Friday, 24 February 2017

No Marlon at the 3aaa County Ground

As I fully expected to be the case, Derbyshire have ended their interest in Marlon Samuels, after the article that appeared on Cricinfo yesterday and was referred to by me last night.

How genuine that interest was is a moot point, but the player blew the deal out of the water by going public and, in my opinion, overstating its value.

I'm pleased, to be honest, as your comments and messages suggest you are. He is a decent player, but a largely unfulfilled talent who has made nowhere near the runs in his career that he should have done. He is a big occasion player, for sure, but whether a damp and overcast county cricket ground would have held the same appeal is something we won't know, at least in Derbyshire colours. Certainly his words yesterday didn't suggest a player with a burning desire to succeed  and prove a point; rather they suggested he was doing us a favour and he may or may not sign.

I don't think the deal was worth the £130K he claimed, as I don't think he is that level of player. I suspect we could get a better Kolpak for less and more than likely one who won't offer such a risk of disruption. Talented as he is, Samuels comes with baggage and a reputation that would be hard to shake off. In some ways he has had a bad press over the years, but, as he showed yesterday, he has been his own worst enemy at times.

So where now for Derbyshire? According to the club website, we have 'a number of routes available' and if nothing else, yesterday's story showed the calibre of player on the radar. Unless Darren Bravo is one of those routes, I suspect the rest will be in South Africa, where there will still be several talented cricketers keen to gain security for the next three summers, rather than hope for an occasional match at international level.

With that enticing thought, I bid you adieu tonight.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Marlon Samuels on Kolpak?

Thanks to Luke for alerting me to a piece on Cricinfo tonight, where Marlon Samuels claims that he has a Kolpak deal on offer from Derbyshire.

You can read the piece here but in a lengthy article, the relevant section reads:

"Samuels also revealed that he has been offered a three-year Kolpak deal by Derbyshire worth up to £130,000 a season, fuelling concerns that West Indies could be hit by a spate of international retirements of the sort that recently shocked South African cricket. While it is understood he has indicated a reluctance to accept the deal - he would prefer a deal as an overseas player in county cricket, thereby sustaining his hopes of playing international cricket - he has suggested it remains on the table.

Samuels asserted that, for him, it is loyalty to West Indies that comes first, which was evident in his 17 years' service in Caribbean cricket. "I've got a Kolpak deal on my plate which I'm contemplating," he said. "It's a three-year deal with Derbyshire. Worth probably £120,000-130,000 a year. The money is not the issue at the moment, I've been playing international cricket the last 17 years so have set myself the right way. This is about principle, about being loyal. I've been a loyal soldier for West Indies cricket and continue to play. I showed some loyalty, so I expect a bit of loyalty. I'm only the one from 2000 still here, sticking round and playing for the West Indies." 

Samuels said he was in "no rush" to sign the Derbyshire deal as, after the PSL, he would travel to play another league in Hong Kong and had a "few other deals" in the bag.

Samuels is unlikely to be the only Caribbean player attracting interest from England's first-class counties. Darren Bravo, whose relationship with WICB would appear to be in tatters following a public falling-out with Cameron, is one who is certain to be snapped up if he decides to go that route, while fellow Trinidadian Denesh Ramdin is also understood to be of interest.

Ravi Rampaul, the second highest wicket-taker in this year's Super 50, is already on a Kolpak deal with Surrey, while former West Indies captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who was second in the batting averages, has recently signed a similar deal with Lancashire". 

I don't doubt that an offer must have been made to the player, as he can't really go round claiming it otherwise (I would assume). However, the value of the deal seems on the high side and the whole piece smacks of someone playing off one would-be suitor against another.

He obviously wants to continue to play for the West Indies and feels he is worth more than they are offering. So letting them know of another offer - and perhaps exaggerating its worth - is a bargaining tool that has doubtless been used before and will be again.

I have no doubt that there will be a club statement sometime soon, but the news, while exciting, is not going to get me leaping out of my seat at this stage. I would expect the club to be disappointed that a potential target is airing their interest and alerting others to his availability and he makes it clear that he is signing nothing for now.

On top form Marlon Samuels is a very good and talented player. He would also represent a challenge, as his reputation as being his own man precedes him, but definitely, to go back to my piece earlier today, a man who would strengthen the squad.So too, if the article is correct, is Darren Bravo, perhaps a less flamboyant but more solid player who will attract interest around the counties. I am less sure of Ramdin, a competent wicket-keeper/batsman but hardly in the top class.

All in good time, though. I will get excited if and when something happens, but not before.

The good thing is that it further shows the club's ambition.

Watch this space...

Tahir omission makes no sense on cricket grounds

Every year, when the IPL auction takes place, I permit myself a wry smile at some of the goings-on.

There are always players who go for ridiculous amounts and others who for some reason don't get picked up at all.

Talented a bowler as he is, would you take Tymal Mills in your team over Mitchell Johnson? More to the point, would you pay six times the amount  for his services? Would you pay around four times more for Eoin Morgan than Martin Guptill? These are moves this year that strike me as bizarre, though good luck to the players who have had their lives transformed by their good fortune.

Mills has a back problem that prevents him playing more than twenty-over cricket, something that won't concern him at all as he reaches millionaire status in one fell swoop. He's a talented bowler, but I'm not sure that he is THAT good. It just shows the benefit of good performance at the right time, as he bowled pretty well in the one-dayers for England in India. Mind you, one assumes no one there watched the Big Bash and how well Johnson bowled - AND he is a dangerous lower-order hitter.

Equally puzzling is the list of players who didn't get picked up. Be honest, if Derbyshire were to announce in the coming weeks that we had picked up any from Marlon Samuels, Colin Munro or Farhaan Behardien for the T20 this summer, we wouldn't be dissatisfied. Each has won plenty of matches for their various sides over the years and all of them offer with bat and ball.

Even more puzzling is that no one bid for Imran Tahir.

There's no great love lost, for obvious historical reasons, between India and Pakistan and Tahir, though South African, is Pakistani in origin. I would suggest that were the world's top-ranked bowler in the format of any other nationality, he would have breezed selection in the competition, one that likes to be seen as the greatest cricket show on earth.

How can it be, when the best bowler in the format isn't there? Big names abound, of course, but surely you would want the number one ranked bowler in the game to be involved? It's like a World Cup without Lionel Messi, or a new Live Aid, where no one asked Adele to perform and decided that no one would want to see Take That or Bruce Springsteen.

I accept that India is awash with spin bowlers, but for no one to sign Tahir and for Ish Sodhi, another fine bowler in the format, to miss out is ludicrous.

Crowds will doubtless turn up in their thousands, but I detect a diminished interest in a competition that has had its share of scandals and has a growing number of detractors.

Back home, there is still no news of any Neil Broom replacement, nor a T20 specialist of our own. I have seen plenty of comments from you on the former, but still hope that we don't opt for the loan market.

I was asked that question the other day in an email and my reasons are quite clear. Loan signings are OK if you have injuries, or batsmen who are collectively going through a bad trot. Yet if we go to another county to sign a batsman on loan before the season, for me we are sending out a wrong message. You are effectively telling your own players that the bloke from another team's periphery is better than those in our own squad.

I have no idea whether Tom Wood, Charlie McDonnell or Luis Reece will become good county cricketers, but we will never know if they don't get the opportunity. All have proven that they can score runs in second team cricket, so for me they should now get the chance to push for a senior role - unless we can find a player of near-international standing, who looks like he could win us matches.

No one is complaining about the signing of Imran Tahir blocking Matt Critchley, because he will work with him and in time aid his development. The same goes for Hardus Viljoen and our young clutch of seamers. Each will mentor the young players and will also, most likely, win us games.

If we picked up - plucking a couple of names very much at random - David Miller or Farhaan Behardien on a Kolpak, the likelihood is that they would do the same and show our young players how you handle run chases and pressure situations. You aren't going to get that from Johnny Average from another county, who averages around thirty but can't get a regular game.

Anyway, let's see what happens. In closing, I admit to being very impressed by the Briggs of Burton marquee, that has now been erected on the square at the 3aaa County Ground.

It is hard to fault the rationale that time spent in the nets on English wickets will be of greater benefit to the players than the considerably different surfaces of Dubai. While they doubtless enjoyed some sun on their backs, it would not be replicating early Spring in England.

For that idea, and many others this winter, Kim Barnett deserves a great deal of credit.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Fixtures sorted - at last!

It has taken a while since they first came out, but  I have at last managed to finalise my holidays, work commitments, family stuff and book requirements in time to get some cricket matches in the annual schedule. Let's declare today a national holiday to celebrate...

I don't know how it is for you, but this year's fixture list isn't Peakfan-friendly. There's no home cricket in June and our family holiday is in August, so that's two months gone from the schedule immediately. Early April is usually only recommended if you enjoy extreme cold, while I have so many work and other commitments in May that it is largely out of the equation too.

But I have got there and my cricket commitments - also known as 'seeing how the folks are and what they need done' are now in three neat mini tours. There's a lot of mid-week games this year, the problem being that I then need to use three days leave for one day of cricket, which isn't particularly handy.

Funnily enough, my first game will be at Durham, weather permitting, on April 27, when we play them in an RLODC fixture. I have always fancied a trip to the Riverside, so this is it. After the game, I will drive south and pull in the home game in the same competition against Northamptonshire on Sunday the 30th, before driving back home on the Monday.

My next trip will then be at the start of July, when I will pull in at least the first two days of the Chesterfield Festival (memo to self: take wellingtons...) which has been in my plans for some while and marks the 50th anniversary of my first trip there quite nicely. I hope to meet up with old friends there and it would be wonderful to see my favourite ground bathed in sunshine for the duration (but without a monsoon preceding it, like last year).

Then I have the full match set aside in September for the last home game against Kent, which could - who knows - be quite an important one.

I have a couple of other 'windows' where I might manage something and, if we do well in the T20, I would aim to overlook my dislike of T20 to go along should we make the nigh-mythical Finals Day. I'd actually take group qualification as progress, but one lives in hope.

Of course I would love to see more, but as I have previously written, it is getting the balance right between life's many commitments, something I think I have done quite well. If the ECB another year would start more four-day cricket on a Saturday, my viewing prospects will improve dramatically.

In the past I have had quite a few emails from people who have said that they'd have come along for a chat and a drink had they known when I was coming down, so there it is, well in advance and I am always happy to have a natter as I wander around the ground!

Enjoy your weekends...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Some good lads at Derbyshire

Whatever else you might say about Derbyshire CCC, there are some good men in the squad.

There's Tony Palladino, man enough to stand up to match fixing when it would have been easier to turn a blind eye. Wayne Madsen, winner of a sportsmanship award for 'walking' when given not out by an umpire, then giving a percentage of his testimonial proceeds to charities. Now Billy Godleman, donating a third of his prize money for the PCA Scholarship Award to the local YMCA.

These are the actions of good men of fine character, aware of their status in life and wanting to give something back to people and causes that matter to them, as well as protecting the image of the game that they love. It is refreshing to see and all of them are to be commended on their generosity and professionalism.

Speaking of which, Imran Tahir destroyed New Zealand today in the first T20 at Auckland, taking 5 wickets for just 24 runs. It may not have been their first choice side, but once again it showed what a fine bowler he is and how difficult he is to face in this format. Perhaps the only way to play him with confidence is to just work it around, as his variations seem too much for those set on greater feats. He is quite a bowler and I look forward immensely to seeing him in Derbyshire colours.

Back home, it was great to see England legend Jack Russell working with Derbyshire wicket-keepers Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein today. It appears to have been a similar masterclass to that enjoyed by Matt Critchley with Shane Warne and the players must pick up a lot in working with players of such status in the game.

All the work of Kim Barnett, of course, whose contacts book seems impressive in its depth. The variety of the pre-season work has been impressive and it deserves to be successful when the action starts.

With a little bit of luck and a flying start...who knows?

Board fall out unfortunate

Yesterday, one day after the announcement of Chris Grant's departure, came news that the parting may not have been all that amicable after all.

On BBC Radio Derby last night, departing Business Director, David Booth, said that there was a 'majority feeling' among the surviving Board members that it was time for a change at the top and that there were specific concerns regarding 'right and proper behaviour'  and 'a lack of engagement with business people' with regard to the Chairman.

I know both Chris and David and like both men. Each has worked hard to achieve success in their respective fields  and has done so. Each has made a fine contribution to our cricket club, the chairman's six years falling short of David's near decade of involvement, on first the club committee and then the Board.

Mr Grant refuted the claim and, unless you were party to discussions around that board table and aware of what was going on, I suppose you pay your money and take your choice on which story to believe.

What I will say is that the complete overhaul of the Board came as something of a surprise to me and to change five of its six members in one fell swoop strikes me as excessive, whatever the needs of fulfilling the requirements of governance.

Succession planning can take various forms, of course and perhaps the presence of Jason Fage is deemed sufficient for a smooth transformation, but to have five new faces on a six-person committee, irrespective of the talents of those involved, will take a little time to bed in. They need to get to know one another, then learn how to work together. Talented or not, that takes a little time.

Perhaps the presence of another experienced head may have been beneficial. Indeed, on my chats with Derbyshire supporters and members over recent summers, there have been a few who thought that David Booth might himself have made an admirable chairman. Well respected and well engaged in the local business community and a lifelong fan of the county, there was a strong argument for him taking over the 'hot seat', if only for a two-year term to buy a little more time.

I have no arguments against the incoming chairman, Ian Morgan, who I am sure will do a fine job, as evidenced by his strong CV. Similarly, the other new members of the board are well able to fulfil their roles. That new board is:

Administration Director                     Jason Fage
Business Development Director         Ian Morgan
Facilities Director                               Ian McFarlane
Finance Director                                 Hari Punchihewa
Legal Services Director                      Kirpal Bidmead
Cricket Advisory Director                  Mike Hendrick

My only other comment? As long as Kim Barnett and Mike Hendrick can work well together, the on field stuff should be quite special this summer.

I only hope that there are no more off-field distractions.

We have had more than enough of that at Derbyshire over the years.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Grant leaves with mission (partly) accomplished

The news that Chris Grant is not standing for re-election as chairman at Derbyshire County Cricket Club comes as a surprise, yet in some ways as no surprise.

The Derbyshire chairman has made a great impression on Derbyshire cricket and on the wider cricket world since coming into post and there were always strong possibilities of him going on to greater things (if there are greater things than being chairman of Derbyshire...)

A role with the governing board of the ECB seems likely and Grant's wish to avoid a conflict of interest in doing the two jobs together has meant a parting of the ways with the county of his birth.

Six years in such a job is a great commitment and to his immense credit he has worked tirelessly on the club's behalf for no personal gain. I'm not sure that the club could have afforded what he put in anyway and having a man with his background, passion for the club and willingness to 'press the flesh' and get involved will have been appreciated by most.

Of course he will have regrets. In every job you will have those and there will be aspects of his time with the club that I am sure that he would do differently, with the great benefit of hindsight. I know from my chats with him that he took no pleasure from the departures of John Morris, Karl Krikken and Graeme Welch, but the world of professional sport is an unforgiving one and tough decisions need to be made at times.

None of them were taking the club to where we hoped to be and there were issues with all. Krikken came closest to the ideal, gaining a division two championship with a side that played aggressive cricket, something that sadly dissipated in the top tier as we immdiately fell back down the following summer. Morris recruited a better class of player than we had seen for some time, while Welch encouraged youth and sowed the seeds for a potentially fine side in the future. They were good men, but for varying reasons their tenures were shorter than they might otherwise have been.

Perhaps bringing a once-disaffected Kim Barnett back into the fold will prove his defining moment, a man who had lost contact with the club once more involved and leading a winter of recruitment that has been better than any in living memory, one that might just see a return to the excitement of 2012.

Which is what Grant has worked for, of course. He came into a club that, if not down on its knees, was about to announce an overdraft that sent a bell ringing as the end of the round came. As he said to me in his interview for my last book, had steps not been taken at that point to address some serious areas of concern and overspending, there may well have been a supermarket on the site of the ground now.

How things have changed. Each year since has yielded a small, yet significant profit, one that confirmed us as among the best run clubs in the country. He has worked well with his long-time friend Simon Storey, a chief executive of some brilliance and transformed a cricket team in an open space into a cricket club in a stadium, one which hosts events of local and national importance and will form a focal point of this summer's Women's World Cup.

Off-field affairs have never been more encouraging and this has enabled the club to recruit in both a prudent and exciting manner. While some big name recruits failed, prospects for this summer are bright and the additional revenue streams that have been created have played a full part in this.

Like anyone in any walk of life, Chris Grant will have his detractors, but he can leave the role with his head held high. If one judges success in any position as leaving things in a better place than when you started, he has exceeded all expectations.

We didn't build on that wonderful summer of 2012 and I guess that will be his one big regret, but Derbyshire are in rude health, with excellent facilities, a competitive staff and an off-field operation that, pound for pound, will stand up against the very best in the country.

I am sure that all of you, like me, wish him the very best in his future ventures, though I know it will not be the last time we see him at the 3aaa County Ground. He is much too big a fan to give up on that.

I know little about Ian Morgan, his replacement as chairman, other than what is on the official CV. As a lifetime supporter and a shrewd businessman he has the key attributes for success.

He will know all too well that he has some big shoes to fill and I will discuss the new appointments, his included, in a future piece when they are announced.

For now - Chris, thank you.

Onwards and upwards - for you and for Derbyshire.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Case for Hughes retention far from compelling

I don't know how many of you follow overseas cricket in the winter, but those who do may have noticed some continued poor form from Chesney Hughes, playing for the Leeward Islands in the West Indian domestic competition.

In twelve innings, the powerful left-hander has made only 289 runs at an average just over twenty and with a highest score of just 54.

Without doubt it is sad to see, as Chesney, at 26, should be at the stage where he has his game worked out right now. Instead, his form, from the last two months of last summer and into the winter back home, has been very poor. Instead of a player coming into his cricketing prime, Chesney appears to be in a premature decline.

It would, I think, be very brave of any county to take a punt on him right now. We all know that at his best he could be an imposing, compelling sight, hitting through the ball and watching it disappear with the power of the great West Indian batsmen of the past.

Yet his good days were becoming more sporadic and Ches-watching on the bad days was painful. The feet didn't move, he looked cumbersome at the crease and could be a liability to his partner with some poor calling and running.

There was considerable criticism of the decision to let him go and the all-encompassing 'couldn't agree terms' phrase was used once more. Was his desire to play back home, rather than stay here and work on his game an issue, or were the financial demands too great?

Who knows, outwith the club, but the reality is that recent suggestions that he could be worth chatting to again, about that Neil Broom position, are unrealistic.

It is also telling that, almost five months after the season ended, he still doesn't have a county for 2017. He may have wanted time to think, but there have been no suggestions of interest from anywhere, which is strange, at the very least.

We will all recall Chesney's good days, when boundaries didn't seem big enough, he held on to blinders in the field or he took someone's wicket with his slow left arm 'darts'.

Based on his winter form, however, I don't see a queue of county coaches building up any time soon for his signature and there is a strong possibility that a player of talent could be lost to the county game, at least for the time being.

Whether he has the appetite to work on the very obvious weaknesses in his game, only he can tell, but to remain a first-class cricketer of any merit, he simply has to. Every player enjoys peaks and suffers troughs of form over a career, but Chesney's trough has gone on a little too long for comfort.

I wish him well, as I am sure you all do.

Tahir top of 50 and 20 over world rankings

Terrific news this morning, as Imran Tahir moves from third to first in the world rankings for one-day internationals, having already moved ahead of Trent Boult and Sunil Narine in the short form of the game.

It is exciting, ahead of what promises to be a special 2017 season and Imran is to be congratulated on his achievement. He is a clear example of a bowler who has worked at his craft and, although fairly late into the first-class game, he has become pretty much the complete bowler over the past twelve months.

His puzzling combination of lateral and top spin, combined with clever changes of pace and flight, make him a very difficult bowler to get on top of. He took a little 'tap' in this week's one-day internationals. but one was on a very good batting wicket and on the other he bowled a more miserly second spell after his first one was expensive.

There isn't a bowler in the game's long history who has never been hit around the ground, but the key is in how you come back and Tahir's skills and fitness suggest he will be playing the game for some time yet.

Our other summer leggie, Jeevan Mendis, took 5-97 for his Tamil Union side in the week, but they were beaten by an innings by the Sri Lankan Army side. He has had a good winter though, taking 32 wickets at 26 and scoring 414 runs at a shade under 40. We would take those statistics in Derbyshire colours, that's for sure. The way he bats, he is either going to get runs quickly or not at all, but we must hope for a quick acclimatisation and weather that isn't too cold for him to feel the ball between his fingers!

Finally today, it was interesting to see the words of Ashwell Prince, who as coach has revitalised the Cape Cobras franchise in South Africa after dreadful early season form. Prince, such a fine overseas player for Lancashire attributed it as follows:

"It was important for me that we went back to the kind of thinking where senior players drive the standards. They were around in the days when the team was winning and now they are around when the team is struggling. They know where the team needs to be and what it needs to get back to winning." 

Rather similar to what Kim Barnett has suggested we do at Derbyshire, bring in senior players with a winning mentality, who know what is required in tight situations and have the nerve and the skills to get their team across the line.

All rather exciting, isn't it?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Old Trafford event a big thrill

I had the very great pleasure of a trip to Old Trafford last night, for a talk to the Lancashire and Cheshire Cricket Society about my books, blog and all things Derbyshire cricket.

What a lovely bunch of people! They were a very friendly and knowledgeable bunch and after a short break, almost 45 minutes of questions after a similar length talk confirmed their interest and we covered a wide range of subjects. There was concern over the signing of Shiv Chanderpaul, interest in Derbyshire's winter work and plenty of discussion about the relative merits of the various forms of the game.

Interestingly - but I suppose unsurprisingly from an audience of established cricket lovers - there was little interest in a city franchise cricket tournament, as proposed by the ECB. There were people there from across the two counties and those from outwith Manchester would find it very difficult (or impossible) to support a team that bore that name. Old rivalries die hard across sport and this is something that the marketing gurus advising the ECB seem to have overlooked. When I was asked if I could, as a Derbyshire supporter, get behind an East Midlands side playing at Nottingham, my answer was simple - no.

As I said last night, the only way that they can draw audiences of the desired quantities to this new form of the game is by changing the rules and making it all the more gimmicky, unrecognisable, perhaps, from the game we love.

So look forward to cannons firing confetti bombs into the crowd when a six is hit, players in fancy dress costume, bowlers allowed one ball an over from twenty, instead of 22 yards. Daft? The rule book could well be tossed out of the window for this one. They have to be radical to stand a chance of filling stadiums.

What a horrid thought.

If anyone out there is part of a cricket club or society that would like to book me as a speaker, please drop me an email to the usual address - peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

I am more than happy to help out and discuss options, either for an evening through the summer  or for next winter's calendar.

It wasn't cricket weather last night, pouring with rain, but Old  Trafford is an impressive site. I was especially impressed by the warm welcome from reception and security staff, who were personable, professional and efficient.

Thanks to everyone for that and to all those who came along. A particular thanks to Peakview, who came along to say hello and lend support.

The gesture was very much appreciated.

Thank you, my friend.