Monday, 30 January 2012

Maybe it's a sign I'm getting old, but...

I'm not so keen on the DRS - Decision Review System - or as it might otherwise be known, Decisions Rather Sketchy...

I have no issues in its use for determining whether a catch has been clean and a fielder got his hand under it before it touched the ground. I have none whatsoever in its use in determining whether a run out has been effected. In both cases, I would qualify that by saying that in cases of doubt the benefit should always go to the batsman, however.

What I am increasingly concerned about is its use in deciding on lbw decisions. In the last Test between England and Pakistan there were SIXTEEN lbw dismissals and at least two of them - Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen - were very unfortunate. The ball, according to replays, might just have clipped the top of the bails, at least according to the computer programme, Hawkeye.

But would it? Will a cricket ball, having hit the ground at a certain pace on a wicket, always behave the same? Might it not bounce more, or less on some wickets than others? Swing a little late, lose a little pace, react to the variations in humidity and breeze? I'm not sure how these could all be factored into the likely trajectory of a cricket ball on a specific pitch, rather than being of a generic, one size fits all nature. Even wickets on the same square can behave differently, leaving batsmen increasingly at the mercy of a computer programme, rather than the common sense of an umpire. What this means, of course, is that we are seeing less merit in batsmen leading with their pad, or bat and pad, as we are increasingly seeing them given out under DRS.

Which is why our young stars are currently batting in India without pads on, trusting in their bat and the use of soft hands to combat the spinning ball, rather more than might have been the case a year or two back. It is not a new technique, of course. Thirty years ago, the stylish and brilliant Pakistan batsman Majid Khan  incurred the wrath of his team mates at Glamorgan by saying that footwork was not important against spin, just a good eye, coupled with the correct use of the hands in not "pushing" at the ball. His team mates shouted him down but Majid told them he would go out to the square and show them what he meant on the track where they had just won by some distance.

Facing the not inconsiderable talents of Don Shepherd and Peter Walker, Majid stayed rooted to the crease, yet gave no chance to the close field of team mates around him. He then used the edge of his bat only, to further illustrate that a real batsman needed very little else.

That's fine and dandy when you're as mercurial a talent as Majid, one of the most graceful batsmen of my experience, but I wouldn't recommend no footwork and a bat edge to all but the very best. Yet all batsmen are going to have to address the way they play the turning ball with the increased use of DRS, the greater likelihood of an lbw and the pressure on umpires.

I was not surprised to see Paul Borrington thrived in Pune. You will recall from the Oval last September that Borrington was the one player in two innings who worked out how to play Ojha. Unsurprisingly, it was by using soft hands and his bat, further evidence of a young batsman with an above average technique sprinkled with a modicum of common sense.

With or without cameras present, with six men round a bat constantly appealing, sooner or later a batsman will find his luck run out. At least, in using his bat he might feel less aggrieved in being dismissed legitimately.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

One for the parents

Without fear of contradiction I feel it can be said that Derbyshire currently have the best clutch of young players in their 141 year history. In the late 1920s, the side that became Championship winners emerged but it owed as much to the industrial unrest of the period as anything else. Indeed, the likes of Bill Copson and Tom Mitchell may never have come through but for playing cricket in the enforced downtime during miners' strikes.

At whatever level you care to look, Derbyshire at present have some remarkably talented young players, the result of a lot of hard work by Karl Krikken and Howard Dytham in particular. Yet the success of these youngsters is also down to encouragement and a great deal of support from parents. In most cases it is parents who get them out of bed in the morning, often at early hours for away trips, who find the time to attend matches, buy kit, drive them here, there and everywhere and offer support through the good times and the bad. The latter is especially important, because the bad times will always follow on to the ones when you feel you can't miss a ball or the stumps.

I know this all too well. When I first moved to Scotland over thirty years ago I started cricket at the local secondary school where I worked, armed with a level one coaching badge from the club I played for. From a few practice sessions with first and second years, it soon became evident that I had some impressive raw talent, kids with a good eye for the ball and willing to listen, learn and, crucially, attend practice in winter and summer alike.

Winters were spent in a small gym where we worked on a range of activities. Monday nights, 6pm to 8pm. In summer we moved outdoors, playing with orange "wind balls" which replicated the bounce of a cricket ball (if not the feel of one off the bat) on the blaes pitches at the school. For the uninitiated, blaes is red ash, common in Scotland and we played and practised on one because the school had no grass. All of our fixtures had perforce to be away from home and, in the absence of cricket from the state school curriculum, or at that time a school minibus, we had to travel all over the country to play public schools. These were mainly in Glasgow and the west, though a few were in the east and towards the borders. All of them needed parents who were willing to take a car, an afternoon off work, sometimes a whole day.

The parents of these boys did it, without complaint and without anything in return other than my gratitude and seeing their children perform and interact in different environments. The reward, perhaps five years later, for seven families was when their sons were chosen in a Glasgow state schools select side to play against a Public School XI. Seven boys from one school was an achievement and each boy's parents attended the match, played on a blustery afternoon. The game ended in a draw, two of our boys at the wicket when stumps were drawn, having competed very well against others who had the advantage of "proper" facilities.

It opened their eyes too. By the time we finished we were beating most of these sides. "Do you think we can still win?" said one father after we'd been bowled out for 102 at a top Glasgow school one afternoon. "Their cricket master just told me their opening pair put on 150 against Loretto last week..."

"Not against Neil and John they didn't" I said, confident in the two opening bowlers at our disposal. Two hours later Neil, tall and quick and John, small but with a lovely outswinger, had bowled them out for 46, aided by the spin of brothers Ashley and Darren. Two of the mums were in tears, the rest looked so proud they could have burst at any moment. David's dad never stopped grinning, still recalling the arrow-like throw from deep point that ran out a batsman who didn't want to be on strike, thanks very much.

"He used to throw stones into the water at Helensburgh" he told me. "Couldn't believe how far he could throw it, even when he was ten". Nor could I, which was why he was a deadly weapon in the deep. Not many games passed without a run out. In a school context, David and Alan, his brother, on either side of the wicket was like having Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs in your side.

They didn't all stick at the game when they left school. Four became good club players, one played for Scotland B and two subsequently started teams at their own schools when they took up teaching careers. Neil stopped enjoying it when the club he played for told him to bowl slower and straighter, a tragedy when he was one of the quickest (if sometimes erratic) schoolboy bowlers I have seen. That is life for you, that some manage, through sheer talent or determination, aided by a liberal sprinkling of luck at the right time, to make it. Others don't quite get there but still enjoy the experience along the way.

So it will be with the Derbyshire Academy. It has already produced some talented players and will  produce more in the coming years. With top coaches at the helm and excellent facilities the boys (and girls) have every opportunity to succeed.

Just keep in mind the fact that those parents are pretty important too.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Time for a poll

Now we know our overseas stars for the campaign, I thought it an apposite moment to reintroduce a poll.

Note that this is your thoughts on our CHAMPIONSHIP, four-day campaign at this stage.

I look forward to seeing your votes!

Final thoughts on the Big Bash

All things considered, I really enjoyed the Fox Sports coverage of the Big Bash from Australia.

It was innovative and interesting, with the commentators (Greg Blewett, Brendon Julian, Tom Moody, Mark Waugh and Alan Border) witty, informative and candid. Referring to a dire shot second ball from Owais Shah in the semi-final, Julian said that he "looked like he'd not bothered paying the final instalment on his brain", which was original if not especially complimentary. Aside from the aesthetic merits, I'm not sure of any other in having an attractive blonde approach a batsman who has just been dismissed and  ask "how do you feel?" To their credit, all kept their cool, though Travis Birt looked miffed after a dubious decision had gone against him.

The crowds were excellent and the playing standard good, though on the basis of this competition there's not a great deal of depth to Aussie cricket. The only young player I saw who I would have loved to be a product of our Academy was Mitchell Marsh. A clean striking hitter of the ball, especially through the "V", at 20 Marsh looks an international of the future. His gentle medium pace is useful and his fielding brilliant, while his combative attitude bodes well. In many ways he was a right handed Ross Whiteley and I can see him in their national side before too long, certainly in the A team tour this summer. Nick Maddinson of the Sydney Sixers also looked a left hander of potential, though too easily cramped for room. He had good shots through the off side if he was given room and is another worth watching.

I watched it primarily to see if anyone stood out as a potential target for Derbyshire. I have no more idea of our "game changing" target than the rest of you, but for me the best batsman and bowler on show were Herschelle Gibbs and Brett Lee. Chris Gayle started with a flourish then petered out, but today's finalists essentially got there because of the efforts of those two stars. Their battle was always likely to settle the match and Lee bowled the perfect bouncer first ball that Gibbs middled - straight down the throat of deep square leg. As the tournament's top scorer, Perth's hopes rested on Gibbs, especially when they had some one-paced batsmen in their side, but Lee's removal of Gibbs, followed by the dangerous Luke Ronchi in the first over put the hosts on the back foot. Although the precocious Marsh hammered four straight sixes in his 77, it was not enough to set a demanding target.

Despite bowling two Powerplay overs and the two at the death in every game, Brett Lee only went for 6.48 an over, producing 90mph yorkers at will with an occasional bouncer to keep them on their toes (or backside...) As I texted to a friend this morning, it was like watching Langeveldt with pace, a go-to bowler par excellence. As the star turn in a side with few other names (Steve Smith and veteran Stuart McGill were the only others known in England) Lee set a standard in cricket skills and commitment that dragged others along. His enthusiasm when he dismissed Gibbs today - running to deep square leg who held the catch - belied his age, while his fielding is as good as I have seen from an opening bowler.

A lot of the top players in the world were not at the party, but if money was no object and you offered me one player from the Big Bash at Derbyshire in the T20 next season, Brett Lee would be my unhesitating choice.

Something for the weekend

If any one thing is going to convince you that Derbyshire should have a decent season in 2012 it is the excellent interview by Mark Eklid with Usman Khawaja in today's Derby Telegraph

Khawaja is on a learning curve, accepts that and is prepared for it. His impressive work ethic will stand him in good stead, as will the obvious and pleasing rapport that he has with his team mates. I thoroughly expect him to finish with a better average and aggregate than last year and am confident that Martin Guptill will do the same.

Any prediction regarding the T20 from me will wait until I see who our other acquisition for the tournament is, but at this stage I am confident that we can mount a strong challenge in the Championship and the Pro 40, if:

  • Khawaja and Guptill contribute their expected weight of runs
  • Our strong array of seamers stay fit
  • David Wainwright proves to be a wicket-taking spinner and solid batsman
  • Ross Whiteley returns from Oz a fully-fledged all-rounder
  • Tom Poynton proves a worthy successor to Sutts behind the stumps
  • Wayne Madsen shows himself a bold leader who sets the standards
I think the signs on all fronts are positive and I'm equally impressed by the daily blogs on the club site from the young players in India at present. They're not out there for a jolly (though the team-building aspect of that and the pre-season Barbados trip cannot be ignored) and will return better equipped to play on the turning tracks they will face as the season progresses.

I'm unaware of Ross Whiteley's development as a bowler over the winter, but his batting has continued apace, a powerful century today in Australia for Prospect CC emphasising his great potential. If Whiteley and the rest of a talented bunch of young players return from their winter's work with their techniques honed we will be in the mix.

In closing, I had a look last night at the future tours schedule for the ICC. In 2013 the only nation relatively cricket-free in our summer is New Zealand. Let's hope we can hang on to Martin Guptill folks, because if this summer goes to plan, Usman Khawaja will line up against England in the Ashes.

Have a good weekend!

PS Just watching the Big Bash Final. Brett Lee took two wickets in his first over, including danger man Herschelle Gibbs first ball. Still a joy to watch a bowler of such obvious class....

Thursday, 26 January 2012

And finally tonight

"You know that bloke that Derbyshire have just signed?" said Mrs P tonight as we were doing the dishes.

 "Who? Khawaja?" says I, impressed that she's been listening to my cricket-speak.

 "Yeah, that's him. Every time you mention him I think of that Hank Williams song".

I know Usman is a talented guitarist, but I'd never put him in the same bracket as the late, great Hankster. It dawned on me straight away what song she meant.


If you've never heard it, you can do so on Youtube at:

There's got to be some lyrics written for Usman. That could be his T20 song...

PS Just realised that this is my 1500th post on the blog. How time flies when you're having fun...

Which means what, exactly?

We will have an overseas opener at the start of the season and a number three for the second half then, with Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja again (and thankfully) in harness.

For the T20, I would see Khawaja opening, although there may be merit in keeping him at three and allowing Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes to open and perhaps take better advantage of the Powerplay. Yet I don't want to give the impression that T20 is exclusively about big hitting. The best sides generally have a couple of boundary clearers (Durston and Whiteley come to mind) but at its most basic, an innings comprises 120 balls. If you find the gaps and time it right, there is technically two a ball and few teams score 240 runs...

Last week I said that Peter Kirsten and Dean Jones were the best two all-round batsmen I have seen at Derbyshire. By that I meant that they could play and, irrespective of the match, the wicket or the bowlers, keep the runs ticking over. Jones, especially in one day games, was a master of pacing his shots so there was two each time and a side could easily score 180, often a match-winning score, by such tactics. Wayne Madsen is another skilled in it and my viewings of Khawaja in the Big Bash (where I saw all his innings) suggest that he just needs to do that a little more.

Like Chris Rogers he is not a powerful man, but Derbyshire's tactic should be for Khawaja to be the man around who the innings is built. Where he is often out is in trying to muscle the sixes, an easier thing to do if you're built like Chris Gayle or Andrew Flintoff. For regular-sized blokes it has to be timed really well, but I remember Chris Taylor in his time at Derby, who had a very clever method of chipping the infield and falling short of the outfielders. Two a ball...twelve an over.

I'm not privy to the contractual niceties of Derbyshire players, but it could be that Khawaja had a condition in his that he played T20. He's not an accepted talent at the format, but after thirteen knocks wouldn't be expected to be. Like anything else in life, you only improve by doing things on a regular basis and how nice it would be if he acquired those T20 skills in Derbyshire colours.

I read in the Derby Telegraph earlier that the club will have a contingency plan if  he ends up selected for Australia A, something that could feasibly happen. What that is I don't know, but if we can get Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja involved in most Championship and 40-over games this summer there will be few sides look forward to facing us in 2012.

Further thoughts on Khawaja

One thing that delights me about the re-signing of Usman Khawaja is that in an age where counties find it difficult to secure overseas stars for more than a few weeks, Derbyshire have secured two of the best young batsmen in world cricket for a second season. This, of course, speaks volumes for the dressing room environment, one in which the players were accepted and assimilated last year. It also says a lot for the players, who are keen to return and help their young team mates to realise their ambitions.

Earlier I wrote about Usman Khawaja's need to convince in T20, but for me that competition is not our number one target. I felt last year and do again now that our best chance of success lies in the County Championship, where our array of bowlers could be enough to win plenty of matches, assuming the batting fires as it can do. With the addition of David Wainwright to a hostile pace attack, we now have bowlers for all conditions, including two in Mark Footitt and Mark Turner who are as quick as any in the country when their rhythm is right.

Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja are both capable of scoring between 650 and 800 runs in their respective Championship stints with us and if they do so will give us a better chance of success. 1300 to 1600 runs from the overseas role would see few complaints, with the likelihood that both would do well in the Pro40 league.

The big question then is our T20 target for the second role, with the club saying they are seeking a "match-changing" player. For me, we either have to sign an aggressive batsman to whom Khawaja could act as foil, or someone who offers something different, either as an all-rounder or bowler. Someone like Herschelle Gibbs to take advantage of the first six overs would do harm, but I suspect we are now targeting a bowler, given that we already have a lot of batsmen at the club.

I'll be honest, the best I've seen is Brett Lee, though whether we could persuade him to come over is debatable. I can't see any South African bowlers coming over, as their Cricket Board would be unwilling for them to risk injury before the important England tour. Shaun Tait's ongoing issues with his elbow have seen him pull out of a stint in the South African T20, while the sometimes erratic nature of his bowling could carry an additional element of risk. Dirk Nannes apparently is lined up elsewhere, so you then either look at a fringe South African like Theron, or bring in another spinner, or batsman who can bowl a bit.

Any ideas? As I wrote recently, the best spinner in the Australian Big Bash was Brad Hogg, though it would be a brave decision for any county to offer even a short term deal to a man of 40. I don't think Hogg would let anyone down, to be fair, but the limitations of the international calendar make the pursuit of a second player a tricky bit of work.

I wish Messrs Krikken and Grant the best in their pursuit and look forward to news in the not too distant future.

Khawaja returns to Derbyshire

News this morning that Usman Khawaja will return to Derbyshire for the second half of the season when Martin Guptill leaves. Regular readers will know I have been suggesting this for a number of months and the reversal of last season's overseas pairing leaves much to look forward to. The players will certainly welcome the return of a charming man who fitted in so well in 2011.

Khawaja is a player of quality - that much is evident within minutes of seeing him take guard - with a good technique and awareness of the balls to leave, things that will serve him well in 2012. He also has a good range of shots and is a wristy player in the tradition of the best Asian players over the years. While likely to represent Australia proudly and with regularity in the years ahead, however, Khawaja has challenges in the coming summer.

First of all, he has to convince the Australian selectors that he can consistently play long innings. The number three berth in the Australian side is up for grabs and many see Khawaja as the heir-apparent to Ponting's throne, yet thus far in a fledgling Test career he has plenty of starts and nothing of substance, aside from an important 65 against South Africa as his side chased down an imposing target in that country this winter. Nine centuries and eleven fifties in just 71 first-class innings is indicative of Khawaja's talent, but he needs to turn the starts into tons with greater regularity, something that the very best players do. Weight of runs in England has always been a strong counter-argument though and would do Usman no harm whatsoever.

Last season he was hampered by a thigh injury for much of the time, yet still looked a player of high class. Had he stayed, I have the feeling that he would have racked up a lot of runs on the more batsman-friendly tracks of late summer. This year he has the opportunity to do that and has the valuable experience of last year to draw on.

Of course, Khawaja's debut this time around will come in the T20 and there comes his other challenge. At 25 he has only 13 T20 innings behind him that have produced just 225 runs at 18. With 65 of those coming in one knock, it is evident that Khawaja has not yet mastered the short form of the game. Perhaps his silky skills aren't suited to the more muscular needs of T20, just as the best of Katich, Rogers, North, Yousuf,  Dravid and others has been seen in the longer forms of the game.

Yet Derbyshire need him to acquire those skills. To say that we have gambled on a player of such obvious ability is unfair and I reiterate that I would expect him to score heavily in the longer forms of the game this year. If we are to make progress in the T20 though - and bearing in mind it is a major earner for clubs we really need to at some point - Khawaja has to set the standard and convince people that he can play T20. At this stage, as I've written before, I'm not convinced, but I look forward to Khawaja hopefully scoring a stackful of runs in this season's competition, at which point, I will be delighted to admit that I was wrong.

Welcome back Usman - we look forward to seeing you again!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Up and running on Twitter!

After several e mails asking if I was going to go down the path, I've activated my Twitter account and now have - woohoo - SIX followers! Eat your heart out Stephen Fry...all I need to do now is work out how to do it from my phone and I'll be cooking with gas - at least, if my employers allowed mobiles in the building, which they don't...

Anyway, if you wanted to follow the account, you can do so @Peakfanblog. I can't promise to be on there all the time, but I guarantee not to be bombarding you with such pearls as "Having chips and eggs for tea - lovely!" as I'm sure, like me, you really couldn't care less. I look forward to reaching double figures in followers sometime soon...

Anyway, it's a quiet old time in the county cricket world at present. Most clubs are waiting for confirmation of IPL commitments and international schedules before committing on overseas stars and rightly so. I did have a look at Chris Grant's Twitter site earlier today and read that "we have made an offer to someone and are just waiting on paperwork and availability. Likewise working hard to find T20 players."

Note the plural in the last word, which suggests that we should hopefully be competing on a level playing field in the T20 at least. As for the player offered a deal, my guess would still be Usman Khawaja but I hope we give the lad a good chance and contract him for the 40-over and championship only. At this stage he's not got the experience of the T20 to have the additional burden of being overseas star. It may well come, but he's better to get that experience in the less pressurised environment of Australian domestic cricket as one of the local lads.

I'm sure our lads are working hard on their game, wherever they are and I think 2012 promises to be an exciting season of cricket.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Change in emphasis

A late start for me today as I'm working later this evening, so a chance for a couple of observations on recent news in the cricket world.

First is the news that there will be "further discussion" on the Morgan review, which is only right. Irrespective of what else comes out of it, the Championship must remain a competition where each team plays the others twice, home and away. Whether that means that one division of eight and one of ten ensues is a moot point, but how one would then accommodate eighteen four-day games for the larger section is questionable. I can still see a retention of the status quo and I remain unconvinced that moving back to fifty overs for one day games is a step forward either.

There is a skill set required to play Championship cricket and another one to master the requirements of T20. Forty-over cricket is simply a merging of both, producing a game that supporters can enjoy in an afternoon and evening, while fifty means they have to give up an entire day. I could not be convinced that the art of fifty-over cricket is substantially different to the forty-over version, when effectively all that is missing is the "knock it around and jostle for position" stage. I'd argue that if first-class cricketers can't do that they are perhaps in the wrong career...

Over in Australia, there's been a strong argument for the benefit of experience in the Big Bash, where all the best performers have been veterans. Travis Birt, Herschelle Gibbs and Brad Hodge were the standout batsmen, while the best bowlers have been Stuart McGill, Brad Hogg and Brett Lee. Indeed, so good have been the last two that at 40 and 35 respectively they have been recalled to the national side for T20. A few years back, that sort of move was the preserve of England selectors, yet no one who has watched the domestic competition could dispute their right to selection.

Hogg has quite frankly baffled batsmen with his left arm spin variations and it was amusing to watch youngsters who had come across no such bowler in their brief career trying to work out if it was spinning in or away. Hogg also looks as fit as a butcher's dog and his sheer enthusiasm for the game is an object lesson to all. Lee, by the same token, is far removed from the young tyro who put fear in batsmen's hearts with raw pace, but in many ways is now the complete bowler. He reminds me of the mature Richard Hadlee, bowling with great accuracy and still retaining the ability to bowl the 85-90mph ball if required. He can't do it all the time now, but in a way the element of surprise is an even more potent weapon. I would be surprised if a county didn't move for him for the T20, though whether his recall to national colours could extend to fifty-over games is the big question. If it did, he'd be touring with the Aussie one-day side.

In its way this is all one in the eye for the trend to focus on young players to the detriment of older heads. I am 100% convinced that Derbyshire's blueprint is a way forward, but we need to remember that youngsters need quality players of good experience alongside them making major contributions. Not old heads for the sake of it, but those justifying their roles with consistent performances. The type we get from Wayne Madsen, Wes Durston and Tim Groenewald, not that they're so old, and what we hope for from our T20 specialists when they are announced.

For all the enthusiasm and raw talent of the rest of the squads, Sydney Sixers would not have made the final without Lee and McGill, any more than the Perth Scorchers would without Gibbs and Hogg.

Getting the right mix, that's the all-important thing.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Pulsating stuff

The second semi-final of the Big Bash was well worth getting up for, with Sydney Sixers justifying my pre-match prediction to win by seven runs, despite a late flurry from Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, one that took them closer than looked likely.

I've said it before and will do again - the Sixers play T20 in the way that Derbyshire can learn from and can succeed with. Steady, rather than spectacular batting on a slowish strip, followed up by tigerish fielding in which Steve O'Keefe was outstanding. Again, they had the brilliance of Brett Lee to top and tail the innings, bowling one over with blood streaming from his nose after a collision with the non-striker. Yet the major contributors were again the spinners, with McGill, Thorneley, McCullum and Smith bringing the scoring rate to a standstill. Until Naved's late onslaught - why was he left until number eight? - only Phil Jaques got going, with Travis Birt looking much more uncomfortable against spin than the pace he butchered throughout the tournament.

Derbyshire can learn from this. With Wainwright, Knight, Hughes and Durston potentially in the side, together with Burgoyne or Needham if required, we could adopt similar tactics, especially if the County Ground wickets remain as slow as they have been in recent seasons. It helps to have such a talisman as Lee to lead the attack, of course, a go to bowler par excellence, while a hard hitting batsman at the top of the order would ensure that we took advantage of the all-important powerplay.

Such a batsman would have been Martin Guptill, who last night produced another of hs trademark innings for Auckland as they won the HRV T20 final in style. Guptill made 70 from just 41 balls, with four sixes and four fours, as his side made 196-5 in their innings and won by 44 runs. Guptill has had a superb tournament and one can only fantasise about what a Derbyshire side with Guptill and, for example, Brett Lee might have been capable of.

Finally today, good luck to the Derbyshire young players who have headed out to India for some coaching and training. Messrs Poynton, Borrington, Redfern, Burgoyne, Needham and Lineker are those concerned and I'm especially pleased to see reference on the club side to Dan Redfern "honing his skills in both disciplines". I feel the lad has been under-utilised as a spinner and has a lot to offer with the ball, as well as with the bat. The experience can only serve them well, ahead of an arduous season.

Which is just 73 days away...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Book Review: Britains Lost Cricket Grounds by Chris Arnot

There's something melancholic about the site of old cricket grounds. Even now I find it hard to pass one and not feel the need to avert my eyes, especially when that ground holds personal memories. About ten miles from our house is one where I played my first good all-round match in Scotland, scoring a quick 40 and taking four wickets. Three years later it had gone, the club folded. The field still lies undeveloped, yet the grass is knee high and any evidence of its past is long gone. Similar tales can be told of several grounds near where I grew up in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, some now the sites of retail parks or housing developments.

Chris Arnot's new book on first-class and club grounds that are no more is a joy from start to finish, yet one that, for a cricket fan, leaves you increasingly wistful as you work through it. Packed with photographs that transport you back to times when most communities had a sports ground and cricket was deemed a social necessity, one wonders if progress is all it is made out to be. The beautiful ground at Hastings, now an anodyne shopping centre, the lovely one at Southampton that disappeared as the Rose Bowl took shape and many others that used to be on the first-class circuit. The old Bass ground at Burton is there, but so is a truly picturesque one at Edale in the Peak District. There are many others that you may recognise and remember, like the old John Player ground at Nottingham, together with those at Beeston, Castleton and Newstead. The section on the latter contained the books only error, with the picture on page 96 most definitely not from the 1950s - the hairstyles suggest the 1970s to me. The section on Sheffield is especially sad. It was anything but scenic, but steeped in history.

One of the strengths of the book is that the author has provided a wide selection of grounds from all corners of the country, many of them playing host to some of the greatest performances in the history of the game. Some were home to clubs that thrived and won leagues and cups with regularity, yet times changed, as did landowners, and there were other uses for that land, other development opportunities and plenty of short-sighted individuals.

Chris Arnot has produced some lovely text alongside the photographs, Informative and witty, he shows himself an excellent writer (as befits someone who has written on a range of subjects for the major broadsheets) and for me this book is an absolute gem, one I shall re-read many times in the future.

As the end of the book approached I was astonished to see the site of the Scottish Parliament as it once was, a cricket ground. I recently worked there for 18 months and we would go out into the park at lunchtimes during the summer and play knockabout games of cricket, all of us oblivious to the fact that where we played was once the splendid Royal High Cricket Club ground.

I would recommend this book whole-heartedly and will defy anyone to get to the last page without feeling the slightest bit wistful for days gone by. The publishers are to be congratulated for producing a book of genuine beauty and the author for his considerable and thought-provoking research.

Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds: the hallowed homes of cricket that will never see another ball bowled is written by Chris Arnot and published by Aurum Press. It is available from all good book shops and through Amazon, where it is priced £13.98.

Big Bash and Big Entertainment

I was up early this morning and, having the house to myself with everyone else a-slumber, settled down to watch the Big Bash T20 semi-final between Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Stars. There was much to admire in a game that sold out in 30 minutes, with a capacity crowd and some great stars on view. Brad Hogg v Shane Warne was one battle, with Hogg bowling a superb spell that effectively turned the game in its second innings. Having said that, listening to Warne talk the audience through his spell, bowling wider, quicker, with more spin, with less spin was an education.

There are some good features in the excellent Fox Sports coverage, with the commentary of Greg Blewett, Mark Waugh and Brendan Julien excellent. The "umpire cam" in their sunglasses gave interesting angles, while the meter that assessed the power put into a shot was innovative, if nothing else. Star turn for me was the DJ, who actually played music that a family crows could all enjoy - maybe we could make him one of our T20 signings...?

The best innings came from Herschelle Gibbs who has had a fine tournament. His 71 from 46 balls put runs on the board on a slowish pitch and showed once again that a world-class player at the top of an innings can make a difference. Apart from him, the player who caught my eye was Mitchell Marsh, younger brother of Shaun, who at 20 looks a really fine prospect. His unbeaten 41 from 22 balls at the end of the innings included four big sixes, which he followed with the wickets of Adam Voges and Cameron White as a vaunted batting line up imploded spectacularly. David Hussey went first ball to a superb catch by the wicket keeper, while Marsh stayed in the action with two crucial catches.

Seeing a young man play with such freedom and aggression bodes well for Derbyshire, who of course have a number of them in the ranks. Such players are not restricted by reputations and the Perth crowd love the youngster, a player whose talent has thus far appeared more impressive than his returns. With young players you win some and lose some. They will make mistakes, but people are rightly more understanding of them when the potential is obvious. The one thing I hope Derbyshire fans could take from an enthralling match is that our young players need their support. Given that, they can turn our club into a challenging side over the next few seasons.

Tomorrow sees the Hobart Hurricanes and the Sydney Sixers contest the other semi-final. Brett Lee v Travis Birt, one of the batsmen of the tournament , should be a standout clash. The winner of that one should see their side into the final, though Hobart will be hoping that their talismanic all-rounder, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan can again come up with the goods, especially with Shane Watson back in the Sixers ranks.

My money is on the latter, who have looked a well-drilled team throughout.

Just like watching Derbyshire...

K is for Kirsten....

There are four outstanding candidates for the best "K" to represent Derbyshire.

Simon Katich had but one season in our colours, in 2007, yet finished it with the highest average in a championship season by a Derbyshire player (75.52). He was an accumulator, someone who, having got in, rarely gave it away. By the same token, Katich was somewhat one-dimensional and really couldn't play the one-day game, while T20 was, it appeared, anathema to him. For me, his season at the club will be remembered for an outstanding championship season, but a limited overs one that was, at best, average. That season's T20 campaign was, even with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat shambolic.

Adrian Kuiper was, as pointed out on the club site, largely responsible for our Refuge Assurance win in his one full season with us. A useful medium pace bowler and good fielder, Kuiper's strength was that he could hit a ball a country mile and did so with remarkable frequency. Potentially close finishes that year were blown away by the brilliance, yet common sense of his hitting, showing a man with good judgement of the hittable ball. With Chris Wilkins he was the biggest hitter I have seen in Derbyshire colours and that judgement made all the difference. If a target  looked like it was getting away from us, Kuiper simply smacked a couple of boundaries and brought it within the realms of respectability again. It sounds easy, but isn't - despite the South African making it look so. Were he playing today he would make a fortune in T20.

For me, Kuiper is just shaded into second place by Karl Krikken, largely by dint of service over a protracted period. By no standards would you say that Krikk was a conventional wicket-keeper, his farmer in wellingtons-style waddling between balls behind the stumps a long way removed from the textbook crouching manner, while he looked almost like a goalkeeper facing a penalty kick as the bowler's arm came over. Yet Krikk missed little over 400 games, often taking catches, especially down the leg side, that a more orthodox stance may not have allowed him to get to. He had great hands and an even greater mouth, a never-ending source of encouragement from first ball to last.

As a batsman he was more than useful and should have scored more runs than he did, though the Derbyshire side of his time was blessed with greater batting talent than some of more recent vintage and Krikk often went in the search for quick runs. Having said all that, his greatest contribution to Derbyshire cricket may be yet to come...

For me, though, the number one simply has to be Peter Kirsten, with Dean Jones the best all-round batsman I have seen in Derbyshire colours. Kirsten could accumulate and would often get to thirty before you realised it and while you tried to recall the strokes that got him there. Yet once he was in, the strokeplay was dazzling and he had them all.  From late cuts to sweeps, "Kirst" played all round the wicket and had lovely footwork. He was compact and composed at the crease and some of us called him the "Little Don", reference to the dapper and uncomplicated style that was reminiscent of the great Bradman.

His first two seasons saw him scrape past a thousand as he got used to English wickets as a young player, but from 1980 to 1982 he was as good a player as any in the country, recording 1895, 1605 and 1941 championship runs in each season with averages of 63, 55 and 64.  In that 1982 season, with John Wright making 1830 runs, Derbyshire fans enjoyed two batsmen at the peak of their form and batting talent that had never been seen before, or, dare I say it since. Kirsten hit eight centuries that summer and Wright seven. It was a summer, in my mind's eye, where Derbyshire were usually 195-1 or somesuch at the sports bulletins, and there were times during matches when they hardly looked like getting out. So good were they, indeed, that opponents started setting ridiculous targets for us in the fourth innings of games, yet we sometimes got them.

Kirsten was a brilliant fielder and a useful off-spinner, at least until a knee injury started to cause problems and he should never have been allowed to leave the county. A request for a year's break was met with a refusal and his release, a startling example of the way the club has shot itself in the foot too many times over the years. He was just 27 and approaching his prime at the time.

He would have graced international cricket and, although past his peak, at least made a dozen Test appearances when South Africa were re-admitted to the fold. When he reached a century against England at Headingley in 1994, I cheered more than if an Englishman had reached the milestone. His Test average of 31 in no way reflects the talent that was Peter Kirsten, yet was itself impressive considering he was 37 on debut.

57 centuries and 107 fifties; another ten centuries and 83 fifties in one-day games - oh yes, Peter Kirsten could play alright. I consider it an absolute privilege to have seen him in his prime and would be astonished if I saw anyone comparable in our colours in the years ahead.

K is for Kingly, Klassy, Kultured Kirsten - one of only a handful of genuinely brilliant Derbyshire cricketers in my time.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The other side of cricket...

Last night I wrote about Derbyshire County Cricket Club's committee and their new recruit in Kevin Dean. They all have their responsibilities - much like the club I play for.

I was skipper for nine seasons, before work commitments meant my organising a team, speaking to the opposition and ensuring someone was preparing a wicket became a little too hectic, on top of running this blog and being a dutiful husband and father. Something had to give and nine years seemed like a long enough time. The fact that no one before or since managed more than two summers probably tells its own story, but it is now quite nice to play when I'm able (which should be more often this summer) and turn up with everyone else, rather than an hour in advance.

Then came last night's phone call. Our old pavilion had effectively died last season, despite many close seasons of remedial work. We had replaced all the four sides of what was an upmarket, three-roomed portacabin, acquired from the old Glasgow Garden Festival over 25 summers ago. The roof had been done several times, but eventually local joiners told us that the floor and joists were rotten, as was one of the walls. Things didn't look good. Added to that, the drains we had put in years ago are now seriously compacted and we haven't the money to replace them - £50K was the quote we got, as well as a year without use. The water table at the ground is high, with the River Forth not too far away and we lost a lot of cricket over the last two summers with water simply having nowhere to go. Even sunny days after a couple of wet ones were of little use and prospects were not overly rosy.

Then came the break we hoped for. A successful grant application gave us money for new nets, while one of the committee members got wind of a potential building we could acquire. This turned out to be a disassembled beauty, bought for a local tourist spot but hardly used. Two large changing rooms, a substantial dining room and a roomy porch for viewing purposes, all for a sum we could afford. We also had the money to enable a local turf company to work on vertical drainage this Spring, hopefully enough to get us out there more often this summer.

Last night's call confirmed we had been granted planning permission and so, next month (or when the weather allows it before April) we have to erect it. With a couple of joiners and an electrician on the committee we have a head start and with willing DIY enthusisasts to pitch in we should get it done over a couple of long hours weekends - at least that's the plan. The roof might need a little more work than the old one to build properly, but with a little luck with weather we should greet season 2012 with great optimism. A full fixture list from April to September  - Wednesdays and Sundays with some Saturdays in between - and around 25-30 playing members, with an age range of 10 to 67. Considering our incredibly supportive landlord gives us the ground for a peppercorn £1 a year lease, we have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

We may well lose more than we win, but winning is not so important these days. More so is getting out on the ground, enjoying a competitive game in the company of friends and enjoying the spectacular views across to Stirling Castle, so impressive that a national newspaper declared it one of the best three places in Scotland to watch or play the game. On a summer's evening, unless the farmer's tractor is busying away in a neighbouring field, or a blackbird is singing away in one of the trees, there's no other sound. We are three fields back from the road and there is no noise from passing traffic. Only laughter, the sound of bat on ball and noises of encouragement - plenty of encouragement.

The standard is variable as in all clubs. Some have played a good standard over the years, north or south of the border and can still be relied on to score runs and take wickets. Others just enjoy the craic and greet every run in their tally like the winning stroke of a T20 semi-final. At the end of the day, we're all mates and we win and lose together.

It is, in short, an idyllic way to spend a summer evening. It adds to my enjoyment of the greatest game in the world and I hope to keep playing for as long as I can. With an occasional guest star (the picture shows me with an honorary club member, Scotland international slow left arm spinner Glenn Rogers before an evening fixture a couple of summers back) we pick a team for the opposition and always have fun.

Who could ask for more?

(More on Derbyshire tomorrow)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Deano returns...

 So, Derbyshire's latest "signing" is a 36 year old left-arm seamer who has been retired for a couple of years, despite regularly showing that there's still life in the old dog on the local scene.

At first glance one could be forgiven for thinking we'd returned to the bad old days, when we signed such players and expected them to make a major impact on the field. Oh my Inman, Trueman, Headley, Sharpe et al of (not so) long ago...

Yet the return to the club of Kevin Dean (left, in his playing days) is a satisfying one. First, it shows a level of commitment to the cause, someone wanting to "give back". Dean is Derbyshire through and through and has started a successful career outside the game, so his willingness to take a role on the committee is to be applauded. It is, after all, a cricket club and few will know it any better than a man who gave years of loyal and very able service. I'm a strong advocate of having people who know what they are doing in key roles and with Dean and Tony Borrington in situ I have confidence that the committee will continue to operate effectively and be representative of the membership. By the same token, it is important to have a mixture of skills, personalities and abilities, something that Chris Grant will be well aware of. I've been a member of enough over the years to know that this is how it works, with everyone having their own areas of responsibility and expertise.

For Derbyshire to continue to move forward and embrace the chairman's blueprint , it needs commitment and the involvement of such people as Kevin Dean, someone ideally placed to keep an eye on young talent around the county and, potentially, to help with the coaching of young bowlers. His role is at this stage loose and undefined, as well as being subject to ratification by the members in March, although that must surely be a formality.

I'm delighted to hear this news and would like to offer a warm welcome to Kevin on his return to the County Ground. If he can pass on any of his bowling skills to Ross Whiteley he will do us a considerable service. Combine Dean's ability with a ball in his hand with the youngster's considerable skills with a bat and you
would have the best young all-rounder in the country...

In other news, I share the distaste of the Falcons Forum for Nottinghamshire's half-million pound profit and their battle cry urging "everyone in the East Midlands" to turn up and support them. This is, of course, neglecting the fact that 2/3 of the cricket fans in this neck of the woods have little or no time for them. No disrespects, of course, but I'd be more appreciative if they didn't sniff around the young talent of other counties like a dog in season, at the same time as they bend - sorry, break - regulations on player visas to suit their own ends. As with Somerset, I'm likely to spend part of the coming season gently hoping that these teams don't win things and that less affluent sides raise their games against them. Power to the underdog - that's what 40-odd years of Derbyshire watching does to you...

Speaking of Somerset, since they announced they had signed Chris Gayle they have had "huge interest" from their cricketing public. This is somewhat at odds with the player's form, as he can't buy a run right now, going first ball yesterday as Sydney Thunder were roundly thrashed by Brisbane Heat. Usman Khawaja grafted for a run-a-ball 37, but averages only 18 in the format, not really enough for a top order player in what has looked a very poor side. Meanwhile in South Africa, the highly talented Faf du Plessis won the third one-dayer for his country against Sri Lanka with a breezy 70. It won't be too long before this highly talented cricketer becomes a regular for his country and it confirmed my positive comments about him last week. By the same token, it might also make an England tour slot one step closer...

At the other end of the experience scale, Leicestershire are supposedly in talks with Mohammad Yousuf, who has been a very good player but is perhaps now past his prime. In addition, I understand that the player doesn't want to play one-day cricket, which could well scupper the deal. He nearly came to Derbyshire a few years back, of course, but was in his pomp at that stage.

Glamorgan are resigned to not having Alviro Petersen in their ranks for next summer, so are considering their options and may make overtures to Mark Cosgrove to turn his back on Australia and use his UK passport. I would suggest that there is little chance of the player getting into their national side, especially when the focus is so much on fitness these days.

Much closer to home, it was good to see Wayne Madsen out and about in his capacity as Derbyshire skipper and the player is an ideal ambassador for the club. You could hardly wish to meet a nicer man than the South African and I eagerly await the season to see how he takes to the captaincy - and indeed, where he sees his best batting position. There are arguments for him to open with Martin Guptill, of course, but I have a feeling that the skipper might be best deployed at number four, especially when two of our best young batting prospects are openers themselves.

That's pretty much it for now - I'll be back soon, hopefully with more news on Derbyshire signings - on the pitch this time!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

If I ruled the (cricket) world

I don't know why so much time and, presumably, expense went into the Morgan Report for first class cricket.

For me, the ideal cricket season was pretty close. I saw nothing wrong with sixteen Championship matches - the closest preparation for the serious business of Test cricket - and the amount of T20 was about right last year. Stretching it out through the season runs the risk of diluting its impact, but also of attracting overseas stars to play. That is far from easy at the moment, but if you are trying to persuade international stars to come to England for a Friday night twenty-over game for a four month contract it would be a good bit more complex.

After that, all you would need would be a knockout competition. Remember them? Whether 40 or 50 overs, four groups, like the old Benson and Hedges Cup would produce four semi finalists, or eight quarter finalists if you wanted to work those cricketers even harder....

Job done. Ten minutes work. Do you think if I send the ECB my "findings" they'll send me the cheque? Maybe that knockout competition could be named the Peakfan Trophy...

A special kind of courage

Something that always gets my hackles up is when, on reality talent shows, judges often say such things as "You were very brave to choose that song" or "You were brave in going on first" when they had no real option. For me, that doesn't come close to bravery.

Bravery is courage in the face of danger. Rescuing someone from peril, or the sort displayed on a daily basis by our armed forces, as well as that shown by people in the face of serious illness. That, my friends, is courage.

Yet there is another kind. That shown by those who become aware that someone they know, maybe love, has done something wrong. I'm thinking of parents who informed the police when their children's faces showed up in riot footage, or they knew they were involved in another serious crime.

I'm also thinking of Tony Palladino. As highlighted in the Daily Mail on January 12, Derbyshire's seam bowler, then at Essex, became aware that his friend and team mate Mervyn Westfield had done something that went against the code, morals and ethics of the game. It would have been very easy for him to keep quiet and do nothing and no one knows the moral dilemma and mental wranglings that the player went through.

That he chose the path he did speaks volumes for him as a man. Until Mervyn Westfield pleaded guilty, Palladino was set to be the main witness for the prosecution, a task he was thankfully spared. This isn't the time to be passing comment on the player whose career was effectively ruined for the sake of £6,000 but it is appropriate to say that Tony Palladino, in speaking out, showed himself a man of real character and integrity. Were any of us in the same position, forced to choose between a friend and what they know is right - the integrity of their profession - I'd like to think that we would do the same. Would we? Until placed in that invidious position, no one knows for sure.

Tony Palladino should be seen as a hero in the eyes of cricketers and cricket fans, a man big enough to stand up and say that something was wrong to protect the game that he loves and the things he believes in. At a time when tales of corruption in the game are too regular an occurrence, his stand is worthy of recognition and he should be rightly saluted.

Friday, 13 January 2012

J is indeed for Jackson...

Nice to see Nathan Fearn resurrecting the A-Z of Derbyshire cricketers again after a lengthy absence on the club site. As I said when he started it, I had no intentions of pre-empting his choices, as it was his idea, but I would give you an alternative view. I'll also admit to being the supporter named in the article, having mailed him about something after Christmas, although the vigilante group would have been my Dad and I, small but select, and it was a joke, just in case anyone sees me in a Vinny Jones role...

I've not always agreed with Nathan's choices, as regular readers will know, but you can't argue with the selection of Les Jackson. Indeed, if you asked every Derbyshire member to name a greatest ever XI, I find it hard to believe anyone would omit him.

Of course, there were other good candidates among the J's. His namesake Brian, who followed him into the Derbyshire side from league cricket, was himself a very good bowler, making up an outstanding opening attack with Harold Rhodes for a few seasons. There was also GR Jackson, a determined batsman and a good captain who was largely responsible for bringing together the players in the 1936 Championship side.

Then there was Laurie Johnson, arguably the most entertaining batsman in the side from the early 1950s to mid-1960s. Born and brought up in the Caribbean, Johnson brought a range of untypical shots to the Derbyshire side in that period, all flowing drives and rapier cuts. His average may not have matched his talent, but Johnson was, by all accounts, a fine player to watch on the often rain-affected tracks that he and his generation played on.

Nor should we overlook the sterling efforts of Steffan Jones, nor the one season of brilliance that we saw from Dean Jones, a contender for the most complete all-round batsman we have seen at the club. Jones could dig in when the situation demanded, display all the shots anyone could need and run like a whippet between wickets. Without doubt he was the best pacer and finisher of an innings I have seen in the club colours and he took the club closer to the Championship  than anyone else in recent memory as an ebullient captain who sadly managed to polarise a dressing room full of strong characters.

Yet, at the end of it all, there is Les. I'm not old enough to remember him in his pomp, but Dad's eyes still mist over when he talks about him. We met him a couple of years before he died at the County Ground and it was the nearest I've seen my Dad to being tongue-tied in the presence of his hero. I still treasure a letter I got from him a few years earlier, when I wrote with a question, more in hope than expectation. Yet a reply was prompt, polite and appreciated.

His figures speak for themselves. 1670 wickets at 17, twenty times taking ten in a match. You could talk for five minutes about his greatest feats and not repeat yourself, but suffice to say that he was incomparable as a Derbyshire bowler.. He might have made it as an international too, but the powers-that-be decided that Les wasn't good enough for England, something that contradicted the opinion of the batsmen that faced him over fifteen years. When they brought him back in 1961, fourteen years after his one previous Test and at the age of 40, he let no one down. It is ironic that the Australians looked for his name in every England squad and were continually astonished that he was overlooked. Les simply carried on, bruising the ribs and fingers of batsmen year after year, as well as getting them out. In 1959 he took 140 wickets despite cutting down his pace because of a bad groin injury, the sort that would have seen most men out for weeks.

Such things were of little consequence to him. Donald Carr once recounted, after finding Les in the dressing room with his sock and boot a mess of blood and pus from burst blisters, that he asked why he hadn't said something. Les simply shrugged. "You asked me to bowl skipper, so I bowled". Could any captain want for more from a bowler? When asked how he obtained such extravagant lift and movement he was typically modest. "I just wrap my fingers round the ball and bugger about with it until something happens". It usually did.

I saw him once, at Queens Park for a match between a Derbyshire XI and the International Cavaliers in September 1968, one of the games that were a precursor to the John Player Sunday League that started the following year. In the opposition were Geoff Boycott, Barry Richards, Ted Dexter, Mike Smith and Fred Goldstein, a South African opener who hit the ball with real power and played for Northamptonshire for a while. Serious opposition - and Les was 47 years old and had been retired for five years.

He had Boycott and Goldstein lbw and finished with 9-1-19-2. Not bad for an old timer, but it was no real surprise. In the context of Derbyshire cricket, Les was one of the golden greats.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Interesting question

There was an interesting question from the club by text the other night. Who will be Derbyshire's key man next season? Aside from the fact that they all will, as we won't win if we're not a team, I've chosen four.

I was interested to see a couple of people suggesting Tom Knight, but I don't see the youngster doing that this year. He has too many international commitments and, realistically, will more than likely play as a second spinner in T20 more than anything. That's why we signed David Wainwright, Karl Krikken being well aware that the lad is likely to be seen marginally more at the County Ground this summer than a herd of wildebeest....

For me, key man number one is Wayne Madsen. If the new skipper rediscovers his batting mojo and takes to captaincy like I think he will, Derbyshire will be in the promotion shake-up in the Championship. Madsen, Durston and the combined overseas roles are capable of one thousand runs each. I've less confidence in our batting than the bowling, so if they did that we would go pretty close.

Number two is Tom Poynton. A wicket-keeper is the hub or focal point of any side in the field and can dictate attitudes. If TP continues in his chirpy Krikkenesque style, geeing up the players during the quieter periods, he will do well. If he holds most of what goes his way at the same time - and he'll not lack for chances - he will be a real asset. A few pugnacious knocks down the order could make him one to watch in 2012.

Number three is David Wainwright. I'll back our seam attack against any in that division, but every decent side needs a spinner who can keep it quiet when the conditions favour batsmen and bowl them out when it starts to turn. Wainwright can do that, but he's also good enough to score 500 runs or more and give us genuine ballast in the middle and lower order. Again, 500 runs and 40 wickets from him should see a strong Derbyshire finish.

Number four is more generic, those who come in as T20 overseas stars. I've written before that we need a hitter and a quick bowler and nothing will change my mind on that. Derbyshire have been largely rubbish at T20 over the years, by dint of an attack too "samey" and a batting side that lacked the player to give them the lightning start in the Powerplay that so often dictates the course of the game.

To pluck two names at random, a Herschelle Gibbs and Brett Lee-type player at either end of the order would make a huge difference. I don't like T20 as much as the "proper" stuff, but it is here to stay and you need to invest in the right players to bring in crowds and become contenders for the quarter-finals. Results mean bigger crowds, they lead to more money and that leads to happy, smiley faces down Derby way.

A clutch of all-rounders, attractive stroke players, decent spinners and a fine fielding side - we're not that far short you know...

Tales of the not entirely unexpected...

News today that Somerset have persuaded Chris Gayle to come to England for this season's T20. The player, probably the best batsman in the format at present, will doubtless strengthen a side shorn of Kieron Pollard, who will be touring with the West Indies at the time.

Doubtless he will find Taunton's short boundaries and perfect strip to his liking, undoubtedly a factor in his decision. I understand that another county made a very good offer for the player's services but Gayle and his agent presumably plumped for the one that they thought offered the best chance of lifting the trophy. I guess they didn't check the competitions that Somerset have lost at the final hurdle thus far, but the assumption is that the addition of the dynamic West Indian will be the missing link. We'll have to see about that one, though the inescapable feeling is that with their line up they should do so sooner, rather than later. If not, questions should be asked.

Its funny how everyone sees things differently. I know that if I was a top international star, my combative personality would, assuming the money was right, make me want to play for a lesser team - a bit like Eddie Barlow did - and take it as a challenge as to how I could improve things. Others prefer to go where the medals potentially are, which is of course their prerogative. At the end of a career, medals are important, but there's those that relish a challenge more than others and I'd sooner have played for Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Northamptonshire than Somerset, Surrey and Lancashire.

At the other end of the scale, the decision by the local Council to reject a planned development at Bristol may see Gloucestershire leave the town and will also see Hamish Marshall on a reduced terms contract, something built in when he was re-signed. Such is the lot of modern county cricket, when the rich seem to get richer and some of the poor are getting poorer. Having said that, I eagerly await Derbyshire's financial statement in the next couple of months and hope that it reflects the massive amount of work done at the County Ground in recent months.

Finally tonight, a comment from me on the plans for county cricket from 2014. In short, I'm not impressed.

With England currently the best team in the world at Test and T20 cricket, surely that is proof that we're doing something right? The teams I have watched in the Australian Big Bash are not in the same league and I just feel our administrators like to justify their existence by change for change sake. Why 14 championship matches, not 16? A team could win the league by dint of a favourable fixture list, one that means they only play the better sides once. Why go back to 50-over games when most fans prefer the shorter, 40-over versions - or would if they could work out when and where they were being played.

Why, for that matter, prune eight days from the championship programme to give players a rest, then fill most of them with additional T20 games that, in their intensity, probably take more out of them? This, of course, two years after deciding to prune the smack and giggle game for the attention deficit generation. It is, quite frankly, bizarre.

I have to laugh (in a hollow way) at the way we pander to Indian cricket, allowing players to miss the start of the season for the IPL and then ending ours early so one team can go and play in the Champions Trophy there. I'm happy to go on record in saying that there's more chance of a sex change for me by midnight tonight than the English team winning this. Why? Because it's out of our season, in a totally strange environment, with the star overseas players that won the competition in England playing for the more lucrative overseas franchises. Not only that, last year the Mumbai Indians could select five overseas players, with most of the rest having just the two. I'm reminded of the Eurovision Song Contest, a competition so parochially fixed that the UK wouldn't win if everyone else boycotted it.

It is all a bit of a mess and I feel sorry for county chairmen and coaches. You can only play under 26's for ECB money, can hardly sign a worthwhile overseas player, lose players to England, the Lions and training camps and are still expected to create a competitive squad. If things carry on, we'll be restricting selection to only those who have scored ten centuries by their 20th birthday or taken 200 wickets by the same time. There will be three teams and we'll play a season's T20 in a day, before getting on a plane to play the rest of the year in India, because people ceased to care.

It's a crying shame. My old Dad has always told me that cricket is the greatest game in the world "ruined by them buggers at Lords that run it".

The older I get, the more convinced I am that he's been right all this time.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Quick follow up

After espousing my thoughts on success in T20 cricket last night, along came the perfect example from the Sydney Sixers today.

After only just managing to top 150 on a slow pitch, very similar to the County Ground, the Sixers completely tied down their opponents with the very attack I referred to last night. Brett Lee's pace top and tailed the innings, while four spinners led by veteran Stuart McGill and Nathan McCullum bamboozled the rest as the Sixers ran out winners by a country mile.

It was a very good performance and for me was one of the best team efforts I have seen in the competition. Boundaries were hard to come by, but the Sixers batsmen ran hard and got a higher score than they perhaps should have done. Meanwhile, the bowlers were backed up by a fine fielding display in which everyone played a part, McGill setting an early example with a diving catch at backward point that belied his age.

A later chase by McGill to the boundary edge produced some comedy gold from the commentators, Greg Blewett and Tom Moody. The former suggested that McGill's hamstrings, as an older player, would not be as long as they once were. "Tell me about it", said Moody, "I can only touch my knees now..."

Good stuff all round and an excellent way to start a day off.

I'm well aware that some tracks are more conducive to spin than others, but generally the batsman has to work harder against spin as he has to generate, rather than use the pace of the ball. By the same token, when a bowler alternates between yorkers and throat balls, as Lee has been doing, its not the least potent of weapons...

Monday, 9 January 2012

Up and running...

The other night I mentioned that I might look to sell some cricket books that I no longer needed.

In the links on the left-hand side of the page you will see a new one to "Peakfan's Cricket Book Bargains" which I will add to as time permits.

Hopefully the page is self-explanatory but the idea is to sell them - hence I have priced the books way below what you will find them for on Amazon and ebay. Enquiries will be taken in the order they are received and I guarantee to be fair in this. If you are interested in any, please let me know and I will give you a price for postage.

If there's no takers I'll go down the ebay route, but I can think of no better home for some of my books than those of fellow Derbyshire fans!

Monday musings

There's an interesting and thought-provoking comment, as always, from Marc below yesterday's post, regarding the potential expense, in terms of runs, of a fast bowler (Shaun Tait is mentioned) in the T20 and the club's need for two batsmen.

I agree to a point. I think Tait is very fast and when he gets it right he is a handful. Yet at 28 he has yet to have a grooved action and seems more "thrown" by slopes on the ground than a bowler of that age perhaps should do. I'd have loved to see him bowl at a school where a team I once coached played a fixture each year. It was at a private school, alas no more, and anyone who ran in further than ten yards had to do so through a sandpit....

By the same token, Brett Lee is still 100% class. He gave Chris Gayle a thorough working over the other day, 90mph deliveries short outside off stump before Gayle went for the first one in his half to find it seaming away. A skyer to long off saw the big Jamaican dismissed for a duck and Lee's spell won the game for his side. I'm not at all sure of the viability of such a signing, or the player's inclination post-IPL to play in the English T20, but if Chris Grant and Karl Krikken delivered Brett Lee or someone of similar calibre I would be seriously impressed.

I don't think we do need two batsmen, as long as we sign one, like I said last night, who can reach the boundary boards or clear them. Apart from Gayle, the best batsmen I have seen in the Big Bash are Herschelle Gibbs, Brad Hodge and - believe it or not - Travis Birt. All are averaging high and scoring at a rate that enables those lower down to only use common sense to post competitive totals. I'd also throw into my personal wish list two South Africans who I don't see making their tour squad next summer because of the depth of South African batting. Colin Ingram would be one, a ferocious hitter in prime form, but resigned to being behind Smith, Amla, Petersen and Kallis for now. He does, after all, know the area, having acquitted himself well for Spondon.

The other would be a man who is a genuine talent, Faf du Plessis. Again, how he gets into their tour squad ahead of de Villiers, Prince, Duminy and a few others is a moot point, but his high octane batting, dangerous leg spin and brilliant fielding would enhance any side. Like Ingram he would have the incentive of convincing his national tour selectors of his talent and any county who picked him up, in my opinion, would be getting a gem of a player.

For what its worth, here would be my notional side for T20 and I'd be loathe to drop any of these batsmen for another overseas player:

Big Hitter
Fast bowler

I realise that Knight may not be available for much of the tournament with international commitments, but for me Karl Krikken could give his seamers a breather in the T20. Spinners often do the business and with four in the Derbyshire side we would be well-equipped. Clare, Groenewald, Palladino and Turner could rotate and Park could bowl his dibbly-dobbly seamers, as could Whiteley (though faster than dibbly-dobbly...)

A quick bowler could offer something quite different. A hitter could give the rest of a lengthy batting line-up some breathing space. If our targets could offer something else too - well, you never know. Derbyshire could be pretty competitive.

I don't envy Chris Grant though, as I'm sure he's spending hours in the quest for the right players. Whether we like it or not, Derbyshire are not perceived as a big club in the cricket world, a consequence of years as a second-rate club. That will take some time to address and if Derbyshire and a 'big' county were after the same player, my guess is that the player and his advisers would probably opt for the bigger club, the one that they saw as offering the best opportunity to win a medal. It is frustrating, but understandable, a fact of life and most of us would do the same (mind you, I'd have walked to Derby to play for the side, so am a little bit biased...)

Mr Grant's challenge is to strike a deal with a top player identified by Karl Krikken before others realise he may be available - an eighteen carat one if there ever was. I don't know who that might be, but I just hope that, like me, people realise just how much work goes into one signature on a piece of paper.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Guptill again shows class

The mark of a batsman of true quality is one who can adapt his game to the match situation. That being the case, Martin Guptill again showed his class over the weekend for Auckland as they won two more matches to stay top of the table in the domestic 20-over HRV Cup.

On Saturday against Otago - and following on from his brutal unbeaten 120 at two-a-ball last week - Guptill clubbed six sixes and two fours in 65 from 45 balls as his side mounted an impressive 187-2 in 20 overs and easily won by 30 runs.

Last night the conditions were less favourable for batting against Northern Districts and Auckland were chasing a more moderate target of 112 to win. It still needed someone to show a little common sense and bat through and Guptill did just that, ending on an unbeaten 49 from 48 balls, his side winning by six wickets with 20 balls to spare.

Derbyshire will miss Guptill's class in the T20 this season, though we will enjoy his talent from April through to June. Who replaces him in that competition is still anyone's guess, but I maintain we need someone who can play the big shots and clear the ropes. A fast bowler would be good too, of course, though one of each would be wonderful - or should that read unrealistic?

I watched the Big Bash this weekend and it was a frantic mix of some impressive clean hitting (Herschelle Gibbs a standout), quality spin bowling (veteran Brad Hogg still having what it takes) and variable fast bowling. In the matches I saw, Brett Lee and Dirk Nannes both looked fast bowlers of genuine pace and class, while Shaun Tait bowled both the fastest and most erratic overs I have seen in one spell.

Tait's first over to Sussex's Luke Wright was blisteringly fast, the ball shaving stumps and the outside edge with remarkable regularity. In his second he was more expensive, though unlucky, then he was given a third on the trot. Whether his action takes too much out of him for such a spell I don't know, but that third over was awful, a mix of fours and sixes accompanied by two of the widest balls on either side of the stumps I have seen. The wicket-keeper performed heroics in stopping them, both being taken around a second slip/leg slip position. Any Derbyshire fan who has bemoaned the occasional  lines of Messrs Turner and Footitt would perhaps consider them the new Gladwin and Jackson if they had seen it...

Today also saw some of the worst umpiring I've seen in a while, with a Sydney Thunder batsman given not out when he clearly edged it, then out a few balls later when he patently didn't. Herschelle Gibbs was given out in the other game when the ball hit his pad, chest and helmet and was caught behind, but was at least recalled. With 30,000 people shouting it must be difficult, but the decisions all looked wrong before the slow motion replays.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that Usman Khawaja and Chris Gayle are the only players in the Sydney Thunder side. One could almost see them shouting "DON'T PANIC!" like Corporal Jones of Dad's Army when Gayle, for once, failed today. By the time the rain came they had subsided to 29-4, with Khawaja  unbeaten on 11 from 16 balls, defeat inevitable.

That's it for now - enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Book Review - Fred Trueman: the authorised biography by Chris Waters

I'll say one thing about the Nottingham Evening Post - it has produced some terrific writers. First Duncan Hamilton makes a worthy contribution to cricket literature with a brilliant (a word I use wisely) biography of Harold Larwood, then along comes Chris Waters, now cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, to produce one that is almost as good on the Yorkshire and England legend Fred Trueman.

"Fiery Fred" has spawned a cottage industry of books over the years, some supposedly by his own pen but ghost-written and others by authors who in many cases simply rehashed old tales, many of them apocryphal. Such is the problem for the author wanting to do something new, as most fans feel they know the subject already.

But do they? I'm reminded of Emmott Robinson of Yorkshire, who, like Trueman, became larger than life thanks to the anecdotes recounted by Neville Cardus over many articles and books. What did Robinson think of Cardus? "Ah've nivver met 'im" he said, to the disappointment of many, including me. Robinson's sage comments and dry wit were effectively the creation of a masterly, but ultimately only inventive writer, fact and fiction merging into one with the latter taking over like a cricketing Jekyll and Hyde.

Separating the fact from fiction is difficult, but Waters has done an outstanding job and, to his credit, presents the player warts and all. He was a man of contrasts, capable of the most earthy talk yet protective of his children if such language was used in their presence. He was a coal miner's son who became a Conservative supporter and latterly claimed to be the son of a "countryman", something at odds with the gruff northern working class persona that was cultivated by player and media alike. Through numerous interviews and comments Trueman can be seen as both a character and wit, as well as a boorish man; a player of brilliance yet with a perennial chip on his shoulder. Never mind that he was the first player to 300 Test wickets - if it wasn't for those so-and-sos in charge he'd have been the first to 400, maybe more.

He polarised the dressing room for sure. While most loved him as a player and valued his contributions, they were less sure of the man. He was appallingly treated by his county, but was hardly alone in this, as many left Yorkshire over the years through shocking man-management, more in keeping with the nineteenth century. He dabbled with the northern club circuit as an earthy comedian and made an ill-considered comeback for Derbyshire, when, as I remember too well, the spirit was willing but the flesh was sadly weak. Fred ended up on Test Match Special, where he could be fascinating and ascerbic one minute then frustrating the next, his regular "I don't know what's going on out there" somewhat at odds with the role of an expert paid to know just that.

If you didn't get Chris Waters book when it first came out and didn't find it in your stocking at Christmas, I would urge you to go into your local book shop and buy it, or get online and do so. If times are hard, get down to your local library and see if they can get it for you, because of the cricket autobiographies and biographies I have read in the past twelve months this is the best by some distance. Fred Trueman was one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time and deserved a "proper" biography. Chris Waters has undoubtedly delivered.

He has also set himself quite a challenge with this first book, as it will take some following. I look forward to reading his next one immensely.

Fred Trueman: the authorised biography is written by Chris Waters and published by Aurum Press. You can buy it on Amazon for £11.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Something for the weekend

Ah, 'tis the weekend at last. Having worked all last weekend apart from New Year's day, I'm looking forward to this one immensely. Chance to wash the cars (boy, do they need it...) and watch some cricket - though not, as I've explained to my wife, necessarily in that order. Two good games on this weekend, with the two Melbourne sides meeting and another chance to watch the gargantuan Gayle on Sunday - and Usman, of course.

Something that has struck me in watching the Big Bash is that there are some teams who seem to overly rely on key players, to the extent that when that player fails one senses a feeling of panic among the remainder. No matter how good, no player can regularly win matches single-handed and I am sure that whoever we get this year will be part of a team effort and need to be for success. Take Leicestershire last year. Sure, Razzaq and MacDonald were the stars, but the competiton would not have been won except for cameos and performances by almost everyone at different stages.

The key is undoubtedly the field. Of course, you need to put a total on the board and bowl accurately, but some of the fielding in the Big Bash has been very poor. Some teams have to hide a few weaker guys, though there's one that only seems to have three people with any mobility. At the end of it all, a good fielding performance can make a difference of 20-30 runs, sufficient to win more games than not.

The observant among you may have noticed I have changed the season countdown timer, which I felt was taking over the page. The first one I liked because it looked kind of like a cricket scoreboard, but it was too big and I wanted something a little less "in your face". It is amazing to think, however, that we are less than three months from the start of it all, with a lot still to be done at the club.

This weekend I also hope to do my first book review of 2012 and I can promise you it is one of the best cricket biographies I have read in recent years.

Watch this space - and have a good one!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Midweek musings

The turn of the year and a veritable spate of news starts to come out. Mind you, all things are relative and this is in comparison to the few weeks that preceded Christmas...

First up, Derbyshire have offered a three-month trial to Ali Evans, the young seam bowler from Scotland via Loughborough University. That trial starts immediately, so the 23-year old will have pre-season with the rest of the side to impress Karl Krikken, having already managed to convince AJ Harris of his talent.

I was quite amused by the description of him by Karl Krikken in the Derby Telegraph as "he doesn't bowl at great pace but swings the ball". This is at odds with journalists and a couple of players up here in Scotland who have described him in print and to me as "pretty lively". This of course, suggests that there is a world of difference between fast-medium in Scottish circles and in the county game, which I pretty much expected. Quite what the locals here would make of Messrs Footitt and Turner should the sides ever meet is a moot point...

I'm pleased for the lad and it again shows that the club are encouraging their own. Evans took good wickets last year for the Seconds and for Swarkestone and, like all of his kind, can be expensive if the line isn't right. Yet taking wickets can become a habit and Evans has shown he can do that. The trial should enable an informed decision to be made on his future yet still leave time for a plan B if he is deemed not quite of the required standard. I wish him well and look forward to reports on his progress.

Meanwhile, the club has announced that they will play pre-season fixtures against Yorkshire and Warwickshire. The latter is a two-day game on April 1 and 2, while the former is on Saturday 31 March. Yes, you read it right folks, we are playing cricket on the last day of March, when in all likelihood the polar bears will be wearing body warmers and the penguins will be in sleeping bags. I can't imagine what it must be like to field at slip at that stage of the year.

The earliest start I ever had was my first-ever game in Scotland, playing on the east coast where, I was reliably informed "it is warmer at this time of year". I can only assume that the chap who made that comment omitted "than the Arctic" from the last sentence. It was April 15 and I took the field wearing pyjama bottoms, long johns and two pairs of trousers on the bottom half, with a vest, T shirt, shirt, two slip overs and long sleeve on top. By dint of my youth and (at that time) speed and agility I fielded point and put down two catches in the early overs as, quite frankly, I couldn't bend my fingers  with the cold! I must have looked like Colin Milburn's younger, fatter brother with all the layers and I prayed the skipper wouldn't ask me to bowl, as I'd have to remove a sweater or two...

Still, these young 'uns of today (said old fogey Peakfan...) will have the handwarmers and rightly so. They'll probably have solar-powered boxes too, providing warmth to the nether regions that might otherwise drop off with the cold. Good luck with that one lads - third man seems a good option to me, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, over in New Zealand, Martin Guptill has said that he prefers Test cricket to T20, which means that the two of us could form an official society. I like some aspects of T20, mainly that it brings a new crowd to the game, but dislike others - the chanting, the music, the dancing girls - with a passion. Don't get me wrong, I like an attractive dancing girl as much as any man (why else do we watch Strictly Come Dancing?) and no one loves their music more than I do, but I don't want it mixed up like a recreational version of bubble and squeak.

In this year's Wisden, the editor writes that the obsession with T20 is detracting from the glory of the boundary by giving too great a glut, and he's right. A boundary breaking the tension of a tight passage of play is one of the glories of the game, but T20 can see you thinking "oh, it's only a four." While a few players still play the classical shots, many more eschew them in favour of cross bat hoiks and ramp shots. The latter seems to work on a one in ten basis; leaving the batsman who played it last weekend against the fast and firing Shaun Tait looking a bit of a berk, on all fours with his leg stump knocked back with a fast yorker.

I'll willingly salivate over any batsman who can hit inside out over extra cover for four or six, or back over the bowlers head, but I can't get overly excited for someone who has top edged a six over the keeper to rapturous applause. Where I come from, we call them mishits. I must be turning into my Dad, who told me that he would sooner have electrodes attached to several important body parts and have 50,000 volts fired through them than go to a T20 again. I took that to mean he wasn't a fan.

Nevertheless, I'm off to check the coming weekend's Big Bash schedule. I might not like the razamatazz, but it is still cricket and I can at least admire improvised and powerful strokeplay and a bowler who mixes his pace and length.

Sometime soon it will be Derbyshire's turn.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Guptill heroics

I couldn't let the morning pass without recognising the overnight news from New Zealand.

Playing for Auckland against Canterbury, Martin Guptill's side faced an imposing target of 184 to win a 20-over match. They won off the last ball, making 189-6 as Guptill recorded a magnificent unbeaten 120, the next best score being 25...

Guptill's fifty came off 33 balls, with his hundred coming just 18 balls later. His full innings contained eight sixes and six fours and came from just 60 balls, an astonishing effort.

Well done Gup!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Hey...we can now say "I wonder how Derbyshire will do THIS year"...

I hope your festivities went well. We were up until just after 3, which explains why our house is very quiet this morning. I caught the end of the Big Bash game from Australia, but nothing was going to get me up for 8am after our bedtime...

Two things that irk me with the Fox coverage were more evident today. Whoever thought it a good idea to have an admittedly attractive blonde stick a microphone under a batsman's face when they've just been dismissed should be made to face Brett Lee without a box from ten yards. It is a stupid idea and when a batsman is as obviously annoyed, as Travis Birt was today, it is a recipe for disaster. What do they expect these guys to say? "Yeah, I'm pleased to be out. I can sit down and relax now"?

On the field, it would also be nice if bowlers don't, almost universally, shout "catch it" as soon as the ball leaves the bat.  For one it looks stupid when the ball speeds past the fielder for four, while for two it is ridiculous when the ball is caught be a bloke in the upper tier of the stand. As a bowler, you know when a batsman has mistimed it and you should know where your fielders are. Watching a seamer shout "catch it" when Chris Gayle middled one into row Z was ludicrous in the extreme. If it is meant to put the batsman off, it is an unlikely tactic. I hope we don't see such nonsense from our lads this summer.

Back in Derbyshire, it is good to see our new recruit David Wainwright heading with the Potential England Performance Programme (PEPP) to the warmer climes of Sri Lanka. It is ironic that Wainwright is considered good enough for the England setup, yet not for Yorkshire, something that suggests that their loss is most definitely our gain. I would like to see the player batting at seven this summer, where I think he would have the chance to build an innings and contribute good runs. Five hundred in the Championship should be on for him, while his bowling, given opportunity, could easily rack up 40-50 wickets. I've every confidence in the lad and look forward to seeing him in the county colours.

Finally today, there's a good article on the club site about Tim Groenewald, a player who has grown in his time at the club as we hope that Wainwright will. He appears very confident in the ability of the young squad and I think we should be too. Having watched most of the Aussie sides, I've not seen many players, outwith the big names, that I would swap for the lads at Derbyshire and I think we can be proud and confident in their ability approaching the 2012 season. Whether this again is too early for talk of promotion only time will tell, but a good start, decent luck with injuries and contributions from everyone in a team effort can go a long way.

With the right recruitment for the remaining overseas roles, there's a few bookies out there might regret some of the early odds on Derbyshire success for this year.

That's a positive thought to finish on. Happy New Year!