Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Derek Morgan: an appreciation and obituary

There are those cricketers who flit across the landscape like a comet, playing several seasons of brilliance before burning out. They are often 'eye' players, and when the eye goes, the technique is sometimes not there to bail them out when the going gets tougher.

Then there are those who, year on year, are always there. They are like a favourite jacket or raincoat that you reach for, comforted by its presence and knowing what you will get from it.

For two decades, Derek Morgan, whose passing was announced yesterday, was the fulcrum around which the Derbyshire cricket eleven worked. He wasn't the best, or most glamorous batsman; he wasn't the best bowler in an attack that had several candidates for that title. Yet he was a man whose commitment to the cause was absolute and whose skills contributed to an era in which Derbyshire had a side to be reckoned with, especially in the first decade.

I am old enough to remember his final three seasons, though my father was a regular throughout his career, having first seen the county in 1947, three years before his debut. He, like me, remembers a batsman who scored runs, often when they were most needed, yet not in a style that would have made you sit up in your deckchair and put your newspaper away.

With a few exceptions, such players rarely thrived on Walter Goodyear's wickets and it was a rarity for Morgan to get to the crease with 200 on the board and the bowlers wilting. His lot was rather that of the man who battled the side to a total, giving an attack to match any other something to bowl at. He hadn't a memorable stroke, as such, but he had most of them and used them when the ball offered a minimal risk of dismissal. After all, you don't score the best part of 18,000 runs without knowing how to put away the bad ball.

He was an attritional batsman in the best northern tradition, ironic for a man born and brought up in Middlesex. Yet his National Service saw him serve locally and a Derbyshire man he became. His was a prized wicket, because while he was still there, Derbyshire could eke out enough runs to win matches. He did that, often.

On the legendary day at Burton-on-Trent in 1958, when 39 wickets fell in a day, the one man to make a score was Derek Morgan, braving repeated blows to the hands, body and head to make forty-odd against Hampshire. Then, as Harold Rhodes tired, he came on to bowl and took the last three wickets. It was typical of the man.

As a bowler, he had a modest run up that gave little hint of the dangers to follow, but he gave sterling support to two generations of opening bowlers. He once said, in typically modest fashion, that he got a lot of wickets because batsmen needed to 'crack on' after being tied down by Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson. Yet the comment denied a talent for putting the ball down on a consistent line and length for season after season. Moving it around enough to make the batsmen think, he could bowl a steady medium-fast, or cut down, when the wicket demanded, and bowl off-cutters, often a fine foil for the genuine spin of Edwin Smith at the other end.

17842 runs and 1126 wickets. We will not see his like again, that's for sure.

As a captain, he was functional, rather than special. Where the best captains make things happen, the ordinary tend to be reactive and Morgan was in the latter category. Having spoken to many of his contemporaries in the course of research for my books, the general feeling was of a skipper under who the game could drift. Where Donald Carr and Guy Willatt made things happen with a canny bowling or fielding change, Morgan was more formulaic and captaincy was not his strongest suit.

Yet as a fielder, he was beyond compare. With Morgan, Carr and Alan Revill in close, batsmen knew that Derbyshire had a trio like Autolycus, snapping up the unconsidered trifles that many might not have deemed chances. While discussions on the merits of the old game against the modern one will always be fascinating, there is no modern player better than those three at holding catches, the hand/eye co-ordination quite extraordinary.

More than once my father recalls a batsman flashing at the ball and his eyes, like those of friends, looking to the boundary, only to see it being tossed in the air by one of them, the ripple of applause becoming loud as spectators realised the magicians had worked their tricks again.

Would he have been a success in the modern game? Every team needs a Derek Morgan, and while never likely to be confused with a Stokes or Botham, like Trevor Bailey he brought balance to his side. He moved with grace and speed in his younger days and had a fine cricket brain. As I wrote yesterday, worse players have played for England and, in another era, opportunity must surely have come his way. And if you were selecting an all-time county eleven, there would be few who omitted him from their side.

An all-round sportsman who played hockey, rugby and football to a good standard, I would have loved to interview him for my most recent book, but his ill-health legislated against it. Yet I saw him, and for that I am thankful.

His passing leaves only one man, Edwin Smith, still with us from those who have over a thousand wickets for the county.

Rest in Peace, Derek Morgan.

You served your county well.

5 comments:

Snapper said...

Lovely tribute to a wonderful man, a true gentleman. Two things stick in my mind, the dignity with which he approached Syd Buller after he called Harold for throwing in the S. Africa game and the way he ignored the barracking whilst he made a painstaking 26 n.o in the semi final at Queen's Park enabling us to mount what proved to be a match winning total.

Gerry Shedd said...

A really nice tribute! I saw Derek Morgan and he was exactly as you describe him.
My only other comment - surely Autolycus was Shakespeare's "snapper up of unconsidered trifles". Falstaff would have been more of a sedentary mid-on, failing to bend in time as the ball went past him.

Peakfan said...

Thanks Gerry. Indeed 'twas Autolycus and a case of writing too quickly!

Mind you, I would have hid Falstaff at third man or fine leg. Just as we have a few, over the years...

Bob Biggs said...

I saw Derek play many times as I spent much of my early teen Summers chasing autographs and watching the cricket. I thought he was a decent player but perhaps needed a closer encounter to realise just how good he[and others?]were. That came in 1969/70 when I played in a Jackson Cup game one evening against the Old Derbeians. I was in the 6th form at Derby School at the time so was looking to impress those who had gone before me! I opened the batting, got to 20 or so and then Derek came on.

First ball - I missed it and it hit me on the left shin - it still hurts!
Second ball - I played and missed
Third ball - Shorter and slower, caught mid off

He was kind enough to congratulate me on my innings after the game and said he'd spotted my preference for the full length ball so bowled shorter. Different class really....

malcolm barlow said...

Bob lovely anecdote and fits him perfectly I saw him many times and as a trainee Accountant got to know when he retired and worked at Flint BIshop Barnett
A true derbyshire legend
We will forgive him for being a southerner lol