Saturday, 17 February 2018

Santner signing confirms county focus

The excellent and universally acclaimed signing of Mitchell Santner by Derbyshire for 2018's T20 competition has certainly confirmed their focus for the summer.

As I wrote yesterday, the world's number one T20 bowler will be an excellent weapon in the short format, though his record in the four day game needs a little work. He should give them control at the very least in the county championship, and will certainly add depth to what looks a useful batting side.

For the T20, however, we are now missing only the final jigsaw piece. If everyone is fit, there is an excellent side taking shape and I would expect us to come close to emulating, or perhaps even surpassing last year's quarter-final placing.

There are two ways we could go from here. The first, as espoused by several contributors to the blog, would be a top order blaster, someone who, with the likely partner of Matt Critchley, could really take advantage of the Powerplays.

Everyone's fantasy pairing would be Martin Guptill with Mitchell Santner, I'm sure, which would allow Billy Godleman to focus on the RLODC and county championship. Billy was much improved last year and produced a couple of top knocks, but any opportunity to re-sign Guptill, or perhaps Colin Munro, should be taken. That would then give us a notional side of:

Guptill
Critchley
Reece
Madsen
Wilson
Hughes
Santner
Brodrick
Smit
Viljoen
Rampaul

That would give three front line bowlers, with the remaining allocation shared between Madsen, Critchley, Hughes and Reece. Madsen was outstanding last year, until Shahid Afridi played his one innings of the summer, while the others are all capable of doing well on specific tracks.

The alternative, I suppose, is that we sign an all-rounder and someone like Marcus Stoinis or Andre Russell would have a lot to offer. Stoinis has become a fixture in Australian one-day sides of late, while Russell has an outstanding T20 record as a fast bowler and big hitting batsman. Earlier in the week, he hit nine sixes in an unbeaten century against Kent for Jamaica, but it is likely that he may opt for the Caribbean Premier League in the summer. Equally it may be possible to persuade Jason Holder that a first half of season, including a spell as a T20 player, might show the IPL what they missed in not selecting him this year.

There are options out there and, with the season fast approaching, I don't expect there to be too long to wait now to find those final positions filled.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

In just over two months we will be back on the 3aaa County Ground...

Friday, 16 February 2018

And finally today...1.5 million views reached!

On a busy blogging morning, I am proud to celebrate reaching 1.5 million views of the blog.

It is way beyond my wildest dreams when I started it and I am both proud and humbled of how it has taken off.

I still get a huge buzz from messages, emails and comments and look forward, in the fullness of time, to celebrating the 2 million marker.

With more good news like this morning, and a summer to match, maybe even before the end of 2018...

Thanks to all of you for your support - please spread the word to friends and let's enjoy a special summer.

Derbyshire announce Mitchell Santner as second half overseas player

Last season Derbyshire signed the then-ranked best T20 bowler in the world in Imran Tahir.

This year, they have done it again, with the signing of New Zealand international Mitchell Santner, who is currently ranked the world number one in the format.

I hadn't considered him for the role, which will see him playing as one of our T20 players, as well as in the second half of the summer's four-day cricket, because I was sure his current status would see him return to Worcestershire. He did very well there last summer and will doubtless do the same for us in that format.

Having just turned 26, he is a genuine spinner of the ball and his control has seen him concede under seven an over in T20 cricket, where he is also a very handy batsman. With two first-class centuries to his name and a Test average of 25, he can claim to be a genuine all-rounder, something that Tahir could, of course, never do. The development of his 'carrom ball', spun between his thumb and middle finger, has created quite a stir, as can be seen in the clip below. Though not new, the grip similar to that used by Australians Jack Iversen and John Gleeson over the years, the delivery has come back into fashion through Ajantha Mendis (below) and Ravi Ashwin.


                                            

He will also add much to the side as a brilliant fielder, so this can very much go down as a coup for Derbyshire, certainly for the T20, where a man who can save runs in the field wins matches, without question.

                                             

My only concern is that his best first-class bowling is 3-51 and with an average of 46 he has some work to do to  attain the status of the short form game. My guess is that we will be aiming to blast sides out with seam and having a proven international player to, at the very least, keep it quiet at one end will be of great value as the summer progresses. So to will a player, at seven or eight, who could make a match-defining score. Perhaps 'Mitch and Critch' could be our spin bowling masterstroke later season.

We will see. We have had mixed experience with our Kiwis. While John Wright and Martin Guptill were great successes, it can safely be said that the jury is still deliberating on Hamish Rutherford, Jimmy Neesham and Neil Broom.

It would be nice to see Santner making it all square and his arrival makes the fast-approaching summer a compelling thought.

All we need now is confirmation of John Wright's return, together with the signing of Martin Guptill, and I might just head for Asda and buy some Kiwi fruit to celebrate...

Here he is dismissing Aussie captain Steven Smith, with a more conventional slow left-arm delivery.

Well done Derbyshire. And welcome to God's Own County, Mitchell Santner.

Now, let's hear your thoughts...

                                                          

Tony Palladino - a testimonial appreciation

For the past seven summers, since his release from Essex at the end of 2010, Tony Palladino has run in for Derbyshire with the same level of purpose and commitment in every game. I am sure that someone could work out how many new ball partners he has had in that time, but as they came and went with an unfortunate frequency he has remained the constant in the Derbyshire seam attack.

He will be 35 this summer, so his playing career must naturally be considered to have fewer days ahead than behind him, yet it is tribute to his professionalism that you look at the side still and think that it would benefit from his being in it.

While Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul will be the 'names' in the bowling attack this summer, and supporters await the announcement of an overseas player who will also, presumably, bowl seam, it is not hard to see how Palladino could easily rotate with Will Davis for the fourth seamer role.

Davis a a young tyro, with a strong action and raw pace that catches the eye. Perhaps his body has not been ready for that and I am sure, as Tony has settled into his other role as bowling coach, that the two have chatted this winter over what is needed to succeed at this level of the game.

Because Tony has done just that. This season will likely see him pass four hundred first-class wickets and the wickets of April to June will still see him as likely as any of the others to dismiss batsmen as the ball moves around off the seam. Why? Because he rarely wastes a ball. It has been a frustration over recent summers to watch opposition batsmen given a chance to settle and watch balls through to the wicket-keeper, or clip early half-volleys and long hops to the ropes.

You rarely get that with Tony Palladino, and unless it is a feather bed wicket, his figures can normally be seen in the best Derbyshire tradition. Around two an over, give 'em nowt, the way we like it. It is not hard to see the importance of such a bowler to the rest of the attack, even if his variations don't necessarily reap personal reward.

One of the Derbyshire players once told me that Tony is so meticulous in his preparations that he has notes of the wickets he has taken, and from which end, on each track of the Derby square. Such attention to detail is worthy of a true professional, which he is. He showed that at Essex, when he was man enough to 'blow the whistle' on the spot fixing that saw two players exposed as cheats. It took personal courage and a sense of what is right that speaks volumes for the man. It would have been easy to turn a blind eye and say nothing.

He has also emerged as a more than useful batsman, enlivening many a day with clean hitting that has been some way removed from hit and hope, while his out fielding has always been tidy.

I hope that this testimonial year is a good one for him and that the Derbyshire public respond in an appropriate manner to recognise a good and honourable man. To say he has been one of the all-time greats would be an improperly bold suggestion, given the many genuine greats, at local and international level that have preceded him. Yet he has let no one down and throughout has been engaging company and a player of one hundred per cent commitment, every time he has crossed the boundary rope. He has been, in short, a consummate professional.

I think he would take that as an accolade.

Perhaps his best work is yet to come. My understanding is that there are some very exciting seamers in the current academy, with James Taylor and Alfie Gleadall already earning senior opportunity. I have also heard only good things about Nils Priestly, a left-handed all-rounder who bowls at decent pace and gives the ball a good tap with the bat.

All of them need only to listen and learn from a man who has done what they aspire to do.

His testimonial kicks off with a lunch at Anoki Restaurant, London Road, Derby at 3pm on 25 February. Tickets have been going well, but can still be booked, priced £35, here

There are sure to be plenty of familiar faces along, and with places limited to 100, plenty of opportunities to chat, ahead of the new season.

Future events include:

Friday 9 March - A breakfast launch at the 3aaa County Ground

Saturday 7 April - Opening dinner at the 3aaa County Ground, with guest speaker Darren Gough

Wednesday 8 May - Golf day at Mickleover Golf Club

More events will be announced and I will help to bring them to wider attention on the blog, as and when I can.

In closing, I wish Tony the very best for his special year. He has some good people involved and with our support it will do as well as it deserves to.

Good luck, TP!

Interesting second team appointment

I have just returned from a short trip down to God's Own County, to celebrate the 65th wedding anniversary of my parents, quite an amazing feat (theirs, not mine..)

So this is the first chance I have had to comment on the interesting appointment of James Kettleborough to the second team captaincy. I have not heard of such an appointment 'from the outside' before and certainly not of someone so young (25).

It suggests that the second team will be a young one this year, which is exactly as it needs to be. Young players of talent need to be exposed to as high a level as possible at a young age and we should then see if they can handle it and progress still further.

At 25, Kettleborough has played for Northamptonshire and Glamorgan, without quite establishing himself at senior level. Like a good few others, of course, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he is a late developer and his performances in club cricket, as well as the second team, suggested that he is very much a player of talent. Six half centuries in 39 first-class knocks perhaps do not fully confirm that, but he now has an opportunity.

Ireland's acceptance into international cricket means that Gary Wilson will be seen as an overseas player at the end of his current deal. With Harvey Hosein and Daryn Smit on the staff, we would be unlikely to replace him as a wicket-keeper, but another batsman would be needed, in all likelihood.

Unless one of our own emerges from the academy (and Callum Brodrick could be that player, while Hosein could easily develop as a batsman alone) then Kettleborough has a chance to impress, as well as furthering long-term career aspirations within the game.

I wish him well and will watch the second team's performances with my usual level of interest.

Critchley Lions call well-deserved

It is a further sign of the progress being made at Derbyshire, were it needed, with the call up of Matt Critchley to England Lions duty this week.

I am pleased that I have been present at the two innings that in time to come will go down as the genesis of a talented young man's career. Firstly, with his century at Derby against Northamptonshire, in only his second first-class match, which  marked him as a young player who could do more than hold an end up in a plucky tail end resistance. My guess is that he will start this season at six in a Derbyshire batting line up that is a nice mixture of relative youth and considerable experience.

Then, last year at Belper (and after I had suggested as much on this blog) we saw him elevated to open the innings in T20 matches for the second team against Durham. He didn't set the world on fire, but there was sufficient promise in his clean hitting of the bowlers to warrant an elevation to the senior side in the format. There he did well, giving the side the pinch hitter that we needed, but far more than that. This was not a slogger, but a lad who can clearly bat, with considerable potential to get the ball through and over the field.

After eighteen first-class games he already has a batting average north of thirty. His task for the summer ahead is to take that to over 35 and produce more of the punishing displays of which we now know he is capable. Similarly, he needs to turn the limited overs breezy twenties and thirties into something more substantial, on a regular basis. Last year was one of encouragement and he needs to return from his fine winter in Australia to maintain that.

His bowling has proved very useful in the shorter formats, but a first-class average in excess of three figures shows there is still much to be done to get players out when they don't have to slog him. Yet at 21, time is something he has on his side.

Perhaps, like Kim Barnett, his bowling will become something that is brought out only on special occasions as his batting develops, but there is enough about that bowling for him to continue to work. There is a good loop and, crucially, a niche in the national side for a player who can contribute in all areas.

He's a good cricketer, and I look forward to watching him become even better over the years ahead.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Thoughts on the overseas roles

 The overseas roles have gone to the leg spinners this week.

Adam Zampa has gone to Essex, while the outstanding Rashid Khan has gone to Sussex, both for the T20 this week, suggesting that leg spin is seen as the way forward for counties in that competition. I would have loved the latter at Derbyshire, but after his stint in the Big Bash and his big bucks deal in the IPL, he can name his own price. Not bad for a teenager...

With batsmen needing to generate the pace on the ball, quality spin would seem the way to go in T20 cricket. Fast bowlers can always devastate on their day, but if the radar is off the sheer pace only needs a nudge and it flies to all corners to the detriment of the average. Look at Tymal Mills, who had a shocker in the Big Bash because his length and line were wrong.

There is still no overseas news from Derbyshire, as we approach the middle of February. Having received two or three mails on that very subject this week, am I worried, or surprised?

No, not at all. There are, for me, several jigsaw pieces to fit together, before we could agree terms with an overseas player for the two halves of the championship season and for the T20. Whoever comes in may, or may not, be suitable for the short format, in which case we could be looking at three, possibly even four names.

The key, for me, was the auction for the IPL, which saw a lot of top players signed up, thereby making them unavailable for the early part of the county summer, but a few big names missing out. Several months ago I suggested that Jason Holder would be an ideal 'fit' for the county's early season needs, but since then, a well-known cricket website suggested that we were keen to sign Vernon Philander.

I would be surprised, given his recent injury record, if South Africa were to sign the requisite 'no objection' certificate to allow him to play here. Their full-strength attack is fantastic, but with question marks on the fitness of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, would they allow Philander to risk injury during a few weeks in England?

I suspect not, so if it was me I would be on the line to Holder's agent. He was surprisingly not picked up for the IPL, but would be a perfect fit for our needs. Canny and lively seamer? Check. Hard hitting batsman to make the most of closing overs? Check. Brilliant fielder? Check. There's much to like in Mr Holder.

Then there's the 'will he/won't he' over John Wright's return. That will largely dictate where we go in the hunt for T20 players. One option could be the return of Imran Tahir for the T20 only, the spinner having already confirmed he only wants to play in that. Or they could look for an alternative who could play both formats to the end of the summer, when there is an increasingly compelling case for Keshav Maharaj of South Africa, as Mark pointed out in the week.

He will be well known to our South African contingent and especially Daryn Smit, who will have kept to him many times for the Dolphins franchise. Maharaj is a fine slow left arm bowler who again can handle a bat pretty well, but who suffers because the national side seems to go heavily with a seam attack. I think a successful stint over here might be the making of his career.

If he was not available then my only other guess would be a return for Jeevan Mendis. He didn't let us down last summer, when he really played at the wrong time for spinners, and likely would do a good job again. He might score a few more runs too, on wickets with which he will be more familiar. His form has been so good this winter that he has earned a recall to the national side, for the T20 series against Bangladesh. He has 25 wickets in his last five matches, including ten in the last match.

Finally, there's the other T20 player. With the signing of Ravi Rampaul, which effectively covers the role of another experienced seamer that Matt Henry took last year, I think we should go for a top order batsman who can ideally bowl a few overs.

There's plenty of names out there who might do that and I'd not say no to someone like Glenn Maxwell, JP Duminy or Colin Munro, but we might happily forego the overs and take Martin Guptill back, I would think. Always assuming any of them needed county cricket as much as it could use them.

And as always, your comments are appreciated.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Cotton goes as county work with leaner squad

At the start of last season, I wrote that it was a big season for four young Derbyshire bowlers - Tom Milnes, Tom Taylor, Greg Cork and Ben Cotton.

There were times when each appeared on the verge of a breakthrough, moments in the sun when, in turn, they walked off to pats on the back and the knowledge of a job well done. It will doubtless happen to them many more times somewhere, but sadly, it would appear, for none of them in Derbyshire colours.

Today's announcement that Ben was going the same way as his erstwhile team mates was not entirely a surprise, given his record was not that far ahead of them. It is the one about which I am the most sad, however, because I felt he still had a role to play this summer, at least in the T20.

The bottom line is that he didn't take enough wickets on his first-class appearances. Thirty-seven wickets at 44 in twenty first-class matches was simply not enough in his 25th year, especially when Will Davis, as a comparison, has more in just twelve matches at the age of 21.

What he usually did was bowl tight lines and he was always difficult to score from, but I always felt he was too 'nice' to be a real fast bowler. There were times when the batsmen rocked forward in impunity and played him off the front foot, when with his height he should have been better able to push them back, then leaving them groping as he fired one outside off, or in the block hole.

Professional sport is unforgiving. I cannot think of many other careers in which you would be expected to make a major contribution in your early twenties and certainly by that stage in football you need to be established or be playing lower levels. There was a time when cricket could accommodate the late developer and one has only to look at Les Jackson, 26 before he made his county debut and Brian Jackson, his namesake, who was 29 for quality examples. Both became county legends, but in the modern game that simply won't happen. Patience may well be a virtue, but in the modern world of sport it is also a commodity in short supply.

Maybe Ben, like Tom Taylor, will get an opportunity elsewhere and do well. If so, I will be pleased for a genial lad, but putting personal loyalties aside, there were just not enough signs of progress from any of them for the county to justify continued spend in a tight budget, especially when their opportunities will be limited.

Former player Wayne White was very critical on Twitter yesterday, calling the club 'a ghost' and saying that there was 'no affiliation' between Derbyshire people and the club. His suggestion that they should 'scrap the age groups' and that the club 'will never develop an England player' meant it came over as more of a rant than it should have done. As much as anyone, I would have thought him aware of the way of county cricket, after stints at three clubs, including Derbyshire twice.

My suggestion is that the club are now trying to do the right thing by the academy, which has only produced a poor two capped players in fifteen years. Perhaps by offering early exposure to working with experienced professionals, they are in less of a 'cocoon' than was the case before. The likes of Alfie Gleadall and James Taylor, both seventeen, as well as Sam Conners (18) should now be opening the bowling in second team cricket and stretching themselves, rather than dominating and coasting in age group cricket. The latter did well last summer before an injury finished it prematurely and playing with Kevin Dean at Ockbrook will do him no harm.

It is a lean squad now. Yes, it is an experienced, some might say old, seam attack, but I reckon there's two or three good summers ahead for Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul, while Tony Palladino will play when wickets suit his style. A seam bowling overseas and Will Davis make up a good attack and will allow the young players to emerge, hopefully, to join them over the next couple of seasons.

Of course injuries will hurt them, but you could say that about any side and, as Kim Barnett said yesterday, we can always use the loan market, as we did successfully last year with Conor Mckerr. There is young talent there though and I expect Harvey Hosein, Callum Brodrick and Hamidullah Qadri to get opportunities this summer. If Alex Hughes and Matt Critchley can push on from encouraging 2017 seasons, then the long-term future can be an exciting one, fueled by greater input from locally-reared players.

In any business, succession planning is key. We aren't there yet, but, ahead of the announcement of overseas roles, it looks a solid squad at this stage.

For me, those announcements may well be summer-defining ones and now the IPL squads have been decided, there is a greater awareness of who will be available.

Watch this space.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Milnes turn to leave Derbyshire

Following on from the recent release of Tom Taylor, who next day was announced as Leicestershire's new signing, comes the news that Tom Milnes has left the county by mutual consent.

As was the case with Taylor, I am a little disappointed that a player of talent fully failed to register it in Derbyshire colours, because there's no doubt that Milnes can play. He is a lively bowler, capable of bowling some really good, wicket-taking balls, and is a batsman who suggested that he could, in time, become more than just a cheerful tail end clumper. Indeed, I shall always remember, as I sat talking to him in his office ahead of my last book, Graeme Welch saying that he saw himself as a young man in Tom's style of play.

The problem has been, with bowling his stronger suit, that he mixed up those wicket-taking balls with too many that were poor. His economy rate wasn't good and as we all know, a batsman who can rely on a four-ball or two an over will get settled pretty quickly.

As with Taylor, the timing is unusual, the expectation being that he would see out the final year of his deal at this stage of the winter. Yet the club has been honest with him and he would have got little senior cricket this summer. How could he, with Rampaul and Viljoen in there, as well as Palladino, Davis and Cotton ahead of him?

I wish him well for the future, wherever it takes him.

The departure, for me, suggests that plans for the overseas seamer who can bat are well advanced and hopeful, as they would look mighty silly if they end up with two or three injuries and a couple of teenagers from the academy getting early elevation.

Yet those same boys will now get regular second team cricket, which they should do. And if they handle that, we might well see them getting senior opportunity earlier than would otherwise be the case.

If that overseas bowler is, as was suggested last weekend in the media, Vernon Philander, then my viewing of him in the current Test match at Johannesburg was encouraging. He bowls a terrific line and his control is superb, conceding only one run in his first eight overs on the first morning. If we can get him in and, with the other senior professionals, he can teach young bowlers his secrets, it will be money well spent.

Having said that, the rest of a keen attack produced some poor bowling today on a pitch offering irregular bounce and extravagant movement. Morkel, Rabada and Ngidi will all look back on a day when they started banging it in short, rather than putting it on a length and letting the wicket do the rest. In doing so, they let the Indian batsmen rule out the worry of front foot play and the one that flew, simply rocking back and pulling or cutting.

Unless they bowl equally badly, India should win tomorrow.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Madsen misses out on IPL as another proposal is aired...

According to the excellent David Hopps of Cricinfo, Wayne Madsen is one of three English cricketers who have been omitted from the long list hoping to get into next weekend's IPL auction.

A further 21 will be in that auction, but it is not lost on me that Madsen and Rikki Wessels, two of last summer's best T20 Blast batsmen, haven't made the cut, along with the somewhat ambitious Monty Panesar, who few have ever seen as a limited overs player and who currently plays Minor Counties cricket when is isn't dancing (and falling) on ice.

I'd reckon about half of the contingent won't make it anyway and from a Derbyshire perspective, the loss of our best batsman would have been a major blow. Yet it is a shame, because he is one of the best players of spin in the country, a skill that is especially effective in India.

Those in the auction from here are Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Joe Denly, Steven Finn, Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Tom Helm, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Tymal Mills, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

Personally, for that format there are plenty of players in there that I would omit in favour of Madsen and Wessels, but we will each have our thoughts on that one.

Moving back home and proposals for a conference-style county championship that they feel could commence from 2020 have been aired by chief executive Mark Arthur and director of cricket Martyn Moxon from Yorkshire.

The main proposal is that three parallel conferences of six begin the season, and another three conferences of six – divided on merit – conclude it, with prize money for the winner almost doubling to a million pounds.

The main issue for me is that you have too many potential 'David v Goliath' matches in the first conference, plus the format creates one extra four-day match when authorities seem hell-bent on reducing fixtures. On the other hand, maybe the absence of some of the big-name players from the top counties may address the imbalance, which is why I linked this piece as I have. Play Yorkshire, Surrey or Nottinghamshire without their England men and your chances improve. Perhaps lower tier players may raise their game against their supposed betters, but on the face of it I struggle to see how the format would raise the standard of the national game.

I would happily make the fifty-over competition less intrusive, but given that it is a format that England play better than most, I don't see that happening. The irony that we do well in it as things stand is not lost on me, nor should it be on anyone else.

I will again reiterate that the sport is sadly riddled with people who suggest knee-jerk change in the light of a lost international series. Has introducing a premiership in football improved the England side? No, because English players make up only a third of squads, but mixing it with many of the world's best hasn't improved their standard, nor made them an elite force at major tournaments.

If they haven't worked it out yet, sport is a cyclical thing and every generation a player or two comes along, sometimes because of and other times despite the system, and produces the goods. How much money has been pumped into British tennis over the last thirty years and how many world-class players has it produced?

South African domestic cricket is beset with problems, but there are signs that despite them they are now starting to produce some seriously talented young players. New Zealand has a powerful squad, but they lose plenty of series, as do India, with some of the finest players in the world at the moment. By spooky coincidence, most of the losses are away from home. Who'd a thunk it, eh?

Just as England's system was 'bad enough' to lose the Ashes this winter, so it will be good enough to win them back in this country, then lose them the next time that we go on yet another under-prepared tour. Then some silly bugger on an inflated salary that he struggles to justify will come out with another idea to 'transform' a domestic game that has little wrong with it.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - the more it changes, the more it's the same thing.

That's about the size of it...

Those proposals: