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...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

John Wright 'comes home' as new T20 coach

I had a feeling that something would be announced today, when the membership packages for 2017 are announced. Perhaps a player but, as it turns out, the news that one of the biggest coaches in cricket is returning to a club that was his cricketing home for many years.

John Wright is a giant of the game. First as a player, one who rightly stakes a claim as one of the best in the club's history. He did it on the international stage too, averaging just under forty in an era when opening batsmen faced genuine fast bowling, whoever the opposition. All of it - well, nearly all of it - with a smile on his face and a genial manner that made him hugely popular with supporters.

It was the same when Wright became New Zealand coach and then the first non-Indian coach of their national side. He had previously enjoyed a county stint in charge at Kent and quickly became established as an outstanding coach at international level.

Of course, having the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman in the batting line up never does any harm, but Wright stressed to them all the role that they were expected to play in winning matches. He explained this well - shameless plug time - in an interview for my recent book In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation, which gave an insight into the man and the way that he worked as a player and subsequently as a coach.

That same interview also clearly showed how important Derbyshire was and remains for John. He has made regular trips over here and has remained on very good terms with the club. He is also an unashamed fan of the area, which he loves.

He was in charge of India for five years, in which time they beat Australia at home for the first time, drew a series in that country, won a fiercely competed series against their arch rivals, Pakistan and reached the final of the 2003 World Cup.

At the end of his tenure -  and five years is a long time in a role that rarely carries a suggestion of longevity, even with success - Wright became a successful coach in the IPL, leading Mumbai Indians to that title and the Champions League T20 double in 2013.

Since then he has been a talent scout for that side, a role well-explained in this Cricinfo article. It was Wright who spotted the raw, unorthodox but precocious talent of Jasprit Bumrah, as well as that of Hardik Pandya, both of who have gone on to greater things.

That Wright has the coaching credentials is undeniable, but he also brings a huge network of contacts. As was explained recently by Kim Barnett, the T20 coach will recruit his overseas players and work solely on that format.

Might that see another return, this time for Martin Guptill? I won't attempt to second-guess, but John could go in any number of directions and will doubtless know a lot about what he has in the squad already and how that might best be complemented.

For my money, a powerhouse batsman and either a quick bowler or spinner of class would do nicely. If either offer a second string to their bow, so much the better, but we are in very good hands with John Wright.

If you are considering coaches who have made a reputation and a contribution to a dynasty, his work in making India more 'professional' is acknowledged across the world.

That he is now bringing those talents back to the county that gave him his first major opportunity in the game constitutes a pretty major coup by Kim Barnett. If this is the standard we are aiming at this winter, only the most churlish will find something to moan about.

Of course, we all want to know who is coming to play here next summer.

With a man of this stature in charge, it could be absolutely anyone.

Welcome back to Derbyshire, John. It will be a pleasure to see you again.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Grand Tour lies ahead

I am looking forward to a whistle stop tour over the next few days.

Tomorrow I am in Southport, talking to the West Lancashire Cricket Society, then on Thursday it will be over to Liverpool, and a chat to the Merseyside Cricket Society.

From there it is down to God's Own County for a couple of nights, to catch up with parents and friends before the winter sets in.

I don't know if we'll hear anything about new signings to coincide with the membership information that comes out tomorrow, but I will take my trusty laptop with me, just in case.

Elsewhere today, Lancashire has announced the signing of James Faulkner for next summer's T20, when he will doubtless give very good value. He is a good cricketer with bat and ball and, in that format, a proven match-winner.

Just the sort of player that every county will be looking for in the weeks and months ahead, in fact.

Meanwhile Kent will also be looking for a new coach after parting company with Jimmy Adams. He did a good job there on fairly limited resources and his successor will have a tough act to follow.

They don't lack interest in the post, according to the BBC website and nor will Derbyshire. However the new roles will lie after the recruitment process, I am confident that we will have someone eminently capable in the various roles before too long.

With that, I say farewell and will catch up through the week as time permits.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Membership details out next week

One of the first landmarks of the winter is reached next week, when Derbyshire announce the membership packages and rates for next season.

It will be interesting to see if the announcement is preceded by news of a big new signing, one of the experienced men that we have been promised. It would doubtless have the desired effect, although they may not be far enough down the line with these at this stage.

Yesterday I read a piece on Cricinfo about Ravi Ashwin, a player who has made his fortune, like many others, on the back of the IPL. He is a fine cricketer, able with the bat and a prolific wicket-taker - on his own tracks.

Therein lies the crux of the matter and the reason for my comment on their website yesterday. You cannot compare Ashwin with Herath, Warne, Murali, Marshall, Akram, Waqar and others because he plays 90% of his cricket in India, on wickets he knows well.

The statistician who was involved in the piece was attempting to show him as better than those above, which on his own wickets he perhaps is. Yet it neglected to consider that his workload is far less than theirs, so he is likely to be more fresh, while not referencing his poor returns elsewhere.

Because of his contract with IPL, Ashwin, like the other Indian stars, is neither able to nor needs to go and ply his trade elsewhere. He is wealthy, yet his stature in the game will always be less, for me, than bowlers such as Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Venkat and Kumble.

These players took wickets everywhere in the world, having honed their craft accordingly. I have little doubt that Ashwin would be a success in the county game, but we will never know that for sure, because it will never happen. All that is known is that his Test wickets in England, South Africa and Australia cost him sixty runs-plus each, compared to twenty-odd at home.

As Derbyshire search for a spin bowler for next season, Ashwin would have been a huge draw for the local ethnic fans and may have taken a lot of wickets, but it will never happen.

Which is all rather a shame.

Off to Lancashire for book talks

Later this week I will be heading for the delights of Lancashire for a couple of nights of cricket talks and chat.

On Wednesday I will be in Southport, where I will be talking to the West Lancashire Cricket Society that evening, while on Thursday I will be in Liverpool speaking to the Merseyside Cricket Society at Sefton Park Cricket Club.

I am always happy to do such talks and if you have any ideas for an evening and require an experienced speaker, drop me an email to the usual address, which you will find in the left hand bar as you scroll down the page.

I will be talking about the blog and my two books. I am delighted to have received so many positive reviews and comments about both and if you have not already picked up a copy of In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation then it will make a nice Christmas gift for the cricket fan in your life.

You can order it from me, priced £15 plus postage, which matches the price it is selling on Amazon. I will happily sign or inscribe it if you wish.

You can also order it from Amazon or from any book shop.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Farewell to Harry White

Yesterday, in welcoming the addition of Tom Wood and Charlie Macdonell onto the staff, I omitted to note the departure of Harry White.

I mentioned a day or two back that he was still on the club site, but I had heard he had been trialing elsewhere, which suggested his time at the club was drawing to an end.

There's a decent bowler in Harry and it may be that he is one of these later developers. There were occasions when it all came together and he looked like he could perhaps breakthrough, but that will now happen elsewhere, if it does at first-class level.

His only first-class game was in 2015, against the visiting Australians, when he took the wickets of Mitchell Marsh and Shane Watson, both to catches by Harvey Hosein. If your first-class appearances are going to be limited, that's probably the way to do it.

I wish him well in his future efforts. He still has time on his side, but at a club where young seam talent is proliferating, perhaps opportunity knocks elsewhere.

Good luck anyway, Harry.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Two young batsmen taken onto staff

Yesterday, responding to Gareth's query on whether I thought we might sign an experienced batsman for number three, I suggested that while on the face of it we could do with one, we already had plenty of batting options.

Assuming that Shiv Thakor and Harvey Hosein bat six and seven in the order (which may or may not be the case), I said that we already had Billy Godleman, Ben Slater, Alex Hughes, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen, Gary Wilson and Neil Broom - possibly Tom Wood too - for 5 places.

Well, today came the news that Tom Wood has indeed been given a contract for next season, as has Charlie Macdonnell. Both awards were fully deserved. Wood averaged over a hundred for the second team, was their player of the season and played some fine innings for the Unicorns between times.

Macdonnell averaged just under fifty for the second team, after averaging 93 in his short stint with Durham MCCU.  In his one match in the first eleven, he made 21 and 35 not out, looking an assured player of good technique in the process.

Both now have the chance to work with the first team squad and the coaches over the winter in readiness for 2017. Wood's aggressive style would make him an exciting option for T20, where he proved his talent and aptitude on several occasions in the summer just past.

Still, that's all for another day and another coach. Each day at present seems to bring news and it is good to see the club moving so proactively.

Sincere congratulations to both Tom and Charlie - you both had an excellent 2016.

Now make it an even more special 2017.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Barnett interview suggests signing(s) imminent

I've enjoyed the series of interviews on the club site with Kim Barnett.

Say what you like about Kim, he knows the game and appears to be as passionate about Derbyshire success as he was in his playing days.

Nor is he anyone's fool, so when he says 'I am expecting an improvement in results next season' there must be good reason for him to do so. I'd suggest that our winter target is not merely the type of player released by another county, but one or two who are considerably better than that.

'We also need to make sure that our batsmen will be able to cope with the type of pitches that we will be asking our ground staff to prepare in order to win four-day matches. There is a lot to do during the winter in general'. said Barnett.

Sounds to me like a spinner is on his way, or very much in their sights. Derby wickets have seamed enough over the years for playing on them to be de rigeur for the players, so one can only assume that there will be a sea change down Derby way.

The club Director of Cricket continued: 'I think we are close to getting some of the players and skills that we need to add to this squad.

Those skills have been selected specifically to enhance what we have and not to have a detrimental effect on the development of our younger players. Everyone will say that we have been short of at least a bowler in four-day cricket so that is what we have been looking for.'

Well, we don't have a quality spinner, nor a strike bowler, as plenty of correspondents on here in recent months will vouch for. Nor do we yet, despite the strong claims of Alex Hughes and  Luis Reece, have an obvious and nailed on number three. I'm not sure if these are the same staffing shortfalls that Kim has identified, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled, as it would appear that some sort of announcement may be forthcoming sooner, rather than later.

The big comment to catch my eye? 'We are also looking at specific skills to bring from overseas to enhance what we have got.'

Does that refer to the overseas star, or is it a reference to our shopping in that market for a Kolpak too?

I don't know, but it makes for exciting stuff.

Which is nice, I am sure you will agree.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Book Review: Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire by Andrew Murtagh

John Holder was the sort of journeyman professional who 'makes' the game of cricket.

His was not a stellar career, where he travelled the globe as a 'gun for hire' and made money in every continent. He had an in and out career for Hampshire, where he took 139 wickets over seven seasons, punctuating periods where he was out of form with occasional displays of brilliance.

Ironically, his best displays came in his final year on the staff, before a back injury ended his career. 13-128 in the match against Gloucestershire, followed by a hat trick against Kent. Afterwards he became a popular and successful professional in the Lancashire League.

'Popular' perhaps best sums up a man who was in the second wave of Caribbean immigrants recruited by London Transport after the war. While working on the Underground, he went for a trial with Hampshire who were so taken with his pace that they recruited him on the spot.

The book tells of his struggles on arrival in the country, trying to make a mark in the first-class game and his enjoyment of his professional and league career. It also tells of his popularity among supporters and team mates, a smile never far from his lips and always happy to talk to supporters and sign autographs. There have been plenty who were less willing over the years...

Then came umpiring, a job he fulfilled with considerable skill for 27 summers. There are plenty of tales from the circuit, as one might expect and it is the kind of cricket book I enjoy. We all know the stories around the biggest names, but it is a pleasure to get a different perspective from someone who became the first black man to officiate in a Test match in England.

Holder officiated in 11 Test matches and 19 ODIs and another claim to fame was in being the first neutral umpire in a Test series (Pakistan v India, for the trivia buffs).

It is a fine read, as befits the author, who has several strong titles to his name. I enjoyed Andrew Murtagh's biographies of Tom Graveney and Barry Richards, far bigger names, with respect, than John Holder.

Yet this was a tale that deserved to be told and who better to tell it than Murtagh, a former team mate of the player and best placed to write in an informed and, as usual, enjoyable manner. It is the story of a man, as well as that of an era on which many look back with considerable pleasure.

Heartily recommended and another fine title from Pitch Publishing

Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available through all good book shops.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Thoughts on the squad

'Do you think that Luis Reece is the sort of player that we'll see coming in this winter, Peakfan? Good a prospect as he is, there's no real experience there'.

So ran an email I got last night and it made me double check a few things.

Since the start of the season we have released Rutherford, Hughes, Durston, Poynton, Carter, Elstone, and Knight. Harry White is still on the club site but was, I understand, trialing elsewhere, while we also had Luke Fletcher on loan. Tony Palladino will split his time between playing and coaching, while Callum Parkinson came and went faster than you can say 'got him with the arm ball'.

That's eleven players, twelve if you add in Jimmy Neesham. What is left makes interesting reading.

It leaves eighteen on the staff, according to the club site, which includes Harry White. Of those eighteen, only Madsen, Broom, Godleman, Wilson and Palladino could be considered experienced. Others have been around for a few seasons, but university and injury have limited their involvement.

No, I suspect that while we might see one or two young players engaged on deals for next summer (and I hope that Tom Wood is one, as second team player of the year) the rest of our signings will likely be men of experience.

They have to be. To win matches we need to take wickets and it is unrealistic to expect to do that with young players learning the game. There will be occasions where they provide shock value, play above themselves or the opposition go after them, but we cry out for the strike bowler and spinner I have mentioned before.

Harold Rhodes told me that when he started he got wickets because people took liberties against him, when they could take none off Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson. Rhodes then played a similar role for Alan Ward, while Michael Holding took as many wickets at the other end as he did himself.

If we could find, somewhere, a seam bowler and spinner of quality, it would make the lives of the young bowlers much easier. They would still have to work, but batsmen would take chances, aware that X was bowling at the other end, while Y was limbering up. On good tracks, Billy Godleman could ideally then rely on someone to put the ball in the right areas and make batsmen work for runs. Tony Palladino did that admirably last year, but cannot be expected to bowl 25 overs an innings in every match.

Fingers crossed the next news will be of the signing of one such player, which would whet the appetite of supporters for a season that has to be better than the one just finished.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Farewell to Wes Durston

On a day that we welcome a mid-twenties all-rounder in Luis Reece, we say farewell to one in his mid-thirties, as it has been announced that Wes Durston has been released.

Suffice to say that if Luis gives us similar service to Wes we will have few complaints. Until last season, when he cut a rather sorry figure at the crease and seemed less mobile and less able to pick the ball up, he was one of the finest sights in the game.

One of several astute 'spots' by John Morris, Wes was a near-immediate hit and scattered his magic liberally across the county batting. His golden summer was 2012, when he starred in our championship season and looked a million dollars at times. Once Wes got in, his feet started moving and when the wicket was true, there were few better sights in the game.

It wasn't just the runs that he made, it was the way that he made them. A combination of power and timing that has rarely been bettered, especially in front of the wicket, Wes could make a mockery of any run rate and while he was in, you felt we always had a chance.

Of course, playing as he did was always a percentage game. Wes was an eye player, not necessarily the one with the best technique, but when everything was in synch the ball would crash through the covers as if the fielders weren't there. His cover and straight driving will always be bench marks, though an average of just over thirty confirms his fallibility for when he was a little too gung ho for the match situation and the conditions.

I always saw him as a throwback, perhaps like one of the gentleman amateurs who enlivened the game between the wars. The average was not necessarily at the front of his mind, but entertaining the crowd seemed to be. He could be more circumspect at times, but his chafing at the bit to play those strokes was almost tangible on the boundary edge.

As a bowler he was useful, with an unusual way of imparting spin that was nonetheless effective. There were times he perhaps could have bowled more, especially for a county that often struggled for wickets on dry surfaces. He bowled us to a win or two and held some absolute blinders in the field. Whether at slip or in the deep, Wes had a fine pair of hands and although less fleet of foot in the past couple of summers, remained a man you could rely on.

As a skipper? I was less convinced and although he led from the front with the bat, he tended to veer too far into pinch hitter territory, rather than that of aggressive opening bat. Perhaps that was his way of setting the tone, but his output dropped as a result and tempering the aggression may have brought dividends for both him and the side. I also felt that he under bowled himself as skipper and some match situations may have benefited from even just the change of pace.

Still, seven years, seven and a half thousand runs and 170-plus wickets. There is nothing to be ashamed of in such statistics and at the end of the day Wes Durston entertained. I don't dispute the decision to release him, as we ultimately needed more from a senior player's cost than an aging body was able to offer.

It is the end of the Wes and Ches show, one that enlivened many a one-day match. Derbyshire will move on, hopefully forward and someone will step into the breach and take up the mantle. Yet years from now, when we all look back to these years, plenty will think back to Wes in his pomp and smile.

Thanks Wes. It was, at times, quite magnificent to watch.

Good luck in your future ventures and thanks for many golden memories.

Reece signing a savvy one for the future

Well, I reckon I should either go down to the local store and buy myself a lottery ticket, or get an application in for one of the new coaching roles at Derbyshire...

After writing around a week ago that Luis Reece was the one released player who I would take a punt on at the club, today's announcement that he has signed a two-year deal comes as a very pleasant and welcome surprise.

What's not to like? Here is a young cricketer in his mid-twenties, who has proven ability to open the batting or bat high in the order, as well as offering more than useful variety with left arm seam. As I have written before, his cameo when  opening with Alviro Petersen in this year's T20 Blast convinced me that he was a player of talent, just as he suggested with an average north of 50 in 2013.

He had earlier played alongside Ben Slater for Leeds/Bradford MCCU and made headlines by taking 7-21 for them against Sussex. His bowling had struggled in the past two seasons, however, a knee injury holding him back.

Perhaps his trial at Derbyshire in late summer was as much to prove his fitness for bowling as anything else and he took four cheap wickets in the first innings, quite likely sealing the deal in the process.

Reece is a long way from the finished article as a cricketer. If he was, Lancashire wouldn't have let him go, but Derbyshire have obviously seen something in him that suggested he is worth two years on the staff, at the very least.

The rest is very much down to the player. First, to fight for a place in the first team amid a talented group of young players, then to develop his game with the assistance of the senior cricketers and coaches with who he will be working.

If he comes off, he will be well worth watching.

A good cricketer, a shrewd signing. Not one of the established players of proven credentials we are all expecting in due course, but one with the potential to do some very good things in Derbyshire colours.

Gets my vote, for sure.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Slater deal completes the set for Derbyshire

A day after Alex Hughes signed a new contract with Derbyshire, comes the equally excellent news that Ben Slater has signed a new two-year deal that, like most of the others, keeps him at the club until the end of 2018 at this stage.

It has been good work by the club. All of the young talent have signed new deals and they will have a chance to develop together. I hesitate to say 'win together' as picking up trophies becomes an increasing challenge and will be dependent on much more than fielding a bunch of youngsters, however promising.

Ben started the season out of the side but forced his way in through weight of runs and was brilliant in the RLODC. I have said from the first time I saw him that he reminded me of Neil Fairbrother in his busy manner of batting. None of us would complain if he 'topped out' at that level.

He is the latest to suggest excitement at the club's ambition, suggesting that the players have an idea of our winter targets and they are some way above run of the mill players.

The only seniors who currently look likely to play a regular part for us next year are Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Gary Wilson. Whether Tony Palladino is reserved more for matches when conditions suit him, rather than being flogged on flat tracks, will largely depend on who we sign in the coming months. We need a couple more at least, with Neil Broom's return to these shores in better nick being important too.

It was interesting to read today that Daryn Smit has started the South African domestic season with the Dolphins batting at three and registering another century. He's not got the gloves either, Morne Van Wyk taking that role, so his leggies may get an airing later in the game. I've no idea whether Derbyshire have ever been serious about signing him, or whether he was simply keeping for our second team as we had no one else, but he's a heck of a cricketer and keeps scoring truck loads of runs. Not sure that there's too many people around and available with such a CV...

Finally today, Warwickshire have parted company with Dougie Brown, despite winning the RLODC only a few weeks ago. It shows the unforgiving nature of professional sport, although the club's concern over a lack of emerging academy talent, coupled with mounting debt, seems to be an issue.

Ashley Giles is tipped to return to the club where he made his name, apparently frustrated with criticism from a minority of supporters. I can't think of anywhere you won't get that, to be honest, so maybe a move home is at the crux of it all.

More from me soon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Alex Hughes latest to sign new deal

Fair play to Derbyshire.

While we await news of the big names who we hope will transform our fortunes on and off the field, the club has been busy in securing the services of the best of its young talent.

Hence the news today that Alex Hughes has signed a new deal to the end of 2018, following on from most of his colleagues. I reckon that by the time that contract comes to an end, Alex will be skippering the county in at least one form of the game, likely the one-day cricket. That's assuming, of course, that we're not bringing in some Barlovian figure from overseas to transform our fortunes, which is highly unlikely, as Eddie Barlows are once in a century type of cricketers.

Yet Hughes could become a special player himself. His challenge next year is to prove that the encouraging displays of the season end were no fluke and his elevation to number three in the order is part of the natural progression of things. He has the technique - now to see if the powers of concentration are there and he can build a succession of big scores.

He did a good job in captaining the county in limited opportunities last year and seemed to enjoy the experience. A winter in Australia, where he will play alongside Ben Slater in Victorian A grade cricket, will do him the world of good, as it will Ben.

I'll be following their fortunes over the long, dark months and report on them when I can, as I will on Matt Critchley in Sydney, where he will work alongside some very good coaches.

Good luck to all of the lads, in weather considerably better than we will get here!

Durham blues and Derbyshire expectation

I have to admit as being as shocked as most of you at the draconian punishment dished out to Durham yesterday.

That the club is under severe financial pressure is beyond doubt, so a financial penalty was never going to be appropriate. That those financial pressures are partly the fault of the ECB is equally beyond dispute. Why the county created a headquarters and potential Test ground in a town with a population of only 26,000 people is a moot point. Yet so too is why the ECB wanted another international ground in the first place.

With Lord's guaranteed their summer Tests and the Oval likewise, there are slim pickings for the others. This is especially the case when one of the usual two summer series is early in the season when the climate really isn't ready for people sitting around all day. Add to that the reality that half of the international sides really aren't that exciting these days and even the non-cricket fan can see an immediate issue, let alone the ardent enthusiast.

Relegating Durham was, perhaps, an obvious and inevitable punishment. Yet to then dock them 48 points in the championship, four in the T20 and two in the RLODC for next summer smacks somewhat of kicking a man while he is down, then taking his jacket and bus fare home. The ECB should acknowledge their complicity and accountability, but seem merely to want to send a warning to others.

Have no doubt about it, this could easily have been Hampshire or Yorkshire, were it not for wealthy benefactors or more understanding local authorities. There are way too many counties living beyond their means at a time when the cloth needs to be cut to suit more than ever before.

Which leads me neatly to our county, where that has become a beautifully tailored annual event. I have enjoyed listening to the vision of Kim Barnett in recent days and he speaks as well as he ever has. The new one-year plan is to be applauded in its need for and expectation of immediate results.

The creation of such a plan, of course, is dependent on attracting the right players in to improve fortunes. I would suggest that Kim and the club board must be confident they have identified and perhaps even already secured the services of such people, as a one-year improvement would be beyond the compass of the average county player.

Look at Leicestershire. They brought in Horton, Dexter and Pettini, established county players all, yet it made very little difference to them. They finished above us in the four-day game, but were bottom of both one-day competitions and are still a fairly wretched  - and also aging - side.

Who our new players will be will doubtless be revealed in the next few weeks and I await their names with the same sense of anticipation as all of you.

The coaching positions will doubtless be filled quickly too, with Kim clarifying that he will appoint a specialist T20 coach. It should be of interest to a fair few people, with the format specialised and popular around the globe. There is a challenge, beyond doubt, but the new coach can choose his own overseas players to augment an already improved Derbyshire squad.

It all makes for an exciting 2017.

I'm touched that they're doing all this for my fiftieth summer as a Derbyshire supporter...