There’s an interesting comment under yesterday’s post from ‘Needham 4 England’ where he expresses concern over the fact that Jake is the only spinner in the club, something that should have been addressed.
My quick and easy answer to that one is “How?”
If the author of the comment or anyone else can name one English-qualified spinner of talent who was available and we could have signed I might subscribe to the view, but I can’t think of one. David Wainwright at Yorkshire may have been an option, but decided to stay and fight for a place. To be fair, the lad had injury problems last year, partly the result of modifications to his action and is not that much more experienced than Needham.
There were a few early suggestions of Michael Munday from Somerset, but Wes Durston and Steffan Jones would know enough about him to make a decision fairly clear cut. Of course, he may not have wanted to move home, or may have asked for too much money, but if he had genuine talent we were well-placed to make a move.
Lancashire have three left-arm spinners but wanted to keep them all and they all wanted to stay. Apart from that, nothing. The Kolpak route was explored last year, but was costly and Robin Peterson no longer qualified for a visa, having returned to international cricket. The only other Kolpak options would have been Rolof van der Merwe, who spins it very little, or Nikita Miller who has been flattered by some good figures on dirt tracks in the Caribbean. Neither, for me, would have offered value for money nor the requisite returns. Remember, only South Africans and West Indians qualify for Kolpak status and only then if they’ve recently played international cricket. Zimbabwe do too, but its hardly a hotbed of spin wizardry, unless you rate the aging Ray Price, who had a stint at Worcestershire a few years back. Personally, I never forgave him for recording For the Good Times…
Then there’s the overseas role. Of the top spinners in the world game, all but Ajantha Mendis of Sri Lanka are in the IPL, while he has gone off the boil and has major international commitments this summer anyway.
I can accept criticism of people when it is deserved and will criticise as well in such a situation, but John Morris can no more spirit a spinner from the ether than anyone else can. I’m sure he would love a new Geoff Miller, but such players take time to develop.
Can Jake Needham be that man? We will go some way to finding out this summer. He will be the main man when conditions warrant spin, numero uno. He should play his fair share of one-day cricket too, when I think he’ll do well.
What I’d love to see is Jake bowl us to victory on a final afternoon with men around the bat. It is one thing bowling well to five men out on the ropes and keeping the score down. But there’s a different skillset and mindset in doing the same when you’ve four, maybe five team mates crouched around a batsman.
A spinner knows that if he bowls badly at such times his mates could get hurt and/or he could go for plenty. Only experience helps you to deal with these situations better and gives you the confidence to continue to toss the ball up and enable it to spin. To get the batsman driving and bowl him through the gate, or to get the nick onto the pad from the inside edge. To tempt the batsman down the track, beat him in the flight and let the keeper do the rest. This is what we want and need to see from Jake this year.
He will need plenty of bowling in the Seconds and encouragement to ‘rip’ it. The odd bad ball will be tolerated, as long as there’s enough good ones to test the opposition.
I think Jake has the ability to be our first choice spinner, should he wish, for the next 10-15 years. The coming season will show whether he has the mental toughness for the challenge, but for the sake of Derbyshire cricket I hope that he has.
PS Thanks to Sid for the news of Usman Khawaja's injury, which is a tweaked hamstring. In the annals of injuries sustained by prospective Derbyshire overseas players, that's like being smacked on the face by the beating wing of a butterfly...