Sunday, 10 May 2015
Derbyshire v Northamptonshire day 1
When your work, location and domestic commitments limit your availability to watch live cricket, you hope that each day you see is something special.
We went to watch Hashim Amla at Derbyshire today, but instead were royally entertained by an innings of Boys Own standard by Matthew Critchley, on only his second appearance in county cricket. And special it most assuredly was.
At 18, talented young cricketers are generally scoring good runs at club and academy level, the best perhaps gravitating to the county second team to see if they have what it takes. They are not, usually, transforming county matches with an innings of considerable skill, no little courage, a full range of shots and, at times, great panache. Matthew played with the uncomplicated style of most of his age, uncluttered by technicalities and unfazed by reputation.
He played a blinder.
Down the road at Trent Bridge, they may have players fighting transformers in an advert to promote T20, but at Derby we had a lad who rescued his side from the perils of 103-6 and elevated them to the splendours of an all out 343. It was Thunderbirds, Rocky and Iron Man rolled into one.
It was one innings, of course, not by some distance career-defining. He will bat better and score less, but the youngster showed an excellent temperament in a tough situation for his side. I was especially impressed with how quickly he settled at the crease. When he first went in he was 'going' at everything, but a word from his captain seemed to soothe the nerves and he began to build a 'proper' innings, defending when the ball merited respect and giving it the treatment when the bowlers erred in line or length.
To be honest, the visitors rather lost the plot as Critchley's partnership with the admirable Tom Taylor began to grow. They appeared to have a theory that he would perish to the short ball, with which he was peppered liberally, but most of them disappeared to and over the boundary, unless he opted to leave them alone. It rather undid their earlier good work when the pitched up ball, that nibbled around all day, did for the top order. Mind you, when they did pitch it up, Matthew drove with power and excellent placement, so maybe they ran out of ideas.
In the first hour, Chesney Hughes and Ben Slater batted beautifully and little passed the bat, but when Azharullah changed to a shorter run up, the ball started to zip about. Slater went to a good one, while his partner got his bearings wrong as the same bowler came around the wicket and bowled him.
Enter Amla to a fine ovation, but he lasted only seven balls before his fellow countryman Kleinveldt had him palpably leg before, the importance of the wicket reflected in a celebration akin to that of his side winning a trophy. Then Scott Elstone reflected the 'beauty' of the game, following a century at Cardiff with a duck here.
Thakor and Madsen saw it through to lunch, but soon afterwards, Shiv was caught behind by the impressive Rossington and when Hosein went to his first ball, we were in major trouble.
Up in the stand we agreed that 150 might be the summit of our ambitions and 200 was a mere pipe dream. Wayne Madsen played some shots, presumably wary of an inexperienced tail, but was held behind after slip had knocked the ball up. We rationalised that from 151-7, 175 might be possible.
The next wicket went down 162 runs later. Critchley was wonderfully supported by Tom Taylor, who deserved a half century but fell one short. As their partnership mounted, the shoulders of the opposition fielders went down and by the end of the day they cut forlorn figures on the outfield, well aware that a chance had gone. Neither their catching nor fielding were especially impressive and that obsession with the short ball may cost them dear if we bowl well.
Tonight it is all about Matthew Critchley and rightly so. In only his second innings in first-class cricket, he has become Derbyshire's youngest ever centurion. On a wicket that is already dry, Derbyshire had intended to bat if they the toss and were surprised to be inserted. With expectation that it will turn later in the game Critchley's leg-spin may well come to the fore and his starring role could be reprised.
My guess - and hope - is that the slight,modest young man may well have a contract before the week is out, because his potential was patently obvious today. Bad days will lie ahead, as they do for any cricketer, but he can sleep well tonight, aware that he can handle the first-class game. His family, friends and club mates at Wigan Cricket Club will be bursting with pride.
And rightly so.
Postscript - tonight's picture was taken by me as Matthew walked in at the end of the Derbyshire innings. Thanks to everyone whose company I shared and thoroughly enjoyed today, on a quite special day that those present will remember for a long time.