Sunday, 1 February 2015

Weekend warmer - Rhodes and Jackson achievement should be recognised

It has been a fairly quiet week for on field activities at Derbyshire, so perhaps this is the time to comment on one or two off field things.

The building refurbishment seems to be going well and the regular updates from the club have been both welcome and impressive. Everything seems to be on schedule for the season, which is heartening for players and supporters alike. I cannot wait to see the new facilities at the start of the summer, which promises to be even more exciting than usual.

The week brought news of a new job for Tom Holdcroft, the club's Media and Marketing manager, who is set to move to Nottinghamshire as Media and Communications Manager. It is a great opportunity for him and one that is fully deserved. In eight seasons at Derbyshire he has dragged the club's off-field activities into the 21st century and done a fantastic job.

When I think back to the club's website, communications and image at that time, there is no comparison to today. Tom deserves full credit for a job well done and will take some replacing. I would like to thank him for the help that he has given me over the years and wish him all the best in his new role. It is a shame that it's on the dark side, of course, but in life you go where the opportunities are.

He will do well, though I hope he's reporting on the wrong side of results when our two teams meet!

Finally today, it is a year for anniversaries. We had the recognition of Winston Churchill's death and it's fifty year anniversary last week. It is seventy years since the end of World War Two and also fifty years since something quite extraordinary happened in Derbyshire cricket.

In 1965, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson were first and second in the national bowling averages. I am no statistician (and if anyone can prove me wrong please get in touch), but understand that this is the only occasion this happened in the history of English county cricket. It is certainly unique for Derbyshire and I hope that it is marked by the club at some point during the coming season.

I will certainly do a piece on it during the coming months, because the efforts of the two that summer were quite extraordinary. Rhodes, now 78, took 119 wickets at eleven runs each, while Jackson, now 81, took 120 wickets at just over twelve runs each.

When one considers that behind them in third, fourth and fifth place were Brian Statham, Tom Cartwright and Fred Trueman, the magnitude of the achievement becomes clear.

While celebrating the promise of the present and anticipating that to come, I feel it is very important that Harold and Brian are recognised for their efforts fifty years ago during this summer. Both were outstanding bowlers and would have been so at any stage in the game's evolution. They would be worth a fortune in the modern game and we are fortunate to have them still with us to celebrate those achievements.

I hope that such recognition is forthcoming and look forward to reporting on it in due course.

More from me in the week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

An Interview with Alan Hill part 2

You started playing for Derbyshire juniors in 1965. How did that come about?

It is quite an outpost in the peak – our house was forty-five miles from Derby and eighteen from Old Trafford. I came down for a school trial and got picked up from there. Denis Smith was the coach and I had my trial under his very watchful eye. Bernard had been here, which helped, but I progressed to play for the County Colts, initially under the captaincy of Tony Borrington.

He was a year older than me and I took over from him as skipper when he became too old for the age group.

What was life like for a budding young cricketer then, compared to today?

The place was much different then. The County Ground was pretty ramshackle, but we had some good lads who just wanted to play the game. The facilities were largely peripheral to us and, although it bred some humour in the dressing room, we knew our place in the scheme of things and it gave us a good grounding in the game.

It is better now, because youngsters are more readily accepted and they can be assimilated into the team more easily. But it toughened you up. Denis Smith was a gruff old coach, but his bark was worse than his bite. He could be blunt, but he had played the game and knew all of its pitfalls. If you had a bad day he would empathise with you, as long as he could see that you were putting the effort in.

Denis taught me things, long before the days of videos and statistical analysis and I still use them when I coach. If you study top professional cricketers, perhaps the most important thing is balance. When I wasn't playing well, I started to fall over to the off side and got out leg-before wicket.

He came up to me in the nets during such a trot and said, in his broad Derbyshire accent “Ey up...when tha walks down street, what position is tha head in?” I was baffled and showed him that you walked like this (mimics).

“Exactly” he said. “Now try doin' it with tha head to one side.”

I couldn't do it and it showed perfectly where I was going wrong. He also taught me that when you drive the ball and drag your back foot to do so, you should drag on your big toe. It keeps your shoulders and hips side on and a few players tend to get opened up by not doing that. It's the same for bowlers – if they're balanced at release, they will generally bowl good lines, while those who arch away tend to over-compensate and are more erratic.

Did you always open the batting?

Yes. Occasionally I would drop down to three and if I was out of form I dropped down the order, but by and large I opened throughout my career. 

You joined the Derbyshire staff in 1970. Was that a big moment, or did you see it as just the start of things?

No, it was a starting point. You have to work your way up the ladder. I remember when I got my cap and we were playing Lancashire, little Harry Pilling came up to me and said well done, then told me I'd done the easy bit!

It had taken me seven or eight years, but Harry said that the hardest thing was to stay there, having reached the standard. David Steele used to say that it didn't matter how many runs you scored the previous summer, you started a new one with nought against your name. The really good players achieve consistency, whereas the mere mortals have to endure the bad trots.

To be continued...

Interesting news and topical comment

Randomly browsing the internet last night, as is my wont, I came across an interesting piece by Mark Eklid in the Derby Telegraph. Apparently Graeme Welch is looking for a 'death' bowler for the T20, something about which we are in strong agreement.

Look back to last year's competition and we racked up some impressive scores, but we lacked a bowler of experience and 'nous' to close up one end for us. A Charl Langeveldt if you will, who showed the savvy of his many years in the first-class game by canny bowling at a time when the batsmen were trying to hit him into a neighbouring county. They rarely managed it, as he hit a length with remarkable accuracy, whether that length was short, in the block hole or a wider yorker. He was as good an exponent of the art - which it is - as anyone I have seen. No wonder he has been recruited to South Africa's bowling coach ranks.

I wrote recently of watching the Australian Big Bash and while the batting for me lacked something during the tournament, what did impress me was some of the bowling. Last Sunday I watched one of the most remarkable final overs I can recall, as Clint McKay bowled a maiden. Not only that, but the poor batsman didn't connect with a single ball, utterly bamboozled by a clever bowler who appeared to have more variants of a slow ball than most of us ever knew existed. It was very smart bowling by an experienced and clever pro.

Likewise Brad Hogg remains a joy to watch, not just for his skill in bowling left arm chinamen and wrong 'uns, but for his sheer, unadulterated joy of playing cricket. One gets the impression that every day on the field is something that he celebrates as if it is his last, which at 43 I guess it could be. Hogg gives hope to aging cricketers everywhere and his introduction to the attack always brings a 'buzz' to the crowd who are rarely let down. If only all cricketers played with a smile on their face! I know it's a job and it can be tough at times, but for no other reason than he seems to love what he does, Hogg is one of my favourite cricketers.

It would be great if we could get such a bowler and I am sure that Graeme Welch has plenty of options. There were several very talented Aussies in the Big Bash, while there may be others, certainly in South Africa, who could equally do a steady job.

Speaking of bowlers and I was surprised to see David Wainwright selected for the spinning role in the club's fantasy side of the 21st century. Of course he is a good player, but so was Ant Botha and for me there was little between them.

Yet both were lesser bowlers than Robin Peterson, who showed himself a very good one in all forms of the game in his season at the club. Let's face it, he has played international cricket with some success too, so it was a surprise to see him overlooked, even before the merits of each as a batsman are considered. Maybe there was a little ill-feeling at his being perceived to use us as a stepping stone back to international cricket and relinquishing his Kolpak status as quickly as he accepted it. Mind you, he was neither the first and won't be the last to do that, so it shouldn't have affected things.

Still, we all have opinions, so here's my call on the seamers - keeping in mind we are choosing them for first-class cricket. There is some good competition in this category, but I'll go with Langeveldt, Welch and Footitt.

Why? Because they cover all the bases. Combine the respective abilities of the three and you have the perfect bowler. Line, length, movement, pace, common sense and something for any wicket you come up against.

I'd have loved to include the others, especially Kevin Dean, but this is tough company and tough decisions need to be made...

More from me soon.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Blog reaches 750,000 landmark

Sometime tonight, the blog will pass three-quarters of a million views.

There's not much I can say apart from 'thank you' to everyone who keeps checking in. My apologies for things slowing down a little in recent weeks, but normal service should be resumed from here.

I'm pleased that the landmark will arrive on the day that we re-signed Martin Guptill, which makes it all the more memorable and hope that the coming months mark a fantastic season for Derbyshire, as well as for the blog. At the recent rate of summer usage, hitting the million mark this calendar year is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Thanks also to those who come to the blog through Sportskeeda, where more than half a million hits have been registered. If you enjoy the blog, please tell your friends and encourage them to get involved, to read and to comment.

Special thanks to the sponsors over the last few years and especially to Office Care, whose support has meant a great deal and for me took the 'look' of the blog to a new level of professionalism for which I am very grateful.

Back soon!

Guptill signing lays down a marker

If such action was required, the signing of Martin Guptill for the start of the 2015 county season has emphasised that Derbyshire mean business.

The tall Kiwi was one of the most popular of overseas players in his previous stint in county colours. He was one of the boys, friendly, approachable and very aware of the responsibility of his role. He took it seriously and set standards in the field, off the field and in his attitude with the bat.

The bottom line is simple. Guptill has swagger, in the nicest sense of the word. He goes out to dominate and to impose himself on the opposition. That self-confidence and self-belief rubs off on his colleagues.

It did in 2012. For all that we have enjoyed some fine overseas players over the years, I don't recall many who announced their credentials by smacking the overseas professional of the opposition into the middle distance, as Guptill did to Chaminda Vaaas in that season's opening fixture. It was a stroke that belied the cold and the fact that it was the first arctic game of the summer; one that said 'Here I am and this is what I can do'.

Which was pretty much what he kept on doing. His approach to the art of batting was such that failures were always likely. Occasionally the desire to dominate cost him when he went for his shots too early, but when it came off, as it frequently did, it was magnificent. His approach was diametrically opposed to that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for who occupation of the crease was of paramount importance, but the averages didn't lie. Guptill averaged a shade under 50 in the first-class game in 2012 and an impressive 70 in one-day cricket, when his assaults  - no other word will do - on the bowling made for some memorable cricket.

His effect on the side was considerable, though not just in his batting. There was the 'chirpiness' in the field, the voice heard encouraging his team mates on to greater efforts, to concentrate, to get the batsman out. There was also a wonderful pair of hands anywhere, speed over the ground and an example set. This wasn't an overseas player here to score a few runs on easier tracks and coast. He wanted to dominate and to contribute to success. He did that in spades.

Therein lies the issue. No one who has watched Martin Guptill in full flow will doubt his talent, but his Test average has slipped below thirty, his first-class average below that of the one-day game. He is 29 this year and has slipped out of the reckoning for Test cricket in a country that is getting together a formidable side. A good stint for Derbyshire would make all the difference ahead of a Test series in this country in mid-summer and that is a fine incentive if ever there was one.

Guptill carries on a lineage of opening 'dashers' that began with Arnold Hamer and continued equally memorably with Kim Barnett.  Both gave early impetus to an innings and there was an audible sigh of disappointment, of truncated enjoyment, when they went early. It is the same with Martin Guptill. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod as his opening partner, but both Ben Slater and Billy Godleman will enjoy batting with a player who always keeps the scoreboard moving. Guptill's early season partnerships with Paul Borrington were a major factor in the success of 2012 and the top order looks all the more impressive with him at its head.

His winter suggests that he is back into prime form after a period of injury and he has averaged just under 75 for Auckland, as well as producing some fine innings in the one day game.  Anything close to that sort of form will do us nicely and I am sure I'm not alone in anticipating that trademark drive back over the bowler's head, the follow through held nicely as the ball disappears over yonder sightscreen. Or the slog sweep that may well endanger those sat in front of the marquee, or walking behind it, for that matter. Batting from the other end, it might be an idea to check the insurance on the Lund Pavilion...there's a lot of glass there, well within his range.

All is well in the world, my friends. The Gup is back and things are boiling up nicely with a squad of rich potential.

Welcome home, Martin. It will be a delight to watch you once again.

Guptill returns for 2015

You read it right folks. The Gup is back...!

Martin Guptill will join up with Derbyshire for the first six weeks of the season, when he will play six County Championship and three T20 games.

It's a great start to the week, so good it inspired me to burst into song. Ahem....

Monday, Monday, so good to me
Marty Guptill's heading back to DCCC
Oh Marty Guptill, Marty Guptill almost guarantees
That come the season we'll be flying up the league...

With apologies to the Mamas and Papas and thanks to those at the club who made this happen.

More from me later.

Keeping up the musical theme, the boy is back in town.

Enjoy your Monday!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

It's all happening...there must be a season on the way!

As off-field events go, those of recent days mark a defining moment in the history of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

The reality is that in the next three years the 3aaa County Ground will change out of all recognition and undoubtedly for the better. The old ground was vast, cold and unwelcoming, while the current one has a certain charm though is somewhat rustic, featuring very obvious bits and pieces done at different stages when there was a little money to spare.

When it is complete, the new ground will bear little resemblance to the one that I photographed at the end of last season. Parts of it will be recognisable, but we will have facilities that are fit for purpose, that enable us to make money all year round, that offer function facilities second to none and make joining Derbyshire, from both a player and supporter perspective, a very attractive proposition.

It is exciting and should be seen as such by everyone. There will be those who like their little nook in a current place, but progress is important and the club is some way removed from the one that faced insolvency on several occasions in the not too distant past. As I wrote the other evening, all concerned deserve a big pat on the back for work of quite extraordinary magnitude.

Onwards and upwards...

Staying off the field, the latest 'recruit' to the 21st century fantasy side is James Pipe, one that I agree with one hundred per cent. I never got a chance to comment on this one due to other commitments, but for me it came down to a straight choice between Pipe and Luke Sutton. In another few years, there's every chance Tom Poynton could win such a vote, or Harvey Hosein perhaps, but Pipe was a very fine wicket-keeper batsman who is now an even better physiotherapist.

It boiled down quite simply for me - Pipe won matches for Derbyshire, while Luke Sutton saved us a few. The latter produced some gritty efforts in an average batting side, while James galvanised innings and pulled a win out of the fire on a number of occasions. If either Tom or Harvey can replace him adequately in the years ahead there will be few complaints.

Finally tonight, Mark Footitt has, apparently, not given up on his international aspirations and I can understand that after the Lions South African tour. Reports have suggested that the tour offered nothing new on either Liam Plunkett or Boyd Rankin, both of them strange selections when surely the purpose of such tours is to do just that?

Jonathan Trott scored heavily, but was always likely to as a class batsman, but of the bowlers only Mark Wood emerged with reputation enhanced. If the party made up the best of the supposed next tier of talent, then Footitt has a right to remain optimistic, especially if he starts the summer in good form. I still see his non-selection for South Africa as an opportunity missed, however.

Meanwhile, young South African batsman Theunis de Bruyn looks a likely international of the future after scoring 202 and 161 in his two innings. The youngster has a current List A average of 87 and first-class one of 60...hard to maintain but indicative of rare talent.

Indeed the winter has been good for the Saffers, as several players have emerged. Rilee Rossouw looks a good opening batsman, while Temba Bavuma has potential. I also like two all rounders I have seen, Chris Morris and David Wiese. Both bowl with decent pace and hostility, while hitting the ball a long way. I would be surprised if some of these players are not picked up by a discerning county in the next year or two.

I especially liked the look of Wiese, who handled a West Indian assault well. A player who scores his runs at 160 per hundred balls and bowls his overs at under eight, he would be an astute T20 signing for a county - assuming he fulfilled selection criteria. Such players are widespread in that country, with Johan Botha still proving himself a very good cricketer in the Australian Big Bash.

Botha is a modern cricketer and a good one. He has captained the Adelaide Strikers with flair to the semi-finals, his side finishing top of the group section, He has scored runs at 175 per hundred balls, finishing second in the averages in doing so, while bowling his overs for under seven runs each. He is a very good fielder and as such he can make a good career around the globe, even if he played no first-class cricket.

More from me soon.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

An interview with Alan Hill part 1

Alan Hill was a cricketer's cricketer, one perhaps best appreciated by the aficionados of the game, as well as his team-mates.

Not for him the flamboyant, twenty-ball fifty, that has made others of a more recent vintage wealthy beyond their dreams. Alan was more about the century duly completed just before the end of the day. An innings compiled at a steady 30, 30, 40 runs per session, as he built – no, crafted - an innings and ensured that his own side's total would give the bowlers something to work with.

In style, he was very much a man of the area of his birth. Rough hewn, like the High Peak itself and with nothing especially fancy, he followed in a tradition of obduracy that had been observed by most Derbyshire openers over the years. There were a few more flamboyant types, Arnold Hamer and Kim Barnett the most obvious, but others valued their wicket and lost it with the reluctance of a miser handing over a shilling to a charity box. Thus, Alan followed such names as Harry Storer, Albert Alderman, Charlie Elliott and Ian Hall into the Derbyshire cricketing pantheon. And on record he was better than all of them.

I watched him many times and I saw myself in him. He was so much better, of course, but as an opening batsman of similar, dare I say attritional style, I empathised with Alan. While others around me were, perhaps on occasion, wanting him to go early so that we could all enjoy the latest edition of the Wright and Kirsten show, I always enjoyed his battles with fast and seam bowling of a stature that had never been seen before in county cricket and never has been since.

Nor will it again, because of the congested international cricket calendar. Alan opened the Derbyshire batting against county sides where almost every team had a lightning quick overseas fast bowler. Sussex had the silky smooth Imran Khan AND the strapping Garth Le Roux to keep you hopping around at either end. There was no respite in such games, nowhere to hide. Only the brave survived.

There were the silky quicks, like Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee; the powerful ones, like Wayne Daniel, Mike Procter and Andy Roberts; the quick and sometimes erratic ones, like Greg Armstrong, Jeff Thomson and Colin Croft. Plus the downright nasty ones, like Sylvester Clarke. You needed to be alert, have a sound technique and be brave to tackle these bowlers. You had to be a good player to make consistent runs against them at the top of the order.

Alan Hill was just that. He scored over 12,000 runs at an average of 31, with eighteen centuries and sixty-five fifties. He also had four one-day centuries and a good number of half-centuries, to destroy the myth that he was a one-trick pony. He was the Derbyshire Boycott and we loved him for that. Let's face it, there are many worse names to be compared to.

He retired in 1986 at the age of just 36, having just scored 1400 runs in his most prolific season of many. Of course I was going to ask him about that, but I had plenty of other questions in my head. He was expecting one about the catch at Lords in 1981, and about the century he scored in South Africa without a single boundary, one of only two occasions that has ever been done at first-class level. But I hope a few of the others were different and gave him cause to think.

He was patient, friendly and accommodating as we sat by the tea room at Derby, talking while we watched Leicestershire wickets fall like the flakes of an early winter snow shower in the season's last game. I could see why his reputation as a coach is high and his insight into the mind of a professional cricketer was fascinating, as were his comments on the first-class game in what he rightly called the 'golden age' of county cricket.

It is hard to argue. He played while I watched the most liberal scattering of the world's greatest cricketers that the county game has ever known, or ever will know. You can watch the IPL now and see some of the world's best compacted into a twenty-over thrash. You could watch it then and see the greatest of batsmen craft centuries of sublime skill, while the finest of bowlers tried alternately to knock their heads off or get them out with bowling of rare cunning and technique. If you survived, there were plenty of quality spin bowlers out there too, so relaxation having seen off the new ball wasn't an option. It lasted all summer long.

Alan Hill played with and against these players and more than held his own. In the intervening period, when Derbyshire batting sides have on occasion shown the resilience of a papier mache house, I've heard people say many times that they'd give a lot to have another 'Bud' Hill in the line-up.

I've been one of them and it was a pleasure to spend time with one of my cricket heroes. Thanks go to him for his willingness to chat and I hope that what follows does him justice.

Alan, you were from Buxworth - tell me about your early life

I grew up in a cricket-mad family. My father loved his football, but he liked cricket too. He was a decent player and represented the Royal Navy, as well as being a good batsman for Buxworth over many seasons. He was the only rating to get into the navy side – the rest were all officers, so it was quite an achievement.

He gave me my competitive edge. He didn't like losing, though if it happened he took it with good grace, but he instilled in me the belief that you win if you can, but if you can't, stop the opposition from doing so, as there is honour in a draw. That got me through my professional career and I think it is a worthwhile attitude for any cricketer to have.

When did you get started on cricket?

Our house looked out onto the cricket and football field in the village and I spent 90% of my free time on that as a youngster. I spent hours outside with my older brother Bernard, who was on the Derbyshire staff for a year and also played professional football for Liverpool. The bulk of our practice was bowling and batting to one another, for hour after hour.

Modern ideas are that to be an elite cricketer you should have practised for around ten thousand hours – well, Bernard and I did that, on the road outside the house, using a sledge as a wicket and moving it if a car came up the road. We would be out every night after school, using a tennis ball and learning to play straight, as otherwise you were out quickly or lost time chasing it.

The great Garfield Sobers said that it was the best way to learn, as you need to play off the back foot and you don't get hurt – key factors for a budding player.

Ground news reward for outstanding efforts

The news of Derbyshire's success in gaining financial support from the City Council is a landmark in the club's history.

The council cabinet is to be asked, at its meeting on Wednesday, to approve a package of loans and grants that would guarantee the county club’s eligibility to apply to be one of six host cities of the prestigious Women's World Cup tournament in 2017 and allow it to press ahead with its own development plans.

It would include a £2m bridging loan so that a new media centre can be constructed next winter at the racecourse end of the 3aaa County Ground and a £410,000 loan from the council’s regeneration fund to cover the cost of buying the freehold of the Gateway Centre.

It is money spent ahead of ECB funding coming through and means that the club takes on short-term debt, but I have complete confidence in the people at the helm of our club and everyone else should have too.

We are no longer run by amateurs, well-meaning or otherwise and in a couple of years time the ground will be unrecognisable from today, let alone the stark, unwelcoming place that it was for so many years.

All involved behind the scenes are to be congratulated on their efforts in gaining support for improvements that can only make the club more attractive for functions and events, as well as ensuring that the Gateway Centre is used to maximum potential.

Wonderful news and here's hoping that the council do one of its finest sporting institutions proud.

Not much else to report today, but I was interested to read in the Derby Telegraph towards the end of the week that Chris Grant feels that a franchise cricket T20 competition could run alongside the existing club T20, as well as a fifty-over and County Championship competition.

If they can find a space in the calendar to do that I will be impressed and have no objections whatsoever. What I don't want to see is my love of Derbyshire cricket being diluted through one replacing the other.

I don't see myself going to such games, but the target audience is families, as it is with the BBL and IPL and I dare say there will be plenty of support for such a venture.

If it feeds down money to the club that I support, then it would be churlish to have objections, but I'd sooner watch Derbyshire, good and bad, rather than England, or a World XI taking on Mars...

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Fantasy middle order

The latest options for the Derbyshire Fantasy First-Class XI highlight the issues with such ventures.

The original idea was to select a side with two overseas players. Having picked Michael Di Venuto and Chris Rogers to open, those berths were already taken, thus rendering the overseas names to follow largely redundant.

I clarified this with the excellent people in the club's marketing team and got an immediate reply - there will be two sides named, one with two overseas players, and one with the players gaining the most votes.

Being an old-fashioned kind of dude, I am going with two overseas players and am quite happy with the ones I have in the side to open. I wouldn't have chosen anyone else over those two and in the paragraphs below I will tell you why.

Pretty much by definition, if you are bringing a player from the other side of the world, he should be better than you already have. If one assumes that a decent county player will average between 30 and 40 with the bat, I have an expectation that an overseas star should average 40 as a bare minimum and ideally over 50.

That's why Di Venuto and Rogers were such fine players. Although neither played in a strong Derbyshire batting side, they scored thousands of runs. The weight of the batting lay on their shoulders, but both seemed to thrive on the pressure, a mark of genuine talent and sense of responsibility.

If nothing else, the available options for the middle order confirm that, whatever else, Derbyshire have chosen overseas players fairly effectively. With only one domestically-reared player in the selection, it highlights some judicious recruitment, even if the results didn't always follow on from that.

I would have liked to see Chris Taylor among the options. I know he only played one full season with us, but in that summer he looked head and shoulders above most of his team mates as a batsman, in all forms of the game. Perhaps his lack of appearances counted against him, but Simon Katich is in there and only played thirteen first-class matches. That he was a fine player is beyond doubt, but I am going to go for players who made a more lasting impact on the county's fortunes.

My first is easy - Wayne Madsen. Watching the Derbyshire skipper grow as a county cricketer and as a captain has been a pleasure. He is a delightful and ever-improving batsman, as well as one of the nicest sportsmen it has been my pleasure to meet. I suspect his average will continue to climb and he will end his career as one of the very select number of genuine club legends. Enjoy watching him while we have him, as he is up there with the best in our history. A record of at least a fifty in every two matches that he has played is really something, especially after playing ninety games.

My second choice is Wes Durston. He can be a poor starter, his feet slow to get moving, but when Wes gets it right there are few better sights in the game. His stroke play can be imperious, dismissing the ball from his presence and he has played some spectacular innings. His forte is probably the one-day game, but as a game-changer with bat or ball, as well as a safe catcher anywhere, I would have Wes in my team every time.

My third choice is perhaps more contentious - Chris Bassano. He was a player I loved to see bat and his strokes were crisp and clean when he was in the groove. A naturally quick scorer, only his health issues with diabetes held Chris back from becoming a fixture in the county game. He would have had greater freedom to play those shots with such an opening pair and I would be more than happy with a top five of Rogers, Di Venuto, Madsen, Bassano and Durston.

The others? It is difficult to leave out the legend that is Chanderpaul, but his very best days were behind him when he played for us and I've already picked my two overseas stars and their records were better. Wavell Hinds could play but didn't score enough runs, while Travis Birt was a batsman of moods who found odd ways to be dismissed. Both were fine players when in the groove, but this is select company.

Run machine Simon Katich was a terrific player, but thirteen games isn't enough involvement in our history to get into my team, while Hassan Adnan was a mercurial talent. He had all the shots and time to play them, but only converted ten of 61 first-class scores in excess of fifty into centuries. He wasn't a great runner between the wickets either, so he misses out too.

I will be interested to see who other people select, but hopefully you appreciate my rationale and, for what it is worth, the quality of that top five.

Rogers, Di Venuto, Madsen, Bassano, Durston...yeah, I'd queue for tickets to see that batting side!