Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Derbyshire’s season.
Aprils come and go and each one brings optimism that a new dawn is breaking for Derbyshire cricket. We've had more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute act but this year was approached with more enthusiasm and anticipation than most.
That it failed was down to a combination of factors, the main failing being the abject one that was the highly priced Rikki Clarke. His signing was heralded with some messianic status round these parts, yet by season end he was gone to pastures new. Derbyshire Second Eleven - sorry, Warwickshire - signed him as they had done Ant Botha and Boyd Rankin before.
However you try to colour it, Clarke was a disaster. He barely made a run and rather than try to battle it out, often succumbed to a "big shot" that smacked of desperation and irresponsibility. His bowling could be threatening, but he bowls two bad balls an over and cannot keep batsmen under pressure. While he caught beautifully, his other failings meant that he had to be a brilliant captain and again he showed tactical naivety. When he left the club there was little sadness among supporters and it was no surprise when his good friend Nayan Doshi followed soon after. While asserting that his departure had nothing to do with Clarke's, Doshi felt he should be in the team. The facts suggested otherwise as the left arm spinner rarely looked dangerous. While he bowled accurately in one day matches and took a 20/20 hat trick, Doshi was no problem to a batsman prepared to work it around.
Our one day season was a disaster, especially once the 20/20 campaign got underway. An early win at Headingley promised much, but the batting desperately needed an explosive overseas star. While Wavell Hinds did quite well, we were too often several wickets down for very little. This continued in the other forms of the one- day game and until we develop a strategy for the game, the feeling remains that we will continue to struggle. As soon as the run rate gets above six an over in a run chase the panic is tangible, while bowlers struggle to keep a line and length.
Yet it was not all gloom and doom. Far from it, as we had three of the best imports in the country, all of whom are re-signed for 2009. Chris Rogers made a stackful of runs and took on the captaincy, while Charl Langeveldt evoked memories of Michael Holding with his willingness to bowl at any time and do so with energy, enthusiasm and consummate skill. Wavell Hinds never produced the big innings that we awaited, but showed enough in cameos to suggest he could be a real asset in a drier summer. His wobbling medium pace accounted for several good batsmen and he was a great asset in the dressing room.
Elsewhere, Graham Wagg was again as good as any all-rounder in the country. If he worked on his batting a little more he could do even better, but 500 runs was testimony to a keen eye and flashing blade. He also took over 50 wickets with left arm seam and spin, depending on the conditions and his injuries, while fielding superbly anywhere. England Sixes recognition was deserved, but Wagg should have been in the Development Squad this winter. Name another all-rounder who has done the mini-double in the past two seasons? You can't can you? Enough said...
Jon Clare emerged like a butterfly from a winter of gym work with a new physique and had a phenomenal first season, with over 500 runs and more than 30 wickets. If Greg Smith can return from his torn bicep muscle next year as a revitalised seam bowler, we will have three all-rounders of genuine talent, as Smith played some innings of brilliance. His off spin is useful, but as a seamer he could have a big role to play in the years ahead.
Jake Needham emerged as the first choice slow bowler and bowled with good flight for a young off-spinner. Another who knows how to bat, young Needham could be another with a sizeable role in the future.
The batting, Rogers apart, was "iffy". The Australian rarely failed but while Dan Birch showed he had learned from his first season, he needs to push on next year. Steve Stubbings rarely featured after May, victim to a shoulder injury that meant he couldn't throw and the side missed his "stickability" when the going was tough. South African Dominic Telo looked composed at the crease but rarely made runs, while John Sadler was a major disappointment after a move from Leicestershire, although late-season one day innings suggested that he may yet produce the goods.
As for the bowlers, Tom Lungley had a poor year with injuries and has to produce a big season next time, while Ian Hunter was probably only re-engaged because Kevin Dean announced his retirement after a fine career. Wayne White also left and the seam bowling strength needs reinforced for next year.
James Pipe kept wicket well until a broken finger ended his season, while Tom New let no one down after moving from Leicestershire on loan. Both contributed with the bat, Pipe's demolition of Worcestershire at Chesterfield being a season highlight.
So at the end of the season there are the usual pangs of disappointment, but even more causes for optimism. Paul Borrington came from University in June to show great promise as an opening batsman, while the mercurial Dan Redfern signed a professional contract and played far better than an 18-year old really should in the last weeks of the season. With Redfern, wicket-keeper Tom Poynton and fast left armer Atif Sheikh all gaining England Under 19 tour selection, the Academy is starting to produce some real gems that should serve us well.
Fans need to temper expectation with patience. With the exception of the overseas imports, this is a young squad and the signs are that, with experience, they will make Derbyshire a side to be reckoned with.
If - note, IF - we sign another seamer this winter and perhaps another good batsman, I would quite fancy us for promotion in the Championship next year. The signing of Mark Lawson, a young leg-spinner, from Yorkshire and that of Garry Park, a punishing batsman, from Durham augurs well. The next few months will be important for John Morris, who has money to spend after off-loading Clarke, Doshi, Dean and White from the wage bill.
Six months till it all starts again. I'm excited already!
For more about Derbyshire cricket, go to my blog at www.derbyshirecricket.blogspot.com
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