Mickey Arthur interview with David Griffin

Saturday 2nd March 2024
& News

With muddy puddles dotted around the outfield at The Incora County Ground, and heavy rain pouring from the darkest of clouds, the cricket season seemed some way off when Derbyshire’s Heritage Officer David Griffin, and Head of Cricket Mickey Arthur, sat down for their now-traditional pre-season chat.

But despite the prevailing weather, the season is just weeks away, and the squad will be shortly travelling to Spain for a brief period of warm weather training. So, with a glance back to the summer of 2023, the World Cup in India, a plethora of departures and arrivals, plus two new captains, there was much to discuss.

Casting our thoughts back to the end of last season, no sooner had the curtain come down on 2023 than you were off to India with Pakistan for the World Cup. While not the success you’d have hoped for, what was the experience like?

I enjoyed it. I felt there was some unfinished business with Pakistan and my driving force was to see another World Cup and to try and win it. I thought it was a really good tournament, and the quality of the cricket was outstanding, and it proved that fifty over cricket still has a place in the international calendar.

The grounds were brilliant. I hadn’t been back to India for four or five years and it was brilliant to see the development of the cricket grounds. Chennai, for example, is now a wonderful stadium.

A fifth-place finish for us probably reflected how we played. We didn’t hit our straps completely; the bowling attack – which I thought would be our strength – didn’t fire on all cylinders, and I guess it was disappointing in terms of the final outcome, but a wonderful experience.

Were you surprised by England’s performances?

Interestingly, when we played Afghanistan – who had just beaten England – their coach, Jonathan Trott, said to me that England were playing like a franchise team, not an international cricket team. It was an interesting assessment, and that’s no slight on England, it’s just that that’s what you can fall into. Your training methods, the way you prepare, are different in franchise cricket compared to an international cricket team. A lot of their players had just come out of playing a lot of Twenty20 cricket and hadn’t played much fifty over cricket and I think that exposed them.

Of course, with such quality players, they were always likely to catch up with the tempo of fifty over cricket, but by the time they did, the competition was over for them.

Returning to your work here; you’ve completed two full seasons now. We saw a massive improvement in 2022, but by your own admission, 2023 wasn’t as good. Can you put your finger on why that was?

In 2022 we got – and I said this in my interview with you last year – 100% in terms of growth and productivity out of the players we had, but it was impossible for the players to improve again that much, so that’s why I expected last year to be a stable year where we grew in different areas – and in some we did – but in others we didn’t. I was very disappointed, for example, not to win a first class match. I felt we got enough runs, although not really quickly enough to give ourselves the best chance to win games by taking twenty wickets. The result was that I felt we needed to regenerate our squad, but I had to wait until contractual positions allowed me to look for players to come in who will fit the brand of cricket that I want us to play.

We’ll return to recruitment shortly, but we did get to the position of an effective one game shootout in the final T20 group game against Worcestershire here at Derby. A win in that game would have seen Derbyshire in the quarter finals with the possibility of qualification for Finals Day. That must have been a disappointment, especially in front of a home crowd here at Derby.

That game was the most disappointing aspect of the season. Despite not winning a first class game, we competed in most. But the game against Worcestershire demonstrated why we needed to regenerate because I felt that in a game we needed to stand up in, we didn’t; everything was on the line with a quarter final as the prize, and we didn’t meet that challenge.

That’s echoing what you said last year about the 2022 defeat at Taunton in the T20 quarter final – a great opportunity, but sadly disappointing on the night.

Yes, exactly right. I felt this (Worcestershire) was the one game where we really didn’t turn up, and that disappointed me because it was our most important game of the season. I think Hampshire would have been our quarter final opponents, away from home, but anything can happen in white ball cricket, and one good performance would have seen us at Finals Day.

So, looking at your recruitment, clearly experience is at the heart of it, but also the need to bring players in who can perform in those crucial games.

Yes, one hundred per cent – no disrespect to guys down the order last year, but in Twenty20 cricket, when we were four wickets down, we were in a little bit of trouble and had to solidify. That might have been good enough to get us to 150 or 160, but we think we’ve rectified that situation, meaning that this summer, at five, six, seven and eight, we will have some serious players coming in; guys who’ve been there, done it, and finished games. So that area which for me was an Achilles heel, has been addressed.

David Lloyd, Aneurin Donald, Ross Whiteley, Pat Brown and my white ball captain, Samit Patel, are all experienced players with a winning mentality and they will make a massive difference to how we approach the game, how we play the game, and how we finish games.

With the ball, Pat Brown is a direct swap for George Scrimshaw; he’ll have the same type of role for us as George did in white ball cricket. Of course, we were very fortunate to recruit Zaman Khan last year – I knew what he could do, and what our budget was! He fitted the budget and was outstanding throughout the tournament, but this year we’re signing the Porsche of white ball bowlers in Mohammad Amir. He’ll probably bowl two at the start and two at the death and should be great for us.

I think in every one of the areas where I thought we needed to strengthen; we’ve strengthened in abundance.

One area where you didn’t appear to need to strengthen was higher up the order. Luis Reece had an exceptional season last year, and developed a fine opening partnership with Harry Came. You must be pleased with that combination having initially used Luis down the order in 2023, before bringing the pair together.

Yes. The year before we had Shan Masood opening the batting, so we had flirted with the opening slots – Shan and Billy (Godleman), Shan and Reece; and Harry played one or two at the top of the order, too, so I wasn’t absolutely decided on a settled opening pair.

But I was really happy with Harry Came’s development. He developed his game beautifully last summer and played some really good innings, and Luis Reece was an absolute revelation during the second half of the season. He played some of his best cricket last summer and it was so rewarding to see that partnership blossoming and working, which all bodes well for this year.

Another cricketer who produced his absolute best form for Derbyshire last summer was Leus du Plooy. In all forms of the game, he was outstanding, averaging over eighty in the Championship, but having had one summer as your captain, he’s gone off to Middlesex.

Yes, he had a great summer with the bat and I don’t think he wanted to get away in terms of being disenchanted with Derbyshire; in fact, his improvement last summer in red ball cricket was due to the huge amount of work he did here at Derbyshire which went into his defensive technique in that format. This hard work meant that his defensive game became the pillar for his batting.

However, he wanted to challenge himself, and he wanted to play in division one. And when he signed the deal it looked like Middlesex were going to be in division one, but unfortunately for him, they’re not, and he’s obviously disappointed about that.

I do think, though, that sometimes, some players do need different challenges and I still have a great relationship with Leus; we speak weekly about some aspect of the game, and it’s not as if he left us under a cloud. He’s playing cricket all over the world and he likes to talk about the game and the playing conditions he can expect to find wherever he goes.

Is he good enough to play international cricket?

Yes. We had that conversation and clearly he would be a candidate for a place in the South African side, but for him to give up all the years of trying to get an English passport and be recognised as a local player would probably be a waste right now. But in the future, who knows?

It’s obviously disappointing to lose a player of that calibre, like it was with Shan Masood the year before, and it does seem that we can grow players here at Derbyshire but then they leave for bigger counties. I want us to be a county where people want to stay and grow their game and that’s why I’m over the moon with Zak Chappell committing his future to us, and David Lloyd, Pat Brown, Ross Whiteley and Aneurin Donald – players who can see what we’re trying to do here and want to be part of our future. We are ambitious and I don’t want to be a county which gives players an opportunity, and then they move on.

Wayne Madsen is a player who is going into his sixteenth season here at Derbyshire, appears to be as fit as ever, and with another good season behind him last year, has also played some international cricket for Italy. He must remain an important member of the side.

I’m amazed by Wayne’s longevity. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen an improvement in his game, which is remarkable given how long he’s been playing. He just does the job every year, hence the new contract. And if we want to go in the direction I intend to take us, Wayne’s integral to that. He’s vastly experienced, his performances are still at the top of the tree, he’s ultra-competitive and he’s as ambitious as ever. He provides all the necessary qualities I want from our players here.

You signed David Lloyd on loan last year, and now he’s here on a permanent basis, and you recently appointed him as captain. You were quoted last summer as saying that David would bring leadership qualities to the dressing room. Was he always going to be your captain?

He buys into my plan and my ideas one hundred per cent. I watched David Lloyd playing for Glamorgan in my first season (2022) and he played here against us, and his competitive nature, his drive, his desire, were all apparent to me, and I liked him from that first encounter. He’s obviously also a good cricketer across all formats and so he was my first pick, if you like, as my new captain, and the man to drive my plans on the field.

Having him here on loan for the fifty over matches last year, confirmed what I thought, and seeing him operate around the group here at Derby made the decision to make him captain really straightforward. He has a great presence around the players, is a natural leader, and all without needing to say too much. He’s tough, uncompromising, trains the house down, skilful, and he’s a genuine leader. I’ve been very impressed by him.

You seem to have an embarrassment of riches with the bat – despite that, did you ever consider bringing Haider Ali back? His hundred at Chesterfield was quite brilliant.

I was tempted at having another look, principally in white ball cricket. He was great value for this club and he was very impressive at times and we developed his game. He’s another who I speak to regularly and I know he feels his game went to another level playing here in England.

The hundred was exceptional at Chesterfield, as was his T20 innings at Edgbaston, and had he not been caught on the boundary by Tom Haines at Hove in that amazing run chase (against Sussex, chasing over 400 to win), that might have gone down as one of the greatest wins in this club’s history.

Anyway, one of the key areas we needed to focus on, or rather, create strength in depth, was in the bowling attack. We have Sam Conners, Zak Chappell, Pat Brown, Ben Aitchison and young Nick Potts, and then when you put into the mix Luis Reece, Anuj Dal and David Lloyd, who are the allrounders, there’s a good blend and depth of good pace bowlers. But we need a real attack leader, and Mohammad Amir will probably play five games in the Championship, and Blair Tickner will play the majority of the nine games he’s here for.

Amir has a white ball focus because that’s where he’s built his world-class reputation, but Tickner comes with a red ball focus.

What can we expect from Blair Tickner? What sort of pace does he bowl at?

He’s quick. He hits the deck hard and has some serious pace. He’s a good white ball bowler, but I think he can be a gun red ball bowler here for us. His red ball stats this season in New Zealand are great so I’m hoping that he can lead our attack in the Championship.

In order to bring so many players in, you’ve had to let players go. It’s the reality of professional sport, and I suppose some decisions were easier than others, but can you explain the rationale behind Billy Godleman’s departure?

Yes, I think it’s really important, first of all, to acknowledge the yeoman service Billy gave to Derbyshire for eleven seasons. He led the side for a long period of time and did a wonderful job.

Releasing players with his length of service and experience is always difficult, and if I had an unlimited budget, I could have kept everybody, but I have had to be cut-throat in terms of our recruitment, and I needed to change culture and get everything we do around this club to my way of thinking. When I took the job, I knew that because of the contractual positions of the playing staff, I would have to wait a year or two to get the squad I wanted, and in order to get the squad to where I wanted it to be – and which I’m now happy with – unfortunately, there had to be casualties.

Most importantly, we are going into the season with a squad of players who are, with the exception of three or four, contracted here for at least the next couple of seasons which means that we can grow this team, individually and collectively.

I know from previous interviews that if I ask what your expectations are for the coming season, you’ll reply that you want to win every game and three trophies; but what can we expect in 2024?

We’ve invested in our bowling attack and our batters are now at a point where they can play on any surface. I’m not suggesting we suddenly play on green tops, but we can trust Neil (Godrich, Head Groundsman) to give us the sort of pitch which, if we play well enough on it, will give us the opportunity to win games at Derby. Neil is one of us; he’s part of my team, and an important part.

Now we have to play well, and that’s on us, and I want us to get promoted. We play to win every game and we have the strength in depth, and the right squad in terms of skill and character, to go out and play good cricket.

One of your great cricketing influences was Eddie Barlow, and another great South African cricketer of his era, Mike Procter, died earlier this week. He was a phenomenal cricketer, who thrilled countless cricket fans here in the UK with Gloucestershire, and I recall several wonderful contests between Barlow and Procter when Derbyshire and Gloucestershire met in the late 1970s. What are your memories of Mike?

My father knew Mike really knew and I grew up on the bank in Durban watching Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Vincent van der Bijl, Chris Wilkins and others, and they were my heroes. When Eddie (Barlow) brought his Western Province guys, you could be assured of some tremendous cricket.

Procter and Richards were idols who I watched a lot as a youngster, and I worked with Proccie at Cricket South Africa when I was coaching the national team, he was the Convenor for a period, so we worked together very closely.

I chatted to my dad last night; he’ll be representing our family at the forthcoming funeral and it’s sure to be massively-attended, reflecting his popularity.

There were doubters who suggested when you arrived that you’d not be here long; that you were just dipping your toe into the county cricket waters, but with no likelihood of a lengthy stay. Two years in, are you still enjoying it?

I’m entrenched in this job and I don’t want to leave here until I’ve seen success. I’m very happy here, I love Derbyshire, I love living here, and I’m here for as long as Derbyshire will have me.

Mickey, I wish you well for the summer ahead, and I hope that when we sit here again in twelve months’ time, there’ll be a trophy on your desk.

Me too!

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