Sunday, 25 September 2016

Final thoughts (for now) on the coaching role

There has been some good, healthy discussion on the coaching roles at the club over recent days. Thank you all for your well-expressed comments.

To my knowledge, no structure has yet been announced. Whether, for example, it includes a role for Kim Barnett to oversee the cricket side is a fair question. After all, he has reported to the board on the state of the playing side, suggesting a remit, temporary or otherwise, on that side of club affairs. I am not aware of the club president doing that before, though of course precedent is not something of which I am a devout fan.

The point I tried to make yesterday was that whoever looks after the coaching, be it John Sadler or anyone else, is likely to have blemishes on their CV, unless they take on the role as a first coaching post. Peter Moores, a very good coach who has gone to Nottinghamshire, has known the sack, as has Chris Adams. There is a lot to appeal in Adams, but there are those who felt he struggled with the Surrey role, where he was eventually sacked. It should not rule him out of consideration for the Derbyshire role, should he be interested, any more than taking on a listing ship, mid-season, where there were obvious things going on in the background, should preclude Sadler. Both men doubtless learned a great deal from their respective experiences.

Dave Houghton was a good man and coach. Then again, so were John Morris, Graeme Welch, Karl Krikken and Adrian Pierson. Gone are the days when a coach could remain in charge for twenty years, like Denis Smith did, when supporters and administrators alike are hungry and impatient for success and intolerant of failure, perceived or real.

Our big mistake, in my opinion, came last winter when we failed to strengthen properly. In putting faith in young seam bowling talent, Graeme Welch, a good man and excellent coach, perhaps expected a faster development of them all. It didn't happen and the one experienced seamer recruited, Andy Carter, just didn't work out.

It was similar to 1970, as Edwin Smith explained in my latest book. Had Derbyshire recruited then, having had a good season, they could have pushed on and perhaps become a really good side. Instead, players retired very quickly afterwards and we were left with too many youngsters who struggled at county level.

To a great extent I don't care who is to be the next Derbyshire coach, because I have no idea over who is available and who would be interested in the role. All I care about is that he has both the coaching and man management requirements for the role, because few have both of those attributes in equal measure.

It is like management in any other walk of life. There are those who are intimate with processes who will handle that side of the job, but lack the people skills which are so important. There are times someone needs an arm around the shoulder and times they need a firm word. Knowing who responds to what is half the battle and picking the right time and place to do both will generally separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whether from inside or outside the club, a big name or otherwise, all that really matters is that the successful candidate brings coaching and people skills to the table, together with a book of contacts that make all walks of life a lot easier.

The sooner we get someone, the better for all of us.

Season review : the County Championship

When Derbyshire took to the field for the season opener, back in April, there were six players in the side who look unlikely to be around in 2017.

Making such an assertion may appear presumptuous, but Andy Carter left mid-season, having failed to show the form that suggested he could be a leader of the attack, while Luke Fletcher's loan period was memorable only for being unmemorable. Hamish Rutherford had a hugely disappointing summer, while Tom Poynton had to retire midway through with a recurrence of the injury that had so sadly interrupted his career.

Meanwhile Wes Durston and Chesney Hughes have vanished without a trace in recent weeks and we now know that the latter will not be around in 2017. It made for a difficult summer in the four-day game, when the attack's crippling lack of experience left them exposed, on good early summer wickets, to batsmen who were happy to drink at the well, with conditions heavily weighted in their favour. 

Only the evergreen Tony Palladino exceeded thirty wickets, although both Will Davis and Ben Cotton produced displays that hinted of progress and potential. Both need to develop greater consistency, although time is very much on their side. Late in the season Tom Milnes produced displays with bat and ball that suggested he could also develop into a useful cricketer, given opportunity.

Tom Taylor missed most of the season with a stress fracture, while Greg Cork only got a game in the final fixture, which put additional pressure on the excellent Shiv Thakor. He had a splendid season with bat and ball, until his workload possibly caused a back injury that ruled him out of the closing weeks.

Alex Hughes was another who was largely ignored until the last few matches, when opportunity gave him the chance to bat three. He did a good job, registering a career-best century and staking a claim for the role next year, although his bowling may be of greater use in the one-day game, moving forward.

The side cried out as much for a quality spinner as it did for a strike seamer, Mark Footitt being sorely missed. Matt Critchley bowled beautifully in the one-day game, but struggled to take wickets in the longer format, while Callum Parkinson showed potential in a handful of outings but opted to take up a contract with Leicestershire for 2017. With Tom Knight's promising career ruined, at least for now, with too much tinkering and Wes Durston only playing one-day cricket latterly, the club has to address a major weakness over the winter.

In a summer where new regulations over the toss gave the visiting side the option to bowl before one took place, batsmen were always likely to prosper - and did. Seven players ended with an average in excess of forty, the star once again being Wayne Madsen. He started with a century in the first match and maintained form throughout the summer, ending with an average in the top fifties and underlining once more how important he is to the side. His player of the year award was both fully deserved and a racing certainty.

Skipper Billy Godleman enjoyed a solid summer too, just missing out on a thousand runs despite missing early matches with a hand injury. Madsen and Godleman will be key players in the Derbyshire side going forward. Ben Slater struggled for a starting role initially, but let no one down when he did and staked a strong claim as an established player for next year.

Meanwhile, Chesney Hughes started well, suffered a lean patch and then was omitted from the side without explanation, when in sight of a thousand runs. His announced departure is disappointing, but the club must now move forward without a player in whose development a lot of time has been invested.

Shiv Thakor emerged from a difficult 2015 to enjoy a prolific summer, looking stylish and fluent whenever he batted. The club has high hopes of the player, as do I, with international aspirations not at all unrealistic.

Sadly, two players of international reputation, Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom, failed, each averaging only in the mid-twenties. Frustratingly they often got starts, only to give it away. Engaged in crucial overseas roles, neither justified the cost and while Broom has a chance to make amends next year, Rutherford will be remembered as a batsman capable of brilliance, but too fleetingly to prove worthwhile.

Behind the stumps, Tom Poynton started well, before that ankle injury forced his premature retirement from the game. The county will be the poorer - and quieter  - for that, although late in the season Harvey Hosein confirmed his rich potential with bat and ball, playing a succession of composed innings that suggested the role will be in good hands. With Gary Wilson signed from Surrey to push him from next season, it should be one area of the side where we have few concerns.

Bottom of the table tells its own story, Some good cricket was played, but the inexperience of the attack meant that watching Derbyshire was like watching a boxer with an arm tied behind his back, However many runs we scored, the opposition were always likely to score many more. It made for a depressing summer, saved only by some improved performances in the one-day game (review to follow).

John Sadler took over mid-season and did well through a difficult summer. He remains a good coach and engaging man but it is anyone's guess as to who is in charge next year. Graeme Welch took over at a difficult time and gave a good grounding to a young squad. The person confirmed in the role, whether Sadler or anyone else, has to infuse youth of some talent with quality, contributing experience. Far too many seniors, for one reason or another, didn't do that this year.

While the batting, perhaps with the addition of a couple of young players for competition, will hold its own another year, an experienced seam bowler and spinner, bowling to their reputation, are the minimum requirements for an improvement in 2017.

The young players will continue to improve and while some will 'top out', there is enough talent emerging to justify longer term optimism.

Finding that right blend will decide whether that is justified.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Chesney Hughes leaves

Half an hour after my last post, the news breaks that Chesney Hughes has, indeed, left Derbyshire County Cricket Club.

It is disappointing, as the departure of a player who has given good service always is, but to be honest I had been expecting this for the past few weeks, like most of you and the announcement at least draws an end to a process that hasn't been 'clean' from any perspective.

That the club has been unable to agree terms with Chesney suggests that the demands from the player or his agent, in one way or another, had been unrealistic. At the end of the day, the club has a salary structure that has to be adhered to.

Chesney had his best summer this year, averaging over fifty in the first-class game, but whatever he was wanting, either in salary or in conditions of contract, the club was not prepared to meet. That is their prerogative and they have made the decision based on information that only they know.

That he was wonderful to watch on the good days is undeniable. That he was frustrating on the bad ones is too, the feet not moving and the same mistakes being made this summer that were when he first emerged on the county scene.

The bottom line for me is that Gary Wilson, the one player signed at this stage, has a better first-class average in all formats than Chesney and offers more from a team balance perspective than he did. There was a time when the big Anguillan's slow left arm suggested itself as a potent option, but more recently he has turned his arm over only slightly more often than me.

Difficult situations - and no one can deny that we are not in that - require difficult decisions. If this situation was affecting the mood within the club and causing discord (which it may or may not have been) then the parting of the ways is for the best. The only way that we can move forward as a club is if everyone in it is pulling in the same direction.

No player is bigger than his club and if this leads to improvement for Derbyshire and the furtherance of Chesney Hughes' career then it is very much for the best.

We will always remember the days when Chesney bludgeoned opposition attacks, while his marathon 270 against Yorkshire has left him indelibly stamped in the club record books.

I wish him well in his career and thank him for the entertainment he provided.

As for Derbyshire, the rebuilding has begun and I can't find fault with decisive action.

Coaching situation needs sorted - and quickly

The end of the season is always time for reflection and this year certainly has plenty for Derbyshire's board to look at.

A summer that started, if not with confidence  of improved fortunes then with at least optimism of it, dissipated way too quickly for most tastes. Within a couple of games of the season starting, it became obvious that our attack would struggle to bowl teams out in a four-day match, especially on wickets that were far too heavily weighted in favour of batsmen. The loss of Mark Footitt to Surrey hit us hard and, with no spinner of genuine quality and experience to call on, our sessions in the field became exercises in containment and damage limitation.

I remain convinced that we have some seam bowlers of talent at the club. Ben Cotton, Will Davis and Tom Milnes showed enough in short, sporadic bursts to suggest they could take wickets at this level, while Tom Taylor should come again, once his issue with a stress fracture in his back is sorted. Matt Critchley likewise could become a spinner of ability, but is probably several seasons from being one who will bowl sides out on a wearing pitch.

They all need time to develop the requisite skills and for their physiques to fully develop, before they can be considered even solid county performers, however. It is imperative for Derbyshire, even if we are to consider moving off the bottom of the table next year, let alone further improvement, to bring in a strike bowler of experience, together with a spinner with expectations of taking wickets. Any other signings would be a bonus and a seam bowling all rounder wouldn't go amiss either, but I have no idea of the resources available.

While factoring in close season development of young players, the reality is that the only Derbyshire players, at this stage, who could be said to be definite four-day side players for next summer right now are Slater, Godleman, Madsen, Hosein, Wilson, Thakor and Palladino. Alex Hughes could well be another, but for me there are four places 'up for grabs', with most of the bowling roles among them. As Tony Palladino's new contract includes a coaching remit, perhaps the plan is to play him on a 'horses for courses' basis and keep fingers crossed that he can pass on his skills to a new generation.

Neil Broom should be another automatic pick, but irrespective of whether he has traveled from New Zealand or not, he has to be picked on merit and form alone, not reputation. I've not included Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston, as the silence in recent weeks has only suggested, rightly or wrongly, that they won't be around either. In prime form you would take them both, but we await news and developments on that score.

Mind you, we have two batsmen/wicket keepers, both of who should be picked in either capacity...

Bringing in the right men will take patience, money and the right coach. Players at this stage, will, I think, be loathe to commit to Derbyshire until they know who they will work with and what the coaching situation really is. Its not been made clear to supporters - we know John Sadler has been nominally in charge, but Dominic Cork was involved for a while and Kim Barnett has had a watching brief. It would be useful to clarify the new structure as soon as possible so that we can get the coach situation resolved and bedded in.

I don't necessarily buy the argument that John Sadler is now associated with failure. Name me a coach in professional sport who has constant success  and has never known failure and he won't have many people for company. Any such role can only be as good as the players you have available, how they perform, what they have going on in the background and what money you have to change things. There will always be those who respond to you, together with others who don't. A bit like teaching, when you think about it.

Until a role is advertised, we won't know who is interested in taking on the Derbyshire challenge, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will have minuses, as well as pluses, on their CV.

Look at Dave Houghton. We had him at Derbyshire, where he had his critics, despite being renowned as an outstanding batting coach. We let him go, and he's now made a great success as batting coach of the county champions, Middlesex. Likewise, Steve Stubbings has done really well as Northamptonshire batting coach, despite not getting real opportunity with us. Graeme Welch is revered as a bowling coach, yet left us mid-season. There's an unattractive pattern emerging there...

I don't think we need the raft of coaches from the last structure but we do need the right man. One who knows the game and builds the kind of team spirit that Karl Krikken did and John Sadler has done. Maybe, in this process, Sadler, a lovely bloke and one who will have learned massively from a huge learning curve this summer, will come out on top. Given a winter to work with players, recruit the right people and develop the right culture, he could be the man for the role. But I'll not second guess the likely applicants, because you can't.

All I hope is that we appoint someone after a robust process, then let them get on with it as they see fit. Whether there is truth in it or not, rumours that X is having a say in matters or Y has got so and so's ear are counter-productive. If a coach has sufficient credibility to be appointed in the first place, give him his head and give him the time that is needed to turn our club around, without interference but with support available on request.

Look at Worcestershire, a good club, very well run and with Steve Rhodes the director of cricket for ten years. Also David Ripley, who has done a great job with Northamptonshire for four years. Both men are respected but needed time to impose themselves. As did Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire, who took over at a relegated club and did an extraordinary job from 2011.

For me, judging a Derbyshire coach on trophies is unrealistic. It shouldn't stop us trying for one, as Northamptonshire and Leicestershire have shown what is possible in recent years. Yet if we can get a coach who can produce a steady stream of good county cricketers, playing attractive, aggressive and positive cricket and entertaining the crowds that is a good start. Perhaps the rest will follow.

If you're out there with those credentials, there's a place waiting for you at the 3aaa County Ground.

If you're already there - then I wish you all the luck in the world in taking us on a journey that, let's face it, can really only improve from eighteenth position.

Retirements for two former players

Chris Rogers retired from first-class cricket this week, after an exemplary career in which he became an outstanding county overseas professional for several clubs.

One of those was Derbyshire, of course, where he proved a courteous, likeable and immensely popular player who did what he was paid to do - score runs by the thousand. It was indicative of the strength of Australian cricket at the time that neither he nor Michael Di Venuto, another outstanding player who graced the county scene for a number of years, could force a way into an impressive batting side at national level.

Yet their loss was county cricket's gain and 'Buck' was a wonderful servant to Derbyshire, in a career where he also played for four other counties. He finished his career with Somerset, nearly taking them to a first championship, and ending with a career average of a shade under fifty. He never cracked T20, making only three fifties in the format, but he scored a bucket load of runs in every other version of the game.

International recognition came late and perhaps when he was past his best, but he still averaged 42 and exceeded two thousand runs, confirming what a talent he was.

He can head off into retirement with his head held high and let no one down in the course of a wonderful career.

On a lesser note, Andy Carter also announced his retirement from the first-class game yesterday. His move to Derbyshire this season never worked out and I have to admit being surprised by that. He looked a good bowler, up to and including last season when he had a spell at Glamorgan, but to me seemed to have lost a little nip this year.

His mid-season departure from us came as no real surprise and a few games for Hampshire weren't marked by sustained success.

I wish him well in whatever ventures he has lined up.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 4

Worcestershire 475-7 and 43-1

Derbyshire 248 and 266 (Madsen 100, Hosein 59, Milnes 36)

Worcestershire won by nine wickets

A county championship season that ended in high drama at Lord's, where Middlesex and Yorkshire engineered a last day of both farce and brilliance, ended in a fireworks display that fizzled out like the dampest of squibs at New Road.

Despite a typical innings from Wayne Madsen, who made his sixth century of the season and in doing so entered the Derbyshire cricket pantheon, there was simply not enough support. Harvey Hosein played another fine innings, finishing the season with successive scores of 52 not, 83 not, 58, 108 and 59, but Tom Milnes apart, the rest came and went with far too great a speed. The home side were left with a total that my club side could have handled and defeat came to end a chastening summer.

Madsen can hold his head high, having registered his highest-ever season tally, while Hosein has confirmed that he and Gary Wilson can play in the same side next season. Whichever takes the gloves is largely irrelevant, but both will be among the best batsmen and should take a place as a matter of course.

John Sadler said at the end that the players will have learned a lot from the season, which I am sure they will. They need to have, because they must come back to training later in the year intent on doing better next year and never repeating this experience. Young they are, but they need to improve across the board and be joined by a  clutch of senior players who offer more than some of ours did this year.

We came eighteenth of eighteen counties for a reason - the other seventeen were consistently better than us. The club board needs to sort out the coaching situation and let those currently involved know where they stand as soon as possible, so the rebuilding can commence and players know where they stand when considering joining the cause.

Supporters need that too. There have been enough talking points in recent weeks that really need clearing up so we can move on.

The worst summer in living memory? No, because it was salvaged by some encouraging one-day efforts and I have seen 49 of them now, some of them with not even that to redeem them.

I sincerely hope that my 50th next year is a whole lot better, for everyone's sake.

Season reviews will follow for championship and one-day cricket in the coming days.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 3

Worcestershire 475-7 dec

Derbyshire 248 (Hosein 108, Cork 49)

and 15-1

On the penultimate day of an underwhelming county championship season, Derbyshire delivered one more disappointing batting display that was redeemed only by another wonderful effort from Harvey Hosein.

He not only exceeded his personal best for a second successive game, but went on to register a maiden century, eventually being last man out for an outstanding 108. He was lent good support by Greg Cork, who missed a debut fifty by one run, but apart from that, the Derbyshire innings was a mediocre affair.

When both Tony Palladino and Will Davis went to successive balls, I was worried that Harvey was going to be left high and dry again, especially when he continued to take singles early in the over. Yet Ben Cotton, who was at the crease when Alex Hughes registered his maiden ton in 2015, did the job once more and kept an end going as long as required.

The follow on was enforced and Ben Slater was out before the close.

Tomorrow will be a long and attritional battle to save the game, though the assertion on Cricinfo earlier that 'Derbyshire look likely to go through the season without a win' was somewhat a case of stating the obvious.


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 2

Worcestershire 475-7 (Clarke 194, Leach 107 not, Cotton 3-63)

Derbyshire 15-0

Derbyshire trail by 460 runs

Last night I suggested that Derbyshire needed an early breakthrough this morning. As it turned out, we never got one until the home total had passed 400 and that was all we managed in a tiring and largely fruitless session. It is, indeed, a game that appears to have 'end of season' emblazoned across it.

With two days to go, batting would not appear especially problematic, though there is considerable difference between the experience of the two sides. The ease with which Billy Godleman and Ben Slater began the reply suggested that the ball was coming on to the bat well enough and we must hope that continues into the third day.

Billy needs another 85 runs to reach a thousand in the County Championship, reaching which would be just reward for a steady summer. There's the nucleus of a decent batting side at Derbyshire, which needs augmented elsewhere to become a competitive outfit next summer.

More tomorrow.

New City T20 - an interview with Chris Grant

It was a pleasant surprise to get a text from Derbyshire's chairman, Chris Grant, on Saturday, offering to do an interview with me regarding the plans for the new city T20. Having read the somewhat caustic piece that I wrote before the weekend, he said he was happy to call me and tell me everything that he knew about the competition and why Derbyshire had voted in its favour.

It speaks volumes for the man that he did so and I'm grateful for the hour or so that we chatted about the competition and exchanged views. He was happy for me to record the chat and to publish it here.

Chris accepted that there were understandable reservations about the competition among traditional county members and also that part of the reason for that was a lack of information.

Andrew Strauss wants to see a competition that features the best players in the UK with top overseas stars, one that ideally replicated the atmosphere and intensity of the final over the World T20, where we fell short. Was that because of  lack of exposure to such match situations? Strauss thinks it might have helped had Ben Stokes had greater experience of the 'pressure cooker' atmosphere as he bowled those last six balls.

The ECB made it clear, in their meeting with the counties, that maintaining the status quo was not an option, at a time when most counties are under severe financial pressure. At the same time, however,  the parity and continuation of an eighteen-county T20 was completely agreed and is regarded as a non-negotiable.

So here are the main points from our lengthy chat, concluding with my questions, after Chris had gone over the presentation that county representatives had received:

Broadcasting - Tom Harrison, formerly on the Derbyshire staff, is world-renowned as an expert on broadcast rights and had confirmed that broadcasters were keen to see a new competition with new brands, one that would attract investment and new audiences. For the first time, with BT Sport and Sky, there are two major broadcasters to bid against one another and drive up the value of this competition. Those broadcasters want something new, a 'best against best' and a compelling spectator experience, to engage a culturally diverse audience.

Ticket sales  - analysis has showed that the majority of the current cricket audience is middle-age, middle-class male, irrespective of the competition. There is concern over the lack of tickets sold to juniors - only 5% of Test match and 13% of T20 Blast tickets go to that category and there is a great desire to tap into that audience.

A survey has shown that while 990,000 people currently attend first-class cricket in some form, there are a further 9.4 million who follow the game but don't attend, between the ages of 16 and 64. A separate survey of 7,000 sports supporters showed that cricket fans saw the game as 'exciting', but most non-fans saw it as 'boring', with twice as many teenagers more likely to go to a rugby match or wrestling event than a cricket match. Only seven in every hundred children had cricket in one of their top ten sports, while one in every two current club cricketers said that they struggle to reconcile the time demands of cricket with their everyday life.

The new competition is aimed at attracting children and parents into both watching and playing the game.

Finance - The ECB has done some very detailed financial analysis, assisted by Deloittes. The estimated annual revenues from the competition were £48 million, largely a combination of ticket sales and broadcasting rights, with running costs of £17 million. That would leave an estimated annual profit of £31 million, some of which would go into the grass roots of the game for participation, but leave £26 million to be split between 18 counties.  Each county would, on those figures, get an annual £1.3 million baseline cash injection, with the eight 'hosting' counties getting an additional fee of £250K. This fee is no different to what Test-hosting grounds get currently, or that we will get for hosting the Women's World Cup.

The use of that £1.3 miilion will be down to individual counties, but Chris would be keen to see much of it ploughed into grass roots cricket and get the game played in every school within the county, with coaching input.

So Chris, what exactly have Derbyshire agreed to?

The same as every county, Steve  - at this stage, ONLY to give the ECB a mandate to develop a future programme of two thriving T20 competitions and identify the best way forward with this. This mandate would include entering into discussions with broadcasters to secure the next TV deal.

Over and above the ticket income, what about the merchandising/refreshments sales at grounds. Won't those clubs retain them, giving them much more than a hosting fee?

All ticket sales will go into a central pot, while the group of  non-Test match counties will fight our corner very hard to ensure that we get our share of ALL revenues that we feel are competition-generated.

You can be assured that there will be some very lively discussion on how much of the burger  sale, or that of a pint, Nottinghamshire and the others will take and what goes into the collective pot!

Chris, I have two major concerns. First, to attract this 'new audience' won't they need to simplify the game? Secondly, if they are looking to get increased participation, where are they going to play? I know a lot of old clubs where the ground is overgrown or has become a housing estate.

I agree on that Steve, you're right and the format and 'look' of this competition will need a lot of work. The ECB and especially Rod Bransgrove, at Hampshire, has been a massive supporter of Cage Cricket . They are looking into this and also potentially buying land to create cricket grounds and clubs.

If the new competition is a successful as the research suggests and the ECB think it will be, we have to find new players and places for them to play, together with new formats of the game with special rules.

So why isn't that being done now, with the known ECB cash reserves, given as £70 million in May of this year?

The problem, Steve,  is that the counties have a combined £130 million of debt and money is currently being swallowed up in servicing that debt. Warwickshire's debt sits at £28.9 million, Yorkshire 24.1, Lancashire 18.8, Surrey 17, Nottinghamshire 11 - plenty of others are in middle single figures...

So where do Derbyshire sit in this?

We have borrowed £2 million pounds short term, of which one million will be paid back by January of next year. We will have a mortgage of around £300K on the Gateway - less than some people have on their houses. We are among the least in debt counties, along with Essex, Sussex and Middlesex, but there is serious debt out there, as I have said, which is sucking too much money out of the game.

Warwickshire's interest payments alone, every year, are £1.6 million. Yorkshire are paying £650K, Lancashire 500K, Surrey 470K, Durham 300K...that is just to service existing debt and it is effectively wasted money. We are paying it to banks and lenders, rather than putting it back into the game of cricket.

So basically this new competition is not aimed at me, or the traditional cricket fan then?

No it's not, Steve and that's why there's been such an outpouring from existing cricket fans. The people planning it don't see the competition as being for the traditional cricket fan, though their support would be a bonus. It is is being aimed squarely at this new, untapped audience and we are duty bound to try to get them into the game. It is the lady across the road who takes her kids to the zoo, or the safari park - that's who they are aiming at, getting her money and that of those like her into the game.

But do they seriously think people will travel to these eight cities to see a game of cricket?

You were right on your blog. There's little chance of Derbyshire members traveling to Nottingham to watch a side that contains perhaps one of our players. But I went to the BBC Music Awards in Birmingham and there were people there from across the country. When Elton John played Grace Road in Leicester, the audience came from Penzance to Edinburgh. They might do that for cricket.

They might not...people 'understand' music, but don't necessarily understand or like cricket...

We simply don't know, Steve. We have to try this and see if it works for the reasons I have explained.

What about its impact on the existing T20 Blast? Detrimental, surely?

One of the non-negotiables from the non-Test ground counties was that there had to be a competition on the same lines as the current T20 Blast. It might reduce to ten games a side, five home, five away in the group stage, but as a group we were adamant that there had to be something where any one of the existing eighteen first-class counties could get to finals day.

Be quite clear that this idea will eventually be voted down if there is not a guaranteed nationally televised T20 Blast competition, as it is at present, with the same resources being thrown into it.

Cynics might say you risk diluting the audience, perhaps saturating the market?

Some may say that. Why would the casual fan go to see Derbyshire play Leicestershire, when you could go and watch the 'Nottinghamshire Eagles' play the 'Southern Shandy Drinkers'? The parochial fan, the current county supporter, will still go to follow THEIR side. It is essential that we get the marketing right, but Simon Storey and I think we can 'piggy back' off the success of a new competition.

For example, Northamptonshire currently have Ben Duckett on their staff. How long they can retain him is a good question, but he has stayed there for now, to his great credit, despite being coveted by every other county. If we get this right, Ben Duckett can afford to stay there, because there will be a draft for this competition each year. The 'vision' is that when, say, Northamptonshire win Finals Day, they will then go to the televised draft/auction and Ben might be picked up by one of the participating sides, based on his form in the competition, for, say, £50K.

His county will release him, just as they would were he playing for England, and perhaps quite happily, because that money reduces the likelihood of him having to go to a big county to earn top money. They will lose him for a few weeks, but otherwise have him available.

OK, I get that. Another question I have is the timing of the competition. I have seen July mentioned - is the month likely to be kept exclusively for that competition, or will there be other cricket going on at the same time?

The first year we could feasibly do this would be 2018, within the existing broadcasting deal, so Sky would air it originally. Colin Graves has gone on record as saying it may be launched in 2020, or whenever it was ready. The main issue of launching it early are its impact on future tours, which are scheduled well in advance. We need the England players involved, so that needs to be factored in.

The current idea is that the existing T20 Blast tournament would take place in late June/July, with the finals day around the third week in July. This new 'Charge' competition, as they are calling it, will take place in August, with the final perhaps in the third week of the month. I should stress that these timings are very much notional at this stage.

The intention is for one to follow the other, although another option, suggested among the counties, would be to play the two halves of the Blast either side of the new competition.

An issue could be that you have a side making a title challenge in the county championship who suddenly lose impetus, because several of their better players are 'drafted' and are no longer available at a key stage of the summer.

Yes, that could happen, but the reality is that we derive only eleven per cent of our revenue from county championship cricket.  We cannot allow that to be a driving force to prevent change. Yes, there will be games when key stars are missing, just as there are now - you won't see Jonny Bairstow or Joe Root near much championship cricket. There will be more missing for those few weeks, but we have to take that on the chin.

I suppose from a Derbyshire perspective, that might level the playing field a little, as on recent form we've only a couple of players likely to go to that draft?

That's probably correct, Steve. We have to fight hard to keep the integrity of the current competition, but be prepared to go with one that might just change county finances. Look at this year - we only played around ten days of cricket in the month of August, so it wouldn't affect that much, as long as the two T20 competitions were kept apart.

I actually think it would 'rev up' the existing competition, because players would be trying hard to impress and get a crack at the 'Super Charge' competition and the financial opportunities it would offer them.

So what are you wanting from supporters and members?

Their understanding of what we are doing and why, together with their mandate to continue to investigate this, while at the same time recognising their concerns and taking them to meetings. We know we won't get universal acceptance or anything like it, but the opinions offered will help us to make it into a robust competition that might just make a difference to the financial set up in the county game.

Chris, thank you for this. I have to say I am still not convinced that this massive untapped audience is there, but I better appreciate the rationale behind the competition - and how much still needs to be worked out.

Steve - neither am I, it will take a massive effort. The grain of comfort I have at present is that when we last hosted the Champions Trophy, it brought out an audience that came out, having not previously been involved in the game in this country.

Where the marketing gurus will earn their corn is in unlocking family involvement. They say they can do it and, while I have my doubts, we have to give them the opportunity.

One final point - the ECB are so confident that they can make this work that they are happy to borrow the money ahead of the broadcasting deal and give this to the counties from 2018. It's like going to the bank with planning permission for a development in your garden and asking for money against it. That's your analogy, right there and we need that money.

It is a work of magic and art to keep our heads above water every single year. Maybe if we hadn't been so effective at this, people in Derbyshire might have realised more how really hard it is, year on year, to keep the club going. We're running a business that loses money every year. By that 'magic', my financial input, the ECB handout and the support of loyal sponsors we somehow get to a break even and small profit.

But it is not sustainable. The ticket revenue from the County Championship each year wouldn't pay the wages of one of our young players. With membership income bringing in just 5.8 pence of every pound in the club, we need to be prepared to explore each and every opportunity.


I hope that the above helps other supporters realise the importance of doing something, whether you are a likely fan of the new competition or otherwise. The figures above convinced me of the need for that at least, even if the likely 'dumbing down' of the proposed game may render it not to my taste.

Do I want to see a change to the current set up? No, not at all, but if it came to a choice between that and counties folding - specifically MY county, then it is a bullet I am prepared to bite, albeit grudgingly.

Just as long as everything is locked down and the 'suits' can't renege on any promises or arrangements. I assume that everything will be carefully looked at and future-proofed from an eighteen-county perspective.

I struggle with the razzmatazz of the T20 Blast and am at an age when I don't really need the 'distractions' from the game, nor indeed coloured clothing. Yet I have grown to like it, tolerating its excesses if disliking the 'in your face' music, dancing and sideshows.

By the sound of it, the new competition will be a step too far for me and likely many of a similar mindset. I might watch one, in due course, just to shake my head like an old codger and tell anyone within earshot that 'it weren't like that in my day'.

Maybe I should warn the family...

But thanks Chris - your time gave me a better appreciation of the rationale and I hope that this blog, the longest I have ever published (albeit with considerable assistance!) will help a few others to better appreciate the challenges faced by our club and those who run it. Like me, some of you may struggle with the concept, but perhaps there is a much greater need. As long as the money IS equally divided between the 18 counties...

Now, if we could attract that new audience with the current set up, it would definitely get my vote.

Of course, I welcome your comments as ever!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Worcestershire v Derbyshire day 1

Worcestershire 255-6 (Clarke 117 not, Cotton 3-46, Milnes 2-46) 

v Derbyshire

Not a bad effort today by a young Derbyshire attack, keeping things tight and under three an over all day.

They might have hoped for greater success after opting to bowl, but a fine century by Joe Clarke, one of the county circuit's finest young batsmen, kept them at bay.

Tony Palladino bowled beautifully all day and finally got a deserved wicket before the close, but Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes took the lion's share of the wickets and we will hope to strike early tomorrow and limit the first innings to under 350.

If they can do that, there will be few complaints - then it is up to the batsmen to do their stuff.

More from me tomorrow.