Whiteley hints at Derbyshire's future
Derbyshire 321 for 8 v Northamptonshire
A maiden first-class century from Ross Whiteley helped Derbyshire fight back on their first day of their Championship match against Northamptonshire and, perhaps, pointed to brighter times ahead for the club.
When Derbyshire decided to dispense with the services of their former director of cricket, Jon Morris, mid-way through a game a couple of months ago, it heralded the start of another rebuilding phase at the club.
So it should be gratifying to see the likes of Whiteley and Jon Clare excel in such testing conditions. For it is around young men such as these the future hopes of the club rest. Add to that 21-year-old Dan Redfern, who misses this game through injury but is the club's leading scorer in first-class cricket this season, and there is justifiable reason for hope at Derbyshire. That hasn't always been the case in recent years.
Whiteley and Clare, coming together with the score on 90 for 6, added 182 in 43 overs for Derbyshire's seventh wicket to turn the day, if not the match, on its head. At one stage Derbyshire had been reeling on 39 for 5 and, with Chaminda Vaas and Jack Brooks gaining steep bounce and sharp movement, it looked as though the visitors would fail to reach three figures.
But, just as they did against Glamorgan last week, Derbyshire's lower-order fought back. Whiteley, grimly determined at the start, first stopped the rot in partnership with Luke Sutton, before gradually wrestling the initiative away from the hosts.
Whiteley, a Yorkshire born 22-year-old who has developed through the Derbyshire system, was particularly impressive. Playing just his sixth first-class match, he had never made more than 33 before. Here, however, after a watchful start, he demonstrated a pleasing variety of stokes including some elegant drives through the covers and a lofted straight six off James Middlebrook's offspin.
Clare provided typically uncomplicated support. Though he played and missed frequently, Clare also hit the ball with power and, both in bearing and technique, bears more than a passing resemblance to Andrew Flintoff.
Perhaps they had some fortune. Whiteley was dropped once, on 33, when Niall O'Brien was unable to cling on to a tough chance down the leg side off Lee Daggett, while a more agile fielder might have been able to reach Whiteley loose drive just over mid-off when he had 57. Clare was also missed, on 79, by Newton off Middlebrook.
Conditions eased, too. The Tiflex ball, used in Division Two at present, seems to provide extravagant assistance to the bowlers for the first 30 overs or so before becoming soft and unhelpful to the bowlers. Steffan Jones, Derbyshire's bowling coach, memorably described bowling with an old Tiflex ball as akin to bowling with "a rabbit's head". The bowlers, and 37-year-old Vaas especially, also appeared to tire.
More than anything, however, Derbyshire's young batsmen simply earned due reward for their hard work. While Chesney Hughes paid the price for following one he could have left, Clare and Whiteley demonstrated greater discipline and judgement in choosing which balls to attack.
Batting was desperately difficult for the hour or so. Martin Guptil and Wayne Madsen were caught in the slips as they fenced at balls that climbed sharply on them, before Wes Durston paid the price for trying to force an out-swinger through mid-wicket and the skittish Greg Smith, beaten for the three previous deliveries, finally edged one angled across him. Luke Sutton resisted for a while, but when he was caught behind by a brute of a ball that bounced and left him, it left Derbyshire in deep trouble.
This is an important game for both sides. While Northamptonshire are the runaway leaders in Division Two, just seven points separated the teams between second and seventh place in the table at the start of this match. Derbyshire could be playing Division One cricket next year.
Northamptonshire should be, too. A superb start to the season saw them reach the T20 stage of the season as the only unbeaten side in the land. But, after losing 11 of their 16 T20 games and also surrendering their unbeaten records in the CB40 (to Scotland) and the Championship (to Essex) it is fair to conclude that their season is now at a crossroads. The next two or three days could well define it.
They have matters to resolve off the field, too. Brooks, the pick of the bowlers here, is out of contract and certain to attract interest from other counties. There aren't too many better seamers out there who have yet to win England recognition.
To rub salt in the wound, Tony Palladino thumped five boundaries in the final overs of the day as Derbyshire claimed three batting bonus points that had looked most unlikely a few hours earlier.