Graeme Welch - Derbyshire County Cricket Club’s new Performance Director
PUBLISHED: 09:00 19 April 2014
Graeme Welch believes that Derbyshire County Cricket Club has been a ‘sleeping giant’ for far too long and is aiming to match the off field ambitions at the County Ground with success on it
Graeme Welch believes that Derbyshire County Cricket Club has been a ‘sleeping giant’ for far too long and is aiming to match the off field ambitions at the County Ground with success on it.
The recently-appointed Elite Cricket Performance Director has returned to the county where he enjoyed a seven-season spell as a player, earning a benefit year before being forced out of the game with an achilles injury.
He has since earned his coaching spurs at Warwickshire, where he was also once a player alongside greats such as Brian Lara and Shaun Pollock in the late 1990s.
Now he has returned to Derbyshire, who were relegated from the top flight of the county championship after one season, to take on this new role.
Graeme loves the club and the city and has quickly felt at home again but he admits that there weren’t too many glory days in his old playing days at Derbyshire to look back on.
‘We reached one quarter final where we were beaten at Bristol. I balled the last ball and it was hit for four!’ he says.
‘There isn’t much success to look back on; so my good memories aren’t so much the cricket.
‘But I have always loved Derby after playing here for seven or eight years. I love the city and the people.
‘In terms of the cricket, I always thought Derbyshire were underachieving and could have been better.
‘When I came for the interview for this job I was blown away by how passionate the chief executive and chairman are and how ambitious their vision is. I am just happy to be part of that at this moment in time.
‘Even when I was here as a player there was always the thought that, just as when the football team was in the Premier League, if Derbyshire were challenging for trophies this city would be absolutely buzzing. I know the support for the cricket and football club is immense in Derby.’
Graeme is from the north east but admits to developing a soft spot for Derby County during his playing days.
‘I used to get on the bus with my son and go and cheer the Rams on every weekend. They only had one season in the Premier League and only won one game, against my team Newcastle!
‘It’s great to be back in a place so passionate about its sport.’
Graeme will have to pick the team up after the disappointment of relegation, after what took so long to achieve was snatched away all too quickly.
‘I was at Warwickshire when Derbyshire played their first game last season and the thing that struck me was the expectations really,’ says Graeme. ‘I think they were just happy to be there. Towards the end of the season they knew they were going to be relegated and the handbrake was off and they just went out and enjoyed it. I think they have learnt a lot from that experience.’
To help the squad get back on the right track, Graeme has introduced a new philosophy that he thinks will result in a change of fortune when the season starts in April.
When Derbyshire Life caught up with him in the depths of a miserably rainy winter he had only been in charge a few weeks but was already laying down the hard work and intensity that he believes is the essential backbone for a winning season
‘My job is to put some structures, some beliefs and some skills in place,’ he says.
Part of that has been demonstrating the level of fitness and the hard work Graeme demands of all the players. His message to fans in the Derbyshire newsletter explained his thinking. He said: ‘I want to create a hard working culture in an enjoyable environment; and I want the lads to really regard their values.
‘We’ve started to change the culture a little bit, getting them in at 7am to show how hard they have to work and this is how we mean to go on. We’re buying into the “elite performance” ethos.’
Graeme was already familiar with many of the Derbyshire players, their strengths and qualities.
‘A lot of the lads were coming through the academy when I was playing,’ he says. ‘What I have noticed is that the squad is probably more talented than I thought it was. It just needs a few technical changes, a few new thought processes and I have no doubt that these lads will thrive.
‘We have three lads at 19 who are better than anything that I have seen at Warwickshire in three or four years. Tom Knight (who is not yet 21) has definitely got something.
‘Then we have seasoned pros like Tim Groenewald; Chesney Hughes who I think has underperformed and who could actually be a world beater. Basically every member of the squad has impressed me with their talent and desire to work.
‘If you add the young lads coming through to the experience of Shiv Chanderpaul, Wayne Madsen and Wes Durston, it’s a very good squad.’
So is promotion back to the top division the aim this season?
‘Well that would be good,’ says Graeme. ‘But I want to bring a brand of cricket that everyone believes in. The county championship is a four-day game so you have to be fit physically and mentally. I want to bring in the long game. I want us to win in the last session of the last day, maybe the last hour, which means you have to have the concentration and physical and mental strength to take it into day four. That’s how I want to play the game and if we can, and it’s sustainable, then we won’t be far away.’
There has been a shake-up in the one day game this year with a new 50-over competition (The Royal London One Day Cup) and a re-thought schedule for the NatWest T-20 Blast.
Graeme says: ‘I think the 50 overs will suit us a lot more because of having people like Shiv Chanderpaul and because if we are looking to play the long patient game in four-day cricket, then it’s just a shortened version of that, with some power plays chucked in.’
Graeme does believe that Derbyshire can be competitive in all three formats.
He says: ‘In April it’s all four-day games so you can plan month to month and when we start the one dayers, that’s when your squad comes into it. It will be difficult, quite a testing season, so finding time to get your skills and practice in is quite difficult. But you have to find a way.’
Graeme says that hard work before the season starts is ‘imperative’ and will pay dividends once the relentless schedule of games begins.
‘We are going to do a lot of analysis, there are certain training methods that we are going to use, we are going to practice under floodlights, looking at different game scenarios. I believe in doing all the hard work during the winter, which allows the players to go out and express themselves in the summer.’
Derbyshire will be hosting the tourists from India, ahead of the First Test against England at Trent Bridge, with a three-day game at the County Ground. Big crowds are expected for what should be a feast of cricket.
Graeme says, ‘Who wouldn’t want to come and watch India? You have Koli, Sharma, all these world class cricketers. It will also be a great experience for our lads playing against some of the best players in the world.’
With the England team in turmoil after a disastrous tour to Australia that saw the surrender of the Ashes and a 5-0 test whitewash, there are opportunities opening up for strong performers at county level to step up to international cricket.
‘That helps me,’ says Graeme Welch, Derbyshire’s Elite Cricket Performance Director. ‘That’s a carrot that I can use for these lads. You don’t realise how close you are to playing for England, it’s just around the corner. With the transitional period they are going through now there is a chance over the next two to three years for any cricketer who puts in a good season and a string of performances, it doesn’t matter who they are.
‘It’s disappointing that England played that way but I think that Australia caught them on the hop. The whole country got behind Australia and after the first Test, when Mitchell Johnson just blew them away, they never recovered. It wasn’t nice to lose every game but that’s why we are asking “where do we go from here?”’
This season’s fixtures:
DERBYSHIRE’S LV= County Championship season gets underway with back to back away games at Leicestershire and Essex. The first match at the County Ground sees Derbyshire take on Hampshire starting on Easter Sunday, 20th April.
The NatWest T20 Blast season also starts away at Leicestershire on 16th May, before Derbyshire takes on Lancashire at the County Ground on 23rd May.
The three-day game against India starts on Tuesday, 1st July.
The festival of cricket at Chesterfield takes place from 6th July to 13th July.
The Royal London One Day Cup doesn’t start until 26th July, this time with a home game against Hampshire.
View www.derbyshireccc.com for details, call 01332 388101, or visit the Gateway Centre Reception at the County Ground 9-5 Mon to Fri.