Thursday, 30 March 2017

No complaints about the new board

I'm sure, like me, that you all wish Ian Morgan, the new chairman of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, the very best for his tenure at the helm of the club.

I don't know him, though that is something that I hope to correct in the coming months when I get an opportunity to say hello.

Alongside him, on the new board, are some very good people, all of them eminently qualified for those new roles, as one would expect them to be. They cover all the bases and have the expertise that we would wish for to take the club forward.

It is good to see Mike Hendrick back in the fold. He has been estranged from the club for too long and it is good to have his expertise working for the club where he made his name and reputation. Mike was an outstanding bowler and will doubtless have thoughts on our current young crop and how they might develop further. His relationship with Kim Barnett is one that could flourish, undoubtedly to the club's benefit.

No arguments either in the appointment of Michael Holding as club president. It is hard to be critical of an international legend getting involved and it will be great to see him back on an occasional basis at the ground where he left so many golden memories.

My only negative? One that I hope the club will address when Michael's spell in the role has come to an end.

We seem, as a club, to have forgotten many outstanding players who made the club what it was between 1950 and 1980. I'm talking about players such as Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Brian, Jackson, Peter Eyre, Tony Borrington and Alan Hill. All of them, and more, made huge contributions to the success and history of the club, yet in the appointments of Geoff Miller and now Michael, we seem to have overlooked that contribution.

Time was when the role went to the senior capped former player - in other words, the one who was capped the earliest. That was a way of acknowledging their efforts and involving them in the club once more.

Of course Geoff and Michael were legends too, but I do think it a shame that earlier heroes appear to have been ignored.

They deserve better and I think, moving forward, the club could improve in this area.

I look forward to them doing so.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Pre-season preview: the four day game

2017 marks my fiftieth summer of supporting Derbyshire.

In that time I have seen very good and distinctly average sides, enjoyed some wonderfully entertaining days and suffered plenty that were hard work from start to finish.

When I walked away from the 3aaa County Ground for the last time last summer, as the shadows lengthened over the outfield and the ground staff busied away after another ultimately disappointing day, I knew that things had to change over the winter.

For all that we had some good players on the staff - by definition, if playing at that level - we had too many whose maturity appeared to be some time off and who seemed, at times, to be overawed by their opposition. When sides were chirping away at us in the field, we seemed to be too nice; when the going got tough, the tough opposition got going and we were too often in their slipstream. Not, I think, through a lack of talent, though there were those whose technical failings became evident as the summer wore on, but through experience and that all-important thing called mental toughness.

A lot of very good players have fallen at the county cricket hurdle because of that and it would appear to be something that Kim Barnett, returned to the fold as Director of Cricket, has picked up on very quickly.

Reinforcements have come in, men of proven quality and reputation. International stars, such as Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis share the overseas role, suggesting that home wickets should not be overly blessed with moisture content. Both are men of proven reputation to bowl sides out and win matches. Few teams will fancy chasing much over 200 against us on the final day this summer, but Barnett's preparation has been thorough and has also catered for sides who win the toss and opt to bat first to avoid that.

Last summer's seam attack was overly reliant on the willing Tony Palladino, with able, occasional support from Tom Milnes and Will Davis. With Tom Taylor hors de combat for most of the summer and Ben Cotton not yet able to dismiss as well as he contains, too many batsmen came to Derby, saw off the new ball and then drank at the well.

They shouldn't do that this year. Hardus Viljoen arrives from South Africa with a reputation for serious pace and for topping and tailing innings, bowling 90mph from a physique worthy of the moniker 'Man Mountain'. We missed Mark Footitt last year, but have someone every bit as quick and very hostile. With a young apprentice in Will Davis, we will have our fastest opening attack in years.

With Palladino taking on a coaching remit in his new deal, he may play less than previous summers and I expect he and Milnes to rotate as the third seamer, each providing handy lower-order ballast with the bat. The others will need to wait their turn, take wickets when opportunity presents itself and make competition the buzz word of the summer.

The batting? Several players had their career-best averages last summer, though too many feasted on favourable early season tracks where groundsmen were wary of the new toss regulations, then tailed off in later season.

Gary Wilson has been recruited from Surrey, a dependable bat and glove man, as well as a player with captaincy and international experience.  Meanwhile Daryn Smit has signed a two-year deal on an ancestral visa and should bring his considerable experience to bear in a middle order that proved fallible too often last year. With the talented Luis Reece also in to add competition for places, there is a solidity to the batting line up, on paper at least, that we have not had for a long time. With the admirable Madsen in the middle order and captain Billy Godleman and the improving Ben Slater 'up top', we should not want for runs.

The wicket-keeping is in very safe hands, with Wilson competing with the hugely talented Harvey Hosein for the number one role. With Smit as a third option, the club is well-covered in all aspects of the game.

Key Players? The new ones, who need to make the difference that they suggest they will, but also Shiv Thakor. He looked a class act with bat and ball last year, but the move to number three in the order will test him further. Whether it restricts his bowling role time will tell, but he has an opportunity here. The good thing is that, should he not take it, there are plenty of options awaiting theirs. Look out for Tom Wood, a batsman of real talent and don't discount Alex Hughes, a gritty cricketer who I still expect to make the grade.

Prospects? It would be a little gung-ho to say we will storm the division, but if everyone ups their game from last year by even 5% and the new arrivals live up to their career statistics, we should push everyone and be in the mix. If key players stay fit we should score runs and no one will want to face Viljoen on a green top or Tahir on the last afternoon.

Nottinghamshire will start favourites, of course, but a first choice Derbyshire eleven need fear no one. If we get our share of luck with the weather and injuries. hold our catches and play anything close to potential, a promotion challenge is a possibility.

Whatever, it promises to be a summer of special cricket and golden memories.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The return of Fantasy Cricket

In answer to several emails, yes I am going to be running Fantasy Cricket again this year.

Yes, I will almost certainly start with a flourish and then peter out around June as I forget that I have substitutes and don't swap out of form players, but it is a service I am happy to provide for all of you who follow the blog - near and far.

The link is on the left hand side of the blog, cunningly titled 'Fantasy Cricket' and you can log in from there.

The PIN is 8031395 and the league name is 'Peakfan Blog Trophy 2017'

Last year David Aust won, after a strong challenge from several others. Come to think of it, he won the year before, too.

Surely it can't be a hat trick?

You have just under two weeks to hone your team and for what it is worth, here's my tip for success...

Don't pick Imran Tahir.


Friday, 24 March 2017

A week to go!

It's nearly here, folks.

Just over a week until Derbyshire play their first pre-season friendly (weather permitting) and we have made it through another long, dark, wet but exciting winter.

I can't recall one that had more to offer than that just past and the standard of recruitment has been extremely high. It needed to be, because we were out of our depth at times last year, as much through inexperience as anything. We have some very talented young players at the club and what they needed more than anything was some senior professionals of good standing to work and play alongside.

Derbyshire's cricket board and specifically Kim Barnett has delivered in spades.

Earlier this week we read that Billy Godleman is learning a lot from Kim Barnett and I can understand that. There is much to learn from a man who, for all the issues at the club in that era, was an outstanding cricketer and captain. Tapping into his knowledge and gaining the benefit of his experience will be priceless to a man who is still learning the ropes in that area. Likewise, as an opening batsman he could have few better mentors, were one needed.

Much as Barnett learned from Phil Russell, Guy Willatt and senior professionals like John Hampshire and David Steele, so Billy can learn from Kim and two men with senior captaincy experience in Gary Wilson and Daryn Smit. With Wayne Madsen also in the ranks, there is now a solid core to the Derbyshire team where there was once a soft underbelly.

I don't think for a minute that we will be unbeatable this summer, but I don't expect us to fold easily either. Teams that beat Derbyshire should and will know they have been in a game.

Speaking of Daryn Smit, as we were, he tweeted his farewell to Durban earlier today, ahead of his flight to England and the splendour of God's Own County. It must have been an emotional departure but I am sure that he and his wife will get the warmest of welcomes at their new home.

Derbyshire has long since been regarded as a happy and welcoming club and I have no doubts that both will soon settle in to the area, the club and a new circle of friends.

Doubtless they will soon be joined by Jeevan Mendis and his family as the final components of the squad gather for pre-season practice and matches.

I don't recall being this excited ahead of a season for some years. Every April brings the promise of something new, something hopefully better, but this year genuinely does offer supporters grounds for optimism. Quite frankly, after the winter work that has been put in, the plans that are in place and the people who have come into roles on and off the pitch, anything less than major improvement is unacceptable.

There are good players at our club and for me we have a very good blend of talented youth and reliable seniors. For all that it is nice to see a side made up of primarily local players take the field, it is less so to watch them get hammered into the ground. Nor does it do them any favours.

Another week and it is time to let them loose.

On that thought, enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The question mark in team selection

Over the course of the winter, I have been asked many times for my thoughts on team selection for the coming summer. Whether T20, fifty overs or four-day cricket, I have given my eleven, quite happily, when asked.

However, it s nowhere near that straight forward.

It is all very well basing a notional team on reputation and first-class average, but if that is all it went by, young players would never break into a first-class side. Rather it is based on form, attitude, state of mind and potential.

As David commented below my last piece, he and I were only one player apart in our notional one-day side (great minds, and all that...) but neither of us, no more than anyone else outside the club, know how the winter has gone for a fine array of young talent.

One assumes that a hard winter in the gym and nets has seen younger players develop their games, both mentally and technically. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched a video of Charlie Mcdonnell batting in the nets with a stump and looking pretty impressive. Truth be told, I would envy such timing with a willow in my hands, let alone something considerably smaller.

No one yet has mentioned him in notional first choice sides, yet his potential is considerable. It may be that he has developed better than others over the winter and in the eyes of those that matter has leapfrogged a few more senior rivals for a place in the batting line-up. The same goes for Greg Cork, for who this summer is so important.

Greg is a very useful left-arm seamer who swings it at reasonable pace and is also a batsman with an excellent technique. Perhaps this summer is last chance saloon at this level, because Luis Reece, a player of similar skills, has come across from Lancashire with good reputation. Yet that may be the catalyst for Greg to burst forth and prosper. We just don't know, but can only hope.

Then there's Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor. The emergence of Will Davis, last season's form for Tom Milnes and the signing of Hardus Viljoen would appear to have pushed them further down the pecking order. Yet it may not be so.

Taylor suffered a stress fracture of the back last summer and has doubtless amended his action as a result. That may be to his detriment, or he may emerge as an even better prospect than the one who did well two summers back. A frustrating tendency to bowl a bad ball an over needs work, as does his showing obvious frustration when things are going badly. Yet these are things he may have worked on, along with a trudge back to his bowling mark that at times has cost us in over rate. That he is a talent is undeniable and this may be his breakthrough year.

The same goes for Cotton, a genial giant who has so far shown an excellent ability in bowling the lines and lengths to keep batsmen quiet, yet less so in getting them out when they don't have to play the forcing shots. Again, maybe this is something he has improved and he looks impressive and a handful in the net footage we have been shown. I hope that he doesn't become a casualty of the signing of Matt Henry, because Cotts is a very good T20 bowler in his own right.

Then there's Alex Hughes.

Unless John Wright comes over from India and has Martin Guptill in his suitcase, I see Alex as the T20 captain. He did well on limited opportunity last summer and, as an intelligent lad who thinks about his game, he sets good fields and doesn't fall into the trap of changing bowlers to a formula.

He did a good job batting three last summer, but will, I think, need to use T20 and the RLODC to break into the first choice four-day side. He is another of sound technique, a good range of shots and the ability to add crucial runs in the closing overs of a one-day game. He is like a greyhound between the wickets, is a fine fielder in the key positions and can bowl a tight spell and get good players out. He also remains the only player I have seen bowl an over with cotton wool stuffed up his nose after a nose bleed...

I like Alex and he is a busy cricketer, my kind of player. Like all the others, he may not appear in many notional first choice elevens on paper, but discount him - and them - at your peril.

If they have the right attitude, work at their game and take the opportunities when they come, they will force a way into the side. Players pick up injuries, lose form or need a rest and the challenge for all is to step in and make themselves impossible to drop.

That's why I think Tom Wood has a lot to offer and why I 'banged the drum' about him last summer. Here is a lad who went away to Australia to work on his game, scored a load of runs and put himself in the shop window with the Unicorns on his return.

He scored runs again, was given a second team chance at Derbyshire and was top scorer for them last summer. While his forte appears to be the shorter forms, a double century and century in a handful of longer-form innings confirmed his versatility.

What critics of our winter signings miss is the value of the likes of Hardus Viljoen, Daryn Smit and Imran Tahir to these young players. If they can help them add another ten per cent to their game with advice on technique and mindset, their long-term value to the club will be far in excess of their feats on the cricket field.

And of course, if these players are scoring heavily and taking wickets in the second team but still not forcing a way through, they will need to be patient. The only way that will happen is if we are doing well, something we all hope for.

Time will tell.

Friday, 17 March 2017

T20 side has good possibilities

There have been a few requests for my T20 team in recent days and I have to admit that I find this harder than the four-day equivalent.

I had mentally pencilled in an overseas batsman at the top of the order and so have had to revise my plans in that area. Paul asked me last night whether I was disappointed with the signing of Matt Henry and the answer is no. You can't be disappointed with the signing of a highly-rated fast bowler of international standard. Surprised, perhaps, but I fully understand the rationale and am hardly going to set my T20 credentials against those of John Wright...

For what it is worth, here is my suggestion for a T20 eleven.

Hughes (captain)

I'd love to find a place for Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes, while I think that Ben Slater has something to offer in the format too. The debate over the respective merits of Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein will rumble on for a long time, but I think this team has potential.

There is no obvious six-hitter at the top, no Wes 'n' Ches of years gone by, but we must remember that they weren't built for speed and what they gained in slapping to the fence they sometimes missed out on between the wickets. Remember too that you can score ten an over without clearing the boundary.

Luis Reece is a really clean striker of a ball and a left-right combo at the top would do no harm. At the talks I did in Lancashire over the winter, a good few people told me that they were astonished to see Reece released and that they rated him highly. He is the only left-hander in the side, strange after last year when we had Chesney, Rutherford and Neesham, enabling us to have that combination through the middle order.

Meanwhile Tom Wood is a naturally fast scorer who could prove a surprise package as a relative unknown at this level. Don't overlook his excellent batting last summer and some breathtaking knocks for the Unicorns, as well as our second team. Anyone who can score, for example, 67 from 35 balls against a Nottinghamshire attack of  Ball, Christian, Mullaney, Carter, Wood and Gurney has plenty to offer. Tom can bat and, just as David Warner did, could find a way into four-day cricket through success in the shorter formats.

Shiv Thakor scores quickly anyway, Gary Wilson offers quick running and boundary clearing ability, while Wayne Madsen's role could be fluid, he and Smit ensuring that someone gets through to the end. The latter has a reputation as a finisher back home, but could equally open or slot in anywhere down the order. I'll confess to being a fan of your best batsman being in early and on that basis there is also a case for Wayne going in at three.

Alex Hughes is a steady seven and can score quick at the death, while Critchley, Henry and Viljoen are all capable of clearing the fence in the closing overs, which would make all the difference. We bat long and don't discount their talents.


Count 'em. There's nine bowlers there, including two quicks, three leggies and a left-armer.An attack for all surfaces and I can't think there will be many turning tracks away from home against a side with that most dangerous of short format bowlers. We could easily bowl two fast bowlers and three leg-spinners, which would open a few eyes!

As I say, it is tough to select a side and a batting order. Actually it is impossible, without knowing who is in form at the time and there are plenty of options outside that eleven who may impress John when he arrives in this country.

I'm sure you all have your ideas too, so let me see them.

What is sure is that we have a squad that can challenge. No rash promises, but wouldn't it be great to emerge from the group stages for the first time in many years?

With a canny coach in John Wright and plenty of mobility in the field, there is every possibility we can do so.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Matt Henry signs as T20 specialist

The name of Matt Henry may not have been high on most people's list, when thoughts turned to our T20 specialist for this year. Most were, to be fair, thinking of a top order 'biffer', or perhaps someone, moving into fantasy land, like Mitchell Starc or Trent Boult.

Yet Henry is one of those 'under the radar' cricketers, a player not yet established as a member of the New Zealand side but who has proved a popular overseas signing in the IPL, playing for Chennai and being signed up by Kings XI Punjab for this year's competition.

At 25 he is still some way from his peak, but bowls in the steady top 80s in the speed stakes and is both a handy batsman (with an impressive strike rate of 166) and an excellent fielder. His career has been interrupted by injury and he has suffered the perennial problem of the young fast bowler in a stress fracture to the back.

Jimmy Neesham had the same issue, but recovered well to perform creditably for us last summer and it is hoped that Henry does the same. Last year he played for Worcestershire, where he did OK without pulling up any trees. He will, I am sure, have learned from that spell, as he will from his forthcoming IPL stint.

Crucially John Wright, the man tasked with dragging our T20 skills up by the bootlaces, rates him highly and it would appear that part of our strategy this year is to have two fast bowlers and two leggies bowling, as Matt Critchley will surely play in a tournament where he enjoyed success last year. Shiv Thakor is another fine bowler in the format and we will, I think, also see Ben Cotton and Alex Hughes in the line-up for T20, both with proven records in the format.

I can't fault the logic of the signing and if our international trio can take down a top order, sides rarely recover from 15-3 to win games. There may be a question mark over our batting, but I can see potential in a line-up that I will offer for comment another day. Certainly, the presence of a top order hitter is no guarantee of success. Even Martin Guptill fails on occasion and the engagement of Loots Bosman was only a qualified success; that of Tillakaratne Dilshan a dismal failure.

Henry has been in good form of late, taking plenty of wickets in domestic cricket, swinging the ball and bowling fast and full. While his path to the national side is blocked by the talented Trent Boult and Tim Southee, a good spell in the IPL, followed by a solid county stint, will keep him at the forefront of the selectors' minds.

A solid signing then and perhaps a player who might just catch opponents by surprise - as well as impressing both New Zealand selectors and Derbyshire supporters.

 We'll see what he can do in due course. Have a look at this taster below, showing his domestic wickets from a couple of winters back.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Ramsbottom view of Daryn Smit

Derbyshire are getting 'one of the world's nice guys and an outstanding cricketer' in Daryn Smit (pictured, taking slip catch) according to Ramsbottom Cricket Club's Director of Cricket, Andy Dalby.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Andy earlier today and he was effusive in his praise for Daryn, who has joined the club on a two-year contract.

'Daryn and his wife Sarah have become close personal friends', he said 'and the loss to our club and to the community is massive. They both threw themselves into the club and, while we all wish them well, they will be sorely missed'.

So what is Daryn like?

'A genuine guy who has time for everyone - senior players, kids, parents, the lot - with none of the edges that you sometimes get from a highly-talented sportsman. It wasn't just his performances that made a difference, astonishing as they have been, but the way in which he almost single-handed brought together the club and everyone in it. He is a very special man.'

It sounds like we have picked up Wayne Madsen mark 2 and Andy was quick to draw parallels between the two.

'Daryn and Wayne are good friends and in fact we were set to offer Wayne professional terms a few years ago. Then he was offered a deal by Derbyshire and the rest is history. He had got a lot of runs in the Central Lancashire League and was very much like Daryn in his approach to the game and in his interaction with those around him.'

It is quite clear that there is a sizeable hole to be filled by the club, but Andy, like many others on Twitter today, was only surprised that the offer took so long.

'We were amazed that no one came in for him before', he said, 'as the stats he has returned here have been phenomenal. Every other club looked at the upcoming game against Ramsbottom and knew they were in for a tough match. When he scored 200 last year for the Derbyshire second team we were resigned to losing him, but then the months went by and we were hoping to have another season from him.'

So what can Derbyshire supporters expect from the new signing? Andy's response is quick.

'He is a very good bowler, turns it and is very accurate. He bowled in the Champions League T20, has got his share of first-class wickets and was a real handful for most league batsmen. But he's an even better wicket-keeper, probably as good as I have seen, and doesn't miss anything. Mind you, his batting is better still! He is just a run machine and goes in every game with the same mindset. You very rarely see him give it away and he is an exemplary professional. If you want someone to dig in, he will do that. If you need quick runs, he is a tremendous finisher of an innings'.

Are there any particular memories you have of him on the field?

'There are probably too many to put down on paper. However, perhaps my fondest memory was a game against Lowerhouse in 2015.

He won us that game single-handed, when we had no right to do so. At something like 50-5 we dug in and batted around Daz, knocking off a  competitive 190-odd on a bowler friendly surface. Daz carried his bat for 90 odd not out! 
They had a bowling pro, so it was a real battle and a great spectacle!'

How does he rank among the club's greats of the past? Again, Andy's response was unequivocal.

'When you look back at the greats who have played here, comparisons are difficult. We have had Michael Clarke, Ian Chappell, Seymour Nurse, Clive Rice, Peter Philpott, Brad Hodge - some of the legends of the game. Yet the figures that Daryn has produced dwarf them all.

If you were to try and encapsulate everything you hoped for in a professional cricketer into one player, then you have it in Daryn Smit. He has the talent, the attitude, the personality and the sheer professionalism that you would want. I don't expect to see anyone better. As good, maybe - but it would be hard to beat his contribution to our club'.

So how do you replace him?

'Well, we've got an offer on the table for someone and again, the measure of the man is that Daryn has helped in that regard too. He was concerned at leaving us at short notice, but he goes with our blessing and best wishes.

We all intend to come to see him when we can through the season, so it might just put a few more on the gate at Derbyshire games!'

I look forward to meeting up with Andy and the Ramsbottom boys in the months ahead and I will continue to look out for their results - just as they will have one eye on the Acre Bottom scoreboard and another on wherever Derbyshire are playing this summer.

Derbyshire worth a flutter?

Whisper it quietly, but I reckon that if we get the rub of the green this summer, Derbyshire could well be in the promotion mix.

Last season, to put not too fine a point on it, we struggled. The batting was in and out, the bowling lacking a pace and spin option. Winter recruitment has addressed all of those issues and I now look at the squad and ponder on who to leave out.

I could easily change the team each time I undertake the exercise, but how's this for a notional first choice four-day side at the start of the season? Alongside it is the one that took the field for last year's season opener at Bristol.

Godleman       Hughes (C)
Slater              Slater
Thakor            Rutherford
Madsen           Madsen
Smit                Broom
Mendis           Durston
Wilson           Thakor
Reece             Poynton
Palladino        Fletcher
Viljoen           Cotton 
Davis             Carter

For me, that's a considerably stronger side and there's a lot of very good players outside of it. Opportunities for the likes of Hosein, Hughes, Wood, Mcdonnell, Cotton, Taylor and Critchley, in particular, will come. Yet the side above has a strong mixture of experienced professionals and talented youth.

There is length in the batting and tremendous options for Billy Godleman in the field. We have two genuine fast bowlers, two right arm seamers and a left arm option, two leg-spinners and a part-time off spinner. Hey, there's even a back-up wicket-keeper...

Yes, it would be good to see more of the youngsters in the side, but they need to earn a place on merit and performances in the seconds. I am sure they will know that opportunities are there if they justify a place, while those in the side will be equally aware that their place is dependent on sustained standards. With the players now given the lead on selection and tactics, there are no more excuses and no coach to blame if it goes wrong.

The balance of the side will change a little with the arrival of Imran Tahir, nowhere close to Jeevan Mendis as a batsman and fielder, but teams will know that they have been in a scrap against this Derbyshire side.

With that all-important luck in its many forms, we should challenge and at the very least be much-improved.

The return of Kim Barnett to the fold may turn out to be  a defining moment for our club and he can be proud of his winter's work.

It's up to the players now.

Smit deal an inspired signing

Last September, in a post entitled 'Smit double century as Seconds draw' I suggested that South African Daryn Smit would be a worthy addition to the Derbyshire staff, after three innings in which he scored 269 runs for once out.

Today we learned that he has signed a two-year deal with the county, one that could be both shrewd and very important to our prospects for the season ahead.

Smit may not have played international cricket, but his increasingly impressive statistics back home suggest a man who could easily have done so. A lack of a regular place early in his career hindered his development, but in recent winters in South Africa's top tier he has averaged between forty and fifty-plus, the hallmark of a very good player.

Then there are his extraordinary statistics for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League, where he has been professional for three seasons:

2016 - batting average 86 and 69 wickets at 8.1
2015 - batting average 98 and 65 wickets at 7.75
2014 - batting average 61 and 88 wickets at 7.2

Cynics will say 'that's only league cricket' and no, I don't expect Smit to replicate such statistics in the county game. I do, however, see him as a very important cog in a batting line-up that misfired too often last year.

I have played with and against some very good professionals over the years, some of who struggled with the weight of responsibility, the sense of expectation and the need to be a leader and mentor every time they went on the pitch. Everyone on the opposition ups their game when the pro comes in, while his own team look to the paid man to win them matches. Smit has done that many times and to be hailed as a club's 'greatest-ever professional', when many great names have trod that sward before, is some accolade.

His ability to bat anywhere from three to six in the order will be important, but we have also recruited a man with a successful record as captain and a reputation for taking his responsibilities seriously. The articles in South African newspapers since his retirement from the game there was announced all refer to his being missed as both a leader and a man, no mean testimonial for anyone.

With two excellent wicket-keepers on the staff, Smit may not be seen too often behind the stumps, but he is a more than handy option should they need to switch things around. Were Gary Wilson away with Ireland and Harvey Hosein injured or out of touch, there's a plan C available, one that would enable the fielding of an extra batsman or bowler and avoid a panicked search around other counties. Given that several good judges had him as a strong contender to replace Mark Boucher as South African keeper, he is unlikely to let us down, if required.

Likewise, with two leg-spinners on the staff we may not see him turn his arm over too regularly, but he is a very handy option, if only to offer a little variation if things aren't going our way. With over a hundred first-class wickets, he is some way from an occasional bowler and has won first-class matches with inspired last-day spells.

What we have, most definitely, is a man who gets his head down, works hard and will sell his wicket dearly, unless in the pursuit of a win, when his selfless reputation precedes him. His experience on northern English wickets will stand him in good stead and he will be well aware of how those wickets change as the summer goes on. They will doubtless enjoy him on Radio Derby too, as his occasional commentary work back home has gained plenty of admirers for an articulate man who has earned the nickname 'Speech'.

Derbyshire has had wonderful service from South Africans over the years. Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten, Adrian Kuiper, Daryll Cullinan, Charl Langeveldt  - each left a major impression on the local cricketing landscape. That's not including Wayne Madsen, another who swapped Durban for Derbyshire and has gone on to be one of our greatest cricketing sons. Come to think of it, Wayne was 'plucked' from the Lancashire League too, so there's a pretty decent precedent in the acquisition of Daryn Smit.

There'll be a lot of South African accents in Derbyshire colours this year. Wayne Madsen, Daryn Smit, Hardus Viljoen, Imran Tahir; that's a solid and impressive core to any side and each will be keen to impress and make the major contribution. Don't bet against the new guy being very firmly in the mix.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Daryn.

Let the good times roll...

Derbyshire sign Daryn Smit!

As regular readers will know, today's news that we have engaged South African Daryn Smit on a two-year deal very much meets with my approval.

I have been suggesting that he was well worth taking on since last September, when he scored an unbeaten double century for the second team. His weight of runs over three seasons in the Lancashire League and his high scoring back home in South Africa mean that he is thoroughly deserving of the opportunity, one that I am sure that he will take with both hands.

More from me later, but we may just have made a key signing for the coming season.

Excellent news to start the day!

Monday, 13 March 2017

New deal for Harvey Hosein

The good times keep coming for Derbyshire supporters, with today's news of Harvey Hosein's contract extension to the end of 2019 a welcome pre-season boost.

I have little doubt that Harvey will be a very special cricketer. At the ripe old age of 20, he already looks an outstanding wicket-keeper and an extremely well-organised batsman. All things being equal, he will enjoy a long career with the club and will be a major contributor to a future that looks bright.

As I have said since last season, however, it is unrealistic to expect a young player of such tender years to maintain form and fitness over a six-month period and there will be a point at which he needs a breather. That is where Gary Wilson comes in and Harvey has an excellent mentor in the more experienced Irish international.

He showed at the end of last summer, when he finished with an average of over a hundred, that he has an excellent technique and there could be a scenario where both play, one as a batsman. If the batting fires this year, there are plenty of candidates for such roles, however and Wilson, the vice-captain, will doubtless start as first choice.

His international call ups will see him miss a fair bit of cricket as the summer progresses, so Harvey will not lack opportunity.

I have every confidence that he will take it - like most balls that come his way - with both hands.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Irons in the fire

'We have irons in the fire' says Derbyshire cricket supremo Kim Barnett and the expectation is that some of them are rather hot...

Indeed, Barnett expects to be able to announce new signings for the T20 and, one assumes, to replace Neil Broom 'this week or next', which is pretty exciting for everyone involved in the club.

I do hope that the club's excellent marketing team, that seldom misses a trick, don't lump them all together into the one release, as there's promotional opportunities a-plenty in breaking the news on an individual basis. Besides, the players coming in are doubtless worthy of an individual piece and they should get that.

I wonder if the club will opt for an experienced seamer, or go for a top order powerhouse with the bat? If there were money, there's even the possibility of both, much as Nottinghamshire did last year when they chose between Imran Tahir, Dan Christian and Andre Russell for their matches. It is good to have such options, though I think it hardly likely that we would ever omit Tahir from a T20 game, or any other, for that matter. Why would you, eh, Nottinghamshire...?

Anyway, our first pre-season game has been announced as a one-day friendly on Saturday 1 April at Moddershall Cricket Club, Staffordshire. The opposition will be a North Staffordshire & South Cheshire Select XI and it will be followed by a three-day university fixture versus Loughborough University, starting on Friday 7 April, at Loughborough.

So less than three weeks to go before we can start to follow those scores and watch the boys once more.

Be honest, you're excited, aren't you?

I know I am.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Sixth successive annual profit a credit to all

At a time when county cricket clubs are struggling to balance the books, are selling off land to make ends meet and are falling foul of the ECB in having to take advances to stay afloat, Derbyshire's announcement of a sixth successive surplus is a sporting miracle.

Everyone knows we are not one of the country's more affluent clubs, but to register a profit once more is a wonderful achievement and tribute to everyone involved.

If you cast your mind back six years and to Chris Grant's election as chairman of the club, we had just announced a loss of £187K, which could have proved the death knell for us. Bit by bit, first by prudent cuts and then by the building up of the commercial side of the club, we have become financially viable and have generated more money on that side than ever before.

This summer sees both Elton John and the Women's World Cup at the 3aaa County Ground. There was a time when an X Factor semi-finalist may have been the summit of our ambitions and international cricket unheard of, outside the tourist match. Yet the ground is transformed and the club too, with better facilities for players, members, supporters and the media. People don't dread coming to Derby any more, fearing a cold, open space, devoid of atmosphere. It is now a stadium, a proper cricket ground that has been well-funded, well thought out and well maintained.

Chris Grant deserves immense credit, but so too does Simon Storey and the members of the departing board, whose input has enabled the club to look as if it belongs in the first-class game. So too do the people behind the scenes, whose hard work is sometimes unnoticed but is so crucial to the club's future. All those successful Christmas nights and weddings have helped to pay for Imran Tahir, Hardus Viljoen, Jeevan Mendis and others.

Today's announcement acknowledges their work, but the proof of the pudding will be in performances this summer. If the new players live up to their advance press and the existing ones develop we will do just fine.

That will lead to an even greater celebration, but for now, well done to all concerned.

Six successive profits is one heck of an achievement in any sport.

Golden memories

I had a great chat with Dad last night, in which we talked over our respective memories of our early days of cricket watching together.

There were plenty of them and we used to pile into his Ford Anglia, ensure we had plenty of sun cream (just in case) and waterproof jackets (more likely needed) and then head off for the day. Chesterfield was our most common and most enjoyed venue, but it was also Derby, Heanor, Ilkeston, Burton and Buxton over many years.

We always had the deck chairs with us, arrived early and ensured our 'spot', usually by the sightscreen on the smaller grounds, but mid wicket, where the Media Centre now sits, at Derby. On cold days we'd sit in the car, Dad starting up the engine to keep us warm from time to time, but we normally ended up with good weather for our visits, or at least so it seems from memory.

We were at Buxton the day before the legendary snow in 1975, when Lancashire ran up well over 400 on the first day and the Derbyshire attack got hit further and further by every batsman who came in on a belter of a wicket. Clive Lloyd appeared to be aiming for the town centre, as he teed off from the word go.

Then of course, the Derbyshire batsmen were caught on a soaked wicket when play resumed on day three after the snow on day two and bowled out twice. Lancashire would have been were the roles reversed, as the wicket was deadly, balls lifting off a length spitefully. Ashley Harvey-Walker taking out his false teeth and handing them to Dickie Bird told its own story...

Between 1967 and 1977 we saw most home matches through the summer, unless the forecast was so poor to render the trip pointless. I vividly recall my excitement on waking to find the sun coming in my bedroom window, sometimes tempered by a first sight of a soaked garden and the indication of overnight rain.

That was the case for the 1969 Gillette Cup semi-final, when we went along anyway and were rewarded by one of the most amazing days in the club's history. It is just a shame that I wasn't old enough to fully appreciate that at the time, thinking such days would be commonplace. They weren't and we played poorly in the final at Lord's, a few weeks later. A few other times too, over the years.

My departure for Manchester and further education  meant we could only go in summer holidays, but we still managed to do so regularly and had some fine days. I went to Old Trafford with friends while up north, but it never felt the same, apart from one time when we played them there and the great Barlow bustled about the pitch as I told my pals of his greatness...

Dad's 89 now and less able to get about and sit around for any length of time, but he still follows the news, asks what is happening at the club and is on the phone as soon as a story breaks. He is still intolerant of failure and I have lost count of the number of trips home where he had 'sacked' eight or nine of the team that had just lost a game. It will be just the same this summer.

I asked him last night about his favourite players over the years and the names came thick and fast. Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, George Dawkes, Bob Taylor, Dean Jones, Michael Holding, Kim Barnett: he settled on two as favourites.

'You'll never see a better opening bowler than Les Jackson', he opined. 'He'd bowl all morning, then start all over again after lunch. Took wickets when things were in his favour and rarely got hit when they weren't. A brilliant bowler.' It was an opinion I expected, but accounted for the only time in my life I saw him tongue-tied, when we met the great man at Derby during his club presidency.

Overseas player? 'You can have them all and there were some right good ones', he said 'but there'll never be one who transformed a club like Eddie Barlow. Turned Derbyshire from sh*te to shining in no time at all. A wonderful bloke'.

It wasn't the sort of phrase that you'd have seen written by Swanton or Cardus, but it summed things up quite nicely.

May his 90th summer be a special one.

Monday, 6 March 2017

A nice outground, a classy spinner and a T20 biffer...

Which sounds like the start of a joke akin to the one I was told earlier this week. A lion, a witch and a wardrobe go into a bar and the barman says 'I'm serving Narnia'...

Anyway, it was nice to see last week that Lancashire are hosting us in the delightful setting of Stanley Park in Blackpool, venue for many fine encounters in the past and hopefully a few more to come. I would have been up for a trip there, except May is perhaps a little bracing and I have already committed most of my holiday allocation.

Blackpool was the setting of one of my favourite Walter Goodyear stories. Tommy Mitchell, a very fine pre-war leg-spinner for the club, was engaged as professional there one September as the season drew to a close. There were a couple of club games to play and the county season had finished, so Tommy went up to do his stuff, which he did famously.

A few weeks later, his wife bumped in to secretary Will Taylor and asked when Tommy might be finished his stint. Mr Taylor didn't have the heart to tell her that it had finished a couple of weeks previously...

That and many more stories from the club's post-war era are in my book 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation'. You can get it from all good book stores, or from me. If you want to find out how the county game was for its participants from the 1950s to the present day, and whet your appetite for the forthcoming season, then look no further.

Besides, it will keep yours truly from a state of penury...

Speaking of leg spinners, Imran Tahir's ten overs for just fourteen runs against a pretty good New Zealand batting side were rather special. It shows just how important a good spinner is in the one-day game and how dangerous the leg spin variety can be. Imran is the business and the fact that others are seeing this is evidenced by Nottinghamshire's signing of Ish Sodhi of New Zealand for this year's T20 competition. The local derby could well be a tasty affair!

Thanks for your continued emails and comments. There seems unanimity about a need for a T20 'biffer' in an overseas role, something I am inclined to agree with, though we shouldn't discount the claims of two of our own at the top of the order.

I have seen Luis Reece bat and the lad can really play and score quickly. It isn't all about clearing the ropes, handy as that is, but a player who can time a ball, run hard and find the gaps in that crucial Powerplay is worth his weight in gold. Reece is such a player and although he has somewhat slipped under the radar alongside the bigger signings of the winter, he could prove a very important acquisition.

So too could Tom Wood. I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing him bat, but his feats for the Unicorns last season suggest a player who can open and give the requisite impetus to the start of the innings. In past seasons we have had Wes and Ches to open in the format, which came off famously on occasion and on others did less well.

They weren't especially good at running between the wickets, as neither was built for speed, but a young pairing with good eyes and a high level of fitness could perhaps surprise a few people, especially when neither is that well known.

Nonetheless, an overseas batsman, ideally one who could bowl an over or two, would be a huge asset.

Let's see if John Wright agrees!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

March means...

That for the first time you can say that the cricket starts next month. Great eh?

In days gone by, I would have had my gear down from the loft and been cleaning and checking it, ahead of indoor nets and then the start of the season. By that time, hopefully, the creaking in my shoulder had stopped and rediscovered muscles had ceased to pain me quite so much.

Which was why I stopped playing, of course. The recovery from games was taking longer and the bruises took longer to disappear. There were mixed feelings when I came to call it a day, but I had played the game for 47 summers and anyone who gets that long from a hobby can consider themselves a fortunate man.

Now, it is looking around websites and news feeds for stories and things of relevance. We have had a good winter, but there should still be at least two signings to come before the season starts - the new Broom and a T20 player. The latter may perhaps not be announced for a while, especially if engaged in the IPL, but I am sure that discussions with one or two players will be well advanced at this stage.

42 sleeps until the first game...

Finally tonight, in what has been a quiet cricket week and a busy personal one, just a few words about the passing of John Hampshire.

He was by some distance past his prime when he joined Derbyshire in 1982 and expectations were lowered accordingly when he signed at the age of 41.

Runs were harder to come by and harder earned than in his prime, but he managed around 2,500 first-class runs in three summers before calling time on his playing career to become a first-class umpire of some distinction.

He was an experienced and useful lieutenant for the young Kim Barnett and, as former captain of Yorkshire, brought valued experience into the Derbyshire setup.

For Yorkshire he brought panache and grit in equal measure, proving a key member of an all-conquering side of the 1960s.

Rest in peace John.