Derbyshire’s Greatest Bowlers

As Derbyshire County Cricket Club celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020, we have asked the Club Heritage Officer, Photographer and Statistician, David Griffin, to write a series of articles covering some of the county’s greatest moments and players.

The series will include accounts of the 1936 County Championship-winning season, the 1981 Nat West Trophy-winning campaign, and the triumphs of 1990, 1993 and 2012 in the RAL Sunday League, the Benson and Hedges Cup, and the County Championship Second Division, respectively.
Also, there will be a focus on Derbyshire’s England Test Cricketers, their finest batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers, and a feature looking at Derbyshire’s overseas players.
Finally, with a rich heritage of playing at a multitude of home venues, there will be an article covering the history of Derbyshire grounds.

In this opening article, the focus is on Derbyshire’s greatest bowlers.

Historically, Derbyshire has been a county of bowlers. Of course, some great batsmen have graced the cricket fields of England and Wales while wearing Derbyshire colours, but bowlers – usually, but not exclusively – of the fast and fast-medium variety have been at the forefront of Derbyshire cricket for the majority of the last 150 years.

Usually born within the county boundaries, often from mining stock, and generally granite-like in build, the first century of Derbyshire cricket produced some of the most outstanding home-grown bowlers in the county game.

The first undisputed champion fast bowler was the Brimington-born William ‘Bill’ Mycroft, who made his debut in 1873 and was a left arm quick bowler with a background in boxing. He stood 5’9” inches and weighed 12 stones and worked as an ironstone miner.

In an age of round-arm bowlers, his high arm action was seen by some as illegal and his action was occasionally questioned, although he was never no balled.

What was not in question was his effectiveness. Even acknowledging that he played in an era of lower scores and helpful pitches, his statistics were truly remarkable.

In 1875 he finished top of the national averages with 90 wickets at 7.38 in nine matches and in 1878 he became the first bowler to take a hundred wickets for the county with 101 at 9.45 in 12 matches, 89 of them in ten inter-county games. Twice in his career he took nine in an innings, including 9-25 at Southampton in a match analysis of 17-103 out of the 19 wickets that fell. Thirteen were bowled – his fast yorker brought him many victims – and four caught but Hampshire won by one wicket.

His final tally of 544 wickets for the county came at an average of just 11.71 with 56 five-wicket innings and 19 ten-wicket matches – all achieved in just 79 matches.

In all first-class matches Mycroft took 863 wickets at 12.09 – only four bowlers in the history of the game have taken more wickets at a lower average.

The next outstanding fast bowler to represent the county was ‘The Demon’ Australian, Fred Spofforth. Touring with the Australians, Spofforth had taken 35 wickets in three games against the county in 1880, 1882 and 1884. In 1886 he married a local Derbyshire girl and made it known that he would like to play for the county.

He never actually played for the county in an official game of cricket as a result of Derbyshire’s ‘relegated’ status during his tenure with the club. The game’s governing body had determined that Derbyshire’s standard of cricket was not first-class and so relegated them from the county championship and the county played no first-class cricket after the end of the 1887 season until the beginning of 1894. Nonetheless, he produced some excellent performances, none better than his match analysis of 53-19-81-15 against Yorkshire in 1889.

Another player born in Brimington became one of the finest all-rounders in the club’s history, recording 274 v Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1896, still Derbyshire’s highest individual score.

George Davidson was a right arm fast medium bowler who took 449 wickets at an average of 17.50 in 95 matches between 1886 and 1898. While not taking wickets at Mycroft’s strike rate – he averaged almost seven per game – Davidson’s average of almost 5 per match puts him in second place behind the great Mycroft.

There have only been 17 instances of a Derbyshire bowler taking nine or more wickets in an innings and Davidson performed the feat twice – 9-42 v Gloucestershire in 1886 and 9-39 v Warwickshire in 1895, both at Derby. Davidson’s feat of taking nine in an innings twice can be measured by the names of the only other Derbyshire bowlers to take nine twice – Mycroft, Bill Bestwick, Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson.

Davidson died from pneumonia when he was only 32 and at the height of his cricketing powers.

Joe Hulme was a contemporary of Davidson, born in Swadlincote and good enough to take 508 wickets in 133 matches, including 9-27 against Yorkshire at Bramall Lane in 1894 – the sixth best innings analysis in the county’s history.

The first twenty years of the 20th century saw two outstanding and durable fast bowlers emerge from Codnor and Heanor, Arnold Warren and Bill Bestwick. Between 1903 and 1909 they bowled 52 per cent of all the overs bowled for the county and took 59 per cent of the wickets. Warren’s efforts saw him play for England.

However, both players lived rather turbulent lifestyles – Warren served a jail sentence following a conviction for affray in a hotel, while Bestwick – who was working down the pit at the age of 11 – was left to bring up his seven-year-old son when his wife died in 1906, and was then accused of killing a man in Heanor after both men had been drinking heavily. Bestwick was acquitted when  an inquest jury found that he had acted in self-defence.

He was once sent from the field by his captain after urinating on the outfield having consumed too many pints at lunch, and frequently absented himself from games before the county sacked him following an incident in The Grandstand Hotel.

Nonetheless, Bestwick, tall and with a magnificent physique could bowl; fast and seemingly forever. For all his personal failings, his record of 321 first-class matches and 1,452 wickets – the third highest tally for the county – stands as a tribute to his fast-bowling skills.

He also, memorably, took 10-40 – still the best innings analysis in the club’s history – against Glamorgan at Cardiff in 1921, before lunch and at the age of 46, and after returning to the county following his sacking. He took five wickets in an innings 104 times and 10 in a match on 27 occasions.

Warren was tall and also well-built having worked in the family business as a builder and took 918 wickets in 250 games. He played one Test match – against Australia at Headingly in 1905, and despite taking 5-57 and 1-56 was never selected again.

Sam Cadman was another fine all-round cricketer who played for the county between 1900 and 1926. He was one of the pioneers of what we now know as in-swing bowling and took 803 wickets at 25.25, playing his final game for Derbyshire at the age of 49 and subsequently managing the Derbyshire Nursery before becoming the off-field architect of the 1936 County Championship winning side.

A contemporary of Cadman was Arthur Morton, who bowled medium-paced off breaks and was probably the first Derbyshire bowler who could be classed as a leading front-line spinner.

He took 966 wickets in 350 matches – and scored almost 11,000 runs – and was generally employed as Bill Bestwick’s ‘minder’ – not an easy task.

Jim Horsley’s career was split into two by the First World War, but he will forever be remembered for taking a hat trick against the 1919 touring Australian Imperial Forces at Derby. He was considered a devastating bowler on the right pitch and would have taken countless more wickets had it not been for WWI.

The 1920s was a decade of modest – at best – performances by Derbyshire, but one player made an unlikely impact on the side. Garnet Lee had left Nottinghamshire at the age of 38 and was forced to qualify for two years before he could make his debut for Derbyshire in 1925 aged 40.

Bowling leg breaks, and also a more than capable batsman, Lee played 229 matches for Derbyshire taking 313 wickets as well as scoring almost 10,000 runs – not bad for a player who played exclusively in his 40s.

Pilsley-born Archibald Slater was another cricketer who saw his career affected by WWI. He was widely considered to be a contender for England Test selection taking 498 wickets at 21.07 with his right arm medium pace bowling.

His greatest performance came at the age of 40 when he took 14-48 (7-31 and 7-17) against Somerset at Chesterfield in 1930.

Derbyshire’s greatest county championship side was undoubtedly that which finished sixth, third, second, first, third and fifth in six consecutive seasons in the 1930s. This side had some fine batsman – Denis Smith, Les Townsend and Stan Worthington all played for England – but this decade saw some of the finest bowling performances in the club’s history.

The 1936 Championship-winning side included Bill Copson (140 wickets) Tommy Mitchell (116 wickets) and Alf Pope (94 wickets). The first two played Test cricket for England, as did Alf’s brother, George Pope, but he was injured for all but four games of that season.

Throughout the decade, however, these four bowlers, plus Townsend and Worthington, were a match for all-comers.

Townsend was one of the greatest all-rounders in the county’s history; he scored almost 18,000 runs and took 969 wickets with his off breaks, bowling less when leg-spinner Mitchell was in his pomp.

The bespectacled Mitchell took 1,417 wickets for Derbyshire – only Jackson, Gladwin and Bestwick have taken more – and his 115 five wicket innings and 29 ten wicket matches are unsurpassed, as is his 168 first-class wickets in a single season, in 1935.

He took 10-64 in an innings against Leicestershire at Leicester in 1935, only the second such instance for Derbyshire.

Bill Copson was an outstanding fast bowler – his 1,033 wickets costing just 18.76 apiece, earning him three England test caps and becoming one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1937, alongside Stan Worthington and following Denis Smith and Les Townsend who had earned the same accolade earlier in the decade.

That he only played in three Tests remains a mystery – his debut was a success, taking 5-85 and 4-67 in England’s victory over the West Indies at Lord’s in 1939.

Contemporary accounts suggest that for a while he was the quickest bowler in English cricket.

Worthington was better known for his batting – he remains the only Derbyshire cricketer to score a Test match century for England – but he was a high-class bowler who added 624 wickets to his 17,000 runs, bowling brisk fast medium.

The two senior Pope brothers – there were three, although Harold only played ten games for Derbyshire – were outstanding cricketers.

Alf Pope took 542 wickets at 22.40 with a combination of fast medium and off-break bowling. He was slightly quicker than brother George and played in a Test Trial but was never selected for England.

George Pope took 567 wickets at just 19.82 and played in one Test match for England.

George was tall and magnificently built and was apparently taught how to bowl a leg-cutter by the legendary Sydney Barnes. Among his many outstanding performances was 6-20 and 6-81 in the match against Nottinghamshire at Ilkeston in 1947 when he took a hat trick in a spell of 5-5.

The Second World War saw the end of first-class cricket in the UK, but the post-war period saw the emergence of two outstanding Derbyshire fast bowlers, revered to this day, and who rank alongside the finest bowlers ever to play for the county.

Cliff Gladwin didn’t take a wicket in the county championship until he was 30; Les Jackson made his Derbyshire debut aged 26. It’s remarkable, therefore, that these two fast bowlers became the most consistent opening attack in the county’s history, the two leading wicket-takers, and probably the most feared new-ball attack in county cricket.

Both bowlers were renowned for their hostility and nagging accuracy, and their career records – Gladwin 1,536 wickets an at average of 17.67. Jackson 1,670 at 17.11 – only tell part of the story.

In 1958 Jackson took 143 first-class wickets at 10.99 – the lowest average of any bowler taking 100 wickets in the 20th century. He took five wickets in an innings on 114 occasions, and 100 in a season ten times.

Gladwin took 100 wickets 12 times and five in an innings on 99 occasions.

Both played Test cricket for England, although the debate over why Jackson only played two Test matches – 12 years apart – continues to this day.

Jackson and Gladwin are ranked numbers one and two in the leading wicket-taking ranks for Derbyshire and will undoubtedly stay on top of the pile for as long as the game is played.

Albert Ennion Groucott ‘Dusty’ Rhodes was Cheshire-born and began his playing career as a leg-spinner, changing to medium pace, and then reverting to leg breaks, taking 642 first-class wickets for the county including a record four hat tricks. Another player who suffered a career-break as a result of WWII, he took 114 wickets in the championship in 1950 and was selected for the MCC winter tour of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, but didn’t play a Test match.

As we have seen, despite Derbyshire’s preference for fast and fast-medium bowlers, spin bowlers did play their part in the county’s history, and the reliable Edwin Smith was one of the most prolific, taking 1,209 first-class wickets, putting him in sixth place on the all-time wicket-taking list, and almost certainly the last to pass the 1,000 mark.

His tally of wickets is all the more remarkable when one considers that for much of his career he was part of an attack of outstanding seam bowlers – Gladwin, Jackson, Rhodes, Morgan, Buxton, Ward and Hendrick. There were many occasions when he simply didn’t get the opportunity to bowl, such was the quality of the quicker bowlers during his career.

Nothing excites cricket watchers more than the sight of a genuine fast bowler. Warren, Copson and Harold Rhodes certainly appear to have been the quickest fast bowlers to play for Derbyshire, at least until Alan Ward and the West Indian quicks were unleashed.

Harold Rhodes, son of ‘Dusty’ was a very fast bowler who played Test cricket and was expected to have a successful international career. Sadly, his career was blighted by the throwing controversy which was so damaging to the game throughout the 1960s. He was subsequently cleared of throwing, but the damage had been done and any chance of extending his England career beyond those two caps was lost.

However, on his day – and they were many – he was an outstanding fast bowler, taking 993 first-class wickets for Derbyshire.

Rhodes’s partnership with Brian Jackson – another player who came relatively late to the first-class game – was feared; Rhodes was probably the quickest bowler in England for several seasons and in 1965 Rhodes took 119 wickets at 11.04 and Jackson 120 at 12.42, finishing first and second in the national averages. In only six seasons, Jackson took 456 wickets at 18.86 with a career-best of 8-18 v Warwickshire at Coventry.

In 1968, Alan Ward was selected for Derbyshire and made an immediate impact with 26 wickets at 11.84 in just four matches.

Ward was tall and raw-boned and very quick. He took 69 wickets at 14.82 in 1969 and became another Derbyshire fast bowler to earn an England Test cap, but injury would restrict his career.

His opening partnership with Mike Hendrick was expected to follow in the footsteps of Gladwin and Jackson; Ward with extreme pace and a natural wicket-taker, Hendrick the master of line and length and as unerringly accurate and miserly as his illustrious predecessors.

Ward took 348 wickets at 21.56 and Hendrick 497 at 20.05. Hendrick also took a further 222 in one day cricket at just 18.69 and played a major part in Derbyshire reaching the 1978 Benson and Hedges Cup Final and winning the 1981 Nat West Trophy. His command of length and line was as effective in limited overs cricket as it was in the first-class arena.

Derek Morgan and Ian Buxton both played for the county throughout the 1960s and both were medium paced bowling all-rounders.

In his 20-year career Morgan scored almost 18,000 first-class runs for Derbyshire – the third highest tally – and also took 1,216 wickets – the fifth highest number. He was generally a first change bowler to Gladwin and Jackson and then Rhodes and Brian Jackson and bowled out swingers and off-cutters, and his durability – a 20-year career as a fully-fledged all-rounder – as well as his talent, was truly remarkable, and arguably unmatched for Derbyshire.

Buxton was a fine all-round sportsman, paying professional football as well as cricket. He scored almost 12,000 runs and took 483 wickets for Derbyshire with what was often prodigious inswing bowled at medium pace.

A contemporary of Morgan and Buxton was Peter Eyre, who took 359 first-class wickets but is most famous for his remarkable 6-18 in the Gillette Cup semi-final game against Sussex at Chesterfield.

Geoff Miller was the last spin bowler to enjoy a lengthy, successful career with Derbyshire. Although Derbyshire employed the Indian Test off-spinner Srinivas Venkatraghavan as an overseas player when Miller was still very young, Miller thrived on the opportunities offered him, especially under Eddie Barlow’s captaincy.

Another Derbyshire-born cricketer, Miller took 632 first-class wickets for the county as well as 196 in List A games. Tall, and with a high action, Miller almost completed the first-class double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in 1984 and his overall record places him high on the list of the county’s best all-rounders.

He played 34 Test matches for England, and, like Hendrick, was an Ashes winner.

For a while he was partnered by Derby-born slow left armer, Fred Swarbrook. Swarbrook was a key member of the Derbyshire side for much of the 1970s and took 416 first-class wickets including an outstanding 9-20 against Sussex at Hove in 1975, finishing with 13-62 in the match.

He lost his way when the ‘yips’ brought his Derbyshire career to a premature  end, but no cricketer was more popular among the members.

For three years, 1976-1978, like Hendrick and Miller, Eddie Barlow made an impact in limited overs matches, taking 111 wickets at just 16.27 in his three seasons with the county, Bowling brisk fast-medium, Barlow’s impact on Derbyshire has been documented broadly over the years, but while his influence as captain was hugely significant, his skills with the ball were arguably ahead of their time – slower balls and slower bouncers in an age when there was little difference between the skills practiced in first-class and limited overs cricket.

Phil Russell was an outstanding spotter of players and spent two decades as the county coach, but he also took 339 firs-class wickets and a further 196 in List A matches. Underrated, bowling a combination of quick off breaks, or medium pace, he was a valued member of the county side in the 1970s and 1980s.

Colin Tunnicliffe will forever be remembered for that winning run in the 1981 NatWest Trophy Final at Lord’s but he was a left-arm seamer who took over 500 wickets across two formats for the county and was part of a fine side in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Tunnicliffe was the last of a succession of Derbyshire-born quick bowlers to emerge from local cricket into the first-class game. Mycroft, Bestwick, Warren , the Popes, Jackson, Gladwin, Hendrick and Ward were all born in Derbyshire and as the 1980s beckoned it was clear that the county would have to look elsewhere for fast bowlers.

For a time, it looked as if one of those born outside the county would earn an England call-up in the shape of Paul Newman.

Leicester-born and a Leicestershire second XI player, Derbyshire signed him, and he impressed with genuine pace off a long run up. He never earned international recognition but was a member of the 1981 Nat West trophy-winning side and took almost 500 wickets in all formats for the county.

While Derbyshire had been renowned for locally produced fast bowlers for over a century, the 1980s saw one of the fastest bowlers in history, Jamaican-born Michael Holding, paired with the Great Dane, Ole ‘Stan’ Mortensen.

Holding was a world class fast bowler, capable of bowling as fast as any bowler in the history of the game, while Mortensen, despite his Danish heritage, was the very epitome of the best Derbyshire-born quicks, Gladwin-like in his dismay at conceding runs, and as tough and vocal as any of them.

Holding was past his very fastest when he arrived at Derbyshire in 1983, but this writer witnessed  his dismissal of Gooch at Chelmsford in a Benson and Hedges Cup quarter final in 1985 with a ball so fast that the batsman still had his bat aloft when the delivery uprooted his stumps. His 8-21 in a NatWest Trophy match at Hove in 1988 was another outstanding display, although the bowler himself reckoned it wasn’t even in his top ten.

Bob Taylor, who kept to Holding as well as Harold Rhodes and Alan Ward – plus Bob Willis and John Snow for England and MCC – reckoned that Holding was the fastest he ever kept to.

Interestingly, Bernie Maher, who also kept to Holding, and to Devon Malcolm and Ian Bishop, thought that Malcolm was marginally the quickest of the three.

Mortensen was rated by his captain, Kim Barnett, as the best bowler of his generation not to play for England. Mortensen could have played for the national Test side, and his record suggests that he perhaps should have done; he took 434 first-class wickets at 23.88 and 219 at 25 in one day matches. His performances in the 1990 season when Derbyshire won the RAL Sunday League were superb and he ranks as one of Derbyshire’s finest bowlers in one day cricket.

Devon Malcolm was a genuine match-winner at Test and county level. He was a very fast bowler when he was at his peak, and his 9-57 for England v South Africa at The Oval in 1994 ranks as one of the outstanding analyses in the history of international cricket.

His record for Derbyshire – 579 first-class and 174 List A wickets – was excellent and only Dominic Cork, of players who made their debut post-1980, has bettered his 25 five-wicket innings hauls in all formats of the game.

Cork himself was another great Derbyshire match-winner. The Derby Telegraph’s former cricket writer, Gerald Mortimer, when asked to select his all-time Derbyshire XI from players he had seen since World War II, stated that Cork was his first pick, bar none.

His bowling was brisk with a bouncer which appeared genuinely quick, and he formally introduced himself to the game when he took 8-53 against Essex at Derby in 1991, before lunch on his 20th birthday.

A Test match hat trick, a Lord’s final Man of the Match, and an action-packed career saw him take 740 wickets for the county in all formats. Blessed with a superb side-on action, Cork was a true force of nature and many would agree with Mortimer about his selection in a Derbyshire all-time XI.

Ian Bishop, a giant of a man from Trinidad, bowled as fast as anyone this writer has seen for Derbyshire. His pace was extreme at times, and although his career was blighted and ultimately curtailed by injury, his bowling in 1992 when he took 64 wickets at 17.46 was blisteringly quick at times, especially on a fast pitch at Portsmouth when he took 7-34 off 16 overs of searing pace.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Derbyshire continued their recruitment of bowlers from outside Derbyshire – Philip DeFreitas (434 wickets), Simon Base (344 wickets) and Allan Warner (611 wickets) all justified their signings, and in the case of Warner, Derbyshire discovered a bowler of hitherto limited success at Worcestershire, who became an outstanding one day death bowler whose 246 wickets are still a record in one day cricket for Derbyshire.

DeFreitas was a smooth and classy fast bowler with an exceptional strike rate. He had played for Leicestershire, Lancashire – and England – before he arrived at Derbyshire – and would represent England at Test level while on Derbyshire’s staff.

Bowlers finally re-emerged from the local cricket scene when Kevin Dean and Paul Aldred broke into the side in the 1990s.

Aldred had one purple patch in 1999 when he took 50 first-class wickets at 21 in only 12 matches, while Dean had a significant career and seemed close to achieving international recognition at one stage, but his overall total of 579 wickets places him in 22nd place on Derbyshire’s all-time list.

In 1998, he became only the 2nd bowler since 1967 to take 100 wickets in all formats for the county – Miller took 102 in 1984 – with 74 first-class victims and another 28 in List A matches.

Dean – and Cork – continued playing well into the 21st century and briefly formed a quality pace attack alongside Graeme Welch. Welch, signed from Warwickshire, bowled brisk medium pace and took over 400 wickets for Derbyshire.

Another signing from Warwickshire was Tim Groenewald who formed an incisive opening attack with Tony Palladino, especially when the county won the second division of the county championship in 2012.

Both bowled at fast-medium pace with Palladino remaining the mainstay of the first-class attack for a decade. The latter bowler now has 374 wickets for Derbyshire and no other bowler has taken more for the county in the 21st century.

Mark Footitt looked set for a lengthy Derbyshire career after taking 160 first-class wickets over two seasons – 2014 and 2015 – and was on the verge of England selection. He moved to Surrey at the end of 2015, however, but there were periods in those two seasons when – at his quickest – his pace rivalled the fastest Derbyshire bowlers of modern times.

Here are the 43 Derbyshire bowlers who have taken 300-plus wickets for the county in all formats of the game:

Bowler FC Wickets LA Wickets T20 Wickets Wickets Average
Les Jackson 1,670 2 0 1,672 17.11
Cliff Gladwin 1,536 0 0 1,536 17.67
Bill Bestwick 1,452 0 0 1,452 21.27
Tommy Mitchell 1,417 0 0 1,417 20.20
Derek Morgan 1,216 23 0 1,239 25.11
Edwin Smith 1,209 2 0 1,211 25.89
Harold Rhodes 993 54 0 1,047 19.05
Bill Copson 1033 0 0 1,033 18.76
Les Townsend 969 0 0 969 21.03
Arthur Morton 966 0 0 966 22.72
Arnold Warren 918 0 0 918 24.57
Geoff Miller 632 200 0 832 28.28
Sam Cadman 803 0 0 803 25.25
Devon Malcolm 579 174 0 753 28.66
Dominic Cork 505 234 1 740 25.87
Mike Hendrick 497 222 0 719 19.63
Ole Mortensen 434 219 0 653 24.44
Dusty Rhodes 642 0 0 642 28.16
Stan Worthington 624 0 0 624 28.79
Allan Warner 365 246 0 611 29.66
Ian Buxton 483 104 0 587 25.81
Kevin Dean 398 161 20 579 27.50
George Pope 567 0 0 567 19.82
Bill Mycroft 544 0 0 544 11.71
Alf Pope 542 0 0 542 22.40
Phil Russell 339 196 0 535 27.80
Colin Tunnicliffe 319 190 0 509 29.58
John Hulme 508 0 0 508 24.81
Archie Slater 498 0 0 498 21.07
Fred Swarbrook 416 62 0 478 30.38
Alan Ward 348 122 0 470 22.28
Paul Newman 304 157 0 461 30.65
Brian Jackson 456 4 0 460 18.96
George Davidson 449 0 0 449 17.50
Phillip DeFreitas 335 99 0 434 27.13
Peter Eyre 359 59 0 418 27.37
Graeme Welch 293 103 11 407 31.43
Michael Holding 224 154 0 378 22.83
Tony Palladino 347 21 6 374 27.72
Simon Base 221 123 0 344 30.40
Tim Groenewald 229 52 51 332 28.71
Garnet Lee 313 0 0 313 25.56
Mark Footitt 252 46 12 310 26.06

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