Monday, 1 September 2014

Derbyshire v Worcestershire day 2

It was another highly encouraging day for Derbyshire at the 3AAA County Ground today.

After Tony Palladino hit merrily in the first session, Mark Footitt made a characteristic early breakthrough with a caught and bowled from a leading edge. There followed a period of cricket that perhaps redefined the word 'attritional', with Mitchell and Fell batting with good technique and a fair share of luck.

That will increasingly be needed on a wicket that is showing signs of uneven bounce and any lead that we can grind out tomorrow will be invaluable on the final day. Once again there was little between the two sides and any neutral observer might well have thought that Derbyshire were the division's runaway leaders.

The afternoon session saw a fine spell from Alex Hughes, who looks to have added several yards of pace this summer. He should have had a couple of wickets, a dropped gulley catch by Billy Godleman helping the cause no more than the edge that flew between keeper and slip and should really have been Gareth Cross' ball.

Daryl Mitchell, an admirable opener, did sterling work for his side once more, but Footitt came back after tea with a spell of considerable pace that wrecked the innings. He and Wayne White bowled with excellent pace and control and the Worcestershire batsmen were hopping around as the erratic bounce made for an awkward time.

White was very impressive. There was a time when he bowled with good pace but also a tendency to a bad ball per over that cost his figures. Not today. He went for under two an over and deserved far more than the one wicket that he took. Joe Leach took a nasty clang on the helmet from a rising ball, while a concerted appeal for caught behind in the closing overs was so confident that it was almost in three-part harmony. The umpire ruled not out, though the gently shaken glove of the batsman suggested that a reply in the affirmative might have been closer to the truth...

Anyone wondering why we have re-engaged White, hopefully with a view to a longer stay, should have had their question well and truly answered today.

135 runs ahead, four wickets to take. This game could go either way but the first session tomorrow will be crucial. If we can get a lead in excess of fifty it will give us an excellent opportunity to force a win and the visitors will not fancy anything over 250 on the last day.

Good, confident, disciplined cricket. That's what we played today, the bowlers working as a unit to force the collapse despite a confident Worcestershire start. The season is ending too quickly, but the closing weeks have given plenty of cause for optimism.

In closing tonight, thanks to all those whose chat made today especially enjoyable. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to you and I hope to see you again at the end of the month for the season closer.

I can't wait...

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Derbyshire v Worcestershire day 1

As I walked out of the ground this evening, there was much to reflect upon from an absorbing opening day's cricket.

On it, I thought Derbyshire did very well on a wicket where there was something for the bowlers all day. The quicks got steepling bounce at times and there was lateral movement too. Morris and McClenaghan bowled very well for the visitors, although the latter was guilty of some bowling that was also wild at times. Morris impressed me and ran in as hard at the end of the day as he did in the early session. The days final overs were bowled by McClenaghan and Shantry and I cannot recall seeing two left-arm seamers bowling round the wicket in tandem before. Curious...

I thought we largely batted well and was impressed by Ben Slater and Billy Godleman at the top of the order. Slater looks comfortable at this level and only needs a big score to 'seal the deal'. Godleman was on three after 75 minutes play, then opened up and played some good shots before falling to Morris.

The skipper looked cool, calm and classy, but then he usually does and it was a shame when he fell. Durston was a little uncomfortable against a barrage of short stuff but looked to have got through it when he was dismissed, while Chesney failed to make the most of a rare opportunity by misjudging the line and seeing his stumps rearranged.

Gareth Cross didn't last long and David Wainwright fell tamely, but Alex Hughes and Tony Palladino joined forces and took us past the 300 mark in a breezy, unbroken ninth wicket stand. Hughes continues to impress and has a new personal best in his sights tomorrow. He is a busy cricketer and I like his attitude more each time I see him. Meanwhile Palladino clumps merrily and perhaps plays the hook and pull as well as anyone in the side. While Wayne White looked like he needed matches, he will probably enjoy bowling on this wicket tomorrow, one which is dry and taking a little spin already. If we could get to 350 tomorrow, Worcestershire will have to bat very well to stay in the game.

Being honest, I didn't see much between the two sides today, which only illustrates further the strides made by the side in recent weeks. If we can get early wickets tomorrow, the groundwork for a win will have been well and truly laid.

Off the field it was a pleasure to chat to so many people once again - no names, no packdrill - and I remain impressed by the quality of personnel we have behind the scenes at the County Ground and their unfailing pleasant demeanour.

The members forum was interesting and afforded an opportunity to see the exciting development plans at the ground, excellently presented by Simon Storey, as well as hearing a range of questions neatly fielded in addition by Graeme Welch, Chris Grant and Jason Fage.

I shook my head at the query on why we released Tim Groenewald and the suggestion that he would have got us to the one-day cup final (he wouldn't) and perked up on hearing that Cheteshwar Pujara's short stint this year may be the precursor to a longer stay next season. I'd also clarify a point I made previously regarding Tom Taylor and Harvey Hosein - both have signed full-time permanent contracts and have deferred university entrance for the immediate future to give county cricket a good go.

Having those two available next summer will surely affect our recruitment plans. The potential of both is obvious and Hosein will be an admirable back up for Tom Poynton.

As for Taylor, he, Cotton, Cork and perhaps Will Davis will be pushing for regular senior cricket from an academy that appears to be bearing some excellent fruit.

The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades...

Thanks to everyone for their chat today - it really was a pleasure.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Derbyshire v Worcestershire County Championship preview

After the largely positive experience that was the Royal London One Day Trophy, Derbyshire return to county championship action tomorrow against a side that has been runaway leaders of the division for much of the summer.

Worcestershire got off to the kind of flyer that we enjoyed in 2012 and it continued, largely because of the phenomenal returns of Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal. Win the toss, bat then win on the last day was the obvious route to success and Ajmal bowled with great stamina and no little skill for them until he had to return home for international action.

The irony of his action subsequently being called into question - not for the first time - is not lost and there is no doubt that they were a stronger side with him in it, as any would be, of course. Mitchell McClenaghan, the honest journeyman Kiwi who has replaced him, is a decent bowler but hardly of the same quality.

So Derbyshire have a chance over the next four days to show what might have been, had our season started sometime before the onset of June. The early season issues are well enough documented, but recent form in the different formats - OK, not T20 - have been more like supporter expectations.

The side has changed drastically in the intervening period and tomorrow sees us play without an overseas player. Marcus North, as expected, has played his last game for us and Cheteshwar Pujara has not yet arrived from India. That leaves a vacancy for our resident Anguillan to step in, at least to the squad, to see if he can make a decent fist of his first senior opportunity for some time.

He may not play, as my call on the side, obviously without seeing the wicket, would be:

Hughes A

I think Ben Cotton could miss out here, as the other bowlers pick themselves to some extent. It would be brave, or silly, to go into a game in late August without a specialist spinner and we're hardly going to omit the returning Wayne White, Palladino or Footitt. That's my call, anyway, so I'd be interested to see yours.

As for Worcestershire, they are captained by the prolific Daryl Mitchell and their squad lines up:

Mitchell, Oliver, Fell, Kervezee, Kohler-Cadmore, Cox, Leach, Choudhry, ShantryMcClenaghan, Morris, WhiteleyD'Oliveira

Ross Whiteley will hope for a return after a disappointing campaign, while Alex Kervezee will hope to continue an excellent record against us.

My prediction? I think we can win this. There's fresh optimism and with some justification in the Derbyshire camp and for me there's little between the two sides in ability.

It just goes to show what an impact a good overseas player can make to a county's fortunes. Something that will doubtless occupy the minds of Graeme Welch and his coaching team over the winter.

Pujara would do very nicely, as far as I am concerned.

I'm looking forward to seeing the first two days and catching up with friends, old and new. I'm especially looking forward to seeing Wayne White back in our colours. He would be a very sound signing, were we able to secure a permanent deal.

Postscript - the Guardian newspaper today said that Kent's Darren Stevens was believed to have received a very good offer from Derbyshire for next season. Newspaper talk? Buried as it was in a match report, it was unlikely to sell them many copies, but if there is any substance to him coming here I'd be very excited.

At 38 he is not in the first flush of youth, but probably has three or four good years left in him. He averages 40 with the bat this year and has over forty wickets at 23, so there is no sign of a diminution in what have been very impressive county standard powers.

Put it this way. If it helped to secure his signature, I'd drive down to Kent from Scotland to give him a lift...

Cotton signs professional deal

Great news this morning that Ben Cotton (centre, left)  has signed a two-year professional deal with the club.

The potential in the giant seamer is obvious and it is in such players that our future improvement and success will lie.

Congratulations to the player and to the coaching staff, who have undoubtedly accelerated his development this summer.

More from me later.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Poynton news a timely tonic

The news that Tom Poynton is recovering well from the injuries sustained in an early season car accident is about the best that Derbyshire fans could have hoped for at this stage of the summer, when trophies are out of reach.

That accident, which tragically took the life of his father, Keith,  cast a cloud over our early summer from which we struggled to recover for some time. For all the support mechanisms that were put in place, such an occurrence could not fail to have an impact on the others in that dressing room. It is a close one, not so much a team as a tribe and the impact will have been substantial.

They have done well to come back from there with more recent performances of encouragement, but we have missed 'TP' behind the sticks. Gareth Cross has done fairly well, without convincing everyone at this stage, but Poynton is the most complete player to emerge from the academy in recent years.

It isn't just his pugnacious batting, which will only get better, nor his undemonstrative glove work, which rarely slips below tidy and is often brilliant. Most of all we have missed Poynton's 'gobby' attitude in the field. It is a term I use affectionately and is crucial to any team. Watch any Derbyshire side in the field with Poynton behind the stumps and you will be immediately aware of a non-stop barrage of encouragement. It happens after every ball and the influence of Karl Krikken, never a man to use one word when five would do, is obvious.

If he is able to play a full and active part in pre-season training, which starts in November (seriously...) then we can all be grateful to the medical and physio team that have got him there. One thing is for sure - a Derbyshire side with Poynton in it will be so much the stronger.

Elsewhere, it appears that Marcus North may have played his last game for the county and that his battling innings at Trent Bridge will be his last in our colours. It hasn't been a huge success and when I have seen him he seemed much less mobile than I remembered. He has been a good cricketer, but his perceived value to us, as far as I could see, was as an all-rounder who might take his share of wickets with tidy off-spin, while contributing good runs in the middle order.

His spectacular assault on Leicestershire at the start of the T20 was as good as it got and he will be disappointed with his returns. When he bowled it appeared to be an afterthought and I can only assume that there was an injury that prevented it. There is no other logical reason.

Whether he retires at the end of the summer or goes on to another county is a moot point, but Marcus has been a good and worthy cricketer. At his best, which we saw in his first stint with us, he was very good indeed.

He deserves thanks for his efforts, as well as in the way that he conducted himself as a professional.

Finally tonight, I meant to extend my condolences before now to the family of former Derbyshire chairman, Trevor Bowring, who died earlier in the week.

Mr Bowring was a gentleman and I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions. A resident of Kelso in the Scottish Borders, he was kind enough to offer me a lift to Derby should I ever have needed one. It was an unnecessary, but appreciated gesture by a man who did a lot for the county club.

He will be sorely missed.

Postscript - I will be making a trip to the County Ground over the weekend to see the first two days of the Worcestershire game. I look forward to some good cricket, as well as seeing friends, old and new.

And if Craig is reading this - it will be good to catch up, my friend!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Responses to a few questions

The last few weeks have been manically busy, so a few minutes this evening gives me a chance to respond to a few of the more common questions directed at me recently.

Would I offer Billy Godleman another deal? 

In the light of recent form, yes. I think Billy looks a good batsman and whatever he has done with the batting coach, John Sadler, seems to have worked. Much will depend on who Graeme Welch has in his sights as new players and, as in all professional sport, you're only a regular until someone better comes along. 

For all his improved form, however, he really needs a big innings or two to cement the position and convince the doubters. For me, Ben Slater should be a championship opener and potentially more, but Billy has four matches to convince the people that matter that perhaps a one-year extension might be in order.

What about Jonathan Clare?

Well, he's contracted for another year but has been seen slightly more often than Lord Lucan on Derbyshire cricket fields in the past two years. I like the lad and I have enjoyed watching him play cricket, but if his perenially fragile body isn't allowing him to play, we have a major problem.

I know no more than the rest of you what his injury issues have been, but the reality is that a club with less resources than almost every other is paying what I assume to be a good salary for a player who simply isn't playing.

Will the winter see a parting of the ways and a deal over the remainder of his contract? I don't know, but there has to come a point where both parties accept the inevitable. Whether that is this winter or at the end of his contract is down to those involved.

If he is fit, Jon would be a first pick in a Derbyshire side, but he isn't, so anything is possible.

Is Wayne White likely to replace Clare?

Again I don't know, but it is a like for like replacement. Clare gave Derbyshire balance when he played. White, if we get him on a permanent deal, will do likewise.

What about Chesney Hughes?

He is another who is contracted. Chesney has lots of talent but it isn't translating to runs. I know he got 178 last week against a poor Nottinghamshire second team attack, but that doesn't really prove anything.

I would dearly love to see Chesney in prime form in the Derbyshire side, because at his best he is good to watch. With every month that passes, however, I feel it less likely to happen.

And what about Gareth Cross?

He's a good player. You don't hold down a role in Lancashire's side for several years without being one, but he did little pre-season work and has played catch up ever since. His glove work has been tidy on the whole, with a few days, like yesterday, where the standard has slipped. His batting is better than statistics perhaps suggest, as he's given it away in the selfless pursuit of runs a few times.

It will depend on who else is available and the respective financial demands. I see Tom Poynton as number one next year, assuming full recovery from his injury, and whether we can justify the cost of another senior keeper is a moot point.

I have seen several references to our moving for Steven Davies of Surrey, but these have been from supporters and the reality is that he's another player contracted to the end of 2015.

Still, contracts seem only to protect the player and rarely the club.Wayne White is contracted at Lancashire and it looks like he could move here. So were Ross Whiteley and Dan Redfern. If we're not going to go with Cross, it has to be someone substantially better, or cheaper. Time will tell.

And finally - are we on the right path?

Undoubtedly. Off the field we have the structure and outstanding people. On it, we just need to get the right personnel. I doubt that Graeme Welch will sort his entire staff this winter, but I suspect that we will start next summer in a much stronger position than this one.

There have been plenty of encouraging signs from young players this year. A winter of hard work on their techniques and overall fitness can only see them improve.

Throw in new, key personnel and the future is bright.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire One-Day Cup

This one went the way that most people expected, although for a good part of the day Derbyshire competed well.

Indeed, the early spells by Ben Cotton and the opening one from Tony Palladino were of a very high standard. To win the game, we needed to get into the home side's long batting line-up early and we did that, Ben Cotton removing both openers with a good ball and a fingertip respectively.

After that, the class of James Taylor, in particular shone through. Samit Patel is a fine player. but there's always a chance he may over-reach and his running is on a par with that of Chesney Hughes. Taylor could have been run out twice, but was saved by his speed, but an appeal for lbw by David Wainwright looked very close and pad-bat, rather than the bat-pad that the umpire adjudged it to be.

The fielding was a curate's egg. Wayne Madsen did some brilliant work, especially at short extra, but there were some poor throws and careless work throughout. I'd have to say that Gareth Cross has had better days - he was vocal and kept people on their toes, but a wicket-keeper sets the tone and he missed and dropped more than his share today.

To chase 314 to win, we needed something special from someone and the ideal person would have been Wes Durston, a naturally quick scorer. He went early, however and the chase looked doomed to failure from that point.

Nottinghamshire are a fine side - an affluent club, let's not forget - and even though they were missing several players they were not going to let this one slip. We needed to beat our highest-ever successful run chase of 286 to win and it looked an unlikely prospect.

Billy Godleman batted well for a while but played on unluckily, while Wayne Madsen built a decent partnership with Marcus North but holed out to extra cover, ironically a position where he had done so well himself.

It left a mountain to climb. I never felt Marcus North was in prime form and he's not looked fully fit to me this summer, perhaps the reason for his lack of bowling. He grafted his way to a workmanlike half century, but Alex Hughes didn't last long and neither did Scott Elstone. Both were undone by the wiles of Samit Patel and Elstone, to be fair to him, went to a superb catch by Chris Read.

There were some trademark lusty blows from Gareth Cross and David Wainwright probably played more fluently and innovatively than anyone in merry partnerships with Ben Cotton and Mark Footitt, but Nottinghamshire ran out easy winners by 85 runs.

It showed that much remains to be done, but this is a work in progress and it starts to go through the gears in the close season. The team can be proud of their efforts in making this stage of the competition from the unfortunate way that we started it two points behind the other sides in the group.

There's an obvious target for next year - let's go at least one better.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Nottinghamshire v Derbyshire preview

It was the weekend that kept on giving...

We signed Cheteshwar Pujara, Derby County won, then we signed Wayne White and now I managed to get the day off tomorrow to see the quarter final against Nottinghamshire. Be still my beating heart!

If this is the standard of winter recruitment, it promises to be a fascinating one. That both signings have potential for something long term, according to Mark Eklid in the DET today, is massively encouraging. Both Pujara and White have points to prove and reputations to rebuild, both positive indicators when signing players.

Pujara has already shown his unquestioned ability on the sub continent, but struggled, with almost all of his team mates, to come to terms with English seam bowling at Test level. Then again, he won't be facing Broad and Anderson every week on the county circuit and three matches for us would help him maximise his undoubted potential.

As for Wayne White, he would be a terrific asset. I have advocated a move for him, not just since this time last season, but since he was first touted to leave Leicestershire. He may have done well financially from the move to Old Trafford, but career-wise it has been a disaster. He is too good a player to be in second team cricket and now has a gilt-edged opportunity to prove his worth in an environment that will appreciate what he has to offer.

I don't see him as a threat to the role of Alex Hughes in the side, to respond to one question from today, as they complement each other. Alex is at present a batsman who can bowl useful overs, whereas Wayne's bowling is perhaps the stronger of two very good suits. I'd reckon they would be excellent at six and seven in the order.

I think White will be the third seamer for the remaining games, to answer another question, and adds depth to the batting. I would love to have seen him in tomorrow's team, but I don't expect changes from last week's win against Gloucestershire.

Why should there be? It was a fine team performance and a repeat tomorrow might just see us spring a surprise. Nottinghamshire are missing both Alex Hales and Harry Gurney, key performers for them this year. They have plenty of other good players, but the bottom line is that we do too. If we can make early inroads into a long batting line up, then bowl and bat steadily, you never can tell.

One thing that is for sure is that our lads will be up for the game. I hope to see a performance tomorrow and if we compete and challenge, as we showed at Trent Bridge last season, they could crack.

Their squad:

 Michael Lumb, Steven Mullaney, James Taylor, Samit Patel, Riki Wessels, James Franklin, Chris Read, Sam Wood, Ajmal Shahzad, Luke Fletcher, Jake Ball, Brett Hutton

Bring it on boys!

Wayne White returns on loan to end of season

It's all happening at the County Ground...

News breaks this morning that Wayne White is returning to the County Ground on loan for the remainder of the season. He is available for the remaining four County Championship games, which, in the words of Graeme Welch, gives him a chance to showcase his talents.

The inference from this, of course, is that he would be available for a permanent deal should it go well and both clubs are able to come to an agreement regarding a release from his contract. White still has a year to go on his contract at Lancashire, but a player of his ability, age (28) and experience needs to be playing regular county cricket, not just odd games here and there.

He has been a standout performer for Swarkestone this summer, but that in itself is indicative of a lack of senior opportunity. Regular readers will know that I have previously advocated a move for the player and I am a big fan of his cricket and the way that he plays the game.

He is a naturally aggressive performer with bat and ball and offers genuine balance to a side in the middle order. This is a golden opportunity for him to kick start his career again and  I hope that he takes it. Both player and club would benefit if that happens.

I wish him well and am sure that supporters who have seen how well he did at Leicestershire will welcome him back with open arms.

More later, but that's a great way to start a new week!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Pujara signs in interesting county move

So the news that I picked up earlier on Cheteshwar Pujara turned out to be accurate. The Indian batsman has signed for the remainder of the championship campaign in a deal that ticks all the boxes as far as I am concerned.

There's little to dislike in a player whose first-class average is a shade under sixty. Granted, most of that experience has come in his own country, but it's still highly impressive. He will have a maximum of  eight first-class innings (which will make him long-serving compared to Chris Harris...) and should create a massive interest among the local ethnic community.

It is good to see the bonds built earlier in the season, for the visit of the Indian tourists, bearing fruit, though whether this was ever on the agenda at that stage is unlikely. I doubt that many anticipated the Indian batsmen struggling so badly with English conditions and it is to Pujara's great credit that he is the one player who is keen to do something about it.

Of course, he is not high on the IPL list and his future is very much planned around the Test itinerary, this despite a List A average of 53 and a highest score of 158. I wouldn't mind having a 'weak' one-day player like that in our side on a regular basis...

What  happens in the longer term is anyone's guess. It would be exciting, but perhaps fanciful, to imagine Pujara playing a longer spell with the county, but it is good to see us building bridges and  being a first pick for a world-class player ahead of other counties.

Supporters will undoubtedly enjoy Pujara. He is a classical batsman with a strong bottom hand, more Dravid than Sehwag, with an appetite for runs that we would all love to see sated at the County Ground in the coming weeks.

Full marks to Graeme Welch and Chris Grant, together with Simon Storey for making this happen.

The closing weeks of the season should be well worth a watch and both player and club should benefit from the association.