Saturday, 28 April 2012

M is for Magnificent Morgan

Nathan Fearn and I haven't always agreed on the way through the alphabet of great Derbyshire cricketers, but on the letter M there is no argument from me on his choice of Derek Morgan (standing left in this 1950's team group).

He rightly mentions earlier luminaries such as William Mycroft, while Tommy Mitchell was an outstanding, if somewhat mercurial leg spin bowler before the Second World War. He could be expensive at times, but was equally capable of destroying any batting line up. The feeling remained that he was not quite an international bowler and his volatile personality was perhaps not one that the establishment of the time would appreciate, but Mitchell was undoubtedly the most dangerous spinner we have ever had.

Fast forward forty years or so and one that Nathan appears to have overlooked, bar for a passing reference, was Geoff Miller. Ole Mortensen, Devon Malcolm and John Morris were all outstanding servants in a side that was as individually talented as any in our history, with the two quicks both awkward and hostile, while Morris at times could make batting look the easiest thing in the world.

Miller was a very, very good cricketer. He perhaps should have scored more runs, as when he did so it was with considerable grace and charm, but he was an excellent off-spinner who made his mark on the international team in the Mike Brearley era. He was also a very good fielder, with a good arm and a fine pair of hands leaving him able to field anywhere that was required.

A good all-rounder, for sure, but Derek Morgan (standing rear left in this shot of the 1950s Derbyshire side) was perhaps the greatest British-born all-rounder to play for Derbyshire.

He had some good opposition for that role, with such luminaries as Les Townsend, George Pope, Stan Worthington, Miller himself and Graeme Welch all worthy and fine servants for the club.

Yet Morgan's statistics speak for themselves. In a career that lasted from 1950 to 1969, he scored over 18,000 runs at an average of just under 25, took 1248 at 25 runs each and held 573 catches. He also captained the county with a good deal of common sense in a period when, during the late 1960's, we were not overly blessed with players of obvious class.

He was a functional rather than flashy player and few would have watched him and waxed lyrical, especially those who watched him bat. I saw him on several occasions and one never felt about him as you felt when watching a Peter Gibbs, a Chris Wilkins or a John Morris.

Yet Morgan had shots and on occasions showed them. They were often subjugated to the greater need, that of the team grinding out the runs to force a win, or save a game. Fancy shots might get a few runs, but Morgan was astute enough to realise that a hard-fought 50 was more value than a flashy 20 and he often came up with the goods, especially against the quickest and most dangerous bowlers.

In the legendary game against Hampshire that started and finished in a day on a Burton "minefield", only one player made more than 19 in the match, Morgan's 46 in our second innings being an innings of unbelievable value and worth many a century in better conditions. You have to bear in mind that wickets in his era were mainly left open to the elements and batsmen were exposed to "sticky" tracks on which only those with good defensive techniques, considerable skill and a great deal of bravery could survive. He had all of these in abundance and on eight occasions passed a thousand runs in a season.

As a bowler he was both fortunate and unfortunate to play in the same side as Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin. Fortunate because he learned from them the merits of line and length and keeping batsmen under pressure and also because, as he openly admitted, batsmen often took a chance against him when they'd barely had a loose ball from the opening pair. At the same time, there were occasions where he never got on because the legendary pairing ran through sides and had no need for back up. Early in his career he was a typically Derbyshire fast-medium, but as he got older he dropped his pace and moved it around. His mixture of late outswing, coupled with an ability to bowl off-cutters made for a potent mix and on 35 occasions he returned five wickets in an innings.

As a fielder, he was beyond compare in a generally sound fielding unit. Alan Revill and Donald Carr were brilliant close fielders, but Morgan, in the words of my Dad, "caught swallows". He could field anywhere with distinction, but as a backward short leg to Gladwin and Jackson he held half-chances and on occasions some that would not have been considered a chance to most, usually with the minimum of fuss.

His fielding was so good that he was England's 12th man on five occasions, yet he never gained selection for the national side. The presence of Trevor Bailey was the main problem, but Morgan, born in Middlesex, is another who may well have got the nod had he stayed down south with one of the more fashionable counties.

The other factor with Derek Morgan is his resilience. If one goes through the seasons that he played, he missed precious few matches and was as great an advert for the solid county professional as could have been wished for.

There have been bigger names in the club's history, ones who produced brilliance over a few seasons, but on a pound for pound basis, over a twenty-year career Derek Morgan can be compared with and can stand alongside anyone. They named a suite after him at the County Ground, which is a worthy tribute, but he is well deserving of that brief but all important three word accolade of the very best. He could play.

 If we could sign the young Derek Morgan tomorrow we would breeze Division Two this summer. I'll take no arguments on that one.

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