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John Wright is back at Derbyshire

Tuesday 13th June 2017
& News
Written by Danny Painter

John Wright has returned to Derbyshire to lead the NatWest T20 Blast side in this summer’s competition, 29 years since he played his last game for the Club.

Heritage Officer, David Griffin, looks back at Wright’s 12 seasons with Derbyshire.

John Wright arrived at Derbyshire in 1977 having played only 12 first-class matches and his arrival as an overseas player was considered something of a gamble at the time. He had scored heavily for Kent Second XI in 1976, however, and Eddie Barlow was keen to see the New Zealander join his side.

Wright’s first season was modest, although he did reach a thousand first-class runs, averaging 32, and he was only available for a handful of matches in 1978 as he was selected for the New Zealand touring side in England.

However, in 1979, he scored five first-class hundreds and started a sequence over four consecutive seasons in which he scored 5,480 runs at an average of 46, including 19 centuries and a further 40 fifties.

In 1982, he reached the height of his run-scoring powers when he amassed 1,830 runs including seven hundreds and 13 fifties. Only Peter Kirsten, with eight in the same year, has ever scored more hundreds in a season than Wright. Indeed, in that golden summer it seemed as if the two of them were batting all the time for Derbyshire.

It was an innings of 96, however, which sealed Wright’s reputation, and which is still spoken of in hushed tones by those who witnessed it.

The Queen’s Park pitch had been inadvertently watered in the week leading up to the tourist fixture with the 1980 West Indians and it played into the hands of their fearsome battery of fast bowlers. Captain Clive Lloyd let loose Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall and opener Wright was hit on the head and just about everywhere else, but batted in such courageous fashion that many observers considered it the best – and certainly the bravest – innings they had seen. When he was dismissed for 96, he received a standing ovation from a packed crowd, and the West Indian players.

After Peter Kirsten left, to be replaced by Michael Holding, arguably giving Derbyshire a more balanced side, the Test and County Cricket Board changed the regulations governing overseas players. As a result, a quite ludicrous situation ensued whereby, for example, Nottinghamshire could register and play both Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee, whereas Derbyshire could register both Wright and Holding, but – by dint of the date when they were registered – could only play one of them.

It obviously weakened Derbyshire, and meant that Wright’s appearances were limited. Nonetheless, he still scored heavily in both first-class and one-day cricket, and ended his career with almost 12,000 first-class runs for the county, including 27 centuries.  Almost 30 years after leaving Derbyshire, his 27 centuries places him fourth on the all-time list with just Barnett, Morris and Smith ahead of him.

In one-day cricket, his greatest moment was in the final of the inaugural NatWest Trophy at Lord’s in 1981 when his partnership of 123 with Kirsten helped Derbyshire to their first trophy for 45 years. Wright top-scored with 76 and fielded superbly in the deep in front of a packed crowd.

While Wright’s courage and bravery have already been alluded to, he was also something of a stylist. His straight driving was superb, and when bowlers dropped short as a counter measure, he pulled and cut with disdain. He had a very safe pair of hands and was a quick fielder in the deep, with a fast, accurate throw.

He was also exceedingly popular with Members and supporters and enjoyed a healthy benefit year before he ended his playing career with Derbyshire at the end of 1988.

It is impossible to compare batsmen of different eras, but by any standards, Wright would have to be placed near the very top of the Derbyshire tree, and in terms of his attitude, value to the county and his captain, he reached the pinnacle.

It’s good to have him back.

NatWest T20 Blast is back this July and August. Save £4 by purchasing your matchday tickets in advance. While further discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. Buy online today to secure your place and save.

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