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Derbyshire Greatest overseas players

Wednesday 12th February 2020
& News
Written by Stephen Martin
Photography by: David Griffin

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, as well as 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 history of playing at a multitude of home venues, there will be an article covering the history of Derbyshire grounds.

In this second article, it’s Derbyshire’s overseas players in the spotlight.

County cricket was in the doldrums in the 1960s. The phenomenal interest in post-war cricket had waned and the introduction of what was initially a 65-overs Gillette Cup one day competition did little to reinvigorate the game.

Players born overseas had always participated in county cricket; Charles Ollivierre was possibly the first black cricketer to play the county game when he made his Derbyshire debut in 1901, having been born in the Windward Islands in 1876.

But by 1968, the county game was gearing up for the start of the Players County League – which began a year later – and the grandly-named Advisory County Cricket Committee agreed to Nottinghamshire’s proposal that the overseas players rules be relaxed with each county allowed to sign one.

There had been overseas cricketers in the county game; Keith Boyce at Essex and Roy Marshall at Hampshire had undergone forms of residential qualification, and many played league cricket at a time when there was no first-class cricket played elsewhere in the world during the British summer.

But post-1968 they came in their numbers, ensuring that if the original cricketing Golden Age had been defined as being between 1890 and 1914, then surely the latter quarter of the twentieth century became the second?

Garry Sobers, Barry and Vivian Richards, Zaheer Abbas, Mike Procter, Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee, Ken McEwan, Majid Khan, Javed Miandad, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Asif Iqbal, Clive Lloyd, Brian Davison, Wayne Daniel, Jeff Thomson, Bishen Bedi, Clive Rice, Farouk Engineer, Joel Garner, Martin Crowe, Sunil Gavaskar, Sylvester Clarke, Intikhab Alam, Imran Khan, Garth Le Roux, Alvin Kallicharran, Lance Gibbs, Rohan Kanhai, Glenn  Turner, Sachin Tendulkar – some of these were among the finest players ever to play the game, never mind to grace the domestic game in the UK.

More importantly, the vast majority of these stars played for their county sides from the first game to the last game each season, and in the case of many of them, for countless years.

Several of Derbyshire’s overseas greats can justifiably be added to the above list – Eddie Barlow, John Wright, Peter Kirsten, Michael Holding, Ian Bishop, Mohammad Azharuddin and Adrian Kuiper all played for the county between 1976 and 1992 and would not be out of place rubbing shoulders with the world’s best.

Others like Daryl Cullinan, Dean Jones, Michael Di Venuto, Chris Rogers and Martin Guptill would come later, although as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, it’s difficult to imagine an overseas player who will serve Derbyshire for as long as, say, John Wright did from 1977 to 1988.

Other overseas players – often extremely high profile – had very short-lived, or relatively underwhelming tenures, but Ron Headley, Parvez Mir, Rod McCurdy, Stephen Jeffries, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Kaif, Chris Harris, Jonathan Moss, Daren Powell, Travis Birt, Marcus North, Ian Harvey, Charl Langeveldt, Mornanteau Hayward, Robin Peterson, Loots Bosman, Rana Naved, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Albie Morkel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hashim Amla, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Nathan Rimmington, Hamish Rutherford, Jimmy Neesham, Jeevan Mendis, Imran Tahir, Matt Henry, Duanne Olivier, Lockie Ferguson, Wahab Riaz, Henry Nicholls, Logan van Beek and Boyd Rankin have all featured as an official overseas player for Derbyshire.

Devon Malcolm was another who, early in his career, and while qualifying, also played for the county as an overseas player. Charl Langeveldt began as an overseas cricketer but returned as a Kolpak player; Ian Harvey was scheduled to play as an English-qualified player, but assorted non-cricketing issues meant that his handful of appearances were actually as an overseas player.

However, this examination of Derbyshire’s overseas greats will focus on those who either served for a significant period, or produced outstanding performances, or both.

Derbyshire chose not to sign an overseas player in 1968, or 1969, so it was for the summer of Derbyshire’s 100th anniversary that the South African, Chris Wilkins, was recruited. Derbyshire had reached the Gillette Cup Final at Lord’s in 1969 and faced Yorkshire, who refused to bend their ‘Yorkshire-born’ only policy until Tendulkar became their first overseas player more than two decades later. Had Derbyshire had an overseas player in 1969, the two sides might have been more closely matched in that final which Yorkshire won by 69 runs.

Wilkins was a  25 year-old and hardly a name to rank alongside Sobers and Kanhai, for example, but he had a good record as an attacking batsman in South Africa and could also bowl and fielded well.

Despite an uncertain start, he actually led the way with the most wickets for the county in the John Player League, taking 22 at 19.77, but in first-class cricket he totalled 1,510 runs, and 1,910 in all cricket. Not since Donald Carr scored 2,165 runs in 1959, had a Derbyshire batsman been so prolific in one summer.

He exceeded 1,000 first-class runs in each of his three seasons at Derbyshire, but it was his ability to empty bars with his hard-hitting stroke play which marked him out as a special talent, fondly remembered by all who saw him play during his brief time in Derbyshire.

The signing of Indian Test off-spinner Srinivas Venkatraghavan in 1973 raised a few eyebrows – there were already two young off spinners on the county’s books, Geoff Miller and Bob Swindell, as well as the established slow-left armer, Fred Swarbrook. The Australian, Dennis Lillee, had been mentioned as Wilkins’ replacement but Venkat did help win games at Cardiff and Eastbourne in 1973.

He took 171 first-class wickets at an average of 27.87 and proved to be a match-winner, especially on turning pitches on the final day, but the side was generally quite weak at this time, finishing 16th, 17th and 15th in the championship during his three-year stay.

The West Indian Lawrence Rowe arrived at Derbyshire in 1974 having just scored 302 in a Test match against England and was averaging over 70 in that form of the game.

However, 94 in his opening game was the best he could muster during that summer, although despite injuries he topped the first-class and one day averages and accumulated 1,593 runs across both formats.

At this stage, Derbyshire opted to change course. Having never been in a position to pay top salaries, new Chairman, George Hughes, was convinced by Charlie Elliott and others that the signing of a world-class all-rounder would improve the county’s fortunes, and that breaking the bank to do it was worthwhile.

Sobers was reputedly earning £5,000 to £7,000 at Nottinghamshire and was by some distance the highest earner in county cricket. Depending on the source of the information, Barlow either demanded or Hughes offered the unheard of sum of £10,000 to come to Derbyshire.

The arrival of a player with a fine record – a batting average of 46 in Tests for South Africa in the 1960s was not to be sniffed at – was eagerly anticipated, although after a sluggish start, the wisdom of signing a 35 year-old who had hitherto never played county cricket was being questioned.

But not by Barlow.

He scored a century against Nottinghamshire at Ilkeston in May 1976, and at the same ground in July made the highest score of his career, 217, against a Surrey attack which included Geoff Arnold, Robin Jackman, Intikhab Alam and Pat Pocock. Many observers rated this innings as the finest-ever for Derbyshire, and this writer still regards it as the most memorable innings witnessed in almost 50 years of cricket watching.

Bob Taylor decided mid-season that his keeping had been affected by the captaincy – not that anyone else had noticed – and the man from Pretoria took over the reins.

Barlow scored 1,897 runs and took 80 wickets that summer; one had to go as far back as 1933 to find a player who scored more runs and took more wickets in the same season for Derbyshire (Les Townsend 1,966 runs and 90 wickets). His batting was still high class and he was a fine change bowler.

Under Barlow’s influence the county flourished. Miller made his Test debut and a fitter Hendrick returned to the England side. Local players Borrington, Cartwright, Hill and Tunnicliffe all began to develop into more durable and better cricketers and earned their county caps.

A new winter regime of fitness training was introduced by Barlow with demands not previously expected of county cricketers – but which are now the norm – surprising many both inside the camp and on the county circuit.

The summer of 1977 saw Derbyshire rise to seventh in the championship with four successive wins – not achieved for several decades – and a new overseas player in the shape of John Wright. Meanwhile, a young Peter Kirsten starred in the Second XI.

Barlow’s final season saw Derbyshire reach the Benson and Hedges Cup Final, having never previously emerged from the group stages. They won all four group games and two well-fought knock-out round matches before succumbing to a vastly more experienced Kent side at Lord’s.

In the 15-game run up to that final Derbyshire won 13 List A games, lost one, with one ending as a ‘no result’ owing to rain. They had an air of invincibility about them and with Barlow at the helm, Derbyshire were a side which very few counties looked forward to facing.

More than 40 years on, modern observers often question Barlow’s impact – arguing that his tenure was brief, and that Derbyshire didn’t actually win anything; the answer is best left to the testimony of those who were there at the time, on and off the field. To this day, Hendrick, Miller, Taylor, Borrington, Hill, Tunnicliffe, Cartwright and others maintain that Barlow was the sole reason for the enhancement of their own careers as well as the improvements of the side.

Indeed, the 1981 triumph, albeit coming three years after Barlow had gone, was achieved with a Barlow-like approach and containing his overseas signings.

John Wright had only played 12 first-class games before arriving at Derbyshire and went on to become the longest-serving overseas player in the county’s history.

A tall and elegant left-hander who played 85 Test matches for New Zealand, Wright became one of the finest batsmen ever to play for Derbyshire. He scored almost 15,000 runs in all forms of the game, including 31 hundreds – only Barnett, Morris and Madsen have scored more.

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 Nat West Trophy Final win at Lord’s in September 1981, when his century partnership with Peter Kirsten helped Derbyshire to a memorable victory.

In 1982, Wright scored seven first-class centuries, a record only bettered by Kirsten (eight) in the same season.

Peter Kirsten’s name is one which makes Derbyshire supporters of a certain vintage misty-eyed – in fond remembrance of so many outstanding innings by a diminutive man, nicknamed “The Don” by David Steele on the basis of both his appearance and his appetite for runs.

He scored quickly all around the wicket and his advice to other batsmen when he arrived at the crease was usually; “Get one”…as he then proceeded to dominate once on strike.

A measure of his talent is that he scored 6 double centuries for Derbyshire – Barnett and Rogers scored four, nobody else has made more than two – and five of them were not out. He scored these double hundreds in the days when the first innings of championship games was restricted to 100 overs. All of his double tons came in the first innings with his 213* at Derby in 1980 among his finest innings. He was on 105* at tea with 18 overs remaining before Derbyshire’s innings would be forced to close. After the interval, he added 108 runs from those 18 overs demolishing Glamorgan’s attack in the process.

Kirsten scored 8 first-class hundreds in 1982 – still a Derbyshire record – and over four seasons (1979-1982) Kirsten and Wright scored 42 of the 60 centuries recorded by Derbyshire batsmen, and even now, almost 40 years after he left the county, only nine batsmen have scored more than his 22 hundreds.

The only downside to Kirsten’s Derbyshire career is that he played his final innings for the county at the age of 27. One can only imagine the records he would have set had he stayed for another decade.

After more than a decade of overseas batsmen – notwithstanding Barlow’s dual role as an all-rounder – Derbyshire changed course when recruiting the great Michael Holding.

Holding had already played briefly for Lancashire and was past his very best when he arrived in Derbyshire, but his very best was so good that Derbyshire still saw some outstanding performances from him.

His first 5 wicket haul came against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in August 1983 on the Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend – the atmosphere was almost gladiatorial as Holding rolled back the years and ran from – almost – the boundary to take 5-48 as the home crowd bayed for Yorkshire wickets. He removed Boycott for one and the roar which greeted the fall of Yorkshire’s legendary opening batsman could probably be heard in Sheffield.

Holding was absent in 1984 with the touring West Indies but returned in 1985 and remained with the county until 1989 when he struck the winning run in his final game for Derbyshire – against Nottinghamshire at Derby – as the home side won by one wicket.

His finest hour – statistically – came at Hove in 1988 when he took 8-21 in a Nat West Trophy game.

He bowled downhill with great pace and every batsman was caught in the arc between wicket-keeper and gulley. 1988 was the first year that no balls and wides were added to a bowler’s analysis and had he not bowled nine no balls, his figures would have been 8-12.

Nonetheless, 8-21 was a limited overs world record, and it remains the five best analysis ever in List A matches.

The period when Holding and Wright shared overseas duties – 1983-1989 – was a strange one for county cricket. Registration dates determined who could and could not play, and so it was that while Derbyshire had to choose between these two overseas greats for seven years, Nottinghamshire, for example, could play Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee at the same time. Ditto Hampshire with Greenidge and Marshall and Somerset with Richards and Garner. It was cricketing bureaucracy at its worst.

Derbyshire had built a strong pace attack behind Holding – Ole Mortensen, Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork, Simon Base, Allan Warner and Paul Newman were part of a largely all-pace attack for several years and it therefore came as no surprise when Ian Bishop – on Holding’s recommendation – arrived at Derby in 1989.

The same regulation which kept Wright and Holding from playing together still applied, so Bishop and Holding shared the overseas berth. What might have been had the two been able to open the bowling together that summer?

Bishop’s 38 wickets at 22 were a foretaste of what was to come, although, once again, in 1990 he had to share the overseas spot with Adrian Kuiper.

Bishop bowled as fast as anyone this writer has ever seen – he was a giant of a man with a high action and fearsome pace. His match-winning 7-34 against Hampshire at Portsmouth in 1992 – on a pitch which Peter Bowler scored 241* on – was devastating; all 7 wickets were LBW, caught behind, or caught at first slip. He obtained bounce which was unavailable to any other bowler in the game and a measure of his superiority in that innings is that while he was taking 7-34, Malcolm, Mortensen and Cork took 1-132 in 35 overs.

Injury blighted his career having been destined to become one of the West Indian greats, although his 161 Test wickets at 24 came in just 43 matches.

The aforementioned Adrian Kuiper had been earmarked as one to watch by Kim Barnett and others after scoring a 49-ball hundred for an unofficial South African side against the rebel English tourists in the winter of 1989-1990.

Barnett was quoted as saying that; “…Kuiper’s going to be the biggest matchwinner around in county cricket…” while Chairman Chris Middleton advised members at the Annual General Meeting that he’d been assured that Derbyshire had signed “…the South African Botham…”

Few players have made such a dramatic one-season impact as Kuiper and although he had a relatively disappointing first-class campaign, his role in securing the RAL Sunday League title for Derbyshire cannot be underestimated.

He announced himself at Hove when Derbyshire found themselves behind the rate chasing Sussex’s 205. Derbyshire needed 78 off the last 10 overs – achievable now, but almost an impossibility then – but Kuiper, with a very young Chris Adams, added 81 off just 44 balls to secure victory. This was the opening game of the RAL campaign and it set the scene for what was to come; a remarkable last ball six at Taunton when Derbyshire needed just a single to win; blistering fifties at Northampton and at Derby in the game which secured the title, and 22 including three sixes at Chesterfield against Kent as Derbyshire chased down a mammoth 276.

In 1991 Derbyshire looked to India for the first time since Venkat when they secured the services of Mohammad Azharuddin.

Azharuddin was not the first overseas batsman to initially struggle against the moving ball in the early weeks of the season and after 13 innings in first-class cricket only had one century – v Cambridge University in May. He scored two championship hundreds before another mini-slump in form, but he produced scores of 110 and 72 against Middlesex, 160* and 67 against Lancashire, 129* and 72 against Nottinghamshire and 212 against Leicestershire.

He ended the season with 2,016 first-class runs – still only the third instance of a Derbyshire player passing 2,000 runs in the longer form of the game, with seven centuries, equalling Wright’s tally of 1982, and just one behind Kirsten’s eight.

He was as stylish a player as most spectators have seen play for Derbyshire, with wrists of steel which enabled him to whip the ball away, particularly into the leg side. Martin Johnson, writing in the Independent newspaper in 1991, described the task for opposition bowlers when facing Azharuddin as; “…bowling at a revolving door…”

He returned in 1994 for a curtailed season and while perhaps not at his princely-best of 1991, still thrilled with a superb double century against Durham at Chesterfield which David Graveney described as the best innings he had ever seen. Mind you, Graveney had been on the receiving end of all 6 sixes struck by Azharuddin in that innings.

South Africa was the source of the next overseas player, and a continuation of the new trend of players only playing for a single season. Daryl Cullinan scored seven centuries, with five in the county championship including a scintillating 134 in the season-opener against Sussex at Derby.

Seasoned watchers drew comparison with that other diminutive South African, Peter Kirsten, such was the manner and style with which he scored his runs.

He made over 1,600 runs in all forms of the game but was not to return in 1996 as by then, Australia  was about to provide a player who would help deliver Derbyshire’s second highest placing in the county championship.

Dean Jones’ fellow countryman, Rod McCurdy had made one appearance for Derbyshire in 1979, but Jones was the first Australian to play for Derbyshire as a fully-fledged, season-long overseas cricketer.

He came with a terrific reputation as a batsman in first-class and limited overs cricket and delivered on both fronts for Derbyshire. He was a highly entertaining and attacking batsman and scored 1,502 runs in first-class matches in 1996 adding 1,151 runs in limited overs games, the highest number of runs ever scored in a season by a Derbyshire batsman in the shorter form of the game.

His running between the wickets was astonishing, and under his leadership Derbyshire rose to second place in the championship table, bettered only once by the 1936 champions.

Things fell apart for Jones and Derbyshire in 1997, but that sunny summer of 1996, when Derbyshire for a while seemed destined to repeat the championship triumph of 60 years earlier, remains a golden memory for many.

Australian imports dominated over the next two decades with Michael Slater, Michael Di Venuto, Chris Rogers, Simon Katich and Usman Khawaja all featuring as Derbyshire’s overseas player.

Slater was a wonderful opening batsman but never really delivered the weight of runs for the county which his record suggested it should. There was a superb 185 against the touring South Africans in 1998 and he helped Derbyshire to reach the Nat West Trophy final at Lord’s in the same year, when his 34 was the top score in Derbyshire’s modest total.

Michael Di Venuto was a run machine, however, between 2000 and 2006 (with one season off in 2004), scoring over 11,000 runs in all formats, including 27 hundreds. Only six players have registered more centuries for the county and in all but his final season with the club he finished as the leading run scorer.

In 2003 he scored five first-class hundreds and totalled 2,449 runs in all forms of the game, the seventh highest individual aggregate ever for the county.

He performances stand out particularly when one considers that the side struggled in all formats during his tenure; Derbyshire were never out of the bottom half of the county championship second division in other than his debut season, but his stroke play was as easy on the eye as any other Derbyshire player before or since.

Chris Rogers was another who had a remarkable appetite for runs; he spent three full seasons at the club following a brief spell in 2004. Between 2008 and 2010 he scored 5,726 runs across the three formats and his overall first-class record of 4,616 runs at an average of 59.54 with 15 hundreds is exemplary. In 2009, he joined a select band of just 8 (now 9) Derbyshire batsmen to score 6 first-class hundreds in a season.

One year earlier he had threatened to become the first player to register a triple century for Derbyshire but was left stranded on 248 when the last man was dismissed against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. It’s the fourth highest individual score ever made for Derbyshire and his four double hundreds is second on the list behind Kirsten (six).

Simon Katich only played for one season – in 2007 – but set a record for the highest average by a Derbyshire player scoring 1,000 first-class runs. He scored 1,715 runs in all formats, with 1,284 in first-class games at the remarkable average of 75.52.

He scored a double hundred in the 801-8 run fest at Taunton in May, and a brilliant 167 against Leicestershire at Grace Road.

Usman Khawaja shared overseas duties at Derbyshire with Martin Guptill and will be forever remembered as being at the crease with Ross Whiteley when the latter took Derbyshire to the Second division county championship title in 2012 with a flurry of sixes.

Khawaja’s 71 and 72 not out in that final game of the season ensured Derbyshire secured promotion for the only time in their history to date.

Almost 35 years after John Wright had so magnificently graced county cricket, another New Zealand opening batsman appeared in the Derbyshire side. Tall, powerfully built and very intimidating at the crease, Guptill was an outstanding striker of a cricket ball giving Derbyshire a much-needed impetus at the top of the order. Never bullied by bowlers – quite the opposite in fact – Guptill took the attack to the opposition and made plenty of runs, especially in the 2012 promotion season when he played for the first half of the campaign before Khawaja arrived.

His 227 at Bristol in 2015 is still the 19th fastest double hundred in the history of the game, coming off a mere 165 balls. He hit 11 sixes, a Derbyshire record, and he went from 150 to 227 in only 29 deliveries. It is doubtful that a more powerful and dynamic long innings has ever been played for Derbyshire.

As the world and domestic game changes at such speed, and with the practice of world class overseas players settling with one county for very long seemingly gone, it’s unlikely that we will ever see players performing over long periods for Derbyshire as we did with Holding and Wright.

But, as we’ve seen with Guptill, there are still occasions when our game is graced with some of the finest players in the world, and if nothing else, those of us who were privileged to see some or all of Derbyshire’s great roll call of overseas cricketers, can look back fondly, if somewhat misty-eyed!

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