Saturday, 10 December 2016

Viljoen signing icing on the cake for Derbyshire

One thing came through loud and clear to me in Kim Barnett's interview following the signing of Hardus Viljoen.

That Will Davis is now in poll position to open the bowling with him.

Rightly so, because Davis did little wrong last year, running in hard, taking wickets and proving a handful to more than a few batsmen. At 20 he is an exciting talent and, as Matt Critchley will benefit from playing alongside Imran Tahir, so will Davis benefit from learning alongside a fellow fast bowler who has gone through the stage he is at right now.

Having Viljoen and Tony Palladino as mentors can only improve Davis, as it can Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton, Tom Milnes and Greg Cork. They have all encountered spells where their bodies have not been up to sustained spells of seam bowling and Viljoen has been there too. A quick Google search shows how he learned that eating the right things and preparing properly were keys to his development.

The fact that he is built like a tank is no bad thing either. Watching him run in towards you must make batsmen think of easier ways to earn a living and I'm reminded of the great Bill Shankly's quip on signing the huge Ron Yeats for his problem centre-half position.

'Come and take a walk around our new centre-half' said Shankly to the gathered media, confirming him as the colossus that proved a team catalyst.

So too could Viljoen be for Derbyshire. As long as he stays fit through a long and arduous county season, the county has a worthy successor to Mark Footitt for the next three summers at least. In that time he can only get better, as experience has shown him how to handle a range of wickets and he should enjoy early season tracks here in particular, if not the cold...

On a quick wicket he will be a handful, yet I watched him last weekend on a slow one for his franchise side and he was too much for a few of them. He bowled fast and full, yet the threat of the short ball was always there and the one he bowled had the batsman in trouble. He showed his intelligence in not overdoing it, aware that keeping the ball up was largely the way to success on such a track.

Of course, like all fast bowlers he will have days when the rhythm isn't right, the line is wayward and the ball gets hit. Every bowler has such days, such as batsmen have ones where they feel everything in the middle and others where the edges and toe are in use.

Last year, Derbyshire struggled to bowl sides out with an inexperienced attack. This summer, they will all have an extra year's experience and Billy Godleman can look around and throw the ball to either of two world-class performers when he needs a wicket.

Exciting times and you have to say a fantastic winter, so far.

Viljoen, Tahir, Mendis, Reece, Wilson - half a side in new players and all of them very good indeed.

With a little luck, I expect a much-improved Derbyshire side in 2017 across all formats. How about this for a notional season opener?

Godleman
Slater
Hughes/Reece/Wood/McDonnell
Madsen
Broom
Thakor
Wilson
Mendis
Palladino
Viljoen
Davis

Lots of question marks though! Who will bat three? Might Harvey Hosein or Gary Wilson play as a batting specialist? Will Milnes, Cotton, Taylor or Cork get the nod as third seamer? Where will Jeevan Mendis bat?

What do you think?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Mal Loye is new county Development Coach

The final piece of Derbyshire County Cricket Club's coaching jigsaw fell into place today, with the announcement of Mal Loye, the former England, Lancashire and Northamptonshire batsman, as Development Coach.

Loye comes with high credentials, having previously worked as performance director for Bangladesh, as well as a stint as batting coach of Natal.  His role is crucial to the club's continued development and I am sure that everyone wishes him well.

While the club has impressed with the quality of its winter recruits, it is in the long-term production of young players with the requisite talent where we will stand or fall. A balancing act, with signings of the right skill set and attitude coupled with home-grown talent is the way forward.

Loye's appointment could assume even greater importance in the seasons ahead.

Recruits largely sorted by Christmas.

Coaches in place.

Can't fault it, so far.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Viljoen signing a stunning coup by county

The signing of South African pace ace Hardus Viljoen is a serious signing and statement of intent by Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Most supporters, understanding that we were in the market for a seam bowler this winter, will have been scouring squad lists of the first-class counties and seeing who might be surplus to requirements around the circuit. I've also seen a few names from the international circuit mentioned, mainly West Indians who announced their international retirement.

Few will have considered Hardus Viljoen, or thought it realistic. A seriously quick bowler with a track record to match, everyone would surely be after him.

This chap is no Nantie Hayward. Nantie had been a good bowler, albeit erratic, in his prime but didn't show all that much in a short spell with Derbyshire. Viljoen is 27, in his pomp, a 90-mile an hour plus fast bowler who is desperately unlucky to be coming to his prime at the same time as several other bowlers. South Africa's quota system has claimed another victim, but their loss is very likely to be Derbyshire's gain.

The strapping Viljoen is a genuine fast bowler. He is a spearhead for any attack, bowling at Mark Footitt pace. 367 first-class wickets at 26 tells of his quality and a solitary Test match, in which he took the wicket of Alistair Cook first ball, is scant reward for a man of his talent.

This is a bowler who has 22 five-wickets hauls. Last year, playing only the last four championship games for Kent as a substitute overseas player, he took 20 wickets at 19 runs each. He gets them out and bowls economically in the one-day game as well, the bottom line being that no one likes facing a bowler who consistently tests both their reactions and bravery.

He can bat too, with half a dozen fifties to his name, one of them as night watchman for Kent last summer. Derbyshire will hope he doesn't have to do too much of that, but he will be a useful asset down the order.

It is a terrific acquisition by the county, one that will be enjoyed by the other seamers too, who can learn from him. As we have found down the years with the likes of Les Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Michael Holding and Mark Footitt, fast and hostile bowlers often produce wickets at the other end, as batsmen take a chance. What is telling about Viljoen is that a lot of his wickets are bowled and leg before, testimony to his accuracy. He'll keep the wicket-keeper and slips in business too. Keep an eye on him over the winter and notice how many times he whips out one or two top order batsmen and then comes back to blow away the tail.

It is a throwback to the halcyon days when, if Bill Copson could get early wickets, Tommy Mitchell would handle the middle order and they would take out the tail together.

If Derbyshire had 'only' picked up Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir, two spinners of genuine quality, this winter, opponents will have been tempted to bat first and avoid a ball fizzing around on the final day.

Now? They will have to choose between fending off a couple of quicks on the first morning, or a world-class spinner on the last afternoon. Decisions, decisions...

This will have opened a few eyes around the country, without a doubt. Am I bothered that we have gone down the Kolpak route? Not at all, because we have signed a player of quality, not just a bloke with a passport that allows him to play here, barely better than what we already have.

What I want to see, like most of you, is a winning Derbyshire side. This winter's additions should, with luck with fitness, help us to go some way towards that.

Kim Barnett promised players who would have specific skills that would enhance what we already have. Well, we now have a genuine strike bowler, one who I reckon will be the fastest bowler in the division by some distance.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Hardus. We cannot wait to see your bowling at close quarters.

Not TOO close though...





PS Here's a video to whet your appetite - a match-winning spell for the Lions in South Africa...

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sunday round up

There is no better way to start today's piece than in congratulating Wayne and Kyla Madsen on the birth of their baby girl, Tanna Jade.

With a new contract, a baby girl and a testimonial, it has been a hectic and exciting few months for the club captain and his family and I am sure you will all be equally pleased about the exciting news.

Congratulations to you both!

Back to cricket matters, it was good to see Tom Taylor back in the bowling drills under the watchful eye of Tony Palladino this week. Tom is a fine cricketer and his return to full fitness would be a big asset to Billy Godleman and Steve Stubbings. With Ben Cotton, Will Davis and Greg Cork, he makes up a talented, home-reared quartet and the likelihood is that a couple of these, at least, will progress to become established county cricketers. Further progress depends on a range of factors, but their talent is undeniable.

We will have few complaints if they get to the standard of Palladino, a very reliable county cricketer with over 300 first-class victims. With Tom Milnes in support and the all-round trio of Luis Reece, Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes to back them up, we only need the  promised strike bowler to be confirmed to have some reasons to be cheerful, ahead of 2017.

Finally today, I watched a very good T20 game today between the Lions and Warriors in South Africa, in which the former came out on top by six runs. It was played on the sort of wicket I expect at Derby this year, with the ball turning, but the wicket too slow for easy stroke play.

The Lions prevailed despite some fairly average ground fielding and because of a match-changing spell of leg-spin by Eddie Leie, which rather highlighted the value of such bowlers in one-day cricket.

Colin Ackermann, recently signed by Leicestershire for next season, looked a useful one-day bowling option but failed with the bat. The best two players on display were Colin Ingram, who batted beautifully before rather giving it away and Hardus Viljoen, who bowled a fast and full spell of 3-16 that topped and tailed the innings quite beautifully. International bowlers Dwaine Pretorius and Aaron Phangiso both took some serious 'tap' and looked off the pace, to me, the latter the only spinner who got hit all day.

I was a little bemused by the commentary, however. With eight needed to win off three balls, viewers were informed that 'only two boundaries will do now'.

Er..or a six and two singles, a four and two twos, a four, three and one, two threes and a two...

More from me soon.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Eleven reasons to buy my book this Christmas...

A rare day off today, so I thought I would thank those lovely people at Pitch Publishing, who agreed to publish 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation' this summer, with a short piece ahead of the Christmas rush.

So why buy my book (if you haven't already)?

1 It is a book about the county that we all support and the wonderful characters who have represented it since the Second World War.

2 It features the only recorded interview with Walter Goodyear, now two months short of his hundredth birthday and with a vivid recall of Derbyshire personalities from the mid-1930s onwards. The recollections of all the participants were wonderful, but to be linked by one man with nineteenth century cricket is a thrill that remains with me. You'll need to read it to understand that one.

3 There are thousands of county runs and wickets among the participants. From the journeyman professional to the international stars, I tried to get a representative selection of players across the county landscape and am thrilled with their contributions. I hope it brings back a lot of memories.

4 It unearthed a lot of new, previously unrecorded stories about the county cricket scene over a seventy-year period. It was what I set out to do and the participants all delivered handsomely. They offered me wonderful source material and I hope I did them all justice.

5 It gives an insight into the way the game changed over seventy years, from catching trains and buses to matches, through to Brian Lara carrying his mobile onto the pitch for business calls. Sponsored cars were not an option in the 1950s. A scooter or affording one of your own was the escape from public transport around the country.

6 In festive Dickensian fashion, it features coaches of Christmas past (Edwin Smith, Graeme Welch) present (John Wright) and possible future (Wayne Madsen). If you want to find out just how much Derbyshire and its cricket means to them all, it is all in the one place. If you want to find out John Wright's coaching ethos, it is there for you.

7 It is less than fifteen pounds on Amazon. Or from me, though I have to charge postage. I will sign it for you, though, or inscribe it as a gift for someone you love. The choice is yours.

8 It has been blessed by universally excellent reviews. See, as a sample:

http://deepextracover.com/2016/07/book-review-in-their-own-words-by-steve-dolman/

 http://www.cricketweb.net/books/in-their-own-words/

9  It will remind you of the fantastic players we have had over the years. Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Bob Taylor, Geoff Miller, Devon Malcolm, Wayne Madsen - there are nineteen interviews in all and you can read them in bite-sized chunks before bedtime.

10 It will while away those cold, dark months ahead before we all gather around the boundary edge once more. Or over our Twitter feeds, radios or Cricinfo, depending on personal circumstances.

11 It features a foreword by club captain Wayne Madsen, who was incredibly generous with his time and comments. Wayne is a true great of the club and it was an honour to have him on board.

Thank you to all those who have so far bought the book, I am grateful to you all. For those who are interested, please search for the book on Amazon or Waterstones websites, ask at your local bookshop or get in touch to the usual email address, peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

If it sells in sufficient quantities, volume two could be an option down the line.

There's a few people I would love to include in that one!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Stubbings return makes sense for Derbyshire

It struck me today, when my Twitter feed told me the news, that the two coaches thus far appointed by Derbyshire to their new structure would make up a pretty handy opening partnership.

Certainly John Wright and Steve Stubbings, announced as first team support coach today, would sell their wickets dearly in the club cause and if the current incumbents do as well next year we will have plenty to cheer.

There is a pattern emerging here...ex-opening batsman Kim Barnett as cricket supremo, John Wright, Steve Stubbings...what price the Development Coach being a former opening batsman, when the news is released?

I don't care too much, like most of you, as long as they do the job that we hope for.

Steve Stubbings was a very dependable opening batsman and is still young enough to be playing the first-class game. Instead, he has gained his Level 4 coaching badge and held a range of coaching roles since leaving Derbyshire as a player in 2009.

He was Second XI coach for a while and most recently was batting coach at Northamptonshire, who, let's not forget, were T20 champions this summer. It is a good time for him to return home - which Derbyshire most assuredly is, even for a man whose accent still gives away his years in Australia for education.

Welcome back Steve. It is another piece of the jigsaw complete and a sound appointment by the club. He will be an excellent foil and sounding board for Billy Godleman and will be appreciated by supporters as a man with a ready smile and willingness to chat.

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

Postscript: early warning for you that I will be out of action for around a week from December 7. Should anything of major importance occur, my offspring have offered to type for me, while I recover from another operation to my hand. There will otherwise be scheduled 'down' time, as they say in computer circles.

One or two things planned before then, but that is sure to be the time when we announce Dale Steyn on a Kolpak deal...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

AJ Harris leaves as county start afresh

So now we know that Derbyshire will start next summer with a completely new coaching set up, with the news that AJ Harris has left the club to 'pursue other opportunities'.

He did a good job, but there was a strong feeling that the new broom of Kim Barnett was going to sweep clean and that the post holders in the new structure would be new men.

So it has transpired and one assumes that the announcement of the new roles may well come this week.

One to keep an eye on, for sure.

The fixtures duly came out yesterday and the season now takes place in largely-defined 'chunks'. If you want to watch 50-over cricket, you'll be doing so in your warmer clothes, as the group stage is done by the end of May. Meanwhile, July and early August is almost wholly given over to T20, with no four-day cricket between July 6 and August 6.

I will be working out when I can make matches over the coming weekend, but the championship season seems odd, with no away trips to Leicestershire and Worcestershire and no home games against Gloucestershire and Sussex. Little in the way of out grounds too, alas, unless the T20 against Lancashire is played at Blackpool, which appears a possibility.

I do hope to make part of the Chesterfield Festival this year, something I have planned for a year or two, while the rest will be when the cricket being played justifies the long trip, unless it is combined with a break to see family.

Time to work that out though, with 131 sleeps to go before the first action.

I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fixtures out tomorrow!

My boss will be pleased on Friday.

She has been asking me to get some holidays in for next year for a few weeks, but I've been holding off booking the majority as I want to tie into some cricket. No surprise there eh?

So when I see when and where the games are, I can plan my days away accordingly. There's a few things I hope to do to celebrate fifty years as a Derbyshire fan and an early season game, to have a look at our new recruits is high on the list. I'd love to pull in the Chesterfield Festival too, at least for some of the game - always assuming we get a game on in 2017.

The announcement always makes you feel the season is approaching, albeit not as quickly as we would like. At least the thought of some balmy (as opposed to barmy) days in the sun takes the edge of the penetrating cold right now. I just took the dog out looking like I was setting out to emulate Captain Scott...

There's little else happening on the cricket front. England will undoubtedly struggle to handle India from here on, especially with Kohli finding his best form and our batsmen showing an alarming tendency to collapse like a pack of cards. We need batsmen other than Joe Root to score heavily to go into the next Test anything other than two down.

Meanwhile in Australia, the home side has picked a very young squad to try to halt a losing streak against South Africa, but I fancy the visitors to take a third victory after the most ludicrous ball-tampering case in my memory.

I'm not sure how you can prevent people from eating sweets or gum and I'm unsure how much difference the application of mildly sugared saliva makes to a ball, compared to ordinary saliva or sweat. Or for that matter vaseline, which has been used in the past, along with myriad other things, both innocent and dubious.

Expect the Saffers to come out with guns blazing, in support of their captain, a good man.

Great game cricket, but a lot of silly devils are in charge of it at times.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Spin frailties offer county hope

If, like me, you have watched England's batsmen combating spin on their winter tours of Bangladesh and India, you will share my optimism for the English summer of 2017.

They're not very good, are they? The side's batting reminds me of the little girl with the curl in Henry Longfellow's poem - when they are good, they are very, very good but when they are bad they are horrid.

Sure, three players made centuries in the first Test, but that was on a wicket where batsmen of international class really should have cashed in. Here, where the track is more conducive to spin, most of the batsmen have looked ill at ease against the Indian spinners.

My friend, Ranjith and I discussed the game yesterday in a break from lunch. He is from southern India, 'Venkat territory', as he puts it and is himself a talented leg-spin bowler.

'I've been on that ground a few times', he told me, 'and sometimes the cracks in the wicket are visible from the boundary'. It doesn't augur well for a fourth innings, when you are already two hundred behind after the second.

The conversation switched to Derbyshire and I told him of our signings of Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis. His eyes lit up, as talk of such players will do, to one of the 'brethren'.

'They will win you matches', he said. It turns out that Ranjith is a big fan of Jeevan Mendis from his IPL days and rates him highly as a bowler and batsman.

I've seen less of him than Tahir, but his record suggests he has something different to offer and, with no one on the circuit having played him, the novelty value in itself may be considerable. As I have said before, if we get the wickets right, the impact of two high-quality spinners will be considerable.

So will that strike bowler, whenever announced. Do you stick or twist, bat on a seaming first day or on a turning last? If we are getting a man of a similar calibre to the previous winter signings, it will be well worth the wait and might see sides wondering how to combat a revitalised Derbyshire.

There's been a lot of talk on the Harvey Hosein/Gary Wilson battle behind the timbers in the last few weeks. We are lucky to have two such players on the staff and both are capable of playing as a batsman only, but as the newly-appointed vice-captain, I expect Wilson to start in the role. Yet when you think about it, there are only (for me) three players who are automatic picks, assuming fitness - Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Shiv Thakor.

The rest, winter overseas imports aside, will have to prove their right to a place in the starting eleven. Such competition can only be healthy from a team perspective and is a sign that we are starting to climb from a season that will be seen as 'ground zero'.

Two final things before I close. It is good to see John Sadler get straight back into the game with the second team coaching role at Leicestershire. I think their young batsmen will thrive with his genial approach and I wish one of the nicest men in the game the very best of luck.

Finally, over in the Caribbean, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is still doing what comes naturally for Guyana.

Now 42, Shiv has started the season with scores of 91 and 81 not out, the first winning a game for his side, while the second took them to a competitive total. Like old man river, Shiv just keeps rolling along  and his work ethic and willingness to occupy the crease is an object lesson to many a young batsman.

More from me soon!

Postscript: 'ball tampering' after sucking a sweetie? What is going on with such daft accusations in Australia? If a player is found to be roughing up the ball with something in his pocket, or lifting the seam, I get it.

Yet obtaining reverse swing by sucking a sweet? Are we going to have end of over tests on the man bowling the next, to ensure there's nothing on their saliva to help them? If we are now telling players they can't suck a sweet or chew gum, we may as well pack the game up as a bad job.

Batsmen have got way too much in their favour in the modern game, not least bats that are more like flat pack wardrobes than their earlier equivalents and much shorter boundaries. When did you last see an all-run five?

If the Australian media think that their erstwhile greats never got a ball to swing after a few vigorous chomps on a stick of Juicy Fruit, they are deluding themselves and insulting the intelligence of those who watch the game.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Wilson appointment makes eminent sense

There was no real surprise in the appointment of Gary Wilson to the role of Derbyshire vice-captain, which was announced today.

From the time that his signing was announced, there was a strong likelihood that a man who had captained Surrey with common sense and skill in 2014 was likely to be offered such a role. At thirty, he is a time-served professional who will undoubtedly do a good job whether playing as wicket-keeper batsman or as a batting specialist.

Whoever gets the gloves next season, it would appear that we will have someone who offers their fair share of runs from the role. With the form he showed at season-end, Harvey Hosein will push Wilson all the way and that can only be of benefit to the side.

A contributing player at number seven will be perfect for us, someone who can nurse the tail to a decent total on occasion, while perhaps launching a final assault if the earlier batting goes well.

I wish Gary well, as I am sure that you do.

Speaking of well, there's nothing healthy about the Australian cricket side at present. They were once again hammered by South Africa last night, their last eight wickets going down in the blink of an eye.

There appears little desire to fight and a fairly poor technique among some of the Australian players and their batting appears to stop at number four. Indeed, take away Dave Warner and Steven Smith and their batting has astonishing frailties, the likes of which I have never seen, to be honest.

Are the South Africans THAT good? They are without the increasingly injury-prone Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is returning from injury, but Vernon Philander is a wily seamer and Kagiso Rabada will likely be the best fast bowler in world cricket in the next two or three years. Their match-winner in Hobart was Kyle Abbott, a man who has spent several summers in this country at different counties, yet it is only a few short months since he was hit for 57 in less than four overs by us in the T20.

It's a funny game cricket, but I think that an exciting crop of emerging players will make South Africa, with England and India one of the the top sides in the next few years.

More from me later in the week.