Monday, 30 March 2015

New facilities testimony to new mentality

Last week I had the opportunity for a look around the new facilities at the 3aaa County Ground.


Whether a player or supporter, the change is astonishing. The players benefit from vastly improved facilities (and rightly so) that gives them the space to spread out in the dressing room, each with their own 'pod' with storage and power. Generously sized, after considerable input from the players, the pods give space for personal belongings and equipment and are most impressive. So is everything about the new player facilities, especially the viewing options afforded. They can watch from within the dressing room, on a balcony outside it or from a private part of the seating in front of the Gateway.

Credit is due to all involved for the vision to transform tired old facilities and give the players something to enjoy and to be proud of. Which is what supporters can do with the new-look pavilion.

In front of it, with the old administration buildings gone, along with the indoor school, is a huge expanse of parking space. The development potential for the medium to long term is considerable, but I never realised just how much land was there. With the vegetation behind the old indoor school cleared, the place looks three times the size.

From a very first sight of the front of the building, it screams 'This is Derbyshire'. The new vestibule is bright and airy, the club crest on the mat a nice touch and the lift welcome. As for the first floor - it is simply magnificent.

The club now has the option of catering for small meetings, or one large one. Partitions can easily increase or reduce capacity and the overall appearance is classy and impressive. The bar is well-sited, the 'mood' lighting a nice touch and the sound system a world apart from what we had in the past.

Outside, the balconies have been extended and offer considerable seating space, with the old cheap plastic chairs a thing of the past (thankfully!) Looking out over the playing surface, I could quite easily see myself with a favourite new vantage point, though the stand might well retain my loyalties, affording a wonderful angle and aspect for cricket-watching.

It is breathtaking and brilliant. Yes, I am biased, but I loved it. Seeing the players come out from somewhere new will be strange, but they now have their own area, something to which they have every entitlement. With training and changing facilities in the same building, we now have a 21st century facility to match the club's ambition. Equally important, for a club with aspirations to stage bigger matches, the players now have somewhere that can be securely 'locked down' for their use only.

This is phase one and everyone involved deserves credit for the vision, the standard of workmanship and the way in which the job was completed to schedule. It is something to look forward to seeing on your visits this summer.

It augurs well for the next stages. Other teams will not dislike coming to Derby now.

Apart from when we beat them...

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Portents good as season approaches

Has there ever been a better pre-season than this one?

The tour to Dubai was a great success, while yesterday's 45-over practice match at Leicestershire also suggested that the team is well-prepared and ready to go when the action proper starts in just over a fortnight's time.

With the workload shared around, Leicestershire's batting looked a little thin as all of the bowler's got a valuable workout. Wayne Madsen will doubtless look forward to days in the field when his specialist bowlers can be supported by all-rounders of the quality of Shiv Thakor, together with Alex and Chesney Hughes. Variety of pace and angle of bowling will serve us well in all forms of the game and will be invaluable on wickets where batting is more straightforward.

There is a real battle for the role of opener alongside Martin Guptill and both Ben Slater and Billy Godleman played an unbeaten hand yesterday to reinforce their claims. Both have left-handedness in their favour, but my own thoughts are that Slater, especially, would be hard to omit after a very strong pre-season. Considering he ended last year with twin hundreds in the match against Leicestershire, he could scarcely do more to state his case.

It is such things that suggest how much stronger our squad has become. Billy Godleman has done little wrong either, while Chesney Hughes hit a sparkling century on the tour to re-state his claims, either at the top or in the middle order.

Such things make it difficult to pick, or even attempt to second guess Graeme Welch's first choice sides this year. For the first time in a long while, I quite honestly feel that you could include any one of around eighteen players without detriment to the side. I would suggest that the overseas player, Wayne Madsen and Mark Footitt would be certainties in the championship side, but pretty much every other place is up for grabs.

Exciting stuff, for sure!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Classic semi-final a triumph of cricket

A late week at work allowed me to watch the last few hours of the New Zealand v South Africa World Cup semi-final today and what a classic it was.

There was brilliant batting, incisive bowling, wonderful fielding and in all honesty, a game that neither side deserved to lose. I felt that had  rain not intervened, South Africa may have posted close to 350 and the battle between two fine batting sides was impressive.

David Miller played a terrific innings, as did AB de Villiers and Francois du Plessis, but the start given by Brendan McCullum meant that New Zealand were always up there. McCullum is an extraordinary hitter, probably only surpassed by Chris Gayle and certainly more mobile than the West Indian now.

Yet it was quite telling that the Kiwi success was built on two 'lesser lights' after all of their much vaunted top four were back in the pavilion. Martin Guptill was sold down the river by Ross Taylor and there's room for improvement in the running between the wickets of the two players when together. Grant Elliott and Corey Anderson did a terrific job in consolidating and building the innings and it was fitting that Elliott, who looks as if he will be a good asset to Leicestershire in the T20 Blast this summer, turned into a hero, as he bludgeoned Dayle Steyn over the boundary for the winning six in an extraordinary finish.

South Africa will look back on opportunities missed. Elliott should have been run out and there were a few errors crept in to an otherwise brilliant fielding effort. AB proved he can bowl as well as field brilliantly, bat and keep wicket, so is pretty much the complete cricketer. He also showed dignity in defeat but after an outstanding tournament didn't deserve to come out a loser.

Yet for New Zealand it is their first final and fair play to them for a competition in which they have played aggressive, dynamic cricket of the kind I hope to see us play this summer. I expect them to meet Australia, who are a better all-round side than India. The latter's batting is often a thing of genius and brilliance, but they will need it as I don't think their bowling in the same class. Australia's hitters will take advantage of a largely pop gun seam attack and Ashwin will have to produce something special to keep them to a manageable total.

If they can put Australia in and keep them to less than 300, India will have a chance, but I expect an Australia/New Zealand final, which is what I suggested before it all started, what seems like a year ago. There have been shorter wars than this World Cup and while I have a lot of sympathy for Ireland in particular, who looked a better side than associate status suggested, there were too many largely meaningless games that were easily identifiable by sparse crowds.

In closing, congratulations to New Zealand. I like them as a side and have huge respect for a lot of their players. Daniel Vettori is still as resourceful a player as there is in the world game and a pleasure to watch twirling away, while Trent Boult looks a really high quality seam bowler.

And to be very parochial about it all, how nice would it be if one of our own was a World Cup winner?

If that happened, I don't think Martin Guptill will need a flight to get here. He will float on air...

Postscript...three wickets in the Sheffield Shield final for Nathan Rimmington, in a game that has almost redefined 'attritional'. Victoria need only to avoid defeat to take the trophy and seem to have set that out as their game plan. A draw looks likely, but let's hope for success for another of our players eh?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Book review - Lost in the Long Grass by John Barclay

John Barclay was a teenage prodigy who perhaps never lived up to that early promise. He first played for Sussex at the age of 16 and played for England Young Cricketers in the same side as our own Geoff Miller. Both went on to give sterling service to their counties, although Miller's off spin developed more and he had the international career that never came Barclay's way.

The latter developed into a gritty opening batsman and bowled his off spin well enough to take over 300 first-class wickets. The self-doubt that perhaps acted as a barrier to progress runs through this book, as does an endearing, self-deprecating style that sees him never take his life too seriously, though hinting at bouts of depression that have been more commonly acknowledged in recent years.

Barclay's strength was as a captain of considerable flair and skill, who got the best out of his team and was prepared to be unconventional and innovative to do so. He was, in short, a cricketer of considerable intelligence, who went on to become a respected administrator of the game; all of which makes the quality of this book no real surprise.

There are 24 sketches of people with who he came into contact in his cricket career; team mates, opponents, a groundsman, cricket writers and even a closing piece on his dog, Robert. They are far from conventional 'career by numbers' pieces: rather they are endearing character sketches that capture quite delightfully the essence of the subject. The subjects are brought to life for those who never met or saw them and are a delightful aide memoire for those of my age and older, transporting the reader back to a time when the game seemed less professional and in some ways the better for it.

There are anecdotes a-plenty and most of them new, at least to me and I've read a lot of cricket books. The author has a lovely turn of phrase ' Miandad still saw me as a long-lost friend, presumably because most of his friends had been lost forever over the years' as but one example. His piece on Peter Roebuck, written before the latter's tragic death, suggests a troubled soul, while the one on Viv Richards is a masterpiece 'As a bowler he was somewhat akin to a penguin padding about on the beach, whereas, as a batsman, he resembled the penguin's majesty of movement in the sea.'

There is a Sussex bias to the portraits, but that is to be expected as he got to know the likes of John Snow, Imran Khan, Tony Greig and Ian Gould so well. Yet this is a hugely enjoyable book that makes each turn of the page an eagerly anticipated pleasure, the 'cast list' thoughtful and well-chosen, each helping us to see the person within.

There are a few typos, including a surprising mis-spelling of Barry 'Duddleston' in both text and index, but this is a relatively minor point. In his third book, John Barclay has produced an admirable addition to cricket literature. Then again, coming from Fairfield Books, the company of my favourite modern cricket writer, Stephen Chalke, that is no real surprise.

One final point - the layout is excellent. The font size, unlike a few others I have read recently, is perfect, the drawings are appreciated and the book is perfect for 'dipping into' before bed.

Buy this - you will not be disappointed. I will keep my fingers crossed for a follow up.

Lost in the Long Grass is written by John Barclay and published by Fairfield Books. It is available from the publisher and is also currently on Amazon, priced £15.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Guptill's glory

Breaking news...two of the World Cup's top five batsmen will be plying their trade at Derbyshire this summer, together with a very good bowler whose ability to use a new ball and 'close' an innings should make us a much better T20 side than in recent years.

Martin Guptill's innings against the West Indies last night was extraordinary. Launched with a textbook straight drive which he replicated twice more in the following over, just about the only error in his innings was a clip off his legs that was juggled, then dropped by Marlon Samuels when he had made only four. 233 runs later, Marlon must have felt a tad sheepish.

Truth be told, he did the world of cricket a favour, because it was a masterclass  of  Guptill's best bits - the perfectly vertical bat as he played his straight drives; the inside out drive that sends the ball soaring over mid off (and the boundary there); the slog sweep that generally sends the ball fifteen rows back - in such a vein he is a wonderful sight. That he did it in a World Cup quarter final was special, but he did it with such panache, such extraordinary acceleration, that it was breathtaking. I read earlier that his last 137 came from 52 balls and by the end he was treating the bowlers with complete disdain and hitting them into the middle distance and onto the roof of the stadium.

Equally striking was his humility afterwards. 'I realised I needed to start hitting boundaries once I got a hundred' he said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he'd hit some pretty impressive ones already and was scoring at a rate that an English batsman would have been quite content with. It was just another day at the office for a modest man of high talent who is a pleasure to watch.

As it will be this summer at Derbyshire. It speaks volumes for the off-field team at the club that we could identify the availability of and negotiate successfully with two batsmen of the status of Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan, then bring them to the 3aaa County Ground.

It speaks equally well of the players that they have bought into what is happening at the club and they want to be a part of what they see as a success. I expect to see Derbyshire play some vibrant, aggressive, attractive cricket this summer in all formats. I'll reserve judgement on T20 success, given our track record in the format is akin to Sammy the Snail's success rate in the 100 metres, but by crikey, we should be worth watching in that format, as well as the others this summer.

The opening overs of our innings should be driven by world-class batsmen, while those of the opposition should see their batsmen trying to do something with yorkers that home in on their toes. We've not had a bowler like Nathan Rimmington since Charl Langeveldt; we've not had a batsman like Dilshan and Guptill since the latter's previous stint with the club in 2012.

Last weekend I looked at our squad, after an impressive pre-season tour and thought we could do pretty well this summer. In the past seven days we have signed a world-class opening batsman and a top-class opening bowler to go along with a man who has just made the highest-ever score in a cricket World Cup.

Seriously. Aren't you excited?

Because I know I am...

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nathan Rimmington signs for T20

There will doubtless be those who, seeing the name of the player that Derbyshire have engaged as a 'death' bowler for T20, will ask a very short question. Who?

On the face of it, Nathan Rimmington, at 32, isn't a household name. He is still five wickets short of a hundred in first-class cricket (though may reach that landmark in the Sheffield Shield final that starts this weekend) and has only 65 wickets in T20. The statistics aren't as impressive as those of, say, Tillakaratne Dilshan, where justification is unnecessary.

But they don't tell the full story.

That's because the more discerning will have seen Rimmington in action and know what an impressive bowler he is. Indeed, his efforts have led Western Australia to the Sheffield Shield final, taking 32 wickets at just 23 runs each, bowling with accuracy and hostility. His figures are better than both the highly-regarded Nathan Coulter-Nile and Michael Hogan, who has done so well over the past two summers here for Glamorgan.

In T20, despite bowling at the start and end of the innings, he has conceded only just over seven runs an over and was the first man in Australian cricket to take a hat trick in both twenty and fifty over cricket. He is a very good and highly-skilled bowler, exactly the sort of man that Derbyshire need.

I am surprised we have got him, as Hampshire had high hopes of engaging him for the summer and using the player's British passport to do so. He played one T20 match for them last year, but the southern county's loss is very much Derbyshire's gain. Earlier in his career he had serious injury issues, but has now come through these and become one of several talented and underrated seam bowlers who are just outside the national side but who have mastered the art of seam bowling.

I wouldn't have said he was 'fast' - not Footitt fast - but he is quick enough to trouble good players and has enough command of the ball to get them out.  There aren't many ahead of him in the Australian national averages and if that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is. There is an interesting T20 bowling tutorial by the player, sporting an impressive beard at the time, here

In recent seasons we have largely lacked two things in T20 cricket. A batsman who could lead from the front and maximise the opening overs when the field has to be in, and a bowler who could keep his nerve when the opposition were going for it at the top and tail of their innings.

With Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan we clearly have the former. For me, Nathan Rimmington will give us the latter. Some may not know much about him now, but by the end of the summer, I expect you to be impressed, just as I have been whenever I have watched him in the Big Bash.

It represents a very sound signing of an extremely professional and very underrated bowler and excellent work, once again, by all concerned.

Now enjoy some footage of our new man, courtesy of Youtube. He features throughout, but there are two wickets around 3'50 on the video below.

Going to work with a smile on my face again today...


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Interesting tweets from 3aaa County Ground

There were two interesting tweets emanating from the home of cricket (not that one) today.

The first, which caused slight consternation, quoted Wayne Madsen as saying that Tillakaratne Dilshan is going to bring the X Factor to Derbyshire. I'd never realised that he was the Sri Lankan Simon Cowell and had visions of Graeme Welch and his coaches at a team selection meeting, calling in a young batsman.

"You've had a rollercoaster of a season so far. It's been an incredible journey that you've had and I'd like to thank you for your commitment. We couldn't have asked for more, but as you know, we've a game coming up and there's tough decisions to be made...

I know you wanted more than anything to get into the side and bat at five, shoring up the middle order for us. But I've got some bad news."

(camera focuses on gulping Adam's apple and eyes filling up)

"You're not going to bat number five. I'm really sorry."

(bottom lip trembles and tear rolls slowly down cheek of the batsman)

"You're going in at number THREE!!!!"

(Cue emotional music and hugs all round as we all realise what a load of guff it really is)

Thankfully it was news that Dilshan's skills will bring something different to the side, an assertion it is hard to argue with. Worry ye not about his duck against South Africa today. The man is a class act.

I'm still buzzing with the Dilshan news , so much so that I can now spell 'Tillakaratne' without having to double check the spelling. It is exciting stuff and to have both Martin Guptill AND the Sri Lankan ace really is spoiling us.

The other tweet today came from the chairman, saying that 'we will be announcing the next piece of our overseas player jigsaw tomorrow morning'.

There are two things there. The first is that it specifically says 'next' and not 'final'. My guess is that it will be the announcement of the 'death' bowler and confirms my assertion last night that we will have someone to cover the July period when Dilshan goes away.

Having thought more about it today, I am convinced that the new man will be from Australia. A number of bowlers impressed me in the Big Bash, so there are a few out there, while those on the fringe of the Ashes party will be keen to impress. The only other countries with feasible options (New Zealand and South Africa) will be touring here in one instance and have their best bowlers resting after the IPL in the other. Indians aren't allowed to play, the best Pakistan players are signed and there aren't many elsewhere I can think of. So...

The identity will be revealed in due course - and I'll be checking my phone for news early tomorrow, as I'm sure you will. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Further thoughts on Dilshan

Well it's been a jolly old day today, after the breaking news on the signing of Tillakaratne Dilshan this morning. I am sure that Derbyshire loyalties for the remainder of the World Cup will be divided between New Zealand (aka Martin Guptill) and Sri Lanka (home of 'The Scoop')

Both sides have outstanding batting line ups. Sri Lanka's outstanding veterans, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan, are enjoying outstanding form and can make a mockery of any run chase. Angelo Matthews is another fine player and they will be tough to beat. The bowling is not quite so strong, especially since Lasith Malinga's pace has dropped, but their spin variations will keep teams guessing.

I'm going to go for them to beat South Africa tonight/tomorrow, a side of all the talents but which often seems too reliant on AB de Villiers when things get tough. If the South African batting 'clicks' they can beat anyone, but at times the top order seems oddly brittle and their bowling is heavily reliant on Dale Steyn having pace, rhythm and direction. We'll see soon enough.

Earlier today, Sam asked if I thought we would see someone recruited for the busy July period while Dilshan is away. My answer is simple - yes.

We simply cannot afford to lose impetus at such a key stage and I suspect the number one target may be Cheteshwar Pujara. The club is so professionally run these days that there will doubtless be plans B, C and D in place, though I suspect those targets will be batsmen.

While I agree with Sam that Adam Milne looks a terrific pace talent for New Zealand, we're hardly short of seamers and we'd need a major injury crisis to sign another from overseas.

We are still to announce our 'death' bowler for T20 but I suspect that he will come from Australia. The success of the Big Bash this winter put a few players in the spotlight and some of their seam bowlers seem to have mastered the skills of such bowling far better than their English counterparts. They have several good bowlers who won't make the Ashes party, so that would be my educated guess.

I'll be back soon. Sleep well, my friends.

Dilshan is coming to Derbyshire...come on Sri Lanka!

Dilshan signs for Derbyshire!

161 not out, 44, 62 and 104...

That's the last four Word Cup innings played by Tillakaratne Dilshan.

And he's coming to Derbyshire...

One of the giants of the modern game, Dilshan will play all formats for the club in two stays during 2015, news that will doubtless excite all supporters. At 38, the player's recent scores suggest that he is still at the height of his considerable powers and his presence, especially in one-day cricket, will add considerably to the batting firepower.

Dilshan has over a hundred centuries to his name in all cricket and has earned a reputation as one of the finest and most destructive opening batsmen in the world game. Anyone who saw him demolish Mitchell Johnson with six successive fours in an over a couple of weeks back will be well aware that this is not a star living off past glories, but a player who can make a big difference to our one-day ambitions, especially in T20. A typically wristy batsman from the east, blessed with the crucial gift of timing, he will be well worth the admission fee.

Failure to fully utilise the early power plays in an innings has cost us dear in T20 and too often we have limped along at six an over. losing wickets in the process, while our opponents have raced away with ten an over or more. If we can find the 'death bowler' alluded to by Graeme Welch a month or two back, T20 afternoons and nights could be quite special down Derby way.

With Dilshan we are not just getting a batsman though. He is a very useful off spin bowler who has gone for under seven an over throughout his T20 career, but has also picked up 39 Test match wickets, as well as over a hundred in one-day internationals. He is also one of the finest cover points in the game and has a safe pair of hands.

What a thing to wake up to on a Tuesday morning - Dilshan at Derbyshire in 2015. We can look forward to a few airings of the 'Dilscoop' - his own invention that sends the ball over the wicket-keeper's head - but also to a batsman who will light up the game when he gets going.

Here he is in action, with 104 from 57 balls against Australia. Watch, admire, anticipate...

Fantastic work by all involved - the season can't come soon enough!

More later.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Last game loss a reminder of work to be done

After a near-perfect tour, Derbyshire went down by 36 runs to Middlsex today, despite a battling display by another young eleven.

Alex Hughes was again a standout performer, taking three wickets in an over and conceding only 25 runs in his four-over spell. Ben Cotton also bowled well in a display that was notable for its discipline, only Wayne White bowling any wides or no balls. Middlesex scored 188-7 and that was a tall order for a young batting side.

As clouds crossed the stadium, three early wickets were lost, including Wayne Madsen first ball, which left too much to do. While Alex Hughes top-scored with 30 to complete a fine all round game and Shiv Thakor got 27, the innings ended at 152 in the final over.

It shows there is work to do, especially in so far as capitalising on the early Power play is concerned. Yet it is churlish to worry unduly about such things at this stage, especially as the top order bore little resemblance to what I expect to play in the T20 this year.

It has been a fine start though and on their return the work will go on. There are a few early injuries to sort out, but plenty of time at this stage in which to do it.

Yet several players have staked a claim and Graeme Welch will have plenty of food for thought on the long journey back from Dubai.

Safe traveling lads - and well done.