Monday, 22 September 2014

Derbyshire v Leicestershire preview

For the last time this summer, a match preview, before the long winter nights draw in and we have to make do with anticipatory thoughts of next year.

And nice thoughts they are, too, based on Derbyshire's late season form. In one and four-day cricket we played well, nay, brilliantly at times and looked as good a team as there is in the division in the long game.

There's an unchanged squad for the visit of Leicestershire, a club that hasn't had far to look for problems. An awful season has been compounded by the recent loss of Buck to Lancashire, Cobb to Northamptonshire and, of course, Shiv Thakor to us. While they still have some decent players, the drain of talent from the club must be galling to supporters and administrators alike and a major influx of fresh talent is needed during the close season.

They have two former Derbyshire players in their squad, Dan Redfern and Atif Sheikh. Both had times at the County Ground when they seemed ripe with potential, but it was never truly realised. They will have points to prove tomorrow, but an inexperienced side shouldn't really stand in the way of the Derbyshire juggernaut.

That squad is:

Smith, Robson, Eckersley, Redfern, Pinner, Boyce, O'Brien, Wells, Taylor, Raine, Sykes, Shreck, Sheikh

As for Derbyshire, I don't expect many changes from The Oval. Tom Taylor may come in for a final game of the summer, but Wayne White should play and Mark Footitt definitely will, when he is one wicket short of a hundred in all competitions.

I look forward to seeing play on the last three days, always assuming that play continues into Friday. The forecast is nothing  to worry about and I fully expect to finish the summer in style.

It is the least that recent form deserves.

Fourth place beckons, as long a we remain focused. And after the start to the summer, that is quite an achievement.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ground development plans get go ahead

The granting of planning permission for development work at the  3AAA County Ground is welcome and further proof of the increased professionalism at the club.

The current Gateway Centre is set to be renovated into a state-of-the-art cricket centre of excellence and pavilion, while the Lund Pavilion will be developed to provide better facilities for members and corporate customers.

It is part of a bigger plan to transform the ground over the next few years as funding becomes available and will help the club immensely as they strive for facilities that will enable them to attract the best players to join.

As Simon Storey said in his presentation at the ground during the last home match, the current facilities are fairly modest and even the most ardent supporter would struggle to generate a 'Wow' as they enter the Gateway Centre. It is functional, for sure, but hardly a true reflection of twenty-first century architecture at its finest, or most innovative.

Most supporters will reserve excitement for the signing of new players, but this, in its own way, is a reflection of the club's continued improvement. On and off the pitch we are moving in the right direction and it is good to see.

Can't wait for the Leicestershire game!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Thursday thoughts

This time tomorrow, I could quite easily be posting this blog from a foreign country, depending on the result of today's referendum of the Scottish people on independence...

Time will tell on that one, but I couldn't allow the week to pass without recognising the ongoing genius of Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

He's not been dismissed in the current series against Bangladesh, after unbeaten scores of 84, 85 and 101. Only Donald Bradman in cricket history averages more in Test cricket after his 38th birthday than Shiv, whose powers of concentration remain undiminished. He is now just 289 runs behind Brian Lara in the West Indies batting pantheon, a total that he could easily pass in the coming months.

What next? Could we yet see him back in Derbyshire colours?

It all depends on the player. There is an option for him to have a third season at Derbyshire and while that could be taken up with him as overseas player, I think it unlikely. The 2015 English summer schedule for the West Indies is congested and Shiv would make a very small contribution in terms of availability, should he opt to stay in the international game. I also think that Cheteshwar Pujara will be the number one target, a player more likely to be available for the majority of the campaign.

But what if Shiv retired from international cricket on passing the Lara record?

If he reaches 12,000 Test runs, which seems likely, it is a record likely to stand for some time, especially given the current paucity of West Indian batting. Maybe he could push the total closer to 13,000, but I think him likely to be a man who goes on his own terms, quitting while he is ahead of the game, rather than having an enforced retirement, courtesy of the Caribbean cricket selectors.

I just wonder if Chanderpaul could be prevailed upon to return for at least one more summer as a Kolpak batsman. While we have a good number of options in the batting ranks. might the opportunity to have one of the world's greats be too good to resist? I've spoken to Derbyshire players who have told me of his influence, how he talks them through innings and how his attitude to practice is exemplary, especially for young players.

While acknowledging that a Kolpak presence takes up a space that could otherwise be taken by a young local player, there's a considerable difference between Chanderpaul and the common and garden Kolpak.

We don't know how much a permanent deal for Pujara or Wayne White may cost, nor of any change to the contracts of current players. But if we could still afford a T20 specialist afterwards, the appeal of a middle order of Madsen, Pujara and Chanderpaul is considerable.

We might need to start playing twelve-a-side to fit them all in...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Surrey v Derbyshire day 3 - Billy leads way in county canter


I like that word and from me it represents the ultimate in praise. It is someone doing the job that they are trained and qualified to do to the best of their ability, whether it is an electrician, plumber, car mechanic - or cricketer.

So when I say that Derbyshire won today's game with consummate professionalism, it is intended as the highest of praise. Because the result never looked in doubt at any point. Ben Slater and Billy Godleman led off with an opening stand that settled the nerves and confirmed their potential as pairing for the future. Getting through the new ball was of paramount importance; getting through to lunch with ten wickets intact was a huge bonus.

Slater went soon afterwards and the closest that there was to concern was when Wayne Madsen edged to slip after scoring only two. There was a time when such blows might have seen a swift descent and four, maybe five back in the hutch pretty quickly.

Not today.

For Godleman it was confirmation of a renaissance in his fortunes that has been heartening to see. A good few people - and I admit to being one of them - struggled to see a future for him in the first half of the summer, as a combination of injury and poor form kept him out of the side. His contract up at the end of the summer, it was hard to see where he had to go.

He deserves the utmost praise for working hard to turn things around, as do the batting coaches. He admits to a 'tweak' in his technique, having worked with Ant Botha and it has paid dividends. When I have seen him this season he has looked secure in defence, strong in attack and with a good range of shots. While one innings doesn't make a season, his recent sequence of scores suggests that he could yet become the batsman that appeared likely when he burst onto the scene as a seventeen-year old at Middlesex. Yes, he needs to kick on further and turn a thirty average to nearer forty next year, but he can be proud of his effort today and in recent weeks.

As can Cheteshwar Pujara. I had no doubt that he would show his undoubted ability in this short stay and he proved himself today. Both Graeme Welch and Chris Grant have spoken about the need for 'match-winners' and Pujara confirmed himself worthy of that title today.

It wasn't just the runs that he made as the way he made them. His unbeaten innings of 90 was not far from a run-a-ball and would have been, but for a noticeable and sporting easing back on the throttle as the runs required for the win and for a Godleman century became a close call. He played a couple of maidens at that point, to ensure his partner reached a century of considerable importance and such sportsmanship was gratifying to see.

The thing that separates very good from outstanding batsmen is the margin of error. The outstanding batsman will punish even the slightest error in line and length and Pujara showed that today. There were fours around the wicket without really taking risks and I really look forward to seeing him next week against Leicestershire.

Could there have been a more gratifying game? Harvey Hosein's catches and records, good seam bowling from Ben Cotton, more evidence of Footitt's raw power, Godleman's ton, Pujara coming good, the skipper passing his thousand for the season  - the list goes on.

Graeme Welch has had a tough baptism and the opening months of the summer were unexpectedly traumatic, on and off the field. Yet there is a growing realisation and appreciation that his squad ends the summer looking better than the one that started it and that there is genuine cause for optimism ahead of 2015.

The short-term signings of both Wayne White and Cheteshwar Pujara have proved beneficial and if both can be engaged on a long-term basis, this is going to be a winter of optimism and anticipation.

Well done lads. A really impressive effort in this game.

One more to go...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Surrey v Derbyshire day 2: Harvey Hosein: record-breaker

You would have to say, after two days of this game, that the word 'pulsating' is pretty apposite, though not if you bought an advance ticket for day four...

Especially, I'm sure, from the perspective of Mr H. Hosein. I'm not sure if the lad is writing the script for this game, but if he is, sometime after tea tomorrow he will make a composed, unbeaten thirty to steer us to a win.

251 to do so. Not easy, on a wicket that has seen 30 wickets go down in two days, but not impossible, given the innings played by Wayne Madsen and Jason Roy. One of our batsmen, or a couple of them, has to harness technique and courage tomorrow, the latter in being unafraid to play shots and steer us to a win on a wicket where yours could be in danger at any point. It isn't treacherous and to be fair it's the type of track that first-class cricket needs, far more than some of the moribund ones elsewhere.

The game mirrors that of last season quite closely. If you remember, Surrey chased down 218 in the final innings and got them for the loss of six wickets, largely thanks to an innings of international quality from Hasim Amla. We have the players who could play such an innings and it would be an ideal opportunity for Cheteshwar Pujara to show his worth. He's not got going yet, but he is here for the experience and at this stage it doesn't matter too much...though a contribution to a win would do very nicely tomorrow.

Our innings came to a somewhat premature end today, with no contribution of note, other than that of the skipper. He needs 33 runs tomorrow to reach a thousand in the county championship, a fine effort, though tellingly if our side all batted to their season average tomorrow we will end up 22 runs short. Read into that as you will.

So someone needs to step it up and I hope they do so. We've done well in this game and controlled it for large periods, but lost control for a while this afternoon and I hope that doesn't come back to bite us. The wickets were shared out nicely between seam and spin, with special mention for Alex Hughes for breaking through when it looked like Surrey were getting away with their third wicket pair. He bowled a tight spell and did a good job for the side, as he may need to do tomorrow with the bat. Ben Cotton also confirmed his positive impression and there are terrific signs coming from our young players.

Of course, I can close in no other way than with Harvey Hosein (pictured). One game into his first-class career he stands astride the record books, leaving giants like Bob Taylor, Harry Elliott and George Dawkes in his slipstream. Not to mention Karl Krikken, who, with Howard Dytham, mentored him from a tender age.

It was both gratifying and, at the same time, worrying to see him named in a poll on Cricinfo today entitled "Which bright young thing from 2014 excites you most for the future?"  I don't wish to rain on the parade, but isn't that a tad premature after one game?

By all accounts he kept very well and the video footage confirmed that he has a very good pair of hands and he takes a ball undemonstratively, in similar style to Bob Taylor. Yet let's not lose sight of the fact that any wicket-keeper can only take what comes his way and in that respect he was well served by the Derbyshire bowlers. Of yesterday's catches, six were regulation, the leg-side take from Batty's glance highly impressive.

He will keep better, in all likelihood and barely feature in the score book. Such is the beauty of the game and I write the above not to be a party pooper, but to ensure that the lad doesn't fall victim to the kind of advance publicity that he really doesn't need at this stage of his career. There are those out there who will think him a failure if he doesn't do that again sometime soon...

Yet I am thrilled for the lad. He is a terrific talent and I remember watching him dive around for balls hit by Howard Dytham in the nets a couple of summers back. His handling was as impressive as his stature, or lack of it, at that stage and it was obvious that with proper coaching he was headed in the  right direction.

He will push Tom Poynton all the way for the first-team gloves next summer and that is perfect from the team's perspective, as it will keep both men on their toes. But for now he can help us win the game tomorrow then sit down and reflect on one simple fact.

After 144 years of club history, it has taken him one match to enter into the record books.

Well done son. You've earned the right to be proud, as I'm sure your family and team mates are tonight.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Surrey v Derbyshire day one

Surrey 181 all out (Wilson 70, Footitt 6-69, White 3-39, Cotton 1-32)
Derbyshire 164-5 (Madsen 48 not)

Writing tonight's blog sees me having a similar problem to the promoters of those old rock 'n' roll revues in 1950s America. How do you sort top billing between Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard?

More appositely for our purpose - who gets top billing? Six-gun Footitt or Seven-up Hosein?

That was quite a day of cricket. Surrey appeared to be comfortable, if not entirely trouble-free at lunch, when Wayne White had continued his impressive return to the county with two wickets and Harvey Hosein (pictured) had pouched his first two victims in first-class cricket.

Afterwards, they were simply blown away by the Derbyshire howitzer. Footitt steamed in and the Surrey batsmen largely gave catching practice to Hosein and the close field, as he was simply too quick for them.

Seven victims on debut is perhaps something Harvey dreamed about and it's not something he can or will do on a regular basis in the future. All he can do is hold those that come his way, which he did quite admirably today. Great stuff from a young player of real potential and incredibly heartening.

Footitt now has 72 wickets at less than twenty runs each and surely has to get an England Lions chance this winter. If he doesn't, the selectors lose any credibility that remains, as his record in division one last year suggested that the level isn't an issue. This year he has been a gale-force wind blowing through the defences of batsmen across the land and few have fancied it. Sure, there are still times when he loses line and length, but he's not alone in that. When it goes wrong for him it tends to be spectacularly so, but when it goes is electric to watch.

There was a time, back in the 1980's, when pretty much every county had at least one genuine (usually overseas) quick and batsmen had to be fast on their feet to cope. Today there are very few genuine quick bowlers in the world game and, as member of a select band, Footitt is deserving of elevation to see if he is the real deal. I can vouch for a few batsmen who have been dismissed or hit by Mark this year who might just speak on his behalf...

Credit also to Ben Cotton for a less spectacular opening day in senior cricket, but one in which he bowled steadily and picked up his first wicket at first-class level. He is another who has impressed me and with hard work he could become the real deal.

When we batted, it seemed to be with a tad too much gay abandon. If the ball's there to be hit, then it needs put away, but I think a few people will be disappointed with breezy knocks that amounted to nothing of genuine substance when they got back to the dressing room. Four an over is fine, but not when you lose a wicket for every eight being bowled.

Apart from, that is, Maddo the Magnificent, unbeaten on 48 and a further 48 from his thousand for a second successive year. He really is a wonderful cricketer and a class act. It was entirely appropriate that as the day came to a close, young Harvey Hosein walked to the wicket with six overs to go in the day to join a batsman who could talk him through the undoubted nerves and set him at ease.

Seven catches, equalling the record set (twice) by the greatest of them all, Bob Taylor AND seeing the day through to the close unbeaten with the skipper.

Carlsberg don't do days.

But if they did...

Harvey, the autograph requests start here, lad. One game into your career and you're in the record books.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Surrey v Derbyshire preview

And so we come to the penultimate game of the season and a trip for Derbyshire down to the big smoke for a game against Surrey. At t'Oval, if you will...

Graeme Welch has announced a thirteen-man squad for the game, which includes a sizeable young element, headed, in youth at least, by Harvey Hosein, who makes his county first-class debut at the age of eighteen. I'm sure all supporters wish him well and will follow the formative steps in a cricket career with great interest.

The squad in full:

Ben Slater, Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wes Durston,  Alex Hughes, 
Harvey Hosein, Wayne White, David Wainwright, Tony Palladino, Mark Footitt, Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor.

Two will miss out and that looks like being two of the seamers. There's an argument for playing all of them, of course - experience for the younger ones, against the reliability of the older ones. Surrey will doubtless hope Mark Footitt is rested, but I'm sure our lethal weapon will want a chance to impress a few journalists whose idea of a trip oop north sees them get a nosebleed when they reach Birmingham...

As for our hosts, they have also named a thirteen-man squad which lines up:

Gary Wilson (captain), Zafar Ansari, Gareth Batty, Rory Burns, Steven Davies, Jade Dernbach, Matthew Dunn, Arun Harinath, Aneesh Kapil, Tim Linley, Stuart Meaker, Jason Roy, Vikram  Solanki 

They will provide a stiff test, but despite the reverse in Cardiff, this is a much-improved Derbyshire team in quality, as well as spirit. 

If the weather stays fine, I could see us chalk up another win in a vastly improved second half of season. 

In closing tonight, two quick comments - Shivnarine Chanderpaul now just 454 runs behind Brian Lara's West Indies record total after yet another unbeaten innings, this time 84, against Bangladesh. He's not yet been out in this series and remains an extraordinary little batsman.

Finally, congratulations to Sandiacre Town CC for winning the Royal London National Club Championship. There's classy cricket being played throughout the county at all levels.

Well done guys! Thoroughly deserved.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Weekend warmer

With just eight days of first-class cricket to go, Yorkshire have won the first division, which they thoroughly deserved as a very strong unit, while Worcestershire are promoted but could yet be pipped for the title by Hampshire. Northamptonshire have had a dreadful summer and they, probably with Lancashire, will be back with us in 2015.

I do feel a little sorry for Worcestershire, as there have been a number of comments doing the rounds regarding their success being largely due to a bowler whose action has now been declared illegal, with way more than twice the permitted 'flex' in the elbow. That their season has stuttered since his departure was hardly surprising, so influential was he on early season results, but they still needed to get the runs for him to bowl at, while someone still needed to bowl at the other end.

In recent weeks I have had the pleasure of several chats with former county spin bowling legend Edwin Smith, from which an interview will appear during the winter months. Here is a man who took over 1200 wickets for the county and was close to an England call at a time when every county side had a decent spinner, often two.

He told me that when the Derbyshire batsmen wanted to practice against a ball that was really turning, he would throw them down and they would turn and spit spitefully. You would expect nothing less from a man who got plenty of turn from his orthodox and perfectly legitimate action, but it serves to show what advantage can be obtained from a bend, or flex of the elbow.

There is a degree of unfortunate irony that some players - and I will use Harold Rhodes and Peter Eyre as examples from our own patch - whose actions were unusual but not remotely questionable, had their career prospects harmed, while others have been allowed to take many wickets at international level with little consequence, until now. Irony is one word, but there are many others...

Going back to Yorkshire and I think it a disgrace that their excellent skipper, Andrew Gale, was banned from receiving the trophy and wary of speaking to the press after their triumph yesterday. Gale was suspended from playing for Yorkshire for falling foul of the 'code', a term that sounds Mafioso-like, perhaps by design.

Why should his suspension include off-field activities? I'm sorry, this is the latest in a long line of ridiculous, poorly handled issues by the ECB who should really be more accountable for such fiascos. That Gale had a tete a tete with Ashwell Prince during the recent Roses match is undeniable, but was his 'crime' so heinous that he should be denied participation in the moment that he had worked for all summer?

Of course it wasn't. It shows that Derbyshire aren't always the victims in such circumstances, but Gale, a good man and a cricketer I respect, didn't deserve such shoddy treatment.

Speaking of which, someone else who deserves better is Alex Hughes. I have seen a few comments regarding his role in the side and one, on another site, suggested he 'wasn't good enough if we really want to go places'.

Seriously? We have here a lad who is just completing his FIRST full season as a professional, with all the physical and psychological demands that this entails. He's averaged around thirty, has added as fair bit of speed to his bowling and was our second most economical bowler in the Royal London One-Day Cup. He fields brilliantly too and is not close to the finished article - at 22 why would you expect him to be - yet people still have a go.

It's neither fair nor remotely clever. He will be better known next year and there are hundreds of examples of players who 'dip' a little in their second summer, but I think he will be a bigger threat with the ball in 2015, as well as tighter in technique in the early part of his innings. Give him and other young players a break though, for there's a long and winding road between promising tyro and county stalwart.

Take Darren Stevens, an excellent and perhaps similar player recently linked with a move to us (which I don't see happening, for the record). In his first summer he scored 562 runs at 28 and in his second 457 runs at 20. He didn't take more than one first-class wicket in a season until his EIGHTH summer as a professional!

Likewise Paul Collingwood. 464 runs at 23 in his first summer, 316 at 26 in his second, while taking a combined nine wickets over the two summers. He didn't turn out too badly, did he?

Cut young lads some slack. It's not easy, as the cases of Richard Johnson and Peter Burgoyne highlighted this summer. Some will succeed, others will fall by the wayside, but it's not for the lack of trying.Think back to what you could, or more appositely couldn't do at that age for a comparator and think about that before you put things into print.

Slater, Hosein, Hughes, Cotton, Taylor, Cork, Knight. All young lads, finding their way in the game.

The onus on all of us, as supporters, is to do what the name suggests.

Support them.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Cross goes as Harvey gets senior chance

Today's news that Gareth Cross had been released  by Derbyshire perhaps came as no surprise to many followers of the club.

He came in at short notice, after the double blow that robbed the club of two keepers of talent in a few weeks. While Richard Johnson was ultimately gone for good, we needed a stop-gap to cover behind the stumps while Tom Poynton recovered from the injuries sustained in that tragic, early season car crash.

Whatever the frustrations of his spell with us, there is no doubt that Cross was the best man available at the time. Yet he had thought his first-class career over and had little or no pre-season work to draw on when he was thrust back into senior cricket. At most levels below the county game, that wouldn't  have been an issue, but lack of pre-season preparation tells and Cross was no exception.

He kept wicket steadily, without being outstanding. While Derbyshire has an enviable history of seam bowling, we've done well with our wicket-keepers too and there were times when the standard dropped a little. Cross has been a good county player - you don't hold a place in a decent Lancashire side without being so - but he had a lot of catching up to do and it ultimately proved too big a job.

His batting suffered the most. There were some pugnacious one-day knocks, especially in the T20, but nothing suggested permanence at the crease and fans enjoyed it while it lasted, aware that it was likely to end too soon. It was often selfless, but sometimes suicidal.

His approach to batting was perhaps similar to that of James Pipe, although the latter both won and saved a good many matches in his time with us. Cross didn't and a batting average of just ten in the championship was nowhere close to good enough for a number seven, lower than that of Mark Footitt. His highest score of thirty came in his last game, but by then the writing was on the wall.

Harvey Hosein has been spoken about in junior cricket circles for a few years, keeping wicket for Matlock in the Derbyshire Premier League since he was just 13, but looking younger. Good judges told me then that he had an excellent pair of hands and an impressive temperament, happy to battle out for draws and to face the quickest of bowlers in doing so.

At 18, which he was last month, his talent is undeniable and his likely role, at least for now, as understudy to Tom Poynton, seems secure. Giving him experience in the closing games of the season makes great sense and, armed with a two-year professional contract, Hosein will let no one down and will push Poynton all the way next summer.

It is a pleasure to write about a locally-produced player of such potential and, while it would be silly to expect too much too soon, there is much to be excited about in a young man who keeps wicket tp a very high standard and has a lot of ability with a bat in his hands, as he showed with an unbeaten and unfazed fifty against the Indian touring side.

This summer has seen the introduction of a number of young cricketers who could form the backbone of a Derbyshire side for the next five to ten years. Traumatic and troubled as it has been at times, tough decisions have accelerated their involvement and progress.

We will reap the benefit in the summers ahead.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Glamorgan v Derbyshire day 3

The end of the game came pretty much as was expected. The winning of the toss proved crucial and Derbyshire ended up losers in a game where each innings was less than the one that preceded it.

We did well this morning to take the last five wickets in jig time, but in doing so the likelihood of our making the required winning total lessened. A total of over 250 was akin to climbing Everest in carpet slippers.

We didn't get close and there is little point in grumbling unduly. There were some very good batsmen in this match and none of them got going, something that tells its own story. The stand of Cooke and Wagg on the first day proved decisive and fair play to them for that.

It was not the baptism that Cheteshwar Pujara would have hoped for, but he will learn from the experience. Were he to rattle off centuries on moribund tracks it would prove little and it is unrealistic to expect him to handle such a track when people better prepared for them cannot.

The winning streak has ended but the season has not. A few net sessions and it will be time to get it going again.

Heads up, lads.