Tony Talks – Palladino’s Derbyshire Career

Saturday 16th May 2020
Photography by: David Griffin

During these challenging times for all, we want to help keep everyone associated with the club and wider community positive and engaged. We’re in this together and Together, We Are All Derbyshire. 

Tony Palladino joined Derbyshire at the start of the 2011 season and has been a first team regular ever since, taking almost 400 wickets for the county.

Heritage Officer, David Griffin, has seen every wicket and in this interview, looks back with Derbyshire’s senior professional about the highlights of a fine career to date.

Firstly, how are you dealing with the coronavirus lockdown?

Not too bad, trying to tick along, get some training done when I can. I’m working on a podcast and some stuff for the PCA (Professional Cricketers Association), and just hoping that everything gets cleared up as soon as possible. It’s difficult not knowing when, if ever, the season will start, but that’s nothing compared to the suffering out there. It’s a terrible time for everyone with so many lives lost.

Can we go back to 2010; you’d taken 80-odd wickets over several seasons with Essex without ever establishing yourself in the first team. What was the process which resulted in you making the move from Chelmsford to Derby?

I’d never nailed down a first team spot consistently even though I took six wickets in my second game but then dislocated my shoulder and that really set me back. I was in and out of the side and I felt like I was an easy one to drop. The last year there was a difficult one and I didn’t really have anything in the pipeline. I remember playing at Billericay for the seconds and John Morris turned up out of the blue and said he wanted to have a look at me. He saw me take five wickets and I got ten in the match. Mal Loye and Billy Godleman were both playing in that same match, too. Sussex were interested in me too, but I felt I’d have better opportunities at Derbyshire and when John asked me to come up, which I did, with my dad, I jumped at the chance. I sat with John in his office and he offered me a two-year contract. I signed for half of what I was earning at Essex, but I was so keen to play that I was happy to sign.

You hit the ground running at Derbyshire, taking more than 50 wickets in your first season. What was it like to be given a prolonged run in a county side?

It was brilliant – I enjoyed a great pre-season, I was in a great dressing room, no big egos and Luke Sutton was really helpful. He asked me to take the new ball and John was backing me, so I felt confident. I got 5-39 against Middlesex in my third game, but I tweaked my hamstring in that game. I bowled through it and got rested in the next game, but John made it clear that I’d be back and that he wanted to look after me. That allowed me to relax, knowing that he wanted me in the side and I’d always known I could bowl, but playing day in day out made me a better bowler.

Your main opening bowling partner in your early days at Derbyshire was Tim Groenewald, and your record together was impressive. When you were bowling in tandem, did you see yourselves as a bowling partnership?

Definitely – the best bowling partnerships are those who complement each other. Broad and Anderson are a great example; we’re not that good but Tim liked bowling from the City End, and I liked the racecourse end. He hit the deck, I swung it, so we had different strengths and it was a successful partnership and a great experience,

In 2011, Derbyshire rose from bottom of the second division in the championship to fifth, and in 2012, took the title. In your first season, in 2011, did you sense that the side was developing into a promotion contender?

I don’t think it was; we finished fifth and were quite surprised by that. We had some young players and it crept up on us a bit. We recruited good overseas played – Ussy (Usman Khawaja) and Guppy (Martin Guptill) – they were young and hungry, on the cusp of international cricket and with a point to prove. And of course, Wainers (David Wainwright) was a great signing for 2012.

Speaking of 2012, that was a summer of highlights for you on a personal note; firstly, what was it like to score a hundred against the touring Australia A side?

I remember they had a good attack, but I was used to doing night-watchman duties at Derbyshire anyway. The pitch was a belter and I was lucky early on – I played and missed at Starc – but I had a dip at Lyon, and I seemed to fly from 50 to 100 and was never nervous in the nineties. I’m very proud of that innings.

You took a hat-trick against Leicestershire at Grace Road. What was going through your head when you ran in to bowl the hat-trick ball to Ramnaresh Sarwan?

I’m not thinking hat trick – I’d been on one before in first class cricket and in Second XI games loads of time and never done it. I just thought I’d run in and bowl a good ball – it ended up being one of the best balls I’ve ever known and I just clean bowled him. I didn’t actually bowl that well for the rest of the day – Timmy (Groenewald) got five wickets but gave me the ball which was very generous of him. I’m looking at that ball right now.

Arguably your finest performance with the ball – not just in 2012 – came in the crucial late season win over Kent at Derby, when you took 7-53, bowling almost unchanged through the innings. Where do you rank that bowling performance and how critical was that win?

That will go down as the best win I’ve ever been a part of. Kent were contending in the title race and we were 130 behind on first innings. They were miles ahead of us and the pitch was assisting the seam bowlers. I think I’ve bowled better and not got wickets, but for a long spell, it’s right up there. And it was important because I had a side strain and I was bowling on adrenaline. Redders (Dan Redfern) played a fantastic knock under pressure with Timmy G. That result and the draw at Headingley were the two which really stand out.

In 2013 in Division One – what was the step up in standard like for you?

Just more depth – batting went deeper, back up bowlers were better. It took us by surprise early in the season. Some juicy wickets early on troubled us against good quality attacks and in the end the poor start cost us because we played some good cricket in the second half of the season.

You maintained a consistent output over the next couple of seasons, but then went up a gear again, taking 51 wickets at just 19.72 in 2018. In fact, your last 78 wickets over the course of 2018 and 2019 have averaged only 21.69. How do you maintain those levels of performance?

I think with me I’ve adjusted to my strengths which are different to when I started at Derbyshire. I was never quick, but I had more nip in my early career. As an older player, I’ve lost the nip, but I’ve adjusted and now bowl in better areas and learned how to suffocate batsmen. I’ve developed some new deliveries which have brought me more lbws, and I swing it more. I stay fit and keep working at my game.

In 2015, you put another Australian bowling attack to the sword – this time the full touring side and you scored 82 from only 68 balls. How enjoyable was that innings?

I came in and Watson was bowling so I decided to tee off. The game was going nowhere, and the spinner came on (Fawad Ahmed) and lobbed it up and I wasn’t having that, so I decided that he had to go. Cummins was due to come back so I thought I’d chance my arm. Michael Clarke was at slip and he said if you get to your hundred in the next couple of overs, I’ll give you a bat. Then I got out.

In 2017, you captained Derbyshire against the touring West Indians. Not many bowlers captain cricket teams – what was the experience like?

It was amazing – I’ve always wanted to do it. I was originally going to rest from that game, but we had loads of injuries and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to captain Derbyshire. It was a great feeling to lead a side, a very proud moment for me.

As a senior player, what role do you play in the side on the field other than as a bowler?

I talk to Billy and the other bowlers, especially the young ones. I just try to use my experience to help other players. Billy makes the final calls but he’s good at taking other ideas on board and he’s never afraid to ask for advice. I can do that off the pitch too, just chatting amongst the team and squad means we can exchange ideas. Having said that, I learn stuff off the young lads, and Ravi (Rampaul) is a great one to learn from.

You’ve taken 347 first-class wickets for Derbyshire and, notwithstanding the current health crisis affecting everyone, how long can you realistically see yourself continuing to add to that number?

Well, I’d love to play for another couple of years. As long as I’m doing the job then I want to continue. My numbers are good overall, and although I’m out of contract at the end of this year, I still hope to continue into next year. My body feels in good condition and I was raring to go in pre-season. I’ll know when my time is up.

Over the past nine seasons, pace bowlers have come and gone at Derbyshire, although you’ve been an almost ever-present. Who were the bowlers you most enjoyed bowling in partnership with?

Tim, as mentioned, but Footy (Mark Footitt) as well – I believe he was world class at times. For those two years when he took about 150 wickets, he was outstanding, and it was like Christmas for me at the other end because everyone was worried about facing Footy. He would tear in and bowl at 90 miles an hour and I took full advantage. I enjoy bowling with Rav (Rampaul) too – he’s very clever and knows exactly what he’s doing.

You took on a dual playing / coaching role a couple of seasons ago. What are your long-term coaching ambitions?

Ultimately, I want to coach. I know and love cricket and bowling and would love to give back to Derbyshire if that opportunity ever arose. I enjoyed the dual role in terms of the experience it gave me, although it was difficult to get the balance right with my on-field role. I’ve always tried to take the best parts of all the coaches I’ve worked with and tried to develop my own coaching skills. We’ve also got the beginnings of a really good side at Derbyshire and it would be great to contribute off the field as well as on it.

You are seen as a specialist red ball bowler, you’ve played in 80% of all Derbyshire first class games since you made your debut, but never a season goes by when spectators and social media-users don’t ask the question; “Why isn’t Tony playing in the one day side?” Why have you not featured more often in white ball matches?

I’ve got a pretty solid theory which stems from when I first joined. I started well with the red ball and John Morris wanted to look after me – physically – and wanted to keep me fresh for red ball cricket. I’ve usually been available to play red ball and I’ve generally been fit. Krikk (Karl Krikken) had the same approach – he wanted me to stay fresh for the championship games. I did play some 50-overs and T20 games but never as much as I wanted to! It’s a bit late now although I’ll probably play 50 over games this year because we’ll lose players to The Hundred. Having said that, who knows, if I’d played more white ball matches, I may not have been fit for red ball cricket.

You’ve played alongside some fine players during your Derbyshire career. Who have been the most impressive?

Well, obviously Mads (Wayne Madsen), I’ve played with him the longest. His standards are incredible – I’m proud of my Derbyshire record, but his record is right up there. That’s an incredible achievement, and he’s rarely injured. Billy (Godleman) has been really great in the last couple of years, especially captaining the side and his weight of runs has been a fantastic achievement.

Guptill and Khawaja were great for us, we played some great cricket, but they were a big influence on our promotion, and those guys stand out for me.

Lastly, if you could have one of your many best days on the field all over again, which one would you pick?

That win against Hampshire to win the title was the highlight. That’ll never be matched unless we do it again. We knew we’d got promoted the day before, but that day, on the balcony with the trophy will remain with me forever. All the supporters down below, and the cheering, it made me feel on top of the world! And I’ve got my prized possession of a medal.

Tony Palladino has played in 114 first-class matches for Derbyshire, taking 347 wickets at an average of 26.68. He’s taken five wickets in an innings on 15 occasions.

His 347 wickets and 15 five-wicket innings are both records for a Derbyshire bowler in the 21st century.

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