Tuesday, 31 January 2017

T20 'script' becoming formulaic

There was an interesting piece over on Cricinfo the other day, with regard to the Big Bash League in Australia.

In 35 matches, including the final, 28 teams decided to bowl first. The seven sides that opted to bat all regretted it, because they all lost the matches in question.

It is a telling statistic and reinforces what I have espoused on here for years - that batting second affords a far greater chance of a win in the short format game.

Why? A range of reasons. First of all, when you bat first you have no idea what represents a good score on a wicket and in over-reaching, quite often end up 20 runs short of par, as batsmen fail to realise that 160 would win it, aim for 180 and end up getting bowled out for 145.

I'm no first-class cricketer, but skippered a club side of limited ability through nine seasons of T20, in which we won far more games than we should by adopting this method. We had three/four decent batsmen who could then pace their innings, knowing full well what they had to do, rather than giving it away. The perils of batting as it got darker were outweighed by this and we claimed some prize scalps, as opponents strived for scores that would have tested India, rather than a motley collection of amateurs.

Alex Wakely of Northamptonshire says that they prefer to bat second as they bat so deep and the presence in any side of a couple of lower order 'biffers' who can clear the ropes is of huge value. If you get to the last couple of overs now, with shorter boundaries  and bats like cudgels, anything under thirty with a man 'in' offers good possibilities. That is when your top bowlers come in to their own, but the odds are firmly in favour of the batting side when one six and some adroit placement and running can turn the game your way.

There are grounds - Nagpur, where England lost on Sunday being one - where the wicket gets slower and runs harder to score as the game goes on, but crowds, sadly, don't turn out for T20 to see bowlers, unless they are real magicians. Mitchell Johnson was brilliant in the BBL, while Imran Tahir gives a rare sense of expectation when he takes the ball in his hand, but crowds want to see a ball heading their way on a regular basis.

It was good to read about Tahir on the same website yesterday, where it said that he rarely bowls a bad ball these days. I think he is a classic spin bowler who, like most of his kind, has got better with age and is now at a stage where he can pitch his many variations at will.  At 37, I could see him playing on for another five or six years and losing little over that period. He is box office material and while some say that his wicket celebrations are over the top, supporters identify with someone who so obviously enjoys his game.

Long may he play it and hopefully the coming season isn't the only one in which we see him in Derbyshire colours.

Finally today, and answering Michael, who emailed me over the weekend, the two Big Bash players who most impressed me this year were Chris Lynn and Marcus Stoinis. Lynn is an incredible hitter of a cricket ball and would be a huge catch for any side over here, while Stoinis, a good bowler as well as a fine batsman (as he showed yesterday against New Zealand) would be a very canny signing.

Yet neither can play here. Unless they have changed, my understanding of the rules is that any player who wants an overseas contract in the county game must have either one Test match or 15 T20/one day appearances for their country in the preceding 24 months. Neither of those two come close, so it must remain a pipe dream for counties, at least for now.

Nor, sadly, and to answer another question, do I expect to see Martin Guptill back for the T20. He has been announced as the captain of the Guyana Amazon Warriors (now THAT's a name!) for the Caribbean Premier League and its timing would mean that 'The Gup' could only play four, maybe five matches here.

One of his team mates is Chris Lynn.

Now their fans are set for some serious entertainment...

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Support from far and wide for Derbyshire cricket

It was good to read this week that Derbyshire's innovative and impressive membership campaign has thus far recruited over 150 new members. It deserved to, as the pricing of £139 for a season's county cricket viewing makes it a purchase of wonderful value.

Yet it should never be considered that Derbyshire support and a passion for the club and its cricket, is the preserve of members alone.

Back in the days of gaslight when I started this blog (so it seems), my reason for doing so was simple - to see if it would enable me to make contact with any other Derbyshire supporters out there on the internet.

Never in a million years did I imagine it would take off as it has, nor that it would enable me to make more friends and acquaintances than I ever felt possible. I have exchanged regular emails with people living all over the UK and have had occasional messages from others overseas, as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States. I have become friends with former and current heroes, managed to get two books published and had more fun in the process than one could ever imagine.

Support isn't the sole preserve of those whose personal circumstances allow them to go to most or all home games, nor those whose lifestyle allows them to travel the country with their interest. Hats off to all concerned who do, as I'm sure their dedication is appreciated, but this is a shout out to many others who, for a myriad of reasons, are simply not able to do so.

When I was a lad, between the ages of nine and twenty-two, I was rarely away from Derbyshire matches. I lived locally and my Dad, or friends, regularly used to attend with me. Further education intervened a little, but long summer holidays meant I could still get along to more games than I missed. I saw the dark days of the early seventies in fine detail, then enjoyed the Barlow years along with everyone else. I saw many wonderful cricketers along the way. They were glorious days.

My job then took me to Scotland, a country that I love dearly and I have been there ever since. Every April I wish I was closer to the best place on earth, Derbyshire, but I know that, for now at least, my life will continue to be where my job is, my son works and my daughter studies. Family contentment is a big thing for me, like many others, so I accept that my opportunities to attend games are limited. Even more so, as the needs of elderly parents, north and south of the border, increasingly eat in to available time to go and see some cricket.

As things stand, with a range of other things on the go, I will perhaps manage between six and eight days cricket this summer, assuming that the 'family stuff' doesn't take priority between times. I will be down for the first two days of the Leicestershire four-day game in May, all being well, then the first couple of days of the Chesterfield Festival, when I hope to meet up with an old friend or two and am praying it doesn't rain. I had hoped to see the season opener, but couldn't get time off work. Maybe no bad thing, based on seasons past, when I have sat in the stand with more layers than a show-stopper cake on The Great British Bake Off.

I'll make a couple of days late season too, but the fixture schedule is such that I need a decent forecast and at least three days to make it worthwhile, one for traveling in each direction. You don't do a 650-mile round trip without planning and I have book stuff that needs to fit into my holiday allocation, along with family breaks. T20, with ten hours driving for three hours cricket,  isn't realistic, unless I am down there for other reasons.

Does it make me less of a fan? Of course it doesn't. The very occasional critic of the blog has usually used the 'you're never at games, so how can you comment?' tactic, rather overlooking the fact that the blog is and always will be an opinion piece. I don't write commentaries on games and am grateful for the comments of those who were there to fill in the blanks that are there between many press reports.

Yet, when you have watched enough cricket, you know how Billy Godleman square cuts, Wayne Madsen cover drives and Imran Tahir bowls. It doesn't stop me from wishing I was there on the good days, and being glad that I wasn't on the bad, yet nor does it change the fact that there is no one any more passionate about the club, its performances and its ongoing and gratifying stability. There's plenty of others like me out there too.

You might look at 150 new members and think that's good, or you may think 'is that all?'. In the context of football support, it is perhaps small beer, but the comments of people on here who have come back in to the fold and plan trips to see Derbyshire this summer for the first time in many years is gratifying.

Interest in Derbyshire cricket is booming. We have recruited well and the on field 'offer' this summer is the best it has been for some time, while off field there are 'proper' facilities. There are genuine reasons for optimism and that will result in a few more planned trips, IF it translates into results and improved performance.

For those, like me, whose attendance is limited, feel free to pitch in with comments, to mail me when you wish and to share in that passion. If you are able to get along more frequently, enjoy every minute and remember that there are a lot of people out there, all over the globe, who are slightly envious of you and are following every ball on a phone, tablet, computer or television somewhere far away.

But  sharing that passion, all the way.

And massive supporters, as they have always been.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Madsen testimonial gesture typical of the man

"I will give a percentage of all the money raised this year to my three nominated charities – the Derby Hospitals Charity, LIV village in South Africa and the PCA Benevolent Fund," said Wayne Madsen. "But I'm also looking to support other charities like the Cricket Derbyshire Foundation because, for me, it is about leaving a legacy – something that can be taken up and developed after this year. It's a huge honour and a privilege to be awarded a testimonial year and one of the benefits of it is that I am able to do a lot more for charity to help people who are less fortunate."

There, in a paragraph, is the essence of the man. In an era when too many sportsmen are seen as in it for everything they can get, Wayne is thinking of others and it is heartening and refreshing to see. 

I hope that his testimonial year is a huge success, as it deserves to be. There is an excellent range of events and his organising committee deserves warm congratulations for the breadth of activities available.

I look forward to helping to broadcast them in due course and if they coincide with trips down south, hopefully getting along to one or two. I hope you do too, because he has been a wonderful servant to the club - and hopefully will continue to be for many years to come.

Finally tonight, what do you reckon to Lancashire signing Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas? I have to say that it strikes me as a little odd for them to sign another wicket keeper, irrespective of his minimal international record. I know that they will be short of Jos Buttler for a fair part of the summer, but one would hope they have enough in Alex Davies, to cover in his absence.

In some ways it mirrors Derbyshire, with Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein. I know there have been lively discussions over signing Daryn Smit, but were we to move for the South African I would see him as a batsman and occasional leggie, with his wicket-keeping as emergency back up.

I'm not sure Vilas is good enough with the bat, in English conditions, to be a specialist, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

Shiv? Of course he is a legend and his influence of the pitch will doubtless be important. Yet he struggled in his final season with us to translate the hard work into weight of runs and three years on will be 43 when the action starts.
I acknowledge he is scoring runs heavily in West Indies domestic cricket, but the level is considerably lower than division one of the county championship. If you need any proof of that, try and find another West Indian cricketer on a county deal that isn't T20 alone (I'll allow you Fidel Edwards...)
Shiv will grind out some runs, but at 43, six months in England will test his unique technique and fitness. I hope that the runs come, if for no other reason than to preserve the legend, but I think it will be tough for him and a strange call by Lancashire.
I can't think that any county since the last war has signed a player of 43. Crikey, back in the day when we picked up Fred Trueman and Clive Inman, they were relatively young lads of 41 and 37 respectively.
Mind you, Inman had been retired for a year...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Interesting news on Daryn Smit

I picked up an interesting story on Twitter tonight, with the news that Daryn Smit of the Dolphins franchise in South Africa has announced his retirement from the game in that country to make a permanent move to the UK.

You may recall that a man who is pretty much a complete all-rounder (bats, bowls leg spin and keeps wicket to a high standard) made a double century at the end of the summer for our second team at Belper. This came at the end of another season in which he dominated in the Lancashire League, averaging 86 with the bat and taking 69 wickets at eight runs each.

Having averaged 113 and taken 74 wickets in 2015, it might be said that Smit has come to terms with English wickets rather well...

He will be 33 when the next English county  season begins, the same age as Basil D'Oliveira when he made his county bow for Worcestershire in 1964. That didn't turn out too badly for all concerned and I would suggest that Smit's arrival, given that he has an ancestral visa that allows him to play in the UK as a local, might be watched quite closely around the shires.

He has had a truncated winter back home, shoulder surgery ruling him out of a fair amount of cricket, but two centuries in eight matches has been a decent return and I am sure that bowlers will be wary of facing a player who has become a run machine in the Lancashire League. If the runs start to flow again, I suspect opportunity may knock, somewhere, for a man who has earned respect as a consummate professional, both in South Africa and in the north west.

Given opportunity, he would be well worth someone's trouble in the county game. I am a big fan of South African cricketers and there are many examples of those who have come to this country and given exemplary service.

Daryn Smit might be another to open eyes, this summer.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Tahir watching reveals South African travails

I tuned in to Sky yesterday afternoon to watch the second T20 international between South Africa and Sri Lanka. I was keen to see Imran Tahir in action and he didn't disappoint.

Imran bowled a beautiful four-over spell with nary a bad ball. Even on a wicket that favours the bowlers, you have to put the ball in the right areas and Sri Lanka, realising he was the danger man, took no risks against him. Four overs for 14 was an exceptional effort and he has a delightful loop to his bowling, as well as an ever-dangerous quicker ball. He seems to bowl more googlies than orthodox leg spin these days, but batsmen still struggle to work out which is which, testimony to a very wily bowler when you have played all these years.

He has today been included in his country's one-day squad for the forthcoming series against the same opponents and rightly so. On the basis of yesterday's viewing, Aaron Phangiso is a country mile back in terms of ability. Indeed, that must be a worry for supporters, because with most of their big names rested, the next tier down looked to be of questionable ability, especially with people who may have been in the mix having signed Kolpak deals.

For all the protestations from the convenor of selectors that they have four men (Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo) now vying to replace Jacques Kallis, that is, with respect, like saying you are replacing Pavarotti with Paul Potts. Decent cricketers all, but you don't replace a craftsman quite that easily.

There were wretched shots from several players and the whole thing looked like the sort of mess that we have become all too used to from Derbyshire in recent summers. Sri Lankan debutant Lakshan Sandakan bowled one or two balls of absolute filth, yet ended up with four wickets as batsmen who couldn't read his left hand leg spin action attempted to second guess and reverse sweep, with inevitable and ugly results.

There was one bright spot though, with new fast bowler Lungi Ngidi looking a huge talent at 20. On a slow wicket he was still too quick for some of the Sri Lankans, despite a first-class career in which he has comfortably under fifty wickets. If he develops like Kagiso Rabada, South Africa will have a pair of quicks who will keep batsmen a-hopping for many years to come.

Still, what the game did was confirm that leggies are potent weapons in the format and the man who can disguise his variations will likely do very well.

Nice that we will have three of them a-twirling this summer...

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Clues on plans in week's news

It might just be me reading too much into it, but this week's media pieces emanating from the 3aaa County Ground gave me, at least, an indication of the decision on a 'Neil Broom replacement' having been made.

There have been articles on both Tom Wood and Charlie MacDonnell, both of them with plans for a top order place in the batting line-up. Rightly so, as both are young players with talent and the potential to get better. As Second XI player of the year, as well as a heavy scorer in a strong Derbyshire Premier League, Wood has proved that he has the skills to make a good fist of the first-class game, but that final level is the biggie.

T20 Innings for the Unicorns against strong county elevens have been strong indicators of his talent and he would be a good pick for John Wright in our first choice side in the format. Wood has the power and the range of shots to capitalise on the so important Powerplay and in the company of an experienced top order 'biffer' his game could flourish.

We also read that MacDonnell is enjoying his winter and feels he is ready for his game to kick on, both as a batsman and a useful off-spinner. He certainly looked as if he belonged last year, making 21 and a composed, unbeaten 35 as all around him collapsed against Essex, the highlight of a season in which he too scored heavily for the second team.

Indeed, after eight first-class innings, the rest for Durham MCCU, his average is just a shade under 50, indicative of a talent worthy of opportunity.

So, in publicising their desire to get into the team, is it a subtle statement that we are going to go with what we have?

After all, one would assume that both Luis Reece and Alex Hughes were a little ahead in the pecking order, certainly in terms of experience, although we don't know how they are all looking in the nets, of course.

Were we to sign a Kolpak batsman to replace Neil Broom, their chances of first team opportunity would probably be quite slim, so perhaps we have had a sign that the Kiwi will not be directly replaced.

There is, of course, a chance that we don't go for a direct replacement, something to which I have alluded before. The addition of Hardus Viljoen and the Mendis/Tahir combo gives us two good experienced bowlers, but we only need one to get an injury and we aren't that far ahead of where we were last year.

I think it unrealistic to expect Viljoen to steam in from April to September without an occasional breather, then we are back to a largely unproven seam attack in which only Tony Palladino can be regarded as a time served and bona fide county cricketer. Several have showed promise, and I hope to see them kick on this year, but much will depend on Viljoen hitting his stride and staying fit.

Kim Barnett has gone on record as saying he wants opponents to be unsure whether to bat against a testing pace attack, or opt to bat against a quality leg spinner on the last afternoon. Were Viljoen to be injured, it would be a similar situation to last year, where opposition captains won the toss and settled back to bat until mid-afternoon on day 2.

Hopefully the seamers will benefit from that experience, but supporters will be excused a few concerns. Will Davis had a few injuries, Tom Taylor missed almost the whole of last season, Ben Cotton hasn't yet shown himself as adept at the four-day game as the one-day, while Greg Cork hasn't yet convinced as a first team bowler.

With Tony Palladino now in a combined bowling/coaching role, it leaves seam bowling in the hands of the improved Tom Milnes and Shiv Thakor. With the latter perhaps doing too much bowling last year through necessity and suffering a back injury as a consequence, there are perhaps a few questions to be answered.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

More encouraging signs from Derbyshire

There was a time, when I started writing this blog, when I was baffled by some of the goings on at Derbyshire and said so on a regular basis. For all the good intentions of those involved, we seemed to do some odd things and make signings that were of questionable judgement and value.

Maybe I am mellowing with age, or more likely we just have the right, professional people in charge of the club affairs now.

Take today's news, for example. Instead of a pre-season tour to Dubai, Derbyshire will train at home in a Briggs of Burton-sponsored 750 square metre marquee. It makes total sense to me for the players to be ready for the first match on what we assume will be seaming tracks, rather than going to Dubai and playing on wickets that are considerably different.

OK, I guess that the players might enjoy the change of climate and the opportunity to get some warm sun on their backs, but the positive impact of this development, complete with its daylight panels, cannot be over-estimated.

It apparently encourages grass growth too, so the 3aaa County Ground will be at its most lush in April, when hopefully we win the toss a few times and bowl...

On the pitch, it has been good to follow the fortunes of Ireland and Gary Wilson. He looks a good player, which we knew from his averages anyway, but the composed way with which he steered his side to a win yesterday augured well for 2017. He has a reputation as a player who runs hard, times the ball well and turns ones into twos, little things that make a big difference in T20, especially.

He played another cameo today, as his side won once more and there is no doubt that our new vice captain will be a definite enhancement to Derbyshire, as we aim to improve on a largely dismal 2016.

Speaking of T20, did anyone see Kiwi leg-spinner Ish Sodhi demolish Sydney Thunder today in the BBL, with 6-11 in 21 balls? To be fair, he didn't bowl THAT well, but it showed the value of leggies in this format and the batsmen appeared baffled for the best part. At one point Brad Hodge had three slips and a leg slip set for him, which I have never seen before in the format  - and don't expect to see to many more times either.

Mind you, we have two leg-spinners for the format this year...

See you soon.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Weekend thoughts

It has been a quiet week on the Derbyshire cricket front.

The players are now back in the nets and, from the club footage, looking good. Shiv Thakor seemed to be in good nick with the bat, while Tom Taylor and Harvey Hosein both took cracking catches in practice.

I have to say that I disagreed with the vote (such as it matters) on the club Twitter feed, as to the merit of the respective catches. I took a few high and climbing ones, as well as a few low and dropping ones over the years - and missed a few too - and the latter were more difficult. Notwithstanding that one man has gloves and the other doesn't, the ones low and dropping need you to intercept gravity and pull the ball up before keeping your balance or preventing the ball hitting the deck. The other is you are either tall enough to get a hand on it, or you're not. If you're not, the biggest issue is not dislocating a top finger joint if you only 'just' get there.

At the end of it all, what does it matter, but that's my personal viewpoint...

Hardus Viljoen had a day to forget yesterday for the Lions, with figures of eleven overs for 67 and no wickets. Sometimes that happens to a fast bowler, the rudder goes, the rhythm isn't there and the figures suffer. I've seen it happen to most genuine quicks over the past forty years, whether Steyn, Akram, Waqar, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Morne Morkel and many more. Mark Footitt is still prone to that sort of spell, but you gain compensation in the days when everything clicks and the wickets tumble.

I maintain that if Viljoen and our leggies stay fit we will do much better this summer, but expect days with both where the rhythm isn't right and the ball just doesn't come out as intended. It just goes with the territory and both fast and leg spin bowling are very difficult arts.

The Big Bash goes on in Australia and there has been some great cricket played. Stuart Broad was a 'hero' for seven off three balls as his Hobart Hurricanes chased 220-odd to win, though personally I thought his team mate Ben McDermott more worthy of that status with 114 from 52 balls. Broad may have got them over the line, but they wouldn't have got close, bar for a special innings by a talented young player.

That's pretty much it for today. I will be back at the start of next week, all being well.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Walter's funeral

It has been a long day today, starting with a 4.30am rise and not ending until I get home around 11.30pm tonight, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I wanted to see off the club's legendary groundsman Walter Goodyear, a man who became a friend, and thankfully the Virgin trains ran to schedule and I got there in good time.

It was gratifying to see a good turnout and I would estimate around a hundred people attended the crematorium for a short but personal service.

Fast bowling legend Harold Rhodes spoke very well, from an association and friendship that goes back 60 years. Walter had made his plans clear in advance and the service was opened with Barbra Streisand singing 'Memories' from Cats and ended with the traditional BBC cricket tune, Soul Limbo, a choice that brought a smile to faces.

Afterwards, at the 3aaa County Ground, there were plenty of stories from former players and those who knew him best. Looking out of the Gateway windows, the grass looked good and I think Walter would have approved.

He might have fallen just short of a century, but Walter had a good innings and left behind a lot of people who had only good memories of him.

Not a bad thing to aspire to, I think.

Thanks to a those whose company I enjoyed today. I look forward to seeing you in warmer conditions and happier circumstances as the Spring comes around once more.

And that, as my train thunders on home into a dark and windy night, is that from me for now.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Kolpak question - the Derbyshire angle

It was interesting to see the polarising effect that the announcement of Hampshire signing Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott had on cricket fans over the past couple of days.

On the one hand were those who felt their arrival would strengthen the county game and see it increasingly being a battle of the best versus the best. As a Hampshire fan it made sense - after all, they would have gone down last year, but for the penalties dished out to Durham that still seem unduly draconian. They now have a world-class bowler to call on, as well as a very talented batsman who can bat anywhere in the order.

The downside? Well, they also have Fidel Edwards from Barbados, who is never going to play for England, plus Shaun Ervine (Zimbabwe) and overseas professional George Bailey from Australia. Logically, half of their first-choice side will be made up of players from overseas, though conversely they have brought through the likes of Dawson and Vince to the international stage.

I don't blame any of the Kolpaks for securing their futures. With franchise and national selection some way removed from simply picking the best eleven, and with no guarantees as to their future involvement, would any of us not look to do the best for our families? Offer me definite against possible income for the next few years and I am sold to the highest bidder...

All county cricket fans want to see their side doing well and most of them at any cost. Of course, bringing through your own talent is crucial for the future, but sport is tough and the demand for immediate success is strong. You can set out your stall to develop youngsters, but if patience runs out and your job has gone inside three years, you can understand county coaches reconciling one against the other. There has to be a middle ground.

According to Cricinfo yesterday, players like Morne Morkel, Marchant de Lange, David Miller, Chris Morris, Dane Vilas and Dwaine Pretorius may also opt for the Kolpak route in the coming weeks and there could be more. In addition, David Wiese is apparently already lined up for a deal with Sussex.

2016 was tough for Derbyshire supporters with a side of woeful inexperience and 2017, with the addition of Hardus Viljoen and the Imran Tahir/Jeevan Mendis combo, looks set to be better. With Neil Broom leaving, the suggestion of bringing in a Kolpak batsman is out there, yet maybe we don't need to look at a like for like, if we look at anything?

Let's be honest, we aren't replacing a 50-average Azharuddin, Wright, Kirsten or Di Venuto. We have lost a nice guy and talented player, but one who only averaged 25 as a specialist batsman. The existing personnel are all capable of at least matching that - and likely more -  in the coming season.

With the top four in place for all but T20 (Godleman, Slater, Thakor and Madsen), Gary Wilson could bat 5, which he did a number of times at Surrey. There's also a case for Harvey Hosein, based on his end of season efforts, while Alex Hughes and Luis Reece are good enough batsmen to carve a niche at 6/7, lengthening the batting and offering an additional bowling option as the season progresses and Imran Tahir arrives. Based on his record and current form, Jeevan Mendis will slot in very nicely at six to start the summer.

The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that we cannot block the progress of Hosein, one of the best-organised young batsmen I have seen from our own ranks. As he fills out and gets the power to go with natural timing, he will be a very special player. While Wilson, as vice-captain, has to be in a first choice side, the case for Hosein is strong. How galling it would be if a young player of obvious talent were to opt to move for greater opportunity, then realise that potential elsewhere?

Maybe there is greater merit, if such a signing is deemed necessary, to sign someone who can bat and bowl. From the names mentioned above, players like Morris and Pretorius would be a better fit, especially when seam bowlers need to be rotated and rested. More than anyone, having pioneered that in the modern game, Kim Barnett is aware of the importance of keeping them fresh through a long summer.

We would all love to see a Derbyshire eleven of local lads plus an overseas and maybe we will get there one day, but in the short term, most would settle for a side that has far from local accents but competes well and potentially wins trophies.

The decision of hiring another Kolpak  is not as simple as 'can we afford him'? It would have to be the right man with the right attitude, whose on and off-field contributions meant that the detrimental effects can be justified and minimised.

I have no doubt that Messrs Barnett and Godleman have things in hand and it will be exciting to watch developments.

Mendis to the fore again

Another sparkling performance today from Jeevan Mendis today, for his Tamil Union side against the Nondescripts in Sri Lanka.

At stumps on day two, Mendis is unbeaten on 123, with 11 fours and 3 sixes, this after taking two wickets in the opposition's first innings. He has so far faced 217 balls.

A very good player, is Mr Mendis.

Quite possibly an inspired signing...

Friday, 6 January 2017

Godleman contract extension extends the feel-good factor

Yesterday's news, with Billy Godleman signing a contract extension to the end of 2019, ensures that the goods times keep a-coming for Derbyshire supporters.

It isn't that long ago that people were coming on here to question whether he would make it. The brief flourish at the start of his Middlesex career had become a somewhat distant memory, as subsequent struggles there and at Essex made Derbyshire's decision to engage him a gamble, even if one worth taking at the time.

He wasn't an immediate success either, averaging only 17 in his first summer with us in 2013, then 28 in his second. The grumbles were commonplace, yet the more discerning supporters at least recognised a man prepared to sell his wicket dearly, even if at times his attritional style was almost painful to watch.

In 2015 he returned and looked a different player, perhaps on the back of a late-summer century the previous year, his first since 2012. As his mentor, the former Essex, Somerset and Leicestershire batsman Neil Burns put it, he learned to influence games, not just exist and get by. He reached a thousand runs by the end of the summer and would surely have done so again last year, but for the hand injury that ruled him out of early matches.

He looks a very solid batsman now, with good footwork and a range of shots around the wicket. Like Wayne Madsen, his dismissal often comes as a surprise, the hallmark of the reliable batsman from who runs are expected.  It is the preserve of the best players, which most certainly in a county context they are.

Billy has also become a key player in 50-over cricket, forming an excellent pairing with Ben Slater that could see Derbyshire right for years. At 27 he is arriving at his peak years in fine form and with the knowledge that his employers rate and value him. He is a strong man who does not back down on the field and has the backing of a largely young team.

How good a captain is he? We'll find out next season, because last year's Derbyshire attack, through a succession of injury and inexperience, was largely like taking on heavily-armed pirates armed with a peashooter and kazoo. Add that to early season wickets that were heavily-weighted in favour of batsmen and we took wickets by the sundial and calendar, rather than the clock.

This year, Cap'n Bill will have a top-class fast bowler and a spinner of similar stature to work with. Skippering is a heck of a lot easier with such talent at your disposal, as Steve Waugh will affirm, when he had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Having one end 'covered' makes life easier for the bloke at the other end too, as our young bowlers will hopefully find out.

Before all that, as mentioned yesterday, he has to decide whether he wants to replace Neil Broom. If the club can find a Kolpak player who comes close to guaranteeing runs he must be tempted, but I'm less sure such things exist after the experiences of Amla, Dilshan and Broom. Equally, he could think back to his own formative days and reason that without being given a chance we will never know what the likes of Alex Hughes, Luis Reece, Tom Wood and Charlie McDonnell can do. All are proven at second team level and the question is now if one or two can replicate that form, given senior opportunity.

Billy managed it and, at the end of the day, he is the man who will lead our side on to the pitch this summer and likely beyond. He will make a decision and be prepared to stand by it.

That's all you can do, irrespective of what we think as supporters.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Over to Godleman

I don't know if any of you caught the interview with Kim Barnett yesterday, but if you didn't, our Director of Cricket said that the decision on replacing Neil Broom had been passed to skipper Billy Godleman.

It is a laudable and the right thing to do, given that Billy will be leading the side and taking the responsibility for performances and results.

It is also a big decision.

There are several options for the vacated place in the batting order from the existing staff. As things stand, at least as far as I am concerned, there are four certainties for the top order when the summer starts. With Shiv Thakor likely to bat three, according to Barnett at a pre-Christmas members forum, our top four is likely to be Godleman, Slater, Thakor and Madsen.

Who then for five,six and seven?

There's Alex Hughes, Tom Wood, Charlie McDonnell, Luis Reece, Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein as good options, but there is a risk in having effectively a third of the top order as unproven players at first-class level. Jeevan Mendis could bat there, based on his reputation and average, but may find English conditions a challenge, much as Broom did.

Alex Hughes suggested at the end of last summer that he may be ready for the step up, while Luis Reece has scored good runs before with Lancashire. Gary Wilson has an excellent first-class record, while Harvey Hosein batted beautifully in the closing weeks of the summer. Wood and McDonnell have obvious talent, but limited opportunity at this stage.

Of course, if they don't get games, how will we know what they can do?

It is worthy of a poll, so for those with an interest in such things, let me know your thoughts in the usual manner, and/or by completing the poll on the left.

If the money is there, however, there must be temptation to replace Broom with a player of greater experience and proven reputation, probably from South Africa. I read today that Rilee Rossouw was believed to be considering his options and there would be much to like in a 27-year old with a highest first-class score of 319 and a one-day international average of just under 40. He won't be alone, and when one of the country's current seam attack, Kyle Abbott, has signed a three-year Kolpak deal with Hampshire, it tells a story of the ongoing and understandable talent drain from that country that won't stop any time soon.

Barnett also mentioned that the loan market was an option for Derbyshire, which is true, but I'm not sure that I'd be in favour of that.

For one thing, you are signing someone who is not good enough for regular cricket at his own county, though granted it may be one awash with good players. For another, it rarely works out especially well and if it does, you just get another team's player into form. For a third, you are effectively admitting that none of your current staff are up to it, which is hardly a team and morale-building move unless awash with injuries.

But what do you think?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Challenges ahead for young players

There were a couple of pertinent and fair comments below my last piece.

Knack, thank you for your kind comments on the blog. The only answer I can give as to how I do it is 'time management'. That I write quickly is a bonus and the words are often in my head before I write them.

I take your point on the 'three all-rounders' I referred to. Of the three, only Shiv Thakor has thus far shown he can take regular wickets at first-class level, the benchmark by which the true all-rounder will be judged. His challenge is to reproduce his excellent all-round form from last year, before the season-ending injury that cost us a very good cricketer.

Alex Hughes and Luis Reece, I agree, have their stronger suits in batting, yet both are players who could make a difference and offer options in the one-day game. You never know with developing cricketers (and I see both as that) when the winter will come that makes a difference and turns them into the real deal. That could be physically, emotionally, mentally or professionally. Both players are wintering down under and such an experience has been the making of many good county cricketers in the past.

For what it is worth, I see both as key players this year, their opportunities perhaps more in the one-day game, depending on whether or not we replace Neil Broom, but each will be high in the mix to take his place.

As for the seamers, I agree that at this stage Will Davis looks the likeliest to go far in the game. Last season he bowled with real pace at times and will only get better. He needs to be well-managed and needs to build up his physique so he can handle three, maybe four spells a day. He needs only look to Hardus Viljoen for inspiration, a  huge man whose powerful physique and high level of fitness lets him come back for later spells at the same pace. The two of them together will probably make for the fastest opening pairing in the division. If they get it right, few will fancy facing them.

Yet it depends on what you mean by 'make it'. Ben Cotton showed last year that he can take wickets in the red-ball game, but needs to work out the different lengths that will enable him to consistently get people out, rather than keep them quiet at that level. He is another who could become a solid county player, but cementing a place in the opening line-up in four-day cricket is the first challenge for him. He remains a talent in white ball cricket, however.

Tom Taylor has undoubtedly got it, but last season's stress fracture set him back a little. My understanding is that his spell with England Lions did him few favours either, as they tinkered a little with his technique to his detriment. When he did play last year, batsmen could afford to wait for the bad ball each over, which makes playing any bowler an easier prospect.

If you look at the GREAT Derbyshire bowlers - Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson, Mike Hendrick, Brian Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Ole Mortensen - they all had uncanny accuracy, built up by bowling, bowling and bowling some more. The late Walter Goodyear told me that you could put a handkerchief over the area they hit and while batsmen perhaps use their feet more today, the ability to hit your length remains crucial. A missed yorker is usually a nice full toss for a batsman, while a short ball, meant to inconvenience, just sits up to be hit if you miss that all-important length.

That's why these bowlers developed what John Arlott memorably called a 'grudging' length, too short to drive, too far up to pull or cut. While the game has changed, its basics remain very much the same.

As for Greg Cork, I think this is a huge year for him. He featured little in senior cricket last year, despite good displays in the second eleven. His best chance, for me, is developing into a Kevin Dean-type bowler who swings it around and offers handy runs down the order. Although he has been around a few years, however, he is still only 22 and is working out his game accordingly.

I've heard some say he was fortunate to get another year, but there's a proper player in there, if he is willing to work at being a cricketer in his own right and not just 'Dominic's lad'. He may yet find his batting comes on more than his bowling, but true all-round achievement takes a great deal of work.

As for Tom Milnes, I think he showed last year that he has talent at this level. I see him as the third seamer, in poll position with Tony Palladino for that role and a very handy batsman at eight or nine. His averages, having just turned 24, suggest a player who is not too far from the real deal.

Plenty of potential there, for sure, but a lot of work to be done all-round.