Monday, 28 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - K is for Kirsten: Peter Kirsten

There are four outstanding candidates for the best "K" to represent Derbyshire.

Simon Katich had but one season in our colours, in 2007, yet finished it with the highest average in a championship season by a Derbyshire player (75.52). He was an accumulator, someone who, having got in, rarely gave it away. By the same token, Katich was somewhat one-dimensional and really couldn't play the one-day game, while T20 appeared anathema to him. For me, his season at the club will be remembered for an outstanding championship season, but a limited overs one that was, at best, average. That season's T20 campaign as a team was, even with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat shambolic.

Adrian Kuiper was largely responsible for our Refuge Assurance win in his one full season with us. A useful medium pace bowler and good fielder, Kuiper's strength was that he could hit a ball a country mile and did so with remarkable frequency. Potentially close finishes that year were blown away by the brilliance, yet common sense of his hitting, showing a man with good judgement of the hittable ball. With Chris Wilkins he was the biggest hitter I have seen in Derbyshire colours and that judgement made all the difference. If a target  looked like it was getting away from us, Kuiper simply smacked a couple of boundaries and brought it within the realms of respectability again. It sounds easy, but isn't - despite the South African making it look so. Were he playing today he would earn a fortune in T20.

For me, Kuiper is just shaded into second place by Karl Krikken, largely by dint of service over a protracted period. By no standards would you say that Krikk was a conventional wicket-keeper. His farmer in wellingtons style, waddling between balls behind the stumps, was a long way removed from the textbook crouching manner, while he looked almost like a goalkeeper facing a penalty kick as the bowler's arm came over. Yet Krikk missed little over 400 games, often taking catches, especially down the leg side, that a more orthodox stance may not have allowed him to get to. He had great hands and an even greater mouth, a never-ending source of encouragement to bowlers from first ball to last.

As a batsman he was more than useful and should have scored more runs than he did, though the Derbyshire side of his time was blessed with greater batting talent than some of more recent vintage and Krikk often perished in the quest for quick runs. Having said all that, his greatest contribution to Derbyshire cricket may be yet to come...

For me, though, the number one simply has to be Peter Kirsten, with Dean Jones the best all-round batsman I have seen in Derbyshire colours. Kirsten could accumulate and would often get to thirty before you realised it and while you struggled to recall the strokes that got him there. Yet once he was in, the strokes were dazzling and he had them all.  From late cuts to sweeps, "Kirst" played all round the wicket and had lovely footwork. He was compact and composed at the crease and some of us called him the "Little Don", reference to the dapper and uncomplicated style that was reminiscent of the great Bradman.

His first two seasons saw him scrape past a thousand as he got used to English wickets as a young player, but from 1980 to 1982 he was as good a player as any in the country, recording 1895, 1605 and 1941 championship runs in successive seasons with averages of 63, 55 and 64.  In that 1982 season, with John Wright making 1830 runs, Derbyshire fans enjoyed two batsmen at the peak of their form and batting brilliance that had never been seen before, or since. Kirsten hit eight centuries that season and Wright seven. Derbyshire were usually 195-1 or similar at the sports bulletins, and there were matches when they hardly looked like getting out. So good were they, indeed, that opponents started setting ridiculous targets for us in the fourth innings of games, yet we sometimes we still got them.

Kirsten was a brilliant fielder and a useful off-spinner, at least until a knee injury started to cause problems.  A request for a year's break was met with a refusal and his release was a startling example of the way the club has shot itself in the foot too many times over the years. He was just 27 and approaching his prime at the time.

He would have graced international cricket and, although past his peak, at least made a dozen Test appearances when South Africa were re-admitted to the fold. When he reached a century against England at Headingley in 1994, I cheered more than if an Englishman had reached the milestone. While his Test average of 31 in no way reflects his talent, considering he was 37 on debut it was far from a disgrace.

57 centuries and 107 fifties; another ten centuries and 83 fifties in one-day games - oh yes, Peter Kirsten could play alright. I consider it an absolute privilege to have seen him in his prime and would be astonished if I saw anyone comparable in our colours in the future.

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