If every cricket team is on a journey then for Derbyshire’s last season was definitely a train wreck. As that journey continues this season, however, there is a new conductor on the platform and he has shouted “ALL CHANGE!” That new conductor is club legend Kim Barnett, who has taken up the role of Director of Cricket following the departure of Graeme Welch half way through last season, a season that saw Derbyshire fail to win a single Specsavers County Championship game or to qualify for the knockout stages of either limited overs competitions.
The club have worked hard in the off season to give themselves the best possible chance of avoiding the train wreck again. A new coaching set up is in place, one that places greater emphasis on captain Billy Godleman and his players, and is supported by another former club player Steve Stubbings in the role of first eleven support coach.
Stubbings’ role is to give the players whatever support and help they need, as directed by the captain and the playing squad.
Another change is one that saw them become the first club in English domestic cricket to bring in a specialist T20 coach, in the shape of John Wright. Wright is another former player, who has gone onto achieve great success in the world of T20, winning the IPL and Champions League with the Mumbai Indians. Derbyshire will be hoping that Wright’s T20 pedigree can bring that level of success to the 3aaa County Ground this season, a competition in which Derbyshire are yet to reach the finals day.
The playing staff that reported for the first day of training will also have the cry of “all change” ringing in their ears. First team regulars Wes Durston, Neil Broom and Chesney Hughes are all gone and, in search of the 20 wickets that proved elusive all last season, proven wicket takers have been brought: Hardus Viljoen on a Kopak deal following an impressive spell with Kent last season, and Imran Tahir as an overseas bowler. Tahir is currently ranked number one in the ICC bowler rankings for T20 and ODI cricket.
The batting has also been bolstered, with the arrival Wicket Keeper Batsman Gary Wilson from Surrey and South African Daryn Smit, who has a UK passport to compliment his impressive first class record and league record for Ramsbottom CC in Lancashire.
No one can argue that Derbyshire are in a more promising position, both off and on the field, than last season. What supporters must wait to see now, is if they can translate that promise into a journey that arrives at success station come the end of the season.
Ins: Gary Wilson (Surrey), Luis Reece (Lancs), Imran Tahir (Notts, Overseas) Hardus Viljoen (Kent, Kolpak) Daryn Smit (UK Passport) Matt Henry (T20 Overseas) Jeevan Mendis (Overseas)
Outs: Neil Broom (Released) Harry White (Released) Wes Durston (Released) Chesney Hughes (Released) Callum Parkinson (Leics)
Key Player – Hardus Viljoen
Derbyshire failed to take 20 wickets in a Championship match last season and thus also failed to win a match. The answer to this issue, they hope, is the signing of South African Hardus Viljoen on a Kolpak deal. Viljoen is a big fast bowler who has had success in county cricket with Kent, taking 20 wickets in just four appearances for the club last season at an average of under 20.
Viljoen has taken his 370 career first class wickets at a touch over 26 and Derbyshire will be hoping he brings the attacking spearhead to the side, and hopefully propel them towards taking the 20 wickets which they need. Viljoen is also a more than handy exponent in the shorter formats of the games, with his pace and bounce proving difficult to score off whilst always being a wicket threat.
He is capable of scoring quickly down the order and has First Class and List A half centuries to his name. Viljoen has made a big commitment to the club in giving up his international career to sign for Derbyshire, and both parties will be hoping that this will be a successful partnership.
Player to Watch – Will Davis
In Derbyshire’s search to take 20 wickets to win a match it will be well worth keeping an eye on Will Davis. The 21 year old paceman has genuine pace and has already taken 24 wickets in just 12 visits to the field, at an average of a touch over 33 and a strike rate of one every 48 balls showing he is a genuine wicket threat. He showed that wicket taking threat last year, taking 7 wickets in an innings versus Glamorgan, and Derbyshire will be hoping he can repeat performances like that this season in their quest for Championship wins.
Overseas Signings: Imran Tahir (SA) Jeevan Mendis (SL) Matt Henry (NZ) (T20)
If you visit the 3aaa County Ground this season you will be able to see some high quality leg spin bowling, in the first part of the season Sri Lankan international Jeevan Mendis will be plying his trade and hopefully adding runs further up the order, as a player who is a genuine all rounder.
Once the Champions Trophy has concluded, the number one ranked ODI and T20 bowler in the world Imran Tahir will be replacing Mendis and, while the club my miss Mendis’s runs, Tahir’s wicket threat will be a scary prospect for any side coming up against Derbyshire in the second half of the season. Derbyshire will be hoping that Tahir can repeat the form he has shown whilst playing for arch rivals Nottinghamshire and for South Africa.
The final piece of Derbyshire’s overseas trio is New Zealand paceman Matt Henry, who is available for the entirety of the T20 Blast tournament and will be a perfect foil for Kolpak signing Viljoen in the shortest format. Henry is also capable of clearing the ropes and hopefully he will be able to add vital runs at the end of the innings.
Derbyshire fans should be very happy with the overseas recruitment the club have undertaken this Winter, but as always the proof will be in the pudding.
How they’ll fare
In the words of 90s pop star Yazz, the only way is up for Derbyshire this season. After finishing bottom of the Championship table and seventh in both white ball events, they will be hoping for a much stronger showing in all competitions. They have recruited well over the Winter, and addressed key areas in their squad both off and on the field. If their new signings and overseas players fire I can see them finishing in the top three of the championship and pushing hard in the limited overs competitions, especially the Royal London One-day Cup.
In the shortest format of the game they are still lacking a big hitter at the start of the innings to give them impetus, but cricket is a funny game and momentum can take a side anywhere. If they get off to a good start to the season, the only team that can stop them is themselves.
Specsavers County Championship Division Two v Northamptonshire, Friday 14th April at 3aaa County Ground, Derby.
Season Odds (SkyBet)
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 25/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 33/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: TBA