Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Opinion piece: marching to a beat only they can hear?

Years ago, in my callow youth, I went along to see my late sister in a musical revue at her school.

She had many virtues, bless her, but musicality and rhythm weren't among them and, when it came to a marching scene there was one of them, her, going quite differently to the rest. Though according to her, they were all wrong and she had it right.

Fast forward forty or so years and I am increasingly seeing the same thing happening at my - make that our - cricket club.

We are seeing way too much turmoil, and I am hearing way too many stories from a range of sources, around and outside the club, for me to believe that all is well. The departure of Kim Barnett, just before the Vitality Blast starts, suggests that this is far from a harmonious parting of a 'done all I can, thanks for your time' variety. Especially when John Wright and Dominic Cork, close friends of Kim’s for many years, are left to steer the good ship Derbyshire through seas that are becoming increasingly choppy.

Were that not enough, we hear that Ben Slater is heading down to Trent Bridge, where doubtless he will be paid more than we have offered him by a considerable distance. I don't blame Ben at all and wish him well, though I echo the sentiments of another contributor yesterday and struggle to see where obvious first team opportunity will come.

He is far from the finished product but he was the best batsman to emerge from our academy in a number of years and it will be galling to see him go to finishing school down the road. The question has to be asked - why was he not secured to a better deal, giving him greater security, before this stage?

Don't blame Kim Barnett for this, because increasingly it came to seem that (despite his best efforts) he was little more than a decorative fig leaf for the cricket side of the club. He was originally given the grand title of Director of Cricket, but with, to my understanding, no control over the budgetary side, and much less influence over it than, logically, such a post should entail. Kim recommended players to sign, as he has a pretty good eye for such things, and a lifetime’s experience in the game. 

However, my understanding is that he has had no responsibility for the players’ contract terms. Of course, cricket experts are not necessarily business experts. But the cricket has to come first, and in any case, not everyone who is supposed to possess business expertise is always effective in the business world. If there is a significant disconnect between the cricket side of a club and the business side, then trouble is inevitable. And from what we can see as supporters, there does seem to be such a disconnect, perhaps verging on a breakdown.

Similarly, Barnett had an advisory role with Billy Godleman, but no real 'hands on' work with him or the squad. He was more of a mentor and yes, the idea for allowing the players greater responsibility was his. I have little doubt that he will acknowledge it hasn't worked as intended, but there are a number of factors involved in that, not all of them to be laid at his door. And when you have done and said all, we were in winning positions in matches we lost, which was progress, as well as winning some pretty good ones too.

I started this blog nearly eleven years ago, but never had the amount of mail and messages that I have had in recent weeks. I've even offered my wife a job as a PA, half-joking, whole earnest. Yesterday, when I logged on my phone after a 12-hour shift at work, I had FIFTY-SEVEN emails. The general tone was 'what the hell is going on at Derbyshire'? And it’s a very good question, which supporters need to have answered without delay or prevarication.

These messages were probably split fifty/fifty between Derbyshire fans and those for whom our affairs are of interest in a wider cricketing sense. A handful were from media, too, which is all the more concerning, because you know that all is not well in the kingdom of Denmark when enquiries are coming from a disparate range of sources. I will reply to you all, when time permits, but please bear with me on this. Unless anyone wishes to start a Just Giving account for me to turn professional...

I sense a general appreciation and understanding that something is seriously amiss. At this stage I am less bothered about what happens on the pitch, because off it we seem to be lurching from crisis to disaster and back, most of it self-inflicted, and all of it likely to damage our performance as a cricket club.

Karl Krikken, Graeme Welch, Kim Barnett. These have all been decent men, good coaches and with Derbyshire cricket coursing through their veins. We topped the division less than six years ago. Why have things gone so wrong since then? When I start hearing of another good man going, and stories of players unhappy, it only reinforces a growing feeling (already expressed in some of your comments on this blog) that we need to look at the club's governance structure very, very closely.

This is a CRICKET club. The people who are most important in any cricket club are the cricketers. That isn't overly hard to comprehend, but we seem to be losing sight of that. Perhaps we did so a while ago. My worry is that, if things don’t improve very fast, Ben Slater will not be the only player heading for the life boats.

It is desperately disappointing for all of this to be coming to a head now, when the club is about to embark on a T20 campaign in which they have genuine hopes of doing well. If they do, it can be regarded as a major triumph for them and the coaches.

I would like to see the club committing itself, with immediate effect, to consistent transparency in its communications with supporters. There has been too much going on behind the scenes in recent years and the swirling rumours and the unease of myself and other fans are consequences of this. The statement on Barnett's departure yesterday could not have been more vague. It’s alarming. 

Supporters deserve better. As in any business, the Chief Executive, Simon Storey, and the club's Board are, of course, ultimately accountable for the performance of the organisation they lead. They either need to sort the issues, quickly and effectively, or accept they are not able to do so, and recognise the inevitable consequences.

Talk of who comes in after Kim Barnett will occupy many minds in the weeks ahead, but no one of any stature will come in unless allowed to RUN the cricket side. That includes the hiring and the firing, the general structure of the contractual arrangements, if not the detail, and (within agreed parameters, with proper checks and balances) the budget. There are people out there who can and will do that,  with assistance if requested, but they have to be allowed to manage our cricketers without interference from anyone who is not steeped in professional cricket and lacks the relevant expertise.  

I have always expressed my personal views on this blog in good faith, and always will. I care deeply about the club but have always maintained a total independence from it.

Right now I am feeling a deep and bitter disappointment at yesterday's events, coupled with genuine concern for what the future holds.

What happens over the coming days and weeks will be crucial to that future.


Paul Fitzpatrick said...

Looking at the direction of travel in the game and the divide between Division 1 and 2 in terms of cricket standards and financial clout I feel we have reached a point where some period of time needs to be set aside for serious reflection of the last 5 years and divergent thinking to anticipate the county cricket landscape of the future before any appointments are made.This may need some additional stakeholders than the current incumbents . What type of Cricket Club do we Need to be to enable us to be competitive and sustainable both off the field and on but critically have the right structure to deliver . This has to be done thoroughly and also explained succinctly and clearly to the Members
I would try and ask J Wright to steer the ship to season end but also tap into his vast knowledge of the game as part of the review
For now though let’s get behind the players and build on last years t20 achievement

notoveryet said...

You've mentioned, Peakfan, about the comments that flood in when things go wrong, so I'm surprised there are so few on this post. Perhaps it's just so bad that everyone is sunk in depression.

I agree with you on the unacceptable state of Derbyshire's communications, not only about Barnett's resignation, but also the failure to even mention Notts' approach to Slater. This is in stark contrast to how other counties respond in this situation. Kent go for Milnes, Notts go for Chappell, Lancs go for Finn, and their current counties respond by saying how much they are values, new contract talks, etc. And Derbyshire on Slater? Happy clips of players (including a suspiciously mobile Reece, so you wonder how old this clip is). Do they really take us for such fools, or are they just so far up their own backsides with their amateurish, happy-clappy PR that they don't think we'll notice.

Apart from Barnett's terse statement yesterday, we still have only gossip, rumour and our own guesswork to go on. To an extent, the situation is not a surprise. Barnett is a marmite character appointed to carry out a radical restructuring that many supporters weren't happy with or understood by a chairman and supervisory board that disappeared (with one exception) 6 months later. I commented at the time on the massive risk that Derbyshire had taken in this, and that risk has been borne out now. Add in the vituperative environment created by a handful of individuals still around and in positions of influence if not power who have simply been waiting for the opportunity to get revenge on Barnett for the slights of 20 years ago, and the character of the man himself, who even his closest friends won't praise for his diplomacy, tact and willingness to compromise, and you have all the ingredients for the poisonous stew we find ourselves in.

I suspect, as someone has said elsewhere, that this is about to disappear into the hands of our learned friends, and that no further comment will be possible because of the ongoing legal process. Doubtless there will be a compromise agreement with a confidentiality agreement that will mean that we never find out how much money, if any, has been involved. For what it's worth, though, my guess is that this is about money and who did what. If we can't afford to paly the likes of Slater, and perhaps others, what they are worth to the club, it's likely to be because of the amount of money spent on aging, expensive imports who haven't delivered yet. My guess is that a third of the entire wage bill is taken up with Wilson, Viljoen, Rampaul and Smit, and that this together with the pay-offs to those who left by "mutual consent" in the winter, is what's creating the squeeze on finances. So, if this is what is at the root of the current situation, the question for us before we take positions is who inspired these choices and decisions.

As Barnett says in his statement, the Board is responsible and accountable for the current state of affairs, whether he was the driver of poor decisions and the Board simply trusted his judgment, or he was being over-ruled and marginalised on cricket decisions by non-cricketers. We don't actually need to know who did what when, we simply need to know what the current situation is and how the Board proposes to move forward with the least damage to the upward direction of travel we have been seeing (admittedly inconsistently) on the field. Then we will be able to form a judgment about whether we trust this Board to put it right. Derbyshire's governance has become such an inward-looking and self-regarding environment that perhaps they forget that it needs less than 200 members to demand a SGM to hold them to account for how this club is run.

Peakfan said...

An excellent response notoveryet.

Vince Shirley said...

I'm actually not surprised that there are so few comments. Excellent piece by PF and a couple of commendable and thoughtful responses but in truth all we have to go on is the nothing statement put out by the club and a response by Kim Barnett that I, for one anyway, can't make head or tail of as it just states " the bleedin' obvious" to quote one Basil Fawlty, whose shenanigans can be compared favourably with what appears to be going on behind the scenes.

We can surmise and speculate all we like but I think we can be fairly certain of only two things - money is involved and both parties are keeping quiet as the case is now probably "sub-judice".

As for Ben Slater, well I don't blame him one bit. Who would try and better themselves and get paid a lot more money in the process? Its just the same as most professional sport - loyalty is only as big as the paycheck. There's a certain football manager now just down the A50 who could confirm that.

I see to that this afternoon, we have formally taken on another couple of trialists from the 2nds for the 20-20 season so there must be some money left in the kitty for cricket. Just a pit that couldn't have been directed towards one BS, who is almost certainly a better long term bet.

But then again, we can have proper cricketers getting preference over the smash and grab game, can we...?