For years Derbyshire's loyal fans have had to put up with unfulfilled promise.But 2008 could just be the year when things start to go right.Many fans were unconvinced when John Morris became Head Coach towards the end of last season. He had been a fine batsman, good enough to play for his country. Many knew him as a regular at the County Ground, still passionate about his home county despite spells at Durham and (gulp) Nottinghamshire.
To be perfectly honest, we still don't know if he is a coach. He's done the first essential of any good one though, and recruited with flair and intelligence over the winter.For years Derbyshire have got by on other people's cast-offs. Some offered valuable service (Pop Welch, James Pipe) but many others were merely adequate (Steve Titchard, Tim Munton).Perhaps his best signing may turn out to be former opening batsman for the county Andrew Brown. With a good reputation in the leagues and Minor Counties, Brown joins Karl Krikken (Academy) and Mike Hendrick (bowling) in a good - and all-Derbyshire - coaching setup.
So who can we expect to see on the field this year?
The admirable Steve Stubbings has a well earned Benefit this year, and will hopefully score the runs to ensure a worthy and well deserved return. Strangely omitted from many one day games last year, he should see more action this time as a sheet anchor who has the ability to unfurl the shots when required.
Chris Rogers may well be his partner, although the stylish Western Australia bat could just as easily drop down to four if the eagerly awaited EU passport player is also an opener. Rogers looked the real deal in his last short stay at the County Ground, sadly truncated by injury. If he hits form early, Derbyshire fans are in for a treat.
Dan Birch is the other regular opener, and after several years of annihilating league attacks, he found last season, his first class debut, a tough one. There is no doubt he has plenty of shots, but at times his footwork left a lot to be desired and he went after the bowling too early. When he came off - especially against Gloucestershire - it was magnificent. Time will tell if he has tempered his ability with a little more savvy.
John Sadler could be a great asset after moving from Leicester in the close season. After a fine 4-day season in 2006 and a great one-day season last year, we hope he can get it all together as the first choice number three. It would appear that Leicester's loss could be very much our gain after the pre-season tour, where he has impressed with some stylish innings.
Rikki Clarke has moved from Surrey as the new skipper and its a big year for him. He is both a brilliant batsman and a bowler capable of real pace. Logic suggests that if he gets it together he could yet be the answer to England's prayers, although he will in all likelihood have to do twice as well as his rivals. Derbyshire players do. We look forward to some of his glorious drives being unfurled and hope that his captaincy proves inspirational.
Mid-season he should get some assistance from the great Mahela Jayawardena. A word used advisedly, although his county stint may only be the duration of the 20/20. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan is a lovely player to watch and should add to the crowds wherever he plays. His stint will enable Chris Rogers to get a well earned break and probably sees Derbyshire with as good an overseas representation as anyone in the country.
Greg Smith could also move forward this year. Last year he made several brilliant innings between 50 and 80 and he needs to turn some of these into hundreds now. The South African is now English-qualified and could easily force his way into the international set up if his batting adds concentration to its undoubted flair. Add in useful medium pace, improving off spin and brilliant fielding and there's a player to be reckoned with - and he's still only 24.
When the academic year ends, the county will also be able to call on two fine young players in Dan Redfern and Paul Borrington. The former, a lovely left-hander, is still only 17 and seems destined for the top. He has all the strokes and looks a very organised player. His handy offspin will also get use in years to come. Borrington, son of former county batsman Tony, is at University but has acquired an early reputation as a player who has to be dug out. For a county that has often seen players throw wickets away, this is a pleasant sight.
Last year we had two of the country's best opening bowlers in Graham Wagg and Tom Lungley. At 24 Wagg has years ahead of him and has done very well to come back from his problems at Warwickshire. A move up the order, perhaps to number seven, may see him emerge as a genuine all-rounder, as Wagg has all the shots. Lungley overcame years of injuries to become a very good bowler last year. He may have been worth a winter tour, certainly ahead of older, less able bowlers who ended up on one.
Rumours (and stories from South African media) suggest that they will be joined as a Kolpak by Charl Langeveldt, and the South African is a very good swing bowler. With plenty of Test and one-day International experience behind him, confirmation of his signing could be the difference between a good, improved season and a trophy or promotion.
The county are well off for seamers. Kevin Dean is still providing classic left arm swing at a reduced pace, while John Clare emerged at the end of last year as a bustling fast medium bowler with the knack of taking wickets. He is another with good batting talent, and it would be good to see him force his way into the side as another talented youngster (21).
Ian Hunter and Wayne White make up the seam bowling strength and both have important years. The former needs a good year for another contract after missing most of last season through injury, while the latter needs to show his undoubted talent is matched by a professional attitude. He has the ability to take big wickets, but now needs to stay fit and bowl some good spells.
The two spinners are Jake Needham and Nayan Doshi. Needham at 21 is a very talented bowler who appears to have wintered well in Australia and is bowling very well pre-season. He has a nice loop to his off spin, is a fine fielder and another who could be a genuine all-rounder. Many would like to see him bowl in tandem with Doshi, especially in one-day games.Doshi is a fine bowler, a shrewd import from Surrey and a more than adequate replacement for Ant Botha. The bottom line is that Doshi takes wickets, with a strike rate around that of Danny Vettori. He can't really bat, but he's not there for that. A few wickets will do very nicely, and he is capable of 50 this year.
James Pipe is a terrific keeper and a batsman who is capable of great power and fast scoring. Up to the stumps he is as good as anyone, with glovework in the same vein as Karl Krikken. Strangely, he seems to score more runs batting lower down, and seldom produces the goods when moves up the order. Mind you, with the improved batting this year, it would be a surprise if he got higher up!
Karl Krikken's work at the Academy is bearing fruit. Akhil Patel, brother of Notts star Samit, is a good batsman and chinaman bowler who is only 17. Seamer Ollie Saffell, off spinner Chris Paget and keeper Tom Poynton all have the potential to make the county side in the years ahead.
Morris will no doubt know his first choice side for the opener against Gloucestershire. For what its worth, I'd see it as something like:
EU Qualified batsman
Lengthy batting, four seamers, two spinners - hey, that's a balanced side!
Better than for a long while. A trophy might be too ambitious, but we should be competitive. If the new batsman is a good one, there might be enough flair in this side to nick a promotion slot and possibly push for finals day in the 20/20. Certainly Langeveldt would give something we've not had in years, a good death bowler.It all comes down to injuries. We avoid them, we'll do well. We get them - different story.I am optimistic though, more than I've been in a long time.
Posted by Peakfan at 15:14