Together, We Are All Derbyshire: 'Players I wish I'd seen'

Monday 13th April 2020

During these challenging times for all, we want to help keep everyone associated with the club and wider community positive and engaged. We’re in this together and Together, We Are All Derbyshire. 

Throughout 2020, Derbyshire will be producing a variety of content tailored to what supporters want to read, watch or discuss, including answering your questions about the club. 

Life Member, Paul Whitaker, writes about the players he wishes he’d been able to watch during their Derbyshire careers.

Derbyshire has been known for its bowlers more than batsmen. When I began to follow the county it was Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson who formed what was, despite claims to the contrary from our noisy northern neighbours, the best opening attack in the country. There has been a string of top-quality bowlers following them but I wish I could have seen the bowlers my father and grandfather told me about.

I was fortunate to see Les Jackson and Cliff Gladwin in the centenary match at Chesterfield in 1970 and to play a in a few Sunday friendlies with Alf Pope. All had finished their first-class careers by then, but it was still possible to see what great bowlers they had been.

I never got to see Alf’s brother George, who has a strong claim to be Derbyshire’s best all-rounder, 7500 runs at 28, 677 wickets at 20, and as was expected from all Derbyshire seamers, accurate and economical.

Bill Copson, one of the Pope’s teammates in the 1936 Championship side, made a dramatic entry to county cricket, dismissing Andrew Sandham of Surrey with his first ball. In 1937 he returned 8-11 versus Warwickshire including five in six balls. He finished with nearly 1,100 wickets at 19 each.

Further back at the beginning of the last century Billy Bestwick would have been entertaining to watch. Reputedly short tempered and fond of a drink, he was dropped for turning up late for a match late and drunk and proceeded to shout abuse at his teammates from beyond the boundary, probably with a pint glass in hand. Despite his misdemeanours, he played over 300 times for the club taking nearly 1,500 wickets, making his final appearance for the county in 1925 aged 50.

Perhaps the greatest bowler to play for the county was Australian ‘Demon Bowler’ Fred Spofforth. After terrorising England’s batsmen in the late 1870s, he married an English girl and settled in Derbyshire in 1888. At that time Derbyshire were not considered first class but still had fixtures against some of the major counties. Yorkshire may have regretted agreeing to let him play against them even though he had not served the two year residential qualification period when he took 15-81 in 1889. In first-class cricket he took over 850 wickets at an average just under 15, including 94 Test wickets at 18 apiece.

Despite being renowned for producing green-tops to suit seam bowlers the only Derbyshire bowler to be selected for Jardine’s bodyline tour was leg spinner Tommy Mitchell, yet another Derbyshire bowler with a reputation for speaking his mind which probably didn’t endear him to the MCC Mandarins and restricted his international career. Although at times erratic and expensive 1,500 wickets at 21 is a pretty good return for a ‘leggie’ in a team dominated by seam bowling and with a leg spinner operating entertainment is almost guaranteed.

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