Saturday, 19 September 2009

A lot to play for

Aside from the many permutations of points and results that will come into play when the final round of County Championship matches start next week, there'll be plenty of players with milestones to aim for.

Take Chris Rogers and Wayne Madsen. Who will finish top of the batting averages? Rogers currently sits top with 66.5 an innings while Madsen has 66.08. I can safely say that Derbyshire have never had a season where two players finished with an average of over 60 and indeed only Simon Katich (75.52) has ended the season with a higher average than these two currently have. Both are currently ahead of Peter Bowler's 65.93, while Rogers could also move to joint third place in the "centuries in a season" table with another against Essex.

Greg Smith only needs another 45 runs to reach 1,000 for the first time, while Garry Park needs 101 to do so in his first season at the club. Wayne Madsen needs 207, but in his current form may still have an outside chance of doing it!

In the bowling, Graham Wagg needs 7 wickets to reach 50 for the third successive season, although he has been hampered by his shoulder injury this year. Unless something remarkable happens, he'll not complete a third successive mini double, but that has been partly down to less opportunities with the bat this year.

Our top four average 66, 66, 38 and 45, with Hinds (35) and Redfern (30) preceding James Pipe (39). Technically that's 319 runs before Wagg gets in, a remarkable turn around on previous seasons and testimony to the work done with the batsmen by John Morris and Andy Brown. Our batting, even in one day games, has usually been much improved this year. Just need another couple of bowlers...

There will also be an eye on the Division One relegation places. At this stage it looks like either Yorkshire or Sussex to come down with Worcestershire. My preference would be for it to be Yorkshire.

Why? Because I think we can beat them next year and because I hope that our game away to them would be at Scarborough, one of my favourite grounds. If that came out in the fixtures I'd be booking my B and B as soon as possible, as I've always wanted to see Derbyshire play there.

If we don't go up, my preference would also be for Essex to be the side that do. Again, that's because I think we can beat other sides in the division more easily. I don't think there's much between us and them, to be honest, but with a year's experience, those couple of bowlers and a little more luck with the weather and decisions, I think next year could be a big one in the Championship, especially if Chris Rogers returns.

We also need to retain the best players. Rumours continue about X leaving and Y being chased by counties, but all counties are getting that at this stage. I've said before, Derbyshire's players must realise that something is coming together here and there's real potential for the next 4-5 years. With a crop of exciting players in their early/mid-twenties (Madsen, Park, Smith, Wagg, Clare, Needham, Groenewald) and another group even younger (Redfern, Hughes, Borrington, Sheikh, Whiteley) I would argue that we've rarely had as exciting a group of players coming through.

Of course, there needs to be progress. Anything less than a Championship challenge next year will be a disappointment after this campaign, while the maintenance of batting improvements coupled with tighter bowling could improve one day fortunes. In two years we'll see how far John Morris has taken us, but I'm pretty happy right now, irrespective of next week's result.

We've got our pride back.

As I close, Gloucestershire are making a good fist of their run chase against Glamorgan. If they win, their last game is against Kent. I'd see that as better for us than if the Welsh wizards were looking for a win at the Oval.

We'll see

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