Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ahead of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And hearing from you, of course!

Enjoy your festivities tonight.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Random thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 December 2016

John Wright's new album...Red Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a listen and enjoy it, as I did.

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

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Mendis looks the real deal for Derbyshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Walter Goodyear 1917-2016

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

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

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

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

Walter Goodyear was one of the most special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You've earned it.

Thank you for those golden memories.

Jeevan Mendis in prime domestic form

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it going, Jeevan!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Academy intake announced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Adieu to Broom as Kiwi returns to international fold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Book orders coming in!

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

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Please feel free to get in touch at any time to

Payment for the book can be made through Paypal.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Talking point - averages, Kolpaks and overseas players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Viljoen signing icing on the cake for Derbyshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What do you think?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Mal Loye is new county Development Coach

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

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

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

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

Recruits largely sorted by Christmas.

Coaches in place.

Can't fault it, so far.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Viljoen signing a stunning coup by county

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not TOO close though...

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

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday round up

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

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

Congratulations to you both!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from me soon.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Eleven reasons to buy my book this Christmas...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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