Monday, 21 September 2009

Long line of honour

Whoever follows James Pipe into Derbyshire's wicket keeping position has a huge job on their hands.

Not just in following a very good wicket keeper batsman but in taking over a role that has historically been very strong at the county.

The first of the top keepers was also a very good batsman. Bill Storer was a good enough player to get half a dozen games for England and but for the presence, primarily of Warwickshire's Dick Lilley would have played more for his country. He twice averaged over 50 in a season on wickets of varying quality and a career record of 17 centuries and 63 half centuries suggests a man who could play. He was one of the first wicket keepers to stand up to quicker bowlers and had a style that was similar to Karl Krikken, half standing and half crouched. Strangely he was also a leg spinner good enough to take 232 wickets but couldn't always get someone to take over behind the stumps!

Then Joe Humphries took over in 1899 and kept with great skill until the outbreak of the First World War. He toured Australia in 1907 under AO Jones, playing three Tests. He only made 44 runs in six Test innings, however, and with only 11 half centuries in over 500 innings was a dogged tail ender at best. His wicket keeping was widely admired.

Harry Elliott was 29 when he took over the role in 1920, yet only played his last match in 1947 at the age of 56. Elliott was a superb wicket keeper who had a great knowledge of the game. From 1920 he played 194 consecutive matches before being selected for England against the West Indies, then played a further 232 matches until he was injured in 1937. These statistics suggest that Elliott took the ball very well, much like Bob Taylor, although he was known to play through the pain on occasion. 1206 victims tells of his ability and his 303 stumpings stand as a record unlikely to be challenged for Derbyshire wicket keepers. A dogged, fighting batsman, he had only eleven half centuries in 764 first class innings yet regularly held up an end while more gifted players hit it around at the other end.

After the Second World War George Dawkes moved from Leicestershire as he could not displace Paddy Corrall and was another fine servant. He made his debut in 1947 and was another who, from 1950-61 played in 287 consecutive Championship games. Who needs a reserve keeper? Certainly not Derbyshire at this time. Dawkes was brilliant behind the stumps in an especially fine fielding side. He was also one of our better wicket keeping batsman. Tall for a keeper, he often injected fast runs into the middle order to aid a declaration and more torment for the opposition due to face Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin. 1041 victims for George, including a memorable day when he caught all of a hat trick by Les Jackson against Worcestershire.

Dawkes retired in 1961 when he saw the potential of Bob Taylor and Taylor was the greatest of them all. He graced - the only word for it - Derbyshire cricket until 1988 and was at times the best (some might say only) thing about it. Lithe yet undemonstrative, Taylor was so good that there was greater consternation when he occasionally - very occasionally - dropped one than when he held them. Hold them he did, with 1649 first class victims. There were 174 in Test matches as Bob took over from Alan Knott when he joined the Packer revolution. Bob was another dogged batsman, workmanlike rather than brilliant, but he won us a few games, especially one day matches, with some quick running, good placement and a never-say-die attitude. One of the greatest thrills of my cricket life was seeing Bob Taylor and I would be amazed to see a better wicket keeper.

Bob was replaced by the talented Bernie Maher who had been around for years but was first choice until 1993. Maher was a solid batsman who scored four centuries for us, and was a keeper of great ability. Realistically, anyone following Taylor was always going to look inferior, but Maher did a very good job, keeping a good level of consistency and contributing well with the bat.

Then the tranquility of Derbyshire cricket was shattered by arguably their noisiest keeper, and probably most unorthodox in Karl Krikken, who was to remain first choice into the new century. Krikk was a bundle of energy behind the stumps and looked for all the world like a boxer as he bounced around waiting on the bowler coming in. Whenever we featured on TV the commentators would talk about his unusual style and if he let a ball drop would attribute that style to the root of the problem. Yet Karl held some of the most remarkable catches I've ever seen by a wicket keeper and perhaps his style was the reason. With almost 800 victims in all cricket he held more than he put down, while his pugnacious batting enlivened many an innings. He is now, of course, one of the top qualified coaches in the country and we are fortunate to have him in charge of the Academy at the County Ground.

Luke Sutton then moved from Somerset to take over behind the stumps and did so with fine style until he moved to Lancashire in 2006. Sutton was probably the best wicket keeping batsman we have had, good enough to open the batting on a number of occasions, while also captaining the side in 2004 and 2005. Sutton was lightning fast between the wickets and was also a solid wicket keeper. Perhaps not a Taylor, but a very good, competent player. Few would dispute that his peak years were at the County Ground and most were sad when he left for Old Trafford.

Then came Pipe. After understudying Steve Rhodes for a number of years, Pipe found himself second choice behind Steve Davies and moved to Derby where he became a firm favourite with fans. Pipe was not the greatest of starters, but once he got in was a tremendous hitter of a ball. He rarely came off when pushed up the order, but most will remember him as a player who led numerous counter attacks as an innings went off the rails. Those at Chesterfield last season will never forget his one man demolition of Worcestershire, while his spectacular blitz against Yorkshire in the Twenty/20 a couple of years ago will live long in the memory. A talented keeper, he was an admirable addition to the long lineage.

So who is next?

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