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Cricket news - Being Dernbach in the age of The Hundred
"I'm not going to be told to get excited about something and jump on-board with something I know nothing about."
There are not many signs that Jade Dernbach is growing old. His face is still fresh, and there is no hint of grey in his perfectly coiffed hair which, to this day, remains a feat of engineering. Those tattoos that disappear under his sleeves are still as vibrant and may even have been given a touch-up over the years to maintain their clarity. Even his on-field demeanour has not changed much. Sure, he is Surrey's 50-over and Twenty20 captain now, but the passion remains, complete with vociferous celebrations.
There is one tell though: his words. And it is on the subject of the Hundred that he speaks clearly and with maturity on what the introduction of the new format in 2020 will mean for the wider game and its inhabitants.
Surrey have been the most vocal critic of the 18 counties towards the Hundred. Threats have been made in private by ECB chairman Colin Graves to exclude the Oval from being one of the eight host venues for the new teams and the odd volley has been returned with interest. While the niggling at boardroom level will continue a year out, Dernbach has genuine concern at the manner in which it was brought through and the implications for those most vulnerable.
"I think what gets me about the Hundred," muses Dernbach, "is that, you know, it could be a success. The cricket on the field could be entertaining and attract new fans. But I'm not going to be told to get excited about something and jump on-board with something I know nothing about. I wouldn't do that with any other facet of my life. That's ludicrous."
"When it is all being done, in my opinion, behind closed doors, without consulting us, and then suddenly gets forced onto our plates - that's an issue for me. As players, we had a right to have a say on it. It really felt like they were trying to force this thing down our throat."
"OK, so let's talk about money, because that's what they're saying, right? That we're all going to be better off for it. This new billion-pound TV deal, the money coming to the counties, and so on. The minute people dangle money, they do it to make you dance. And in the modern world, sure, that is fine. We could do with some facts. Show me some research.
"When this eventually plays out, it looks like it will be great for England players because the ECB are controlling it and they're guaranteed a contract because they are the stars. That's fine. Of course they will favour it. That's just the way things are.
"Then there are the youngsters, with a move to a new minimum pay. I'm definitely all for that as some of the wages around the counties for up-and-coming talent is really not enough in my opinion. Again, fine."
"But what happens to those in the middle? The people who are probably the performers week in week out, who keep county cricket alive, who county fans and members know and come to grounds to watch. That middle part of county cricket, who have been around for a while, who have got careers behind them - what happens to them? Granted, I'm one of those sat in the middle. But it's important for those people to be taken care of.
"So until I see evidence to suggest that everybody is benefiting, then I remain sceptical."
With that, Dernbach sits back in his chair. In the time he has put his case across, a handful of his Surrey teammates have drifted in and out of the team dining room where this conversation is taking place, including Gareth Batty. The veteran spinner taps Dernbach on the shoulder as he approaches crescendo in his speech, then gestures with a nod and raised eyebrow as if to say, "he's good, isn't he?"
Dernbach, now 33, has made these points to the Players Cricket Association (PCA) in various meetings that have taken place to inform and assuage doubts English cricketers have over the Hundred. His points are certainly ones he has raised before in more formal settings, but there was little else pre-planned about this particular monologue. Especially given it arose from a question relating to social media.
He is not as active as he once was, but in February and March of this year he sent out a few Tweets in response to discussions about the landscape in 2020 from fellow players. All insightful, all contributing to worthwhile discussion. But the real takeaway: scrolling through the thread and seeing fans praising Dernbach. He laughs: "I don't really go on there much, but when I do put something out there it is because it's something I truly care about. I suppose people respond to that well."
So here we are then - Dernbach the Diplomat. His love of the game has not diminished but, as he approaches what he sees as the final straight of his career, there are other areas in which he believes he can make a difference.
The right-arm seamer and his box of tricks played 24 ODIs and 34 T20Is for England. Last year gave him his first Championship title - Surrey's first since 2002 - playing 10 matches and taking 32 wickets at 29.03. "I loved it," he beams. "I feel like I've experienced different in-game scenarios multiple times. Whereas with the red ball last year going for the Championship, having never been involved with that. It provided me with a thrill I've not had for a very long time."
The ambition to press on with a title defence will help the pursuit of that thrill once more. But the 2019 season also saw Dernbach unexpectedly confront his own mortality with the awarding of a Benefit Year.
"You don't ever really take stock about how long you've been somewhere until something like this comes around," he says. "You just roll from season to season, do your thing. When the club came to me and said they were awarding me a benefit year, it was truly something quite special because I've been here a long time. And I've only seen two or three guys get a testimonial. So that means something to me.
"I still feel so young in my heart and with so much to give cricket wise... then you get a testimonial and it's a Catch 22 emotionally. You're very happy to have it but then equally, it almost signals that your career is coming to an end. I'm getting there: it's about setting up the next phase of my life."
So what does the next phase entail? As per above, a role with the PCA is something that interests them and would surely benefit them. He sights his career CV as ideal for the changing landscape of the game: he has been an international, county and franchise bowler, and appreciates the challenges that arise with each. Take, for example, his views on players signing white ball only contracts, a cabal he may well join in the future.
"A lot depends on how the Hundred turns out with regards to white ball only contracts at the moment - certainly ones you might sign for longer than a year. If that competition is a success and the money is there and we're signing long-term deals, then it certainly becomes an option, especially with still playing Twenty20 with our counties.
"The thing, though, is with those deals you're limiting the amount of cricket you play, especially from next season. If you're in the Hundred, you're not playing the 50-over comp, so you're only playing the Hundred and T20. It depends how financially viable that becomes. Again, you're going to have long periods of being inactive and it takes a special kind of player to be able to do that and turn it on. I think you'd be at risk of doing yourself and your franchise a disservice.
"Obviously, you're then going to look to make up money in other competitions around the world, but that is such a fickle existence, isn't it? There are coaches who do multiple competitions, who lean on various agents. Sometimes it works for you, but if you're not in that bubble, it can be very difficult to make a living off those franchise competitions.
"For me, I think I'm going to have to start phasing out my winter cricket. I need to give myself the chance to recover, especially if I keep playing four-day cricket. It's getting a lot harder, I can't just keep going. Every bowler has a certain amount of balls they're going to bowl in their career."
Thankfully for Surrey, Dernbach believes he has plenty more balls to send down, particularly as he looks to secure the one that got away. Last season's Championship medal joined a CB40 one from 2011. Yet, since picking up the inaugural English T20 competition in 2003, the club have failed to win another. The closest they have come recently is 2013, when they were defeated by Northants Steelbacks in the final. All this effort with nothing to show for it despite the number of marquee overseas signings and homegrown T20 talent the club have had at their disposal.
"I can't really give you an actual reason as to why we haven't been competing in Twenty20. Speaking on last year, I think we were found wanting in the big moments. We put ourselves under pressure to win the last three or four games in a row and then rely on other results. T20 is a volatile format when you're working with your own form, so it's extra precarious when you're worrying about someone else's.
"With our overseas players, Jason Roy and young talent like Popey (Ollie Pope) and Will Jacks, there's something there for every batting situation, whether up top or needing to go from ball one with only eight remaining. Signing Liam Plunkett and Jordan Clark gives us that little extra with the ball, too.
"For me as a captain, it's my responsibility to ensure when players get to situations, the know what they need to do to be effective. Then it just come down to are we good enough?"
Perhaps naturally, the conversation turns back to the advancing years and what Dernbach would like his legacy to be. Or rather, what he would like to reflect on - what would constitute success when he looks back on his career when those greys finally break through, the tattoos lose their shine and the competitive fire is all but out.
"I think I realise individual milestones mean nothing really at this stage of my career. I've played enough cricket that I'm not going to drastically change my facts and figures. I'd say they tell a good story of the kind of bowler I am.
"But winning trophies: that's what makes difference when you or anyone else looks back on your career to determine how successful it was. In the next few years, I have the opportunity to win things for Surrey to be remembered here with a bunch of guys that won things. We've got a real opportunity as a side to leave a mark."
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