What a wonderful championship season 2012 was for Derbyshire; how well our unsung team played, but what anxieties and agonies they put us through on the way to that final win on the last day of the season! As the First Eleven scorer I was probably the only person who saw every ball bowled.
The margin by which Derbyshire took the LV=CC Second Division title could hardly have been narrower – 196 points, the same as Yorkshire, but Derbyshire had one more win than their closest rivals, and that was enough for them to be placed at the top of the table. So every single point gained throughout the season was absolutely crucial, although we may not have realised the significance of each of them at the time.
Derbyshire started with a fine win over Northants by 202 runs, but there were only just over eight overs remaining when they did so, and we had earlier missed out on a third bowling point when Northants’ ninth wicket did not fall until four balls after the cut-off point of 110 overs.
This was followed by a good win over Glamorgan in a low-scoring game at Cardiff, although the scorer would like to take some credit as he negotiated successfully with the umpires to ensure that no points were deducted for a slow over-rate.
There followed a couple of matches from which Derbyshire gained only sixteen points – the first of these was a rain-affected affair from which Leicestershire emerged with the greater credit; and in the second, despite forcing Gloucestershire to follow-on, Derbyshire could not bowl them out a second time on a pitch which became flatter as the match progressed.
There was no play on the first two days at Southampton, and Hampshire declared at the close of play on the third day, thus denying Derbyshire the chance of a third bowling point. On the last day Derbyshire scored at well over four runs an over, but they lost their ninth wicket at 359. 41 were still needed for full batting points, but Nos 10 and 11, Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald added an invaluable 44 for the last wicket. That fifth batting point was one of those which were to prove so vital at the end of the season.
Next came a second comfortable win over Glamorgan, worth 23 points in all, and this was followed by a trip to Chelmsford, a venue at which Derbyshire had not won since the second world war. Once again Groenewald was involved in a last wicket stand, this time with Tom Poynton – together they added 45 and earned a third batting point. Derbyshire went on to win the match by 10 wickets (22 points).
Now Derbyshire travelled to Bristol and had a game which they would rather forget – they were well beaten and emerged with a mere three points.
They did better on their visit to Grace Road but, once again in this wettest of seasons, rain interrupted and only 143 overs were bowled over the four days. Leicestershire chose to bat first, but were bowled out for 177, after which Derbyshire slipped to 150 for five. Happily Dan Redfern and David Wainwright recovered well in adding an unbroken 109 for the sixth wicket, thus gaining two batting points before the match was abandoned.
So, at the mid-season stage, Derbyshire had a comfortable lead at the top of the Second Division table. Now there was a six-week break from championship cricket, but the players – and scorer – were kept busy with plenty of limited overs cricket, most of it of the FLt20 variety.
Like everyone else I was very aware that five of our last seven championship matches were to be played against three of our main rivals – two against Yorkshire, two with Kent and a return match with Hampshire to finish the season. It was going to be tough.
Derbyshire had the worst of the first day against Yorkshire at Chesterfield: with half-an-hour remaining they had managed only 105 for seven in reply to Yorkshire’s 219, but on-loan Richard Johnson, making his wicket-keeping debut for Derbyshire, and Palladino made sure that no more wickets fell, thus denying Yorkshire a third bowling point. More rain and a wet outfield prevented any play on the last three days, so those two batsmen’s resistance was again to prove decisive at the season’s end.
In the next match, played at Derby, although Kent made only 265 in their first innings Derbyshire were in grave danger of having to follow on: at 93 for eight they still needed another 23 to avoid that indignity. Groenewald – again – joined Wainwright and together they scored the necessary runs to ensure that Kent would have to bat a second time. At the close on the second day Kent had a lead of 231 with seven wickets in hand.
The third morning was special: Palladino had an inspired spell of aggressive fast bowling and finished with seven for 53. Even so Derbyshire still needed a daunting 295 to win: they started well and reached 197 for two, but the loss of four wickets in five overs put Kent back on top. Redfern was batting calmly, but he lost two more partners, so that, when Groenewald joined him, 38 runs were still needed with only two wickets in hand. They stayed together until the scheduled lunch-break at which point 15 runs were still needed.
Kent decided to claim the extra fifteen minutes to which they were entitled in an effort to take the two wickets they needed. Redfern and Groenewald survived and, after an anxious lunch interval, these intrepid heroes scored the remaining nine runs to win the match and to take sixteen more points, without which Derbyshire might not even have gained promotion.
This excellent result made supporters begin to believe that the dream might become a reality. There was an immediate setback in the next match, however, as Derbyshire’s closest challengers, Yorkshire, took five batting bonus points from their first innings total of 420. Derbyshire just failed to save the follow-on – by three runs – but Usman Khawaja led the way in ensuring that Derbyshire avoided defeat. Even so this result meant that Yorkshire had narrowed the gap behind Derbyshire by a further five points.
Now it was August and, in their next match, against Northants on a batsman-friendly pitch the home team reached 400. In response, perhaps feeling the pressure of expectation, Derbyshire had only just saved the possibility of being asked to follow on when the eighth wicket fell. The score stood at 253 for eight when Wayne Madsen and Poynton came together and I started preparing the next page in my scorebook in readiness for Northants’ second innings. Little did I know!
There followed one of the more remarkable partnerships in the history of the game. Madsen and Poynton joined forces twenty-three minutes before lunch on the third day and they were still there 72 overs later at the close. They were now within sight of a new world record for the ninth wicket but, more important in the greater scheme of things, they had brought Derbyshire another two batting points.
Sadly Poynton was out in the second over of the fourth morning, by which time this pair had added 261, the third highest-ever partnership for the ninth wicket. Derbyshire had a scarcely credible 169 lead on first innings and their hopes of an unlikely win were raised when Northants slumped to 37 for four. The pitch was too dead, however, and the match drifted to a predictable, comparatively uninteresting draw.
Essex came to Derby and again Derbyshire’s early batsmen let themselves down. Facing Essex’s total of 245 Derbyshire lost four early wickets for 32; they made something of a recovery but looked in real trouble at 120 for seven. Ross Whiteley and Poynton pulled things round with a stand of 86 from twenty-nine overs, and then Groenewald and Mark Turner supported Poynton in adding a further 60 runs for the last two wickets. So, yet again, the late-order batsmen had done their bit in earning two points after even one had seemed unlikely when there were only three wickets left.
Derbyshire were eventually set 274 from 58 overs to win: they lost early wickets so Wes Durston and Redfern batted with care to ensure they did not lose the match. After they had passed their hundred partnership for the fourth wicket, there was a change of tactics as Derbyshire decided to go for the winning target. This led almost immediately to the loss of three wickets in three overs, so it was back to defence and saving the match. Despite the loss of one more wicket Whiteley and Palladino proved up to the job, and Derbyshire had the three points they needed for drawing the match.
Two matches left – against Kent and Hampshire, both of them still interested in the promotion chase.
The first of these, at Canterbury, was a disappointment – Derbyshire suffered another top-order collapse and were virtually out of the game at 130 for eight in reply to Kent’s 261. Not for the first time Poynton and Groenewald came to the rescue as they put on 51 together, and Mark Turner played his part with two fours in a last-wicket stand which took Derbyshire to just 200 – and another seemingly improbable batting point.
Kent went on to win the match comfortably although Derbyshire battled hard and took the match into the last hour.
Now came the last match against Hampshire who were now no longer in a position to gain promotion. Derbyshire needed to win to be sure of their promotion but whether they would be champions would depend on what was happening in games elsewhere.
There was great interest in the progress of matches at Chelmsford where Yorkshire were playing Essex and at Cardiff where Kent were visiting Glamorgan. Glamorgan did Derbyshire an unexpected favour by having much the better of their match with Kent – this ensured that Derbyshire would be promoted but everyone, players and supporters alike, wanted the championship.
The news from Chelmsford told Derbyshire that they would have to win this match and gain at least two batting points in doing so. This looked less than probable when Derbyshire lost their seventh wicket at 191. Happily Whiteley and Poynton did the business again as they added 63 for the eighth wicket. Two batting points were theirs!
Derbyshire even managed a narrow three-run first-innings lead and then did well in bowling Hampshire out for 198. We knew that Yorkshire were well on their way to beating Essex, so Derbyshire had to win. They lost a couple of wickets just before lunch, taken at 45 for two.
Nerves were frayed, but Khawaja and Durston calmed things with a brisk stand of 67 in thirteen overs. When the fourth wicket fell at 143 it needed a pair of cool heads to ensure no last-minute disappointment. Whiteley joined Khawaja and together they added 54 in just over eight overs with Whiteley hoisting five huge sixes to bring Derbyshire and their supporters the win which they so desperately wanted and which they so thoroughly deserved.
I left the scorebox earlier than usual, before I had completed my book, and joined the celebrations. It was wonderful to see the joy and satisfaction amongst the players and the staff who had supported them so well.
Of course every single point had been crucial in their final triumph, yet somehow it is the points which come from unexpected sources or have been gained at the last gasp that seem more significant. I hope this review reflects the closeness of the margin of victory and the wonder of it all.
What a season it had been! Can First Division cricket in 2013 possibly match it? Only time will tell, but I, for one, am looking forward to the summer with even more than usual anticipation.
John M Brown
(1st XI Scorer)
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