By Sam Dalling
Derbyshire assistant coach Steve Kirby has revealed his relief at making it back to the UK in the nick of time before the Covid-19 crisis took full grip.
This time last month the Falcons’ squad had just out to Zimbabwe ahead of a three-week, six match pre-season extravaganza.
But with just a solitary t20 fixture against a Zimbabwe Select XI completed, and the virus spreading rapidly throughout the globe, the squad were faced with being stranded on foreign soil if they failed to act decisively.
And the 42-year-old – who also heads up the club’s bowling department – explained how it was a case of putting heads over hearts and heading home while they still could;
“We were out there doing some amazing stuff – we went to Victoria Falls, visited an antelope park, fed lions and went on a Zambizee cruise”, he told The Cricket Paper.
“It was such a difficult position as we didn’t really understand how significant this thing was.
“Everyone was getting messages from back home about how serious the situation was looking and so we sat down had a big team meeting.
“Of course, it was disappointing but cricket has to go on the backburner at times like this.
“The most important thing was to get everyone home safely and back to their families.
“We moved heaven and earth to do that as quickly as possible, and once we touched down the whole thing snowballed inside five or six days.
“I’m just glad we got back when we did”.
Derbyshire should have spent the Bank Holiday weekend applying to finishing touches to their preparations for Wednesday’s now abandoned curtain raiser against Durham MCCU.
But with life having changed beyond belief in just a few short weeks, the gates to the Incora County Ground are set to remain locked for the foreseeable future.
At this stage, it’s impossible to predict when, or indeed if, covers will be removed and sightscreens erected.
One thing is for sure though; a there will need to be a gap between cricket getting the green light and the sound of bat on willow ringing out once more.
While general fitness levels can be maintained, there’s no substitute for match sharpness – particularly for those who ply their trade with ball in hand.
Locked out of his club email account, and barred from formally coaching his pack of pacemen, Kirby believes at least a month of training is required before any action gets underway:
“There are only a few strength and conditioning coaches and physios still working,” he explained.
“The players have been doing brilliantly keeping fitness levels high, but as a coaching team it will be our job to get them back up to speed.
“Ideally to get a bowler ready for four-day cricket you need 10 weeks to build up their chronic load – the number of overs you can bowl in a day.
“It’s a bit like marathon training in that you need to taper up and taper down with the aim that they can get through 30 overs in a day.
“It may be that we only need to get them ready for white ball stuff, but even that will take four to six weeks.”
As well as not knowing when the 2020 season will get underway, there is also little certainty as to how the Summer will eventually take shape.
Spectator-less venues, shortened competitions and extending the season into October have all been mooted.
England team director Ashley Giles has even suggested the Three Lions could be competing on several fronts simultaneously, with separate test and ODI squads playing at different venues.
What all this means is that each of the 18 first class counties are facing up to the very real prospect of a summer without any gate receipts.
Should the worst happen, TV rights holders might even try to withhold payment – a prospect that will doubtless have CEOs across the land waking up in a cold sweat.
In a move designed to try and combat these potentially crippling financial consequences, the PCA last week gave its blessing to the use of the Government’s new job saving scheme in professional cricket.
That enabled clubs throughout the country – Derbyshire included – to take the unprecedented step of furloughing the lions share of cricketing staff with immediate effect.
But despite the testing times, Kirby believes his county will bounce back post-pandemic, heaping praise on the way the club has gone about its business in the face of adversity.
“The Chief Executive Ryan Duckett has been absolutely fantastic – the whole board have been in fact,” he explained.
“They’ve been brilliant at keeping lines of communication open and in the way that they’ve spoken.
“It would have been easy for them to only give everyone 80% of their salary but they’ve committed to topping it up to 100% which I think it is a very strong move – we are all very grateful for that.
“Ryan’s commercial acumen and the way the Club has banded us together has put us in a strong financial position.”
Once play does get underway, the former England A star will be able to call upon the services of paceman Michael Cohen.
In a departure from the club’s policy of bringing on home grown talent, the 21-year old quick was snapped by Derbyshire having impressed for South African outfit Western Province.
Having tested himself in English conditions while appearing for Nottinghamshire 2nd XI last April, the left-armer – who has an EU passport – was ruled out for the remainder of 2019 through injury.
But that didn’t deter Kirby who is hopeful that the man he invited into his family home earlier in the year, can provide his side with the X Factor:
“When he first came over, I invited him to live with me. He needed somewhere to stay and I wanted to build a relationship with him,” he explained.
“Trust takes years to build up but it can be lost in minutes – I wanted to let him know that I will be there for him”, he explained.
“It goes against the club’s philosophy – bringing on local lads is a huge priority for us – but this guy bowls 90 mph plus and will give us the X-Factor.
“We needed someone who can lift us when things go flat, and he will do that with his pace and yorkers.”