Any suggestions of where we go after a disappointing summer have to be qualified by the reality that resources are limited. We cannot move for every experienced player who comes on the market, one because we don't have the money and two because they don't guarantee results either, as evidenced this summer.
Significant money was spent on world-class players with a poor on-field return. While supporters will point to who Leicestershire are signing or have signed and ask 'why not us?' they were presumably deemed no better than what we have. Paul Horton averaged the same as Alex Hughes this year, Neil Dexter considerably less. Sometimes - a lot of the time - we cast covetous glances in other directions without real justification for doing so.
James Vince, Jimmy Adams, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Rob Keogh, Alex Wakely, Hamish Marshall, Gareth Roderick, William Bragg, Ravi Bopara. How many of those would you say would improve our batting? Yet all, a few select names at random, aggregated no better than Chesney Hughes or Ben Slater and/or averaged less than Alex Hughes in the season just ended. Most supporters would leap at the chance of signing Bopara, yet he averaged 28 from 565 runs in 21 innings...
The feeling remains that we are light in the lower middle order, on both runs and experience. For me, this is a role that Wes Durston fills next season. Number seven, coming in to counter-attack when the bowlers are tiring and, hopefully, nursing the tail while offering a valid spin bowling option. As far as one could guess at this juncture, a first-choice side next year would look something like this:
The batting looks capable of runs with the two New Zealanders in there. Carter, if we keep him fit, WILL take fifty wickets and there is a reasonable depth to the side.
Yet there are many unknowns. Will Footitt stay? Will the young bowlers emerge at the rate we need? Will one of the wicket-keepers score 600 runs? Will people stay fit? Will there be any more signings?
I suspect we may not go overboard on signings. Hopefully a quality batsman for T20, but one who translates that talent into weight of runs. A Guptill, McCullum or Bailey would be nice, but everyone would chase them if available. Another experienced seamer maybe, but it was interesting listening to a revered football manager on the radio yesterday.
'How do you produce young footballers?' he was asked. 'Play them' was the quick reply. 'They need to play games, be in situations, make their mistakes and have their struggles. Then they will become players, if they are good enough.'
Sage words and equally relevant to cricket. Over the past six months, I have interviewed around twenty former and current Derbyshire stars for my second book, which should be out next year. One of my questions in our chats was 'at what age did you think you knew what you were doing as a first-class cricketer?'
The answer, in all cases, was between 26 and 30. That the ECB doesn't reward clubs for playing home-reared talent at that age runs the risk of some not getting there, but the message is clear. Perhaps expectations of returns from young players needs to be tempered in some quarters, because you cannot often fast track experience. Let's just say that I am more inclined to believe people who have been there and done it, than those who think they know the game.
Some are writing off young players because they 'haven't made it' after between forty and eighty first-class innings. Yet our player of the year, Billy Godleman, is now 26 and has hit the jackpot after 180 first-class knocks. Wayne Madsen has had 229, Wes Durston 184. They are our most consistent batsmen across the formats and there's a reason for that.
Contrast that with Ben Slater, who averages 29 after just seventy
innings, or Chesney who averages 31 after 105, even Alex Hughes who has
still only had 43 knocks in the senior game, less than they used to have
in a single season, back in the day.
It is the same for bowlers. Mark Footitt has bowled twelve thousand balls in the first-class game, Tony Palladino nineteen thousand. Tom Taylor has bowled two thousand, Cotton fifteen hundred. That's a lot of learning ahead and others are further back in the queue.
That is why we reap the rewards, because they have that experience, married with genuine talent. There will always be the especially precocious, but there aren't many Roots and Stokes out there. Even looking at their records at 24, they have 135 first-class knocks and have improved because of that exposure, coupled with the requisite talent and a desire to work hard.
Not all will make it. If three of our current crop become established county cricketers or more, we will have done well. Some will fade in the next couple of years and join the thousands of talented players who were 'nearly' there. Others will realise that the work required to realise their dreams has to start now, because there are opportunities for them if they are prepared to put the hours in.
Painful as it may be at times, we need to keep playing them. Enjoy their successes, be more tolerant of their failures and hope that they realise that to get to the stage where Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen or Mark Footitt are, they need to work their socks off and listen to their coaches.
If they have it - and people better qualified than any of us think that they do - then we will eventually reap the rewards.