Saturday, 7 May 2011

1936 - May

It was 75 years ago tomorrow that Derbyshire began their Championship campaign in 1936 that would ultimately lead to their first and only Championship crown.

It was probably fair to say that the Derbyshire side of 1936 was not especially strong in batting. While individuals such as Denis Smith, Stan Worthington and Les Townsend got their fair share of runs, the uncovered pitches and high quality bowlers of the era meant that we were rarely awash with runs. Rather the side worked as a team and usually someone scored enough for the bowlers to work with.

Ironically Smith, a good enough batsman to play for England, was for most of 1936 horribly out of form and dropped down the order in an attempt to find some. There was really no one else to take his place until the amateurs became available in the summer holidays. Nor was there much cricket that summer for George Pope, an all rounder of considerable and growing talent and regular contributor down the order, who didn’t play after May with cartilage trouble.

The effective loss of two such players made it all the more remarkable that Derbyshire ended the season as champions and it looked far from a likely outcome when the season began under the traditional grey clouds in May. Indeed, had there been an early version of 606 or IMWT you could imagine the fans grumbling. The captain rarely gets any runs, Smith is hopeless, Mitchell is too expensive and Copson – well, he’d be alright if he was fit. I'm sure Derbyshire fans have always been somewhat intolerant...

Truth be told, fitness was a problem for Bill Copson for much of his career and he was not the most resilient of our long line of seamers. When fit, however, he was a handful and the club had taken steps to get him fit for 1936 by having him train with Chesterfield FC, strengthening the strained sacroiliac joint that caused him to miss much of 1935.

Although confident after several strong seasons, 1936 began inauspiciously. At Southampton, the ninth wicket pair salvaged a draw from Hampshire after we had been set an unlikely 387 to win, Tommy Mitchell and Harry Elliot batting out time after the attack had been on the end of a rare pasting. A win against Oxford University followed, but in the next match at Gravesend the regular batting frailties were evident against Kent, when the game was finished on the second day. Leg spinners ‘Tich’ Freeman and Doug Wright bowled us out twice, for 119 and 99 and Kent, needing only 42 to win, did so by ten wickets.

When the team returned to Derby and the first home game on May 16 their supporters cannot have been too impressed and would have been less so when we were bowled out for just 175 by Surrey, Albert Alderman top scoring with 77. Copson and Mitchell then brought us back into the game as they reduced the visitors to 116-7, but Barling led a recovery with 95 and the visitors totalled 218, a lead of 43.

Derbyshire’s second innings was even worse than the first, and despite 43 more from Alderman they were all out for 136, leaving the visitors just 94 runs for a win in two days. Grumblers corner must have been in full spate at that point…

At 49-2 the visitors were cruising at tea on the second day, with just 45 needed for a straightforward victory. Most of the spectators went home, only the diehards remaining to witness a likely defeat.Yet what followed was perhaps the pivotal session of the season. What happened during that interval has disappeared into the mists of time, but when the players returned, Copson bowled like a man inspired. With pace and lift accompanied by a perfect line and length he ripped through the Surrey batting, taking 7-19 in fourteen overs,  the visitors subsiding from 73-6 to 77 all out as we won by 16 runs. His post-tea spell was 6-8 in seven overs and the batsmen had to play almost every ball. The only not out batsman, Laurie Fishlock, was beaten five times in one Copson over, while England man Alf Gover was last out, caught behind off Copson.

The win was extraordinary yet Derbyshire secretary Will Taylor probably bemoaned the loss of a day’s income at the same time that he enjoyed the win. Losing two out of the first three fixtures, having had the worst of the opening game, would have been a bitter blow.

The confidence boost, akin to that received by Derbyshire in last weekend's draw at Leicester, was evident as the action moved to Chesterfield. Thanks to Les Townsend’s unbeaten 182, Derbyshire totalled 387 before Mitchell and Copson blew the visitors away for just 129, taking nine wickets between them.

Following on they did better but the wickets were evenly shared as they were bowled out for 233, giving Derbyshire victory by an innings and 25 runs.

The final fixture of May saw the action move to Bristol and a game against Gloucestershire that was a good battle. Copson took another four wickets as the hosts were bowled out for 164, although the success was tempered by a slip by George Pope, that saw him out for the rest of the campaign. Derbyshire, thanks to battling knocks from Alderman and Elliot replied with 193 before Mitchell’s five wickets on a turning wicket left us a tricky 95 to win.

The target was reached with aplomb, however, Alderman and Smith sharing an unbroken stand in ninety minutes to take us to a ten-wicket win, again with a day to spare.

Derbyshire were up and running.

Three successive wins steered the county from the dangerous waters of the early fixtures to calmer seas. By the end of the month we sat fourth in the table and valuable momentum had been gained.

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