Friday, 17 April 2015

Derbyshire v Lancashire preview

I suppose the big news of the day, as Graeme Welch announced his first 'proper; match squad of the summer, was that Harvey Hosein had got the gloves ahead of Tom Poynton.

I couldn't have called that one, to be honest and was always likely to feel sorry for the one who lost out. At 25, Tom Poynton will have had his supporters, on grounds of both talent and sentiment, but it would have been tough to drop Harvey Hosein. At 18, he would appear to have the world at his feet, with excellent hands and a better than average talent with the bat. I suspect that he will move up the order as he matures and will eventually settle in the top six. Full credit to him for getting the nod - he will know he needs to work hard and perform to stay in poll position.

As I have written before, it reminds me of when Leicester City, in the 1970s, found themselves with the world's best goalkeeper in Gordon Banks, at the same time that they had a huge young talent in Peter Shilton. It was a tough decision, but one that had to be made.

The rest of the squad is largely that which played against Cambridge MCCU, with Chesney Hughes and Tony Palladino added. I would be surprised if Chesney played, and suspect the final place will be between the two young seamers, Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton. That would leave a final eleven as follows:

Hughes (A)

Wayne White misses out for now, but there will be plenty of opportunities ahead for him and the rest of the squad, with plenty of cricket between now and the end of September.

Lancashire arrive with Peter Siddle as overseas player, ahead of the arrival of James Faulkner, and with Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen in their side, they have plenty of overseas input. Former Leicestershire seam bowler Nathan Buck will add firepower to their attack, which lacks injured veteran Glenn Chapple. Their squad is as follows:

Tom Smith (C), Tom Bailey, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Alex Davies (W), Paul Horton, Kyle Jarvis, Simon Kerrigan, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Luis Reece, Peter Siddle.

It is a good side, but tribute to the way that we have progressed is that I don't look at it and fear the worst. There will be games we lose this season, because that happens in sport, but I expect Derbyshire to give Lancashire a good run for their money.

It is a tough game to call, but if we have luck with the toss and weather, hold our catches and show the level of intensity that was the hallmark of our cricket at the end of last year, we can win it. Playing one of the promotion favourites early offers a useful benchmark of where we are. There are worse teams in the division and none that are markedly better than the red rose county.

If we can win this one, the portents are good.

So what do you think?

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Midweek musings

I would probably give serious consideration towards the donation of a body part to be at the 3aaa County Ground this week.

Which part is perhaps subject to prior knowledge of the weather, to be honest. It took around six months for some bits of me to return to a normal colour after sitting watching the first day of the season against Northamptonshire in 2012. I don't recall being that cold before watching cricket, even with sufficient layers to have made a passable sightscreen had I lingered behind the bowler's arm.

Old Chaminda Vaas was the one I felt sorry for. He laboured in to bowl with the alacrity of a stuffed moose and the ball was coming out at a speed you'd expect the forementioned beast to muster. I felt sorry for fielders who had a red leather cricket ball coming towards them in such conditions, even with the now obligatory early-season hand warmers.

This week's game looks to be more favourable weather-wise and the game should be a good test of Derbyshire's potential. We shouldn't forget that we have a young side, nor that Lancashire are probably one of the favourites for the division. The addition of Australian James Faulkner to a side that already boasts Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince as Kolpaks is indicative of their strength, if not necessarily to their concern over the future of English cricket.

That's something that has struck me in the opening matches this summer - the number of overseas hired hands there are in games. Several sides have two or three players on either Kolpak deals or passports of convenience, more than in recent summers. The other thing that hit me was the large number of extras, Leicestershire 'starring' by bowling 45 no balls in the first innings against Glamorgan, who sportingly conceded 45 extras to reciprocate.

In the top tier, Sussex gave away 33 to Hampshire in their second innings, Nottinghamshire 36 in the Middlesex second innings - it is unnecessary and in some matches could be costly. I expect our lads to bowl with far greater discipline this summer, even allowing for the odd wild ball that nothing and no one could stop.

In other news, Nathan Rimmington (pictured) has arrived (and to prove it, he's here...) and will be playing some league cricket in the coming weeks ahead of the T20. He is a very good player and I expect his reputation to be considerably enhanced in the next few months. As a death bowler he is near Langeveldt standard and we have needed that in recent seasons.

It's all very exciting and to almost quote Martin Guptill on Twitter, there's only two sleeps to go...

Finally tonight, a mention for the Academy side, who started their season at Ticknall on Sunday.

They made 258 from their 50 overs, with Matt Critchley hitting an unbeaten 92 from just 41 balls. In reply, Ticknall had reached 54-4 when rain intervened, Adam Wheatcroft taking two wickets. I'd suggest they were robbed of a win, but it was a solid effort by the youngsters.

I hope to give them a mention through the season when I catch up on their news and, like you, wish them all a lot of luck.

Postscript - a big thank you from me to Office Care Commercial Cleaning, who have very kindly agreed to renew their sponsorship of the blog for another twelve months. It has resulted in a new-look header (thanks to Karl at Silver Birch Creative) and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Putting a result in perspective...

I don't know how good Cambridge MCCU are in comparison to their equivalents around the country, but I wouldn't have thought there would be that much between them.

That being the case, our demolition of them inside two days was all the more impressive, since almost all the other games ended in high-scoring, three day draws. There were some impressive performances among them too, with a sprinkling of centuries. Cambridge, quite simply, didn't get into it, or more to the point, we didn't allow them to.

Our Sunday opponents, Lancashire, didn't terrify Leeds/Bradford, even allowing for time lost to the weather and the momentum lies with Derbyshire ahead of that game.

Below yesterday's post, Paul asked if I thought we should have batted again and set them a gazillion to win, giving opportunities to those who had less time in the middle in the first innings.

No, is my short and sweet answer. An hour in the nets back at Derby would probably be of equal merit to facing that attack, probably more so, even allowing for the value of batting in the middle. There was little to worry about to be honest. Slater has been in top nick and simply feathered one down the leg side, Durston batted well and holed out on the boundary and Hughes got a second baller, which can happen to anyone. Again, though, he has been in top pre-season form and I have no concerns about him. Importantly, neither does Graeme Welch.

For me, they showed they could put a side under pressure and that Wayne Madsen has enough bowling to allow short spells and keep people fresh. There is sufficient variety in the seamers to allow something for most wickets and, at the end of it all, a win is a win. Beating anyone with a day to spare sends out a message. Being 750 on, when the game ends in a draw does very little.

Old Brucie used to say points mean prizes. In cricket, wickets mean points and we took fifteen in less than a day, after scoring over 500 on day one.

Seriously, you have to be impressed. But the skirmishes are over.

The battles will soon commence.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire day two

Derbyshire 535-6 dec
Cambridge MCCU 95 (Footitt 4-35) and 176 (Thakor 4-24)

Derbyshire won by an innings and 264 runs

As they did yesterday, Derbyshire displayed consummate professionalism in blowing away the student side inside two days of cricket.

There was more fight in the second innings, but the merits of having a number of bowling options were clearly displayed. Mark Footitt bowled them out in the first innings, but in the second, the home side displayed greater resolve and saw off our first three seamers.

The introduction of Alex Hughes saw the wickets start to fall. Hughes is a player who makes things happen, two short spells in each innings producing three wickets to go with a run out. I am not worried about his second ball duck, as he has already shown himself a player who gets runs when they are needed - a 60-4 type of player, rather more than a 350-4 one. His time will come but he clearly highlighted his value to the side.

As too did Shiv Thakor. An unbeaten sixty, followed by match figures of 5-38 clearly highlighted his talent and he will be a big player for us this summer. Tom Taylor bowled tidily and Wes chipped in with three wickets to end the innings, something he does so often.

On to the Lancashire game then. Stiffer opposition waits, but this exercise was one of getting runs on the board and taking twenty wickets.

They did it admirably in an impressive start.

Nice work lads.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire day 1

Derbyshire 535-6 (Guptill 161 retired, Madsen 131, Godleman 60, Thakor 60 not)
Cambridge MCCU 32-5 (Footitt 2-23, Taylor 2-8)

Ignore the fact that we weren't playing an especially strong side, as you can only ever beat what is in front of you. The bottom line is that, as opening days of the season go, we cannot have had one so dominant in our club history.

I'm no statistician, but I'll wager a few pounds that there have been few cases of teams scoring over 200 in each of the first two sessions of a game. If the game plan was to go out, score big and bowl them out twice, then we carried that out to the letter today.

The word 'domination' doesn't quite do it justice, because from the moment that Billy Godleman took five boundaries in an over, Derbyshire's batsmen took the student attack apart. Ben Slater was unlucky to be 'strangled' down the legside, but Godleman batted well and Martin Guptill (pictured), in the company of Wayne Madsen, accelerated past the two hundred mark by lunchtime. Yes, you read that right, lunchtime.

Afterwards, Guptill hit successive sixes from the first two balls of the afternoon as he and the skipper added 215 in 29 overs. The genial Kiwi sailed past his century and then cut loose before retiring, having just taken 24 runs from an over. How many he would have made had he batted on is anyone's guess, but in retiring he allowed Wes Durston valuable time in the middle. Alex Hughes failed, but someone always does on such days, before Shiv Thakor and Harvey Hosein underlined their talent with a century stand in just seventeen overs.

There was an air of inevitability about the centuries for Guptill and Wayne Madsen, both players of the highest class, but to see Thakor and Hosein racking up the runs was equally exciting and bodes well. Hosein's knock makes Graeme Welch's decision on his first choice wicket-keeper a very interesting one...

When the home side replied, Mark Footitt launched his season with a wicket first ball, adding another as he and Tommy Taylor destroyed the Cambridge top order.

At the end of day one, we are 503 runs ahead and the opposition have five first innings wickets left. I assume no one will argue it is a position of some dominance...

Sterner tasks lie  ahead for sure, but as a statement of intent, as an assertion that we will be playing aggressive cricket, we couldn't have bettered day one of the 2015 season. The eyes of the media will doubtless have been on Kevin Pietersen at Oxford, but Derbyshire fans will sleep well tonight, very much aware that they are going to be royally entertained this summer.

Bring it on!

Book Review: Summer's Crown - the story of cricket's County Championship by Stephen Chalke

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am parochial when it comes to my cricket. Yes, I am a cricket fan per se, and will happily watch people playing it on a beach, but county cricket is my thing. I follow England, but given the choice between a strong Derbyshire or national side, I will take my county every time, thank you.

I still regard the County Championship as THE competition and, that being the case, I was always likely to enjoy this book by Stephen Chalke, one of my favourite cricket writers, on its history from its origins in the late nineteenth century.

Yet to say that I like this book in no way does it justice. Indeed, even in the face of tough opposition from some of the author's other work, this is a tour de force. Seriously, it is that good.

The only negative I could think of is that reading this in bed will leave you in danger of looking like Mike Gatting after Malcolm Marshall rearranged his nose in the Caribbean a few years back. It is a weighty tome, but it could not have been done in such detail in any other way. It is lavishly illustrated, with many photographs I have never seen before, such as that of William Whysall's funeral cortege going through Mansfield, where I went to school. The photographs of old grounds and players are well researched and complement the text well and the overriding feel of the book is one of quality.

The text? As I expected it is outstanding, coupling relevant facts from the decades and years in question, with just the right number of anecdotes to keep it light and interesting, as well as informative. I have been reading cricket books for closer to fifty years than forty, yet came across facts and stories that I had never seen before. Some of these stories can only have been unearthed by someone who has chatted to old cricketers, as they are some way removed from the formulaic rehashing of old tales picked up from numerous books over the years. The author's love of cricketers, as well as cricket, shines through and makes every turn of the page a joy.

The statistics are sufficiently detailed and the layout of the book is attractive. A big plus is the font size, perfect for those, like me, whose vision is some way removed from being 20/20 and who might still struggle if they ate industrial quantities of carrots.

I have not yet finished it, but know that as soon as I do I will want to start again, probably picking up something that I missed the first time around. At £20 it isn't the cheapest book on the shelves, but given its quality it is actually very good value. As we embark on another season of county cricket, this is a book that you could keep in your match day bag, to bring out when the weather is inclement and you need something worthwhile to help you pass the time.

Of all the cricket books I have read over the years, this is probably my favourite. Seriously, it is that good, so do yourself a favour and buy one while stocks last.

Be assured, this one is set for 'classic' status.

Summer's Crown: the Story of Cricket's County Championship is written by Stephen Chalke and published by Fairfield Books. It is currently on Amazon for £20 and is also available from all good book shops.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Cambridge MCCU v Derbyshire preview

To quote Bruce Springsteen, it's been a long time coming, but now it's here.

The season starts tomorrow (weather permitting) and Graeme Welch has named his first twelve of the summer as follows:

Ben Slater
Billy Godleman
Martin Guptill
Wayne Madsen (captain)
Wes Durston
Shiv Thakor
Alex Hughes
Harvey Hosein
Tom Taylor
Wayne White
Ben Cotton
Mark Footitt

It is a young-looking squad, with six of them having graduated through the club's ranks and Welch's assertion on the club site today that there are 'still places up for grabs' against Lancashire next week suggests that not too much should be read into the selection.

I'd see seven of the squad as likely to play next week, with the other positions still to be fought for. As I have said before, however, there is little point in trying to second-guess Welch this summer, as the team has nearly as many good players outside it as in it. The club will, as the coach says, aim to bat big, then bowl them out twice. With seven bowlers in the above squad, Wayne Madsen will have plenty of options in the field, even if he ignores his own useful off-spin and that of Martin Guptill, who once took 3-37 in a Test match against Pakistan.

They will take the opposition seriously, as you would expect, but if we can't handle a team like this, I'd be a little worried. Expect a focused display and plenty of claim-staking going on. One assumes that an opener or seam bowler will drop out on the day, but time will tell.

Cricket's back!

Postscript. I was double-checking that Guptill bowling performance on Google today and, having typed in 'Martin', his name came up before 'Freeman' (of the Hobbit) and 'Luther King Jr'.

To be fair, that's impressive company to precede...

Contract extension for Tom Poynton

More pleasing contractual news from the 3aaa County Ground today, as Tom Poynton signed an extension that keeps him at the club until the end of 2016.

It comes at a good time, a couple of days before the action starts and ensures that the club retains the services of two very high quality wicket-keepers. Whichever way the decision goes, the man who gets the nod will know that he has to maintain focus and level of performance as there is a strong option waiting in the wings.

Harvey Hosein looks like a player with a huge future, but Tom Poynton is a competitor, a man who has come back from the worst of personal circumstances to the verge of a return to first-class cricket. He can be proud of his efforts, as his family will be proud of him.

I wish him well in the coming summer. If Harvey Hosein gets the nod, Tom will push him all the way. If it goes otherwise, then the most vocal Derbyshire wicket-keeper since Karl Krikken's pomp will be back in action.

Your afternoon snooze will never be the same...

Friday, 10 April 2015

Fantasy League update

Two days before the season (and points scoring) starts, we now have sixteen teams in the Peakfan Blog Trophy, so for the first time we will have medals up for grabs at the end of the season!

Who'd have thought silverware would be available? OK, probably pewter, but still something to look at in years to come and think 'That was my great season'.

Maybe not, but nice all the same. There's still time to join and you are all very welcome to get involved.

Just follow the link on the left of the page to do so. Any questions, please drop me a line.

I will update everyone on league positions as the season progresses and thanks to everyone who has got involved so far. I also hope to maintain the message board if anyone has any comments.

I'm off to see if there's anyone I have missed in my team of all the talents...

Richie Benaud

I never saw Richie Benaud play cricket, but contemporary accounts and those who are old enough to see him have told me that he was one of the greats. So too have some of those who played against him. He was a leg-spinner of guile, coupled with skill and great intelligence, which made him one of the greatest protagonists of the art. He was a fine fielder, as well as a batsman capable of scoring runs quickly, often when they were most needed.

He showed that against Derbyshire at Chesterfield in 1953, his first tour of England, scoring 70 in fine style after Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson ripped through the early Australian batting. He then took two wickets as we were bowled out for just 69 and over the next ten years confirmed himself as one of the world's finest players.

Above all he was a captain nonpareil. Only Frank Worrell in the era ran him close, but Benaud barely missed a trick on the field, combining great knowledge with a willingness to take risks, if in doing so, he had a chance of winning. If he couldn't, he could close up shop with the best of them, while always getting the best out of his team mates and moulding them into a formidable side.

Yet for a generation he was best known as the voice of cricket. I am not old enough to remember him as a player, but I well recall, as a child, listening to Benaud, John Arlott and Jim Laker and hearing cricket commentary of a standard that has never been reached since.

It wasn't always what they said, it was what they didn't feel the need to say. There was an economy of words that recognised that the viewing public had an idea of what was going on and didn't need every last nuance explained to them. When they did speak, it was clear, concise and to the point. When Richie said 'That's four' as the ball left the bat, you knew it would be. When he called the delivery that dismissed the batsman a 'jaffa' you waited for the replay to see exactly what had happened. He was rarely wrong.

In my early teens, I remember batting in the nets at school and imagining Richie Benaud commentating on my shots. 'That's a super shot by the young fella' was a staple of those commentaries, even as I tried to assure myself that Richie wouldn't have picked up the edge for what it was and instead recognised it as the deftest of late cuts as I opened the bat face at the last minute. One always seeks approval when young and for me, it was Richie Benaud who recognised my latent talent - at least until Eddie Barlow came to Derbyshire and the voice in my head changed accent.

He leaves behind a host of memories as the greatest of them all. Arlott and Laker were the kings of Sundays, but Richie came out for the Gillette Cup and its successors. It was always a thrill to see Derbyshire on television with Benaud commentating, one that never really left me. His comments were sage and succinct, an object lesson for some of his current counterparts, even if he always pronounced 'Kim Barnett' with the emphasis on the last syllable, unlike the rest of us. Maybe he was right...

Now, as happens to us all, he is gone. His output had dwindled in recent years and news of his final illness was sad, yet the end still came as a shock. If one can leave this life having made a lasting contribution in some way, then it was a life worth living.

As a player, commentator and man, Richie Benaud did that.

I like to think that there's a cricket match due to start soon and a grey-haired man in a smart suit is taking up position behind a microphone to unravel the mysteries of the game and to highlight the skills of its participants.

Rest in Peace, Richie. It was always a pleasure.