Billy Godleman took over the captaincy of Derbyshire mere weeks before last season and endured a difficult first year that saw the side fail to win a single County Championship game and Elite Performance Director Graeme Welch depart midway through the season.
However, this has not dampened his enthusiasm for the role and it’s clear he isn’t dwelling on last season. “Our focus now isn’t about last year, it’s about making sure we can prepare as best we can for this season,” he asserted. “We’ve had a good period of time in the marquee and a really good three days at Loughborough where everyone got a run out with bat and ball and we are looking forward to this season now.”
Even more importantly, he hasn’t allowed last season to affect his outlook on the captaincy; it is clear to see on his face the pride and enjoyment he takes in leading his Derbyshire squad, not just on the field but also nurturing and developing them off the field too.
“What I really enjoyed was being able to help and support the young talented guys who played a lot of cricket last year. I think that not only is my job to make the decision tactically out on the field but it’s about making sure that the younger guys feel welcome and we can fast track their experience and knowledge of the game so it informs their performances on the field.”
Godleman is right: the Derbyshire squad is young and talented and, like any group of young people, will need mentoring and coaching, and following a restructuring off and on the field, he has people in the right positions to do this, something he was keen to point out.
“We’ve got a really good senior support network of experienced cricketers: our support coach Steve Stubbings, our development coach Mal Loye, (player and bowling coach) Tony Palladino, Wayne Madsen who’s a level four qualified coach [and] an excellent cricketer and person, and Gary Wilson who’s a former Surrey captain and a really knowledgeable cricket man as well as being very skilful on the field.”
Gary Wilson is one of six new playing recruits at the 3aaa County Ground this summer, with Hardus Viljoen joining on a Kolpak deal, Luis Reece joining from Lancashire, Daryn Smit coming from South Africa on a UK passport, with Imran Tahir and Jeevan Mendis sharing the overseas duties. It is a very different squad to the one that finished last season with a nine-wicket defeat to Worcestershire.
Godleman was clear what these players added to the squad that wasn’t there before and how this would help the team. He said: “First and foremost, they add experience. You’ve got guys that aren’t learning their game, they’ve performed consistently and successfully at first-class level and with that comes confidence.”
Confidence is something which could be lacking following last season, however Godleman is hoping these new recruits can bring that with them: “Confidence and experience filters down into how they can help everyone else in the team, not only in the moment out on the field but how you can help develop people’s games too.”
The development of players is clearly a big focus at Derbyshire, which has been evident in the changes off the field. Gone is the elite performance structure, replaced with club legend Kim Barnett as Director of Cricket; Godleman is clearly already enjoying working with a fellow, former opening batsmen and captain: “Kim’s been incredibly helpful and supportive in my new role but also in my game as an opening batsman.”
The changes off the field haven’t just been in personnel, but also in philosophy. Input from specialist coaches has been sought; on the day I visited to talk to Billy Godleman I witnessed the end of a coaching session from Graham Gooch and John Emburey, two England greats who are now passing on their knowledge to Derbyshire’s squad. Godleman has clearly enjoyed their input and was keen to mention the other specialists they’ve had involved so far.
“The specialist coaching has been ideal, the keepers got to work with Jack Russell, Critch (Matthew Critchley) had a session with Shane Warne and this week we’ve had John Emburey and Graham Gooch on playing spin bowling and spin bowling too; to have that elite level of coaching and experience has been brilliant for us.”
The specialist coaching won’t end there for Derbyshire this season as they are the first county to bring in a specialist coach to oversee the side in the Natwest T20 Blast. Middlesex have since followed suit, but when Derbyshire named John Wright they were the first, something Godleman finds an exciting prospect.
He said: “It’s really exciting, for me personally as a left-handed opening batsman and someone who would love to have a coaching career one day in the game, I don’t think you can look for anyone better than John Wright, obviously a club legend as well. I’m really excited to meet john personally and pick his brains on the game.” Godleman and Derbyshire will be hoping that Wright can change their fortunes in the shorter format of the game and bring success in a competition where they have had very little over the years.
Godleman remains pragmatic about what success would look like for Derbyshire this season: “We are a team that haven’t won a game of four-day cricket for 12 months. My feeling along with the senior management is that what would be deemed success or any targets would be unhelpful at the moment. Our focus is on being prepared for every game, making sure we’re clear tactically what our role is in the team and then going out and playing each moment as best as we can.”
However this season turns out for Derbyshire, they appear to be heading in the right direction: there is a good feel about the club, the players have a smile on their face and none is wider than that of Godleman.
He has a clear vision about what he wants to achieve at the club and that isn’t just instant success; he wants to develop his team and watch them grow, he wants success to be sustained and the changes which have come about on and off the field this winter should help him and his team achieve it.
Only time will tell, but it would be very surprising to find Derbyshire languishing at the bottom of the tables again come the end of this season.