June 3, 2013

Heavy on effort, light on quality

Derbyshire fans knew their side would battle in Division One but it seems promotion may have come too soon for some players

The one thing that most Derbyshire fans were aware of pre-season was that we had a side that would battle. Too many of our sides over the past ten years have capitulated in adversity, but apart from a bad session here and there, the graft down to the last man has been gratifying.

Nonetheless it does not obscure the fact that for some of our players the top tier has come too soon, or is a level too high for their ability. It is not a phenomenon unique to cricket - one has only to look at 20 goal-a-season strikers in the Championship who don't get close to that in the Premier League for a comparator. We should not, in all fairness, be unduly surprised.

Derbyshire as a team punched above their weight last year and, despite struggles, have continued to do so this year. Comparing what we can spend on players with other counties clearly illustrates that and confirms that the club's long-term strategy of producing their own is the correct one. For all the sterling off-field work by Chris Grant, Simon Storey and a top-class marketing team, the club is at least £300,000 from where they would want to be in their playing budget. That would be another three proven county players and would make a considerable difference.

The three Academy players who made impressive contributions to last summer's success have all been pulled from the firing line, technique and/or temperament exposed at a higher level that has proved unforgiving. Ross Whiteley has had a wretched time and could barely buy a run before being dropped, while Dan Redfern got going a few times then gave it away to widespread frustration. Tom Poynton kept well but found batting form elusive and was replaced by ex-Warwickshire man Richard Johnson, who has done well in front of and behind the stumps.

The other close-season signing, Billy Godleman, has also struggled for form, making plenty of starts yet, like Redfern, getting out repeatedly when he should be going on to a score. A more consistent batting side might have helped him settle, but at this stage supporters are far from convinced by the tall opening batsman, who averages just 16 from 11 innings.

There have been successes. Wayne Madsen's form returned, as most fans expected it would, when he moved away from opening the batting, while Chesney Hughes has looked the most improved batsman in the club, producing some powerful innings at the top of the order. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has not been as prolific as some might have expected but he still averages 50, which highlights the remarkably high standards that he has set in a long and glittering career. Watching Chanderpaul and Ricky Ponting score centuries at Derby in the game just finished was definitely one for the connoisseur.

The bowling tells its own story. Only Jonathan Clare and Tim Groenewald have (just) reached double figures in wickets, but Clare's average is lowest at a shade over 40. On bowler-friendly early season wickets it is a clear indicator of an attack that lacks nothing in effort but is short on variations to dismiss better batsmen. Again though, bowlers who have that ability cost money that we don't have. Perhaps we have to wait for what appears an impressive bunch of seam bowlers in the Academy to mature, unless Dale Steyn wants to pack in the international game and play as a Kolpak. A man can dream.

Such a plan, albeit not involving Steyn, might be viable. With the county's blueprint committed to play nine English-qualified players in every side, there is scope for a suitable Kolpak signing. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's international days may be numbered and would meet with most people's approval in such a role, especially if he were paired with Martin Guptill. The genial Kiwi, a huge favourite at the County Ground, has shown his class against England and the thought of the two together at some point would gladden the most despondent of hearts. Chanderpaul signed a two-year deal with an option for a third and it would be remarkable if he continued to play at international level at 40 (he will be 39 in August). Mind you, few would bet against it...

The one-day game has barely got going, two out of four games being rained off, with one won and one lost. The announcement of the second overseas player for the T20 is eagerly anticipated, though Guptill appears unlikely to be available, the Caribbean equivalent as a shop window for the IPL likely to prove a bigger draw.

Supporters have remained remarkably phlegmatic on the whole, realising that the club is both well run and on the right long-term path. Opening batsman Ben Slater and allrounder Peter Burgoyne are in the vanguard of a group of young players who could make the next ten years very exciting for Derbyshire fans, irrespective of this season's fortunes.

Steve Dolman has been a Derbyshire fan since 1967 and writes the award-winning Peakfan blog