As the Club prepare to depart for pre-season in Barbados, the left-handed opening batsman reflects to Tom Holdcroft on his decision to join Derbyshire.
Tom Holdcroft Interview, March 8th, 2013.
Welcome to Derbyshire Billy. Why Derbyshire?
My career had come to a crossroads after Essex released me last August. I hadn’t scored the volume of runs I believed I was capable of and I hadn’t been part of Essex’s one day plans, so the club decided to invest in other young, locally-based players. As a consequence, it gave me a chance to meet face-to-face with several other clubs (and their coaches), of which Derbyshire was the first.
I was impressed by Karl Krikken’s passion for the club and the vision he had for the team. Also, I have known Dave Houghton over a number of years from my time with England Development squads, and have always enjoyed a quality relationship with him and enjoyed his approach to coaching.
Krik’s straight-forwardness made a strong impact on me. His clear vision for how he saw me fitting in to Derbyshire’s future meant I became very serious about joining the club from that moment.
Then, on visiting The County Ground in Derby, and meeting Simon Storey, Chris Grant, and Kerry Madeley, I soon realized the high level of both passion and professionalism modeled by the coaches ran through the club’s administration too. Everyone was very warm and friendly, including your good self ‘Crofty’.
I had conversations with people from other clubs as part of the process of deciding where my immediate future lay. But, ultimately, the opportunity to play 1st Division Cricket, and the prospect of being able to develop my one-day and Twenty20 Cricket with Derbyshire, was so strong that I made my mind up quite quickly and signed for a club which I think could be a perfect fit for me.
After beginning your career at Lord’s, you had three years at Essex. Some people may question why you have had three clubs before the age of 24. Does this suggest a restless and impatient young man?
Possibly, but I would only be on my second (and still be with Essex) if the club hadn’t decided not to renew my 3-year contract with them.
Middlesex is my boyhood club. I feel privileged to have played for them, and to make a first-class hundred at Lord’s before my 20th birthday for the team I supported from the stands since I was a small boy.
I played age-group cricket and enjoyed consistent success too for London Schools, Middlesex, and England representative teams. However, as much as I loved Middlesex as a club, and will always appreciate the role they played in my development, I felt unsettled by the chopping and changing of coaches and captains.
John Emburey signed me at 16 and gave me my first team debut as a 17 year-old v Kent. I had a great relationship with John and much respect for him. When he left Middlesex, I, being quite an impressionable young man, found that difficult. But Ed Smith always backed me when he was Captain, which made a difference despite Embers no longer being around.
Then, when Ed was relieved of the captaincy, and despite playing in the successful Middlesex Twenty20 Final team in 2008, I was left out of the Antigua Stanford Series in favour of Neil Carter who the club had ‘borrowed’ from Warwickshire just for the event. I found this decision very difficult to accept at the time and couldn’t believe the club was picking an outsider over a local boy. I am an emotional person and I expressed my frustration. On reflection, I know this didn’t help my cause.
Angus Fraser came to the club in 2009, then the club signed Phillip Hughes from Australia, and it turned Nick Compton and me into rivals for one opening slot in 2009. Angus has always been very good to me and - being a Middlesex legend - I will always have respect for him, but I felt my cricket wasn’t moving forward as I thought it would.
Being young, impatient and headstrong, I became very frustrated about a number of things and felt that a move would better serve my game and career. On reflection, I thought my skills were more advanced than they actually were. Maybe the wisest decision would have been to stay at Lord’s and work through some of the difficulties I faced.
Embers’ good friend Graham Gooch then spoke with me about joining Essex. He was an inspirational person to discuss my future with and his interest in me was very encouraging. I jumped at the chance of joining Essex because I felt working with Graham would help me develop quicker and help me fulfill my childhood ambition of playing successfully in Test cricket for England.
Graham was very supportive during my time with Essex but left halfway through my contract to join England. However, I still learned a lot about myself during my time with Essex. I was lucky to have Chris Silverwood (who played with me at Middlesex) as 2nd XI Coach when I was left out of the 1st XI. As captain and coach of the 2nd XI respectively, we developed a good working relationship during some of my more challenging times at the club.
I also had Keith Fletcher in the background whose support contributed a lot towards my development. Fletch’s guidance of the young cricketers at Essex is valued by all the players. His love and respect for the game goes very deep, and his care for the young players and the future of the club is a great example to others.
It didn’t work out for me as I wanted with Essex, but I loved playing for them, and I have maintained some very close friendships with people there.
At times I played well and batting has been difficult these past two seasons, especially in the early-season matches because of the wet weather and - with no heavy-roller allowed once a match starts - conditions have favoured the ball.
Sometimes you just have to come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t work out the way you wish and Essex’s decision to release me is one such experience. I have chosen to view the experience (of being released) as a positive as it has made me confront certain aspects of my character and technical issues with my game that were not helping me achieve the outcomes I desired.
After dominating youth cricket, you became regarded as ‘the next big thing’ in English cricket; and scoring a century on your County Championship debut aged 18 at Somerset added to your reputation. Do you think you can still fulfill your Test ambitions and follow your former teammates Nick Compton, Eoin Morgan, and Steven Finn into the England team?
I remain ambitious about becoming a successful Test Cricketer. Like every batsman, I know that if I can make the consistent big scores I believe I am capable of, then my name will re-appear on the selectors’ radar as a possible England player again. However, I have plenty of work to do and runs to score before that can happen.
This winter I have taken a long hard look at myself and my game.
I have been working intensely with Neil Burns at London County and I believe some of the adjustments he has helped me to make on and off the field of play can make a big difference to my future.
Neil has been very influential in helping cricketers and other sportspeople transform themselves, and their careers, so I hope the same will happen for me. As part of ‘The All-Round Athlete’ Development Programme which I am on with Neil at London County Mentoring, I travelled to South Africa and spent time with Dr Ken Jennings and other key people who are linked to Neil’s London County organization.
I have also been working as a Professional Mentor myself with some of the young people on the London County Colts Programme as part of the experiential learning linked to my ongoing leadership development opportunities through London County.
With regard to the past, I know I have under-achieved in recent seasons. It has not been for lack of effort, or ambition, but my career has stuttered. I became too focused on trying to make some runs to stay in Essex’s 1st XI, rather than trusting my instincts and playing the way I know I can play – like I did when I dominated youth cricket. I put too much pressure on myself at times. Batting became a struggle and a battle of survival rather than the pleasure it should be.
However, I have learnt to look forward. I am also aware of how important it is to live in the present, one day at a time, and not get too far ahead of myself either in life or during an innings. I am focused on becoming the best cricketer and the best person I can be.
Emotionally, I am becoming more balanced and happier within myself. I have come to understand that too much of my self-esteem was tied up in how many runs I scored. But now I understand the importance of separation between how I value myself as a person and how I perform as a professional cricketer. By living according to my values and developing a stronger sense of self, I also think it will help my cricket to be more consistent too.
I think my experience of not fulfilling my early potential and becoming as successful in senior cricket as had been expected by me, (and predicted by others) has taught me a lot about managing myself through the many ups and downs of professional sport.
I am only 24 and I am encouraged by the fact that many of the game’s best batsmen have played their best cricket between the of ages 28 and 35. Graham Gooch’s career is an inspiration to every batsman – a pair on Test debut before going on to be England’s leading run-scorer and getting better and better as his career neared the end.
Whilst under-performance can never be to put it down to one specific thing, the bottom line is that I have not scored the runs I expected to, or needed to, for recognition at the highest level of the sport.
I want to really enjoy my cricket again and one of the most encouraging comments Dave Houghton made at our interview was that he wanted to see me playing more like I did as an 18 year-old, especially in one-day cricket. I played my part in helping Middlesex win the Twenty20 Cup in 2008 and I want to express myself much more than I have recently, adding as much value as I can to the Derbyshire team in all formats of the game.
Based on what the coaches have shared with me so far, I feel Derbyshire will encourage me to develop and they recognize that mistakes are part of the development process. If I get my shot execution or decision-making wrong on occasions by taking the wrong tactical option, I hope it will be regarded as a learning opportunity rather than one step away from being dropped out of the team.
What are your goals for 2013?
I have 3 goals: They are i) to enjoy my cricket, ii) do all I can to play well for Derbyshire, and be of value to the club, iii) make new friends.
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