Monday, 31 March 2014

Derbyshire v Durham UCCE - preview

Moore, Godleman, Madsen, Chanderpaul, Hughes, Durston, Johnson, Wainwright, Clare, Palladino, Groenewald, Footitt, Turner.

That's the squad for the first 'proper' match under Graeme Welch and it won't be far away - injuries permitting - from that for the championship opener against Leicestershire next weekend.

The top six is pretty much what most people expected and it would be hard to argue against it. Graeme Welch's assertion that Durston will be an asset at number six to bat with the tail is a fair one, especially when one considers his erstwhile ability at facing the new ball. Should those above him fire as we might hope, the sight of him striding to the crease at 300-4 will not be a source of comfort to opposition bowlers.

There's a classic right/left combination in the opening pair and a nice 'feel' to a top six that contains three of each. If nothing else, it will keep opposition bowlers having to work on their lines.

Likewise, at this stage you could perm any four from five quality seamers, there being a strong possibility that David Wainwright may miss out on early season tracks. Whether that is the case depends on how fit Chesney Hughes really is for bowling, though there's no doubt that having a couple of useful spinners among his batsmen gives Welch more flexibility in his bowling line up.

I suppose the biggest talking point among supporters will be in the choice of wicket-keeper. Both Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson are very good players, as well as being good friends. There is little between them in their glove work (though Poynton kept beautifully last year) but Johnson is perhaps the more polished and dependable batsman at this stage.

It's a tough call for Welch and tougher for the man omitted. Welch will know Johnson from his time at Edgbaston, but will have watched both men pre-season and no doubt taken the counsel of Simon Guy as wicket-keeping coach. There's always the possibility that Poynton is still in the frame for the game at Leicester and Johnson is playing in this one to keep his hand(s) in, but I have every confidence that whoever plays will serve us well.

I think that it is a strong-looking side and accounts for the optimistic feeling among supporters, as evidenced by the early votes in the poll on the left.

Another strong performance will send us into the real stuff in good heart and I look forward to reporting on it over the next few days.

Finally tonight, there's an interesting interview with Ian Blackwell over on Cricinfo. What caught my eye was the following paragraph:

It sounds a bit of a cliché but you've just got to enjoy it. It comes to a stage as a professional that you stop enjoying it because it's your job. Even in exhibition games it's hard, because people think you're just going to go out there and smack a load of sixes. In pro cricket you're getting paid, you have to perform and you're nervous. Depending on what type of character you are, it can find frailties in you. You have to remember why you got into the game during those times, and that is to enjoy it. That's a key thing I try to instil in the youngsters when I'm coaching. 

Throughout this season, as supporters, we must all remember this. Players will go in and out of form, not through choice but human frailty. They don't do it on purpose, but it happens and, like any other career, it carries pressures with it. Sometimes the opposition are too strong; on other occasions lady luck deserts you, just when you need her most.

But I hope our lads enjoy their season, because if they do, we probably will too. The start of another summer of cricket is always exciting.

This could be a special one for Derbyshire fans, but we'll be rooting for them either way.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Something for the weekend

Another day, another convincing display by Derbyshire, with all the batsmen doing well and Mark Turner providing more evidence for a role in the grander scheme of things among the bowling ranks.

Pre-season could hardly have gone better and if we carry this approach through to the business part of proceedings we'll do just dandy. I'm especially pleased for Billy Godleman, who looked a good player in patches last summer but didn't go on to the big score that would have evidenced his talent. While runs in friendly matches don't count in the career records, their effect on the individual psyche and confidence levels cannot be underestimated.

I hope Billy continues that form into the season proper and have high hopes for his pairing with Stephen Moore, who has shown himself the class act that he is so far. So too did Wayne Madsen, of course, with a continuation of the form of last summer which augurs well.

With Mr Chanderpaul flying in this weekend, things are encouraging, no doubt about it.

On to other news and I am delighted that Radio Derby's cricket coverage this year will be handled by Iain O'Brien. A player for who the title 'journeyman pro' might have been coined, he was a good county and international seamer whose career at top level was cut short by back problems.

Having someone with that background (pardon the pun) and reputation on the airwaves does the credibility of the radio station no harm at all and I suspect a number of new listeners will tune in this summer. I will be one of them and regular readers will know that's a major shift for me.

Charles Collins is a nice man and knows cricket, but he wasn't, with respect, a good commentator. Far too much of the commentary was on irrelevancies and his 'catch phrases' became an irritant for many. So too were the occasions when he missed wickets when discussing favourite recordings  or mixed up players, most 'memorably' Tom Poynton and Chesney Hughes. So, like a good few others, I didn't bother tuning in.

I will from now on and wish Iain O'Brien well. I am sure he will do a good job.

Finally tonight, 'respect' to Tom Holdcroft at Derbyshire CCC, who got in touch to discuss the issues I had been having with the club tweets. After looking into the problem, Tom came up with a solution that seems to have sorted the problem quite nicely.

I'm very grateful to him for taking the time to get in touch and it is further evidence of a club that has genuine aspirations to be the best it can be, on and off the pitch.

Nice work Tom - and thank you!

Time for the Peakfan Blog County Championship!

Yes, my friends, the start of the season is just over a week away and that's loads of time to enter the Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League for Derbyshire followers (hey, and players/administrators too...)

Cunningly titled the Peakfan Blog County Championship, you can enter a team or teams by following this link

Once you have selected your team, join the league, which has the PIN 8031395 and let the good times roll...

Last year's roll of honour was as follows:

Champion:Gary Cunningham
Runner up:Dean Doherty
Runs:Gary Cunningham
Best starting XI:Gary Cunningham
Wooden Spoon:James Thomas

This time I mean business...well done to Gary for a sterling effort last year, but I'm coming for you this year, my friend. That means I will actually try to do something with my team after the start of June and avoid swapping in players who lose form or control of their limbs soon afterwards...

I understand James has been training over the winter and is aiming high this time around!

The more the merrier and if we get fifteen teams there will be 'high quality' medals for the top three players. That means they're not chocolate medals, covered in foil, for the record.

So over to you. Any problems in access let me know.

Good luck to all of you. But perhaps not as much as to me...

Championship season preview

It would be very easy, as some people are doing, to focus on the negatives of Derbyshire's recent cricket in predicting our fortunes for the summer of 2014.

We didn't bat well in 2013 and the batting averages of several players took a bit of a pounding. Only Wayne Madsen came out with reputation enhanced, while even Shivnarine Chanderpaul seemed on occasion to be affected by the malaise that afllicted most of our top order batsmen.

Mid-season we appeared to be dead and buried, yet a Lazarus-like recovery in the second half, the result of putting trust in youth, nearly saw us pull off the great escape. It was unfortunate to be playing the champions-elect in the last game, but despite putting up a creditable fight for much of it, the familiar bad habits resurfaced when scores elsewhere condemned us to the drop.

In 2012 we had enjoyed good fortune with injury and key personnel remained fit for most of the campaign. Last year was less satisfactory from that angle. Tony Palladino missed a lot of matches, Jonathan Clare virtually the whole summer, Chesney Hughes was only half-fit. A few found the new level beyond them and there was a feeling that preparation and team selection did us few favours on occasions.

Keeping all of that in mind, it is understandable that some writers and supporters are writing off this summer and playing down our chances of an immediate return to the top tier. But in doing so, I think that they are missing a few very crucial points.

First, let's not forget that we are now back at a level where several players proved they could score heavily in the past. Wes Durston had a wretched four-day summer in 2013, yet he cleared 1700 runs in all cricket the previous year, looking an imposing sight in doing so. Billy Godleman also struggled, but it is important to remember one thing about Godleman and, indeed, new man Stephen Moore. The latter is another to be written off before he's even started by some, ignoring the fact that he was a regular and heavy run-scorer in Lancashire's one-day sides and was an England Lion of unquestionable talent not too many summers ago.

When you have the ability that Moore and Godleman have - and let's not forget that the latter was deemed one of the country's brightest prospects a few years back - you don't lose it. You may lose confidence in yourself after a few hard knocks, but the talent never goes away. It merely awaits someone with the ability to harness, nurture and awaken it once more, someone who can help them rediscover that missing mojo.

The portents of pre-season are excellent. Godleman's century today will have made him realise how much he has to offer and I have a feeling that he will enjoy batting with Moore, an attractive player whose ability to work the ball around will keep the scoreboard moving. He has been equally impressive and good starts from (in all likelihood) that pair will make life much easier for those that follow.

There should be few concerns over Madsen and Chanderpaul, while I expect Durston to return to form with a bang. Throw in a fully-fit Chesney Hughes at six and there's not many better batting line-ups in the division. With competition from Borrington, Slater, Elstone and Alex Hughes, we shouldn't lack for runs.

Ah, say the cynics, but none of them have proved themselves. "Yet", is my reply and every season sees at least one player improve out of all recognition. The batting line-up at the end of the summer may differ from the one that I expect to start it, but I don't see us lacking runs on a regular basis.

Then there's the seam attack. There are some good bowlers in division two, but I can't think of another club with the depth of seam bowling talent that we have at present. If some of the young ones continue to develop as we hope, Graeme Welch's biggest issue will be keeping everyone happy. It will be a fine batting track if any permutation of Palladino, Groenewald, Clare, Footitt and Turner cannot get something from it.

The big challenge, perhaps, is in the spin bowling department. David Wainwright had a disappointing 2013 and was another to struggle with injury, but he remains a good cricketer, albeit one who may need to fight off the claims of Tom Knight as the summer progresses. The loss of Peter Burgoyne, for however long, is a blow, but Durston, Chesney Hughes and Scott Elstone can all contribute with spin if required, even if their greater contribution may lie in the one-day games.

With two good wicket-keepers to choose from, both able to contribute lower-order runs (Tom Poynton my first choice, for the record), the side looks strong in all departments and should be in the mix by September. Whether they do better than that will depend on a little luck with the toss and the weather, even more with key personnel remaining fit and a much better performance in the field than last year.

In the early part of 2013 we were caught cold and were playing catch-up thereafter. This year we must be primed to hit teams hard and maintain focus, session after session. I have every confidence that Graeme Welch will ensure that is the case and it is in the motivational skills of the coach and the personalised coaching on offer from his staff that I think we have an ace up our sleeve. Last year we let teams off the hook too many times with poor fielding and loose bowling. I don't see that as likely an occurrence this year.

Key man? They all are, of course, but Jonathan Clare offers us balance with his ability to hit the ball a long way, then bowl far more quickly than he first appears. Add in a safe pair of hands in the slips and you quickly realise what was missed in 2013.

Peakfan's forecast? Given decent luck, I'll tip us for a promotion slot, though it is important for supporters to give Graeme Welch time. He'll get that, as a very popular figure but I expect to see his Derbyshire side as a completely different beast this season.

What do you think? Let me know in the poll to the left of this piece.

Good luck to all players and staff in 2014. Here's to a season worth remembering!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Goods news on and off the pitch

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Derbyshire's truncated day at the County Ground was the very obvious stating of a case by Mark Turner.

In ripping through the Warwickshire top order, he made up for a restricted pre-season and suggested that he is as ready for a senior role as anyone else in what is shaping up to be a powerful seam attack.

While the rest of the attack was tidy, Turner appeared to show both pace and movement on an early season track that offered help, as they so often do. That he is a much improved bowler from the wild tyro signed from Somerset by John Morris is unquestionable. Whether he has forced his way into Graeme Welch's first choice attack is something we will have to wait to see.

When our turn came, it was nice to see a tricky opening spell well navigated by Messrs Moore and Godleman. It would be nice for both players to get a long bat tomorrow and no one will argue that a good opening pair will go a long way towards improving our batting fortunes.

Off the pitch, news of the development of the County Ground is both exciting and welcome. The creation of a 7,000 seat stadium will go a long way towards making the 3aaa County Ground a model of its kind and further highlights the massive strides being taken at the club.

With news of the player due to cover Shiv's international absences due shortly - an "as yet unnamed international batsman", there's plenty of reasons for positivity down Derby way.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Derbyshire v Warwickshire pre-season preview

By crikey, it feels good to type those words above!

Graeme Welch has named the following squad for the two-day game against his old county, Warwickshire, that starts at the County Ground tomorrow. It is as follows:

Stephen Moore
Billy Godleman
Wayne Madsen
Paul Borrington
Chesney Hughes
Wes Durston
Jonathan Clare
Tom Poynton
David Wainwright
Mark Turner
Ben Cotton
Adam Shepherd (on trial)

Do we read much - or, indeed anything - into the team selection? Well, the batting line-up is, before the arrival of Shivnarine Chanderpaul this weekend, what I would see as our strongest at this stage. Perhaps this game and the one against Durham UCCE to follow offer Billy Godleman and Paul Borrington an opportunity to stake a claim to the opening berth alongside Stephen Moore. Both are players of unquestionable talent and if one can translate that into weight of runs we will benefit as a side.

Similarly, Clare, Poynton, Wainwright is the likely 7-9 in the order for most people and the workout will be useful for all of them. Though perhaps the greatest interest is in the seam bowling lineup.

Welch will know all he really needs about Palladino, Groenewald and Footitt, all of who are probably lined up for the first Championship game against Leicestershire. He could go with four seamers on an early summer track, so David Wainwright will need to show he can contribute as he did so well in our championship summer two years back. With Durston and Hughes likely to be in the side, Welch could afford to play all four and still have useful slow variations in his attack.

Mark Turner has had little cricket so far with a knee injury, so has a chance to play catch up, while Ben Cotton, who seems to be at the forefront of the seam bowling young guns, has another chance to impress. Both should get a plenty of overs in the two days.

The most interesting name in the twelve is Adam Shepherd, a fast-medium bowler who took a lot of wickets for Lincolnshire last summer in the Minor Counties and has appeared in the second teams of several first-class counterparts. At 22, the Nottingham-born youngster has time on his side and it will be interesting to see how he shapes up.

I'm sure there's a good few of you who plan to go along for a while and are looking out the thermos, blankets and thermal underwear for another early summer's day of cricket watching. I envy you, if I am honest, but look forward to being down at Derby for the Hampshire game in a couple of weeks to see the boys as we start our home county campaign.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Midweek musings

Less than a week to go...

Yes, winter is a thing of the past and we're into the Spring. Coincidentally, the last couple of mornings here have been as cold as anything we've had through the cold, dark months and that's a sure indicator that cricket is coming round once more. Get those hand-warmers out, lads!

If anything summed up the gap between levels in cricket, it has been the fortunes of  the Netherlands cricket team in the past week. Having pulled off one of the greatest cricketing 'heists' with their run chase against a decent Irish attack, they were summarily despatched for just 39 runs by a much better Sri Lankan one. While Tim Murtagh and George Dockrell are talented cricketers, Mendis and Malinga are on a completely different level.

All of us need to keep that in mind when criticising our own players, of course. Some of us may be (or have been) decent enough players in our time, but the gulf between our talent and that of first-class players is vast. Similarly that between the good county professional and the top-class international is substantial. We will see where errors occur, but sometimes the players in other sides are simply too good, irrespective of the best efforts of our lads. Hopefully that isn't the case too many times this season, mind...

Over on Cricinfo, the talented George Dobell has produced a pre-season preview of our fortunes, which is largely sensible and well thought out, as befits the writer, but contains a few points on which I would comment.

I don't think it is fair of him to criticise our 'fragile' batting last summer and then to do the same to a batsman of proven talent and experience brought in to address that very weakness. Nor do I feel that the batting, as he suggests, looks weak this summer. Indeed, with proven run-scorers at this level in Moore and Durston, together with one of last year's best batsmen in Madsen and a confirmed great of the game in Chanderpaul, it is a somewhat contentious comment.

OK, his point about Chesney Hughes is valid and he needs to translate undoubted talent to weight of runs sometime soon. I'll also accept that the opening partner for Moore is a place that needs cemented, but there's plenty of options (and talent) to do so. I have a hunch that Godleman may prove himself this summer, while both Paul Borrington and Ben Slater showed their cards on the pre-season tour, as did Scott Elstone. No, I'm less concerned about the batting than in many pre-seasons of recent vintage, though, like all sides, they will experience their share of bad days.

While both Dan Redfern and Ross Whiteley have gone, there will be few who continue to mourn their departure. Their closing form and the manner of departures ensured as much and most fans will look at the batting and feel we are a stronger side now than we were twelve months ago.

I also feel that Mr Dobell doesn't fully recognise the change of coach and the process followed in the appointment. The Elite Performance model was one that the club were keen to adopt and to that effect the length of time that Karl Krikken had in post was irrelevant. No one has more respect for Krikk and what he did for Derbyshire as player and coach than I, but let's not forget that he was given every opportunity to throw his hat into the ring.

Why he chose not to do so is anyone's guess, but the crux of the model is in having someone at the helm who can manage various coaches and delegate, embrace new technology and ensure that everyone 'buys in' to the process. Perhaps he didn't feel like changing his established way of working, but it was his prerogative either way and no blame should be apportioned to the club who offered him the opportunity to apply. I have never criticised attempted improvements and after years of following a  that was for the most part in stagnation, I'm hardly going to start now.

My pre-season preview will be up at the weekend. In the meantime, thanks for your comments and e mails. It appears many of you enjoyed the Chris Taylor interview as much as I did myself!



Sunday, 23 March 2014

An interview with Chris Taylor part four

How did your business come about?

I started Pro Coach with Andrew Gale and it has grown really well. It is now fifty per cent owned by Yorkshire CCC but we currently have 55 coaches working for us throughout the county and are working with around five thousand youngsters. Simon Guy, who has recently joined Derbyshire, of course, was doing some work with me and there's quite a few guys with first-class experience.

Then in 2010 I was asked if I knew anyone who had a use for a massive two thousand square foot building outside Headingley cricket ground. I had the idea of starting a cricket equipment business and made a Dragon's Den style pitch to the father of one of my friends, who invested in start up companies, to go into partnership with me.

At the end of it, he said yes, and we moved in and gutted the place. All Rounder Cricket Ltd opened on March 11, 2011 and we recently learned that we are now the fifth or sixth biggest cricket equipment supplier in the UK. That's something I am very proud of and we have around 270 clubs signed up around the country as clothing and equipment suppliers.

The business now has ten full-time employees, while there's a further five at Pro-Coach. As Managing Director of both, the hours are long but it is very worthwhile. My brother is physio at Sheffield Wednesday and more recently I have gone into partnership with him and we have eight physiotherapy clinics around Yorkshire under the banner of Sano Physiotherapy.

There's not enough hours in the day...

But you still manage to find time for cricket?

I do. My wife and I moved to Lightcliffe, where my father-in-law had played for the village team. In 2010 the club finished near the bottom of the second division of the Bradford League.

I attended my first committee meeting in the wooden shack on the boundary edge. When I said that I saw the club in the medium to long term competing in the top half of the first division I think some thought I was crazy.

Last season I skippered the side as we won the Priestley Cup and came near the top in the league. I am proud with how we have turned the club around. I have a house on the boundary edge and it is a lovely club, but the secret now is making sure that I keep the right work/sport/home balance, as we all work to live, not live to work.

I am grateful for what cricket has given me and I enjoy being able to give back. I learned from being coached and helped by Geoff Boycott, Mike Atherton and Michael Vaughan and if I can do something similar with youngsters and get them started in the game, I feel I am doing my bit.

Do you have any remaining sporting ambitions?

I do. You know, even after what happened at the end of my time there, I remain a Derbyshire fan and I look for their scores before Yorkshire's. I'd have loved to skipper that side, but one day I would love an opportunity to be involved in some other way, perhaps on the board, if I was ever asked to be involved.

I'd like to think that my business experience might be of use at some point, and Kevin Dean, a good friend of mine, is already there.

Who knows?

I can't finish the interview without asking you about the men who will be taking Derbyshire forward in the coming years on the coaching side.

Pop is brilliant! He's a top bloke who helped me at Derbyshire and I know how highly he is regarded as a coach. I have no doubt that he will do an outstanding job, because people work for him and understand what he wants to do. He was a one hundred per cent player and you will get exactly that from him as Director of Cricket.

He's recruited really well though. Steve Stubbings is one of the nicest guys I have ever met and I think he will take to his role really well – having done very well with the second team last summer, of course. I know John Sadler very well and he really knows his cricket. He is an excellent coach and understands batting, with the ability to explain to people what they should be doing differently when things are going wrong. Ant Botha has done well too, while Simon Guy is a fantastic coach who will really get people working at their game.

Put it this way, if I was playing under those guys, I would excel, because as well as being very good coaches, they are excellent man managers.

The club has a very bright future and they are now going about it in exactly the right manner. In my spell at the club, apart from me there was really only Wayne White, Jake Needham and a very young Paul Borrington who were relatively young and in the first-team picture.

It's all changed now and very good to see.

I wish them every success in the coming season and those ahead.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Aspire, Achieve, Advance - a perfect fit for Derbyshire

The news that the County Ground will be known, for the next three years at least, as the 3aaa County Ground is new territory for the club and further indication of the professionalism with which it is now run.

The 'three-a County Ground' - which is apparently how it should be verbalised - will bring the club a six-figure sum over each of the next three seasons and helps to narrow the financial gap between Derbyshire and more affluent counties.

It will be a mutually beneficial deal, of course. The club will take on four apprentices from a company that has grown into the biggest apprentice provider of 16-18-year-olds in the IT, social media and accountancy sectors in the country. The company will also get new marketing opportunities and their name taken to different environments, as well as fostering links with the club's 1870 Business Club. There's also the sight of T20 replica shirts being worn with their logo, as well as by the players on the pitch.

Derbyshire get money that they have never had before. While the role they will play in the development of young apprentice talent is important, £100,000-plus per year into the club coffers represents extraordinary work by Chris Grant and Simon Storey. There was no way that such investment in the club would have happened in the era before Mr Grant's tenure and it is further vindication of the club's Board structure enabling us to move forward as a professional business.

I don't envisage any outcry over the change of name, such as happened when Pride Park became the iPro Stadium, as there's little change to it. Even if it did, as we've seen around the world, money talks and lucrative sponsorship deals overcome any misgivings over longstanding names.

The closest Derbyshire have ever been to a three-a County Ground was pre-war, when supporters who enjoyed the grittier side of batting spent time anticipating Albert Alderman. Today's announcement is fantastic news and should be treated as such by supporters.

Thanks to 3aaa for getting involved and I hope that this is the start of a long and successful partnership. Given that they are joining forces with the club at the start of a period that I see as being potentially the best in our history, there is much to look forward to on both sides.

Finally today, the news that the club will have a designated Autograph Zone at the close of play in matches is another very positive step, as is that of players potentially joining in games on the outfield.

When I was a youngster - and yes, I can remember that far back - one approached players with a degree of trepidation with autograph book in hand. Some were amenable, others less so, a few were downright hostile. It shouldn't be so, as for many the request for autographs goes when they leave the first-class game. Professional sports people are admired and envied in equal measure and while there will always be those who acquire autographs for personal gain and resale, others just like to have them as mementos of their heroes.

I've previously recounted how Graeme Welch took my son's autograph book into the Derbyshire dressing room when he was a young lad (my son, not Graeme...) and inspired his subsequent interest in his career. I am sure that the players signing for young and old alike will keep in mind the fact that their signature on a book, a bat or a bit of paper could be the catalyst of a lifelong interest in Derbyshire cricket.

As for players joining in games, I well recall hitting tennis balls bowled at me by my Dad in the hope that a Derbyshire player might see me from a pavilion window and marvel at my polished technique, such as it was in my formative years.

Years later, the technique is much better, but I'm unsure that I could handle Mark Footitt, even off a short run and armed with a tennis ball...

Maybe I could go down the old Brian Close route and chest them down, like he did when facing Wes Hall, Michael Holding and the other West Indian expresses.

I'll chuck the chest pad in the car boot, just in case...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Midweek musings

One could almost, pardon the pun, be bowled over by the air of optimism emanating from the County Ground right now.

And why not? We have an excellent - one might use the term 'dream' - coaching staff, a strong squad and the encouragement of a strong showing on pre-season tour. Indeed, Graeme Welch said as much in today's Derby Telegraph.

"The beauty of it for me is that most of the squad could play first-team cricket. Everybody contributed on tour at some stage.
"The squad looks strong. It's a blank sheet of paper. Whoever performs will play, it's as simple as that.
"Even the lads who don't get selected will go to the second team where we expect them to dominate. When they are playing club cricket we expect them to dominate."

They are confident, bold, honest assertions and have no doubt been drilled into the players over recent weeks. They also echo my own words the other night, when I said I felt we have a strong squad. It is and I expect it to get stronger over the next two to three seasons.

That's why I can't agree with Sam, commenting on my recent post, who suggested a move for Bilal Shafayat, currently out of contract. The former England under-19 star, now 29, has played with Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Hampshire, without ever quite convincing me that he was as good as he looked in his teenage years.

As Sam says, he looked good against us when we clinched the division two title, but I am far from convinced that we need him, nor anyone else at this stage, short of a replacement for Shiv when he plays for the West Indies, and a T20 specialist if we can find/afford one.

If you notionally took a top six of Moore, Hughes, Madsen, Chanderpaul, Durston and Elstone, you would still have Godleman, Borrington, Slater and Alex Hughes in reserve, as well as Richard Johnson. For me that's more than enough and I'd sooner get the ECB appearance money for a home-reared lad than get none for a player who is not, in my humble opinion, substantially better for the team.

As long as we can secure the services of a top quality replacement for Chanderpaul, I fancy us for a strong summer. With neither South Africa nor Australia involved in any cricket post-IPL, there should be any number of options out there, some more affordable than others, of course, others wanting a county stint like a hole in their head. I'd prefer an experienced man, rather than a young tyro, one who knows his game and can use that to our advantage. I'd also like to see a batsman, our greater need, and if he could bowl a few overs, it would be no bad thing.

Finally today, a word of thanks for the club's excellent and massively improved communications over the winter months. While the use of old templates still tends to wipe out the end of new messages on occasions and can be irksome, the frequency of communications is commendable and especially so in the Twitter feed from Dubai.

In the nearly six years of doing this blog I haven't known a feeling of such positivity in and around the club, nor felt so secure in our current state and future prospects.

It is a joy to write about.

Friday, 14 March 2014

An Interview with Chris Taylor part 3

Yet you started well at Chelmsford, with 55 and 96 in two innings, a match where we racked up big runs, then recorded a duck at Taunton, after which we scored a club record 801-8. That must have been a frustrating few days. Were there any comments flying around?

Yes, I felt in really good touch at Chelmsford. I got fifty in the first innings, then made 96 in the second when it was turning square for Danish Kaneria. I thought it set me up for a good season ... how wrong I was.

At Taunton, we slipped to 0-2 in the first over and I went and changed into my fielding whites, convinced we'd be in the field before tea. Then we batted for nearly two days and the game became one where everyone else racked up runs and boosted their averages.

You disappeared from the team at that point, which seemed strange after a pretty solid start and your previous campaign...

I had a back injury. Throughout my career I had issues with my back and hamstrings, as I had one leg that was longer than the other, which affected my hip rotation. A Nottingham specialist ruled me unfit for three weeks and then it all went sour from there

Then there were stories that you had a stand up row with Simon Katich?

I'm really pleased to have an opportunity to give my side of this one, as I'm aware of things that have done the rounds in the intervening period.

As I mentioned earlier, Katich came over as overseas in 2007. Clearly, he wanted to score the runs to force his way back into the Australian side. He was fairly introverted and hardly ever spoke in the middle. That was so different to Michael Di Venuto, who talked you through bad patches and encouraged you all the time when you were batting. That wasn't Katich's way at all.

When Michael Dighton came in, my place appeared to have gone. After we played Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, I was approached in the dressing room and asked to support a motion of no confidence in Houghton. I refused to do so, as I had a lot of time for him. I don't think that did me any favours, if I'm honest. That game was the last I played for Derbyshire's first team.

Around two weeks later, with the atmosphere increasingly poisonous, Houghton was relieved of his duties. Simon Katich took over and was effectively captain and coach.

He then proceeded to name a team for the game against Middlesex with only one Englishman in the top seven. I was told that I'd to go into the second team, captain them against Yorkshire at Derby and get some runs

That was a notorious game?

You could say that. I won the toss as skipper and, with a very young side at my disposal, opted to bowl first.

It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on and we were so short of bowlers that I had to bowl a spell. I ended up taking five wickets, the only time in any form of cricket I have done so. Now, keep in mind that I hadn't played in several weeks and was rusty when it was our turn to bat.

I struggled to time the ball and kept finding the fielders, but I ended up making an unbeaten 88 from 142 balls, as we lost by thirteen runs. With the team we had, we'd done well to get so close and I had, after all, been told to go and get some form and runs. Are results that important in second eleven? A lot of teams use the game for trials and yes, while I had perhaps put my personal performance ahead of the team, I thought that getting my form back might be the best thing for Derbyshire in the long term.

When I got back to the pavilion, Karl Krikken was furious. He asked me what I'd been playing at and I explained. He said I'd been selfish and had put myself before the team and we ended up having to agree to disagree.

So what happened next?

We were playing Leicestershire in the next match the following day and I went back into the pavilion after we'd warmed up, to get my cap and a coin to toss. As I was coming back out, I saw Simon Katich and wondered what he was doing there.

He simply said 'we need to talk' and sat me down, asking me to explain what had happened against Yorkshire.

I explained everything and at the end of it he simply looked at me and said 'that's not good enough'. He said that he wasn't going to have people playing for themselves and that he wasn't accepting my excuse. Then he told me he was suspending me from all cricket for a week and that he would ring me at the end of that week.

You must have been upset?

I was distraught. I went back in to get my clothes, didn't bother to change and went back to my car with my cricket bag. Apparently I walked straight past Wayne White but don't recall that. Wayne and Richard Hodgkinson, a trialist, simply couldn’t believe what was happening to me.

I sat in my car, stunned and heartbroken. I wondered if I should go back in to the dressing room and play anyway, but eventually drove out of the car park and went home. I was in a daze and have no real recollection of that journey. I phoned my Dad and he told me to get in touch with the Professional Cricketers Association.

I spoke to Jason Ratcliffe at the PCA and he initially thought it was a wind-up. He said to wait for the official documentation on the suspension. I never got any - the club committee seemed unaware that it had happened. The PCA lawyers gave me advice, but it all died down, though it killed my career at Derbyshire.

I was really, desperately hurt by the whole thing. Cricket was my life and my livelihood and it looked like an incident that was badly misinterpreted and handled was going to take it away.

At what point did you decide to leave?

Yorkshire seemed to be interested in my going back. I was still in contract with Derbyshire, but the writing was on the wall. After I returned to the club following the suspension, I played two or three second team games but it just didn't feel the same. While I still wanted to play for Derbyshire, there seemed little point when the club appeared to have become an autocracy.

I felt that I had to leave to get away from Simon Katich, not Derbyshire. I asked the club for my release, which was granted, and I signed a pre-contract deal with Yorkshire.

Of course, what happened next was that Katich announced he was not coming back and was going to play for Australia again!

John Morris took over the reins as coach and told me that he saw me as a potential future captain or vice-captain. Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire were also interested in my services, but it really came down to my staying at Derbyshire or going back home to Yorkshire. The crucial factor was signing that pre-contract deal and I opted to go back home.

Yet it was a really sad day when we locked the door of our house at Kirk Langley, where we had been very happy, for the last time. It all went wrong at Derbyshire, but I am still proud of what I achieved. I know in my heart that I am 99.9% innocent and did little wrong. I played a one-off poor innings in mitigating circumstances, which was at odds with what I had done throughout 2006. But at the end of it all, I was the only Derbyshire player to score a century on both his first-class and one-day debut, which I am very proud of and is something to look back on in years to come.

Yet the move back home didn't work out for you. At what point did you start thinking of a career outside the game?

It went downhill pretty much from the start. My hamstrings proved a problem again and I tore both of them in turn. One saw me out for six weeks, the other for four and I had to prove myself all over again in the seconds.

I wasn't helped by Michael Vaughan retiring from England duties and returning to the county game. There was an established and good top three of Lyth, Vaughan and McGrath and I couldn't get in to the side. I made three centuries for the second eleven, but the man management at the club continued to be poor and if you weren't in the side you were pretty much an afterthought.

In July 2009, John Morris asked if I was interested in going back to Derbyshire – initially on loan for the remainder of that season, then for the 2010 summer. The idea held some appeal, but I was loathe to move my family again and our baby daughter, Isobel, was born in September of 2009. My wife was by that time working at Leeds United and enjoying it, so uprooting again made no sense.

At the end of that summer, I told Yorkshire that I wanted to retire and go into business, so they paid up my contract and I was finished as a first-class cricketer.

To be continued

Tour de force

Despite being outscored by Worcestershire in their final match of the highly successful pre-season tour, Derbyshire and Graeme Welch will be well satisfied by their efforts.

In so far as playing people into form is concerned, it was a great success, though raising as many questions as it provided answers. If one assumes that Moore, Madsen and Chanderpaul are the fixtures in the batting line-up, the other candidates all did themselves favours.

Wes Durston may well be the number five, but so too could be Chesney Hughes, or Scott Elstone for that matter. Maybe even Alex Hughes, though his early season performances may be in the one-day games. Chesney could also open, but both Paul Borrington and Ben Slater made fine, unbeaten half-centuries today that kept both of their names very much in the frame.

It is a dilemma but one that only Welch and his coaches can resolve. So too, assuming that we go into games with one regular spinner, the issue of which front-line seamer misses out from Palladino, Groenewald, Clare and Footitt. For that matter, does David Wainwright remain first choice spinner, or has Tom Knight's impressive form got him ahead in the race?

So many decisions and that's before he decides between two very good wicket-keepers in Tom Poynton and Richard Johnson. Welch and his coaches will keep a close eye on everyone in the days ahead and the decisions, while tricky, are better than the alternative where you only have eleven fit and decent players.

We will be going into the season in good shape and with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Can't wait to see how it all unfolds!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Defeat but not disgrace

Logic suggested that a strong New Zealand side would be too good for Derbyshire in a pre-World Cup match today, and logic is rarely wrong.

Yet we ran them close and, to quote Ogden Nash, I will bet a silk 'pajama' that they will get easier games in the tournament proper. I'd perhaps have put money on Martin Guptill getting some runs, but it was only in the closing overs that New Zealand pulled away. It is that late impetus, and the ability to provide it, that separates the better sides and I reckon the Kiwis, if they avoid injury, will be a good bet for a semi final slot in the T20 World Cup. They bat long, have some decent bowlers and field brilliantly.

It was close to, but not quite the Derbyshire side I'd envisage as the strongest for T20 and acquitted itself well. The top three looks formidable and have done well thus far, while the bowling was steady in the face of high quality opposition. There is plenty to build on and I have every confidence that the learning curve from the defeat will be worth the blemish on the tour record.

It's a funny old game though, T20 and to be a star at it a player needs 'only' to be capable of scoring at around two runs per ball when the pressure is on. I don't mean to demean the talent, as it is a gift given to few, but both Brad Hodge and Darren Sammy have clearly identified themselves as masters at the format yet again in recent days.

Hodge's unbeaten 21 from 8 balls won the game against South Africa for Australia today, while Sammy's unbeaten 30 from nine saw the West Indies to a win that looked dodgy a couple of overs before his late onslaught. While Hodge has enjoyed a long and fruitful career around the globe, Sammy is a late developer and a player for who I have massive respect.

He makes the most of his talent, is a handy bowler, a useful batsman and a player who generally has a smile on his face. I can relate to a guy like that and he has become a very shrewd and valued player at the shortest format.

When things are tight, as they often are in T20, teams need a player who can hit it out of the park and Sammy is worth his weight in gold for the West Indies.

If we can find such a player, from within or outside our ranks, for this summer's competition we could make the promised land of the knockout stages for the first time in years.

While the championship should be the focus, it would be good to see a better effort at the one-day game and I think the portents are favourable at this stage.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Elstone shines as Derbyshire do likewise

Remember that scene in Shrek? The one where Donkey is bouncing up and down shouting "Pick me!" at the top of his voice, near the start of the first film?

It's a little like how I see the Derbyshire dressing room right now, as player after player takes a chance to state their credentials and stake a claim in Graeme Welch's first choice side. The coach has got a dream situation at present, as almost everyone has performed well and made a case for their inclusion in the side when the action proper starts.

Today's professional win over Worcestershire never looked in doubt after a bowling display in which there were three standouts. OK, four, but Ben Cotton is going to stand out in most company at that height and did a tidy job on his senior debut.

For Tony Palladino, it was a rare opportunity in the one day game and he showed what he has to offer. For one reason or another, never made clear, Tony rarely saw one-day action for us under Karl Krikken. While at times I understood the rationale, in wanting to keep him fresh for the four-day game, on other occasions there were less obvious reasons for his omission. He is a good, experienced, talented bowler who can also clump handy runs down the order with a technique that has improved with every year at the club. There's a lot to like in Tony, as a cricketer and a man, and I hope that he sees more one-day action this summer. It can only be to our advantage if he does so.

Then there's Tom Knight. He seems to have been around for a long time, but at 20 he has massive potential and a big future. He has improved his fielding and batting considerably in the last two summers and is no longer the slightly 'chunky' lad who burst onto the first-class scene prematurely. Too many people forgot that the lad was still a schoolboy when he made his debut, but wasn't the least bit fazed in bowling at the much vaunted Nottinghamshire side. He wasn't really ready, but he has worked at his game and will put up a fight for the main spinner berth with David Wainwright.

Peter Burgoyne's health misfortune is a shame for the player and the club, but Knight's claims have moved forward as a result. Don't be at all surprised to see him play a lot more cricket this summer, because he's ready when opportunity is there.

The third standout today was Scott Elstone (pictured). When he signed in the winter, there were a few people suggesting he was lucky to get a deal, ignoring somewhat the fact that he had a storming summer at Dunstall and for the second team. The lad has worked very hard on his bowling in the winter and four wickets today suggests that he will be a more than useful weapon.

Throw in his brilliant fielding and the fact that batting is his stronger suit and you realise that we may just have picked up a jewel in the Burton-born youngster. At 23, he is another with plenty of time on his side and he adds to the depth of a squad that looks better and better with each passing week.

We've still to see our overseas great, Mr Chanderpaul, join the squad, so competition for places will be strong. You could argue that today's side contained less than half of what many may see as a first-choice side. Then again, you could also say that we have around eighteen strong possibles to fit into eleven. A quart into an increasingly impressive pint pot.

It gladdens the heart to see it. Of course I'll not get carried away, but the approach to the games seems, even at this distance, smarter. When did we last close out an innings with a spinner, let alone entrust the crucial last overs to a young tyro of 20?

Full marks to the guys for some thoroughly impressive displays thus far. Oh, and happy birthday to the chairman, who must have spent worse days than watching his side win in the splendours of Abu Dhabi.

Enthused about the summer?

Yup.

Postscript - welcome to Nick Kesingland, the club's new Performance Analyst. It is new territory for us and I'm delighted to see such innovation used by our club. The pieces are all there now.

We just need to put them all together.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Excellent first win but concerns over Burgoyne

As I think most of us expected, Derbyshire did what they had to and won their fifty-over game against Worcestershire by 126 runs today. That earlier batting display always looked like being way too much for our opponents and a steady bowling display ensued after Tim Groenewald and Mark Footitt made early inroads into their innings.

It was a good run out and the team can be proud of their efforts in a terrific first display.

The news was tempered somewhat, however, with that of Peter Burgoyne being given an extended leave of absence from the game while he receives treatment for a stress-related illness. It is bad luck for Burgoyne, who is a cricketer of immense talent and potential, but it is clearly indicative of the stresses involved in the first-class game, should further evidence be required after a number of high profile cases in the last few years.

There will be some, perhaps casual weekend cricketers or cricket followers only, who will struggle to understand how this happens when 'just playing cricket', but that misses the point by a considerable margin. This is a completely different thing, a struggle to establish yourself as a reliable performer and become sufficiently talented and competent to be able to do so as a career for the next twenty years.

The good thing is that Burgoyne's illness has been detected early and he has an excellent support network in place. He has a lovely family who will doubtless offer any help that is needed, while the club can be seen as a role model in its care of cricketers, both young and established.

He is a young lad and has plenty of time on his side. In the short and medium term, the most important thing is that he takes all the time that is needed to fully recover. If he is allowed to do that, I am sure that his immense talent will come to the fore in due course.

I look forward to that happening and wish him and his family well.

342-8 from 50 overs?

Crikey, we don't often make that score in high summer, let alone in the first game of the season...

A terrific first day by Derbyshire, led by 94 from Wes Durston, 72 from Stephen Moore and 47 from Billy Godleman. Having said that, all the batsmen got in and got going, so Graeme Welch will be very pleased with this initial effort.

I'd hope we could defend such a total, but it will be good to see the bowlers getting rhythm and an early win will be welcome, as it always is.

In other news, former Derbyshire batsman Mohammad Kaif, who played for the county in 2003,  will contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh's Phulpur constituency on behalf of the Congress party. I cannot think of another Derbyshire player who has chosen such a path outside the game, so look out for that one in trivia quizzes in the future!

I wish him luck. Kaif was no Mohammad Azharuddin, but in his season with us showed himself to be a batsman of charm and class, even if a little at sea on English wickets when the ball was moving around. In that he was hardly alone, though and when the conditions were more in his favour, his wristy style and brilliant fielding in the covers were a joy to watch.

More from me at the end of today's game.





And so the action starts

OK, it's in Dubai, but let's face it, we're all excited about the start of cricket again, aren't we?

I'm not so sure that I'll be setting my alarm to follow the fifty-over match against Worcestershire as it unfolds at 6.30am our time, but I will be hoping for score updates through Twitter and a solid Derbyshire performance.

I don't think we should read too much into team selections on the tour, as the likelihood is that everyone will have an opportunity to stake a claim for when the real stuff begins, but I would expect Stephen Moore to make his club debut - albeit not first-class - against the side that gave him a start in the county game.

I think Moore will prove an inspired signing by Derbyshire. He is a player of great experience (the sort we could have done with last summer) who is equally at home in four and one-day cricket. He is capable of setting a formidable total and the prospect of his pyrotechnics, together with Chesney and Wes Durston, in the one-day game should whet the appetite of any cricket fan, let alone those of a Derbyshire persuasion.

Good luck to the lads and I also hope we avoid the injuries of previous tours. We've had Tony Palladino and Paul Borrington fly back early with broken jaws and can do without that kind of trauma, thank very much. On Radio Derby the other night, I was asked if I thought Derbyshire could bounce back to division one and my answer was simple - yes. However, to do so we will need the kind of luck that all top teams need with injuries and the weather. In 2012 the weather gods shone on us at times, though that didn't detract from the title at the end of the season. You learn to take the rough with the smooth in sport and it usually evens out in the long term.

Further afield, I will be following the T20 in South Africa tomorrow too, where Albie Morkel  has been recalled to the South African fold. He's still a very good player, as evidenced by his all-round form for us last summer, but I'm baffled by their selection policies. There appears little cohesion to the selections and the rationale appears to be that if we give enough players a game we will eventually find a decent eleven. Sadly, too many of them don't appear to be of the requisite standard and I was surprised how badly their first choice side capitulated to the Australians. The injury sustained by Dale Steyn hit them hard and the fast bowling 'shoot out' with Mitchell Johnson was won easily by the Australian. He's a changed bowler since he was taken under Denis Lillee's wing and probably the best fast bowler in the world at present.

Selection is another area where I hope to see greater consistency this year at Derbyshire. While well aware that we have a good-sized squad and need to rotate players to keep them fresh, we also need to ensure that there's greater logic to selections (and batting orders) this summer. There were a few times last year where it was hard to follow the rationale and while it is a coach's prerogative to choose the best eleven he sees fit, it helps if supporters can appreciate the thought process. I don't expect that to be a problem this year and, especially in the one-day game, I hope to see more consistent performance as a result.

Starting tomorrow would be nice. .. though not, at this stage, essential.

Friday, 7 March 2014

We're off on the road to...Abu Dhabi!

I have to say that I've been mightily impressed by the innovative training methods brought in by Graeme Welch since his arrival at the County Ground and today sees the next step in pre-season training. It is one in which the squad follow the fairly new but growing in popularity Flintstone principle, now regarded as a sure way to get off to a flyer when the real cricket starts.

In a nutshell, those who stay at home and practice in the cold British Spring struggle and don't do so well. On the other hand, those in Abu Dhabi do...

Thank you, you've been a wonderful audience...

Lest there be any Dubai-ety about it (somebody stop me...) the results don't matter all that much, although there's no harm in getting a winning habit established as early as possible. Given that the opposition includes a fast-improving New Zealand side who have been playing good and recent cricket, it would be a tall order, yet Graeme Welch will doubtless settle for the bowlers gaining a little rhythm with sun on their backs, together with batsmen gaining valuable time in the middle.

Nets are fine, they get actions grooved again and the batsmen's feet moving, but there's no substitute for the real thing. With around fifteen to twenty players with genuine hopes of regular first team cricket this summer, they will all want to make an early impression that will see them in poll position when Welch names his side for the first competitive match. I'm sure we all wish them well and will look forward to score updates in the coming days.

I just hope they have packed plenty of sun cream..







Thursday, 6 March 2014

An Interview with Chris Taylor - Part Two

You started the summer of 2006 brilliantly, with a fine century against Glamorgan at Cardiff. What are your memories of that innings?

The main one was a completely misinterpreted reaction to being dismissed!

Steve Stubbings and I batted really well and we reached 247-1 before Stubbo went for 97. Then Travis Birt went first ball and there was a mini-slide - we were suddenly five down for 251. That brought in Hasan Adnan. The two of us were really good mates, often eating out together with our respective partners.

I was on 120 and seeing it like a football. I played Robert Croft (I think) down to long on for an easy single and just strolled through. The thing was, Hasan had switched off – or hadn't switched on – and I got down the non-striker's end to find him still standing there.

We kind of circled each other as we decided who was going to go, which made it hard for the umpires to work out if we'd crossed. They eventually said that one of us had to, and Hasan said it wasn't going to be him, as he was playing for a contract. So I had to go and as I walked off, lifted my bat playfully as if to hit him. There was nothing in it at all, although I was disappointed to get out when I was so well set.

Dave Houghton was furious, especially when Hasan was out soon afterwards and it was pretty uncomfortable in the dressing room.

Next day, going to the ground on the team bus, I turned to the sports pages of the newspaper and there was a big headline 'Taylor looks to strike partner'. Neither of us could believe so much had been made of it, but when we got to the ground, the umpires said that they had no intention of reporting us. They were close enough to realise that there was nothing in it whatsoever.

The highlight must have been an early century against Yorkshire at Headingley in the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy, a game we won by 21 runs?

That was the innings that gave me the most satisfaction in my career. We got there on the day and all the sights, sounds and smells were exactly as I remembered them – just how I'd pictured it would be.

Yorkshire were a good team and Michael Di Venuto went early, but I felt right from the time I got to the middle. Stubbo and myself had another big stand and whatever shot I played seemed to come off. I still have a copy of the Radio Leeds commentary and can just about recite their coverage of reaching my ton by heart.

I remember turning to the Western Terrace, where my family were sitting, and waving across to them, then I kissed the Derbyshire badge on my shirt, which seemed a natural thing to do. It was the most wonderful, overwhelming feeling and I felt amazing. The Yorkshire lads were generous in their comments and applause and it was the best day of my career.

I suppose I'd made a point...

Perhaps an even better innings was the century against Durham at Derby, when we chased down a target of 275 in 50 overs and won with eight balls to spare?

Yes, that's right. While the Yorkshire innings was the one that gave me the most satisfaction, I don't think I ever played so well as against Durham.

Ottis Gibson was their overseas and they had a good attack. Their batting was impressive too and they posted a great score in fifty overs. We did OK, but when I walked out to bat at 92-3 I was conscious of people moaning and grumbling on the pavilion balcony. They'd pretty much written the game off.

I decided just to play my shots and go for it and everything hit the middle. I had great support from Ant Botha and Graeme Welch and we won with eight balls to spare.

In the dressing room afterwards, I sat there thinking I could play for England if I batted like that on a regular basis. Dave Houghton came over and told me it was one of the best one-day knocks he'd ever seen, then Martyn Moxon, the Durham coach, did the same.

It was a terrific feeling.

There were another two centuries that summer and you missed a thousand runs by just under a hundred. How did you feel at the end of it? Pleased you had established yourself, or disappointed at missing the landmark?

It has always been the benchmark against which a batsman is judged and I missed it by less than a hundred runs. I'd probably have got there, but I missed three matches with a broken finger, when someone accidentally slammed a car boot shut on my hand at a wedding!

I remember at the end of season dinner in the Lund Pavilion, going out on to the balcony with Dave Houghton and chatting about the season. My Dad was there too and it was a great night. Dave told me that if I carried on in that vein I could play for England. There were stories that Geoff Miller was keeping an eye on my progress and a Lions tour could be in the offing if I kept the impetus going.

It gave me an incentive for the second season, when I was on an improved contract after the success of that first summer. My goal for that second season was to push myself into the England reckoning and become a candidate for the Derbyshire captaincy, which had quickly become a major ambition for me.

Yet there were even better scores in the one-day game, where you batted quite beautifully, with 564 runs at 63 in just thirteen innings, second in the national one-day averages.

Yes, that shocked a few people in Yorkshire! I felt in good nick all summer and I was very pleased by the end of it. I'd cleared 1500 runs in all cricket and I had to be pleased with that, in what was effectively my first full season in the first-class game.

Things changed that winter though. Michael Di Venuto left but was replaced by Simon Katich and Ian Harvey. On paper, that didn't look to weaken the side?

No, but the atmosphere changed. There were two factions, effectively the Aussies and the rest and in my opinion there were too many overseas players. Besides Harvey and Katich, Michael Dighton came in on a UK passport and was told he was going to be batting at three, which had been my spot. There were a few occasions where the top six were all born overseas – there was also Greg Smith, Ant Botha and Steve Stubbings. It left the English lads feeling a little left out. Wayne White and I were often out in the cold.

Phil Weston was another who struggled in the environment. He'd been a prolific batsman for most of his career at Worcestershire and could barely buy a run at Derbyshire. It wasn't for the lack of talent or trying, it simply wasn't the most productive of atmospheres.

It quickly became clear that certain factions wanted Dave Houghton out and there was support for that from some of the committee at that time. It made it a very difficult season from a number of angles.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Miller as President strikes the right note

The good news keeps on coming at Derbyshire, as former England cricket supremo Geoff Miller has accepted the club presidency.

It is quite a coup for the club from several perspectives.

First of all, Miller was National Selector for the England team during its greatest period of dominance in many years. His standing in the game is unblemished by the side's recent decline and from that perspective he is the ideal, the perfect candidate. He is hot property within the game and as such his acceptance of the role is further evidence of the club's increased standing.

Secondly, Miller is a club legend, a cricketer of considerable class, yet has gone on to even greater deeds. His record for Derbyshire is well-known and needs no repetition here, but having a stalwart of the club in the role is a major coup.

Then there's his experience to take into account. Is there anyone better in the game to advise the club on the way to develop England players than a man who has spent the last few years of his life selecting them? Miller knows the standards required for international cricket and will doubtless be able to advise the Derbyshire coaching staff as and when required.

Finally, there's another factor. A very successful lunch was held at the County Ground today as a fund-raiser for the club's pre-season tour. Given Geoff Miller's reputation as one of the best after-dinner speakers on the circuit, I fully expect to see a number of such events held throughout his tenure. At a time when county cricket finances are tight, the potential for such events is considerable and the income potential for a small club like Derbyshire is the same.

It is a very sensible, well thought out and positive appointment by the club. To be fair, under the current administration I would expect nothing less.

Welcome back home Geoff. We look forward to seeing a lot of you as the summer progresses.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

AJ set to be Academy Jewel

I was pleased to read that AJ Harris has secured the role of Academy Director within the cricket club.

Harris has done a good job since his return under Karl Krikken and his experience, coupled with that of Steve Stubbings who will primarily focus on the Second XI, will serve the development of our young talent well.

By the same token, I am pleased that Howard Dytham has a role with the Derbyshire Cricket Board. Dytham has done a very sound job with the young players at the club since taking over from Karl Krikken and will undoubtedly continue to play a key role in identifying and developing them in the future.

We have all the pieces in place now and it is time for the serious stuff. Training is going well and the season is less than a month away.

Bring it on!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Monday musings - modest profit, major triumph

What's the link between the Russian composer Mussorgsky and the £3,395 profit registered by Derbyshire County Cricket Club for the season just finished?

Both were modest. I thank you, you've been a wonderful audience...

Modest, but, in the case of the cricket club, perfectly formed and in stark contrast to some of the figures being posted elsewhere by counties that would do well to adopt similar business models. Indeed, something of a triumph considering the additional £200,000 spent on the playing budget, clearly illustrating that the club is in good hands, should further illustration be required, as we prepare for an exciting summer.

What I really like about the current administration at the club is the fact that there's none of the old alarms sounding through the winter months that were once as inevitable as the first frosts. There was a time, and not all that long ago, when supporters approached the winter months with a degree of trepidation. We would say goodbye to favourite players in September with the awareness that by April they could well be plying their trade elsewhere. The revolving door went into fast forward mode and the close season was like a roller coaster that was fast hurtling downwards, with the bloke with his hands on the controls locking the door of his cabin and heading out to lunch.

That's not how it is done now. It seems to me that the club is well aware of the market value of its prized assets, but looks after them and makes the best offer it can to retain their services.

Let's take a couple of examples. This winter we have seen new, improved contracts for Wayne Madsen and Mark Footitt, both integral members of the side. Footitt was dramatically improved in 2013, fitter than he's ever been and one of our best bowlers throughout the summer. He was coveted by Surrey and understandably so, but chose to remain at Derbyshire because we recognised his progress and he had bought into the club's ethos and direction. Time was when it wasn't clear we had one of the latter.

Then there's the skipper, who was doubtless coveted by just about everyone as a batsman of great talent, a man of charm and humility and a figure head nonpareil. Who wouldn't want that sort of bloke in their side? Yet we have him for the next three years, almost certainly as skipper, where he improves all the time, definitely as lynchpin of the batting and as a club representative who spreads only positivity wherever he goes.

I couldn't be happier than in retaining the services of those two players, more so than in picking up a player from elsewhere who may or may not cut the mustard with a move to God's own county. Their efforts were recognised and presumably rewarded appropriately.

On the other hand, we could have opted to retain Dan Redfern and Ross Whiteley, but when you're looking at pros and cons, there was no merit in the retention of two players who hadn't made a strong case for themselves on the pitch. That both have talent in abundance is unquestionable, but if it doesn't translate to results, the message would appear to be quite clear. There's no place for makeweights at Derbyshire any more. If you do your stuff, we will keep you, if you don't, we won't. That has to be the right way and it makes for a bright future.

When you read, as I did at the weekend, Graeme Welch talk about Messrs Cotton, Cork and Taylor being better seam bowling prospects than he had at Warwickshire; when you hear him talk of our having four good spinners and that there's a lot of talent at the club, it is hard to be anything other than excited.

In 2012, Karl Krikken did a remarkably good job in gaining promotion as champions with a fairly young squad. That squad in 2013 showed a little early naivety and awe in approach to division one, not helped by injuries to key personnel who might just have made a difference. They nearly pulled off a great escape, but instead went down to regroup.

I think we will see Derbyshire come out fighting in 2014. They have new men to impress, who have introduced methods that can only improve their game and their levels of fitness. After a winter in which we have had only good news emanating from the County Ground - and full marks to all involved for the outstanding budgetary achievement - I have a feeling that it is just the latest in a positive winter that will bear fruit when September comes.

Watch this space...

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - W is for Wright: John Wright

W is for 'Wow'.

Quite likely the source of my biggest dilemmas, this one, containing, as it does, some of my favourite cricketers and more than a few players who have enriched my enjoyment of Derbyshire cricket over the past forty-five summers.

It is a nice way to end. Rather than a mediocre assortment of players who did their best but were not perhaps in the first tier of county players, the W category contains some vibrant and honest batsmen, some bowling workhorses and a selection of players who most would say best exemplified the term 'first-class cricketer'.

Because they were. All of them.



Of course, there are big names - in the context of Derbyshire cricket giant names - who pre-date my watching of the club. There was Levi Wright, probably the preeminent batsman in the club's early history, whose career average of 26 per innings owes more to the variable wickets of the time than any lack of talent. Wright played for the county from 1883 to 1909 and amassed twenty centuries. He was also as good a cover point as the game had known at that time and saved numerous runs, as well as taking some remarkable catches. Over and above all that, his cricket memoirs remain one of my favourite books, florid in style but anecdotal nirvana.

Then there was Arnold Warren, the first in the lineage of outstanding Derbyshire seam bowlers. A number of contemporaries deemed him the fastest bowler in the country at the time, when he was fully fit and bounding in from a run that was deemed overly long. Becoming established in the side in 1902, Warren played up to the Great War and ended up with 939 first-class wickets at under 25. Like Bill Bestwick, he probably suffered from being asked to bowl as both shock and stock bowler and went for runs as he tired, but he was a fine bowler. In his only Test appearance, he took five wickets in the first innings against Australia but was never picked again. That he dismissed the great Victor Trumper in each innings must have been some consolation in his dotage, but Warren was not the last Derbyshire player to be poorly treated by national selectors.

Moving on a few years, Stan Worthington (left) was a fine cricketer in the side of the 1920s and 1930s, probably the best batsman of several who were magnificent in full flight but not consistent enough to rival the very best. Worthington averaged just under 30 from twenty thousand runs; the same from almost seven hunded wickets with bustling medium pace. In his prime he lost little in comparison to the great Wally Hammond, with who he added 266 at The Oval for England against India, yet Worthington, like the rest of the side, batted selflessly in scoring runs quickly to allow a strong bowling side to force results. He was later a well-regarded coach at Lancashire and was a fine servant to Derbyshire cricket.

In the last fifty years there have been a number of candidates. As regular readers will know, few players gave me greater enjoyment than our first overseas batsman, Chris Wilkins. A free-flowing, front of the wicket player, the advent of the burly South African, usually at number four, saw the beer tents empty, people sit up in their seats and newspapers being largely ignored. You never knew what to expect and on the bad days an impetuous early shot may see the ball held by a circling mid-off or an alert slip cordon. On the good ones - and there were plenty - the ball came off his bat with a crack and fairly fizzed to the boundary. He wasn't a player to play for your life, but if I had to compile an eleven of entertainers, Chris Wilkins would be one of my first picks.

Nor can I ignore the claims of Alan Ward (left), who looked at times scarily quick to my young eyes from the boundary edge. While acknowledging the naivety of youth, nor can I forget a few players backing away as another fast rising ball ripped down at them. Not having seen Harold Rhodes in his prime, nor Bill Copson at all, I cannot pass judgement on relative speed, but when he was fully fit (alas, too infrequently) Ward was an impressive, awesome sight and a contender for the quickest home-reared bowler in club colours. That a bowler as good as he was didn't reach five hundred wickets over ten summers speaks volumes and the feeling remains that he was a largely unfulfilled talent. But what a sight at his best...

Barry Wood will always have a place in Derbyshire history, as skipper of the 1981 Nat West Trophy winning side. His best days came at Lancashire, but he was a feisty character who played fast bowlers with considerable courage (and more than a few broken fingers) and bowled innocuous-looking medium pace in one-day cricket that was remarkably successful. A good player, Barry Wood, but a Derbyshire player for too short a time for greater consideration here.

So too for such players as Wayne White, Colin Wells, Rob and Phil Weston, together with Ross Whiteley. All had their days in club colours, but their greatest were (or are more likely to be) elsewhere. Good players all and worthy of note, but not greater consideration here.

More recently there have been hugely popular all-rounders in Graeme Wagg and Graham Welch. Wagg was and remains an enigmatic cricketer, capable of genuine brilliance and relative mediocrity in quick succession. He could hit a ball long and hard, but perhaps not quite often enough to rank as a true all-rounder. He could bowl left-arm swing that would trouble the best and bowl out any player, but mixed that up with days when the radar had gone and the ball went everywhere. Perhaps that unpredictability accounted for his popularity among supporters. If it was his day, you knew we could challenge the best, but Wagg is another who remains a largely unfulfilled talent, though possessing remarkable natural gifts.

Graeme Welch was a fine county all-rounder. We liked him because he battled, he turned around lost causes and he made the very best of the talents he had. He wasn't the best batsman in the side, but he scored runs when others failed. He wasn't the quickest or most dangerous looking seamer, but he was respected by opponents as someone who could bowl a quicker ball, mix it up, move it around and make life difficult for them. Perhaps his greatest deeds are yet to come in his new coaching role, a field in which he has made an impressive early reputation. Welch is another who would get into any eleven of mine from an entertainment perspective, because he never gave up. There was no such thing as a lost cause and if this attitude can be passed over to his new charges he will take us far.

Which leaves one man and, after careful consideration, I am confident in having made the 'Wright' choice.

 If I were to choose one player who, irrespective of the state of the wicket and who was bowling, would get his head down and graft, I can't think of many that I would place ahead of John Wright. For all that he had a fine array of shots and, like all good left-handers, was immensely strong off his legs and especially through mid-on, the thing that I most remember John Wright for was his 'leave'. He was the best judge that I have seen in the county colours of the ball to let go and had an unerring ability on a humid morning when the ball was swinging around to play only what he had to. The 'oohs' and 'aahs' of a myriad county seamers must have been music to his ears and if it bothered him at all he never showed it. Instead, he just leaned on his bat, chewed his gum and smiled.

That was another thing about John Wright. He smiled a lot and seemed to appreciate that being paid for playing cricket, while undoubtedly not easy, was something that a lot of us cherished. He was one of the more genial players on the circuit and was well-liked by cricket fans around the country.

He might have ended up at Kent, where he turned up for trials, but their surfeit of overseas stars saw him try his chances at Derbyshire, where 150 in a second team game convinced the county that they had found a good 'un.

He was that all right. From 1977 to 1988, Wright was a model of consistency, his second-wicket partnership for much of that time with Peter Kirsten giving the county perhaps the greatest solidity they have ever had in batting. To a Derbyshire fan of my vintage, thinking back to the two of them batting at Lords in 1981 will bring a wistful smile to the face. When they were in full swing, which was often, there appeared little that the opposition could do to stop them. Indeed, a sign of their ability was how the opposition last-day targets got higher and higher. For supporters who recalled all to easily Derbyshire's inability to score 200 in the last innings, seeing us chase down 250-300 was a joy, such a target usually reached through a century from one of them.

1982 was the peak. In that golden summer, Wright scored 1830 championship runs at 56, with seven centuries and five fifties. Kirsten scored 1941 runs at just under 65, eight centuries and six fifties. That summer I would listen for the cricket scores on the radio and Derbyshire always seemed to be something like 230-1, with both going like trains. They didn't let me down in person either and for two Derbyshire players to be within touching distance of 4,000 runs between them, even now, seems extraordinary.

They were good friends and shared a flat together for some time. I remember a former girlfriend of mine telling me around that time that she'd been out for a drink with some friends and chatted up by a "New Zealander who played cricket for Derbyshire". I was jealous, but more of the fact that she'd been chatting to him, rather than me...it probably shows I wasn't all that serious about her, I suppose...

In 1984 Wright averaged over 60 and scored 1200 runs in just 21 innings, but by that stage he was job-sharing the overseas role with Michael Holding. Wright, in a delightfully self-deprecating way, told of how the opposition were always pleased to see his name on the team sheet in that period, as it meant that they wouldn't face trial by Holding. One got the impression that a lot of the enjoyment went for him at this time, something confirmed in his excellent autobiography, but he continued to give value for money and bad trots were few and far between.

He was a thinker about his game and team mates recall his gluing his top batting glove to the bat handle so it was in the right position all the time. They also attest to the origin of his nickname 'Shake', due to his messy kit bag, which he used to shake onto the dressing room floor in an attempt to find the cleanest gear. He was immensely popular in the dressing room and in 1976, when Eddie Barlow arranged a team bus for away games, Wright kept the players entertained with his singing and guitar skills. He was also willing to help with advice for younger players and few were surprised when he became a respected coach.

His dry wit continued in his successful tenure as coach of the Indian national team in the era of Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar. "The most important job is to make sure you get all the practice balls back"  he said, accepting that players of such talent needed little coaching.

Yes, he was a fine player and I will always remember his innings against the West Indies at Chesterfield in 1980 as perhaps the bravest I have seen by a Derbyshire batsman. It was a typical green-top and Messrs Roberts, Garner and Marshall were fast and nasty, most of the batsmen taking blows to the hands and body.

Wright took more than most, but made an extraordinary 96 from a total of 229. I am sure that the visitors wouldn't have grudged him that extra four runs in an innings of remarkable skill and courage. Wright went on to become the first New Zealander to pass 4,000 Test runs and remained a player that the opposition knew that they would need to dig out.

It was a privilege to have seen him and he is the perfect player to end this series.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Who are you?

Not just the title of a Who classic, but more an attempt to recognise the regular users of this blog.

My resolution for the year ahead is to pay greater attention to the usage of it and adjust the stat counter to reflect the fact that usage by mobile phone, iPad, and Mac isn't picked up at present.

Given that 14% of users are now on iPad, 12% on iPhone, 8% on Android and 5% on Macs and Blackberries, I need to recognise that, pretty sharpish!

For those curious about such things, 29% of use is through Safari, 22% through Firefox, 20% through Internet Explorer and 15% through Chrome, the remainder on a range of browsers.

As for countries, usage in the UK is naturally the greatest, followed by the USA, Germany, Australia, India, France, Netherlands, South Africa, Italy and Spain. While acknowledging that some of that will be holiday usage, it is always nice to hear from Derbyshire fans whose lives and work are now overseas. If nothing else, they make me feel local and thanks to all of you for your ongoing support and regular e mails.

The stat counter has now been adjusted to reflect the current usage by all of you and, until I can find one that registers usage by all devices, I will manually adjust the counter every quarter.

I hope to be back tomorrow with the concluding part of the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket, Unsurprisingly, there's no X or Z and none whose name began with a letter Y worthy of mention in the illustrious company thus far.

There are, however, a good few candidates under W and I look forward to bringing you my choice at some point on Sunday. Then, next week it will be the second installment of the Chris Taylor interview and before you know it, we'll be back to the pre-season pieces.

I also hope to have a poll on the site to take your forecasts for the championship and one-day campaigns.

So do keep checking in!