I got home yesterday evening after a delightful couple of days in Chester-le-Street, where the weather, for the most part, was fair to roasting, the locals very friendly and the cricket, from a Derbyshire perspective, generally impressive.
There's not that much wrong with our cricket, you know. What struck me was the togetherness of the squad, which despite the presence of a number of newer, younger players, was very tight. You could sense the enjoyment of their cricket and each other's company and, Trent Bridge notwithstanding, which was a collective 'brain freeze' they are playing some good cricket. There was no sense of 'them and us', the younger players, of which there are a number, being assimilated into the squad well. The shared joy in Alfie Gleadall's first wicket was a delight to see.
The purposeful cricket is being helped substantially by Hardus Viljoen and Duanne Olivier, two strapping blokes of contrasting physique who are giving it their all. The club allegedly paid a lot for Viljoen's services, but he is putting in the yards, bowling with serious pace and making a key contribution with bat and ball. Having said that, he must be a nightmare to keep to, and amidst searing yorkers and head-jerking bouncers are balls that saw Daryn Smit flinging himself full-length either way to stop.
That in itself is part of his armoury; at times he seems himself unsure where it might go, so what chance does that leave the batsmen? When he gets it right, which is often enough, he must be very awkward to face and the yorker that removed Michael Jones would have been a challenge for a more established batsman.
Olivier? I would keep him, or get him back, in a heartbeat. With long arms and a loping gait, he looks coltish, perhaps uncoordinated, until he gets a cricket ball in his hand. Then he runs in for every ball with the same gusto and those long arms get him 'whip' that makes him a handful, much in the same way that Bill Copson came through faster than it first appeared with his so-called 'gorilla arms'. Several times Olivier's bouncer discomforted batsmen and although it can be overdone - each new man in seems to get one first ball - he is a very good bowler.
It tells how well off South African cricket is for seam bowlers when he isn't that close to the international side at present. I think he has improved in his time here too and his lithe natural action seems to take little out of him. He has played every game this summer and I would gladly retain his services for the T20 and beyond, without expecting too much when it is his turn to bat.
The Derbyshire batting? There's plenty of talent there, but we have players from four to seven in the order who all lack major runs under their belt. We all know they can do it, because their career statistics confirm it, but there is a feeling that we are currently fallible beyond the top three of Slater, Godleman and Madsen. The former is currently looking in excellent nick, but, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I wish he would turn more of these cameos into something substantial, because when the form goes, those cameos define your average.
We all know form is a cyclical thing, but I would love to see Derbyshire, ahead of the T20 competition, make a move for one of Scotland's heroes from yesterday. The absence of Luis Reece is an all-round blow, but either Kyle Coetzer or man of the moment Calum MacLeod could replicate his dynamism at the top of the order. As news broke of the latter's innings against England yesterday, Durham supporters were telling me that they really liked him and felt he was released too soon 'for financial reasons' by Durham. He certainly hits a clean cricket ball and I think it would be to mutual benefit for any of the Scottish top five to get a county deal.
My understanding is that such a move would cost only travel and accommodation, as they are all contracted by Cricket Scotland, so there would be much to like in such an arrangement.
We will see later if Derbyshire can finish an excellent effort against Durham. It has been a good team effort in which the pace men have excelled and had good support from Tony Palladino and Alfie Gleadall. Someone yesterday suggested Alfie might be 'too small' to be a quick bowler, which caused me to rhyme off a number of names, including Trueman, Larwood, Marshall and Steyn, of players who were not especially tall but were brilliant bowlers.
Gleadall looks a talent and it is telling that he seems to have leapfrogged Will Davis. I hope the latter rediscovers his mojo, because he is a fine talent, but at present this looks like being a lost summer for him.
Finally, for now, thank you to all those whose company I enjoyed at Durham. There were plenty of smiling faces around at a club that has had some rough treatment from the ECB and has lost a lot of very good cricketers in recent seasons. A chronic injury situation hasn't helped either, but they are proud of their own and have some good cricketers still.
Hopefully their problems will ease. Equally hopefully, Derbyshire will wrap up a win here by mid-afternoon at the latest.