Thursday, 31 October 2013

The A-Z of Derbyshire Cricket - M is for Morgan: Derek Morgan

It is a good job that I have had time to think about the next categories in the A-Z of Derbyshire cricket, because the letter M throws up a number of worthy candidates.

There's Devon Malcolm for starters. 1054 first-class wickets at a shade over thirty, 128 Test wickets at 37 and a legendary performance that destroyed the South Africans in 1994 at The Oval. Devon was seriously quick when his rhythm was there, although there were plenty of occasions when the radar went AWOL and he could go around the park. He was a wonderful sight in his prime and was probably the club's fastest British-born bowler, a statement only contested by Harold Rhodes and Alan Ward in their respective primes.

Then there's Geoff Miller, a very fine all-rounder with 12,000 first-class runs at 26 and 888 wickets at 28. He made important contributions at international level too and was one of the best spin bowlers to appear for the county, his partnership with Fred Swarbrook being our best-ever tweaking combination. Miller looked such a class batsman that it was a surprise he made only two first-class centuries to go with 72 half-centuries, but was a very fine cricketer indeed. More recently he has played a major role in England's resurgence as national selector, a job he did to a very high standard.

Tommy Mitchell was a very fine leg-spinner of the 1930's, who was just short of international standard but took almost 1500 wickets for the strong Derbyshire side of that era. If Bill Copson and the Pope brothers could make an early breakthrough, which they frequently did, Mitchell regularly disposed of the rest in fine style. Like most others of his kind he could be expensive on a bad day, but could also conjure a victory from nothing on the good ones, which were frequent. He took five wickets in an innings on a remarkable 118 occasions and ten in a match thirty times, though such form failed to translate to the international game, where his eight wickets cost 62 runs each. Nevertheless, those wickets were taken in only ten full seasons and the Second World War probably prevented him going way past two thousand wickets and a record that would have stood for all time.

How about John Morris, a supremely talented batsman who compiled 21,000 first-class runs, most of them from front of the wicket strokes that most could only dream of. With over fifty centuries and an average of 37, it is perhaps unfair to say that his talent remained unfulfilled, but on his day Morris looked the complete batsman. Only his impetuous nature got him out on occasions and he was capable of much more than three Test caps. Watching him bat with Kim Barnett marked halcyon days for Derbyshire supporters and it is unfortunate that the careers of two of our greatest-ever batsmen were ended in the colours of another county.

There's also Ole Mortensen, an aggressive seam bowler from the unlikely source of Denmark. His loud exclamations of frustration when he beat the bat - which was often - became a feature of the local cricket scene and 434 first-class wickets at just under 24 told of a genuine talent. He was parsimony personified in the one-day game, when he often bowled through at the start of an innings. When one considers seam bowlers who fitted into the 'Derbyshire tradition', you have to include one who started out as a tax inspector in Denmark, rather than being whistled up from a pit shaft.

Nor can one overlook the claims of Wayne Madsen, a very fine batsman, increasingly impressive captain and outstanding ambassador in the current side. In a few years time, Madsen's claims may become even stronger, but for me there's only one candidate for top spot.

That's Derek Morgan (left), who between 1950 and 1969 scored over 18,000 runs at 25, as well as taking 1248 wickets at the same average, the mark of a genuine all-rounder. Add in fielding that saw him hold 573 catches and run out numerous batsmen with lithe, athletic work in any position - fielding so good that he was a regular England twelfth man - and you get an idea of the measure of the man.

He was a functional, rather than attractive batsman to watch. He had the shots, but often chose not to play them as he conducted his latest master-class in rearguard actions, salvaging a Derbyshire innings that had not gone to plan - how often has that happened over the years?

Uncovered wickets often made batting hazardous in the 1950's and early 1960's and Morgan battled on many occasions to keep Derbyshire alive in matches. A good example  would be the game against Hampshire at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day. No other batsman made more than 19 on a treacherous pitch, but Morgan's second innings 46 made the difference before he became the game's only bowling change and finished the game off with three wickets for four runs in the visitors forlorn run chase.

He would have had many more wickets, but for the fact that for a long time he lived off the remaining scraps once Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson had wreaked havoc on the opposition. Most who saw him regarded him as a 'canny' bowler, capable of bowling brisk seam with a newer ball before switching to slower off-cutters if the conditions dictated. He and off-spinner Edwin Smith were admirable foils for the legendary opening duo, though Morgan took a step back when Harold Rhodes emerged in the late 1950's, more often coming on as second change.

Were it not for the presence of Trevor Bailey in the England side, Morgan would have won many more England caps, notwithstanding the bias against his chosen county by the selectors of the time. Later in his career he became a shrewd captain of a weak Derbyshire side, the eleven of the late-1960s masking poor championship form with a Gillette Cup run that took them to the final in 1969.

In the face of such opposition as named above, a cricketer has to be pretty special to be seen as the best.

Derek Morgan was one of the greatest players to appear for Derbyshire, so without reservation he would be my choice.

Postscript - the picture at the top of the page shows Derek Morgan (standing left) with Alan Revill to his right, Seated: L-R - Edwin Smith, Cliff Gladwin, Arnold Hamer, John Kelly, George Dawkes, Les Jackson.

Now one of those bats would be worth owning...


Anonymous said...

Where the 'ell is "L" ?

Anonymous said...

one of the flaws of selecting a player for each letter is that some letters have a lot more worthy candidates than others, I never saw Derek Morgan play but even choosing between John Morris and Devon Malcolm is tricky.
A number of candidates here for a 'reserve list'.
Martin H