Refuge Assurance League triumph

Wednesday 27th 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 NatWest 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.

This eighth article takes us back thirty years to a wonderful summer for Derbyshire cricket which culminated in the county side defeating Essex at Derby to secure the Refuge Assurance League title.

Coincidentally, Mark got in touch with the club about this amazing season as part of our “Together, we are all Derbyshire” project, writing; “The 1990 Refuge Sunday League victory against Essex takes some beating as one of Derbyshire’s greatest days. What are your memories of that day and other Sunday games that season in the run up to the title?”

The seeds of the success in 1990 had been sown over the preceding couple of seasons as captain Kim Barnett and Coach Phil Russell put together a side which covered all the bases in one day cricket.

Firstly, there was dynamism in the batting – Barnett, John Morris and Chris Adams were wonderful stroke makers, capable of playing destructive and decisive innings – but there was also pragmatism in the form of Peter Bowler and Bruce Roberts.

Barnett, Adams, and Barnett played in all 16 matches, Bowler in 14, and Morris 13.

Geoff Miller, back for one final season with the county of his birth, brought high quality off spin to the side, and played 10 games, while Devon Malcolm (11 games) brought pace and new-found control, Ole Mortensen (14 games) was high class and economical, Simon Base (13 games) was always a handful and ended the season as the equal-leading wicket-taker, Allan Warner (13 games) defined how to bowl at the death, and Steve Goldsmith, recruited from Kent in 1988, was a combative all-rounder and an exceptional fielder.

The icing on the cake was provided by the South African Adrian Kuiper, described at the 1990 Derbyshire Annual General Meeting by Chairman Chris Middleton as, “The South African Botham.”

A comment like that can sometimes end up being difficult to justify, but Kuiper, as we shall see, didn’t disappoint.

The opening game of the campaign was against Sussex at Hove. In 1990, the Sussex score of 205-8 from 40 overs was considered just above par, and relatively challenging.

Derbyshire set about the run chase with the usual urgency expected when Barnett was at the crease and in partnership with Bowler the score moved steadily to 117 before the first wicket fell.

Bowler, in the side as an opening batsman, also kept wicket in all but one of the 14 games he played, essentially allowing Barnett flexibility in selecting an additional batsman or bowler, as required.

Despite the good start, when Morris was run out for five and O’Gorman, who played five games during the campaign, was out without scoring, Derbyshire still required 78 off the last ten overs – achievable now, but almost an impossibility then.

Kuiper, with the 19-year-old Chris Adams, added 81 off just 44 balls to secure victory with some remarkable hitting which came to define Kuiper’s batting style. He made an unbeaten 53 and Adams (30 not out) also offered a glimpse of the fine player he would become.

This opening game of the RAL campaign set the scene for the summer and although Derbyshire supporters had not travelled in particularly large numbers for this fixture, those that had came away with the realisation that Middleton’s AGM statement might not be too far off the mark.

A regulation win over Worcestershire then followed at Derby. The home side’s 193-7 (Barnett 66) was always too many for the visitors despite Graeme Hick’s 46. Mortensen took 2-15 from eight overs with three maidens at the start of the innings and Worcestershire never really got up with the required rate.

Mortensen’s strength was to bowl his eight overs off the reel, concede less than three per over – which he managed throughout the summer – and give Barnett control thus allowing his faster bowlers to attack.

In this game it was Base who took 4-32 in the middle of the innings and Miller with 2-22 as the sixth bowler who ensured Derbyshire got home by 35 runs.

Wantage Road was next for Derbyshire as Mortensen again got his eight overs out of the way (0-19) with Malcolm taking early decisive wickets in recording figures of 3-34.

Derbyshire’s openers got off to a flier – 53-0 off 10 overs – and then got bogged down with Morris, Adams, Roberts, and Goldsmith all falling cheaply. Kuiper, however, remained calm as wickets fell around him, working through the gears, keeping the scoreboard ticking over and then accelerating to an unbeaten 62 and a four-wicket victory.

Three wins out of three and no better place to take the 100 per cent record than to Headingley to face Yorkshire.

A large crowd on a very cold day – a rarity in 1990 – saw Derbyshire collapse as Paul Jarvis took 5-18 as a heavy shower of cold water was poured on their early season form. Barnett made 29 and Roberts 53, and at 71-1 Derbyshire were well placed, but seven single-figure dismissals saw them crawl to 143 all out in 38.1 overs.

Derbyshire followers could only hope that their pace attack would replicate Jarvis’ effort but an opening partnership of 71 between Simon Kellett and Ashley Metcalf, and then 30 not out from David Byas saw Yorkshire home by six wickets with an over to spare.

Once again, the Derbyshire bowlers had been economical, but the batsmen had just not given them enough to defend.

Somerset at Taunton was a chance to bounce back – a good batting pitch and a Somerset side no longer as fearsome as in the days of Botham, Vivian Richards, and Joel Garner.

Nonetheless, 258-7 after being asked to bat by Barnett, appeared from the boundary at least, to be a formidable target. This was the era when 200 was a par score, by and large. Derbyshire had comfortably beaten Worcestershire earlier in the season having posted only 193, and 259 to win seemed a long way off at the interval.

However, one of the finest partnerships in the county’s history between Barnett and Morris, the latter opening because Bowler was missing and Karl Krikken was in the side, took Derbyshire to 232 before the first wicket fell.

It remains the highest-ever partnership in one-day cricket in Derbyshire’s history against a first-class county – only Alan Hill and Iain Anderson with 286 v Cornwall in 1986 have bettered it. The pair batted gloriously, looking at one point as if they might take their side to a ten-wicket victory.

Kuiper strode in when the first wicket fell but eight runs later Warner was joining him and when the latter fell for four, Adams walked out to bat with one ball remaining and the scores level.

Adams was at the non-striker’s end, Kuiper facing Roland Lefebvre.

Adams later reported that Kuiper had advised him to; “…run as hard as you can. I’ll try to get bat on ball…”

Adams set off, head down, as Lefebvre released the ball and Kuiper rocked back, smashing the ball high and hard into the churchyard. For this writer, it remains one of the finest moments in almost 50 years of watching Derbyshire.

A match-winner at Hove, then at Northampton, and now at Taunton, Kuiper was coming good on all the expectations, and more.

The game in England in 1990 saw some superb strikers of a cricket ball – Viv Richards was still close to his peak, Graham Gooch and Hick were tremendous players, capable of destroying bowling attacks, Desmond Haynes, Robin Smith and others were incredibly talented and destructive batsmen, but they played with a conventional style, nonetheless.

Adrian Kuiper could hit the ball to all corners of a cricket ground with the most amazing power. He rarely hit across the line, but one wouldn’t describe him as a stylist. What he was, more than anything, however, was a game-changer.

Adams again, interviewed in 2018, talked about how modern spectators marvel at a player like Jos Buttler and his remarkable capacity to find the boundary off almost any delivery. Adams maintains that Kuiper was the Buttler of his generation and the first player to play in that manner.

With things back on track for Derbyshire, it was a perfect time to entertain local rivals Nottinghamshire at Derby. The morning had been warm with unbroken cloud but shortly after midday the skies closed in and the start was delayed by bad light.

Derbyshire were asked to bat first, and 227-5 in 40 overs seemed good enough for most of the home crowd, Barnett and Bowler making a century opening partnership and Kuiper joining in towards the end with 46.

Nottinghamshire’s reply was in a mess at 50-3 with Chris Broad, Derek Randall and Paul Johnson all falling to Derbyshire’s pace attack.

Martin Jean-Jacques, in for the injured Mortensen, couldn’t match the latter’s economy, taking 3-47, but it was Tim Robinson’s majestic and impeccably timed 116 which sealed the victory for Nottinghamshire. Their required total was adjusted for further weather interruptions, but they got home with four wickets to spare.

The season thus far had seen some superb performances, but ‘win one-lose one’ would not see the title coming to Derby unless a string of wins could be achieved.

Over the course of the next five matches, Derbyshire’s players rose to the challenge, winning all of them, by one run against Warwickshire at Derby, by three wickets against Surrey at The Oval, by six wickets against Gloucestershire at Derby, by five runs against Lancashire at Old Trafford and by 118 runs against Leicestershire at Knypersley.

During this run, the sun had come out – it was a long hot summer – and outfields were parched. Batsmen made hay in the County Championship as 428 first-class hundreds were scored, 180 more than in 1989, and Derbyshire exceeded 200 runs in four of these five games, only requiring a mere 134 to win the other.

The Warwickshire match featured half centuries for Adams and Goldsmith and a thrilling final over. Gladstone Small needed to hit the last ball of the game for six to win but could only manage four.

Surrey at The Oval in the following game saw another close finish as Derbyshire chased down the home side’s 210-5 with Bowler scoring a half century without a boundary. In absolutely awful light, and Goldsmith and Warner at the crease, Tony Murphy saw the third ball of the final over of the match fly to the boundary for four byes.

When Gloucestershire visited Derby at the start of July, poor weather saw the game reduced to 27 overs per side and Mortensen again delivered with 3-16 from his allotted six overs before Barnett and Morris with half centuries saw Derbyshire home by six wickets.

Old Trafford – not a particularly happy hunting ground in one-day cricket for Derbyshire – gave Derbyshire supporters a real sense that 1990 was going to be their year.

Derbyshire batted first and Barnett set about the Lancashire bowing is his usual style, making a brisk 85 as Bowler (40) and Morris (55) saw their side compile a competitive 249-6.

Lancashire, with Gehan Mendis (71) and Graeme Fowler (57) to the fore, still required 76 off the last ten overs but only lost their final wicket off the penultimate ball of the game when Paul Allott was run out. Derbyshire won by five runs and Kuiper had shown his value with the ball, taking 3-50 and holding his nerve late on in the game.

In winning their fifth game in a row, Derbyshire enjoyed a glorious day in the sunshine at Knypersley, making 222-5 – Roberts (77 not out) and Kuiper (42) – before Devon Malcolm (4-21) and Warner (3-18) demolished the Leicestershire batting with 12 overs of the game remaining.

Top of the table and a trip to Portsmouth beckoned to play Hampshire – and a further wake-up call.

Derbyshire inserted their opponents and Mortensen took the early wicket of Mark Nicholas before Richard Scott (76), Robin Smith (83) and David Gower (47 not out) took their side to 250-5. Base and Mortensen were relatively economical, but Malcolm, Miller, Goldsmith and Kuiper were all expensive, the latter two bowlers conceding 70 runs in their combined eight overs.

During the tea interval, as Derbyshire supporters wandered around the outfield chatting and sharing their views on the game, nobody could have anticipated what was to happen when play resumed.

The Derbyshire innings lasted for 19.1 overs and resulted in a crushing 189-run defeat which remains Derbyshire’s heaviest loss by runs in a one-day game.

Malcolm Marshall took 1-4 off four overs, before Cardigan Connor (4-11) and Paul-Jan Bakker (3-31) demolished the Derbyshire batting with only Adams (21) and Roberts (10) reaching double figures.

Derbyshire’s all-out total of 61 was their lowest in the history of one-day cricket and there has only been one lower innings total subsequently, 60 all out at Canterbury in 2008.

On the following day, the three-day Championship match against the same opponents resumed, and a sorry four days in the south ended when Malcolm Marshall took 7-47 on the third day to consign Derbyshire to a defeat.

Nonetheless, the prevailing view on the way back from Hampshire was that it had been a bad week, but nothing more. The side were still on course for the title, but there could be no slip ups in the final four games.

Showers at Swansea reduced the game to 34 overs per side and Glamorgan never threatened a large score as Mortensen – eight overs one for 17 – again strangled the run-rate in the early overs and then Warner and Kuiper chipped in with two wickets apiece.

Peter Bowler anchored the innings with an unbeaten 52, and O’Gorman made a rapid 32 before Adams smashed a huge six to see Derbyshire home with an over to spare.

For the next game, the television cameras were present for one of the great occasions in Derbyshire cricket.

Queen’s Park, Chesterfield has staged some outstanding and memorable matches down the years, and the game against Kent on a scorching August day was one of them.

The pitch was quick with plenty of bounce and the outfield was like lightening. Mortensen bowled his usual immaculate spell – eight overs for 23 runs – but the other four bowlers conceded 247 runs from just 32 overs.

Neil Taylor and Trevor Ward both batted extravagantly, taking the visitors to a huge score, 276-4. Derbyshire had never chased down such a large total in a 40-overs match and a big crowd looked on in anticipation as Barnett and Bowler emerged from the pavilion to lead the charge.

Yet again, they rose to the challenge, adding 146 for the first wicket. Barnett scored 66 hundreds for Derbyshire and none of them were better than this one. He made 127 off 101 balls before he was run out, exhibiting magnificent stroke-play as he powered to a wonderful hundred.

When he was run out, he hurried to the pavilion, head bowed, with everyone present on their feet, giving him a deserved ovation.

Recounting the innings many years later, Barnett explained that when he rushed off, head shaking, it was in frustration at failing to see his side to victory in such an important game. However, he added that as he reached the pavilion, he saw Kuiper emerging, wearing a cap, no helmet, and as they passed each other, Kuiper muttered; “I’ll finish it skipper.”

Morris (45) had pushed the score on and Kuiper’s quickfire 22 not out ensured that there were ten balls remaining when Derbyshire triumphed by six wickets.

The games at Hove and Taunton had been crucial in getting Derbyshire off to a good start, and the narrow wins over Warwickshire and Surrey in mid-season had been vital to maintain momentum, but this was one of the greatest victories in Derbyshire’s history and as the crowd basked in the sun at the end of the game, the realisation dawned that with two more wins from the last two games, Derbyshire would be champions.

The largely glorious weather of 1990 took a turn for the worse when Middlesex arrived for the penultimate game at Derby.

Heavy rain saw the match reduced to 14 overs per side and Barnett decided to bat first. Twenty-five runs came from the first two overs although the captain was out for five. Bowler and Morris added 71, the former reaching his fifth half-century of the season. A total of 128-5 was defendable, but when the West Indies opener Desmond Haynes got Middlesex off to a lighting start, Derbyshire supporters became concerned.

He raced to 48 not out and when the rain came again, Middlesex were 85-2 from 9.2 overs needing 44 more from 4.4 overs. It could have been close, although most present felt that the visitors were favourites. However, having not faced ten overs, Middlesex’ innings had not lasted long enough for a result to be declared.

And so, after a 15-match slog around the grounds of the UK, Derbyshire knew that victory over Essex at Derby on Sunday 26 August would guarantee the title although any slip-up could see Lancashire retain the trophy.

Estimates vary about the size of the crowd at that final game; Derbyshire never issued a confirmed attendance but anything from 5,000 to 11,000 were crammed into the County Ground to see history made.

Essex won the toss and batted first, losing John Stephenson to Mortensen who produced outstanding figures of 8-2-10-1, and again emphasised his value to the side at the beginning of an innings.

Brian Hardie and Mark Waugh then added 126 for the second wicket, but neither scored at a rate which proved damaging for Derbyshire. Kuiper took two wickets and once Hardie and Waugh were dismissed, Essex never accelerated in the closing overs, ending with 203-4.

Derbyshire’s batting line-up was minus John Morris who was present at the ground but enjoying a rest day from the third Test match against India, and Barnett was out for just seven leaving Bowler and Roberts to put on 79 for the second wicket.

There was a nervous tension all around the ground; Derbyshire had won the NatWest Trophy in 1981 at Lord’s and the 1936 County Championship title was secured at Wells, Somerset, but this would be the first competition won on home soil.

The spinners Peter Such and John Childs bowled well, restricting Derbyshire to just 76 from their combined 16 overs, and it needed Adrian Kuiper to raise the scoring rate with a marvellous 56 off only 36 balls.

This was Kuiper at his best – striking with great power, and adding quick runs in partnership with Adams, evoking memories of their dramatic partnership at Hove in the opening match of the season.

When Goldsmith joined Adams there was still much to do, but the crowd were in an anticipatory mood after the Kuiper fireworks and the two young batsmen were in no mood to deny them.

Mark Illott bowled the final over and Goldsmith held his nerve to clip the ball over mid-wicket for four with three balls remaining.

The crowd – most of them, anyway – surged onto the outfield, grabbing Adams and Goldsmith, the latter held aloft by spectators as both players tried to hold onto their kit as a huge crowd gathered in front of the pavilion to watch Kim Barnett step forward to receive the trophy.

Reflecting on this triumph 30 seasons on, it’s possible to regard this as the single greatest achievement in the club’s history. That’s a huge call, considering that Derbyshire won the championship in 1936 and enjoyed two memorable wins in Lord’s finals.

But the great Richard Hadlee, when writing about his time in English cricket, stated that the Sunday League was the hardest competition to win. His assertion was based on the fact that winning knock-out competitions owed much to the luck of the draw, or maybe just three or four good days across an entire season.

Even in the County Championship, it was possible to be near to the bottom of the table at the halfway point of the season and yet still win it. In fact, when Kent won the county title in 1970, they had been rock bottom on 1 July.

But winning the Sunday League required consistency from first to last – if a county found themselves at the bottom in the middle of the season, there was simply no way they could recover to win it.

A champion county could ‘win one-lose one’ and still take the title, but that could never happen in the one-day format.

Above all, however, the RAL Sunday League win was a triumph for Coach Phil Russell (Mortensen, Malcolm, Morris, Bowler, Goldsmith were all his recruits) and captain Barnett. They put together a powerful combination of batsmen and quick bowlers backed up by some outstanding fielders, especially Adams, Goldsmith and O’Gorman.

They won 12 of their 16 matches, losing three with one no result, and Barnett topped the run-scoring charts with 699 at an average of 43.68.

Bowler scored 469, Morris 462 and Kuiper 433, with Base and Kuiper both taking 19 wickets. Malcolm (13) and Warner (12) took vital wickets, but Mortensen was sublime.

His bowling average – 35.33 – was nothing to write home about, but his economy rate – 3.11 – was outstanding.

Barnett had written in the 1990 Derbyshire Year Book that; “…we have a team that I feel is now ready to win a trophy by playing good, consistent cricket…”

And indeed, they were ready; the batting line-up of Barnett, Bowler, Morris, Roberts, Kuiper, and Adams all produced innings of note at critical times, and the experiment of Bowler keeping wicket was a success.

The bowling attack was experienced, all knowing their precise roles, and the entire side came across as a tough and uncompromising unit which when challenged, generally found a way to come out on top.

This fine side would go on to challenge for the county championship – finishing third in 1991 – and then would win the Benson and Hedges Cup Final at Lord’s in 1993…but that’s another story.

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