Saturday, 5 March 2011

Holding the man.

There’s a decision to be made among the ‘H’ category, albeit one that comes down to two players as far as I'm concerned.
Two opening batsmen are worthy of consideration, both of them players who sold their wickets dearly. Ian Hall was a dogged battler in the 1960s who got to the middle and worked to stay there. Not for him the flamboyant shots – he accumulated runs and was a workmanlike player.

As was Alan Hill, although ‘Bud’ became a key member of the side in the 1970s and 1980s as the ideal foil for John Wright. They made a good pairing, though Hill at times struggled to shake off the reputation that once saw him make a century in South Africa without a boundary. It was ironic that he subsequently was the first Derbyshire player to make a Sunday League century, tribute to his willingness to work at his game and Eddie Barlow’s encouragement to hit the ball. Hill was never a flashy player, but if you were selecting a Derbyshire side to save a game you would want him in there fighting for you. He was a very underrated player and I had a lot of time for him.

Then of course there is Arnold Hamer, the best batsman of a fairly average side in the 1950s and one who could play in whatever style the game and conditions demanded. His average of 31 in the first class game would probably be worth more on the covered tracks of today, but Hamer, worthy a player as he was, is eclipsed by two bowlers of distinction as far as I'm concerned.

The stature of the man in first place is illustrated by Mike Hendrick being ‘only’ second. Hendo was an outstanding bowler in the real Derbyshire tradition. The lineage that ran from Warren through Bestwick, the Popes, Copson, Gladwin, Jackson and Rhodes was safe with him. Not especially quick but hostile, no extravagant movement but enough to find the edge, Mike Hendrick was a class act.

Especially when he reached the international stage, some argued that he bowled too short, happier to keep the score down with short of a length bowling than to produce the probing outswinger that drew the batsman forward. Maybe that was so, but Mike Hendrick on a green top was hard to play and he grew up in a Derbyshire side that rarely had runs to play with. In the Championship you could usually bank on a few wickets, while in one day games he rarely got hit. You can ask for little more from a bowler and Hendrick was also a fine slip fielder, had a good arm in the deep and was an entertaining tail-end slogger in the old tradition.

It takes a special man to keep him from top spot, but Michael Holding was one of the all-time greats. Although his days of constant express pace were behind him when he joined us, he could still bowl an occasional ball of unfeasible velocity. David Lloyd tells the tale in his recent book about umpiring at Derby where the pitch was docile, yet Holding found the pace and bounce to produce a ball that removed the thumb guard from the glove of Northamptonshire batsman Robin Boyd-Moss and sent his thumb in several directions.

Occasionally he would turn back time and come off his full run, but Holding was an able lieutenant to the fledgling Kim Barnett. Always willing to come on when things were tough and the score mounting, he was close to the ideal overseas player. At times he seemed to get wickets by reputation, but whatever the length of his run, watching Holding was a joy for the connoisseur - unless you were 22 yards away.

He was usually good for some tailend clumping too, and had a safe pair of hands. John Wright once said that the opposition always seemed pleased to hear he was playing, as it meant that Holding, with who he shared overseas duties for a time, wasn’t.

I’ve written before of my reservations about a book that was written a couple of years back on one hundred Derbyshire cricket greats. Greatness can be defined in different ways, in a local, national or international context. However I try to define it, I can’t get anywhere near 50 from Derbyshire’s history.

Maybe I’m hard to please but ‘great’ is quite an accolade and is as over-used today as ‘legend.’ I could easily write a book on a hundred favourite Derbyshire cricketers, bringing in some characters along the way, but some of the names in the forementioned tome, and others in the same series for other counties, made me smile when I saw them.

Having said that, both Mike Hendrick and Michael Holding would be in that 50. On a local scale Hendrick was a great player and on a national scale a good one.

Holding? He was a giant of the game by any benchmark, so has to be number one. An all-time great? You bet.

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