A cricket season which began with a draw amidst flurries of snow at a freezing cold Edgbaston ended with a victory inside three days at a warm and sunny Hove, and despite the paucity of wins it nevertheless provided a plethora of interesting statistics and landmarks. Heritage Officer David Griffin looks back at the 2021 season.
First of all, injuries meant that senior players, including those from overseas, were absent for long periods resulting in ten players making debuts, taking the tally of debutants to 49 in the last five seasons alone.
By way of comparison, Derbyshire fielded 49 debutants over a 20-year period beginning in 1951, while during the last two decades years of the 20th century an average of only four new players appeared per season.
Unarguably, the lack of runs was the principal problem, although not anticipated by most Derbyshire followers, me included.
Back in early April, my preview of the season included the following;
Derbyshire’s current top four – Luis Reece, Billy Godleman, Wayne Madsen and Leus du Plooy – is established and combines a nice blend of experience and skill, to say nothing of a neat balance of right and left-handers.
It may be some time before the current top four can lay claim to being as effective as the county’s most productive unit – Kim Barnett, Peter Bowler, John Morris, and Chris 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.
Of all the conundrums which arose around the grounds and elsewhere during 2021, chief amongst them was how this batting unit had collectively failed to reach their usual high standards all at the same time.
Their combined batting average of 98 runs per innings in the County Championship meant that Derbyshire were never really in a position to post the sort of totals which would have allowed them to hand control of the game to their promising, but largely inexperienced bowling attack.
In 2019, the same quartet averaged a collective 141; back in 1990 the top four averaged a combined 192. Quite simply, captain Billy Godleman generally never had enough runs to play with.
Nonetheless, there were several notable individual – and occasionally, match performances – to enjoy and recall, none more so than the all-round efforts of Matthew Critchley.
The 25 year-old has been improving steadily over recent seasons, but in 2021 he emerged as a county cricketer of genuine class, perhaps the most likely Derbyshire player to break through at international level for England.
The ease with which he reached 1,000 first-class runs at Hove in the final game of the season summed up Critchley’s approach to the game. Needing 100 runs going into the match, he appeared visibly disappointed when he left the field after scoring 85 in Derbyshire’s first innings, mindful that against a weak Sussex side, he might not get another knock.
Even when Derbyshire did bat again, they required only 23 runs in their second innings and Godleman generously allowed Critchley to open the batting. To the surprise of no-one who witnessed his 137 against Northamptonshire in 2014, his superlative match-winning T20 innings against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in 2015, and his chanceless hundred against Middlesex at Lord’s in 2018, he scored the precise number of runs required – 15 – striking the winning hit to take his county to their only red ball win of the year. No fuss, no worries, just doing his job. At times, he can make batting look easy.
His tally of 1,000 first-class runs is unique in the county’s history – he is the only player ever to have scored exactly 1,000 runs, Peter Gibbs’ 1,001 in 1969 being the previous closest.
In all formats, he scored 1,252 runs – the only Derbyshire player to break the 1,000-run barrier – and took 44 all formats wickets.
To confirm his pedigree, he passed 3,000 runs in first-class matches, took his 100th first-class wicket, became the county’s leading T20 wicket-taker, and took part in seven of the county’s nine first-class century partnerships.
If ever a player earned the Player of the Year award, it’s Matt Critchley.
Wayne Madsen was injured for a large part of the season but still scored his 11,000th first-class run for Derbyshire during his 111 against Sussex at Hove. Madsen has now scored a first-class century in 13 consecutive seasons – only Kim Barnett, who did it in 17 seasons in a row – has bettered it.
He also became the first Derbyshire player to score 3,000 runs in T20 cricket, while his 20 catches in the County Championship made him the leading outfield catcher for the seventh time. Only Derek Morgan (eight) has performed the feat more times.
Madsen’s 285 all formats catches is the sixth most in Derbyshire’s history by a non-wicketkeeper.
Brooke Guest emerged as a confident wicketkeeper with the capacity to bat for long periods, making 796 all formats runs including his maiden first-class hundred, against Leicestershire at Derby, and taking 40 catches and completing 5 stumpings, although his 116 was Derbyshire’s lowest highest individual score in a season since John Harvey’s 103 not out in 1966.
While Guest was scoring that maiden hundred, Anuj Dal also notched his first century as the pair added 227 for the sixth wicket, a county record for that wicket.
Billy Godleman took his captaincy appearance tally to 131 matches in all forms of the game, just 1 behind Wayne Madsen, placing him in seventh place on the all-time Derbyshire list. He was also the only player to score hundreds in first-class and List A cricket – both against Leicestershire – and passed 6,000 first-class runs for Derbyshire during the course of the season.
His regular opening partner, Luis Reece, will be spending the winter recovering from shoulder and knee surgery, after ending his season on 99 first-class wickets for the county.
Alex Hughes passed the 5,000 run mark in all forms of the game, while Fynn Hudson-Prentice, who has returned to Sussex, took 45 all formats wicket to end the season as the club’s leading wicket-taker.
Of great significance, however, was the emergence of Ben Aitchison and Sam Conners, confirming their promise of 2020, with suitably notable figures. Aitchison took 34 wickets in the Championship at the impressive average of 23.29 in 13 matches, while Conners took 28 wickets at 28.84; if progress is maintained, there is no reason to suggest that this pair cannot have long and successful careers with the ball.
Both bowlers achieved career-bests in 2021, Aitchison taking 6-28 against Durham at Derby in May, following Conners’ 5-83 against the same opponents at Chester-le-Street a month earlier. Aitchison also offered a glimpse of his batting potential, making an explosive half century against Nottinghamshire at Derby.
Michael Cohen, limited to five Championship games and three T20 matches through injury, picked up an impressive 5-43 against Warwickshire at Derby in June and George Scrimshaw took a creditable 14 wickets at an average of 16.85 in the Vitality Blast.
Tom Wood reminded Derbyshire supporters of his white ball prowess when scoring a magnificent 55-ball century in a Royal London Cup game against Nottinghamshire at Derby. Only Wes Durston’s T20 hundred against the same opponents at Nottingham in 2010 was scored off fewer balls (51) as Wood powered his side to a comprehensive and welcome win over their neighbours.
Slightly more offbeat records occurred during the season, one of which was a world record. During the final game of the summer at Hove, Sussex recorded six ducks in their first innings of 300 all out. The previous high score for a side with six ducks was 295 back in 1922/3 when Canterbury suffered that fate against the touring MCC side in New Zealand.
Another was the 123 run-partnership for the fifth wicket between Madsen and Critchley, also at Hove. Despite having played at Hove since 1880, Derbyshire had never previously managed a single century partnership for that wicket – remarkable given the number of outstanding cricketers to have batted in the top five over the last 141 years.
After 83 all formats matches as Head of Cricket since his return to Derbyshire at the beginning of 2019, David Houghton left the club following the final game of the season. Including his spell as Director of Cricket between 2004 and 2007 Houghton oversaw 211 matches and whoever replaces him will be acutely aware that despite having a squad containing some very experienced senior players, and some talented youngsters, they will need to improve significantly to better Derbyshire’s final position of 17th in the Championship.
Three innings defeats and others by 310, 191, 130 and 112 runs were dispiriting and highlighted the lack of runs above all else and it was rare for Derbyshire – until the final match of the season – to be in the box seats in any match.
Regardless, after a desperate 2020 when no supporters could watch live cricket, at least they were able to enter the grounds, albeit with restrictions, in 2021, and that – even in a poor season – was better than nothing.