It is hard to get away from the feeling that today was when Derbyshire's relegation to division two of the championship became patently obvious to all but the most blinkered.
I'd like to think that I'm one of the more positive among the club's fan base, but I can see no way back at the halfway stage of the championship. We are 25 points adrift of the nearest side, who were county champions last summer, highlighting that this is a tough old league. It's not impossible, but realistically it is unlikely that we will survive in the top tier this time around.
Today was an opportunity. I said last night that Somerset wouldn't have fancied chasing 200 and, having latterly limped to 145-6 and a win, I wasn't too far wide of the mark with that assertion. It is a long time since Derbyshire had three bowlers who each took five in an innings in the same match, but they all finished on the losing side today.
It is easy, as the usual suspects do elsewhere, to cry 'rubbish' and seek - nay, demand - change. But why? How? It wasn't the best of batting displays today, but we must give some credit to a Somerset attack that used the conditions well and fought their side back into a game that seemed to be moving away from them this morning.
For Derbyshire to lose eight wickets for 58 was poor, very poor, but to some extent we were hoist by our own petard. We prepared a result wicket where runs would need to be fought for and earned; wickets by putting the ball in the right areas on a regular basis. Our visitors did both better than we did. We bowled well, but not well enough to win. We batted solidly first time around, but were overwhelmed today.
Should we be surprised? There are four international players in the opposition ranks and some very talented ones besides. Thomas and Kirby are experienced bowlers of talent, Overton one on the way up. We have Chanderpaul of similar stature, whereas the rest are very good, good and ordinary county players. I'll let you decide who fits in which category.
Where do we go from here? We keep battling, of course and hope that miracles do sometimes happen. It is ironic that we collapsed today after suggesting that we were getting to grips with batting at this level. After struggling to take wickets all summer, three players suddenly take five. The wickets will continue to be result tracks, as they need to be and we have to hope that we can come out top on some of them. I'm not hopeful though.
There are three things I will say. Karl Krikken must now give Ben Slater a run at the top of the order, if only to assess if he can potentially forge a career in the first-class ranks. Next year Slater might just be one of our opening batsmen, but he needs matches in this division to benchmark himself against the best. He also needs to open. I'm sure that Krikk hasn't signed Albie Morkel and told him today to bowl slow off-spin and be the team sheet anchor. By the same token he should let Slater do what he does, where he does it best. Some batsmen get nervous waiting to get to the middle and if you're at number six you have a lot of time to wait (though not that much, the way we batted today...) Slats needs to go in as opener and should be afforded a similar run to Billy Godleman, who has to be given a break now.
Similarly, we need to look at some way of allowing the second team County Ground exposure. It's all very well them playing on nice grounds around the county, but it would be a heck of a lot more use to the players if they batted and bowled on the square they would be on if they make the senior team. It would then be less of an ordeal and there would be greater familiarity with the surroundings, all of which would help them settle. Little things, but little things, as we know, mean a lot.
Finally, consider this. A few years ago, a county had a young and talented batsman on its staff. He played age
group cricket for his country and made the first team at a rate
commensurate with his perceived ability.
season saw an encouraging 750 runs scored, with four fifties in 36
knocks. An average of 25 was OK; nothing special, but reasonable for a
young player. In his second summer 21 innings saw him average only 17,
with a highest score of 69, with just 362 runs. There were a few concerned
eyebrows being raised, as the lad continually got out the same way,
often nicking to the slip cordon as he played away from his body. "Too
flash" said the critics, far too soon for either comfort or decency.
Season three? Not much better.
443 runs in 23 innings, an average of 23, a highest of 67. Three
seasons of first-class cricket saw an average of 21 from eighty knocks
and while the next produced a maiden century and the average crept just
north of 30, another 24 innings saw little else of consequence.
player had a career record at that point of 2100 runs from 105 innings and an average
of 24. That's less than Billy Godleman (3693 runs from 132 innings at
29) Chesney Hughes (2060 runs at 35 from 61 innings) Dan Redfern (3193
runs from 112 innings at 30) and Ross Whiteley (1225 runs at 28 from 50
Yet his county persisted with him, as we must do with our young players now and from there his career took off. He became one of their greatest-ever players.