Sunday, 28 September 2014

Season Review - Derbyshire County Cricket Club

At the start of the summer, I wrote that it was important for supporters to give Graeme Welch and his coaching staff time. Roles that only began in the new year needed time to embed and there was a need for players and coaches to get to know one another.

That was always going to be the case, but early season events conspired against the coaching team. The loss of Tom Poynton in a car crash that ended his season and caused the death of his father was one that affected everyone, irrespective of the support mechanisms put in place. So too did the loss of Peter Burgoyne and Richard Johnson to stress-related issues that saw them leave the club. A short notice replacement wicket-keeper had to be brought in and Gareth Cross did as well as could have been expected in the circumstances. Yet the move necessitated using the funds for a second T20 overseas player, which impacted on the next stage of the season.

The first half of the summer was horrid from a fan's perspective and positivity was difficult. Yet we could well have won the season opener, but for a world-class innings from the current England captain on a rare county outing. That may have kick-started the season, but there followed a series of anaemic performances that bore no relation to the talent within the squad.

The T20 campaign was likewise awful, but again the side hinted at the ability by beating Warwickshire, who went on to take the trophy. Games were lost by poor use of the batting power play, by insufficient mastery of the requisite bowling skill-sets and by leaving bowlers on for too long, too often. Success in T20 comes down to scoring well in the first six overs, then building on it, followed by short, sharp one-over spells for bowlers, so batsmen don't get their range. We didn't do that and results were disappointing, yet again.

Yet the tour game against India marked a watershed. Young players came in and added enthusiasm, together with high levels of skill and the second half of the summer saw a different side. The Royal London One-Day Cup was marked with some excellent performances and progress to the quarter-finals, reward for fine cricket. We were effectively beaten by James Taylor, another batsman of international pedigree, who showed his worth in an innings of some brilliance that took the game away from us, though supporters could take heart from a battling display.

Meanwhile, the county championship season was turned around by a series of displays in which the words 'dominating' and 'ruthless' could be applied to Derbyshire cricket for the first time in a long while. Having the fastest bowler in the country helped and Mark Footitt blew away sides time after time with a series of superb and hostile performances. He deserves the utmost credit for turning around an injury-plagued career and earning Lions recognition this winter - as of course do the fitness and physiotherapy team that kept him going through a long season.

He was well supported by a seam attack which, by season end, had extraordinary depth and potential. While the departure of Tim Groenewald was criticised by some supporters at the time, by season end he had largely been forgotten, as Tom Taylor, Ben Cotton and Greg Cork emerged to show real promise in their fledgling displays. With Johny Marsden and Will Davis behind them, the seam attack looks set for a golden era. The admirable Tony Palladino continued to offer good value with bat and ball, while Wayne White came in on loan and suggested he would be an excellent addition for next summer if he can be signed on a permanent deal.

There remain concerns over the spin bowling, with Wes Durston's occasional off-spin doing far better than the slows of David Wainwright as specialist spinner. There is scope for Tom Knight to emerge as first-choice spinner next year, if the winter re-model of his action proves effective. His batting developed remarkably this year and he could be a special, all-round player if his work ethic is strong enough.

The batting was fragile at the start of the summer but picked up well. Credit has to be given to the coaching staff, as well as the players themselves, for turning around the careers of Billy Godleman and Wes Durston. The former emerged as a solid opener with a good range of shots when set, while Durston turned the clock back to his glory days with some scintillating displays, together with handy off-spin that often got wickets when most required.

Ben Slater came through to suggest we have at last found an opening batsman who could last us for years, while Alex Hughes showed enough with bat and ball to suggest he will be a real asset . Both will be better known next year, but I am confident in both of their futures if they work at their games. The difference in the bowling of the latter, between the start and end of the season, was marked, while Slater simply looked like he belonged at first-class level.

Shiv Chanderpaul was solid, without perhaps the aggregates of his pomp, but his influence on young players cannot be underestimated. However, his replacement, Marcus North, failed. There was a blistering T20 knock at Leicester in defeat, but he never looked fully fit to me. While the rationale of his recruitment as an experienced international batsman was clear, the glory days appeared behind a worthy cricketer and it simply didn't work in any format.

Nor did the signing of Gaz Cross, who played a few T20 cameos but little of substance, while his wicket-keeping swayed between competent and sloppy. In late season, supporters were given another taste of things to come when Harvey Hosein made the team, after finishing school. The youngster appears to have soft hands and takes a ball well, but his exemplary footwork makes awkward catches routine. His batting also impressed and he appears to have a very bright future. He will doubtless push the sorely-missed Tom Poynton all the way next year.

In the second half of the summer, Derbyshire earned around forty points more than the next best county. Such form over the full season would have seen them ease to promotion. Replication next summer will make them the team to beat and we proved ourselves a match for any in the division.

If we can recruit the impressive Cheteshwar Pujara for 2015, or as much of it as international commitments allow, we will take some stopping. While there are still some players on the staff with points to prove, we ended the summer able to field a side that had all made positive strides forward during the year, the first time that could be said  in a long time.

Wayne Madsen did a fine job as skipper. He seemed to learn a lot in the one-day role as the season progressed and remained the lynchpin of the batting in all formats. He is also an admirable figurehead and role model for the club and it continues to be a pleasure to watch him bat. Whether he can continue to captain in all competitions is a question only he can answer, as the demands are high, but he is a massive asset to our club.

Graeme Welch came with a strong reputation that had been enhanced at the end of the season. He knows that expectations will be higher next summer, but he has elevated and accelerated young talent and been rewarded. While some of the events of the summer represented a baptism of fire, he came through brilliantly and showed himself the right man for the job, unafraid to make tough decisions. Anyone watching the intensity of pre-match fielding sessions and the team spirit of the side in the closing months will be aware that we are on the right track and that 2015 could, with the right additions to the squad, be special.

As supporters, we can be enthused and must continue to encourage. The club is in excellent shape and the exciting off-field plans are indicative of a club that is extremely well run, on and off the field. As long as no one does something silly to rock the boat, we are well set for a very bright future.

Well done to all many sleeps is it till April?

Picture taken as I left the 3AAA County Ground after the Leicestershire win. The one at the top in mid-summer.


Daniel Smith said...

Overall a fair assessment but I thought you might have been a touch harsh on David Wainwright, who did turn in one or two match-winning performances this season I seem to remember.

Perhaps you were commenting on his lack of consistency, and maybe Tom Knight can push Wainwright.

Overall though, hope for the next season. It's a shame we can't bottle the form of the end of season and keep it ready to open next April.

Peakfan said...

He did bowl well in patches Daniel but stats don't usually lie and 27 wickets at 42 isn't enough for a front line spinner, when the support guy has 20 at 29 in half the overs...
Wainers is a decent player and he averaged around 27 with the bat. The reality of professional sport, however, is that you're in the team until someone better comes along.
Knight has an incentive to work hard because we really need a spinner - and of course it could yet be Wainwright - who gets that bowling average down to around 30.

Daniel Smith said...

It's a valid point and the hope is that with Knight pushing him it'll make Wainwright better. As much as it's a cliche, 'competition for places' is a good thing. It stops complacency.

Sometimes though stats don't always tell the best story. Billy Godleman's average of 28 belies the fact that he's much improved. Wainwright's average with the bat is good for a bowler.

However, we do need a good spinner to help the seamers. There's a lot of promise with Derbyshire and a lot of work needed to make them a great team. Lots of promise and much to look forward too. 183 sleeps from now till the 1st of April!

Anonymous said...

A good article most of which I agree with. But I'm with daniel smith on the wainwright issue, particularly having seen him bowl very well in the critical one day match against Gloucester. Stats do rarely lie but may I be so bold as to suggest that on the basis of stats wainwright has been far more useful to the side than alex hughes. Before you get upset (!) Peakfan I accept all you say about this being his first full season in the team etc (in contrast to wainwright) but I do feel alex hughes challenge will be to prove he isn't a "bits and pieces" player. I think he has the talent to do so and I hope he does. Fingers crossed.
Overall a season that has ended with some signs of real progress. For me questions marks remain over the batting but I think we can be real contenders in the 4 day and 50 over game next season. As for 20/20, all I dare hope for is respectability...

Spireite Tim

Peakfan said...

Good comments guys. The reality is that ALL the players must kick on and improve if we are to meet the targets for next year.
I'm not denying that Wainwright is a good player, but at 30 next summer he will need better stats. His are currently the stats of the Derbyshire we are used to - NOT the one that we aspire to be...