Derbyshire's Greatest XI: The Verdict

Tuesday 3rd November 2020
& News
Written by Stephen Martin

The votes are in and the Greatest XI has been selected in a public vote via social media. Our Heritage Officer and Statistician, David Griffin, offers his observations on the ballot.

“What, no Alan Ward?” was a comment which appeared on Facebook as soon as the list of nominees was announced.

That one comment highlighted the difficulty in not just selecting the XI, but also the 40 candidates.   It was a difficult decision to omit Ward from the list of ten nominated fast bowlers, but there was also no room for fellow quick bowlers Brian Jackson, Ole Mortensen, Kevin Dean, Phillip Defreitas, Mark Footitt or Tony Palladino.

More England Test cricketers like William Chatterton and Bill Storer missed the cut, as did George Davidson, the champion all-rounder from the Victoria era, as well as Levi Wright and Billy Godleman, two fine Derbyshire batsmen with good records.

There was some online discussion about the merits of several players, some of whom were, and some of whom were not in the nominated list, as well as the ‘five seasons rule’ which was applied to ensure that the players selected for the XI had made a medium to long term contribution in terms of their length of service to Derbyshire.

Therefore, while players like Chris Wilkins, Fred Trueman, Lawrence Rowe, Eddie Barlow, Ian Bishop, Adrian Kuiper, Mohammad Azharuddin, Dean Jones, Chris Rogers, Simon Katich, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir – to name just a few – all played for Derbyshire with varying levels of success, and in some cases were undeniably world class cricketers, they missed out as a result of this 5 year rule. Essentially, the idea was to nominate players who had a significant part, if not all, of their career at Derbyshire.

Finally, the records of each nominated player were considered before selection, and naturally in a game dominated by numbers, there had to be a statistical slant to this exercise.

Indeed, had the side been selected solely on the weight of runs, wickets and dismissals, the table below shows the difference between that XI, and the publicly-selected side;

Number Public Vote Statistical Selection
1 Kim Barnett Kim Barnett
2 Peter Bowler Denis Smith
3 John Morris John Morris
4 Wayne Madsen Les Townsend
5 Peter Kirsten Stan Worthington
6 Dominic Cork Derek Morgan
7 Geoff Miller Arthur Morton
8 Bob Taylor Bob Taylor
9 Albert Rhodes Tommy Mitchell
10 Les Jackson Les Jackson
11 Mike Hendrick Cliff Gladwin

In terms of the overall selection, the side is dominated by nine players who have played for the county since 1980 which probably reflects the age demographic of those casting votes.

It is difficult to argue with any of the selections, although perhaps it is a sign of the times that Derbyshire’s greatest-ever side which finished sixth, third, second, first, third and fifth in six-consecutive seasons in the county championship during the 1930s has no representative despite routinely fielding six England Test cricketers, all of whom were nominated in this poll.

To have watched that 1936 side as an adult, you’d now be over 100, and even to have watched Gladwin and Jackson in tandem in 1958, you probably need to have been born in the 1940s.

So the omission of William Mycroft – 544 wickets at 11.71 – is understandable given that he was at the height of his powers in the 1870s and 1880s.

Therefore, the strong post-1980s selections are quite understandable and irrespective of your own favourites, the selected XI does represent a very strong side.

From a personal point of view, I’d like to have seen Tommy Mitchell selected in the specialist spinner role; no spinner took more wickets for the county, and his record is exceptional.

I’d also have wanted at least one of the two 1936 middle order players in my side – Les Townsend or Stan Worthington – but how can one argue against an engine room at 3, 4 and 5 of Morris, Madsen and Kirsten?

I never saw Jackson play but Hendrick was as good as any fast bowler I’ve seen play for Derbyshire, although I might have selected Devon Malcolm to add some out and out pace to complement Jackson and Cork.

I suspect that many non-social media users will be staggered that Derek Morgan didn’t make the side; Morgan is the county’s fourth highest run scorer and fifth highest wicket-taker, but Cork was as great a match-winner as Derbyshire have ever had.

Gerald Mortimer, who wrote about Derbyshire cricket for more than three decades, when asked to select the best XI of players he had seen play for the county, picked Cork ahead of Morgan for the former’s unique match-winning qualities.

Otherwise, it’s a nit-picking exercise – Denis Smith or Peter Bowler? – Bowler was a very high quality opening batsman, excellent against pace, while Smith played in that 1930s champion side and also for England. But from different eras, on different pitches, how to part them?

What is undeniable is that this side would have been fun to watch. Barnett, Morris, Kirsten, Madsen and Cork were (is, in the case of Madsen) all dynamic stroke players and in the case of Barnett, Kirsten and Madsen, outstanding fielders, too.

Jackson and Hendrick would say very little, letting their bowling do the talking, while Cork would be his usual effervescent self.

Miller and Rhodes would have been a fascinating combination – off spinner and leg-spinner – while behind the stumps, as fine a wicket keeper as has ever played the game, Bob Taylor, would be there doing everything efficiently and calmly.

This side has three Derbyshire-born cricketers (Hendrick, Miller and Jackson) and three from Staffordshire (Barnett, Cork and Taylor), with two each from Cheshire (Morris and Rhodes) and South Africa (Kirsten and Madsen) and one born in Hampshire (Bowler).

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