Thursday, 18 December 2014

An Interview with Walter Goodyear part 6

The era of uncovered wickets must have been challenging for groundsmen?

Oh, yes! We used to cover an area four foot six inches in front of the popping crease and the rest was left open to the elements. The umpires had to decide when play was possible and the bowlers were always more keen to get on with it than the batsmen!

There was a touring side playing at Chesterfield and the rest came to Derby to practice in the nets. They were fine in the morning, but Jack Ikin from Lancashire, who was doing some coaching, asked me to leave the covers off when they went for their lunch, even though the rain was threatening.

Well, it duly came down for about an hour and when they went back out the wickets were 'sticky'. Ooh, they didn't like it a bit...

Who were the standouts, apart from Cliff and Les, in that team?

Arnold Hamer was a fantastic batsman. I loved watching him bat and he lodged with my wife and I on occasions. I was with him when he got released and he was really upset. He cried and I could understand why. He deserved better after what he'd done for the county, although he was getting on a bit by that time.

John Kelly was another nice bat. He was a quiet lad, but a good team man. I remember him getting into a row from Denis Smith one time, just for giving a woman a lift in his car! There was nothing going on, but Denis reckoned he shouldn't have been doing it, that it wasn't professional.

Did the batsmen say much to you about the seam friendly pitches of the period?

They used to say 'Leave the grass on it for Les, Wal”. Seriously, they just wanted to win and realised that the more was in it for bowlers, the better chance we had. After the first hour the green had gone and if you could bat, you could score runs.

Albert Lightfoot of Northamptonshire was a character and I remember him telling me that I should put some holes in the wicket at the end of the day, so they could have a game of snooker! That's how good it was. Mind you, I caught him that night, about eight o'clock it was. They were round having a drink at the Grandstand Hotel and Albert came on to the ground and I caught him peeing on the wicket...he wanted a bit of life in it for their bowlers!

We were good mates Albert and me, so I didn't report it.

Players used to drink together then, of course and sometimes the journalists joined them. I remember giving John Arlott a lift to the station after his last visit to the County Ground. They'd presented him with a bottle of whiskey and he was pleased with that

Did you retain involvement in other grounds?

No, I had enough to do at Derby. They had a groundsman and if he asked for advice, he got it. All I had to do, was make sure the stands were taken around the grounds and I had to put them up and take them down again.

I had all the pieces lettered and numbered and I could put four up in about an hour, but if others did it, they took a lot longer. Sometimes these stands were rented out to places and I remember taking them to Repton School for a play and setting them up there.

If we played at Buxton I got a couple of ground staff lads to go with me. We used to get Brooks' removals from Derby to take them up and we'd go with them in the van.

I didn't have the money for a car until 1966, when I bought an old banger to get us around.

How did your budget change over the years?

I didn't really have much of one! I used to buy marl, which was quite expensive, and fertiliser. There was a farmer on the committee for a long time, Bob Green, and he used to send me bags of fertiliser as he knew I didn't have much money to buy what I needed.

I remember one time a committee man came and told me that I'd spent hardly any money on the ground. I told him straight, 'that's because there is no money'. I used to scrounge whatever I needed. People would come and drop me a lorry of top soil and I'd give them a drink. That's how I operated and how I kept going as long. It was the same with lorries of tarmac for the road into the ground – give them a drink and they'd see you right.

I saved the club a fortune over the years and hardly anyone appreciated or understood what I did and how I did it.

Hardly anyone?

Except for Eddie Gothard. He was a gentleman. He used to hold lavish parties at his home, Mickleover House and my wife and I were always first on the guest list. Denis Smith, too. We were regulars because Eddie acknowledged what both of us did for the club. Mind you, he had a dog, named Jim and you'd to watch, because he'd bite your backside if you turned your back on him!

One time Denis and I went out there and Eddie had a blockage in his toilet – he had a septic tank in the garden. Denis and I had to find out where it was blocked, following the pipe...we were tapping away and then this thing burst! We were covered in you know what...we mended the pipe, got it all sorted for him. He was a gentleman, Mr Gothard and made sure we were rewarded appropriately for it.

I just wish he hadn't been as old when he made his debut in first-class cricket. He wasn't a great cricketer at that level, but by crikey he had guts – AND he was one of the few men who could say that he bowled Donald Bradman.

What was your salary as groundsman?

Not enough! When I came to Derby from Chesterfield, it was on the understanding that I would get £5 a week. I got three. When I came out of the army after the war, they said they were giving me a raise and took me to £4. It was chicken feed, though the club never had any money, of course.

That's why I used to do so many 'foreigners' – extra jobs, or 'homers'. There's not a ground in Derbyshire that I haven't worked on over the years, but I only got told off for going on one.

There's an unwritten rule in cricket that as a groundsman you don't go on someone else's ground without asking permission first. I got told off at Darley Dale for doing that and it was right. You had to wait for an invitation. I'd have given anyone who went to look at mine short shrift, if they'd not asked in advance!

To be continued...picture shows Walter raising the New Zealand flag at the County Ground, 1965

Sad news from the County Ground

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ian Gange yesterday.

Ian has put a lot of time into Derbyshire County Cricket Club and it is sad to report his death. It is always a shock when these things happen, even when the person has been ill for some time, as was the case with Ian.

I met him a couple of times and he was passionate about his cricket. He will be sorely missed.

Rest in Peace Ian.

On the field, it is good to read of the positive experience that Mark Footitt had in South Africa with the Lions Development squad. After the mess that was made of Devon Malcolm a few years back, when the coaches started to tinker with an action that was good enough to have got him to Test level, I was slightly concerned that Mark may have a similar experience.

It appears to have gone well though and he will rejoin the rest of the squad after Christmas as the push begins towards the start of the season. Once we get to the turn of the year I will start the season countdown once more.

Elsewhere around our division, John Bracewell has left Gloucestershire. He has done a magnificent job for them over the years, often in trying circumstances and his successor has a tough job on their hands.

Meanwhile, in what has to be a festive appointment, Rudolph will not only be leading the sleigh but also Glamorgan next summer, as Jacques is the new leader of the pack down Wales way. Erstwhile County Ground favourite Graham Wagg has thrown his hat into the ring for the one-day captaincy, following the departure of Jim Allenby to Somerset.

With that, I bid you a farewell for tonight and, news permitting, will be back before the festivities.

Now for the next part of the well-received (thank you!) series on Walter Goodyear

Friday, 12 December 2014

An Interview with Walter Goodyear part 5

Who were the characters of that side of the 1930s?

(Laughs) Oh, they all were. There's some stories that you couldn't possibly print I'm afraid. There was one player who was released by Mr Taylor because of a supposed dalliance with the daughter of a senior club official. Nothing happened, they only dated, but Mr Taylor disapproved and the player had to go. He was even taken off team pictures of the period...

It has never been mentioned before, but everyone knew what had happened and it was a waste, because the bloke could play and might have been a fine cricketer for many seasons.

But Denis Smith and Stan Worthington were my favourites. We were firm friends for the rest of their days. As groundsman, you don't really get all that close to many people, but they were wonderful men.

Funnily enough, my wife knew all the wives very well because she cleaned the ladies toilets at the ground. We were invited to social events, but that was generally the only time that I had close dealings with the players, with a few exceptions.

In 1939 war broke out. What did that mean for you?

I was in the army for six full years, from 1940 to 1946. I was N/T Sergeant in the 14 Sherwood Foresters and served in North Africa as part of the Desert Rats, as well as fighting at Anzio, among many others.

It was terrible and I lost a lot of friends. I made a lot too, though and we worked together, helped each other and somehow I got through it. Six long years. A lot of good people didn't make it though.

What was the condition of the grounds in war time. What happened to them?

I'll tell you. I was in Stan Worthington's house at Mickleover, when war was declared on the Sunday at twelve o'clock - with Alf Pope, as it happened. When I got to the ground on the Monday morning, Will Taylor asked me to go to his office and said I was no longer required. I was effectively chopped off at the knees and they made a chap named Jackie Mays in charge of the ground. They could get him to do the job cheaper, you see.

I did all I could do and went and got a job with the parks department under Mr Wells at Alvaston Park Lake until I was conscripted in 1940.

And what happened after the war – how did you come back?

I came back on a month's leave in August 1946. At the camp I was at, there were five other cricket groundsmen and they were all brought home in the June of that year to return to their former duties.

There was a match on at Derby in the August, a three-day game against Gloucestershire and I was asked to go and see Will Taylor. I asked him why he hadn't applied to have me brought home in the June with the others and he was very evasive.

He asked me what I thought of the wicket and I told him that the game wouldn't last three days as it was sub-standard (it didn't last two...Peakfan). The condition of that wicket, the square and the ground as a whole was shocking.

I was asked to come back and I'd to choose between the cricket club and an opportunity at the parks department on a similar wage. I opted for the cricket club, but to be honest have wondered many times over the years whether I made the right decision.

The late 1940's saw a fresh crop of players emerge, spearheaded by the legendary Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin. Can you tell me about them?

Cliff was from Doe Lea, near Chesterfield and travelled through to games or to the ground with his very good friend Eric Marsh. He was a lovely man Cliff, but he could get annoyed if people dropped catches off him and woe betide them if they misfielded!

He was a very fine and accurate bowler, but after he retired from playing he went to Lilleshall to get his cricket coaching badge. He failed and it finished his interest in cricket, especially when people who weren't in the same league as a player managed to pass.

He took to growing chrysanthemums and won a lot of prizes in doing so, while he also ran a sports shop in Chesterfield for a few years. The last time that I saw him, he came to me with an engine for a Qualcast lawnmower and asked if I had any contacts at the company who might help to get it repaired.

I knew the managing director there very well and he took one look at it and chucked it in a skip! Then he gave me a brand new one to give to Cliff.

He passed away soon afterwards, far too early, really.

Les came along for his trial at the County Ground and Harry Elliott asked him to bowl against the skipper, Eddie Gothard. He'd already made it known to people that he didn't rate Les at all and played a few balls fairly easily – and Eddie wasn't a great bat.

Harry Elliott rated Les and told him he wasn't bowling quick enough. So Les started to bend his back and rattled Eddie's stumps a few times and bruised him a few times more. That was really the start of it all for him.

When he first started he used to have to get up at 5.30am and get a bus to Chesterfield from Whitwell. Then he'd get a train to Derby and then another bus to the ground. He'd have his breakfast in the end room of the pavilion and did this until he had enough money to afford a car.

He made his debut for Derbyshire at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield against Kent in 1947 – that was one of our grounds then. He turned up with his boots and cricket clothes in a carrier bag. He didn't do anything special but he took a wicket

The following year it all started for Les and he became the leader of the attack for the next fifteen years. He was a lovely man and I never had a cross word with him.

One day he came off at the end of play and took off a cricket boot, then tossed it to me. It was full of blood.

I'd a nail come through the sole this morning Wal...can you get it sorted for me?”

He'd bowled nearly all day with a nail sticking in his foot! Can you imagine them doing that today? I borrowed someone's bicycle and took it to a cobbler on East Street. He was just closing up, but when I told him I'd got Les Jackson's boot for repair, he opened up again and sorted it, so I could take it back to him for the next day's play.

It wasn't just about sorting the ground, you see!

To be continued - photos show Walter's son, David, atop the mower at a bleak County Ground and pages from his service book in the war.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Book Review: The Final Over - The Cricketers of Summer 1914 by Christopher Sandford

Christopher Sandford is a well-established author on both sides of the Atlantic, with twenty biographies published on such diverse subjects as Godfrey Evans, Steve McQueen and Harry Houdini.

His latest book is a tour de force. As each page is turned, my overwhelming thought, based on a number of years in research, was "Where on earth does he get this information?"

The answer is from personal and war diaries, contemporary newspapers and magazines, plus private papers. Out of 278 professional cricketers at the start of the war, 210 of them signed up to fight. 34 never returned. Others were unable to return to the game because of injury, but it would be a disservice to suggest that the book was only about those in the first-class game.

It covers the many public schoolboys, some of them players of huge potential, who went away to the conflict and never returned. Of the sides that played the game in that last summer before the war, an estimated average of three per side died, a staggering and tragic statistic.

The book travels from the parties of Chelsea and Mayfair to the front lines of the Western Front. We see and share the domesticity of the players concerned, hope for their safe return and then see them torn to pieces in the most savage of war theatres.

It claims to be a 'gripping moving and fully human account' and delivers on that - and more. I cannot remember the last time I was so fully absorbed in a book, so keen to turn the page but so intent on every word on them. It is as well written as it is researched and I can think of no higher tribute.

With household names flitting in and out, like Fred Trott, W.G. Grace and Victor Trumper, all living out their last days away from the war, the author paints a vivid and frankly brilliant picture of the end of an era. While having a longstanding interest in the period, I have rarely seen it brought to life as it is here.

 Only one thing stops it from being absolutely perfect. I found the font a little small, maybe more a reflection on my eyesight than the book, but taking it up a little would have been appreciated, though adding to the production costs. It is a minor point.

I got to the final page and was disappointed to have done so. It will be read again in the near future and I will enjoy each word once more. If you are remotely interested in social history and that of the greatest of games, you really owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy. Get it on your Christmas wish list and look forward to a spellbinding read.


The Final Over - the Cricketers of Summer 1914 is written by Christopher Sandford and published by The History Press. It is available on Amazon for £12.91 and from all good book shops

An interview with Walter Goodyear part 4

There were some real characters in the side of the 1930s. I'd like to throw some names at you.

Stan Worthington

He was a lovely man and I saw him a lot. Before the war, he asked me to go to Clipstone and take over as groundsman at the football ground there, where his Dad was a manager. I didn't fancy leaving home and so turned him down, but there were no hard feelings.

After the war, when Stan came out of the army, one of the first things he did was to come down to the ground and help me strip down the motorised roller. He was an electrician and a first-class mechanic and we got it cleaned up and it ran beautifully. It saved Will Taylor a lot of money for a new one, so he was pleased with that!

He was coach at Lancashire for ten years and he coached in India for a while. I asked him not to go there, because of his health and he was a bag of bones when he got back home. It did him no favours from that perspective.

When he was at Lancashire he turned up for a game one day in his car with three of their committee men and the gate man wouldn't let them in – the county coach! I told him bluntly not to be so silly – or words to that effect - and told Stan where to park. He'd played for us all those years and wasn't recognised. Unbelievable!

The gate men were often pretty strict, I remember that from my youth

That was because most of them didn't use their brains. The best was Percy Fendall, who worked for years on the Nottingham Road gate. One time he gave me a shout and said there were Derby County footballers wanted to get in and wanted to know what to do. I went over and there were twenty-odd of them!

I was a regular at the Baseball Ground and knew them all, but there was a bloke from Spondon with them who I knew wasn't. He'd also nicked my new shovel when I was working at Quarndon one time, so I made sure that he paid and the rest got in for nowt...

Les Townsend?

Les was a terrific cricketer and was good to watch, but he kept himself to himself. He didn't mix that much with other people, but we're all different from that perspective.

Harry Elliott?

He was a top bloke Harry and a marvellous wicket-keeper. He didn't miss much and he was a good coach too. He was another who called a spade a spade and didn't miss anyone who messed him about, but I liked him.

He was older than Derbyshire ever knew, you know. When he signed for the county after the First World War, he told them he was born in 1895, when in fact it was 1891. He reckoned they'd not have given him a chance at that age, but he went on to play up to the Second World War. They made him coach in 1947 and he came back and played a few games that year at the age of 56, as it turned out.

You know, nobody knew about his real age until a reunion of the championship side in 1967. He kept it quiet all those years...

George and Alf Pope

They were from Brimington, near Chesterfield. Their Dad, as I've said, was a groundsman and all the brothers played the game. They even had a net in the back garden when they were growing up!

Alf was a lovely fella. I lodged with him for a few years when I first came to Derby and we got on very well. He was good company and his house on Nottingham Road was really handy for the cricket ground.

When George was ruled out for most of the championship summer in 1936, Arthur Richardson told Alf that it would mean he had to do a lot more bowling as stock bowler. Alf's reply was the kind that Les Jackson would have later made - “I like bowling, skipper.”

George was harder, very competitive. He used to play quick bowlers like Brian Close did in later years. If they bounced him, he used to take it on the chest and glare down the wicket at them, as if to say 'Is that the best you've got'.

With the ball he was very aggressive and always had something to say. He mellowed as time went on but he always enjoyed bowling on my green tops. Being a middle-order player, he often got in when the early colour had gone and he scored a lot of runs too, whereas Alf was basically a bowler pure and simple.

Their brother Harold was a decent cricketer too, but never got established as a county bowler with his leg spin.

Tommy Mitchell

Tommy was perhaps the most colourful character of them all. He could be very abrupt with some people and I don't think he had much time for me, because I prepared wickets for seam bowlers rather than him. I was a young lad at the time and he didn't think I knew better than him, an older, experienced professional. Maybe he was right. But he was a fine bowler and probably turned it more on an unhelpful wicket than any of his contemporaries. An odd one might go astray, but when he got it right, he was lethal.

He was quite a joker but wasn't so keen when the joke was played on him. He was also very aware of his value and turned down a return to the county after the war because he could make more money at the pit. Will Taylor offered to make the money up for him, but Tommy said it was a matter of principle and went into the leagues to get extra money.

There's a lot of stories about Tommy and not all of them are printable. There was one time when at the end of a county season, he was offered a short-term engagement to go as professional to Blackpool for a few games, where he was a great success.

Sometime that October, his wife contacted Will Taylor to ask when Tom's engagement there was going to finish. Mr Taylor didn't know what to say, as the season had finished several weeks earlier...

Bill Copson

He was a fine bowler, a very good bowler, but Bill didn't have much to do with me. I was a young groundsman and he was a top bowler who had played for England.

Later in life we got on better, when he became a first-class umpire, but in his playing days our paths rarely crossed.

To be continued...

Photograph shows Walter Goodyear with Donald Carr, former Derbyshire captain. Courtesy of Derby Evening Telegraph and Walter Goodyear. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book Review: Frith's Encounters by David Frith

One of the great thrills of my time in writing this blog has been the contact it has brought with former Derbyshire players. Having spent the best part of fifty years in watching, admiring and, in my callow youth, idolising them, it is a pleasure to now speak to them and listen to their wonderful stories of lives in cricket.

I am fortunate in that I've yet to meet one who was less than friendly, wasn't supportive of what I was doing nor keen to be involved. I am grateful to all of them.

David Frith has been meeting, interviewing and acquiring collections of memorabilia from cricketers for several decades. He is up there among my favourite half-dozen cricket writers and has produced some excellent work, especially on cricket and cricketers prior to the onset of the last world war. His Bodyline Autopsy remains one of my favourites on the game.

This book is a collection of articles that first appeared in The Wisden Cricketer and The Cricketer between 2007 and 2012. There are seven new pieces and the articles are, as is always the case with anything by the author, a delight. The names roll across the pages like a Who's Who of the game. Bowes, Compton, Cowdrey, Hutton, Larwood, Miller, O'Reilly, Rhodes...to have made the acquaintance of such people must have been a joy.

Or was it? Some of them appeared to have been awkward, a few cantankerous and a small minority worth neither time nor effort. Depending on your stance on the matter, the author's candour in reporting this, warts and all, is either refreshing or, at times, a little painful.

This is especially so in the first chapter, which is a run through those not quite worthy of making the book's final cut. There is an element of what appears to be score-settling in a couple of cases, while the author's honesty extends to remembering one former Australian hero for 'his pugnacious attitude and, alas, bad breath'. Whether the reader needs to know such things is open to debate; less so is Mr Frith's unerring ability to paint tiny, colourful vignettes that bring the subject to life.

As he says within the text, in shaking the hand of Wilfred Rhodes, one is a handshake away from W.G. Grace - and dismissed him, several times. In reading such a book by David Frith, one is immediately in the company of their greatness and all the better for it.

If you have the back copies of the magazines then you have much of what is here, though the convenience of them all in one nicely produced volume cannot be overstated. The new pieces, on the likes of David Bairstow, Tony Greig and Peter Roebuck are honest, even if the latter smacks somewhat of being wise after the event.

All in all it is a fine purchase. Some parts you will find controversial, but the great thing about the author is that he doesn't dodge subjects and it makes the reading far better than more anodyne, readily available material would have been.

A worthy Christmas purchase? Definitely.

Frith's Encounters is written by David Frith and published by Von Krumm Publishing. It is available through Amazon, priced £13.49 and from all good book shops.

Monday, 1 December 2014

An interview with Walter Goodyear part 3

Did you ever get asked to prepare specific kinds of wickets by the captains? Did that change as time went on?

My wickets were always green tops for the Derbyshire seamers. RWV (Walter) Robins came with Middlesex in 1947 and took me out to have a look at the wicket, which was green, as always. He told me it looked damp and had too much grass. I told him it didn't.

He wasn't at all happy and said that if he won the toss he was going to get it cut. I told him 'You bloody well won't, it's my wicket.' So he went off to see our club secretary, Will Taylor, who gave me his backing and then he came back out, saying 'OK you win, Walter...so what' s going to happen?'

I told him they would lose two wickets for twenty but probably make three hundred. I also told him to leave out his spinner, the long-serving Jim Smith, in favour of a young seamer, Norman Hever. He subsequently went to Glamorgan where he played in their championship winning side of 1948 and never forgot that I got him picked for that game! Norman later became groundsman at Northamptonshire and we got to know each other very well.

Robins being the strong character that he was, he kept Sims in the side too and he took seven wickets in the match!

Did any Derbyshire captains ask you to go out to the wicket with them?

Some did, earlier on in particular, but a few captains later on thought that they knew it all and didn't need any help from me.

Who were the best Derbyshire captains of your experience?

Captain GR Jackson in the 1930s was the best by a mile. He was a gentleman and a really good captain, something he'd done in the army, of course. He called a spade a spade and you knew where you stood with him. Arthur Richardson was very good too, while post-war Donald Carr and Guy Willatt were both excellent men to work with.

You had other involvement in the club too, I understand?

Oh, I got involved in no end of stuff. Players used to lodge with me and the wife. Harold Rhodes, Reg Carter, John Kelly, Arnold Hamer – they all stayed with us in our back bedroom at times.

I got a reputation around the club as a 'Mr Fixit'. In 1952, when they were visiting Derby, I got Fred Perry and Dan Maskell to do a tennis exhibition at the ground (see picture, top). They were doing some work for the Council and I crossed a palm or two to get them over to the County Ground. I never did get paid for that, nor for a lot of other things over the years...

There were some real characters in the side of the 1930s. I'd like to throw some names at you.
Arthur Richardson

He was an absolute gentleman. You know, when the Australians came to Derby with Bradman in 1948, we had the biggest crowd in the club's history. There were 17,000 there on the first day and close to five figures on the others. And the club forgot to pay me!

I went to Arthur Richardson, who was on the club committee at the time and he wrote me a cheque for £20 and told me to take it to my bank. I didn't have a bank account! So he gave me the £20 cash himself, but it was indicative of the way the club was run around that time.

Will Taylor

He did a lifetime of work with the club but he guarded the finances as if they were his own, which I suppose they were to some extent. We had to submit our expenses to him each month and the first time I was asked for these I spoke to my wife, to see what I should ask for.

She said that I'd had to pay for different things, including the papers being delivered to the ground, so we worked out a figure of £5. Then the next time, I doubled it to ten. I quickly worked out that he didn't like to be seen as 'tight' when other people were with him, so I made a point of going for my expenses when someone else was there.

I eventually got him up to nearly £20...you did what you had to do, because the money I was paid was barely enough to get by on.

There's a story I have heard – maybe apocryphal - regarding you and Mr Taylor...

(Laughs) That one! Oh, it was true. Mr Will Taylor did a lot of good for Derbyshire cricket as secretary for over fifty years, but he and I didn't see eye to eye very often. He had an office that was at the top of the old stand at Derby and one day – it was a match day - he came out of it and shouted across to where I was working on the ground.

Goodyear!” He bellowed it and everyone must have heard. I ignored him. Then he shouted again.

Now, keep in mind that I had fought in the war and didn't much like people talking down to me any more, especially when there was a ground full of people. I just turned round to the pavilion and shouted back at him.

B****cks”.

He never did it again...

 
Denis Smith

Denis and I got on brilliantly. We got on well when he was a player, but when he became coach we had a lot of fun. He always had his pipe on the go – you rarely saw him without it – and we never had a cross word. I also knew where he was from the plume of smoke from that pipe!

I remember one time he broke my finger by accident and I'd to go to the hospital to get it splinted. The next day I dropped something when I was trying to protect my injured finger and it landed on his foot and broke his toe! We had some laughs about that, I can tell you.

He was a grand bloke. Not many people know that he coached Derek Randall, the Nottinghamshire batsman. His Mum used to bring him down to the County Ground for evening sessions with Denis.

He liked four nets for practice. Two had more grass for the seamers, while two were shaved for the spin bowlers. He liked players to work hard in the nets, there was no room for slacking and he soon told anyone who did.

I missed Denis when he retired.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Good question from Sam

There's a good question from Sam below yesterday's piece, asking what my line-up for the season's opening game might be.

Picking sides from a distance is tough. We don't know the full staff yet, nor the type of wicket it will be (though I will hazard a guess at green, so early in the summer). Much will depend on who shows good form pre-season or in the nets and only the coaching staff are privy to that.

The great thing about the staff now is that you have White, Clare, Thakor and Alex Hughes as seam bowling all rounders, Wes and Ches as spinning all rounders, as well as David Wainwright. If a deal was eventually done for Azeem Rafiq, he would be in the equation too. Perhaps most of all, Tom Knight's re-modelled action could see him a serious contender. The lad knows how to bat, that's for sure. We also need to identify an early season overseas player and his preferred batting position would affect things - hey, he might even bowl!

I'd doubt Clare would be fit for that stage after his surgery, but you could have a lengthy batting line up and cover the need for spin, if only as a change of pace, with a side similar to:

Godleman
Slater
Madsen
Overseas
Thakor
Hughes (A)
Durston
Poynton
White
Palladino
Footitt

You could mess around with the order a little to your heart's content, but I wouldn't see that as far away from the first choice side. Sam's right that White and Clare would be good calls for T20 as they both bat and bowl, but Graeme Welch has an embarrassment of riches in seam bowling especially. Tom Taylor and Ben Cotton are knocking on the door and it will ensure that those 'in possession' keep performing.

If Jon Clare regains full fitness, when the tracks start to offer more for the spinners, if we sign Rafiq - all of these will ensure there will be serious decisions to be made! To be fair, though, that's a lot better than the 'Hobson's choice' selections that we have had in the not so distant past.

As I say though - only the coaching staff can call this and I doubt they could at this stage.

PS And no, I haven't forgotten Harvey Hosein...who could, after his efforts last year? I still think he starts as number two behind Tom Poynton, but he will push him all the way.

Friday, 28 November 2014

White signs on one-year deal

After enjoying a successful loan spell at Derbyshire last summer, the return of Wayne White on a permanent deal, as announced today, is no surprise.

What may cause a few eyebrows to be raised is the duration of the deal. A few people may have expected a two-year offer, but I see considerable common sense in the agreement of one year.

Let's face it, Wayne is a good cricketer. He can bowl quickly, take wickets and hit a ball very hard. He is a better batsman and bowler than he showed in his two years at Lancashire and this offers him an opportunity to confirm that he is actually the player that Leicestershire enjoyed, in his time at Grace Road.

There is a gamble, of course. His batting looked like it needed work last year and for him to hold down a place in what looks like a competitive eleven next year, he will need to contribute runs down the order, as well as proving a reliable first-change bowler.

The other side of things is that for me he will be in direct competition with Jonathan Clare. If the latter recovers from his longstanding injury worries, he is a very similar player to White and the question is whether a first-choice side can accommodate both. With Clare in the last year of his deal, there is a major incentive for both players to stake a claim for that slot at seven or eight.

Of course, in saying this I am assuming that Mark Footitt will not be required by England. If he is, it opens up a role for both alongside the reliable Tony Palladino. We also need to factor in an expected improvement in the bowling of Shiv Thakor, who was attracted to us by the thought of working on that aspect of his game with Graeme Welch. As if that weren't enough, Ben Cotton, Tom Taylor, Greg Cork and Will Davis will be knocking at the door and there is going to be a lot of competition for the seam bowling roles.

I think White is a good cricketer, but his career has gone off track in the past two summers, which from a career perspective have largely been wasted. For different reasons, Jonathan Clare, a player once spoken of in England terms, has lost his way and we thus have two players of great talent at the crossroads, something akin to Robert Johnson, perhaps.

The onus is on both to make 2015 their best summer for some time. If they do, the likelihood is that with everyone else contributing we will have a memorable campaign.

Of course, from White's perspective, the season opener against Lancashire, announced today, really had to be scripted. It is an early opportunity to show his worth and to stamp his considerable ability on the county cricket landscape.

Don't bet against it - and if he pulls his game together, look forward to watching a very exciting player.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Phillip Hughes

It would be inappropriate to allow today to pass without reference to the tragic death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes.

The injury he sustained in the game between South Australia and New South Wales turned out to be a million, maybe billion to one freak accident, albeit one that ended with the worst of results.

I never met him, but I enjoyed watching him bat and his best years probably lay ahead of him. At 25, like most people in a profession that they love, he had the world at his feet.

There have been the expected calls to improve helmets, ban bouncers or change the ball, understandable but knee-jerk reactions to the accident, but it is important to keep a sense of perspective, in this as in other things.

No helmet would have protected the player from the blow, the ball hitting him on the neck and compressing his vertebral artery. Any modification to the current style to include a neck guard would probably make the helmet excessively heavy and/or hot. Designers will perhaps look at options, but in the long history of the game there is only one previously recorded death in this manner.

It is a hard game, played by tough people. The ball is hard and hurts when it hits you, but it has always been so. As I said to my family this morning, until around forty years ago, there was no such thing as a helmet for cricket. People got hit, people got hurt. Few, thankfully, died.

Phillip Hughes was a fine cricketer and apparently an unassuming man. Keep him and his family in your thoughts, but as you do so, spare a thought for Sean Abbott, at 22 a rising Australian pace bowler. Having bowled the ball that hit Hughes, he will be all over the place right now, but he cannot blame himself.

He was simply doing his job. It was another ball in another game and while he will need time to come to terms with the tragedy, he should remember that. He was trying to get a wicket for his side, nothing more, nothing less.

Rest in peace, Phillip Hughes. As a cricketer and a man you will be missed.