Saturday, 4 April 2015

Pre-season preview part 2 - The County Championship - Smells Like Team Spirit

For the first time in many years, it is almost impossible to pick a first choice side at Derbyshire this summer.

Time was, and not that long ago, the interested supporter could probably name nine of a first choice eleven and get pretty close to the full side. Not so now, as Graeme Welch has assembled and cultivated a squad  - a genuine squad - that has depth in most positions, especially in seam bowling. To the club's great credit, many are academy products.

A few people were aghast last summer when Tim Groenewald was allowed to leave the county. Those same people will be a little sheepish now, as the popular seamer's departure enabled Welch to accelerate the development of young bowlers who impressed him as soon as he arrived at Derby last year.

The giant Ben Cotton, not yet fully filled out out at 21 but able to move the ball around at decent pace, stands out in any company, but Tom Taylor, another from Staffordshire, has made a positive impression since his elevation to the senior side, bowling back of a length in a style not dissimilar to Mike Hendrick. A year younger and competing for a place in the senior side is Greg Cork, son of county legend Dominic. Word is that Cork junior has filled out and gained pace over the winter, his left-handed style giving him an advantage and Welch a nice option. With England under-19 spearhead Will Davis and Harry White, brother of Wayne, in the next age group down, the county's seam bowling depth will be envied by most other counties.

Mark Footitt will again spearhead the attack and supporters, together with opening batsmen around the country, will wonder why he hasn't yet got an England call. The identical and insipid nature of the national attack in the recent World Cup was there for all to see, never an accusation to level at the left-handed Footitt. He hit enough helmets, thigh pads and arm protectors last year to suggest pace well above the routine and while the odd ball still goes askew, he is a much-improved bowler under the tutelage of the highly-regarded Welch.

With support available from the reliable Tony Palladino and Wayne White, as well as all-rounders Shiv Thakor and Alex Hughes, the seam bowling has enviable riches to exploit most surfaces. There is less in the spin cupboard, but Wes Durston winkles out batsmen with his off-spin, while David Wainwright and Chesney Hughes have big seasons ahead of them. Two moderate summers have followed an excellent 2012 for the former, while Chesney will at last be able to add his left-arm 'darts' to batting which supporters will hope is back to its best, now he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

A key man could be Tom Knight, who has apparently emerged from a winter spent working on his action with an improved action that should help him take more wickets. Still only 21, despite being around for a few summers, Knight could emerge as first choice spinner this year, his claims enhanced by his ability in the field and a talent to hit a ball as cleanly as anyone in the club. A comparison with Ian Blackwell comes up when discussing his talent and he could play a leading part in all cricket as the summer progresses.

It will be great to see (and hear!) Tom Poynton back behind the stumps after last year's tragedy, though he will be pushed hard by Harvey Hosein, at eighteen a player of real potential with both gloves and bat. His debut at The Oval last year was Boy's Own material and pre-season form suggests he is ready for an opportunity when it comes.

The side is blessed with a number of all-rounders. Wayne White has rejoined from Lancashire and brings experience and talent, while after two seasons blighted by injury, Jonathan Clare will be available in May. It will be the equivalent of a new player, his back problem having finally been diagnosed and hopefully sorted by surgery. With new signing Shiv Thakor a player of special talent and Alex Hughes keen to build on last year's positive impression, batting depth would appear to be more likely than in recent summers.

A question mark remains on the batting, but there are reasons for optimism. Two of the World Cup's top five batsmen, Martin Guptill and Tillakaratne Dilshan, will share overseas duties and their dynamic style should complement whoever is chosen to open alongside them. Billy Godleman played some innings of quality at the end of last summer, but Ben Slater is likely to get the first opportunity after good pre-season form, following on from twin centuries in the last match of 2014. He is one to watch and his compact style could prove an excellent foil for the overseas men.

Batting success will once again revolve around Captain Fantastic, Wayne Madsen. Now England-qualified, he is simply a class act. Constantly improving as a captain and a strong figurehead for the club, he is one of the nicest men in cricket and massively important to the side's hopes of success.

He and Welch have forged an all-important bond and created a vital twelfth man in team spirit. There was an air of inevitability in watching the county towards the end of last summer, wickets always appearing around the corner as a tight unit cranked up the pressure, the skipper making regular bowling changes to make the opposition work. If that can be re-created early, the catches stick and Guptill and Dilshan replicate their international form, Derbyshire can be in the promotion shake-up by the end of the summer.

There are two potential issues. The batting has to be more robust and we also need a spin option to take advantage when the wickets start to turn. None of ours in the recent past have hinted at a fifty-wicket season, but we will need close to that from any combination of them to succeed in the later season.

I've been asked many times for my side to start the season and have already stated that it is tough. For the record, here is my best effort as we start with experience, but you could replace almost anyone, apart from Guptill, Madsen and Footitt, without major detriment.

Hughes (C)
Hughes (A)

There are seven bowlers, a depth of batting and some very good players outside the eleven. Graeme Welch can rotate bowlers to keep them fresh and that will be crucial when we hit the closing weeks of the season.

If we can get off to a flyer...who knows?


Anonymous said...

Hi Peakfan

I think that number 6 spot is for grabs but I would go with Chesney. Who do you think is higher in the pecking order, Taylor or Cotton? There isn't much to separate them.

With the news that Guptill is in the test squad, do you think we will get in an adequate replacement?

Peakfan said...

I don't think I can judge on Taylor v Cotton mate, as I would be doing so on last season. A winter is a long time in a young player's development and only the coaching staff know how each has developed.
I understand Dilshan may come over early, but Welch is canny enough to have expected this and has irons in the fire. We won't be lacking, that's for sure

Anonymous said...

Do you see either Cotton or Taylor in the 11 for the start of the season?

Peakfan said...

As I said in the piece, you can swap anyone in and out. My side just goes for experience, as we did last year to start, though none of us know who is bowling best in the nets.
You could easily swap in Taylor or Cotton - or both. There may be injuries between times, or one of the young ones makes a major case for inclusion.
My team was largely to indicate the depth of batting and the amount of bowlers. With Godleman,Clare, Knight, Hosein, Taylor, Cotton, Cork etc outside that team there are loads of options

Simon said...

I personally think that Hosein has the gloves. After Poynton's outing in Abu Dhabi, coupled with his performance at Trent Bridge this weekend, I don't think there's any denying that it's great to see him back out there, but he doesn't have that added sparkle, ability and potential that young Hosein possesses.
It's a difficult situation - everyone wants to see Poynton back to his best after the tragic circumstances surrounding his injuries last season, and I know he is very well connected to those at the top of the food chain at the Club, but Hosein has the edge and deserves the chance to show it. I'd like to see the gloves on Boy Wonder!

Tim, Chesterfield said...

That's a good side, no doubt at all. I'm feeling pretty positive about this summer - if we can bat well the bowling should be good enough to bowl sides out.

Peakfan said...

Well Simon, its hard to argue on Hosein. Again, we don't know who looks best in training and matches, but he did little wrong in his appearances last year and is technically the man in possession, as is Slater at the top. Whoever is omitted is unlucky and needs to keep working to claim the role when the chance arises

Sam said...

Balance of the side is going to be key this year, with so many all rounders in the squad. For instance, in your side you have picked only three frontline bowlers yet it still doesn't look short on options. Yesterday at trent bridge all of the bowlers looked capable of taking wickets, and cork does look to have found some pace over the winter. After his first ball got hit for 6, he settled into a good line and length. The one main concern I had was with Wayne white, whose first spell saw him bowling down leg far too often when there was a tiny leg side boundary. He was better in his second spell from the pavilion end but then picked up an injury in the field. Chesney Hughes' darts also looked a little rusty at first, but he improved as his spell went on. If we were going with three seamers, based on yesterday Id go for cotton, footitt and palladino. It must be tempting to pick taylor as well as a 4th seamer. Surely the strongest seam attack in the division?!

The batting was less positive, scott elstone doing himself no favours with a first baller. I think Thakor is probably best suited to bat at 5 or 6, and if we do go 4 bowlers I'd give him and alex hughes the nod over Cheney hughes. I still live in fear that a collapse is never far away, but I guess that's the same with most teams. Hosein also gets the gloves, though it would be nice to see our keeper have the ability to stand up to Palladino when the occasion demands.

My side would be
A Hughes
C Hughes/Taylor depending on conditions

Peakfan said...

Again, can't argue mate. Didn't see yesterday but I don't think we should read too much into pre-season selections. I can't see Elstone opening this summer, but a good knock would have done him no harm. His time will come, though probably more in the one-day game, where his fielding, quick scoring and useful off spin could be an asset.

mark said...

I'd go with your starting eleven Peakfan, but worrying performance yesterday at Notts. Plenty of hard work ahead for Welch and the staff.

Peakfan said...

Yeah but not a full side at this stage. Trying things out but they will know that intensity when it starts will always need to be 100% against teams that on paper may be stronger..
Application...aggression..athleticism...the three alternate As...