Friday, 28 April 2017

Change of attack for Derbyshire?

At Durham yesterday, I watched as Derbyshire leaked far too many early runs against the home side. Tom Milnes was the culprit and his lack of line and length saw the openers make hay and get off to a flying start.

We simply cannot afford that and need to make changes for Sunday and Northamptonshire. I would think Hardus Viljoen will still be missing, and neither Tom Taylor nor Greg Cork have staked a claim for a place in the side.

I like Milnes and, at his best, he offers wicket-taking potential and late order runs. Yet his bowling this summer has been most profligate and this, for me, is the time for him to drop from the firing line and get his rhythm back away from the public eye.

At the same time that Milnes was going for seven an over at Chester-le-Street, Matt Critchley was bowling an excellent spell for the seconds against what was a very strong Yorkshire side with four international players. He finished with 4-24 and, together with his powerful late order hitting, may just have played himself back into the side.

Two leggies in the eleven? Make it three, if Daryn Smit is needed, but batsmen don't generally play it well and Critchley did well in the competition last year. I'd be inclined to go for this team:

Godleman
Slater
Thakor
Madsen
Smit
Wilson
Mendis
Reece/Hughes
Critchley
Cotton
Davis

There would be four seamers and four spinners available to Billy Godleman, with Reece's different angle a bonus for the skipper. Having said that, Hughes is more likely to bowl tight in this format and both could offer useful runs and agility in the field.

What do you think?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Durham v Derbyshire RLODC

 Durham 194-2 

v Derbyshire.

No result

Watching the game unfold today, I was left with one big thought.

Hardus, Hardus. Wherefore art thou, Hardus?

The Derbyshire attack is too similar. All right arm, medium fast, with the exception of Jeevan Mendis. Once you have lined up one, you effectively have them all.

Ben Cotton bowled some good balls in his first spell and continued to do so when he came back later. He seems to have worked out his game now and zipped the ball around well. Tony Palladino bowled wicket to wicket, without looking as if success was around the corner, but for the rest there was a lot of huffing and puffing, without threatening to blow the house down.

The exception was Jeevan Mendis and no one seemed to play him confidently. He varied his pace well and beat the bat on the inside and outside with regularity. The only shot assayed in anger resulted in Jennings being stumped by a distance and only a couple of balls pulled down short ruined an exemplary spell.

The Durham batsmen worked the ball around well and were largely content to push it into wide open spaces on a big outfield and wait for the bad ball to come.

Too many came early and both the excellent Keaton Jennings and Stephen Cook were able to get away to starts more easily than should have been the case.

Three stoppages for rain helped Derbyshire and left the batsmen having to re-start, but Duckworth/Lewis left Derbyshire chasing a notional 243 in 34 overs.

It was all largely academic though, because showers of increasing frequency and content meant that Derbyshire never got out there.

We'll take that, I think. On Sunday, we simply have to bowl better than this, or Northamptonshire will score 400.

After four wickets for the second team today, there must be a temptation to play Matt Critchley and go with two leggies for greater control.

For now, adieu from soggy Chester-le-Street.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Durham v Derbyshire preview

In old Peakfan's house today, it is like the night before Christmas.

The bags are packed (well, both of them, I don't travel like the Kardashians...) and I am all set for an early departure tomorrow morning. I plan to be down by the Riverside (where..?) before the start of play and to see Derbyshire for the first time in my fiftieth summer supporting the club.

From there it will be on to God's Own County and seeing my folks, while pulling in the game against Northamptonshire on Sunday. A nice mini tour and I hope that the cricket I see is worthy of the trip.

Tomorrow's weather looks a little 'iffy' and it may be that the game is reduced. There is light rain forecast in the morning, but it looks to clear in the afternoon, so good news on that score.

We have named a fourteen-man squad for the game, which is as follows:

Billy Godleman
Luis Reece
Ben Slater
Shiv Thakor
Wayne Madsen
Daryn Smit
Jeevan Mendis
Gary Wilson
Alex Hughes
Tom Milnes
Rob Hemmings
Tony Palladino
Will Davis
Ben Cotton

Milnes and Hemmings look the most likely to miss out, for me, but it will be a tough call on all the exclusions. Indeed, there was a strong case for Tom Wood's inclusion, after a sparkling century against Northamptonshire yesterday. There were seven sixes in his ton, which must have made for exciting watching. Such players outside the squad give reasons to be cheerful and the players 'in possession' need to deliver.

Durham will be missing Mark Wood, who has a groin strain, as well as Jack Burnham, who has a broken thumb. Keaton Jennings will lead the side and form an impressive opening pair with South African Stephen Cook.

Their squad:

Keaton Jennings (c), Stephen Cook, Graham Clark, Michael Richardson, Paul Collingwood, Cameron Steel, Paul Coughlin, Ryan Pringle, Stuart Poynter (wk), Brydon Carse, James Weighell, Chris Rushworth, Barry McCarthy

It is a winnable game and to do so would make Derbyshire supporters feel more at ease after a mixed start to the season. I think the one-day formats might suit us this year, if we can keep key men fit. Jeevan Mendis should come into his own in this competition and we seem to have the crucial depth in batting and bowling.

I will be tweeting through the day, all being well, though my close of play report may be delayed until Friday.

Either way, I'm going to enjoy it!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Thank you to Office Care for sponsorship

The eagle-eyed among you will notice a new header bar on the blog, kindly supplied by Office Care. They have been blog sponsors for several years now and their support enables me to keep the blog ad-free and looking professional.

They have renewed that sponsorship for another year and their support is very much appreciated. Thanks also to Karl Shaw of Silver Birch Media for the design work.

I'd also like to thank former Derbyshire star Chris Taylor, for renewing his company's sponsorship for the summer. All Rounder Sports are one of the country's leading cricket specialists and I hope that you check out their excellent web site by following the link on the left hand side of the page. The Discount Cricket Outlet is also worth a look, another of Chris' projects.

He is a very busy man!

If anyone else is interested in a line-link to their website or business, please get in touch to the usual address and I will gladly supply rates.

A question of balance

Let me clear up two things straight away.

I don't think for a minute that Derbyshire haven't improved from last summer. We have and I think will show that as a long summer progresses. There are still weaknesses in the side, but you are never going to sort the amount that we had in one winter. We were poor last year, but the addition of good cricketers can and will only have a positive effect on results.

At the same time, I don't think thus far that we have the balance right. In trying to fit in everyone who is deserving of a game we are leaving ourselves short in that most key area - balance.

As was pointed out the other night, we went into the game against Kent with at most three specialist bowlers, the other overs made up of all rounders who are either new to the wickets, new to the county or struggling with injury. It is little wonder that the bowling proved our problem, especially when one of the three specialists was off with his radar.

For the RLODC games this coming weekend, I hope to see Derbyshire field something that offers more in that way, with a recall for Ben Slater and Ben Cotton on the cards.

Ben Slater is in form and was for this competition last year. Shiv Thakor is learning the role at number three, but if his ankle isn't up to bowling, he should be rested and either Luis Reece or Alex Hughes could bat there, as could Daryn Smit. Matt Critchley is an excellent one-day bowler, but The Riverside is usually a seamer's track and he may miss out.

We do need six bowlers though, because you usually find that someone takes a bit of stick in the one day game and a spell is split. There's options around though and a decent depth to the batting, if required.

More from me on the game tomorrow, when one assumes the squad will be announced.

To finish on a positive note, the seconds enjoyed a fine win over a strong Nottinghamshire side at Denby yesterday.

Ben Slater made an unbeaten 139 and Harvey Hosein an unbeaten 64, Tom Wood 47 and Charlie Macdonell 36 as we amassed 309-2 in fifty overs.

The visitors, skippered by Brendan Taylor and including Harry Gurney, Tom Moores, Brett Hutton and Billy Root, made 294-6, both Ben Cotton and Matt Critchley bowling tight spells.

That was a very good effort by a young side that featured several academy players.

I will follow their fortunes closely over the summer.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Kent v Derbyshire day 3

Kent 259 and 308 (Stevens 90, Rouse 95, Davis 3-48)

Derbyshire 159 and 239 (Wilson 97, Madsen 32)

Kent won by 169 runs

Notwithstanding that this is a pretty decent Kent side, and in Darren Stevens they had the best player on the pitch, today was wretched from Derbyshire.

You pays your money and takes your choice, but when Kent added 166 in the morning session, one assumed that the wicket had at least eased to allow a decent stab at a target in excess of 400. Yet our limp batting thereafter, with the honorable exception of Messrs Wilson and Madsen, was not what one would hope for in a summer that we hope brings a bright new start.

Wilson has been highly impressive since his move from Surrey, a huge asset to the side and was unlucky to miss out on another century. Meanwhile Madsen keeps on being Madsen, but I don't look at the Derbyshire side right now and think it is balanced.

In all likelihood the batsmen and bowlers were equally culpable today, because there was some poor bowling in that first session. That Tom Milnes went in excess of five an over, on a wicket that most seamers would want to carry around with them is disappointing. Tony Palladino bowled tight, while Will Davis shouldn't have to carry an attack at 21 but is doing so just now.

Shiv Thakor was obviously not fit enough to bowl much, but I'm not sure how realistic it is for Luis Reece to be a main bowler AND open the batting. To be fair to the lad, I can't think of anyone else who has bowled first or second change and opened and it is a huge ask for anyone. Likewise I am not yet sold on Shiv Thakor as a number three, though it is early days yet. We need more than flashy forties from that position though and Ben Slater is knocking on the door, as is Charlie Macdonell.

I think Smit will be fine once he gets used to the wickets, and neither so far has been a batting paradise. He has added greatly to the fielding side, but we have three bowling issues to address before we can start to win matches.

First and very obviously, we need Hardus Viljoen fit. How he would have gone on such a wicket is worthy of thought, though it was more a wicket for those who slowed it down a little.

Second, we need to use Jeevan Mendis better. If a bloke is worth bringing over as an overseas player, surely he is worthy of a bowl before the 49th over? From what I have seen of him so far, he is a very handy leggie, but I don't see how he has scored so heavily in Sri Lanka. Why we let Stevens and Rouse add 90 before we remembered we had him in the side is puzzling. That he got a wicket straight away was just mighty frustrating. He's not in Tahir's class, but we need to use a bowler whose style often puzzles English batsmen, in a far more savvy manner.

Finally, we need to bring in Ben Cotton. Whether he takes wickets or not, Cotts is generally accurate and we can't afford to give runs away as Milnes did in this game. He needs to work on line and length to stay in the side, or drop down to the twos to rediscover it in a less demanding environment.

Disappointing sums it up tonight.

To quote the old song, things can only get better.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Kent v Derbyshire day 2

Kent 259 and 142-7 (Stevens 53 not)

Derbyshire 159 (Madsen 56, Stevens 6-47)

Kent lead by 242 runs

It was the Darren Stevens show at Canterbury today, as the soon-to-be 41 year old bowled us out with his old-fashioned medium pace and then scored a crucial half century to, in my opinion, put the game beyond us.

Stevens is a throw back to the days of Tom Cartwright and Derek Shackleton, bowlers who could run in all day and just drop it on or around a length, nibbling around a little to induce the false shot. At this stage of the season he is gold dust to his side, as the wickets suit him down to the ground. Our best chance of success here is to get him pulling a muscle while going for a quick single, as he is the standout bowler  in the attack.

He is also a classic case of the late maturing cricketer. He was a decent batsman who bowled a bit for most of his twenties, but became a genuine all rounder since he turned thirty. While youth in any side is an asset in the field, an old head in these conditions is worth its weight in gold.

Our profligate nature in the first hour of the game will be what cost us here, as cost us it will assuredly do.  For all the protestations to the contrary tonight, unless Stevens can't bowl and the wicket settles down, we will be likely rolled over a second time and lose by some distance.

It's disappointing, but we can't complain too much. We had the option of bowling and chose to do so, but in making such a decision, you need your main strike bowlers to find line and length, something that ours failed to do until they had 80 on the board, not far shy of the first innings deficit.

We fought back well in the final session tonight, indicative of the battling mentality now in the side, but we will need a lot more of that tomorrow.

Shiv Thakor and Wayne Madsen took the attack to the home side, but as Wayne said tonight, there is always a ball with your name on it, on this wicket.

I hope to see the battling continue tomorrow, but expect a heavy defeat at the end of it all.

If we can win this one,  I can win Miss World.

It would need something very special, in each instance.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Kent v Derbyshire day 1

Kent 238-8 (Reece 3-38, Davis 3-59) 

v Derbyshire

Earlier today, in my pre-match write up, I suggested that someone needed to put their hand up  as a wicket-taker for Derbyshire. Lo and behold, two men did and both Luis Reece and Will Davis took three wickets today.

There has been criticism of the bowlers so far, but we all need remember that at this stage of the summer, for batsmen and bowlers alike, there is a quest for rhythm that can at times prove elusive. As I have written on several occasions over the years, professional sportsmen can have their good and bad days, just the same as you and I.

For bowlers, that action needs grooved and things like the slope and the wind can impact on their ability to pitch the ball where they want on a given day. Bowling up a hill can be tough and you find yourself reaching for the crease, while going down you can find yourself going too fast and throttling back. It is particularly an issue for young bowlers and our two youngsters did very well today.

Reece was assisted by another blinding slip catch by Daryn Smit, who has enhanced the close catching cordon considerably, irrespective of anything else that he does. Tony Palladino bowled his normal, controlled spells without success, though that quest for rhythm thus far hasn't been realised for Shiv Thakor and Tom Milnes. Both are yet to hit their stride, but they will get there.

Tomorrow's challenge is to take the last two wickets quickly and Kent must have the best number eleven in the country in Matt Coles. Then, we need to build an innings and bat for a long time.

At 83-0 tdday, Kent were looking at 400 and we were looking down a barrel.

We fought back well and need to show similar application against a keen attack tomorrow.

Kent v Derbyshire preview

Every season there are sides whose early performances suggest a season of toil and struggle. This season, Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Warwickshire are such teams and their early displays have suggested that it could be a long summer.

Then there are those who go off like a train and produce individual and team performances that suggest they could be in the mix. Last week's opposition, Northamptonshire, are such a side, as are today's, Kent.

With Sam Northeast in sparkling form and at the head of a solid batting line-up, we will have to play at our best to come out on top in this one. With the evergreen Darren Stevens in form with bat and ball, they have Wayne Parnell as overseas professional and he is a part of a good home attack, which includes Matt Coles, a cricketer I really like. He may have attracted more news than he should have for off-field exploits, but Coles bowls some nasty balls, runs in hard and hits it harder.

Derbyshire name the same eleven that played well against Northamptonshire, plus Ben Slater, Charlie Macdonell and Ben Cotton.

I couldn't second guess the final eleven, with both Ben and Charlie scoring centuries this week that may earn them a role. I think Ben Cotton will play, after a good effort in the seconds, as there must be an element of doubt over Shiv Thakor's ankle for a lot of bowling. The other big decision is on whether Alex Hughes plays as a specialist batsman and slip fielder over the other two. Given he didn't bowl at all in that last game, one can only assume he is in the side to lengthen the batting, although the success of Darren Stevens, a similar bowler, on these early summer tracks may offer him an opportunity.

It should be a good game and our senior players can at least make the decision on bowling here, with it being an away game. In the continued absence of Hardus Viljoen, I share concerns over the taking of wickets and await someone allaying those concerns.

Maybe this is the one?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Post-match thoughts

Well, we lost an opening game of the season, not for the first time.

Yet in that loss, there was more than a suggestion that this could be a highly entertaining summer. It wasn't a game in which we were outclassed, as so often last year, To the contrary, we made the running for most of it, even without our fast bowling spearhead, Hardus Viljoen.

We were defeated because we tried to win the game and were not fully taking into account the length and strength of a very good visiting batting side. There was a time when five an over across 65 overs would have been a test. Now, when 200 from twenty overs is far from unusual, I think that we erred on the side of generosity with a declaration that lost us the match. Anyway, 'tis done now and we must move on.

Other downsides? The bowling didn't seem too demanding, with the honorable exception of Will Davis and Tony Palladino. Tom Milnes can do much better, Shiv Thakor's injury didn't help and Jeevan Mendis will come more into his own on warmer days and drier tracks. Luis Reece may prove only an occasional bowler, but will need to be tighter than he was in that game, while Daryn Smit will doubtless take wickets when his shoulder is fully restored to health.

That's really it, though. The positives far outweigh them. As a batting side we fought in both innings, when conditions were not at all in our favour and appear to have a solid opening pair. There were debates when Luis Reece was preferred to Ben Slater, but the latter, a player I really like, hasn't yet found his touch this year. He only got 14 yesterday for the seconds, while Charlie Macdonell hit an unbeaten 136, perhaps making himself the next in line in the process.

Shiv Thakor may or may not establish himself at three, but needs a run at the role, so with the rest of the batting largely stable, the thoughts over the next day or two will revolve around the bowling. A good performance in the seconds could see Ben Cotton or Tom Taylor elevated for the trip to Kent and we all hope that Hardus Viljoen is fit for that one.

We also held some excellent catches. Daryn Smit stood out with stunning efforts at second slip, but Wayne Madsen is a sound first slip and Gary Wilson set the tone behind the stumps. In that second innings run chase of Northamptonshire, we only conceded two extras, a level of discipline that is gratifying. In an attack that is best described as a work in progress, the least we should expect is that and hopefully greater penetration will come. No one should underestimate the value of a fast bowler at one end and his impact on all the others in the attack.

One final thing. We have a skipper who is prepared to risk losing, in order to win. It would have been very easy to bat all day on Monday and take practice in a match situation and a few points.

Billy Godleman tried to take more than that and is to be applauded. While it didn't work out this time, there will be others when it does.

It all suggested that Derbyshire watching this summer will be anything but dull.

Which has to be worth something, at the end of the day.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 4

Derbyshire 281 and 351-1 (Reece 168, Godleman 156 not)

Northamptonshire 307 and 330-7 (Levi 99, Newton 98, Mendis 3-84)

Northamptonshire won by 3 wickets

I have no doubt that supporter's opinion will be divided tonight.

On the one hand, Derbyshire were involved in a thrilling game of cricket to open the county season, one which went down to the penultimate ball and made for an enthralling afternoon for those in attendance.

On the other, we lost.

It would have been very easy to write off today as an easy draw, as I largely had. I suggested last night that only a contrived finish could change that, and so it came to pass.

I have only my good friends, Ranjith and Paul, to verify that at lunchtime today I suggested that our declaration was 15-20 runs short of challenging. That it went down to the wire was full credit to both teams and to the two captains. Rather than petering out around 5pm, the game went to the last over and as an entertainment form would have been hard to beat.

I just felt that, playing the current T20 champions, a side packed full of aggressive batsmen down to number nine in the order, 325 in 65 overs was very much on. If you break the innings into bite-sized chunks, it was five an over, or a hundred off each twenty. Against a side shorn of its main strike bowler, with another seamer who had a dodgy ankle and ending the innings with a leggie bowling who hasn't in a match since before Christmas and shoulder surgery, the visitors seemed to hold all the aces.

When they slipped to 124-4, courtesy of what I understand was another stunning slip catch by Daryn Smit, we were on top, but the game was taken away from us by Richard Levi. You have to give credit where it is due and Levi is capable of that, and has done it against international attacks. While Rob Newton kept them in the game, Levi won it for them with 99 from 79 balls. Yes, it hurts to lose, but you have to applaud something special and Levi produced it today.

I'm unsure why we didn't give Will Davis or Tony Palladino a last spell, and even more baffled why Alex Hughes didn't turn his arm over in the game. I didn't get the impression that the wicket was turning, so the merits of spin at each end was questionable, but maybe there were things that I'm not privy to.

Earlier, Billy Godleman and Luis Reece set a new county record for the first wicket,erasing Joe Bowden and Harry Storer from the record books forever with a stand of 333. I suspect that the earlier heroes faced bowling more demanding than today, though, certainly in this morning's session. Well done to both though, because the record books will still bear their names, irrespective of how they were scored.

It might last another 88 years, too...

More thoughts on the game tomorrow. Shame to start with a defeat, but we played positive cricket and have a lot of positives to come out of the match.

Pre-last day thoughts

While all three results are possible today, the thinking man or woman's money would be on the draw.

From our perspective, we are 116 runs on and would need to set them between 275 and 300 in perhaps 50 overs to win. For me, the rain has taken too much time out of the game and unless they served up 'buffet' bowling, the wicket hasn't been conducive to aggressive stroke play to get there.

Then again, and taking nothing at all away from our excellent opening pair's efforts, 142-0 doesn't suggest that the last day wicket would be a minefield on which to survive, so could we realistically take ten wickets in fifty overs, unless they collapsed as they did in the first innings?

To win would require a huge effort from all eleven players and a special one from at least one bowler. I don't think that Billy Godleman would risk a damaging loss by dangling too attractive a carrot in front of the visitors and we may just need to write this up as a very encouraging first game. A ton for either or both openers, especially Luis Reece on debut, would be most welcome.

Let's face it, Northamptonshire won their first game in a canter but they are in trouble here and would doubtless be quite happy with the draw.

For all the comments I have seen that suggest we should 'go for it', the reality is that of course they will, but won't risk undoing three days of very hard work with a silly declaration on the last day.

Because the usual suspects will then start saying 'same old Derbyshire'.

Which I suspect we're not.

More from me later. Sadly, work beckons so the desktop scoreboard awaits...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 3

Derbyshire 281 and 142-0 (Reece 69 not, Godleman 63 not)

Northamptonshire 307

Derbyshire lead by116 runs

It is hard to think a positive result can come here, in a match where run scoring at any rate has proved problematic. Nor, I think, will either side be prepared to risk all in an early season match where a loss would undo what to this point has been an encouraging start. Yet if it does come, Derbyshire are in the driving seat to dictate the terms.

Full credit again to them, and specifically to Billy Godleman and Luis Reece, for batting through to a century stand in which they had to make several 'starts' with rain delays. It is little more than we have come to expect from the skipper, who with Wayne Madsen has become one of the rocks on which we depend. For Reece, though, it marked an encouraging effort and start to a county career.

As I wrote before the season started, many people I spoke to on speaking engagements over the winter in Lancashire were astonished that they allowed him to leave.  Today's innings will have done his confidence good and I hope that he kicks on from here. A century tomorrow would be the icing on the cake.

Just a short blog from me tonight, as a good friend is over visiting from the US of A.

I will be back in more detail tomorrow, likely reporting on a draw, unless it turns into a raging turner on the last afternoon, or Ben Duckett goes berserk in a run chase.

Very encouraging though so far.

Well done lads.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 2

Derbyshire 281

Northamptonshire 291-9 (Holden 68 not, Duckett 53, Newton 50, Davis 4-55)

A day that ebbed and flowed at Derby today, with late runs from Alex Hughes and Tom Milnes edging Derbyshire to a decent first innings tally. By early afternoon, with the visiting openers putting on a hundred, it didn't look close to enough, before persistent bowling, loose shots and fine catching reduced them to 171-8. Matt Holden and Nathan Buck then put on a crucial stand of 89, before Jeevan Mendis got his second wicket of the day.

There were four wickets for Will Davis, who continues to look a terrific prospect and two for Shiv Thakor, who worryingly had to leave the field with an ankle injury in the final session. The absence of Viljoen's bazookas was felt, but Derbyshire can be pleased with a position of parity at this stage.

There were two puzzles for me today. Luis Reece bowled as first change, but never got an over afterwards, suggesting that he was either injured or oddly ignored. Meanwhile, Alex Hughes never turned his arm over at all and his skiddy medium pace may have been just the thing to break that ninth wicket partnership, given opportunity.

What we do appear to have is an excellent close catching combination, with Madsen, Smit and Hughes taking good slip catches and Wilson a good one down the leg side. Only nineteen extras conceded to the visitors 47 too, but we will want to finish the innings quickly tomorrow and not have too great a deficit to claw back on a wicket that continues to offer something for the bowlers.

Its a funny game. Sometimes as a captain you have the wrong bowlers on. Other times you have them on, but at the wrong ends. Today we struck a combo that worked after lunch and looked to be well on top - until that final session, when we rather let them get off the hook.

Where does it go from here? Well, we will need a lead over 250 on the final day and then hope that the wicket dries enough to help our Sri Lankan leggie. The batting will again be tested by a keen Northamptonshire attack tomorrow and must show similar resilience to the first innings.

Game on, for sure and if this close contest is a sign of things to come there will be few complaints by the end of the season.

Especially if we come out on top at the end...

Excellent Cricinfo piece on Barnett

Lovely article by the always-readable David Hopps on Kim Barnett over on Cricinfo.

You can find it here

Enjoy!

Flexibility and bravery the key for Derbyshire

Competition for places is quite likely going to be key for Derbyshire in their quest for improved fortunes this summer.

So too will the bravery and honesty of the senior players who will select the side, along with captain Billy Godleman.

There was a time, as told to me by several players of senior vintage, when a young player had to produce the exceptional to get into the first eleven and displace a senior, capped player on the commensurate (not especially high) salary. Even then, after a failure or two, that young player would be back to the second eleven, who rarely played enough cricket for them to force a way back through. It was very much survival of the fittest and only what Jean Brodie would have called the creme de la creme would survive.

As it should be, of course. The county game is the pinnacle for most players, only the elite status of the international game beyond. The only way that a place in the side should be maintained is on a sustained level of performance, exactly the same way as one should be earned.

Last season, for example, irrespective of the fact that he had flown thousands of miles to get here, Neil Broom shouldn't have held down a place in the side all summer. His form simply didn't warrant it and a closing average of mid-twenties was more in keeping with a young lad learning the game, than that of an experienced player of international experience.

This year, I think things will be different and players will be aware that they have to deliver to retain a senior role.

There have been several comments about the absence of Harvey Hosein and Ben Slater from the lineup and both could be considered unlucky to be out of the side for the first fixture. Yet Hosein is competing against the vice-captain, who has had two innings and scored a century and 72. You cannot argue on such figures and while there is perhaps one on whether either could play as a batting specialist, you look at the current side and ask 'replacing who'?

Slater picked up a pre-season knock and in his absence Luis Reece scored a fifty and took three wickets in a good spell against Loughborough UCCE. After such an effort it would have been hard, unfair even, to omit him, but Slater's turn will come.

Players should not be in fear of their place and failing in two successive matches should not equate to being dropped. That only results in people not playing freely, to their and the side's detriment. Yet the senior players will see how people are in the nets and be well aware when a rest is needed.

The beauty of the current squad is that there is cover, ironically, for all but Hardus Viljoen. His absence, however long it is, will be keenly felt, as genuine fast bowlers are few and far between. Yet for Reece, read Slater, Macdonell or Wood. For Wilson, read Hosein, or Smit. For Hughes, read Reece, dropping down the order, or Cork, or Cotton. Maybe even Critchley. You could do that with them all at this stage, except captains present and previous, Messrs Godleman and Madsen.

We should not be a one-dimensional side this year. While doubts of our ability to take twenty wickets without Viljoen remain, they are based on a twelve-month old perception of bowlers who should have improved. Whether that improvement is enough, we don't know yet, but we have an attack to handle most wickets and batsmen who, I think, have the mental toughness to follow a big score on a 'road' with one of our own, rather than falter under pressure.

Do I think we can win something this year? Probably not, but right now we would all take brighter, competitive cricket and signs of progress. Trophies come from talent, attitude and luck.

We have two out of those three, but no one will win anything without their share of the other one at key points of the summer.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 1

Derbyshire 219-6 (Wilson 72) v Northamptonshire

What do we read into day one of what appears to have been absorbing cricket?

First, I think, that we will be no pushovers this summer. Right down the order, batsmen came in and applied themselves on a day where the visitors were always going to bowl. There was greater likelihood of Lord Lucan riding Shergar into the 3aaa County Ground than the visitors opting to bat first, with cloud overhead an a good chance of the ball nibbling around on an early season track. They have a good seam attack and it was going to be tough from there.

When you put the opposition in, however, you would hope to get three or four out before lunch, but our visitors keen attack didn't do that because the openers applied themselves. As I always said about Paul Borrington, he may not have scored runs at times, but he took the sting out of the bowlers, put overs in their legs, took shine off the ball and made it easier for those who followed.

Luis Reece did much the same on debut and with his skipper gave Derbyshire a solid start. In such conditions you are always on the edge and when four were down for 114, the Derbyshire of seasons past may well have been gone for under 200.

They weren't, largely because of a battling stand between Gary Wilson, who already looks a huge asset, and Daryn Smit. They would have picked easier conditions for a debut, but took the score to 200 before they were dismissed before the close.

'We'll be happy if we bowl them out for under 250', said Nathan Buck, who appears back to the form of his Leicestershire pomp after a tough time at Lancashire. I am sure they will, but with Jeevan Mendis and Alex Hughes at the crease there are still runs in the home side, with Milnes and Palladino to follow.

With the ball likely to keep nipping around, anything over 275 would be competitive against a seven-man Derbyshire attack. As I have said many times, you can never judge a batting display until both sides have had a go on it, but it doesn't appear a wicket on which they should flay 450 in no time.

I will always take a team that grafts and does their best in the face of adversity.

We did that today and need to keep doing it until September.

I look forward to the comments of those who were there - and everyone else!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Derbyshire v Northamptonshire preview

Regular readers will know that I warned of the possibility of Hardus Viljoen's absence from the start of the season a couple of weeks back.

He hasn't played since January back home, so it seemed a somewhat miraculous recovery in time for the season opener tomorrow.

Alas it is not to be and the club statement said that they are working to get him fit as soon as possible. Like you, I have no idea how long that will be, but as a major component of our four-day threat in attack, we need it to be sooner, rather than later. No doubt our opposition's batsmen are breathing a sigh of relief tonight, as no one likes playing genuinely quick bowling, but this is and should be more than a one-man team.

His absence gives opportunity to someone else and sometimes good fortune can be the catalyst for something special. Here's hoping...

A thirteen-man squad has been named for the game, which reads as follows:

Billy Godleman
Luis Reece
Ben Slater
Shiv Thakor
Wayne Madsen
Daryn Smit
Jeevan Mendis
Gary Wilson
Alex Hughes
Tom Milnes
Tony Palladino
Will Davis
Ben Cotton

Hard to call who drops out of that squad, but  on pre-season opportunity I would guess any two from Slater, Cotton and Hughes. It is tough on all and a sign of how we have improved over the winter. Reece, Smit, Wilson and Mendis make their county debuts and there should be an improvement in the batting as a result. All are players of talent and should make us a harder, more competitive side.

We will need to be against a visiting side that steamrollered Glamorgan in their first game. The likelihood is that we will end up batting first and we will see the effectiveness of the pre-season marquee work against a keen attack.

The visitors have a good, solid squad that cannot be underestimated, but there is depth and greater experience to the batting that should serve us well over the summer.

Their squad:

Buck, Cobb, Crook, Duckett, Holden, Keogh, Kleinveldt, Levi, Rossington, Sanderson, Wakely, White.

It will be a good test for our side against one that always flies under the radar.

My money is on a draw to start, but we need to be fast out of the blocks and ready to battle.

Good luck lads. Make my fiftieth summer as a Derbyshire supporter a special one....

Monday, 10 April 2017

Mendis and Viljoen gear up for action

Jeevan Mendis made his first appearance for Derbyshire today, scoring 40 runs and taking two wickets as the second eleven beat The Unicorns by four wickets at Ticknall.

Former Nottinghamshire batsman Sam Kelsall top scored with 88 as the opposition scored 278-7 in their fifty overs, a total that reflected a good batting track and a decent side of players seeking a route back into the first-class game.

There were two wickets each for Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton too, before Ben Slater led off a reply that eased to victory with an over in hand. Skippering the side, Slater scored 69, Charlie Macdonell 36 and Tom Wood 41, before Callum Brodrick hit an unbeaten 33 to seal the win.

Elsewhere, Hardus Viljoen had a rigorous training and net session under the eye of Steve Stubbings and pronounced himself fit for the start of the season.

Only four sleeps to go, my friends.

Exciting, huh?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Loughborough UCCE v Derbyshire day 3

Derbyshire 363-8 and 255-2 declared (Madsen 80 not, Godleman 65 retired, Reece 58, Smit 18 not)

Loughborough UCCE 388 all out (Reece 3-22)

Today was a good final workout for Derbyshire, before they start the season proper at the 3aaa County Ground against Northamptonshire on Friday. It will be a tough test, the visitors having soundly thrashed Glamorgan in their own opening game of the season.

The home side batted on today and the last wicket was taken by Luis Reece, whose performance in this game will have given the selection panel at the club plenty to think about . There is a lot to like in a young player with the technique to open the batting and the ability to bowl skiddy medium pace from his left hand. For the angle alone, he represents an interesting option and I think he will have played his way into the opening side here.

I am unsure of Ben Slater's fitness, though he was nursing a knock, but Reece is a valid alternative 'up top' or could go at three. Then again, with Shiv Thakor supposedly getting a run at first drop, he may need to drop down the order - well down - in what, assuming no injuries, may be this team:

Godleman
Slater
Thakor
Madsen
Smit
Mendis
Wilson
Reece
Palladino
Viljoen
Davis

There's an option to play Tom Milnes, on form in this game, and I suspect that he and Tony Palladino may sub in and out of the side through the summer, but that eleven offers depth to the batting and six bowlers - seven, once Smit is fit to bowl in a few weeks time. Even eight, if one includes the mighty Madsen.

Billy scored another fifty today and added 125 with Reece before retiring. Luis reached a measured fifty and then hit out and got out, as did Shiv Thakor, but Wayne Madsen cruised to an unbeaten 80 from 71 balls and Daryn Smit spent useful time in the middle as Derbyshire batted out time.

They will face better teams this season, but had a solid test and there was good match play for everyone. Derbyshire can be quite happy with the state of individual games at this stage.

With Hardus Viljoen suggesting on Twitter that he is ready to roll and Jeevan Mendis due over this week, there's a rugged look to our side, competition for places and six months of county cricket to look forward to.

I can't wait...

Loughborough UCCE v Derbyshire day 2

Derbyshire 363-8

Loughborough 351-9 

Another day another workout for Derbyshire yesterday. It was the same for me, because I was working until 7 and then had family commitments all evening, hence no blog until now...

Loughborough must be the strongest University side in a number of years and appear to have some good players. Certainly their top five is very good and the Canadian, Kumar, has a wide range of shots that he is unafraid to use. James Bracey, who is on Gloucestershire's staff, made a composed century and the attack had to work hard and what is obviously a decent batting track.

It was good to see Tom Taylor back in the wickets on his first-class return after missing most of last season and he now needs to get his line and length grooved, much as Tony Palladino did - indeeed, always does. The wickets were shared around fairly evenly, but the surprise for me, following play on my desktop scoreboard, was that Luis Reece wasn't introduced until the sixty-over mark.

If for no other reason than he offers a different angle, the left-arm Reece is always worth a spell, as he seems to be a 'golden arm' type of bowler. There is much to like in the option of a player who can open the innings for you AND bowl ten to fifteen overs, though Reece could equally slot into the lower middle order.

He will doubtless get another chance with the bat today, but a controlled spell of 2-18 in nine overs suggests he could be an important player for us this year. Last year our attack was largely a battery of feast medium right arm bowlers, but variety, especially on a moribund track, is the way to success.

It would be good to see those who missed out first time around get some time in the middle today and a good score for Reece will make him hard to omit from the season opener next weekend.

Also good to see was Hardus Viljoen making an appearance at Loughborough and supporters will be eager to see the powerfully built quick bowler in action as soon as he is able. I suspect he may be too quick for some, once he gets his rhythm back, much as Mark Footitt was for Warwickshire yesterday. His destruction of a pretty solid batting line up suggests that Surrey, after a busy winter, could be the team to beat this year.

Mind you, Leicestershire's inept effort against Nottinghamshire, after the deduction of points for repeatedly poor behaviour, confirms that Derbyshire will still be ahead of two teams (Durham being the other) before we have played a county match.

Bizarre eh? One for the quizzes in years to come...

I'll be back later with a round up of day 3.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Loughborough UCCE v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 363-8 (Wilson 106, Godleman 76, Thakor 41, Hughes 39)

Loughborough UCCE 48-1 (Milnes 1-22)

A solid opening day for Derbyshire, with Gary Wilson producing exactly the sort of innings that he was recruited for.

A near run-a-ball century restored an innings that was wobbling at 148-4. Neither Wayne Madsen nor Daryn Smit got going, but these are early days and I am sure that both players will be in nick before too long. Wilson simply carried on the form that has seen him through a successful winter and that will doubtless prove a huge asset to us this

Billy Godleman got some early runs under his belt, as did Shiv Thakor, and the final total was scored at a healthy 4.5 runs an over, allowing Tom Milnes to take a wicket with his second ball, before the home side saw things through to the close.

Like last week, time in the middle is worth more than anything else here.

Expect a draw, but some solid personal performances will cement places in the side for the season opener proper next week.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Fantasy League starts tomorrow...

Eighteen teams are so far registered for the Peakfan Trophy 2017. You can still join after the season starts, but it would be akin to racing Usain Bolt while wearing wellingtons...

If you have any problems in registering, do please let me know. Thanks to all those involved so far!

8031395 is the PIN to access the league, and it is only £8 for one team, with discounts for more.

Use the link on the left hand side of the blog to get the the Telegraph site.

Loughborough UCCE v Derbyshire

Seems a long time since I did a proper match preview, but its that time again!

Derbyshire has announced a 13-man squad for the three-day game at Loughborough, that starts tomorrow.

It sees Daryn Smit and Luis Reece in the squad for the first time and offers several players an opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the proper stuff, starting next week for us. With Hardus Viljoen and Jeevan Mendis we assume fit for duty, tomorrow's game sees players fighting for places in this squad:

Godleman
Reece
Slater
Macdonell
Thakor
Madsen
Smit
Wilson
Hughes
Milnes
Palladino
Taylor
Davis

I have no idea who drops out in that squad, but there would appear a three-way battle for an opening berth between Ben Slater, Luis Reece and Charlie Macdonell, which is no bad thing. Alex Hughes will be keen to impress too, while the four seamers can stake a claim to bowl alongside Viljoen.

There are good options in the squad and that should keep people on their toes through the coming season. The result is largely immaterial, but good individual performances will be on a lot of minds tonight.

Time to get that desktop scoreboard on my computer at work once again...

Can't wait!

Weekly round up

Just a day to go until Derbyshire play their first 'proper' game of the summer, though still a pre-season friendly against Loughborough UCCE. Given that they took 500-plus off Leicestershire in their last game and three players scored centuries, I think it unlikely that Derbyshire will take them lightly.

That wicket at Northampton appears to have been the early season feather bed that sullied the start of last year. Such wickets do no one any favours other than batsmen, who build up a tasty season average that perhaps doesn't always reflect their true ability.

As a worthy old Yorkshire cricketer once said, 150 on a flat track will earn you another contract, but 50 when you really have to work for it earns you respect. A liberal scattering of such players, willing to graft when required, will turn any side into a better one.

It is rather what we hope for this season and, as my season preview said, I think we have got them. My only concern at this stage is that Hardus Viljoen, who threatens to be a genuine spearhead for us, has played no cricket back home since January. There has been an unspecified injury, but he will be over next week and we must hope that he is not too ring rusty and ready to roll. If he isn't, we have a little bit of a problem, though I would like to think that might have been mentioned by the club at some point were it a major one.

On to other things, Kim Barnett's assertion that he is ready to step back and hand things over to the players is the kind of thing one would hope for at this stage. We needed someone with Kim's contacts and standing in the game to bring players in and his is a role that should have its primary focus in the winter months, in targeting new recruits and ensuring that the best of current talent is retained.

I liked that John Hancock was rewarded for a good effort against us with a trial. Let's hope that similar process is followed with anyone unattached who does well for Loughborough in the coming days. They seem the strongest of the UCCEs on current showing and should give us a good work out.

Teams or squads will be out later, but ours should be close to that for the championship opener next week, ensuring that all those in the frame spend time in the middle. No Mendis or Viljoen, but opportunities for those who have impressed in the nets to cement a place in the starting eleven.

It can't come soon enough for me and, as Barnett has said, it is all up to the players now. They will stand or fall on their own efforts.

And there can be no excuses, no blame attached to a coach who is picking the wrong side, or not doing his job properly.

Make us proud, gentlemen.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The season approaches...

The season is fast approaching and cricketers around the country are getting ready for a new season with the optimism that comes from some solid net sessions and perhaps some new gear to give them an extra percent here and there.

I have sadly got used to the idea of not playing now and it is almost three years since I last picked up a bat in anger, Yet I can still cast my mind back to the days of my youth, such a memory being dragged to the surface by an old picture sent to me by a school pal last week.

It was 1976, a summer of searing heat and soaring temperatures, when I combined A levels with playing cricket for my school and for a local club. Goodness knows how I fitted it all in, to be honest, but I did and the photo, of the Staff v School match that summer, shows a then tonsorially impressive me with my team mates on another glorious day in a summer that no one wanted to end.

The whole school watched the game from start to finish. No classes, just a chance to watch cricket or, if that was of no interest, chat to pals and eat ice creams. I still recall batting for some time and being in at the end against a very good staff side, managing to hold out for the draw with a tail-end batsman for company. There was even some gentle sledging from the close fielders with Bill, my Maths teacher who was a very good all-rounder, telling me as the last over was about to commence that I should entertain the crowd.

I ignored him, because he always did that and his probing medium-fast seam usually saw the staff side triumph. Not that year, and at over end, when I had survived the closest field I had ever experienced, he walked up to me, smiled and shook my hand.

'Well done son', he said. 'Rule number one...NEVER listen to the opposition'.

He passed away a few years back, but as a player and a man, he played a key role in my cricketing and personal development. And I never did get the punishment exercises and extra work that was threatened after every ball of that last over...

On a different tack, this weekend the blog has gone past the 1.25 million views mark. I never cease to be amazed at how it has taken off and thank you all for your continued support. Please keep your comments and emails coming and I look forward to more exchanges in the coming months.

Changing tack again, you have just under a couple of weeks until the first game and to register for the Fantasy League. If you have any problems in registering, do please let me know. Ten teams are so far registered and thanks to all who have got involved.

8031395 is the PIN to access the league, and it is only £8 for one team, with discounts for more.

Finally today, I read earlier this week that Chris Read has informed Nottinghamshire this season will be his last.

Whoever steps into those shoes has a mighty big job on their hands, because for me he has been the best wicket-keeper/batsman in the country for years. A man who always gets runs when most needed, very composed and tidy behind the stumps, plenty of less talented players have had long international careers, but England's loss has been Nottinghamshire's gain.

Given his county's track record of sniffing around the best young talent of their neighbours, it makes it all the more important that we look after Harvey Hosein. He has to perform and justify selection, of course, but the reality is that if a county with a reputation for throwing around money comes looking, it is likely to make a Godfather-style offer than cannot be refused.

Let's just hope that Tom Moores develops rapidly this summer and keeps the wolf from the door...

With that, adieu for now.

I'm off to correct a Cricinfo article, that labels Daryn Smit a Kolpak signing...

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Pre season game ends in defeat

First game and first defeat for Derbyshire today, as they were beaten by the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire Select XI by seven wickets.

Charlie Macdonell made 58, Shiv Thakor 40 and Wayne Madsen 28 in a Derbyshire total of 207-9 in forty overs. The consolation for what was only a decent total was that our own Academy fast bowler, Dan Gibbs, took 3-20 in seven overs.

The hosts soon slipped to 44-3 with Tom Milnes taking two wickets and Tom Taylor one, but John Hancock, with 88 not out and Dan Brierley with an unbeaten 80 shared a stand of 165 to steer their team to a comfortable win.

More important than the result is players getting time in the middle, which happens again with a fixture against Loughborough University away, starting on Friday.

Might be a few people back for that one...

First game of the season!

OK, it is only a friendly, but the fact that eleven Derbyshire players are going out to play a match heralds the start of another season. Breathe easy folks, we have made it through another winter and the fun starts now...

The game is against a North Staffordshire and South Cheshire XI and, as well as a chance to impress for our boys, there is an opportunity for players from traditional Derbyshire catchment areas to catch the eye too. Life can take funny turns at times, so you never know when a good display might lead to an opportunity down the line.

Truth be told, it is a Derbyshire XI that bears little resemblance to a first choice side, but the game likewise gives an opportunity to impress and stake a claim for players who may be on the periphery for a fair part of the summer. Unless...

Billy Godleman is unwell, Ben Slater has a knock, Daryn Smit must still be settling into the country and the area, while Jeevan Mendis and Hardus Viljoen have yet to arrive. With Gary Wilson rested after being on Ireland duty, the side is skippered by Wayne Madsen and the thirteen-man squad is:

Luis Reece
Charlie Macdonell
Shiv Thakor
Wayne Madsen
Tom Wood
Alex Hughes
Harvey Hosein
Matt Critchley
Tom Milnes
Tony Palladino
Greg Cork
Tom Taylor
Will Davis

I'll be back later with news on the game and look forward to seeing who puts up their hand at the start of the summer and says 'pick me'!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

No complaints about the new board

I'm sure, like me, that you all wish Ian Morgan, the new chairman of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, the very best for his tenure at the helm of the club.

I don't know him, though that is something that I hope to correct in the coming months when I get an opportunity to say hello.

Alongside him, on the new board, are some very good people, all of them eminently qualified for those new roles, as one would expect them to be. They cover all the bases and have the expertise that we would wish for to take the club forward.

It is good to see Mike Hendrick back in the fold. He has been estranged from the club for too long and it is good to have his expertise working for the club where he made his name and reputation. Mike was an outstanding bowler and will doubtless have thoughts on our current young crop and how they might develop further. His relationship with Kim Barnett is one that could flourish, undoubtedly to the club's benefit.

No arguments either in the appointment of Michael Holding as club president. It is hard to be critical of an international legend getting involved and it will be great to see him back on an occasional basis at the ground where he left so many golden memories.

My only negative? One that I hope the club will address when Michael's spell in the role has come to an end.

We seem, as a club, to have forgotten many outstanding players who made the club what it was between 1950 and 1980. I'm talking about players such as Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes, Brian, Jackson, Peter Eyre, Tony Borrington and Alan Hill. All of them, and more, made huge contributions to the success and history of the club, yet in the appointments of Geoff Miller and now Michael, we seem to have overlooked that contribution.

Time was when the role went to the senior capped former player - in other words, the one who was capped the earliest. That was a way of acknowledging their efforts and involving them in the club once more.

Of course Geoff and Michael were legends too, but I do think it a shame that earlier heroes appear to have been ignored.

They deserve better and I think, moving forward, the club could improve in this area.

I look forward to them doing so.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Pre-season preview: the four day game

2017 marks my fiftieth summer of supporting Derbyshire.

In that time I have seen very good and distinctly average sides, enjoyed some wonderfully entertaining days and suffered plenty that were hard work from start to finish.

When I walked away from the 3aaa County Ground for the last time last summer, as the shadows lengthened over the outfield and the ground staff busied away after another ultimately disappointing day, I knew that things had to change over the winter.

For all that we had some good players on the staff - by definition, if playing at that level - we had too many whose maturity appeared to be some time off and who seemed, at times, to be overawed by their opposition. When sides were chirping away at us in the field, we seemed to be too nice; when the going got tough, the tough opposition got going and we were too often in their slipstream. Not, I think, through a lack of talent, though there were those whose technical failings became evident as the summer wore on, but through experience and that all-important thing called mental toughness.

A lot of very good players have fallen at the county cricket hurdle because of that and it would appear to be something that Kim Barnett, returned to the fold as Director of Cricket, has picked up on very quickly.

Reinforcements have come in, men of proven quality and reputation. International stars, such as Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis share the overseas role, suggesting that home wickets should not be overly blessed with moisture content. Both are men of proven reputation to bowl sides out and win matches. Few teams will fancy chasing much over 200 against us on the final day this summer, but Barnett's preparation has been thorough and has also catered for sides who win the toss and opt to bat first to avoid that.

Last summer's seam attack was overly reliant on the willing Tony Palladino, with able, occasional support from Tom Milnes and Will Davis. With Tom Taylor hors de combat for most of the summer and Ben Cotton not yet able to dismiss as well as he contains, too many batsmen came to Derby, saw off the new ball and then drank at the well.

They shouldn't do that this year. Hardus Viljoen arrives from South Africa with a reputation for serious pace and for topping and tailing innings, bowling 90mph from a physique worthy of the moniker 'Man Mountain'. We missed Mark Footitt last year, but have someone every bit as quick and very hostile. With a young apprentice in Will Davis, we will have our fastest opening attack in years.

With Palladino taking on a coaching remit in his new deal, he may play less than previous summers and I expect he and Milnes to rotate as the third seamer, each providing handy lower-order ballast with the bat. The others will need to wait their turn, take wickets when opportunity presents itself and make competition the buzz word of the summer.

The batting? Several players had their career-best averages last summer, though too many feasted on favourable early season tracks where groundsmen were wary of the new toss regulations, then tailed off in later season.

Gary Wilson has been recruited from Surrey, a dependable bat and glove man, as well as a player with captaincy and international experience.  Meanwhile Daryn Smit has signed a two-year deal on an ancestral visa and should bring his considerable experience to bear in a middle order that proved fallible too often last year. With the talented Luis Reece also in to add competition for places, there is a solidity to the batting line up, on paper at least, that we have not had for a long time. With the admirable Madsen in the middle order and captain Billy Godleman and the improving Ben Slater 'up top', we should not want for runs.

The wicket-keeping is in very safe hands, with Wilson competing with the hugely talented Harvey Hosein for the number one role. With Smit as a third option, the club is well-covered in all aspects of the game.

Key Players? The new ones, who need to make the difference that they suggest they will, but also Shiv Thakor. He looked a class act with bat and ball last year, but the move to number three in the order will test him further. Whether it restricts his bowling role time will tell, but he has an opportunity here. The good thing is that, should he not take it, there are plenty of options awaiting theirs. Look out for Tom Wood, a batsman of real talent and don't discount Alex Hughes, a gritty cricketer who I still expect to make the grade.

Prospects? It would be a little gung-ho to say we will storm the division, but if everyone ups their game from last year by even 5% and the new arrivals live up to their career statistics, we should push everyone and be in the mix. If key players stay fit we should score runs and no one will want to face Viljoen on a green top or Tahir on the last afternoon.

Nottinghamshire will start favourites, of course, but a first choice Derbyshire eleven need fear no one. If we get our share of luck with the weather and injuries. hold our catches and play anything close to potential, a promotion challenge is a possibility.

Whatever, it promises to be a summer of special cricket and golden memories.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The return of Fantasy Cricket

In answer to several emails, yes I am going to be running Fantasy Cricket again this year.

Yes, I will almost certainly start with a flourish and then peter out around June as I forget that I have substitutes and don't swap out of form players, but it is a service I am happy to provide for all of you who follow the blog - near and far.

The link is on the left hand side of the blog, cunningly titled 'Fantasy Cricket' and you can log in from there.

The PIN is 8031395 and the league name is 'Peakfan Blog Trophy 2017'

Last year David Aust won, after a strong challenge from several others. Come to think of it, he won the year before, too.

Surely it can't be a hat trick?

You have just under two weeks to hone your team and for what it is worth, here's my tip for success...

Don't pick Imran Tahir.

Yet...

Friday, 24 March 2017

A week to go!

It's nearly here, folks.

Just over a week until Derbyshire play their first pre-season friendly (weather permitting) and we have made it through another long, dark, wet but exciting winter.

I can't recall one that had more to offer than that just past and the standard of recruitment has been extremely high. It needed to be, because we were out of our depth at times last year, as much through inexperience as anything. We have some very talented young players at the club and what they needed more than anything was some senior professionals of good standing to work and play alongside.

Derbyshire's cricket board and specifically Kim Barnett has delivered in spades.

Earlier this week we read that Billy Godleman is learning a lot from Kim Barnett and I can understand that. There is much to learn from a man who, for all the issues at the club in that era, was an outstanding cricketer and captain. Tapping into his knowledge and gaining the benefit of his experience will be priceless to a man who is still learning the ropes in that area. Likewise, as an opening batsman he could have few better mentors, were one needed.

Much as Barnett learned from Phil Russell, Guy Willatt and senior professionals like John Hampshire and David Steele, so Billy can learn from Kim and two men with senior captaincy experience in Gary Wilson and Daryn Smit. With Wayne Madsen also in the ranks, there is now a solid core to the Derbyshire team where there was once a soft underbelly.

I don't think for a minute that we will be unbeatable this summer, but I don't expect us to fold easily either. Teams that beat Derbyshire should and will know they have been in a game.

Speaking of Daryn Smit, as we were, he tweeted his farewell to Durban earlier today, ahead of his flight to England and the splendour of God's Own County. It must have been an emotional departure but I am sure that he and his wife will get the warmest of welcomes at their new home.

Derbyshire has long since been regarded as a happy and welcoming club and I have no doubts that both will soon settle in to the area, the club and a new circle of friends.

Doubtless they will soon be joined by Jeevan Mendis and his family as the final components of the squad gather for pre-season practice and matches.

I don't recall being this excited ahead of a season for some years. Every April brings the promise of something new, something hopefully better, but this year genuinely does offer supporters grounds for optimism. Quite frankly, after the winter work that has been put in, the plans that are in place and the people who have come into roles on and off the pitch, anything less than major improvement is unacceptable.

There are good players at our club and for me we have a very good blend of talented youth and reliable seniors. For all that it is nice to see a side made up of primarily local players take the field, it is less so to watch them get hammered into the ground. Nor does it do them any favours.

Another week and it is time to let them loose.

On that thought, enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The question mark in team selection

Over the course of the winter, I have been asked many times for my thoughts on team selection for the coming summer. Whether T20, fifty overs or four-day cricket, I have given my eleven, quite happily, when asked.

However, it s nowhere near that straight forward.

It is all very well basing a notional team on reputation and first-class average, but if that is all it went by, young players would never break into a first-class side. Rather it is based on form, attitude, state of mind and potential.

As David commented below my last piece, he and I were only one player apart in our notional one-day side (great minds, and all that...) but neither of us, no more than anyone else outside the club, know how the winter has gone for a fine array of young talent.

One assumes that a hard winter in the gym and nets has seen younger players develop their games, both mentally and technically. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched a video of Charlie Mcdonnell batting in the nets with a stump and looking pretty impressive. Truth be told, I would envy such timing with a willow in my hands, let alone something considerably smaller.

No one yet has mentioned him in notional first choice sides, yet his potential is considerable. It may be that he has developed better than others over the winter and in the eyes of those that matter has leapfrogged a few more senior rivals for a place in the batting line-up. The same goes for Greg Cork, for who this summer is so important.

Greg is a very useful left-arm seamer who swings it at reasonable pace and is also a batsman with an excellent technique. Perhaps this summer is last chance saloon at this level, because Luis Reece, a player of similar skills, has come across from Lancashire with good reputation. Yet that may be the catalyst for Greg to burst forth and prosper. We just don't know, but can only hope.

Then there's Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor. The emergence of Will Davis, last season's form for Tom Milnes and the signing of Hardus Viljoen would appear to have pushed them further down the pecking order. Yet it may not be so.

Taylor suffered a stress fracture of the back last summer and has doubtless amended his action as a result. That may be to his detriment, or he may emerge as an even better prospect than the one who did well two summers back. A frustrating tendency to bowl a bad ball an over needs work, as does his showing obvious frustration when things are going badly. Yet these are things he may have worked on, along with a trudge back to his bowling mark that at times has cost us in over rate. That he is a talent is undeniable and this may be his breakthrough year.

The same goes for Cotton, a genial giant who has so far shown an excellent ability in bowling the lines and lengths to keep batsmen quiet, yet less so in getting them out when they don't have to play the forcing shots. Again, maybe this is something he has improved and he looks impressive and a handful in the net footage we have been shown. I hope that he doesn't become a casualty of the signing of Matt Henry, because Cotts is a very good T20 bowler in his own right.

Then there's Alex Hughes.

Unless John Wright comes over from India and has Martin Guptill in his suitcase, I see Alex as the T20 captain. He did well on limited opportunity last summer and, as an intelligent lad who thinks about his game, he sets good fields and doesn't fall into the trap of changing bowlers to a formula.

He did a good job batting three last summer, but will, I think, need to use T20 and the RLODC to break into the first choice four-day side. He is another of sound technique, a good range of shots and the ability to add crucial runs in the closing overs of a one-day game. He is like a greyhound between the wickets, is a fine fielder in the key positions and can bowl a tight spell and get good players out. He also remains the only player I have seen bowl an over with cotton wool stuffed up his nose after a nose bleed...

I like Alex and he is a busy cricketer, my kind of player. Like all the others, he may not appear in many notional first choice elevens on paper, but discount him - and them - at your peril.

If they have the right attitude, work at their game and take the opportunities when they come, they will force a way into the side. Players pick up injuries, lose form or need a rest and the challenge for all is to step in and make themselves impossible to drop.

That's why I think Tom Wood has a lot to offer and why I 'banged the drum' about him last summer. Here is a lad who went away to Australia to work on his game, scored a load of runs and put himself in the shop window with the Unicorns on his return.

He scored runs again, was given a second team chance at Derbyshire and was top scorer for them last summer. While his forte appears to be the shorter forms, a double century and century in a handful of longer-form innings confirmed his versatility.

What critics of our winter signings miss is the value of the likes of Hardus Viljoen, Daryn Smit and Imran Tahir to these young players. If they can help them add another ten per cent to their game with advice on technique and mindset, their long-term value to the club will be far in excess of their feats on the cricket field.

And of course, if these players are scoring heavily and taking wickets in the second team but still not forcing a way through, they will need to be patient. The only way that will happen is if we are doing well, something we all hope for.

Time will tell.

Friday, 17 March 2017

T20 side has good possibilities

There have been a few requests for my T20 team in recent days and I have to admit that I find this harder than the four-day equivalent.

I had mentally pencilled in an overseas batsman at the top of the order and so have had to revise my plans in that area. Paul asked me last night whether I was disappointed with the signing of Matt Henry and the answer is no. You can't be disappointed with the signing of a highly-rated fast bowler of international standard. Surprised, perhaps, but I fully understand the rationale and am hardly going to set my T20 credentials against those of John Wright...

For what it is worth, here is my suggestion for a T20 eleven.

Reece
Wood
Thakor
Smit
Madsen
Wilson
Hughes (captain)
Critchley
Henry
Viljoen
Tahir

I'd love to find a place for Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes, while I think that Ben Slater has something to offer in the format too. The debate over the respective merits of Gary Wilson and Harvey Hosein will rumble on for a long time, but I think this team has potential.

There is no obvious six-hitter at the top, no Wes 'n' Ches of years gone by, but we must remember that they weren't built for speed and what they gained in slapping to the fence they sometimes missed out on between the wickets. Remember too that you can score ten an over without clearing the boundary.

Luis Reece is a really clean striker of a ball and a left-right combo at the top would do no harm. At the talks I did in Lancashire over the winter, a good few people told me that they were astonished to see Reece released and that they rated him highly. He is the only left-hander in the side, strange after last year when we had Chesney, Rutherford and Neesham, enabling us to have that combination through the middle order.

Meanwhile Tom Wood is a naturally fast scorer who could prove a surprise package as a relative unknown at this level. Don't overlook his excellent batting last summer and some breathtaking knocks for the Unicorns, as well as our second team. Anyone who can score, for example, 67 from 35 balls against a Nottinghamshire attack of  Ball, Christian, Mullaney, Carter, Wood and Gurney has plenty to offer. Tom can bat and, just as David Warner did, could find a way into four-day cricket through success in the shorter formats.

Shiv Thakor scores quickly anyway, Gary Wilson offers quick running and boundary clearing ability, while Wayne Madsen's role could be fluid, he and Smit ensuring that someone gets through to the end. The latter has a reputation as a finisher back home, but could equally open or slot in anywhere down the order. I'll confess to being a fan of your best batsman being in early and on that basis there is also a case for Wayne going in at three.

Alex Hughes is a steady seven and can score quick at the death, while Critchley, Henry and Viljoen are all capable of clearing the fence in the closing overs, which would make all the difference. We bat long and don't discount their talents.

Bowling?

Count 'em. There's nine bowlers there, including two quicks, three leggies and a left-armer.An attack for all surfaces and I can't think there will be many turning tracks away from home against a side with that most dangerous of short format bowlers. We could easily bowl two fast bowlers and three leg-spinners, which would open a few eyes!

As I say, it is tough to select a side and a batting order. Actually it is impossible, without knowing who is in form at the time and there are plenty of options outside that eleven who may impress John when he arrives in this country.

I'm sure you all have your ideas too, so let me see them.

What is sure is that we have a squad that can challenge. No rash promises, but wouldn't it be great to emerge from the group stages for the first time in many years?

With a canny coach in John Wright and plenty of mobility in the field, there is every possibility we can do so.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Matt Henry signs as T20 specialist

The name of Matt Henry may not have been high on most people's list, when thoughts turned to our T20 specialist for this year. Most were, to be fair, thinking of a top order 'biffer', or perhaps someone, moving into fantasy land, like Mitchell Starc or Trent Boult.

Yet Henry is one of those 'under the radar' cricketers, a player not yet established as a member of the New Zealand side but who has proved a popular overseas signing in the IPL, playing for Chennai and being signed up by Kings XI Punjab for this year's competition.

At 25 he is still some way from his peak, but bowls in the steady top 80s in the speed stakes and is both a handy batsman (with an impressive strike rate of 166) and an excellent fielder. His career has been interrupted by injury and he has suffered the perennial problem of the young fast bowler in a stress fracture to the back.

Jimmy Neesham had the same issue, but recovered well to perform creditably for us last summer and it is hoped that Henry does the same. Last year he played for Worcestershire, where he did OK without pulling up any trees. He will, I am sure, have learned from that spell, as he will from his forthcoming IPL stint.

Crucially John Wright, the man tasked with dragging our T20 skills up by the bootlaces, rates him highly and it would appear that part of our strategy this year is to have two fast bowlers and two leggies bowling, as Matt Critchley will surely play in a tournament where he enjoyed success last year. Shiv Thakor is another fine bowler in the format and we will, I think, also see Ben Cotton and Alex Hughes in the line-up for T20, both with proven records in the format.

I can't fault the logic of the signing and if our international trio can take down a top order, sides rarely recover from 15-3 to win games. There may be a question mark over our batting, but I can see potential in a line-up that I will offer for comment another day. Certainly, the presence of a top order hitter is no guarantee of success. Even Martin Guptill fails on occasion and the engagement of Loots Bosman was only a qualified success; that of Tillakaratne Dilshan a dismal failure.

Henry has been in good form of late, taking plenty of wickets in domestic cricket, swinging the ball and bowling fast and full. While his path to the national side is blocked by the talented Trent Boult and Tim Southee, a good spell in the IPL, followed by a solid county stint, will keep him at the forefront of the selectors' minds.

A solid signing then and perhaps a player who might just catch opponents by surprise - as well as impressing both New Zealand selectors and Derbyshire supporters.

 We'll see what he can do in due course. Have a look at this taster below, showing his domestic wickets from a couple of winters back.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Ramsbottom view of Daryn Smit

Derbyshire are getting 'one of the world's nice guys and an outstanding cricketer' in Daryn Smit (pictured, taking slip catch) according to Ramsbottom Cricket Club's Director of Cricket, Andy Dalby.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Andy earlier today and he was effusive in his praise for Daryn, who has joined the club on a two-year contract.

'Daryn and his wife Sarah have become close personal friends', he said 'and the loss to our club and to the community is massive. They both threw themselves into the club and, while we all wish them well, they will be sorely missed'.

So what is Daryn like?

'A genuine guy who has time for everyone - senior players, kids, parents, the lot - with none of the edges that you sometimes get from a highly-talented sportsman. It wasn't just his performances that made a difference, astonishing as they have been, but the way in which he almost single-handed brought together the club and everyone in it. He is a very special man.'

It sounds like we have picked up Wayne Madsen mark 2 and Andy was quick to draw parallels between the two.

'Daryn and Wayne are good friends and in fact we were set to offer Wayne professional terms a few years ago. Then he was offered a deal by Derbyshire and the rest is history. He had got a lot of runs in the Central Lancashire League and was very much like Daryn in his approach to the game and in his interaction with those around him.'

It is quite clear that there is a sizeable hole to be filled by the club, but Andy, like many others on Twitter today, was only surprised that the offer took so long.

'We were amazed that no one came in for him before', he said, 'as the stats he has returned here have been phenomenal. Every other club looked at the upcoming game against Ramsbottom and knew they were in for a tough match. When he scored 200 last year for the Derbyshire second team we were resigned to losing him, but then the months went by and we were hoping to have another season from him.'

So what can Derbyshire supporters expect from the new signing? Andy's response is quick.

'He is a very good bowler, turns it and is very accurate. He bowled in the Champions League T20, has got his share of first-class wickets and was a real handful for most league batsmen. But he's an even better wicket-keeper, probably as good as I have seen, and doesn't miss anything. Mind you, his batting is better still! He is just a run machine and goes in every game with the same mindset. You very rarely see him give it away and he is an exemplary professional. If you want someone to dig in, he will do that. If you need quick runs, he is a tremendous finisher of an innings'.

Are there any particular memories you have of him on the field?

'There are probably too many to put down on paper. However, perhaps my fondest memory was a game against Lowerhouse in 2015.

He won us that game single-handed, when we had no right to do so. At something like 50-5 we dug in and batted around Daz, knocking off a  competitive 190-odd on a bowler friendly surface. Daz carried his bat for 90 odd not out! 
 
They had a bowling pro, so it was a real battle and a great spectacle!'

How does he rank among the club's greats of the past? Again, Andy's response was unequivocal.

'When you look back at the greats who have played here, comparisons are difficult. We have had Michael Clarke, Ian Chappell, Seymour Nurse, Clive Rice, Peter Philpott, Brad Hodge - some of the legends of the game. Yet the figures that Daryn has produced dwarf them all.

If you were to try and encapsulate everything you hoped for in a professional cricketer into one player, then you have it in Daryn Smit. He has the talent, the attitude, the personality and the sheer professionalism that you would want. I don't expect to see anyone better. As good, maybe - but it would be hard to beat his contribution to our club'.

So how do you replace him?

'Well, we've got an offer on the table for someone and again, the measure of the man is that Daryn has helped in that regard too. He was concerned at leaving us at short notice, but he goes with our blessing and best wishes.

We all intend to come to see him when we can through the season, so it might just put a few more on the gate at Derbyshire games!'

I look forward to meeting up with Andy and the Ramsbottom boys in the months ahead and I will continue to look out for their results - just as they will have one eye on the Acre Bottom scoreboard and another on wherever Derbyshire are playing this summer.

Derbyshire worth a flutter?

Whisper it quietly, but I reckon that if we get the rub of the green this summer, Derbyshire could well be in the promotion mix.

Last season, to put not too fine a point on it, we struggled. The batting was in and out, the bowling lacking a pace and spin option. Winter recruitment has addressed all of those issues and I now look at the squad and ponder on who to leave out.

I could easily change the team each time I undertake the exercise, but how's this for a notional first choice four-day side at the start of the season? Alongside it is the one that took the field for last year's season opener at Bristol.

Godleman       Hughes (C)
Slater              Slater
Thakor            Rutherford
Madsen           Madsen
Smit                Broom
Mendis           Durston
Wilson           Thakor
Reece             Poynton
Palladino        Fletcher
Viljoen           Cotton 
Davis             Carter

For me, that's a considerably stronger side and there's a lot of very good players outside of it. Opportunities for the likes of Hosein, Hughes, Wood, Mcdonnell, Cotton, Taylor and Critchley, in particular, will come. Yet the side above has a strong mixture of experienced professionals and talented youth.

There is length in the batting and tremendous options for Billy Godleman in the field. We have two genuine fast bowlers, two right arm seamers and a left arm option, two leg-spinners and a part-time off spinner. Hey, there's even a back-up wicket-keeper...

Yes, it would be good to see more of the youngsters in the side, but they need to earn a place on merit and performances in the seconds. I am sure they will know that opportunities are there if they justify a place, while those in the side will be equally aware that their place is dependent on sustained standards. With the players now given the lead on selection and tactics, there are no more excuses and no coach to blame if it goes wrong.

The balance of the side will change a little with the arrival of Imran Tahir, nowhere close to Jeevan Mendis as a batsman and fielder, but teams will know that they have been in a scrap against this Derbyshire side.

With that all-important luck in its many forms, we should challenge and at the very least be much-improved.

The return of Kim Barnett to the fold may turn out to be  a defining moment for our club and he can be proud of his winter's work.

It's up to the players now.

Smit deal an inspired signing

Last September, in a post entitled 'Smit double century as Seconds draw' I suggested that South African Daryn Smit would be a worthy addition to the Derbyshire staff, after three innings in which he scored 269 runs for once out.

Today we learned that he has signed a two-year deal with the county, one that could be both shrewd and very important to our prospects for the season ahead.

Smit may not have played international cricket, but his increasingly impressive statistics back home suggest a man who could easily have done so. A lack of a regular place early in his career hindered his development, but in recent winters in South Africa's top tier he has averaged between forty and fifty-plus, the hallmark of a very good player.

Then there are his extraordinary statistics for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League, where he has been professional for three seasons:

2016 - batting average 86 and 69 wickets at 8.1
2015 - batting average 98 and 65 wickets at 7.75
2014 - batting average 61 and 88 wickets at 7.2

Cynics will say 'that's only league cricket' and no, I don't expect Smit to replicate such statistics in the county game. I do, however, see him as a very important cog in a batting line-up that misfired too often last year.

I have played with and against some very good professionals over the years, some of who struggled with the weight of responsibility, the sense of expectation and the need to be a leader and mentor every time they went on the pitch. Everyone on the opposition ups their game when the pro comes in, while his own team look to the paid man to win them matches. Smit has done that many times and to be hailed as a club's 'greatest-ever professional', when many great names have trod that sward before, is some accolade.

His ability to bat anywhere from three to six in the order will be important, but we have also recruited a man with a successful record as captain and a reputation for taking his responsibilities seriously. The articles in South African newspapers since his retirement from the game there was announced all refer to his being missed as both a leader and a man, no mean testimonial for anyone.

With two excellent wicket-keepers on the staff, Smit may not be seen too often behind the stumps, but he is a more than handy option should they need to switch things around. Were Gary Wilson away with Ireland and Harvey Hosein injured or out of touch, there's a plan C available, one that would enable the fielding of an extra batsman or bowler and avoid a panicked search around other counties. Given that several good judges had him as a strong contender to replace Mark Boucher as South African keeper, he is unlikely to let us down, if required.

Likewise, with two leg-spinners on the staff we may not see him turn his arm over too regularly, but he is a very handy option, if only to offer a little variation if things aren't going our way. With over a hundred first-class wickets, he is some way from an occasional bowler and has won first-class matches with inspired last-day spells.

What we have, most definitely, is a man who gets his head down, works hard and will sell his wicket dearly, unless in the pursuit of a win, when his selfless reputation precedes him. His experience on northern English wickets will stand him in good stead and he will be well aware of how those wickets change as the summer goes on. They will doubtless enjoy him on Radio Derby too, as his occasional commentary work back home has gained plenty of admirers for an articulate man who has earned the nickname 'Speech'.

Derbyshire has had wonderful service from South Africans over the years. Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten, Adrian Kuiper, Daryll Cullinan, Charl Langeveldt  - each left a major impression on the local cricketing landscape. That's not including Wayne Madsen, another who swapped Durban for Derbyshire and has gone on to be one of our greatest cricketing sons. Come to think of it, Wayne was 'plucked' from the Lancashire League too, so there's a pretty decent precedent in the acquisition of Daryn Smit.

There'll be a lot of South African accents in Derbyshire colours this year. Wayne Madsen, Daryn Smit, Hardus Viljoen, Imran Tahir; that's a solid and impressive core to any side and each will be keen to impress and make the major contribution. Don't bet against the new guy being very firmly in the mix.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Daryn.

Let the good times roll...