Derbyshire will be hoping for a place in the top two of their six-county group which would secure them a spot in the top division after ten games, offering them a chance to win the championship.
Heritage Officer, David Griffin previews the season.
Supposedly for one season only, the county championship has been split into three groups of six with each county playing each other home and away.
Following those initial ten games, the top two in each group will be placed into what will effectively be division one, the sides finishing third and fourth will go into division two, and the bottom two in each group end up in division three.
All 18 counties will then play a further four matches – one each against the four teams they haven’t previously played against – but they won’t play against the side who they will already have played twice in the initial group stages.
The team which tops division one will be crowned champions, although the top two in that division will contest the Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s.
The same side could win both, but not necessarily, although there will only be one side crowned county champions.
If that’s not clear enough, be aware that there are further vagaries and anomalies which will present themselves as the year unfolds.
The Twenty20 Vitality Blast returns as does the traditional formula of two groups – North and South – with each team playing 14 games and List A cricket, which wasn’t played at all by the counties in 2020, returns with a two group formula, although not based on a geographical basis. This can’t be a bad thing as too many regional matches can become a little bit overfamiliar; it will be good for supporters to see Glamorgan, Somerset, and Surrey in white ball action against Derbyshire.
The Vitality Blast will see the return of overseas players for Derbyshire and the Falcons will be anticipating a further tilt at Finals Day, enjoyed so much by players and supporters alike in 2019.
The RL50 competition will be interesting if only because there will be a number of younger players offered the opportunity to make an impression as Derbyshire will lose Matthew Critchley, Wayne Madsen, and Luis Reece to franchise sides in The Hundred. Each of the eight city-based teams also has one ‘wildcard’ player selection after the T20 Blast so Derbyshire could yet lose a further player or more.
Derbyshire’s red ball cricket will bring them into contact with the leading first- class side in English cricket over recent seasons, Essex, who won the championship in 2017 and 2019, and the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020.
The two games against Essex will offer Derbyshire’s players the opportunity to demonstrate their playing credentials against the best side in the country and it’s likely that any good performances will be noted by the wider cricketing community – Essex’ status tends to mean they receive increased media coverage.
Derbyshire’s other opponents in the initial group stages, Durham, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire, will provide varying challenges, but Derbyshire should have no reason to believe that they cannot compete with all of them.
Derbyshire’s current top four batsmen – Reece, Billy Godleman, Madsen and Leus du Plooy – is established and combines a nice blend of experience and skill, to say nothing of a neat mixture of left and right handers.
Madsen has now scored 36 all formats hundreds, with Godleman on 22. The last time Derbyshire could field two players with as many individual centuries to their name was in 1997 when Kim Barnett and Chris Adams were to the fore.
It may be some time before the current top four can lay claim to being as effective as the county’s most productive unit – Barnett, Peter Bowler, John Morris, and Adams in the early 1990s – but the ability is there with plenty of evidence to suggest that in time they could certainly rank numerically alongside their illustrious predecessors.
With Critchley at number five, Derbyshire’s 2021 player of the year – and leading wicket-taker – there is an excellent balance to the side with two frontline bowlers in the top five. Gone are the days when no-one in the top five bowled at all.
Luis Reece is developing into an outstanding player – a genuine allrounder (batting average of almost 35, bowling average of 23) – who stays fit and clearly thrives on the dual role of opening batsman and opening bowler. Nonetheless, performing both roles must require remarkable reserves of energy and one would understand if he either became a first change bowler, or dropped a couple of places down the batting order.
One only has to look at some of his predecessors at Derbyshire – none of Derek Morgan, Ian Buxton, Dominic Cork or Graeme Welch, all seam bowling all-rounders – batted higher than five or six when opening the bowling.
And even England’s current premier all-rounder Ben Stokes, doesn’t try to open the batting and bowling.
A move down the order would offer a place at the top for Tom Wood who has a fine record as an opener in league cricket, and who impressed fleetingly in a couple of appearances for Derbyshire in 2021. He’ll certainly be an option in white ball cricket, especially as three of Derbyshire’s regular top five have been selected for The Hundred.
Behind the stumps, Harvey Hosein has now appeared in 74 matches for Derbyshire – but two other ‘keepers – Brooke Guest, and Ben McDermott (the latter only for white ball cricket) will be on the staff in 2021 so competition for that one spot may be fierce.
Billy Stanlake arrives as an overseas fast bowler and will take his place in the squad alongside the other overseas players, McDermott, and Dustin Melton. At any one time, a maximum of two of the three overseas players can take the field for Derbyshire.
The fast bowling will be interesting to watch – Stanlake is quick and extracts significant bounce at a good pace, while Melton appeared to be a yard quicker and significantly more accurate during 2020 than when he first appeared on the scene in 2019.
Ben Aitchison and Michael Cohen both impressed during their brief stints in 2020 and will be seeking to make a real impact over the course of a longer season. Aitchison looks like an archetypal English seamer – an economical run-up, a repeatable action, and an ability to bowl a nagging and accurate length and line. Cohen, left-arm, is quicker and gets skiddy bounce and may trouble the best batsmen un-used to his pace.
In recent seasons, Hardus Viljoen and Lockie Ferguson have brought serious pace to the Derbyshire side and it’s never a bad thing to have genuine quick bowlers available.
There was a point in 2020 when it was easy to look at Sam Conners as a first team regular, with more experience than he actually had, such was the inexperience of the rest of the attack – Reece excepted.
Conners has still only played 16 all formats matches but appears to have a real future. He is aggressive and quick and appears unfazed by whatever calibre of batsman is at the other end.
The faster bowlers have big shoes – or boots – to fill, however. The vastly experienced Tony Palladino and Ravi Rampaul took 494 all formats wickets for Derbyshire at a healthy average and as well as being wicket-takers, offered the side control at crucial times.
Stanlake arrives having – at the time of writing – only played eight first-class matches; Aitchison has played three, Cohen two, Conners seven and Melton six. Granted, Stanlake has played international cricket for Australia in white ball cricket, but Derbyshire’s pace attack, Reece excepted, is going to be extremely inexperienced with red ball in hand.
However, John Wright had only played 12 first-class matches before he appeared for Derbyshire as an overseas player, and we all know how that worked out.
The remaining players likely to appear in the first team are all-rounders; Anuj Dal, Alex Hughes, one of only five capped players in the squad, Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Mattie McKiernan. They all played at various times in 2021 and impressed across the three formats and it may well be that their talents are spread out across the different forms of the game. There’s not room for everyone.
Lastly, the government’s roadmap for unlocking the nation means that before too long Derbyshire’s members and supporters will finally return to see their favourites in action. Let’s hope that return is soon, and that the players reward their patience.
Together, We Are All Derbyshire. Club Membership for the 2021 season is on sale now, priced at just £199. Members to have priority entry and all Memberships backed by our new guarantees.