Isn’t it funny how, after three straight wins in the Pro 40, all is well in the cricketing kingdom of Derbyshire? Not a moaner raising a head above the parapet after three successive displays of genuine professionalism, the result of everyone doing their job. Batsmen have worked the ball around without panicking, bowlers have hit good lines and lengths and the fielding has been breathtakingly brilliant. What’s happened?
Well, for one thing John Morris’ work is starting to pay off. He inherited a weak squad and needed time to go through the ‘Calamity Jane’ or dead wood stage (there’s a musical joke in there…) To get rid of that in one, two or even three winters was a tough call, but he’s getting there now. In addition, considering he is working with a small budget and has to deal with people seeking second chances or an opportunity, he has an excellent success rate. Two out of three signed have been a success, while his coaching work with younger players is now starting to produce the goods. Dan Redfern, Ross Whiteley and Tom Poynton all look improved players this season, while others like Ben Slater, Matt Higginbottom and Hamza Siddique have done enough at respective universities to suggest they could be part of the next generation.
There will always be those who point to the failures, with Clarke, Doshi and Telo being most frequently mentioned in such despatches, but you still can’t fault the signings. In each case they satisfied the primary signing criterion – they were better than we had. There are plenty of reasons why moves don’t work out, especially when families are involved. In those three cases we were unlucky, but you can’t fault the thought process.
Take this winter’s activity. The early signs are that the signings of Luke Sutton and Tony Palladino will be great successes and that of Usman Khawaja inspired and opportunistic. John Morris was off his blocks quicker than Usain Bolt when he saw Khawaja included in the Australian Test team and picked up a player that others fancied but were too slow to get. While Mark Turner has yet to hit his stride, at least he is fit and playing, which is more than you could say for those he replaced. I’m confident that Martin Guptill will also do well, while our temporary signing, Azeem Rafiq has bowled tidily, fielded well and batted with dogged defiance. We’ve not yet seen Matt Lineker, but there was no real pressure on that one and the signs are that he is adjusting to regular cricket as a staff member.
For me, the big signing was Luke Sutton. A Derby man through and through, he has created a strong team spirit in which every member, from senior to junior, seems to feel at home, knows their job and pulls with the rest.
All the batsmen have made telling contributions. Hughes, Khawaja, Madsen, Smith and Durston are an easy pick top five, but Dan Redfern has produced a string of promising innings at six in the longer game while Garry Park’s fielding and all-round skills cement that berth in the one day side. The latter has not yet had the big score in the senior team, but has hit lots of runs in the Seconds, a sure sign of a positive attitude and willingness to battle for a place.
The same goes for the bowlers. While we have not yet seen Mark Footitt due to injury, all the other seamers have produced the goods at times and bowled with great common sense and considerable skill.
A major factor in the success has been the use of spinners. Rafiq has done a steady job since his arrival but the revelations have been the use of Chesney Hughes and Wes Durston. I’ve written before of my disappointment that Wes wasn’t bowled more often last year, but he has become a key member of the attack this time, opening last week at Headingley in a fine all-round display. As for Chesney, the winter work has again brought dividends and he has bowled good spells in recent games. At twenty years old he has the raw ability to be one of the best players in the game and it only depends on how much work he is prepared to do in the coming years.
The there’s the fielding. Players have been quick to the ball and in getting their throws in. Catches have been held that were barely chances and the ground fielding has been of a standard rarely seen in county colours. In three weeks we have beaten three teams from Division One of the championship, which shows that the side is capable of anything if the attitude stays the same.
Cricket with purpose, innovation and commitment with more than a smattering of genuine talent have been the factors in our improved form. Our form may dip again, as the team’s relative inexperience and injuries are sure to become factors at some point. Sometimes when we mix it with the ‘big boys’ we may not have enough, but if the team continues to show its current level of commitment there can be no legitimate grounds for complaint from anyone.
Thumbs up from me.