Saturday, 13 January 2018

Philander for Derbyshire?

The news breaking this afternoon through the Cric Buzz website that  Derbyshire are keen to bring South African all-rounder Vernon Philander to the county is very exciting.

The all rounder is one of the best new ball bowlers in the game, as evidenced by around 180 Test wickets at 21 each. At 32 he is at the height of his powers, as he showed with his six second innings wickets as he bowled South Africa to victory in the first Test against India last week.

He has come through a sticky period of injury and, according to the website, early discussions have been positive.

Of course, nothing is sealed at this stage and neither a deal is finalised nor permission granted for him to play here by the South African cricket authorities. This could be declined, or they could put stringent limits on what he plays that makes a deal unrealistic.

The thought of Viljoen, Philander, Rampaul and Davis/Palladino in the same attack is a mouth-watering one, however and we must hope that first of all the story is true, then that Derbyshire can get it over the line in a manner that makes the signing worthwhile.

Well worth keeping an eye on!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

England's travails and Taylor's county switch

I had an exchange of messages on Twitter the other evening with Michael Vaughan (yes, that one) after the former England skipper and now broadcaster came up with the suggestion that we should play a couple of county matches abroad at the start of the season. This will help our players better prepare for overseas tours, even if it ignores the fact that the ones most likely to tour are on central contracts and unlikely to play.

I wasn't impressed, and said so. He retweeted my response and acolytes were quick to come to his defence. 'What ideas have you got?' was the standard reply, which I was happy to give - and to expand on now.

I fail to see how funding overseas matches in April and May for eighteen counties - or even the ones in the top tier - will improve our overseas fortunes in November and December. Ignoring for a minute the fact that members pay a membership to watch their side and few have the money to travel abroad to do so, it remains a crackpot idea of considerable cost, which would far outweigh its benefits.

Peakfan's step one to improving things - pick the right people. I like watching James Vince bat, as he is an aesthetic delight, but his chances of sustained success on hard, bouncy tracks with an array of quicks probing off stump were always slim. Mason Crane is a talented young bowler, but played less four-day cricket last year than Matt Critchley, so why Adil Rashid was omitted for wickets where he has enjoyed success is beyond me. So too is that we picked an array of right arm fast medium bowlers that made up an attack of 'Stepford Wives' proportions. Then we pick Gary Ballance, barely see him on the pitch and decide he's not up to a subsequent tour of New Zealand. How? They got at least one of those decisions wrong, for sure.

Second  - allow all touring teams a proper warm up. It is no surprise that most international series are won by the home team, because visitors turn up out of season and accordingly under-cooked.  Teams come here, play two or three matches against second elevens and subsequently get rolled over in Test matches. On this tour, England's batsmen and bowlers alike struggled for rhythm, because all the nets in the world won't make up for time in the middle.

In 1970-71, when Ray Illingworth led England to the Ashes, there were EIGHT warm-up matches before the first Test, three against state sides. The players were ready and a more even tour was a consequence. I'm not saying we need to return to such lengths, but surely five or six good standard matches pre-series might make for a fair competition, as well as generating money?

Third - sort the county schedule. The usual detractors have said that there are too many counties, which is never an issue when England win, of course. Cut the county game down to six sides and see us rule the world, say some. I don't follow the rationale that choosing your best eleven from seventy players is better than selecting from two to three hundred of comparable standard.

With half the county schedule played on low, slow early season wickets, is it any wonder we struggle on hard and fast tracks? The only time we play on such wickets is probably the T20, when they are going at pretty much everything and getting out as England's players did consistently on this tour.

Ah, but no one watches county cricket anyway. Of course they don't, because to do so you either need to be retired, not working or taking annual holidays. As I have written before, outside of the polar days of early season, Derbyshire has TWO weekend championship days of home cricket all summer.

There are 26 weekends between the first one in April and the last in September. For what it is worth, I would make county cricket three divisions of six teams, each playing the others home and away. So that's ten weekends, Friday to Monday sorted.  Then start the summer with a fifty over competition with two leagues of nine, playing Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday. The four top teams in each league play quarter finals, then the rest follows on.

That is seven to eight weeks at the start of the summer for the league and knockouts, then you start the four-day game in late May or early June. Play them all Friday to Monday, maximising the crowd and accessibility. Stick the T20 in somewhere in the middle, playing Friday nights and Sunday, then finish with the second half of the championship.

There would even be time to include more warm-up games for touring sides and an end of season five day north v south, to look at potential tourists. It would make for greater intensity, with most sides retaining an interest in promotion or relegation throughout and being unable to coast. Every game would be important, better preparing players for the challenge of international cricket.

Lastly, give our former stalwart Steffan Jones a senior bowling role in English cricket. His assertion that we are moulding bowlers who pass gym tests but continually break down makes great sense.  Ask the old-timers and they will tell you that they got fit by bowling, not bench pressing their own body weight. If a few people listened to him, we might find an English quickie again who can match verbals with venom.

Enjoy, as I did, Steffan's paper on 'The demise of the anti-fragile bowler'

Finally today, I am pleased to see that Tom Taylor is back in the county game with a contract at Leicestershire. His talent is obvious, but so is Derbyshire's desire for more immediate success than his slow development afforded.

While there has been no official statement to the effect, my guess is that the club wants a leaner playing staff and space within that for the talent moving through the academy to gain earlier exposure to second team cricket.

If we don't think that the likes of Taylor, Rob Hemmings, perhaps in turn Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes will make it, then we need to allow others the opportunity to do so. It is tough, but that is professional sport for you. Let's see if young lads who are dominating in age group cricket can learn to do so at the next level, rather than becoming blase about their talent and wasting crucial development time.

Other counties are bringing through young players who are producing regularly in their early twenties, while ours are generally several years older. Hopefully the work of Mal Loye and senior players with the academy boys may seem them ready sooner.

There's only one way to find that out.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Taylor and Hemmings releases no real surprise

It is always sad to see the release of players from the club that you support.

If I'm honest, which I always try to be, there is no real surprise, however, in the departure of Tom Taylor and Rob Hemmings.

Both are talented cricketers, because you don't get on to a county staff without having that little 'extra' that is required. Hemmings rarely got near the first team and I was more surprised when he wasn't released at the end of last summer, the rationale presumably being the contract dates. He scored his runs in the second team and took wickets, but rarely in sufficient quantity to make people sit up and take notice. With a more established look to the senior middle order, something special was needed and it just didn't happen for him.

Perhaps for Tom Taylor, whose brother James has recently won a contract at the club, the situation was less clear cut. He can play all right and showed talent with bat and ball, suggesting that there is a good cricketer in there, trying to get out. He could get wickets and good ones too, but mixed up the occasional 'jaffa' with a few too many that required no attention from the batsmen, together with one an over that was a boundary ball.

I don't think he was ever the same bowler after he went away to work with the potential England performance programme and a stress fracture to the back resulted in a remodelled action. Sixteen wickets last summer in the mid-thirties was pretty much what he has sustained through his time on the staff and there was, I think, a fear that he hasn't 'kicked on' as we might have hoped.

His batting was useful, though perhaps without the expectation that he would develop into something more than a bowler who could handle a bat. He was a handy night watchman and, the next morning, often showed himself able to play some shots.

He may be one of the many late developers of course. He may ship up somewhere and, when it all clicks, he will become a county stalwart, like Paul Taylor did at Northampton. Then again, he may return to the leagues and once more come to our attention as a more mature player, as Colin Tunnicliffe and Tony Borrington once did.

Yet in the short term, I struggled to see when he would play in 2018. With the club chasing an overseas seamer who can bat for the start of the summer, and Hardus Viljoen and Ravi Rampaul two of the first names on the team sheet, openings appeared thin. Then there's Will Davis, hopefully fit and firing, with Ben Cotton ahead in the pecking order too, not to mention the evergreen Tony Palladino.

Later in the summer, when at least one spinner will play regularly, the opportunities were likely to be even slimmer and the parting, though sad, makes sense. The idea of a senior eleven primarily made up of youngsters making their way seems to have been abandoned, replaced by one of players justifying their place by a sustained level of performance. With young players elsewhere establishing themselves more quickly in their county eleven, patience with a lad who had sixty wickets in four summers probably wore thin.

I hope he uses the release as a catalyst for success elsewhere, but there will now be an expectation, I think, for young players to make a more immediate 'mark' on the county game. With a few talented seamers coming up in the academy and plenty of experienced help for them on the staff, there will be greater expectation on the next generation. More chances for them to play in the second team too, the only way that they can really hope to develop their game.

I wish both Tom and Rob the best in their future endeavours, as I am sure you do.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Book Review: Over And Out - Albert Trott The Man Who Cleared the Lord's Pavilion by Steve Neal

One of the thrills of doing this blog over the years has been getting sent copies of cricket books for review by publishers. I have seen some that were less impressive, others that will stand the test of time.

This is one of the latter.

Albert Trott was one of the big names of golden age cricket. A man good enough to be picked to play five Tests in which he averaged 38 with the bat and 15 with the ball, took 26 wickets and was never picked again.

There were factions and rivalries to blame for his omission from the 1896 Australian tour to England, together with a feeling that he was a player of mercurial talent who suited himself, rather than the needs of the team. He liked to attack the bowling when he had a bat in his hand, but often did so before well set, to the detriment of his average. As a bowler he had the lot, bowled in a round arm style that could put in a fast one, just as easily as he would swing it or spin it when conditions suited him. He was not averse to buying wickets either when the batsmen prospered and he could be expensive. Yet in the variety of his skills he was a precursor of the modern one-day bowler, a format that would have suited him down to the ground

For around a decade he was a stand out player in the Middlesex side and a player that people came to watch. His reputation was made on a July day in 1899, when he hit Monty Noble of the visiting Australian side over the Lord's pavilion. He remains the only man to have done so, yet it perhaps summed up Trott's life that such a monstrous hit only counted for four under the rules of the day, the ball ending up in the garden of the house of a dressing room attendant, still within the confines of the ground. In that year and the one to follow, Trott scored over a thousand runs and took over two hundred wickets, figures that confirmed him as one of the giants of the age.

His batting deteriorated after this, attributed to his intent to replicate the feat. His batting became more that of exciting cameos, yet when he middled them, they continued to go a long way. His bowling was a force for some years, but a lifestyle in which he celebrated hard and enjoyed the drinks bought him by well-wishers affected his fitness and physique. In his early thirties, he could have been mistaken for someone 15-20 years older and while he still held catches that his team mates, a notoriously poor fielding side, would not have considered chances, his form was latterly elusive and he drifted from the game.

Trott took four wickets in four balls and then the hat trick in his benefit match in 1907, ending the match early as a consequence and robbing himself of a considerable amount of money. The latter proved elusive when his career ended, cricket having been his only life and interest. A spell as a first-class umpire was truncated when he suffered badly from dropsy, being admitted to hospital for fluid to be removed from his legs and his abdomen.

By 1914 he had had enough. Writing his will on the back of a laundry ticket and leaving his wardrobe and £4 in cash to his landlady, he shot himself in his bed and died immediately, aged only 41.

Contemporaries tell of a man who struggled away from the limelight and a circle of friends, or hangers-on, as we might call them today. A kindly man and a character, perhaps a little too fond of the drink for his own good and less willing to look after himself than others, who played for much longer at a time when players would continue well into their forties.

Trott was a very fine player, perhaps, for a couple of seasons, a great player of his time. He has been well served in this admirably researched and well written book by the author, who in turn has been treated well by Pitch Publishing. I would have liked to have seen a career record at the back, but that is a minor quibble.

You get to the end of this book knowing more about Victorian and Edwardian society and about Albert Trott, a flawed genius, but a man who entertained.

Not a bad epitaph, as they go.

Over And Out: Albert Trott - The Man Who Cleared The Lord's Pavilion is written by Steve Neal and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book sellers.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy new year everyone, and I hope that the one ahead is full of everything that you wish for.

And we wish for, in the case of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

Yesterday, after a quiet time, came news that the announcement of our two main overseas roles may not be too far away. In an interview on the club web site, Kim Barnett said that an overseas spinner for the second half of the summer and T20 Blast, as well as a seam bowler for the RLODC and the start of the championship matches should be announced 'soon'.

Both can bat, continued Barnett, so a little teaser there for us to ponder.

My dream ticket signing in the spinning role would be Afghan sensation Rashid Khan, who at 19 is probably the best young spinner I have seen. He has traveled the world in 2017 and played T20 cricket in India, Australia and the Caribbean, starring in all of them. A bowler who can turn it viciously both ways, I thought that top batsmen might have worked him out by now, but that is far from the case.

His googly is his most potent weapon, yet no one seems to pick it with confidence and the bowler's astonishing averages of just 14 to 15 runs per wicket seem set to continue for a while yet. He is going for less than six an over in the T20, which is quite extraordinary, while his control is remarkable.

Perhaps the different wickets in England might be the making of him, or they may find him wanting, but a brave and ambitious county would offer a young man of huge talent the opportunity to broaden his experience and skills. I would love that to be Derbyshire.

I have discounted Imran Tahir, as the last we heard he wanted only to play T20 and can otherwise only throw Jeevan Mendis back into the frame after his early summer stint last year. I suppose South African Keshav Maharaj could be an option, but after that I struggle for genuine contenders who could handle both required forms of the game and have batting ability.

The seaming all-rounder? I have earlier this winter noted the claims of Jason Holder, the West Indies skipper, but otherwise suspect that our strong South African links might bear fruit.

Seam bowlers who can bat, but are less likely to have IPL involvement might include Duanne Olivier and Andile Pheluhkwayo. Both, I think, have the requisite international appearances, something that may exclude Dane Paterson, who I liked the look of last year against England and Dewald Pretorius. Wayne Parnell's angle may offer another option, but he is a regular IPL pick, as is the excellent Chris Morris.

All conjecture, of course, until we are told otherwise.

Fun all the same though...

Sunday, 31 December 2017

And finally...

In the closing hours of 2017, a chance to wish all of you, wherever you are, the very best for the year that lies ahead.

In the season just past, that now seems a distant memory, Derbyshire made decent strides forward. The T20 can be looked back upon with considerable satisfaction, providing more memorable moments than that competition has managed in the previous five. If we can persuade John Wright and Dominic Cork to return, then recruit a couple of top players for the competition, we could easily manage the same, if not better, next year.

In the four-day game, I suspect our season may have panned out differently had Hardus Viljoen been available all summer. If he starts next year in the same form he ended this, has the expected support from the experienced Ravi Rampaul and perhaps an overseas seamer who can bat in April, then our championship may be less the form of also rans, more that of promotion candidates. With, fingers crossed, a fully fit Will Davis in the mix, we should bowl sides out.

Neither of our two batting lynch pins, Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, were in their best four-day form last year, but there was enough progress elsewhere in the side to suggest next summer could be one to excite us.

Here's hoping.

To you and yours, enjoy your evening and I hope that 2018 brings everything you wish for.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas wishes - and John Wright's festive single

The next few days are going to be busy for family Peakfan, as well as for all of you, no doubt, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas.

After the travails of the year, our family is looking forward to this one especially. Sylvia is doing really well now, I am pleased to relate and should be back to her best in the months that lie ahead.

I would like to thank all of you who have checked in regularly throughout the year and those who have contributed your thoughts from time to time. That's ten years that I have been doing the blog now and it continues to grow, each successive year bringing more hits than the ones that preceded it.

I am proud of that, and flattered. What started out as a means of getting in touch with 'one or two' Derbyshire fans out there now has seen readership increase to 34 countries. It is always a particular pleasure to hear from those far away, whose support of the club continues undiminished despite the miles in between. Please continue to get in touch and I will always reply, as and when I can.

Thanks also to those who have bought my two books and in answer to your questions, the Edwin Smith one is long since sold out, with copies now popping up on ebay from time to time.

In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation continues to sell well and the box that I had pre-Christmas has been reduced to one last lonely copy. Festive delivery won't happen now, but if anyone would like to buy it, suitably inscribed, please get in touch. Copies are still available, while stocks last, from Amazon and your local book shop.

Every so often something blog-related happens that surprises me and that happened overnight, when I got an email from Rodeo Records in New Zealand. My thanks go to Aly Cook for the link below to John Wright's Christmas single, which I hope that you enjoy as much as I do. As a seasoned traveler to Tennessee, country music is close to my heart and this is a song that will doubtless seep into your sub-conscious and find you singing or humming the chorus in the days ahead.

I will say with confidence that Derbyshire has the best Christmas song in county cricket this year.

Maybe that's a portent of things to come in 2018?

Enjoy the video - and your Christmas!


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Knives out for the county game

Well folks, Christmas is coming and we come closer to the end of another year.

Activity at Derbyshire this week seems to have revolved around Alex Hughes delivering memberships and the players having what appears to have been a sports-themed Christmas party, from the photos on Twitter. All good stuff, of course and the reality is that we will know little else about next season's plans, I guess, until the new year and the IPL draft.

There's little point in contracting an early season overseas player until we know if he will be involved in the Indian competition for several weeks. We must be patient and acknowledge that behind the scenes a lot of work is doubtless going on.

Off the field, I realised this week that my work's new holiday policy, where next year's calendar opens up in November before the fixtures are announced, is not conducive to booking cricket trips. I managed to get a week in July and August in there for family breaks, but neither coincides with the cricket as announced. Perhaps as well, as neither are to God's own county.

I have managed to work a long weekend around the opening four-day game at Derby, because it is usually too cold for most to holiday, so should get to see what we look like then. Another couple of planned trips have been knocked back, at least for now. I will also pull in a couple of days in Durham for the four-day game there, all being well and will shape the rest of my visits when we get into the new year.

Elsewhere, the usual suspects have started to blame England's tour travails on the county schedule, likely doing a copy and paste from the last time they wrote it, which was when we last lost a series. It's funny, when we win, no one says it is because of the excellent grounding on the county circuit, but when we lose, it's like they are being made to work the pit face, naked, with a knife and fork for tools.

When we read that Steven Finn has 'pace sucked out of him by the daily grind' there is an initial sympathy, until one explores further and sees he bowled less than 300 overs in the summer just past. There will be plenty of veterans who will laugh a little at that, and a good few for who that was around a month's bowling.

I don't pretend the life of a county cricketer is easy, because it isn't. Everyone wants a pop at you, thinks they could do as well, given opportunity and thinks you should score runs and take wickets every time you play. It doesn't work like that, but it also a life of privilege, as many realise when it is no longer there and an 'ordinary life' beckons.

The England squad, in my humble opinion, would be better served by appreciating what they have and not treating a tour like an all-expenses paid jolly, which this tour appears to have become. With privilege comes responsibility, certainly in personal conduct and, like anyone in the public eye, there will always be those out there who are ready and wanting to bring you down.

Making four-day cricket less of an unwelcome guest might help too. Playing four-day cricket in the early part of the year, when quick bowlers can't get warm and the dibbly-dobblies thrive is stupid. You won't win in Australia with Darren Stevens, even if he will get 30 wickets by the end of May on slow, green wickets as sure as night turns to day.

If the cricket authorities seriously want to win the Test series and see it as more prestigious than a T20 series win (which it is) then they need to show its importance with scheduling. I'd guess that Harold Rhodes and Bill Copson were more willing to let themselves go on a warm day when the muscles were loose and the wicket had a bit of bounce. When those conditions are available now, our bowlers want only to bowl wide yorkers and a range of slower balls.

Anyway, I can't change it any more than you and the suits at Lord's only want to increase the game's pulling power with a city-based T20, which for me remains doomed to failure.

On the bright side, if it succeeds there will be a lot more people interested in the game who will wonder why we are so poor as a touring side.

And start to ask questions themselves...

I will be back before Christmas - see you then.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Mystic Peakfan thrice foretells the future...

I think I should put on a coupon today, as three times this week my erstwhile comments have been shown to be accurate by subsequent events.

First up we had Luis Reece ending his stint in Bangladesh with a dazzling top score of an unbeaten 80 when opening the batting, when earlier, slotted into the unfamiliar middle order, runs were harder to come by.

Who'd have thought it eh? As I wrote at the time, there was no point signing him if you don't bat him in his regular place and it suggests that the selectors, while obviously able, don't always allow common sense to interfere with their work.

Then there is England's struggle, again, to bowl out Australia in their own conditions. Once more, while I'd love to claim the foresight of a Romany mystic, common sense dictated that on a semi-decent batting track a semi-decent Australian side would simply line up an attack that is squarely built around a battery of right arm, fast-medium bowlers.

Variety of your attack, at any level of the game, is a key to taking wickets. How often do we see the advent of a spinner taking a wicket, after batsmen have become established against fast medium bowlers? I hope that Derbyshire persevere with Luis Reece's left arm medium pace and Matt Critchley's leg spin, because they offer something different. If Hardus Viljoen returns from his winter overseas fully fit and Will Davis is fit for more than a couple of games at a time, that variety in our attack will help us to win games. Always assuming that the batsmen score the runs we need, of course.

Finally - and going back over a year to my original thoughts on this - we now read that ten first-class counties, Derbyshire apparently among them, have written to ECB chairman Colin Graves in opposition to the plans for the eight city 20/20  competition due to start in 2020.

Why? Because the framework agreement cuts them out of an ownership share that was promised back at the start, for 'legal and tax efficiency reasons'.

As long-term readers will know, I expressed my grave reservations about this competition and what it meant for the smaller counties when it was first touted. Promises were made to 'buy' support that never looked sustainable to me and the whole thing, then as now, looked like some Machiavellian sub-plot to first marginalise and then dispense with several counties.

Having been involved in cricket, from a playing, watching and reporting perspective for over fifty years, I can honestly say that there are plenty of people within it who, were they to tell me it was sunny outside, I would want to check before I put on my sun cream. As my old Dad, still sage and alert at 90 told me the other day once again, 'it's the best game in the world, but has always been run by the biggest idiots'.

Harsh? There are the well-meaning out there, but too many, in positions of power, who are out to feather their own nests, irrespective of the cost and impact on others. It has always been so and likely will remain that way.

If these counties don't stand together, the county game in 25 years time will be massively changed to its detriment. We have already seen the marginalisation of the four-day game and to those who question who attends these games, my answer is quick and to the point. No one does who is in employment, because the games are arranged for midweek when we cannot go. Play more games Friday to Monday, even if it means three divisions and six teams in each, then see the difference.

In closing, thanks to all those who have ordered copies of 'In Their Own Words'. I now have just two left, although Amazon have sourced more and it can still be ordered from your local book shop.

I will gladly post mine, inscribed as you wish, in time for Christmas, if ordered in the next couple of days. Price £15 now though, as they will need to go first-class on Monday or Tuesday.

Have a good weekend.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Book rush leaves me with limited copies

Thanks to all those who got in touch to buy inscribed copies of my post war oral history of the club 'In Their Own Words'.

I am now down to the last half dozen copies of the book and new copies are now selling on Amazon for over £30, with stock seemingly in short supply.

A recent review on Amazon called it 'a brilliant book not only for a life-time Derbyshire supporter such as myself, but also for any cricket enthusiast with a deep love of the wonderful game of cricket. Every story is fascinating and in many cases there are amusing anecdotes which verify the spirit in which the game was played. A great piece of work'.

It tells the story of life on the county cricket circuit since the last war, told by the people who played the game for Derbyshire and were among its major characters. Opened with what was for me a memorable interview with the late Walter Goodyear, it travels through the 1950s with Harold Rhodes, Edwin Smith and Keith Mohan, on into the 1960s with Peter Eyre, Peter Gibbs and Brian Jackson. Legends such as Bob Taylor, John Wright and Devon Malcolm are included, while county stalwarts Alan Hill and Tony Borrington's memories of the pace attacks of the 1970s and 80's are memorable.

My remaining copies are available, inscribed as you wish, for £14, including second-class postage.  

If you have a Derbyshire fan in your life, I am grateful for the fact that it has enjoyed excellent reviews and has been enjoyed. I am equally happy that non-county fans have enjoyed its memories of the county game as it changed over seventy summers.

A good Christmas present and, as the old advert used to say, when it's gone, it's gone.

Contact me now to get yours in time for Christmas, with an email to peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

And thanks to everyone who has already bought it and for your positive comments.