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Heritage Insight: Derbyshire's coaching roles pre-2000

Tuesday 15th December 2020
& News

Throughout the year, Derbyshire supporters have been sending in their memories and questions. Here, Greg Watts emailed us about the role of the cricket coach, and the relationship with the captain.

Greg wrote; “I’ve always been curious about the relationship between the captain of a team and the coach during a game. In football, the captain seems have to have little influence once the game starts. It’s the manager who calls the shots.

But in cricket, if, say, on the second day of a County Championship game, Derbyshire were really struggling (not that this ever happens, of course), what powers would Dave Houghton have other than a chat with Billy at lunch and some suggestions. It seems that once a game begins the captain is more like a football manager, making decisions about who to bring on to bowl, where to position fielders, what order the team bats, and so on.”

Our Heritage Officer, David Griffin, writes;

This is a really fascinating subject which I’m going to address here by looking at the traditional role of the cricket coach at Derbyshire – and in cricket, generally – up until about twenty years ago.

Then, in the early part of 2021, I’ll talk to Billy Godleman about the specifics raised by Greg in his email.

It is undeniable that for the majority of the 20th century, it was captains, and almost never coaches, who grabbed the headlines for their leadership, their tactics, their approach to the game, their intelligence, their background, even.

Jardine, Worrell, Benaud, Illingworth and Brearley were all lauded as captains of their national sides, as were Arthur Richardson, Guy Willatt, Donald Carr, Eddie Barlow, Kim Barnett, and Dean Jones at Derbyshire.

However, there are two former players who stand out as successful coaches at Derbyshire; Samuel Cadman, and Philip Russell.

Sam Cadman was one of the mainstays of Derbyshire cricket for 26 years between 1900 and 1926, alongside Arthur Morton (1903-1926) scoring over 14,000 runs and taking more than 800 wickets.

Unfortunately, although Bill Bestwick was a regular for much of that period, the side was generally quite weak, not once finishing in the top half of the county championship between 1897 and 1926.

Cheshire-born Cadman was 49 when he played his final game for Derbyshire, and was an ever-present during that awful 1920 season, when the county lost 17 of their 18 matches, with the other game abandoned without a ball bowled.

After that disastrous season, it was determined that action needed to be taken to improve performances and so, during the following winter, the Cricket Nursery was re-opened with Cadman overseeing the coaching of young cricketers.

Guy Jackson was appointed captain in 1922 and throughout the rest of that decade, performances began to show greater respectability, peaking at fifth in the championship in 1927.

As the decade unfolded, players who would become legendary names at Derbyshire were introduced into the side; Harry Elliott (1920), Leslie Townsend (1922), Stan Worthington (1924), Denis Smith (1927), Tommy Mitchell (1928), Albert Alderman (1928), and Alf Pope (1930).

Additionally, Arthur Richardson (1928) made his debut, and would eventually take over the captaincy from Jackson in 1931.

All of these young cricketers were born within Derbyshire and were able to take advantage of Cadman’s guidance with support from the Rev Henry Ellison who captained the 2nd XI until 1928, when he was 60.

At the end of the 1926 season, a journalist at The Cricketer wrote; “The Nursery, which is in the hands of Cadman, has been largely responsible for the all-round improvement this year, and there is some promising young talent. Derbyshire’s prospects next year should be even better.”

The writer was well-informed as Derbyshire rose to fifth position in the county table in 1927.

The 1930s saw Derbyshire become a pre-eminent force in the county game as this outstanding group of young cricketers developed into outstanding players culminating in Derbyshire winning the county title in 1936.

Sixth place in 1933 hinted at the possibilities and over the course of the following five seasons, the county finished third, second, first, third, and fifth – a run of performances never matched in the club’s history.

With Charlie Elliott, Bill Copson, George Pope and Arnold Townsend joining the XI, Derbyshire’s principal side throughout that glorious summer of 1936 featured just two players who had not emerged from the Nursery under Cadman’s tutelage.

It is unlikely that Cadman’s advice would have been ignored by captain Richardson, or his predecessor, Jackson, but his principal role throughout the 1920s and beyond was to deliver and develop cricketers ready for the challenge of county cricket, and without any doubt, he succeeded in that task.

By the time the 1970s came along, the captain was still at the heart of cricket teams and in Derbyshire this was no exception.

Guy Willatt and Donald Carr had led their sides between 1951 and 1962 with discipline and toughness, aided by an outstanding bowling attack featuring Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson, as well as Derek Morgan and Edwin Smith.

The batting was never of sufficient quality to manage a push for the championship title, although top half finishes were the norm.

The mid- to late sixties saw the bowlers once again to the fore under Charlie Lee and then Derek Morgan – Ian Buxton, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson had been added to the side – but the batting order just never produced enough runs to improve upon mid-table finishes.

But by the time the 1970s arrived, Derbyshire had returned to the lower reaches of the then 17-team championship, finishing 17th, 17th, 16th, 17th and 15th  positions over a five-year period between 1971 and 1975.

Eddie Barlow’s arrival in 1976 turned things around and he appointed Russell, a member of the playing staff at the time, and occasionally until 1985, as coach.

Russell, born in Ilkeston and a medium paced bowler who bowled off-cutters, was initially asked to take charge of the young cricketers in 1977.

He continued as player/coach, and then coach, until 1993, playing in the 1978 Benson and Hedges Cup Final against Kent at Lord’s taking 3-28 off 11 overs.

But it was as Kim Barnett’s right hand man, that Russell’s qualities came to the fore. Aided by a hugely supportive Cricket Committee, and particularly former county seniors, Charlie Elliott and Guy Willatt, Barnett and Russell set about creating a team of tough, uncompromising cricketers, where character was a big part of their temperament. At the heart of their strategy was the desire to attack, to use fast bowling as a weapon, and to return Derbyshire to somewhere near the top table of county cricket.

The NatWest Trophy had been secured in 1981 with Russell as coach, but that side broke up fairly quickly; indeed, the side which won at Lord’s on 5 September 1981 never played together ever again.

Russell had an impact on his young charges, clearly capable of passing on his decades of experience, especially to bowlers, but he also demonstrated that he had an eye for spotting talent.

Under the Russell / Barnett partnership, third, fifth and sixth twice in the championship was a huge improvement, and 12 quarter-final appearances in one day cricket demonstrated that Derbyshire could also hold their own in that form of the game.

The triumphs of 1990 (RAL Sunday League) and 1993 (Benson and Hedges Cup) were the highlights though, and a glance at the teams in those glorious seasons highlights Russell’s recruiting skills – Kim Barnett, Peter Bowler, John Morris, Chris Adams, Dominic Cork, Karl Krikken, Devon Malcolm, Allan Warner, Ole Mortensen – every one of them (and more besides) arrived at Derbyshire on Russell’s watch much in the same way as Cadman had delivered that fine side of the 1930s.

Contemporary accounts describe that side of the 1930 as tough, bristling with aggression, never taking a backward step; it seems the Barnett side was hewn from the same material.

However, both Cadman and Russell took a back seat to their respective captains, Richardson, and Barnett.

No-one could ever claim that either of those skippers ruled with anything less than total authority and with a steely determination to prove the opposition, and others, wrong about Derbyshire. Their sides were packed with tough and aggressive – and talented – cricketers, most of whom had been discovered, coached, and improved upon, by Cadman and Russell.

With first hand experience of watching Derbyshire while Russell was coach, one of the interesting features of his tenure was that being alongside his charges was not always a priority.

I’d estimate that half of Russell’s time was spent away from the first XI, either working with young cricketers, or searching out new talent.

This is quite different from the modern practice where the head coach is generally a permanent fixture alongside the first XI.

What is also different is the responsibility for performance. At no time in Phil Russell’s 17 years as coach do I recall any suggestion that he be replaced; responsibility for all cricketing performances – good or bad – lay at the feet of the captain, as it had since the game began.

How different from today; in the last 17 years Derbyshire’s principal coaching position has been held by Adrian Pierson, David Houghton, John Morris, Karl Krikken, Graeme Welch, Kim Barnett, and David Houghton again.

The captains during that period have included Luke Sutton, Graeme Welch, Simon Katich, Rikki Clarke, Chris Rogers, Sutton again, Wayne Madsen and Billy Godleman.

Not one captain has been dismissed or ask to step down based on team performances; but the coaches (apart from Barnett, who resigned) have, conversely, always carried the can for poor performances.

Today, the role of captain on the field appears to be as it always has been; but with a coach off the field judged by those on-field performances, what is the relationship like between coach and captain? In 2021, I’ll interview the captain, Billy Godleman, and try to find out.

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