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Making do without Shan Masood: Derbyshire prepare to dig deep in Finals Day bid

Cartwright has big boots to fill but Madsen remains key influence for trip to Taunton

David Hopps
David Hopps
Wayne Madsen and Shan Masood have been instrumental in Derbyshire's success this season  •  Getty Images

Wayne Madsen and Shan Masood have been instrumental in Derbyshire's success this season  •  Getty Images

"What do you know about Derbyshire?" Hilton Cartwright was asked. He is only there for a month, so he was not about to reel off the county's lesser-known delights, but he can already feel the yearning for the county to reach only the second T20 Finals Day in their history.
"The only thing I know is don't go to that restaurant," he offered, before recalling the name of a well-known fast-food chain that had laid him low with food poisoning for two-and-a-half days soon after his arrival.
But, in truth, he really knows two things. Much more easily digestible is the knowledge that, in filling in for Shan Masood, who has been called up for the Pakistan Test squad in Sri Lanka, in Derbyshire's Blast quarter-final against Somerset at Taunton on Saturday, he is facing one of the most daunting tasks of the season.
Cartwright joined a media link-up in Derby this week in good-natured fashion as, first, Derbyshire's ebullient coach, Mickey Arthur, and then their finest batter of the past decade, Wayne Madsen, blithely extolled the virtues of Masood both as a captain and an opening batter, conceding that his absence will not be easily disguised. There was no sense that it was an attempt to spur Cartwright on, just an honest acceptance that Masood has been such a central figure in their reaching their third last-eight tie in the last six years.
Overseas players come and go, but Masood has been more indispensable than most. The question as to whether they can cope without him cannot be overlooked.
"Shan has been a big contributing factor," said Madsen, 38 now, but revitalised by Masood's involvement after missing much of last season with a serious hamstring injury. "It has certainly helped our batting group to know that you're batting with someone who's playing with such competence. He scores quickly, but you feel he's going to bat through. I would say Shan's had a huge influence not only in the way I've played, but the way that the group have played from a batting perspective this year."
Arthur is having his first stint as a county coach after a wealth of experience at international level, and Derbyshire have flourished under his ebullient brand of positive thinking. He will also tell you the same, except adding that Derbyshire have been preparing for Masood's absence all along.
"Shan's been a colossus for us. He's been outstanding: with his weight of runs, and his presence in the dressing-room has been exceptional. But we lose Shan and the next man comes in because he's been primed for that position. You know, we weren't taken by surprise by it. We knew Shan was going to be gone around this time. And it presents an opportunity for somebody else to come in and make a real mark for himself."
That could be Cartwright, whose returns in the Sheffield Shield earlier this year suggests that, at 30, he is at the peak of his powers. He is not a like-for-like replacement and in his two games to date, decent enough contributions against India and Durham, he has appeared at No.5, his usual role for Western Australia. He also asserted that fitting into a successful side where everybody is confident in their role is much easier - even if expectations are higher - than trying to bale out a struggling squad. But cold, hard statistics suggest that Madsen, who finished the North Group stage with his maiden T20 hundred, against Durham at Chester-le-Street, needs others to respond to the demands of a big occasion.
The runs made by Masood and Madsen are instrumental in the fact that Derbyshire are contesting a quarter-final tie against Somerset at Taunton on Saturday: 45 percent of their total in the Blast to date, with Leus du Plooy the only other batter to make much of an impact.
Derbyshire are not heavy scorers - although they pulled off a record chase of 194 in that last match against Durham, and if Somerset's talented young bucks hit form on Taunton's fast-scoring ground, they will be stretched to the limit. In the field, though, their whole is better than their parts: they have become a well-disciplined side, mentally strong and each aware of their own responsibilities to the common good.
Mark Watt and Mattie McKiernan have developed into two of the Blast's craftier spin bowlers with 30 wickets in the group stage at around eight runs an over. And the belief in Derbyshire that George Scrimshaw can rev it up to 90 mph (a reputation that has won him an England Lions call-up) will come under scrutiny on a Taunton ground where this season Jamie Overton has already bowled with fearsome pace. Taunton is the sort of small ground where the game can get away from you in a trice, but Arthur referenced Derbyshire's vital victory against Yorkshire at Chesterfield as one occasion this season where they handled a small ground better than their opponents and that memory will sustain them.
Arthur underlined: "We are only as good as the sum of our parts. Everybody plays their role. You always talk about it being a jigsaw puzzle, and you've got to give everybody a role. We're not there yet but we are getting close. Our mission as a coaching staff has always been to make the players the best they can be. And once you get that belief and you find that little hidden three or four percent and collectively you start getting a couple of wins, the whole process becomes quite powerful.
"Taunton is going to be exciting. It's a wonderful little venue. I would say it's a great place to go and play cricket. A Saturday night is going to be even more daunting for our boys but it's going to be a wonderful experience for everybody and one that I hope and know they will embrace."
Arthur knows that strong performances until the end of the season might also help with a bit of player recruitment, Derbyshire not always being the first name on the list for a player seeking a change. "We want people knocking the door down to come here because of the of the opportunities that we can offer," he said.
He will also take pleasure from the fact that his recruitment of Masood also appears to have reinvigorated Madsen, who competes with Somerset's James Hildreth as the best county batter of the past 15 years never to win England recognition. At Derbyshire, though, the consolation of domestic success has also been denied him (albeit he did guide the county to Championship promotion back in 2012). When the severity of his hamstring injury became clear, some imagined the end was in sight.
"Yes, you have the self-doubt whether the body can recover from severe injury but mentally I was always going to come back," Madsen said. "Retirement never really crossed my mind. I really want to win trophies, but that has been my goal and objective for so many years. There was even more of a determination to get myself back fit and prove not just to myself but to other people that I can still perform well to help the club and the team achieve that."

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps