Saturday, 27 February 2016

Quiet week ends with chairman's teaser

My apologies for the lack of blogging this week, but it has been one of 8.30pm finishes and the early starts have meant little time to write, even if there had been much to cover.

Around the country signings are happening. Chris Morris has gone to Surrey, where I have no doubt he will prove a fine signing, while Nottinghamshire are supposedly eyeing up the enigmatic Andre Russell, from the West Indies.

Russell is a similar player to Kieron Pollard, in that he has made his name (and fortune) in the T20 game, smacking quick thirties and bowling some quick, if not always accurate spells. I'm not sure he is someone I would ever pick to save my life, but as a wildcard who, on his day, might turn a game in a couple of overs, he is a younger Darren Sammy. He is also an exceptional fielder, so ticks all the boxes for any side seeking a T20 specialist.

Which brings me neatly to the tweet put out by Chris Grant last night. In it, he said that we will be announcing our T20 player for the summer on Tuesday, while Thursday would see 'another bit of good news'. your bets now, ladies and gentlemen. I don't think it is possible to second guess this one, but I would be much happier if we maintained consistency in overseas recruitment. My preference would be for a player who has a reputation to build and an impression to make, rather than one who has been there and done it all. Stirring deeds in a capacity crowd IPL game are one thing, but a damp evening at Derby, however we try to ramp it up, doesn't have the same appeal. Were we blessed with the same weather as India and Australia, there would be no issue in selling T20 tickets, but the reality is we largely treat a good evening as a bonus, rather than the norm.

I'd make an exception for AB de Villiers, but the chances of him playing the English T20 are slightly higher than mine. For me a young, hungry player, maybe on the periphery of his national side, would be the ideal way to go.

Lessons were learned last summer. For all that it was a thrill to see Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan in Derbyshire colours and for all the protestations of the 'value' of their dressing room contribution, the bottom line is that neither delivered on the pitch. When you have done and said all, in the final judgement, that is how you judge sportsmen.

A man who can bat at five or six, maybe bowl  a few overs and contribute well in the field would be the ideal. Who it is - and if he fulfils those criteria - we will find out on Tuesday.

As for the second titbit, I don't read that as being the experienced seam bowler we have read about. More likely for me is that it is either contractual news or the club's financial results. Maybe I am reading it wrong.

We'll see...

Friday, 19 February 2016

A quiet old week ends in a former star's retirement

There has been little to report this week on the county front.

The only real news is the laying of the foundations of the new Media Centre at the 3aaa County Ground, which is rightly a landmark but one that won't excite too many diehards.

The players will be stepping up their pre-season preparations and the intensity will increase ahead of the pre-season trip to Dubai, which will doubtless be considerably warmer than Derby in April. While the weather and wickets will be useful for getting the players back in the groove, my guess is that they won't need hand warmers out there...

Just as the week is ending (though sadly not mine, as I am working tomorrow) comes news of the retirement from the first-class game of Greg Smith. He will be taking up a position with Penzance Cricket Club and will doubtless do a good job, after seeing off strong opposition to secure the community-facing role.

I always liked Greg as a cricketer. On his day he was a wonderfully entertaining batsman and struck a lovely, clean ball. He bowled some useful swing and I recall a fine spell against Scotland in Glasgow several summers back, when he seemed to have the ball on a piece of elastic. He was nigh unplayable that day and it was a pity that he couldn't hit such heights more often.

He turned to spin and bowled decent off spin, though without really spinning it enough to threaten the best batsmen. His departure from Derbyshire came as a surprise and was more than a little messy, when viewed from the outside.

I'm not sure he did himself any favours in leaving, to be honest. He never really established a place in an Essex side that always looked better on paper than on a cricket pitch. While there were a smattering of decent scores, he had a tendency to get out when he really should have been going on to something special. 'Nice' twenties and thirties are OK in T20, but they frustrate over the longer forms of the game and supporters were left with the feeling that Greg had more to give.

At 32, it would appear his first-class career is over and that we won't see him on a first-class ground again. It's a pity, because there were days when Greg looked a million dollars and a stalwart of the Derbyshire side for years.

It was not to be, but I wish him the very best as he starts a new career and life in the south-west of the country.

More from me soon...

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Random thoughts as the snow falls

It was hard to believe that the county cricket season is just two months away this morning.

Out in the garden with the faithful Wallace, I kept my throwing arm in good fettle by lobbing snow balls in his general direction, where he made a decent fist of catching them, truth be told. One spectacular effort would have got a mention in Derbyshire's 'best catch' competition, held on Twitter this week - and neither Ben Slater nor Wayne Madsen grabbed theirs in their teeth...

Both were fine efforts and I hope will be replicated in the summer months. It's funny though, I once played cricket with a chap who held all sorts of stuff in pre-match sessions and in the nets, yet put him into a match situation and he wouldn't have held a catch in a bucket. The pressure of the match situation was too much, though I don't suggest for a minute that the same happens with the Derbyshire lads!

The one-day series in South Africa has been excellent with some fine performances on both sides. England looked set to wrap up the series yesterday, before the impressive Chris Morris took the game away from them with a series of lusty blows. He can play, for sure and started to show why he cost a cool million in the IPL. At a time when there are too many meaningless and one-sided series in the international game, this has made a pleasant change and has been hugely enjoyable.

Back home, the domestic T20 looks set to remain in its current, eighteen county format (hallelujah!) with a tweak to introduce two divisions with promotion and relegation. While a notional trip to Sussex or Kent for a T20 may not thrill the players and will see the number of away fans fairly limited, I can see some appeal. It would make for different opposition to that afforded by a north/south divide and is miles ahead of the city-based alternative, which has zero appeal for me.

There's still no news of our T20 specialist, though other counties continue to pick up players. Wahab Riaz, the Pakistan pace ace, will play some matches for Essex, sharing duties with Kiwi quick bowler Adam Milne. A few counties are still holding off though, doubtless waiting to see what happened in the IPL auction. I suspect a few who missed out there may now reconsider their summer plans and I remain confident that Derbyshire will shortly announce a name that will hold considerable appeal.

And finally, I was pleased to see Michael Clarke, a graceful player and good man, reconsidering first his retirement and then discussing a couple of months with Middlesex this summer. The former Aussie skipper's fragile back will be a concern, but if that holds he could be a very shrewd acquisition.

I'll be back soon, enjoy your weekend.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Warm congratulations as Women's World Cup hits Derby

Just time tonight to acknowledge a job well done by everyone at Derbyshire County Cricket Club, in becoming one of the host grounds for the Women's World Cup in 2017.

Either five or six games will be played at the 3aaa County Ground, with other matches at Leicester, Bristol and Taunton, before the final is played at Lord's.

The whole bid was professional and polished, with Council and local business support. The giant stumps on Pentagon Island were eye-catching and innovative, while the amount of work that went into it was substantial, by a lot of people.

Well done to all of them and with a new Media Centre in place by then, the ground will look a picture in time for its starring role.

I would never have believed it could happen, when I think back to the ground I first attended in 1970.

What Walter Goodyear, groundsman from 1938, thinks of it all, I look forward to finding out!

Well done folks...

Sunday, 7 February 2016

IPL selection policy is nothing but bizarre

I don't know how many of you pay more than a passing interest in the IPL.

My own interest has, to be honest, waned since it was found that match-fixing had been rife, leaving two sides, the Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, suspended for two years from this year. Sadly, it leaves one wondering if any of the performances are legitimate, which is quite sad when the competition has featured some of quite breathtaking brilliance.

Yesterday saw the main draft of players for this season's tournament, a day that always throws up surprises. This year's major beneficiary was Chris Morris, who regular readers will know as a player I rate, with both bat and ball. He has looked a little off genuine international standard, but won't be too fussed with that, after pocketing a cool million dollars on signing for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Nor will West Indian Carlos Braithwaite, a decent cricketer but no more, who was worth half a million pounds to the Delhi Daredevils.

Yuvraj Singh, a fine player who has seemed off his best since his return from serious illness, nevertheless attracted his third million-dollar bid in succession, while Pawan Negi, a 23-year old left-arm spinner with a highest first-class score of 30 and four wickets in addition, became the highest paid uncapped player in the competition's history in becoming a millionaire.

It is astonishing. I have never seen the lad, but he will need to go some to justify that sort of money, with figures that suggest he is some way behind our own Tom Knight in the development stakes. Good luck to him, as opportunity has certainly knocked, albeit with a nine-pound hammer.

Yet what was even more extraordinary was the players for who there were no bids. Martin Guptill, despite one-day displays of dazzling brilliance in the past twelve months, went unsold, as did Usman Khawaja, the best Big Bash batsman this winter. So too did George Bailey, one of the best finishers in the world game. Nor were there bids for Mahela Jayawardene or Michael Hussey, with proven records in the format.

I find it utterly bizarre. Be honest, how many of you would plump for a name from the third and fourth paragraphs as Derbyshire's T20 specialist this year, over one from the last? I am unsure what criteria are used in the selection of squads, but it would appear that common sense isn't necessarily one of them.

Having said that, the Royal Challengers Bangalore would appear the team to beat this year. I suspect that a few bowlers may develop niggles ahead of facing Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers as a top four.

On a good strip, anything under ten an over against that little lot would be good going, unless they try to outgun one another and perish in the attempt. That often accounted for either Viv Richards or Ian Botham on the occasions they batted together.

Tarnished as a competition yes, but probably still worth keeping an eye on.

I guess Gup will need to start scoring more one-day double centuries to catch the eye...

Friday, 5 February 2016

Revolving door as players fly in and out

As an indicator of progress and the heightened standing of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, one has only to look at the players and staff who have gained recognition this winter.

Wes Durston has been to South Africa, Graeme Welch and Matt Critchley to Dubai and now Shiv Thakor to Oman and Bahrain. They may not be 'official' tours against top quality opposition but are a sign that the work being done at the club is being noticed.

Only a fool would say that there are no signs of progress, on and off the field. The media centre development is testimony to the off-field work, as is the Gateway building and splendidly refurbished pavilion. When I think back to the ground that I attended even five or six years ago it is a huge improvement, tribute to all who have been involved.

On it, progress is slower, as it was always going to be in weeding out under-performing seniors and giving youth its head, but there are good and encouraging signs and portents for the future.

The best Derbyshire sides over the years have been those where a sound group of seniors has given the stability to the younger element to express themselves. Barnett, Adams and Morris emerged through a batting line up where Hampshire, Wood, Steele, Wright and Kirsten flourished. Harold Rhodes had the benefit of Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin as early mentors. Mike Hendrick and Alan Ward came through alongside Brian Jackson and Rhodes. All of them had people to look up to and emulate, which is what is coming together at Derbyshire.

Young seamers should learn from Tony Palladino and Andy Carter, just as they will from Graeme Welch. If Ben Slater, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes need help, then Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen, Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford will be on hand.

I won't go out on a limb and forecast promotion and T20 finals day for us this year, but I have a feeling that we will improve considerably on last season. Cynics might say that wouldn't be hard, but those with semi-respectable memory will remember plenty of matches where an extra ten per cent would have got us across the line. Had we come out on the right side of those matches, a more respectable four-day placing would have been a formality.

As for the T20, we'd have made the knock-out stage for only the second time, as we threw away a couple of games and were beaten only by Kiwi brilliance in another.

Ten per cent. Not too much to ask over a winter from young players. Part of it in team spirit, some in fielding and the balance in personal improvement.

We'd be worth keeping an eye on then...

Postscript: nice to see the club's new Wisden honours board. I'm a big believer in celebrating the past, enjoying the present and anticipating the future. 

We have enjoyed some wonderful cricketers over the years and will see plenty more in the years ahead.

I am glad to see their efforts acknowledged.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Excitement mounts as signings of seamer and finisher are 'close'

Well, well...

There's a nice piece on the club site today, where chairman Chris Grant confirms that the signings of two new players ahead of the 2016 season are imminent.

“The plan is to bring in a second overseas finisher for the NatWest T20 Blast, as well as an experienced bowler, which could be on loan, but we will see" says our supremo, on the club site.

There are no other clues, nor should we expect them, but the key words would appear to be 'finisher' for the T20 role and 'experienced' for the seam bowler.

Both are exactly what we require, of course.  While Andy Carter and Tony Palladino will do a good job for us, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect both to remain fit through a long campaign, or at least not require a rest at some point. While Carter has professed his desire to play in all forms of the game, his workload, like that of all of the seamers, will need monitored.

If we are to enjoy a better summer, then those two still running in strong come September will be of paramount importance. It may be that Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor have improved on last year - I fully expect it. It could also be that Will Davis, Greg Cork and Harry White have caught them up, leaving us with an embarrassment of riches. Yet we should not expect miracles and should one of those lads reach 30-40 wickets we will be doing well. If two of them did, we'll all be doing a conga around the boundary...

As for the T20 role, it would thus appear a middle order batsman, or all-rounder, is our target. We all remember the horrid games we threw away last year, as the middle order showed all the resilience of a balsa wood aeroplane. 

It is about time that we made a decent fist of T20, though it is not for the want of trying in the quality of player we have recruited. I just have a feeling that this could be a better year in that format, given a little luck and the right final piece of the jigsaw.

Last year we missed Wayne Madsen and Alex Hughes in the middle order in crucial games, but the addition of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford gives a nice look to the batting. Wes, Ches, Hamish, Neil, Wayne and X make up a good top six, with perhaps Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor to follow.

We bowled pretty well in the competition last year, but again missed Ben Cotton at a crucial stage. Bowling in the Powerplay and at the death, he only went for seven an over, figures that Charl Langeveldt would have been proud of. Alex Hughes did equally well and his absence was felt with bat and ball, while Shiv Thakor was a revelation and handled the key periods of the high-pressure games with an elan belying his tender years.

Let's wait and see, but the right man could make a big difference to the supporter's perspective of our prospects.

Exciting times!