Thursday, 31 March 2016

A delicious irony and lessons to learn

Well, I called the two T20 semi-finals wrong, with both games going the other way to that predicted by yours truly.

Truth be told, both England and the West Indies deserved their wins. Our lads produced their most emphatic display of the tournament to easily beat New Zealand, while the Windies overcame the early loss of Chris Gayle to knock out the hosts and tournament favourites.

There is, for me, a delicious irony in the hosts being knocked out. In much the same way that Americans call their baseball tournament the World Series, the Indian Premier League is seen, and perhaps quite rightly in terms of the money thrown at it, as the number one domestic cricket event in the game.

They still didn't make the final though and there must be a few thousand discounted tickets for the final going right now. That the West Indies, whose players make up some of the format's biggest names, are there is no real surprise. That England, who have few players of IPL experience in their side, have made it is delightful.

The final? When one considers that the West Indies are without Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine from a first choice side they have done very well, but England's endless batting could now see them shade it.

Much will depend on Chris Gayle, still the prized wicket and someone who will need to go early for England to win. They have some powerful hitters, but so do England and Gayle, the biggest hitter I have ever seen of a cricket ball, is the man who will, I think, dictate the course of the game.

I am sure our players at Derbyshire have watched with interest how batsmen have used the depth of the crease for leverage, but how bowlers have counteracted that with wide yorkers, or have followed them as they moved. Most telling has been how innings can still be built: the first six overs are like a sprint, the next ten like a game of chess, the final four like a madcap melee where, with wickets in hand and two batsmen set, fifty runs can easily be added to the score.

I look forward to seeing how our skills compare when the T20 starts, but first the 'proper' stuff.

All being well, I shall publish my season preview of four-day cricket this weekend.

I look forward to catching up then.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Peakfan Blog Fantasy Cricket Trophy

It's back, better and (hopefully) bigger than ever!

The Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League has started again and I am once more running the Peakfan Blog Trophy.

Use the 'Fantasy Cricket' link on the left hand side of this page, or click here to select a side, then enrol in the league at this link

The league name is 'Peakfan Blog Trophy' and the PIN is 8031395.

It would be great if we could get 15 people involved at least, then there will be medals up for grabs at the end of the season.

You can keep your team private or make it public and we can have good fun with it over the summer months, when I will do regular updates on progress

One team costs £8, while entering two is £12.

The action starts on April 10, so get your team registered before that to register in the first round of matches.

Thanks for your interest!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

T20 semi-finals have plenty to excite

So where's your money for the World T20 folks?

I still think that New Zealand, as I wrote earlier in the competition, are the best all-round side in it. They bat long, have terrific variety in the bowling and I don't recall them missing a catch in the competition. They are a special, tight unit and Kane Williamson deserves great credit for leading them with skill and considerable intelligence. A worthy successor to Brendon McCullum, indeed.

England will need to play out of their skins to beat them. I'm not overly impressed by our bowling and I can't think of one of our bowlers I would choose over their Kiwi counterparts, but we bat long and the reality is that we have made the semi-finals despite not playing especially well. If we do fire  - and the batsmen showed against South Africa that they can chase down big totals  - then a final place is possible.

My forecast, however, is for the Kiwis to triumph. I just think they have a better, more disciplined all-round game. England batted really well against South Africa, but I don't see them given the width and aberrations of length that allowed them to top 200 in that game.

In the other game, the West Indies best chance is to bowl first and hope the hosts overstretch themselves. They are a fine batting side, but over-reliant on Virat Kohli and none of the others have really fired, albeit on pitches of variable quality.

I don't think their bowling is quite as strong and we all know that Chris Gayle can make a mockery of any run chase. The West Indies have bowled with greater discipline in this competition, but I still don't look at their batting and worry too much. If a good ball or stroke of luck can get Gayle early, the rest, as Afghanistan showed, can fold under pressure.

India to win that one, unless a Gayle force blows again.

My favourite moments? I have really enjoyed watching Afghanistan. Their infectious enthusiasm and considerable talent ensured they always competed and they have some very good cricketers. Two or three talented spinners, a good skipper and a wicket-keeper batsman who looked a long way removed from an athlete but kept wicket well and played some wonderfully sparky Powerplay innings.

They should be proud of themselves.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Fantasy League is coming!

Once again this summer the Peakfan Blog Fantasy Cricket League will be running through the Daily Telegraph.

I had hoped to have it up and running by now, but a technical issue has prevented it for the immediate future.

I do hope to have it available before the weekend though and will keep you posted as soon as it is available.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Welch contract extension caps a memorable few weeks

There was a period of a few weeks in the early new year when all was quiet at Derbyshire County Cricket. When naught was stirring, quite possibly not even a mouse.

It may have seemed that way, but the best work goes on behind the scenes unnoticed.

In the past fortnight we have seen Jimmy Neesham signed for T20, Wayne Madsen, Tom Taylor and Shiv Thakor sign new deals, the club announce a profit and Billy Godleman unveiled as the new four-day captain. All this and an unbeaten pre-season tour in a 'blink and you miss it' few days.

Now we have perhaps the best news yet. Graeme Welch has signed a new contract, which keeps him at the club until the end of 2018.

A lot of this work will have been ongoing for weeks or months, but the presence of Welch for the next three summers, at least, is one that will be welcomed by supporters and certainly by the players themselves.

Cricketers are no different to employees in other workplaces. They like stability in their lives and want to know how the next part of it is likely to unfold. It is beyond dispute that the current crop of young players at the club make up one of the strongest batches we have ever had, with various spinners, seamers and a wicket-keeper coming through who seem to have vast potential. We only need a batsman or two to emerge in the next couple of years to hold a complete set of aces.

Of course, there is a world of difference between potential and realised talent, something that the youngsters themselves will be very aware of.  For several highly talented young men, the focus now is on improving on last year's statistics, both in the number of games played and in the level of performance. While meteoric rise is a rarity in any sport, steady progress should be attainable and several of the current crop have the talent to become county stalwarts for the next decade.

That their progress will be monitored and overseen by a man who has had a major influence on them in the past two years will have been a factor in young players signing on again. Not the only reason, but when you have trust in what someone can do for you, then the knowledge that they will be there for advice and support is very important.

As far as I am concerned, Graeme Welch has been very shrewd this winter. He has recruited sensibly, bringing in players with points to prove, while ensuring that the best of his young charges are signed up to ward off predators (aka Nottinghamshire...) He has also ignored the release of several senior players around the circuit who in previous regimes may have been picked up for one last payday.

He has shown his loyalty to them and to the club. He is one of the best coaches in the game and is recognised as such. Invitations to coach with the England don't get given to run of the mill people, only to the creme de la creme.

Two of our youngsters have been away with England squads this winter and a third, Mark Footitt, toured South Africa which would probably never have happened without his work with the coach.

Expect more recognition in the next season or two.

Things are coming together very nicely as the season approaches.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Madsen steps down as skipper, Godleman steps up

After five years as skipper, Wayne Madsen has decided to step down as Derbyshire captain and will hand over the four-day reins to Billy Godleman for 2016.

It is an understandable and totally amicable move that will allow him to focus on his batting. Given that the captaincy scarcely had a detrimental effect on it, one wonders how many runs he might score without the added responsibility.

He did a very good job in the role and will always, of course, be remembered as one of the handful of Derbyshire captains to lift silverware, after the division two success of 2012.

Wayne was never a demonstrative skipper, but is not that kind of man and you cannot be something you're not capable of. What he has been, beyond question, is an impeccable role model to which most can only aspire. he will continue to be just that and will prove a sage counsel for young players and, of course, the new skipper.

I have little doubt that Billy will do a good job for us in this capacity, just as he did last year when he stepped in when Wayne was injured. Another lovely lad, Billy is perhaps a little more combative on the pitch and will stand his ground when the words are occasionally flying in the middle.

He will be full of confidence after the best season of his career in 2015 and looking to build on that this summer.

Don't be surprised if he does just that.

In other news tonight, the club's new President has been announced as legendary opening batsman Kim Barnett, who replaces Geoff Miller

One of the finest batsmen to ever play for the county, Barnett captained the side through a golden era, in which visitors came to Derby with a degree of trepidation. The wicket was often hard to spot from the rest of the square, as Barnett's battery of seamers cut swathes through the visiting sides.

With so many fine players in the side, the greater surprise was that we didn't win more trophies, but there were strong characters in that squad that didn't always pull in the same direction.

I'm delighted to see Kim's contribution to the county recognised in this way and it will be a pleasure to see him back at the place where he will always be lauded as one of the all-time greats.

More from me soon.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Nothing yet to change my mind

Having been signed off work at the moment and put on a 'no talking' prescription by the doctor, my sign language skills are developing apace and I have watched a fair amount of the T20 World Cup.

I still haven't seen a better all-round side than New Zealand. Their batting isn't really firing, but there's enough talent down the order to post a challenging total. The performances of Martin Guptill once again show what nonsense IPL selection is. How he doesn't get drafted for megabucks is beyond me, as he is one of the best batsmen in the format and a standout in the field.

Indeed, the whole Kiwi side are athletes and they will take some beating. South Africa blow hot and cold, West Indies are too reliant on Gayle and Australia don't have the experience for me. England bat deep but don't impress with the ball, while India will probably make the final but will need to win the toss and bat first on a turner to win it. Cynical? Moi?

There was a truly awful commentary from Harsha Bhogle today, which gave the impression that he was sitting behind the stand and couldn't see the game. 'That's in the air' he cried several times, seemingly oblivious to there being no fielder within thirty yards. 'Hoho...Shahid Afridi' he exclaimed later, unaware that Corey Anderson was standing on the boundary waiting to pouch it. There were 'That's four' aplenty, when sweeper fielders were clearly going to cut it off.

Very poor effort, to be honest. To someone brought up on John Arlott, Jim Laker and Richie Benaud, who called boundaries successfully 99.9% of the time, it was disappointing. I switched the sound off eventually.

Closer to home and possibly a little cooler, the lads were outdoors for nets for the first time today. There is good footage over on the club site 

They all look resplendent in their new kit, courtesy of a deal with Samurai Sports. I'm sure the trousers will be able to cope with a few hundred full length dives as the season progresses.

More from me later in the week. Maybe I will have news of our experienced seamer then, which is all very quiet right now. My money at this stage is on a loan, as players will be signed up by this stage, unless outside the county game.

We'll see...

Saturday, 19 March 2016

World Cup whets the appetite

A few days laid low by a virus this week has allowed me time to catch up on my cricket news and also to watch a little of the T20 World Cup.

There's mumblin' and a grumblin' in the shires about the change to the county programme for this year and future summers. Not just in Derbyshire mind, but around the counties. Few people are happy with only one team going up this summer (apart from those who support division one teams ). Fewer still are happy with the future concept of a division two where teams don't play all the other sides, deeming it a step too far.

I share their pain, but, like most other things in life, it isn't new. Until the Second World War, counties played differing numbers of matches, except that all counties were required to play 28 matches in each season from 1929 to 1932 inclusive. When the championship resumed in 1946, teams played 26 matches per season, and the pattern of a fixed number of matches has continued since then, although the number has varied. From 1960 to 1962 inclusive, counties could choose whether to play 28 or 32 matches. All of the above were in a seventeen-strong championship, so local derbies were always going to be home and away and those that proved the most logistically challenging were played just once.

Of course it is less fair. If you play, because of location, two less talented sides, the chances are that you will get more points than if you play the good ones. When we won the championship in 1936, Glamorgan were quick to praise Derbyshire and the fact that our win was not the result of two easy games against them. Yet the championship and life went on and goes on. The game will evolve and continue to do so and I suspect clubs have little option but to fall in line - or else.

It is not an easy time for the county game. For all a big international summer whets the appetite, the visit of lesser lights will see the available money to counties diminish. At a time when the champion county is millions of pounds in debt and many others are only remaining solvent through selling off land, the warning bells are ringing. That such solutions are finite is obvious...when you have sold the available land and spent the proceeds, what happens next?

Derbyshire remain an astonishingly well-run club and the return of successive profits is a minor miracle and object lesson to all. While as dependent on ECB money as the rest, the club has embraced the need to change and started to produce its own talent with success. Tom Taylor going away with a development squad and Matt Critchley with the Lions this winter is recognition of that.

We need only some of these lads to confirm their talent on a regular basis to fully justify things - and they will. Some are getting close now and may burst forth this summer.

Meanwhile, over at the World Cup, I allowed myself a smile at the number of armchair critics bemoaning England on Twitter after an admittedly poor bowling and fielding effort. Too many erratic balls and too many that gave the batsmen room to manoeuvre cost us, together with mediocre fielding at times.

Yet, as I have written many times on here over the past year or two, never call a match until both sides have batted. While the England attack looks ordinary - be fair, there is no world-class bowler in the side - the batting is long and powerful. The danger was that the South Africans two world-class bowlers might top and tail them, but while Tahir demanded respect, Steyn looked off his game and the rest are neither better nor worse than our bowlers. Without Morne Morkel, it enabled England to get off to a flyer and they paced it well.

Joe Root is an extraordinary batsman and by the time he has done will go down as one of the greats. He has all the shots yet still seems to play classically and there is grace and charm in most things he does. Having said that, the opposition attack was guilty of equal poor control and gave away far too many wides.

The team to really impress me so far has been New Zealand. They bat deep, have good seamers and, in Santner, Sodhi and McCullum can field an attack to take on anyone when the ball's a-spinning. They have lost Brendon McCullum, but have an equally astute replacement in Kane Williamson, who was quick and shrewd enough to omit his two star seamers against India. His side field like tigers and have a team spirit second to none.

If they can maintain that  - and remember they have beaten both India and Australia so far - then they could go on and win it.

Hey - we have three Kiwis at Derbyshire this year.

Maybe its an omen...

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Tour ends in resounding success

When the Derbyshire squad set off on their pre-season tour a few days ago, the coaching team will have wanted a tour where competitive cricket was played and batsmen and bowlers alike got some sun on their backs and some time in the middle.

What they got was four straight wins and players who face a season of challenge making the biggest early impact.

Neither Tom Poynton nor Shiv Thakor enjoyed vintage form in 2015, though there were mitigating factors for both. Neither had played much cricket the previous year and that kind of period on the sidelines has a detrimental effect on anyone's game. Runs proved elusive, yet the tour form of each suggested that we may well see them at their best this summer.

Thakor looks the real deal when he bats and bowls and needs only convert an air of composure at the crease back in to weight of runs. His bowling has improved immeasurably under Graeme Welch and there is a genuine all-rounder in this affable young man.

As for Poynton, he has shown in the past that he can bat and even last summer, his late innings flurry in a televised debacle against Northamptonshire was one of few highlights that evening. He used the depth of the crease to get under decent deliveries and lever them to and over the ropes, something he seems to have done again today. Sixteen from four balls in the last over is some doing at any level of the game and TP has laid down the gauntlet(s) to Harvey Hosein at an early stage.

We are lucky to have two wicket-keepers of such talent on the staff.

Alex Hughes was another to stake a claim for a place with steady knocks and key wickets, while Tom Milnes also caught the eye with important lower order runs and wickets. With one-day skipper Wes Durston scoring good runs and Chesney showing early form, the tour has given Graeme Welch a very pleasant early season headache.

In a Kiwi-less side, Welch has plenty of options to consider, with even Academy graduate Rob Hemmings doing himself no harm with runs today.

It is all very encouraging and they should return home in good heart, having shown the type of team spirit today, in pulling the game out of the fire, that will stand them in good stead when the serious stuff starts.

Safe home lads.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Hundred per cent with a game to go

While the opposition in today's game might not go down as the best we have faced on tour, it represented another good work out for the players.

There were 74 more runs for Wes Durston and a bucolic knock of 48 from Tom Milnes helped us to recover from a shaky start to set the Danube Lions 293 to win.

It was never going to happen, especially after Ben Cotton took three wickets in his opening burst. With two wickets from Tony Palladino, the game was as good as won when Wayne Madsen came on to take three wickets. Despite a jolly last wicket stand, Derbyshire ran out easy winners by 69 runs.

A tougher game awaits tomorrow, with the closing fixture of the tour, a T20 against Leicestershire.

Irrespective of that result, the club could scarcely have wished for more from the tour, with wins and solid performances throughout the playing staff.

It would be nice to come home with a hundred per cent record, though giving everyone match action and worthwhile time in the middle is of far greater importance.

More from me tomorrow.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Another tour day, another tour win...

Most impressive, Derbyshire.

Graeme Welch could barely have scripted today better had he chosen to do so, as Derbyshire cantered to a win over Worcestershire by seven wickets.

Andy Carter and Tom Taylor removed the openers, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes winkled out the middle order and then Matt Critchley whipped out the last four as Worcestershire struggled to 183 all out.

Chesney Hughes then made an unbeaten 90, while skipper Durston added 42 and Madsen and Alex Hughes added cameos as Derbyshire won with eighteen overs to spare.

It was a very impressive effort to follow online and augurs well.

More from me tomorrow, after our game against local side Danube.

Hopefully tomorrow I will report on us waltzing to victory again...

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Tour opener sees encouraging win

Derbyshire had an alternative version of the three W's today - not Worrell, Weekes and Walcott but a win against a Warwickshire and Worcestershire eleven.

I have no idea of the make up of the opposition, but it is safe to say that the Derbyshire XI was some way removed from the side that will play T20 in the 'real' stuff this summer.

The side lined up: Durston, Godleman, Hughes (C), Thakor, Knight, Hemmings, Milnes, Palladino, Hosein, Cotton, White.

I would reckon that around half of that side could be in the frame for a first choice T20 side and thankfully two of them made the major contributions with the bat. Shiv Thakor scored 56 from 46 balls, while Tom Knight made 45 from 39 balls, as Derbyshire posted 141-5 in twenty overs.

It didn't look an imposing score, but the opposition struggled, losing wickets regularly and ending up nineteen runs short. Tony Palladino took 3-15, Tom Milnes 2-11 and Ben Cotton 2-22. It was an encouraging effort by all of them and I am especially pleased for Milnes.

He has come in under the radar over the winter, having played a few games at the end of the summer without pulling up too many trees. Yet Graeme Welch obviously rates a lad he worked with at Edgbaston and, with opportunity and hard work, he could become a Welch-type player, capable of taking wickets and contributing good runs down the order.

We'll not read too much into the victory, but a win is a win and it is nice to report on a positive start.

Tomorrow sees a fifty-over game against Worcestershire, as the pre-season preparation continues.

Book Review: The Corridor of Uncertainty: How Cricket Mended a Torn Nation by Nihar Suthar

The success of the Afghan cricket team in the current World Cup has been complete at the time of writing. They have won all three matches, against Scotland, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe and have progressed to the next stage against the major cricket nations. On the way they have played bright, purposeful cricket and have done well in all disciplines of the game.

It was not always so. This remarkable book tells the story of a game started in the refugee camps of the 1990s, using a bat and a tennis ball purchased from a bazaar for a dollar each.How the game survived the Taliban, with floggings and dreadful punishments being meted out on the field before games. It is extraordinary that the game survived, let alone thrived.

Yet the Afghans are a strong, proud race and thrive it did. This is as far removed from a conventional cricket book as you could wish for, but all the better for that. It is a triumph over adversity and of the human spirit, an inspirational story that should be on everyone's list of 'must reads'.

It is also a multi-dimensional book, interweaving the cricket with things going on in the politics, religion and culture of the country as it recovered from a brutal, decade-long civil war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died and millions more were re-located to the refugee camps where the game took root and a talented side took shape.

It is an extraordinary read and one that I would heartily recommend to any cricket fan.

The Corridor of Uncertainty: How Cricket Mended a Torn Nation is published by Pitch Publishing and is priced £9.99 from all good book shops

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Dubai-ous steer from me

Apologies for the 'bum steer' on Derbyshire's opening game.

I had taken the information on the game from the club site, but the news of the inclement weather in Dubai hadn't percolated through. That such a nigh perfect climate was sullied by torrential rain and storms will have been a frustration for players and staff alike. Yet like all good organisations, there were contingency plans so that training could continue apace.

It has been good to see the footage and blogs on the club's social media feeds and the squad look as fit as the proverbial butcher's dogs as the season approaches. They should of course, after a winter's hard work, but as long as they are all fit and firing when the real stuff starts, I feel quite positive about the summer ahead.

While the domestic players were en route to 'sunny' climes, two of our Kiwis were in the runs for Otago. Neil Broom scored a century and unbeaten 30, while Jimmy Neesham made 75 and 48 not out for them, yet they still lost, despite setting their opponents 397 to win. Ken McClure suggested himself a 21-year old of considerable talent with an unbeaten innings of 193.

One thing that has surprised me is the recruitment by counties in the last couple of weeks. There have been one or two what I would call 'left field' signings, which may well turn out to be strokes of genius or somewhat flawed.

Sussex have picked up Mustafizur Rahman from Bangladesh, a twenty-year old with only fifteen first-class matches and twenty T20 games behind him. It is a huge gamble signing a lad of that age and puts serious pressure on him. Imagine an overseas side signing Ben Cotton or Tom Taylor, both with greater experience. At the end of it all, someone will either get a huge pat on the back or a few quizzical looks...

Surrey have picked up a couple of young South Africans, both presumably giving up on the country of their birth's quota system. Conor McKerr and Matthew Pillans are both seamers of talent, though Surrey's depth in that area makes me wonder why they needed two. As I wrote earlier in the winter, white South Africans will see England as a strong option, especially when the conversion rate of rand to pound is so heavily in their favour at present. Money earned here will go a long way back home, but home-grown players on the Surrey staff must be a little puzzled.

Finally, Essex have picked up 23-year old Matt Dixon from Western Australia, who can play on a dual passport. Seven wickets in five first-class matches at an average of 70 doesn't suggest they have picked up the new Denis Lillee, to be fair. Again, I wonder why they need to 'shop' overseas, as surely the domestic talent pool isn't that shallow? Good luck to the lad, he may come here and do well, but it seems a strange decision at this distance.

All of which makes my satisfaction with our recruitment even greater. Hamish Rutherford, Neil Broom and Jimmy Neesham should make up a talented trio this year and if we can pick up one more seamer of experience before it starts, I think we will be competitive. I don't think it realistic for Andy Carter and Tony Palladino to play every game this summer, nor for our young seamers to have suddenly become fifty-wicket bowlers in a close season.

Yet if they can contribute and we can pick up one more bowler with a track record, we should be all right. As I have said before, it isn't a case of one bowler matching Mark Footitt's recent wicket haul, but several improving by ten to fifteen per cent. I still stand by my erstwhile assertion of Andy Carter being a fifty-wicket bowler, just so you know.

Not long till it happens now. A month till the first match and then I will be down for the first game at the 3aaa County Ground against Glamorgan. The thermals are looked out in readiness...

Finally tonight, I've had several emails and texts asking after Wallace, our fox terrier puppy. With no apologies, here's a picture of a little chap who has re-defined the word cute and has people stopping to chat wherever we take him. Fifteen weeks old now and a bundle of energy and fun.

He's a bit young for the cricket, but would be a real asset in the field!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Cricket's back...sort of...

Round about now, as I type this. Derbyshire will be getting into pre-season action with a fifty-over game against Essex at the Sheikh Zayed stadium.

There was an excellent pre-tour dinner /auction, organised by the players themselves (what Frank Sinatra would doubtless have called a Dubai, Dubai Do...) but they were met by rain on the first day in a place where the sun shines for most of the year.

Nonetheless, I am sure that the tour will be very beneficial, There are other games, of varying duration, on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, all of them geared to getting the players back to bowling and batting on turf.

Cricket is back!

In other news of recent days, a reorganisation of the county game (yes, another one) will see only one side promoted this year, which makes the fight for promotion an even more intense affair. There have been shouts of dissension, although it is simply a return to a two-division version of what county cricket used to be.

The danger is, of course, that several counties could get to August with little left to play for but pride in the four-day game. Many people of a certain vintage will recall matches in August and September where one team turned up looking like they would rather be anywhere but playing a meaningless fixture. It will result in such games, without doubt and the benefit of two promotion places on competition is considerable.

I am a fan of condensing the T20 to midsummer though, where the likelihood of good weather and bigger crowds is greater. In doing this you have a fair chance of recruiting bigger overseas names too, after the IPL has been done and dusted.

I'm still not a fan of a city-based franchise competition though. I accept the financial rewards it will bring in theory and if that filters to ALL counties I am happy with that. Yet the chances of Derby being one of those cities is remote, in my opinion, so broadly speaking I couldn't care who wins between the others. Given that I come, Lord of the Rings style, from the shire than the city, it is always going to be so.

Would I watch it? Maybe, if it was on the TV and I wasn't busy. Would I make special arrangements and leave work early to do so? No. Not in a million years.

Never mind. Cricket is back and in a few short weeks we will all be back at the 3aaa County Ground (aka the building site, right now) for OUR team.

Now that is something to make special arrangements for...

Friday, 4 March 2016

Just when you think the good news has stopped..

As weeks go, this wasn't a bad one.

We signed Jimmy Neesham for the T20, Wayne Madsen signed on until the end of 2019 and Tommy Taylor for another year. Today, there was similar news about Shiv Thakor and then, as the icing on the cake, we hear that the club has registered a profit for the fifth successive year.

Shiv is a fine young player. He looked good in patches last year, but his bowling impressed more than his batting. He had said that the lure of working with Graeme Welch was a factor in his coming to Derbyshire and the short time they had together proved most beneficial, especially in the one-day games. Shiv became a reliable 'death' bowler and showed remarkable composure for one so young.

His batting largely disappointed, frustratingly so as it appeared a strong suit at Leicestershire. Yet it should not be forgotten that he missed a season there with a bad finger injury and the loss to eye, rhythm and timing was considerable.

He will be back and to have all-rounders of the quality and athleticism of Thakor, Alex Hughes and Jimmy Neesham in his side will whet the appetite of T20 skipper Wes Durston and supporters alike.

As for the annual accounts, it is a minor miracle that a small county like Derbyshire can return modest profits for five successive seasons. It is also tribute to the wonderful work that the off-field staff are doing.

I am far happier seeing the accounts in the black than what is being seen at many other counties. Were I a Yorkshire fan, I would share the concerns of Geoff Boycott over the level of deficit at Yorkshire, where it runs into the millions. Supporters there should enjoy the current era of success, because they will struggle to maintain facilities and salaries in the long term when seemingly losing money hand over fist.

For all that Derbyshire remains an easy target for those wanting to rationalise the first-class game, there is a sense of grudging respect around the game for what is being achieved at the club. The former rest home for the aging cricketer or those from largely foreign climes has been replaced by a club with a thriving academy that it at last producing genuine talent.

With Tommy Taylor and Matt Critchley away with England this winter, the talents of these lads are being noticed further afield. There is plenty of incentive for others to emulate them with good performance this summer.

In closing, there was an excellent piece in the Derby Telegraph today by Mark Eklid on Andy Carter. I stand by my assertion that he will take fifty championship wickets this year if he stays fit and expect him to become a key member of our attack.

On that note, enjoy your weekend - I'll see you soon!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Madsen contract caps fantastic week for Derbyshire supporters

Wayne Madsen has signed a new three-year deal at the county, keeping him at the club until the end of 2019, at this stage.

It is fantastic news, because the man is class.

He is class as a batsman, equally so as a man. Few more pleasant and approachable men have worn the club colours over its long history and for the past few seasons he has generally been the one beacon of consistency in a batting line-up not renowned for such a thing. To my dying day I will recall Edwin Smith's sage words and nodded approval as he watched with me as Wayne batted last summer. All the way forward, all the way back. Coaching manual stuff, as the club's spin bowling legend put it.

He times a ball exquisitely and has a good a range of shots, a batsman whose entrance to the crease usually suggests that the recent wicket is going to be the last for some time. There is an air of composure and confidence in his batting that I have seldom seen in Derbyshire players over the years and he plays quite beautifully once he feels that eyes, hands and feet are working as he wishes them to be.

As a captain he continues to learn and I only hope that this summer he is more willing to try a left-field option at times. When opposition batsmen get in, I would love to see Wayne bowl a couple himself, even if just to make the batsmen think. He is a tidy bowler and seldom gets collared, yet sightings with a ball in his hand are too rare for my taste. He is undemonstrative on the field, no Eddie Barlow, but shrewd and maintaining an air of composure, irrespective of the match situation.

The news comes at the end of a very good week and shows that when the club really want to, they will do what it takes to keep hold of a prize asset. Madsen will be coveted by clubs across the country, yet he has shown loyalty to the county who gave him an opportunity. His bullish words, about being able to achieve all he wants in the game as a Derbyshire player, are welcome and telling. As well as anyone, he knows the depth of talent at the club and the potential of that talent.

If we are to see silverware in the next four seasons - something I expect to do - then the  likelihood is that Cap'n Wayne will be lifting it above his head first.

Yet it is as a figurehead for the club that Wayne is seen at his best. With a friendly word and a smile for everyone, the club could not wish for a better ambassador.

Sign him up till he's forty next time, gentlemen.

He'll not let us down.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Taylor's new contract another positive pre-season sign

Seam bowlers eh?

They're like buses. You wait a long time for one to come along and then they all turn up at once.

We went through a spell at Derbyshire where the only seamer who emerged over a number of summers was Atif Sheikh, who never really made it, despite moderate success after being given opportunity by Leicestershire.

Now? Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor are at the forefront of a plethora of seam bowling talent that may just spearhead an exciting future. Both have now been signed on for extended deals which give them a chance to show what they can do and establish themselves as first-class cricketers.

To be fair, both had their challenges last year, through injuries and loss of form. The latter is often a consequence of the former and neither looked at their best as the summer drew to a close. A winter's rest and more coaching from Graeme Welch will have got them back on track though and I am sure that both will have key roles in our forthcoming summer.

They will need to be at their best though. Behind them, there's Greg Cork, Will Davis and Harry White, all of them young enough and talented enough to achieve their dreams IF they listen to the right people and are prepared to work hard at their games.

With wise professionals like Welch, Andy Carter and Tony Palladino to draw on for advice and experience, these lads have every chance of becoming the real deal.

I look forward to watching their development over coming summers.

New book set for June launch

I am thrilled to announce that my second book, produced by Pitch Publishing, will be launched on June 1.

'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation' looks at the history of  Derbyshire County Cricket Club since the Second World War, told through interviews with some of the biggest names of that seventy-year period.

Starting with Walter Goodyear, now 99, the book looks at some of the biggest names and personalities of the period, those involved in the biggest stories and best-placed to tell it like it really was.

With a background in oral history, I wanted to capture these memories while there was a chance to do so and have them in one place for posterity. I am grateful to all those who so willingly gave their time to talk to me and I hope that the end result will be enjoyed by Derbyshire cricket fans of every age.

It has done what I hoped for and captured a lot of stories that I and hopefully you have never heard before, about the lot of a professional cricketer and the development of our cricket club over many decades.

More on this in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Neesham signing could be perfect match for Derbyshire

"We've signed a new New Zealander" I said to Mrs P, this morning.

"Is that not the third?" she replied, showing that she does actually listen when I go on about cricket. "Technically he should be the newest, new New Zealander."

I couldn't argue. The Falcons have gone against evolutionary process and evolved into Kiwis for the summer - and I couldn't be happier.

They bring a winning and aggressive mentality to the game, because it is the way they are brought up to play. Brendon McCullum's captaincy of the national side perhaps exemplified that best, but as cricketers they play  on the front foot, getting at the other team before they get at you. We know what Hamish Rutherford can do already, while Neil Broom's record and reputation suggests a man who will add much to our batting - and the entertainment value -  once he gets used to the wickets.

To them we can now add Jimmy Neesham.

There may be those to who the name is unfamiliar, though I have mentioned him before as a player to keep an eye on. He is only 25 and is not yet a fixture in the New Zealand national side, but that has been more down to bad luck than anything, as a stress fracture in his back curtailed his past year after a series of performances that suggested he is set to be a serious talent.

A Test average of 38 with the bat suggests the stylish and aggressive left-hander can handle a willow and this video of his Test debut century confirms it. With five first-class centuries and eight fifties his talent is patently clear. Yet Neesham is engaged as a T20 specialist and boasts a strike rate of just under 140 alongside a batting average of 28 - pretty good for a man generally going in at seven or eight.

Then there is his bowling. He has twelve Test wickets and over forty in T20, going only for a respectable eight-an-over in the process. Plus he fields brilliantly, which has helped to make him a pick for both the Delhi Daredevils and the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.

He fits perfectly into the 'blueprint' I suggested in my weekend piece, a young and talented cricketer with a reputation to build. In much the same way that Derbyshire proved an excellent finishing school for Martin Guptill, a successful summer could see Jimmy force a way back into their national side, as well as giving him crucial exposure to English wickets. 

I think it a very good signing. My understanding is that Neesham was in discussions with Lancashire and at least one other county about being their T20 specialist this summer, but opted for Derbyshire to play alongside his Otago team mates, Rutherford and Broom.

A trio of Kiwis...'triwis'  if you will, or as Chris Grant referred to them in a tweet today, 'The Kiwi Musketeers'.

The three of them could make a difference this year. The usual harbingers of doom will profess otherwise, but we have added two fine, combative Kiwis to the one who played with success at the end of last season, as well as an aggressive opening bowler in Andy Carter. There has to be excitement - surely - at a notional eleven that lines up something like:

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

Seven bowlers, together with depth and versatility in a batting line up that could be reconfigured in several ways. There could also be a case for Tom Knight, if his winter bowling work has gone well, as another youngster of exciting all-round talent. We are in a tough group, but a young, athletic and exciting side should compete and give us something to be proud of in the manner of their performances. Teams will be wary of that firepower and if we can combine last year's quality of bowling with an improved batting effort, group qualification is a possibility, for sure.

Welcome to Derbyshire Jimmy Neesham. We look forward to enjoying your considerable skills in the coming months.

Here he is in IPL action, with a shot I look forward to seeing repeated in the coming months - very much within range of the new Media Centre, I would think...

Derbyshire pick up Jimmy Neesham for T20

Derby looks set to turn into a satellite of New Zealand this summer, with the news that exciting young Kiwi all-rounder Jimmy Neesham has signed as our T20 specialist.

A side already boasting the not inconsiderable talents of Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom from Otago now adds their team mate Neesham, at 25 a cricketer with a very big future.

His record is already impressive and he boasts both runs and wickets across all formats and at international level, though his progress and place in the team has been slowed in the past twelve months with a stress fracture of the spine, from which he is now recovered.

Crucially for Derbyshire, Neesham has a batting average of 28 in T20, despite batting at six or lower most of the time. He has had two IPL stints and boasts a strike rate of 138 in the format, which suggests he could well be the 'finisher' that we lacked last year.

He has also taken plenty of wickets at around eight runs per over and is a cricketer who is only going to get better, adding brilliance in the field to make him a very dangerous cricketer in the format.

More from me later, when I will look at this in more detail.

I look forward to your thoughts through the coming days, but it is a big thumbs up from me .

Rutherford, Broom and Neesham make up a tasty trio, that's for sure...congratulations and thanks to all that made it happen.