Officials, players and supporters of Derbyshire are often told they are a small county, or an unfashionable county, a county of little consequence; and this season Derbyshire set out to dispel some of these notions.
They made big noises in the winter, signing the coveted South African fast bowler Hardus Viljoen on a Kolpak contract along with overseas stars Jeevan Mendis and Imran Tahir to deliver the wickets that the side so desperately needed after last season. They also brought in the promising Luis Reece from Lancashire, the multi-talented Daryn Smit and Ireland international Gary Wilson to reinforce the batting department.
Coupled with the existing squad, the future looked bright for the men from Derby.
However, for every moment of brightness this season, some of which were like a strobe light, there were also moments of darkness.
It was a season that saw them finish eighth in the County Championship – and it would have been ninth had it not been for Durham’s points deduction of epic proportions – winning just three games all season. The side was also hampered by injury – they did not see Viljoen in first class action until August and by this time the season was gone.
On a positive note, the three games won was three games more than in the same competition last season. Improvement was evident.
The Royal London One Day Cup saw them finish well out of reckoning for the knockout stages down in seventh place, winning just two of their games. It was definitely a dark area for the season. However it is probably unrealistic to expect a county with one of the smallest squads and memberships to compete in all three competitions in this day and age.
The financial clout of other counties means their squads can be bigger, better paid and higher quality – but this did not stop the Falcons competing and turning heads in the T20 Blast.
One of only two counties to have never been to finals day, Derbyshire set out to finally put that right by being the first English county to bring in a specific T20 coach. Club legend John Wright brought with him masses of T20 experience from the IPL. Coupled with another club legend Dominic Cork, not everyone’s cup of tea though a man who is a born winner – and win is exactly what they did.
Eight times in fact, including twice over the mighty Yorkshire. Derbyshire qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time since 2005, finishing second in the North Group, behind their East Midlands rivals Nottinghamshire.
Suddenly Derbyshire weren’t small and inconsequential anymore. The quarterfinal did not go to plan for them, though. Shahid Afridi spoiled the party with a display of hitting that visibly tore the heart out of the side and resigned them to defeat.
It was a defeat, however, that shone a light on the potential of this Falcons side – a side that showed it could compete with the big boys in this competition; that showed it enjoyed the spotlight.
Like all light, it brought out the shoots of growth and promise and Derbyshire saw the emergence of some exciting young talent. 16 year old Hamidullah Qadri, who spun them to victory under lights in the day/night fixture against Glamorgan, and Harvey Hosein who, given the gloves at the end of the season, showed what a fine wicket keeper batsman he can become. Will Davis, when fit, looks a genuine wicket taking threat and can add real bite and venom to the bowling attack.
There will be darker times for these young players, but just like plants they need shade too to help them grow.
It was a season of transition for Derbyshire. They showed they have the potential to mix it with the big boys, with old hands like Godleman, Madsen and Palladino guiding their promising youngsters and helping them and gaining them experience.
Next season, though, they will be expected to perform and turn promise into performance as Alex Hughes has done this year, being undoubtedly player of the year. If they can do this then the future will not only be bright, but so will the present and the club can emerge from the shadows completely and let everyone know Derbyshire are not to be discounted anymore.
SSCC: 8th – Division Two
T20 Blast: Quarter-Finals (2nd, Northern Group)
RLODC: 7th Group A
SSCC – Alex Hughes 800 Runs @ 40.00 2 hundred 3 fifties HS 142
T20 Blast – Wayne Madsen 526 Runs @ 47.82 4 fifties HS 86*
RLODC – Ben Slater 312 Runs @ 52.00 3 fifties HS 82
SSCC – Jeevan Mendis 30 Wickets @ 30.27 Econ 3.60 Best 6-204
T20 Blast – Imran Tahir 17 Wickets @ 24.47 Econ 7.43 Best 4-17
RLODC – Shiv Thakor 13 Wickets @ 24.54 Econ 5.33 Best 3-23
Player of the Season:
Alex Hughes was Mr Consistency for Derbyshire this season, he scored more runs than anyone else in FC Cricket, was top of the averages in the RLODC and performed admirably down the order in T20 cricket as well. Throw in him being arguably the best fielder on the clubs books and it’s easy to see why he was voted player of the year by the club at their annual awards ceremony.
When you sign a player in the off-season you want to see him perform and with Luis Reece, who joined from Lancashire, that is exactly what they got. He became the first Derbyshire player to score four 50s in a qualifying campaign, scoring 433 runs in total. It wasn’t just the shortest format where he excelled, scoring 732 runs @ 36.60 with 2 hundreds and five 50s. Reece also offers left arm seam bowling that, while it was not devastating this season, showed great promise.
Could have done better:
The bowlers! In Championship Cricket the bowlers could have done much better. As skipper Billy Godleman searched for wickets he used 15 different bowlers, and only three of them played more than ten games. They managed to take the required 20 wickets just six times, although this is an improvement on last season where they failed to do this once.
Need to work on:
Strength and conditioning. All sides get injuries, but Derbyshire seem to have had more than their fair share this season. Strike bowlers Hardus Viljoen and Will Davis managed just ten games between them. When you consider that no player managed to play all 14 County Championship games it is a worry for a side with a small squad – they must keep their best players fitter for longer.
Derbyshire must build on the progress they’ve made this season. They must work to keep their strike bowlers fit and recruit well to strengthen their squad, which has developed this season but needs to keep developing.
It’s a season of so close but so far for Derbyshire: a first quarterfinal in the T20 Blast since 2005, where they were one Afridi innings from reaching finals day and; in the County Championship they had more wins than last year, but still had too many defeats to call the season a success.