Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 4

Derbyshire 324 and 229-1 (Hughes 109 not, Godleman 94)

Northamptonshire 470 (Levi 104)

Match drawn

A match that looked like it had 'draw' written all over it from the end of the second day lived up to its moniker today.

The wicket was simply too good for a finish and Billy Godleman and Chesney Hughes saw us comfortably through to a draw with a superb opening stand of 215. It was the latter's second ton of the season, in which he already has 400 runs at a trifling average of 133..

It was a fine effort, albeit with controversy when Billy Godleman refused to walk for a catch near the boundary, believing the ball hadn't carried. The fielder said he had caught it cleanly, the batsman felt he hadn't and the umpires agreed. Whether the home side and its supporters were unhappy is neither here nor there, but any batsman is entitled to stand his ground if unsure and the decision has to be made by the umpires. That is, after all, why they are paid. We have all seen and many of us taken catches we felt clean that bounced just ahead of our dive - think back to the T20 World Cup final and the 'catch' taken by Jos Buttler from Marlon Samuels.

There will doubtless be calls of Billy 'attracting controversy', but I don't buy it on this occasion.

Last week I talked about the need, on such dead wickets, for sides to play 'brave' cricket and there was another example here, where the home side failed to do so. Their decision to bat on last night left them only one slim window to win the game - making enough runs to sow seeds of doubt in our minds, then bowling us out. It appeared an unlikely scenario on such a track and, with respect, needed a better attack than they have to do so.

Had they declared on 300, or even 275, they had two chances. There was a slim likelihood of bowling us out, perhaps with quick wickets last night, or a better chance of chasing, say, 275 in 55 overs. It may not have worked either, but it gave them a better chance of a positive result.

Sides need to seek and take those chances this season, or it will go down as one of the most dull in recent memory. Look at the scores in the current round of matches and see what I mean. From a spectator perspective, last days have all the intrigue of watching a melting ice cube. If the four-day county game is to be eased out, they have found a mighty fine way of going about it. Death by boredom may yet occur...

It was good to see Andy Carter take two of the last three wickets today. He's not yet hit his stride, but I remain convinced he will. There are plenty of bowlers struggling this year and trying to make an impression at a new county is not easy in such conditions.

Still, we were professional to the end and a draw eased to is better than the scrambled efforts we have seen many times before, or the somewhat ignominious defeats.

You have to admit, the batting looks strong this year.

Sussex at home next. More from me soon.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 3

Derbyshire 324

Northamptonshire 438-7 (Libby 102, Kleinveldt 97, Levi 84 not, Duckett 60)

Northamptonshire lead by 114 runs

In a game bearing strange similarities to the recent one at Bristol, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Derbyshire could lose this game tomorrow. The home side are 114 ahead and, if they can stretch that to around 200 in the morning session tomorrow, there is a chance that they could put us under pressure in the afternoon and evening.

Having said that, it really shouldn't happen. While a cluster of wickets went down after lunch on each of the first and third days, for the rest of the time batting has appeared to be a fairly uncomplicated affair. That the late order batsmen of either side have managed to register impressive tallies tells a story and I will be very disappointed if a side that bats as long as ours appears to do is bowled out on such a surface tomorrow.

Shiv Thakor followed up his unbeaten 83 with a three-wicket burst in the afternoon, which reinforced his claim for the number seven spot on a regular basis, but also gave us a glimmer of being able to dictate the pace and course of the game. Until then, Northamptonshire had scored steadily, but rather slowly. If they don't bowl us out tomorrow they might rue their decision to bat on, as a run chase on such a wicket might have been a nice prospect for them.

As it was, Rory Kleinveldt cemented his status as a good value overseas player by adding 97 runs to his three wickets yesterday. His hitting took the game away from us too quickly, with fearsome stick being handed out to the bowlers and especially Andy Carter, who went for 24 in one over. With on-loan Jake Libby scoring a century and Richard Levi nearing one at the close, the home side barely missed their injured players.

It wasn't a day that too many of our bowlers will look back on with any fondness, Thakor apart. Mind you, there aren't many tracks that bowlers will be looking forward to this year and I suspect there may be some horrific bowling averages around the circuit. They at least stuck at it well, conceding only 17 extras to the 41 that we were gifted.

Given the opportunity, of the first and second eleven games currently going on I would sooner have been watching the twos. They have an excellent game going on against Lancashire at Crosby, in which we were bowled out for 104, before bowling out the home side for 150, Ben Cotton taking 4-46, Tom Taylor 3-33 and Tom Milnes 2-26.

By the close, we were 123-3, a lead of 77, with Jon Tattersall making 48 and Greg Cork an unbeaten 39. For me, that's proper cricket, a fair battle between bat and ball, where the technique of batsmen is tested and the bowlers get encouragement, if they are bending their backs.

Against a strong Lancashire side, the Derbyshire boys are doing well. I hope that they push on to win their game, while the first team do all they can do now and save theirs with something to spare.

Could be a long and, it has to be said, fairly dull championship summer at this rate.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 2

Derbyshire 324 (Thakor 83 not)

Northamptonshire 66-0

Derbyshire lead by 258 runs

There was a shortened day at Wantage Road today, with Derbyshire adding useful runs for the last wicket once again, before the home side posted a steady reply ahead of the forecast rain, which wiped out the rest of the day.

I sometimes have reservations about late innings rallies. Good as they are, they are usually indicative of an under-performing batting unit and at this stage it looks like we did that here. 324 is a steady first knock, but when your last man comes in and knocks it around with ease, there is a suggestion that the 'proper' men should have done better.

Still, Carter the Unstoppable Six Machine did his stuff and helped Shiv Thakor to add valuable runs. Shiv will take confidence from this effort and rightly so. The lad can play and has much to offer us in the coming seasons. He seemed to use a lot of common sense too, not really a surprise from a level-headed young man.

My concern, at this stage, is the bowling. They are not, by any standards, bad bowlers, as you can't be if playing at this level. Yet there is a sameness about our attack, which regular readers will know has been my criticism of that of the national side. Right arm over times five, at different speeds, which rather allows batsmen to line things up and enjoy themselves. Mark Footitt gave us more than lightning pace, he gave us a change of angle, which in itself can be useful. Right now our attack looks like a tidy one that may do well in one-day cricket, rather than one which will bowl sides out twice, to win a game, but we will see.

It would appear that there is every incentive for Greg Cork and Harry White to work at their games though. Their left-handedness gives them an advantage which would benefit the side - as long as it is accompanied by right lines and lengths, of course...

It will be an interesting day tomorrow, not least to see how the home side play their innings. Do they aim for 450 and the hope of putting us under pressure on the last day? Gloucestershire tried that and it didn't work at all. Or do they get to 250 or 300, then pull out and see what sort of target we are prepared to set them on the last afternoon?

I wrote last week that on this year's wickets, teams will need to be prepared to gamble to get positive outcomes. Unless something extraordinary happens with bat or ball tomorrow, the last day would appear to need a little innovation to make something happen after today's lost time.

Hopefully we are on the right side of things, but I will be happy to see an attempt at a result.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 275-8 (Thakor 60 not, Palladino 49) v Northamptonshire

It was a curious old day at Wantage Road.

It began and ended well, yet the post-lunch session was as madcap a procession as we have become used to in recent years. 117-2 became 161-7 in the time that I took our puppy, Wallace, for a walk, each beep of the incoming tweet leaving him looking at me with what appeared increasing incredulity.

He's not used to it, of course. It was a shame, because Billy Godleman and Chesney Hughes led off in fine, aggressive style and when Billy departed, Hamish Rutherford took up the cause and looked well set at lunch, with Wayne Madsen as his partner.

Ye the middle order disintegrated with a fine spell from the tireless Rory Kleinveldt, a worthy overseas professional who just keeps bowling. At that stage it looked like 200 might be the underwhelming summit of our ambitions, but at a time of adversity you look for your players to dig deep. They did.

Shiv Thakor has disappointed with the bat since arriving from Leicestershire, though the occasional innings has hinted at the talent that appeared obvious when he played there. Here he had the opportunity to play himself in and shape an innings, to which end he applied himself splendidly. Almost three hours of application brought him an unbeaten sixty, with six boundaries, as he shared a priceless stand of 105 with Tony Palladino.

We know Tony of old. He is another who digs deep when the chips are down and has probably performed rescue acts often enough now to be considered an all rounder. Perhaps an average of fifteen doesn't substantiate that, but his big scores usually come when the runs are most needed, which will do me, his team mates and undoubtedly his coach, too.

He deserved a fifty, but fell one short and Luke Fletcher saw it through to a premature close when the light got too murky.

How good is 275-8? Well, we won't know until the home side bats tomorrow, but the best sign is that wickets can go down on the track, which will do me. A few runs more would have been nice, but it could have been considerably less.

Fingers crossed tomorrow sees our four-man seam attack 'do a Kleinveldt' - but hopefully without the late-innings heroics.

I'll see you then.

Book Review: The Good Murungu: A Cricket Tale of the Unexpected by Alan Butcher

I always liked Alan Butcher as a cricketer. He was a committed character who always gave of his best and, as such, was a player with who fans could easily identify.

After his coaching role at Surrey ended, the book reveals his struggles, but a phone call from Dave Houghton alerted him to the possibility of coaching the Zimbabwe national side. Whatever your impression of Zimbabwe's fragmented cricket and nation, it will only be heightened by this extraordinary read, which documents Butcher's three madcap years in charge.

At times it is like reading a good review on Trip Advisor, but that is far from a criticism. For the many who have never been, nor considered going to a troubled country, it highlights the beauty and the issues of that country, while giving a compelling account of why working in it can be so frustrating and difficult.

After forty years as a player and coach, little could really prepare Alan Butcher for what he encountered, including accusations of racially motivated selections and conflict with cricket bosses and selectors alike. His efforts to improve team morale and technique were not always met positively and slowly but surely, even his natural positivity was drained.

Despite it all, his tenure saw Zimbabwe's first Test win in six years, which was followed by a one-day series win, as well as victory over neighbouring South Africa in a tri-nations tournament.

It is a compelling read, one which should be essential for all cricket fans. It left me sad that a once proud and talented cricketing nation has been consigned to international also-rans, but is a book that I enjoyed from start to finish.

Well worth opening your wallet for!

The Good Murungu: A Cricket Tale of the Unexpected is written by Alan Butcher and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book shops, priced £12.99

Book review - The Girls of Summer: An Ashes Year With the England Women's Cricket Team by David Tossell

David Tossell has been writing books on a range of sports for a number of years now and this latest offering is one that fits into a 'niche' heading.

In fairness, it would be wrong to say that all cricket fans are followers of the women's game, though those who are will recognise the huge strides that have been made in recent years. Thinking back to my youth, the national side seemed to be overly reliant on Enid Bakewell and Rachael Heyhoe-Flint with little else as back up.

Today, the national women's side are fitter (though not fit enough yet, according to their coach after the recent World Cup) and with better techniques. Several players are 'names' on an international scale and some hold their own in competing with and against their male counterparts. There is respect for the women's game in most quarters and rightly so.

The author was granted access to see and talk to the team as they prepared for the Ashes, attending training and social events, as well as being in the dressing room ahead of matches.

The result is a fascinating insight into not just the games, but the participants themselves. As you work through the book, you learn the personal battles faced by players, on and off the pitch, challenges no different to those faced by all on a daily basis yet often forgotten where elite sports men and women are concerned.

The book deserves to do well and is an engaging read, as one would expect from a writer of such experience.Full marks to Pitch Publishing in seeing its potential and helping to raise the stock of the women's game still further.

Long may it continue.

The Girls of Summer: An Ashes Year With the England Women's Cricket Team is written by David Tossell and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book shops, priced £12.99

First talking point of the summer

Well, that got people restless!

The omission of Ben Slater from the Derbyshire eleven for the game at Northampton resulted in my biggest mail bag for some time. One thing I will say, straight away is that you should remember to append a name to posts, especially if being critical. I am big enough to have my face and name on here and so are other people. Please ensure that you do the same, thank you!

One point of reference for one of the more caustic comments - I am not 'in Derbyshire's pocket'  by a long stretch. That I agree with most (not all) of what happens at the club these days reassures me that all is largely well, but no one at Derbyshire ever can or will tell me what to write, as the thoughts on here have always and will always be mine alone.

With regard to the Ben Slater omission, there was always going to be a battle between him and Chesney Hughes to open with Billy Godleman and the chance that he could miss out was always 50/50, unless Hamish Rutherford opted to open and Alex Hughes or another all rounder came in. Omitting the new skipper, a man who was one of only two truly convincing four-day players last year, was never an option once he was fit.

Yes, Ben has done pretty well this year and I count myself among his biggest fans. He has come through the ranks, scored steadily and let no one down. As I said last week, however, to cement a place in the side he needs to convert good fifties into hundreds. Chesney did that at Bristol and, as the heaviest scorer of the two in the games so far, deserves his opportunity.

So should Neil Broom have been the man omitted? Not for me, because for one thing you are then swapping an opener and middle order batsman. He has just come off a winter back home where he averaged over fifty in the first-class game and over eighty in one-day cricket. Yes, he has played league cricket here, but to cite that as relevant experience for facing first-class bowling here suggests I could replace Lewis Hamilton, because I can drive.

Broom needs time in the middle and will deliver, as his record suggests. He has had just three innings in this country and needs more. He hadn't played for a month, prior to arriving here, because of an operation and omitting him at this stage would, in MY opinion, be both silly and patently unfair. By the same token, should he not discover form, as he showed last year with Tillakaratne Dilshan, Graeme Welch would be man enough to make the call to omit him, but that is some way down the line.

Moving to a new place, let alone new country and uprooting family is a big thing for anyone and Neil needs a little time, as anyone else would.  That we have players of the quality of Ben Slater, Matt Critchley, Harvey Hosein, Tom Knight, Alex Hughes and a raft of talented seamers outside the squad is testimony to what is developing at Derbyshire. Only eleven can ever play and all those on the staff will know that sustained levels of performance are the one way to guarantee a place in the side.

I have no doubt that Ben will take this on the chin, score heavily in the second team and be back in the side before too long. The only way he won't is if he doesn't do that, or if those in possession are simply doing too well to drop.

If that is the case, then I wouldn't anticipate too many complaints.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Final call for Edwin Smith book

I had the pleasure of an afternoon with Edwin Smith and his delightful wife, Jean this week. It was good to catch up with a true legend of Derbyshire county cricket and to see him in such rude health.

On my next visit, I will realise an ambition and play snooker against him. Maybe I should re-phrase that...I will be beaten by Edwin at snooker. He still plays to a very high standard and while I know I won't face him on a cricket field, this is a pretty good plan B, as far as I am concerned!

He told me that he has four signed copies of his biography still available and if anyone is interested in buying one of these, please drop me an email and I will put you in touch with him.

The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians has a single figure quantity left of a final print run and these can be obtained by calling 01323 460174. Copies cost £14 plus post and packing, whether from Edwin or the society.

There is just over a month to until the launch of my second book, 'In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricket in Conversation'. This will be published on June 1 by Pitch Publishing and will be available in hard back and ebook.

More on that in due course!

Friday, 29 April 2016

Northamptonshire v Derbyshire preview

It is, as Graeme Welch pointed out today, a sign of Derbyshire's progress that Ben Slater cannot get into the squad for the trip to Wantage Road, for the game that starts on Sunday.

Nor can Matt Critchley, who is likely to be omitted from the side that played Glamorgan at Derby in favour of Shiv Thakor. The latter did all he could do after being left out for the home match - he went away to the seconds and took economical wickets for the seconds, as well as scoring runs.

With skipper Billy Godleman replacing Slater, Derbyshire are likely to line up as follows:

Godleman
Hughes
Rutherford
Madsen
Broom
Durston
Thakor
Poynton
Palladino
Fletcher
Carter

Northamptonshire's small squad is stretched by the absence of several key players, including Rob Keogh, Rob Newton, Steven Crook and Olly Stone. Nor is Monty Panesar considered fit enough to play yet, so they go with the following squad:

Wakely (C), Sanderson, Duckett, Gleeson, Libby, White, Cobb, Azharullah, Levi, Rossington (WK), Murphy, Crook, Kleinveldt. 

The keen-eyed will see Crook in the squad but deemed unlikely to play by the local newspapers.

The forecast is pretty favourable, with light rain showers on Monday deemed the only inclement weather, so this is a game that Derbyshire could win. While the home side has some good players, I'm going to tip our lads to produce their best form and return with win points in the bag.

It is worth remembering that we are still unbeaten since the start of  pre-season, so confidence should be high and I am anticipating another strong team performance.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Slow start but potential for more

Played two, drawn two.

That is Derbyshire's record so far and fourth place after two matches is just about where most people  expected us to be. Top half, steady in batting and with question marks thus far against the bowling. We'd take that placing at season end, but hope for more exciting events between times.

In their defence - and that of most teams in the division, the new regulations on the toss, or lack of one, are leaving clubs running scared. There are unlikely to be first-day, old school green tops, because the away side will exercise their right to bowl and leave the home club playing catch up for the rest of the game.

To be fair, I think the majority of supporters would prefer seeing a game of 200 plays 200, even if the match finishes inside three days, to one where you see two big first innings and get no closer to a result than Julian Clary is to Tyson Fury. It effectively renders days three and four of most matches pointless. If the power that be are wanting to lessen still further the appeal of four-day 'proper' cricket, they are going the right way about it.

After those first few games, I am reassured by Derbyshire's batting. Even without Billy Godleman and with our Kiwi signings still to fire, we are scoring runs down the order. Wayne Madsen, Chesney Hughes and Ben Slater are in good form and there are good players outside the eleven awaiting an opportunity.

The bowling hasn't really had a chance. Andy Carter and Luke Fletcher look good bowlers and Tony Palladino is running in more freely than last year. When wickets are more conducive to their talents - and they will be around the circuit - they will get people out. That we lack a quality spinner is a given, though Wes Durston bowls steadily. Truth be told, there are few quality spin bowlers in the division, while identifying regular twirly match-winners around the country would not require the use of all digits on one hand.

Essex are off to a flier, as they should be with their squad, but you also need a combination of good fortune and players to take full advantage of result tracks. What I think is a clear way forward, after two games, is that any team with genuine aspirations of success will need to play brave cricket.

By 'brave', I mean that sides will need to be willing to risk defeat in order to win. If one were to use Warwickshire, Graeme Welch's old club, and Derbyshire as examples, the former had the players to produce basic, route one cricket - score heavily, then bowl sides out with quality seam and world-class spin. That's all well and good, but not every side is blessed with such talent.

While fully accepting that the weather took too much out of the game at Derby over the past four days, similar wickets in the months ahead should produce results, especially if we can get a little bounce and some sunshine on them. It does look, however, as if there will be last days where those brave decisions will have to be made.

Setting or chasing, say, 270 in sixty overs could see defeat, but could see a win if we bat, bowl and field with the intensity that I saw at Derby. Sure, a couple of chances went down, but on days that Jacques Rudolph claimed were the coldest on which he has played cricket, I can forgive that. Even on a dead afternoon yesterday, Derbyshire maintained focus, professionalism and discipline.

They will need all of that in the months ahead. I'm happy to see them risk defeat in order to win, as long as they have a fighting chance of doing so.

Far better as an option than a dull as dishwater final afternoon that ends in a draw of stupefying boredom.

Thoughts?