Thursday, 16 November 2017

Need for good news story at Derbyshire

It is safe to say that this has not been a good week for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Soon after the news broke of the club's caution after the Queen's Park abandonment of the Kent game, we hear that Shiv Thakor has been found guilty of exposure charges after two offences in June.

While I think that the club has been lucky to get away with just a warning over the abandonment, I am sure that their preemptive strike in admitting they will not play at Queens Park at that time of year again will have worked in their favour.

They are not daft at the club and we doubtless enjoyed a 'good earner' from the concert, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact we are a cricket club, not merely an outdoor concert venue. They will be aware of that and while the bulk of the money raised from the off-field activities goes into strengthening the playing squad, these activities must be around, and not at the expense of, the club's main function.

Of course, we all know that Chesterfield has drainage that, while improved, could be a whole lot better. We also know that the British climate is such that they could arrange their matches for Chesterfield in June and July, then still struggle to play.

Such is the situation at an outground and the club would be criticised if they spent 50K on improving the drainage on a ground they used for less than ten days a year. Truth be told, many of us, myself included, would love to see more cricket at Chesterfield, but the reality is that this won't happen, any more than Middlesex would play half their games at Uxbridge. Nor is there another ground of sufficient standard for more than very occasional cricket. While the romance of returning to Buxton, Ilkeston and Burton is there, it isn't going to happen unless there is a Derbyshire Getty who develops a local Wormsley Park and the requisite infrastructure for first-class cricket.

As for Thakor, the club quickly issued a statement last night to say that they will review the case, following its conclusion.

The time for further comment will come when they have done so, but it is safe to say that the whole episode has been hugely disappointing, for both player and club.

I will be back soon, but I hope that I am soon able to post news of something more positive from the club's perspective.

It has been a wretched few days.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Time for Edwin Smith to be recognised by club

The death of Derek Morgan, announced earlier this week, marked the passing of another of an elite group of cricketers, all of who took over a thousand wickets for Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

They are names that roll off the tongue when discussing Derbyshire cricket greats (and are incidentally missed from the otherwise excellent statistics on the club site). Unless Harold Rhodes, who ended his career with the club far too early on 993 wickets, makes a belated comeback at the age of 81, that short list will never be added to.

And the one surviving man on it is Edwin Smith.

Edwin was one of the great unsung county legends, going about his business for season after season throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With Derbyshire's attack built squarely around outstanding seam bowlers, there were times when he didn't get to bowl, yet he still managed to take 1217 wickets for the club. He also took more wickets at Chesterfield than any other bowler and declined the opportunity to leave and play for Northamptonshire, when the spin-friendly conditions might have seen his career haul higher still. A loyal man, he opted to stay with the county of his birth and served them well for almost a quarter of a century.

Better, it must be said, than the county served him over the years. Despite making his debut in 1951 and being capped in 1954, he had to wait until 1966 for a testimonial year. The rationale was that he was still young enough to get another one, but he was offered the role of county coach to prematurely end his playing career. Then he was sacked, after building a young side that went to the semi-final of the under-25 competition and provided county stalwarts for the next few years, at the end of 1974.They gave him £100 for his trouble, much cheaper than a second benefit.

Money was tight, the rationale for the sacking, but that state of penury also saw him replacing the glass in the old indoor school himself to save a few bob, as well as cleaning it out with the help of his wife, Jean. He bought towels and incidentals for the players to use too, things for which he was never reimbursed.

It was a sad end to a long association. He had been overlooked for the club captaincy, some said because his mining background wouldn't sit well with the 'suits' at Lord's. He was also largely ignored for one-day cricket, this at a time when the most economical bowlers were the purveyors of spin around the country like Norman Gifford, Ray East, Brian Langford, Peter Sainsbury and many more. Derbyshire usually went with an all-seam attack, with mixed results, most often poor.

He went on to be a scourge of league batsmen for many seasons, during which he took thousands more wickets. One Sunday afternoon in the mid-1970s, he quickly took the wickets of Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten and Allan Lamb in a benefit match, before being equally quickly removed from the attack, so as not to ruin the entertainment.

When I went to interview him with a view to a blog piece a few winters ago, I quickly realised that here was a man with a story, a career worth retelling and a life worthy of public record. My first book followed and the print runs quickly sold out, testimony to the esteem in which he is still held.

Outside of the game, he has been one of the most respected snooker players in Derbyshire and still plays in the top tier of the game in the county as he approaches his 84th birthday in January. 2018 marks his 70th year as a member of Grassmoor Snooker Club, an astonishing feat by any standards.

At a time when Derbyshire County Cricket Club is, with due respect to many others before them, more professionally run than at any time in its history, I would like to see the club honour and recognise the last man who will ever take a thousand wickets for them. Whether in a lifetime achievement award, or the offer of the club presidency, it would be apposite and overdue recognition for a quite remarkable man.

Indeed, one of my few gripes with the current administration is that the contributions of a number of older generation cricketers, people who I grew up watching, appear to be overlooked.The presidency, an honorary role, has gone from Geoff Miller to Kim Barnett and then Michael Holding. Legends to a man and wonderful players, but it would seem that the claims of those of an earlier vintage, such as Edwin, Harold Rhodes, Peter Eyre and many more, have been disregarded. Once 'twas not so and the office went to the senior capped professional in turn. Better that way, I think. And fairer.

I hope that the club will do the right thing in the near future, before it is too late. An early season lunch and an award to recognise his outstanding contribution to the club would be the right thing to do.

And I would travel from Glasgow and back in a day to be there for a very special man.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Derek Morgan: an appreciation and obituary

There are those cricketers who flit across the landscape like a comet, playing several seasons of brilliance before burning out. They are often 'eye' players, and when the eye goes, the technique is sometimes not there to bail them out when the going gets tougher.

Then there are those who, year on year, are always there. They are like a favourite jacket or raincoat that you reach for, comforted by its presence and knowing what you will get from it.

For two decades, Derek Morgan, whose passing was announced yesterday, was the fulcrum around which the Derbyshire cricket eleven worked. He wasn't the best, or most glamorous batsman; he wasn't the best bowler in an attack that had several candidates for that title. Yet he was a man whose commitment to the cause was absolute and whose skills contributed to an era in which Derbyshire had a side to be reckoned with, especially in the first decade.

I am old enough to remember his final three seasons, though my father was a regular throughout his career, having first seen the county in 1947, three years before his debut. He, like me, remembers a batsman who scored runs, often when they were most needed, yet not in a style that would have made you sit up in your deckchair and put your newspaper away.

With a few exceptions, such players rarely thrived on Walter Goodyear's wickets and it was a rarity for Morgan to get to the crease with 200 on the board and the bowlers wilting. His lot was rather that of the man who battled the side to a total, giving an attack to match any other something to bowl at. He hadn't a memorable stroke, as such, but he had most of them and used them when the ball offered a minimal risk of dismissal. After all, you don't score the best part of 18,000 runs without knowing how to put away the bad ball.

He was an attritional batsman in the best northern tradition, ironic for a man born and brought up in Middlesex. Yet his National Service saw him serve locally and a Derbyshire man he became. His was a prized wicket, because while he was still there, Derbyshire could eke out enough runs to win matches. He did that, often.

On the legendary day at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day, the one man to make a score was Derek Morgan, braving repeated blows to the hands, body and head to make forty-odd against Hampshire. Then, as Harold Rhodes tired, he came on to bowl and took the last three wickets. It was typical of the man.

As a bowler, he had a modest run up that gave little hint of the dangers to follow, but he gave sterling support to two generations of opening bowlers. He once said, in typically modest fashion, that he got a lot of wickets because batsmen needed to 'crack on' after being tied down by Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson. Yet the comment denied a talent for putting the ball down on a consistent line and length for season after season. Moving it around enough to make the batsmen think, he could bowl a steady medium-fast, or cut down, when the wicket demanded, and bowl off-cutters, often a fine foil for the genuine spin of Edwin Smith at the other end.

17842 runs and 1126 wickets. We will not see his like again, that's for sure.

As a captain, he was functional, rather than special. Where the best captains make things happen, the ordinary tend to be reactive and Morgan was in the latter category. Having spoken to many of his contemporaries in the course of research for my books, the general feeling was of a skipper under who the game could drift. Where Donald Carr and Guy Willatt made things happen with a canny bowling or fielding change, Morgan was more formulaic and captaincy was not his strongest suit.

Yet as a fielder, he was beyond compare. With Morgan, Carr and Alan Revill in close, batsmen knew that Derbyshire had a trio like Autolycus, snapping up the unconsidered trifles that many might not have deemed chances. While discussions on the merits of the old game against the modern one will always be fascinating, there is no modern player better than those three at holding catches, the hand/eye co-ordination quite extraordinary.

More than once my father recalls a batsman flashing at the ball and his eyes, like those of friends, looking to the boundary, only to see it being tossed in the air by one of them, the ripple of applause becoming loud as spectators realised the magicians had worked their tricks again.

Would he have been a success in the modern game? Every team needs a Derek Morgan, and while never likely to be confused with a Stokes or Botham, like Trevor Bailey he brought balance to his side. He moved with grace and speed in his younger days and had a fine cricket brain. As I wrote yesterday, worse players have played for England and, in another era, opportunity must surely have come his way. And if you were selecting an all-time county eleven, there would be few who omitted him from their side.

An all-round sportsman who played hockey, rugby and football to a good standard, I would have loved to interview him for my most recent book, but his ill-health legislated against it. Yet I saw him, and for that I am thankful.

His passing leaves only one man, Edwin Smith, still with us from those who have over a thousand wickets for the county.

Rest in Peace, Derek Morgan.

You served your county well.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Derek Morgan

I am sad today to hear of the passing of Derek Morgan, one of Derbyshire's greatest players.

Many who were his inferior have worn England colours and plenty of good judges felt he would have been an international player, bar for the presence of Trevor Bailey in the national side in the 1950s.

I will pen a more appropriate tribute when time allows, but wanted to acknowledge the passing of one of the county's finest-ever players at the earliest opportunity.

Rest in peace, Derek.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Barnett interview 'reveals' 2018 teasers

There was an interesting interview with Kim Barnett on the club site yesterday, which gave a few teasers for the plans for 2018.

To be fair, we already knew that a seam bowler who could bat would be the target for the early months, and you can place your bets and name your possibilities for that one. I have already suggested that Jason Holder would be a good fit and another who might be considered is South African Wayne Parnell. He would offer a different angle, but he usually gets a lucrative IPL gig and I would think that the confirmation of the role will not come until the IPL draft has been completed.

It would appear that Imran Tahir is in line to return for the T20, but only wants to play in that format, so the search for the overseas player in the second half of the summer will be ongoing too. That is, I suppose, unless we can find someone who is happy to play the T20 and then stay on, which may or may not be possible.

A spinner appears to be the preference, which is logical, but the number of quality spinners in the world game is limited and probably restricted to Asia. Whether or not a deal could be found to bring over an Indian bowler for experience, much as Ashwin played for Worcestershire last year, is a moot point. Yet I suspect most of the top Indian players are quite happy with their lot and income from exclusive IPL deals.

Rashid Khan of Afghanistan might be a brave pick. He has played little first-class cricket, though when he has played the short formats he has bamboozled the best. At 19 he may welcome experience, but could also be overwhelmed by the volume of cricket and the different tracks. I suspect a county move somewhere isn't far away and based on his performances so far, it would be well worth following.

It isn't easy here though. Yasir Shah is a fine bowler, but took some stick in bowling for Kent and his fourteen wickets came at 38 runs each. For all people moan about standards at times, plenty have come over here at great expense and struggled, with little to remember them by.

It should make for an interesting few months.

In other news, Tom Milnes is off to Australia to work on his game and will then return to Derby for pre-season. My understanding is that Milnes has one more year on his current deal - which I couldn't find noted anywhere.

2018 is a make or break summer for him and one or two more. There is a good cricketer in Tom Milnes, one capable of late order runs and wickets, but we must hope that  his winter down under and regular cricket there sees him less prone to the bad ball an over that frustrates.

The irony of our early season search for a seam bowler who bats is that we have one on the staff who can do the job. A rough diamond needing polishing, but a diamond for all that.

Hopefully he will come through next year.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Keeping issue set for natural clarification

I'm not sure how many of you have picked up on this one, but there is an interesting piece on the Warwickshire website regarding Boyd Rankin.

The former Derbyshire bowler and Irish international says that he hopes to make a telling contribution next summer, which will be his last in the county game.

Why? Because Ireland's new international status will see Rankin and other Irish players classed as overseas players.

This has obvious ramifications for other counties and specifically for Derbyshire. It would be fair to assume that this will also be the last for Gary Wilson in the county game. However, with the player having signed a three-year deal, it could be that he will retain county availability to the end of that contract.

It would also be safe, I think, to assume that he would not be a number one pick for the overseas role, unless producing a summer of Bradman-like proportions in the interim period.

Thus the battle for the wicket-keeping role becomes more clear cut and a straight fight between Harvey Hosein and Daryn Smit. It makes the recent award of an extended deal for the South African more logical for some, no doubt, though  it was always so from my perspective, as you know.

As I have said before, I see the role behind the timbers as a two-way battle and expect Wilson to play, when available, primarily as a batting specialist. Both Hosein and Smit will get game time next summer and, while Harvey may well be the long-term incumbent, he can learn a lot from an acknowledged master of his trade.

I expect Harvey to be a very impressive player in a couple of years. Equally, I expect Daryn to be far better prepared for next summer than this year.

Surgery and recovery ate into much of last March and April.

Expect to see him back to his batting best next year.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Weekend update

Those who think that Derbyshire erred in signing a 33-year old Ravi Rampaul (not me, as you know) will perhaps have been reassured by the news from Durham this week.

They have signed Australian seamer Nathan Rimmington on a two-year deal, utilising his UK passport in doing so. Yet the bowler, who had a somewhat ill-fated stint with us in the T20 a few summers back, will be well past 35 when the season starts and at that age has only 103 first-class wickets at over thirty. He is better known for his death bowling in the T20, where his record is better, but  his career record of just over 250 wickets in all formats is indicative of a career ravaged by injury, where he hasn't got close to the international scene.

His spell at Derbyshire was hampered by a broken finger, sustained in a club match and he was never fully firing for us. Yet many will recall the ball that bowled Alex Hales at Derby in the T20, when he perhaps produced his best performance in the club colours.

It is a signing that confirms the relative paucity of young seam talent in this country, and for those who would counter 'so does that of Rampaul', the West Indian has over 800 wickets and has played at international standard and around the world. Crucially, his signing might allow the T20 signing of a batsman or all-rounder in one of the roles.

We'll see, but the Rimmington deal rather smacks of desperation by Durham, who have suffered badly from players moving elsewhere. The wickets should suit him, at least and he may prove to have an Indian summer to his career.

There are unanswered questions remaining at Derbyshire. I have seen no news of Tom Milnes being offered a new deal, but nor have I seen any of his being released, so perhaps that is under discussion. Similarly, Harry Podmore seems to have gone off the radar a little and, for me, he would appear little better than we already have in reserve, with Ben Cotton and Tom Taylor.

Meanwhile, Gurjit Sandhu seems to be unlucky in having made a good debut (46 not out and three wickets) and taken 18 wickets in four second team matches, yet nothing has been forthcoming for him, either. I suspect that further recruitment will be dictated by the court case involving Shiv Thakor next month, as its repercussions will impact on recruitment thereafter. For the record, that is a statement, not the start of a debate, so please be wary of further comment on the matter.

Finally today, I note that the MCC side in the Hong Kong Sixes contains Darren Stevens, Rikki Clarke and Samit Patel.

Fine cricketers all, but selection criteria presumably didn't focus heavily on speed across the ground in the field, eh?

I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Derbyshire-related news this week

I think there will be a number of counties interested in signing Chris Nash, who announced yesterday that he was leaving Sussex.

Perhaps we are one of them. Wayne Madsen suggested today that we may be looking to add an all-rounder to the squad and Nash, one of the most dependable batsmen on the circuit, is a handy purveyor of off-spin. With a first-class average of just under forty, respectable averages in other formats and over 170 first-class wickets, he would fit the bill, for sure.

At 34 he has a few years in him and the only barrier to his signing would be that we already have three good opening batsmen. Unless the plan  would be to play him down the order, where I am sure he would do a good job, it would seem an undue concentration of resource.

All conjecture of course and I would think around half of the first-class counties would fancy his services. I suspect that his future will be announced in the next week or so, as he would not have asked for his release from the final year of his Sussex deal without having somewhere lined up to continue his career.

Elsewhere, it was interesting to see Neil Broom released from the New Zealand squad with the instruction from the coach to 'learn to bat at number five'. Broom had some success on his Kiwi return, but their top four is fairly fixed and the technical issues that were noted as problems in his game over here don't appear to have been resolved.

Likewise Jimmy Neesham has been told to go and play cricket, score runs and do plenty of bowling. I think Neesham a genuine talent, capable of brilliance with bat and ball, but at this stage of his career he doesn't do enough with either to make himself indispensable to a side. If he can turn some of these flashy forties into something more substantial, he could yet make the top international that he has looked for some time.

Similarly, anyone who saw his bowling against Lancashire in the T20 a couple of summers back will know his talent with a ball. I still think he would have been a better option for us last year than Matt Henry, but like him he has work to do to become an established player of international pedigree.

All very interesting and worth keeping an eye on over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, 20 October 2017

A quiet week

As you might expect, the Derbyshire week, after the announcement of the signing of Ravi Rampaul, has been a quiet one.

Off it, there has been the announcement of the membership prices and very good they are. There cannot be a better value membership package in the county game and £139 for a season's cricket is terrific value. Compare it, for example, to Somerset's £179 for four day and fifty-over cricket, with an additional £140 for the T20 and the deal becomes all the better.

With firework displays and the forthcoming festive party season now taking priority, the club will be hoping their off-field work continues to thrive, thus putting more money into the 'playing pot' and enabling the recruitment of better quality players.

The Rampaul announcement - which sounds like a John Grisham novel - was well-timed, just before the memberships came out and I am sure it had the desired effect. I would hope that the prospect of an all-international opening attack next summer whets the appetite of others, as it does mine.

I don't get the comments on Twitter and elsewhere on Rampaul being 'too fat' or 'too old'. He has always been a broad-beamed fella and that is no bad thing if you are running in to bowl as he is. There's a big difference between that and someone who is out of condition, something I don't recall thinking about him when I have seen him.

He has never, from my memory, been an out-and-out fast bowler. Rather one who has decent pace yet moves it each way to good effect. The combination of Viljoen, Davis and Rampaul is an exciting one and it will be one of the best attacks in division two, IF they are all fit.

We must all hope that they are and that further good news is forthcoming in the long winter weeks and months ahead.

I'll be back soon.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Rampaul signing a statement of intent for Derbyshire

Ravi Rampaul, eh?

I have to admit that I didn't know he was available. When I heard about an announcement of a new signing today, my first thought was that it would be Muhammad Azharullah. Word is that he left Northamptonshire to be closer to his family in Halifax, so if one discounts Lancashire and Yorkshire from the list of potential suitors, we seemed a fair bet.

Instead, we have picked up a man with over 800 wickets across the formats in senior  cricket, nearly 200 of them in the international game for the West Indies. At 33 (which he will be in two days time) his quicker days are behind him, but the Trinidadian still bowls a quick ball and has swapped pace for a greater nous that is usually the preserve of the experienced and talented.

I have referred to our need of a Charl Langeveldt kind of bowler and I think we have it in Rampaul. Over a long career that has covered a stint in the IPL, he has gone for under eight an over in T20 and mixes up line and length to good effect. He also takes wickets in List A and the longer form, so is an all-round asset to the team.

Speaking of all-round, Phil mentioned below my earlier piece that he carries more 'timber' than his younger days, but I don't see that as a major issue. While the modern trend is for quick bowlers to be athletes, traditionally the quick bowler has been a sturdy man with a big backside. There have been few better seamers in the county game over recent seasons than Rory Kleinveldt at Northamptonshire, a man who would never be confused with an athlete. But by crikey, he can bowl and if Rampaul can replicate his efforts, there will be few complaints.

It is a step closer to replicating the Derbyshire of Kim Barnett's heyday, when the skipper's rotation policy kept them all fit and firing. We are some way from that yet, but Rampaul will join Hardus Viljoen, Will Davis and Tony Palladino in a keen seam attack that will doubtless profit and thrive on early season tracks. If we could add a seam-bowling all rounder for the lower order overseas role at the start of the summer, Billy Godleman will have much more to work with in the field.

He has ruled out involvement in the Caribbean Premier League and so will be available all summer, news that can only be welcomed by supporters. I guess the only question mark, in a man of 33, is a three-year contract, but perhaps this security enabled the Derbyshire offer to be more enticing than those from elsewhere.

Kim Barnett will have done his homework and will know the sort of player he will be getting. Barnett's friendship with Alec Stewart will have done us no harm and he has, I think, got another player whose influence will extend beyond the field of play. With injuries par for the course in seam bowlers, the addition of another of quality will help us be more competitive next year and better withstand absences.

Ravi Rampaul is the victim of Surrey's attempt to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, with so many seam bowling options that a regular place was always going to be a challenge. I suspect a place will be easier to come by at Derbyshire, but don't expect a willing work horse to take it easy, in what will be a solid dressing room.

In conclusion? How can you dislike the addition of a man of considerable international experience to our ranks? I'm both pleased and surprised by the signing and suspect he could turn out a real asset.

Below, to whet your appetite, here he is in a splendid spell for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Not a bad set of victims there at all.

Welcome to Derbyshire, Ravi.

We wish you well