Friday, 8 December 2017

Book rush leaves me with limited copies

Thanks to all those who got in touch to buy inscribed copies of my post war oral history of the club 'In Their Own Words'.

I am now down to the last half dozen copies of the book and new copies are now selling on Amazon for over £30, with stock seemingly in short supply.

A recent review on Amazon called it 'a brilliant book not only for a life-time Derbyshire supporter such as myself, but also for any cricket enthusiast with a deep love of the wonderful game of cricket. Every story is fascinating and in many cases there are amusing anecdotes which verify the spirit in which the game was played. A great piece of work'.

It tells the story of life on the county cricket circuit since the last war, told by the people who played the game for Derbyshire and were among its major characters. Opened with what was for me a memorable interview with the late Walter Goodyear, it travels through the 1950s with Harold Rhodes, Edwin Smith and Keith Mohan, on into the 1960s with Peter Eyre, Peter Gibbs and Brian Jackson. Legends such as Bob Taylor, John Wright and Devon Malcolm are included, while county stalwarts Alan Hill and Tony Borrington's memories of the pace attacks of the 1970s and 80's are memorable.

My remaining copies are available, inscribed as you wish, for £14, including second-class postage.  

If you have a Derbyshire fan in your life, I am grateful for the fact that it has enjoyed excellent reviews and has been enjoyed. I am equally happy that non-county fans have enjoyed its memories of the county game as it changed over seventy summers.

A good Christmas present and, as the old advert used to say, when it's gone, it's gone.

Contact me now to get yours in time for Christmas, with an email to peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

And thanks to everyone who has already bought it and for your positive comments.

Hughes contract signals coming of age

The good news that Derbyshire supporters were waiting for came this week, as Alex Hughes signed a new three-year deal with the county, one that keeps him at the club until the end of the 2020 season.

At 26, Hughes has been around the club for a long time, but university studies hindered his cricket progress for a while. Before last season he had flirted with the first team and showed glimpses of promise, making an occasional good score, chipping in with wickets when given the opportunity and fielding well in any position.

Last season was the breakthrough. While long-term readers will know that I have espoused his value to the side for some time, 2017 was the summer in which his talents became obvious to a wider audience. He sealed and maintained a position in the middle order for the first time, making the number five role his own with a series of fine innings. One of 142 at Bristol in the summer's final knock took his season average to a solid 40, while edging his career one north of 30 for the first time. It was his fourth century for the club and something on which he can build.

I have mentioned before his ability to score runs when most needed and it is one that promises to serve his county well. Perhaps, like a county professional pre-war, he will better learn to 'drink at the well' when conditions are in his favour, as a score of 30-3 is more likely to see him at his best than one of 200-3, but it should be remembered that he has still had only 74 first-class innings.

He finished top of the RLODC averages and has the ability to play the orthodox and unorthodox with equal skill. He has all the shots and yet a defence and technique that enables him to dig in and score runs when others fail. I see him as the man around who the batting line-up can be built for the next five-ten years and I am pleased to see his value to the side becoming more obvious to others.

Whether his bowling becomes even more that of an occasional option only time will tell. I don't recall him bowling in the four-day game last summer, though his skiddy medium pace remains a useful one-day option on slower wickets. I hope it is not ignored, because the likes of Paul Collingwood and Darren Stevens have shown the merits of a more sedate pace, especially on early season tracks.

I also see him as captain-elect of the club, almost certainly the next vice-captain to Billy Godleman and eventual heir to the 'throne'. He's a bright, intelligent and affable lad, with a level of commitment that all sports supporters want to see from one of their own.

I am pleased that the new contract affords him the security that a player needs to flourish. The next five years should see a talented erstwhile bit-part player become a rock of the county eleven.

I look forward to seeing it happen.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Fixture announcement brings season closer - and frustration

As the weather closes in and the thermometer plummets, the announcement of the summer cricket fixtures is always eagerly anticipated and somehow makes the Spring and warmer weather seem a little closer.

And yet, once again, I looked at the fixtures yesterday and wondered who the ECB have in mind with the dates chosen.

Certainly not the average working man. With the exception of the first two home games, when the weather is rarely of  shirt sleeve variety, Derbyshire's four-day cricket has only two weekend days over the entire summer, one of them the fourth day of a game that may or may not feature a lot of cricket. It's the same with the RLODC, with only one game at a weekend.

July and August are better for the T20, with most games scheduled on a Friday night or weekend, but I can't see myself driving the 316 miles (yes, I've logged it) from my house to the 3aaa County Ground and then back again, for three hours of cricket. If I was down there, of course, it would  be a different matter.

It's all fine and dandy if you are unemployed or retired and the club membership, at £139 for the summer represents outstanding value for those who have the time to attend a lot of the matches. For the traditional working fan, who prefers to see the ebb and flow of a longer game, rather than the more 'in your face' T20, it means that your opportunities to watch the game are ever more eroded.

With 25 days leave a year and a hefty percentage of that time rightly allotted to spending time with my family, I'd hoped for more Friday starts, enabling an early morning 5am departure on that day, watch a couple of days cricket and then head home on the Sunday.

As it stands, I will be doing that in early season and then perforce being selective on my visits thereafter, as far as the constraints of my leave allocation allows.

I've penciled in a few early possibilities and the away game at Durham offers a chance to watch a day when I can travel there and back, but it is all rather frustrating.

The next time you see the powers that be bemoaning attendances at four-day cricket, and citing those attendances as rationale for changing the game's format, keep in mind that the same dozy beggars who arrange it all at Lord's are the ones hammering the nails in the coffin of traditional cricket.

Finally today, it is good to see Luis Reece making a decent fist of his bowling, at least, in Bangladesh's Premier League T20. Reece took three wickets in his last match - albeit at eleven an over, though runs have been harder to come by.

Mind you, as selection decisions go, it takes some working out. Here you have a lad who earns a gig in the tournament with fine scoring at the top of the order for Derbyshire. So they take him over there and bat him at six, which in T20 - indeed any form of the game - is a very different mindset.

Sometimes I wonder who earns good money for these decisions. It's like signing an attacking midfield player and playing him at right back in football and makes little more sense.

At least I generally have confidence in the decision-making at Derbyshire these days. Aside from the puzzling promotion of Hardus Viljoen in the T20 quarter-final, when the defence was that desperate times called for desperate measures (and I'm still not convinced...) most of the thought processes are logical.

There's been plenty of times when that couldn't always be said, believe me...

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Members evening gives a few pointers..

Thank you to two regular readers for the following updates from the club members meeting, held last week.

One of the key things was the club's ongoing commitment to the Chesterfield cricket festival. After last September's wash out I had heard a few concerns, but the desire for a mid-summer week at my favourite cricket ground is unchanged.

Kim Barnett apparently said that there are no plans to replace Shiv Thakor and I understand that. There will be few players out there who afforded the balance that he did, but we have a large staff which allows someone to step up. With Wayne Madsen (quite likely) to bat three, we have eight or nine batsmen who have to hold their hand up. Alex Hughes did that last year and I am sure he will kick on this summer, as will Matt Critchley.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Harvey Hosein could push for a place as a batting specialist, regardless of whether he keeps or not. With Gary Wilson in the mix, Ireland commitments notwithstanding, there is the capacity for runs.

As for the bowling, it is felt that if Hardus Viljoen, Ravi Rampaul, Will Davis and an overseas bowling all-rounder are fit we can take 20 wickets. It is hard to argue and the attack, on paper at least, looks robust. Especially so if our spearhead returns from a winter back home with all important body parts intact...

As for the overseas roles, Barnett said that it will again be split, with one for each half of the season and two for the T20. Imran Tahir, as I have written before, only wants to play T20, so there is a decision to be made there.

If one assumes that a seam bowler who can bat is the target for early season, then a spinner is the likely target for the second half. There aren't that many of quality out there and I dare say that consideration will be given to Jeevan Mendis returning. Let's not forget that he took thirty wickets last year at the hardest part of the summer for spinners and would doubtless do better on harder tracks more receptive to spin. His batting might be better too, as his struggles when the ball moved around were obvious.

Mind you, if Ravindra Jadeja wants to emulate Ravi Ashwin in having a county stint, there will be no complaints from this correspondent...

Long term. Barnett feels that a squad of 14-15 first teamers, with three or four younger ones ready to step in is the goal. One of 20-23 is, he feels, too many and I would agree with that.

If nothing else, it should focus a few minds on working hard over the winter months.

The future is bright, but only with continued hard work, good coaching and sound recruitment.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

In Their Own Words still available

With Christmas a month away, I still have a few hard back copies of 'In Their Own Words' available to good homes.

The book has sold really well and has enjoyed, I am pleased to say, five star reviews across the board, telling the history of the club since the Second World War through the memories of the players and people who made that history.

Key personalities give their take on team mates and opponents, stories in which they were involved and life as a professional cricketer. My aim was to make it seem like you were listening to them down at your local and reviewers seem to think it worked.

Featuring the late Walter Goodyear, Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Brian Jackson, Peter Eyre, Bob Taylor, Peter Gibbs, John Wright, Graeme Welch, Wayne Madsen and many more, I am thrilled when people have told me that it made them laugh and gave them a greater insight into the county's post-war era.

If you would like a signed copy for the cricket fan in your family, then please get in touch to peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk.

I also have dates available for cricket talks, which are filling up through to this time next year. Again, please get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Copies are available for £14, including postage.

Hurry, while stocks last!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Thakor sacked by Derbyshire

For me, there was a certain inevitability in the announcement today that Shiv Thakor had been sacked by Derbyshire.

Following on from last week's conviction for exposure, there seemed little alternative for the club, to be perfectly honest.

I don't plan to labour the point, because it is a sensitive subject. A young player who was always pleasant and affable on the occasions I chatted with him has done untold damage to his cricket career. Meanwhile his club has lost a player who looked like he could become really special. Both are the poorer for the parting, but that doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to do.

For Derbyshire the question is how they replace an influential all-rounder who gave balance to the team and could produce match-winning displays with bat and ball. They may go with what they have, or may look at a replacement. Such a player would have to be special and, to my mind Kolpak, were that the case.

For Thakor, the question is whether he can eventually rebuild his career and who would perhaps, at some point, give him the opportunity to do so. It will not be easy.

That's one for the future to reveal. All I can say, in closing, was that I enjoyed watching him in Derbyshire colours.

Hopefully we can get back to cricketing matters now.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Need for good news story at Derbyshire

It is safe to say that this has not been a good week for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Soon after the news broke of the club's caution after the Queen's Park abandonment of the Kent game, we hear that Shiv Thakor has been found guilty of exposure charges after two offences in June.

While I think that the club has been lucky to get away with just a warning over the abandonment, I am sure that their preemptive strike in admitting they will not play at Queens Park at that time of year again will have worked in their favour.

They are not daft at the club and we doubtless enjoyed a 'good earner' from the concert, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact we are a cricket club, not merely an outdoor concert venue. They will be aware of that and while the bulk of the money raised from the off-field activities goes into strengthening the playing squad, these activities must be around, and not at the expense of, the club's main function.

Of course, we all know that Chesterfield has drainage that, while improved, could be a whole lot better. We also know that the British climate is such that they could arrange their matches for Chesterfield in June and July, then still struggle to play.

Such is the situation at an outground and the club would be criticised if they spent 50K on improving the drainage on a ground they used for less than ten days a year. Truth be told, many of us, myself included, would love to see more cricket at Chesterfield, but the reality is that this won't happen, any more than Middlesex would play half their games at Uxbridge. Nor is there another ground of sufficient standard for more than very occasional cricket. While the romance of returning to Buxton, Ilkeston and Burton is there, it isn't going to happen unless there is a Derbyshire Getty who develops a local Wormsley Park and the requisite infrastructure for first-class cricket.

As for Thakor, the club quickly issued a statement last night to say that they will review the case, following its conclusion.

The time for further comment will come when they have done so, but it is safe to say that the whole episode has been hugely disappointing, for both player and club.

I will be back soon, but I hope that I am soon able to post news of something more positive from the club's perspective.

It has been a wretched few days.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Time for Edwin Smith to be recognised by club

The death of Derek Morgan, announced earlier this week, marked the passing of another of an elite group of cricketers, all of who took over a thousand wickets for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

They are names that roll off the tongue when discussing Derbyshire cricket greats (and are incidentally missed from the otherwise excellent statistics on the club site). Unless Harold Rhodes, who ended his career with the club far too early on 993 wickets, makes a belated comeback at the age of 81, that short list will never be added to.

And the one surviving man on it is Edwin Smith.

Edwin was one of the great unsung county legends, going about his business for season after season throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With Derbyshire's attack built squarely around outstanding seam bowlers, there were times when he didn't get to bowl, yet he still managed to take 1217 wickets for the club. He also took more wickets at Chesterfield than any other bowler and declined the opportunity to leave and play for Northamptonshire, when the spin-friendly conditions might have seen his career haul higher still. A loyal man, he opted to stay with the county of his birth and served them well for almost a quarter of a century.

Better, it must be said, than the county served him over the years. Despite making his debut in 1951 and being capped in 1954, he had to wait until 1966 for a testimonial year. The rationale was that he was still young enough to get another one, but he was offered the role of county coach to prematurely end his playing career. Then he was sacked, after building a young side that went to the semi-final of the under-25 competition and provided county stalwarts for the next few years, at the end of 1974.They gave him £100 for his trouble, much cheaper than a second benefit.

Money was tight, the rationale for the sacking, but that state of penury also saw him replacing the glass in the old indoor school himself to save a few bob, as well as cleaning it out with the help of his wife, Jean. He bought towels and incidentals for the players to use too, things for which he was never reimbursed.

It was a sad end to a long association. He had been overlooked for the club captaincy, some said because his mining background wouldn't sit well with the 'suits' at Lord's. He was also largely ignored for one-day cricket, this at a time when the most economical bowlers were the purveyors of spin around the country like Norman Gifford, Ray East, Brian Langford, Peter Sainsbury and many more. Derbyshire usually went with an all-seam attack, with mixed results, most often poor.

He went on to be a scourge of league batsmen for many seasons, during which he took thousands more wickets. One Sunday afternoon in the mid-1970s, he quickly took the wickets of Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten and Allan Lamb in a benefit match, before being equally quickly removed from the attack, so as not to ruin the entertainment.

When I went to interview him with a view to a blog piece a few winters ago, I quickly realised that here was a man with a story, a career worth retelling and a life worthy of public record. My first book followed and the print runs quickly sold out, testimony to the esteem in which he is still held.

Outside of the game, he has been one of the most respected snooker players in Derbyshire and still plays in the top tier of the game in the county as he approaches his 84th birthday in January. 2018 marks his 70th year as a member of Grassmoor Snooker Club, an astonishing feat by any standards.

At a time when Derbyshire County Cricket Club is, with due respect to many others before them, more professionally run than at any time in its history, I would like to see the club honour and recognise the last man who will ever take a thousand wickets for them. Whether in a lifetime achievement award, or the offer of the club presidency, it would be apposite and overdue recognition for a quite remarkable man.

Indeed, one of my few gripes with the current administration is that the contributions of a number of older generation cricketers, people who I grew up watching, appear to be overlooked.The presidency, an honorary role, has gone from Geoff Miller to Kim Barnett and then Michael Holding. Legends to a man and wonderful players, but it would seem that the claims of those of an earlier vintage, such as Edwin, Harold Rhodes, Peter Eyre and many more, have been disregarded. Once 'twas not so and the office went to the senior capped professional in turn. Better that way, I think. And fairer.

I hope that the club will do the right thing in the near future, before it is too late. An early season lunch and an award to recognise his outstanding contribution to the club would be the right thing to do.

And I would travel from Glasgow and back in a day to be there for a very special man.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Derek Morgan: an appreciation and obituary

There are those cricketers who flit across the landscape like a comet, playing several seasons of brilliance before burning out. They are often 'eye' players, and when the eye goes, the technique is sometimes not there to bail them out when the going gets tougher.

Then there are those who, year on year, are always there. They are like a favourite jacket or raincoat that you reach for, comforted by its presence and knowing what you will get from it.

For two decades, Derek Morgan, whose passing was announced yesterday, was the fulcrum around which the Derbyshire cricket eleven worked. He wasn't the best, or most glamorous batsman; he wasn't the best bowler in an attack that had several candidates for that title. Yet he was a man whose commitment to the cause was absolute and whose skills contributed to an era in which Derbyshire had a side to be reckoned with, especially in the first decade.

I am old enough to remember his final three seasons, though my father was a regular throughout his career, having first seen the county in 1947, three years before his debut. He, like me, remembers a batsman who scored runs, often when they were most needed, yet not in a style that would have made you sit up in your deckchair and put your newspaper away.

With a few exceptions, such players rarely thrived on Walter Goodyear's wickets and it was a rarity for Morgan to get to the crease with 200 on the board and the bowlers wilting. His lot was rather that of the man who battled the side to a total, giving an attack to match any other something to bowl at. He hadn't a memorable stroke, as such, but he had most of them and used them when the ball offered a minimal risk of dismissal. After all, you don't score the best part of 18,000 runs without knowing how to put away the bad ball.

He was an attritional batsman in the best northern tradition, ironic for a man born and brought up in Middlesex. Yet his National Service saw him serve locally and a Derbyshire man he became. His was a prized wicket, because while he was still there, Derbyshire could eke out enough runs to win matches. He did that, often.

On the legendary day at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day, the one man to make a score was Derek Morgan, braving repeated blows to the hands, body and head to make forty-odd against Hampshire. Then, as Harold Rhodes tired, he came on to bowl and took the last three wickets. It was typical of the man.

As a bowler, he had a modest run up that gave little hint of the dangers to follow, but he gave sterling support to two generations of opening bowlers. He once said, in typically modest fashion, that he got a lot of wickets because batsmen needed to 'crack on' after being tied down by Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson. Yet the comment denied a talent for putting the ball down on a consistent line and length for season after season. Moving it around enough to make the batsmen think, he could bowl a steady medium-fast, or cut down, when the wicket demanded, and bowl off-cutters, often a fine foil for the genuine spin of Edwin Smith at the other end.

17842 runs and 1126 wickets. We will not see his like again, that's for sure.

As a captain, he was functional, rather than special. Where the best captains make things happen, the ordinary tend to be reactive and Morgan was in the latter category. Having spoken to many of his contemporaries in the course of research for my books, the general feeling was of a skipper under who the game could drift. Where Donald Carr and Guy Willatt made things happen with a canny bowling or fielding change, Morgan was more formulaic and captaincy was not his strongest suit.

Yet as a fielder, he was beyond compare. With Morgan, Carr and Alan Revill in close, batsmen knew that Derbyshire had a trio like Autolycus, snapping up the unconsidered trifles that many might not have deemed chances. While discussions on the merits of the old game against the modern one will always be fascinating, there is no modern player better than those three at holding catches, the hand/eye co-ordination quite extraordinary.

More than once my father recalls a batsman flashing at the ball and his eyes, like those of friends, looking to the boundary, only to see it being tossed in the air by one of them, the ripple of applause becoming loud as spectators realised the magicians had worked their tricks again.

Would he have been a success in the modern game? Every team needs a Derek Morgan, and while never likely to be confused with a Stokes or Botham, like Trevor Bailey he brought balance to his side. He moved with grace and speed in his younger days and had a fine cricket brain. As I wrote yesterday, worse players have played for England and, in another era, opportunity must surely have come his way. And if you were selecting an all-time county eleven, there would be few who omitted him from their side.

An all-round sportsman who played hockey, rugby and football to a good standard, I would have loved to interview him for my most recent book, but his ill-health legislated against it. Yet I saw him, and for that I am thankful.

His passing leaves only one man, Edwin Smith, still with us from those who have over a thousand wickets for the county.

Rest in Peace, Derek Morgan.

You served your county well.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Derek Morgan

I am sad today to hear of the passing of Derek Morgan, one of Derbyshire's greatest players.

Many who were his inferior have worn England colours and plenty of good judges felt he would have been an international player, bar for the presence of Trevor Bailey in the national side in the 1950s.

I will pen a more appropriate tribute when time allows, but wanted to acknowledge the passing of one of the county's finest-ever players at the earliest opportunity.

Rest in peace, Derek.