Sunday, 11 October 2015

Fit Carter a huge asset to Derbyshire

We will whisper it quietly, lest it all turns out horrid in the wash, but the signing of Andy Carter for the next two seasons could turn out to be an 'under the radar' piece of business by Graeme Welch.

Let's look at the facts. Carter is just turned 27 and has yet to complete anything like a full season in the first-class game. Indeed, he has only played 29 first-class matches, as a succession of injuries have caused problems. All of them were of a kind one might expect from a tall fast-medium bowler with a long back. There was a stress fracture to that back, a bout or two of absence with torn or pulled stomach muscles and an operation on an ankle.

They are all things that subsequent rehabilitation, amendment to an action and top-quality off field care can circumvent. They are little different to the issues faced by Mark Footitt in his days at Nottinghamshire and that didn't turn out too badly. Be in no doubt that Derbyshire's fitness and conditioning people will have gone over Carter's body and medical history with the finest of tooth combs prior to his being offered a contract. They will have opined that the player is fit - or fit enough to sign, with the likelihood of getting fitter.

As they did with great success for Mark Footitt, a personal fitness plan will be put together that will get the player fitter than before, ready to take a place in the Derbyshire attack next season. Whether that will be alongside Footitt is a matter of conjecture at present, but here we must return to the facts.

Because Carter can, without doubt, play cricket. You don't earn selection for England Lions, as he did, without having something special in the eyes of people that know the game. You don't get offered a new deal by your county without having something to offer. That he turned it down to move to Derbyshire speaks volumes for his ambition and also the stature in the game of Graeme Welch, who he admitted he wanted to work with.

Carter finished top of Nottinghamshire's averages this year, with five wickets at 18, albeit in one match. He finished top of Glamorgan's, where he spent four matches on loan, with sixteen wickets at 23. It suggests he can take wickets and will probably have a smile on his face if Wayne Madsen wins the toss and bowls on the first morning at Derby.

Now, if we can just hang on to Mark Footitt, there might be more than a few jealous stares coming our way from Trent Bridge.

Not to mention a few batsmen having sleepless nights before a trip to Derby. With Tony Palladino hopefully restored to full fitness and the young bucks improving, our seam attack could contain serious firepower.

Work your magic, Mr Pipe and Mr Tallent...

Friday, 9 October 2015

Weekend warmer

There was a bit of cricket news this week that surprised me - and I am at a stage of my life where I am not so easily surprised...

Former Shropshire batsman Richard Oliver turned down a contract with Worcestershire, where he was offered only a one-year deal, a season after bursting so spectacularly into the first-class game.

I saw him bat a couple of times and was impressed by his crisp, decisive stroke play. He was a late arrival in the county game at the age of 24, but averaged forty for his county and looked set for a decent first-class career. The lad can fairly tonk a cricket ball.

This year, he was less successful and was undoubtedly the latest, but not the last batsman of talent to experience the travails of second season syndrome. Few escape it, their technique having been examined by bowlers and coaches and the smallest chink in their armour being exploited.

The better players come through it, sometimes in the third season, but for others it takes a while longer. Look at Billy Godleman, a teenage prodigy at Middlesex but only establishing himself as a county cricketer to be relied upon,  seven or eight years later.

I'm not sure what surprised me most, to be honest. That he was only offered a one-year deal, or that he turned it down.

I can see the county's stance. There is no ECB money to be had and they have some talented young batsmen already. Yet Oliver showed that he could score runs a year earlier and hasn't lost that ability. It needs someone with the patience to tease it out again, albeit with the slight risk that he might, just might be a one-season wonder.

Look at Daniel Redfern. In 2012 he appeared to have made the breakthrough he had threatened for years. Yet the next year was a disaster and, after an uninspiring couple of seasons with Leicestershire, it would appear that he will have to play in the Minor Counties to rediscover the talents that he was given in abundance. Attitude? Technique? Only he knows the answer to that one.

I assume Oliver has had interest shown from elsewhere. Probably Leicestershire, who seem to be signing up batsmen from around the county as if they were completing a football sticker book. Got Pettini, got Dexter, got Horton...not got Oliver.

Were I a Worcestershire fan, I would have liked to see him given a two-year deal. I accept that for an unproven talent, one year takes the risk out of it for them and keeps the player aware of the need to perform. Coasting is not an option, but nor, by extension, is relaxing and displaying your best form.

I think that another county could pick up a gem in Richard Oliver and I hope will give him the contract that his talent justifies. I'm not necessarily suggesting Derbyshire, because I still have confidence that Ben Slater will become a reliable county batsman, but I hope that a lad with a first-class average of 30 from only 36 first-class knocks gets another opportunity

Anyway, I'm off now to start reading the new autobiography by Chris Adams, which arrived at my door today, courtesy of those lovely people at Pitch Publishing. I will be reviewing it in the next couple of weeks and look forward to it immensely.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Second print run of Edwin Smith book published

I am really delighted to announce that my book on Derbyshire cricket legend Edwin Smith has been reprinted by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, after the first edition almost sold out in a month.

Five copies of the first edition are still available on ebay, or by contacting me at the usual email address (peakfan36atyahoodotcodotuk).

Once the forthcoming second print run has gone, however, the book is gone forever, so please get in early to avoid disappointment. Orders are still coming in and I am thrilled with the reviews and kind comments that the book has received.

Edwin and I will be speaking at the Derby Cricket Lovers lunch on Thursday October 29th, for those of you who are members. We also hope to do a few more engagements in the Spring, so watch this space!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Good news time part 2 - Billy Godleman signs two-year deal

Great news today as Billy Godleman signed a new deal that will keep him at Derbyshire until the end of the 2017 season.

It is just reward for a player who has discovered the form of his life in our colours, and also for the club. We have now got the solid opening batsman we have sought for years and it is tribute to both the player and also to the coaches.

Plenty of people have worked with Billy in the last few years, but he has been given that precious commodity of opportunity, coupled with trust at the 3aaa County Ground. The role of skipper in the four-day game, when Wayne Madsen was injured, probably assured him that he was valued and appreciated, something everyone likes at their work. He responded splendidly and there is every chance that the opportunity could come his way again at some point.

It's a decent batting line-up taking shape now. Godleman, Madsen, Rutherford. Broom. Perm in any two youngsters you desire, plus Wes at seven, and we SHOULD make runs next year.

Throw in a good, proven T20 batsman and we will be really worth a watch in that format.

More from me soon.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Good news time

One of the first bits of good news of the close season came today with news breaking that Matt Critchley has signed a two-year deal.

The youngster came from nowhere - be honest, few had heard of him pre-season - and produced a brilliant maiden century, two or three nice cameos and a couple of good bowling efforts. All this at the age of 18. Given that he is still years - perhaps as much as a decade - away from his peak, he now has the opportunity to work on his game and hone his skills.

Let's face it, leg spin is the toughest to master but he has time on his side, as does Tom Knight, who I expect will be announced for a new deal soon. Next year, the two will vie for the senior specialist role, though Wes will doubtless be lead spinner overall. I don't see a move for George Dockrell, as I was asked yesterday, because I think he will stay in the south and because Graeme Welch has already made his spin intentions clear.

Then comes news that Tom Taylor is one of six bowlers selected for the England Performance Programme, another sign that the work with the Academy is bearing fruit. I thought Taylor looked leggy towards the end of the season, but his potential is obvious. It's funny, the other day I was struck by how much my son's physique has changed, for the better, since he was 21 (he's now 24). Trips to the gym three times a week have seen him fill out and he has changed considerably from the willowy youth of just three years back. Similar physical development of our seamers in the next few years will doubtless see them all a few yards quicker, while their skills can only improve.

Well done to Tom and well done to Ben Cotton, for acknowledging the work ahead of the squad this winter. Taylor is a good bowler but there are others not too far behind him at Derbyshire, all of them capable of earning further recognition. They have an excellent group of coaches to work with and in Welch have one of the best seam bowling coaches around. If they listen and work, there's a clutch of talented bowlers who could go far.

Finally tonight, Graeme Welch acknowledges that Mark Footitt may yet stay with us, which is wonderful news. Replacing that quantity of wickets is a nigh-impossible task, but this is big decision time for Mark. He is perhaps at his peak, near the England squad, taking wickets and in prime fitness. Two years down the line and those stars may cease to be in alignment, so he needs to take his time and do what is best for him.

Sometimes though, as Greg Smith and Tim Groenewald have found, the grass isn't necessarily greener elsewhere. Smith may struggle for another county after being released by Essex, while Groeners did OK, but nothing more than that for Somerset. They may have earned a few quid more than they did at Derby, but has their career been prolonged? I'm not so sure...

More from me soon.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

David Aust wins Fantasy League

Congratulations to David Aust, who won the it by some considerable margin, and to Dean Doherty, whose two teams came second and third in the Fantasy League.

If both gentlemen can contact me with their address details, I will get their medals in the post.

David came 29th in the league overall, a terrific achievement.

Thanks to everyone who got involved!

Where do we go from here?

Any suggestions of where we go after a disappointing summer have to be qualified by the reality that resources are limited. We cannot move for every experienced player who comes on the market, one because we don't have the money and two because they don't guarantee results either, as evidenced this summer.

Significant money was spent on world-class players with a poor on-field return. While supporters will point to who Leicestershire are signing or have signed and ask 'why not us?' they were presumably deemed no better than what we have. Paul Horton averaged the same as Alex Hughes this year, Neil Dexter considerably less. Sometimes - a lot of the time -  we cast covetous glances in other directions without real justification for doing so.

James Vince, Jimmy Adams, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Rob Keogh, Alex Wakely, Hamish Marshall, Gareth Roderick, William Bragg, Ravi Bopara. How many of those would you say would improve our batting? Yet all, a few select names at random, aggregated no better than Chesney Hughes or Ben Slater and/or averaged less than Alex Hughes in the season just ended. Most supporters would leap at the chance of signing Bopara, yet he averaged 28 from 565 runs in 21 innings...

The feeling remains that we are light in the lower middle order, on both runs and experience. For me, this is a role that Wes Durston fills next season. Number seven, coming in to counter-attack when the bowlers are tiring and, hopefully, nursing the tail while offering a valid spin bowling option. As far as one could guess at this juncture, a first-choice side next year would look something like this:


The batting looks capable of runs with the two New Zealanders in there. Carter, if we keep him fit, WILL take fifty wickets and there is a reasonable depth to the side.

Yet there are many unknowns. Will Footitt stay? Will the young bowlers emerge at the rate we need? Will one of the wicket-keepers score 600 runs? Will people stay fit? Will there be any more signings?

I suspect we may not go overboard on signings. Hopefully a quality batsman for T20, but one who translates that talent into weight of runs. A Guptill, McCullum or Bailey would be nice, but everyone would chase them if available. Another experienced seamer maybe, but it was interesting listening to a revered football manager on the radio yesterday.

'How do you produce young footballers?' he was asked. 'Play them' was the quick reply. 'They need to play games, be in situations, make their mistakes and have their struggles. Then they will become players, if they are good enough.'

Sage words and equally relevant to cricket. Over the past six months, I have interviewed around twenty former and current Derbyshire stars for my second book, which should be out next year. One of my questions in our chats was 'at what age did you think you knew what you were doing as a first-class cricketer?'

The answer, in all cases, was between 26 and 30. That the ECB doesn't reward clubs for playing home-reared talent at that age runs the risk of some not getting there, but the message is clear. Perhaps expectations of returns from young players needs to be tempered in some quarters, because you cannot often fast track experience. Let's just say that I am more inclined to believe people who have been there and done it, than those who think they know the game.

Some are writing off young players because they 'haven't made it' after between forty and eighty first-class innings. Yet our player of the year, Billy Godleman, is now 26 and has hit the jackpot after 180 first-class knocks. Wayne Madsen has had 229, Wes Durston 184. They are our most consistent batsmen across the formats and there's a reason for that.

 Contrast that with Ben Slater, who averages 29 after just seventy innings, or Chesney who averages 31 after 105, even Alex Hughes who has still only had 43 knocks in the senior game, less than they used to have in a single season, back in the day.

It is the same for bowlers. Mark Footitt has bowled twelve thousand balls in the first-class game, Tony Palladino nineteen thousand. Tom Taylor has bowled two thousand, Cotton fifteen hundred. That's a lot of learning ahead and others are further back in the queue.

That is why we reap the rewards, because they have that experience, married with genuine talent. There will always be the especially precocious, but there aren't many Roots and Stokes out there. Even looking at their records at 24, they have 135 first-class knocks and have improved because of that exposure, coupled with the requisite talent and a desire to work hard.

Not all will make it. If three of our current crop become established county cricketers or more, we will have done well. Some will fade in the next couple of years and join the thousands of talented players who were 'nearly' there. Others will realise that the work required to realise their dreams has to start now, because there are opportunities for them if they are prepared to put the hours in.

Painful as it may be at times, we need to keep playing them. Enjoy their successes, be more tolerant of their failures and hope that they realise that to get to the stage where Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen or Mark Footitt are, they need to work their socks off and listen to their coaches.

If they have it - and people better qualified than any of us think that they do - then we will eventually reap the rewards.

Season review - the bowlers

When reviewing the bowling for the season, at least in the four-day game, it is effectively a case of 'Footitt and the rest'.

Mark bowled almost two hundred overs more than anyone else and stayed remarkably fit once more. He was not quite as destructive as twelve months before, but that was largely down to being used as shock and stock bowler. On his day he remained a handful and while an occasional delivery left the wicket-keeper with nowhere to go, his presence in the attack usually offered wickets.

Tony Palladino remained economical and was the second leading wicket-taker, but was hampered by a knee injury from mid-season and had to be nursed thereafter. So too did Tom Taylor, who did well at the start of the summer but struggled as it went on. Second season syndrome hit a few players and Tom now knows what he needs to do to become an established county cricketer.

Ben Cotton bowled well in the one-day games and showed an ability to keep batsmen quiet, but the next step for a genial giant is to become more effective in the four-day game. Perhaps the addition of Andy Carter, an aggressive cricketer, will rub off on him, as I was left with the impression that Cotts has more pace and much more aggression to be unleashed before becoming the finished article.

Alex Hughes and Shiv Thakor were key members of the one-day attack and both bowled some excellent spells, though neither can be considered regular four-day options at this stage. They may get there, as both have time on their side, but hard work is needed to hone their skills still further.

Other young bowlers flitted in and out, displaying promise. Greg Cork did well in one-day games and may emerge next year, while Will Davis and Harry White showed promise in their game against the Australian tourists but are a little further back in their development.

Wayne White missed the start of the summer with injury and took wickets on his return, but was then released from his contract for whatever reason, to return to Leicestershire, where he enjoyed his best days. People will have their own thoughts on his departure, but it has happened and we must move on.

The spin department was effectively Wes Durston, another who missed a lot of cricket with a side strain. He continued to offer a viable spin option and perhaps next year may become a needed number seven, offering runs and an option other than seam. On the basis of this summer, Chesney's 'darts' are largely a thing of the past, although I still feel that Wayne Madsen should bowl himself more, if only for a little variety and for the surprise value.

With Tom Knight's bowling a work in progress, Matt Critchley emerged from nowhere to make a dazzling debut century and bowl some useful spells of leg spin. Yet it is silly to expect him to take on the mantle of lead spinner next year at eighteen. One of these young players will hopefully progress, but both are many years short of knowing their trade. I asked three former Derbyshire spinners during the summer when they felt they knew their trade and was told 'between 27 and 30'. Enough said, really...

Will Mark Footitt leave this winter? Only the player and his agent know the answer to that, although he will need to balance offers from elsewhere with cost of living (down south) and the support mechanisms in place that have kept him on the field. If he leaves, there is undoubtedly a gaping hole in our seam bowling and any prospects for next year will be dependent on Carter and Palladino being fit and younger options making considerable progress over the winter months.

No unbridled optimism from me at this stage, that's for sure, yet lesser expectations and flying in under the radar may be better than carrying the excess baggage of big names that fail to live up to expectations.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Season review - the batsmen

A season that started with excitement, generated by the hired guns from overseas, ended with disappointment and a gradual realisation that in every competition this summer, sad to say, we shot ourselves in the foot.

There were both encouraging individual and team performances, but a young team has to learn to finish off winning positions - and fast. In every competition, games that were effectively won were somehow thrown away, a mixture of inexperience. tactical naivety and poor cricket combining to render what might otherwise have been deemed a satisfactory summer a disappointment.

That the team can play cricket was evidenced by teams that they beat. It is many years since Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire were all beaten in the same season, each victory being memorable. Yet sadly so were some awful displays, especially in the County Championship, while gifting the game to the eventual winners, Gloucestershire, in the RLODC will go down as one of our worst displays of collective naivety. While six times out of ten the umpires may not have spotted the fielding transgression, that none of the players did was poor and unprofessional.

The four-day game saw us at our worst. While two players reached their thousand runs, the rest of the batting was brittle and no one else averaged thirty. Most batsmen had good days, but not enough to convince anyone, inside or outside the county, that we are a good batting side. Injuries were partly to blame, causing inexperienced players to have to bat too high in the order.

Only Billy Godleman of the batsmen made major positive strides. He has turned his career around with hard work and is now a very polished, effective opening batsman. Wayne Madsen also scored a thousand  runs, although a hand injury cost him several matches and vital rhythm as the season got into full swing. Several others did well, but consistency is the issue that needs addressed. I think Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes will compete for an opening berth next year and both will hope to surpass the 800 runs of this year. They had prolific spells and days when form looked some way distant, but the talent is there.

Alex Hughes scored a maiden century but was hampered by a broken thumb, split webbing and a fractured hand at different times. An average of 35 was higher than supposed 'big name' prospects around the country, while his bowling in one-day games was excellent. He and Shiv Thakor could be in competition next year, the latter having a poor year with the bat but making great strides with the ball. He has a 'golden arm' but needs to show improved form with the bat next season to cement a regular place in the side. Meanwhile Scott Elstone has to progress past the 'nice cameo' to a regular meaningful contribution to convince supporters he is of the requisite standard.

Neither wicket-keeper scored close to enough runs this year. While both kept adequately, the modern role needs all-round contribution that both Tom Poynton and Harvey Hosein struggled to fulfil. While time is on the latter's side, Poynton will know that next year, the last of his current deal, is crucial for his first-class career. Like Elstone and Chesney Hughes, contributions have to be more frequent.

The biggest disappointment? Half of the overseas input. Martin Guptill did what he has always done for us, while Hamish Rutherford suggested that he could be a huge player next year, one able to play all forms of the game with equal skill and success.

Yet for all the protestations of their use in the dressing room, Hashim Amla and Tillakaratne Dilshan were huge disappointments. Neither got going and while their presence put Derbyshire cricket on the map in the world game, we needed the runs that neither managed. While accepting it is hard to fly in and perform immediately, the stature of both players should have guaranteed greater success.

It didn't and neither will be remembered by supporters as an especially worthwhile recruit, very disappointing in the light of their reputations and the cost to the club.

The season in short? Promising displays in the RLODC and the T20, but an awful summer in the four-day game that should have been our strength. Too many winning positions squandered and must do better next year across the board.

Tomorrow - the bowlers

Friday, 25 September 2015

The next few days and months...

A journey north for me tomorrow and over the coming days I will be looking back at the season and where we need to improve for next year.

Thanks for your support through a testing summer  - please keep checking in over the months ahead, with plenty lined up...