The news of the release of young cricketers is always sad, because it is seen by many as the end of a potential career in the first-class game.
It isn't always so and there are plenty of players who were originally released by their counties, only to prove them wrong and go on to long careers. Colin Tunnicliffe and Tony Borrington were two such players at Derbyshire who spring immediately to mind, while Paul Taylor and Wayne White forged good county careers elsewhere.
Scott Elstone played a few good knocks for the county in both one and four-day cricket, the highlight being a last day century against Glamorgan last summer, albeit when the game was in its dying throes. He could score quickly but was vulnerable early at top level, which often proved his undoing. He will, however, be remembered as one of the best three outfielders I have seen in Derbyshire colours, which in almost fifty years is quite an accolade.
The case for Tom Knight is nowhere near so clear cut.
Let's keep in mind that at the age of 19 he was the best young spinner in England, taking wickets in the under-19 national side and looking to be on the verge of something special. He worked hard on his fielding, having come into the side as a schoolboy carrying puppy fat and became one of the best in the club. He worked impressively on his batting, to the extent that over the two summers prior to this one, he passed a thousand runs in the second team in all matches. He scored quickly too and translated that into the first team on occasion. Few will forget his assault on David Willey in 2014, striking the now-England man for three successive sixes on his way to 44 from 18 balls. He averaged mid-twenties with the bat, at a strike rate of 137, impressive for one who only got in during the closing overs.
Then there is his bowling.
Tom bowled at fair pace for a spinner and fizzed it in. He was hard to get away and in one-day cricket he took key scalps. Adam Voges of Nottinghamshire on his debut, Ian Blackwell in his second game, Solanki, Kervezee and Shakib in his fourth. Then there was Collingwood, Stokes and Smith of Durham in a forty-over game. Things were going well in the short formats, the bowler going for only seven an over on average. In short, he looked the business.
When Graeme Welch and Ant Botha came in, it was felt that he needed his action 'deconstructed' to help him to bowl sides out in the longer game. A laudable concept, if it worked, though many felt that, with limited over cricket being increasingly important, Knight could have become the Derbyshire Steven Parry, firing it in, keeping it tight, reaping the rewards. With his batting and fielding, he would have been a heck of a player.
He still might, but to watch him over the last two summers, as I did, was worrying. His smooth action, the result of a number of years of muscle memory, had gone and while the new look was, in fairness, more classical and aesthetically pleasing, everything was seemingly in a different place and there was no run up. As a result, Knight could no longer control line and length. He didn't even bowl in league cricket and this year in the seconds, strangely, batted at seven or eight, despite rarely being asked to bowl and being a leading batsman for the previous two summers. For me, the writing was on the wall.
Now, he finds himself released and I think he has been hard done by. The club coaches have done good work in many areas, but the previous regime made an unholy mess of Tom's fledgling career. According to good, experienced coaches that I have spoken to, small tweaks are required at times, things that then enable bowlers to work things out themselves. Yet to pretty much change EVERYTHING on a bowler runs a monumental risk of failure, especially when he is not doing badly to start with. If you are trying to remember where your feet, hips, head, shoulders and hand should be as you run in, letting go of the ball is something of an afterthought, with a nigh-inevitable consequence.
It is deeply disappointing, yet the key to it all is how the player reacts to it. I'd like to see him go back to basics, bowl as he always did and get back into league cricket next summer, maybe minor counties, and force a way back. He is young enough to do so at 23 and if it turns out that opportunity knocks elsewhere, so be it. If he recovers his old bowling style, there's a very fine young all-rounder waiting to be signed by someone. I have said over the past few seasons that Tom reminds me of Ian Blackwell and if he had 'only' got to that standard we wouldn't have complained. He still might, with the right attitude and the right coach.
One thing is for sure though. A county that, with justification, prides itself on its development and treatment of young players has badly let down one of its most talented. At a time when decent spinners are as rare as a steak on a broken cooker, we completely messed up one half of a young and exciting spin bowling duo.
Nothing to be proud of there, whatsoever.