Sunday, 31 March 2013

Here comes the IPL...

While not especially a fan of T20 cricket, regular readers will know that I willingly acknowledge that it has brought an audience to the game that might not otherwise have been there. It's cricket for those who can't afford the time for a full day at a game, or who like to see something happening nearly every ball. For the ones who can't concentrate for any length of time it's probably the game of choice too; cricket for the attention deficit society...

If I can't watch Derbyshire, my preferred version is the Indian Premier League, where the game is such a weird amalgam of excited fans, international players, Bollywood stars, mad trumpeters and razamatazz that it is compulsive viewing. ITV4 did well to get the UK coverage - it is still the only thing I have ever watched on the channel...

If I'm honest, I like to watch it with a view to one of those involved being at Derbyshire at some point, for our albeit less manic version in England. It is perforce less manic, as the winds generally blow across the county grounds and one feels a degree of sympathy for the dancing girls. Unlike their IPL counterparts, who shake and shimmy in the heat, ours have to do the same while disguising goose pimples as big as marbles, looking longingly at the big jackets worn by the fans around them.

We know that Shiv Chanderpaul is going to be playing in the T20 for us, which should add a touch more class to proceedings for sure, but we don't yet know whether Martin Guptill can be tempted to stay on after the New Zealand tour. In common with all Derbyshire fans I hope that he agrees to do so, but there will come a point at which we really need to know.

Given that Karl Krikken and Chris Grant are nothing if not organised, I suspect that we have someone lined up at this stage. That player will not, as suggested by a correspondent over on the Forum, be a bowler, but a top order batsman who can clear the boundaries and play a 'proper', match-winning innings.

The question is who? It won't be an Indian, as their IPL contracts preclude them from playing in similar competitions around the globe. It won't be anyone from Zimbabwe or Bangladesh either. The only worthwhile signing from the former (Brendan Taylor) is woefully out of touch, while Shakib-al-Hasan has signed for Leicestershire, a very shrewd move by the Foxes.

Sri Lankans and Pakistanis don't generally get signed, at least not their batsmen, so I guess we will be down to those perennial sources of overseas stars, Australia and South Africa. I don't see the top tier South Africans coming over, as their demands will be too high, but the likes of Dean Elgar, Colin Ingram, Farhaan Behardien and David Miller could prove popular, the latter likely to renew his association with Yorkshire. So too might a few Australians with a pre-Ashes point to prove, batting places being very much up for grabs after the debacle of their Indian tour.

Dave Warner could fancy an early look at our conditions, while Shaun Marsh and Aaron Finch would give excellent value to any side that gave them an opportunity. All the players named above would be right for Derbyshire, though the contracts that they command in India might mean a county stint isn't high on their lists of things to do at this stage.

Peakfan's top three? I'd happily take any one from Ingram, Marsh or Finch, though any suggestion of their availability would doubtless start a stampede from the county circuit. Having presumably spent a lot of money on Chanderpaul, it would also be presumptuous to expect as big a T20 name.

We'll doubtless hear news on that score in the next few weeks. Whoever it is, the signing will be crucial to our T20 hopes this summer.

And you might just get an early sighter of them in the IPL in coming weeks...if its not Martin Guptill.

No real surprises in Somerset squad

Karl Krikken has announced his 13-man squad for the three-day friendly game against Somerset at Taunton, which starts on Monday.

There are no real surprises in the squad, which reads:

Wayne Madsen (captain)
Billy Godleman
Wes Durston
Dan Redfern
Chesney Hughes
Ross Whiteley
Tom Poynton
Richard Johnson
Jonathan Clare
David Wainwright
Tony Palladino
Tim Groenewald
Mark Turner

There would appear to be two things that Derbyshire really need from this game, aside from a good run out for all concerned. One is that Clare and Wainwright both get good and reasonably lengthy bowls, as neither has done too much bowling so far. Both need to show they are capable of bowling twenty overs in an innings against Warwickshire when the action proper starts and they have each had injury niggles.

If neither can confirm their full fitness, there is a possibility that we could go to Edgbaston with Hughes and Durston sharing spin bowling responsibilities and the seam in the hands of Palladino, Groenewald and Turner, with Whiteley as support. With Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the side, this would lengthen the batting for an opening match where Derbyshire would probably be quite happy to come out with a draw against the county champions.

The other decision to be made is that of wicket-keeper. Both Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson have done well in the pre-season matches and there is little to choose between them with gloves and bat. Neither would let Krikken down and it comes down to his call on who is the best option. Poynton had very good season last year and actually improved as it went on, when logic suggested mental tiredness could set in at the end of a first full season. Johnson would dearly love a crack at his old team mates and is an equally pugnacious batsman and undemonstrative with the gloves.

I can't call that one, though my gut feeling is that we go with Poynton, who deserves to be first choice after last summer and is an unknown quantity for the opposition.

This game, where they will presumably share keeping duties, will be the decider.

More on that game in the early part of the week.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Chesney signs on

The good news that has kept a smile on our faces for the best part of the winter kept on coming today with Chesney Hughes signing on for an additional two and a half years, taking him to the end of 2015.

There are a good few counties around the circuit who would have been very keen to chat to Chesney had he gone out of contract at the end of the season. For all that he has gone back a little in the last two summers, he remains a young player of massive potential. Given any error in line and length, he has the strength and timing to take attacks apart. His footwork can improve, but there are few harder hitting batsmen on the circuit. Throw in his safe pair of hands and his handy slow left arm and you have a potent talent.

His signature marks the end of an excellent winter in which the county has secured all of its best players for the medium term and picked up one of the greats of the world game. We only need a comparable summer and few fans will have complaints.

Mind you, over on Cricinfo the bell has been tolling for us already, at least according to many of the correspondents under George Dobell's article on our prospects. I don't buy into the negativity though and will gladly tell you why, in a few more characters than I'm allowed over there.

Too many fans seem to have division one cricketers built into a master race, superior beings who bowl faster and more accurately, as well as hitting the ball further and being nigh impossible to get out on wickets far better than those in division two. Why, reading some of the comments I was left with the impression that the bowlers would be lobbing Molotov cocktails at our batsmen, while opposition batting feasted on our sub-standard bowling fare.

That there are very good players in that division is undeniable. But there are some fairly average ones too, just as was the case last year in the second division. As I pointed out this morning in response to a comment,  James Harris, Ryan Sidebottom, David Masters, Ajmal Shahzad, Jack Brooks, Matthew Hoggard, Matt Coles, Charlie Shreck, Steve Harmison, David Balcombe and Nathan Buck were all faced at different times in 2012. All fine bowlers, none of them out of place at a higher level.

Perhaps the intensity of the cricket is greater, but I'd like to think we will be prepared for that. Bowlers will still bowl bad balls and there's no real mystery bowlers to contend with. George Dockrell is a talented young bowler, but to read someone citing his menace conjures up Hedley Verity, rather than a young Irish lad on a steep learning curve. Boyd Rankin was also mentioned and though an improved bowler since his days at Derbyshire he's not exactly Dale Steyn...

Likewise, reference to sub-standard wickets in division two ignores the fact that early season tracks across the country were poor last year. When people like Marcus Trescothick, Murray Goodwin and Mark Ramprakash can't buy a run, there has to be wider issues. Then there are those who say that our 'overrated' bowling won't get good players out on top batting tracks. A valid comment? Except for the fact that a good batting track is the same for both sides, of course. Unless Somerset plan to bat against us at Taunton, then take us to a local farm for our innings, I can't think there would be undue concern.

The only thing that would stymie our season would be injury. Luck tends to even out over a summer, but if we lost Madsen to a groin strain for a month and Chanderpaul broke a finger, our batting would be very inexperienced. Likewise, if Palladino pulled up lame and missed several weeks, at the same time as Tim Groenewald's knee caused him issues we would struggle. Our first choice side is the requisite standard, but some of the young tyros coming through need development time.

We don't have space on the staff, nor the money, for experienced reserves. Any worthwhile players want first team action anyway, so every team in division one will hope for good fortune where fitness is concerned and none of them will bank on success as a result of performances from those outside a first choice side.

As long as we go out, as we did last summer, to win each session, to compete and ensure that every player gives his very best we will be OK. It is only if the foot comes off the gas and we become blase about things when we could run into trouble. There will be days, as I've said before, when we come up against a side that is too good, too experienced and in form. We'll perhaps lose then, but as long as we battle to the end, fans will understand.

Because there will be other days when we're the side on top. I'm convinced of that.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket

I'm once again running the Daily Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League for Derbyshire fans.

I hope that a good few of you get involved. Maybe this is the year we get a Derbyshire player in the league (hey, a man can dream!)

I'm slightly concerned at the player listings at present though. You can still choose Martin Guptill and Usman Khawaja, as well as Shiv Chanderpaul...

I look forward to my annual battle with Chris from the Falcons Forum, where, I'm reliably informed (by him) that he always gives me a good thrashing. Strange things memories, eh Chris?

Join in using PIN 8031395 at

If we get 15 teams there's even medals up for well as money! Only £6 per team or a tenner for four - hope to see you involved soon!

Cricket roundup

It is impossible to start with anything tonight other than the sickening assault on New Zealand cricketer Jesse Ryder, which has seen him placed in a medically induced coma.

I'm sure that the truth about what happened will come out in the coming days. Ryder is a colourful character who has had a few issues over the years, but he is also a cricketer of some considerable talent. I'm sure that all readers of the blog will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.

I'd an e mail from Terry today, asking why I hadn't made any reference on the blog to the recent court case involving Kim Barnett. The answer is simple - it has nothing to do with cricket. Barnett was the finest domestically produced batsman that I have seen in Derbyshire colours but, like a few others before him, has had a few problems in adjusting to life outside the game. I hope that he comes through this period in his life, but this blog will never stoop (a word I use wisely) to discussing private lives and off the field matters. It's a cricket blog and as such I hope that it does what it says on the tin.

Elsewhere, Australia were well and truly hammered in India and on the basis of that tour I fear for the England tour prospects of Usman Khawaja. His experience in our conditions will be in his favour, but it is hard to get away from the feeling that he should have had an opportunity on that tour. That he didn't suggests to me that people in senior roles don't rate him for some reason. When the Australian side seems awash with 'bits 'n' pieces' players, it seems strange from any distance that a player with a good technique, powers of concentration and overall record isn't afforded a decent run in the side.

David Houghton will be disappointed with the performances of the Zimbabwe side that he graced in recent months. They seem bereft of talent and confidence, with even Brendan Taylor, a standout batsman, struggling for form. I'm not actually sure that they justify their current international status and both Ireland and Afghanistan could probably give them a very good game right now. Their bowlers aren't bad, but I'm reminded of the Derbyshire side of the late 1960's. Too often our batsmen only gave them around 160 runs to play with and you've nowhere to go from there.

Back home and Sussex have lost Hastings (just like King Harold did...) for the T20. Useful Aussie all-rounder John  Hastings has been ruled out for several months with an ankle injury and there will be a lot of frantic phone calls to line up a replacement in the next couple of months. They will find sourcing someone with the right credentials a challenge, just as Derbyshire will if Martin Guptill decides against coming back for the T20.

Despite comments on the Falcons Forum, I understand that Guptill has yet to decide on that, although I am equally sure that Chris Grant and Karl Krikken have back up plans. Whether any of those are of a comparable standard only time will tell.

Last week I reported that Jacques Rudolph, Ashwell Prince, Albie Morkel and Juan Theron had lost their national contracts with the South African cricket authorities. I also suggested that there would be quick interest shown in them all by counties as a result. Rudolph is being courted by Durham, while Morkel and Theron will not lack for suitors. Today, Ashwell Prince agreed to re-sign for Lancashire for the fourth time, where he should make a stack of runs in division two.

Finally tonight, there's a good old debate over on Cricinfo beneath George Dobell's pre-season piece on us. As always, Mr Dobell is fair and worth a read. Some of the fan comments (that I've replied to) take a little swallowing though, especially the one from a Surrey fan who asserts that none of our side would get in their eleven.

Aside from several other people with worthy claims, this suggests that Zander de Bruyn is better than Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The South African is a good player, but I'm not sure he's THAT good...

What do you think? Feel free to join in the fun

And enjoy your evening.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A triumph for common sense

The overwhelming vote in favour of the new management board at Derbyshire County Cricket Club is a triumph for common sense, as well as for those fans with the club's best interests at heart.

Voting in a group of people who are eminently qualified for their roles and have the passion and the experience to carry them out to a very high standard was of paramount importance to the club's future. Anyone who has read my comments on the subject in recent weeks will know that it was (and is) a subject close to my heart.

I hope to live to see Derbyshire up there with the foremost counties in the land and firmly believe that we are on the right road. The team and the club are works in progress though and that has to be remembered by fans. We are at the start of a journey that will see the team, the ground and the club as a whole transformed. As with any journey, there will be difficult parts that don't go to plan, but the destination or goal is the important thing and needs to be kept in mind, especially when we have an occasional bad run on the pitch, which affects all teams in their turn.

That 96% of those voting gave the plan their backing speaks volumes. It is just reward for a well thought out, sensible and thorough campaign, where members were able to get involved, ask plenty of questions and then make an informed decision.

There are two disappointments for me. One is that, turning things around, there were still 4% of members who felt that this was not the way forward. I find that quite remarkable, given that the consequences of retaining the status quo were potentially serious. I can only assume that those who decided we were better off as we were did no reading or research of their own, as they could not otherwise have made that call. Either that or they were voting out of self-interest.

The other is that around half of the membership appear not to have voted, which again I find quite sad. As a keen social historian in what is left of my spare time, I've read plenty over the years of the massive efforts involved in getting the ordinary working man a vote. That being the case, I've barely missed an opportunity to do so in anything that I cared about since I was 18.

I'm delighted that the membership voted so overwhelmingly in favour of the club's plans and these can now gather pace. Had it been closer though, because so many people simply didn't bother, it would have been a really sad indictment.

For the next two years at least we have very strong leadership at the club. Looking at those involved, I hope it goes on for much longer. Well done to all those in their new roles and to everyone who voted to ensure that our club will continue to move forward.

Fifty years from now, I have a feeling that tonight will be seen as a very important one in its history.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Season Preview on Cricinfo

It's been a funny sort of day today.

I spent part of my morning ensuring that my work's cricket team has the right gear ordered for their forays in the coming summer, then confirmed a couple of fixtures for my old workplace with a good friend through there.

Later this afternoon it was time to arrange some outdoor nets for late April, before our first game, then be struck by the realisation that in early May I will be turning out for both sides, plus my club in the space of seven days. This may, of course, turn out to be the biggest sporting mistake of my life, especially if my body makes it to the third game. Mind you, the chances of three dry days in seven at that stage of the year in Scotland are only marginally better than my chances of opening for Derbyshire in this year's T20.

I then went on to ebay and picked up a new cricket slip over for only a fiver, which struck me as a mighty fine bargain. If things don't warm up I might need to buy another five in increasingly large sizes, discarding one after another to bowl like a sporting Russian doll, until at last my toned physique is finally revealed to the world. In my dreams, perhaps....

To complete a busy day (I did some work in between times, honestly...) I heard that my season preview has gone up on Cricinfo. You can see it via the link below:

I hope you enjoy it - I'll be back with more observations tomorrow.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Monday musings

Just over fifteen days to the start of the season, as is evident from the weather... Today I passed a couple of polar bears on my way to work, as well as some brass monkeys with very worried expressions...

Over in Dubai, Warwickshire appear to be piloting a new initiative as they prepare for the season opener against us. They bat on one pitch, racking up a piffling 561-6, then bowl on a completely different one, reducing the MCC side to 73-7 (effectively eight as Joe Denly retired hurt).

One thing is for sure. Derbyshire will have the best possible benchmark against which to judge themselves in their top tier debut. Facing Chris Wright and Chris Woakes on an early season track will test our batting mettle, while the Warwickshire batting is long and powerful. I still feel it is as good a time to play them as any though. Let's face it, if we're going to win promotion, you're going to come up against the biggest guns at some point, so why not do so at the start and see how good we are? If we do well, then we need fear no one; we do badly and the players have an early wake up call on the demands at this level.

If you've read this blog over the winter though, you will know that I am quietly confident. There might be a few teams above us in September, but I think there's enough talent in the squad to surprise a few people . Last year we changed a few perceptions about the club. I reckon there will be a number added to that list by the time September comes around.

On Wednesday of this week my season preview for the club will appear over on Cricinfo. Hopefully a few of you will have a look for it during the day and maybe a few curious people might even pop across from there to see what I've been finding to write about over the winter months...

Elsewhere, Kent have announced an 'improved' post tax deficit of £628,000 last year. I find it hard to find a positive in that statement, especially when it is qualified as being their 'best figures in four years'. If Derbyshire's finances were in such a parlous state I'd be future proofing this blog and testing a few articles on card making (neat doff of the cap to Mrs P there...)

A number of counties have returned very worrying figures this year. You can excuse them however you like, citing the Olympic Games, bad weather or a plague of frogs, but what it comes down to is counties living beyond their means, paying out more than they take in.

Derbyshire has, with the substantial input of some very shrewd business people, come up with a financial model that works. It makes it all the more crucial that the result of this week's vote on the club's future governance gives an overwhelming vote of support.

The club has been run by many worthy people over the years, most notably by Will Taylor, who served as club secretary from 1908 to 1959 and ran it on the proverbial shoestring. It was Taylor who, when Harold Rhodes expected a commendation for putting out a fire that had started at the club, told him that he 'should have let the bugger burn', well aware that the insurance money would have been a huge asset.

It is unlikely that Derbyshire will ever be the Rockefellers of county cricket, but with people of the quality of Chris Grant and Simon Storey at the helm we are extremely lucky. Both are bright, passionate and shrewd with an eye for business and a desire to make a success of our cricket club.

A yes vote this week will be a mandate for them and the other talented individuals in the frame to take things forward. We will see continual improvements to the ground, the team and the club's fortunes in the years ahead.

I will be both embarrassed and ashamed if they don't get the requisite support, but I think common sense will win the day.

We'll see soon enough.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 12 - Dean Jones

The Derbyshire dressing room of the mid-1990s was full of talent, yet a strong-willed and disparate bunch of players often seemed to lack direction. The atmosphere could change as frequently as the wind direction, but one had the feeling that if someone could galvanise this group of players they could do something special.

There had been a number of blunt-speaking players in our legendary team of the 1930s, but Arthur Richardson had overcome any personal shortcomings as a player to lead the side with considerable skill to top three positions in 1934 and 1935 before taking the title in 1936. Something similar looked feasible in 1995, but a dressing room that was all too easily fragmented needed a strong leader.

Enter Dean Jones for the 1996 season, as close to the stereotypical Australian as you could wish for. Hard as nails, blunt and with a never-say-die attitude that was just what the doctor ordered. With the benefit of hindsight it was never going to last, but it was, without doubt, magnificent while it did.

Jones was a fixture in a fine Australian side and came with the reputation as being perhaps the best one-day batsman in the world, a title for which only Michael Bevan could challenge him. By the end of the 1996 season, 'Deano' had confirmed himself as an outstanding player, but proven it across all formats. He had also, despite a brusque, often confrontational persona, managed to turn a side of talented individuals into a team that came tantalisingly close to championship success.

Jones scored 1502 championship runs at 52 that summer, but he inspired Chris Adams to over 1700 runs, while Kim Barnett contributed 1400. Adrian Rollins passed a thousand too, while Karl Krikken averaged 40 from almost 900 runs down the order. Individually and collectively, there have been few seasons when Derbyshire have batted better. Jones added a further 1151 runs at 68 in the one-day games; 2653 run in a summer led by example...

Having addressed Derbyshire's perennial weaker suit, an attack featuring Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork and Phil de Freitas was always likely to win games. Jones set bold fields, encouraged and cajoled his charges and finished the season with a side that managed second place behind Leicestershire. With his friend and coach from Victoria, Les Stillman, Jones became an instant hero. Younger players loved him, older ones, for a season at least, tolerated and responded to his way of working.

As a batsman he had all the shots, strong on anything short, unforgiving on the overpitched ball. His footwork was quick and precise, with perhaps his strongest area between mid-wicket and mid-on. A strong bottom hand, like MS Dhoni today, often saw any bowling shortcomings treated savagely in that area, as can be seen in this video on YouTube

 Yet it was his running between the wickets that seemed an even stronger suit and so impressed me. When he was batting, ones became twos, twos became threes... Derbyshire looked professional, challenging....good. We took quick singles where previously batsmen might have held the pose of a correct defensive stroke. It was impressive to watch.

Like Peter Kirsten before him, Jones played himself in and worked the ball around before unveiling a wide array of shots. He was not a stylist, like Mohammad Azharuddin, but generally looked to be balanced, composed and in control at the crease. In over forty years of cricket watching, he remains the best pacer of a run chase I have seen, never seeming to panic if the run rate mounted. He worked the ball around, timed his shots so there were two to a boundary fielder, chipped over the infield and clubbed it to and over the boundary . He would have made a fortune in the IPL.

The 'season of Deano' was magnificent yet, like all good things, it could not last. He returned for 1997 but went home in June, the dressing room once again split into factions. Senior members of the side found his abrasive style of leadership hard to deal with and a player with a track record of fall-outs back home decided he simply didn't need the hassle. His departure set off a chain of events that arguably took fifteen years from which to recover, ensuing winters seeing the gradual departure of key members of a good side.

Whatever his personal foibles - and we all have them - cricket history will see Dean Jones as an outstanding player. His many fine Test innings, including the legendary one at Madras where he ended up on a saline drip after eight hours in the intense heat, confirm he was much more than a one-day scamperer. While he was batting, irrespective of the match situation, you always felt there was a chance of salvaging something. That is a rare and special gift for any player.

Jones was a class act but his signing was like tossing a lit match into a box of fireworks. It was spectacular and memorable while it lasted, but caused a lot of damage. While well-intentioned, it ultimately fell well short of creating a lasting dynasty at Derbyshire.

Though it could have done. I'm sure several players from that side have thought back to events and wondered 'What if?'

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Book Review: Wisden India Almanack 2013

One of the things that I've said to our two children over the years is to treat every day as an opportunity to learn something new. I subscribe to the theory myself, of course and enjoy learning something different in relation to subjects old and new.

That being the case, I found the first edition of the Wisden India Almanack, edited by Suresh Menon, an absolute delight. I'd suggest that most cricket fans are parochial, more aware of things in their own 'backyard' than elsewhere. It is understandable, as is the decision to publish the first of what I am sure will be a long run of the book. India is now, whether some may like it or not, the epicentre of the world game. It has been so since the advent of the IPL and will doubtless continue in years to come. Money talks, after all.

Though understandably less weighty than its parent, which is preparing for its 150th edition, the book still weighs in at an impressive 756 pages and contains an array of excellent writing. It is ironic yet somehow appropriate that the book's debut allows for a fond farewell to two of the greats of the Indian game, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, but its greater joy is in highlighting some of the many things that I didn't know about the Indian game.

Thus we read about S Thiyagarajan, better known as Thiyagu, who earned himself a million rupee IPL contract at the age of 28, despite never having played first-class cricket. Royal Challangers Bangalore were rewarded with 161 runs in five matches for only once out, a rags to riches story to gladden the heart. There's also a fine article by Akash Chopra of Rajasthan, a side with 'not a reputation to honour, not a score to match up, not even an expectation to live up to'. They had been also rans for years,76 seasons without a trophy, yet have now won back to back Ranji Trophies. If it was baseball they'd be turning into a film sometime soon. It also rings very true to a Derbyshire fan...

It is a delight to read new writers, some of them very familiar names. Bishan Bedi writes an excellent piece on the late Nawab of Pataudi, while Javagal Srinath and Sanjay Manjrekar do the same for Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. The six cricketers of the year are all from the sub-continent, but Kumar Sangakkara, Saeed Ajmal and Shakib-Al-Hasan are deserving of the honour, alongside Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli and Umesh Yadav.

Some of the staples of the original are here, including obituaries and book reviews, but the more detailed write up of the IPL and domestic cricket is useful and worthwhile to the enthusiast. Meanwhile coverage of the international series around the globe is good, though there is a certain curiosity value in seeing county cricket's events condensed to a mere two paragraphs. If I'm honest, seeing Lancashire and Middlesex presented as divisional champions came as a surprise, but the publication schedule dictated that the book does not cover the current season at home, so doesn't cover the English one that preceded it. The overseas trophy winners are thus those of 2011, rather than 2012.

This is India's almanack though. If you want to broaden your cricket knowledge, widen your horizons and read some excellent writers, many of who will be new to you, I would recommend it. For many cricket fans in the UK it is no replacement for the 'big Wisden', but there will be plenty of interest from Asian fans here, while those in India will undoubtedly find the book an essential purchase.

It should be a best-seller and deservedly so. Warm congratulations to everyone involved in a new initiative that looks set to run and run.

Wisden India Almanack 2013 is edited by Suresh Menon and published by Bloomsbury India. It is available in all good book stores, priced £25 and is currently £21.25 on Amazon

Friday, 22 March 2013

Something for the weekend

With England releasing their three Warwickshire players for some championship action before the start of the summer's hectic international schedule, Derbyshire will face Chris Woakes in the season opener at Edgbaston.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott won't play in that fixture though, doubtless giving them an excuse when we go there and whup them...

I've thought long and hard about the realistic ambitions for Derbyshire this summer and I predict a decent, solid championship campaign. As I see it, the only thing that can derail us is a spate of injuries, which would expose an inexperienced second tier to the requirements of the senior squad.

Yet there is talent. Outwith an expected first choice squad, we have batsmen like Chesney Hughes, Paul Borrington and Ben Slater. We have Alex Hughes and Peter Burgoyne as young all-rounders, Tom Knight as a specialist spinner, Matt Higginbottom and Ali Evans as seamers, Division one may be a tougher place for these young players to make their names, but they are indicative of the quality of young talent in the club, largely home produced.

It is some considerable time since one could look at a Derbyshire side and expect our opponents to worry what player X might do to them, but there are plenty of 'player Xs' in this side. Any of our top six can take a game away from opponents in differing styles; David Wainwright could bowl as well as any spinner in the country; Palladino and Groenewald will be a match for most openers on the circuit. I don't think that many people within cricket will look at a trip to Derby as easy win points this summer. Nor will they take it for granted that a couple of early wickets will expose a fragile underbelly and long tail as in previous years.

In a couple of weeks I will present my pre-season preview, but I look at the division we're in and see teams that we are eminently capable of beating. Perhaps beating the likes of Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Somerset might, at this stage, need a concerted team effort, allied to our opponents having an off day, but it could happen. Third bottom would do me fine, but I think this set of players is capable of much more than that.

Further afield and it is encouraging to see the BBC getting behind county cricket with live commentaries on all  county championship, Yorkshire Bank 40 and T20 matches. It is excellent news for those who perforce need to follow the team from afar for much of the time and my only hope is that the commentators concerned do the job to the requisite standard.

I stopped listening to the Radio Derby commentaries when they were on because the quality was, to be honest, not especially high. Jocularity and fun is an established part of cricket commentary, as Test Match Special has shown for many years, but it has never been to the detriment and the expense of the action. On too many occasions wickets were being missed through inane chitchat about favourite bands and songs. Such things are fine at the right time, perhaps filling in breaks in play, yet when you hear a commentator say 'Oh...someone's out...I'm not sure what happened...' it is frustrating, to say the least.

If Charles Collins is Radio Derby's commentator of choice for our coverage, I hope he drops his attempts to become a 'personality' with such bon mots as 'Thanks mother for the onions' and sticks to telling us what is happening on the field of play. That is really all there is to it...

Personalities develop given time and familiarity with an individual's work.  Familiarity only happens when one enjoys that work and goes back for more.

Here's hoping that Radio Derby do a very good team and club proud.

Enjoy your weekend. I'll be back at some point during it with a book review and the latest 'From Distant Lands to Derbyshire',

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Chanderpaul hits the ton trail...

Less than twenty days to the season and Shivnarine Chanderpaul scores, somewhat surprisingly, his first century against Zimbabwe.

I liked the comment of a contributor over on Cricinfo, who said "Chanderpaul reminds me of T-1000 from Terminator 2. You shoot at him, blow him apart with a howitzer, run him over with a car, he will keep coming at you. Relentless, unwavering, and unflinching. He is almost mythical that way."

Quite...and he's coming to play for Derbyshire this season. Great, isn't it?

It is quite possible that Chanderpaul came up with another 'first' today, as there can be few incidences in the history of cricket where a man has made a Test century after his son has made his first-class debut. I certainly can't think of anyone else, so there's a challenge for statisticians out there...

Closer to home, I got a copy of the Derbyshire Cricket Yearbook today, an event that has always heralded the imminent arrival of the season. For years - since 1971, to be precise - I've looked forward to the yearbook coming through the letterbox and have managed to complete my collection, going back to the first edition in 1954.

For me, its heyday was under the late Stan Tacey, who made it into something that was an invaluable resource and packed with reading. My favourite edition is still the 1970 centenary edition, which contains a number of articles of reminiscence from former players. I have a couple of copies, one of which is never too far from the side of my bed.

I'd read some negative comments over on the Falcons Forum and have to say that on this occasion I agree with them. I don't think Derbyshire miss many tricks these days, on or off the pitch, but this goes down as an own goal for me.

I had hoped that our first trophy in twenty-odd years might herald a bumper edition. I know that we run a tight ship financially and that there are other priorities. I know, perhaps better than most, that these things cost, because I spent the best part of 15 years producing local history books and booklets, among many other things, for a local authority.

But I also think that last season's efforts deserved something better than thirty pages. That it goes out to members as a freebie is presumably a factor, but perhaps consideration could have been given to a paid, limited edition version for those that wanted a keepsake. Maybe there's something in the pipeline that I'm unaware of, but a fifth trophy in 140 years should have had more than this somewhat limp offering.

The thirty pages also contain far too many errors, with 'Borrinton' disappointing and word's with comma's that dont need them, along withwords that are run together, as I've just illustrated. I've dealt out plenty of praise in the last twelve to eighteen months, but I'd have to say that this is a poor effort. Better proof reading is needed next time, for sure.

I do like the full scorecards, including one-day games, but the photos don't turn out especially well (like last year) and a rethink is definitely needed to commemorate our 2013 championship win...

On that optimistic note I close for another evening. The boys will be back tomorrow.

I do hope someone has warned them that it's not shorts weather back home.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Not out of place at all...

Any suspicions that Derbyshire will be out of place in the top tier were firmly allayed over the past two days, as a stronger looking side acquitted themselves well against Nottinghamshire. Whether we like it or not, they and Warwickshire are the sides to benchmark and we've done well on this tour.

The senior bowlers were only given short workouts yesterday, suggesting that they and Karl Krikken are quite happy with their rhythm and fitness. The rest of the bowling was largely done by fringe players in Ali Evans and Matt Higginbottom, with support from various spinners. Nottinghamshire amassed a sizeable total but today it was our turn.

A fine fifty from skipper Wayne Madsen was an early highlight of our innings, with good support from Billy Godleman and Ben Slater. The former will have been disappointed to get out when he was set, but his time will come. Slater has done well on the tour, certainly not seeming out of place in senior company and giving us another batting option once the action starts.

It was great to hear the skipper was back in the middle though. He is a batsman of poise and class and will be a key component of our first campaign back in the top tier. If he settles in at the top of the order with Godleman, a middle order of Durston, Chanderpaul, Redfern and Whiteley looks full of runs.

The stand out today was Wes Durston (pictured), who reached a sparkling ton from just 73 balls, the second fifty coming from just 24 deliveries. The end was as spectacular as could have been wished for; Wes hitting five successive sixes from the unfortunate Graeme White, reaching his century with the last of them before walking off, retired and undefeated.

He is another key component of the side this year. For all that it is a young squad, Madsen, Durston and Chanderpaul lend both experience and class that the younger players around them can only learn from. That all appear to be in early form bodes well.

Finally there was an opportunity for both wicket-keepers to stake a claim with the bat. I think that whoever is selected will bat seven this summer, ahead of David Wainwright and Jon Clare. Poynton gained in confidence throughout last summer and it soared with the magnificent century at Northampton in partnership with his captain. By the time September arrived he looked a compact, well-organised player with plenty of shots. Johnson is also a very good player, but he will have to be on top of his game - and stay there - if he is to wrestle the gloves from his good friend and rival.

For me that is one of the strengths of this Derbyshire side. In (presumably) Palladino and Groenewald at ten and eleven, we can claim to bat all the way down the order and there will be few, if any comparable batting sides. Add to that a team spirit par excellence and we could do far better than most are predicting.

One more day and then it will be time for the plane home, to reflect on a successful tour and to advance plans for the start of the stuff that matters. If they are looking for an example to follow, a look at the efforts of Rajasthan in India wouldn't go amiss. Hard work and team spirit took them from the lower level Plate Division to successive Ranji Trophies; a team with no real stars going from zeroes to heroes very, very quickly. While not predicting the same from Derbyshire, opponents will know they've been in a battle against this side, that's for sure.

The cricket couldn't have gone much better. Shame about the wi-fi though...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Monday musings

I was making my way home tonight, along a stretch of dual carriageway known laughingly as the East Kilbride Expressway. It would be an express route, were it not for the sheer volume of traffic that renders it gridlocked every evening. The pace then becomes something more akin to that of an especially arthritic, aging snail.

I took the opportunity, while I didn't move for around five minutes, to check my e mails and there's a great deal of positivity around the club as we embark shortly on a massive campaign. Sure, we lost to Nottinghamshire in the T20 final last night, but Derbyshire's patched up side was put into context when our East Midlands rivals opened with England men Hales and Lumb...

Whatever the merits of Warwickshire last year, who got on a roll and maintained it, I still see the Trent Bridge outfit as the team to beat in the division. When one looks at the strength of their squad, it makes you wonder how they do actually lose games. It is fair to say that their playing budget dwarfs Derbyshire's by some considerable margin.

So no tears in defeat. Hey, its a friendly, warm up tournament but we have once again progressed. Last year we won the Plate Final. This time around we were runners up in the main event with a side that featured two or three youngsters and two wicket-keepers. The skipper and vice-captain didn't play, along with a number of other key players. The squad can, without question, be proud of their efforts.

The virtue of competition can be seen in the performances of wicket-keepers Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson, good cricketers both and keen to be number one choice this summer. Poynton scored a breezy 30-odd against Warwickshire, Johnson does the same against Nottinghamshire. It will be a big call for Krikk as to who gets the gloves at the start of the campaign, but there's no one better placed to judge the merits of them than a man who was very good behind the sticks himself.

The lads start a two day game against Nottinghamshire tomorrow and will again have an opportunity to test themselves against the best. The practice is more important than the scores hour in the middle for a batsman is priceless; a couple of bowling spells equally so for finding rhythm.

By the end of the tour I am sure that it will once more have been deemed a success. There have been injuries and niggles, but they'd have been there back home anyway and any seamer who tried to slip himself  in the British climate right now would risk muscle and limb. They couldn't get outdoors anyway, so to be able to find rhythm with the sun on your back is undoubtedly something that will be appreciated.

In closing tonight, a plea from Buxton Cricket Club, whose excellent web site is linked to the left of this blog. If you, or someone you know, has photographs of the Buxton ground from any period, please get in touch. They'd be delighted to add to the excellent photographs on the site already.

And so to bed. Site visits topped the 350,000 mark today, so I can do so a happy man. Thanks for your continued support.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Terrific win in Barbados

Derbyshire progressed to the final of the Barbados T20 cup today with a two run win  over Warwickshire, who beat us last night. We qualified for the semis as best losers, however and duly took revenge in a close finish that will do wonders for team confidence.

When one considers that there was again no Madsen, Redfern, Clare or Wainwright it was a fine effort. Plaudits go to Ross Whiteley, with 63 including six sixes, well supported by Tom Poynton's belligerent unbeaten 35. A total of 153 wasn't massive, but as I wrote last night, you can often defend a total of 140-plus.

Which is what we did. Admirable death bowling from Mark Footitt and Mark Turner saw Derbyshire through to a narrow win, with the final taking place tonight at 11.30pm.

I'll report back on that tomorrow. When a man gets to my age he needs his beauty sleep...

The difference, in a nutshell...

The news that Dale Steyn is available for the English T20 must have had a few opening batsmen considering a change of role and becoming a pivotal member of the middle-order engine room. In my book, when one is considering the best fast bowler in the world game, it is important to add the caveat 'after Steyn'.

He is fast, nasty, awkward, consistent and skilled. He's a better bowler when he plays regularly, as spells out of the game tend to see him lose him rhythm. He is far from alone in that respect though and any side adding Dale Steyn to their ranks must up their chances of success by a more than a few per cent.

Yet the news of his availability has been met with, at best, muted enthusiasm around the shires. The player's (or at least, his agent's) financial demands are likely to make most county coaches sigh wistfully, like a besotted youth fantasising a date with the calendar girl on the wall...

Steyn would walk into any side in the world. but county cricket is not awash with cash, as the recently announced figures around the county circuit will confirm. Players such as him have to some extent been spoiled by the bottomless pots of cash on offer in the IPL. $750K for six weeks in India sir? That'll do nicely. So what price your involvement in an initial ten T20 games?

I heard suggestions last year that established stars, such as Lasith Malinga and Chris Gayle, were being touted for figures in excess of £5K per match. Derbyshire were in the frame for both, but Malinga opted to rest while Gayle signed for Somerset then pulled out when he fell in love with West Indies cricket again. One would assume that the best fast bowler on the planet would be looking for that and more.

If we assumed that Steyn might command £60K (and I suspect it would be much more) you're talking £250 a ball, £1500 per over he bowls, six grand per game. I know it's a short career, he's the best, et cetera, et cetera, but you'd need to pull a lot of punters, together with increased sponsorship spend to justify that.

In the IPL, with corporate and private pocket backing, such sums might be deemed small change. Indeed, whether we like it or not, the IPL is as far removed from the other T20s around the globe as is possible. Immense (some might say obscene) sums change hands, but it makes for a spectacle that is hard to beat and nigh impossible to emulate.

It is why our T20 will always be a quirky, enjoyable but ultimately malnourished version of it. The biggest stars on the planet won't be involved. That's partly down to international commitments but mainly because there is not enough money in the county game to lure them here.

Participation in county cricket was once seen as a rite of passage, a finishing school, without which you could not really consider yourself a complete cricketer. It is also a hard slog and plenty of players in the near fifty years since we first allowed them in the county game have gone away acknowledging that this was the case.

As I've written before, if you're a top drawer cricketer who can attract $750K-plus bids in the IPL, you're not going to play in England for altruistic reasons and much less. Those whose fortes are not smash and giggle cricket are more easily lured, but genuine talent costs and rightly so.

This year in the T20 we will have the pleasure of watching Shivnarine Chanderpaul, without doubt one of the game's greats, but not perceived as such in the shorter form of the game. Strangely, T20 'greatness' is judged on a strike rate in excess of 130 runs per 100 balls faced or in conceding under seven runs an over. Why else did Australian Glenn Maxwell earn himself a cool million for the coming IPL, despite only three fifties in the format and one first-class century? Mumbai Indians thought he was worth the money and good luck to the guy, but I know who I would sooner watch...

It would appear that the chances of seeing Steyn, Kallis, de Villiers et al in our T20 sometime soon is akin to the likelihood of finding roses in the Sahara. Like the boy with the poster on his wall, our lot appears likely to be looking at them from afar and wonder 'What if?'

Never mind. I'm more than happy with Chanderpaul and, hopefully, Martin Guptill.

Bajan niggles

There was a noble, if ultimately vain effort by an injury-ravaged Derbyshire side last night, as they lost to last year's county champions Warwickshire by four wickets with six balls to spare.

The result did, however contain plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the season. The side fielded well and, aside from an odd over here and there, appeared to bowl well too. The spin options that I have referred to over the winter proved effective, though a disappointment was that a shoulder niggle meant that Tom Knight was omitted as a precaution.

There were handy knocks from Messrs Godleman, Whiteley and Borrington, the latter top-scoring in a rare one-day appearance. While it is premature to get unduly worked up about the batting, I am sure that everyone is well aware of the need to post better scores. Anything under 140 in T20 is hard to defend, needing a combination of excellent bowling, tigerish fielding and a batting side hell-bent on self-destruction. Last night we had two out of three, which as Meatloaf once said ain't bad, but Warwickshire bat long and they're not county top dogs for nothing.

Again, we should not read too much into it, as both sides were missing players one would expect to be regulars. Add two overseas players, skipper Wayne Madsen and Jon Clare to a likely T20 side and it would be considerably strengthened. Knight would also add control to the bowling, although Peter Burgoyne acquitted himself well after a solid winter in Zimbabwe.

If there is a concern at this stage it is in the news that David Wainwright has an as yet undiagnosed back problem, which has limited his work over the winter months. While the former Yorkshire all-rounder's batting was not as productive as we might have hoped last summer, his bowling was a major contribution to the club's eventual success, giving control and penetration when wickets favoured the spinners.

It is premature to be unduly worried, with the player undergoing various tests to identify the problem. Yet any loss of Wainwright will affect the balance of a side that did so well last summer and Karl Krikken will even now be looking at options if the injury proves to be anything more than short-term.

There are effectively three. Chesney Hughes bowled some effective slow-medium left arm last night and would undoubtedly lengthen the batting side. He appears to be striking the ball well and would be a decided asset with the bat, wherever he was in the order. I'm not sure that his bowling has the guile to take regular first-class wickets though. Firing it in on leg stump when batsmen are trying to get at you is one thing; varying the revolutions on the ball, your pace and flight while maintaining line and length with fielders around the bat is another.

There have been plenty of bowlers around the circuit over recent years who mastered one of these skill sets, but doing both to a high standard usually requires experience, something that Hughes and his rivals simply do not have at this stage.

Peter Burgoyne would be another option. Fresh from that solid winter in Africa, Burgoyne will be pressing for a regular berth anyway, although it would appear to me at this stage that his batting is the stronger suit. Again, his presence would lengthen the batting and his fielding will be an asset, but I'm not sure whether he could bowl out sides right now. At nineteen he really shouldn't be expected to, but there were encouraging bowling stints towards the end of the winter and Burgoyne will be in the frame. With two first-class centuries in only twelve innings and ten wickets in only 80 first-class overs he has to be.

Then there's Tom Knight. To write him off as a specialist bowler disregards considerable work on his batting over the winter months. He is a leaner, fitter, more mature cricketer than the one who burst onto the scene two years ago. Still nineteen himself, my gut feeling is that he is slightly the more advanced bowler, something that is based more on his T20 bowling at some big names, than on a track record in first-class matches at this stage.

Knight spins it and offers a degree of control, just like the other two. "Ah, but do they really turn it?" some might say, a comment that somewhat misses the point. As the old Yorkshire great, Wilfred Rhodes once said, you only need to turn it half the width of the bat to cause havoc; anything else, as a man who eschewed ostentation continued, is for show. Rhodes used to bowl an early 'ripper' (not that the term was used at that time), then leave the batsmen aware that he might do it again at any time, though he rarely did. Line, length and wondrous flight were enough for 4,000 first-class wickets...

Fingers crossed David Wainwright is fit for the summer, but it appears more than a possibility that he may need to be nursed through some of it. We do have options though, albeit from three young, talented players whose combined age is only six years more than my own.

By September, at least one of them could well have had opportunities ahead of their expectations to advance their careers considerably.

That's going to be well worth watching.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Something for the weekend

I hope you like the final, new look blog. Thanks once again to Martin Booth of Office Care, to Jade at Silver Birch Design and to Pritam Sharma at Sportkeeda for their help in getting it all together.

Derbyshire have had a good early workout in Barbados, with Jonathan Clare starring with the ball on day two, after the encouraging batting of Chesney Hughes, Wes Durston and Billy Godleman on the first day.

Tomorrow its time for T20 against Warwickshire. It is an early sparring opportunity for the teams that will face each other at Edgbaston in the County Championship opener next month, though little or nothing could or should be read into the result, whatever it is.

As regular readers will know, I'm a long way from convinced of Derbyshire's ability at T20, though I dearly hope that this opinion is revised in the coming summer. We're obviously short of what I would expect to be two overseas batsmen, but the game offers an opportunity to test the respective merits of our numerous spinners. Durston, Hughes, Burgoyne, Wainwright and Knight all offer tight slow bowling options and any or all of them could feature in the coming season's evening thrashes.

I'd love to see us progress from what is a difficult group, but to do so we need to show greater savvy with the bat. We often lose wickets in clusters, going from 30-0 to 38-3 or somesuch very quickly. This is where the presence of Shivnarine Chanderpaul should come in useful, a player with the experience to work the ball around and not panic if an opposition player bowls a tight over.

Over in the Caribbean I hope to see signs of improvement in that line, favourable portents of the summer that is coming soon.

Catching up on other news, former Derbyshire player Ian Blackwell has announced his retirement, something I wrote was likely a couple of months back. A shoulder injury is a major issue for any cricketer and Blackwell's was described as a 'chronic' problem, something that seemed unlikely to allow his career to continue.

He intends to qualify as a first-class umpire and I am sure that all Derbyshire fans wish him well.

I've been very impressed with the coverage of Derbyshire's pre-season tour in the Derby Evening Telegraph and hope that it is set to continue in the coming season. Derby County's insipid recent form has added credence to the feeling that the cricket side is now the stronger in the city. They fully deserve a good level of coverage as they embark on division one cricket and I am sure that Mark Eklid will look forward to sitting in some different press boxes.

Finally tonight, I'm delighted to see that a deal has been reached to enable the maintenance of all City Council cricket pitches for the current season, with discussions ongoing with regard to the future. Some may wonder what this has to do with the county side, but the growth and continued success of local club cricket is dependent on the provision of good quality facilities. Just as much as the continued success of the county club requires an annual intake of bright young talent from those local clubs.

In negotiating a favourable deal, the personnel at Cricket Derbyshire have made a very favourable early impression. While players will need to make an increased contribution to hire facilities, it would appear to have been kept within reasonable bounds.

Though perhaps, I suspect, not as reasonable as my own club. Our landlord, a big cricket fan, allows us a five-year lease for a pound a summer....

Have a great weekend. See you tomorrow with news of Derbyshire's match against Warwickshire.

PS Jacques Rudolph being pursued by Durham, a couple of days after I suggested he, together with Ashwell Prince, Albie Morkel and 'Rusty' Theron, would be in demand for county stints.

I must get a lottery ticket on...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Midweek musings

There's been a good workout for the Derbyshire boys in Barbados today, with Chesney Hughes displaying local knowledge with a sparkling century against Northamptonshire.

The last score that I saw was 252-8, with a few batsmen getting a start, including new man Billy Godleman, who made 37. To some extent the number of runs is not especially important, like the results, but time in the middle, together with the reassurance that your eyes, hands and feet are all working together, is never a bad thing.

I'm especially pleased to see early runs for Hughes though, whose familiarity with the wickets and relative match fitness will have stood him in good stead. No one can doubt his talent, but the player who burst so spectacularly onto the county scene has been missing in action over the past couple of summers. His left arm spin (often quicker than some people who take a run up...) is a handy one-day resource, but his batting still has the potential to become a potent weapon for the county.

Perhaps Chesney has been over-thinking it and simply needs to go back to basics. Just as Billy Godleman said last week that Dave Houghton wanted him to bat like he did at 18, perhaps Hughes needs to think back to the way he approached batting when he first got here.

On his day, when there's not too much lateral movement and he gets his feet moving, he has the ability to destroy bowling. I am firmly of the conviction that working with Shivnarine Chanderpaul will be as beneficial for him as it will be for the more advanced claims of Dan Redfern and Ross Whiteley. From the team's perspective, having another batting option pressing hard for inclusion in the side will be a genuine asset ahead of the new season. A headache for Karl Krikken yes, but a nice type that he will far prefer to the alternative.

Staying in the Caribbean - and why not, it's a heck of a lot warmer than here - Chanderpaul scored 26 for the West Indies today against Zimbabwe. Curiously, his outstanding Test average has been achieved without cashing in on an average Zimbabwe side, against who he has recorded relatively few big scores. That, of course, is his cue for a big second innings total.

Meanwhile, back home, our first opponents Warwickshire have announced that their side is complete for the campaign and they will only have Jeetan Patel as an overseas player for 2013, with no one else for the T20. This is partly because they are comfortable with their existing squad, but also because money is tight at Edgbaston. County champions they most assuredly are, but like a good few counties their finances are in a somewhat parlous state.

Finally tonight  - and for the benefit of those counties who have still to recruit to their overseas roles, Cricket South Africa announced today that four players have been released from central contracts.

Ashwell Prince, Juan Theron, Albie Morkel and Jacques Rudolph are the players concerned and the loss of that financial safety blanket may convince one or more of them that a county deal is just what they need for the coming months. All except Theron are well known in this country, but the seamer's renowned parsimony as a bowler in T20 cricket may well attract a county offer.

Likewise the other three. The best days of Prince and Morkel are behind them, but they remain players of talent. As for Rudolph, he is that most frustrating of cricketers, full of runs at county and provincial standard but finding the jump to the international arena a step too far.

I'd be confident that a discerning county cricket chief would get a good player in signing one of the above, especially for T20.

Remember, you read it here first...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Derbyshire Barbados-bound while Arthur takes the Mickey...

Derbyshire will head out for the warmer and sunnier climes of Barbados today, at the start of a pre-season tour that has become a key part of their preparations in recent seasons.

Getting the sun on their backs will enable bowlers to bowl close to flat out, something they could never do at home in the current biting cold, even if the weather allowed for outdoor practice. Batsmen and bowlers can hone their skills in match conditions, while the matches themselves, while not especially important from a winning perspective, offer a chance for players to stake a claim for a place in the eleven when the real stuff starts in a month's time.

Having said that, few of us following the Plate Final against Hampshire late at night last year could have expected it to be the catalyst for a championship-winning campaign. So it proved, however, as Derbyshire hit the ground running back home and maintained their professionalism to the very end.

It would be asking a lot to replicate that in the coming summer, but as Karl Krikken says, the team can play without fear as the media and bookies largely have us set for a quick return to division two. I'm not so sure. The gulf between the two divisions is nowhere near that between the Championship and Premiership in football and I maintain that we will surprise a few sides this year, especially if they underestimate us.

While they are en route to Barbados, it is likely that a few of the side will spare a thought for erstwhile colleague Usman Khawaja, who, along with Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson has been dropped from the Australian squad for the forthcoming third Test against India for a 'breach of discipline'.

"We were particularly aware of where we were as a team and how we were going to get back. I asked the players at the end of the game to give me an individual presentation. I wanted three points from each of them technically, mentally and team as to how we were going to get back over the next couple of games, how we were going to get ourselves back into the series" said coach Mickey Arthur.

Fair enough, I suppose and all but the four named complied. Am I alone, however, in thinking that the 'punishment' is more than a little draconian? As vice-captain, Watson might have been expected to comply, while Pattinson has been the closest they have to a successful bowler so far.

Yet Johnson, a cricketer of mercurial talent has yet to feature, as has Khawaja. I'm not denying that there has to be discipline in any working or sporting environment, but does the punishment really fit the 'crime' here?

For reasons that have never been explained, Usman doesn't seem to be favoured by the Aussie selectors and for me, as a bloke on the periphery of the team, he was in a classic 'Damned if I do, damned if I don't' scenario. It may be that he simply forgot - not especially professional, but surely not of critical importance? It may also be that he was unsure what to put.

'Play me' might have been tempting as an answer, having watched his team mates play the Indian spinners at times as if they were lobbing hand grenades at them. Yet in so doing he would risk being seen as cocksure, something that his current position in Aussie cricket circles doesn't substantiate. Nor does it fit with the bloke who got on so well at Derbyshire.

To say anything else could equally see him labelled a trouble-maker, kicking team mates when they're down. Only those involved know how it was presented to them, but asking players outside a team how you can improve it is fraught with potential issues, especially if anonymity is not assured.

We all know that the Aussies are straight-talking and hard-nosed, but I think they've erred badly on this occasion. Part of the problem is that they have no real leaders anymore, no giants of the game, but a bigger one is that much of their selection appears based on a 'square pegs in round holes mentality'. Dave Warner is a very good T20 player. Moises Henriques a decent one. Yet both feature in an Australian Test side with  track records that are, at best, fair in the longer form of the game because they're the best available.

Mickey Arthur is an intelligent man and a good coach. The two things combined should help him to understand that Australia cannot expect to be a world-class side without world-class players. Until they can develop the next Hayden, Langer, Waughs, Ponting, Gilchrist, McGrath and Warne they're unlikely to get there.

Mind you, the cause could be helped by the selection of a player, in Khawaja, who can bat for a long time and could, given a lengthy opportunity, solve the current massive problem that they have at number three. He is a proven scorer of runs in the longer forms of the game.

Horses for courses, that's what I say.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

From Distant Lands to Derbyshire 11 - Daryll Cullinan

Over the years I have read a number of articles about Daryll Cullinan and there is a word that nearly always crops up at some stage in all of them.


The articles usually reference him not getting on with X, or vice-versa. Herschelle Gibbs pulled few punches in his somewhar scurrilous autobiography, while Dominic Cork's Uncorked made his feelings patently clear. I'll not go into the details, but Cullinan's dislike of the practical jokes in a somewhat lively Derbyshire dressing room perhaps made him a long way from unique.

I never met him, but I saw him bat on numerous occasions and he was a very fine player, both technically and stylistically. At the Oval in 1994, as Devon Malcolm cut a swathe through the South African batting after his now legendary "You guys are history..." comment, Cullinan looked on a different level to his colleagues. He stroked 94 imperious runs from a team total of 175, an innings that played a major part in Derbyshire's decision to engage him for the 1995 season.

To be fair, Cullinan had looked a class apart from his school days, where his exploits earned him the unfortunate reputation as the 'new Graeme Pollock'. Cricket has an unfortunate habit of burdening young talents with such sobriquets and many a young talent has subsequently struggled to handle them. Cullinan didn't and had a first-class century to his name before he was 17.

At the crease he was poised and graceful, with a cover drive in the Barry Richards mould. He seemed to have plenty of time to play his shots and was equally adept against both pace and spin. The latter made his struggles against Shane Warne all the more surprising, as he scored Test centuries in five different countries and impressed whoever saw him with a wide range of strokes, accompanied by exquisite timing. Yet in Australia his average was painfully low, something many attributed to him simply trying too hard and failing to play his natural game. The talent was undoubtedly there.

He was on fire from his first innings for Derbyshire, making 134 at the County Ground against Sussex as we made 603-6 against Sussex after bowling them out for just 111. They only made two more than that in the second innings and Cullinan must have thought he'd joined a team of world-beaters. He followed this with 131 at Trent Bridge in his next, but then had to retire hurt at Chesterfield against Yorkshire on a fiery track.

I saw him play a delightful knock against Scotland at Titwood on a typically slow early season Scottish wicket, where batsmen struggled to time the ball. Cullinan worked out the conditions and ensured that he stayed in until the end, when he opened up with a flurry of strokes that took Derbyshire past 200. He reached a well-deserved and beautifully crafted century in the last over, his innings making all the difference as Scotland subsequently struggled againt Malcolm, Cork and De Freitas.

He made five centuries that summer in the first-class game, but there was a noticeable reduction in the output as his enjoyment waned and the dressing room atmosphere deteriorated. He finished the summer with an average of a shade under 46 - not bad, but far less than his early form suggested and his talent justified.

He had a somewhat tempestuous relationship with the South African cricket authorities and flitted between domestic sides in that country, befitting a man with a nomadic bent. In 1995 he appositely broke Graeme Pollock's then Test record score by a South African, his unbeaten 275 against New Zealand at Auckland a monumental effort of concentration. I can find no on line footage of that innings, but here he is making a century against England in 1999-2000, showing the shots and footwork that made him such a lovely player to watch:

Only nine South Africans with a lengthy Test career have beaten his Test average of 44. It is just a pity that we only saw him at Derbyshire for one season, as the experience could only have benefited him (and us) in the longer term. Compare that season's returns (there were a further 500 one-day runs) with the debut county campaigns of, for example, Eddie Barlow, John Wright and Peter Kirsten. Cullinan can then be looked on even more favourably.

Irrespective of the opinions of some team mates, supporters should only consider Daryll Cullinan from a playing viewpoint. He was a player of charm, grace, poise and class, a delight to watch.

I just wish it had lasted longer.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Chanderpauls

A nice picture of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and his son, Tagenarine as they practised ahead of their match against a powerful Trinidad and Tobago side the other day (picture courtesy Ashley Allen)

Senior Chanderpaul fell victim to Sunil Narine for only eight in the first innings, on a wicket that was made for the talented off-spinner, making the efforts of his 16-year old son all the more laudable.

He second top scored with 42 in the first innings and another 29 at the end in the second, both knocks suggesting a player of quite exceptional talent. Dwayne Bravo was also in the attack, so he had to work for his runs, but the indications are that the name Chanderpaul seems likely to feature heavily in West Indies cricket for some time to come.

Whichever local side Tagenarine is playing for this summer looks set to get a young cricketer of exceptional promise. He can only benefit from playing on different tracks and in different conditions.

While the focus will be squarely on his Dad's efforts in Derbyshire colours, it will be well worth keeping a wary eye on the efforts of junior in the local leagues.

As for Shivnarine, it was business as usual in the second innings, although his innings of 108 looked unlikely to save them from defeat at the time of writing.

Good to see with the season fast approaching.

Something for the weekend

In his interview with Billy Godleman on the club site, Tom Holdcroft  has done a very good job.

The interview shows why the talented batsman chose Derbyshire and it is telling that his relationship with David Houghton was important. The Derbyshire batting coach wants him to play more like he did when he was 18, relaxing more at the crease and being unafraid to play his shots. It is obvious that he is seen as a key component of the one-day, as well as four-day sides and I have a feeling that the County Ground could be the making of the lad.

To a great extent he has 'snuck in' under the radar this winter, most of the publicity having rightly been garnered by the legend that is Chanderpaul. Yet if he can form a solid opening pairing with, presumably, Wayne Madsen, it will go some way towards helping us to become established in the top tier.

For a middle order batsman there's a big difference in coming in to bat with a few runs on the board and shine gone from the ball. If we're going to make the runs required to force wins this summer, the lead given at the top of the order will play a major role.

Don't be surprised to see a batsman of obvious talent score runs this summer as it progresses. Like all of you, I will watch his progress with considerable interest.

Elsewhere, Yorkshire have said that Ryan Sidebottom is likely to be rested from 40-over cricket this summer, which is an eminently sensible move. Given that this is the last summer of the competition in its current form, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few counties use it for development purposes if they lose a few early games - and that includes Derbyshire.

Of course we will take it seriously and a trophy is a trophy, but the competition also offers an opportunity to blood young players such as Peter Burgoyne, Alex Hughes and Tom Knight among others, all of who may not necessarily be seen as part of a first choice championship side at this stage. However, exposing them to a good level of senior cricket, especially away from the manic nature of T20, is part of their continued development. So too is ensuring that bowlers who are key to four-day success aren't overworked.

Burgoyne and Knight, in particular, could find themselves in the T20 side, especially given the proven strategy of slow bowlers being more difficult to get away. That side, in my opinion, will be less experimental, as attracting sizeable crowds will be important for the club this summer, something you can only realistically expect to do by fielding your strongest team.

The club's forums with regard to the proposed new structure have now finished and would seem to have been a success. I just hope that those who attended listened to the rationale behind the proposals and then voted in support. News of the result of this vote is the first key result of the summer for me. A vote in favour allows the very able people in charge the mandate to move us forward.

Without that support, I will have very strong reservations about the viability of our medium to long term future.

If you have still to vote, just remember that.

Postscript..In the original version of this post, I suggested that Tom Holdcroft had now left the club for pastures new, when it is, in fact, Nathan Fearn who has done so. This was based on as couple of e mails received.

Apologies to Crofty for the error. Here's hoping you're around for a long, long time mate! Nathan - thanks for your efforts on the club's behalf and good luck in the future.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

County roundup

Yorkshire Vikings eh?

A new name for our Norsen (sorry...) neighbours, one that will surely see them obliged to travel to away games by longboat. Which reminds me of the old joke about Nottingham Forest travelling to their away games by submarine. They'd heard there were 20,000 leagues under the sea and must have a chance of winning one of them...

It's the latest T20 name in a continual re-branding exercise for some clubs, all, of course, geared towards attracting young fans to the game. I have to say that when I was a nipper myself the cricket itself would have been enough for me, without sitting on the boundary with a Viking helmet and an axe. Perhaps they should bring in Ole Mortensen as an authenticity adviser.

Meanwhile, over in the Caribbean, Chanderpauls senior and junior will be lining up together in a first-class match for Guyana this weekend. I hope that Tagenarine is as aware of the significance of this moment as his Dad undoubtedly will be.

The first time I played alongside my son in a match I was thrilled and watched with pride whenever he fielded the ball. I hoped to bat alongside him too, though those plans were thwarted by my early departure, just when I hoped to impress him with my lavish range of strokes (I just had to find them first...)

I doubt that such an issue will raise its head with Shivnarine and son. It is a fairly rare occurrence, especially in the modern era when players generally retire earlier. Pre-WW2 it happened more regularly, but it was far from uncommon for players to go on until their late forties, even fifty, which gave them a fighting chance.

One to watch, for sure.

Over in India, Australia were hammered by the hosts and look a fairly ordinary outfit ahead of the Ashes battles. While they always seem to crank up a couple of gears for England, their batting looks fragile, the bowling largely ineffectual and their spin bowling barren. Why else would they be trying to fast track the registration of a Pakistani spinner whose record is hardly indicative of a new Abdul Qadir? The suggestion that Shane Warne might make a comeback has died a death and they don't look much of a side.

Take Michael Clarke from the batting and the rest are  inconsistent. It is likely that Usman Khawaja will get a chance in the next Test and he can hardly do worse than Phil Hughes and Dave Warner. Their techniques have been exposed on turning tracks and Usman should have a chance to impress that I hope he takes.

Finally tonight, Worcestershire have signed Jacob Oram for the T20, a player I have rated for some time but whose career has been ravaged by injury. At his best he is a powerful hitter and a very underrated bowler, but his recent record doesn't suggest he will manage the full campaign.

I'm still hoping a fellow countryman makes his way to the County Ground. Positive news on that will be the icing on a very good winter cake for Derbyshire fans.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Monday musings

There's a nice article in the Derby Telegraph today by Gerald Mortimer, putting the clock back to the 1993 Lords Final win over Lancashire.

It is a game that lives long in the memory and the writer does a good job in capturing the salient moments of a game that was as dramatic as any final ever seen on that hallowed and revered turf. The wonderful batting of Dominic Cork, Tim O'Gorman and Karl Krikken, that final over by Frank Griffith and a tigerish fielding performance made you proud to be a Derbyshire fan. Much the same as last season did, to be honest.

There was an interesting comment below my last piece by Mark, who expects another powerful season from Warwickshire. While they were a standout team last year, I have a few reservations about their replicating it this time around.

For one thing, they are likely to lose Chris Woakes to England, as well as Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott. The latter two are rarely there anyway, but Woakes, Keith Barker and Chris Wright were standouts last year. They only need to lose one of the latter and their sea, attack is down to the still scatter gun and inconsistent Boyd Rankin, together with the largely unproven new recruit from Yorkshire, Oliver Hannon-Dalby.

Then there's the future of all-rounder Rikki Clarke, who won't commit past this season, partly because of his disappointment in Dougie Brown getting the coach's job over Graeme Welch. Stories suggest that this feeling is shared by a fair proportion of the dressing room, something they may work around, but then again may not.

A bad or indifferent start won't ease the divisive atmosphere and we all saw, with Lancashire last summer, what can happen when a team has a bad first few weeks. I'm not suggesting that they will 'emulate' the red rose county in being relegated, but I don't see consecutive titles as a matter of course.

I am happy to go on record right now and suggest that Derbyshire won't be overawed or out of their depth in the coming championship campaign. They have still to convince me that they have the nous, the composure in run chases and the savvy to maintain tight lines and lengths when it really matters in one-day games. But in four-day cricket I don't expect us to be overawed or totally outplayed on a regular basis.

There will be days when we do badly, when we come up against an in-form Nottinghamshire or Somerset and get a pasting. I still expect to see us fighting though and anyone expecting to see us in the top tier simply to make up numbers will get a surprise.

I think there are three or four teams, at least, that we can beat in that division.

At the end of it all, we only need to finish above two of them.

Enjoy your evening

Saturday, 2 March 2013

County roundup - Burgoyne strikes another ton

I can't allow the week to end before mentioning a second first-class century in Zimbabwe for young Derbyshire all-rounder Peter Burgoyne.

Burgoyne, 20 this year, had a superb all-round match but his side, the Southern Rocks (I always want to start singing the old Glen Campbell song Southern Nights when I write that...) were still heavily beaten by the Mid-West Rhinos. Burgoyne scored 104 and 44 in his two innings and  figures of 3-86 and 3-27 with the ball, fully emphasising his talent.

His two centuries have come in only 12 first-class knocks and, following on from some powerful displays for the Seconds last summer and some bright cameos in the CB40 he is most definitely one to watch.

His spell in Zimbabwe with Dave Houghton has done him the world of good and Houghton has given him the responsibility of batting at four, something to which he has responded. If this vein of form continues through Barbados and into the new season, the player will be putting pressure on the likely middle order batsman before too long.

Not that I'm suggesting he will replace Shivnarine Chanderpaul, just in case you wondered...

Meanwhile our first opponents, Warwickshire, have picked up one of Australia's brightest batting talents in 17-year old Sam Hain. Born in Hong Kong to British parents, Hain made the Australian under-19 side at just 16 and is highly regarded. He has now decided to move to England once he finishes his education and few would doubt the county champions have pulled off a coup.

Hain attended Loretto School in Edinburgh on an exchange a couple of years back and scored a couple of centuries for Musselburgh as a 14-year old, indicative of precocious talent. While there are no guarantees that early talent will be realised (Dominic Telo anyone?) the thinking money is on Hain doing pretty well.

Moving on to senior cricketers, two Aussie speedsters will be plying their trade in the T20 this summer. Dirk Nannes will be with Glamorgan, while Shaun Tait will turn out for Essex, news that will make a few opening batsmen check out their thigh, chest and arm guards sometime soon.

When Nannes retires he should be able to open his own cricket memorabilia business, as this will be his fourth English county to go with contracts in most T20 competitions around the globe in recent years. His collection of cricket tops must be the only thing more impressive than his fast and skiddy left-arm bowling.

I'd have to say that Tait is an enigma. I've seen him bowl very fast, accurately and well on occasions, but I've also seen him bowl some of the most wildest stuff since Mohammad Ali was in his 'pomp' at Derbyshire. Rumours that Adam Wheater bought out his contract at Essex to move to Hampshire to avoid the possibility of having to 'keep' to him are as yet unsubstantiated....

His problem seems to be that he's not used to longer spells and when I've seen him he is often fine in one or two over bursts, but an extra over often sees his arm drop and his rhythm go. It seems strange that a professional bowler cannot bowl longer spells, but T20 is all Tait plays these days, so perhaps he's just not used to it.

I've no doubt that he, like Nannes, will bowl a good spell or two, though whether he is enough to help them progress in the competition is another thing. With their batting they should do well, but sometimes the parts just don't add up.

Indeed, I was intrigued that Owais Shah only signed a one-year deal  at Essex this week and could see him packing up the county game to become a nomadic T20 specialist. Maybe I'm wrong, but his England days appear to be behind him and the money on offer in the short form of the game must exceed that on offer on the county circuit. Given that his IPL commitments often see him at loggerheads with his county masters, I'd not be at all surprised to see that happen.

In closing tonight, I'm delighted to see Derbyshire taking cricket back to Leek and playing Essex there on June 9. The halcyon days of out grounds are long gone, but it is encouraging to see the county encouraging cricket fans in an area that has been a rich source of playing talent over the years.

Fingers crossed for good weather.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A proud day..

Earlier this week I mentioned that I had some exciting news about the blog before the end of the week. As Rod Stewart once said, tonight's the night...

First up, my sincere thanks go to Office Care in committing to being official sponsors of the Peakfan blog. Their generous support has enabled me to drop the Google Ads that some found a distraction and I am delighted to acknowledge my thanks to them.

As one of the East Midlands premier office cleaning companies, they have been generous sponsors of both Derby County Football Club and Derbyshire County Cricket Club among numerous others and I am both delighted and flattered to have their support as the blog comes to the end of its fifth year on the web.

Special thanks go to director Martin Booth, as well as to designer Jade Mosinski at Silver Birch Creative, who will be putting the finishing touches to the new blog header next week.

Completing a memorable day, the blog was nominated by an unknown reader for the prestigious Sportskeeda Blogger Awards in the 'Best Domestic Blog' category. The Sportskeeda site features 'the best of international sports writing' and receives in the region of three million hits per month - that's something to aspire to!

I've now heard that this blog has won the award, the news of which leaves me incredibly surprised, humble and very, very grateful. A sincere thank you for whoever it was nominated the site, as well as to all those who voted for it in the awards.

For those who like to read such things, the full details of the nominations are here while the results can be seen here

The blog started out as a bit of fun, where I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested in reading what I had to say but kept my fingers crossed. It remains fun, or I wouldn't do it, but readership has been recorded in 29 countries at the last count, showing the level of interest in Derbyshire cricket around the globe.

Thank you to all of you for checking in on a regular basis.

Here's to the next five years and continued progress for Derbyshire CCC!