Derbyshire's greatest wicketkeepers

Thursday 8th October 2020
Written by Stephen Martin

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.

This ninth article looks at the remarkable strength of the county’s talented and durable wicket-keepers who have often been overshadowed by the long lineage of fast and fast-medium bowlers.

Seven wicket-keepers have dominated the team sheet over the last century and a half, with Bob Taylor, Harry Elliott, George Dawkes, Karl Krikken, Joe Humphries, Bernie Maher and Luke Sutton taking the gloves in 2,853 of Derbyshire’s games, meaning that one of this septet has featured in three quarters of all matches played since 1870.

In all, 66 players have appeared as Derbyshire’s wicket-keeper, but only seven have played in 200 or more matches, with Taylor, keeping in every single one of his 812 county games.

Staffordshire-born Bob Taylor began his Derbyshire career in 1961 and was a virtual ever-present until 1984, missing only when occasionally injured, or playing for England.

Taylor established records which are likely to remain for as long as the game is played, and not just for his county. His world record for dismissals in first-class cricket is 1,647 and the leading current player is Kamran Akmal who has 919 dismissals and is almost 40 years of age.

For Akmal to overtake Taylor’s record, based on his current annual average of dismissals, he will be 60 years old by the time he does so.

Taylor was widely accepted as the best gloveman in the country for many years. Kent’s Alan Knott kept him out of the England side on the back of a batting average which was far superior – 32 to 16 – but the prevailing view around the country was that despite Knott’s many admirers, Taylor was probably the purer ‘keeper.

Taylor was also forthright about the art, stating; “Wicketkeeping is about standing up, not back,” he says, “because any competent catcher of the ball can do it standing back.” He even titled his 1985 autobiography ‘Standing Up Standing Back’.

Taylor entered the game at a time when wicket-keeping was still considered a specialist role – batting was a bonus – and this allowed him the time to concentrate on his craft. And what a craftsman he was. Rarely did Taylor dive, although he was genuinely athletic and more than capable of pulling off one handed takes in front of the slip cordon, but he made the game look remarkably simple when standing up to the wicket.

However, it was his consistency as well as his skill which defined him; twenty times he completed 50 or more dismissals in a season, a remarkable achievement aided by some excellent bowlers throughout his career.

And while he might have been unfortunate in having to play second fiddle to Alan Knott where England’s Test side was concerned, once Knott decided to join World Series Cricket in 1977, Taylor literally took the opportunity to be England’s first choice wicket-keeper with both gloved hands.

His 57 Test appearances allowed his masterful keeping to be witnessed by a worldwide audience and his career reached its height in 1981 when he was a member of England’s Ashes-winning team, won the NatWest Trophy at Lord’s with Derbyshire, enjoyed a record-breaking benefit season, and scored his one and only first-class hundred against Yorkshire.

Coal-mining and working as a groom / groundsman at Wiseton Hall in Nottinghamshire occupied Harry Elliott’s early working life before he enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery when war broke out in 1914.

After the war Elliott returned to Wiseton where in 1920 he was spotted playing in a club game by Sir Archibald White, who had captained Yorkshire between 1912 and 1914.

Unable to recommend him to Yorkshire who only recruited players born within their county, White notified the Derbyshire committee and Elliott made his Second XI debut for the county against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

He made an immediate impression and made his debut for Derbyshire against Essex at Derby in June 1920. He was an instant success and went on to play 194 consecutive first-class matches for the county, a run only broken when he was selected to play for England against the West Indies in 1928.

Subsequently, he made 232 consecutive appearances up to 1937 when injury ruled him out.

Like Taylor, he was never considered more than a stubborn and defiant batsman, although he did score over 7,000 runs in his 520 matches for Derbyshire, including 11 half centuries.

His highest score was 94, against Leicestershire in 1933 when he captained the side to victory in the absence of Arthur Richardson.

Although he played four Test matches for England, Elliott’s greatest achievement was surely winning the county championship in 1936 when he played in all 28 matches. He had featured in Derbyshire’s worst-ever season in 1920 when 17 of their 18 games were lost (the other was abandoned without a ball being bowled), and so was well-placed to recognise the magnitude of the championship title triumph in comparison to his early days at the club. He was Derbyshire’s only professional cricketer to play in both 1920 and 1936.

He openly admitted to having lied about his age when making his debut for Derbyshire, stating in 1967 that; “…if Derbyshire had known that I was 28 in 1920 the chances are they would have said I was too old.”

At the age of almost 56 he returned to Derbyshire’s colours in an emergency – the oldest player ever to take the field for the club.

His keeping was considered to be of the old school – never flamboyant, but efficient and safe, taking the gloves in 519 of his 520 first-class matches and recording 1,176 dismissals including a county record of 292 stumpings, twice as many as Bob Taylor, highlighting the changes in pitches and bowling attacks between their eras.

Elliott kept to the leg-spinning wicket-taking machine that was Tommy Mitchell as well as Leslie Townsend, an off-spinner who bowled almost at medium pace, and that pair alone took almost 2,500 wickets while Elliott was behind the wicket.

When George Dawkes was awarded his county cap by Leicestershire in 1938 one assumes that the good folk of that county expected to see him behind the stumps for the foreseeable future.

However, war intervened 12 months later and Dawkes missed 6 seasons of county cricket before joining Derbyshire in 1947 when he was already 27-years-old.

Dawkes had not been demobilized from military service until December 1947 by which time he had been replaced at Leicestershire and his England Test opportunity had gone with Godfrey Evans taking the spot as England’s number one.

Dawkes was described by Les Jackson as an outstanding wicketkeeper, and with good cause; the ‘caught Dawkes bowled Jackson’ co-production is the best in Derbyshire’s history with 254 first-class victims. In 1958, when Jackson took a hat-trick against Worcestershire at Kidderminster, all three victims were caught by Dawkes.

And Dawkes could also bat, scoring almost ten thousand runs with a fondness for hitting sixes during his 391-match Derbyshire career, keeping wicket in all but one of them.

During the 1950’s Dawkes took part in the dismissal of 589 batsmen, more than any other wicket-keeper in the country and was a crucial element of that fine side which finished in the top six on six occasions during the decade.

Between 1950 and 1961 Dawkes played a remarkable 289 consecutive championship matches with injury ruling him out of game 290 when his place was taken by Bob Taylor.

As Karl Krikken donned his red gloves and took the field against Sussex at Hove in 1987 for his debut in a one day game few observers denied that he looked more than competent from the outset. That day, he finished on the winning side and kept tidily to a bowling attack which included Michael Holding, Ole Mortensen, Paul Newman and Allan Warner. Always vocal, and with a style all of his own, he became one of Derbyshire’s greatest wicket-keepers, as good standing up to the wicket as any of his contemporaries and had his batting been of a higher quality, may have played Test cricket.

Derbyshire supporters had been in thrall to the supreme Taylor for decades, and although others claimed the wicketkeeping berth post-Taylor, it was Krikken who best demonstrated those qualities possessed by the most outstanding glovemen, namely, wonderful hands and quick feet.

Like Taylor, he dived rarely because his feet usually took him to the right position and he did have his moments with the bat, especially his 104 against Lancashire at Old Trafford in a memorable match in 1996.

He was awarded his county cap in 1992 after several seasons on the fringes and was thereafter an almost ever present over the next decade playing 417 all formats matches – keeping in 412 of them – and completing 797 dismissals. He also scored over 7,000 runs and played a significant part in the 1993 Benson and Hedges Cup triumph over Lancashire at Lord’s giving Dominic Cork great support after Derbyshire had been 66-4 and in some trouble.

A Lancastrian by birth, he was much admired by Derbyshire members and supporters, partly for his undoubted talent but also for his attitude and approach to the game. He played in a powerful and talented side in the 1990s with some very strong characters, and like the majority of his colleagues, appeared willing to run through a brick wall for the side.

On New Year’s Day 1908 Derbyshire’s Joseph Humphries made his Test match debut for England against Australia at Melbourne. Contemporary accounts state that local critics considered him the best wicket-keeper they had seen since Jack Blackham, significant praise from an Australian audience.

Humphries became a Derbyshire regular in 1902 replacing William Storer who wanted to concentrate on his batting and he was routinely described as a brilliant ‘keeper, especially standing up to the wicket.

Former Derbyshire player and Secretary Will Taylor described legside stumpings off the bowling of pacemen Bill Bestwick and Arnold Warren as ‘beyond belief’ and he managed to complete ten stumpings off the bowling of both those two Derbyshire greats.

He played 276 first-class matches for Derbyshire – all of them behind the wicket – scoring just over 5,000 runs and completing 627 dismissals of which 95 were stumpings.

When Bob Taylor left the field at the end of the 1984 season Derbyshire supporters knew an era had come to an end; Taylor was a world-record holding, Ashes-winning legend, the best wicket-keeper they had ever seen. Who would replace him?

Bernie Maher was the man, at least for the first half of the 1985 season before Chris Marples took his place, and Bruce Roberts also wore the gloves on several occasions. And for much of 1986 it was Marples again who stood behind the wicket, until in early August Maher returned to the role – an uneasy one at times for a player who also opened the batting until Peter Bowler arrived to partner Kim Barnett in 1988.

Maher played 244 all formats games for Derbyshire, 236 of them as wicket-keeper and completed 420 dismissals in addition to scoring nearly 5,000 runs with four hundreds and 19 fifties.

As a batsman he was an ideal foil for the dynamic Barnett and good enough to take part in 12 century partnerships in first-class matches, and uniquely batted in every position for Derbyshire from one to 11 in first-class matches.

He was a highly competent ‘keeper; he had to be with Derbyshire’s array of pace bowlers, none faster than Holding, Devon Malcolm and Ian Bishop, but suffered simply on the basis that he followed the sublime Taylor and had to be effectively jettisoned for the outstanding and younger Krikken once the latter was ready for a regular spot.

Rather like when Maher succeeded Taylor, Luke Sutton’s selection as the Derbyshire wicket-keeper in 2000 induced some animation from the membership about the ‘keeping spot once more.

Sutton was good enough to play as a specialist batsman and there were occasions when he played in the same side as Krikken while the latter kept, although he became the regular ‘keeper in the second half of the 2002 season.

Playing 242 all formats matches for Derbyshire in two spells with 208 appearances as wicket-keeper, he also captained the county and holds the record (51) for most matches in which a player has played in the dual role of captain and wicket-keeper. He scored over 6,000 runs with 5 hundreds and 20 fifties and completed 393 dismissals.

With three roles, captain, batsman and ‘keeper he excelled and proved himself to be a natural captain, if disappointingly never having a top quality side to lead, and as has become the norm in modern cricket, Sutton had to be an all-action ‘keeper, standing up to the stumps, especially in one day matches, and the newly-introduced (2003) Twenty20 cricket.

It would be remiss not to mention one other Derbyshire wicket-keeper who failed to reach the 200-game mark, the cut-off point for this feature. William Storer played in 110 matches as wicket-keeper, and 209 for the county in all.

He was Derbyshire’s first great batsman, scoring 12 hundreds in matches in which he kept wicket and in 1896 he scored 1,125 runs at an average of 51.13. A measure of this achievement is that it would be another 84 years before a Derbyshire batsman would average more than 50 in scoring 1,000 runs or more in a season.

He played six Test matches for England and when not keeping wicket or batting was good enough to take 232 first-class wickets with his leg-breaks. A genuine all-round cricketer. He stood up to all bowlers including Charles Kortright, widely considered the fastest bowler of his day, when playing for MCC against the Australians at Lord’s in 1893.

The outstanding feature of these tremendous cricketers is undoubtedly their longevity. Clearly, talent kept them at the top and in the role for so long, but their resilience, fitness, concentration and consistency were just as crucial.

A full season of county cricket – as per the planned schedule for 2020 – still offers 36 games (14 championship, eight List A and 14 T20) as a minimum, so there remains plenty of opportunity for Harvey Hosein – currently on 69 matches and only 24 years old – to join this group.

Here is the list of all those who to date have stood and served behind the wicket;

  • There were 95 matches abandoned in which a wicket-keeper was not declared, and one abandoned game in which a toss took place and therefore the ‘keeper (Harvey Hosein) was awarded a game
  • There were also nine matches – mainly dating from the 19th century – where a wicket-keeper was not indicated in the scorebook and whilst assumptions could be made as to who kept wicket, research is ongoing to determine the correct selection
Player FC Games Last A Games T20 Games Total Games
Taylor RW 514 298 0 812
Elliott H 519 0 0 519
Krikken KM 210 201 1 412
Dawkes GO 390 0 0 390
Humphries 276 0 0 276
Maher BJM 127 109 0 236
Sutton LD 84 94 30 208
Pipe DJ 51 42 32 125
Poynton T 47 31 38 116
Storer W 110 0 0 110
Hosein HR 46 13 10                69
Smit D 10 13 32 55
Disney JJ 53 0 0 53
Smith A 48 0 0 48
Goddard LJ 14 11 16 41
Bowler PD 3 34 0 37
Marples C 25 12 0 37
Cross GD 11 8 13 32
McLellan AJ 26 6 0 32
Smith D 29 0 0 29
Beet G 28 0 0 28
Johnson RM 10 12 1 23
Wilson GC 10 3 9 22
Griffiths SP 12 9 0 21
Rollins AS 5 14 0 19
Roberts B 3 14 0 17
Mycroft T 16 0 0 16
New TJ 6 5 0 11
Alderman AE 10 0 0 10
Stephenson GR 10 0 0 10
Adshead SJ 4 5 0 9
Johnson HL 8 1 0 9
Vaulkhard P 9 0 0 9
Wilmot W 9 0 0 9
Klokker FA 5 3 0 8
Borrington AJ 2 5 0 7
Deakin MJ 4 2 0 6
Wilkins CP 4 2 0 6
Fullwood W 6 0 0 6
Mellor AJ 2 2 1 5
Guest BD 1 0 4 5
Durham CM 1 2 1 4
Pussell PE 2 2 0 4
Bairstow AD 3 1 0 4
Hanson RL 1 2 0 3
Richardson S 3 0 0 3
Foster T 2 0 0 2
Wyatt G 2 0 0 2
Stubbings SD 0 1 0 1
Beet GHC 1 0 0 1
Buckston RHR 1 0 0 1
Cooke J 1 0 0 1
Elliott CS 1 0 0 1
Evershed E 1 0 0 1
Goodall J 1 0 0 1
Hall IW 1 0 0 1
Hardy S 1 0 0 1
Hodgson DM 1 0 0 1
Mycroft F 1 0 0 1
Rowe LG 1 0 0 1
Storer H 1 0 0 1
Sugg FH 1 0 0 1
Warn CJ 1 0 0 1
Whyatt C 1 0 0 1
Wright J 1 0 0 1
Wright LG 1 0 0 1

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