July 29, 2013

Spirited Derbyshire fall short

Injuries to Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Albie Morkel scuppered Derbyshire's T20 campaign - now it's time to think about rebuilding for 2014

As did the season itself, the T20 campaign offered encouragement to Derbyshire supporters, with two stars of genuine international class in the ranks. While Shivnarine Chanderpaul isn't regarded as a T20 'expert', he is still a great batsman and the acquisition of Albie Morkel gave us all-round firepower that we had never had - as well as an unusually high sense of anticipation.

The most experienced T20 player in world cricket gave us the impetus for three straight wins in the competition, leading fans to dare to dream that this might be the year that we made the quarter-finals. A Chanderpaul-inspired run chase to beat Lancashire at the County Ground suggested that some of our old demons had been conquered and this might, indeed, be a summer of something different.

Yet it was not to be. A 3-0 record quickly became 3-4, as a capacity crowd at Derby saw us outclassed by Nottinghamshire, before successive chases at Old Trafford and Chesterfield were undertaken with the expertise of the Keystone Cops. In the former, a pulled hamstring for Chanderpaul, just when he was getting into his stride was decisive, but the Yorkshire game was lost by the strange decision to hold back Morkel on a small ground where he would have proved decisive and almost pulled the game around with a remarkable last-over effort.

While the bowlers nearly turned around another poor batting effort against Durham, this time we lost Morkel to injury and the South African returned home after a solid effort with bat and ball. With both overseas players firing it might have made a difference, but Derbyshire's squad wasn't strong enough to sustain performances without both hired hands. Strange team selections and batting orders didn't help either.

A remarkable win over Nottinghamshire in a nine-over game showed that the talent is there, but the fans' frustrations boiled over after a shocking display against Leicestershire, where our lowest-ever T20 score showed a naivety of approach that has characterised our T20 displays for far too long.

It has been a tough old season and while the captain, Wayne Madsen, has led from the front with a series of fine innings, he has received little batting support, except from Chanderpaul. Both Dan Redfern and Wes Durston have had poor seasons, Chesney Hughes' average was artificially boosted by his 270 at Headingley, while Ross Whiteley has moved to Worcestershire after a summer blighted by poor form and injury.

Whiteley wanted to go to Australia in the winter, while Derbyshire wanted him to stay home and work on his game, understandably after his poor form on rare appearances. His love of the Australian lifestyle and a girlfriend out there led to an impasse, which saw the eventual parting of the ways. It was hard not to feel sorry for the club and especially chairman, Chris Grant, who had looked after the player well.

The remainder of the summer should now be one of assessing young players for the future and allowing them opportunities to test themselves in Division One of the Championship. Too many have been shown to be short of the requisite standard this year. For some the opportunity may come again, further on in their development, but others will fall by the wayside as a bright crop of players comes in to supersede them.

Indeed, the brightest points of the T20 campaign were the efforts of two young allrounders. Nineteen-year-old offspinner Peter Burgoyne and 21-year-old Alex Hughes have given notice of perhaps being in the engine room of the side in coming seasons, both showing cool heads under pressure and no little talent in perky displays. Redfern too put aside a poor season with the bat to bowl well in the T20, while Chesney Hughes continues to show raw talent and naivety in equal measure.

The name Cork also appeared in the Derbyshire squad again as Greg, the 18-year-old son of Dominic, featured as 12th man against Yorkshire, the first in a crop of talented seamers to emerge from the academy. Cork junior is a left-armer and has a good habit of scoring quick runs and taking wickets, talents that may see him elevated before too long.

The medium- to long-term future is bright, but this season is proving a rude awakening. There may be tweaks to the coaching set up in the winter and Grant has to find a way to bring better quality players to the club on the smallest playing budget in the country, There is little doubt that we need an experienced opening batsman, as Billy Godleman has had a tough season and neither Paul Borrington nor Ben Slater has yet been given a proper run in the side to assess their prospects at top level, despite good form elsewhere.

It will be a difficult time through to the end of season - but then the work will really begin.

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