Derbyshire impatient for recovery
Last year8th (relegated), CC Div 1; Group stage, FLt20; 6th in Group B, YB40.
2013 in a nutshellAny season that ends in relegation and the appointment of new coaching staff can only be considered a disappointment. Certainly Derbyshire's lack of progress in limited-overs cricket was frustrating and it might be tempting to conclude that, for all the talk and all the investment, their brief appearance in Division One was nothing but a blip.
But there were some encouraging signs along the way: Derbyshire won three Championship matches - more than Surrey or Nottinghamshire and as many as Somerset - and, in an impressive late-season run of three wins in four games, demonstrated admirable fight and character. It was telling that, central to most of their better performances, the batting of Wayne Madsen - the only man to pass 1,000 Championship runs or average 40 - and the bowling of Tim Groenewald were to the fore.
That it all turned out to be in vain was due, largely, to the batting. Only four times did they make 300 in the Championship and only twice did they go on to pass 400. Six times they failed to pass 120 with none of Wes Durston, Jon Clare, Dan Redfern, Ben Slater or Billy Godleman averaging more than 18. Karl Krikken might consider himself particularly unfortunate to pay the price for Derbyshire's relegation. Having taken the coaching role with the club in chaos and overseen a swift improvement that culminated in promotion, he might have expected a little more time to get things right.
Instead he was asked - and declined - to reapply for a rebranded role as "elite cricket performance director". His qualities - loyalty, commitment that stretched way beyond the norm, knowledge of the club and the players, and a quiet good humour that ensured calm on good days and bad - might not have been as eye-catching as some, but they were valuable nevertheless and will prove hard to replace. County cricket becomes more like football by the moment.
2014 prospectsWith a strong seam bowling attack, Derbyshire should be able to challenge for promotion once again. The weakness of the batting remains a concern, though, and far more will be required of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the likes of Godleman if they are to prosper. It might be a worry, too, that while the club has lost the services of Ross Whiteley and Dan Redfern, two of the more talented young players at the start of 2013, they have attempted to mask it with the recruitment of 33-year-old Stephen Moore whose recent form is hardly overwhelming. Long-term, the club remain reliant on the success of their home-grown players, but there is a doubt whether many are ready to take-up key first-team positions at present. But if the change in the coaching positions such one thing at Derbyshire it is this: after years when mediocrity was accepted as inevitable at Derbyshire, there are now expectations and demands at the club. That has to be a good thing.
Key playerThat Madsen, the first man in the country to 1,000 Championship runs in 2013 and the winner of the Championship Player of the Season award, has been at the heart of everything good in Derbyshire cricket over the last few years is obvious. Whether he can continue to mask the deficiencies in the rest of the team is less clear. It is hard to think of another side in the land that are so reliant upon one man for their runs. The club can, at least, take comfort in the knowledge that, in the face of interest from other counties, he signed a long-term deal to keep him with the club until the end of 2016.
Bright young thingChesney Hughes has long been admired for his talent and style with the bat. But, aged 23, it is time to start delivering on his promise. It is telling that not far short of half his first-class runs in 2013 (636) came in one innings of 270. Greater consistency is required. Perhaps surgery to his shoulder, successfully carried out during the winter, will help. It will certainly allow him to bowl more often. Tom Poynton, a fine keeper, is worth keeping an eye out for as well.
Captain/coachGraeme Welch, the new director of cricket, forged a fine reputation as bowling (and then assistant) coach at Warwickshire, but will find himself with more responsibility and fewer resources at Derbyshire. He should be more than capable of leading an improvement at all levels of the club, though he may require more time than was given to his predecessor. Madsen will continue to lead from the front and there is no reason to suspect the pair will not form a fine working relationship. Perhaps the key man at the club remains the chairman, Chris Grant, though. It has been his energy that has been behind the boost in recent times, but it is likely that his long-term patience and persistence will also be tested in due course.
ESPNcricinfo verdictWhile promotion might prove just out of grasp, a position outside the top four in Division Two would be considered bitterly disappointing. A team full of all-rounders should be able to improve significantly in limited-overs cricket, though a place in the knock-out stages should be deemed a success.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo