Saturday, 4 June 2016
Welch departure presents opportunity for another to benefit
So perhaps yesterday's resignation of Graeme Welch from his post as Elite Performance Director shouldn't have come as the surprise that it did. Sure, early season form was disappointing, but with a young squad and docile wickets it was always likely to be so. Nor was the form of all of his senior players what he might have hoped for, but we all know, or should, that sometimes it can be elusive for the very best.
Having signed a new contract prior to the season, securing the services of the best of the club's young players ahead of doing so, Welch seemed to be slowly building a squad for the future. That there was a need for his senior players to act as a buffer while younger ones became established was a given, as it has always been so. The introduction of Kim Barnett, Chris Adams and John Morris into the Derbyshire batting line up was gradual and alongside craggy professionals like David Steele. John Hampshire and Barry Wood, as well as stellar names such as John Wright and Peter Kirsten. Who could fail to learn alongside such names, nor benefit from their counsel at the end of the day, or during an innings?
After the disappointment of the 'Amla/Dilshan experiment', when two players of established world reputation failed to deliver the goods, Welch opted for two lesser names for this season to bolster a batting line up that at times displayed the fragility of fine china last year. His lynchpins were always going to be Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman, who rose above it all in 2015 and have done again this year, though the latter suffered a hand injury that has set him back a little. Yet Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom, players of good reputation, have struggled, for whatever reason, which must have been an even greater frustration for the man who signed them than for supporters.
As tweeted by BBC Derby last night, Derbyshire 'are unable to reveal the reasons behind the resignations of Graeme Welch'. As a statement it is open to wild interpretation and conspiracy theorists will doubtless seek stories that may or may not be there. Perhaps we will never know the truth, yet Welch, an honourable man, decided it was better to go - and presumably waive any rights to a pay off - than to linger. If there is dirty washing, it doesn't have to be done in public, which in itself marks a sea change for a club that has often signalled such moves with fanfares, loudspeakers and bunting.
Perhaps Graeme Welch is the latest example - and professional sport is littered with them - of the top coach who is better in such a role than that of manager. The former requires intimate knowledge of skills and techniques; the latter requires the very best of inter-personal skills and the ability to get the most out of your team. Eddie Barlow was a classic example of that. He was past his best as a player when he arrived at Derbyshire, but got the best out of the other ten members of the team and made them all better with charisma, personality and supreme man management. By the same token, when they looked for a lead, he was there, on and off the field.
I'm reminded of the story told by John O'Hare, formerly of Derby County, who was nervous ahead of a big away game and was put at ease by the great Dave Mackay, sat alongside him.
'Who's that bloke sat next to John O'Hare?' said Mackay, pointing at a fan outside the team bus. 'He just said that'. O'Hare left the bus feeling ten feet tall, Mackay satisfied that a key young player had been relaxed with a well-chosen sentence. That's how the very best do it.
Graeme Welch's contibution to Derbyshire cricket will be best measured in three or four years time, when players he has worked with come closer to professional maturity. He has put the technical groundwork in place and it is down to continued work now, but bowlers like Shiv Thakor, Matt Critchley, Ben Cotton and an array of young seam bowlers have started to emerge. For too many years before that, Derbyshire became the place for one last pay day, a rest home for the soon-to-be cricketing infirm and overseas players on passports of convenience. Short-term fixes, few of them successful.
Having said that, the batting form of Thakor, Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes can be attributed to John Sadler and his contribution should not be overlooked. 'Sads' is one of the most likeable men on the circuit and one of the youngest Level Four coaches in the game. For now he is charged with taking the players through a hectic period of matches and has an opportunity to stake a claim for the role on a permanent basis. At 34 he could easily still be playing, but if he can display a talent for man management alongside technical skills, his relative inexperience could be overlooked and the role could be his in the long-term.
Perhaps that is at the crux of it all. In the course of the research for my new book, several old professionals told me that the one thing they disliked was when a coach 'went public' with criticism of them. As a manager over thirty years myself, there have been times when harsh words needed to be said, but there are times and places in which to do that and it has always been in private. Maybe feathers have been ruffled and it was something that didn't sit easily with some members of the squad.
It is all conjecture. All we know is that from a timing perspective it was far from ideal but John Sadler now has the chance to impress with a group of players whose talents are undeniable but whose end product is, at this stage and with a few exceptions, more questionable.
If he can tap into that talent - and I suspect he will have until the end of the season, as a hasty appointment is the last thing we need - he could well have a shout of the role on a permanent basis.
There will doubtless be plenty of interest when it is advertised, both here and overseas,
but that is a subject for another piece altogether.
For now, all that remains is to thank Graeme Welch, a good, genuine and honest man, for his efforts. On and off the pitch he has not had an easy ride, but he always did his best.
No one can ask for more.