The arrival of Mitchell Santner means that Derbyshire have signed a player born in New Zealand for the eighth time in the Club’s history.
Heritage Officer David Griffin looks at the cricket connection between Derbyshire and New Zealand.
It began in 1977 when John Wright arrived as a 22-year-old, and although considered promising, he had played just 12 first-class games before he made his debut for Derbyshire.
In an era where counties generally recruited well-established international cricketers, Derbyshire were seen to be taking a huge gamble when Eddie Barlow encouraged the signing in the winter of 1976. However, Wright established himself as one of the finest batsmen in the county’s history, scoring 27 first-class hundreds – only three players have scored more, and a total in all formats of 14,969 runs, placing him ninth in Derbyshire’s all-time run-scoring list.
His Derbyshire career ended at the end of 1988, having received a benefit and becoming the longest-serving overseas player ever engaged by the county.
He was a fine batsman and an excellent fielder, capable of obdurate, defensive batting when required, but also a classy and dynamic player on other occasions.
Many who were present at Queen’s Park, Chesterfield in May 1980 when the mighty West Indians were the opponents, consider Wright’s 96 in the face of some outstanding fast bowling by Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner, as one of the finest innings in the county’s history.
No other Derbyshire player scored more than 31 and Captain, Geoff Miller, considered the physical danger was so great to his players from the fearsome West Indian quick bowlers on a well-grassed pitch, that he seriously considered declaring at lunch on the first day of the game.
Wright’s most famous day in Derbyshire colours was undoubtedly the NatWest Trophy Final win at Lord’s in September 1981, when his century partnership with Peter Kirsten helped Derbyshire to a famous victory.
In 1982, Wright scored seven first-class centuries, a record only bettered by Kirsten in the same season, scoring eight.
It would be a further 15 years following Wright’s departure before another New Zealander played for the county.
Chris Harris was signed to play in just four List A games at the end of the 2003 season, featuring in 45-overs per side National League fixtures, and scoring a modest 30 runs and taking four wickets.
Martin Guptill signalled his arrival in 2011 with many impressive innings and over the course of several spells with the county, averaged 49 in first-class matches and over 70 in List A games. His contribution to the 2012 Second Division Championship-winning was typified by a regular signalling of his intentions at the top of the innings with some muscular hitting, often getting his side off to a good start.
His finest innings for the county was also his highest score, and featured some of the cleanest, and most powerful hitting ever by a Derbyshire batsman in the modern era. He made a superb 227 against Gloucestershire at Bristol in a County Championship game in 2015, facing just 176 balls and hitting 29 fours and 11 sixes. Those 11 sixes are a Derbyshire record – previously no batsman had ever scored more than eight in an innings for the county.
When Guptill left the county he was replaced by fellow New Zealander, Hamish Rutherford. Rutherford had announced his arrival on the international stage in 2013, when he made a remarkable 171 against England on his Test debut at Dunedin and was considered a promising signing. Despite one first-class hundred, it was in one-day cricket where he produced his best performances, averaging a shade under 54. His finest innings was probably against Worcestershire in a Royal London Cup game at New Road in June 2016.
On a hot summer day, Derbyshire were set a challenging target of 296 and, batting at three, Rutherford scored 104 from 76 balls out of a total of 163 runs added while he was at the crease. He hit seven sixes and as many fours, as Derbyshire cruised to a seven-wicket victory.
During that innings, Rutherford looked as good as any Derbyshire player of recent vintage; pulling, cutting and driving imperiously.
Neil Broom and James Neesham arrived in 2016; Broom to play in all formats, Neesham (initially) just to play Twenty20 matches.
Broom arrived with a good career record with the bat, but struggled to get established, scoring three nineties, but never reaching three figures, and only managed to average 25 in first-class matches. He looked a classy player and after his season at Derbyshire, was selected to play Test cricket for his home country.
Neesham was billed as an all-rounder, capable of bowling at ninety miles per hour, and his 15 Twenty20 wickets in the 2016 season has only ever been bettered by two other bowlers. His Test batting average of 34 suggests he can bat in the longest format of the game, although his short-form batting for Derbyshire consisted mainly of quite brutal cameos.
The final New Zealand-born player to represent Derbyshire was Matt Henry, exclusively in Blast cricket in 2017. He finished with a bowling economy rate of ten, and he only averaged 12 with the bat, but he took wickets at crucial times and his innings of 28 was vital in the win over Yorkshire at Chesterfield in what was a low-scoring encounter. He bowled fast at times and proved himself an excellent fielder in the deep, taking several superb catches, and played his part in Derbyshire’s qualification for the quarter finals for the first time since 2005.
And so, Santner becomes the eighth New Zealand-born cricketer to represent the county, following in the footsteps of some very fine players. He is the first spinner to be recruited from New Zealand and it will be interesting to see how he performs in Vitality Blast matches, as well as in the latter half of the Specsavers County Championship.
Last chance! To celebrate the signing of all-rounder Mitchell Santner, we’re offering Club Membership for the discounted price of £149, if purchased before 21 February. Use promo code ‘Mitch149‘ online.