Worcestershire 243 for 7 (Fell 69, Wessels 60, Critchley 3-56) trail Derbyshire 390 (Critchley 109, du Plooy 98, Hosein 83, Godleman 50) by 147 runs
As the mere sight of an English wrist spinner is liable to send innocent observers into raptures, it is advisable to regard the following statement with suspicion: Matt Critchley is a fast-improving batsman/legspinner and is beginning to look as if he might have the makings of an England Test cricketer.
On the scale of gullibility, anticipating great things for an English legspinner is up there with thinking you’ve just won a draw for an iPhone or that your National Insurance number has been locked and can only be released with immediate provision of your credit card details. Adil Rashid has done a lot to change that perception in the past decade, but it’s still a risky business.
Critchley, though, appears to be maturing fast. His century on the first day against Worcestershire underlined the top-order batting credentials that one day might help to balance an England side. It was followed by three wickets on the second when he bowled with good flight, a hint of turn and the sort of control that figures of 3 for 56 in 22 overs suggest.
Derbyshire is hardly the mythical land of England Test cricketers. They have had 24 in their history and none since Dominic Cork made a memorable, look-at-me debut came against the West Indies in 1995. Cork had some fine qualities, but he didn’t really need much promoting, as his boundless optimism attracted such instant attention on the field that he was his own walking, talking publicity unit.
Cork’s Test debut came a few months after Derby County had won their last football league title and there has not been too much excitement in these parts since.
Critchley is less attention grabbing, but no less worthy for that. Stuart MacGill, who took 208 Test wickets for Australia, has worked with most budding England legspinners and sees an England future. “This dude, 6ft 2ins, he can bowl,” he said last year.
It is Critchley’s solidity that stands out. He warmed this increasingly sunny, but still markedly cool April with exemplary control and figures of 3 for 56 in 22 overs. But compared to the likes of Yorkshire and Surrey not many journalists pass this way and those who do are grounded in realism. Bandwagons are the sort of thing that Boyzone might have turned up on for one of the ground’s pop concerts; the only serious exposure he is likely to get when another bracing northerly sweeps across the ground.
Indications were favourable for all that. Gareth Roderick and Brett D’Oliveira both fell in the afternoon session, D’Oliveira to the last ball before tea, as Critchley sustained Derbyshire’s advantage after they had logged 390 on first innings. Roderick, who has switched from Gloucestershire with expectations of a place in all formats, was beaten in the flight as he flicked back a return catch. D’Oliveira offered a comfortable catch to Wayne Madsen at first slip.
At 217 for 5, Riki Wessels, with obdurate support from Ben Cox, promised to bat Worcestershire out of trouble, but Critchley’s unexpected switch to the Racecourse End late in the day brought further dividends as well as emphasising the belief that his captain, Billy Godleman, had in him. He ended Wessels’ 60 from 95 balls by bowling him with a googly that ran straight on and almost dismissed Ed Barnard, first ball, when he rather belly-flopped onto a low return catch, got both hands to it but could not hold.
Cox then played on, attempting a leave, but Worcestershire’s eighth-wicket pair passed the follow-on shortly before the close. It is doubtful that Godleman would have enforced it and Derbyshire’s lead of 147 remains a sizeable advantage.
David Griffin, Derbyshire’s heritage officer, photographer and statistician, is adamant that Derbyshire’s unfashionable image can work against them, although there are not many convincing examples in the past 25 years. Critchley’s career statistics also hardly make a persuasive case. A batting average of 30 and bowling average of 44 would be more convincing the other way round, but he took 17 wickets at 26 last year.
It is hard to suggest a better Championship legspinner in England. At 24, he has just started a new two-year contract and at his current rate of progress Derbyshire will struggle to retain him any longer.
Derbyshire had rounded up Worcestershire’s openers by lunch. Jake Libby’s 12-hour resistance against the champions, Essex, at Chelmsford last week had made him a daunting proposition so a first-baller was beyond Derbyshire’s wildest expectations, a loud thud into Libby’s front pad bringing Sam Conners immediate success. Daryl Mitchell’s middle stump was sent cartwheeling by Fynn Hudson-Prentice.
Conners, an Academy product, was the most serviceable of Derbyshire’s pace attack and a second lbw decision ended a lissom half-century by Tom Fell.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Struggling South Australia poach Brendan Doggett among host of changes
Head coach Jason Gillespie says the new-look side will “focus on results” after four consecutive seasons at the bottom of the first-class standings
South Australia have poached the dual Sheffield Shield-winning fast bowler Brendan Doggett from Queensland among a raft of interstate additions to their squad. According to head coach Jason Gillespie, the new-look side will have a “focus on results” after four consecutive seasons at the bottom of the first-class standings and no victories at all in any competitions last season.
The recruitment of Doggett, alongside the additions of Nathan McSweeney (also from Queensland), Jake Carder (Western Australia), the Sydney Thunder’s Nathan McAndrew (New South Wales) and contract upgrades for Ryan Gibson (NSW), Samuel Kerber (Victoria) and rookie Jordan Buckingham (Victoria), marks a major departure from recent seasons in which the Redbacks tried unsuccessfully to build a home-grown team.
The failing fortunes of South Australia have been a talking point across the national system and were last year the subject of an independent review by Michael Hussey that panned a culture of mediocrity and conflicts of interest within the state’s high-performance wing.
Hussey’s review had included the following recommendations: “Identify and try to recruit the best young talent around the country (former Australia U-19 players not contracted) and engage them through Premier Cricket making them earn opportunities at the next level. Identify quality players from interstate with first-class experience to fill holes in the current list or holes that will develop in the near future. Target the best 10th to 15th players from other states.”
South Australia had already parted ways with Will Bosisto, Tom Cooper, Brad Davis, Conor McInerney, Luke Robins and Cameron Valente – all delisted – while Callum Ferguson and Chadd Sayers retired during the season after long careers with the Redbacks.
“We are extremely delighted with the additions we’ve been able to make to freshen up our squad, and we’re optimistic for an improved 2021-22 season,” Gillespie said.
“We have added considerable depth and increased our pace stocks, namely with Brendan who is a two-time Sheffield Shield champion, and we welcome each new player and look forward to the beginning of pre-season. We’ve shaped this new-look team with a focus on results, and we are confident that this rejuvenated list can take this proud state forward.”
South Australia contract list: Wes Agar, Alex Carey, Jake Carder, Brendan Doggett, Daniel Drew, Ryan Gibson, David Grant, Travis Head, Henry Hunt, Samuel Kerber, Jake Lehmann, Nathan McAndrew, Nathan McSweeney, Joe Mennie, Harry Nielsen, Tim Oakley, Lloyd Pope, Kane Richardson, Liam Scott, Jake Weatherald, Nick Winter, Daniel Worrall
Rookie contracts: Jordan Buckingham, Bailey Capel, Kyle Brazell, Corey Kelly, Thomas Kelly
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
Cricketers around the world express solidarity with Palestine after civilian casualties rise
As the death toll in Gaza following Israeli air strikes escalated, cricketers around the world made their voices heard
Cricketers from around the world have expressed support and solidarity with the people of Palestine, with the death toll from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza rising sharply over the past few days. Several of the dead are civilians, including at least 13 children.
The violence began on Monday when the Israeli military entered the Al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, in the final days of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims.
Several members of the Pakistan cricket team, led by captain Babar Azam posted messages on Twitter, with a running theme of prayers for the Palestinian people, imploring the world to “stand up for humanity”. Shan Masood, Azhar Ali and Shadab Khan were among the other Pakistanis who expressed solidarity.
— Babar Azam (@babarazam258) May 11, 2021
The messages of goodwill weren’t limited to Pakistani cricketers. Afghanistan legspinner Rashid Khan called it “no crime more heinous than the killing of a child”. Hashim Amla, in a lengthy Instagram post, drew comparisons to Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, reminding people of Mandela’s unstinting support for the people of Palestine throughout his life. Mandela had said South Africa’s struggle was “incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.
Tabraiz Shamsi, Daren Sammy and Kagiso Rabada also posted messages on Twitter praying for Palestine, while former India all-rounder Irfan Pathan said one “only needed to be human” to support their cause. George Linde condemned the “terrible scenes” while England bowler Saqib Mahmood asked people not to turn a blind eye, using the hashtag #FreePalestine.
This isn’t the first time cricket has found itself caught up in the issue. In 2014, at the height of an Israeli military operation in Gaza, England allrounder Moeen Ali wore wristbands with slogans reading #FreePalestine and #SaveGaza during a Test match between England and India. The ICC match referee David Boon decided it was a breach of the ICC regulation forbidding cricketers from sending out political messages and asked Moeen to remove the wristbands.
Qais Ahmad signs Kent deal for T20 Blast, two County Championship games
Last season’s beaten quarter-finalists lean towards spin-heavy strategy for Blast
Qais Ahmad, the Afghanistan legspinner, has signed for Kent for the whole of T20 Blast and two County Championship fixtures, adding to the burgeoning list of teams he has represented around the world in short-form cricket.
Ahmad, 20, was due to join Gloucestershire as an overseas player last summer but had his contract cancelled on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, this will be his first stint in county cricket.
He is also due to play for Welsh Fire in the inaugural season of the Hundred, after he was retained ahead of February’s re-draft. As a result, he will stay in the UK after the conclusion of the Blast’s group stage, and is likely to be available for the knockout stages.
The club also signed Mohammad Amir for the second half of the competition last month, while Heino Kuhn is registered as an overseas player after the expiration of Kolpak status. Counties are allowed to register three overseas players simultaneously, but can field a maximum of two in a match.
Ahmad is the fifth Afghanistan player to sign a deal for this year’s Blast, after Rashid Khan (Sussex), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Middlesex), Mohammad Nabi (Northamptonshire) and Naveen-ul-Haq (Leicestershire). He would not have qualified for a governing body endorsement for his visa but for a change in the ECB’s requirements two years ago.
Kent were beaten quarter-finalists in last year’s Blast, and the signing of Ahmad hints at a change in strategy for the 2021 season. They generally fielded a solitary frontline spinner in Imran Qayyum last summer, alongside Joe Denly’s part-time legbreaks, but may now opt for a spin-heavy side this season.
Ahmad is also due to be available for Kent’s final two games of the initial group stage of the Championship, against Lancashire at Old Trafford and Sussex at Beckenham. If selected, they would be his first first-class games since he made his Test debut against Bangladesh in September 2019, and he would become the first Afghanistan player to appear in the Championship.
“I’m excited to play in the Vitality Blast and I’m really looking forward to being a Kent Spitfire,” he said. “Having played alongside Daniel Bell-Drummond at Colombo Kings, I have heard good things about Kent and I will give it my all.”
Paul Downton, the club’s director of cricket, said: “Qais Ahmad is an exciting talent who has shown his ability in top quality leagues all over the world. I am confident that his enthusiasm for the game will make him a firm favourite with our members and supporters as we look to welcome crowds back to watching live cricket again.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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