Ben Slater - Derbyshire County Cricket Club batsman
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Derbyshire Life meets batsman Ben Slater and reports on the latest developments at the club
FOR Derbyshire’s top order batsman Ben Slater, the annual Festival of Cricket at Chesterfield is a true family affair. His mum, dad and grandparents are all likely to play a part in making the feast of cricket at Queen’s Park a big success for Derbyshire.
Ben was born and raised in Chesterfield so for him, playing there is one of the major highlights of the season.
‘Without a doubt,’ he says. ‘I played all my cricket from the age of seven or eight in Chesterfield. To go out and represent my county is a great honour but to also do that on my home ground makes it even more special.
‘It’s also very picturesque on a sunny day with all the trees surrounding it, the crooked spire in the background – I think it’s pretty special.
‘Going up there for a week and making it a festival is also something different.’
Ben is surrounded by family and friends at Queen’s Park. He says: ‘With it being my home ground everyone behind the bar, doing the teas for the lads and all around the ground I know personally. My dad is usually behind the bar, my grandad and grandma run the tea bar, mum is doing the teas. It’s a family affair but when we go up there they volunteer to help out like a lot of people do.
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‘Even when I’m fielding on the boundary, there is usually someone in the crowd behind me who I know.’
As a batsman, Ben also enjoys playing at Queen’s Park.
‘It’s a fast scoring ground,’ he says. ‘The wickets are generally good, especially when we get there in June and July when it has dried out a bit and the ball runs away to the boundary pretty quickly, which makes it good for a batsman like me to play on.’
A Cricket Derbyshire Academy graduate, Ben signed a two-year contract at the end of the 2014 campaign. The left-handed batsman was a Derbyshire age group player from under-13 upwards. He made his Second XI debut in 2009 – and notched up 12 half-centuries and two hundreds in his first 60 matches at that level.
In the 2013 county cricket season, he made five 50s and two centuries in 19 matches for the Second XI which earned him a call-up into the senior side.
In his debut LV= County Championship Division One campaign, Ben scored 335 runs.
In 2014 he cemented his place at the top of the order. He hit 646 runs in seven first-class appearances at an average of 46.14. He also became only the 16th Derbyshire player to hit back-to-back centuries in a first-class fixture, hitting 104 and 119 in successive innings against Leicestershire. Ben featured in 14 of the 16 LV= County Championship fixtures in 2015 and struck seven half-centuries as he accumulated 779 runs.
This summer his target is to make 1,000 runs and to help Derbyshire make progress in all three formats of the game.
He says: ‘I think that’s what you look for going into the season and the white ball game is a big target for me this year. I approach every season with an open mind and want to be part of the 50 over and T20 squads as well.’
Still only 24, Ben believes he’s improving year-on-year. ‘I feel I’m twice the player now that I was when I scored those two hundreds against Leicestershire. I think you have to learn to take the rough with the smooth and keep improving. I made my debut relatively late so in terms of experience I still have a way to go but every new season I think my game has come on.’
After a modest season for the club in 2015, Ben thinks Derbyshire could improve significantly this year.
‘We will go out there and try to win every game. When we set foot on the field that will be our mindset. We have a bit more experience this year and I don’t see why we can’t challenge in all three forms of the game. We were only 10 runs away from a quarter final spot in the T20 so we weren’t far off.
‘We want to improve in the Championship as that was disappointing last year but I think we will be competitive in 2016.’
The squad went out to the UAE for some pre-season training that Ben believes was important for the players, despite some uncharacteristic bad weather at the start of the trip.
He says: ‘We started training back in November. So by the time March came around the lads had had five months indoors and were chomping at the bit to get outside and have a change of scenery. That really refreshed everyone and it sets you up for when you get back.
‘The first two days the weather was shocking. I had never seen anything like the storms but after that it brightened up, got hotter and we managed to get in four games in four days. It was very high intensity and stood us in good stead when we started the season.’
The benefits of the UAE in spring will hopefully translate to summer success in Derbyshire with the week in Chesterfield being a highlight for Ben.
He says: ‘It attracts a different target market, people who can’t get down to Derby week-in, week-out. It’s a chance for people in the north of the county to see some first class cricket on their doorstep and as we always play Yorkshire at Chesterfield it brings a lot of people from across the border for that game. It’s great to see 4,500 packed in for the T20 – it’s really special.’
WITH Derbyshire in the black for the fifth year running, membership and ticket sales on the up and the 3aaa County Ground having had £3.4m worth of improvements, there is plenty for the cricket club to be pleased about in 2016.
The club recorded a surplus of £15,588 for the financial year ending December 2015 on the back of a record turnover.
Membership and ticket sales were up by 20 per cent on 2014, while commercial income grew by nearly 30 per cent to pass the half million pound mark for the first time.
Commercial director Ryan Duckett says the club is definitely moving in the right direction.
He said: ‘Our challenge is to bring in as much income as we can so that we can invest in the cricket and help bring success to the county and create a feel-good factor. Increasing our revenue in the last couple of years enabled us to invest in the squad and in the development of home grown players and that will hopefully bring success in the long term and also create a sustainable first class county team.
‘We aren’t one of the biggest counties and several of our competitors have international cricket and the revenues that come with that.
‘What we have done is focus on bringing other types of events to the County Ground and we have plans over the next few months and years to bring in other events to fill that gap between us and other counties.’
In terms of bringing in more spectators, Derbyshire have enjoyed success despite not having the magnet of a promotion push in the County Championship or a white-ball trophy success.
Ryan says: ‘The focus has been on providing an outstanding customer experience – not only through the service we provide on a match day but by investing in our facilities as well. Over the last few years we have invested £3.4m in the ground. We are improving the customer experience and that is having an impact on the way we have grown our crowds – and hopefully this year there will be further improvements.’
Ryan also believes the success of the England team in reaching the final of the T20 World Cup will have a positive impact on Derbyshire in 2016.
‘The recent World Cup shows the excitement provided by that format and we are hoping to have some really good crowds this season,’ he says.
‘It’s beneficial to all the counties when England are doing well – we feel the impact of having a strong England side, from more people playing the game to wanting to watch cricket as well.
‘We are committed to developing players here and we would also like to add to the England side over the next few years with some home-grown talent.’
Ryan is also looking forward to taking cricket to Chesterfield again in 2016.
‘The Custom Solar Festival of Cricket really is one of the highlights of our calendar. It’s fantastically attended and it’s great to be playing in other parts of the county. We also get people in from outside the county as they come to the festival because Queen’s Park is such an iconic venue and many high profile people have said over the years that it’s the most beautiful ground they have ever played at.’