Worcestershire 243 for 7 (Fell 69, Wessels 60, Critchley 3-56) trail Derbyshire 390 (Critchley 109, du Plooy 98, Hosein 83, Godleman 50) by 147 runs
As the mere sight of an English wrist spinner is liable to send innocent observers into raptures, it is advisable to regard the following statement with suspicion: Matt Critchley is a fast-improving batsman/legspinner and is beginning to look as if he might have the makings of an England Test cricketer.
On the scale of gullibility, anticipating great things for an English legspinner is up there with thinking you’ve just won a draw for an iPhone or that your National Insurance number has been locked and can only be released with immediate provision of your credit card details. Adil Rashid has done a lot to change that perception in the past decade, but it’s still a risky business.
Critchley, though, appears to be maturing fast. His century on the first day against Worcestershire underlined the top-order batting credentials that one day might help to balance an England side. It was followed by three wickets on the second when he bowled with good flight, a hint of turn and the sort of control that figures of 3 for 56 in 22 overs suggest.
Derbyshire is hardly the mythical land of England Test cricketers. They have had 24 in their history and none since Dominic Cork made a memorable, look-at-me debut came against the West Indies in 1995. Cork had some fine qualities, but he didn’t really need much promoting, as his boundless optimism attracted such instant attention on the field that he was his own walking, talking publicity unit.
Cork’s Test debut came a few months after Derby County had won their last football league title and there has not been too much excitement in these parts since.
Critchley is less attention grabbing, but no less worthy for that. Stuart MacGill, who took 208 Test wickets for Australia, has worked with most budding England legspinners and sees an England future. “This dude, 6ft 2ins, he can bowl,” he said last year.
It is Critchley’s solidity that stands out. He warmed this increasingly sunny, but still markedly cool April with exemplary control and figures of 3 for 56 in 22 overs. But compared to the likes of Yorkshire and Surrey not many journalists pass this way and those who do are grounded in realism. Bandwagons are the sort of thing that Boyzone might have turned up on for one of the ground’s pop concerts; the only serious exposure he is likely to get when another bracing northerly sweeps across the ground.
Indications were favourable for all that. Gareth Roderick and Brett D’Oliveira both fell in the afternoon session, D’Oliveira to the last ball before tea, as Critchley sustained Derbyshire’s advantage after they had logged 390 on first innings. Roderick, who has switched from Gloucestershire with expectations of a place in all formats, was beaten in the flight as he flicked back a return catch. D’Oliveira offered a comfortable catch to Wayne Madsen at first slip.
At 217 for 5, Riki Wessels, with obdurate support from Ben Cox, promised to bat Worcestershire out of trouble, but Critchley’s unexpected switch to the Racecourse End late in the day brought further dividends as well as emphasising the belief that his captain, Billy Godleman, had in him. He ended Wessels’ 60 from 95 balls by bowling him with a googly that ran straight on and almost dismissed Ed Barnard, first ball, when he rather belly-flopped onto a low return catch, got both hands to it but could not hold.
Cox then played on, attempting a leave, but Worcestershire’s eighth-wicket pair passed the follow-on shortly before the close. It is doubtful that Godleman would have enforced it and Derbyshire’s lead of 147 remains a sizeable advantage.
David Griffin, Derbyshire’s heritage officer, photographer and statistician, is adamant that Derbyshire’s unfashionable image can work against them, although there are not many convincing examples in the past 25 years. Critchley’s career statistics also hardly make a persuasive case. A batting average of 30 and bowling average of 44 would be more convincing the other way round, but he took 17 wickets at 26 last year.
It is hard to suggest a better Championship legspinner in England. At 24, he has just started a new two-year contract and at his current rate of progress Derbyshire will struggle to retain him any longer.
Derbyshire had rounded up Worcestershire’s openers by lunch. Jake Libby’s 12-hour resistance against the champions, Essex, at Chelmsford last week had made him a daunting proposition so a first-baller was beyond Derbyshire’s wildest expectations, a loud thud into Libby’s front pad bringing Sam Conners immediate success. Daryl Mitchell’s middle stump was sent cartwheeling by Fynn Hudson-Prentice.
Conners, an Academy product, was the most serviceable of Derbyshire’s pace attack and a second lbw decision ended a lissom half-century by Tom Fell.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps