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Derbyshire's finest batsmen

Sunday 17th May 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. 

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 fifth article in the series, attention is turned to Derbyshire’s finest batsmen.

Derbyshire has long been renowned for producing bowlers – usually of the quicker variety. Of the 24 players selected to represent England in a Test match whilst playing for Derbyshire, 13 were bowlers and four were wicketkeepers. Of the remaining seven, two were batting all-rounders leaving just five specialist batsmen who represented their country – William Chatterton, Denis Smith, Donald Carr, Kim Barnett, and John Morris.

It also took over one hundred years before any English-born batsmen who, having scored at least 5,000 runs for the county, averaged more than 40 in first class cricket for Derbyshire, and then three came along all at the same time – Barnett, Morris and Peter Bowler.

Even now, they remain the only English-born players to achieve that feat for the county.

Batting could be hard on uncovered pitches, and with the emphasis on pace for large swathes of the county’s history, it’s easy to see why bowlers, not batsmen, were able to prosper, particularly at home.

Some of Derbyshire’s overseas players rank amongst the best, if the not the absolute best, of all the batsmen. However, the fourth article in this series focused on them, so suffice to say that – in chronological order, and solely based on their performances for Derbyshire – Chris Wilkins, Eddie Barlow, John Wright, Peter Kirsten, Mohammad Azharuddin, Daryl Cullinan, Dean Jones, Michael Di Venuto, Chris  Rogers and Simon Katich all provided some memorable moments in their spells with Derbyshire.

From this writer’s perspective, Azharuddin, for one season in 1991, was as good as I have ever seen for the county; over a longer period, Kirsten (1978-1982) was sublime, a run-machine with style.

So, the focus is to be on non-overseas players, and the first to make an impact with the bat was William Chatterton who made his county debut in 1882 and holds the unique record of becoming the county’s first Test player almost a decade later.

Cheshire-born, he began his first-class career as a spinner but developed into Derbyshire’s first real batting star. He scored 7,588 first-class runs and made six centuries. In that sole Test match, he batted once and scored 48.

George Davidson was a contemporary of Chatterton and an exceptionally fine all-round cricketer. He took 449 wickets for the county at the low average of 17.50 and scored almost 4,000 runs with three hundreds including the highest score ever made for Derbyshire of 274 versus Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1896. It was his maiden first class century and he seemed destined to represent his country, but, at the height of his powers, aged just 32, he died from pneumonia.

William Storer scored 12 first-class centuries for Derbyshire whilst playing as a wicketkeeper, making a further three when playing solely as a batsman.

His all-round ability can be gauged by the fact that on ten occasions after scoring a century, he removed his wicket-keeping pads and had a bowl.

Storer averaged over 30 with the bat during a career which stretched from 1887 to 1905 and was selected to play six Test matches for England, all against Australia.

He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1899, and in terms of his runs output, Storer could be compared to any batsman in the country during the 1890—1914 era known as the Golden Age of Cricket.

In 1896 Storer scored 1,125 runs at an average of 51.13. There have only been 24 instances of a Derbyshire batsman scoring 1,000 runs and averaging over 50 in a season. The other 23 have all occurred since 1981 on covered pitches. In the first 111 years of the county’s existence, therefore, only one player achieved this feat. Storer must have been some player.

The first Derbyshire batsman to score 10,000 first-class runs was Levi Wright, who played for the county between 1883 and 1909. He made a total of 14,800 runs including 20 hundreds. Only eight batsmen have ever scored more first-class centuries for Derbyshire than Wright. He opened the batting and was renowned for being an attacking batsman and an outstanding fielder.

The immediate post-WWI period was not a particularly happy one for Derbyshire, but there were shining lights in the form of Sam Cadman and Arthur Morton who were all-round stalwarts during that period either side of the war and into the 1920s.

Contemporary accounts describe them as steady rather than spectacular batsmen, but their all-round records stand comparison with Derbyshire’s best all-round cricketers.

Harry Storer played for the county between 1920 and 1936 scoring 13,513 runs with 18 centuries. He scored 1,000 runs in a season on six occasions and was the first Derbyshire batsman to score two double-centuries.

The 1930s was a golden age for Derbyshire cricket, finishing in the top six of the County Championship for six consecutive seasons, including winning the county title in 1936.

It was a superb all-round side, but three batsmen – opener Denis Smith, Les Townsend and Stan Worthington who were all born in Derbyshire and all played Test cricket for England – were outstanding.

The latter two were all-rounders – Townsend took 969 wickets and Worthington 624 – and probably good enough to have played for their county as bowlers, but their run-scoring talents were considered far beyond anything previously seen at Derbyshire, certainly in terms of consistency.

Smith, tall and left-handed scored 20,516 first-class runs for Derbyshire, a tally only beaten by Barnett. His total of 30 first-class hundreds has been overtaken by only Barnett and Morris and just Barnett has improved on his 12 1,000-run campaigns.

A measure of the quality of that 1930 side is the presence of three of the batsmen in the top six of the county’s top run-scorers; Townsend scored 17,667 runs and Worthington 17,000 which puts them in fifth and sixth place on the list.

Worthington, the only Derbyshire player to score a Test match hundred for England, scored 27 hundreds and Townsend 22.

Albert Alderman was another 1930s batsman who, if not quite at the level of his illustrious colleagues, was still an ideal foil for Smith at the top of the order and scored 12,376 runs including 12 hundreds.

Charlie Elliott became an England Test selector and a Test match umpire, but either side of WWII he was also an effective batsman. He scored 11,965 runs with nine centuries, opening the batting and enjoying several productive post-war seasons.

One of the first promising batsmen to appear in the post-war period was a young Donald Carr, who made his Derbyshire debut in 1946.

Carr was a stylish batsman, particularly strong against fast bowling. He scored 14,656 runs for the county with 18 hundreds, and his 2,165 first-class runs in 1959 remains a record for Derbyshire.

He captained England against India – the only Derbyshire player to lead England in a Test match – and had a long and successful post-playing career as a cricket administrator.

Yorkshire-born Arnold Hamer was 33 before he made his debut for Derbyshire but soon made up for lost time, becoming one of the most consistent run-scorers in the county’s history. He played for 11 seasons between 1950 and 1960 scoring 15,277 runs with 19 hundreds. He was an opening batsman with a sound technique and scored 1,000 runs in every season from 1950 to 1959 and only once did Derbyshire lose a game when Hamer scored a century.

A contemporary of Hamer’s was the middle order batsman, Alan Revill, another Yorkshireman. Revill was a more dashing stroke player than the majority of those around him, and his 13,334-run tally included 15 hundreds. Alongside Carr and Derek Morgan he fielded in the famous leg-trap, holding 327 catches for the county, a total bettered by only 11 players, 8 of whom were wicketkeepers.

Charlie Lee was a player whose fortunes changed by altering his position in the batting order. Having struggled in the middle, he moved up to open and changed the course of his career. In scored 1,000 runs in each of the next seven seasons pairing well firstly with Hamer and latterly with Ian Hall.

Between 1950 and 1969, Derek Morgan played 540 first-class games for Derbyshire, still a record and likely to remain so as long as the game is played. He was an all-rounder taking 1,239 wickets, the fifth highest for the county. In addition, he stands in fourth place on the batting list with 18,202 runs and nine centuries.

Captain of Derbyshire, President, and statistically the greatest all-rounder in the club’s history, Morgan would have earned his place in the side as either a batsman or a bowler.

Laurie Johnson was born in Barbados in 1927 and came to England as part of a group of sugar industry workers. He was asked to play at Swarkestone Cricket Club in the south of the county, alongside several fellow countryman and was soon spotted by Derbyshire.

He made his debut in 1949 as an amateur and became a professional in 1955, by which time he had adapted to the pitches and developed into a hard-hitting and enterprising middle order batsman. He scored 14,233 runs with 16 hundreds.

Ian Hall played for Derbyshire between 1959 and 1972 scoring 12,263 runs with nine centuries. An opening batsman, he became the youngest Derbyshire player to score a century – 113 v Hampshire at Derby in 1959 – aged 19 years and 226 days, a record subsequently beaten by Matthew Critchley.

Often paired with Hall at the top of the order in the late 60s and early 70s was Peter Gibbs, a stylish batsman who had earned three successive Blues at Oxford University.

His best season was in 1971 when he scored 1,599 runs in all forms of the game. It was a disappointment to many when he retired from the first-class game at the age of 28.

Ian Buxton, like Morgan, a genuine all-rounder, scored 13,700 runs for Derbyshire with five hundreds, and took 587 wickets. He became a dependable batsman – generally at number 6 and exceeded 1,000 runs in a season 5 times.

To this day, there are those who believe that Mike Page could or should have played for England. At his best, he looked like an England batsman and was stylish with a good technique. He was also renowned for playing spin bowling well – a pre-requisite if one were to succeed on uncovered pitches.

His tally of 12,800 runs and nine hundreds don’t tell the whole story – on his day, he was as good to watch as anyone.

Alan Hill personified all the great qualities of Derbyshire’s best cricketers; skill, toughness, and a determination to succeed. A fine player of fast bowling he prospered under the Eddie Barlow regime and became a combative and productive opening batsman, although his place in the order did vary from time to time.

His 15,540 runs put him in eighth place on Derbyshire’s all-time list and he is one of just 10 batsmen to register 100 or more scores of 50 and over for the county.

He was a member of the 1981 NatWest Trophy and is still a keen and regular watcher of Derbyshire cricket. Few, if any modern-day players were more popular.

Kim Barnett holds virtually every batting record in Derbyshire’s history; most runs (36,212, almost twice as many as his nearest challenger), most hundreds (66), most scores of 50 and over (268, the next highest is 138), 1,000 runs in a season most times (18, the next best is 12), most century partnerships (149, the next best is 81), that it’s easy to forget that, numbers aside, he was one of the most formidable opening batsmen in the country for most of his career.

He preferred facing fast bowlers, seeming to enjoy with some relish the speedsters who were on show almost every day throughout his Derbyshire career (1979-1998). He had an unorthodox stance, starting some way outside leg stump, but by the time the ball was delivered, he was in a position to play the ball conventionally while his best strokes were square of the wicket on either side.

He also had the responsibility of captaining Derbyshire on 537 occasions (the next highest are Carr and Guy Jackson who captained the side 226 times), although captaincy never appeared to be a burden.

He played Test cricket for England and it’s unlikely that any of his significant batting records will ever be broken.

John Morris was as stylish a batsman as this writer has seen play for Derbyshire. A precocious talent and another, like Barnett, who relished taking on fast bowlers on big occasions, he scored 18,251 runs for Derbyshire despite leaving for pastures new at Durham before he was thirty.

His 39 hundreds put him in second place behind Barnett and had he stayed and seen out his career at Derbyshire – he played for another nine seasons at Durham and then Nottinghamshire – he would have been on course to overtake Barnett’s high marks.

Bruce Roberts was born in Zambia and made his Derbyshire debut in 1984. At Chesterfield in April 1987 he scored a breath-taking 184 v Sussex, an innings which Gerald Mortimer described as “…like watching a young Barry Richards…” Although Roberts had a good Derbyshire career, scoring 10,170 runs with ten centuries, that innings was the high-point, although surrounded as he was by some of the finest batsmen Derbyshire have ever seen, his record stands up well.

Peter Bowler announced himself with a century on debut at Fenner’s in 1988 and never really stopped scoring runs until his final season, in 1994, having announced his departure.

From the off it was clear that Bowler was a batsman who meant business. His career had stalled at Leicestershire and he was about to make up for lost time. In 6 consecutive seasons (1988 to 1993) he scored 2,273, 1,864, 2,305, 1,995, 2,881 and 2,151 runs. His single season total of 2,881 in 1992 has never been bettered for Derbyshire. In another era, he would surely have played for England.

Chris Adams was a local cricketer with an impressive record in schools and junior cricket. A powerful and stylish player who would earn an England call after he had left Derbyshire, he scored 13,757 runs for the county including 31 hundreds. He was another, like Morris, who had he not taken his cricketing skills elsewhere – in his case Sussex – may well have set a number of batting records in time.

The 1930s brought Derbyshire great success and with it those three fine England Test batsman, Smith, Townsend, and Worthington.

It’s doubtful if there’s anyone alive now who can recall their batting, but there are many who can recall that wonderful top four of the 1990s – Barnett, Bowler, Morris, and Adams.

Unquestionably, the best top four English batsmen ever to represent the county at the same time, it was truly a glorious few years when these four quite different, but highly effective, talented, destructive, and stylish batsmen played for Derbyshire.

They were winners too; all played their part in delivering silverware to Derbyshire. If that trio from the 1930s were as good to watch as the 1990s foursome, cricket must have been fun back then.

And so, to the present day.

Since 2003, skills have needed to be transferable across three formats of the game if batsmen are to play regularly and more importantly, score runs consistently.

Wayne Madsen, South African-born but England-qualified has been the master of adapting to each format.

In 2009, the consensus was that John Morris had unearthed an obdurate opening batsman. Fast forward a decade and Madsen has developed into the most complete batsman since the foursome of Barnett, Bowler, Morris, and Adams.

Bowler’s game was never as dynamic as that of the other three, who would all surely have prospered in Twenty20 cricket, but having said that, Madsen is unlike any of them; he has style, but it’s of his own, having adapted a conventional game with such dexterity that he has mastered shots earlier than many of his contemporaries both at Derbyshire and in the wider domestic game.

His run tallies tell the tale of a consistent and skilled batsman, 16,604 runs places him seventh on the all-time list, with power to add. His annual average of around 1,500+ runs – if maintained – would take him into third place on the all-time list in three more seasons. He likes scoring hundreds – 35 to date with only Barnett (66) and Morris (39) ahead of him.

And finally, Billy Godleman, a player who’s run-scoring output has increased with maturity. Only 9 players have scored more than his 22 centuries and he could have expected to go past the 10,000-run mark in 2020. His performances in 2019 brought 2,073 runs, the first time an English-born player has passed the 2,000-run mark since Barnett in 1996. His advancement and productivity in one day and Twenty20 cricket has been remarkable.

So, although renowned for fielding great bowlers, there have been plenty of outstanding batsman for Derbyshire supporters to admire over the past 150 years. Long may that continue.

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