Saturday, 14 October 2017

Rampaul signing a statement of intent for Derbyshire

Ravi Rampaul, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Derbyshire, Ravi.

We wish you well

Derbyshire announce signing of Ravi Rampaul

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

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

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

More from me later.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Reece BPL stint well deserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like you, I wish him well.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Fantasy League results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done to all of you!

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

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

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

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

Macdonell earns new deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Holder.

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

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

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

Any thoughts?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Reece signs three-year deal

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

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

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

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

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

Finally today, and sadly, a warning.

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

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

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

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

That is wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Smit contract extension is excellent news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good news to start the close season.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Completing the jigsaw

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

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

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

We don't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are places to be earned and competition for them.

That can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Palladino benefit well deserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it is well-deserved.

Season review - shoots starting to appear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?