Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Season review - the one day game

It is easy to forget, after the limp ending to a difficult season, that there was a point in it when Derbyshire sat top of the RLODC at the halfway stage. We were also in contention to progress from the T20 group stage to the knockout, something that has attained a nigh-mythical status in Derbyshire circles, right up to the last match.

Indeed, in the T20's opener we came close to beating the eventual winners, Northamptonshire, in a match that set a tone for the competition - whenever there was a close finish, we were on the wrong end of it. Twice we lost to Yorkshire, another side that made finals day, by one run, one of those occasions being when they had their England men in attendance.

Our worst was reserved for local rivals. Having effectively and professionally disposed of Leicestershire at Derby, there was a wretched return game where we never showed up, while a point from a rained-off game at Trent Bridge was shown as fortuitous when we were hammered in the return.

That the side was capable of good cricket is beyond dispute. In disappointing summers, the best of Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford was seen in the one-day game, although they flopped in the pressure matches when you really need your overseas professionals to perform. Jimmy Neesham performed better than his compatriots, producing some useful displays without crossing the line into 'brilliance' that distinguishes the standout performers from the rest.

Matt Critchley bowled spells of precocious talent and Alex Hughes was generally tidy, but the omission of Ben Cotton, so successful in the previous year, for a few matches was a puzzle. Shiv Thakor was the 'go to' bowler and generally delivered, while Wayne Madsen, unsurprisingly, was top of the batting averages with some important knocks.

The 'Wes and Ches' combo rarely came off this year, Rutherford generally preferred for opening the batting and it was a tough summer for Wes Durston. He appeared to opt for a pinch hitting role that saw only one fifty in the summer and while a side injury ruled him out of a few games, he under-bowled himself at times. This was most evident in the RLODC game at Warsop, when he bowled only five overs while others of less experience were going around the ground.

In the RLODC we started well, with a stunning win at Worcester when chasing nearly 300, followed by a professional chase of a lesser total against Durham. Points from rain-offs against Yorkshire and Warwickshire were fortuitous, but we threw away a winning position that should have been a stroll against Lancashire and were thrashed by Northamptonshire. We didn't win another match from the halfway stage and the introduction of Dominic Cork as an 'advisor' in the dressing room.

Coincidence or not, like the summer it fizzled out. Ben Slater is worthy of mention for some sparkling RLODC displays, in a summer where he looked a million dollars on occasions and formed a good opening pair with Billy Godleman, who played some good hands. The batting was generally OK, but we lacked the 'oomph' to take games away from teams, posting competitive rather than intimidating totals.

We need more. It is unrealistic, perhaps, to see Derbyshire as trophy winners in the immediate future, but if Northamptonshire can do it, why can't our side, if it produces performances where eleven men play a part?

For improvement, much will depend on winter acquisitions, further progress from young players of talent and reducing errors in the field. I'd like to see Alex Hughes, an effervescent cricketer who did well in the role as a stopgap, as one-day skipper next year, unless we can attract someone from elsewhere for who the captaincy is a deal-maker.

Much to do then, and while supporters will sit in front of their fires and think back to one or two days in the sun, further progress in one-day cricket, especially from a tough T20 group that produced all four finals day sides, is going to take some doing.

Still, we dream.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Fantasy League final placings

Warm congratulations to David Aust, who once again came out on top in the Peakfan Blog Fantasy Cricket League.

It was less of a runaway success than last year, just 500 points separating David from Dean Doherty, whose teams came in both second and third  with only 400 points between them.

Paul Kirk came fourth and Chris Hallam fifth and Martin Halls was sixth.

At the other end of the table, yours truly was third bottom, probably the result of not looking at it from the middle of June and still having plenty of subs come season end.

Finally, Jamie Holmes came second bottom, while Paul Walters 'did a Derbyshire' and came in last place.

Thanks to all of you for taking part and I hope it gave you a little fun through the summer.

David takes the medals for overall winner and winner of the wickets league, while Chris Hallam is the winner of the runs league.

If both of you can drop me a note of your addresses I will get them to you in the next few days, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph.

Final thoughts (for now) on the coaching role

There has been some good, healthy discussion on the coaching roles at the club over recent days. Thank you all for your well-expressed comments.

To my knowledge, no structure has yet been announced. Whether, for example, it includes a role for Kim Barnett to oversee the cricket side is a fair question. After all, he has reported to the board on the state of the playing side, suggesting a remit, temporary or otherwise, on that side of club affairs. I am not aware of the club president doing that before, though of course precedent is not something of which I am a devout fan.

The point I tried to make yesterday was that whoever looks after the coaching, be it John Sadler or anyone else, is likely to have blemishes on their CV, unless they take on the role as a first coaching post. Peter Moores, a very good coach who has gone to Nottinghamshire, has known the sack, as has Chris Adams. There is a lot to appeal in Adams, but there are those who felt he struggled with the Surrey role, where he was eventually sacked. It should not rule him out of consideration for the Derbyshire role, should he be interested, any more than taking on a listing ship, mid-season, where there were obvious things going on in the background, should preclude Sadler. Both men doubtless learned a great deal from their respective experiences.

Dave Houghton was a good man and coach. Then again, so were John Morris, Graeme Welch, Karl Krikken and Adrian Pierson. Gone are the days when a coach could remain in charge for twenty years, like Denis Smith did, when supporters and administrators alike are hungry and impatient for success and intolerant of failure, perceived or real.

Our big mistake, in my opinion, came last winter when we failed to strengthen properly. In putting faith in young seam bowling talent, Graeme Welch, a good man and excellent coach, perhaps expected a faster development of them all. It didn't happen and the one experienced seamer recruited, Andy Carter, just didn't work out.

It was similar to 1970, as Edwin Smith explained in my latest book. Had Derbyshire recruited then, having had a good season, they could have pushed on and perhaps become a really good side. Instead, players retired very quickly afterwards and we were left with too many youngsters who struggled at county level.

To a great extent I don't care who is to be the next Derbyshire coach, because I have no idea over who is available and who would be interested in the role. All I care about is that he has both the coaching and man management requirements for the role, because few have both of those attributes in equal measure.

It is like management in any other walk of life. There are those who are intimate with processes who will handle that side of the job, but lack the people skills which are so important. There are times someone needs an arm around the shoulder and times they need a firm word. Knowing who responds to what is half the battle and picking the right time and place to do both will generally separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whether from inside or outside the club, a big name or otherwise, all that really matters is that the successful candidate brings coaching and people skills to the table, together with a book of contacts that make all walks of life a lot easier.

The sooner we get someone, the better for all of us.

Season review : the County Championship

When Derbyshire took to the field for the season opener, back in April, there were six players in the side who look unlikely to be around in 2017.

Making such an assertion may appear presumptuous, but Andy Carter left mid-season, having failed to show the form that suggested he could be a leader of the attack, while Luke Fletcher's loan period was memorable only for being unmemorable. Hamish Rutherford had a hugely disappointing summer, while Tom Poynton had to retire midway through with a recurrence of the injury that had so sadly interrupted his career.

Meanwhile Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes have vanished without a trace in recent weeks and we now know that the latter will not be around in 2017. It made for a difficult summer in the four-day game, when the attack's crippling lack of experience left them exposed, on good early summer wickets, to batsmen who were happy to drink at the well, with conditions heavily weighted in their favour. 

Only the evergreen Tony Palladino exceeded thirty wickets, although both Will Davis and Ben Cotton produced displays that hinted of progress and potential. Both need to develop greater consistency, although time is very much on their side. Late in the season Tom Milnes produced displays with bat and ball that suggested he could also develop into a useful cricketer, given opportunity.

Tom Taylor missed most of the season with a stress fracture, while Greg Cork only got a game in the final fixture, which put additional pressure on the excellent Shiv Thakor. He had a splendid season with bat and ball, until his workload possibly caused a back injury that ruled him out of the closing weeks.

Alex Hughes was another who was largely ignored until the last few matches, when opportunity gave him the chance to bat three. He did a good job, registering a career-best century and staking a claim for the role next year, although his bowling may be of greater use in the one-day game, moving forward.

The side cried out as much for a quality spinner as it did for a strike seamer, Mark Footitt being sorely missed. Matt Critchley bowled beautifully in the one-day game, but struggled to take wickets in the longer format, while Callum Parkinson showed potential in a handful of outings but opted to take up a contract with Leicestershire for 2017. With Tom Knight's promising career ruined, at least for now, with too much tinkering and Wes Durston only playing one-day cricket latterly, the club has to address a major weakness over the winter.

In a summer where new regulations over the toss gave the visiting side the option to bowl before one took place, batsmen were always likely to prosper - and did. Seven players ended with an average in excess of forty, the star once again being Wayne Madsen. He started with a century in the first match and maintained form throughout the summer, ending with an average in the top fifties and underlining once more how important he is to the side. His player of the year award was both fully deserved and a racing certainty.

Skipper Billy Godleman enjoyed a solid summer too, just missing out on a thousand runs despite missing early matches with a hand injury. Madsen and Godleman will be key players in the Derbyshire side going forward. Ben Slater struggled for a starting role initially, but let no one down when he did and staked a strong claim as an established player for next year.

Meanwhile, Chesney Hughes started well, suffered a lean patch and then was omitted from the side without explanation, when in sight of a thousand runs. His announced departure is disappointing, but the club must now move forward without a player in whose development a lot of time has been invested.

Shiv Thakor emerged from a difficult 2015 to enjoy a prolific summer, looking stylish and fluent whenever he batted. The club has high hopes of the player, as do I, with international aspirations not at all unrealistic.

Sadly, two players of international reputation, Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom, failed, each averaging only in the mid-twenties. Frustratingly they often got starts, only to give it away. Engaged in crucial overseas roles, neither justified the cost and while Broom has a chance to make amends next year, Rutherford will be remembered as a batsman capable of brilliance, but too fleetingly to prove worthwhile.

Behind the stumps, Tom Poynton started well, before that ankle injury forced his premature retirement from the game. The county will be the poorer - and quieter  - for that, although late in the season Harvey Hosein confirmed his rich potential with bat and ball, playing a succession of composed innings that suggested the role will be in good hands. With Gary Wilson signed from Surrey to push him from next season, it should be one area of the side where we have few concerns.

Bottom of the table tells its own story, Some good cricket was played, but the inexperience of the attack meant that watching Derbyshire was like watching a boxer with an arm tied behind his back, However many runs we scored, the opposition were always likely to score many more. It made for a depressing summer, saved only by some improved performances in the one-day game (review to follow).

John Sadler took over mid-season and did well through a difficult summer. He remains a good coach and engaging man but it is anyone's guess as to who is in charge next year. Graeme Welch took over at a difficult time and gave a good grounding to a young squad. The person confirmed in the role, whether Sadler or anyone else, has to infuse youth of some talent with quality, contributing experience. Far too many seniors, for one reason or another, didn't do that this year.

While the batting, perhaps with the addition of a couple of young players for competition, will hold its own another year, an experienced seam bowler and spinner, bowling to their reputation, are the minimum requirements for an improvement in 2017.

The young players will continue to improve and while some will 'top out', there is enough talent emerging to justify longer term optimism.

Finding that right blend will decide whether that is justified.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Chesney Hughes leaves

Half an hour after my last post, the news breaks that Chesney Hughes has, indeed, left Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

It is disappointing, as the departure of a player who has given good service always is, but to be honest I had been expecting this for the past few weeks, like most of you and the announcement at least draws an end to a process that hasn't been 'clean' from any perspective.

That the club has been unable to agree terms with Chesney suggests that the demands from the player or his agent, in one way or another, had been unrealistic. At the end of the day, the club has a salary structure that has to be adhered to.

Chesney had his best summer this year, averaging over fifty in the first-class game, but whatever he was wanting, either in salary or in conditions of contract, the club was not prepared to meet. That is their prerogative and they have made the decision based on information that only they know.

That he was wonderful to watch on the good days is undeniable. That he was frustrating on the bad ones is too, the feet not moving and the same mistakes being made this summer that were when he first emerged on the county scene.

The bottom line for me is that Gary Wilson, the one player signed at this stage, has a better first-class average in all formats than Chesney and offers more from a team balance perspective than he did. There was a time when the big Anguillan's slow left arm suggested itself as a potent option, but more recently he has turned his arm over only slightly more often than me.

Difficult situations - and no one can deny that we are not in that - require difficult decisions. If this situation was affecting the mood within the club and causing discord (which it may or may not have been) then the parting of the ways is for the best. The only way that we can move forward as a club is if everyone in it is pulling in the same direction.

No player is bigger than his club and if this leads to improvement for Derbyshire and the furtherance of Chesney Hughes' career then it is very much for the best.

We will always remember the days when Chesney bludgeoned opposition attacks, while his marathon 270 against Yorkshire has left him indelibly stamped in the club record books.

I wish him well in his career and thank him for the entertainment he provided.

As for Derbyshire, the rebuilding has begun and I can't find fault with decisive action.

Coaching situation needs sorted - and quickly

The end of the season is always time for reflection and this year certainly has plenty for Derbyshire's board to look at.

A summer that started, if not with confidence  of improved fortunes then with at least optimism of it, dissipated way too quickly for most tastes. Within a couple of games of the season starting, it became obvious that our attack would struggle to bowl teams out in a four-day match, especially on wickets that were far too heavily weighted in favour of batsmen. The loss of Mark Footitt to Surrey hit us hard and, with no spinner of genuine quality and experience to call on, our sessions in the field became exercises in containment and damage limitation.

I remain convinced that we have some seam bowlers of talent at the club. Ben Cotton, Will Davis and Tom Milnes showed enough in short, sporadic bursts to suggest they could take wickets at this level, while Tom Taylor should come again, once his issue with a stress fracture in his back is sorted. Matt Critchley likewise could become a spinner of ability, but is probably several seasons from being one who will bowl sides out on a wearing pitch.

They all need time to develop the requisite skills and for their physiques to fully develop, before they can be considered even solid county performers, however. It is imperative for Derbyshire, even if we are to consider moving off the bottom of the table next year, let alone further improvement, to bring in a strike bowler of experience, together with a spinner with expectations of taking wickets. Any other signings would be a bonus and a seam bowling all rounder wouldn't go amiss either, but I have no idea of the resources available.

While factoring in close season development of young players, the reality is that the only Derbyshire players, at this stage, who could be said to be definite four-day side players for next summer right now are Slater, Godleman, Madsen, Hosein, Wilson, Thakor and Palladino. Alex Hughes could well be another, but for me there are four places 'up for grabs', with most of the bowling roles among them. As Tony Palladino's new contract includes a coaching remit, perhaps the plan is to play him on a 'horses for courses' basis and keep fingers crossed that he can pass on his skills to a new generation.

Neil Broom should be another automatic pick, but irrespective of whether he has traveled from New Zealand or not, he has to be picked on merit and form alone, not reputation. I've not included Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston, as the silence in recent weeks has only suggested, rightly or wrongly, that they won't be around either. In prime form you would take them both, but we await news and developments on that score.

Mind you, we have two batsmen/wicket keepers, both of who should be picked in either capacity...

Bringing in the right men will take patience, money and the right coach. Players at this stage, will, I think, be loathe to commit to Derbyshire until they know who they will work with and what the coaching situation really is. Its not been made clear to supporters - we know John Sadler has been nominally in charge, but Dominic Cork was involved for a while and Kim Barnett has had a watching brief. It would be useful to clarify the new structure as soon as possible so that we can get the coach situation resolved and bedded in.

I don't necessarily buy the argument that John Sadler is now associated with failure. Name me a coach in professional sport who has constant success  and has never known failure and he won't have many people for company. Any such role can only be as good as the players you have available, how they perform, what they have going on in the background and what money you have to change things. There will always be those who respond to you, together with others who don't. A bit like teaching, when you think about it.

Until a role is advertised, we won't know who is interested in taking on the Derbyshire challenge, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will have minuses, as well as pluses, on their CV.

Look at Dave Houghton. We had him at Derbyshire, where he had his critics, despite being renowned as an outstanding batting coach. We let him go, and he's now made a great success as batting coach of the county champions, Middlesex. Likewise, Steve Stubbings has done really well as Northamptonshire batting coach, despite not getting real opportunity with us. Graeme Welch is revered as a bowling coach, yet left us mid-season. There's an unattractive pattern emerging there...

I don't think we need the raft of coaches from the last structure but we do need the right man. One who knows the game and builds the kind of team spirit that Karl Krikken did and John Sadler has done. Maybe, in this process, Sadler, a lovely bloke and one who will have learned massively from a huge learning curve this summer, will come out on top. Given a winter to work with players, recruit the right people and develop the right culture, he could be the man for the role. But I'll not second guess the likely applicants, because you can't.

All I hope is that we appoint someone after a robust process, then let them get on with it as they see fit. Whether there is truth in it or not, rumours that X is having a say in matters or Y has got so and so's ear are counter-productive. If a coach has sufficient credibility to be appointed in the first place, give him his head and give him the time that is needed to turn our club around, without interference but with support available on request.

Look at Worcestershire, a good club, very well run and with Steve Rhodes the director of cricket for ten years. Also David Ripley, who has done a great job with Northamptonshire for four years. Both men are respected but needed time to impose themselves. As did Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, who took over at a relegated club and did an extraordinary job from 2011.

For me, judging a Derbyshire coach on trophies is unrealistic. It shouldn't stop us trying for one, as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire have shown what is possible in recent years. Yet if we can get a coach who can produce a steady stream of good county cricketers, playing attractive, aggressive and positive cricket and entertaining the crowds that is a good start. Perhaps the rest will follow.

If you're out there with those credentials, there's a place waiting for you at the 3aaa County Ground.

If you're already there - then I wish you all the luck in the world in taking us on a journey that, let's face it, can really only improve from eighteenth position.

Retirements for two former players

Chris Rogers retired from first-class cricket this week, after an exemplary career in which he became an outstanding county overseas professional for several clubs.

One of those was Derbyshire, of course, where he proved a courteous, likeable and immensely popular player who did what he was paid to do - score runs by the thousand. It was indicative of the strength of Australian cricket at the time that neither he nor Michael Di Venuto, another outstanding player who graced the county scene for a number of years, could force a way into an impressive batting side at national level.

Yet their loss was county cricket's gain and 'Buck' was a wonderful servant to Derbyshire, in a career where he also played for four other counties. He finished his career with Somerset, nearly taking them to a first championship, and ending with a career average of a shade under fifty. He never cracked T20, making only three fifties in the format, but he scored a bucket load of runs in every other version of the game.

International recognition came late and perhaps when he was past his best, but he still averaged 42 and exceeded two thousand runs, confirming what a talent he was.

He can head off into retirement with his head held high and let no one down in the course of a wonderful career.

On a lesser note, Andy Carter also announced his retirement from the first-class game yesterday. His move to Derbyshire this season never worked out and I have to admit being surprised by that. He looked a good bowler, up to and including last season when he had a spell at Glamorgan, but to me seemed to have lost a little nip this year.

His mid-season departure from us came as no real surprise and a few games for Hampshire weren't marked by sustained success.

I wish him well in whatever ventures he has lined up.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 4

Worcestershire 475-7 and 43-1

Derbyshire 248 and 266 (Madsen 100, Hosein 59, Milnes 36)

Worcestershire won by nine wickets

A county championship season that ended in high drama at Lord's, where Middlesex and Yorkshire engineered a last day of both farce and brilliance, ended in a fireworks display that fizzled out like the dampest of squibs at New Road.

Despite a typical innings from Wayne Madsen, who made his sixth century of the season and in doing so entered the Derbyshire cricket pantheon, there was simply not enough support. Harvey Hosein played another fine innings, finishing the season with successive scores of 52 not, 83 not, 58, 108 and 59, but Tom Milnes apart, the rest came and went with far too great a speed. The home side were left with a total that my club side could have handled and defeat came to end a chastening summer.

Madsen can hold his head high, having registered his highest-ever season tally, while Hosein has confirmed that he and Gary Wilson can play in the same side next season. Whichever takes the gloves is largely irrelevant, but both will be among the best batsmen and should take a place as a matter of course.

John Sadler said at the end that the players will have learned a lot from the season, which I am sure they will. They need to have, because they must come back to training later in the year intent on doing better next year and never repeating this experience. Young they are, but they need to improve across the board and be joined by a  clutch of senior players who offer more than some of ours did this year.

We came eighteenth of eighteen counties for a reason - the other seventeen were consistently better than us. The club board needs to sort out the coaching situation and let those currently involved know where they stand as soon as possible, so the rebuilding can commence and players know where they stand when considering joining the cause.

Supporters need that too. There have been enough talking points in recent weeks that really need clearing up so we can move on.

The worst summer in living memory? No, because it was salvaged by some encouraging one-day efforts and I have seen 49 of them now, some of them with not even that to redeem them.

I sincerely hope that my 50th next year is a whole lot better, for everyone's sake.

Season reviews will follow for championship and one-day cricket in the coming days.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 3

Worcestershire 475-7 dec

Derbyshire 248 (Hosein 108, Cork 49)

and 15-1

On the penultimate day of an underwhelming county championship season, Derbyshire delivered one more disappointing batting display that was redeemed only by another wonderful effort from Harvey Hosein.

He not only exceeded his personal best for a second successive game, but went on to register a maiden century, eventually being last man out for an outstanding 108. He was lent good support by Greg Cork, who missed a debut fifty by one run, but apart from that, the Derbyshire innings was a mediocre affair.

When both Tony Palladino and Will Davis went to successive balls, I was worried that Harvey was going to be left high and dry again, especially when he continued to take singles early in the over. Yet Ben Cotton, who was at the crease when Alex Hughes registered his maiden ton in 2015, did the job once more and kept an end going as long as required.

The follow on was enforced and Ben Slater was out before the close.

Tomorrow will be a long and attritional battle to save the game, though the assertion on Cricinfo earlier that 'Derbyshire look likely to go through the season without a win' was somewhat a case of stating the obvious.


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 2

Worcestershire 475-7 (Clarke 194, Leach 107 not, Cotton 3-63)

Derbyshire 15-0

Derbyshire trail by 460 runs

Last night I suggested that Derbyshire needed an early breakthrough this morning. As it turned out, we never got one until the home total had passed 400 and that was all we managed in a tiring and largely fruitless session. It is, indeed, a game that appears to have 'end of season' emblazoned across it.

With two days to go, batting would not appear especially problematic, though there is considerable difference between the experience of the two sides. The ease with which Billy Godleman and Ben Slater began the reply suggested that the ball was coming on to the bat well enough and we must hope that continues into the third day.

Billy needs another 85 runs to reach a thousand in the County Championship, reaching which would be just reward for a steady summer. There's the nucleus of a decent batting side at Derbyshire, which needs augmented elsewhere to become a competitive outfit next summer.

More tomorrow.