Sunday, 31 December 2017

And finally...

In the closing hours of 2017, a chance to wish all of you, wherever you are, the very best for the year that lies ahead.

In the season just past, that now seems a distant memory, Derbyshire made decent strides forward. The T20 can be looked back upon with considerable satisfaction, providing more memorable moments than that competition has managed in the previous five. If we can persuade John Wright and Dominic Cork to return, then recruit a couple of top players for the competition, we could easily manage the same, if not better, next year.

In the four-day game, I suspect our season may have panned out differently had Hardus Viljoen been available all summer. If he starts next year in the same form he ended this, has the expected support from the experienced Ravi Rampaul and perhaps an overseas seamer who can bat in April, then our championship may be less the form of also rans, more that of promotion candidates. With, fingers crossed, a fully fit Will Davis in the mix, we should bowl sides out.

Neither of our two batting lynch pins, Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, were in their best four-day form last year, but there was enough progress elsewhere in the side to suggest next summer could be one to excite us.

Here's hoping.

To you and yours, enjoy your evening and I hope that 2018 brings everything you wish for.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas wishes - and John Wright's festive single

The next few days are going to be busy for family Peakfan, as well as for all of you, no doubt, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas.

After the travails of the year, our family is looking forward to this one especially. Sylvia is doing really well now, I am pleased to relate and should be back to her best in the months that lie ahead.

I would like to thank all of you who have checked in regularly throughout the year and those who have contributed your thoughts from time to time. That's ten years that I have been doing the blog now and it continues to grow, each successive year bringing more hits than the ones that preceded it.

I am proud of that, and flattered. What started out as a means of getting in touch with 'one or two' Derbyshire fans out there now has seen readership increase to 34 countries. It is always a particular pleasure to hear from those far away, whose support of the club continues undiminished despite the miles in between. Please continue to get in touch and I will always reply, as and when I can.

Thanks also to those who have bought my two books and in answer to your questions, the Edwin Smith one is long since sold out, with copies now popping up on ebay from time to time.

In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation continues to sell well and the box that I had pre-Christmas has been reduced to one last lonely copy. Festive delivery won't happen now, but if anyone would like to buy it, suitably inscribed, please get in touch. Copies are still available, while stocks last, from Amazon and your local book shop.

Every so often something blog-related happens that surprises me and that happened overnight, when I got an email from Rodeo Records in New Zealand. My thanks go to Aly Cook for the link below to John Wright's Christmas single, which I hope that you enjoy as much as I do. As a seasoned traveler to Tennessee, country music is close to my heart and this is a song that will doubtless seep into your sub-conscious and find you singing or humming the chorus in the days ahead.

I will say with confidence that Derbyshire has the best Christmas song in county cricket this year.

Maybe that's a portent of things to come in 2018?

Enjoy the video - and your Christmas!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Knives out for the county game

Well folks, Christmas is coming and we come closer to the end of another year.

Activity at Derbyshire this week seems to have revolved around Alex Hughes delivering memberships and the players having what appears to have been a sports-themed Christmas party, from the photos on Twitter. All good stuff, of course and the reality is that we will know little else about next season's plans, I guess, until the new year and the IPL draft.

There's little point in contracting an early season overseas player until we know if he will be involved in the Indian competition for several weeks. We must be patient and acknowledge that behind the scenes a lot of work is doubtless going on.

Off the field, I realised this week that my work's new holiday policy, where next year's calendar opens up in November before the fixtures are announced, is not conducive to booking cricket trips. I managed to get a week in July and August in there for family breaks, but neither coincides with the cricket as announced. Perhaps as well, as neither are to God's own county.

I have managed to work a long weekend around the opening four-day game at Derby, because it is usually too cold for most to holiday, so should get to see what we look like then. Another couple of planned trips have been knocked back, at least for now. I will also pull in a couple of days in Durham for the four-day game there, all being well and will shape the rest of my visits when we get into the new year.

Elsewhere, the usual suspects have started to blame England's tour travails on the county schedule, likely doing a copy and paste from the last time they wrote it, which was when we last lost a series. It's funny, when we win, no one says it is because of the excellent grounding on the county circuit, but when we lose, it's like they are being made to work the pit face, naked, with a knife and fork for tools.

When we read that Steven Finn has 'pace sucked out of him by the daily grind' there is an initial sympathy, until one explores further and sees he bowled less than 300 overs in the summer just past. There will be plenty of veterans who will laugh a little at that, and a good few for who that was around a month's bowling.

I don't pretend the life of a county cricketer is easy, because it isn't. Everyone wants a pop at you, thinks they could do as well, given opportunity and thinks you should score runs and take wickets every time you play. It doesn't work like that, but it also a life of privilege, as many realise when it is no longer there and an 'ordinary life' beckons.

The England squad, in my humble opinion, would be better served by appreciating what they have and not treating a tour like an all-expenses paid jolly, which this tour appears to have become. With privilege comes responsibility, certainly in personal conduct and, like anyone in the public eye, there will always be those out there who are ready and wanting to bring you down.

Making four-day cricket less of an unwelcome guest might help too. Playing four-day cricket in the early part of the year, when quick bowlers can't get warm and the dibbly-dobblies thrive is stupid. You won't win in Australia with Darren Stevens, even if he will get 30 wickets by the end of May on slow, green wickets as sure as night turns to day.

If the cricket authorities seriously want to win the Test series and see it as more prestigious than a T20 series win (which it is) then they need to show its importance with scheduling. I'd guess that Harold Rhodes and Bill Copson were more willing to let themselves go on a warm day when the muscles were loose and the wicket had a bit of bounce. When those conditions are available now, our bowlers want only to bowl wide yorkers and a range of slower balls.

Anyway, I can't change it any more than you and the suits at Lord's only want to increase the game's pulling power with a city-based T20, which for me remains doomed to failure.

On the bright side, if it succeeds there will be a lot more people interested in the game who will wonder why we are so poor as a touring side.

And start to ask questions themselves...

I will be back before Christmas - see you then.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Mystic Peakfan thrice foretells the future...

I think I should put on a coupon today, as three times this week my erstwhile comments have been shown to be accurate by subsequent events.

First up we had Luis Reece ending his stint in Bangladesh with a dazzling top score of an unbeaten 80 when opening the batting, when earlier, slotted into the unfamiliar middle order, runs were harder to come by.

Who'd have thought it eh? As I wrote at the time, there was no point signing him if you don't bat him in his regular place and it suggests that the selectors, while obviously able, don't always allow common sense to interfere with their work.

Then there is England's struggle, again, to bowl out Australia in their own conditions. Once more, while I'd love to claim the foresight of a Romany mystic, common sense dictated that on a semi-decent batting track a semi-decent Australian side would simply line up an attack that is squarely built around a battery of right arm, fast-medium bowlers.

Variety of your attack, at any level of the game, is a key to taking wickets. How often do we see the advent of a spinner taking a wicket, after batsmen have become established against fast medium bowlers? I hope that Derbyshire persevere with Luis Reece's left arm medium pace and Matt Critchley's leg spin, because they offer something different. If Hardus Viljoen returns from his winter overseas fully fit and Will Davis is fit for more than a couple of games at a time, that variety in our attack will help us to win games. Always assuming that the batsmen score the runs we need, of course.

Finally - and going back over a year to my original thoughts on this - we now read that ten first-class counties, Derbyshire apparently among them, have written to ECB chairman Colin Graves in opposition to the plans for the eight city 20/20  competition due to start in 2020.

Why? Because the framework agreement cuts them out of an ownership share that was promised back at the start, for 'legal and tax efficiency reasons'.

As long-term readers will know, I expressed my grave reservations about this competition and what it meant for the smaller counties when it was first touted. Promises were made to 'buy' support that never looked sustainable to me and the whole thing, then as now, looked like some Machiavellian sub-plot to first marginalise and then dispense with several counties.

Having been involved in cricket, from a playing, watching and reporting perspective for over fifty years, I can honestly say that there are plenty of people within it who, were they to tell me it was sunny outside, I would want to check before I put on my sun cream. As my old Dad, still sage and alert at 90 told me the other day once again, 'it's the best game in the world, but has always been run by the biggest idiots'.

Harsh? There are the well-meaning out there, but too many, in positions of power, who are out to feather their own nests, irrespective of the cost and impact on others. It has always been so and likely will remain that way.

If these counties don't stand together, the county game in 25 years time will be massively changed to its detriment. We have already seen the marginalisation of the four-day game and to those who question who attends these games, my answer is quick and to the point. No one does who is in employment, because the games are arranged for midweek when we cannot go. Play more games Friday to Monday, even if it means three divisions and six teams in each, then see the difference.

In closing, thanks to all those who have ordered copies of 'In Their Own Words'. I now have just two left, although Amazon have sourced more and it can still be ordered from your local book shop.

I will gladly post mine, inscribed as you wish, in time for Christmas, if ordered in the next couple of days. Price £15 now though, as they will need to go first-class on Monday or Tuesday.

Have a good weekend.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Book rush leaves me with limited copies

Thanks to all those who got in touch to buy inscribed copies of my post war oral history of the club 'In Their Own Words'.

I am now down to the last half dozen copies of the book and new copies are now selling on Amazon for over £30, with stock seemingly in short supply.

A recent review on Amazon called it 'a brilliant book not only for a life-time Derbyshire supporter such as myself, but also for any cricket enthusiast with a deep love of the wonderful game of cricket. Every story is fascinating and in many cases there are amusing anecdotes which verify the spirit in which the game was played. A great piece of work'.

It tells the story of life on the county cricket circuit since the last war, told by the people who played the game for Derbyshire and were among its major characters. Opened with what was for me a memorable interview with the late Walter Goodyear, it travels through the 1950s with Harold Rhodes, Edwin Smith and Keith Mohan, on into the 1960s with Peter Eyre, Peter Gibbs and Brian Jackson. Legends such as Bob Taylor, John Wright and Devon Malcolm are included, while county stalwarts Alan Hill and Tony Borrington's memories of the pace attacks of the 1970s and 80's are memorable.

My remaining copies are available, inscribed as you wish, for £14, including second-class postage.  

If you have a Derbyshire fan in your life, I am grateful for the fact that it has enjoyed excellent reviews and has been enjoyed. I am equally happy that non-county fans have enjoyed its memories of the county game as it changed over seventy summers.

A good Christmas present and, as the old advert used to say, when it's gone, it's gone.

Contact me now to get yours in time for Christmas, with an email to

And thanks to everyone who has already bought it and for your positive comments.

Hughes contract signals coming of age

The good news that Derbyshire supporters were waiting for came this week, as Alex Hughes signed a new three-year deal with the county, one that keeps him at the club until the end of the 2020 season.

At 26, Hughes has been around the club for a long time, but university studies hindered his cricket progress for a while. Before last season he had flirted with the first team and showed glimpses of promise, making an occasional good score, chipping in with wickets when given the opportunity and fielding well in any position.

Last season was the breakthrough. While long-term readers will know that I have espoused his value to the side for some time, 2017 was the summer in which his talents became obvious to a wider audience. He sealed and maintained a position in the middle order for the first time, making the number five role his own with a series of fine innings. One of 142 at Bristol in the summer's final knock took his season average to a solid 40, while edging his career one north of 30 for the first time. It was his fourth century for the club and something on which he can build.

I have mentioned before his ability to score runs when most needed and it is one that promises to serve his county well. Perhaps, like a county professional pre-war, he will better learn to 'drink at the well' when conditions are in his favour, as a score of 30-3 is more likely to see him at his best than one of 200-3, but it should be remembered that he has still had only 74 first-class innings.

He finished top of the RLODC averages and has the ability to play the orthodox and unorthodox with equal skill. He has all the shots and yet a defence and technique that enables him to dig in and score runs when others fail. I see him as the man around who the batting line-up can be built for the next five-ten years and I am pleased to see his value to the side becoming more obvious to others.

Whether his bowling becomes even more that of an occasional option only time will tell. I don't recall him bowling in the four-day game last summer, though his skiddy medium pace remains a useful one-day option on slower wickets. I hope it is not ignored, because the likes of Paul Collingwood and Darren Stevens have shown the merits of a more sedate pace, especially on early season tracks.

I also see him as captain-elect of the club, almost certainly the next vice-captain to Billy Godleman and eventual heir to the 'throne'. He's a bright, intelligent and affable lad, with a level of commitment that all sports supporters want to see from one of their own.

I am pleased that the new contract affords him the security that a player needs to flourish. The next five years should see a talented erstwhile bit-part player become a rock of the county eleven.

I look forward to seeing it happen.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Fixture announcement brings season closer - and frustration

As the weather closes in and the thermometer plummets, the announcement of the summer cricket fixtures is always eagerly anticipated and somehow makes the Spring and warmer weather seem a little closer.

And yet, once again, I looked at the fixtures yesterday and wondered who the ECB have in mind with the dates chosen.

Certainly not the average working man. With the exception of the first two home games, when the weather is rarely of  shirt sleeve variety, Derbyshire's four-day cricket has only two weekend days over the entire summer, one of them the fourth day of a game that may or may not feature a lot of cricket. It's the same with the RLODC, with only one game at a weekend.

July and August are better for the T20, with most games scheduled on a Friday night or weekend, but I can't see myself driving the 316 miles (yes, I've logged it) from my house to the 3aaa County Ground and then back again, for three hours of cricket. If I was down there, of course, it would  be a different matter.

It's all fine and dandy if you are unemployed or retired and the club membership, at £139 for the summer represents outstanding value for those who have the time to attend a lot of the matches. For the traditional working fan, who prefers to see the ebb and flow of a longer game, rather than the more 'in your face' T20, it means that your opportunities to watch the game are ever more eroded.

With 25 days leave a year and a hefty percentage of that time rightly allotted to spending time with my family, I'd hoped for more Friday starts, enabling an early morning 5am departure on that day, watch a couple of days cricket and then head home on the Sunday.

As it stands, I will be doing that in early season and then perforce being selective on my visits thereafter, as far as the constraints of my leave allocation allows.

I've penciled in a few early possibilities and the away game at Durham offers a chance to watch a day when I can travel there and back, but it is all rather frustrating.

The next time you see the powers that be bemoaning attendances at four-day cricket, and citing those attendances as rationale for changing the game's format, keep in mind that the same dozy beggars who arrange it all at Lord's are the ones hammering the nails in the coffin of traditional cricket.

Finally today, it is good to see Luis Reece making a decent fist of his bowling, at least, in Bangladesh's Premier League T20. Reece took three wickets in his last match - albeit at eleven an over, though runs have been harder to come by.

Mind you, as selection decisions go, it takes some working out. Here you have a lad who earns a gig in the tournament with fine scoring at the top of the order for Derbyshire. So they take him over there and bat him at six, which in T20 - indeed any form of the game - is a very different mindset.

Sometimes I wonder who earns good money for these decisions. It's like signing an attacking midfield player and playing him at right back in football and makes little more sense.

At least I generally have confidence in the decision-making at Derbyshire these days. Aside from the puzzling promotion of Hardus Viljoen in the T20 quarter-final, when the defence was that desperate times called for desperate measures (and I'm still not convinced...) most of the thought processes are logical.

There's been plenty of times when that couldn't always be said, believe me...

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Members evening gives a few pointers..

Thank you to two regular readers for the following updates from the club members meeting, held last week.

One of the key things was the club's ongoing commitment to the Chesterfield cricket festival. After last September's wash out I had heard a few concerns, but the desire for a mid-summer week at my favourite cricket ground is unchanged.

Kim Barnett apparently said that there are no plans to replace Shiv Thakor and I understand that. There will be few players out there who afforded the balance that he did, but we have a large staff which allows someone to step up. With Wayne Madsen (quite likely) to bat three, we have eight or nine batsmen who have to hold their hand up. Alex Hughes did that last year and I am sure he will kick on this summer, as will Matt Critchley.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Harvey Hosein could push for a place as a batting specialist, regardless of whether he keeps or not. With Gary Wilson in the mix, Ireland commitments notwithstanding, there is the capacity for runs.

As for the bowling, it is felt that if Hardus Viljoen, Ravi Rampaul, Will Davis and an overseas bowling all-rounder are fit we can take 20 wickets. It is hard to argue and the attack, on paper at least, looks robust. Especially so if our spearhead returns from a winter back home with all important body parts intact...

As for the overseas roles, Barnett said that it will again be split, with one for each half of the season and two for the T20. Imran Tahir, as I have written before, only wants to play T20, so there is a decision to be made there.

If one assumes that a seam bowler who can bat is the target for early season, then a spinner is the likely target for the second half. There aren't that many of quality out there and I dare say that consideration will be given to Jeevan Mendis returning. Let's not forget that he took thirty wickets last year at the hardest part of the summer for spinners and would doubtless do better on harder tracks more receptive to spin. His batting might be better too, as his struggles when the ball moved around were obvious.

Mind you, if Ravindra Jadeja wants to emulate Ravi Ashwin in having a county stint, there will be no complaints from this correspondent...

Long term. Barnett feels that a squad of 14-15 first teamers, with three or four younger ones ready to step in is the goal. One of 20-23 is, he feels, too many and I would agree with that.

If nothing else, it should focus a few minds on working hard over the winter months.

The future is bright, but only with continued hard work, good coaching and sound recruitment.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

In Their Own Words still available

With Christmas a month away, I still have a few hard back copies of 'In Their Own Words' available to good homes.

The book has sold really well and has enjoyed, I am pleased to say, five star reviews across the board, telling the history of the club since the Second World War through the memories of the players and people who made that history.

Key personalities give their take on team mates and opponents, stories in which they were involved and life as a professional cricketer. My aim was to make it seem like you were listening to them down at your local and reviewers seem to think it worked.

Featuring the late Walter Goodyear, Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Brian Jackson, Peter Eyre, Bob Taylor, Peter Gibbs, John Wright, Graeme Welch, Wayne Madsen and many more, I am thrilled when people have told me that it made them laugh and gave them a greater insight into the county's post-war era.

If you would like a signed copy for the cricket fan in your family, then please get in touch to

I also have dates available for cricket talks, which are filling up through to this time next year. Again, please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Copies are available for £14, including postage.

Hurry, while stocks last!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Thakor sacked by Derbyshire

For me, there was a certain inevitability in the announcement today that Shiv Thakor had been sacked by Derbyshire.

Following on from last week's conviction for exposure, there seemed little alternative for the club, to be perfectly honest.

I don't plan to labour the point, because it is a sensitive subject. A young player who was always pleasant and affable on the occasions I chatted with him has done untold damage to his cricket career. Meanwhile his club has lost a player who looked like he could become really special. Both are the poorer for the parting, but that doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to do.

For Derbyshire the question is how they replace an influential all-rounder who gave balance to the team and could produce match-winning displays with bat and ball. They may go with what they have, or may look at a replacement. Such a player would have to be special and, to my mind Kolpak, were that the case.

For Thakor, the question is whether he can eventually rebuild his career and who would perhaps, at some point, give him the opportunity to do so. It will not be easy.

That's one for the future to reveal. All I can say, in closing, was that I enjoyed watching him in Derbyshire colours.

Hopefully we can get back to cricketing matters now.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Need for good news story at Derbyshire

It is safe to say that this has not been a good week for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Soon after the news broke of the club's caution after the Queen's Park abandonment of the Kent game, we hear that Shiv Thakor has been found guilty of exposure charges after two offences in June.

While I think that the club has been lucky to get away with just a warning over the abandonment, I am sure that their preemptive strike in admitting they will not play at Queens Park at that time of year again will have worked in their favour.

They are not daft at the club and we doubtless enjoyed a 'good earner' from the concert, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact we are a cricket club, not merely an outdoor concert venue. They will be aware of that and while the bulk of the money raised from the off-field activities goes into strengthening the playing squad, these activities must be around, and not at the expense of, the club's main function.

Of course, we all know that Chesterfield has drainage that, while improved, could be a whole lot better. We also know that the British climate is such that they could arrange their matches for Chesterfield in June and July, then still struggle to play.

Such is the situation at an outground and the club would be criticised if they spent 50K on improving the drainage on a ground they used for less than ten days a year. Truth be told, many of us, myself included, would love to see more cricket at Chesterfield, but the reality is that this won't happen, any more than Middlesex would play half their games at Uxbridge. Nor is there another ground of sufficient standard for more than very occasional cricket. While the romance of returning to Buxton, Ilkeston and Burton is there, it isn't going to happen unless there is a Derbyshire Getty who develops a local Wormsley Park and the requisite infrastructure for first-class cricket.

As for Thakor, the club quickly issued a statement last night to say that they will review the case, following its conclusion.

The time for further comment will come when they have done so, but it is safe to say that the whole episode has been hugely disappointing, for both player and club.

I will be back soon, but I hope that I am soon able to post news of something more positive from the club's perspective.

It has been a wretched few days.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Time for Edwin Smith to be recognised by club

The death of Derek Morgan, announced earlier this week, marked the passing of another of an elite group of cricketers, all of who took over a thousand wickets for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

They are names that roll off the tongue when discussing Derbyshire cricket greats (and are incidentally missed from the otherwise excellent statistics on the club site). Unless Harold Rhodes, who ended his career with the club far too early on 993 wickets, makes a belated comeback at the age of 81, that short list will never be added to.

And the one surviving man on it is Edwin Smith.

Edwin was one of the great unsung county legends, going about his business for season after season throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With Derbyshire's attack built squarely around outstanding seam bowlers, there were times when he didn't get to bowl, yet he still managed to take 1217 wickets for the club. He also took more wickets at Chesterfield than any other bowler and declined the opportunity to leave and play for Northamptonshire, when the spin-friendly conditions might have seen his career haul higher still. A loyal man, he opted to stay with the county of his birth and served them well for almost a quarter of a century.

Better, it must be said, than the county served him over the years. Despite making his debut in 1951 and being capped in 1954, he had to wait until 1966 for a testimonial year. The rationale was that he was still young enough to get another one, but he was offered the role of county coach to prematurely end his playing career. Then he was sacked, after building a young side that went to the semi-final of the under-25 competition and provided county stalwarts for the next few years, at the end of 1974.They gave him £100 for his trouble, much cheaper than a second benefit.

Money was tight, the rationale for the sacking, but that state of penury also saw him replacing the glass in the old indoor school himself to save a few bob, as well as cleaning it out with the help of his wife, Jean. He bought towels and incidentals for the players to use too, things for which he was never reimbursed.

It was a sad end to a long association. He had been overlooked for the club captaincy, some said because his mining background wouldn't sit well with the 'suits' at Lord's. He was also largely ignored for one-day cricket, this at a time when the most economical bowlers were the purveyors of spin around the country like Norman Gifford, Ray East, Brian Langford, Peter Sainsbury and many more. Derbyshire usually went with an all-seam attack, with mixed results, most often poor.

He went on to be a scourge of league batsmen for many seasons, during which he took thousands more wickets. One Sunday afternoon in the mid-1970s, he quickly took the wickets of Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten and Allan Lamb in a benefit match, before being equally quickly removed from the attack, so as not to ruin the entertainment.

When I went to interview him with a view to a blog piece a few winters ago, I quickly realised that here was a man with a story, a career worth retelling and a life worthy of public record. My first book followed and the print runs quickly sold out, testimony to the esteem in which he is still held.

Outside of the game, he has been one of the most respected snooker players in Derbyshire and still plays in the top tier of the game in the county as he approaches his 84th birthday in January. 2018 marks his 70th year as a member of Grassmoor Snooker Club, an astonishing feat by any standards.

At a time when Derbyshire County Cricket Club is, with due respect to many others before them, more professionally run than at any time in its history, I would like to see the club honour and recognise the last man who will ever take a thousand wickets for them. Whether in a lifetime achievement award, or the offer of the club presidency, it would be apposite and overdue recognition for a quite remarkable man.

Indeed, one of my few gripes with the current administration is that the contributions of a number of older generation cricketers, people who I grew up watching, appear to be overlooked.The presidency, an honorary role, has gone from Geoff Miller to Kim Barnett and then Michael Holding. Legends to a man and wonderful players, but it would seem that the claims of those of an earlier vintage, such as Edwin, Harold Rhodes, Peter Eyre and many more, have been disregarded. Once 'twas not so and the office went to the senior capped professional in turn. Better that way, I think. And fairer.

I hope that the club will do the right thing in the near future, before it is too late. An early season lunch and an award to recognise his outstanding contribution to the club would be the right thing to do.

And I would travel from Glasgow and back in a day to be there for a very special man.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Derek Morgan: an appreciation and obituary

There are those cricketers who flit across the landscape like a comet, playing several seasons of brilliance before burning out. They are often 'eye' players, and when the eye goes, the technique is sometimes not there to bail them out when the going gets tougher.

Then there are those who, year on year, are always there. They are like a favourite jacket or raincoat that you reach for, comforted by its presence and knowing what you will get from it.

For two decades, Derek Morgan, whose passing was announced yesterday, was the fulcrum around which the Derbyshire cricket eleven worked. He wasn't the best, or most glamorous batsman; he wasn't the best bowler in an attack that had several candidates for that title. Yet he was a man whose commitment to the cause was absolute and whose skills contributed to an era in which Derbyshire had a side to be reckoned with, especially in the first decade.

I am old enough to remember his final three seasons, though my father was a regular throughout his career, having first seen the county in 1947, three years before his debut. He, like me, remembers a batsman who scored runs, often when they were most needed, yet not in a style that would have made you sit up in your deckchair and put your newspaper away.

With a few exceptions, such players rarely thrived on Walter Goodyear's wickets and it was a rarity for Morgan to get to the crease with 200 on the board and the bowlers wilting. His lot was rather that of the man who battled the side to a total, giving an attack to match any other something to bowl at. He hadn't a memorable stroke, as such, but he had most of them and used them when the ball offered a minimal risk of dismissal. After all, you don't score the best part of 18,000 runs without knowing how to put away the bad ball.

He was an attritional batsman in the best northern tradition, ironic for a man born and brought up in Middlesex. Yet his National Service saw him serve locally and a Derbyshire man he became. His was a prized wicket, because while he was still there, Derbyshire could eke out enough runs to win matches. He did that, often.

On the legendary day at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day, the one man to make a score was Derek Morgan, braving repeated blows to the hands, body and head to make forty-odd against Hampshire. Then, as Harold Rhodes tired, he came on to bowl and took the last three wickets. It was typical of the man.

As a bowler, he had a modest run up that gave little hint of the dangers to follow, but he gave sterling support to two generations of opening bowlers. He once said, in typically modest fashion, that he got a lot of wickets because batsmen needed to 'crack on' after being tied down by Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson. Yet the comment denied a talent for putting the ball down on a consistent line and length for season after season. Moving it around enough to make the batsmen think, he could bowl a steady medium-fast, or cut down, when the wicket demanded, and bowl off-cutters, often a fine foil for the genuine spin of Edwin Smith at the other end.

17842 runs and 1126 wickets. We will not see his like again, that's for sure.

As a captain, he was functional, rather than special. Where the best captains make things happen, the ordinary tend to be reactive and Morgan was in the latter category. Having spoken to many of his contemporaries in the course of research for my books, the general feeling was of a skipper under who the game could drift. Where Donald Carr and Guy Willatt made things happen with a canny bowling or fielding change, Morgan was more formulaic and captaincy was not his strongest suit.

Yet as a fielder, he was beyond compare. With Morgan, Carr and Alan Revill in close, batsmen knew that Derbyshire had a trio like Autolycus, snapping up the unconsidered trifles that many might not have deemed chances. While discussions on the merits of the old game against the modern one will always be fascinating, there is no modern player better than those three at holding catches, the hand/eye co-ordination quite extraordinary.

More than once my father recalls a batsman flashing at the ball and his eyes, like those of friends, looking to the boundary, only to see it being tossed in the air by one of them, the ripple of applause becoming loud as spectators realised the magicians had worked their tricks again.

Would he have been a success in the modern game? Every team needs a Derek Morgan, and while never likely to be confused with a Stokes or Botham, like Trevor Bailey he brought balance to his side. He moved with grace and speed in his younger days and had a fine cricket brain. As I wrote yesterday, worse players have played for England and, in another era, opportunity must surely have come his way. And if you were selecting an all-time county eleven, there would be few who omitted him from their side.

An all-round sportsman who played hockey, rugby and football to a good standard, I would have loved to interview him for my most recent book, but his ill-health legislated against it. Yet I saw him, and for that I am thankful.

His passing leaves only one man, Edwin Smith, still with us from those who have over a thousand wickets for the county.

Rest in Peace, Derek Morgan.

You served your county well.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Derek Morgan

I am sad today to hear of the passing of Derek Morgan, one of Derbyshire's greatest players.

Many who were his inferior have worn England colours and plenty of good judges felt he would have been an international player, bar for the presence of Trevor Bailey in the national side in the 1950s.

I will pen a more appropriate tribute when time allows, but wanted to acknowledge the passing of one of the county's finest-ever players at the earliest opportunity.

Rest in peace, Derek.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Barnett interview 'reveals' 2018 teasers

There was an interesting interview with Kim Barnett on the club site yesterday, which gave a few teasers for the plans for 2018.

To be fair, we already knew that a seam bowler who could bat would be the target for the early months, and you can place your bets and name your possibilities for that one. I have already suggested that Jason Holder would be a good fit and another who might be considered is South African Wayne Parnell. He would offer a different angle, but he usually gets a lucrative IPL gig and I would think that the confirmation of the role will not come until the IPL draft has been completed.

It would appear that Imran Tahir is in line to return for the T20, but only wants to play in that format, so the search for the overseas player in the second half of the summer will be ongoing too. That is, I suppose, unless we can find someone who is happy to play the T20 and then stay on, which may or may not be possible.

A spinner appears to be the preference, which is logical, but the number of quality spinners in the world game is limited and probably restricted to Asia. Whether or not a deal could be found to bring over an Indian bowler for experience, much as Ashwin played for Worcestershire last year, is a moot point. Yet I suspect most of the top Indian players are quite happy with their lot and income from exclusive IPL deals.

Rashid Khan of Afghanistan might be a brave pick. He has played little first-class cricket, though when he has played the short formats he has bamboozled the best. At 19 he may welcome experience, but could also be overwhelmed by the volume of cricket and the different tracks. I suspect a county move somewhere isn't far away and based on his performances so far, it would be well worth following.

It isn't easy here though. Yasir Shah is a fine bowler, but took some stick in bowling for Kent and his fourteen wickets came at 38 runs each. For all people moan about standards at times, plenty have come over here at great expense and struggled, with little to remember them by.

It should make for an interesting few months.

In other news, Tom Milnes is off to Australia to work on his game and will then return to Derby for pre-season. My understanding is that Milnes has one more year on his current deal - which I couldn't find noted anywhere.

2018 is a make or break summer for him and one or two more. There is a good cricketer in Tom Milnes, one capable of late order runs and wickets, but we must hope that  his winter down under and regular cricket there sees him less prone to the bad ball an over that frustrates.

The irony of our early season search for a seam bowler who bats is that we have one on the staff who can do the job. A rough diamond needing polishing, but a diamond for all that.

Hopefully he will come through next year.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Keeping issue set for natural clarification

I'm not sure how many of you have picked up on this one, but there is an interesting piece on the Warwickshire website regarding Boyd Rankin.

The former Derbyshire bowler and Irish international says that he hopes to make a telling contribution next summer, which will be his last in the county game.

Why? Because Ireland's new international status will see Rankin and other Irish players classed as overseas players.

This has obvious ramifications for other counties and specifically for Derbyshire. It would be fair to assume that this will also be the last for Gary Wilson in the county game. However, with the player having signed a three-year deal, it could be that he will retain county availability to the end of that contract.

It would also be safe, I think, to assume that he would not be a number one pick for the overseas role, unless producing a summer of Bradman-like proportions in the interim period.

Thus the battle for the wicket-keeping role becomes more clear cut and a straight fight between Harvey Hosein and Daryn Smit. It makes the recent award of an extended deal for the South African more logical for some, no doubt, though  it was always so from my perspective, as you know.

As I have said before, I see the role behind the timbers as a two-way battle and expect Wilson to play, when available, primarily as a batting specialist. Both Hosein and Smit will get game time next summer and, while Harvey may well be the long-term incumbent, he can learn a lot from an acknowledged master of his trade.

I expect Harvey to be a very impressive player in a couple of years. Equally, I expect Daryn to be far better prepared for next summer than this year.

Surgery and recovery ate into much of last March and April.

Expect to see him back to his batting best next year.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Weekend update

Those who think that Derbyshire erred in signing a 33-year old Ravi Rampaul (not me, as you know) will perhaps have been reassured by the news from Durham this week.

They have signed Australian seamer Nathan Rimmington on a two-year deal, utilising his UK passport in doing so. Yet the bowler, who had a somewhat ill-fated stint with us in the T20 a few summers back, will be well past 35 when the season starts and at that age has only 103 first-class wickets at over thirty. He is better known for his death bowling in the T20, where his record is better, but  his career record of just over 250 wickets in all formats is indicative of a career ravaged by injury, where he hasn't got close to the international scene.

His spell at Derbyshire was hampered by a broken finger, sustained in a club match and he was never fully firing for us. Yet many will recall the ball that bowled Alex Hales at Derby in the T20, when he perhaps produced his best performance in the club colours.

It is a signing that confirms the relative paucity of young seam talent in this country, and for those who would counter 'so does that of Rampaul', the West Indian has over 800 wickets and has played at international standard and around the world. Crucially, his signing might allow the T20 signing of a batsman or all-rounder in one of the roles.

We'll see, but the Rimmington deal rather smacks of desperation by Durham, who have suffered badly from players moving elsewhere. The wickets should suit him, at least and he may prove to have an Indian summer to his career.

There are unanswered questions remaining at Derbyshire. I have seen no news of Tom Milnes being offered a new deal, but nor have I seen any of his being released, so perhaps that is under discussion. Similarly, Harry Podmore seems to have gone off the radar a little and, for me, he would appear little better than we already have in reserve, with Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor.

Meanwhile, Gurjit Sandhu seems to be unlucky in having made a good debut (46 not out and three wickets) and taken 18 wickets in four second team matches, yet nothing has been forthcoming for him, either. I suspect that further recruitment will be dictated by the court case involving Shiv Thakor next month, as its repercussions will impact on recruitment thereafter. For the record, that is a statement, not the start of a debate, so please be wary of further comment on the matter.

Finally today, I note that the MCC side in the Hong Kong Sixes contains Darren Stevens, Rikki Clarke and Samit Patel.

Fine cricketers all, but selection criteria presumably didn't focus heavily on speed across the ground in the field, eh?

I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Derbyshire-related news this week

I think there will be a number of counties interested in signing Chris Nash, who announced yesterday that he was leaving Sussex.

Perhaps we are one of them. Wayne Madsen suggested today that we may be looking to add an all-rounder to the squad and Nash, one of the most dependable batsmen on the circuit, is a handy purveyor of off-spin. With a first-class average of just under forty, respectable averages in other formats and over 170 first-class wickets, he would fit the bill, for sure.

At 34 he has a few years in him and the only barrier to his signing would be that we already have three good opening batsmen. Unless the plan  would be to play him down the order, where I am sure he would do a good job, it would seem an undue concentration of resource.

All conjecture of course and I would think around half of the first-class counties would fancy his services. I suspect that his future will be announced in the next week or so, as he would not have asked for his release from the final year of his Sussex deal without having somewhere lined up to continue his career.

Elsewhere, it was interesting to see Neil Broom released from the New Zealand squad with the instruction from the coach to 'learn to bat at number five'. Broom had some success on his Kiwi return, but their top four is fairly fixed and the technical issues that were noted as problems in his game over here don't appear to have been resolved.

Likewise Jimmy Neesham has been told to go and play cricket, score runs and do plenty of bowling. I think Neesham a genuine talent, capable of brilliance with bat and ball, but at this stage of his career he doesn't do enough with either to make himself indispensable to a side. If he can turn some of these flashy forties into something more substantial, he could yet make the top international that he has looked for some time.

Similarly, anyone who saw his bowling against Lancashire in the T20 a couple of summers back will know his talent with a ball. I still think he would have been a better option for us last year than Matt Henry, but like him he has work to do to become an established player of international pedigree.

All very interesting and worth keeping an eye on over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, 20 October 2017

A quiet week

As you might expect, the Derbyshire week, after the announcement of the signing of Ravi Rampaul, has been a quiet one.

Off it, there has been the announcement of the membership prices and very good they are. There cannot be a better value membership package in the county game and £139 for a season's cricket is terrific value. Compare it, for example, to Somerset's £179 for four day and fifty-over cricket, with an additional £140 for the T20 and the deal becomes all the better.

With firework displays and the forthcoming festive party season now taking priority, the club will be hoping their off-field work continues to thrive, thus putting more money into the 'playing pot' and enabling the recruitment of better quality players.

The Rampaul announcement - which sounds like a John Grisham novel - was well-timed, just before the memberships came out and I am sure it had the desired effect. I would hope that the prospect of an all-international opening attack next summer whets the appetite of others, as it does mine.

I don't get the comments on Twitter and elsewhere on Rampaul being 'too fat' or 'too old'. He has always been a broad-beamed fella and that is no bad thing if you are running in to bowl as he is. There's a big difference between that and someone who is out of condition, something I don't recall thinking about him when I have seen him.

He has never, from my memory, been an out-and-out fast bowler. Rather one who has decent pace yet moves it each way to good effect. The combination of Viljoen, Davis and Rampaul is an exciting one and it will be one of the best attacks in division two, IF they are all fit.

We must all hope that they are and that further good news is forthcoming in the long winter weeks and months ahead.

I'll be back soon.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Rampaul signing a statement of intent for Derbyshire

Ravi Rampaul, eh?

I have to admit that I didn't know he was available. When I heard about an announcement of a new signing today, my first thought was that it would be Muhammad Azharullah. Word is that he left Northamptonshire to be closer to his family in Halifax, so if one discounts Lancashire and Yorkshire from the list of potential suitors, we seemed a fair bet.

Instead, we have picked up a man with over 800 wickets across the formats in senior  cricket, nearly 200 of them in the international game for the West Indies. At 33 (which he will be in two days time) his quicker days are behind him, but the Trinidadian still bowls a quick ball and has swapped pace for a greater nous that is usually the preserve of the experienced and talented.

I have referred to our need of a Charl Langeveldt kind of bowler and I think we have it in Rampaul. Over a long career that has covered a stint in the IPL, he has gone for under eight an over in T20 and mixes up line and length to good effect. He also takes wickets in List A and the longer form, so is an all-round asset to the team.

Speaking of all-round, Phil mentioned below my earlier piece that he carries more 'timber' than his younger days, but I don't see that as a major issue. While the modern trend is for quick bowlers to be athletes, traditionally the quick bowler has been a sturdy man with a big backside. There have been few better seamers in the county game over recent seasons than Rory Kleinveldt at Northamptonshire, a man who would never be confused with an athlete. But by crikey, he can bowl and if Rampaul can replicate his efforts, there will be few complaints.

It is a step closer to replicating the Derbyshire of Kim Barnett's heyday, when the skipper's rotation policy kept them all fit and firing. We are some way from that yet, but Rampaul will join Hardus Viljoen, Will Davis and Tony Palladino in a keen seam attack that will doubtless profit and thrive on early season tracks. If we could add a seam-bowling all rounder for the lower order overseas role at the start of the summer, Billy Godleman will have much more to work with in the field.

He has ruled out involvement in the Caribbean Premier League and so will be available all summer, news that can only be welcomed by supporters. I guess the only question mark, in a man of 33, is a three-year contract, but perhaps this security enabled the Derbyshire offer to be more enticing than those from elsewhere.

Kim Barnett will have done his homework and will know the sort of player he will be getting. Barnett's friendship with Alec Stewart will have done us no harm and he has, I think, got another player whose influence will extend beyond the field of play. With injuries par for the course in seam bowlers, the addition of another of quality will help us be more competitive next year and better withstand absences.

Ravi Rampaul is the victim of Surrey's attempt to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, with so many seam bowling options that a regular place was always going to be a challenge. I suspect a place will be easier to come by at Derbyshire, but don't expect a willing work horse to take it easy, in what will be a solid dressing room.

In conclusion? How can you dislike the addition of a man of considerable international experience to our ranks? I'm both pleased and surprised by the signing and suspect he could turn out a real asset.

Below, to whet your appetite, here he is in a splendid spell for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Not a bad set of victims there at all.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Ravi.

We wish you well

Derbyshire announce signing of Ravi Rampaul

The worst thing about today's announcement of the signing of Ravi Rampaul is that it has happened while I am at work...

Be assured that I will comment later, as soon as I am able.

From my perspective, and I think most of you out there, this is a signing that does exactly what they should improves considerably on what we already have and brings a man of considerable experience into our club.

More from me later.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Reece BPL stint well deserved

It has been a busy old week chez Peakfan and there has been little spare time for blogging.

A couple of days off now afford a little more time and it is appropriate to start with warm congratulations to Luis Reece, who has earned himself a gig at theforthcoming Bangladesh Premier League with the Chittagong Vikings.

To my memory, he is the first non-overseas Derbyshire player to earn selection in an overseas T20 tournament, something of which he can be very proud. While it is safe to say that in my many years of following the club we have got more recruits wrong than right, Luis is very firmly in the 'job well done' camp.

In an object lesson to all young cricketers, he wasn't a regular choice at Lancashire and was surprisingly released. We moved quickly to offer him a trial, where he did well enough to be offered a contract. At the start of the season he wasn't one of the first names on the team sheet and missed out in the RLODC, where Ben Slater did well. Yet gradually he came into the side and, slowly but surely, confirmed his place in the side.

He will now be one of the first names on the team sheet, something he deserves after consistent scoring in both forms of the game. We know he will graft, yet also know he can play all the shots when the situation demands it. Aside from his bigger press innings, his second knock against Glamorgan in Cardiff was a major reason why we were able to set a challenging target. It showed good technique and temperament, keeping his head as wickets fell around him.

Chittagong will get a free-scoring batsman, a solid fielder and a useful medium-pacer if the conditions allow. More importantly, we have him secured on a three-year deal, one that should see him develop very nicely indeed.

Like you, I wish him well.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Fantasy League results

A little like Derbyshire, I chose the closing weeks of the season to make a surge up the league in the Peakfan Blog Fantasy Cricket League, courtesy of the Telegraph.

Again, like Derbyshire, it moved me away from the bottom of the table to the giddy heights of nineteenth, in a league of 25. Not bad, considering that I only changed the team once all season, having other things to occupy my mind in the first half of the summer. I ended up with most of my substitutes unused in a major tactical error...

Still, I ended up with a galaxy of talent that included Sangakarra, Ballance, Ingram, Mitchell and Collingwood as batsmen, Darren Stevens as all rounder and Abbott, Norwell, Coughlin and Coad as bowlers. I also picked a wicket-keeper who didn't often keep wicket...sigh.

You will note no Derbyshire players in there, largely because in past years it has been to the detriment of form and fitness as soon as their name hits the team sheet.

Anyway, I now have the medals from the Telegraph and am pleased to announce the following winners. Cue drum roll....

Overall winner - Clive Whitmore, who won by a piffling 1600 points and came 30th in the national competition. Dean Doherty was in second place and perennial winner, David Aust, was in third this year.

Runs League - Clive Whitmore, who saw off the challenge of Marc Perni for a second trophy, with Dean Doherty in third.

Wickets League - Dean Doherty, who edged out Clive and Gary Samuels, who was third.

Well done to all of you!

Who was bottom? I couldn't possibly say, but Paul Kirk has some work to do next year ;)

There were some great names - I especially liked Atomic Smiten (David Cooper), Real Ale Madrid CC (Gary Spencer), WakeleyMeUpB4IGogo (Paul Wright), Mambo in Seattle (Chris Hallam) and Clive Whitmore's 'Knott Out for a duck'.

In closing, thanks to all for taking part and if the winners can drop me an email with their address, I will get your medals in the mail.

Next year...there's always next year!

Macdonell earns new deal

In some ways, Charlie Macdonell is lucky to get another year on his Derbyshire contract, especially when Tom Wood didn't.

Yet the one-year deal announced yesterday gives the county another summer to assess his true worth, especially when the start of that summer will see him back at Durham University and doubtless exposed to the first-class game for the Durham MCCU side.

The past summer was perhaps not as prolific as he would have liked, but in his occasional first team appearances, Macdonell has not looked fazed by the environment and appears to be a well-organised player.

He will be 23 next summer and by the end of it, I think we will have a better idea of his potential at first-class level. His cause is helped by his bowling, which Cricinfo records as fast medium, yet is off spin. He bowled a lot of overs last summer and perhaps the feeling is there that his all round potential may be worth another look.

We'll see, but his fledgling first-class career sees him with an average in the forties, so his extended opportunity with the club is well merited.

It is all up to him, now and I wish him well.

Finally today, a racking of my brain to think of potentially available players for our 'seam bowler who can bat' requirement for the early season overseas role has come up with one name.

Jason Holder.

The West Indies captain is a good cricketer and, at 25, likely to get better. His first-class record is a good one and, on the recent tour of England, he proved himself a talent with both bat and ball. He takes wickets with his medium-fast bowling from a height of 6'7" and hits it a very long way.

He could get an IPL call up, of course, like other names I considered like Tim Southee, Chris Morris and Matt Henry. Like them, I think he could do well, given the opportunity. Caribbean stars are less common in overseas roles these days, but I'd fancy Holder, given opportunity, to do well.

And yes, that's the same Matt Henry who disappointed in the T20 this year. I think he is a better cricketer than that and would likely benefit from more bowling than he got in that competition, when he seemed at times to lack rhythm.

Any thoughts?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Reece signs three-year deal

More good news emanated from the 3aaa County Ground yesterday, with Luis Reece signing a three-year contract to the end of 2020.

He did a terrific job for us in his first season, looking increasingly solid in the long form of the game, as well as confirming that he has a full range of shots and can score as quickly as anyone in the short forms. Add in his fielding and his useful left-arm medium pace and you have a very valuable cricketer. I am unsure in how much bowling he can do when he is likely to be batting in the top three, but for the angle alone he is a useful option for any captain, even if only for a few overs.

With Matt Critchley heading off to Australia on another cricket scholarship for the winter, following on from the news on Hamid Qadri's Young Lions call-up earlier in the week, it is encouraging, to say the least.

Yesterday, Kim Barnett revealed in an interview that we were looking for a seam bowler who could bat for the overseas role in the first half of the season, as well as a non-overseas seamer. I still haven't seen many players being released around the county circuit, although none of us know who is out of contract around the country. I would be happy with Azharullah, from Northamptonshire, but am unaware of other availability at this stage.

It is quite difficult to get a handle on the couple of players that we have apparently approached for that overseas role. I can think of a number of overseas seam bowlers, some of who can bat, but some will have IPL involvement which may limit availability. Getting the right man in will make a big difference, of course and I am sure we all await developments.

Finally today, and sadly, a warning.

I have always enjoyed and appreciated your comments on the blog and good debate is always to be encouraged on a topic.

Yet the Daryn Smit v Harvey Hosein discussion is starting to cross the line in what I would deem acceptable comment.  We all know that you have a world-class wicket-keeper against a young local talent and the decision on who plays will always result in some people feeling that the decision is wrong.

Each of us is entitled to an opinion, but the team selection will be made by the senior group of players, who will want to win cricket matches and therefore have the best options available on the pitch. They are professionals, and while I have an opinion, I will usually defer to a professional. I don't call in a joiner or electrician to my house and tell him how to do his job.

A few recent comments have crossed what I would call the line of acceptable comment and brought into question the integrity and professionalism of the players at the club that we all support.

That is wrong.

Yesterday I deleted a comment that was some time in the writing, accordingly lengthy and, in its content, nothing more than a rant which the writer - 'Anon' of course - even mentioned at the end of the piece. I also deleted another that made abusive comments about me, which were not appreciated.

By all means continue to comment, because that is why I continue to write the blog and host it, but if I feel the line has been crossed, I will reserve the right to decline publication. And please avoid the assertion 'I know for a fact', because unless you are inside the club, the bottom line is that you can't. All you know is what a bloke down the pub told you, who was in turn told by someone who was making out he knew something, when he didn't.

We are supporters and, as I have said before, I care not which eleven take the field for us, as long as it gives us the best chance of winning a game. I have my own opinions, because it would be a dull old blog without that, but will not allow this blog to slip into the standard of other forums around the circuit.

Please keep that in mind when posting. Express your opinions, by all means, but please do not insult the professionalism of some very good people at our club, nor make personal comment about them or me, just because their opinion differs from yours.

The bottom line is that they all want the same thing that we do and, crucially, know what is required to get there.

See you soon.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Smit contract extension is excellent news

Good news on the contract front for Derbyshire today, with Daryn Smit signing a one-year extension to his contract that will keep him at the club until the end of 2019.

While his batting was less prolific than he or we would have hoped in 2017, I have a feeling that it will be a marker for him. Let's not forget that he played very little post-Christmas cricket in South Africa last year, after a shoulder operation. He then moved his life over here and joined the club a couple of weeks before the cricket started, thus having no real pre-season.

Playing county cricket on English tracks against a Dukes ball would have been an eye-opener for him and his average suffered. This, let's not forget, is a man who averages mid-thirties throughout his career and I suspect will do again. A couple of key innings in the T20 showed his capabilities, but I think that we will see a different player with the bat when the new season dawns.

What we do know, beyond doubt, are his credentials with the gloves. I'd be quite happy to apply the moniker 'world-class' to his wicket-keeping, having watched him sufficient times to pass judgement. Of course, there will be an occasional error, but he is human, like us all and makes far less than many others. With Kim Barnett bracketing him with Bob Taylor and Jack Russell in his experience, I'd suggest that we are well-served behind the timbers.

Daryn is a genial man and tales of his work with Harvey Hosein and willingness to help younger players already abound. They hail back to his days at Ramsbottom, where he had time for everyone who wanted advice and help.

Harvey could not wish for a better mentor and I suspect that they are the one/two behind the stumps. Gary Wilson will be another option, but perhaps concentrating on his batting may be of benefit to the club vice-captain.

Over the winter they will all work together and then the summer will begin with one of them being the preferred option.

I don't think Harvey would let anyone down, but nor do I think another couple of years or so working with Daryn would do him any harm either. He will end it a more complete player with bat and ball, getting cricket, I suspect, primarily in the four-day game  until his ability to find the boundary regularly increases as he fills out.

We are very lucky to have two talented players for the role. As I wrote last week, the player who improves his 'weaker suit' will win the day and from a personal perspective, and as someone who wants to see a winning Derbyshire side, I merely want one of them to make the place their own.

It promises to be a battle royal and the healthy competition can only benefit the side.

Good news to start the close season.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Completing the jigsaw

I got an email yesterday that suggested I was 'harsh' in saying, in my season review, that only two Derbyshire players had good seasons.

I don't think I was and my comments were borne of looking at the club having a good team in the making. That being the case, you judge by higher standards. If we are happy to be a nice club that plays decent cricket, winning a few games along the way, then a batting line-up averaging thirty-plus across the board is just dandy.

But you will win little with such figures, unless you have a bowling attack that takes its wickets at around twenty each.

We don't.

As I pointed out, Wayne Madsen, a man for who I have the greatest respect and admiration, had a wonderful T20 but will be the first to admit, I am sure, that his four-day average didn't reflect his talent. The same goes for Billy Godleman, a consummate professional, and as the two key components of our batting they fell short this summer in the county championship.

I am sure that they will be back to their regular scores next year, though I would still prefer to see Billy concentrate on the RLODC and championship. They deserve to be joined in a notional batting line-up for the four-day game by Luis Reece and Alex Hughes, the two players who I said had across the board good summers.

Then you get into more complex issues. Matt Critchley had an improved season and needs first team cricket to push on further, probably batting at six, though whether he becomes a spinning all rounder time will tell. Ben Slater could easily bat in the top three, but as I wrote yesterday, needs to convert a number of impressive cameos into three-figure, career-defining scores. I love watching him bat in his busy, all-action style, but those big scores need to come more often.

There's also what happens with the Shiv Thakor situation and I would urge all contributors to be sensitive to the niceties of the legal system in comments this week. I will make none until it is all done and dusted and, like you, I hope, will let things take their course.

I think we are a reliable batsman light, for what it is worth. I see little point in signing an up and coming batsman of potential and a twenties average, when we have let one go, in Tom Wood, who might have managed that and more. Neither is there point in signing one whose best days appear to be behind him. We have a lot of batsmen who can average in the thirties and need one whose statistics suggest better.

An overseas bowler who can bat would be handy for the first half of the season, but Tom Taylor has the ability with bat and ball if things just 'clicked'. Like Tom Milnes, we know he can handle a bat and score valuable runs, just as they can bowl a wicket-taking ball. Yet both give away too much around those balls. Call me old school, but on anything other than a shirt front I want to see my bowlers going for less than three an over. I'll make an exception for express pace, because the edges fly, but twenty overs for a hundred is way too profligate for me.

In short? We need another batsman and at least one more quality seamer. Harry Podmore did OK, but I am still unsure if he is noticeably better than the 'internal candidates'. Conor Mckerr was, but I would be astonished if we could lure him from Surrey. Nor am I sure what happened with Gurjit Sandhu, who had a decent debut against Durham and was never seen again. Maybe this is the winter that Taylor and Cotton put it all together, but next year will be a big one for each, the last of their current deals.

There are places to be earned and competition for them.

That can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Palladino benefit well deserved

The news last night that Tony Palladino is to get a benefit in 2018 was, for me, the highlight of the evening's awards.

There were deserved winners through the night, but Tony has won a place in the hearts of supporters across the county, since his move from Essex seven years ago.

He is a wicket to wicket bowler, one who tests a batsman's judgement of line and length with bowling that moves the ball a little each way. Not too much, because 'too much' goes past the bat in a boomerang arc that looks impressive, but is less of a threat than the genuine late swing that near-caresses the outside or inside edge. Just as Wilfred Rhodes decried the ball that spun viciously, reckoning rightly that you only needed to beat the bat's middle for a wicket.

Cliff Gladwin was a master of the art, his contemporaries telling me that the ball would go straight for half of its trajectory, before either ducking in or zipping away to the bowler's will. While not in the same league, given helpful conditions Tony Palladino will cause trouble to any batsman.

As he approaches his mid-thirties, perhaps his best days are behind him, but he remains an object lesson for the young bowler, rarely wasting a delivery and usually ending the day with seventeen overs for under fifty, or similar.

The award is as much, for me, a recognition of his services to cricket, however impressive his displays. His brave stand against corruption in the game at Essex highlighted a man of rare integrity, one who is always happy to have a word with supporters and wave hello from his position in the field.

His batting has become an unexpected jewel and many an innings has been prolonged and enlivened by his clean hitting. Far more than a tail-end slogger, hard work has turned him into a batsman who plays the pull and hook well, just as he hits impressively down the ground.

Perhaps his greater contribution to the club is still to come, in his fledgling career as bowling coach. If he can translate his own considerable skills into the repertoire of others, instilling the need for high levels of personal fitness and metronomic accuracy into them, he could turn a talented next generation into something special.

Another Tony Palladino coming through the ranks would do everyone just fine. For now, let's appreciate and acknowledge the real thing, however long it lasts.

Enjoy your benefit Tony. I hope it is well-supported.

Because it is well-deserved.

Season review - shoots starting to appear

Can any county, outside of the Test match grounds, realistically sustain a challenge on all fronts?

The answer, I think, is no, unless recruitment is so shrewd that you end up with a group of players who are comfortable across the formats. Northamptonshire, with a small staff, have shown it is possible, adapting to the needs of various competitions with remarkable ease and considerable entertainment value.

There was little wrong with Derbyshire's recruitment last winter, but the problem was getting them all on the pitch at the same time. We never saw Hardus Viljoen till the T20, but he looked a class act in the season's closing weeks. Imran Tahir bowled steadily in the T20, but played little four-day cricket. When he played, like Viljoen, he took wickets and if we could get him back they would form the focal point of a decent attack.

The issue was a lack of quality support. Tom Milnes looked a shadow of the bowler of twelve months before, Tom Taylor was inconsistent and Ben Cotton kept it tight in the one-day game but struggled to get people out in the longer form. Conor McKerr had a successful loan spell from Surrey, but they quickly recalled him and we simply couldn't bowl teams out. Jeevan Mendis did pretty well with his leg spin in an unhelpful first half of the summer, but struggled badly with the bat.

Apart from Viljoen, in limited appearances and Mendis, only Tony Palladino took over twenty wickets and there is an obvious need for strengthening in the winter. Conversely, while plenty of batsmen averaged over thirty, only Alex Hughes managed to (just) top forty. Therein lies the crux of the matter.

For Derbyshire to advance, two or three players need to have very good seasons. In 2017, for a variety of reasons, too many had only average ones, while an unhealthy number slipped to sub-standard.

Indeed, the only two players who you would say had good seasons across the formats were Luis Reece and Alex Hughes. Reece emerged from a bit-part role at Lancashire to become a dependable batsman who could bowl useful left-arm seam. Hughes was deservedly player of the season, blossoming in the four-day game and enterprising in the one-day formats. Both have big parts to play in the future.

I have long felt that a batting average in the thirties was that of a decent county cricketer, forty a good one and over fifty worthy of the accolade 'very good'. Too many were in the thirties this year, including Billy Godleman and Wayne Madsen, both far better than that and unlikely to accept such a decline from previous summers. Shiv Thakor also declined with bat and ball, before an enforced lay-off mid-season saw him miss the rest of it, to the detriment of the balance of the side.

I expect a return to erstwhile glories next year, but they need support, continued progress from others and shrewd new signings. Not too many though, because the nucleus is there. Matt Critchley made encouraging steps forward and Harvey Hosein confirmed his batting technique and improving glove work.

The club needs to sort the wicket-keeping issue, however. Daryn Smit was the best we have seen in many years with the gloves, but struggled with the bat. Hosein has the best batting technique and is improving with the gloves, while Gary Wilson is the most pugnacious batsman and a shrewd vice-captain, but less consistent behind the stumps. We need one of them to step up their 'other' game and make the place their own at seven, because a likely first-choice attack for 2018, at this stage, contains little likelihood of regular runs from lower than that.

Hamidullah Qadri emerged as a spinner of outstanding potential, but he is too young to place major expectations on his shoulders, while Will Davis showed he can get players out but needs to be fitter and available for selection more often. Ben Slater remains a batsman of great talent, but three centuries in over a hundred first-class knocks isn't a good enough conversion rate. Next year is a big one for him and for a few others too.

There was enough potential in the T20 displays and those at the end of the four-day season to be cautiously optimistic. Wayne Madsen had a wonderful T20 and was as good as anyone in the country, something he is capable of repeating when relieved of the burden of benefit events next year. If the club can lure back John Wright, they have the personnel to again make a good fist of that competition, with shrewd recruitment.

Matt Henry was a disappointment, but if we can find a player who can galvanise in the short form, an overseas seamer who can bat for early summer and a spinner for later in the year, we can expect further progress in 2018.

There are reasons for optimism, but much work to do and we need a share of luck that wasn't always there this year. We should not lose sight of the fact that we were only third bottom of the championship because two sides started with a points deficit. For all the brilliance of some T20 displays, there were too many four-day sessions where we collectively batted and bowled poorly. Meanwhile, in the RLODC, we played some good cricket at times and probably batted better than we did for much of the rest of the summer, yet in the end missed out on progressing further.

In conclusion: it was better, in quite a few ways, but has to improve in many more before we can predict anything more special than a few more enjoyable days in the sun.

What do you think?

Friday, 29 September 2017

Wood and Cork leave, as Brodrick and Taylor come in

After many Autumns of seeing it happen, there is always some sadness in seeing unfulfilled talent depart the county scene.

How many who earn the call up to second eleven and senior cricket make the grade? A very small percentage, I would reckon, so the wheat is well and truly separated from the chaff. There are and have been some very good cricketers who didn't make it, going on to be excellent players at a lower level for many years.

Others take the opportunity to use rejection as a catalyst to redouble their efforts. Our own club's history will show how Paul Taylor went on to a fine county career elsewhere, after we decided he wasn't good enough. It also shows how Colin Tunnicliffe and Tony Borrington were released, before we signed them again after their performances in league cricket warranted another look. Then there was Les Jackson, our greatest-ever bowler, who wasn't rated until asked to bowl at Eddie Gothard in the nets. A few bruises and flying stumps later, Les was on his way to the finest of county careers.

This year we say farewell to Greg Cork and Tom Wood, though I suspect, as I wrote the other night, that other names may yet be announced. Cork had the onerous task of living up to the family name, difficult if it is that of a county legend. Like his father, Dominic, he was a pugnacious batsman who could bat attractively. Having seen him a few times, I always felt it his stronger suit, yet he never quite scored the runs to make a case for inclusion as a Luis Reece-type player.

His bowling was a few yards short of pace at top level, though he will likely take plenty of wickets in the leagues in years to come. Injuries this summer didn't help his case for retention and the emergence of Reece, a similar style of bowler, negated his selection on grounds of variety.

As for Tom Wood, he hits powerfully and is a good player, but after scoring a lot of runs for the Unicorns the previous summer, they were in shorter supply this year. There were some good scores, but a fairly established top six, for all its foibles, proved tough to break into. Limited one-day opportunities were not taken and he leaves, probably without showing how good he can really be.

As for those coming in, Callum Brodrick looks a player of talent and temperament and has already fought adversity to earn a crack at the first-class game. He played two or three innings that suggested he has what it takes this summer, but has to work on his fitness and physique in the months ahead. He is a brilliant fielder and could quite easily work his way into the senior reckoning in the next two years.

At nineteen, he has time on his side and an obvious determination to succeed.

As for James Taylor, at 16 he is one for the future, but his potential is obvious after good second team displays and a maiden first-class wicket against the West Indian tourists.

Taylor, Alfie Gleadall and Sam Conners make for a trio of young seamers who have much to offer, IF we can get them to the next level. Thus far, the careers of Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor and Tom Milnes have stalled and with Cork released, the search to be in the frame with Viljoen, Davis and Palladino would appear to be outside the county - for now.

Working alongside Viljoen and Palladino can only enhance the prospects of the young trio in the long term, though short-term reinforcements look to be required if 2018 is to be any more rewarding than this year in the four-day game.

One thought in closing. Muhammad Azharullah, as someone noted the other day, has been released by Northamptonshire. He took 31 wickets at 21 this year, hardly the figures of someone who is over the hill and remains a potent one-day bowler. Yet Buck, Sanderson, Kleinveldt and Gleeson block his path to regular cricket, hence the decision to release him, I assume.

He would be 34 next summer and my preference would be for someone younger to fill the gap in that area. I'd take Conor McKerr again in a heartbeat, but suspect that Surrey have lofty ambitions for a young man who showed his credentials on loan this summer.

There would be worse options out there, that's for sure. Either would be an improvement on what we have at present.


Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 4

Derbyshire 460 and 144-0 dec (Slater 74 not, Reece 61 not)

Gloucestershire 224-2 dec and 223 (Tahir 5-76, Critchley 2-21

Derbyshire won by 157 runs

Contrived finish or not, Derbyshire finished the season on a high and returned to Derby with the win points in the bag after a frenetic last day at Bristol.

Cynics will say that it doesn't really matter at this stage and they have a point to some extent, but I would sooner go into the winter on the back of a win - two, if you include the one at Hove, in the last competitive cricket of the season.

There is something more reassuring in an attack that features Viljoen and Tahir, two bowlers of proven class and the only shame is that we didn't see that combination together more often. It would be a thrill to get Tahir again, as the pleasure of seeing a world-class spinner strut his stuff on a last day pitch remains undimmed for me.

I just hope that we don't allow Matt Critchley to become a batsman who occasionally turns his arm just yet, because his breakthrough after tea opened the flood gates. As batsman and bowler, Matt is many years short of his prime, yet his potential is considerable. While he has done little match bowling this summer, I am sure that he has worked with Imran and Jeevan Mendis along the way and will work on his skills over the long winter ahead.

Earlier, Luis Reece and Ben Slater increased their averages against buffet bowling of the finest quality, before the home side chased a target that was stiff, on a last day pitch. Maybe we learned from the early season loss to Northamptonshire at Derby, but there is a difference between the attacks fielded in the games, as well as the respective batting line ups.

Harry Podmore made the early breakthrough with two wickets, one a superb catch by Harvey Hosein. I'm unsure if the Middlesex man has made a big enough impression to warrant a permanent deal, to be honest. Six wickets at 51 doesn't look overly impressive, but you can't always judge talent and potential on stats alone. Maybe the reassurance of a regular place might be the making of him, but we will doubtless hear in the coming weeks should anything transpire.

Thereafter it was all about Tahir. There was more air than we see in the one-day formats and yet the variations were there in all their glory. Three perished to the googly and slider, the former rapidly becoming his stock ball but none the less potent for that. The dismissal of Shaw was a classic of the leg spin art, the batsman leaving a presumed leggie in classic style, only to find it ripping back and bowling him.

And so it ends. An encouraging end to the season, aided by the fitness and availability of an international-class spinner and fast bowler. Yet also by the emergence of a few players who could become key performers in the summers ahead.

I'll look at the summer as a whole in a forthcoming piece, but there are building blocks in place.

With the right recruitment, it could result in an impressive structure.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 3

Derbyshire 460

Gloucestershire 224-2 

Another day where play was truncated by the weather. Probably as well, truth be told, as the game is going nowhere on the sort of track that no one loves who has to bowl for a living.

With another rain-shortened day forecast tomorrow, the game seems set to end in a draw.

Perhaps it is a shame it didn't all end at Hove, as since then it has all been anti-climactic.

In other news today, which I will look at with more time on Friday, Callum Brodrick has signed his first professional contract. It is a two-year deal that gives a player of genuine talent an opportunity to develop his game under the eye of some excellent senior players and coaches. I will watch his career with great interest, as I think he will be a good 'un.

At the other end of the scale, again looked at in a couple of days, the club has announced that both Greg Cork and Tom Wood have been released.

I suspect that there may be others to be announced, but again, I will look at those leaving the club at the weekend, as well as summing up the season over the coming days.

As always, I will look forward to your thoughts on the news stories as they are announced.

Finally tonight, I am delighted - nay, thrilled - to announce that my wife, Sylvia, has been given the all-clear to carry on with her life and discharged from the hospital and return visits.

Her recovery is testimony to her own fitness and attitude, together with the wonderful care she has received from a vast array of medical personnel.

Our gratitude to all of them knows no bounds and our sincere thanks goes to all of them, as well as to all of you who have kept her in your thoughts over the past months and enquired after her well-being.

Thank you!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 2

Derbyshire 460 (Hughes 142, Madsen 121, Podmore 43)

Gloucs 47-1 (Viljoen 1-7)

There was perhaps a glimpse of the Derbyshire 2018 engine room at Bristol today.

A summer without a Wayne Madsen century would have been a surprise, and he filled his boots on a wicket that held few fears today. He shared a third-wicket stand of 233 with Alex Hughes, who can deem this as a real breakthrough season. Last week's award of his county cap was celebrated with a superb 142 as we batted very well.

Late wickets fell in the quest for quick runs, Harry Podmore hitting a quickfire 43 and Harvey Hosein a more restrained unbeaten 37, before we closed on 460.

Hardus Viljoen got an early wicket before the spinners closed the day with the home side 413 runs behind.

The wicket looks like making this a draw, unless someone produces something equally special with the ball.

Fingers crossed the season doesn't end in a last afternoon 'beer match' as the season closes.

Full praise for our batsmen today, though.

And especially Wayne and Alex. We might just have three and four nailed for a few summers to come...

Monday, 25 September 2017

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 104 -2 (Slater 45, Madsen 24 not)
v Gloucestershire

On a rain and bad light-ruined day that made a mockery of attempting to play cricket at this time of year, we were put in to bat and, scoring at four an over, did pretty well.

Ben Slater appeared to be in prime touch yet again, frustratingly, got out when well set, albeit on a wicket that would have been lively early on. There's a fine player in there, but he needs to start converting these starts into proper scores next summer.

Luis Reece went early, but after Ben's dismissal, Wayne Madsen and Alex Hughes took us past the hundred before play ended prematurely.

I can't say much more than that really.

Hopefully there will be more tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire preview

 The end of the season comes tomorrow, one in which, as usual, there have been contrasting highs and lows for Derbyshire supporters.

It would be nice if our four-day summer could finish on a high, but another win, a consecutive win, would do little but make us all think what might have been. Of course we want to end on a high, but we have the talent in this squad to be winning more often.

It is one more chance for those involved to state a case for a contract, or a role next summer, though for some I suspect that boat has already sailed and a decision made, soon to be announced. There are enough uncertainties about the staff to make the winter an interesting one.

Our hosts over the next few days have a largely unchanged side from their last match, with Liam Norwell's hamstring the only casualty from a high-scoring and boring draw that saw hardly a spectator in the ground when the end came. Let's hope for something more entertaining than that for this game.

So the home side is likely to line up:

Taylor (J)
Taylor (M)

Our squad is announced as unchanged from Chesterfield. Gary Wilson will doubtless take his place as batsman and skipper, with Derbyshire likely to go with the following side:


Callum Brodrick is also in the squad, alongside Tony Palladino, but for me would only play if Wilson opts to take the gloves. Podmore has to, so we can take one more look before presumably making a decision on signing him, while most of the rest pick themselves. With Hosein doing well with the gloves and bat at Hove, it would be unfair for him to miss out on this occasion.

There's enough in this side to end with a win.

What do you think?

Friday, 22 September 2017

Adieu to the home season - and Hughes' deserved award

The early morning photographs on Twitter today confirmed what I wrote a couple of days ago. There will be no play at Chesterfield and the game is abandoned without a ball being bowled.

It is all deeply frustrating, especially when we think back to the season and, at one point, a two-week period where there was no cricket. I am fairly confident that the county wouldn't have taken the offer of a concert had we started the season better, because that would have been short-sighted in the extreme. Yet the likelihood of four good days at an out ground in the second half of September were as likely as Lord Lucan riding Shergar into the 3aaa County Ground tomorrow. They would have hoped for 2-3 days though, but for the second year in three, Chesterfield has been rained off.

I think most supporters want to see cricket continue there. Indeed, as a cricket-watching location it takes some beating, while there's something for batsmen and bowlers alike in the wicket. What we need to consider, if we are getting Derby onto the concert venue trail, is perhaps hosting two gigs in mid-summer and have a cricket fortnight at Chesterfield.

Of course there are inherent risks, but we will need to await the winter team-building to see if the money earned has been well spent and worthwhile. Over the last four days there would probably have been three days cricket at Derby, which has been traded in for a heavy risk elsewhere and forty thousand pounds.

Whether that was a risk worth taking will always be an individual opinion.

The only good cricket news in recent days has been the award of a county cap to Alex Hughes.

Those who have followed the blog over recent years will know that I have always been a fan of the player. From my first sightings of him, I have liked his battling approach to the game and his total immersion in it. Whether bowling his bustling medium pace, more a one-day weapon now, or fielding brilliantly in any position, he has made a case for himself in the side.

He remains the only man I have ever seen bowl with cotton wool shoved up his nose, stemming a nose bleed. The sight of Alex running in, nostrils flared, was impressive, if slightly amusing, confirming a commendable devotion to the cause in the process.

His batting is his stronger suit and this season has seen a step forward. He had limited opportunity in the T20, but averaged 35 in the four-day game and 58 in the RLODC. His presence at the wicket is starting to offer the calming effect of the better player; his target now is to turn those regular forty-plus scores into match-winning and career-defining efforts.

He is 25 now and has served a long apprenticeship, seemingly around the staff forever. Yet his earlier career was sporadic, a university education eating into his available time and leaving him a bit-part player in some eyes.

He has still only had 73 first-class innings, but a regular place this season has given him greater confidence, just as being part-time T20 skipper last year did him no harm. I see him as our next county captain, unless there's another Eddie Barlow out there somewhere. We live in hope...

2017 could be the watershed for Alex Hughes. If he can kick on further in 2018, turning that 35 average into one nearer 40, he could be the fulcrum of the county batting for many years to come.

A well-deserved award Alex. Make sure you keep that ready smile on your face.

Well done.