Ben Cotton has joined the exodus of young players from Derbyshire as the county continues to slash the numbers in its first-team squad in an effort to lift expectations.
Kim Barnett, Derbyshire’s cricket advisor, has overseen the departure of seven players in the close-season, including four young seam bowlers who were once presented as being central to Derbyshire’s future but failed to make a major impact.
Only the loss of Shiv Thakor, one of the most talented players on their books, was beyond Derbyshire’s control as they released him with immediate effect in November, less than a week after he was found guilty of two accounts of sexual exposure.
Derbyshire are down to 14 first-team players, with back-up from a small academy intake, and are actively pursuing an overseas pace bowler to supplement their numbers. They failed to win a Championship match in 2016 but after Barnett returned to the club won three last season and almost qualified for the quarter-finals of the T20 Blast.
Barnett is unapologetic about raising the expectations for young players, believing that a large staff with limited opportunities, and equally limited expectations, is a problem.
“I think the size of the staff has been an issue,” he said. “If you have 23 players and can’t give a number of them opportunities, that’s a problem. If you have others who have had opportunities and not made it, then that is also an issue.
“We’re now down to more manageable numbers, not only to give people opportunities, but also for the finances moving forward.”
Cotton, who was in the final year of his contract, signed his first professional deal with Derbyshire in 2014, featuring in 20 first-class fixtures for the club and taking 37 wickets. He also appeared in 29 one-day matches and 18 T20 games, taking 32 and 20 wickets respectively.
Derbyshire’s academy has yet to prove itself a reliable provider of county cricketers of repute. Last season Alex Hughes became only the second graduate to win a county cap since the academy was formed in 2003.
Barnett added: “The ECB have long been looking at the success of English academies, but in many respects we were ahead of that by bringing 14, 15 and 16-year-olds into our Academy with a view to developing them into first-team players.
“By 20 or 21, you need to then be genuinely pushing for a first-team place and then going on to become a capped player. Alex Hughes is the current example of the type of success you want, trained up, in the first-team and then he earned his cap. We need to do more of that.”