Century up for skipper while Tiara shines as county boost promotion bid
DERBYSHIRE have emerged as unlikely County Championship Division One promotion candidates – thanks to a blend of youth and experience.
Captain Kristian Roebuck earned his 100th cap in the latest round of matches – at the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes – while rising star Tiara Samuel won two of her three women's singles matches.
Samuel and fellow Derbyshire Institute of Sport-backed junior Dan Hong gained valuable experience, in the company of senior players like former Great Britain ace Donna Kellogg.
A win and two draws have lifted Derbyshire up to third in the table, ahead of the next round of fixtures in March.
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They started with a 5-5 draw against Buckinghamshire, who currently lie second.
Bucks took three of the four singles matches but doubles wins for Roebuck and James Boxall and Donna and Leah Kellogg kept Derbyshire in the hunt.
They then triumphed in the two mixed doubles matches to secure a share of the spoils – Donna Kellogg teaming up with Lee Clapham and Roebuck partnering wife Rachel.
Next up were league leaders Essex, who led 4-0 after the singles.
However, Derbyshire dug in to win five of the six remaining rubbers to clinch another draw.
Boxall and Roebuck won their men's doubles, as did Clapham and Simon Shaw.
Leah Kellogg and Tracy Parker were edged out in three sets but Donna Kellogg and Rachel Roebuck came from behind to take their match 21-16 in a decider.
Clapham and Donna Kellogg cruised to victory in their mixed doubles but the final match was not so straightforward.
The Roebucks lost their opening set 21-14 to Daniel Chipperfield and Karina Bye but took the next one 21-15 to level things up.
The Derbyshire duo were 18-10 in the decider but managed to string together nine points on the trot before running out 21-19 winners.
Irish side Leinster provided the opposition for Derbyshire's third and final match of the weekend.
Jon Bishop, back from injury, was unlucky to lose his singles match in three sets.
But Samuel produced the best performance of her young career to beat Aisling Ryan 21-13, 22-24, 21-12.
That result gave Derbyshire a big lift as they bid turn around a 3-1 deficit going into the doubles.
Those rubbers followed a familiar pattern as they took five out of six to wrap up the victory.
"It was an awesome weekend for us," said skipper Roebuck.
"We knew that this round of matches would be far tougher than the last as we were up against the top two teams in the league and a Leinster side who have some Irish international players in their squad, so it was a daunting challenge.
"The weekend provided some quality moments of badminton throughout the entire squad.
"Our doubles players were very strong and provided valuable points on the board but it was also noticeable that our singles players are starting to make giant steps and are looking like real contenders in their matches also.
"Dan Hong put in two man-sized efforts against Nathan Rice and Scott Evans – both senior international players.
"Jon Bishop also looked impressive after missing the first round of matches due to injury.
"Tiara Samuel won two of her three singles and was named player of the match for her superb three-set victory over the Leinster number one – a great result for a very promising young player.
"Leah Kellogg also played well in her matches and gave 100% throughout."
Roebuck admits he has now slightly altered his expectations for the season – and has not ruled out a push to reach the Premiership.
"At the start of the season, I said that our aim was survival and chances of promotion were slim to none," he added.
"I couldn't have been more wrong – the team has performed excellently and grown in spirit and togetherness.
"Everyone is enjoying playing and that makes a difference.
"It will still be difficult to finish in the top two and earn promotion but there is a sizeable opportunity there for us to take – we just have to be gutsy and go for it."
Roebuck described his personal landmark of reaching 100 appearances for the county as a "proud" moment.
He said: "I've loved playing for Derbyshire and look forward to continuing to do so for some time yet – or until the young guns starting knocking me out of the team. I'd be happy to see that!"