Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Alex Hughes contract well deserved

The news today, that Alex Hughes has signed a new contract that keeps him at the club until at least the end of 2017, should be welcomed by all Derbyshire supporters.

Alex is not yet the finished article, but showed signs last year that his emergence is not too far away. His maiden century at Northampton will have done wonders for his confidence and it is a shame that two different but substantial hand injuries restricted his cricket thereafter. One should never underestimate the effect of such an injury and they can set any player back a little. Indeed, I remember chatting to seam bowling legend Brian Jackson and his telling me that a late-career broken finger was a major setback for him and he never felt the ball came out the same afterwards.

That was fifty years ago, of course and injury treatment has come a long way since then. Alex will be invigorated and enthused by a winter of good work in the nets and the gym and will probably cement a place in the side during the next two summers.

What I like about the player is his ability to score runs when they are most needed. I wouldn't necessarily back him every time if we were 300-4 when he came in, but at 50-4 he will dig in and battle it out. In one-day cricket his range of shots is good and his scoring rate impressive, making him an ideal man for the closing overs of an innings.

Then there is his bowling. In the past two years he seems to have added to his pace each winter and while he will never be an express bowler, he has progressed from being a purveyor of 'dibbly-dobbly' seam. He has good variations in pace, line and length which asks questions of batsmen and the truth is that he will only get better.

It was interesting watching the Big Bash from Australia yesterday. Usman Khawaja led off his side's innings with the kind of knock that I had never seen him play before. It was an exquisite first fifty, before he lost the strike and rhythm and rather gave it away in the end. Yet the Powerplay was packed with shots around the wicket that found the fence - and cleared it - with ease.

How? The answer came from Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Khawaja has 'beefed up' and is much bigger in build than the slight lad who played for us in 2012. A couple of minor technical adjustments meant he was hitting the ball cleaner and more powerfully than before and he looked, for the first time in my viewing experience, a one-day cricketer.

Which is what he and others have to do, of course and why these winters are so important to the modern cricketer. They can build up muscle to help them hit the ball further, or bowl the ball faster, while honing their technical skills to put the ball in the right areas most of the time.

That's why pre-season forecasts of our prospects are pointless, especially in a squad full of young players. Prophets of doom can be made look very silly by even a ten per cent progression of young talent.

If a few do better than that, as Billy Godleman did last year, then anything is possible.

I look forward to seeing Alex as a key man in the side in the coming seasons.

When it happens, remember I told you so...

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