The heady days of mid-September 2012 will not be forgotten by those who played in, or watched, Derbyshire’s title-winning victory over Hampshire at the County Ground, and nor should they.
Winning a trophy should rightly be celebrated, cherished and remembered - and maybe because of the 20-year wait, we all quite rightly celebrated and cherished a little more and a little longer than some other counties might have done.
However 2012 has gone, the celebrations have now ended, and with the new season almost upon us it’s time to look at Derbyshire’s prospects in the top flight of county cricket.
The problem for any supporter who only watches their own county side, is that since 2000s' switch to two divisions, it has become significantly more difficult to assess other teams.
Take Somerset for example; Derbyshire last played Somerset in the Championship in 2007 at Taunton when Derbyshire scored 801-8, which included four centurions. The two sides also last met in 40-over cricket in 2007 and have never played each other in t20 cricket
Five full seasons have since passed and only Dan Redfern of the current squad can claim to have faced Somerset, prior to their pre-season friendly at the beginning of April. Marcus Trescothick is one of the best English players in the country and his side has been close to claiming Championship success for several years. They’ve never won the Championship and if they’re to do it with the current crop of players it might have to be now or never – and the recent friendly at Taunton indicates that Somerset may well be heavy scorers again in 2013.
Durham and Derbyshire haven’t met in Championship cricket since 2005, although the sides are regularly opponents in t20 cricket, and Nottinghamshire haven’t provided red-ball opposition since 2007, although, again they have been annual opponents in the t20. Both sides are strong but failed to ignite in 2012, with Durham favoured for relegation before a late-summer surge.
Middlesex and Surrey were both promoted from the Second Division at the end of 2011 so their players are a little more familiar to the County Ground, and Surrey’s high-profile winter signings will surely raise expectations in South London. Middlesex are being favoured by several bookmakers and have a useful pace attack to complement their strong batting line-up, but the lack of a top quality spinner could hamper their chances.
Sussex have been one of the leading county sides of the last decade, despite their one season in Division Two in 2010 when Derbyshire suffered an emphatic three-day defeat at Horsham.
Sussex will have to do without the services of the promising Kirk Wernars, who has returned to South Africa, and John Hastings, who had signed for the t20 competition but was forced to withdraw already through injury.
Yorkshire, promoted with Derbyshire in 2012, should do well, but then again they were expected to run away with the Division Two title last year. They have signed Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks, and with Steve Patterson, Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom they have an enviable pace attack. Their batting will suffer if Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are selected for England duty, but Gary Ballance has developed into a top-quality player and they have some useful spin options.
Warwickshire are the reigning champions and will be expected to be there or thereabouts again. Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott should be absent on England duty, but Varun Chopra, Ian Westwood, Rikki Clarke and Jim Troughton should score enough runs, while Chris Wright, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel – who all took more than 50 Championship wickets in 2012 – will again be expected to deliver with the ball.
So what of Derbyshire’s chances in 2013? Well, back in the days of a tiered divisional structure, one knew every player and would generally see the majority of them playing against Derbyshire in either a Championship or a Sunday League fixture, if not both.
All of which makes the prediction all the more difficult. We know Derbyshire’s side can play and succeed at Division Two level, but the simple fact that most of them have never played top flight cricket makes it harder still.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul should lead the way with the bat and he is a world class player, scoring 66 centuries in his first-class career. Looking at his record, he has scored a 50 or a 100 every 2.7 innings – compared to Viv Richards who scored one or the other every 2.8 innings, Ricky Ponting every 2.6 and Sachin Tendulkar every 2.5.
Of the other batsmen likely to play every game, Captain Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston have scored plenty of first-class hundreds and looked comfortable playing in Division Two, and will look to test their techniques at a higher level.
Billy Godleman, Chesney Hughes, Dan Redfern, Ross Whiteley and Tom Poynton have all scored first-class centuries and will hope to cement their places around the experienced trio of Chanderpaul, Madsen and Durston.
Tony Palladino, Tim Groenewald, Jonathan Clare and David Wainwright have all been match-winners with the ball in Division Two and will surely relish the opportunity to prove that they can deliver the same kind of performances in the First Division.
The two wicketkeepers, Poynton and Richard Johnson, will hope to give Karl Krikken a selection headache, while several other players, notably Paul Borrington, Mark Turner and Mark Footitt will expect to challenge for a place.
One thing is for certain, however, Derbyshire will probably again field one of, if not the most, inexperienced side in the country. Chanderpaul will raise the experience levels, but in the latter stages of 2012 Derbyshire were fielding a side with combined appearances of just over 500 first-class games. Compare that with Durham, Surrey, Sussex and Warwickshire who were routinely putting out sides with combined first-class experience in excess of 1200 games, with Nottinghamshire not far behind on 1130 games. The lowest in the top division was Somerset with 720.
So whilst Derbyshire’s side contains Durston (32), Palladino, Groenewald and Madsen (29) and Wainwright (28), not one of them (other than Chanderpaul) has played more than Palladino’s 82 first-class matches.
Derbyshire are favourites with most bookies to be relegated. That won’t bother the players or the Club. Derbyshire’s strength has traditionally been that we are underdogs, not expected to win, or even survive. The team has made Derby a rather inhospitable place for visiting counties in the last couple of years and will endeavour to ensure that no-one looks forward to coming to the County Ground this year.
Away fixtures should hold no fears for the players either. This side is used to huge t20 crowds at Trent Bridge and Headingley and will not be intimidated by playing at the largely empty Test stadiums.
It may be a difficult season, however, for the first time since the 1990s, a group of Derbyshire cricketers have the chance to create a new cricketing legacy of success. Only the 1990 Sunday League winners can claim to have gone on to more success – in the 1993 Benson and Hedges Cup.
The 1936 County Champions never repeated the feat and the 1981 NatWest winning-side, whilst containing many top quality players, was broken apart soon afterwards and lost several of its senior players.
It’s now a different world to that of the early 1990s, and success for this group might actually be a prolonged period of sustained Division One cricket. Even the big boys struggle to stay in the top flight – in the last 6 years, all but Durham of our 2013 opponents have been in the lower division. The players will undoubtedly be targeting the title – you wouldn’t expect anything less from sportsmen – but if Derbyshire are preparing for a second successive season in Division One come April 2014, I’ll put that down as a triumph.
For more information about tickets for the 2013 season, or to purchase tickets for the Notts fixture at the County Ground on April 24th, click here or call 01332 388 101.
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