Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ahead of 2017

Well, here we are, on the cusp of a new year.

2016 wasn't a great one, especially for a Derbyshire cricket fan. There were days in the sun, when things appeared to be coming together, but far too many when we were simply not at the races. Bottom place in the county championship doesn't lie and while there were performances that hinted at untapped potential in 20 and 50-over cricket, inconsistency remains the greatest problem.

The talent is there and perhaps the new coaching model, where players take greater responsibility and are assisted by Steve Stubbings to develop their own games, may be the one that works. Goodness knows, we have tried most other things...

And yet...the standard of winter recruitment has been better and the players released have been those who perhaps most frustrated from a consistency perspective. We all knew what Wes Durston, Chesney Hughes and Neil Broom could do, but producing it on a regular basis was, at least latterly, the issue. I am sure we all wish them well in their future endeavours, but in their place come players with a track record of consistency and crucial experience.

Gary Wilson, Imran Tahir, Jeevan Mendis and Hardus Viljoen add a lot to the mix and IF they perform to their usual standard, one built up over any years of performance, 2017 should be much better. Luck, especially with injuries, plays a part for any sportsman, but that apart, the players named above surely have to enhance the prospects of a brighter 2017?

The same goes for Luis Reece, a player of unquestionable talent who now has the opportunity to become a solid, performing county cricketer that was denied him at Lancashire. Reece, Thakor and Hughes give Derbyshire a trio of talented all-rounders who lengthen the batting and give greater bowling options.

We need our quartet of young seam bowlers to come to the fore too. I expect to see at least one from Will Davis, Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor and Greg Cork make major strides forward in 2017, while Matt Critchley should work with Mendis and Tahir and hone the skills that could make him a future international bowler. Just as long as we don't mess around with his action too much, which wrecked the career (for now) of Tom Knight.

It is a big year for Wayne Madsen, with a testimonial year to go alongside a new baby. Wayne has been the focal point of our batting for the past few seasons and while the form of some players can dip during benefit years, others thrive on the pressure and responsibility. If Wayne produces to his normal high standard and gets the support of the rest of the batting line up, next September promises to be more mellow than this year was.

There's a lot to look forward to, including a likely replacement for Neil Broom and the T20 choice of John Wright, all this before the action starts.

May your 2017 be everything you hope for and I look forward to seeing you down in Derby and Chesterfield over the summer months, as I celebrate my fiftieth summer as a Derbyshire supporter.

And hearing from you, of course!

Enjoy your festivities tonight.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Random thoughts

I hope that you all enjoyed your Christmas and are looking forward to the festivities around the new year in a couple of days time.

We had a lovely time, thanks for asking and I am sure that someone who will enjoy a very happy new year is Neil Broom.

His decision to give up on the second year of his Derbyshire contract must have needed a little thought, but he was vindicated last night, when he scored an unbeaten century for New Zealand in their win against Bangladesh.

Good luck to Neil, who  didn't quite make that landmark for Derbyshire but now has the opportunity to re-establish himself in the international game.

Meanwhile, over in Australia, some of the cricket in the Big Bash has been pretty average. Between dropped catches going for six and some poor ground fielding, the expectation hasn't been matched for me. Today saw Nathan Rimmington, formerly of this parish, bowl a fairly awful four-over spell that cost 45 runs and featured six full tosses and four long hops. He's a decent bowler, but today was pretty poor.

Finally, with Ashley Giles returning to Edgbaston and Glenn Chapple taking over, in an acting capacity at Lancashire, there's been a lot of things happening on the coaching merry go round. Chapple will have his work cut out and Lancashire will have to up their game considerably to be in the mix for trophies as things stand.

I'll be back - briefly - before the bells ring in 2017.

The year of the Falcons fightback, if you didn't know...

Friday, 23 December 2016

Where Derbyshire lead...a final pre-Christmas thought

It isn't that long since Derbyshire separated the coaching function at the club and announced that the T20 role will in future be that of a specialist in the field.

John Wright was announced as the coach and today, having presumably watched and thought it made eminent sense, Middlesex has announced that their 2017 T20 campaign will be under the coaching of ex-New Zealand all-rounder, Daniel Vettori.

In my opinion the finest finger-spinner outside of Asia in the past twenty years, Vettori has, like Wright, earned his reputation in the IPL and is currently coaching Brisbane Heat in the Australian Big Bash.

It is a sound appointment and makes a lot of sense, but it is pleasing to see that Derbyshire are trail-blazers. I'm old enough to think back to the 1960s, when every county bar us and Yorkshire were going down the overseas route and bringing the finest players in the world to the county game. We didn't go down that path until 1970, an expressed desire to field a team ideally from within the county borders laudable, though not especially successful. It was fine for Yorkshire, who had plenty of wonderful cricketers  at the time, but made little sense for Derbyshire, other than the fact that we hadn't really got the finance to attract a Sobers, Kanhai, Procter or Richards.

Whatever else Kim Barnett has managed this winter, in his new role of Director of Cricket, he has given supporters grounds for optimism that there is a brighter future ahead. As he oversaw a period in which playing Derbyshire presented a challenge, perhaps he will now ensure, from off the pitch, a period where we again become a force to be reckoned with.

Maybe our bringing in Kolpaks will not meet with universal approval. There will be those who see a team of home products as the preferred option, but the reality is that our academy structure, although bearing fruit, is still waiting for most of it to ripen. While it may do so in time, perhaps it can be accelerated with the new path we have taken. Perhaps, we might see a crop of young seam bowlers, as talented as we have had for a number of years, progress with the influence of Tony Palladino and Hardus Viljoen. By the same token, a four-year contract was given to Matt Critchley because of obvious potential that has seen him work with Shane Warne and doubtless play alongside Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir.

We might yet see another, and my remaining concern for next summer is the inexperience in batting if we get an injury to Wayne Madsen or Billy Godleman and Gary Wilson is away with Ireland. Perhaps one of the young batsmen might fill the breach, but if they don't...

It is a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Neil Broom was supposed to be that batsman, but ended his one season with a mid-twenties average we could have got from a local lad. Then again, so did Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan, players from who you would expect much better.

Yet for me, getting the right man in the middle order is now key. We appear to have sorted the bowling - let's now get the final piece of the jigsaw in place.

So ends my three thousandth post on this blog and another year that has set fresh records in terms of readership and visits. Thanks to all of you for your continued support and interest.

Have a fantastic Christmas - I will see you all on the other side, before the New Year!

Assuming AB de Villiers doesn't take up a Kolpak offer between times...

Thursday, 22 December 2016

John Wright's new album...Red Skies

I was up early this morning and, surfing the net as I tend to do, came across a piece on a new album by our new T20 coach and former player. John Wright.

Yes, you read that right. John has been a keen musician for a number of years and wrote the songs with the assistance of a couple of friends and recorded it in spare time over a couple of years.

You can have a listen to it if you register with Spotify and can hear the album, entitled Red Skies, here

I wouldn't say it will sit alongside some of the classics of my personal collection, but it is a long way from being the worst album I have heard. Indeed, there is some very tasteful playing and some decent lyrics in what is broadly a country music album. 'Last Orders' has a late-period Kinks feel to it, while the guitar work on 'Mot' reminded me of Dire Straits. There are worse comparisons to be had, that's for sure...

'Red Skies' is actually a good 'relationship' song, while my favourite is probably 'Christmas Away Blues', which combines good lyrics with a catchy chorus that I will probably find myself singing over the kitchen sink at some point and try to recall where I heard it.

'Way Back Home' could quite easily be a fairly recent Status Quo song and features some excellent slide guitar playing, while the album closer, 'Pike' is written about the Pike River mining disaster of 2010 and is another with a singalong chorus. It will doubtless resonate with those from a mining community, like me.

I don't see John changing careers or hitting the charts, but as the product of a hobby he can be justifiably proud of the album. I have heard a lot worse from people whose careers are based on music.

Have a listen and enjoy it, as I did.

It is the best album ever released by a Derbyshire cricketer...

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Mendis looks the real deal for Derbyshire

Following on from my piece on Jeevan Mendis the other day, you'd have to say that the Sri Lankan looks a left field but potentially inspired signing by Kim Barnett, as Imran Tahir's 'other half'.

There were another four wickets for the leggie today, as he did exactly what we hope he will do for us and bowled his side to victory on the final afternoon.

That's 20 wickets in three matches for the bowler, whose ability to bowl the googly with a near-identical action to the conventional delivery seems to baffle more than a few batsmen. Of course, like any other spinner he needs conditions to be in his favour and when the ball isn't turning he's likely to be as impotent as any bowler.

Yet, as we have seen on the England tour of Bangladesh and India this winter, English players don't handle spin well and too many go down the 'hard hands and aerial route' to their peril. As any quality spinner will tell you, it isn't about turning it square and beating the bat by two inches. The key to success is turning it enough to beat the middle of the bat and see where things go from there. While Shane Warne's 'magic ball' that announced his presence and did for Mike Gatting spun a huge distance, his stock ball was much less ambitious. Yet everyone knew, after that one ball, what he was capable of...

Of course, leg-spin is a difficult art to master, but in Tahir and Mendis Derbyshire have signed two men in their thirties who have mastered the art. There will still be days when it doesn't come out right and the batsmen hit it a long way, but there will be others when they will be tough to pick and hard to get away.

One thing that Mendis has, as I have said before, is a novelty value and few on the county circuit will have faced him. Nor will Gary Wilson or Harvey Hosein have kept to him and they will need to learn how to pick his variations and be ready for the catching and stumping opportunities that will surely come.

I'm quite enthused about him and while I would be surprised to see him bat at four, as he does in Sri Lanka, there's a case for him batting anywhere between five and eight. In the RLODC his ability to score quickly and hit long could be a real asset as we set or chase totals and I could easily see he and Matt Critchley bowling twenty overs between them.

It is a lovely thought to occupy us as we go into a new year - and ultimately new season.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Walter Goodyear 1917-2016

Sad news to relate tonight that one of the legends of Derbyshire cricket, its last link with the pre-war county game, Walter Goodyear, has passed away, just 42 days short of his century. It was very close, so close that a dive might have got him there, but Walter wouldn't have approved of anyone diving, certainly not on one of his carefully-prepared wickets.

From 1932 to 1938 he was in charge of the cricket ground at Queen's Park, Chesterfield, then took over at the County Ground in Derby until the Second World War. He then went off to serve his country and was one of the legendary Desert Rats, before returning to his old post on his return home.

He was never sure that he made the right decision there, and told me several times that he would have had an easier life if he had opted for a job with 'the corporation' at Markeaton Park. Yet he then became a fixture of the local cricket scene and a legend in groundsman circles, until he took retirement in 1982.

I've met a lot of special people over the years. Celebrities, sportsmen, dignitaries and royals. Some left you better for the experience, others proved to have feet of clay.

Walter Goodyear was one of the most special.

I was introduced to him by Harold Rhodes and had heard tales about Walter, stories that percolated through the local game and its participants. He had never suffered fools willingly and had a dislike of being talked down to which we shared. Many saw him as an irascible rogue and he retained a dislike of authority and pomposity until the end.

On my first visit to the house in Chaddesden that had been his home  since just after the war, he met me at the door and showed me in. There was a remarkably firm handshake and a ready smile, as he told me to take a seat. I had asked him for an hour of his time, sought permission to record our chat and then started to ask the questions that I had prepared.

After an hour I asked if he would like to stop. 'Ooh, no' he said. 'I'm loving this'. Three hours later, I bid him farewell after he had offered to share his fish and chips with me  and I detected that even this old warhorse was starting to flag. Bear in mind that here was a man who often started work at 5am, went home for lunch and then worked until ten. Seven days a week. 364 days a year. 'I had Christmas Day off' he told me, sounding almost embarrassed at the admission.

That was his routine for 36 years, come rain or shine. He had a huge acreage to look after, around thirty-two of them, got paid little for doing so and had less in the way of assistance. He also had some sharp words for those who didn't treat his turf as he did himself. Woe betide the unthinking cricketer who dropped a cigarette butt on Walter's outfield, or the footballer who failed to replace a divot after a sliding tackle.

Yet we got on famously. He, I think, was flattered that someone was interested in what he had done. I, in turn, was even more flattered that he was willing to give me time. The finished version of my interview with him, which appeared as the opening chapter of 'In Their Own Words' was presented to him for comment with gravity, the utmost respect and an assurance that I would change anything he wanted.

He called me two days later. 'I love it', he told me. Was there nothing he wanted changed? 'Not a thing. You've done a grand job' came the reply. I couldn't have been more pleased and knew full well that he would have told me if there was anything he didn't like.

We chatted often on the phone in the last three years of his life and I visited him on every trip back home. Each visit saw stories, some of them repeated, some recalled for the first time. They were all fascinating, though some were way too scurrilous for print.

Each time I left, I wondered if it was the last time I would see him and I wished that I had got to know him earlier. His health fluctuated, but his iron constitution saw him outlive his family and friends. That he lived in his own house until the closing weeks of his life speaks volumes for him and for the support of a small group of friends, who looked after his major needs.

On my last visit, a few weeks back, he looked a little more frail but enjoyed the cricket chat. I told him about Derbyshire signing two spinners for the overseas role, and the likelihood of turning pitches as a consequence.

'At Derby?' he asked. When I confirmed it, he shook his head and stared ahead of him. A man who had prepared decades of wickets for a never-ending battery of seam bowlers struggled to understand the rationale.

'Tommy Mitchell wanted turning wickets. He never got them though...' he added, a smile coming to his lips that suggested a few crossed swords. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that encounter.

Now he's gone. It is the passing of an outstanding groundsman, a county legend, a war hero, a great character and a man I was proud to call a friend. To have met him was one of the thrills of my life and to record his wonderful tales for posterity was my very great honour and privilege.

Rest in peace, Walter and enjoy that long-awaited reunion with your wife and son.

You've earned it.

Thank you for those golden memories.

Jeevan Mendis in prime domestic form

After a stint in the Bangladesh T20 competition in which he was sorely under-utilised, Jeevan Mendis has returned to the Sri Lankan Premier League 3-day competition in prime form.

In his first game of the season for the Tamil Union against Galle, Mendis scored 39 in his only innings, then returned figures of 4-87 and 0-65 in a drawn game. This was followed by an outstanding all-round performance against Chilaw Marians, where his first innings century, batting at four, contained 12 fours and 6 sixes.

He followed this with figures of 4-76 and 4-56 as his side won by six wickets.

In his latest game, against the Badureliya Sports Club, he made only four in the first innings, but took 4-49 as his side took a first innings lead of 123.

It augurs well from a man who is the lesser-known half of our overseas spin combination, but whose form suggests that he could become a key part of our side in 2017.

Keep it going, Jeevan!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Academy intake announced

There's another wind of change a-blowing through the 3aaa County Ground, with the announcement today of the Derbyshire CCC Academy for 2017.

The group of young players who have earned selection are between 13 and 17 and the focus would now appear to be shifted to getting the 'cream of the crop' into the club's system as early as possible. It makes sense, even if there is a risk of missing out on one or two players at the top end of their teenage years in so doing.

One has only to look at the winter intake and the arrival of Tom Wood and Charlie McDonnell to see that this age group has much to offer and the late developers have and always will be a part of the cricket scene. There are plenty of examples of this in Derbyshire's rich history, but otherwise it is hard to fault a rationale that should see Kim Barnett and Mal Loye identify and develop the best young talent in Derbyshire and Staffordshire in coaching sites.

The proof will be when the serious stuff starts, of course, and we see the impact that the winter work has on performances and results, but there is plenty to be enthused about since the end of a frustrating - some might say horrible - 2016.

It is hard to believe that we will not see an improvement, given the calibre of recruits and while all counties will probably feel in a good place right now, we have strong cause for optimism (never my weak suit) ahead of 2017.

I am slightly surprised that there has been no follow-up on the Neil Broom story and no official statement from the club, who said on Thursday that they had been in contact with New Zealand Cricket and the player and would make a further statement 'in due course'.

By the same token, I don't expect things to change and am sure that there is work going on behind the scenes with regard to a replacement.

Surely?

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Adieu to Broom as Kiwi returns to international fold


There have been quite a few departures since the end of last season and the last of them - at least, one assumes the last - became clear today, when Neil Broom opted to return to the international fold with New Zealand. He will play in their forthcoming one-day series with Bangladesh, thus giving up his entitlement to play in the county game on a British passport.

It is great news for Broom, as any cricketer wants represent his country, but it's a shame too, as his was a talent never truly proven at county level. In common with most fans of the county, I hoped that 2017 was when his obvious talent came to full flower in Derbyshire colours, but it was not to be.

A mid-twenties average is not what one expects from an overseas player, but Broom was an albeit experienced player in a foreign country, with a pregnant wife. It can't have been easy for him and while there were glimpses of his talent in both four and one-day formats, there wasn't quite enough to win over the supporters.

It does, however, pose the question as to what next for Derbyshire?

I don't think that going with what we have is an option. We only need an injury to Billy Godleman or Wayne Madsen and we're left with a largely unproven batting line up. While Gary Wilson has plenty of county summers under his belt, he is starting afresh and I think - I hope - that Derbyshire will be looking at options.

One of these will undoubtedly be South Africa, where the weak rand, the quota system and Brexit mean that players on the periphery of the national side and with no guarantee that they will remain so, are looking around at options. Good cricketers are finding their international  - and domestic - ambitions blocked by sides  not selected wholly on merit, but on colour. You may be a very good player, sir, but we can only pick so many whites in the side and we feel these guys are better, while these over here HAVE to play. It is the sort of weighted selection process that affects some club cricket (Terry cuts the grass, Bob's wife does the teas and Alan's Missus is a dab hand with the score book...) but seems odd at this distance. More so, when you are closer. Heart-breaking when your chosen career is affected by it.

Brexit? While the situation hasn't been confirmed as yet, it appears that any Kolpak deal signed before the end of 2017 will not be affected by Brexit and a cessation of European-led mobility of labour regulations. So Simon Harmer, Rolof Van Der Merwe, Stiaan Van Zyl and our own Hardus Viljoen will be able to continue to ply their trade here and make good money in doing so, at least in comparative terms.

They won't be the last and Wayne Madsen wins the 2016 Peakfan Award for Soothsayery (I made that word up...) with his prediction in my latest book that a lot of South Africans would head over here in the near future.

If we ended up with another top quality Kolpak - heck, even two more - and it made us a strong side, I doubt there would be too many complaints. Look at the impact that Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince had on Lancashire two summers ago, as an example. If the cream of domestic talent is going to be hived off to play in this city-based competition in the near future, we may as well have some quality overseas support to offset their involvement...

The best of the young players will still, I think, progress, but would come into a competitive side that played hard-edged WINNING cricket, the type that accelerates their development and teaches them good habits. The sort that Kim Barnett himself, John Morris and Chris Adams came into as they replaced Barry Wood, John Hampshire and David Steele a few decades back.

As most of the available county circuit players have signed deals elsewhere now, I expect Derbyshire to look to the Cape, or be looking for another overseas national with a granny from Belper, playing on a so-called ancestral visa. I dare say that Daryn Smit, who scored 200 for the seconds last summer, might be worthy of consideration, though there will doubtless be others.

There will be a statement from the club in due course, but I would be surprised if we simply sat back and did nowt. The bottom line is that we simply can't afford another 2016.

I don't see that as an option, quite honestly. An experienced batsman, a competitor, a WINNER is what we need.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Book orders coming in!

I have had quite a few enquiries for signed copies of my latest book 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation' over the past few days.

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch.

I am more than happy to sell them to you at any time, of course, but if needed for Christmas gifts, please get in touch by the end of the coming weekend, which will hopefully allow time for them to get through the festive mail rush if posted on Monday morning at the latest.

You can, of course, buy them post free through Amazon or Waterstones or order through your local book shop.

If you're still wondering whether to buy a copy, or add it to your Christmas list, here's what a few reviews have said about it:

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"A very satisfying read. Particularly rewarding. In Their Own Words is an excellent book, and will be of interest well beyond the East Midlands and the Peak District." --CricketWeb.net

"The anecdotes are interesting, quirky and as funny as anecdotes should be, and yet there's something a little different here. A compendium of tales and gossip, history and reminiscence. More than facts, more than memories and more than Dolman's own excellent knowledge of the game a passion for Derbyshire CCC." --DeepExtraCover.com

"Inspired. Comes over well. Thoroughly enjoyed In Their Own Words. I have certainly found out more, enjoyed it and hope that other readers will read it and I wish Steve every success with it." --AndrewRobertsCricketStatistics.com

"Author Steve Dolman, formerly a Kirkby-in-Ashfield resident and Sherwood Hall Grammar pupil, recounts Derbyshire County Cricket Club's history in his new book In Their Own Words. Fascinating stories." --Derbyshire Times

"Steve Dolman will be known to many ACS members for his Lives in Cricket book on Edwin Smith. For me, this was one of the most enjoyable in the series and Dolman’s felicitous touch is again in evidence in this latest venture. There are echoes of Stephen Chalke’s pioneering work in capturing the oral history of the game, first seen in his Runs in the Memory, with a fund of stories that enrich a book bereft of obvious error" - Douglas Miller, Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians.

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Thank you to all those above for your generous reviews, which are much appreciated!

I am more than happy to sign copies, do talks and chat at your convenience, with talks for 2017 already starting to fill up.

Please feel free to get in touch at any time to peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk.

Payment for the book can be made through Paypal.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Talking point - averages, Kolpaks and overseas players

I always enjoy getting your emails and comments, even when I don't agree with them, or they disagree with me.

Such a comment came from Paul last night, suggesting that only Wayne Madsen of our current batsmen had an average that was 'acceptable with some', while citing that we had an 'endless list' of failed overseas/Kolpaks'.

It is worth taking these points separately. Of the likely incumbents of top seven positions for us this coming season, here are their first-class batting averages:

Billy Godleman 31.84
Ben Slater 28.49
Shiv Thakor 38.62
Wayne Madsen 40.18
Neil Broom 39.32
Alex Hughes 25.82
Harvey Hosein 32.40
Luis Reece 32.67
Gary Wilson 36.05

I've not listed Charlie McDonnell and Tom Wood, as neither has enough first-class experience for it to be fair.

Of course, all will want to build on what they have, but north of thirty is the mark of a solid county player. Both Ben Slater and Alex Hughes, if selected, will benefit from a regular place in the side. Billy Godleman has improved greatly over the past two summers, while Shiv Thakor will doubtless enjoy the promised opportunity at number three this summer.

Both Luis Reece and Alex Hughes, like Shiv, offer with bat and ball, but the argument for the inclusion of both Harvey Hosein and Gary Wilson is strong. Meanwhile, Neil Broom's career average suggests that last year was a 'blip' and a return to the norm would be much appreciated.

As for the failed overseas and Kolpaks, we have done better than some counties. James Bryant and Dominic Telo didn't come off, though Bryant was just starting to come to terms with wickets here when he picked up a nasty injury. Telo was playing a lower level of cricket in South Africa and while he looked composed at the crease, it didn't translate to the volume of runs required.

Of others, we had decent or good service at the time from Matt Cassar, Ant Botha, Robin Petersen, Wavell Hinds and Chris Bassano, while Jon Moss was a talented all-rounder, if not truly outstanding.

Some didn't deliver to reputations - Lawrence Rowe, Hashim Amla, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Shiv Chanderpaul would all fit that descriptor - but we have had some wonderful players. Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten, John Wright, Dean Jones, Daryll Cullinan, Mohammad Azharuddin, Michael Holding, Ian Bishop, Chris Rogers, Michael Di Venuto and Martin Guptill. I still think back fondly to Chris Wilkins, who came as a relative unknown and largely batted the same way regardless of the match situation. Yet he entertained me royally, between the ages of 12 and 15 and I never saw him make less than thirty. Chris would have made a fortune in T20 cricket, bowling a bit of medium pace and fielding well anywhere.

So too would fellow South African Adrian Kuiper, who hit a ball a country mile. You wouldn't rank him with the names above as a player, but he was the reason we won the Sunday League in 1990. He was a fantastic finisher and would have been a Kieron Pollard-type of player today, traveling the world and in great demand as a huge fan favourite.

I don't see Hardus Viljoen as a gamble at all. If he stays fit, he will take wickets as he has through his career as a fast and direct bowler. As I said last week, there will be days he may frustrate and the rudder is awry, but plenty of others where he will win matches or contribute to doing so. I cannot think of a faster bowler in our division and, as we saw from Mark Footitt, pace is crucial at this level.

I'd suggest, on his record, that Viljoen is a better bowler than Mark, so let's see if he makes a similar contribution.

A good talking point though! So who are the overseas and Kolpaks that you remember  - for the right or wrong reasons? Please note my list is not meant to be exhaustive - there's plenty of names I know I have omitted and I am fortunate to be at an age where I saw them all...

Postscript: Thanks to my daughter, Rachel for typing some of this. It's what university holidays were made for!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Viljoen signing icing on the cake for Derbyshire

One thing came through loud and clear to me in Kim Barnett's interview following the signing of Hardus Viljoen.

That Will Davis is now in poll position to open the bowling with him.

Rightly so, because Davis did little wrong last year, running in hard, taking wickets and proving a handful to more than a few batsmen. At 20 he is an exciting talent and, as Matt Critchley will benefit from playing alongside Imran Tahir, so will Davis benefit from learning alongside a fellow fast bowler who has gone through the stage he is at right now.

Having Viljoen and Tony Palladino as mentors can only improve Davis, as it can Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton, Tom Milnes and Greg Cork. They have all encountered spells where their bodies have not been up to sustained spells of seam bowling and Viljoen has been there too. A quick Google search shows how he learned that eating the right things and preparing properly were keys to his development.

The fact that he is built like a tank is no bad thing either. Watching him run in towards you must make batsmen think of easier ways to earn a living and I'm reminded of the great Bill Shankly's quip on signing the huge Ron Yeats for his problem centre-half position.

'Come and take a walk around our new centre-half' said Shankly to the gathered media, confirming him as the colossus that proved a team catalyst.

So too could Viljoen be for Derbyshire. As long as he stays fit through a long and arduous county season, the county has a worthy successor to Mark Footitt for the next three summers at least. In that time he can only get better, as experience has shown him how to handle a range of wickets and he should enjoy early season tracks here in particular, if not the cold...

On a quick wicket he will be a handful, yet I watched him last weekend on a slow one for his franchise side and he was too much for a few of them. He bowled fast and full, yet the threat of the short ball was always there and the one he bowled had the batsman in trouble. He showed his intelligence in not overdoing it, aware that keeping the ball up was largely the way to success on such a track.

Of course, like all fast bowlers he will have days when the rhythm isn't right, the line is wayward and the ball gets hit. Every bowler has such days, such as batsmen have ones where they feel everything in the middle and others where the edges and toe are in use.

Last year, Derbyshire struggled to bowl sides out with an inexperienced attack. This summer, they will all have an extra year's experience and Billy Godleman can look around and throw the ball to either of two world-class performers when he needs a wicket.

Exciting times and you have to say a fantastic winter, so far.

Viljoen, Tahir, Mendis, Reece, Wilson - half a side in new players and all of them very good indeed.

With a little luck, I expect a much-improved Derbyshire side in 2017 across all formats. How about this for a notional season opener?

Godleman
Slater
Hughes/Reece/Wood/McDonnell
Madsen
Broom
Thakor
Wilson
Mendis
Palladino
Viljoen
Davis

Lots of question marks though! Who will bat three? Might Harvey Hosein or Gary Wilson play as a batting specialist? Will Milnes, Cotton, Taylor or Cork get the nod as third seamer? Where will Jeevan Mendis bat?

What do you think?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Mal Loye is new county Development Coach

The final piece of Derbyshire County Cricket Club's coaching jigsaw fell into place today, with the announcement of Mal Loye, the former England, Lancashire and Northamptonshire batsman, as Development Coach.

Loye comes with high credentials, having previously worked as performance director for Bangladesh, as well as a stint as batting coach of Natal.  His role is crucial to the club's continued development and I am sure that everyone wishes him well.

While the club has impressed with the quality of its winter recruits, it is in the long-term production of young players with the requisite talent where we will stand or fall. A balancing act, with signings of the right skill set and attitude coupled with home-grown talent is the way forward.

Loye's appointment could assume even greater importance in the seasons ahead.

Recruits largely sorted by Christmas.

Coaches in place.

Can't fault it, so far.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Viljoen signing a stunning coup by county

The signing of South African pace ace Hardus Viljoen is a serious signing and statement of intent by Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Most supporters, understanding that we were in the market for a seam bowler this winter, will have been scouring squad lists of the first-class counties and seeing who might be surplus to requirements around the circuit. I've also seen a few names from the international circuit mentioned, mainly West Indians who announced their international retirement.

Few will have considered Hardus Viljoen, or thought it realistic. A seriously quick bowler with a track record to match, everyone would surely be after him.

This chap is no Nantie Hayward. Nantie had been a good bowler, albeit erratic, in his prime but didn't show all that much in a short spell with Derbyshire. Viljoen is 27, in his pomp, a 90-mile an hour plus fast bowler who is desperately unlucky to be coming to his prime at the same time as several other bowlers. South Africa's quota system has claimed another victim, but their loss is very likely to be Derbyshire's gain.

The strapping Viljoen is a genuine fast bowler. He is a spearhead for any attack, bowling at Mark Footitt pace. 367 first-class wickets at 26 tells of his quality and a solitary Test match, in which he took the wicket of Alistair Cook first ball, is scant reward for a man of his talent.

This is a bowler who has 22 five-wickets hauls. Last year, playing only the last four championship games for Kent as a substitute overseas player, he took 20 wickets at 19 runs each. He gets them out and bowls economically in the one-day game as well, the bottom line being that no one likes facing a bowler who consistently tests both their reactions and bravery.

He can bat too, with half a dozen fifties to his name, one of them as night watchman for Kent last summer. Derbyshire will hope he doesn't have to do too much of that, but he will be a useful asset down the order.

It is a terrific acquisition by the county, one that will be enjoyed by the other seamers too, who can learn from him. As we have found down the years with the likes of Les Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Michael Holding and Mark Footitt, fast and hostile bowlers often produce wickets at the other end, as batsmen take a chance. What is telling about Viljoen is that a lot of his wickets are bowled and leg before, testimony to his accuracy. He'll keep the wicket-keeper and slips in business too. Keep an eye on him over the winter and notice how many times he whips out one or two top order batsmen and then comes back to blow away the tail.

It is a throwback to the halcyon days when, if Bill Copson could get early wickets, Tommy Mitchell would handle the middle order and they would take out the tail together.

If Derbyshire had 'only' picked up Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir, two spinners of genuine quality, this winter, opponents will have been tempted to bat first and avoid a ball fizzing around on the final day.

Now? They will have to choose between fending off a couple of quicks on the first morning, or a world-class spinner on the last afternoon. Decisions, decisions...

This will have opened a few eyes around the country, without a doubt. Am I bothered that we have gone down the Kolpak route? Not at all, because we have signed a player of quality, not just a bloke with a passport that allows him to play here, barely better than what we already have.

What I want to see, like most of you, is a winning Derbyshire side. This winter's additions should, with luck with fitness, help us to go some way towards that.

Kim Barnett promised players who would have specific skills that would enhance what we already have. Well, we now have a genuine strike bowler, one who I reckon will be the fastest bowler in the division by some distance.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Hardus. We cannot wait to see your bowling at close quarters.

Not TOO close though...





PS Here's a video to whet your appetite - a match-winning spell for the Lions in South Africa...

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday round up

There is no better way to start today's piece than in congratulating Wayne and Kyla Madsen on the birth of their baby girl, Tanna Jade.

With a new contract, a baby girl and a testimonial, it has been a hectic and exciting few months for the club captain and his family and I am sure you will all be equally pleased about the exciting news.

Congratulations to you both!

Back to cricket matters, it was good to see Tom Taylor back in the bowling drills under the watchful eye of Tony Palladino this week. Tom is a fine cricketer and his return to full fitness would be a big asset to Billy Godleman and Steve Stubbings. With Ben Cotton, Will Davis and Greg Cork, he makes up a talented, home-reared quartet and the likelihood is that a couple of these, at least, will progress to become established county cricketers. Further progress depends on a range of factors, but their talent is undeniable.

We will have few complaints if they get to the standard of Palladino, a very reliable county cricketer with over 300 first-class victims. With Tom Milnes in support and the all-round trio of Luis Reece, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes to back them up, we only need the  promised strike bowler to be confirmed to have some reasons to be cheerful, ahead of 2017.

Finally today, I watched a very good T20 game today between the Lions and Warriors in South Africa, in which the former came out on top by six runs. It was played on the sort of wicket I expect at Derby this year, with the ball turning, but the wicket too slow for easy stroke play.

The Lions prevailed despite some fairly average ground fielding and because of a match-changing spell of leg-spin by Eddie Leie, which rather highlighted the value of such bowlers in one-day cricket.

Colin Ackermann, recently signed by Leicestershire for next season, looked a useful one-day bowling option but failed with the bat. The best two players on display were Colin Ingram, who batted beautifully before rather giving it away and Hardus Viljoen, who bowled a fast and full spell of 3-16 that topped and tailed the innings quite beautifully. International bowlers Dwaine Pretorius and Aaron Phangiso both took some serious 'tap' and looked off the pace, to me, the latter the only spinner who got hit all day.

I was a little bemused by the commentary, however. With eight needed to win off three balls, viewers were informed that 'only two boundaries will do now'.

Er..or a six and two singles, a four and two twos, a four, three and one, two threes and a two...

More from me soon.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Eleven reasons to buy my book this Christmas...

A rare day off today, so I thought I would thank those lovely people at Pitch Publishing, who agreed to publish 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation' this summer, with a short piece ahead of the Christmas rush.

So why buy my book (if you haven't already)?

1 It is a book about the county that we all support and the wonderful characters who have represented it since the Second World War.

2 It features the only recorded interview with Walter Goodyear, now two months short of his hundredth birthday and with a vivid recall of Derbyshire personalities from the mid-1930s onwards. The recollections of all the participants were wonderful, but to be linked by one man with nineteenth century cricket is a thrill that remains with me. You'll need to read it to understand that one.

3 There are thousands of county runs and wickets among the participants. From the journeyman professional to the international stars, I tried to get a representative selection of players across the county landscape and am thrilled with their contributions. I hope it brings back a lot of memories.

4 It unearthed a lot of new, previously unrecorded stories about the county cricket scene over a seventy-year period. It was what I set out to do and the participants all delivered handsomely. They offered me wonderful source material and I hope I did them all justice.

5 It gives an insight into the way the game changed over seventy years, from catching trains and buses to matches, through to Brian Lara carrying his mobile onto the pitch for business calls. Sponsored cars were not an option in the 1950s. A scooter or affording one of your own was the escape from public transport around the country.

6 In festive Dickensian fashion, it features coaches of Christmas past (Edwin Smith, Graeme Welch) present (John Wright) and possible future (Wayne Madsen). If you want to find out just how much Derbyshire and its cricket means to them all, it is all in the one place. If you want to find out John Wright's coaching ethos, it is there for you.

7 It is less than fifteen pounds on Amazon. Or from me, though I have to charge postage. I will sign it for you, though, or inscribe it as a gift for someone you love. The choice is yours.

8 It has been blessed by universally excellent reviews. See, as a sample:

http://deepextracover.com/2016/07/book-review-in-their-own-words-by-steve-dolman/

 http://www.cricketweb.net/books/in-their-own-words/

9  It will remind you of the fantastic players we have had over the years. Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Bob Taylor, Geoff Miller, Devon Malcolm, Wayne Madsen - there are nineteen interviews in all and you can read them in bite-sized chunks before bedtime.

10 It will while away those cold, dark months ahead before we all gather around the boundary edge once more. Or over our Twitter feeds, radios or Cricinfo, depending on personal circumstances.

11 It features a foreword by club captain Wayne Madsen, who was incredibly generous with his time and comments. Wayne is a true great of the club and it was an honour to have him on board.

Thank you to all those who have so far bought the book, I am grateful to you all. For those who are interested, please search for the book on Amazon or Waterstones websites, ask at your local bookshop or get in touch to the usual email address, peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

If it sells in sufficient quantities, volume two could be an option down the line.

There's a few people I would love to include in that one!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Stubbings return makes sense for Derbyshire

It struck me today, when my Twitter feed told me the news, that the two coaches thus far appointed by Derbyshire to their new structure would make up a pretty handy opening partnership.

Certainly John Wright and Steve Stubbings, announced as first team support coach today, would sell their wickets dearly in the club cause and if the current incumbents do as well next year we will have plenty to cheer.

There is a pattern emerging here...ex-opening batsman Kim Barnett as cricket supremo, John Wright, Steve Stubbings...what price the Development Coach being a former opening batsman, when the news is released?

I don't care too much, like most of you, as long as they do the job that we hope for.

Steve Stubbings was a very dependable opening batsman and is still young enough to be playing the first-class game. Instead, he has gained his Level 4 coaching badge and held a range of coaching roles since leaving Derbyshire as a player in 2009.

He was Second XI coach for a while and most recently was batting coach at Northamptonshire, who, let's not forget, were T20 champions this summer. It is a good time for him to return home - which Derbyshire most assuredly is, even for a man whose accent still gives away his years in Australia for education.

Welcome back Steve. It is another piece of the jigsaw complete and a sound appointment by the club. He will be an excellent foil and sounding board for Billy Godleman and will be appreciated by supporters as a man with a ready smile and willingness to chat.

I wish him well, as I am sure you all do.

Postscript: early warning for you that I will be out of action for around a week from December 7. Should anything of major importance occur, my offspring have offered to type for me, while I recover from another operation to my hand. There will otherwise be scheduled 'down' time, as they say in computer circles.

One or two things planned before then, but that is sure to be the time when we announce Dale Steyn on a Kolpak deal...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

AJ Harris leaves as county start afresh

So now we know that Derbyshire will start next summer with a completely new coaching set up, with the news that AJ Harris has left the club to 'pursue other opportunities'.

He did a good job, but there was a strong feeling that the new broom of Kim Barnett was going to sweep clean and that the post holders in the new structure would be new men.

So it has transpired and one assumes that the announcement of the new roles may well come this week.

One to keep an eye on, for sure.

The fixtures duly came out yesterday and the season now takes place in largely-defined 'chunks'. If you want to watch 50-over cricket, you'll be doing so in your warmer clothes, as the group stage is done by the end of May. Meanwhile, July and early August is almost wholly given over to T20, with no four-day cricket between July 6 and August 6.

I will be working out when I can make matches over the coming weekend, but the championship season seems odd, with no away trips to Leicestershire and Worcestershire and no home games against Gloucestershire and Sussex. Little in the way of out grounds too, alas, unless the T20 against Lancashire is played at Blackpool, which appears a possibility.

I do hope to make part of the Chesterfield Festival this year, something I have planned for a year or two, while the rest will be when the cricket being played justifies the long trip, unless it is combined with a break to see family.

Time to work that out though, with 131 sleeps to go before the first action.

I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fixtures out tomorrow!

My boss will be pleased on Friday.

She has been asking me to get some holidays in for next year for a few weeks, but I've been holding off booking the majority as I want to tie into some cricket. No surprise there eh?

So when I see when and where the games are, I can plan my days away accordingly. There's a few things I hope to do to celebrate fifty years as a Derbyshire fan and an early season game, to have a look at our new recruits is high on the list. I'd love to pull in the Chesterfield Festival too, at least for some of the game - always assuming we get a game on in 2017.

The announcement always makes you feel the season is approaching, albeit not as quickly as we would like. At least the thought of some balmy (as opposed to barmy) days in the sun takes the edge of the penetrating cold right now. I just took the dog out looking like I was setting out to emulate Captain Scott...

There's little else happening on the cricket front. England will undoubtedly struggle to handle India from here on, especially with Kohli finding his best form and our batsmen showing an alarming tendency to collapse like a pack of cards. We need batsmen other than Joe Root to score heavily to go into the next Test anything other than two down.

Meanwhile in Australia, the home side has picked a very young squad to try to halt a losing streak against South Africa, but I fancy the visitors to take a third victory after the most ludicrous ball-tampering case in my memory.

I'm not sure how you can prevent people from eating sweets or gum and I'm unsure how much difference the application of mildly sugared saliva makes to a ball, compared to ordinary saliva or sweat. Or for that matter vaseline, which has been used in the past, along with myriad other things, both innocent and dubious.

Expect the Saffers to come out with guns blazing, in support of their captain, a good man.

Great game cricket, but a lot of silly devils are in charge of it at times.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Spin frailties offer county hope

If, like me, you have watched England's batsmen combating spin on their winter tours of Bangladesh and India, you will share my optimism for the English summer of 2017.

They're not very good, are they? The side's batting reminds me of the little girl with the curl in Henry Longfellow's poem - when they are good, they are very, very good but when they are bad they are horrid.

Sure, three players made centuries in the first Test, but that was on a wicket where batsmen of international class really should have cashed in. Here, where the track is more conducive to spin, most of the batsmen have looked ill at ease against the Indian spinners.

My friend, Ranjith and I discussed the game yesterday in a break from lunch. He is from southern India, 'Venkat territory', as he puts it and is himself a talented leg-spin bowler.

'I've been on that ground a few times', he told me, 'and sometimes the cracks in the wicket are visible from the boundary'. It doesn't augur well for a fourth innings, when you are already two hundred behind after the second.

The conversation switched to Derbyshire and I told him of our signings of Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis. His eyes lit up, as talk of such players will do, to one of the 'brethren'.

'They will win you matches', he said. It turns out that Ranjith is a big fan of Jeevan Mendis from his IPL days and rates him highly as a bowler and batsman.

I've seen less of him than Tahir, but his record suggests he has something different to offer and, with no one on the circuit having played him, the novelty value in itself may be considerable. As I have said before, if we get the wickets right, the impact of two high-quality spinners will be considerable.

So will that strike bowler, whenever announced. Do you stick or twist, bat on a seaming first day or on a turning last? If we are getting a man of a similar calibre to the previous winter signings, it will be well worth the wait and might see sides wondering how to combat a revitalised Derbyshire.

There's been a lot of talk on the Harvey Hosein/Gary Wilson battle behind the timbers in the last few weeks. We are lucky to have two such players on the staff and both are capable of playing as a batsman only, but as the newly-appointed vice-captain, I expect Wilson to start in the role. Yet when you think about it, there are only (for me) three players who are automatic picks, assuming fitness - Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Shiv Thakor.

The rest, winter overseas imports aside, will have to prove their right to a place in the starting eleven. Such competition can only be healthy from a team perspective and is a sign that we are starting to climb from a season that will be seen as 'ground zero'.

Two final things before I close. It is good to see John Sadler get straight back into the game with the second team coaching role at Leicestershire. I think their young batsmen will thrive with his genial approach and I wish one of the nicest men in the game the very best of luck.

Finally, over in the Caribbean, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is still doing what comes naturally for Guyana.

Now 42, Shiv has started the season with scores of 91 and 81 not out, the first winning a game for his side, while the second took them to a competitive total. Like old man river, Shiv just keeps rolling along  and his work ethic and willingness to occupy the crease is an object lesson to many a young batsman.

More from me soon!

Postscript: 'ball tampering' after sucking a sweetie? What is going on with such daft accusations in Australia? If a player is found to be roughing up the ball with something in his pocket, or lifting the seam, I get it.

Yet obtaining reverse swing by sucking a sweet? Are we going to have end of over tests on the man bowling the next, to ensure there's nothing on their saliva to help them? If we are now telling players they can't suck a sweet or chew gum, we may as well pack the game up as a bad job.

Batsmen have got way too much in their favour in the modern game, not least bats that are more like flat pack wardrobes than their earlier equivalents and much shorter boundaries. When did you last see an all-run five?

If the Australian media think that their erstwhile greats never got a ball to swing after a few vigorous chomps on a stick of Juicy Fruit, they are deluding themselves and insulting the intelligence of those who watch the game.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Wilson appointment makes eminent sense

There was no real surprise in the appointment of Gary Wilson to the role of Derbyshire vice-captain, which was announced today.

From the time that his signing was announced, there was a strong likelihood that a man who had captained Surrey with common sense and skill in 2014 was likely to be offered such a role. At thirty, he is a time-served professional who will undoubtedly do a good job whether playing as wicket-keeper batsman or as a batting specialist.

Whoever gets the gloves next season, it would appear that we will have someone who offers their fair share of runs from the role. With the form he showed at season-end, Harvey Hosein will push Wilson all the way and that can only be of benefit to the side.

A contributing player at number seven will be perfect for us, someone who can nurse the tail to a decent total on occasion, while perhaps launching a final assault if the earlier batting goes well.

I wish Gary well, as I am sure that you do.

Speaking of well, there's nothing healthy about the Australian cricket side at present. They were once again hammered by South Africa last night, their last eight wickets going down in the blink of an eye.

There appears little desire to fight and a fairly poor technique among some of the Australian players and their batting appears to stop at number four. Indeed, take away Dave Warner and Steven Smith and their batting has astonishing frailties, the likes of which I have never seen, to be honest.

Are the South Africans THAT good? They are without the increasingly injury-prone Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is returning from injury, but Vernon Philander is a wily seamer and Kagiso Rabada will likely be the best fast bowler in world cricket in the next two or three years. Their match-winner in Hobart was Kyle Abbott, a man who has spent several summers in this country at different counties, yet it is only a few short months since he was hit for 57 in less than four overs by us in the T20.

It's a funny game cricket, but I think that an exciting crop of emerging players will make South Africa, with England and India one of the the top sides in the next few years.

More from me later in the week.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Family History query

It is always nice to have a first on the blog, and the email that I received from Sandra certainly broke new ground. She is looking for a little help with family history and has sent me the following query.

'The story in my family is that my great grandfather, William Yates, was
a fine amateur cricketer in the Bolsover/ Chesterfield area. As a child,
I recall having seen a few medals that had his name on them for playing
cricket. I have looked through some Derbyshire Times editions to see if
there is any reference to him with no success. William died in 1921 from
cancer, leaving a young family behind.

The family story is that he was hit in the chest by a cricket ball whilst
playing on Queens Park in Chesterfield & never recovered from it.
William was a miner, so I guess he played for the local collieries.
Any help you could offer would be appreciated.'

If this rings a bell with someone researching their family tree, or if you can help Sandra in any small way, please get in touch with me at the usual email address and I can put you in touch.

Thanks in advance!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

County ahead of the game on governance

So it is farewell and thanks to Sir John Gains and Kevin Dean, as both step down from their roles on the Derbyshire CCC Supervisory Board.

Both have filled their roles well, but with the requisites for governance of clubs changing, the club will ensure that the new look Board is fit for purpose and covers all the bases, in so far as ECB requirements are concerned.

What that will mean down the line is anyone's guess, but it is good to see that the club are taking time to get it right and are future-proofing things.

In playing terms, there is little more to report on just now, apart from, at international level, the nose-diving of Australian cricket. For all that the ECB seem to be using the Big Bash as the template for how things should be done, the reality is that their national game is in a very poor state at the moment. Aside from David Warner, Steven Smith and Mitchell Starc, they have no players who opponents would fear and desperately need one or two who have been 'young and promising' for too long to kick on.

South Africa, even without Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, seem to have way too much for them and for a Test side of their standard to be bowled out in just over thirty overs is shocking. With no AB de Villiers either, you couldn't claim this close to a first choice visiting side, but they have some highly talented players coming through who are doing what the Australians aren't  - contributing.

Injuries to some seam bowlers haven't helped, but there is no comparison between the current rude health of English cricket, with a lot of young talent emerging, and its Australian counterparts.

There is, it has to be said, a degree of irony in this...

More from me in the week.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Midweek update

Winter is fairly starting to bite now, up here in the northern wastelands.

I had to de-ice my car for the first time today and, in the middle of a quiet spell for cricket news, the season seemed a long way off.

Still, the Derbyshire players have reported back for pre-season training and they all look pretty fit after their end of season breaks from the game. Billy Godleman seemes enthused about the new structure and we all await news of the other coaching roles and of a strike bowler.

It was good to see England make a positive start in India, Joe Root maintaining his position (in my eyes) as the world's best all-round batsman. AB de Villiers is the best T20 player and Kane Williamson is an outstanding all-rounder, Virat Kohli a run machine on his own tracks, but I'd take Root as my pick for an all format batsman at present.

On the county front, another South African international, Stiaan van Zyl, has signed a three-year deal with Sussex, who appear to be accepting that Ed Joyce may be moving back to Ireland. The South African is a very good player, but perhaps just short of international standard. I have no doubts that he will get his share of runs for them though and will prove a very canny addition to their resources. He will have to go some to match the prolific Joyce, though, who has been an excellent servant to the club.

Finally, Fidel Edwards has signed another contract with Hampshire, this after his season was ended prematurely with a broken leg sustained in pre-match warm-ups.

I'll be back at the weekend with more news and, hopefully, a book review.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Hughes in the wickets

Great news overnight from Australia, where Alex Hughes took five wickets for his club side, including his first-ever hat-trick.

As those of you who have played cricket at any level will know, half the battle in settling into a new club is making contributions immediately and both Alex and his team mate Ben Slater have done that for their club, Kingston Hawthorn.

It augurs well for Derbyshire, as, on a different tack, does the success of the fireworks night at the club last night, which seems to have been a huge success and brought in ten thousand people to the 3aaa County Ground. A lot of these people won't have been before and you never know if seeing the facilities may be a catalyst for some to make return visits in the future. Ideally that would be on a cricket-watching front, but if it generates business for the marquee or other function space, it will all have a positive impact.

As the chairman tweeted last night, we have come a long way since the dark days of 2010, when the level of loss suggested we might struggle to be a sustainable entity in cricketing terms. Constant profits each year since then have shown the county game just how things can be done and have to be done.

All we need now is for that to translate into improved fortunes on the pitch and the signings so far have suggested that might happen. I remain convinced that the likeliest source of our strike bowler will be South Africa, where they appear to be on the verge of a golden period and have a lot of talented players emerging, especially from the ethnic groups.

They are hammering Australia in the first Test in Australia, with a side that is as fifty/fifty as you can get in a black/white eleven. Rabada, Philander and Maharaj are all fine bowlers, while Bavuma is fast-emerging as a batsman of talent.

Their success is encouraging but with Simon Harmer heading to Essex for next season and Colin Ackermann to Leicestershire, it is inevitable that more and more players with the requisite qualifications will look at opportunities elsewhere.

There's always the chance of a disenchanted West Indian, or a player from elsewhere on an English passport, of course, but the level of cricket in South Africa is high and no one could blame any player for seeking to pursue their dream elsewhere, when opportunities are limited.

We'll see.

For now, enjoy the remainder of your weekend.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Quiet week

Apologies for the lack of blogging this week, but there's been little news and I have been working till 8.30pm every night, leaving little time for anything but having a meal and walking the dog before bed time.

Truth be told, apart from a fireworks night at the 3aaa County Ground on Saturday, there's been little to report. I hope it goes well though, as fireworks off the pitch enable greater resources for fireworks on it.

We can't complain either - we have had a heady couple of weeks!

I will be back towards the weekend, as time permits.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

John Sadler leaves as county start afresh

It is always sad when someone leaves the club that you support. Especially when that person is as nice a guy as one would wish to meet.

That was John Sadler, who was always happy to stop and chat with anyone who wanted five minutes of his time. He also managed to keep a smile on his face longer than most incumbents of the Derbyshire hot seat. Historically, it has not been a role that has guaranteed success and there have been sufficient issues over the years, on and off the field, to write a volume that would dwarf War and Peace.

John did a competent job and stabilised things after the mid-season departure of Graeme Welch. Yet the wind of change is blowing hard across the 3aaa County Ground and the desire for success is strong. Perhaps One Direction might have been more apposite than Elton John, but the feeling pervades that change was necessary, to give the club the lift that is required.

It is hard to argue. After all, we finished bottom of 18 counties, squandered a good position in the RLODC and just missed out in the T20. Perhaps, if we had even been mid-table in four-day cricket, that might have been seen as a season of albeit limited progress. Yet bottom we were, with much to do to make up lost ground. While there were days in the sun, there were just too many where old habits resurfaced and results suffered as a consequence.

Having appointed John Wright to oversee and hopefully transform a T20 record that has largely made us a laughing stock, the search will already have commenced to find someone for the senior coaching role, as well as its crucial accompanying development position. It will be interesting to see who has applied for it, when the onus is thrust squarely on the shoulders of the senior players and captain to make a difference.

Getting the appointment right is another crucial step along the way to success. Under John Sadler, we produced some good one-day cricket, but not enough of it. Whoever comes in has to take us to another level and be prepared for the slings and arrows of misfortune along the way.

Perhaps John was too nice a guy for the role. There will always be those who respond to the arm around the shoulder, while others need a more firm handling. The secret to success in management is knowing what works best with all your staff and choosing the time and place correctly when the latter is needed. In even the best environments, things can go wrong and that is when any coach or manager will earn his, or her money.

Whatever, those who suggested that Derbyshire would take the easy route and simply reappoint from within have been proven wrong. There is clearly a stringent and robust recruitment process ongoing, the results of which will be announced in due course. The desire to improve is tangible and to be applauded, though the inevitable casualties are to be lamented.

So it is time to say farewell, and thank you, to John Sadler, a good and honourable man. He will doubtless make a success of whatever comes next and I wish him well, as I am sure you do.

He always gave of his best and no one can ask for more.

In praise of true spin

'Another poor overseas signing with no excitement pull'.

So went a comment on Twitter yesterday, in reaction to the news of Jeevan Mendis joining the county. Over several Tweets, the 'supporter' reckoned that his (misquoted) averages weren't very impressive and that from a fan's perspective it was 'hardly exciting'.

Really? Some cricket fans must be getting quite blase. This is a player who has been signed in Australia, Bangladesh, the West Indies and India to play in their showpiece T20 competitions, where he has produced some stirring displays. He has kept getting signed too, suggesting he has done plenty right along the way.

Wickets in England aren't generally conducive to spin in the early season, but then again, English county players aren't especially used to facing quality spin. There was a time, back in the 1950s and 60s, when almost every county had a spin bowler of quality, one who gave the ball a real 'rip'. Increasingly, the modern spinner 'rolls' the ball, leaving the occasional purveyor of something special as a somewhat mythical figure who delivers something akin to a hand grenade.

Derbyshire has acquired two such bowlers in the past week or so. Leg spin is a difficult art to master and suggesting that the limited English returns of Mendis are disappointing rather misses the point. He was a young man, working on his skills then. Now, he is an experienced and wily cricketer who has done well across the globe and has much to offer.

I don't think Derbyshire will bat him too high in the order. Six or seven seems right to me, keeping him away from a new ball that zips around in the early season, but leaving him able to play his natural attacking game against an old ball and tiring bowlers. We all saw how Neil Broom, an equally experienced player, struggled last summer, so expectations of Sri Lankan carnage should perhaps be tempered. If he comes off, and counter-attacks with success, the effect of such batting on opponents cannot be overestimated.

His signing made me think back to the two overseas spinners I have seen in my time as a Derbyshire supporter. The Indian off-spinner, Venkat, was a joy to watch and a bowler of high skill. He contributed a few runs and was a fine close fielder, but his bowling was by some distance the stronger suit. Notwithstanding it being a strange signing, for a team that was often badly short of runs, he did pretty well, yet the truth was that a return of 6-98, while impressive, looked less so when we had made 130 all out yet again.

The same went for Shahid Afridi. He was young when we signed him, had the 'boom or bust' mentality that limited his batting career and was capable of bowling his fair share of awful stuff. I still recall the frustration of Dominic Cork, skipper at the time, in a limited over game in Edinburgh, when Afridi seemed incapable of bowling to a field. If Cork packed the off side, he bowled short on leg stump; if he moved men across, the next ball was a wide long hop outside off.

It is a tough skill to master, but in engaging two men in their thirties with proven records, Derbyshire have the best chance of success. Yet we can no more rely on Mendis than Tahir to win us matches on their own. It can only be a team effort and the onus is on the batsmen to score big and give the spinners something to work with. Then, as was pointed out yesterday, we need to back that up in the field and behind the stumps. I'm sure that Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein will have a few sessions with both bowlers to help them pick their many variant deliveries.

In Billy Godleman, Ben Slater, Wayne Madsen, Shiv Thakor and Gary Wilson, we have five players who I think will score good runs. There is a question mark at number three, albeit with several competing candidates, while Neil Broom showing his Otago form is essential if we are to progress and he is to retain a place in a competitive squad. If he plays as he finished the season, Harvey Hosein will be hard to omit too.

I'm excited and the 'feel' of this week's comments is that this is shared by most of you. Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis may join the Derbyshire cricketing pantheon of overseas success, or may join a sadly lengthening list of failures, but I applaud the club's rationale and forward thinking, which is hard to fault.

People around the county circuit will now be thinking that they wouldn't fancy batting on the last day at Derby, or anywhere else for that matter, so batting first might be a preferred option.

At least, of course, until we have a confirmed strike bowler who may just change their mind.

Kim Barnett was quite clever in saying that the club have a 'non-overseas' bowler lined up. Some have taken this as therefore being an English player, but for me it is a means of differentiating between the overseas role and, I think, either one with a dual nationality passport or who qualifies as a Kolpak player.

The former could be from anywhere, really, but the latter has to be from either the Caribbean, Zimbabwe or South Africa. Given the dearth of fast bowling talent in the Caribbean and the absence of it in Zimbabwe, I'd suggest that we either have a Kiwi or Aussie flying in on a UK passport, or there will be another South African accent in the Derbyshire dressing room.

I'm not going to start hares across the park with names, because I have no connections in the UK Passport Agency, but if we could find a bowler who does for us what Rory Kleinveldt, for instance, has done at Northampton, we'll have few complaints.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Jeevan Mendis completes intriguing overseas pairing

There will be those for who the name of Jeevan Mendis comes as a surprise. Probably even more who could neither spell nor pronounce Balapuwaduge Manukulasuriya Amith Jeevan Mendis, to give him his full name. I think I will stick with Jeevan; after all, I reneged on typing Royal London One Day Cup on a regular basis...

Be assured, however, that he is a somewhat left-field pick who could just be a very special signing by Derbyshire.

For one thing he is unknown in this country, having only played a couple of matches for an emerging Sri Lankan XI here in 2004. Novelty value is no bad thing, especially in a leg spin bowler who has made his reputation in T20 competitions around the world, but has a first rate first-class record.

A batting average of 37, with sixteen centuries and 31 fifties is not bad by any standards, especially when accompanied by over 200 wickets at a mid-twenties average. His List A accomplishments are also impressive, with plenty of runs and wickets to suggest that we will have a handy cricketer for the fifty-over competition. A left-hand bat, he scores quickly and, apparently, bowls the leggie and googly with such a similar action that few play him with confidence when conditions are in his favour.

Watch the video below, which shows him first dismissing Kevin Pietersen in the Caribbean Premier League, then bamboozling Henry Davids with a googly he clearly didn't pick.


At 33 he is a time-served cricketer who will be keen to build a reputation in this country to match that he has elsewhere. There is much to like in a player who can score good runs anywhere between five and eight in the order, bowl match-winning leg spin and field brilliantly wherever required.

There is equally much to be impressed by in the work of Kim Barnett this winter. He has moved quickly and decisively to identify and then sign up two very good cricketers for the overseas roles. While Imran Tahir is the best known, Mendis will be a player well worth watching and could easily be a season-starting catalyst for a special summer.

The key man now is Neil Godrich, as the playing die are well and truly cast. While early season wickets are not, usually, ripe for turning, the Derbyshire groundsman, one of the best in the country, is tasked with producing wickets which, while not falling foul of the pitch inspectors in resembling a beach, will offer increasing turn as the game goes on and offer our overseas stars the very thing they need to succeed. His success will almost certainly see theirs.

To conclude - well done Derbyshire. We have landed two very good players for the overseas role. If we can get that strike bowler and another top player for T20, it will represent the best winter's work in recent memory.

Experienced wicket-keeper batsman, talented young all-rounder, two highly-skilled spinners and one of the highest-regarded T20 coaches in the world game.

Crikey, a lot has happened since the season ended.

Jeevan Mendis announced as second overseas player

Fascinating news breaking this morning, with Jeevan Mendis announced as the other half of our overseas pairing for next summer.

An aggressive left-hand batsman and right arm leg-spin bowler, Mendis is a signing that few will have seen coming but should be both intrigued and impressed by. A genuine all rounder, with a batting average in the top thirties and a bowling one in the mid-twenties, he could be quite special.

He will play at the start of the season and will form an exciting spin pairing with Imran Tahir. Matt Critchley must feel that Christmas has come early, to work with two quality purveyors of his art.

More from me later, but a player who has made his reputation in the world T20 competitions now has a chance to build one in this country.

Thirty-three years old, he has a lot of experience, once again fitting the bill for the type of man Kim Barnett set out to sign.

He's delivered too, and deserves congratulations for conducting his business smoothly and with the minimum of fuss.

More from me - and an in depth look at the signing - later.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Chris Armishaw

When I visited Edwin Smith at the end of last week, he showed me a copy of Professional Cricketers' Association magazine, which contained an obituary for Chris Armishaw, who passed away earlier this year, on 12 March at the age of 63.

I was saddened as I'd not heard of it, nor do I recall the club picking it up at the time. It came as a shock to Edwin too, the county coach at the time of the player's brief county career.

His name may mean little to many of you, but in 1973, Chris played five one-day games for Derbyshire, making his debut against Middlesex, at Chesterfield in the John Player League on June 24.

My Dad and I were in our usual place at the Lake End and Derbyshire posted a competitive (for that time) total of 189-5, largely thanks to fine innings from Harry Cartwright and Ian Buxton. When he was in full swing, Cartwright looked a million dollars and played superbly that day, rescuing us from a dodgy start with an imperious unbeaten 76.

Yet a strong visiting side made a good start, before Armishaw entered the attack and had Clive Radley caught behind with his very first ball for the county. He then took the wicket of Mike Smith, caught by Tony Borrington, before returning later to remove Fred Titmus and Mike Selvey.

Four very good wickets for 31 and it appeared that a star had been born, in a thrilling game that we ended up winning by one run. Yet, as Edwin recalled as we talked, Armishaw had a good and blossoming career in the National Westminster Bank and at the end of the season declined a contract offer and disappeared from the county game forever.

He played for Tutbury Cricket Club near Burton-on-Trent, where he was feared on the pitch and popular off it.

It is appropriate to register his passing and I'm sorry to have missed it at the time.

Rest in peace, Chris.

Tahir generates huge interest

If yesterday's interest in the signing of Imran Tahir is anything to go by, this year's record usage of the blog will be dwarfed by what happens next year.

It was the second biggest day in the blog's history and the biggest out of season, which rather tells its own story.

Tahir is big. He is also a character, a personality, something that the game always needs. That wicket celebration might be deemed over the top by some, but it shows a man whose passion for the game is undiminished. The excellent videos posted by the club, showing the full range of his talents, are a delightful appetiser for what may be a highly impressive main course next summer.

Of course there are no guarantees, but if we get the wickets right and hold our catches, I have every confidence that he will win us matches, in any format. The T20 skipper, when appointed, will have a bowler who can bowl his allocation in four different spells if required. He will be especially dangerous in the Powerplay and in the closing overs, as he has always been. In the four-day game, a last day wicket offering help will see few teams wanting to chase over 200 and those bowling at the other end will benefit from his control and danger.

Now, of course, focus will switch to his 'other half'. Kim Barnett has teased supporters with suggestions as to the sort of player it might be and for what it is worth, I think we will see a spin bowling all rounder.

If we land the promised strike bowler, he, together with Ben Cotton, Ton Palladino and Shiv Thakor would make up a pretty decent seam quartet. Others could come to the fore, with Alex Hughes and Luis Reece also available for all round options and Tom Taylor, Tom Milnes and Will Davis pushing for selection.

How nice it would be if spin could be in the hands of Matt Critchley and a more experienced man. Any skipper loves bowling options and next year ours seem to be blessed with a good few.

The winter has shaped up well so far. A wicket-keeper/batsman who will strengthen the batting in Gary Wilson, a left-handed all rounder in Luis Reece (who is doing very well in Australia at present) and a world-class spinner in Imran Tahir.

More where they came from will do very nicely, thank you, Mr Barnett.

In closing tonight, I'd like to acknowledge the award of county cricket broadcaster of the year to Dave Fletcher of BBC Radio Derby.

I know a lot of people who hadn't enjoyed the work of previous correspondents, but he did a very good job in bringing the club's fortunes to a dispersed fan base. Not all fans of the county are lucky enough to live close enough to see them regularly (as I can vouch for) and his efforts were very much appreciated.

Nice work, Dave.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Derbyshire sign Imran Tahir!

In a strong indicator of things to come this summer, as well as message to other teams in division two of the County Championship, Derbyshire today announced the signing of one of the best spin bowlers in the world game for 2017.

Imran Tahir's potent combination of leg and top spin, combined with a hard to pick googly, have made him a success in all forms of the game and in all countries of the world. That is emphasised by a career record of over 1400 wickets in the game's various forms. Not bad, huh?

He is no stranger to these shores, having had previous stints with five counties, as well as Staffordshire. The latter probably gave Derbyshire an 'in' to the player, as Kim Barnett has apparently known him for thirteen years. Now in his late thirties, Tahir's powers are far from diminished and he actually looks a better bowler than in his younger days, often the case with purveyors of the spin bowling art.

In the recent one-day series that South Africa played against Australia, Tahir was the one bowler on either side who was hard to hit. A lot of batsmen seem to find him hard to pick, even after all these years and there appeared to be an element of risk whenever they took him on.

As with all international players these days, Tahir's availability is restricted by the schedule but he is available from late-June onwards, subject to his commitments with his country. These tend to be in one-day cricket only now, so we should see plenty of him at Derby, as the season gets towards its business end.

I have no doubt that Neil Godrich will now have a major part to play in preparing wickets to suit our new overseas star. Dry and dusty, certainly as the game goes on, will be the order of the day. Tahir took wickets for Nottinghamshire last year on wickets that largely didn't suit him, but it would be a surprise if such a method was adopted by Derbyshire.

We now have one of the two best spin bowlers in the world game for a major part of the summer. Interestingly, Kim Barnett suggested that we will go with spin for the four-day game, perhaps indicating that another player might be recruited for the fifty-over competition. We'll have to wait and see who Tahir's four-day job-share partner is, but if this is the benchmark we should prepare to be impressed.

Importantly, we  have a 'go to' bowler if things are getting away from us. Billy Godleman will enjoy having one available who he can toss the ball to and broadly forget about for a session, if he chose to do so, as it is rare for Tahir to be hit, or fail to get wickets.

It will be a huge help for Matt Critchley. He had a session with Shane Warne a few weeks ago and now gets to work with one of the greats at close quarters. I am sure he will be thrilled at such an opportunity.

Visiting skippers will now have a decision to make at the time of the toss - do they risk the vagaries of opening morning wickets, or opt to bat last on one that will doubtless turn? IF our batsmen can bat as a unit and get a total on the board, there won't be many who fancy chasing 200-plus on the last day, against a bowler who can and will roll them over. If we can now get a top strike bowler, our opponents will have a bit of a dilemma.

It is a very important piece of the jigsaw and the club is to be applauded for persuading a big international name to throw in his lot in this part of the East Midlands.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Imran.

An exciting chapter of our cricketing lives will begin in 2017.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Enjoyable break and a catch up with friends

That was a lovely couple of days in Lancashire, closely followed by two that have been well-enjoyed back home in God's own county.

Southport and Liverpool have two thriving cricket societies and it was a delight to meet and chat to some very nice people. They seemed interested in what I had to say, laughed in the right places and had plenty of questions at the end.

It is fair to say that when the subject got around to the city-based T20 competition there were few supporters. Probably fairer still to say that you could have counted them on the fingers of one hand over two nights combined...

They were traditional cricket fans and both knew and loved their cricket. Questions came thick and fast and there was great interest in the appointment of John Wright, our signing of Luis Reece and the fortunes of Matt Critchley, who hails from those parts.

Then down into Derbyshire and a chance to catch up yesterday with the legend that is Edwin Smith and his lovely wife, Jean. They both looked very well after a recent holiday and it was a delight to be able to tell them that my book on his life and career is now officially sold out, the final copies being sold en route.

Today I also had the chance of a couple of hours with Walter Goodyear. He's 99 and nine months now and still as fascinating to listen to as he has been through his days. Listening to him talk pitch preparation and tell tales of his time at the club is a constant joy.

We got to talking about John Wright, 'a lovely fella' and Walter was delighted to see his return to the club. It struck me that there were three anniversaries next summer - John's return to the club will be 40 years since he first walked into it as overseas player; I will enjoy my fiftieth summer as a supporter of the club and Walter - well, he could reach one of the best centuries in the club's history.

Keep your fingers crossed.

It would be really special.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Club to be applauded for yesterday's news

I have to say that I was a little taken aback by High Peak's comment on yesterday's post, suggesting that Derbyshire going for the 'cheap option' in bringing in John Wright, a man 'in his dotage'.

I published it to show that no matter what you try to do in this life, there will always be those who find something wrong.

Does anyone seriously think that a man who is credited with introducing professionalism to the Indian national side, winning a series against Australia at home, drawing in Australia, getting to a World Cup Final and then getting his IPL side to a double trophy success would come cheap? I don't, but it will be money well spent on John Wright.

He knows cricket and knows cricketers. He will bring a new eye and fresh tactical input to the squad, as well as having contacts within the game that should ensure we get two overseas players in the format who are top-drawer, 'gun' cricketers.

Of course we still need to do something about the four-day game, but everything comes together in its own time. The chairman tweeted yesterday that the club hopes to announce a couple of major international signings in the next week, which will doubtless be for the longer form of the game.

It is all very exciting, but it still frustrates me, after years of writing this blog, that there are those who don't understand how much work is going on to improve things. John Wright, like Kim Barnett, works very hard for success and we have our best chance of improvement with people like that in charge of the cricket in the club.

There are no guarantees, as life doesn't work like that. Wright could sign two top stars and one of them might break a finger in the first game. We don't know and we all remember the Amla/Dilshan experiment that didn't work. Yet it shouldn't prevent us from trying and already people are noting the club's innovative stance on coaching. Derbyshire - OUR Derbyshire - have come up with something completely new that just might work.

He will be here for a few weeks before it starts to watch the players and see what he has to work with, as well as getting over his ideas to what will be a squad bursting to impress.

If John Wright can make the difference for us, full marks go to all involved and we can rename a street after him. If it fails, then hey, them's the breaks - but at least we tried. I will never fault effort and innovation. Ten per cent more over last year might make all the difference for Derbyshire's T20 fortunes.

In  engaging John Wright, I reckon we have started the ball rolling.

Yesterday's other news is also very positive. £139 to watch a season of cricket? That has to be a steal and I'd urge all members to tell their football season ticket-buying friends about it. I know a lot of people who buy six packs, but if you can watch any more than six days of cricket a season and live within reasonable reach of the county, the year membership, with all of its benefits, has to be the way to go.

It deserves to do well and I think it will - especially if the two names announced in the near future are as impressive as I think that they will be.

Finally today, thank you to everyone at the West Lancashire Cricket Society, who made last night's event in Southport a real pleasure. It was nice to meet you all, sell a few books and enjoy some fun cricket chat - as well as finding out that you're not at all happy in losing Luis Reece to us...

Tonight I am in Liverpool's Sefton Park Cricket Club for the Merseyside Cricket Society. I've already realised one ambition today, in having a drink in the city's legendary Cavern Club and having a pleasant few hours around a vibrant city.

Fingers crossed tonight goes well and my trusty sat-nav doesn't let me down...