This is the first in a series I will run over the winter, each focusing on a young Derbyshire player with the potential to go far. Each can be a key member in a side that could see the resurgence of the county fortunes.
There is no order of merit, nor is it alphabetical. But let’s start with A for the sake of convention…
Ben Aitchison is my kind of cricketer.
For one thing, in an age when sports stars are increasingly demonstrative, he isn’t. In watching him celebrate a wicket, I’m often taken back to the footage of Jim Laker, celebrating each of his 19 wickets against Australia in 1956. Jim’s excitement was demonstrated, at best, with a clap of his hands and the hitching up of his trousers. It was a reaction of its age, a man simply doing the job that he was paid to do.
Today’s ‘celebrappeal’ appalls me. Bowler striking the pad, running down the wicket arms aloft, nary a backwards glance to the umpire to see if it is actually out. Then the ‘teapot’ of indignance when the finger isn’t raised. Yes I’m talking about Stuart Broad as a prime example, but there are others and I don’t like it. Time enough for that kind of thing when the umpire raises his finger. I guess I am getting old..
Ben will turn to the umpire and if the decision is the one that he wants will look down and clench and shake his fists in celebration as he walks towards the slip cordon. Nowt exaggerated or fancy, just a young man doing his job. In the words of the old disco classic, that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it..He might occasionally ‘push the boat out’ with an upraised arm, but that is as far as it goes.
He is a bowler of vast potential and Lancashire’s loss is very much Derbyshire’s gain. A back injury last winter ruled him out of the early part of the summer, a stress fracture thankfully not sustained in bowling and therefore easier to heal.
He still missed the first half of the summer, too much from a Derbyshire perspective. A time when seam bowlers were dropping like flies and a revolving door of less satisfactory replacements were coming in for matches here and there.
Ben will have been pleased to see his team mates, George Scrimshaw and Sam Conners, earn call-ups for England Lions, but will likely have realised that bar for injury that could just as easily have been him.
He is that good. More than any other of the current young crop of Derbyshire bowlers – and there are some talented ones in there – he is the Mr Reliable. There may be an occasional ball that slips down leg side, but more often than not the batman has to play, has to handle the challenge of the moving ball and make a decision. That control has been even better this season, since he cut down his run up. I am unaware of any major difference that it has made to his pace, but as many fine bowlers over the years will tell you, speed isn’t everything and the subtleties of line, length and control are the things that frustrate and ultimately dismiss a batsman. Darren Stevens, Tom Cartwright, Derek Shackleton, Don Shepherd – how many examples do you want? There are plenty in the great Derbyshire lineage.
Were you to compare him to a local hero of yesteryear It would probably be Mike Hendrick. Another bowler capable of long spells, accurate and moving it around to the detriment of opposition batting lineups. Hendo was a good slip fielder too and also had a good arm. It is unusual to see a quick bowler in the slip cordon, but Ben has held some good catches this year and the days of your quick bowler fielding at third man or fine leg, not required to dive around and using their foot to stop the ball are gone forever.
He is no mug with a bat either. I do take issue with those who have asserted that Derbyshire have three number elevens, because Ben is better than that. Supporters will remember his bucolic half century in a losing cause against Nottinghamshire a couple of seasons back, but he has also shown that he can hang in there in support of an established batsman. He favours a whippy stroke off his legs and I think he can improve still further with the bat in his hands. There’s a steady number eight in there, with time and hard work
But it is as a bowler that he will make his name. 60 first class wickets at 26 is a solid start to his career, but the first of those figures will rise rapidly while the second continues to drop. The likely first choice seam quartet for Derbyshire next year is Aitchison, Lakmal, Chappell and Conners. I’m not sure if they will all take the field together, but at their best there will be plenty of batsmen with sleepless nights before facing them. It will be interesting to see who gets the new ball, but Ben rarely wastes it and would be a very strong candidate.
An affable lad from a lovely and successful sporting family, he won’t get carried away by success, nor get too down on the occasional bad days that affect all sports people.
But if I am any judge of a cricketer, I reckon there will be many more of the former over the next decade.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.