Friday, 28 March 2014

Championship season preview

It would be very easy, as some people are doing, to focus on the negatives of Derbyshire's recent cricket in predicting our fortunes for the summer of 2014.

We didn't bat well in 2013 and the batting averages of several players took a bit of a pounding. Only Wayne Madsen came out with reputation enhanced, while even Shivnarine Chanderpaul seemed on occasion to be affected by the malaise that afllicted most of our top order batsmen.

Mid-season we appeared to be dead and buried, yet a Lazarus-like recovery in the second half, the result of putting trust in youth, nearly saw us pull off the great escape. It was unfortunate to be playing the champions-elect in the last game, but despite putting up a creditable fight for much of it, the familiar bad habits resurfaced when scores elsewhere condemned us to the drop.

In 2012 we had enjoyed good fortune with injury and key personnel remained fit for most of the campaign. Last year was less satisfactory from that angle. Tony Palladino missed a lot of matches, Jonathan Clare virtually the whole summer, Chesney Hughes was only half-fit. A few found the new level beyond them and there was a feeling that preparation and team selection did us few favours on occasions.

Keeping all of that in mind, it is understandable that some writers and supporters are writing off this summer and playing down our chances of an immediate return to the top tier. But in doing so, I think that they are missing a few very crucial points.

First, let's not forget that we are now back at a level where several players proved they could score heavily in the past. Wes Durston had a wretched four-day summer in 2013, yet he cleared 1700 runs in all cricket the previous year, looking an imposing sight in doing so. Billy Godleman also struggled, but it is important to remember one thing about Godleman and, indeed, new man Stephen Moore. The latter is another to be written off before he's even started by some, ignoring the fact that he was a regular and heavy run-scorer in Lancashire's one-day sides and was an England Lion of unquestionable talent not too many summers ago.

When you have the ability that Moore and Godleman have - and let's not forget that the latter was deemed one of the country's brightest prospects a few years back - you don't lose it. You may lose confidence in yourself after a few hard knocks, but the talent never goes away. It merely awaits someone with the ability to harness, nurture and awaken it once more, someone who can help them rediscover that missing mojo.

The portents of pre-season are excellent. Godleman's century today will have made him realise how much he has to offer and I have a feeling that he will enjoy batting with Moore, an attractive player whose ability to work the ball around will keep the scoreboard moving. He has been equally impressive and good starts from (in all likelihood) that pair will make life much easier for those that follow.

There should be few concerns over Madsen and Chanderpaul, while I expect Durston to return to form with a bang. Throw in a fully-fit Chesney Hughes at six and there's not many better batting line-ups in the division. With competition from Borrington, Slater, Elstone and Alex Hughes, we shouldn't lack for runs.

Ah, say the cynics, but none of them have proved themselves. "Yet", is my reply and every season sees at least one player improve out of all recognition. The batting line-up at the end of the summer may differ from the one that I expect to start it, but I don't see us lacking runs on a regular basis.

Then there's the seam attack. There are some good bowlers in division two, but I can't think of another club with the depth of seam bowling talent that we have at present. If some of the young ones continue to develop as we hope, Graeme Welch's biggest issue will be keeping everyone happy. It will be a fine batting track if any permutation of Palladino, Groenewald, Clare, Footitt and Turner cannot get something from it.

The big challenge, perhaps, is in the spin bowling department. David Wainwright had a disappointing 2013 and was another to struggle with injury, but he remains a good cricketer, albeit one who may need to fight off the claims of Tom Knight as the summer progresses. The loss of Peter Burgoyne, for however long, is a blow, but Durston, Chesney Hughes and Scott Elstone can all contribute with spin if required, even if their greater contribution may lie in the one-day games.

With two good wicket-keepers to choose from, both able to contribute lower-order runs (Tom Poynton my first choice, for the record), the side looks strong in all departments and should be in the mix by September. Whether they do better than that will depend on a little luck with the toss and the weather, even more with key personnel remaining fit and a much better performance in the field than last year.

In the early part of 2013 we were caught cold and were playing catch-up thereafter. This year we must be primed to hit teams hard and maintain focus, session after session. I have every confidence that Graeme Welch will ensure that is the case and it is in the motivational skills of the coach and the personalised coaching on offer from his staff that I think we have an ace up our sleeve. Last year we let teams off the hook too many times with poor fielding and loose bowling. I don't see that as likely an occurrence this year.

Key man? They all are, of course, but Jonathan Clare offers us balance with his ability to hit the ball a long way, then bowl far more quickly than he first appears. Add in a safe pair of hands in the slips and you quickly realise what was missed in 2013.

Peakfan's forecast? Given decent luck, I'll tip us for a promotion slot, though it is important for supporters to give Graeme Welch time. He'll get that, as a very popular figure but I expect to see his Derbyshire side as a completely different beast this season.

What do you think? Let me know in the poll to the left of this piece.

Good luck to all players and staff in 2014. Here's to a season worth remembering!

1 comment:

Marc said...

Not much to argue about there Peakfan. I can understand some people treading a little cautiously and perhaps adopting a "let,s wait and see" attitude.However,I do believe the majority (myself included)are feeling good about our chances and believe success is just around the corner.

I would go along with your suggested top six,especially after watching Godleman yesterday. It was a very good innings indeed. Yes,he had a little luck on a couple of occasions but looked a different player to the one who was so poorly handled last year. If he,s not in the starting line up on the 6th,then I think he can consider himself extremely unlucky.

The remainder are all capable of scoring big runs and as you point out,we have several options in reserve.

We have a strong bowling attack which i,m sure will be rotated around,with a view to keeping them fit and fresh. I just hope that nonsense of Palladino playing only Championship matches has been consigned to the dustbin once and for all and we shall see him playing his share of limited over games.

The amount of catches we put down last season was astonishing, so any improvement is more than welcome. There seemed to be a general lack of confidence and concentration which ran throughout the team. Success does not come to teams who effectively have to take 15 wickets to bowl the opposition out.

I believe promotion is well within our grasp and I don,t think Mr Welch will settle for anything less.