Saturday, 14 January 2017

Weekend thoughts

It has been a quiet week on the Derbyshire cricket front.

The players are now back in the nets and, from the club footage, looking good. Shiv Thakor seemed to be in good nick with the bat, while Tom Taylor and Harvey Hosein both took cracking catches in practice.

I have to say that I disagreed with the vote (such as it matters) on the club Twitter feed, as to the merit of the respective catches. I took a few high and climbing ones, as well as a few low and dropping ones over the years - and missed a few too - and the latter were more difficult. Notwithstanding that one man has gloves and the other doesn't, the ones low and dropping need you to intercept gravity and pull the ball up before keeping your balance or preventing the ball hitting the deck. The other is you are either tall enough to get a hand on it, or you're not. If you're not, the biggest issue is not dislocating a top finger joint if you only 'just' get there.

At the end of it all, what does it matter, but that's my personal viewpoint...

Hardus Viljoen had a day to forget yesterday for the Lions, with figures of eleven overs for 67 and no wickets. Sometimes that happens to a fast bowler, the rudder goes, the rhythm isn't there and the figures suffer. I've seen it happen to most genuine quicks over the past forty years, whether Steyn, Akram, Waqar, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Morne Morkel and many more. Mark Footitt is still prone to that sort of spell, but you gain compensation in the days when everything clicks and the wickets tumble.

I maintain that if Viljoen and our leggies stay fit we will do much better this summer, but expect days with both where the rhythm isn't right and the ball just doesn't come out as intended. It just goes with the territory and both fast and leg spin bowling are very difficult arts.

The Big Bash goes on in Australia and there has been some great cricket played. Stuart Broad was a 'hero' for seven off three balls as his Hobart Hurricanes chased 220-odd to win, though personally I thought his team mate Ben McDermott more worthy of that status with 114 from 52 balls. Broad may have got them over the line, but they wouldn't have got close, bar for a special innings by a talented young player.

That's pretty much it for today. I will be back at the start of next week, all being well.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Walter's funeral

It has been a long day today, starting with a 4.30am rise and not ending until I get home around 11.30pm tonight, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I wanted to see off the club's legendary groundsman Walter Goodyear, a man who became a friend, and thankfully the Virgin trains ran to schedule and I got there in good time.

It was gratifying to see a good turnout and I would estimate around a hundred people attended the crematorium for a short but personal service.

Fast bowling legend Harold Rhodes spoke very well, from an association and friendship that goes back 60 years. Walter had made his plans clear in advance and the service was opened with Barbra Streisand singing 'Memories' from Cats and ended with the traditional BBC cricket tune, Soul Limbo, a choice that brought a smile to faces.

Afterwards, at the 3aaa County Ground, there were plenty of stories from former players and those who knew him best. Looking out of the Gateway windows, the grass looked good and I think Walter would have approved.

He might have fallen just short of a century, but Walter had a good innings and left behind a lot of people who had only good memories of him.

Not a bad thing to aspire to, I think.

Thanks to a those whose company I enjoyed today. I look forward to seeing you in warmer conditions and happier circumstances as the Spring comes around once more.

And that, as my train thunders on home into a dark and windy night, is that from me for now.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Kolpak question - the Derbyshire angle

It was interesting to see the polarising effect that the announcement of Hampshire signing Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott had on cricket fans over the past couple of days.

On the one hand were those who felt their arrival would strengthen the county game and see it increasingly being a battle of the best versus the best. As a Hampshire fan it made sense - after all, they would have gone down last year, but for the penalties dished out to Durham that still seem unduly draconian. They now have a world-class bowler to call on, as well as a very talented batsman who can bat anywhere in the order.

The downside? Well, they also have Fidel Edwards from Barbados, who is never going to play for England, plus Shaun Ervine (Zimbabwe) and overseas professional George Bailey from Australia. Logically, half of their first-choice side will be made up of players from overseas, though conversely they have brought through the likes of Dawson and Vince to the international stage.

I don't blame any of the Kolpaks for securing their futures. With franchise and national selection some way removed from simply picking the best eleven, and with no guarantees as to their future involvement, would any of us not look to do the best for our families? Offer me definite against possible income for the next few years and I am sold to the highest bidder...

All county cricket fans want to see their side doing well and most of them at any cost. Of course, bringing through your own talent is crucial for the future, but sport is tough and the demand for immediate success is strong. You can set out your stall to develop youngsters, but if patience runs out and your job has gone inside three years, you can understand county coaches reconciling one against the other. There has to be a middle ground.

According to Cricinfo yesterday, players like Morne Morkel, Marchant de Lange, David Miller, Chris Morris, Dane Vilas and Dwaine Pretorius may also opt for the Kolpak route in the coming weeks and there could be more. In addition, David Wiese is apparently already lined up for a deal with Sussex.

2016 was tough for Derbyshire supporters with a side of woeful inexperience and 2017, with the addition of Hardus Viljoen and the Imran Tahir/Jeevan Mendis combo, looks set to be better. With Neil Broom leaving, the suggestion of bringing in a Kolpak batsman is out there, yet maybe we don't need to look at a like for like, if we look at anything?

Let's be honest, we aren't replacing a 50-average Azharuddin, Wright, Kirsten or Di Venuto. We have lost a nice guy and talented player, but one who only averaged 25 as a specialist batsman. The existing personnel are all capable of at least matching that - and likely more -  in the coming season.

With the top four in place for all but T20 (Godleman, Slater, Thakor and Madsen), Gary Wilson could bat 5, which he did a number of times at Surrey. There's also a case for Harvey Hosein, based on his end of season efforts, while Alex Hughes and Luis Reece are good enough batsmen to carve a niche at 6/7, lengthening the batting and offering an additional bowling option as the season progresses and Imran Tahir arrives. Based on his record and current form, Jeevan Mendis will slot in very nicely at six to start the summer.

The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that we cannot block the progress of Hosein, one of the best-organised young batsmen I have seen from our own ranks. As he fills out and gets the power to go with natural timing, he will be a very special player. While Wilson, as vice-captain, has to be in a first choice side, the case for Hosein is strong. How galling it would be if a young player of obvious talent were to opt to move for greater opportunity, then realise that potential elsewhere?

Maybe there is greater merit, if such a signing is deemed necessary, to sign someone who can bat and bowl. From the names mentioned above, players like Morris and Pretorius would be a better fit, especially when seam bowlers need to be rotated and rested. More than anyone, having pioneered that in the modern game, Kim Barnett is aware of the importance of keeping them fresh through a long summer.

We would all love to see a Derbyshire eleven of local lads plus an overseas and maybe we will get there one day, but in the short term, most would settle for a side that has far from local accents but competes well and potentially wins trophies.

The decision of hiring another Kolpak  is not as simple as 'can we afford him'? It would have to be the right man with the right attitude, whose on and off-field contributions meant that the detrimental effects can be justified and minimised.

I have no doubt that Messrs Barnett and Godleman have things in hand and it will be exciting to watch developments.

Mendis to the fore again

Another sparkling performance today from Jeevan Mendis today, for his Tamil Union side against the Nondescripts in Sri Lanka.

At stumps on day two, Mendis is unbeaten on 123, with 11 fours and 3 sixes, this after taking two wickets in the opposition's first innings. He has so far faced 217 balls.

A very good player, is Mr Mendis.

Quite possibly an inspired signing...

Friday, 6 January 2017

Godleman contract extension extends the feel-good factor

Yesterday's news, with Billy Godleman signing a contract extension to the end of 2019, ensures that the goods times keep a-coming for Derbyshire supporters.

It isn't that long ago that people were coming on here to question whether he would make it. The brief flourish at the start of his Middlesex career had become a somewhat distant memory, as subsequent struggles there and at Essex made Derbyshire's decision to engage him a gamble, even if one worth taking at the time.

He wasn't an immediate success either, averaging only 17 in his first summer with us in 2013, then 28 in his second. The grumbles were commonplace, yet the more discerning supporters at least recognised a man prepared to sell his wicket dearly, even if at times his attritional style was almost painful to watch.

In 2015 he returned and looked a different player, perhaps on the back of a late-summer century the previous year, his first since 2012. As his mentor, the former Essex, Somerset and Leicestershire batsman Neil Burns put it, he learned to influence games, not just exist and get by. He reached a thousand runs by the end of the summer and would surely have done so again last year, but for the hand injury that ruled him out of early matches.

He looks a very solid batsman now, with good footwork and a range of shots around the wicket. Like Wayne Madsen, his dismissal often comes as a surprise, the hallmark of the reliable batsman from who runs are expected.  It is the preserve of the best players, which most certainly in a county context they are.

Billy has also become a key player in 50-over cricket, forming an excellent pairing with Ben Slater that could see Derbyshire right for years. At 27 he is arriving at his peak years in fine form and with the knowledge that his employers rate and value him. He is a strong man who does not back down on the field and has the backing of a largely young team.

How good a captain is he? We'll find out next season, because last year's Derbyshire attack, through a succession of injury and inexperience, was largely like taking on heavily-armed pirates armed with a peashooter and kazoo. Add that to early season wickets that were heavily-weighted in favour of batsmen and we took wickets by the sundial and calendar, rather than the clock.

This year, Cap'n Bill will have a top-class fast bowler and a spinner of similar stature to work with. Skippering is a heck of a lot easier with such talent at your disposal, as Steve Waugh will affirm, when he had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Having one end 'covered' makes life easier for the bloke at the other end too, as our young bowlers will hopefully find out.

Before all that, as mentioned yesterday, he has to decide whether he wants to replace Neil Broom. If the club can find a Kolpak player who comes close to guaranteeing runs he must be tempted, but I'm less sure such things exist after the experiences of Amla, Dilshan and Broom. Equally, he could think back to his own formative days and reason that without being given a chance we will never know what the likes of Alex Hughes, Luis Reece, Tom Wood and Charlie McDonnell can do. All are proven at second team level and the question is now if one or two can replicate that form, given senior opportunity.

Billy managed it and, at the end of the day, he is the man who will lead our side on to the pitch this summer and likely beyond. He will make a decision and be prepared to stand by it.

That's all you can do, irrespective of what we think as supporters.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Over to Godleman

I don't know if any of you caught the interview with Kim Barnett yesterday, but if you didn't, our Director of Cricket said that the decision on replacing Neil Broom had been passed to skipper Billy Godleman.

It is a laudable and the right thing to do, given that Billy will be leading the side and taking the responsibility for performances and results.

It is also a big decision.

There are several options for the vacated place in the batting order from the existing staff. As things stand, at least as far as I am concerned, there are four certainties for the top order when the summer starts. With Shiv Thakor likely to bat three, according to Barnett at a pre-Christmas members forum, our top four is likely to be Godleman, Slater, Thakor and Madsen.

Who then for five,six and seven?

There's Alex Hughes, Tom Wood, Charlie McDonnell, Luis Reece, Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein as good options, but there is a risk in having effectively a third of the top order as unproven players at first-class level. Jeevan Mendis could bat there, based on his reputation and average, but may find English conditions a challenge, much as Broom did.

Alex Hughes suggested at the end of last summer that he may be ready for the step up, while Luis Reece has scored good runs before with Lancashire. Gary Wilson has an excellent first-class record, while Harvey Hosein batted beautifully in the closing weeks of the summer. Wood and McDonnell have obvious talent, but limited opportunity at this stage.

Of course, if they don't get games, how will we know what they can do?

It is worthy of a poll, so for those with an interest in such things, let me know your thoughts in the usual manner, and/or by completing the poll on the left.

If the money is there, however, there must be temptation to replace Broom with a player of greater experience and proven reputation, probably from South Africa. I read today that Rilee Rossouw was believed to be considering his options and there would be much to like in a 27-year old with a highest first-class score of 319 and a one-day international average of just under 40. He won't be alone, and when one of the country's current seam attack, Kyle Abbott, has signed a three-year Kolpak deal with Hampshire, it tells a story of the ongoing and understandable talent drain from that country that won't stop any time soon.

Barnett also mentioned that the loan market was an option for Derbyshire, which is true, but I'm not sure that I'd be in favour of that.

For one thing, you are signing someone who is not good enough for regular cricket at his own county, though granted it may be one awash with good players. For another, it rarely works out especially well and if it does, you just get another team's player into form. For a third, you are effectively admitting that none of your current staff are up to it, which is hardly a team and morale-building move unless awash with injuries.

But what do you think?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Challenges ahead for young players

There were a couple of pertinent and fair comments below my last piece.

Knack, thank you for your kind comments on the blog. The only answer I can give as to how I do it is 'time management'. That I write quickly is a bonus and the words are often in my head before I write them.

I take your point on the 'three all-rounders' I referred to. Of the three, only Shiv Thakor has thus far shown he can take regular wickets at first-class level, the benchmark by which the true all-rounder will be judged. His challenge is to reproduce his excellent all-round form from last year, before the season-ending injury that cost us a very good cricketer.

Alex Hughes and Luis Reece, I agree, have their stronger suits in batting, yet both are players who could make a difference and offer options in the one-day game. You never know with developing cricketers (and I see both as that) when the winter will come that makes a difference and turns them into the real deal. That could be physically, emotionally, mentally or professionally. Both players are wintering down under and such an experience has been the making of many good county cricketers in the past.

For what it is worth, I see both as key players this year, their opportunities perhaps more in the one-day game, depending on whether or not we replace Neil Broom, but each will be high in the mix to take his place.

As for the seamers, I agree that at this stage Will Davis looks the likeliest to go far in the game. Last season he bowled with real pace at times and will only get better. He needs to be well-managed and needs to build up his physique so he can handle three, maybe four spells a day. He needs only look to Hardus Viljoen for inspiration, a  huge man whose powerful physique and high level of fitness lets him come back for later spells at the same pace. The two of them together will probably make for the fastest opening pairing in the division. If they get it right, few will fancy facing them.

Yet it depends on what you mean by 'make it'. Ben Cotton showed last year that he can take wickets in the red-ball game, but needs to work out the different lengths that will enable him to consistently get people out, rather than keep them quiet at that level. He is another who could become a solid county player, but cementing a place in the opening line-up in four-day cricket is the first challenge for him. He remains a talent in white ball cricket, however.

Tom Taylor has undoubtedly got it, but last season's stress fracture set him back a little. My understanding is that his spell with England Lions did him few favours either, as they tinkered a little with his technique to his detriment. When he did play last year, batsmen could afford to wait for the bad ball each over, which makes playing any bowler an easier prospect.

If you look at the GREAT Derbyshire bowlers - Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson, Mike Hendrick, Brian Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Ole Mortensen - they all had uncanny accuracy, built up by bowling, bowling and bowling some more. The late Walter Goodyear told me that you could put a handkerchief over the area they hit and while batsmen perhaps use their feet more today, the ability to hit your length remains crucial. A missed yorker is usually a nice full toss for a batsman, while a short ball, meant to inconvenience, just sits up to be hit if you miss that all-important length.

That's why these bowlers developed what John Arlott memorably called a 'grudging' length, too short to drive, too far up to pull or cut. While the game has changed, its basics remain very much the same.

As for Greg Cork, I think this is a huge year for him. He featured little in senior cricket last year, despite good displays in the second eleven. His best chance, for me, is developing into a Kevin Dean-type bowler who swings it around and offers handy runs down the order. Although he has been around a few years, however, he is still only 22 and is working out his game accordingly.

I've heard some say he was fortunate to get another year, but there's a proper player in there, if he is willing to work at being a cricketer in his own right and not just 'Dominic's lad'. He may yet find his batting comes on more than his bowling, but true all-round achievement takes a great deal of work.

As for Tom Milnes, I think he showed last year that he has talent at this level. I see him as the third seamer, in poll position with Tony Palladino for that role and a very handy batsman at eight or nine. His averages, having just turned 24, suggest a player who is not too far from the real deal.

Plenty of potential there, for sure, but a lot of work to be done all-round.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ahead of 2017

Well, here we are, on the cusp of a new year.

2016 wasn't a great one, especially for a Derbyshire cricket fan. There were days in the sun, when things appeared to be coming together, but far too many when we were simply not at the races. Bottom place in the county championship doesn't lie and while there were performances that hinted at untapped potential in 20 and 50-over cricket, inconsistency remains the greatest problem.

The talent is there and perhaps the new coaching model, where players take greater responsibility and are assisted by Steve Stubbings to develop their own games, may be the one that works. Goodness knows, we have tried most other things...

And yet...the standard of winter recruitment has been better and the players released have been those who perhaps most frustrated from a consistency perspective. We all knew what Wes Durston, Chesney Hughes and Neil Broom could do, but producing it on a regular basis was, at least latterly, the issue. I am sure we all wish them well in their future endeavours, but in their place come players with a track record of consistency and crucial experience.

Gary Wilson, Imran Tahir, Jeevan Mendis and Hardus Viljoen add a lot to the mix and IF they perform to their usual standard, one built up over any years of performance, 2017 should be much better. Luck, especially with injuries, plays a part for any sportsman, but that apart, the players named above surely have to enhance the prospects of a brighter 2017?

The same goes for Luis Reece, a player of unquestionable talent who now has the opportunity to become a solid, performing county cricketer that was denied him at Lancashire. Reece, Thakor and Hughes give Derbyshire a trio of talented all-rounders who lengthen the batting and give greater bowling options.

We need our quartet of young seam bowlers to come to the fore too. I expect to see at least one from Will Davis, Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor and Greg Cork make major strides forward in 2017, while Matt Critchley should work with Mendis and Tahir and hone the skills that could make him a future international bowler. Just as long as we don't mess around with his action too much, which wrecked the career (for now) of Tom Knight.

It is a big year for Wayne Madsen, with a testimonial year to go alongside a new baby. Wayne has been the focal point of our batting for the past few seasons and while the form of some players can dip during benefit years, others thrive on the pressure and responsibility. If Wayne produces to his normal high standard and gets the support of the rest of the batting line up, next September promises to be more mellow than this year was.

There's a lot to look forward to, including a likely replacement for Neil Broom and the T20 choice of John Wright, all this before the action starts.

May your 2017 be everything you hope for and I look forward to seeing you down in Derby and Chesterfield over the summer months, as I celebrate my fiftieth summer as a Derbyshire supporter.

And hearing from you, of course!

Enjoy your festivities tonight.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Random thoughts

I hope that you all enjoyed your Christmas and are looking forward to the festivities around the new year in a couple of days time.

We had a lovely time, thanks for asking and I am sure that someone who will enjoy a very happy new year is Neil Broom.

His decision to give up on the second year of his Derbyshire contract must have needed a little thought, but he was vindicated last night, when he scored an unbeaten century for New Zealand in their win against Bangladesh.

Good luck to Neil, who  didn't quite make that landmark for Derbyshire but now has the opportunity to re-establish himself in the international game.

Meanwhile, over in Australia, some of the cricket in the Big Bash has been pretty average. Between dropped catches going for six and some poor ground fielding, the expectation hasn't been matched for me. Today saw Nathan Rimmington, formerly of this parish, bowl a fairly awful four-over spell that cost 45 runs and featured six full tosses and four long hops. He's a decent bowler, but today was pretty poor.

Finally, with Ashley Giles returning to Edgbaston and Glenn Chapple taking over, in an acting capacity at Lancashire, there's been a lot of things happening on the coaching merry go round. Chapple will have his work cut out and Lancashire will have to up their game considerably to be in the mix for trophies as things stand.

I'll be back - briefly - before the bells ring in 2017.

The year of the Falcons fightback, if you didn't know...

Friday, 23 December 2016

Where Derbyshire lead...a final pre-Christmas thought

It isn't that long since Derbyshire separated the coaching function at the club and announced that the T20 role will in future be that of a specialist in the field.

John Wright was announced as the coach and today, having presumably watched and thought it made eminent sense, Middlesex has announced that their 2017 T20 campaign will be under the coaching of ex-New Zealand all-rounder, Daniel Vettori.

In my opinion the finest finger-spinner outside of Asia in the past twenty years, Vettori has, like Wright, earned his reputation in the IPL and is currently coaching Brisbane Heat in the Australian Big Bash.

It is a sound appointment and makes a lot of sense, but it is pleasing to see that Derbyshire are trail-blazers. I'm old enough to think back to the 1960s, when every county bar us and Yorkshire were going down the overseas route and bringing the finest players in the world to the county game. We didn't go down that path until 1970, an expressed desire to field a team ideally from within the county borders laudable, though not especially successful. It was fine for Yorkshire, who had plenty of wonderful cricketers  at the time, but made little sense for Derbyshire, other than the fact that we hadn't really got the finance to attract a Sobers, Kanhai, Procter or Richards.

Whatever else Kim Barnett has managed this winter, in his new role of Director of Cricket, he has given supporters grounds for optimism that there is a brighter future ahead. As he oversaw a period in which playing Derbyshire presented a challenge, perhaps he will now ensure, from off the pitch, a period where we again become a force to be reckoned with.

Maybe our bringing in Kolpaks will not meet with universal approval. There will be those who see a team of home products as the preferred option, but the reality is that our academy structure, although bearing fruit, is still waiting for most of it to ripen. While it may do so in time, perhaps it can be accelerated with the new path we have taken. Perhaps, we might see a crop of young seam bowlers, as talented as we have had for a number of years, progress with the influence of Tony Palladino and Hardus Viljoen. By the same token, a four-year contract was given to Matt Critchley because of obvious potential that has seen him work with Shane Warne and doubtless play alongside Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir.

We might yet see another, and my remaining concern for next summer is the inexperience in batting if we get an injury to Wayne Madsen or Billy Godleman and Gary Wilson is away with Ireland. Perhaps one of the young batsmen might fill the breach, but if they don't...

It is a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Neil Broom was supposed to be that batsman, but ended his one season with a mid-twenties average we could have got from a local lad. Then again, so did Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan, players from who you would expect much better.

Yet for me, getting the right man in the middle order is now key. We appear to have sorted the bowling - let's now get the final piece of the jigsaw in place.

So ends my three thousandth post on this blog and another year that has set fresh records in terms of readership and visits. Thanks to all of you for your continued support and interest.

Have a fantastic Christmas - I will see you all on the other side, before the New Year!

Assuming AB de Villiers doesn't take up a Kolpak offer between times...