Friday, 3 July 2020

In My Mind's Eye Number 9: Garnet Lee (1887-1976)

There have been times, certainly in the years that I have watched Derbyshire, when the recruitment of players in their late thirties has rebounded badly.

Perhaps the same thoughts were entertained when the county signed Garnet Lee from Nottinghamshire at the end of the 1922 season. He was 35 years old and had to spend two years qualifying, before making his debut. So it was 1925 when the soon to be 38-year old made his debut and expectations will have been limited. He had struggled to hold down a regular place at Trent Bridge, despite being on the staff there since 1910. He was primarily a batsman, but the intervention of the Great War and limited his impact, despite opportunity. He had just started to find his best form in 1913 and 1914, but failed to recapture that in the first seasons after the conflict.

Yet even on his debut for Derbyshire, against Northamptonshire, it was noted by the watching press that he appeared to be 'the quality of opening batsman that Derbyshire had lacked for many seasons.' He made only 27 runs, but it was the way in which he made them that was important. He may have been senior in years, but at a time when young batsmen like Worthington, Townsend and Hutchinson were emerging, he gave them the requisite experience that was to aid their development.

His first season was a triumph, seeing him make a thousand runs for the first time, as well as taking wickets with leg spin and googlies that had been seldom used before. He was to go on and score a thousand runs six times in his nine seasons with the county, to go with almost 400 wickets in his first-class cricket career.

He produced a string of outstanding performances. In 1926 he scored 191 against Kent, as well as taking five wickets in an innings on four occasions. In 1927 he produced an outstanding individual display against Northamptonshire, when an unbeaten century was followed by bowling figures of 7-78 and 5-65.  A forcing batsman, he hit eight sixes in one century against Northamptonshire and supporters enjoyed watching a player who took the attack to the opposition, encouraging others to do so by his example. Reports reflect on the 'glory' of his driving and the 'sheer pleasure of watching bat put to ball in such a manner'. After years of struggle, it contributed to an exciting side, with Worthington and Townsend each contributing their own measured aggression to an increasingly potent mix.

His final season was in 1933, when the averages dropped a little and at 45 he was no longer the force that he had been. Even so, there was a century against Leicestershire and another against Northamptonshire, the thousand-run mark passed again, despite batting down the order. There were younger players in the wings, however, with Albert Alderman and Denis Smith ready to begin a successful partnership together, Harry Storer another alternative. The team was on the cusp of greatness and Lee had played an important role in its development.

He went onto the first-class umpires list in 1935 and remained on it, around the war, until 1949, when he resigned because of his wife's health. There were coaching engagements too, including a wartime role at Repton School, where he coached the young Donald Carr.

He was a regular visitor to both Trent Bridge and Derby in retirement, always happy to chat about the game and those that he played with and against.

Without doubt a player I would have loved to have known as well as seen, he died at his home at Hawtonville, Newark-on-Trent on 29 February, 1976.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Clarification on the Kolpak situation

So Tim Bresnan didn't end up at Derbyshire, which seemed unlikely all along and has instead got himself a contract at Warwickshire, where he will doubtless offer good value as a sound all-rounder for a few years.

The destination always seemed likely to be a Test ground county, which is, after all, where the money is (and isn't, with all the overheads and fingers crossed of getting a big match) in the current county set up. There are already players moving ahead of next season, with others announcing their retirement from the circuit at truncated season end.

Had Bresnan come to us, he would have been a like for like replacement for Ravi Rampaul, who will finish county cricket at the end of this summer. His Kolpak status cannot be renewed and realistically he is at an age where that would have been a gamble, regardless of the superb summer he had last year. There will be time to write about his contribution to Derbyshire in due course, but hopefully he can give us something to remember him by with his efforts in whatever cricket is played in August and September. We should know that in the near future.

Another player who will be unable to return is Dustin Melton, who like Ravi will be classed as an overseas player with effect from next summer. I feel for him, as he has had no chance to impress in his one-year deal and an ankle operation in the early Spring would have limited his cricket anyway.

However, better news is that both Leus du Plooy and Michael Cohen WILL be able to return in 2021. Both of them have European passports, under the terms of which they will be able to continue to build their careers and reputation in the county game.

Both, I am sure you will agree, will be welcomed back with open arms, We already know plenty about Leus, while Michael's left arm skiddy pace might enliven a few sessions around the country. Crucially, both are young enough to get much better, which promises to be something to keep your eyes on.

Of course, there are other players out of contract this year, most notably Tony Palladino and Matt Critchley. There are doubtless discussions going on with them at present and I am sure we all hope to see them back at Derbyshire in 2021 and beyond.

Whether the financial savings on the contracts of Rampaul and Melton allow for team strengthening is hard to say. County clubs will be mindful of the need to balance the books in a year when not just cricket but also commercial income has been badly hit. I would certainly be wary of suggesting there will be automatic replacements for them, and much will depend on progress in the coming couple of months.

Like the rest of you I am preparing to watch all of my cricket online, whenever it starts and just hope that it won't be too long before our favourites are once more out on the pitch.

Fingers crossed...

Postscript : after this was posted, news came that two overseas players will be permitted in both the RLODC and County Championship next season.

This brings it into line with the Vitality Blast and is presumably where the Kolpak money will be used. 

Friday, 26 June 2020

Interest in Bresnan as Derbyshire play waiting game

Whisper it quietly but we might yet see some county cricket this summer...

With county friendlies being announced around the country at the end of July, the thinking money is that there will be some proper cricket to enjoy from the start of August.

Enjoyed at a distance, it is fair to say, as I see no likelihood of crowds being allowed this summer, so we must all be dependent on the excellent streams around the country, together with whatever coverage Sky can put together of the tournaments played.

Like the rest of you, I will be fascinated to see the fixture lists and hope that I am able to see a lot of what is played, whether working from home or on my days off.

I also understand that the county is interested in acquiring the services of Tim Bresnan, who recently announced that he was leaving Yorkshire at the end of 2020. It will be quite a wrench for the player, who has spent his entire career with the white rose county, but he appears to be looking for a new challenge and would be a fine asset to Derbyshire in 2021 and beyond.

It would be an excellent signing but there will be stiff opposition around the country. If it becomes a bidding war, then he won't be making a short journey south, because we simply cannot compete on those terms. If, however, the player values staying where he is and not moving home, as well as a challenge of taking the club on to the next level, then there will be appeal in the Derbyshire offer.

Other options may well be Durham, also handy for the player, as well as Sussex, where he could link up again with his old county coach, Jason Gillespie.

He will not lack offers, that's for sure.

Presumably our interest suggests that this will be the final year for Ravi Rampaul, who will be 36 when next summer starts. He showed last summer that he was still a force to be reckoned with, but time moves on and two years can make a big difference to a seam bowler. His contract is up at the end of the summer, but it would be surprising to see him return in 2021, especially with Sam Conners and Michael Cohen needing opportunity to allow their undoubted potential to flourish.

His Kolpak status will end with that contract and we have already said that this year's signings for the overseas roles, Ben McDermott and Sean Abbott will return in 2021 (Covid and commitments permitting). 

Postscript: the club has now announced that pre-season training will start next week, with a hoped for season start of the beginning of August. 

Encouraging news! 

Thursday, 25 June 2020

In My Mind's Eye number 8: Bill Bestwick (1875-1938)

In the course of my interviews with the late Walter Goodyear for my second book, the legendary former groundsman told me that he had got to know Bill Bestwick in his later years, when the former county stalwart had a flat overlooking the County Ground at Derby. The thought that with one man I was linked with nineteenth century cricket has stayed with me, just as the tales that Walter told me always will.

I have always felt that if there was ever to be a film made on the life of one Derbyshire-born player, Bestwick would be the likely subject. Had it been done a few years back, I always saw Alan Bates, a Derby man himself and wonderful actor, as perfect for the role as the 'bad boy of Derbyshire cricket'. Because for all of his talents on a cricket field, Bill was an alcoholic and created plenty of problems off of it.

I am so pleased to hear that Mick Pope's biography of the player should see the light of day next year, because it is very much a tale worth telling in all of its entirety, or in every gory detail, if you will.

He was a wonderful bowler and, as described by the former county secretary Will Taylor, 'a great-hearted and very pleasant individual, a wonderful trier - but he had his faults, as a good many of us have and he gave us, through his thirst, some very difficult moments'. Years later the Derbyshire all rounder Les Townsend would recall 'I was always scared of him, but not his bowling. He never bounced them around your ears but he was a fine bowler'.

Mick's book will doubtless tell the many tales of his life in the detail that is warranted, but here I want to recognise his worthy place in the discussions on any great Derbyshire quick bowler.

He was born in 1875 at Tag Hill, Heanor and was working at the pit by the time he was eleven. Later in life he would say that he never felt tired. 'You see, I had plenty of hard work as a youngster and after that, bowling all day in a cricket match feels like nothing.'

He made his county debut in 1898, though continued to work down the pit in the winter as an insurance policy. He developed slowly, like so many others, and took a short run for someone of his pace. It got shorter still in later years, yet he still surprised batsmen with his pace, which was generated by his massive shoulders and physical strength. The photograph that accompanies this article is one of my favourites and he must have been an imposing sight as he ran in for over after over.

In 1900 there were 5 five-wicket innings, 2 ten-wicket matches. He increased this to six in 1902, then ten and eleven in 1905 and 1906, in each of which seasons he passed a hundred wickets. Good judges regarded him as a better bowler than Arnold Warren, who was selected for England, but there were question marks over his fielding, which was never good and his batting, which was even worse. Indeed, in his last 280 first-class innings he failed to reach twenty, his career-highest 39 made in 1900.

Yet as a bowler, he was special. His captains could effectively leave him on to bowl at one end, almost without any sign of tiring. He would bowl in excess of 800 overs a season and was a potent weapon.

Then it all went wrong. His wife died in 1906, leaving him with a son, Robert and the drinking got worse. In 1907 he was charged with manslaughter after a Heanor man, William Brown, attacked him with a carving knife, following a pub argument at the Jolly Colliers Inn there. Brown was later found dead  by 'severance of the main blood vessel of the neck'. Bestwick only learned of it when being treated for cuts and slashes to the face at his brother's house nearby. The account in the Derbyshire Advertiser for February 1 1907 makes for harrowing reading, but it seems clear that the verdict of 'justifiable homicide' was correct, Bestwick acting in self-defence after being attacked and slashed to the face and hands by a man who mistakenly felt he was having an affair with his wife.

In 1909, tired of his excesses, despite 178 wickets in the two preceding seasons, Derbyshire dispensed with his services. A fresh start was called for and after a brief spell as professional at Nelson in the Lancashire League, terminated early because of a breach of discipline, Billy went to South Wales, where he remarried and worked in the colliery, playing for Glamorgan in the Minor Counties in 1914.

That should have been the end of the story, but in 1919 he was invited to return to Derbyshire, with cricketers of ability in short supply after the Great War. He took 90 wickets, but then returned to play for Glamorgan in 1920, before agreeing to another Derbyshire return in 1921.

He was 46 when the 1921 season began. By the end of it, through sheer physical strength and considerable skill he had taken 147 wickets and bowled over 900 overs. Seventeen times he took five wickets in an innings, still and always likely to be a county record. Against Glamorgan at Cardiff he took all ten wickets for only forty runs, he and Tommy Mitchell remaining the only men to do so in the club's rich history.

Despite all of this he was an unreformed character. Arthur Morton was deputed to look after him on the dangerous away trips, but Billy managed to evade him more than once. The game before that was at Bristol and he was rendered incapable by a couple of late night sessions there. He was even considered a doubtful starter at Cardiff, but he declared himself fit and George Buckston, his captain, asked him to open the bowling.

He took a wicket with his fifth ball and clean bowled seven of his victims, taking all ten wickets before lunch in just nineteen overs. While perhaps not understanding the mentality, one can only admire the constitution that allowed that.

He never changed. The following year he was left out of the team at Worcester after another night out, but recovered sufficiently to pay his own way into the ground and barrack his own side. In that year he came close to a hundred wickets again, as he did in 1923. Only in his last two seasons did the haul decline, but he was fifty in 1925, had a season best of 7-20 and still took his 35 wickets at just fifteen runs each.

He enjoyed the company of his son, Robert, in the side of 1922, though his spell in the county game was short and only two games. Thereafter Bill became a first-class umpire, standing in 238 matches including three Tests.

He died on May 2, 1938 at Nottingham General Hospital. Cancer finally claimed the man with the iron constitution and the tributes from around the country were testimony to his talent. Only Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin have exceeded his 1452 wickets for the county. Only Tommy Mitchell and Les Jackson have exceeded his 104 five-wicket hauls. No one is likely to better that 10-40 analysis.

He really was that good, yet modestly recalled late in life 'I just concentrated on making the batsman play and aimed to hit the stumps every time'.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Saturday, 20 June 2020

In My Mind's Eye Number 7: Arthur Morton (1883-1935)

Arthur Morton, from Mellor in the High Peak SOUNDED like a Derbyshire player.

It was his unfortunate lot to be born and become one at a time when we had a side that was as weak as at any point in history, to lose some of his best seasons to the Great War and to die in the December of the year before we became county champions.

All things considered, fate was not favourable to Arthur, but such blunt assertions mask the fact that he was a cricketer of considerable fortitude and ability. As a batsman he was dogged and diligent - you don't do aggression when the next collapse is only a wicket away. He was a man for a crisis, in much the same way that Fred Swarbrook would be years later, the averages similar, though Arthur was a right-hander. He was good enough to score six centuries, as well as 45 half centuries, the scorecards and reports of the period confirming that there was no real surprise in the partial or full resurrection of an innings when he was at the crease. Most of his runs came in front of the wicket, making him a firm fan favourite. He eschewed risk, but a bad ball was punished. He was a firm fan favourite, 'good old Arthur' and he was one of the few certain selections at a dark time in our history.

The Derbyshire batting was brittle, the onus on the bowlers, to give any chance of a win, to take wickets and concede as few runs as possible. That may sound a case of stating the obvious, but in the era after the war, until his retirement in 1926, there were rarely runs to play with. In his first-class career Arthur took 981 wickets and conceded around 2.5 runs per over. There were 63 five-wicket hauls and eleven ten-wicket matches, as he became an opponent to be respected, regardless of the quality of the rest. His partnership with Bill Bestwick, fast medium seam at one end and slow medium off spin at the other, was a precursor to the 'brimstone and treacle' of Bill Copson and Tommy Mitchell that enabled the success of the side a decade or so later. Contemporary reports say that he had 'several variations' with his off spin and he rarely failed to capitalise on favourable conditions.

Indeed, there were occasions when the two WERE the Derbyshire attack, such as at Worcester in 1921. The home side were dismissed for 214 in 95 overs shortly after tea, with Bill bowling 43 and Arthur 42 overs. It was far from a unique instance of Morton going above and beyond the call of duty. In 1914, against Yorkshire at Chesterfield he scored 50 in an all out home total of 68, in scoring 73.53% of the total setting a county record that is still to be beaten.

He made his first appearance in 1903 and there was a slow and steady improvement until he burst forth in 1910. Bestwick had been sacked for misconduct the previous year, leaving the attack even weaker, but Morton took 116 wickets that summer, a figure only previously beaten once in the county history. He chipped in with useful runs too and in the summer before war broke out, in 1914, passed a thousand runs in the season for the first time. There were just too many occasions when we needed another ten like him.

Only in two seasons, one of them 1919 when like everyone else he hadn't played for four years, did his bowling average exceed 23. He took 89 wickets in the awful summer of 1920, when Derbyshire failed to win a match and again took a hundred wickets in 1922. The output was reduced by a motorbike accident in which he suffered broken ribs in 1921, riding as a passenger on the motorbike of Yorkshire's Abe Waddington on the first evening of the fixture between the two sides at Hull. He was ruled out of the rest of the match, as well as several to follow and with Gilbert Curgenven also injured, the second innings amounted to only 23 runs. Bestwick, now returned, gave half of a recent collection to Morton to partially compensate him for lost earnings.

The two were good friends, Morton given the onerous task of keeping Bestwick out of trouble on away trips, a task he appears to have fulfilled with the diligent professionalism of his cricket, if not always with the same success. He was also a talented golfer and billiard player, becoming a respected first-class umpire when his playing days were over.

His bad luck continued in 1924, when his benefit match at Chesterfield was ruined by the weather and he earned 'only a couple of hundred pounds.' It would have been accepted with the shrug of the shoulders that supporters had come to know well.

He died at Mellor after a long illness on December 18, 1935. It was one week after being appointed to the list of umpires for what would become Derbyshire's championship season.

He would have enjoyed that. With 10,813 runs and 966 wickets in the county colours he had established himself as one of its finest all-rounders, as well as one of its most popular cricketers.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Thursday, 11 June 2020

In My Mind's Eye number 6: William Storer (1868-1912)

I was first drawn to the name of William Storer because he was born at Ripley, like me. As a youngster I recall my Dad taking me to see his grave, though at that stage I knew little of his reputation or talent. Nor of his nature, because William, or Bill as he was more commonly known, was another member of a late nineteenth century team that suffered fools somewhat unwillingly.

In a dressing room full of strong characters, only the strong survived. Perhaps it accounted for the later decline of the county's fortunes up to the Great War, because many a talented young local player broke into the county side but failed to realise their promise. Bill Storer was one who got into the side as a Daryn Smit-style all-rounder. He was a fine batsman, good enough to become the first professional to score a hundred in each innings of a first-class match. He was a good enough wicket-keeper to play for England, while on occasion he could bowl leg breaks that turned a considerable distance. He took five wickets in an innings on four occasions, and over 200 first-class wickets confirms him as huge asset to a team, whatever role he played in it.

He was born at Butterley Hill, Ripley on January 25, 1867 and played for Butterley Cricket Club with considerable early success. He was only nineteen when he made his Derbyshire debut, though the step to the senior game proved problematic for a couple of seasons. Once he was tried behind the stumps, in 1890, he never looked back and became a key member of the side.His style behind the timbers was unusual, because he stood up to the wicket, regardless of the bowler's pace, his style perhaps similar to that of Karl Krikken in not crouching as the bowler ran in to bowl. He even stood up to Charles Kortright, reckoned the fastest of the day, and earned lavish praise in 1893 at Lord's, playing for the MCC against the Australians, when he held four catches, stumped another and didn't allow a single bye, even with the Essex man bowling.

His first great summer was 1896, when he scored over 1200 runs at an average in excess of fifty, including that two-century match against the powerful Yorkshire side of the period. When George Davidson scored his 274 against Lancashire, his own century aided in a partnership of 308 for the third wicket. He passed a thousand runs for the season in seven successive summers, making him perhaps the best wicket-keeper batsman to play for the county. He frequently headed the county batting averages and was often near the top of the national figures too, as well as maintaining a high standard behind the stumps.

He toured Australia in 1897-98 and in the words of commentators, only MacLaren and Ranji batted better than him. He did himself no favours, however, by running out the Australian batsman Charlie McLeod, who was deaf, and walked off after being yorked by Tom Richardson and failing to hear the no ball call. Storer shouted for the ball, which had gone down to third man, to be thrown in and removed a stump, the batsman declining MacLaren's offer of reinstatement. In the final Test he told the umpire 'You're a cheat and you know it', which resulted in censure by the MCC. They needed no further reason not to pick him.

At county level he could be hot-headed too. In a game against Essex at Leyton in 1895, he refused to play when his brother, Harry was omitted from the team. When play began he had still not left the team hotel, but eventually arrived and took his place. His protest continued, pulling his hands away to allow byes, and kicking balls for overthrows. Eventually the captain, Sydney Evershed asked Levi Wright what he should do, being told to send him off. Evershed, who appears to have been a considerate man, replied 'But what of his future'? and likely had a quiet word. Storer cooled down and subsequently kept wicket brilliantly, holding five catches.

Ill-health caused him to retire prematurely, in 1900, at the early age of 33. Having lost George Davidson the previous year, the detrimental impact on the county can be imagined. The club awarded him the Yorkshire fixture at Chesterfield in 1902 as a benefit, but life was thereafter a struggle for William, his wife and their five children.

He suffered from dropsy, or oedema as it is now known, usually a sign of congestive heart failure, liver or kidney problems. Poor diet can also be a contributory factor and his declining health eventually saw surgery to relieve the build up of fluid in the legs and ankles as the disease took hold. Fluid build up in the abdominal cavity often sees the patient 'tapped' to remove the pressure on internal organs, but Bill Storer must have been in considerable pain in his last years.

He died in Derby on February 28, 1912, not too long after his 45th birthday. He was buried at Ripley Cemetery on March 2, in a grave next to his brother Harry, who had pre-deceased him by four years and had only reached the age of 37. His county cricket career was limited to five matches, but he played football as goalkeeper for both Arsenal and Liverpool.

Harry's son of the same name became a gritty and long-time opener for Derbyshire, as well as a footballer and football manager worthy of a book in his own right. He was one of  small handful of men to represent both Derbyshire at cricket and Derby County at football, going on to manage the Rams for a long time too.

Both clubs sent wreaths to the funeral, which was attended by William Chatterton, Walter Sugg, Joe Humphries and the club secretary, Will Taylor, among many others. It was another sad and premature end to a cricket life and career that made a large contribution to the county side.

It would be some time before someone of comparable talent was to appear in the county colours.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

The best eleven I have seen

Using the same selection criteria as Stephen Malkin, whose idea it was, here is the best county eleven of my time watching Derbyshire.

Kim Barnett
Peter Bowler
John Morris
Wayne Madsen
Chris Adams
Eddie Barlow (captain)
Dominic Cork
Geoff Miller
Bob Taylor
Mike Hendrick
Harold Rhodes

There are some wonderful players who have given me great pleasure and entertainment outside that eleven. I would have loved to include Billy Godleman, several other overseas stars, Ole Mortensen, Devon Malcolm, Graeme Welch and many more, but of course you can only play eleven.

The batting largely picks itself and what a top six! Most of my vintage will pick Barnett, Bowler, Morris and Adams, while Wayne Madsen has played some astonishing innings for us, over many years. The ebullient Barlow, a game-changer and captain nonpareil at six, before two contrasting England all-rounders.

The greatest of them all behind the timbers and his number of victims would grow with an opening attack of Hendrick and Rhodes. I enjoyed all of Mike's career, while in seeing only the last few years of Harold's, realising what a bowler he must have been in his absolute prime.

Bowling? After those two there's Cork and Barlow, Miller for the spin and Madsen, along with Barnett, for support.

If I had four days of cricket watching left, I would take that side, all in their prime, to handle anything thrown at it.

MY Derbyshire. As usual, I welcome your comments, if only to say what an awesome team that would be.

PS I would have Fred Swarbrook as my twelfth man. A character, a very good spinner, dogged batsman and top professional. There might be the odd game when we needed a second spinner and Fred, in his pomp, was very good indeed.


Over to you

A nice idea came this week from Stephen Malkin, who wrote as follows:

Hi Peakfan,

How about asking your readers to pick a Derbyshire XI from their time watching Derbyshire?

I have been a member since 1983, although I was first taken by my father to watch Derbyshire v Gloucestershire at Burton-on-Trent in 1969, the first year of the Sunday League, 

Including only one overseas player, my team would be: K Barnett, P Bowler, J Morris, C Adams, D Jones, D Cork, G Miller, P De Freitas, K Krikken, K Dean, D Malcolm. 

This would be a team to win the County Championship, my only reservation that there isn’t a left handed batsman. They might not get on, but as was shown in 1996 on the field they had the utmost respect for each other. If Dean Jones had been a bit more ruthless towards the end of that season, particularly the game away against Somerset, they would have won the league. 

Of my team the openers record speaks for itself KB in my opinion Derbyshire’s greatest ever player John Morris on his day the finest English batsman of the modern era to play for Derbyshire ,Chris Adams again on his day not far behind. Dean Jones to drive them on with his motivation as well as being a great batsman, the three all rounders all played Test cricket for England with around  3000 first class wickets between them. Krikk was unorthodox and brilliant, some of his catches standing goalkeeper style  to the quicks were unbelievable. Kevin Dean had the rare ability as a left arm bowler to move the ball very late both ways. 

I picked Devon over Ole Mortensen because Devon was that rare bowler who got better with age at 35 he was twice the bowler he was at 25 with very little reduction in pace. This bowling attack had enough variety to bowl sides out on most pitches especially with Jones getting behind them and driving them on.

That's a nice idea, Stephen. While recognising that younger readers will have less options, I would love to see and publish your ideas. Please email them to peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

Mine will be up in the coming days.

Friday, 5 June 2020

So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you...

Today's title comes courtesy of Ray Davies and the wonderful Kinks.

My feelings on the absence of cricket are amply illustrated in that line. You really don't realise what you have until it isn't there any more and while my garden has benefited from the absence of cricket and football from my life, I miss it badly.

I hope you are enjoying my pieces on the early heroes of the club, as much as I enjoyed reading more about them in contemporary articles in the British Newspaper Archive online. It helped me to get a better 'handle' on them and turned them from names and players into people. In the process I found a lot of stuff that I never knew and I hope that they have been of some value and interest for you.

Most of my blog week, such as it is, has been taken up by someone from overseas who keeps trying to post spam through the comments boxes. He/she must have tried fifty times this week to post the same thing, taking up however much time. If they are reading this, please save yourself some time, because the filtering on Blogger is excellent and easy to use. It takes me less than five seconds to tick two boxes and delete them, because I don't want anything on the site that isn't relevant to the game and specifically Derbyshire's place in it.

In other news, I came across a nice piece on Twitter earlier, which asked who you modelled your bowling action on as a child.

Mine was easy.

Between the ages of ten and fourteen I wanted to be Alan Ward, whose upright action, flowing run and arch back, prior to releasing a thunderbolt, was a thing of magnificence. In trying to replicate it, I realised that I was around a foot too short for authenticity, not to mention about forty miles an hour. At the start of a net session, or my first spell in a game, I would run in to release my weapons of mass destruction, usually to the detriment of line and length. Once I had it out of my system, and my back started to hurt, I settled down to something more sedate, considerably more accurate and a lot more effective.

After waking up too many next mornings with back ache, I realised another role model was required and I became Eddie Barlow (pictured). This was far more authentic, as I had the requisite glasses for one thing and Eddie was far from fast. I even cultivated the mopping of my brow with a forearm, which Eddie did, while attempting to fix any batsman who hit me for four with a basilisk stare worthy of the great man.

I got my share of wickets in school and club matches, but my batting style was more Alan Hill than Barlow. The chances of my scoring a hundred between lunch and tea were slightly less than my being the winning horse in the Grand National, even if I did surprise team mates in one match by putting the first ball of the innings over mid wicket for six. Slow and steady did it, even though my boundaries always, to me at least, had the natural flair of the Cape...

He is one of the many Derbyshire players I would have loved to know and am sure that I would have emerged from the encounter the better for it. Not one contemporary has ever had a bad word to say about him and his contribution to them and the club.

Which is why, when the club asked about our greatest overseas player earlier in the week, my answer was unhesitating. Peter Kirsten was brilliant, and the best batsman I have seen in county colours, while John Wright was less flamboyant but not far behind. Barlow brought them both to Derbyshire and his example transformed a club that was dying.

Before Barlow, you always got the impression that we went into matches hoping not to lose. There was plenty of grit, not too much flamboyance and precious few wins between 1971 and 1975. If it happened it was a special individual performance, but when Eddie arrived, and especially when he became captain, the whole ethos changed.

Derbyshire went into matches EXPECTING to win. We didn't always, but the wins became more common, the young players developed confidence under a skipper who oozed it and the cricket became purposeful, aggressive and dynamic.

In three all-too-short years he transformed the club. As my Dad said, as we watched him look every bit as good as Sobers while playing for the Rest of the World in 1970, 'If we signed that fella there'd be no stopping us'.

Like a lot of other times, he was right. Had we managed to get him then, rather than five years down the line, who knows what we might have achieved?

Barlow was the best. It was an absolute privilege to see him.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

In My Mind's Eye Number 5: Arnold Warren (1875-1951)

Will Taylor was the secretary of Derbyshire CCC for 51 years, between 1908 and 1959. In his later days - and he lived until 1976 - he was happy to tell anyone who listened that the fastest bowler he had seen in the county colours was Arnold Warren. 

Considering the many fine names who appeared for Derbyshire in the intervening period, that is an impressive, informed opinion. It was not held by Taylor alone, however, as plenty of good judges in the era before the Great War declared Warren the fastest bowler in the country.

Descriptions of his run up and action remind me of Alan Ward, another who was upright, fluent and tall, not to mention lightning fast. Batting gloves and protective wear had moved on a little by that time, so one can only imagine the consternation when Warren, like Ward, first burst onto the scene, rattling barely-protected knuckles and ribs with balls that lifted, when ordinary bowlers struggled to get any bounce.

Warren came from Codnor, where his father and sons had a successful building firm. Some of those houses can still be seen today, but Arnold saw a career in sport as his first choice, after some fine performances in local cricket. He played his early cricket on the ground of the Butterley Company and made his first appearance for Derbyshire in 1897. It wasn't until 1902, after a decent apprenticeship, that he became established in the side, matching increased accuracy to the pace that was always there. 


His breakthrough year was 1904, when he became the first Derbyshire bowler to take a hundred wickets in a Championship season, taking 124 in 22 matches. Had there been Test matches that summer he may well have earned recognition. The Athletic News in August 1904 said that 'no bowler currently playing has anything like the devil, or break on a plumb wicket [combining] unplayable length with very sharp break back'. It also said that he 'would take many more wickets but for the poor fielding of his county' and suggested that England honours may be near.


That was to come in 1905, when the Australians were the visitors. He had earlier impressed the England captain, Yorkshire's F.S. Jackson, with match figures of 12-126 against his county and Warren was brought in for the third Test at Headingley.


In 19.2 overs he took 5-57, including the prize wicket of Victor Trumper, as well as Monty Noble, Joe Darling (the Australian captain) and Warwick Armstrong. Good wickets all and when he followed this with the wicket of Trumper again in the second innings he would have been excused for thinking he had done well.


He was never selected for his country again.


His second innings bowling was noticeably less menacing, according to reports of the time and the story ran that Warren, partial to alcohol like his team mate, Bill Bestwick, had "over-celebrated" with friends after his first innings heroics. He wasn't the only fast bowler on the circuit to enjoy the offerings of the beer tents and hostelries, but it offered too easy an excuse to exclude him in the future.

He could bat too and with his captain, John Chapman, he shared in a world record partnership for the ninth wicket of 283, against Warwickshire at Blackwell in 1910. They saved a game that looked hopelessly lost, though Warren too often got carried away with his hitting to repeat the century that he scored that day. Contemporary reports refer to him 'batting strongly', all too often appended 'but fleetingly'...

A strange accident in which he got ammonia fumes in his eyes while uncorking the bottle saw him admitted to Derby Infirmary in 1911, where only prompt medical attention as an in-patient prevented any detrimental effect on his sight. He played on for Derbyshire until 1913 (aside from a fleeting appearance in 1920) and a few lunchtime whiskies in the refreshment tent at Leicester in 1912 revived his spirits sufficiently for a devastating spell of 7-52 in 24 overs that won the game. That appetite for alcohol was more often having a detrimental effect, however and brushes with the law and a period of destitution saw him released at the age of 38.

He lied about his age and served in the Great War, where  he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery in 1915. He was badly wounded in 1917, suffering fractures to his neck, spine and right shoulder blade. Despite several months in hospital, he suffered constant pain thereafter, that one appearance in 1920 a minor miracle  in the circumstances. 

He umpired in first-class cricket through the 1920s and early 1930s and worked as a bricklayer at Ormonde Colliery until he retired in 1945. His personal life saw tragedy, the birth of a son, Martin, in 1906 tempered by the death of his wife the same year, after which he lived alone. He died in September 1951 and was buried in Crosshill Cemetery in Codnor, the mourners including Will Taylor and Denis Smith.

With Bill Bestwick he made up one of the finest, if least temperate  opening attacks in the county's history. On his day, he must have been quite spectacular to watch.

939 wickets at 24 runs each confirms his place in the local cricketing pantheon.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Thursday, 28 May 2020

In My Mind's Eye Number 4 - Levi Wright (1862-1953)

L.G (Levi) Wright was one of the first early names of Derbyshire cricket that I became aware of, perhaps because he had the same name as my father. He was also perhaps the last survivor of the game's golden age in Derbyshire, only passing at his home in Normanton in January 1953, after a short illness.


  • Obituary notices referred to him as the 'Grand Old Man of Derbyshire Cricket' His better known contemporaries were dead long before him and I would have loved the opportunity to quiz him further on his era and the characters who made it special.


Further? Unlike anyone else in this series, Levi Wright put down his memories in a manuscript that was published by the Derbyshire CCC Supporters Club in 1980, having been written and given to a friend around forty years earlier. It would have benefited from a little editing and one gets the impression in reading it, which I have done many times, that the player just sat down and wrote, perhaps without even revisiting it.

Nonetheless it is a priceless contemporary account of county cricket in the late ninteenth and early twentieth century and packed with anecdotes and pen portraits of its greatest characters, while Wright comes across as a modest man. Not only did he play for Derbyshire between 1883 and 1909, he also played football for Derby County and was good enough to be selected as a full back and centre half for the North v South game, as well as a reserve for the full England side.

The longevity of his career accounts for a batting average of 'only' 26. While he was always a stylish player, easy on the eye as he drove and deft in his placement of the cut and late cut, he didn't make his first century until he was 35 years old and reached a thousand runs for the first time at the age of 37. Such late flowering would be impossible today, yet between 1897 and 1906 he reached his thousand runs on six occasions. In 1905, at the age of 43, he was elected one of Wisden's Cricketer's of the Year, with 1855 runs at an average of 42.

He was an easy and automatic choice throughout that period, not only for those runs (he scored 20 centuries and 72 fifties) but also for his brilliance in the field, where he earned the reputation as one of the finest cover points in the game. His speed over the ground was a factor, but he held his share of catches that confirmed a safe pair of hands. This set him apart from a team that was otherwise not known for the quality of its fielding. His book refers to one player who put down six catches in one day...

Having flowered late, it is fair to say that he went on for a few years too long. His average dropped from 20 to 19 to 11 in his final seasons, which would have been sad to witness for supporters who had long enjoyed the style of his batting. Curiously, his last four centuries all came against the same county, Warwickshire, three at Edgbaston before his final 'ton' came at Derby, in 1908. It was a poor era for Derbyshire cricket, however and there were no real alternatives to an ageing professional.

When his playing days ended he continued as a clerk for the Midland Railway, a job he had held through the winter months, before becoming a regular at the County Ground in retirement. He lived for over forty years at 42, Derby Lane in Normanton, where he was remembered as a jovial man, always happy to talk about sport. He was a keen bowler too, a regular at the Arboretum Bowling Club.

Sadly, an interview with him in 1938, for the BBC Radio sports feature Cricket Interval was inadvertently wiped.

What a pleasure that would have been to hear.

(Image sourced courtesy of David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Death of Bradbury announced as cricket MAY resume

It was a shame to hear from a blog regular the other day that Les Bradbury had passed away. 

It wasn't at that time confirmed, and it would hardly have been fair for me to mention something without that. Yet the news came through official channels later that one of Derbyshire league cricket's finest-ever bowlers was no more.

He played much of it for Matlock, but also did well for Undercliffe in the Bradford League, where he helped them to win the title in 1971, taking 35 wickets while Ashley Harvey-Walker boomed hundreds of runs at the other end with his bat, the weight of a standard table leg.

He once took all ten in an innings for Matlock, not unique but indicative of a bowler of more than average ability. The call to Derbyshire colours came in 1971, when he was 33 years old. He let no one down, least of all himself and took a wicket and a catch in the match.

Yet it was indicative of the club at that time. Too many good players had gone, bowlers were in short supply and the likely rationale was that both Les Jackson and his namesake Brian had been late developers plucked from the leagues - why shouldn't it work again?

Fifteen overs, one for 53 suggested that he could bowl and surely if it was worth doing once, the bowler was worth another chance? It didn't come though and realistically he needed to be five years younger to be worth a contract. He went back to the leagues and back to taking plenty of wickets for many years afterwards.

Rest in peace, Les.

Elsewhere, there appears to be a plan to play three regional groups of four-day county cricket in August if the current relaxation of regulations works, with T20 then scheduled for September and the season possibly extending into October.

It is welcome news, the likelihood being that matches will be streamed and crowds either not allowed or minimal. To be honest I am unsure how crowds can socially distance, when there will always be people wanting past to go to the toilet and bar. Maybe on international grounds it may be realistic with capacities reduced from thirty thousand to perhaps five thousand, but even then, safe social distancing will not be without dangers.

I suspect we may have to wait until next year to see our heroes in person and, with three vulnerable people in our house, the likelihood of me being sufficiently reassured to attend this year is remote.

More on this in the coming weeks.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

In My Mind's Eye number 3: The sad story of George Davidson 1866-1899

Were it not for one feat, many modern Derbyshire fans would perhaps be unaware of the name of George Davidson. 


He still holds the record for the club highest individual innings of 274, made against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1896. It sees his name mentioned whenever a county player passes the double century mark, yet no one, 124 years later, has surpassed it.


Centuries were also scored in that match by the two Williams, Chatterton and Storer. All three played a major role in what was a solid, if not spectacular Derbyshire side, on its day capable of beating anyone, though often flimsy in batting. Yet it is fair to say that like county elevens of a more recent vintage, dressing room relations were often far from cordial.


Levi Wright, one of the more consistent batsmen, recalled that 'the three leading professionals were unfortunately not always the best of friends and their manner and treatment of other players, particularly young ones on trial, was far from helpful'.


Indeed, things were so bad at one point that Chatterton and Davidson reputedly went through a season without speaking to one another, after an argument at dinner one evening. Davidson made a comment to the giant bowler George Porter, who suffered from sweaty feet, that apparently reduced the latter to tears. Chatterton took exception to it and laid down the law in no uncertain terms. 

Wright also separately refers to him being challenged to a fight by 'Jimmy Burns', perhaps the Essex bowler of the period. Even his obituary notices, which were sufficiently effusive commensurate to his talent, referred to a 'brusque exterior concealing a kindly heart'  and to 'his quick temper and hot-headed conduct'. 

Maybe not always an easy team mate then, but an extremely talented cricketer, one with a very interesting story.

In considering his attitude to new team mates, let us not forget that the lot of the professional in the 1890s was relatively glamorous, the challenge of someone new a threat to their livelihood. A good county player might earn only £150-250 a year, but that compared favourably to the lot of a labourer, the alternative for many, which was around £80-£100. To earn that money, you had to be selected. The standard contract was £5 a match for home games, £6 for away matches, out of which accommodation had to be paid for. On top of that, talent money might be paid, while collections would be taken for a good performance by a home player, which could earn as much as ten pounds. The irony of George's record score being made at an away ground, Old Trafford, was probably not lost on him.

A few professionals, like William Gunn and Arthur Shrewsbury of Nottinghamshire, did well in business ventures, but many worried about a life outside of the game and more than a few ended up in the workhouse when their playing days ended.

Like William Mycroft, George Davidson came from Brimington, near Chesterfield and honed his bowling skills with his father, Joseph. He was a good enough player to be a member of the first Derbyshire side to take the field, in 1871, and was known as an accurate bowler of off-spin. He took plenty of wickets in local cricket, even though he played only four first-class matches and took just six wickets. The two played together for Brimington Common and Davidson junior developed quickly. 

He worked in the iron works there as an unskilled labourer for 10d a day, before becoming professional at Keighley Cricket Club. He did well for them in 1885 and was offered a role on the staff at The Oval. Surrey wanted him to qualify and sign for them, as did Warwickshire later, but he only wanted to play for the county of his birth and made his debut for Derbyshire in 1886, against the MCC at Lord's. He took 5-37 on debut, something he was to do on 43 occasions, going on to take ten wickets in a match ten times. By means of comparison for modern supporters, his strike rate per wicket lies between that of Mike Hendrick and Harold Rhodes, confirming his ability quite nicely. 


For all that he holds that record score, Davidson averaged only a shade under 24 as a batsman from 260 innings, including two other centuries, but he added to that with 621 wickets at 18. If one takes the claim of any cricketer as an all rounder seriously, their batting average should exceed their bowling one, and these figures confirm that Davidson must have been a very fine player. 

Descriptions of his bowling suggest someone of Tony Palladino's pace, described as 'above medium but not fast'. He had a unique 'semi-circular' run up, starting at wide mid-off and had the ability to bowl for long spells, frequently doing so. Levi Wright recalled him disliking being taken off for any reason and praised him for his stamina throughout a long season. On one occasion at Leyton, he bowled from the start of the day at 12 noon until 1.35pm before a run was scored from him. He was taken off five minutes before lunch at 1.55pm and resumed again after the interval. A man of average height, he bowled right arm with great accuracy, as evidenced by a career record in which he conceded only two runs an over. He moved the ball off the pitch to great effect, with a fast, high action that enabled him, in the modern parlance, to hit the wicket hard.


The Lancashire game in which he scored 274 saw him bat for seven and a quarter hours. He followed this by bowling 57-34-75-3 in Lancashire's first innings, in which they were forced to follow on. To the modern viewer, used to players complaining of burnout and tiredness after a Test series, this makes astonishing reading.


Davidson also reached a century as part of another then record, the team score of 645 against Hampshire at Derby in 1898. With declarations not possible at this time, his captain, Sydney Evershed, told him to get out so the bowlers could get to work, but Davidson, confirming his contrary nature, ignored him and batted on to score his century, following it with another 31 overs and 6-42. As a batsman he was described as defensively sound, with the ability to play strokes when he got going. 

His annus mirabilis was in 1895, when he scored 1296 runs at 28 and took 138 wickets at less than 17. These are the figures of a special player, one who deserves to be mentioned when discussions of the county's finest take place. It was the first time a Derbyshire player did the double, and perhaps the result of spending the previous winter coaching and playing in South Africa, keeping his eye in quite nicely. He returned from the Cape 'bearing gifts and testimonials' after a series of fine performances. His record season for Derbyshire  saw him presented with a gold watch and chain by his friends at Brimington, as well as being talked about as one of the finest all round cricketers in the country.

He took a benefit in 1897, but contemporary reports blame Queen Victoria's  Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the weather for a cheque 'of meagre proportions' (£200) and comment 'it is not pleasant for the sportsmen of Derbyshire to feel that their favourite's reward was such a wretchedly small one and amounted, in fact, to absolute insult'.

It is hard to argue. Three times he took nine wickets in an innings for the county, every season but one that he played being the leading wicket-taker, while in 1892 he headed both the batting and bowling. Several reports comment that he was the 'biggest single reason' that Derbyshire remained a first-class county. His line and length were especially noteworthy and after twice bowling A.C.MacLaren, a giant of  the age, on a flat wicket in 1895, the Lancashire captain declared that 'he would exhaust anyone's patience with his metronomic accuracy'.


His final game for the county saw another record to which he contributed, albeit inadvertently. He had missed several matches with a strain when Yorkshire visited Chesterfield in 1898 but declared himself fit to play in Walter Sugg's benefit match. Wright recalled that it was obvious from the first ball that he wasn't himself, and it was all he could do to finish his only over. His absence from the rest of the innings left Yorkshire openers John Tunnicliffe and J.T. Brown a novice attack to face, and they responded with a then record opening stand of 554. It was the other side of a complex character, trying his best to play in the match to help his friend, even when he likely knew in his heart that it wouldn't work.


George never played for the county again. During the winter that followed, a bout of influenza quickly worsened into pneumonia and the man with the iron constitution died on 8 February 1899 at the tragically early age of 32, leaving a wife, six children under the age of seven and very little money. The editor of Cricket magazine in 1899 hoped that 'energetic steps might be taken by the gentlemen of Derbyshire on their behalf'. Given that the club was in its perennial impoverished state, it is unlikely that they ever did so.

It was an 'irreparable loss to the county and to the game of cricket', evident in the outpouring of the newspaper reports of the day. Few knew that he was unwell, so the shock was considerable for supporters and cricket followers. The story was covered in local press around the country, the opinion firmly of a very fine player cut off in his prime. Maybe, even yet, one of international standard.

'A very large crowd' attended his funeral, before he was interred at Tipton Cemetery, near Dudley on 13 February. This was at the wishes of his widow, who hoped to remain locally, even though the family wanted him buried in Brimington. His team mates Hancock, Storer, Sugg and Chatterton were among the pall-bearers, while wreaths were received from his captain, Sydney Evershed, the club and several individuals, as well as the MCC. An unusually candid report in the Derby Daily Telegraph of the time revealed that the player had been told, in the days before he died, that he could never play cricket again, such was the effect of the illness on his heart. Such news would have been hard to bear in his already weakened state.

In his obituary, Wisden recalled him as a cricketer 'just short of the highest class' who 'had he played for a better county might have enjoyed a still more brilliant career'. Former England captain Henry Leveson-Gower, a contemporary, in his book Off and On The Field said that 'he would have gone much further had he plied his skills elsewhere'. 

We have heard that plenty of times over the years. Given that players at that time continued well into their forties, he had at least another ten years ahead of him, when further records may well have been set.

Next year will be the 125th anniversary of his record score and there is perhaps an opportunity for the club and its supporters to do right by George Davidson. My research suggests that his grave at Tipton Cemetery is unmarked and may even be that of a pauper. It would be proper to look to mount a plaque, at least, to mark his last resting place.

After all, it is the longest surviving record in the county's cricket and his loyal and significant  contribution to its early years is worthy of belated recognition. 

(Image sourced by David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Changes..

Most of you will have noticed that the blog has a new look today.

Sadly, the current conditions have meant that erstwhile blog sponsorship has terminated and I would like to say a huge thank you to Office Care for their support over a number of years. That support enabled the blog to flourish and ensured that I was getting something for the time put into writing it.

I have also lost a couple of linked advertisers and thanks go to them, especially to former Derbyshire cricketer Chris Taylor, whose sports business has been a great supporter in recent seasons.

Which all means that I am looking for a new sponsor or sponsors, either for the blog overall, or to be linked from it to a site of your choice. Please message me if you would like to discuss - I fully understand that these are difficult times, but I am more than happy to discuss options.

The alternative, which I will hold off from for a few weeks, is to reintroduce Google ads - being selective over content but bringing in a few pennies (literally) when the blog is read. It is far from a preferred option, as I feel it is a little intrusive, but I will see how things go.

I still don't see myself covering much current Derbyshire cricket over the course of the current summer, but will be keeping the content going, starting with the next in the series on Derbyshire legends - In My Mind's Eye.

Any ideas for articles or talking points, please drop me a message through the blog, or email me at peakfan36@yahoo.co.uk

Friday, 15 May 2020

In My Mind's Eye Number 2: William Mycroft 1841-1894

Despite not making his first-class debut until the age of 32, William Mycroft was the first of the outstanding line of Derbyshire seam bowlers. Indeed, he was probably, according to contemporary accounts, one of the fastest, as many a batsman was defeated in the defensive stroke by his fast left-arm deliveries.

Perhaps he was a nineteenth century Mark Footitt, and the extraordinary thing is how many wickets he took when perhaps the years of his real pace were behind him. He was a classic late developer, however and reports suggest that he 'didn't really amount to much' until his late-20s. The great Kumar Shri Ranjitsinjhi described him as having 'a high action and getting a lot of spin on the ball, as well as swerve, all at pace'. All this, while looking like an earlier incarnation of Australian fast bowler, Merv Hughes.

He was born at Brimington, near Chesterfield, the son of a miner who became a publican, jobs which William did in turn himself. His county debut came in 1873, when he took six wickets in his first match that summer, then took twenty in the only four matches of 1874. His ability was noted and his reputation quickly grew, so much so that in 1875 he topped the national bowling averages with 75 wickets at just over seven runs each. With eleven five-wicket hauls he became a feared bowler, enhanced by the remarkable match figures of 14-38 for the North against the South.

He wasn't a big man, standing only 5'9'' but he was sturdily built and strong. There was a suggestion that his yorker was thrown, but he was never called and it continued to be a potent weapon in his armoury. He was as dangerous a bowler as any in England in the 1870s, when he took a hundred wickets in a season twice. In 1877 he took 157 wickets in just 22 matches for Derbyshire and the MCC, while the following year he became the first man to take a hundred wickets in a season for Derbyshire alone.

A measure of his importance to the side, which was far from a strong one, came at Southampton in 1876, when he took seventeen wickets in the match for 103 runs, also holding a catch, of the nineteen wickets that fell - yet his side still lost by one wicket. He took 9-25 in the first innings, seven of them bowled, then 8-78 in the second, leaking runs as he tired but almost winning the game single-handedly, after his side had been bowled out by a lob bowler. He even held the catch at slip that deprived him of all ten, confirming him as a team player, regardless of his individual talent.

Injuries started to affect him in the 1880s, and he played his last game for the club in 1885, at the age of 44. He later became an umpire for a short time.

It was a relatively short but meteoric career, in the course of which he took 534 wickets for Derbyshire at less than twelve runs each, with 863 in all matches, for a similar average. Notwithstanding the variable pitches of the day, he must have been a remarkable bowler. If one considers WG Grace as the star batsman of the generation, their battles ended with honours even, indicative of his ability.

That talent was diametrically opposed to his limitations as a right-handed batsman. He was one of a select band of players to end a lengthy career with more wickets than runs, just 791 runs at an average of five in 138 matches - a reputation as an 'erratic' runner between the wickets, didn't help. Yet consider this - 87 five-wicket hauls in those 138 matches, 28 times taking ten or more. They are figures that compare favourably with any in the game's long history.

William Mycroft died of influenza at his home in Freehold Street, Derby, on 19 June, 1894. Rheumatic illnesses had plagued his final years and money was in short supply, though a Derbyshire supporter named John Cartwright, who scored for the county when he was able, organised a subscription which saw one hundred pounds handed over to the old hero. His obituary notice, in the Nottingham Evening Post of all places, made it quite clear - 'if he was not the best fast bowler in England, he could certainly lay claim to no superior'.

Two curiosities about him to finish. The writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself a decent cricketer who played at first-class level, was rumoured to have chosen the name of Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft, after watching the Derbyshire bowler  against the MCC in 1885. The story gains some credence with the first Sherlock Holmes story being published two years later, especially when the opposition that day included the Nottinghamshire players, Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock.

Finally, William's son, Thomas was later the father-in-law of the Derbyshire opening batsman and subsequent coach, Denis Smith. The great bowler was long gone by that time, but I think he would have approved.

Not a bad family lineage, is it?

(Image sourced by David Griffin from the Derbyshire CCC Archive)

Pining...

It was watching our dog, Wallace, yesterday that I realised how I must be for the cricket season.

He was lying by the door, every noise he heard worthy of investigation, each one perhaps heralding the return of his 'Mum' from the supermarket.

I am missing the cricket badly. It is something I haven't experienced before and although I try to stay optimistic, I am resigned to there being no county cricket this summer. If they pull it off, well done, but I can't see it.

The press piece released by the club this week on Michael Cohen, and how he has been living with bowling coach Steve Kirby since getting here brought it home to me. There was much to like in the prospect of Sean Abbott joining Ravi Rampaul et al but the prospect of Michael Cohen, a left-arm quick bowling 90mph held considerable interest. So too did seeing how Sam Conners had kicked on over the winter, with the attack, even before considering our raft of talented all-rounders, looking so much more incisive than the previous year.

Alas, we may have to wait another 11 or 12 months to find out and there is nothing we can do about it.

To fill in the time I have been writing my 'In My Mind's Eye' series, enjoying a week off work and getting my garden pristine.

The new series starts today and I acknowledge the help of David Griffin and the DCCC Cricket Archive in sourcing quality photographs.

I decided on ten players whose lives were worth the telling, focusing particularly on those who were less well known despite their major contribution. All are pre-Second World War and I discovered material about each that I haven't seen before. It was my reason for writing, perhaps leaving something for posterity, but keen to recognise that the only important players in the club's past are not just those who played in the past thirty years.

Polls and modern discussions naturally focus on what we know best. If, at the end of the series, you know a little bit more about some of our bygone legends and appreciate what they did for the club, then the writing will have been worthwhile.

Some of what I have discovered really blew me away.

Stay fit, stay well, stay interested! And please do comment, because I genuinely love hearing from you.

Friday, 8 May 2020

In My Mind's Eye - a new series

These are challenging times for a blogger, especially one whose interest lies specifically in the cricket history of the county of his birth. With no cricket to write of, and having covered post-war Derbyshire cricket with my second book (and ten years of blogging) I have given due consideration to something to keep the momentum going.

That will finally see the light in this new series, that I have called In My Mind's Eye.

In it, I will be looking at cricketers who played before the last war - quite apposite, on VE Day - and in some cases before the Great War. It will feature players that I have read about in contemporary accounts, and will utilise the notes that I have taken over a half century of years, painstakingly produced like some of my half centuries were in weekend cricket.

Part of it comes from my frustration that these players are, to my mind, criminally overlooked when it comes to modern polls. Of course, there is no one around to state their case and cynics will say that they couldn't have been in the same league as modern players. You see that whenever a piece of archive film is shown on social media. Only a fortnight ago, the great Ranjitsinjhi was belittled for his 'lack of technique' in a video that showed him in the nets. It rather missed the point that he was wearing no pads, was clearly hamming it up for the cameras and was the biggest single influence on the game's growing popularity before the first war, alongside WG Grace. 25,000 runs at over 50 an innings suggests he could play, these often made on wickets that could often be deemed 'sporting', especially when the rain fell and rendered them 'sticky'. 

There are no players of that calibre in Derbyshire's early history, but the list of players that I will be featuring were standouts on a local scale. In some cases this was for their talent alone, in others it was for their personality and contribution to the development of the county side.

It is appropriate to do it this year, marking the 150th anniversary of the club. It is also important to recognise that in any sport you can only be the best of your era. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, but would struggle to escape the heats with the times he set today. Does it diminish his importance as an athlete, or his greatness? No, not at all, at least for me.

The players of the early period may have looked rag, tag and bobtail outfits, with sashes, cummerbunds, braces, cravats and flat caps in team photographs. Their apparel may have been off-white, but then cleaning them will have been a challenge, in an era way before washing machines.

They played on grounds where facilities were basic, or non-existent. Sometimes there were only a couple of toilets for players and supporters alike, while there were at times no washing facilities and everyday clothes were hung from a nail, hammered into the wall. A sink, with cold water, was on occasion a luxury, enabling a quick freshen up at the end of the day.

It was still eleven against eleven and the cream still rose to the top. There was a lot of excellent cricket played by some tremendous players, some of them wearing Derbyshire colours.

They are players I would have loved to see, have tried to picture over the years and would like to see recognised for posterity.

I hope that you enjoy it.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Brian Bolus: an obituary

Those who saw Brian Bolus speak at cricket dinners and societies normally heard a man of dry, self-deprecating humour. 

'For those who saw me bat, let me apologise' he would say, before delivering a talk that displayed a sense of humour as expansive as his batting frequently wasn't. A man of contrasts then, engaging company off the pitch, a gritty, stereotypically northern batsman on it. Brian was like the northern batsmen recounted by Neville Cardus, with 'no fowers before lunch and precious few afterwards'.

His death was announced today and it was rather like the man himself, quiet and undemonstrative. Growing up in Yorkshire, he graduated to the fine side of the late 1950s and early 1960s and was a solid, dependable member of it, before being replaced by a younger model, the man who defined that moniker, Geoffrey Boycott. He made the England side and played for it seven times, averaging 41 and never being dismissed in single figures in his twelve innings-career, a record that still stands. His highest score was 88 and in hitting his first ball in Test cricket back over the head of the bowler, Wes Hall, he made perhaps one of the most uncharacteristic of introductions to the international game.

He moved south and became a fixture in the Nottinghamshire side in 1963, where he remained for a decade. He racked up his thousand runs for the season in ten summers, the benchmark by which the county stalwart was judged and provided the reliable grit in that period, the side's batting and cricket latterly dominated by Garfield Sobers. In much the same way that I hoped for Chris Wilkins to get in early at Derbyshire, supporters in Nottingham saw those who came before Sobers as merely a warm up act, but the runs he scored, more than the way that he made them, ensured he was a respected and valuable part of the team.

In 1973 he moved to Derbyshire as captain, in a period when our recruitment was generally of ageing players from elsewhere. It was an onerous task, as it was one of the weaker sides I have seen in county colours and at 39 Brian was understandably past his best. Too many good senior players had left at the same time and the batting was flimsy, at best, the bowling perhaps even weaker. It accounted for him being unwilling or unable to take a risk, as batsman or captain, knowing full well that two quick wickets often heralded an unseemly and hasty demise for the innings. The result was runs made less against the clock than the calendar.

Again though, he registered a thousand first-class runs in two seasons, even if one-day cricket wasn't really his game. With the resources at his command, his approach was often to try and avoid defeat, something that couldn't work in a limited over match, of course. It made for grim watching in that period, but it took someone special, with the ability, charisma and sheer personality of Eddie Barlow, to rescue the county from the doldrums in 1976.

I will remember him as a batsman strong off his pads and not without strokes, but his unwillingness to use them or take a risk, while understandable, made for Derbyshire watching that was only for the diehard and purist. He will best be remembered, perhaps, as the man who sent Alan Ward off the field for refusing to bowl, against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in 1973.It wasn't the best day for either man, but we all make mistakes.

He later served as an England selector and chair of the management advisory committee, before becoming Nottinghamshire president for two years.

His death, at the age of 86, will be mourned by cricket supporters of a certain vintage in three counties. Few will remember him for his effusive stroke play, or for inspirational captaincy.

But he was a man who always gave one hundred percent and over 25,000 runs in the first-class game confirms that he could play. Besides anything else he was a lovely bloke and few had a bad word to say about him.

Most of us would take that as an epitaph.

Rest in peace, Brian.

Friday, 24 April 2020

The goal posts move again

So, no cricket until the start of July now, according to the ECB press release this morning, closely followed by one from the counties themselves.

Nine rounds of County Championship cricket will have been lost, but there is still a commitment to get both red and white ball matches in, if at all possible. The Vitality Blast will be pushed as late as they can, to allow the best chance of the biggest county earner taking place, while a further discussion will take place next Wednesday on the new competition.

On the one hand there are grounds for optimism, perhaps some cricket to enjoy in two months, but the reality is that it will be unlike anything we have enjoyed before. I suspect that even the level of attendance we see at the average four-day game may be too great for safety, while the packed crowd of a T20 night is likely to have zero chance of taking place.

Streaming will be the way to go, but will commentaries and press boxes be possible? The games are likely to have less atmosphere than the quarter-final last year played at The Riverside, when Old Trafford was needed by England and Lancashire played Durham in a cavernous, empty stadium.

It will be not as we know it, but will be cricket all the same. Assuming it happens.

My own gut feeling, and it can only be that, as I am not trained in medical matters, is that July will in turn become September and we MAY see some sporting participation return at that point. I just have concerns that already some are struggling to observe the requisites of social distancing and if that continues, the curve that we all need to see flattened will take longer.

All rather ironic in relation to the weather, which is remarkable for the time of year. I sat in our garden yesterday and watched an array of birds swoop in and out of baths, a cold drink at my side and craved sitting in the stand at Derby, watching the action unfold. Or wandering around the boundary, chatting to friends old and new, joining in the applause for another boundary, another wicket. Better still sitting in a comfortable chair at Chesterfield, enjoying a cooling breeze on a hot day, remembering days and deeds over fifty years, as our heroes glide across the grass.

Oh, my Godleman and my Madsen, long ago...


Thursday, 16 April 2020

A strange summer

Normally at this time of the Spring, the blog is cranking into gear and I am writing and publishing posts on a daily basis.

This year, sad to relate, it would appear we are still several months away from county cricket and it is all so sad. Of course, there are bigger things going on in the world, but when my nightly chats with Dad always switch to the greatest of games and he, at 92, pines for news on the club it is hard for him, for me, for all of us.

Yesterday's news was the cancellation of the contracts for this summer of Sean Abbott and Ben McDermott. It was always a matter of time, when other counties were starting to do the same and indicative of  a growing feeling that there will be little if any cricket this summer.

It is tough, losing the best part of a summer in a career that is already finite and relatively short. Especially so if you have more years behind you than ahead, perhaps even more if you have earned a summer contract to show what you can do. Toughest of all, perhaps, for those in the final year of deals and hoping to show that they are worthy of a contract extension.

Counties will face a dilemma on this, of course. Will a player who was good in 2019 still have it in 2021, or will the eye have gone for batsmen, the nip for bowlers? There will be several around the circuit who will have been robbed of one last hurrah before slipping into retirement and a new career.

For club cricket it will be challenging too. Some players will get used to doing other things at the weekend, even if it is cosy domesticity and sprucing up their garden. Yet plenty of others will be chafing at the bit to get the whites washed and ironed, the new bat knocked in, the new thigh pad tried out, the new gloves given an airing.

At least Derbyshire have done the right thing in deferring the deal for their Aussies to next year, subject to agreement from their Cricket Board. It may not work out quite so well as it would have this summer, when numerous Australians were planned to be over here with a summer free of international cricket. Next year may see tours eat in to availability.

Always assuming, of course, we are able to return to normality by then. When one reads experts suggesting that a return to packed grounds and stadiums would be 'impossible and dangerous' before a vaccine has been found and made widely available, normality seems some distance away.

It is good to see counties and players trying to maintain engagement on social media though. Between players answering supporter questions, offering tips from their gardens and playing each other at a cricket video game, there is plenty to enjoy, even if it really isn't the same.

I'm not really a gamer, but am finding Stick Cricket Live a lot of fun, after the suggestion of a work colleague.

I'm just pining, like the rest of you, for the return of the real thing.