Heritage Insight: Derbyshire's South African connection

Wednesday 30th December 2020
& News

Throughout the year, Derbyshire supporters have been sending in their memories and questions. Here, Wouter Swart, from Cape Town, who wrote; “Since the days of Peter Kirsten and Eddie Barlow I have been a fan of Derbyshire, following their results. I was a club player in my day and played for Malmesbury Cricket Club which used to be a Premier League side in the Boland Province. Three players with Derbyshire connections played for Malmesbury in my time, i.e., Eddie Barlow, Kim Barnett, and Iain Anderson.

Heritage Officer, David Griffin, replies;

Derbyshire’s South African connection began in 1911 when Eric Murray played three games for the county as an 18 year-old. He captained Repton School’s First XI the following year, but never played for Derbyshire again.

Murray was the first of 28 South African-born cricketers to play for Derbyshire although it was to be a further 59 years before anyone born in South Africa would play for Derbyshire, when Chris Wilkins, an occasional wicket-keeper, a useful one-day bowler, and a regular striker of a cricket ball, arrived in Derbyshire during the club’s centenary season of 1970.

Wilkins scored nine centuries and 27 fifties during his three-year stint as Derbyshire’s first formal overseas player, the county having decided against an overseas recruit during the first two seasons when such signings were permitted.

Wilkins was relatively unknown compared to players like Sobers and Procter, but supporters weren’t disappointed with the club’s choice. Wilkins was always eager to dominate, was immensely powerful and added a touch of glamour to the batting line-up, which was not the strongest in the county’s history. He excelled in both forms of the game, and one suspects that he would have been a star in Twenty20 cricket.

Derbyshire opted for the Indian off-spinner Srinivas Venkatraghavan and then West Indian batsman Lawrence Rowe over the next three seasons, but then it was to South Africa that Derbyshire turned once more when, in the winter of 1975, it was announced that Eddie Barlow was joining the club on a three-year contract beginning in 1976.

At the time, it was reputed that Garry Sobers was being paid £5,000 for a summer at Trent Bridge, and that he was the highest-paid cricketer in the country. Derbyshire, with an ebullient new Chairman in George Hughes, guided by Charlie Elliott, a 1936 County Championship winner, offered Barlow £10,000.

The cricket world was staggered by this audacious move, although Hughes, addressing the 1976 Annual General Meeting in The Grandstand Hotel said; “…these gentlemen (pointing at Elliott and committee colleagues on the front row), have assured me that Barlow will make up ten places in the championship…”

Derbyshire were truly in the doldrums, but Barlow arrived and brought about a change in both attitude and fortunes, never seen before or since in Derbyshire. He did take the team from bottom to seventh in the championship – making good on Elliott’s promise – and a Lord’s final in the Benson and Hedges Cup.

He scored a remarkable 217 against Surrey at Ilkeston in 1976, including 138 runs off his own bat between lunch and tea. He also took 111 wickets at an average of just 16 in three seasons of one-day cricket, but it was his inspired leadership which is still fondly remembered today by anyone who saw or met this great cricketer.

In more simple terms, Eddie Barlow made Derbyshire – players, staff, supporters – believe that anything was possible.

Whilst at Derbyshire, Barlow recruited another South African, the diminutive, and inexperienced, Peter Kirsten.

Over the course of five seasons, Kirsten would demolish bowling attacks in both first class and one-day cricket, scoring a county record six double centuries, five of which were unbeaten. It was arguably only the ludicrous first innings limitation of 100 overs which prevented Kirsten from becoming the first Derbyshire batsman to score a triple hundred.

His greatest season was in 1982, when he scored eight centuries in the county championship (another county record which still stands), while New Zealander John Wright scored seventh. At times, in 1982, it seemed as if they were the only two players batting for Derbyshire, such was their dominance.

The next South African to make a significant impact was Adrian Kuiper, who was described by the then-Derbyshire Chairman at that years’ AGM as; “…the South African Botham…”, and from the opening game of the Refuge Assurance Sunday League against Sussex at Hove in 1990, he set about living up to the reputation.

Derbyshire needed ten an over from the last seven overs – difficult even by modern standards, but almost impossible nearly 30 years ago. However, Kuiper and a noticeably young Chris Adams smashed the ball to all parts of the ground to bring about an unlikely victory.

Over the course of that campaign, Kuiper produced several other match-winning knocks, amassing 775 one day runs at an average of 43, including a nerveless pull for 6 out of the ground at Taunton when one run was needed from the final ball of the match.

Whilst the 1990 triumph was undoubtedly a team effort, Kuiper was the clear catalyst for the success. He was immensely strong and capable of clearing any boundary with what seemed the minimum of effort.

Daryl Cullinan stepped into the overseas berth in 1995, replacing Mohammad Azharuddin. He was unflappable at the crease and scored five first-class hundreds and a further one in one-day cricket. The best tribute that can be paid to Cullinan, is that when he scored a quite brilliant 134 against Sussex at Derby on his debut, he drew comparisons to Kirsten, such was the brilliance of his stroke-play.

As the 21st century dawned, Derbyshire turned to Australia for overseas players, but retained an interest in signing players from South Africa, either as Kolpak-registered, or on a qualifying basis, while some South African-born players were eligible to play in England without any qualifying period.

Chris Bassano produced a debut performance unmatched in county championship cricket, scoring a hundred in each innings against Gloucestershire at Derby in 2001.

Bassano played at Derbyshire for five seasons, becoming a highly effective one day batsman, scoring four List A hundreds in 2003.

Ant Botha scored masses of runs and took plenty of wickets whilst qualifying in league cricket in Derbyshire before making his debut for the county in 2004. A left-handed middle-order batsman and slow-left arm bowler, Botha could be highly effective in all forms of the game, scoring over 3,000 runs and taking almost 250 wickets.

Greg Smith first played for Derbyshire in 2006 and was a very stylish middle-order batsman and a useful bowler of both seam and, latterly, off-spin, too. His explosive hundred against Yorkshire at Headingley in 2008 was Derbyshire’s first in Twenty20 cricket and is still one of only three for Derbyshire in that format.

Charl Langeveldt had two spells at the club, although his first was infinitely more profitable than the second, when he took 55 first-class wickets at an average of just over 22 in 2008.

Garry Park, although South African-born, had played all his competitive cricket in England and joined Derbyshire from Durham. He scored almost 3,000 runs for the county in all forms of the game, including 1,000 first class runs in 2009, averaging just over 42 with two hundreds and 8 fifties. He was also one of the finest fielders ever to play for Derbyshire; lightning fast across the ground and with a fast, low, accurate throw. He fielded for England as 12th man on several occasions, including, in 2008, against South Africa.

Tim Groenewald joined Derbyshire from Warwickshire and was a hugely instrumental figure in the 2012 County Championship Division Two winning side. He opened the bowling throughout that season alongside Tony Palladino, taking 42 wickets at an average of 25 and scoring crucial runs on several occasions.

All-rounder, Robin Peterson spent just one season at Derbyshire, in 2010, taking 51 wickets with his left arm spin, and scoring 484 runs batting in the lower middle order. A popular figure, a longer tenure might have reaped significant rewards in time, such was Derbyshire’s need for a good quality spinner at the time.

Loots Bosman arrived as a specialist Twenty20 player with a reputation for aggressive batting and fast scoring and delivered at Headingley in just his second outing for the club, scoring 94 against Yorkshire in an innings which lasted just 49 minutes, facing 50 balls, and hitting six sixes. I can’t recall a more brutal short innings played by a Derbyshire batsman.

Several South African-born players had short stints at the club, often, but not exclusively, as Twenty20 specialists, including Hashim Amla, James Bryant, Mornanteau ‘Nantie’ Hayward, Stephen Moore, Albie Morkel, Dominic Telo, and Stephen Jefferies.

In 1982, Jefferies played just a single match – against the touring Pakistan side at Chesterfield. Six years later, when Jefferies was playing for Hampshire, he destroyed Derbyshire’s batting in the Benson and Hedges Cup Final at Lord’s, taking 5-13 from ten overs.

In 2009, a young man arrived from South Africa keen to play county cricket following a stint in the Lancashire League, and after impressing in the Second XI, was handed a first team debut at Cheltenham in July of the same year. Wayne Madsen scored 170 not out in the Second innings, the highest debut score in Derbyshire’s history, and began a run – largely unbroken – of consistent, heavy scoring in all forms of the game.

With 30 first class hundreds for Derbyshire, he sits third on the all-time list for the club, and broke records galore with the bat in the 2017 Nat West t20 Blast competition which saw Derbyshire reach the quarter finals for the first time since 2005.

Madsen captained the side when Derbyshire won the 2012 Division Two title and has now scored over 17,000 all formats runs. and he seems set to continue challenging the Derbyshire batting records in the years to come.

Daryn Smit and Hardus Viljoen both arrived in 2017, and in only his fourth first-class game for the county Viljoen recorded match figures of 15-170 in the win against Sussex at Hove. These are the fifth best match figures ever for Derbyshire, and the best since 1952, when Cliff Gladwin took 15-84 against Worcestershire at Amblecote.

Smit – signed ostensibly as a middle-order batsman – impressed observers with his fielding and wicket-keeping, as throughout the season he took a series of amazing catches both in the slips and with the gloves on.

Conor McKerr, on loan from Surrey, and in only his second-ever first-class match, took 10-141 in the match against Northamptonshire at Northampton, and at the start of 2018 Duanne Olivier arrived bringing with him an outstanding first class record. He took 31 wickets in only seven first class games but couldn’t be tempted to return, opting instead to join Yorkshire.

A year later, Derbyshire followers got their first sighting of a diminutive left handed batsman in the form of Jacobus (Leus) du Plooy. It’s still early days but most of his 1,760 all formats runs in 45 matches have been accumulated in real style, and he looks like a batsmen of high quality. His 130 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in August 2020 was outstanding and ranked comparison with the best of Kirsten.

The final South African – to date – to appear for Derbyshire was the left arm quick bowler, Michael Cohen. He made his debut for the county in 2020 and over the course of just seven matches so far has taken important wickets and bowled genuinely fast at times.

The full list of players born in South Africa and who have played (in chronological order) for Derbyshire is as follows;

  1. Eric Murray
  2. Chris Wilkins
  3. Eddie Barlow
  4. Peter Kirsten
  5. Stephen Jefferies
  6. Adrian Kuiper
  7. Daryll Cullinan
  8. Chris Bassano
  9. Ant Botha
  10. James Bryant
  11. Greg Smith
  12. Dominic Telo
  13. Charl Langeveldt
  14. Garry Park
  15. Tim Groenewald
  16. Mornanteau Hayward
  17. Wayne Madsen
  18. Robin Peterson
  19. Loots Bosman
  20. Albie Morkel
  21. Stephen Moore
  22. Hashim Amla
  23. Daryn Smit
  24. Hardus Viljoen
  25. Conor McKerr
  26. Duanne Olivier
  27. Jacobus du Plooy
  28. Michael Cohen

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