Sunday, 11 January 2015

Weekend warmer

If ever a weekend needed a warmer it is this one! Sleet, snow, rain and an arctic wind that would cut you in half...the season may be approaching, but it's a good job we start in April, giving it time to warm up...

This week I will be starting to run an interview with former Derbyshire opening batsman Alan Hill. One of the best opening batsmen we had in the modern era, Alan had a lot of fascinating stories to tell me of a period when almost every county had an express quick bowler, which made the lot of the opening batsman, somewhat akin to that of a policeman in Pirates of Penzance, not a happy one...

It is quite apposite, given that the club are now looking for votes for the best opening batsmen since the year 2000. There are four candidates, but I am happy to tell you my thoughts.

While I have massive respect for him as a cricketer and a man, Steve Stubbings has to be omitted from serious discussion in this company. He was a journeyman professional, the others outstanding overseas imports. There is no greater respect for what he did for the county than from me, but alongside such luminaries as Guptill, Di Venuto and Rogers he cannot realistically be considered.

Martin Guptill is another who brought much to the county cricket landscape. He is the only one on the list who we might retain hopes of seeing again and is a wonderfully entertaining batsman. His approach is to dominate and he did it often enough to reward the county faithful. I treasure the memories of his booming drives, in the arc between mid off and mid on, as well as the prolific slog sweep that sent the ball a long way when he connected properly.

Nor should his influence in the field and dressing room be underestimated, as his stint with us in 2012 was the catalyst for the promotion. With him in the team we were chirpy in the field and his willingness to be one of the boys was a factor in the team spirit engendered that memorable summer.

I base my choice on the side playing four-day cricket, or first-class as described in the publicity, but Guptill was a better all-round batsman than Chris Rogers. The latter was, and continues to be, a run machine in the longer forms of the game. though he has never proven himself over the shorter forms. It is a puzzle as to why, as he scores quickly once set, but over the longer games Rogers gets my vote.

It is a delight to see him making the most of belated international opportunity for Australia, at a time when he must have thought such chance had gone. His compact, well-organised game has worked well in the international arena and an average of a shade under forty shows he is at home in the environment.

In county cricket he was a run machine. Wickets often fell around him at Derbyshire, as he stood at the helm of an oft-sinking ship to steer the batting to calmer waters. At times he seemed to be batting on a different surface to the rest of the side and the bottom line is that you cannot argue with a first-class average of just under 60.

My other choice is simple. Michael Di Venuto was another whose prime was the same as that of many great players in Australia. The presence of Matt Hayden and Justin Langer limited his international opportunities, but that meant that the county game was graced with his talent.

First at Sussex, then for us and finally for Durham, Diva scored thousands of runs in an easy on the eye style. His rapier cuts and savage pulls linger in the memory, but he had a style that saw him at home in all forms of the game. Compact and secure in defence, quick to seize on any aberration in line or length by the bowler, Michael was a huge asset to the county. Many still puzzle over the decision to release him and retain the services of the less consistent Travis Birt, but Derbyshire's loss was very much Durham's gain. He became a key component of their title-winning sides and remained a player of talent and a man of great charm to the end of his career.

While it means that both the overseas roles in the fantasy side have been taken, it is an easy Buck and Diva decision for me.

Number three could sit with his pads off a little longer with those two opening the batting...

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