Sunday, 28 September 2014

No real surprises in club awards night

Mark Footitt was, as entirely expected, voted the Player of the Year at the club awards last night.

Wayne Madsen won the awards for the two one-day competitions, in which he batted splendidly, while Ben Slater deservedly took the award for most improved player. After the summer he has had, few could have been surprised.

Greg Cork was second eleven player of the year for some fine displays with bat and ball, while the highly talented Will Davis was the Academy equivalent.

There were also two awards each for Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein, doing their bit for the wicket-keeping brethren, while Footitt also won the LV County Championship player of the season award to complete a memorable evening.

Finally this year's recipient of the Spirit of Cricket Derbyshire award was Billy Godleman, for accepting with good grace the decision that saw him given out on 96 against Gloucestershire in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

If I'm honest - and I always am - then there should be one extra award - and that goes to Chris Airey, writer on the club website.

In describing the above decision as 'contentious' he wins the inaugural Peakfan "Restraint in the Call of Duty" award for diplomatic phrasing. No trophy, I'm afraid...just the kudos of a job well done.

I think a more apposite word was "appalling."

Billy and Chris - I salute you both.

Season Review - Derbyshire County Cricket Club

At the start of the summer, I wrote that it was important for supporters to give Graeme Welch and his coaching staff time. Roles that only began in the new year needed time to embed and there was a need for players and coaches to get to know one another.

That was always going to be the case, but early season events conspired against the coaching team. The loss of Tom Poynton in a car crash that ended his season and caused the death of his father was one that affected everyone, irrespective of the support mechanisms put in place. So too did the loss of Peter Burgoyne and Richard Johnson to stress-related issues that saw them leave the club. A short notice replacement wicket-keeper had to be brought in and Gareth Cross did as well as could have been expected in the circumstances. Yet the move necessitated using the funds for a second T20 overseas player, which impacted on the next stage of the season.

The first half of the summer was horrid from a fan's perspective and positivity was difficult. Yet we could well have won the season opener, but for a world-class innings from the current England captain on a rare county outing. That may have kick-started the season, but there followed a series of anaemic performances that bore no relation to the talent within the squad.

The T20 campaign was likewise awful, but again the side hinted at the ability by beating Warwickshire, who went on to take the trophy. Games were lost by poor use of the batting power play, by insufficient mastery of the requisite bowling skill-sets and by leaving bowlers on for too long, too often. Success in T20 comes down to scoring well in the first six overs, then building on it, followed by short, sharp one-over spells for bowlers, so batsmen don't get their range. We didn't do that and results were disappointing, yet again.

Yet the tour game against India marked a watershed. Young players came in and added enthusiasm, together with high levels of skill and the second half of the summer saw a different side. The Royal London One-Day Cup was marked with some excellent performances and progress to the quarter-finals, reward for fine cricket. We were effectively beaten by James Taylor, another batsman of international pedigree, who showed his worth in an innings of some brilliance that took the game away from us, though supporters could take heart from a battling display.

Meanwhile, the county championship season was turned around by a series of displays in which the words 'dominating' and 'ruthless' could be applied to Derbyshire cricket for the first time in a long while. Having the fastest bowler in the country helped and Mark Footitt blew away sides time after time with a series of superb and hostile performances. He deserves the utmost credit for turning around an injury-plagued career and earning Lions recognition this winter - as of course do the fitness and physiotherapy team that kept him going through a long season.

He was well supported by a seam attack which, by season end, had extraordinary depth and potential. While the departure of Tim Groenewald was criticised by some supporters at the time, by season end he had largely been forgotten, as Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton and Greg Cork emerged to show real promise in their fledgling displays. With Johny Marsden and Will Davis behind them, the seam attack looks set for a golden era. The admirable Tony Palladino continued to offer good value with bat and ball, while Wayne White came in on loan and suggested he would be an excellent addition for next summer if he can be signed on a permanent deal.

There remain concerns over the spin bowling, with Wes Durston's occasional off-spin doing far better than the slows of David Wainwright as specialist spinner. There is scope for Tom Knight to emerge as first-choice spinner next year, if the winter re-model of his action proves effective. His batting developed remarkably this year and he could be a special, all-round player if his work ethic is strong enough.

The batting was fragile at the start of the summer but picked up well. Credit has to be given to the coaching staff, as well as the players themselves, for turning around the careers of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston. The former emerged as a solid opener with a good range of shots when set, while Durston turned the clock back to his glory days with some scintillating displays, together with handy off-spin that often got wickets when most required.

Ben Slater came through to suggest we have at last found an opening batsman who could last us for years, while Alex Hughes showed enough with bat and ball to suggest he will be a real asset . Both will be better known next year, but I am confident in both of their futures if they work at their games. The difference in the bowling of the latter, between the start and end of the season, was marked, while Slater simply looked like he belonged at first-class level.

Shiv Chanderpaul was solid, without perhaps the aggregates of his pomp, but his influence on young players cannot be underestimated. However, his replacement, Marcus North, failed. There was a blistering T20 knock at Leicester in defeat, but he never looked fully fit to me. While the rationale of his recruitment as an experienced international batsman was clear, the glory days appeared behind a worthy cricketer and it simply didn't work in any format.

Nor did the signing of Gaz Cross, who played a few T20 cameos but little of substance, while his wicket-keeping swayed between competent and sloppy. In late season, supporters were given another taste of things to come when Harvey Hosein made the team, after finishing school. The youngster appears to have soft hands and takes a ball well, but his exemplary footwork makes awkward catches routine. His batting also impressed and he appears to have a very bright future. He will doubtless push the sorely-missed Tom Poynton all the way next year.

In the second half of the summer, Derbyshire earned around forty points more than the next best county. Such form over the full season would have seen them ease to promotion. Replication next summer will make them the team to beat and we proved ourselves a match for any in the division.

If we can recruit the impressive Cheteshwar Pujara for 2015, or as much of it as international commitments allow, we will take some stopping. While there are still some players on the staff with points to prove, we ended the summer able to field a side that had all made positive strides forward during the year, the first time that could be said  in a long time.

Wayne Madsen did a fine job as skipper. He seemed to learn a lot in the one-day role as the season progressed and remained the lynchpin of the batting in all formats. He is also an admirable figurehead and role model for the club and it continues to be a pleasure to watch him bat. Whether he can continue to captain in all competitions is a question only he can answer, as the demands are high, but he is a massive asset to our club.

Graeme Welch came with a strong reputation that had been enhanced at the end of the season. He knows that expectations will be higher next summer, but he has elevated and accelerated young talent and been rewarded. While some of the events of the summer represented a baptism of fire, he came through brilliantly and showed himself the right man for the job, unafraid to make tough decisions. Anyone watching the intensity of pre-match fielding sessions and the team spirit of the side in the closing months will be aware that we are on the right track and that 2015 could, with the right additions to the squad, be special.

As supporters, we can be enthused and must continue to encourage. The club is in excellent shape and the exciting off-field plans are indicative of a club that is extremely well run, on and off the field. As long as no one does something silly to rock the boat, we are well set for a very bright future.

Well done to all many sleeps is it till April?

Picture taken as I left the 3AAA County Ground after the Leicestershire win. The one at the top in mid-summer.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Strange, but true..

On my way to the cricket yesterday, I stopped at Morrisons garage near the ground to get some fuel.

As I was filling up (the car, I wasn't emotional at the thought of being at the cricket again..) I looked across the forecourt and saw an unmistakable face across from me.

'Twas Gregory Cork with his motor, a modest but nice set of wheels and a personalised number plate to boot. It struck me that it was the first time in all my years that I had seen a Derbyshire player out of context - i.e. away from the ground.

I've met celebrities in unusual places before. I once met American country music star Marty Stuart outside Marks and Spencer in Glasgow (he was playing there that night, he hadn't taken a wrong turn...) and I also bumped into - literally - the actress, Greta Scacchi in WH Smith. We had a lengthy conversation, something along the lines of:

Me - "Oh, I'm sorry.."

Her - smiling...remember that - "It's alright."

I'm sure she fell for my debonair charms, but then she was gone from my life forever. But she smiled at me and I remind my wife of that whenever we've seen her in films subsequently. Usually White Mischief, in which she played a part where she was gorgeous. And also naked for much of the time.

I didn't get a chance to chat to Greg, but the portents were good as I went into the ground and had a look at the newspaper. I was surprised by something that I read.

Sam Kelsall released by Nottinghamshire.

Really? I subsequently heard from a couple of contacts on the dark side (I jest, lads...) who told me that their club were planning to sign Will Root, brother of Joe, who had a fine season for their second team. Kelsall was apparently sacrificed so they could engage Root. Even moneybags Nottinghamshire have to balance the books...hold the front page!

It set me thinking though. Kelsall, a diminutive batsman of similar stature to James Taylor, came through the same, excellent Staffordshire system that has seen us benefit from Alex Hughes, Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor in recent times. He will be well-known to our club and its coaching staff and would be of value as an option in the opening berths.

While Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes have been one-day options, neither are really four-day openers. Kelsall could be. He averaged over forty for Nottinghamshire in the second eleven championship; over fifty in the one-day competition. While we have plenty of middle-order competition for next year, we don't at the top of the order. He is the right age (21) and right ability for us and, while I can see interest from around the circuit in such a player (er...Leicestershire for one) he would surely be attracted to an opportunity to join Welch's wonders. Crucially, he should also be affordable.

I have no idea if he fits the bill for Graeme Welch, but he seems a better fit, at least to me, for where we are going than someone like Stephen Peters or Matt Pardoe, released by Northamptonshire and Worcestershire respectively.

And if he turned out as well as Mark Footitt - we'd not complain, would we? Something to think on, over the weekend.

Enjoy yours. Tomorrow I drive back to bonnie Scotland.

Maybe I will see Greta again...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 3

Derbyshire beat Leicestershire by over 400 runs today. Or was it 4000? Either way, we destroyed them. It was ruthless, purposeful cricket of a kind I have seldom seen from a Derbyshire side and a heartening way to go into the winter months.

It was another memorable day. Ben Slater (left) duly completed his second century of the match to join a small and select band to have done so, while also cementing a solid-looking average of 46 for the summer. Onwards and upwards for young Ben, I think.

He was a little edgy as the century approached and survived a loud appeal for caught behind on 99, but the century came from an edge to third man and the relief washed over the ground.

Then we were treated to a century of sublime quality by Cheteshwar Pujara, who only lifted the ball once (for six, over mid-wicket) and played a range of shots that hasn't been seen in these parts since the halcyon days of Azharuddin.

It was wonderful. There were rapier-like cuts, on drives full of wristy, eastern promise, pulls that reached the fence before anyone moved...and the cover so perfectly bisected the two fielders that he could scarce have done better had he used a protractor before playing it. Another was a thing of such beauty that people around me gasped. It was a privilege to see such a player in our colours.

He stays admirably still at the crease and the only movement is a tap, then another of the bat. Pujara has so much time and when he decides the ball is fractionally short, or wide, or over-pitched he dismisses it from his presence with a flourish. The field was moved to plug gaps, yet the next shot went to where the man was moved from. A century looked likely from the moment he took guard and when it came it was to a standing ovation. If we can get him for next summer there is such a treat in store.

Wes Durston played an extraordinary innings and hit eight fours in his forty. His timing was as crisp as ever and he even played a 'draw' stroke that was popular in Edwardian times at one point, playing the ball to square leg under a raised front leg to the bemusement and amusement of the opposition and crowd simultaneously. Anyone watching could have handled another half an hour of Wes and 'Puj' in full flight.

Yet when Leicestershire batted it was a different game. They are a club in crisis and it showed, though nothing should be taken from Derbyshire. The Footitt flyer ran in from the City end and simply blew them away. Greg Smith was bowled by one that sent a stump cartwheeling and he was simply too fast for them. Dan Redfern was leg before to complete a miserable return and the visitors showed little stomach for a fight.

Later, when I got home, I found that the BBC Sports team had announced their County Championship team of the year and Footitt wasn't in it. Seriously, these people are paid as experts?  He'd be in mine as one of the first names on the list.

The Derbyshire pace attack was impressive and backed up by a field in which Harvey Hosein again impressed. He made several awkward takes look easy and his footwork is so good that he takes balls down leg side without the need to dive that earns applause from supporters. Those in the know appreciate that good footwork negates the need to do that and Hosein has a very good future ahead of him.

One final point. The presence of hundreds of school children today added an atmosphere that I have not known before at Derby, especially for an end of season game. They were quite brilliant, chanting "Derby" and cheering every run, especially by Pujara. The club is to be congratulated on the signing and the links they have fostered with the community. I hope that they strengthen next season.

An end of season round up will come over the weekend, but Derbyshire have made great strides this summer, after a slow start. Back them and we are set for a fine future, on and off the field.

In closing, thanks to everyone whose company I shared and thoroughly enjoyed today. Your chat made a great day even better and I look forward to seeing you all again next summer - and hearing from you over the winter.

Postscript - I stood next to Ben Cotton, chatting this evening after the crikey, he's big! In Scotland they call things smaller than him mountains...

Tom Knight signs new deal

After witnessing a dominating performance by Derbyshire yesterday, news comes this morning that all-rounder Tom Knight has signed a new one-year deal.

It is gratifying news. While Tom has hardly featured as a bowler this year and his action is in the process of being remodelled, his batting has come on remarkably and there have been several explosive innings at all levels of the game.

The player is a game-changer with the bat and I assume that the award of only a one-year deal, rather than the two offered to other players, recognises that his bowling is a work in progress. Coaches wouldn't tinker with a bowler's action unless they had identified a flaw that would prevent that player getting good players out. I can only assume that while Knight was a bowler capable of controlled spells in one-day cricket, a change to his action may result in his being a match-winning bowler in the longer game. Such a move earlier in his career may have worked wonders with Jake Needham, always a good one-day bowler but less able to take advantage of friendly tracks where he needed to bowl sides out.

I will await news of his winter work with interest.

Knight at his best would be a potent addition to any Derbyshire side.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 2

I walked to my car in the Gateway car park tonight and put on my sun glasses. Not just because of the glorious, late evening sunshine, though it was an extraordinary day for late September, but for witnessing a Derbyshire performance of utter dominance. Bright future? You gotta wear shades, my friends...

If this was a boxing match, it would have been stopped at tea. Quite honestly, the Derbyshire side I saw today look the best side in the division and may well have been promoted had their run started a little earlier.

The side bowled with purpose and fielded with an intensity that was refreshing to see. A fine opening attack of Footitt and Palladino was backed up by an equally impressive back up in White and Cotton. Alex Hughes also bowled well and the side caught impressively.

Footitt celebrated his call up to England Lions camp with some deliveries of searing pace, while Palladino bowled beautifully and completely outfoxed Dan Redfern with a fine delivery that saw a stump cartwheeling. It wasn't the happiest of returns for Redfern and a side that looked short of talent and spirit.

Ben Cotton impresses me more with every viewing and his batting namesake Mr Slater looks totally at home at this level. I also thought Harvey Hosein a keeper of remarkable talent.

I reckon we will bat till mid afternoon tomorrow then set Leicestershire a notional 450-odd to win.
They'll not get close. Not playing this sort of cricket.

A poor opposition notwithstanding, if we play like this next season we will be promoted. Simple as that.

More of the same tomorrow lads...I look forward to it immensely. A second ton for Slats and a viewing of Pujara  will suit me nicely...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 1

Perhaps Derbyshire would have preferred to bowl first today, but after losing the toss against Leicestershire, they will be pleased with a final total of 289, especially when the visitors were two down for twenty-five by the close.

I'm not convinced that this one will run until day four, so my cricket-watching on this short family break will likely be truncated. Still, if the summer ends with a home win, few will complain.

Many congratulations go tonight to Ben Slater (pictured), who scored his maiden century for the club. It was an innings that dug us out of a hole and was well-deserved. Young Ben has perhaps snuck under the radar a little in the analysis of our bright young things, but, as Sir Geoffrey Boycott may have said on more than one occasion, "roons are roons." No matter that he will face better attacks in his career, he will always remember a first ton and those runs look the same in the scorebook, no matter who was bowling.

In the process his season average eased north of forty. Any batsman would be pleased with such a return and I am delighted for the lad and his family. It was the ideal way to celebrate the award of a new two-year contract today and I am sure that we will celebrate plenty more centuries in the summers that lie ahead.

The rest of the batting was sketchy. Cheteshwar Pujara found himself on the end of a dismissal that ranks either as unlucky or careless, depending on your viewpoint, while Wes seemed to be going like a train when he went somewhat off-track and hit the ball down the throat of deep mid-wicket. A century seemed there for the taking and he will be disappointed to miss out.

There were a few late blows from Tony Palladino and Ben Cotton, the former expected now, the latter seeming to have a fair bit to offer with the bat, but we might have hoped for 300 at least from 186-3, the total when Wes departed.

I think Alex Hughes is ready for a break after a long first season and Wayne White needs to work on his batting over the winter to restore his game to the genuine all-rounder status it was in his Leicestershire days.

Yet further congratulations were due in the evening gloom as Mark Footitt took his hundredth wicket of the summer in all competitions. There are hardly the adjectives to describe Mark's efforts this summer, especially when one considers the number of games he has played in comparison to his earlier career.

A second wicket for Tony Palladino before the close saw Leicestershire in some trouble at 25-2 by the close.

All things being equal, our trip down south should see me at the County Ground to see their position deteriorate tomorrow.

Not a vintage day for Derbyshire by any means, but a memorable one for Ben Slater and Mark Footitt - and we're currently in the box seat.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire preview

For the last time this summer, a match preview, before the long winter nights draw in and we have to make do with anticipatory thoughts of next year.

And nice thoughts they are, too, based on Derbyshire's late season form. In one and four-day cricket we played well, nay, brilliantly at times and looked as good a team as there is in the division in the long game.

There's an unchanged squad for the visit of Leicestershire, a club that hasn't had far to look for problems. An awful season has been compounded by the recent loss of Buck to Lancashire, Cobb to Northamptonshire and, of course, Shiv Thakor to us. While they still have some decent players, the drain of talent from the club must be galling to supporters and administrators alike and a major influx of fresh talent is needed during the close season.

They have two former Derbyshire players in their squad, Dan Redfern and Atif Sheikh. Both had times at the County Ground when they seemed ripe with potential, but it was never truly realised. They will have points to prove tomorrow, but an inexperienced side shouldn't really stand in the way of the Derbyshire juggernaut.

That squad is:

Smith, Robson, Eckersley, Redfern, Pinner, Boyce, O'Brien, Wells, Taylor, Raine, Sykes, Shreck, Sheikh

As for Derbyshire, I don't expect many changes from The Oval. Tom Taylor may come in for a final game of the summer, but Wayne White should play and Mark Footitt definitely will, when he is one wicket short of a hundred in all competitions.

I look forward to seeing play on the last three days, always assuming that play continues into Friday. The forecast is nothing  to worry about and I fully expect to finish the summer in style.

It is the least that recent form deserves.

Fourth place beckons, as long a we remain focused. And after the start to the summer, that is quite an achievement.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ground development plans get go ahead

The granting of planning permission for development work at the  3AAA County Ground is welcome and further proof of the increased professionalism at the club.

The current Gateway Centre is set to be renovated into a state-of-the-art cricket centre of excellence and pavilion, while the Lund Pavilion will be developed to provide better facilities for members and corporate customers.

It is part of a bigger plan to transform the ground over the next few years as funding becomes available and will help the club immensely as they strive for facilities that will enable them to attract the best players to join.

As Simon Storey said in his presentation at the ground during the last home match, the current facilities are fairly modest and even the most ardent supporter would struggle to generate a 'Wow' as they enter the Gateway Centre. It is functional, for sure, but hardly a true reflection of twenty-first century architecture at its finest, or most innovative.

Most supporters will reserve excitement for the signing of new players, but this, in its own way, is a reflection of the club's continued improvement. On and off the pitch we are moving in the right direction and it is good to see.

Can't wait for the Leicestershire game!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Thursday thoughts

This time tomorrow, I could quite easily be posting this blog from a foreign country, depending on the result of today's referendum of the Scottish people on independence...

Time will tell on that one, but I couldn't allow the week to pass without recognising the ongoing genius of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

He's not been dismissed in the current series against Bangladesh, after unbeaten scores of 84, 85 and 101. Only Donald Bradman in cricket history averages more in Test cricket after his 38th birthday than Shiv, whose powers of concentration remain undiminished. He is now just 289 runs behind Brian Lara in the West Indies batting pantheon, a total that he could easily pass in the coming months.

What next? Could we yet see him back in Derbyshire colours?

It all depends on the player. There is an option for him to have a third season at Derbyshire and while that could be taken up with him as overseas player, I think it unlikely. The 2015 English summer schedule for the West Indies is congested and Shiv would make a very small contribution in terms of availability, should he opt to stay in the international game. I also think that Cheteshwar Pujara will be the number one target, a player more likely to be available for the majority of the campaign.

But what if Shiv retired from international cricket on passing the Lara record?

If he reaches 12,000 Test runs, which seems likely, it is a record likely to stand for some time, especially given the current paucity of West Indian batting. Maybe he could push the total closer to 13,000, but I think him likely to be a man who goes on his own terms, quitting while he is ahead of the game, rather than having an enforced retirement, courtesy of the Caribbean cricket selectors.

I just wonder if Chanderpaul could be prevailed upon to return for at least one more summer as a Kolpak batsman. While we have a good number of options in the batting ranks. might the opportunity to have one of the world's greats be too good to resist? I've spoken to Derbyshire players who have told me of his influence, how he talks them through innings and how his attitude to practice is exemplary, especially for young players.

While acknowledging that a Kolpak presence takes up a space that could otherwise be taken by a young local player, there's a considerable difference between Chanderpaul and the common and garden Kolpak.

We don't know how much a permanent deal for Pujara or Wayne White may cost, nor of any change to the contracts of current players. But if we could still afford a T20 specialist afterwards, the appeal of a middle order of Madsen, Pujara and Chanderpaul is considerable.

We might need to start playing twelve-a-side to fit them all in...