Saturday, 22 October 2016

Enjoyable break and a catch up with friends

That was a lovely couple of days in Lancashire, closely followed by two that have been well-enjoyed back home in God's own county.

Southport and Liverpool have two thriving cricket societies and it was a delight to meet and chat to some very nice people. They seemed interested in what I had to say, laughed in the right places and had plenty of questions at the end.

It is fair to say that when the subject got around to the city-based T20 competition there were few supporters. Probably fairer still to say that you could have counted them on the fingers of one hand over two nights combined...

They were traditional cricket fans and both knew and loved their cricket. Questions came thick and fast and there was great interest in the appointment of John Wright, our signing of Luis Reece and the fortunes of Matt Critchley, who hails from those parts.

Then down into Derbyshire and a chance to catch up yesterday with the legend that is Edwin Smith and his lovely wife, Jean. They both looked very well after a recent holiday and it was a delight to be able to tell them that my book on his life and career is now officially sold out, the final copies being sold en route.

Today I also had the chance of a couple of hours with Walter Goodyear. He's 99 and nine months now and still as fascinating to listen to as he has been through his days. Listening to him talk pitch preparation and tell tales of his time at the club is a constant joy.

We got to talking about John Wright, 'a lovely fella' and Walter was delighted to see his return to the club. It struck me that there were three anniversaries next summer - John's return to the club will be 40 years since he first walked into it as overseas player; I will enjoy my fiftieth summer as a supporter of the club and Walter - well, he could reach one of the best centuries in the club's history.

Keep your fingers crossed.

It would be really special.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Club to be applauded for yesterday's news

I have to say that I was a little taken aback by High Peak's comment on yesterday's post, suggesting that Derbyshire going for the 'cheap option' in bringing in John Wright, a man 'in his dotage'.

I published it to show that no matter what you try to do in this life, there will always be those who find something wrong.

Does anyone seriously think that a man who is credited with introducing professionalism to the Indian national side, winning a series against Australia at home, drawing in Australia, getting to a World Cup Final and then getting his IPL side to a double trophy success would come cheap? I don't, but it will be money well spent on John Wright.

He knows cricket and knows cricketers. He will bring a new eye and fresh tactical input to the squad, as well as having contacts within the game that should ensure we get two overseas players in the format who are top-drawer, 'gun' cricketers.

Of course we still need to do something about the four-day game, but everything comes together in its own time. The chairman tweeted yesterday that the club hopes to announce a couple of major international signings in the next week, which will doubtless be for the longer form of the game.

It is all very exciting, but it still frustrates me, after years of writing this blog, that there are those who don't understand how much work is going on to improve things. John Wright, like Kim Barnett, works very hard for success and we have our best chance of improvement with people like that in charge of the cricket in the club.

There are no guarantees, as life doesn't work like that. Wright could sign two top stars and one of them might break a finger in the first game. We don't know and we all remember the Amla/Dilshan experiment that didn't work. Yet it shouldn't prevent us from trying and already people are noting the club's innovative stance on coaching. Derbyshire - OUR Derbyshire - have come up with something completely new that just might work.

He will be here for a few weeks before it starts to watch the players and see what he has to work with, as well as getting over his ideas to what will be a squad bursting to impress.

If John Wright can make the difference for us, full marks go to all involved and we can rename a street after him. If it fails, then hey, them's the breaks - but at least we tried. I will never fault effort and innovation. Ten per cent more over last year might make all the difference for Derbyshire's T20 fortunes.

In  engaging John Wright, I reckon we have started the ball rolling.

Yesterday's other news is also very positive. £139 to watch a season of cricket? That has to be a steal and I'd urge all members to tell their football season ticket-buying friends about it. I know a lot of people who buy six packs, but if you can watch any more than six days of cricket a season and live within reasonable reach of the county, the year membership, with all of its benefits, has to be the way to go.

It deserves to do well and I think it will - especially if the two names announced in the near future are as impressive as I think that they will be.

Finally today, thank you to everyone at the West Lancashire Cricket Society, who made last night's event in Southport a real pleasure. It was nice to meet you all, sell a few books and enjoy some fun cricket chat - as well as finding out that you're not at all happy in losing Luis Reece to us...

Tonight I am in Liverpool's Sefton Park Cricket Club for the Merseyside Cricket Society. I've already realised one ambition today, in having a drink in the city's legendary Cavern Club and having a pleasant few hours around a vibrant city.

Fingers crossed tonight goes well and my trusty sat-nav doesn't let me down...

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

John Wright 'comes home' as new T20 coach

I had a feeling that something would be announced today, when the membership packages for 2017 are announced. Perhaps a player but, as it turns out, the news that one of the biggest coaches in cricket is returning to a club that was his cricketing home for many years.

John Wright is a giant of the game. First as a player, one who rightly stakes a claim as one of the best in the club's history. He did it on the international stage too, averaging just under forty in an era when opening batsmen faced genuine fast bowling, whoever the opposition. All of it - well, nearly all of it - with a smile on his face and a genial manner that made him hugely popular with supporters.

It was the same when Wright became New Zealand coach and then the first non-Indian coach of their national side. He had previously enjoyed a county stint in charge at Kent and quickly became established as an outstanding coach at international level.

Of course, having the likes of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman in the batting line up never does any harm, but Wright stressed to them all the role that they were expected to play in winning matches. He explained this well - shameless plug time - in an interview for my recent book In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation, which gave an insight into the man and the way that he worked as a player and subsequently as a coach.

That same interview also clearly showed how important Derbyshire was and remains for John. He has made regular trips over here and has remained on very good terms with the club. He is also an unashamed fan of the area, which he loves.

He was in charge of India for five years, in which time they beat Australia at home for the first time, drew a series in that country, won a fiercely competed series against their arch rivals, Pakistan and reached the final of the 2003 World Cup.

At the end of his tenure -  and five years is a long time in a role that rarely carries a suggestion of longevity, even with success - Wright became a successful coach in the IPL, leading Mumbai Indians to that title and the Champions League T20 double in 2013.

Since then he has been a talent scout for that side, a role well-explained in this Cricinfo article. It was Wright who spotted the raw, unorthodox but precocious talent of Jasprit Bumrah, as well as that of Hardik Pandya, both of who have gone on to greater things.

That Wright has the coaching credentials is undeniable, but he also brings a huge network of contacts. As was explained recently by Kim Barnett, the T20 coach will recruit his overseas players and work solely on that format.

Might that see another return, this time for Martin Guptill? I won't attempt to second-guess, but John could go in any number of directions and will doubtless know a lot about what he has in the squad already and how that might best be complemented.

For my money, a powerhouse batsman and either a quick bowler or spinner of class would do nicely. If either offer a second string to their bow, so much the better, but we are in very good hands with John Wright.

If you are considering coaches who have made a reputation and a contribution to a dynasty, his work in making India more 'professional' is acknowledged across the world.

That he is now bringing those talents back to the county that gave him his first major opportunity in the game constitutes a pretty major coup by Kim Barnett. If this is the standard we are aiming at this winter, only the most churlish will find something to moan about.

Of course, we all want to know who is coming to play here next summer.

With a man of this stature in charge, it could be absolutely anyone.

Welcome back to Derbyshire, John. It will be a pleasure to see you again.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Grand Tour lies ahead

I am looking forward to a whistle stop tour over the next few days.

Tomorrow I am in Southport, talking to the West Lancashire Cricket Society, then on Thursday it will be over to Liverpool, and a chat to the Merseyside Cricket Society.

From there it is down to God's Own County for a couple of nights, to catch up with parents and friends before the winter sets in.

I don't know if we'll hear anything about new signings to coincide with the membership information that comes out tomorrow, but I will take my trusty laptop with me, just in case.

Elsewhere today, Lancashire has announced the signing of James Faulkner for next summer's T20, when he will doubtless give very good value. He is a good cricketer with bat and ball and, in that format, a proven match-winner.

Just the sort of player that every county will be looking for in the weeks and months ahead, in fact.

Meanwhile Kent will also be looking for a new coach after parting company with Jimmy Adams. He did a good job there on fairly limited resources and his successor will have a tough act to follow.

They don't lack interest in the post, according to the BBC website and nor will Derbyshire. However the new roles will lie after the recruitment process, I am confident that we will have someone eminently capable in the various roles before too long.

With that, I say farewell and will catch up through the week as time permits.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Membership details out next week

One of the first landmarks of the winter is reached next week, when Derbyshire announce the membership packages and rates for next season.

It will be interesting to see if the announcement is preceded by news of a big new signing, one of the experienced men that we have been promised. It would doubtless have the desired effect, although they may not be far enough down the line with these at this stage.

Yesterday I read a piece on Cricinfo about Ravi Ashwin, a player who has made his fortune, like many others, on the back of the IPL. He is a fine cricketer, able with the bat and a prolific wicket-taker - on his own tracks.

Therein lies the crux of the matter and the reason for my comment on their website yesterday. You cannot compare Ashwin with Herath, Warne, Murali, Marshall, Akram, Waqar and others because he plays 90% of his cricket in India, on wickets he knows well.

The statistician who was involved in the piece was attempting to show him as better than those above, which on his own wickets he perhaps is. Yet it neglected to consider that his workload is far less than theirs, so he is likely to be more fresh, while not referencing his poor returns elsewhere.

Because of his contract with IPL, Ashwin, like the other Indian stars, is neither able to nor needs to go and ply his trade elsewhere. He is wealthy, yet his stature in the game will always be less, for me, than bowlers such as Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Venkat and Kumble.

These players took wickets everywhere in the world, having honed their craft accordingly. I have little doubt that Ashwin would be a success in the county game, but we will never know that for sure, because it will never happen. All that is known is that his Test wickets in England, South Africa and Australia cost him sixty runs-plus each, compared to twenty-odd at home.

As Derbyshire search for a spin bowler for next season, Ashwin would have been a huge draw for the local ethnic fans and may have taken a lot of wickets, but it will never happen.

Which is all rather a shame.

Off to Lancashire for book talks

Later this week I will be heading for the delights of Lancashire for a couple of nights of cricket talks and chat.

On Wednesday I will be in Southport, where I will be talking to the West Lancashire Cricket Society that evening, while on Thursday I will be in Liverpool speaking to the Merseyside Cricket Society at Sefton Park Cricket Club.

I am always happy to do such talks and if you have any ideas for an evening and require an experienced speaker, drop me an email to the usual address, which you will find in the left hand bar as you scroll down the page.

I will be talking about the blog and my two books. I am delighted to have received so many positive reviews and comments about both and if you have not already picked up a copy of In Their Own Words: Derbyshire Cricketers in Conversation then it will make a nice Christmas gift for the cricket fan in your life.

You can order it from me, priced £15 plus postage, which matches the price it is selling on Amazon. I will happily sign or inscribe it if you wish.

You can also order it from Amazon or from any book shop.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Farewell to Harry White

Yesterday, in welcoming the addition of Tom Wood and Charlie Macdonell onto the staff, I omitted to note the departure of Harry White.

I mentioned a day or two back that he was still on the club site, but I had heard he had been trialing elsewhere, which suggested his time at the club was drawing to an end.

There's a decent bowler in Harry and it may be that he is one of these later developers. There were occasions when it all came together and he looked like he could perhaps breakthrough, but that will now happen elsewhere, if it does at first-class level.

His only first-class game was in 2015, against the visiting Australians, when he took the wickets of Mitchell Marsh and Shane Watson, both to catches by Harvey Hosein. If your first-class appearances are going to be limited, that's probably the way to do it.

I wish him well in his future efforts. He still has time on his side, but at a club where young seam talent is proliferating, perhaps opportunity knocks elsewhere.

Good luck anyway, Harry.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Two young batsmen taken onto staff

Yesterday, responding to Gareth's query on whether I thought we might sign an experienced batsman for number three, I suggested that while on the face of it we could do with one, we already had plenty of batting options.

Assuming that Shiv Thakor and Harvey Hosein bat six and seven in the order (which may or may not be the case), I said that we already had Billy Godleman, Ben Slater, Alex Hughes, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen, Gary Wilson and Neil Broom - possibly Tom Wood too - for 5 places.

Well, today came the news that Tom Wood has indeed been given a contract for next season, as has Charlie Macdonnell. Both awards were fully deserved. Wood averaged over a hundred for the second team, was their player of the season and played some fine innings for the Unicorns between times.

Macdonnell averaged just under fifty for the second team, after averaging 93 in his short stint with Durham MCCU.  In his one match in the first eleven, he made 21 and 35 not out, looking an assured player of good technique in the process.

Both now have the chance to work with the first team squad and the coaches over the winter in readiness for 2017. Wood's aggressive style would make him an exciting option for T20, where he proved his talent and aptitude on several occasions in the summer just past.

Still, that's all for another day and another coach. Each day at present seems to bring news and it is good to see the club moving so proactively.

Sincere congratulations to both Tom and Charlie - you both had an excellent 2016.

Now make it an even more special 2017.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Barnett interview suggests signing(s) imminent

I've enjoyed the series of interviews on the club site with Kim Barnett.

Say what you like about Kim, he knows the game and appears to be as passionate about Derbyshire success as he was in his playing days.

Nor is he anyone's fool, so when he says 'I am expecting an improvement in results next season' there must be good reason for him to do so. I'd suggest that our winter target is not merely the type of player released by another county, but one or two who are considerably better than that.

'We also need to make sure that our batsmen will be able to cope with the type of pitches that we will be asking our ground staff to prepare in order to win four-day matches. There is a lot to do during the winter in general'. said Barnett.

Sounds to me like a spinner is on his way, or very much in their sights. Derby wickets have seamed enough over the years for playing on them to be de rigeur for the players, so one can only assume that there will be a sea change down Derby way.

The club Director of Cricket continued: 'I think we are close to getting some of the players and skills that we need to add to this squad.

Those skills have been selected specifically to enhance what we have and not to have a detrimental effect on the development of our younger players. Everyone will say that we have been short of at least a bowler in four-day cricket so that is what we have been looking for.'

Well, we don't have a quality spinner, nor a strike bowler, as plenty of correspondents on here in recent months will vouch for. Nor do we yet, despite the strong claims of Alex Hughes and  Luis Reece, have an obvious and nailed on number three. I'm not sure if these are the same staffing shortfalls that Kim has identified, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled, as it would appear that some sort of announcement may be forthcoming sooner, rather than later.

The big comment to catch my eye? 'We are also looking at specific skills to bring from overseas to enhance what we have got.'

Does that refer to the overseas star, or is it a reference to our shopping in that market for a Kolpak too?

I don't know, but it makes for exciting stuff.

Which is nice, I am sure you will agree.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Book Review: Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire by Andrew Murtagh

John Holder was the sort of journeyman professional who 'makes' the game of cricket.

His was not a stellar career, where he travelled the globe as a 'gun for hire' and made money in every continent. He had an in and out career for Hampshire, where he took 139 wickets over seven seasons, punctuating periods where he was out of form with occasional displays of brilliance.

Ironically, his best displays came in his final year on the staff, before a back injury ended his career. 13-128 in the match against Gloucestershire, followed by a hat trick against Kent. Afterwards he became a popular and successful professional in the Lancashire League.

'Popular' perhaps best sums up a man who was in the second wave of Caribbean immigrants recruited by London Transport after the war. While working on the Underground, he went for a trial with Hampshire who were so taken with his pace that they recruited him on the spot.

The book tells of his struggles on arrival in the country, trying to make a mark in the first-class game and his enjoyment of his professional and league career. It also tells of his popularity among supporters and team mates, a smile never far from his lips and always happy to talk to supporters and sign autographs. There have been plenty who were less willing over the years...

Then came umpiring, a job he fulfilled with considerable skill for 27 summers. There are plenty of tales from the circuit, as one might expect and it is the kind of cricket book I enjoy. We all know the stories around the biggest names, but it is a pleasure to get a different perspective from someone who became the first black man to officiate in a Test match in England.

Holder officiated in 11 Test matches and 19 ODIs and another claim to fame was in being the first neutral umpire in a Test series (Pakistan v India, for the trivia buffs).

It is a fine read, as befits the author, who has several strong titles to his name. I enjoyed Andrew Murtagh's biographies of Tom Graveney and Barry Richards, far bigger names, with respect, than John Holder.

Yet this was a tale that deserved to be told and who better to tell it than Murtagh, a former team mate of the player and best placed to write in an informed and, as usual, enjoyable manner. It is the story of a man, as well as that of an era on which many look back with considerable pleasure.

Heartily recommended and another fine title from Pitch Publishing

Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available through all good book shops.