Thursday, 17 April 2008

Favourite cricketers 5 - Ashley Harvey-Walker

Why was he a favourite player? A career average of less than 24 is hardly indicative of a major talent.

But Ashley (nicknamed Hearty Whacker) by John Arlott was a front of the wicket player who was always prepared to hit the ball.

He had a notably heavy bat and sprang to prominence on debut when he became the first Derbyshire player to score a century in his first appearance. OK, the opposition was a less than scary Oxford University, but runs are runs. He never lived up to that performance, but often produced a hard and high hitting cameo of an innings, especially in one day cricket. At a time when Derbyshire were blessed with a number of what my Dad called "nudge and fudge" batsman, who deflected rather than hit the ball, Harvey-Walker was entertaining. You knew it would never last for long, and 3 centuries and 19 fifties in an eight season career wasn't brilliant.

But you knew if he could get through the first few overs, and if he got in against the slower bowlers, rather than quicks, that there would be some entertainment. He could hit long and hard, and once memorably hit England off-spinner Pat Pocock onto the top deck of the stand at the Oval.

He played in the legendary game at Buxton in 1975, where the wicket was affected by snow and Derbyshire were annihilated by Lancashire. Ashley removed his false teeth on the death trap of a wicket and gave them to umpire Dickie Bird for safe keeping. legend suggests that when he popped a catch to short leg in this game, he shouted "catch it" himself!

He was a useful occasional bowler of slow medium cutters, taking 34 wickets in his career. Most memorably, he took 7-35 on a dire wicket at Ilkeston when the wicket was turning square and he was given the new ball by Eddie Barlow. For the rest of his days, he enjoyed occasional banter about his bowling with Geoff Miller, which usually ended with Harvey-Walker asking Miller what his career best bowling was...

On his retirement, he went into the Leagues as a professional, then went out to South Africa, destination for so many Derbyshire players, where he became a highly regarded groundsman. It was very sad to hear of his shocking death in 1997, shot dead in a Johannesburg bar in which he had a business interest.

While not one of the all-time greats, Ashley was a character, and a man who enlivened and enriched the game. Can anyone ask for more?

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