The news that Michael Di Venuto has decided to call time on his first-class career at the age of 38 will have been greeted with sadness. Not just in Durham, where he gave sterling service over six seasons, nor in Derbyshire, where he earlier graced grounds for another seven. Di Venuto will undoubtedly be missed by all those who watch county cricket.
There are plenty of younger Derbyshire fans who regard Diva as the best batsman they have seen at the club. As an older fan, one who saw the likes of Kirsten, Wright, Jones and Azharuddin, I'm less sure he tops that elite list, but Michael Di Venuto was a very, very good cricketer. A first-class average of just under 46 confirms that, if suggesting he was just short of the very highest class, but for the past dozen summers there have been few better overseas batsmen on the county circuit than the genial Tasmanian.
His trademark shot, like so many Australians, was a rapier-like cut and anyone who gave him width was liable for heavy treatment. In most other eras he would have won more than nine one-day caps and sixty first-class centuries confirm a player who could make the big scores.
From 200-2006 he was the cornerstone of the Derbyshire batting and it was increasingly common to find that our batting success was dependent on Diva scoring runs. Like many others I used to hear the score was 25-1 and keep my fingers crossed that he was not the man out. Such an occurrence reduced our likely total by 50-100 runs, though there were accusations that he scored more heavily in the second innings of games, rather than dictating the match by racking them up in the first.
That may or may not have been the case, but over those seven summers Di Venuto averaged 33, 45, 62, 49, 50 and 55. Forgiving the fact-finding mission of his first summer, those are outstanding statistics, especially for someone well aware that the weight of run-scoring lay heavily on his shoulders.
He missed the 2004 season following major surgery on his back and there were occasional fitness issues thereafter. These presumably accounted for the otherwise bizarre decision by then coach David Houghton to dispense with his services at the end of 2006 and opt for the "Mini-me" of Travis Birt, another pugnacious left-hander from Tasmania. Birt's first season suggested a player of potential, though the reality is that he never kicked on and was a fraction of Di Venuto's worth as a player. Throw in the fact that Di Venuto made it clear he would retire from Australian domestic cricket, which he did after 2007-8, and use his Italian passport to play under European labour regulations and the decision seems ever more short-sighted
Derbyshire's loss was very much Durham's gain and having such an impressive opening batsman was a major factor in their success over recent summers. Di Venuto cruised past a thousand runs each year, with almost 1700 flowing from his bat in 2009. He was also a reliable, often brilliant fielder at slip and was perhaps the template on which overseas players should be based.
What Derbyshire, or other counties would give for such a player in coming summers! Ironically I must have seen him bat on maybe 20 occasions and never saw him pass thirty, but there was no denying his talent. The younger Di Venuto in the current Derbyshire setup would have been a revelation.
In a poor side he shone like a beacon, a very fine player and a very fine man. Like all Derbyshire fans, I wish him well in his retirement. I am sure he will make a very good fist of whatever he sets out to do.
Thanks for the memories Michael.