Friday, 6 January 2017

Godleman contract extension extends the feel-good factor

Yesterday's news, with Billy Godleman signing a contract extension to the end of 2019, ensures that the goods times keep a-coming for Derbyshire supporters.

It isn't that long ago that people were coming on here to question whether he would make it. The brief flourish at the start of his Middlesex career had become a somewhat distant memory, as subsequent struggles there and at Essex made Derbyshire's decision to engage him a gamble, even if one worth taking at the time.

He wasn't an immediate success either, averaging only 17 in his first summer with us in 2013, then 28 in his second. The grumbles were commonplace, yet the more discerning supporters at least recognised a man prepared to sell his wicket dearly, even if at times his attritional style was almost painful to watch.

In 2015 he returned and looked a different player, perhaps on the back of a late-summer century the previous year, his first since 2012. As his mentor, the former Essex, Somerset and Leicestershire batsman Neil Burns put it, he learned to influence games, not just exist and get by. He reached a thousand runs by the end of the summer and would surely have done so again last year, but for the hand injury that ruled him out of early matches.

He looks a very solid batsman now, with good footwork and a range of shots around the wicket. Like Wayne Madsen, his dismissal often comes as a surprise, the hallmark of the reliable batsman from who runs are expected.  It is the preserve of the best players, which most certainly in a county context they are.

Billy has also become a key player in 50-over cricket, forming an excellent pairing with Ben Slater that could see Derbyshire right for years. At 27 he is arriving at his peak years in fine form and with the knowledge that his employers rate and value him. He is a strong man who does not back down on the field and has the backing of a largely young team.

How good a captain is he? We'll find out next season, because last year's Derbyshire attack, through a succession of injury and inexperience, was largely like taking on heavily-armed pirates armed with a peashooter and kazoo. Add that to early season wickets that were heavily-weighted in favour of batsmen and we took wickets by the sundial and calendar, rather than the clock.

This year, Cap'n Bill will have a top-class fast bowler and a spinner of similar stature to work with. Skippering is a heck of a lot easier with such talent at your disposal, as Steve Waugh will affirm, when he had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Having one end 'covered' makes life easier for the bloke at the other end too, as our young bowlers will hopefully find out.

Before all that, as mentioned yesterday, he has to decide whether he wants to replace Neil Broom. If the club can find a Kolpak player who comes close to guaranteeing runs he must be tempted, but I'm less sure such things exist after the experiences of Amla, Dilshan and Broom. Equally, he could think back to his own formative days and reason that without being given a chance we will never know what the likes of Alex Hughes, Luis Reece, Tom Wood and Charlie McDonnell can do. All are proven at second team level and the question is now if one or two can replicate that form, given senior opportunity.

Billy managed it and, at the end of the day, he is the man who will lead our side on to the pitch this summer and likely beyond. He will make a decision and be prepared to stand by it.

That's all you can do, irrespective of what we think as supporters.

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