitness work so he is ready for next season. Smooth...

He is a bowler I have always rated, despite the team he has played for.

Now he's a Derbyshire player and next season's jigsaw starts to take shape.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 1

Leicestershire 329 (Chappell 96, Footitt 7-71)
Derbyshire 54-0

It was a funny old day at the 3aaa...there, I have started with a rhyme....

The sun shone, then it rained, then it shone again. Our visitors were in big trouble, recovered through a fine innings from debutant Zak Chappell and then we started strongly in our reply, with Billy Godleman reaching a thousand runs in a season for the first time. In between, Mark Footitt recorded a personal best and we displayed some of our old failings in the field with sloppy ground work and a dropped catch or two.

The one put down by Tom Taylor at mid off was tricky, swirling and coming out of the sun. Truth be told, he never looked like taking it, although the groan from a section of the crowd suggested they would have caught it, like Cliff Gladwin used to suggest, between the cheeks of know the rest. They wouldn't and few would have fancied it, but it proved costly, as Chappell showed talent and confidence in a fine knock, far better than one would expect from a number ten.

We bowled poorly in the morning...too short and too much on leg stump. Mark Footitt was soon at his best, though he and Tom Taylor kept Tom Poynton on edge with some wild stuff in between. Tom Milnes impressed with how he came back with a better line and length after a profligate morning, though the bowling, Footitt apart, was somewhat lightweight. Work to be done over the winter, but we knew that. Tom Knight held a rasping catch at short extra off Wes Durston, but the way the visitors tail wagged when the sun came out suggested there were few terrors in the wicket once the overnight moisture had gone.

So Godleman and Slater suggested in their jolly little opening stand, though the morning session, as so often at Derby, will need circumvented before we think of such niceties as first innings lead. With Thursday set to be truncated, it looks set for a last afternoon run chase and I hope our batsmen can acquit themselves well against an attack that looks not especially threatening on paper.

In closing, warm congratulations to Billy and Mark on splendid days and seasons. If they can replicate it next year, we will all be happy.

More from me tomorrow, but I am at Grassmoor with Edwin Smith from 7.30pm tomorrow night. Do try and get across if you are free - he really is very entertaining!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire preview

So Tom Milnes, as predicted, has become the third signing for 2016, following on from those of Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom.

Milnes will slip under the radar, as he has, to some extent like the others, a reputation to make. He has an early chance to make an impression as he is named in the 13-man squad for tomorrow's final game against Leicestershire.

That squad in full:

Billy Godleman
Ben Slater
Chesney Hughes
Wayne Madsen
Wes Durston
Scott Elstone
Tom Knight
Tom Poynton
Tom Milnes
Greg Cork
Tom Taylor
Mark Footitt
Ben Cotton

It is a young squad and I hope that they take the chance to make an impression before the curtain comes down on another summer.

The visitors are with Clint McKay, but name the following squad:

 Mark Cosgrove (c), Aadil Ali, Zak Chappell, Ned Eckersley, Ollie Freckingham, Lewis Hill, Niall O’Brien, Ben Raine, Dan Redfern, Angus Robson, Rob Sayer, Rob Taylor

I hope the weather allows a good end to the season and enough cricket to be worthwhile. That's all from me tonight, as I head for bed. Up at 5 tomorrow and out the house before six, aiming to get to the ground to see some of the pre-lunch play.

Hopefully see some familiar faces down there and I look forward to it!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Fantasy update

With one round of games to go, the jostling for position in the Fantasy League continues apace.

To be fair, it doesn't really, as David Aust can use this week's games for a final lap of honour run backwards, three thousand points clear. Unless the chasing pack find three players scoring triple centuries and taking ten wickets, his place as winner of the league seems assured. David is also 26th in the overall Telegraph league, a fantastic achievement.  The win is assured, 'tis just the margin at this point...

In second and third place, with only 170 points between his two teams, is Dean Doherty, who did very well last year too and is some 1800 points clear of Matthew Entwistle's two sides in fourth and fifth place. Robert Tomlinson may nick in between his sides, as could James Keyworth, with a good week.

As for me, I languish in 16th place mediocrity, flirting with the relegation zone, which is pretty much my annual performance. Just reward, I think, for using my players by July and forgetting about it until a fortnight before the season-end...

Dean - could you send me an email to the usual address please - something I wanted to ask you - not hints on team selection, for the record!

The medals have arrived, the ceremony can take place in the coming week. If any of the potential winners are likely to be at Derby for the last four days of the season, please let me know...

Well done to everyone and thanks for your involvement.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Perennial moaners fail to see bigger picture

On my return from holidays, I had an electronic postbag to catch up with which was probably a blessing to the local postman, who wouldn't have fancied carrying them all to my door. I am nearly there, but if I haven't yet responded to your email, I apologise and promise to do so before the end of the weekend.

Next week I will be down in God's Own County for the last game of the season. It was pre-booked back in March, truth be told, in the hope that it might be a promotion party like 2012. Sadly it is some way removed from that. Not a battle for the wooden spoon, thank goodness, but we're not remotely close to the shake-up for promotion places.

There are reasons for that, of course. Two big-budget counties are going up, while we have not been aided by under-performing, big name overseas stars and an increasingly crippling injury list. Most things that could be pulled, twisted or broken have been, heads have been clattered and the queue for James Pipe's services must at times have resembled those we saw in Barcelona at the Sagrada Familia. If only the weather had been as good...

'You should look at the other site' said two or three mails. Not something I tend to do, to be honest, as one generally requires a prescription for anti-depressants to do so, but I had a brief look, for the first time in several months.

Same old, same old. 'Rock Bottom and Still Falling' said one piece, written by a regular contributor on here under another name, yet missing the point that we're actually not rock bottom, thereby not making the strongest of cases for reading on. I accept that people are entitled to express opinions, but suggestions of a mass clear out are laughable, as is an assertion that senior players have let us down. Really? Have Messrs Footitt, Madsen, Godleman and Durston had bad seasons? They will have hoped for better all-format form, but Wayne and Wes have had injuries that set them back. Tony Palladino has bowled on one leg for the past few months, Mark and Billy have had fine summers.

The problem has been that some of the youngsters need more time than the detractors are prepared to give them. If I look back at my early-twenties self, I knew ten per cent of very little about my job. If you can claim you were better at yours then, than you were in your thirties and onwards, I'd be worried for you.

I have said before and will again, perhaps ad nauseam. There is no fast track to success in the first-class game. Another assertion that 'young players elsewhere all do well' is cobblers. Some of them do, some don't. They all have good patches and bad, or a good season followed by one that is more of a challenge. Ours, as I wrote the other evening, need to find another ten per cent at least next year, but can anyone say for sure that some of them might not find that?

Then there's a suggestion we should release Tom Knight. Really? He is still just 22, and at the suggestion of the coaching staff has worked hard all summer to change his action. In addition, he has scored almost a thousand runs in the second team in all cricket, averaging over sixty in the one-day game. This on top of being one of the best fielders in the club, hardly makes him scrapheap material for me. If Tom's new action becomes 'grooved' over the winter, we will have a very talented young all-rounder on our hands. In the absence of quality spinners around the country, the coaching staff's confidence in Knight coming through can be seen in the release of David Wainwright.

That we need more experience is undeniable. Young players can be exhilarating when they come off, frustrating when they don't. On far too many occasions this summer, a healthy three-down has become a struggling six-down and the need for older heads is patently obvious to everyone. That includes the coaching staff, I'm sure, whose desire to fast track the careers of young talent has to be tempered by the need to get results, which young players cannot guarantee.

Yet neither can senior players. I keep reading how Leicestershire will overtake us with the players they are signing, but there are no guarantees of that either. Heck, if Amla and Dilshan don't come off, can you be sure that Horton and Dexter will?

In my opinion, we need to find at least one more reliable batsman, one with the right attitude and a desire to do well. I suspect he may turn out to be a Kolpak and with two Kiwis and two South Africans in the side we will be a different side, for sure. Yet it has to be on a limited budget - and we still need a quality batsman as T20 specialist...George Bailey would do me nicely...

Keep the faith. This isn't 'rock bottom' or anywhere near it. The under-17s had a terrific season, the Academy won their league and the second team won the one-day competition. Their emergence will take time and we need to bring them into a side with greater experience, more streetwise, than the current one. The best will come through, some will fall by the wayside, but with prudent recruitment and hard work by those young players, we can re-emerge next summer and beyond.

There was an object lesson today. Gloucestershire beat Surrey, despite their star man, Michael Klinger, making a duck. Jack Taylor looks to be a player with a big future and has had a good summer and my congratulations go to a team that many thought were merely making up the numbers.

Both finalists from division two...hmmm...not that bad a standard after all, eh?

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Jonathan Clare released

Like that of David Wainwright, the release of Jonathan Clare, announced today, comes as no real surprise.

Approaching thirty, his fragile body simply didn't allow him to become the all rounder of quality that at one point seemed inevitable. When he averaged over 40 with the bat in 2008, adding in 31 wickets at 28 runs each, a long and glittering future appeared in prospect. Yet the following two seasons saw him make only nine first-class appearances through injury, the form of his breakthrough summer proving elusive when he did play.

In 2011, he returned and made almost 700 runs, with 43 wickets at 27 being further proof of his talent. We hoped that the injuries were behind him, but it was sadly not to be.

There was a dip in form in 2012, but since then, in three summers, he has made only eight first-class appearances. When he appeared, the ability to bowl the 'heavy ball', making him quicker than he looked, had gone and at times he cut a forlorn figure, bowling at a gentle medium pace, some way removed from his best days.

On those he could bowl at 80mph-plus, moving it around to get good batsmen out. His wickets often came in clusters, as if a confidence-meter had been plugged in and was gaining power. His batting was similar - he was never a good starter to an innings and was vulnerable early before he got his feet moving. Yet when he got through that and started to get his range, his driving and pulling were impressive and he looked like a player with everything needed to go far in the game. Except for a more resilient back, which suffered stress fractures and was at the root of most of his injury problems.

Last winter it appeared that this had finally been diagnosed and we were told that he should be fit from early season, following surgery. It was not to be and his only appearance in first-class matches came against Australia, when he looked a long way from the player that we all knew and loved.

Now he has gone. He rarely bowled in second team cricket in the past summer and didn't make enough runs to justify selection as a batsman alone. As a senior player in the club, on what one would assume an appropriate salary, the club could scarce afford to retain him, the money being better used elsewhere for someone able to make a more regular and positive contribution. Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes are younger and similar players, leaving the writing writ large upon the wall.

He is a lovely lad, with a ready smile and a pleasant demeanour and I wish him well for the future. It is unlikely that it will be in the first-class game, as anyone offering him a deal would know of the injury issues. Yet Derbyshire fans will remember Jon as a player of great talent, who at times looked like he could become the real deal.

Thanks for your efforts Jon - and good luck wherever the future takes you.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Brian Close

I was saddened, towards the end of our holiday, to read of the death of Brian Close.

There was something about the craggy-featured Yorkshireman that symbolised not just the cricket of his county, but the county itself. Any side in which he was a part - or especially captain - was going to be in it for a battle.

He suffered fools unwillingly and many have taken to print and other media to tell stories about him. I recall talking to a former Yorkshire player's father a few years back, whose son was part of the academy there when Close was persuaded to take on the captain's role as they played in a local league. This was some time after his retirement and way past the point at which he should have been facing young tearaways, keen to make a name for themselves.

What was the son's opinion of Close? 'He didn't half swear a lot, but you would do anything for him.'

Would Ian Botham and Viv Richards have become the players they were without his guiding hand on their formative career? Maybe not, as both acknowledged they were taught self-discipline by their captain, when he moved to Somerset. Letting players of quality go was a skill keenly cultivated by Yorkshire in that era. Both Close and Ray Illingworth went on to captaincy glories elsewhere when the county should have done all possible to retain their services, especially with an array of young players coming through. They would have benefited from their guidance, rather than that of an at times more self-centred Geoff Boycott.

As a batsman, Close was better than he looked at times. You would never call him attractive to watch, but he was functional and shoveled the ball to its destination enough to be a man teams needed to dismiss. His bravery against the fastest of bowlers was legendary; his skill against those of cunning and guile often overlooked.

He could bowl off spin or medium pace, he captained with total control and considerable self-confidence, though sometimes, when perhaps ruminating over the chances of his racing selections, one of his charges might approach Illingworth, or the canniest of wicket keepers, Jimmy Binks and suggest t'rudder had gone.

More than anything, he was hard as nails in the field, standing closer than anyone else and oblivious to the dangers in doing so. Close stood on the edge of the cut strip and so took more blows than most, though he held more catches than them, too. He even reckoned he could take on Muhammad Ali in a boxing ring, claiming the great heavyweight couldn't hurt him. Nor could a cricket ball, he reasoned, as it is 'only on your skin for a second'.

Anyone who saw him face the West Indian pace attack, when he was recalled to England colours at the age of 45, will remember his bravery. So do I, some time earlier, in one of the first games I saw.

It was at Chesterfield and Close, at short leg, stopped a full-blooded sweep from Mike Page with his shin. No shin guards at that time - he shook his leg, somewhat akin to a dog after doing the toilet, and stayed put. After two or three overs, he made his way slowly to the pavilion. Down on the boundary, near to where we were sitting. a supporter asked Fred Trueman what was wrong.

'Silly bugger's shin is wide open' came the reply. He wouldn't go off, but we told him to bugger off and get it stitched.'.

He returned later. And bowled...

They don't make them like that any more. Rest in Peace Brian. You were one of the best.

And undoubtedly the hardest...

Edwin Smith book almost a sell-out

I am delighted to come back home to news that my book on Edwin Smith is almost sold out.

Indeed, next week's event at Grassmoor, on Edwin's home turf, could see the final copies sold. Whether more are published is down to the publisher, but they are as thrilled as I am that the book has sold so well.

There are still copies available from me through Ebay or email (simply enter 'Edwin Smith book'  on ebay to find it) but there may be none after the event at Grassmoor next Wednesday.

That's Wednesday, 23 September, at Grassmoor Working Men's Club, starting at 7.30pm.

Admission free, books available while stocks last...lots of cricket chat and a chance to speak to Edwin, a true legend of the county's history.

Try and get along if you can!

Back in circulation

Early this morning, around 1am to be precise, family Peakfan arrived safely back in Scotland from our break in Barcelona, which was simply stunning. I don't know how many of you have been, but the endless array of leafy streets, delightful squares and fascinating shops blew me away, even if the climate left me wondering why cricket has never taken off in Spain.

A trip to Camp Nou showed how Barcelona is much more than 'just' a football team and I reckon I will present a business plan to them for a cricket club..twinned with Derbyshire CCC, of course!

Bringing me nicely back to the main focus of this blog and it was no bad week to be away, if the posts and emails I got after the Essex game were anything to go by. I saw Surrey in the county championship as the nadir of our season, but it appears we plumbed similar, if not greater depths last week.

Being two players down didn't help, but to expect Tony Palladino and Shiv Thakor to have addressed the obvious imbalance is unrealistic. Heads went down and that's not good to see, especially against a side that has hardly pulled up trees this season.

The needs for next season are obvious. Hamish Rutherford in the batting line up will help, as will Neil Broom, but for me we need another batsman, or batting all-rounder, of quality. Whether that is from this country or a Kolpak only time will tell, but there is a fine line between encouraging youth and being competitive.

The success of the under-17s, the Academy and the second team this summer illustrates that progress is being made, but the focus for many supporters will be on the first team alone. Results have not gone as we would have hoped and although injuries have hit us hard, there has been a step or two back for each one forward. In the fickle world of professional sport, Graeme Welch will be aware that next season, the last of his current deal, will need to show greater concrete proof of progress at senior level. I am not advocating change, as I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a coach, but the pressures in professional sport are evident and never go away.

The pressure on the current players is to be 10-15 per cent better next year than this. A top five of Godleman, Rutherford, Madsen, Broom and, perhaps, a Kolpak should score runs. Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor will give balance with bat and ball, but all of our young players need to show more frequently that they have what it takes to succeed at top level. Conversely, the senior players need to step up to the plate more often too for us to succeed.

Take the wicket-keeping role. Both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein have kept wicket steadily this year, but neither has grabbed the role. Both have had their challenges, but the reality is that we need more runs from one of them to see them as long-term options. It is unrealistic to expect a lad of Hosein's age to score these, perhaps as much as to expect the same of Tom Poynton after a year out, but the bottom line is that we need more runs from that position, whoever fills it, next year. One has only to look at what someone like Niall O'Brien gives to Leicestershire to see what we need from that role.

There is work ahead, but the onus is on all of them to produce the goods. For some, next season will either be the start of a special career, or the end of their dalliance with one in the professional game. Much will depend on their winter work and their individual progress.

It isn't as simple, however, as going out to spend big money, because we don't have that. To retain the best performing players, young and older, we need to look after them financially, but each will be aware that they need to justify the salaries or become expendable, just as happens every season when the retained lists are published.

In closing tonight, I have been asked in several emails if I saw us moving for either Monty Panesar or Greg Smith from Essex, the latter a former County Ground player, of course. My answer is no.

Sadly, neither has the recent statistics to suggest that they would enhance the squad, with Greg, a good cricketer who enjoyed some special days, being the latest to confirm that the grass isn't always greener elsewhere.

Sometimes it is much better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pool, rather than trying to swim with all the other big ones...

Friday, 11 September 2015

Dismal, dismal, dismal...

Sincere apologies for the lack of blogging this week but it has been  family time and the wifi at the hotel has come and gone quicker than the Derbyshire batting.

I won't labour the point unduly but that was awful and unacceptable against Essex. We appear to have been a shambles and the supporters have been let down. I accept that we lost two players but the whole thing made the daily return to the hotel here an arduous task. Goodness knows how bad it must have been to watch it...

One more game and then winter. Thank goodness for that. We have to improve on this, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

More from me on our return home but a greater injection of experienced talent this winter - not just Rutherford and Broom - is needed.

Quite frankly, supporters are due much better than this.

Back to the holidays, sunshine and fun now.

I will be back in touch when I can..

Saturday, 5 September 2015

More dates to see Edwin Smith (and me...)

Thanks to those of you who have been in touch to buy copies of my book on Edwin Smith, which is selling really well  - thank you for that!

We have several speaking engagements coming up over the next few weeks, where I will be interviewing Edwin, before the audience has a chance to ask questions and we then sign copies of the book.

These are as follows:

Wednesday 16 Sept - Central Library, Stirling (Scotland) at 7pm

Wednesday 23 Sept - Grassmoor Working Men's Club, Chesterfield at 7.30pm

Thursday 29 October - Derby Cricket Lovers Lunch at the 3aaa County Ground, Derby, 12.30pm

There may be other dates added in the coming weeks, which will naturally be advertised on here and through Twitter. We both hope you will come along for some cricket chat and to say hello.

Please let me know if you would be interested in hosting an event and we will see what we can do.

For anyone interested in buying a copy of the book, please email me at the address in the left-hand sidebar of the blog, Please note that I will be away until 16 September so may not be in a position to respond immediately - but thanks in advance for your interest!

New Broom a solution for Derbyshire?

After the disappointment of yesterday's slalom to defeat against Surrey, we awake this morning to the news that Derbyshire has signed New Zealand international batsman Neil Broom on a two-year deal.

I will admit, like most of you, to not knowing much about the batsman, apart from the name. Yet his record is solid and, as you will know if you are a regular reader of the blog, I am a big fan of cricketers from New Zealand. They rarely give anything but excellent service and, like most sports men and women from there have a fine, competitive ethic.

Neil brings a lot of experience at top level and a track record that suggests he will be a fine asset in all forms of the game. A personal recommendation from Hamish Rutherford does no harm, of course and I am sure that there will be a friendly rivalry from the two to deliver next summer.

While his record at top level suggests that he didn't quite cut it on the international stage, a first-class average of forty, with fifteen centuries and 28 fifties in his first-class career suggests that he knows how to handle a willow. So too a List A average of 35, while his T20 strike rate should make him a big asset in the short form.

Indeed, he finished the last Kiwi domestic season in sparkling first-class form, with a sequence of scores reading 46, 78, 76, 0, 44, 123, 117, 4 and 50. Few of us will complain should that sequence occur in Derbyshire colours and I look forward to watching him over the next two summers.

Playing on a UK passport, Broom will add a little middle-order class to a batting line-up that has looked exposed this year after the senior men at the top of the order have gone. I am sure we all wish him well.

The club has moved with commendable speed, first in securing the services of Hamish Rutherford and now those of Neil Broom for next summer. The rebuilding has begun and it is good to see.

You may enjoy the clip below from Youtube, which highlights his talents. If he can replicate this, or the 117 from 56 balls he scored in the Champions League T20 against the Perth Scorchers, he may just be a missing part of the jigsaw and help some talented young cricketers along the way.

Good news to start the weekend!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Surrey v Derbyshire day 4

Derbyshire 313 and 149 (Madsen 76 not, Durston 57)

Surrey 560

Surrey won by an innings and 98 runs

It was an end of season performance in an end of season game for Derbyshire today, with a limp batting effort in which two men scored all but 16 of the team runs. Or put another way, nine batsmen got sixteen runs between them...

Credit to a good Surrey side who have risen through the division and fully deserve the promotion that is now theirs, but the game, like the one at Derby, emphasised a gulf between the two sides and showed how much work we have to do this winter to be among the promotion pack next year.

It was no surprise that the experienced men did best, the two skippers combining in the only stand of note, with Wayne Madsen standing alone as the good ship Derbyshire sunk below him. While allowing for the absence of an overseas player for the team, the weaknesses in our batting are obvious and have to be addressed in the close season.

Not much more to say really.

Based on the swift decline of our second innings, the end of the season cannot come soon enough now.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Surrey v Derbyshire day 3

Derbyshire 313

Surrey 560 (Durston 6-113)

After a closely-fought first two days, Surrey stormed away with the third and left Derbyshire with a lot to do on the fourth to avoid a defeat that would seal their opponents a promotion spot and put them in poll position for the title.

To be fair, after a spirited batting effort they deserve it. In batting as long as they did, their intention will have been to ensure against batting again, though they must hope for a full day today and a limp second innings effort from us.

Work commitments stopped me following too much of today's play, but as Creweblade points out below yesterday's post, we would have been in big trouble without Wes Durston's marathon effort that produced career-best figures. Both Ben Cotton and Tony Palladino bowled with commendable accuracy, but Mark Footitt had a rare ineffective day and both Matt Critchley and Tom Milnes proved expensive.

Such is the game. It will be a battle tomorrow and the batsmen must be ready for a day of fielders all around the bat. A draw would be a good achievement and in its own way a marker of the fighting spirit in the side. There is nothing to play for but pride, but I hope that the spirit is strong.

I bet there's a few red rose fans rooting for us tomorrow...

In closing tonight, I omitted to mention earlier in the week that it was nice to see Mohammad Azharuddin back at Derby for the filming of the biopic of his life.

After considered thought, I can recall no Derbyshire batsman who made batting look so effortless, so easy, so joyful. Especially in his first season, Azha watching was a joy and he was a quite stunning player to watch.

There were times that he played the ball so late you thought it was through, but a late turn of the wrists speared the ball to the mid-wicket boundary. He moved little at the crease until he needed to, but when he did it was with purpose and footwork that a Strictly Come Dancing professional would have been proud of.

It was a privilege to watch him.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Surrey v Derbyshire day 2

Derbyshire 313

Surrey 227-5 

There's a good old game going on at The Kia Oval with both teams very much in it.

The Derbyshire tail wagged and took us to respectability, thanks to good efforts primarily by Messrs Palladino and Critchley. Chesney missed out on his ton, but did a fine job for the side and Wayne Madsen will have been quietly content on leading his side out to field.

Surrey's reply was very similar, with Burns making 92, four runs less than Chesney, and the rest making double figures in a solid effort. Much more rests on the game for them than us, of course, but wounded pride is a powerful force and I hope that we acquit ourselves equally well over the last two days of the game as we have in the first two.

It was good to see Matt Critchley getting a longer bowl today and the wicket of Steve Davies. Leg spin is the most difficult of spinning arts but the youngster has a bright future ahead of him with bat and ball. At times he will be expensive, but there will be others when he will learn to take full advantage of helpful conditions and bowl sides out.

More from me tomorrow.

Thanks for your continued support!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Surrey v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 209-5 (Hughes 85 not, Godleman 45, Slater 42) v Surrey

This was a typical end of season game, in that we started late and finished early.

In between, Derbyshire started quite well and had our near typical stumble in the middle and towards the end. Billy Godleman 'failed' and 'only' made 45, but the start that he and Ben Slater gave suggested that we might make more than we had by the close.

That the spinner, Ansari, took four wickets on the first day suggested that Messrs Durston and Critchley may enjoy a bowl later in the game, but we would have been in a lot more trouble had it not been for a severe case of dropsy affecting our hosts as Chesney Hughes played one of his more restrained innings.

It has again been a funny old season for Chesney, with one or two innings suggesting that he has turned the corner, before a handful doing completely the opposite. That he has talent a-plenty is undeniable, but next year is a big one for him and he will need to show that he can produce the goods more often than has thus far been the case.

He did well today, though and we are very much in the game at this stage. Tail end support is needed to push the score beyond 300, but we could just as easily fold for under 250...such is the lot of a Derbyshire supporter, the knowledge that it could very easily go either way.

Tomorrow will tell, but for now, let's reflect on a decent day and hope that we hold the edges a little better than our opponents.

More from me tomorrow.