Saturday, 29 October 2016

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.


Adam said...

Good piece Steve, I like most people am very happy with our overseas choices and I do not think that we could have done better. I have also been impressed with Kim's plans, I was sceptical when Kim become Director of Cricket. I was concerned that it had all the hallmarks of a classic Derbyshire appointment, a former player appointed without a rigorous selection decision. After listening to the interviews with Kim it become apparent that Kim has an excellent cricket brain and after watching a lot of first and second team cricket last season, he has clearly identified the weak points and acted accordingly.

Appointing someone from within the club has in this case made sense as we did not need huge sweeping changes but merely a little bit of tinkering and this has largely been done. We have to give the chairman great credit as well, for realising that Kim was the man for the job and in then backing him in recruiting the players that he wants. I am feeling very positive in the direction that we are heading for next season and hopefully beyond that.

Adam said...

One name regarding the fast bowler, Hardus Viljoen, the South African who was at Kent at the end of last season. I recall him saying in a interview whilst over here that he would be very keen on a career in county cricket. He would be a good fit for somebody.

Peakfan said...

Any county that got Viljoen would get a fine bowler, Adam. I think he could take his pick were he to become available, though he may opt to stay home and push for their national side. Definitely wouldnt say no, excellent bowler!

Roy of the Falcons said...

I write this at dinner time on Sunday having just heard of England's demise against spin in Bangladesh. I know conditions are completely different over there but the test series has shown England's best can't play spin a lot of time. Therefore what will the players we will face make of our spinners.

Peakfan said...

Dead right Roy. We will have two of the best...if not the two best..spinners in the country this summer.

I see Tahir has four wickets for his SA franchise side today. Augurs well!

Knack said...

Just seen Neil Goodrich buying bags of sand at B&Q. He must be building a patio.

Peakfan said...

Like that Knack! Very good...

Josh said...

Most likely wishful thinking, but Jerome Taylor has now retired from international cricket for the West Indies. Could be worth a shout on a Kolpak deal. Anyway, am loving the idea of the spin approach for next summer and you can now see why Critchley has been awarded such a substantial contract. He will no doubt develop well in 2017 working alongside Tahir and Mendis.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame we can't persuade Yadira Arafat to play in the County Championship as well as the limited overs competitions as a domestically qualified player.


Peakfan said...

Taylor has been a decent quickie but at 32 is probably past his fast peak. I have heard worse ideas but wouldn't be convinced he would roll teams over.

Same for Yasir Arafat. No idea whether he would qualify through residence but he will be 35 when the next English season starts. He has been a fine cricketer, but as we saw with Rana Naved, another good player, they get to a point where they don't have the old 'nip' and teams just work them around.

Don't get me wrong. Azhar Mahmood is still a cunning player but time waits for no man and, for me, both the above are a little too old to be the salvation and spearhead of our bowling attack.

Anonymous said...

I am just very pleased we seem to want an experienced seamer / strike bowler hopefully. I am worried about the seam attack as it stands. Yes we can prepare spinning pitches but what about when we are away. We need to improve the seam bowling unit. I think one marquee signing will be enough as Palladino is very reliable, we know Thakor is also a decent option and then we have Milnes, Davis, Taylor (who I think is excellent) and the injury last season was a real shame & Cotton competing for the other places. I liked what I saw of Milnes at the end of last season. Also, I hadn't really given this consideration but there is every chance Critchley will play and we might only have 3 seamers (say a new signing, Palladino and Thakor. Not to mention Alex Hughes might play as a batsmen so we do have plenty of options. Reece also with his left arm seam. However, much as we have a lot of potential in the seam bowling department we do really need a strike bowler who Billy can rely on to get wickets regularly. Like Footitt did. Fingers crossed we can get this deal over the line. The club must be confident for KB to mention it and the official club media channels retweeting as well as Chris Grant. Hopefully by the end of the week we will be almost done for the championship. A batsmen would be great but I am not holding my breath. I know we declined the SA lad Smit as a keeper but he is batting 3 for his SA side and he does a bit of leg spin so maybe we might go back in for him. Or perhaps he's a back up if we don't get main target. A tweet from Grant last week did say something about giving KB the funds required to be successful so I doubt he would say that if we only had one more signing in mind.

Steve H said...

Forget the seam option, get it going around corners from the first ball and win your home games.

Away games? Ten batsmen and draw the lot! Simple, and saving money for the county ! :)