Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Lancashire v Derbyshire day 4

Derbyshire 370 and 166
Lancashire 551

Lancashire won by an innings and 15 runs

Not much time chez Peakfan tonight, as we celebrate, albeit a couple of days early, our daughter's eighteenth birthday. She and our son head down to Manchester for a few nights with friends tomorrow, so it is a whirlwind of activity here, with bags being packed and presents unwrapped.

All a little more celebratory than events in Southport today, although few of us would have anticipated a positive ending to this game. Lancashire's spinners duly capitalised on a wicket that gave them the expected assistance and when Hashim Amla went for eleven, the writing was on the wall in  big neon letters.

We need players back to fitness before a major upswing in fortunes will take place. Getting the services of Tillakaratne Dilshan as well as Hashim Amla for Friday's T20 against Lancashire is a welcome boost, although the ongoing absence of Nathan Rimmington is a cause for concern.

For now, the players will regroup and prepare for that game, but you can't fast track experience and we have a lot of players who simply don't have that at this level.

On the up side, if one takes the overseas players out of the game, ours acquitted themselves not too badly. We needed more first innings runs and you simply cannot legislate for when an international batsman plays at his best.

More from me tomorrow, when I will have more time.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Lancashire v Derbyshire day 3

Derbyshire 370 and 123-3 (Slater 58, Hughes 41)
Lancashire 551 (Prince 230, Taylor 4-113, Critchley 3-50)

Derbyshire trail by 58 runs

The romantic in me sees tomorrow panning out thus: Hashim Amla plays the sort of innings that confirms why he is one of the world's greatest batsmen, while his young team mates battle around him to eke out a lead of 150-plus. Lancashire then collapse in the chase and either Derbyshire win or the game ends in a tense draw.

The realist sees it differently, with Lancashire easing to a win by perhaps nine wickets in the early afternoon.

Which one is the closer to the truth?

I think the latter, on balance, though if Hashim wanted to spend time in Derbyshire colours to prepare for Test cricket, he could do worse than produce one of his trademark innings as a signing-off. I wouldn't regard his time with us as a success, though if he produces something special tomorrow I would be happy to consider that opinion.

He is the main hope of anything special tomorrow, though there is enough talent in the young batting line-up to make a fist of things. Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes did well today, as they led off the reply for us, but both will be disappointed to go when well set for the second time in the game. Scores of thirty to seventy are all well and good, but they don't really prove anything and rarely represent a match-defining innings.Mind you, if three of the remaining batsmen make seventy tomorrow it would leave things quite interesting...

Earlier Matt Critchley took his first wickets in senior cricket, the first, that of Ashwell Prince, being a nice talking point in years to come. He will gladly settle for 3-50 in a total of 551 and it will serve as a confidence booster.

Slater and Hughes have proved that it is not impossible to bat on this and I would like to see us make them work for a win, before we welcome down at Derby on Friday night. Anything better than that would be special, but I'll wisely avoid getting worked up about that at this stage.

What I will do is express incredulity at 'Anon's' comment below last night's piece. "We can't continue to use the same excuse of injuries. There comes a point where people need deliver" ran his comment.

Seriously?

There is a point at which they need to deliver, of course. But have Critchley (3) Taylor (9) Elstone (8) Hosein (7), their appearances in brackets, reached that point? For that matter, have Slater (27) and Thakor (28)? I was a much better cricketer at 30 than 20, far better at my job at the same age too. Each of these players will have days they will do well, and others they will struggle. It goes with the territory until they get to know their games much better, their strengths and their weaknesses.

You take ten players from any side in the country and they will struggle to compete. We have, but the fight has remained evident. Until we get the key, senior men fit, we will continue to do so. Wouldn't Madsen, Durston and Palladino, if fit, make a difference? Of course they would, but they're not available, so we have to see what the young tyros are made of.

Two Test players scored 343 of Lancashire's 551.

That's the way of cricket, but we're a long way from disgraced.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Lancashire v Derbyshire day 2

Derbyshire 370
Lancashire 348-4 (Prince 156 not, Petersen 113, Taylor 3-87

Lancashire trail by 22 runs

'Much will depend on Messrs Prince and Petersen' I wrote last night, though claim no mystic talents in their each scoring a century today.

Let's face it, they had things in their favour: a fairly young attack, a short boundary, a wicket that is a long way from spiteful and the presence of the current South African Test captain in the opposition. Lots of incentives, in fact, to prove a point.

They are both fine players and have proved it at the highest level, not just against the attack that we perforce have to field at present. That same attack has done well in recent weeks, but ran into a couple of batsmen in form, especially Prince, who is just short of a hundred in average so far. To think he was going to retire at the end of last season...

A man with eleven Test centuries to his name was always likely to cash in today and did so. It was a tough gig for Billy Godleman on his first stint as captain, but by all accounts he kept trying things and waited to see if anything would happen.

It didn't today, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

This will be a tough game to save now, but there can be no complaints tonight.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Lancashire v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 335-9 (Godleman 75, Slater 69, Amla 69) v Lancashire

The old cricketing adage of 'runs on the board' is perhaps most apposite at the end of a topsy-turvy first day at Southport.

From the lofty heights of 141-0, then 238-2, Derbyshire will be a little disappointed with the final tally, although with the ball already lifting and turning at times, we will not know how well we have batted until Lancashire have a go on it.

As it is, Billy Godleman (pictured) got the first part of captaincy right when he won the toss, then followed it by batting through to lunch with Ben Slater. The pair are developing into an excellent partnership and gave us a fine platform. It was slightly ruined by both going within a few overs of the resumption, but Chesney Hughes continued his recent good form and Hashim Amla held the innings together as the rest folded somewhat disappointingly in the period after tea.

Shiv Thakor is struggling for runs at present and went first ball, although Harvey Hosein stuck around for an hour and Tom Taylor hit merrily in the day's closing overs. Meanwhile, Matt Critchley took his first-class average to 158 with an unbeaten 13, ahead of what appears likely to be a lot of bowling as this match progresses.

"Derbyshire have better of opening day" says the Derby Telegraph tonight, while "Lancs bowlers frustrate Derbyshire on opening day" is the Bolton News headline. You pays your money and takes your choice, I suppose, but for my money we are ahead at this point.

Assuming we bowl anywhere near what we can do and field much better than we did against Northamptonshire, we could press on and take the initiative tomorrow. Much will depend on Messrs Prince and Petersen, but there's nothing to be ashamed of in that first day against the team currently top of the table.

What happens next?

Book Review - Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards, the Genius Lost to Test Cricket

If you never saw Barry Richards bat, you missed a treat.

I've watched the finest of games for 48 summers now and would bracket the tall South African with Viv Richards and Brian Lara as the best of my experience. It wasn't so much the runs he made, as the way that he made them. Viv had the power and Brian had a wonderful eye in their prime, but there are plenty who would acclaim Barry as the finest of them all.

It wasn't the runs he made as the way that he made them. Barry Richards had a classical technique and never seemed to do anything in a hurry. The fastest of bowlers - and there were plenty of them, in his era - never seemed to change his organised, cultured, yet innovative game, seemingly having a shot for every ball and some that others didn't consider possible. Most of all he had time, the surest indicator of supreme talent.

I never saw a batsman go 'inside out' and hit over extra cover before Barry Richards. This was often against bowlers who pitched outside leg stump in the vain hope of tying him down. His footwork, eye and timing combined to open up the off side and captains and bowlers alike shrugged their shoulders as they waited for him to get bored.

Which was ultimately the most effective weapon. This outstanding book confirms what most of us who had the pleasure of seeing him already knew. Barry Richards got bored. He was happier making a scintillating seventy than a turgid ton and generally needed a challenge to play at his best. That challenge may have been a quality bowler, a bad wicket, a game his team needed to win or a financial incentive. He went to play for South Australia in the winter of 1970-71 and was sponsored to the tune of a dollar a run above his salary, responding with 1538 of them in 16 innings at an average of 109.86...

Against Western Australia, featuring Graham McKenzie and Dennis Lillee as opening bowlers, he made 356, with 325 made on the first day. For over a decade, he made Hampshire one of the biggest draws on the county circuit, especially when he latterly partnered Gordon Greenidge, but over the years one of the greatest of batsmen became seen as an under-achiever, despite a final career average of almost 55.

He could easily have exceeded a hundred centuries, but often gave it away when he felt he had done enough. The ultimate challenge, Test cricket, was to afford Barry Richards only one series, in 1970, against the Australians. In four matches and seven innings he scored 508 runs at an average of 72.57, with two centuries and two fifties. He was only 25 and his international career started and finished at the same time.

That's as far as the record books show, but World Series cricket between 1977 and 1979 gave him one last crack at the best. He had not played international cricket for seven years and was facing the fastest bowlers in the world, operating in packs and encouraged by Kerry Packer to bowl short, fast and dangerously to create a spectacle. All this on wickets that were sometimes sub-standard and occasionally dangerous. Only three batsmen had the talent and skill to average over forty - Greg Chappell managed 56.6, Viv Richards 55.69.

Barry Richards averaged 79.14. He says in the book that his eyes had gone by that stage, which is a strong indicator of his talent and technique, let alone his bravery, at a time when the wearing of helmets was in its infancy.

This is a wonderful read and his former team mate at Hampshire, Andrew Murtagh, has done a fine job. Life has presented its challenges to Barry Richards, with a difficult relationship with his father, a far from affluent childhood and personal tragedy in retirement, but the author avoids none of them and the subject takes the opportunity to exorcise some personal demons.

I would heartily recommend the latest addition to Pitch Publishing's fine portfolio. Read it, and like me remember one of the greatest batsmen of the twentieth century. For those who never saw him, enjoy this clip of a sublime one-day century against Lancashire, courtesy of Youtube



Sundial in the Shade: The Story of Barry Richards, the genius lost to Test cricket is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is currently available on Amazon for £15.90, and also from all good book shops.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Lancashire v Derbyshire preview

It occurred to me today, thinking about tonight's blog while spending several hours working in the garden, that there are strong parallels with last season in our start to this campaign.

There were major setbacks at the start of last summer that eventually, with a strong team spirit, were overcome. An outstanding finish to the season gave hope that this year would see a strong challenge for promotion in the championship.

This year's challenge has been the astonishing number of injuries. The skipper is out for anything up to six weeks, Wes Durston, Tony Palladino and Tom Taylor have knee niggles, Alex Hughes has a broken thumb,  Wayne White has had a side strain and David Wainwright is slowly recovering from surgery. Nathan Rimmington has had a finger injury while Jonathan Clare is still to turn his arm over in a match as we approach June. Oh, and Martin Guptill got a slight side strain that ruled him out of a match, too - that's ten players, to save you counting.

No wonder that performances have dipped in T20. I could name a Derbyshire eleven that would do well in the competition, but most of those players would be in it, leaving Graeme Welch searching for salvation in players perhaps elevated ahead of their time, yet largely doing well. Two weeks ago, few of us had heard of Matthew Critchley...

It is good that this game follows on so quickly after the Leicestershire defeat, as it enables a return to the format we usually play well. Watching England's anodyne attack today, I am even more of the opinion that a good performance against Lancashire could see Mark Footitt get the call for the second Test. New Zealand were hardly taxed by a sequence of right-arm fast medium and look likely to go on and win the match.

Of course, taking Mark from our already threadbare resources isn't going to help us, but I dearly hope the lad gets the opportunity that he so richly deserves and it is more than a one-off . He has the biggest incentive to produce a big performance over the next four days.

So too does Hashim Amla. No one in their right mind will doubt his talent and a reputation that is well-deserved as one of the great batsmen of his generation, but he owes us some runs in the next two matches before he makes way for Tillakaratne Dilshan. Top players don't come cheap and no one could say that we have had value from the signing at this stage, a sentence I didn't expect to write, to be honest.

I am pleased that Billy Godleman has been given the captaincy, a reward for working hard to turn around his career - and also for being one of the senior players. One assumes that Wes Durston's knee is not felt ready for four-day cricket, so Billy, an intelligent lad, gets the opportunity to lead a county side for the first time. I wish him well and can actually see him being good at it, as a combative player who has never been one to back down.

Tomorrow's Derbyshire squad:

Ben Slater
Billy Godleman (capt)
Chesney Hughes
Hashim Amla
Shiv Thakor
Scott Elstone
Harvey Hosein
David Wainwright
Tony Palladino
Tom Taylor
Ben Cotton
Mark Footitt
Matt Critchley

I couldn't call a final eleven, as I don't know how fit the seamers are. I suspect the first eight will play, with the other three effectively Mark Footitt plus two. It is ironic, in the light of our batting failings in T20, that the batsmen have been doing well for us so far, but a big innings from the great South African would do us no harm whatsoever.

Lancashire are down - shock, horror -  to three overseas players, with Peter Siddle finished and James Faulkner only just arrived from the IPL. I expect them to go on and win this division, but I still don't look at them and see a great team. Their batting is heavily dependent on South Africans Prince and Petersen, while Kyle Jarvis has been the form bowler of the division this year. All counties hope for such standards from their overseas recruits and Lancashire can have few complaints about theirs at this stage.

Their squad:

Croft (C), Horton, Lilley, Kerrigan, Jarvis, Buck, Bailey, Clark, Davies (W), Prince, Petersen, Brown

The bottom line? We gave them a good game at Derby and lost through a poor session bowling at the last pair, then having to face a swinging ball on the last morning. We could easily have drawn, at the very least. Then again, we should have beaten Northamptonshire and there are too many 'if's' about our cricket at the moment.

We need someone to deliver a big performance with bat and ball and we certainly need to catch better than we did in the last game. I'm not going down the path of declaring the season over, as there's way too much cricket left  - we're not even through May yet, for goodness sake.

I will address the T20 later in the week, but for now, let's hope our young side can raise their game and the spirits of supporters with a good four days at the seaside. The weather forecast suggests we may not start promptly after overnight rain, but otherwise there should be few interruptions over the four days.

Let's get the season back on track, lads.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Leicestershire v Derbyshire T20

Derbyshire 163-6 (C. Hughes 59, Godleman 38 not)
Leicestershire 164-3 (O'Brien 47 not)

Leicestershire won by seven wickets

I wrote last night that Derbyshire should win this game and for once, by the end of the Power play it looked like we might set a total that would enable us to do just that.

58-1 from six overs should have been the foundations for a score of 180-200, which will win you eight out of ten matches in this format. Despite the loss of Hashim Amla, who has thus far been a major disappointment, we were well set, with Wes 'n' Ches going nicely.

Sadly, that was the point when once again the wheels came off. Inside 21 balls we were 77-5, thus replicating events at Headingley last week and the impetus was gone. Well though Chesney and Billy Godleman battled to get the innings back on track, only 19 came from the last three overs and 163, against a side with some good batsmen, never looked enough, as I posted on Twitter at the interval between innings.

I'd have preferred to have been wrong, but the home side always looked in control and we didn't have enough runs to leave them needing to take risks. It was a defeat - and not an easy one to take.

It is hard to get away from the fact that it will be another long, hard T20 campaign. I was happy to write off last week against a good Yorkshire side, but will take some convincing that this is a strong Leicestershire team. By extension, this was a bad game to lose.

It is a young side, lacking players who would be certainties for inclusion were they fit and there is much work to do to make it a competitive one in this format. It is frustrating that a side that plays excellent cricket in the four-day game looks like a fish out of water in T20. Yet until we can lose a wicket and rebuild with intelligence, composure and skill, we won't win matches.

There were forty dot balls tonight in our innings, or almost seven overs. Leicestershire had thirty in their innings and on such detail are games won and lost in this unforgiving format. Chesney Hughes said after the game that we are close to a winning formula, but for me there are several things we need to change:

1 Fine bowler as he is, this is no competition for Mark Footitt. At his pace, edges and mishits are going for four and we simply cannot afford ten an over with our fragile batting.

2 We need to include Alex Hughes, who offers something with bat and ball, as well as being brilliant in the field. It seems at the moment that he is the easy man to drop.

3 We need to give Tom Knight a go. One of the cleanest hitters in the club, he should be given an opportunity, whether he bowls or not. If he went early, he would do no worse than the current middle order.

4 We need Tillakaratne Dilshan to produce all-round form and Nathan Rimmington to get fit. Thus far we have had no overseas input and a team as young as ours needs someone to take a leading role.

We are really missing Wayne Madsen and Tony Palladino, while a fit and firing Wayne White, a proven player in this format, would make a difference too.

Sadly, that's a lot more than 'being close'.

Disappointed tonight?

Yeah, definitely.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Leicestershire v Derbyshire T20 preview

There have been a few grumbles in recent days after Derbyshire's loss to Yorkshire in their opening T20 game of the summer.

All the old failings were there, but I am happy to hold fire on major criticism until we see the level of performance against lesser sides than Yorkshire. They are the best side in the country, beyond  doubt, even without some of their big international players. In Richard Pyrah they have a solid county all-rounder who turns into an amalgam of Garfield Sobers and Eddie Barlow when he plays against us, while they just turn out professional displays in all forms of the game.

It is something for us to aspire to, but we should hopefully have enough in the tank to beat a Leicestershire side tomorrow, even without Wayne Madsen, Nathan Rimmington and Tony Palladino. Graeme Welch has named a fourteen-man squad from which I find it impossible to call a final eleven. It is good to see Wayne White, a proven T20 performer, fit once more, though whether he is deemed match fit to play against his old county is a moot point.

I would like to see Scott Elstone, a player in form, bat at five. He made an unbeaten 60 today as Derbyshire's two matches against the Unicorns resulted in easy wins. Wes Durston also got runs under his belt, while both Shiv Thakor and Greg Cork both bowled very economical spells. Encouragingly, Wes also got overs and wickets in, hopefully without reaction.

The Derbyshire squad:

Wes Durston (capt)
Hashim Amla
Chesney Hughes
Shiv Thakor
Billy Godleman
Alex Hughes
Scott Elstone
Tom Poynton
David Wainwright
Tom Knight
Ben Cotton
Greg Cork
Wayne White
Mark Footitt

As for the home side, they have New Zealand World Cup star Grant Elliott in their side, a dangerous customer, but the batting looks stronger than the bowling. The O'Brien brothers are dangerous batsmen, as of course is Mark Cosgrove and we will need to bowl with the requisite discipline to keep them in check, hold the catches and, of course, bat with a little more common sense than we appeared to manage last week.

Leicestershire's squad:

Cosgrove, Eckersley, Elliott, McKay, Naik, K O’Brien, N O’Brien, Pinner, Raine, Sheik, Sykes, Taylor, Wells.

My forecast? The home side will be itching to get back on track after their last day collapse against Lancashire, but I think Derbyshire will get their first T20 win of the campaign, ahead of the televised game against Lancashire next weekend.

More from me after the game tomorrow.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Midweek musings

Sorry about the quiet few days, but I have been very busy on the work front and also on the domestic one.

Three successive 9 to 8 shifts at work, coupled with my daughter's imminent prom and university funding applications have left little time for anything outwith eating and sleeping, but hopefully normal service is close to resumption.

We now know that Wayne Madsen will be out for at least a month with his broken finger, which is extraordinary as the skipper has missed two games in seven years. That is an astonishing record for a man who faces a new ball at, or close to, its hardest, so you could say he was due one. Hopefully the revised line up will still mount respectable totals and it is down to them all to contribute.

It is Leicester on Friday and they 'warmed up' by being dismissed for just 78 by Lancashire today. I don't think a first championship win such Gandhi was a lad is imminent for the Foxes, who flatter to deceive on occasion. Mark Cosgrove has started well, but he will need to channel the spirit of Bradman to keep their side afloat this year.

I will be disappointed if we don't fare much better against them. There should be enough talent in whatever side we put out to win, though we should have an idea on the respective squads tomorrow. Even without Nathan Rimmington we should have too much for them, though we will have to bat much more sensibly than last week and work the ball around better.

To be fair, the two attacks are poles apart and we must impose ourselves on them. It is a game where Hashim Amla can prove his worth, something he will want to do after a subdued start to his time with us. It is the danger in revolving door recruitment, but Amla is a class act who will surely deliver sometime soon.

Finally tonight, well done to David Aust, who is over a thousand points clear in the Fantasy League, with Paul Kirk and Matthew Entwistle in second and third.

I will need to look at my team again...every year I vow to check regularly...every year I don't...

Time to come good, though!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Edwin Smith: a life in Derbyshire cricket

A few weeks ago, 'Old Supporter' asked when the interview that I did with Edwin Smith would appear on the blog.

The short answer is that it won't. After spending two hours in the company of Edwin and his delightful wife, Jean, it became patently obvious to me that his was a story that required telling in much greater detail than the space afforded by this site, even split into several 'chunks'.

This, let's not forget, is a man who took over 1200 wickets for the county over a twenty-year career that started at the age of seventeen, before going on to become county coach. He was the last man to take a thousand wickets for Derbyshire and will almost certainly be the last. In most other eras he would have walked into an England side, especially since many of those wickets were taken on wickets prepared for our many fine seam bowlers in that period...Gladwin, Jackson (Les and Brian) Rhodes, Ward, Hendrick...legends, to a man.

Had Edwin played for Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan or any of several other counties where wickets were often spin-friendly, he would have got closer to two thousand wickets. Not just with off spinners, but with one of the best of arm balls, years in the making, together with a cunning top spinner.

His memory of people and events is still, at 81, remarkably sharp and the tales that he has to tell had me laughing and realising that most of them had never before been put to paper. It seemed such a waste and I wanted to do something about it.

Thankfully, the Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians agreed and asked me to write his story. As a result, this August Edwin Smith: a Life in Derbyshire Cricket will be published by them, the result of many phone calls to Edwin, his team mates and opponents, as well as many sessions where I was made most welcome in their Grassmoor home, immersing myself in his tales and poring over a wonderful collection of Derbyshire cricket memorabilia.

If I have done the job right, it should be informative and amuse you in equal measure. He played with some of the greatest characters in our history and both his and their stories should make you realise how lucky we have been over the years to watch them.

I was just grateful (and humbled) to spend time chatting and corresponding with such names as Mike Page, Harold Rhodes, Bob Taylor, Brian Jackson, Peter Gibbs, Peter Eyre, David Smith, Fred Swarbrook, Colin Tunnicliffe, David Steele and Geoffrey Boycott. The input of them all was and is appreciated. To a man they were friendly, patient and helpful.

Only five men in Derbyshire's 145-year history have taken more wickets than Edwin and his story is really quite special, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. You will also find that he was one of the finest amateur snooker players in the area, with tales of matches against some of the biggest names of the sport. You can do that, when you have recorded a highest break of 130...

I hope that you will support its publication and take advantage of planned signing sessions if you wish to do so. I will give more details regarding where these will be in due course, together with where else you can buy copies.

He's a special, wonderfully engaging man, is Edwin Smith, with a fascinating story.