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Dave Houghton: An Appreciation

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Joined: 26 Feb 2008
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Location: Washington State, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jan 18, 2011 4:28 am    Post subject: Dave Houghton: An Appreciation  Reply with quote

When the England football team has had a poor World Cup, its easy to understand why the fans would hark back to the golden days of 1966 and Alf Ramsey.  When Derby County are not doing so well, its natural that the fans love to remember the times of Brian Clough.  So its entirely reasonable that during times like these; Derbyshire cricket fans want to return to the halcyon days of Dave Houghton.

Wait.  Run that last one by me again.

I’ve been surprised over the last couple of years to find that there has been an element of the club’s support that holds Houghton up as the yardstick by which Derbyshire managers are measured, and not only finds John Morris wanting in comparison, but wishes for a return of Dave Houghton.  

Truth to tell, I’ve no axe to grind with Houghton.  I was pleased when he joined Derbyshire; he was a well regarded coach who offered the experience and knowledge we needed.  Sure I was disappointed that he did not have a sort out of the players when he arrived, and gave new contracts to many of 2003’s last-placed team.  But I was pleased for much of the time he was with us; he seemed to be a calming influence at a time when the club’s administration often seemed chaotic.  Finally, the committee deserved kudos for refusing his demand for a new contract and he took off; things had not worked out, and it was time to get a new face in.  Turn the page.  Begin a new chapter.  But the “DH as yardstick” element has forced me to think back, look at the records, and try to work out whether I had misunderstood Houghton’s contribution.

The bare facts are that DH joined Derbyshire in September of 2003, and left in July, 2007.  The County Championship record for the DH years was:

2003  P 16     W 2     D 3     L 11 Finished 9th, Division 2

2004 P 16     W 1     D 9     L 6   Finished 8th, Division 2

2005   P 16     W 1     D 7     L 8   Finished 9th, Division 2

2006   P 16     W 4     D 8     L 4   Finished 5th, Division 2

2007   P 16     W 3     D 8     L 5    Finished 6th, Division 2

This was my first surprise: after poor years in 2004 and 2005, I had forgotten that there was a significant improvement for 2006.  The improvement was not quite maintained for 2007, and it has to be said that 6th in 2007 was not a satisfactory achievement for four years of work.  Especially considering that Katich averaged 75 with the bat hat season, and Lungley had his career year with 59 first class wickets.  Where would we have been without those contributions?

What about the players involved?  Did DH earn his plaudits by inheriting a poor team and building it up into a better one to bequeath to his successor?  The key CC players in 2003 – the team DH inherited – were: Bassano, Cork, Dean, DiVenuto, Dumelow, Gait, Mohammad Ali, Sutton and Welch.  Although a mixed bunch, there was here the basis of a good team: DiVenuto, Cork, Sutton, Welch and Dean are some of the best players to play for Derbyshire in the last thirty years; certainly John Morris would like to have them.  The comparables for 2007 were: Birt, Botha, Dean, Hasan Adnan, Katich, Lungley, Pipe, Smith, Stubbings and Wagg.  What I think is more interesting is that when DH resigned he was followed out of the door by the Australians Birt, Katich and Dighton; also by Botha.  For the last game of the 2007 season against Northants, we were able to field a team of Stubbings, Borrington, Adnan, Smith, Redfern, Klokker, Pipe, Wagg, Clare, Needham and Lungley.

DiVenuto gone.  Cork gone.  Sutton gone.  Welch gone.  Dean near the end of his career.

Given that we have not done a good job of producing our own players for many years, it is crucial that every year - quite apart from overseas players -  the weaker players are released and replaced by stronger players from other counties.  Instead of this, DH seemed to sign players when he felt like it.  For 2004 he added Hunter, Botha, Bryant and Sheikh to the previous year’s last placed team.  For 2005 he added only Andy Gray to the previous year’s 8th placed team. For 2006 he added Jones, Pipe, Smith, Taylor and Wagg, and was rewarded with his best finish.  So for 2007 he added only Weston.  Performances sagged and he left the club; this despite excellent performances by Katich, Wagg, Botha and Lungley

I would go so far as to say that DH left a disintegrating squad for his successor.

The only DH signings still around to start the 2008 season were Smith, Wagg, Pipe and Hunter.  While there is a good deal of quality in this group, they came nowhere near to replacing either the quality or quantity of the players who had gone.  A question that deserves to be asked is: how could DH expect to field a balanced team, when the only batsmen he signed were Chris Taylor and Phil Weston; a pair who had one decent season between them?

For me DH failed, and I think the reason behind his failure is that he didn’t fully understand the nature of the challenge facing him at Derbyshire. He allowed weak players too much time with the club, did not build any momentum for improvement, and left a weak and unbalanced team for his successor.
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Joined: 14 Jan 2008
Posts: 265

Location: Scotland

PostPosted: Tue Jan 18, 2011 10:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent post, well thought out. I agree that DH needed to realise that by dint of finance, Derbyshire are always likely to be a team in evolution. As players come in and build a reputation, other counties will covet and sign them, meaning they need to be replaced.
Its not ideal but its the way of things. JM has done a good job in recruiting fresh talent each winter, but knows that is an annual task.

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