David Houghton returns to Derbyshire as Head of Cricket
PUBLISHED: 11:42 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 22 March 2019
Derbyshire celebrates the welcome return of David Houghton as Head of Cricket as the team prepares for an exciting season in which the ground will also host the touring Australian Test Team and a T20 women's international
After returning to Derbyshire as Head of Cricket, fans might have expected David Houghton to see 2019 as a transition season for the county – but the former Zimbabwe test batsman is setting his sights higher than that.
He said: ‘When I first came here in the early 2000s the team very much needed rebuilding, whereas now it’s a good enough side to compete in all formats and all we need to do is enhance and add a little bit to it. I have said a number of times that it’s not a rebuilding phase for me, we have a team that can challenge. We have a core of a side and some very good youngsters – I expect us to challenge in all formats.’
David has returned to the county for a third spell, arriving from Middlesex where he was part of the coaching team when they were crowned county champions in 2016.
David has a strong affinity with Derbyshire and sees his return to the county as a real home-coming.
He said: ‘When I came out to take up the first opportunity in Derby in 2004, it was the first time my family had come with me. Before that when taking up jobs it had been on my own with the rest of the family staying in Zimbabwe. But that time we moved, and Derbyshire became our home. One of our daughters stayed here and I now have three grandchildren in Allestree. Zimbabwe is no longer a home for us.
‘Even when working with other counties, I was still living in the Derbyshire area and commuting so it’s nice to be back and take 10 minutes to get to work instead of three hours.’
One big change for David has been the development of the ground at Derby while he has been away, and the growth of the off-the-field activity.
He said: ‘When I was first here there was hardly any business at the ground, the cricket was it. A couple of cricket dinners and a bit of advertising sponsorship was about the lot. Now we have a very strong business product at the club and the people running it are doing a great job and we have quite a big turnover. That has been very helpful in increasing the amount spent on the cricket budget and that has to be done to keep up with the other counties.
‘Facilities-wise the club has improved by some distance since I was here last. It has changed quite a bit and the place looks in really good nick.’
Derbyshire were frustratingly close to being competitive in all three forms of the game last season. A couple of wins more in both white ball competitions and the County Championship would have meant challenging for honours, but instead Derbyshire had another season of what might have been.
David said: ‘The hardest thing to coach is how to win. We were only a win away from qualifying in the white ball competition and a couple away from challenging for promotion in the four-day game. You look back as well and there were good opportunities to win some of the games we lost. We let critical moments in games go past us and with that lost the opportunities. They know how to win but doing it consistently is what they need to work on.’
David knows that he will have a much smaller squad than the more affluent counties but believes he has the nucleus of a competitive team and enough young emerging talent to make a mark this season.
He said: ‘It’s a small squad that’s true – but a small squad of first team players. Some people might say we are missing some experienced bowlers, but I have no problem with playing the young bowlers we have and giving them the experience they need.
‘When they do come through the Academy and get a chance in the first team, we have to remember that they aren’t the complete product yet and we have to have patience with and let them learn.’
Injuries are another factor and losing a key player like Luis Reece for most of last season was a major factor in Derbyshire falling just short.
David said: ‘Luis was a major miss for the team last year. With him playing in all formats, we would have definitely been challenging for titles.
‘Having said that, injuries are part and parcel of it. We have a decent cricket budget and we can go into the loan market quite easily should we need to get replacements, but my first priority is to play our players and get loans in only when we need them.
‘Having a small squad means that everybody will be playing all three formats and I know, having come from a big club back to Derby, how hard it is for bigger counties with players who may only play one format to combine that.
‘In a way it’s easier to have a squad playing all formats. You don’t have someone coming back in the team having not played any cricket for four weeks waiting for the next four-day game. I have told the players that other counties with 25 players have effectively a first and second team – we have only a first team and that’s how we will play all season.’
Big changes are coming to domestic cricket in 2020, with the new 100-ball tournament, designed to bring IPL-style glamour to home shores. That means a re-arranging of the T20 Blast, 50-over competition and County Championship to fit around it.
It creates an extra opportunity for Division Two teams like Derbyshire in 2019 with three sides being promoted this year only as the divisions are rebalanced for 2020.
David sees that as an opportunity for Derbyshire.
He said: ‘The short format of the game is dominating worldwide now, and we are certainly going the same way. Next year the 100-ball competition starts but there will still be a T20 Blast and a 50-over competition, so there will be a lot of limited over stuff.
‘But I still think that if you asked any cricketer, their major ambition is to play test cricket and to play the best first class cricket they can. Even though the County Championship is played at the beginning and end of every season, which at times means it can be badly weather affected, it’s still the premier event and if we have a good run at it, I have every belief we can be in the shake-up for promotion. I’m not naive though and know that the other nine sides in the Second Division are thinking the same way. It’s not going to be easy but if we can get off to a good start and get some wins under our belts, then momentum can carry us a long way and we can be promoted.’
The 100-ball competition, with franchises in major cities will be the centrepiece of the cricketing summer in 2020 but not everyone is a fan of the changes it is bringing to domestic cricket. David though is pragmatic about what’s ahead.
He said: ‘The general feeling is that the money is essential. All of us who are traditionalists, like myself, want to see the county game keep going and the money is absolutely necessary to do that. Without this money county cricket would have really struggled and one or two counties might well have gone under. The money side of things is huge.
‘Everyone has had their own opinion about the 100-ball format – did it need to be a brand new competition? The marketing people at the ECB think it will give us the most positive result from fans. My own opinion is that 20 overs is good competition and maybe we should have stayed with that. But I think the 100-ball will be attractive, it’s not a huge difference to 20-20.
‘The way it has been explained to me, the franchise base in Nottingham will include Derby and Leicester. Whether we get games here in Derby will be up to who is running the franchise, probably the Director of Cricket in Nottingham. But as a county we still have to play at the same time in the 50-over competition, so there will still be work to be done at the ground and with other players.’
One impact of the 100-ball competition will be the return of cricket to free-to-air TV which many fans think is long overdue and important in building the sport’s fanbase.
David said: ‘With the agreement between Sky and the BBC not only these games will be on terrestrial TV but some England games as well so there is a lot more cricket coming back on free-to-view. That’s one-way of spreading the word about the game and widening the base at the bottom so we can get a nice strong top again.’
But in the meantime, there is a lot of cricket to be played and a lot to look forward to in 2019.
David said: ‘It’s been a hectic first few months but it’s going very well. What we have been doing is working as hard as any side and we have done a lot of talking about converting a nice season into really good season. That will be our aim in 2019.’
The Specsavers County Championship season begins for Derbyshire on 5th April with a home game against Durham at the Pattonair County Ground.
The Royal London One Day Cup sees Derbyshire begin with back-to-back home games against Northants Steelbacks on Friday 19th April and Notts Outlaws on Sunday 21st April.
The Vitality T20 Blast opening fixture will be at Chesterfield on Saturday, 20th July, when Derbyshire take on Yorkshire.
Go to www.derbyshireccc.com to buy tickets