Sunday, 25 June 2017

Glamorgan v Derbyshire preview

The news that both Hardus Viljoen and Will Davis are still not fit for Derbyshire's game at Cardiff is, understandably, deeply frustrating for the club and the supporters.

I am sure it is for the players too, of course, but the reality is that most Derbyshire followers are currently in the 'believe it when I see it' camp, with our South African fast bowler.

Questions are, I think understandably, being asked about his condition when he signed for the club and whether he passed a fitness test before signing on the dotted line. I would assume, because I don't think the people in charge of our cricket are idiots, that they got some medical assurance from South Africa as to his fitness for a rigorous English summer.

His signing was announced on December 7 and, again I assume, was completed some time before that, when Viljoen was taking a lot of wickets and bowling well in South African domestic cricket. That his season-ruining injury was declared as 'pre-existing' by the club when he was first ruled hors de combat is out there, so there was obviously something wrong in the bowler's knee at some point in the past from which he was deemed to be recovered.

If you didn't sign players because of known previous injuries no one would ever move in the game of cricket. Fast bowling is hard work and there is no one who has made first-class standard without undue strain on some part of the body. Bowling is not a natural movement and at times it will cause problems from a mechanical perspective. Look how many years of injuries Mark Footitt endured before the physio team at the club came up with a fitness regime that worked for him. You could replace his name with that of every other quick in the game's history.

It is worrying and frustrating though. We are now told he should be fit for the T20, but will he? Will running and diving around for twenty overs do a dodgy knee much good and will the bowler have anything resembling match fitness if he does so? My gut feeling is that there are a lot of 'no's' in the answers. Maybe, just maybe, we are looking at writing off the summer, or the greater part of it, in the hope he can get it sorted properly over the winter.

In the week I had an email suggesting that we had 'signed the wrong South African' and should have gone for Chris Morris or Morne Morkel. It was a comment that ignored the fact that neither may have been in the market for a Kolpak deal and also the fact that the former limped through the IPL and had previously had two months out of the game with a knee injury, while the latter was told by a specialist that he would never play again with his back problem. Yet both bowled splendidly against England at Taunton the other night.

It's tough, but we take it on the chin and move on.

This time Viljoen and Davis miss a trip to Cardiff and pink ball cricket (be still, my beating heart...)
The idea of day/night matches may well catch on and prove popular, but faffing around with ball colours does nothing for me whatsoever.

A fifteen-man squad goes to Wales, for what will be the last game for Jeevan Mendis. It is a squad rich in batting and weak in seam bowling of wicket-taking potential. Tony Palladino apart, it is hard to see where seam wickets might come from, unless Tom Taylor bowls as he did at Trent Bridge.

The Derbyshire squad:

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

No news on the Glamorgan squad yet, but I can't see a Derbyshire win here, unless we bat first, score big and Jeevan bowls them out in a goodbye gesture. The likelihood is that we might bowl if there's any green around anyway, but the batsmen need to fire well for us to win this one.

Unless the pink ball does some weird things, of course...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Good effort by second team aganst Yorkshire

There were good performances from some Derbyshire players in the second team game against a strong Yorkshire side this week, but nothing that one would expect to influence first team selection at this stage.

A home side that included plenty of players with first team experience, including Kohler-Cadmore, Leaning, Rhodes, Rafiq, Carver and Fisher, as well as Jon Tattersall, who trialed with us last summer, were bowled out on the first day. Rob Hemmings bowled the tidiest and took two wickets, as did sixteen-year old Hamidullah Qadri, recently offered a contract for the first time. Both Tom Milnes and Ben Cotton were more expensive, though the latter did take the wicket of Will Rhodes.

On the second day, we batted well, with a century for trialist Michael Jones, 75 from Greg Cork and 48 from Hemmings. Yet Harvey Hosein made only 20, when more were really needed to make a genuine push for senior contention in the next couple of games.

The rest of the game was a run feast, with Kohler-Cadmore the trencherman, making 230, while Leaning made an unbeaten 112.

It was good to see the likes of Qadri, Josh Lacey (son of our former spinner, Simon) and Joss Morgan, who has been scoring heavily for Ticknall, in the team.

They will all doubtless get other opportunities and we will enjoy watching their progress.

Easy friendly win for county

A side that came very close to what I called as our T20 strongest did all it could do last night and clinically disposed of a Kevin Dean XI in a friendly match.

There was no Luis Reece, after his recent illness, and no Shiv Thakor, presumably rested after what seems to have been a season-long struggle with his ankle. Nor was there any sign of Imran Tahir or Matt Henry, somewhat understandably in the circumstances, but the side had more than enough to dispose quite clinically of a decent-looking side on paper.

With Ben Slater, Dan Birch, Matt Cassar and Garry Park in the opposition, as well as Kevin Dean, there was a familiar look to the side, but Derbyshire batted well to make 195-8 in their 20 overs. Billy Godleman made 26 and Tim Maxfield sadly failed, but the latter is worth more than a game if he was deemed worthy of a trial in the first place.

Tom Wood hit 54, as did Wayne Madsen, while late impetus came from Alex Hughes, who hit 29 from 12 balls. Ben Slater will have been pleased with the wickets of Gary Wilson and Matt Critchley and the total looked quite competitive.

It was even more so when Hardus Viljoen and Wayne Madsen took two wickets each when opening the bowling, the rest of them being shared equally between Critchley and Hughes, who took three wickets each for just nineteen and thirteen runs respectively as the opposition were all out for 91 runs.

They will face tougher opposition in the weeks ahead, but there were good indicators in the tactics, with Madsen's opening overs often effective, presumably opposite Viljoen's pace. Matt Henry and Imran Tahir will handle the middle overs, with Critchley, Thakor and Hughes there as required. With Maxfield and Reece also possibilities, Gary Wilson will not lack options out on the pitch.

More from me later.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Interesting name in friendly eleven

The name of Tim Maxfield (pictured) may not mean much to many local cricket fans, but the Staffordshire batsman, who can bowl useful medium pace, has a place in the Derbyshire eleven for the game against a Kevin Dean XI at Alvaston and Boulton tomorrow night.

One assumes it is a trial for a player who has earned a reputation as a hard-hitting and fast-scoring batsman in Staffordshire cricket. He will be well known to Kim Barnett and has some impressive performances to his name.

Playing for Walsall in a T20 match, he hit a remarkable 157 from 59 balls a couple of years back, while this summer he has impressed for Staffordshire in all forms of the game.

A left handed batsman, Maxfield also bowls left arm medium pace and has taken 5-25 and 4-18 in his last two one-day outings for Staffordshire, while also scoring an unbeaten 83 against Herefordshire, with nine fours and five sixes.

He normally bats at three and, at 26, has also played for the Unicorns.

Worth keeping an eye on...

Gary Wilson appointed T20 skipper

The appointment of Gary Wilson by Derbyshire as T20 skipper is one that makes eminent sense. The kind of decision that one might expect from John Wright, in fact.

I'd mentally pinned it down to either Gary or Alex Hughes, who did a sterling job last summer with limited opportunities. My own preference would be to see Alex made vice-captain, where his enthusiasm, commitment and cricket brain will be a good asset. This competition is his forte and I can see him as a future county skipper, but he now has an excellent learning opportunity.

Gary Wilson has proved a great success since his move from Surrey last winter. He is articulate, affable and intelligent, playing his cricket in an aggressive and bullish manner that bodes well. Having skippered Surrey to a semi-final in his time there, and having played the game at international standard, he knows the way to success.

I don't think he will keep wicket, as that would be asking a lot of him. Besides, in Daryn Smit we have an excellent keeper who has crucially kept to Imran Tahir on many occasions and can doubtless read his many variations. It is, however, an option, if the balance of the side needs tweaked.

I strongly feel, however, that the route to our improved fortunes lies in two things.

The first is luck with injuries and fitness. If we can field an attack of Imran Tahir, Matt Henry, Hardus Viljoen and maybe Will Davis, along with a combo of Shiv Thakor, Matt Critchley and Ben Cotton, we should win some matches. Yet if a couple of the first four names are injured we are back to square one.

The second is in thinking outside of the box in the batting. Gary apparently mentioned yesterday a line up that included Billy Godleman, and I don't think this is his competition. I have complete respect for Billy as a cricketer, captain and man, but like some other very good cricketers - Chris Rogers, Simon Katich and, in his earlier years, Usman Khawaja among them - he has struggled in this format.

I could easily name eight of a first choice T20 side, assuming fitness, but the other three names will make the difference in winning more games and escaping the group.

I'd have Matt Critchley as one, a bowler who did well last year and proved in the RLODC that he can hit a long ball, then either Luis Reece or Tom Wood to open.

And I can't get away from the need for someone else to bat with them, take advantage of the Power play and give us a good chance of a start. Unless, throwing in a curve ball, we try Alex or Matt Critchley at the top as a pinch hitter. Until last year, when time caught up with him, Wes Durston did that job so well and could bowl a few overs too.

A pipe dream maybe, but without it, even with Wright's nous and Wilson's captaincy, I expect us to challenge for top four, but ultimately just miss out on the knock out stage in what is always a strong group.

My side:

Wood/Reece (or Wood and Reece)
?
Thakor
Madsen
Wilson
Hughes
Smit
Critchley
Henry
Viljoen
Tahir

Thoughts?

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Just a thought...Kyle Coetzer for T20 anyone?

It has been good and encouraging to read John Wright's bullish comments this week, ahead of the T20, which approaches fast.

No doubt the Derbyshire players will be working hard on their skills in the coming weeks and I think that the format may - injuries permitting - suit us this summer. An attack of Tahir, Thakor, Viljoen, Henry and one other looks promising, though the current absence of two of these from the Derbyshire attack is a concern. As we have already seen, the well is a little more dry below these, though Matt Critchley and Ben Cotton have proved their ability in this format in previous summers.

My concern - and that of a few others, I think - is the absence of a top order 'biffer'. Someone who can get us off to a flyer and make the job of those to follow a little easier. I agree with John Wright's assertion that the opposition win few games from being 30-4 after the Powerplay, but on the days when the wicket is a belter, we need someone who can set a platform in those crucial first six overs.

Looking at the current staff, perhaps the best-placed to do that might be Tom Wood, but it is asking a lot of a relatively unknown youngster to come in and be the star of the show. In an ideal world, a more experienced man alongside him might be ideal.

Just a thought, but what about Kyle Coetzer?

The former Northamptonshire and Durham man (pictured), at 33, is in the form of his life for Scotland, coming off the back of a successful stint in the Hong Kong T20 Blitz in the winter. There he partnered Tillakaratne Dilshan and often outscored him, making a 35-ball 63 in the competition final, including 7 sixes. Throughout the tournament, against international bowlers, he scored at a rate well over a hundred, often much higher. Earlier in the competition, making 87 from 57 balls against an attack containing Yasir Arafat, Dwayne Smith and Marlon Samuels, he shared a stand of 120 in ten overs with England's Chris Jordan.

This summer he scored 118 from 84 balls as Scotland beat Sri Lanka in a pre-Champions Trophy game, while in recent days he scored 112 against Namibia, then 109 against Zimbabwe, each at better than a run-a-ball. He also scored 156 off Bangladesh in the 2015 World Cup and, as I write, has an unbeaten 50 from 45 balls today, against Zimbabwe again.

A county average over 30 confirms he could handle the level and, as we did when signing Wes Durston a few years back, there is little better than picking up someone when they are in prime form.

 I'm not claiming that he is better than, say, Martin Guptill would be, but would be more affordable and might be available, depending on his Scottish commitments, where he is captain and doing very well. I accept that Zimbabwe's attack isn't the best in the international game, but you still have to make the runs and he is getting them, quickly, in large quantities.

I am more than happy to promote players from our current staff, but after years of under-achievement in this format, might an experienced, in-form player not perhaps make a difference?  I would be very surprised if a county out there didn't think Coetzer was worthy of a short-term deal.

As always, I like to create talking points here on the blog and would welcome your thoughts...

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Dame Fortune

The greatest of cricket commentators, Richie Benaud, once said that captaincy was 'Ninety per cent luck and ten per cent skill - but don't try it without that ten per cent'.

You could, by extension, say that success in cricket as a whole needs ten per cent of luck at various times.

Take Derbyshire this summer. We were all set for a fun-packed season, in which our gun fast bowler cut down opposition batsmen in swathes, only to find he turns up with an injury, which effectively ruled him out of things until the end of June. To compound this, our other fast bowler, Will Davis, after a couple of sparkling displays, picks up a side injury and is ruled out for a similar period.

Luck with injuries, tosses, the absence of star players from the opposition due to international call ups, catches that you just make by the finger tips, rather than going to ground by similar margins, getting the right blend in the dressing room, winning tosses in wet conditions - they all play a part. However well Leicester City played to win the Premier League, they had few injuries and were able to play a settled side, while the 'big guns' all had seasons where they had to rebuild, or struggled to do the same.

It has been challenging for Billy Godleman and Kim Barnett this year, without doubt and had that ten per cent gone their way, I suspect that supporters would be a little more content than they are right now. By the same token, there have been a few situations when the requisite intensity wasn't there, while it is probably safe to say that our young seamers haven't all progressed as we would have wished. Had they done so, the loss of Viljoen and Davis would not have been so keenly felt.

On the subject of good fortune, I feel a little for Harvey Hosein today. He has done little wrong in the seconds and has scored steadily, if not spectacularly. At the same time, Daryn Smit has kept wicket nigh-flawlessly, having taken over from Gary Wilson when he went first to international commitments and then returned with a knee injury.

Yesterday, Harvey scored an unbeaten century for the second team against Worcestershire and, were there a game this weekend, may have played himself into it, especially when Smit himself sustained an injury in the final innings against Northamptonshire.

Yet there is no game for the senior side for another eleven days. Between times, Smit will likely get fit and Harvey can only press his claims by scoring runs and keeping well in next week's scheduled game against a likely strong Yorkshire second team. By the same token, he then only has the game at Cardiff, followed by the Chesterfield cricket week, before the T20 starts, not currently his game.

As things stand, his route into the side appears most likely either as being deemed a better wicket-keeper batsman than Daryn Smit, or a more in-form batsman than Alex Hughes, ironically the two batsmen who came out of the Wantage Road defeat with their reputations intact.

See what I mean about luck?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Welcome (back) John Wright

Hello Mr Wright. We've been expecting you...

The arrival of John Wright back on English and Derbyshire soil has come at the right time and will doubtless give everyone associated with the club a much-needed boost.

Besides being one of the most approachable men in the game, he is also one of the most successful. He played a key role in what was probably the best Derbyshire side that I have seen, while also becoming a highly respected opening batsman for his native New Zealand.

For those who didn't see him, John was a no-frills batsman, with the best 'leave' outside off stump that I have seen. Yet he had the shots too, sometimes unfurling them all and at others, aware of the percentage nature of some on certain wickets, he played the 'business shots' that would tick his score along and preserve his wicket, saving the drives for days when expansive strokes paid off.

There were two reason that supporters warmed to him. One was a genial nature that saw him prepared to chat to everyone. The other was his willingness to dig in and graft when conditions were not in his favour. The game is and always has been full of players who average 35-40 a summer by making big scores on shirt front wickets, but John got a lot of runs when the die were heavily loaded in favour of the bowlers.

His innings at Chesterfield against the West Indians of 1980 was one of the bravest that those who saw it will ever witness. He fell just short of a thoroughly deserved century where the ball flew from a bouncy track and the visitors attack were all out to impress and enjoy themselves. He ended the innings black and blue, but it was one of those occasions when people might have been forgiving had he failed. From the boundary edge it was like watching a boxing match where the referee was never going to step in and stop it, yet he gritted his teeth and gritted it out, becoming the stuff of legend in doing so.

He was one of our all-time greats, then became a revered coach, first with Kent in the county championship, then with his beloved New Zealand, where he oversaw a successful period in which they beat Australia in a series for the first time. Then he became the first non-Indian coach of their national side and fashioned a talented bunch of individuals into a team, perhaps for the first time. He did it by ensuring that each knew their role and how they could contribute to a winning cause, explained in greater detail in my most recent book 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation'. Available from all good book shops and me, but you know that...

He then went on to coach Mumbai to winning the IPL and has subsequently acted as a talent-spotter for them, most notably seeing the potential in the young Jasprit Bumrah, who holds himself 'eternally in John Wright's debt' for giving him an opportunity and seeing possibilities that others were failing to see.

Few would complain if he spotted a similar diamond in local cricket ahead of the T20, but no one can doubt his credentials, nor the considerable coup, by Kim Barnett, that bringing him to these shores represents. He is at a time of his career where he doesn't need full-time coaching and the burdens that it brings, but his presence over this summer's T20 gives the current coaching staff and players an opportunity to learn from one of the greats, a man with a proven CV that brooks no argument.

It is no guarantee of success, of course, but offers us more than we have had, which we would all gladly take. Every season we approach the T20 in a similar manner to the impending visit of a friend and their poorly behaved children. It starts with smiles and nice words, then gradually dissipates before the end, when everyone looks at one another and says 'thank goodness that is over' as they drive away in the car.

Success for John Wright will be in turning raw materials into a team. The talent is there, but it needs someone to bring it out and sustain it over a sprawling tournament. We have proven before that we can beat good teams, but lose to poor ones with equal alacrity. There have been more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute night in Derbyshire T20 cricket and no one can fault the effort put in to getting it right. We have had hard-hitting batsman, talented all-rounders, quality death bowlers and, sadly, way too many under-achievers. Two talented players will improve your side, but they will rarely beat an eleven that plays as a team.

This year we have the world's best bowler in the format and an IPL regular, in Imran Tahir and Matt Henry. It strengthens our weaker suit, but we'd all still be happier if there was a means of a top order 'blaster' too. Yet teams SHOULD struggle against those two, Hardus Viljoen and Shiv Thakor, assuming the latter are fit to bowl. The question then is if we might struggle more, as our batting line-up looks short of 'oomph' at the top, unless Tom Wood becomes the find of the season or the coach has brought Brendan McCullum in his hand luggage.

I wish John well, as I am sure you all do. There are apparently stages of this competition called quarter-finals and then a 'finals day', though we have got closer to the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow than either of them before. Last season we were within touching distance...this year?

If John Wright can get us to either of them, he will cement his place in county folklore and in the hearts of supporters.

Go well John.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Farewell (and thanks) to Conor McKerr

It was sad to see the departure announced today of Connor McKerr, a day after he entered the county record books for being the youngest player to take ten wickets in a match for us.

It would be lovely to see him back again on loan, perhaps next season, but there's a good old trivia question in there along the lines of 'which Derbyshire player took ten wickets in a match and never played for the county again'.

I understand Surrey recalling a player in fine form, but unless they have serious injury issues, I am unsure how Conor will leapfrog Messrs Curran (times two), Footitt, Rampaul, Dernbach and Meaker. That's two sides worth of seamers and a luxury that few could afford, certainly not us.

As Kim Barnett said today, the expectation is that Hardus Viljoen and Will Davis will be fit for the Glamorgan game and add a more penetrative edge to the bowling, as of course will Imran Tahir. I hope so, as I am sure you do.

I see a big future for McKerr, however and Derbyshire's role in his development will not be forgotten. He has now gone from a talented young man who has taken age group international wickets to a seamer who has proven he can get men out at first-class level. Psychologically that is a big step and he will doubtless kick on as a result of it. How Surrey keep seven seamers happy is a problem that they will have to deal with.

The two-week break will let a few pulled muscles and bruised bones be restored to fitness,
not to mention a few bruised egos and consciences. There were walking wounded by the end of the Northamptonshire match and were there another game in the next few days, a few players may have been struggling. Thankfully there is time to restore body and mind and a better team will take the field at Cardiff.

Hopefully the virus that attacked Luis Reece's heart is not a long or even medium-term thing, as he is a worthy cricketer who has done pretty well this year. There are things to build on, but there is potential in a man who can both bat and bowl.

Two final points, one of them county-related. I overlooked the signing of Hamidullah Qadri's first professional contract. I have heard a lot of good things about this young man, who is a genuine all-rounder, bowling off-spin. He has time on his side and there is a large gap in a Derbyshire eleven for such a player.

I wish him well and look forward to his continued development. Should he make the first team, which seems inevitable, he will be the first Afghan-origin player to represent the county and quite possibly play the county game. That's one that I will leave to the statisticians...

Finally, what on earth happened to South Africa yesterday? They always seem to blow it at big tournaments and a much-vaunted batting line-up flopped badly and were as disappointing as our own side, probably more so.

It amply illustrated, of course, that collapses can happen to any side at any level. If Amla, de Kock, Du Plessis, de Villiers and Miller can come and go with poor shot selection and reckless running, what chance have the rest got?

By the same token, I love the variety in the Indian attack and think their opening bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, are seriously talented players. Throw in talented spinners in Jadeja and Ashwin and they are a match for any side.

An England v India final looks likely and that will be well worth anyone's money.

More from me soon.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 3

Northamptonshire 218 and 277 (McKerr 5-54, Palladino 3-60)

Derbyshire 176 and 191 (Taylor 69, Smit 29 not)

Northamptonshire won by 128 runs

So, after less than three days of a four-day game, another anaemic batting performance by Derbyshire saw them subside, without too much fuss, to a sizeable and hugely disappointing defeat.

It would be easy, in the aftermath of such a defeat to demand changes, and doubtless there will be those who say just that, but the reality is that this was one of those poor performances that have for a long time frustrated supporters, just at the point when light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

We don't play any more cricket until June 26 at Cardiff, which gives everyone time to think, work and regroup. By that stage we will have Viljoen, Davis and Tahir in the attack and it should make us more competitive as a result.

I'd love to see us retain Conor McKerr until season end, because he is a player of real quality. Ten wickets in only his second first-class match is a remarkable effort in a 19-year old and he is the youngest-ever player to take ten in a match for the county.

Retaining him would be better for his development than playing in Surrey seconds, while enabling Derbyshire to rest the returning quicks as required. Watching his action, his wickets and his attitude it is very easy to see why he was so highly-rated in South Africa. The lad likes to bowl and, according to Billy Godleman, keeps asking to bowl. No captain can ask for more from an opening bowler.

He produced the type of spell this morning that I suggested we needed last night, but the top order was blown away by another fine opening bowler, Ben Sanderson, who fully illustrated the virtues of a late developer. Aside from Alex Hughes (again) only Daryn Smit, Tom Taylor and McKerr prevented the game's denouement from being embarrassing.

If we were playing another game on Friday, you might look at the batting and changes, but I don't know how you could genuinely guarantee improvement. Ben Slater might then have come in for Luis Reece, while he was restored to full health (and let's not forget the game may have been much closer but for batting ten men in each innings) but who else?

Thakor, Godleman, Madsen and Wilson are all established first team players and have previously been in decent or very good form. Alex Hughes and Daryn Smit, the two who have previously been the most short of runs, were the only batsmen to resist here, though mention should be made of another good batting effort from Tom Taylor, who is developing into far more than a tail-ender.

Every team has its good days, just as they all have their bad. We seem to have a few too many of the latter for comfort, but I still look at the overall picture and see progress, albeit of the two step forward, one back variety. Or is it the other way around?

To close on a brighter note, I guarantee we won't lose in the next fortnight.

And I still have no idea why we opened twice with Jeevan Mendis...

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 2

Northamptonshire 218 and 247-4 (Newton 108, Wakely 79)

Derbyshire  176 (Hughes 62 not)

Northamptonshire lead by 289 runs

Barring a first session spell akin to the one produced by Tom Taylor at Trent Bridge last week, Derbyshire are facing a massive task to save this game.

Nearly 300 behind with two days to go, something special needs done in the second  innings. If more players channel the resolve of Alex Hughes, who resisted for three hours, we might take the game into the fourth day, but we need to do much better than the first knock.

Late wickets for Tony Palladino and Conor McKerr made the scoreboard look closer than it was for much of the day, but we are well behind in this one and need a comeback akin to those produced by Bangladesh and England in recent days.

The absence of Shiv Thakor from the attack has been noted, while Luis Reece's absence from the eleven may yet extend to the full match.

More important is that he soon return to full health and, like all of you, I wish him well.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 1

Northamptonshire 218 (Newton 67, McKerr 5-87)

Derbyshire 153-6 (Hughes 50 not)

Derbyshire trail by 65 runs

There are one or two critics of the lad at times, but Alex Hughes is one of those players who normally saves his best efforts for when they are most needed.

At 200-3 he will likely go in, slap it around a bit and get out for a breezy cameo, but at 50-3 he will get his head down and grit it out with the best of them. He did that today and we must hope for more tomorrow and a tail that gets us to at least parity in this game. Unless rain intervenes dramatically, a positive result is almost certain, after sixteen wickets fell on the first day.

Conor McKerr again did splendidly for five wickets and was well supported by Tony Palladino in particular, but the feeling was always there for me that we might struggle, if we had bowled out a good batting side so quickly with what is essentially our reserve attack.

So it proved and a keen home bowling unit nicked wickets out here and there. The absence of Luis Reece was worrying and I am sure we all wish the all rounder well, after he was taken to hospital and detained overnight, after complaining of breathing issues when bowling.

The medical diagnosis will dictate whether he can bat tomorrow, or play a part in the remainder of the game. I was astonished when, in his absence, Jeevan Mendis took on the role of stopgap opener. Against an older ball and tiring bowlers, I could see scenarios where the Sri Lankan might get runs in English conditions. Not against a new ball though and my choice would have been to get Alex Hughes or Tom Taylor to do it. The former has the technique, while Taylor has a dogged attitude that enabled us to get closer to the home score this evening than first looked likely. Neither could have done worse than Mendis, who approaches most innings with the restraint of Shahid Afridi. When it comes off, I am sure it is memorable, but other times, I suspect less so...

We need more from Hughes and Taylor tomorrow and an extension of their crucial 45-run stand, then the tail needs to wag as it did at Trent Bridge last week.

If it does, we will have a real game on our hands...

Postscript: a friend messaged me today and said that Chesney Hughes would get 23, before giving it away.

He wasn't far wide of the mark and his dismissal, on 20, was apparently weak.

An immense talent, is Chesney, but a mighty frustrating one. I still wish him well, but hitting it straight into the air second time around would suit me fine...

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire preview

I think it unlikely, after a positive effort that deserved to win the game against Nottinghamshire, that there will be any change in the Derbyshire eleven to play at Wantage Road over the coming days.

I am a big believer in sticking with what works and although we have named a squad of thirteen, it looks likely that Ben Slater and Rob Hemmings will split the drinks-carrying. That squad:

Billy Godleman
Luis Reece
Ben Slater
Shiv Thakor
Wayne Madsen
Daryn Smit
Jeevan Mendis
Alex Hughes
Gary Wilson
Tom Taylor
Rob Hemmings
Tony Palladino
Conor McKerr

As for the home side, who chased a target down on the last afternoon at Derby earlier in the season, they replace the injured Richard Levi with our own Chesney Hughes, who will doubtless be out to prove a point. They are big shoes to fill though and Levi is a key part of this side, but Rory Kleinveldt is back and they will be a tough nut to crack. Their squad:

Azharullah, Buck, Crook, Cobb, Gleeson, Holden, Hughes, Keogh, Kleinveldt, Newton, Sanderson, Wakely.

Derbyshire will be encouraged by the display at Trent Bridge and have the talent to win, but they will need to match the home side's excellent seam attack to do so. Kleinveldt, Sanderson, Buck and Gleeson are good bowlers and our long batting line-up will need to be at its best to get runs on the board.

The likelihood is we will bowl first after recent rain, so let's see how things pan out later today!

In closing, warm congratulations to Alfie Gleadall, who has a two-year deal on the Derbyshire staff. I have heard good things about him and the potential is there for a bowler of genuine pace, never a bad thing.

If he works hard and listens to the right people, we could be on to a good 'un there. At seventeen he has time on his side and is one to watch.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Fantasy update

Less than five hundred points separate Clive Whitmore, who leads the Peakfan Blog Fantasy Cricket League, from Dean Doherty and Gary Cunningham, who form the chasing pack at this stage.

David Aust, a regular winner in recent summers, is in fourth place a little way back, but still ready to make a charge in the second half of the season.

As am I, currently in 24th spot of a record 25 team league. Recent events have meant I had yet to make a change to my season-starting line-up, but have now got a stellar line-up of in-form players.

Which means, of course, that they will soon be out of nick and missing straight ones...

Thanks to all those participating!

Reasons to be cheerful?

It is funny how big a difference four days makes.

Before the match at Trent Bridge, Derbyshire supporters were resigned to a bit part in a match that seemed set to be the latest in Nottinghamshire's march to promotion glory.

The likelihood is that they will go up as champions, but the reality is that, shorn of their best bowlers, they aren't any better than us. Let's face it, a batting side strong enough to omit a former international captain should have put them out of sight, against a bowling unit led by a young lad of 22 and a nineteen-year old debutant.

Yet they didn't. Tom Taylor and Conor McKerr bowled splendidly and with hostility, backed up by the veteran Tony Palladino and Jeevan Mendis. Their performances enabled Shiv Thakor and Luis Reece to play only bit parts with the ball, crucial when they both bat in the top three.

The captain's innings enabled us to dictate the game and he has flourished in our northern setting. His second innings took him past five hundred runs in the championship, and he and vice-captain Gary Wilson are leading from the front with the bat. Both average over 60 and we can ask little more of either than they are giving.

It's funny, we signed Wilson as a wicket-keeper batsman and Daryn Smit as a batsman and in a roundabout way it has worked. The former has flourished with the bat and is playing as a batting specialist, while Smit's wicket-keeping has been of a world-class standard. Having watched him bat a few times, I remain convinced that the runs to cement his position are not too far away, but his glove work has set a high standard in the field, the number one requirement of anyone in the role.

We haven't yet seen vintage Wayne Madsen and a season average of 30 at this stage is less than normal, yet his batting at Trent Bridge suggested the big innings is not too far away and he remains a joy to watch. His second innings dismissal was to the crudest shot I have seen him play, but the sight of him walking in to bat remains as reassuring a sight as any county supporter could wish for. Distractions of a testimonial year aside, I would still back him to be around the thousand-run mark by the end of the summer.

It is also worth mentioning Jeevan Mendis as his stint with us nears its end. His career batting average suggests him a better batsman than his stint with us has shown, though his preference to 'bat like Afridi' and play his expansive leg side shots with only one hand on the bat haven't helped.

Yet it is some time since a Derbyshire spinner had 24 wickets before the end of the first week in June and the charm of watching a quality leg-spinner remains intact. He isn't as good as Imran Tahir, but few are and he has let no one down on wickets not generally favourable to his kind. And has done it all with a smile that has barely left his face since he got here.

We have the Northamptonshire game this weekend, then have a break of two weeks before the Glamorgan fixture, when the players will doubtless be honing their T20 skills. A two-week break as we approach the longest day of the year is something that still baffles me, but is sadly the way that the game is going.

By the time we head to Cardiff, our bowling ranks should be enhanced by Tahir, Viljoen and Davis. If they stay fit, the second half of the summer should be more rewarding than the first.

Reasons to be cheerful?

Plenty, I reckon.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire day 4

Nottinghamshire 229 and 349 (Taylor

Derbyshire 363 and 190-5 (Madsen 61, Wilson 31 not)

Match drawn

The wait for a first championship win since 2015 goes on, but if Derbyshire can reproduce this level of commitment for the remainder of the four-day campaign it will not be long coming.

As last night's post said, the forecast virtually ruled out any prospect of a win, but we came very close and to use the words of erstwhile heavyweight boxer Tony Galento, had the weather stayed out of it we would have 'moidered da bums'.

This was, beyond doubt, a performance that made you proud to be a Derbyshire fan. Logic suggests we should come nowhere near beating the likes of Nottinghamshire, a side of considerable international experience, even in the absence of some internationals. Then again, logic should have seen us doing better in other games this summer, ones that we ended up losing.

The real Derbyshire is probably somewhere in between, but there are plenty of positives to take from this game, one in which every player made a contribution. While there were a couple of ungainly heaves towards the end, the run chase was conducted with a degree of elan and I have no doubt that Gary Wilson, Jeevan Mendis and Daryn Smit would have steered us to the win, but for the rain and bad light.

A mention in passing for Tom Taylor, whose fine spell today was the culmination of a match in which his rhythm was right and his bowling was coming back to that of the bowler who was selected for England training not too long ago.

With Conor McKerr, he looked to form a decent opening pairing, one better than their respective novitiate status warrants.

It was a pleasure to watch it through the Nottinghamshire live stream and, if we haven't quite got across the line to claim bragging rights, even the most ardent of home fans would struggle to suggest anything other than they got away with it today.

A great effort from our boys.

Now let's keep the bandwagon rolling.

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire day 3

It is a shame that the weather looks set to prevent a positive finish at Trent Bridge as a great finish was in store.

The home side fought back well yesterday but post lunch wickets kept us in the game.

Jeevan Mendis bowled some good balls and quick wickets today would offer a great chance of a shock win.

It doesn't look likely as things stand though.

More from me later.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire day 2

Nottinghamshire 229 and 67-2 

Derbyshire 363 (Godleman 121, Madsen 56)

Nottinghamshire trail by 67 runs

Irrespective of what happens for the rest of this game, and there are some very good batsmen standing between us and a run chase we would fancy to win, Derbyshire's players have restored pride in the club and impressed everyone with their attitude.

It remains a wicket where the bowlers have encouragement and for us to win we need to take opportunities, just as Daryn Smit did this evening. One catch, to remove Libby, was impressive. The other, to dismiss Pujara, was simply stunning. Such athleticism and sure-handedness needs to be replicated across the team tomorrow, because the forecast for Monday suggests not too much cricket.

Earlier the innings was held together by a masterful century from Billy Godleman, his third of the four-day season. You don't get to the end of a long innings by the skipper having admired the stroke play, but you always respect his commitment and ability to make the most of his game. He did so again today, playing plenty of trademark shots off his hip and getting his cut shot going well. He was well supported by Wayne Madsen, who hardly looked in trouble before being dismissed.

I wasn't at all impressed by the West Indian umpire, who seemed incapable of making a clear decision, something on which the home side attempted to capitalise with some silly appealing that verged on intimidation. The decision against Gary Wilson seemed contentious and the Derbyshire player looked bemused at the dismissal, the home side seemingly hedging their bets on what they were actually appealing for, the batsman unconvinced that he had hit the ball.

Daryn Smit overcame a nervy start and was looking good when he achieved the rare feat of being lbw and late cutting a four to the same ball, while late resistance from the tail took the Derbyshire lead from useful to challenging. I still don't see how Jeevan Mendis has scored big hundreds in Sri Lanka, but his bowling tomorrow could be a match-winner.

Whatever else, there is reason to be proud after the effort of the first two days.

The task for tomorrow is to finish things off.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire day 1

Nottinghamshire 229 (Mullaney 76, Palladino 4-44, McKerr 2-53, Taylor 2-58)

Derbyshire 52-2 (Godleman 18 not)

Derbyshire trail by 177 runs

Today, blessed by the first real spare time I have had in a month, I was able to watch a fair bit of the excellent live stream from Trent Bridge of today's game. Those pitching it as David v Goliath came close to witnessing a similar outcome, on a day that must be our best of the season, at least in the four-day game, so far.

That we bowled out our illustrious neighbours in around two sessions of play was most impressive and tribute to a largely more disciplined bowling display. Tony Palladino took most of the plaudits with four wickets, but there was good support from the new ball pairing of Conor McKerr and Tom Taylor.

I thought both did well before lunch, before rather losing their way in the period after it. There is a good bowler in Taylor and he bowled some really good - and at times hostile - stuff today. It was again liberally scattered with stuff that I'd have fancied hitting for four, but once he can lessen this flaw in his game he could make it. There's a greater rhythm to his bowling than when I saw him earlier in the summer and I hope he can build on this effort.

As for the debutant McKerr, I was impressed. He uses his height, which at 6'6" you would hope for and bowls good lines. There was a time or two that I thought he could have slipped in a bouncer, just to keep the batsmen on their toes, but he had a good batting side hurrying their shots, always the mark of a slippery bowler.

At 19 his potential is considerable and, based on today's effort, he could do worse than playing with us for the remainder of the summer. With the Curran brothers, Mark Footitt, Ravi Rampaul, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker ahead of him, his chances of playing in their first team this year - or next - are likely just a little better than mine. Even if Hardus Viljoen and Will Davis are fit at the end of this month, I think it unlikely that they can play all the cricket from then to the end of the summer.

It was nice to see us having a genuine quick in the attack and he will only get faster and better as he fills out. Quite a talent, Mr McKerr.

The catching was good and Daryn Smit was again impeccable with the gloves, while Billy Godleman skippered the side well, correctly bringing on the leggie to draw things to a close, when too often we have been frustrated by tenth wicket stands.

Luis Reece and the skipper looked solid in reply, before the lively Wood had Reece caught, then Shiv Thakor looked to be taking things to the close, before assaying a somewhat unnecessary shot from the bowling of Hutton, being well held by Samit Patel from the day's final ball.

Derbyshire's day, beyond doubt, but the onus now lies on the batting to build on a good effort from a much maligned attack.

Today they did well and deserve praise accordingly.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Loan signing tells a story for Derbyshire

I am thrilled to announce that after four weeks in hospital and just over a week since eight-hour heart surgery after a heart attack, my wife, Sylvia, came home today.

There is a journey ahead to get back to full fitness, but the surgeons have done a wonderful job and have pronounced themselves 'delighted' with the outcome. We are equally thrilled and I can only say that your good wishes and prayers have helped considerably over the past few weeks.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thanks also to all of you who have kept the blog going with guest pieces and with comments, all of which have been appreciated. Normal service should soon be resumed, now I have regained five or six hours of visiting and travel time that was a part of each day.

My thanks have been extended personally to the wonderful cardiac team at the Golden Jubilee Hotel in Clydebank, but I am happy to repeat them here.

On to cricket matters and the signing of Conor McKerr tells a disappointing story from a county perspective. With bowling places very much up for grabs, no one has yet put their hand up to say that they can be a regular member of this side, in the absence of Hardus Viljoen and  Will Davis.

Those two bowlers need to get fit and, in the case of our terrific young prospect Davis, he needs to get his body to a level of fitness where he can bowl quick on a regular basis. That can take to the mid-twenties for some, as their bodies fill out and the musculature for such an arduous task becomes defined. Time will tell if Davis becomes the real deal or perhaps another Alan Ward, whose physique never fully came to terms with the demands of full-time professional cricket.

As for the others, the four-day game has proved a challenge too far at this stage.  All are capable of bowling good balls, but there are simply not enough of them and a few too many poor ones to build up any pressure on the batsmen. As the club greats of the past showed, when conditions are against you, sometimes you can frustrate a batsman out, yet the current crop, albeit young, struggle to maintain that pressure and offer a 'four ball' almost every over.

In our current travails, I can only assume that Greg Cork is now seen as a batsman who bowls, rather than an all-rounder. Otherwise he had to be worth a go, but instead we have brought in McKerr, a strapping 6'6" fast bowler from Surrey. At 19 he is  hardly an experienced man, but the hope is that his raw pace might surprise opponents in the next month. He is well-rated and, having represented his native South Africa at under-19 level, has obvious talent.

Where he gets a game at The Oval is a moot point, as they are awash with fast and seam bowlers of talent. I don't expect the lad to run through teams, as this is first-class cricket, not a fairy tale, but if he offers something different it is worth the gamble.

He will get a stringent test of his talents at Trent Bridge this weekend, that's for sure...

Guest Blog: Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire preview by Rob Enderby

Tomorrow sees Derbyshire take on our mighty neighbours from up the A52 Nottinghamshire. A match up that I believe is more than a little unfair. My beloved Southend United don’t often play Arsenal or Chelsea. When they do it creates all manner of interest and scramble for tickets. Then come the big day it usually ends in glorious failure. Normally by half time..

With their facilities, financial largesse and reputation for poaching the best talent that other counties have produced (Broad and Gurney who are likely to play tomorrow being two examples) Nottinghamshire really should not be languishing in Division 2 and that they are should serve as an embarrassment to all concerned.

In reality Derbyshire are in a league within a league along with Leicestershire, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire. Our season will be remembered by how we finish in this mini league.

I am writing this prior to team announcements and was about to bemoan our bowling line up when I read that the club have signed Conor McKerr on loan from Surrey and I for one wish him well. More on his situation later.

My team assuming no further injuries:

Ben Slater
Billy Godleman
Shiv Thakor
Wayne Madsen
Gary Wilson
Daryn Smit WK
Tom Wood
Jeevan Mendis
Tom Taylor
Tony Palladino
Conor McKerr 
 
There is enough rain around to help our cause and I’m hopeful of securing a draw in the available time – we shall see.

I offer some thoughts and observations from afar as to our current problems and their solutions.
The captain has too much to do and this may lead to muddled thinking. Captain, opening bat, selector and coach roles all take their toll. In the first innings of the match v Worcestershire Ben Slater was out in the first over. The ball still being new and shiny called for an opener to replace him but Billy still came out at 5. Clearer thinking needed.

Much has been said on the wicket keeping front. All I would add is decide on the best keeper and play him.

With our resources and lack of pulling power we are simply not going to be able to entice established county professionals to us, they will always have better options. I think it was John Morris who said that we can never get a first teamer from Surrey, but we can get their 14th/15th man, and we just have in young McKerr. Exposure to first class cricket may be just what he needs. His and others routes in to the first team are always going to be difficult. Just as they appear to make their breakthrough then Surrey poach Footitt and on and on. No one can argue that signing Gary Wilson has been anything other than a roaring success.

Although laudable, the idea of playing home grown talent has just not worked out. For a number of years we have had a number of players who have not made themselves an automatic pick. Perhaps they will always be 5-10% short of the required standard and I don’t believe we can afford to carry passengers. Peakfan will argue about jam tomorrow but we haven’t exactly had bread today for a number of years. If these players are not progressing better to let them go and rely on young McKerr and his ilk.

We have 2 or 3 players that are attempting to do everything well and perhaps are not doing anything well enough. We should encourage these players to find their best suit and stick to it. Players such as Flintoff and Stokes are rare indeed and in the future are unlikely to emanate from Derbyshire, for the reasons mentioned above. As soon as they show any signs of talent, Surrey, Nottinghamshire et al will come a-knocking.

I am happy to stick for this. But on the same subject whilst I understand that spin bowling and leg spin bowling in particular take time to master, young Critchley is as far away from our 4 day squad as ever. He is not taking enough wickets in the 2nds for anything like inclusion. However he does bat well. Why not turn him into a batter who occasionally turns his arm over. Cricketing history is littered with such examples.

I headed this piece Support Support Support and that is what we should do. After all, the clue is in the name. There is a car park in Chelmsford that my now grown up children still call “the Derbyshire lost car park”. This is where, time after time, their Mum would come to pick me up, sat glumly on the step after another defeat at the hands of Essex. 

 Yet I still stick with it. Enjoy the highs (oh for 2012 and KK again) accept the lows. Be realistic, objective, drink from a hall full cup and the world seems a much brighter place.

My elderly Mother wants to watch Chelsea as she can celebrate a win before the game has already started. I couldn’t agree less. I love the unpredictability of sport. Every now and then David wins and wouldn’t it be great for that to happen in the next 4 days? 
 
Rob In Essex

Guest blog: Derbyshire bring in Conor McKerr on loan by Huw Lloyd

None can deny that Derbyshire’s season hasn’t got off to the start they would have liked, winless in the County Championship and last season’s troubles of not being able to take wickets have followed them into this season like that annoying friend at a party who you just can’t shake off. 

They have mitigating circumstances, Will Davis their home grown fast bowler who started the season well taking thirteen wickets sin this two appearances is now injured, as is winter signing Hardus Viljoen, who is yet to play a first class game for the county. However the management team have clearly recognised something needed to be done and the club have tonight announced the signing of Conor McKerr from Surrey on an initial 28-dayloan deal.

McKerr is South African but holds a UK Passport, so can play as a domestic player and has been doing so for Surrey Second XI this summer where he has impressed,  taking 10 wickets in his last two appearances for the county’s second string. McKerr has also represented South Africa under 19s on eight occasions, with best figures of 2 for 23. Derbyshire will be hoping McKerr can bring this wicket threat to a bowling attack which has failed to take the required 20 wickets in all bar one of its first class matches this season.

McKerr is a like for like replacement for the injured Viljoen, standing over six feet tall and showing genuine pace and wicket taking threat. He goes straight into the squad to face Nottinghamshire away at Trent Bridge starting on Friday. Director of Cricket Kim Barnett was keen to point out that the decision to bring in reinforcements came from the players saying “The captain, vice-captain and coaching staff felt the squad needed the impetus of a quick bowler.” They clearly have signed that fast bowler with McKerr being reported as bowling over 90mph.
Barnett was sure they had secured this too saying “Conor comes highly recommended and has represented South Africa at youth level, impressing with his natural pace. Running in at over six feet tall, he can provide that strike bowling option that we currently lack with the injuries to Hardus Viljoen and Will Davis.” McKerr also appears to be excited at the chance to play for Derbyshire tweeting “Exciting few weeks! On loan with Derbyshire for some first class exposure! Can’t wait for this opportunity… (fire) and also in replying to Derbyshire’s tweet announcing his signing saying “Can’t wait to be part of your squad!”
Derbyshire will not be able to wait either, and will be hoping the excitement and fresh impetus that a new signing can make comes up the M1 and has a positive effect on the bowlers and squad as a whole. He could not ask for a bigger challenge in his first match for the club though, away at the current Division Two leaders Nottinghamshire who are unbeaten in their five games so far this season. However he will not be a bowler many of the Nottinghamshire players know much about nor will they have prepared to face him, which may help him and Derbyshire in this match.
Whichever way this game or the next 28 days go for McKerr and Derbyshire, no one can deny that the club have been proactive in trying to find a solution to their wicket taking problems and we shall all wait to see how the move turns out for the club and McKerr himself.

With thanks to Huw Lloyd and Deep Extra Cover