At the start of the season pretty much every pundit and commentator in county cricket gave Derbyshire no hope in all three competitions they would play in this summer.
They were always better than that, and they didn’t finish rock bottom, in fact if a few result had gone a different way they could have challenged in the white ball competitions and could have finished as high as third in the championship.
It was though a season of ifs, maybes, almosts and nearlys, games that could have been won, if players hadn’t been injured, maybe they would have done better, as they almost qualified for knock out games and almost had an impressive season.
However those games were not won, players did get injured, Derbyshire finished where they finished and, while their season was an improvement on last season, it was not impressive.
One big ‘if only’ for Derbyshire this season was the broken metatarsal of Luis Reece, which sadly meant that he spent more time wearing a big grey protective boot than his cricket spikes and the side really missed the balance that his top order batting and lively medium pace offered.
Last season he scored over 1000 runs in all formats, but this year his injury limited him to just over 500. Another player who missed the whole of his Derbyshire season was the New Zealand overseas star Mitchell Santner, who due to injury failed to put on a Derbyshire shirt at all.
It did however mean that Falcons fans got to witness fellow Kiwi Lockie Ferguson in their colours and some of the fastest Yorkers ever seen at the 3aaa County Ground. Ferguson wasn’t alone in the fast bowling department, Wahab Riaz also made his impact in the T20 Blast and formed a formidable bowling attack, along with Ferguson and Hardus Viljoen, which struck fear into opposition batsman.
At one point in both white-ball competitions, Derbyshire could have qualified, but towards the back end of the competitions winnable games got away from them.
Even with two games to go in the Blast they could qualify, but couldn’t get over the line. Likewise in the One Day Cup, two victories more would have seen them qualify, but run chases faltered and totals that could have and should have been defended weren’t – a true white ball season of almosts and nearlys.
In Division Two of the Championship, which included big boys like Warwickshire, Middlesex and Kent, it was always going to be a big ask to gain promotion and to be fair it was never in the offing.
However a finish of seventh, while an improvement on last year, is still a little disappointing. But again if a few tight games had gone the other way a top four finish would have been in their grasp. Their season was based as ever on the runs of Wayne Madsen who scored over 1000 championship runs for the fifth time in his career and the 51 wickets of Tony Palladino showed what consistency of line and length can achieve in comparison to raw pace and aggression.
A Derbyshire season wouldn’t be a Derbyshire season without some off the field upheaval though. Halfway through the season Kim Barnett left his role as cricket advisor to the captain and leadership group who were running the team.
It had been a system which saw a group of senior players around the captain select the team, one which has been replaced for next season with ex-county player and experienced coach Dave Houghton take over the reigns of coaching, team selection and contract negotiations.
Contract negotiations that, had Houghton been in place, may have seen emerging star opening batsman Ben Slater stay in Derby rather than move down the A52 to Nottinghamshire for the last three games of the season and the next three seasons.
Houghton has moved quickly to secure key players to long term deals, since the close of the season Madsen, Palladino, Billy Godleman and Reece have signed extensions and promising players Anuj Dal and Matt McKiernan have signed deals for next season.
He may also be looking to strengthen the batting line up, with Slater gone there is need for a top order bat and most fans would like to see an experienced middle order batsman and seam bowling cover to bolster the attack. It will be interesting to see how the off-season progresses for Derbyshire, where Houghton can strengthen the squad and how the side develops next season under his leadership.
SSCC: 7th, Division Two
T20 Blast: Group Stage – 5th, North Group
RLODC: Group Stage – 7th, North Group
SSCC: Wayne Madsen 1016 avg 37.63
Vitality Blast: Wayne Madsen 328 avg 32.80
RLODC: Billy Godleman 509 avg 72.71
SSCC: Tony Palladino 51wickets at 19.73
Natwest T20 Blast: Alex Hughes 17 wickets at 19.06 Economy 8.10
RLODC: Duanne Olivier 13 Wickets @ 19.00 Economy 4.66
Player of the Season
In a bowling attack of big names and big reputations it was the often-forgotten man who stood out for Derbyshire this year, but with 51 championship wickets at a smidge under 20 Tony Palladino is the player of the season.
He has offered his captain control as others in the bowling attack have gone around the park and all while taking wickets at regular intervals. Throw in his first ever ten-wicket return in a match and it has been a season to remember for Palladino which has seen him earn a two-year contract extension at the end of the season and Derbyshire fans will be hoping for more of the same next season.
Harvey Hosein is a name that has been on many lips of Derbyshire fans since he made his first team debut four seasons ago, taking eleven catches in the match and announcing himself with a bang.
Since then, Hosein has been in and out of the side, securing the wicketkeeping gloves as his own. However at the tail end of the season it would appear he has done this, with not only impressive keeping displays but also sound batting displays too, none more so than a mature beyond his years knock of 54 not out against Northants in the fourth innings guiding Derbyshire to a nail biting one-wicket victory.
This has seen him secure a new two-year contract keeping him at the club until 2020, and with words from new head coach Houghton indicting he has now secured the gloves on a long-term basis, not something he would have expected at the start of the season.
Could have done better
When you are signed for big money with a big reputation, the weight of expectation is upon you and after signing two seasons ago and having his first season blighted by injury it was time for Hardus Viljoen to live up to that weight of expectation.
While his return this season has been improved it is still not what the club would be looking for when signed as a spearhead for the attack. 38 wickets at 32 in the championship, 13 at 20 in the T20 Blast and four at 64 in the One Day Cup was his return, and while it is acceptable for someone with Vijoen’s pace and aggression, Derbyshire would be hoping for more.
Need to work on
In championship cricket Derbyshire have made progress this year, but still get themselves in winning positions and then don’t finish sides off. If they need to progress further then they must find a way to win close games and one way to do this is to ensure their bowling attack can take wickets in the fourth innings.
In T20 cricket it is the end of innings batting that needs work, often a Derbyshire innings would fizzle out just when extra impetus was needed. If they could add more runs to the end of their innings then competitive totals become imposing and close chases become canters If Derbyshire can work on these areas then 2019 could be a successful one.
The appointment of Houghton and also the string of players signing new contracts or extensions gives the side a strong nucleus to build around.
With the departure of Slater to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire may well be on the look out for a replacement opening batsman. Tom Lace who spent the end of the season on loan from Middlesex maybe an option for another loan period to fill that gap, but Houghton will be exploring many options to see who is available.
Derbyshire may also be on the look out for bowling reinforcements too, with Ravi Rampaul most likely to just play white-ball cricket and Viljoen not firing, an extra bowler may well also be on Houghton’s radar.
It was a season of progress, almosts and nearlys for Derbyshire this year, they showed improvement and put themselves in some great positions to win games and qualify for the later stages of competitions, but at the last minute they didn’t quite get over the line.
However getting in those positions is better than previous seasons and if they had turned a couple of those losses in both the white-ball competitions then they would probably have qualified for the knock out stages in both.
In the championship they may have finished as high as third. An improvement on last season, and like Houghton will be thinking, something to build on.