Friday, 2 October 2015

Good news time

One of the first bits of good news of the close season came today with news breaking that Matt Critchley has signed a two-year deal.

The youngster came from nowhere - be honest, few had heard of him pre-season - and produced a brilliant maiden century, two or three nice cameos and a couple of good bowling efforts. All this at the age of 18. Given that he is still years - perhaps as much as a decade - away from his peak, he now has the opportunity to work on his game and hone his skills.

Let's face it, leg spin is the toughest to master but he has time on his side, as does Tom Knight, who I expect will be announced for a new deal soon. Next year, the two will vie for the senior specialist role, though Wes will doubtless be lead spinner overall. I don't see a move for George Dockrell, as I was asked yesterday, because I think he will stay in the south and because Graeme Welch has already made his spin intentions clear.

Then comes news that Tom Taylor is one of six bowlers selected for the England Performance Programme, another sign that the work with the Academy is bearing fruit. I thought Taylor looked leggy towards the end of the season, but his potential is obvious. It's funny, the other day I was struck by how much my son's physique has changed, for the better, since he was 21 (he's now 24). Trips to the gym three times a week have seen him fill out and he has changed considerably from the willowy youth of just three years back. Similar physical development of our seamers in the next few years will doubtless see them all a few yards quicker, while their skills can only improve.

Well done to Tom and well done to Ben Cotton, for acknowledging the work ahead of the squad this winter. Taylor is a good bowler but there are others not too far behind him at Derbyshire, all of them capable of earning further recognition. They have an excellent group of coaches to work with and in Welch have one of the best seam bowling coaches around. If they listen and work, there's a clutch of talented bowlers who could go far.

Finally tonight, Graeme Welch acknowledges that Mark Footitt may yet stay with us, which is wonderful news. Replacing that quantity of wickets is a nigh-impossible task, but this is big decision time for Mark. He is perhaps at his peak, near the England squad, taking wickets and in prime fitness. Two years down the line and those stars may cease to be in alignment, so he needs to take his time and do what is best for him.

Sometimes though, as Greg Smith and Tim Groenewald have found, the grass isn't necessarily greener elsewhere. Smith may struggle for another county after being released by Essex, while Groeners did OK, but nothing more than that for Somerset. They may have earned a few quid more than they did at Derby, but has their career been prolonged? I'm not so sure...

More from me soon.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

David Aust wins Fantasy League

Congratulations to David Aust, who won the it by some considerable margin, and to Dean Doherty, whose two teams came second and third in the Fantasy League.

If both gentlemen can contact me with their address details, I will get their medals in the post.

David came 29th in the league overall, a terrific achievement.

Thanks to everyone who got involved!

Where do we go from here?

Any suggestions of where we go after a disappointing summer have to be qualified by the reality that resources are limited. We cannot move for every experienced player who comes on the market, one because we don't have the money and two because they don't guarantee results either, as evidenced this summer.

Significant money was spent on world-class players with a poor on-field return. While supporters will point to who Leicestershire are signing or have signed and ask 'why not us?' they were presumably deemed no better than what we have. Paul Horton averaged the same as Alex Hughes this year, Neil Dexter considerably less. Sometimes - a lot of the time -  we cast covetous glances in other directions without real justification for doing so.

James Vince, Jimmy Adams, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Rob Keogh, Alex Wakely, Hamish Marshall, Gareth Roderick, William Bragg, Ravi Bopara. How many of those would you say would improve our batting? Yet all, a few select names at random, aggregated no better than Chesney Hughes or Ben Slater and/or averaged less than Alex Hughes in the season just ended. Most supporters would leap at the chance of signing Bopara, yet he averaged 28 from 565 runs in 21 innings...

The feeling remains that we are light in the lower middle order, on both runs and experience. For me, this is a role that Wes Durston fills next season. Number seven, coming in to counter-attack when the bowlers are tiring and, hopefully, nursing the tail while offering a valid spin bowling option. As far as one could guess at this juncture, a first-choice side next year would look something like this:


The batting looks capable of runs with the two New Zealanders in there. Carter, if we keep him fit, WILL take fifty wickets and there is a reasonable depth to the side.

Yet there are many unknowns. Will Footitt stay? Will the young bowlers emerge at the rate we need? Will one of the wicket-keepers score 600 runs? Will people stay fit? Will there be any more signings?

I suspect we may not go overboard on signings. Hopefully a quality batsman for T20, but one who translates that talent into weight of runs. A Guptill, McCullum or Bailey would be nice, but everyone would chase them if available. Another experienced seamer maybe, but it was interesting listening to a revered football manager on the radio yesterday.

'How do you produce young footballers?' he was asked. 'Play them' was the quick reply. 'They need to play games, be in situations, make their mistakes and have their struggles. Then they will become players, if they are good enough.'

Sage words and equally relevant to cricket. Over the past six months, I have interviewed around twenty former and current Derbyshire stars for my second book, which should be out next year. One of my questions in our chats was 'at what age did you think you knew what you were doing as a first-class cricketer?'

The answer, in all cases, was between 26 and 30. That the ECB doesn't reward clubs for playing home-reared talent at that age runs the risk of some not getting there, but the message is clear. Perhaps expectations of returns from young players needs to be tempered in some quarters, because you cannot often fast track experience. Let's just say that I am more inclined to believe people who have been there and done it, than those who think they know the game.

Some are writing off young players because they 'haven't made it' after between forty and eighty first-class innings. Yet our player of the year, Billy Godleman, is now 26 and has hit the jackpot after 180 first-class knocks. Wayne Madsen has had 229, Wes Durston 184. They are our most consistent batsmen across the formats and there's a reason for that.

 Contrast that with Ben Slater, who averages 29 after just seventy innings, or Chesney who averages 31 after 105, even Alex Hughes who has still only had 43 knocks in the senior game, less than they used to have in a single season, back in the day.

It is the same for bowlers. Mark Footitt has bowled twelve thousand balls in the first-class game, Tony Palladino nineteen thousand. Tom Taylor has bowled two thousand, Cotton fifteen hundred. That's a lot of learning ahead and others are further back in the queue.

That is why we reap the rewards, because they have that experience, married with genuine talent. There will always be the especially precocious, but there aren't many Roots and Stokes out there. Even looking at their records at 24, they have 135 first-class knocks and have improved because of that exposure, coupled with the requisite talent and a desire to work hard.

Not all will make it. If three of our current crop become established county cricketers or more, we will have done well. Some will fade in the next couple of years and join the thousands of talented players who were 'nearly' there. Others will realise that the work required to realise their dreams has to start now, because there are opportunities for them if they are prepared to put the hours in.

Painful as it may be at times, we need to keep playing them. Enjoy their successes, be more tolerant of their failures and hope that they realise that to get to the stage where Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen or Mark Footitt are, they need to work their socks off and listen to their coaches.

If they have it - and people better qualified than any of us think that they do - then we will eventually reap the rewards.

Season review - the bowlers

When reviewing the bowling for the season, at least in the four-day game, it is effectively a case of 'Footitt and the rest'.

Mark bowled almost two hundred overs more than anyone else and stayed remarkably fit once more. He was not quite as destructive as twelve months before, but that was largely down to being used as shock and stock bowler. On his day he remained a handful and while an occasional delivery left the wicket-keeper with nowhere to go, his presence in the attack usually offered wickets.

Tony Palladino remained economical and was the second leading wicket-taker, but was hampered by a knee injury from mid-season and had to be nursed thereafter. So too did Tom Taylor, who did well at the start of the summer but struggled as it went on. Second season syndrome hit a few players and Tom now knows what he needs to do to become an established county cricketer.

Ben Cotton bowled well in the one-day games and showed an ability to keep batsmen quiet, but the next step for a genial giant is to become more effective in the four-day game. Perhaps the addition of Andy Carter, an aggressive cricketer, will rub off on him, as I was left with the impression that Cotts has more pace and much more aggression to be unleashed before becoming the finished article.

Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor were key members of the one-day attack and both bowled some excellent spells, though neither can be considered regular four-day options at this stage. They may get there, as both have time on their side, but hard work is needed to hone their skills still further.

Other young bowlers flitted in and out, displaying promise. Greg Cork did well in one-day games and may emerge next year, while Will Davis and Harry White showed promise in their game against the Australian tourists but are a little further back in their development.

Wayne White missed the start of the summer with injury and took wickets on his return, but was then released from his contract for whatever reason, to return to Leicestershire, where he enjoyed his best days. People will have their own thoughts on his departure, but it has happened and we must move on.

The spin department was effectively Wes Durston, another who missed a lot of cricket with a side strain. He continued to offer a viable spin option and perhaps next year may become a needed number seven, offering runs and an option other than seam. On the basis of this summer, Chesney's 'darts' are largely a thing of the past, although I still feel that Wayne Madsen should bowl himself more, if only for a little variety and for the surprise value.

With Tom Knight's bowling a work in progress, Matt Critchley emerged from nowhere to make a dazzling debut century and bowl some useful spells of leg spin. Yet it is silly to expect him to take on the mantle of lead spinner next year at eighteen. One of these young players will hopefully progress, but both are many years short of knowing their trade. I asked three former Derbyshire spinners during the summer when they felt they knew their trade and was told 'between 27 and 30'. Enough said, really...

Will Mark Footitt leave this winter? Only the player and his agent know the answer to that, although he will need to balance offers from elsewhere with cost of living (down south) and the support mechanisms in place that have kept him on the field. If he leaves, there is undoubtedly a gaping hole in our seam bowling and any prospects for next year will be dependent on Carter and Palladino being fit and younger options making considerable progress over the winter months.

No unbridled optimism from me at this stage, that's for sure, yet lesser expectations and flying in under the radar may be better than carrying the excess baggage of big names that fail to live up to expectations.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Season review - the batsmen

A season that started with excitement, generated by the hired guns from overseas, ended with disappointment and a gradual realisation that in every competition this summer, sad to say, we shot ourselves in the foot.

There were both encouraging individual and team performances, but a young team has to learn to finish off winning positions - and fast. In every competition, games that were effectively won were somehow thrown away, a mixture of inexperience. tactical naivety and poor cricket combining to render what might otherwise have been deemed a satisfactory summer a disappointment.

That the team can play cricket was evidenced by teams that they beat. It is many years since Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire were all beaten in the same season, each victory being memorable. Yet sadly so were some awful displays, especially in the County Championship, while gifting the game to the eventual winners, Gloucestershire, in the RLODC will go down as one of our worst displays of collective naivety. While six times out of ten the umpires may not have spotted the fielding transgression, that none of the players did was poor and unprofessional.

The four-day game saw us at our worst. While two players reached their thousand runs, the rest of the batting was brittle and no one else averaged thirty. Most batsmen had good days, but not enough to convince anyone, inside or outside the county, that we are a good batting side. Injuries were partly to blame, causing inexperienced players to have to bat too high in the order.

Only Billy Godleman of the batsmen made major positive strides. He has turned his career around with hard work and is now a very polished, effective opening batsman. Wayne Madsen also scored a thousand  runs, although a hand injury cost him several matches and vital rhythm as the season got into full swing. Several others did well, but consistency is the issue that needs addressed. I think Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes will compete for an opening berth next year and both will hope to surpass the 800 runs of this year. They had prolific spells and days when form looked some way distant, but the talent is there.

Alex Hughes scored a maiden century but was hampered by a broken thumb, split webbing and a fractured hand at different times. An average of 35 was higher than supposed 'big name' prospects around the country, while his bowling in one-day games was excellent. He and Shiv Thakor could be in competition next year, the latter having a poor year with the bat but making great strides with the ball. He has a 'golden arm' but needs to show improved form with the bat next season to cement a regular place in the side. Meanwhile Scott Elstone has to progress past the 'nice cameo' to a regular meaningful contribution to convince supporters he is of the requisite standard.

Neither wicket-keeper scored close to enough runs this year. While both kept adequately, the modern role needs all-round contribution that both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein struggled to fulfil. While time is on the latter's side, Poynton will know that next year, the last of his current deal, is crucial for his first-class career. Like Elstone and Chesney Hughes, contributions have to be more frequent.

The biggest disappointment? Half of the overseas input. Martin Guptill did what he has always done for us, while Hamish Rutherford suggested that he could be a huge player next year, one able to play all forms of the game with equal skill and success.

Yet for all the protestations of their use in the dressing room, Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan were huge disappointments. Neither got going and while their presence put Derbyshire cricket on the map in the world game, we needed the runs that neither managed. While accepting it is hard to fly in and perform immediately, the stature of both players should have guaranteed greater success.

It didn't and neither will be remembered by supporters as an especially worthwhile recruit, very disappointing in the light of their reputations and the cost to the club.

The season in short? Promising displays in the RLODC and the T20, but an awful summer in the four-day game that should have been our strength. Too many winning positions squandered and must do better next year across the board.

Tomorrow - the bowlers

Friday, 25 September 2015

The next few days and months...

A journey north for me tomorrow and over the coming days I will be looking back at the season and where we need to improve for next year.

Thanks for your support through a testing summer  - please keep checking in over the months ahead, with plenty lined up...

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 4

Leicestershire 329 and 363

Derbyshire 352 and 331-8 (Hughes 101, Madsen 66, Slater 56, Godleman 51)

Match drawn

As a game of cricket, this was a quite wonderful way to end a season. With the sun shining brightly across the 3aaa County Ground, I am sure that I was not alone in thinking wistfully of the next six months or so without the greatest of games. Yet that sadness was qualified with the sight of, not for the first time this season, Derbyshire simply throwing a game away that was in the bag.

At 285-2 with nine overs to go, we needed 56 to win. Despite the loss of wickets from there, we only needed thirty from five, yet in the end, ran up ten runs short. It was a madcap, frenetic display of batting that cried out for someone to use a little nous and, like George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes long ago, simply get 'em in singles.

One by one, batsmen perished in assaying ambitious shots, or attempting runs at which Usain Bolt would have balked. You have to give credit to Leicestershire's bowlers, but the bowling wide of the stumps and putting nearly everyone on the boundary caused greater vexation for our players than one might have hoped.

I'd have to say that the visitors are a somewhat graceless bunch on the pitch, a comment borne out of watching them, their actions and words over four days. It was easy to see why they had been docked points earlier this season and they did themselves few favours today, as did a somewhat boorish section of support. I can only hope that the chap with the vuvuzela ended with it in an uncomfortable place on the way home, because there is no need  for that in four-day cricket.

The Derbyshire top four batted splendidly. Openers Godleman and Slater hinted at a fine pairing next year, while Chesney showed how good he can be when he gets his feet moving. Meanwhile Wayne Madsen again passed his thousand and confirmed his role as the lynch pin of the batting.

After that? Oh dear. I can only say that we need people to step up to the plate next year and a ten to fifteen per cent improvement across the board. Either that, or we need someone in the lower order who appreciates that winning a game of cricket isn't simply about slogging the ball to all parts and running as if your tail is on fire...

To clarify for anyone commenting later, I attribute no blame to Tom Knight in blocking the last four balls. Had he not done so, we could quite easily have ended the season with an embarrassing loss, which would have really sent the the postbag into overdrive.

He was acting on instructions to, as evidenced by the word from Ben Cotton, when he came in. I don't blame the reverting to 'what we have, we hold' one bit.

But by crikey, it was a shambles at the end and should never have got to that stage. The one that got away? Truth be told, there's been too many of them this year.

There's a lot of room for improvement this winter, that's for sure.

Postscript - thanks to all those with who I enjoyed chat and discussion, not just over the last four days, but over the season. It has been a pleasure to spend time in your company.

Roll on April...

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 3

Leicestershire 329 and 307-7 (Cosgrove 126 not)

Derbyshire 352

Leicestershire lead by 284

'The pitch looks a bit flat now', I observed to a Foxes fan, as we chatted while the slowly set on both day and season tonight.

'It should do' quoth he, 'Cossie's been running up and down on it for four hours..'

It was a bon mot I enjoyed, probably more than an evening session that meandered. A need to get the over rate up (grrrr....) saw Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston fairly rattle through their spells. I don't understand why the skipper doesn't bowl himself more, even for two or three overs, because he induced more false shots than we saw in the afternoon. If only for variety, I'd like to see him bowl more next year - it could bring dividends.

At the start of the day, our tail wagged with unaccustomed vigour and a feared deficit became a pleasant lead, largely thanks to a stand between Tom Milne and Ben Cotton, both showing they could handle a bat. When Mark Footitt and Cotton ripped out three wickets, including the pale shadow of his former self, Dan Redfern, the possibility of a win in three days reared its head.

Then Mark Cosgrove and Aadil Ali turned the game with a stand of 144, before the latter was out to the last ball before tea. He is fast becoming a thorn in our sides, but the captain did a fine job and showed that girth is somewhat immaterial if you can play. He will never look an athlete, but Cosgrove scores runs. Lots of runs, and when he raised his century the respect and applause from the Leicestershire fans spoke volumes for his impact on them.

It somewhat overshadowed what Cricinfo are calling tonight Mark Footitt's farewell appearance for us. If it is, then he has gone out in style with ten wickets so far, possibly eleven, judging by the reaction when a loud appeal for a catch down the legside by Tom Poynton was adjudged not out. If Mark leaves over the winter (my guess would be Surrey should it happen) then it will leave a void in our attack of sizeable proportions.

Covering that is a subject for another piece, down the line, but I will for now pay tribute to a bowler who has completely turned around his career. He took his 250th first-class wicket for us today and his level of fitness and commitment could not be faulted. Irrespective of what happens, I wish a genial, pleasant lad the very best.

So we look like chasing 300 to win tomorrow, a total of Everestian proportions for Derbyshire sides over the years. It is fair to say that to get close, either Billy, Wayne or Wes needs to score big, but a team effort should make a fist of it in the final two sessions - IF we get a start.

Let us not forget that this is effectively a second team attack and defeat would be another in a string of disappointing championship displays.

Yet let's close on a high and congratulate Billy Godleman on both the winning of his 'cap' and being voted supporters player of the year. As the one man who has made considerable strides forward, he was a greater certainty than Usain Bolt in a hundred metre sprint against tortoises. Others have made steps forward to a lesser degree, far too many have, for now, stagnated a little.

I will look at that in the coming days, but for now, adieu.

I will see you at Derby tomorrow, for the season denouement...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Derbyshire v Leicestershire day 2

Leicestershire 329
Derbyshire 281-7 (Madsen 95, Slater 70)

Derbyshire trail by 48 runs

If anyone saw someone of greater girth than Mark Cosgrove at Derby today, it may well have been me, in my seven layers of clothes. It was cold, the first official day of Autumn seeming to be one when the central heating of the sun was switched off.

Derbyshire batted well in part. Ben Slater looked workmanlike and talented in his 70, before rather undoing the good work with a lax drive. with neither Billy Godleman nor Chesney Hughes getting going today. Wayne Madsen looked imperious at times, closing on a century and passing 8000 career runs, before being bowled after tea. That was especially surprising as he had missed few balls in the afternoon session in which the visiting attack looked the ordinary that it is, in the absence of key bowlers.

I didn't see the post tea cricket, having headed off to get organised for Grassmoor and Edwin Smith tonight, but I am told that it was pretty murky when they returned after a lengthy hold up for bad light. Given we lost two quick wickets in that time, it appeared that the visitors were the sole beneficiaries of that return. It was a pity for Tom Knight, who appeared unfazed by the conditions until that point.

It looks more like a last afternoon run chase is on here. Wayne needs another 51 runs for his championship thousand, while others will hope to go into the winter with better form than they showed in the first knock.

We'll see. Thanks to those whose company I shared over the first two days and to those who turned up at Grassmoor tonight. 

All thoroughly enjoyed!

Postscript - Nottingham Post reports that Notts offered Andy Carter a new deal but he opted to move to us.

Nice to read. Be in no doubt that if he stays fit he is very much a fifty-wicket bowler for next summer. Close to the finished article and will be a key member of a competitive side.

Andy Carter signs

Yes. I get this signing and see much merit in it.

Andy Carter is a good bowler. Tall, aggressive - an in your face bowler with good averages and of an age where he should kick on, with coaching and support from Graeme Welch, together with the fitness work that has transformed the career of another Trent Bridge old boy, Mark Footitt. He can bowl accurate bouncers and yorkers and is quick enough to have the batsmen hopping around - what's not to like?

At 27, our Ginger Warrior Mark 2 has much to offer a young attack. He has proven in the past that he can take wickets, but has not managed to stay fit for long enough to do it in sufficient quantities. 91 wickets at 27, plus good one-day and T20 strike rates and averages, suggest that this could prove a very shrewd piece of business by Derbyshire.

He has the extra years of experience the young brigade lack, suggesting that he could be a focal point of the attack and allow the youngsters to come in and out of the side as their form and fitness allows. He bowled very well against us for Glamorgan on loan this summer, taking four wickets, and has proven a handful on wickets giving any help. His stint in Wales was impressive and he took four wickets in an innings in three successive matches for them, before returning to Trent Bridge.

I also like the quick way in which business has been conducted. Sign him up and get him into the training and fitness work so he is ready for next season. Smooth...

He is a bowler I have always rated, despite the team he has played for.

Now he's a Derbyshire player and next season's jigsaw starts to take shape.