Alex Hughes - Derbyshire cricketer looks forward to the new season
- Credit: Archant
Alex Hughes, talented graduate of the Cricket Derbyshire Academy and 2017 Player of the Season, can’t wait for play to start again, writes Nigel Powlson
AS Derbyshire’s cricketers complete pre-season training there is every reason for optimism at the 3aaa County Ground. 2017 saw an uplift in the county’s fortunes with a T20 quarter-final, only the second time Derbyshire has made it to this stage in the short form of the game, and the County Championship season ending with back-to-back victories.
That compares with a 2016 season in which Derbyshire failed in all three formats and ended up bottom of the County Championship Second Division without a win to their name.
The improvement last season was most noticeable in the T20 Blast, with Derbyshire finishing second in their group just one point behind fierce rivals the Notts Outlaws after winning eight games. That secured a home quarter final, with Derbyshire going out to Hampshire after an incredible 42-ball century from Shahid Afridi took the game out of reach.
But the confidence gained from the T20 competition permeated through to the red ball game and that final flourish in the County Championship.
Pivotal in all three formats was Derbyshire’s Player of the Season Alex Hughes. The 26-year-old all-rounder who has come through the academy ranks at the county was rewarded for his best year yet with his county cap and a three-year deal that takes him until the end of the 2020 season.
Alex featured in every County Championship fixture scoring 800 runs, he also topped the batting averages in the 50-over format (scoring more than 350 runs) and was a part of that T20 success in which his fielding prowess was another asset to Derbyshire. Not surprisingly, he can’t wait for the 2018 season to start.
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He said: ‘There has always been optimism at the club and especially myself as I’m a positive person. Last year something clicked for us in T20 and we got to the quarter finals and, with the signings we have made, 2018 is now looking very exciting and I can’t wait to get started.
‘Cricket is a fickle game and T20 in particular and it only takes a special performance from someone to win the match. We had Wayne Madsen, who scored over 500 runs in the competition, and Luis Reece, who hadn’t played much T20 cricket before but stepped up and won us games, and everyone else chipped in. Having those kind of performances is what made the difference.’
Sadly for Derbyshire it was an exceptional performance from a world class player that ended the dream of a trip to T20 finals day. Alex said: ‘It was quite good to watch Afridi to be fair. He hit the ball as cleanly as I saw all year. When he came out to open the batting I thought “Oh, no” as I prefer to see him down at seven or eight as he can influence the game far more from the start. You have to take a deep breathe when he comes out and hope it doesn’t come off for him... but unfortunately it did.
‘I think we did gain confidence from the T20 competition, you get that when you are winning games. You have that extra edge, that winning feeling and it takes pressure off you, so perhaps that did transfer to the County Championship.’
Alex was naturally delighted with the progress he made in 2017. ‘My target was to play every game and to be part of all the teams in red ball and white ball cricket. I knew if I could manage that then my season must be going pretty well. It’s hard to set yourself a runs target as we play on some dodgy pitches sometimes, some green wickets, so if you look purely at runs that is not representative of how well you are playing. The fact that I stayed in the team all year and then got rewarded with a couple of big scores means I was very happy.’
Gaining your county cap is every young cricketer’s ambition and Alex was delighted with achieving that in 2017: ‘It was a really nice surprise. Getting my county cap was very special, being part of the history of the club will stick with me forever.’
Alex’s bowling took a backseat to his batting last season, but he hopes to get more overs in the future. ‘When I came into the team I was playing more as an all-rounder and I bowled a lot more. Last year I had less of an opportunity. But I see myself as an all-rounder and I hope as I do get more experience that my bowling might come into it a bit more, but I do whatever I can to get in the team so if they want me as batsman or a bowler I’m happy.’
For 2018 Alex is again looking to play every game and help Derbyshire build on the progress made in 2017. ‘I will need to keep injury-free, which is sometimes easier said than done but that’s the plan. If we can get to the knockout stages in the white ball competitions this season than you never know what’s going to happen in a one-off game. Hopefully, we can make progress in at least one of the white ball competitions.
‘With the red ball it’s all about momentum so if we get a good start to the season then you can easily be in the hunt for promotion. But we won’t get carried away and as cliched as it sounds will take each game as it comes... and you never know what will happen.’
Alex also knows that he is a firm part of Derbyshire’s plans for at least the next three years after signing his new contract. ‘I have been very lucky that Derbyshire has offered me a substantial contract and it’s now my turn to repay that faith they have in me and show all Derbyshire that I’m worthy of it and that I can help to win games and trophies, ultimately, as that is what you look back on at the end of your career. If I can win trophies with my home club that will be very special.’
A cricket career was always the dream for Alex from the first time picked up a bat. He said: ‘It was always cricket – from the moment I started playing in the garden with my dad and brother I was cricket mad from the age of five or six. I was 13 when I started with the academy and then it was four or five years before I signed my first summer contract, so it has always been about cricket and there was no other option. My dad was a keen cricketer and my brother was contracted to Derbyshire for a bit until injuries stopped his progress and he had to retire very early after three stress fractures in his back.
‘I also always look back at the 2005 Ashes series as being the big inspiration for me to play the game professionally as that was so brilliant to watch. And away from that, watching Jacques Kallis (the South African all-rounder) who is the best cricketer to have played the game in my opinion.’
And has the life of a professional cricketer lived up to expectations for Alex? ‘I’m very fortunate to be able to do the thing I love. I have a lot of friends who are probably jealous of what I do and see how happy I am, so I have to make sure I don’t take it for granted and just enjoy every day I can play.’
Alex is also pleased that Derbyshire is developing off the field as well as on it. He said: ‘From when I started with the academy the difference in the ground is ridiculous. Every year they seem to add to it and make it look better. The new media centre is fantastic and it’s a really good club which is continually going forward.
‘We are now going into a season with a lot more expectation than previously. I think last year we showed the cricketing world what Derbyshire can do, and I hope that we can continue to prove people wrong because we are still a small club, but ultimately winning trophies is what I and the club want to do and hopefully we can achieve that.’
DERBYSHIRE FIXTURES 2018
Derbyshire’s first County Championship game begins on 20th April when Middlesex are the visitors to the 3aaa County Ground.
The One-Day Cup begins in May with the first home fixture taking place on Wednesday 23rd May when Derbyshire take on Durham.
The T20 Blast begins on Friday, 6th July, with Lancashire coming to the 3aaa County Ground.
Tickets and more information from www.derbyshireccc.com or by calling 01332 388 101.