Sunday, 13 November 2011

Champions 1936

With apologies for missing this at the time...

 Derbyshire began August 1936 with one of the most remarkable wins in their history, one which sent shockwaves through the opposition in the leading pack. On the first morning, a Saturday, we were bowled out in just two hours and with the hosts, Essex, taking the lead with only two men out a heavy defeat looked likely. They eventually led by 139 and when Derbyshire managed only 240 in their second innings, leading only by 101, there appeared no way back.

At 51-3 they were coasting to victory when Arthur Richardson tossed the ball to Tommy Mitchell. In an extraordinary five over spell, the leg-spinner took 6-25, four of his victims lbw, as Derbyshire won an extraordinary match by 20 runs.

A draw at the Oval saw things remain tight at the top, but Derbyshire then returned to winning ways at Derby against Leicestershire, in front of a crowd of around seven thousand. Mitchell and Bill Copson took five wickets each as the visitors were bowled out for 117, before we had our own struggles on the way to 159, the thirties of Alderman and skipper Richardson being crucial. Mitchell then took five more and Copson four as Leicestershire subsided to 94 all out, the target being knocked off easily for a nine-wicket win.

The win left us needing 51 points from five matches to be guaranteed the title, but a draw at Worksop against Nottinghamshire did neither side any real good, though Copson and Mitchell ensured that we took the important first innings lead points. Worse was to come at Eastbourne, where Charlie Elliot and Arthur Richardson had to bat out time to ensure three more precious points and a draw in a match that could easily have been lost with a side of less character.

The action moved to Chesterfield and a game that should have been an easy win. The visitors, Northamptonshire, didn't win a match between 1935 and 1939 and, after bowling them out for 144 and taking a 65-run lead Derbyshire will have fancied their chances. Mitchell sustained a broken thumb that prevented him from playing again at the end of the Derbyshire innings, however and the visitors racked up 411-6 in their second innings, "Freddie" Bakewell making an unbeaten 241 in what turned out to be his last first-class innings. On the way home after the game he suffered a broken arm in a car accident that saw his team mate R.P. Northway killed, a tragic end to two careers.

Derbyshire batted out time with some difficulty for five more precious points and at the end of the game found that the other results had gone their way despite recent stumbles. With two games to go they were assured of at least a share in the title and needed just three points from their last two matches to win it outright, something that will have occupied their minds as they moved down to Wells and the penultimate match against Somerset.

Even without Mitchell they will have fancied their chances, though only Denis Smith's 93 saw us to a decent 216. Pope and Copson shared eight wickets and Derbyshire took a seventy run lead, before late important hitting from Richardson and Pope set Somerset an unlikely 271 on the final day. At 140-5 the win looked likely, but big-hitting Arthur Wellard hammered 86, with seven sixes. Copson took two quick wickets with six needed and one wicket left, but Somerset edged home to deprive Derbyshire of a crucial victory.

It was a disappointment, at least until the news came through that Yorkshire had failed to beat Sussex and Derbyshire could not be overtaken. We were champions!!

Though nerves had played a part in the failure to win four successive matches, the shackles were off for the final game against Leicestershire at Oakham School. There were four more wickets for Copson as the home side were bowled out for 151 on the first day, before Smith (169) and Worthington (102) added 209 for the second wicket. Then came a collapse to 338 all out, before the wickets were shared out between the bowlers as we ran out victors by an innings and 66 runs, the final wicket of the season going to Alf Pope when he clean bowled the Leicestershire keeper Paddy Corrall.

It was a triumph made possible by an attack at the height of its powers. Copson's 140 wickets cost just 12 each, while Mitchell had 121 at 21 and Pope 99 at 18. Les Townsend's off spin brought 63 wickets at 20 and one can only guess at how well they would have done had George Pope stayed fit for the campaign.

The batting was sketchy, though led by Townsend and Worthington. The key was in scoring enough runs at a pace to enable the attack to go to work. There were contributions down the order and the win was well deserved, even if the players themselves felt they had played better in the two previous seasons.

Seventy-five years on it remains Derbyshire's only championship triumph and with a side effectively home-reared from a structure put in place in the middle of the previous decade. Can history repeat itself with the current exciting crop of young talent at the County Ground? Who knows, but with a couple of seamers coming through to add to a number of young batsmen and spinners, you never can tell.

Watch this space...

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