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Heritage Insight: Derbyshire’s fiercest foes

Thursday 11th March 2021

One of our members, Don Meeson, got in touch via email about the assortment of articles featured on the club website in 2020.

Don wrote directly to our Heritage Officer, David Griffin; “I have given some thought to topics that I don’t think you have tackled before and have come up with these two which you could tackle either separately or in one article.

The top ten best players you have seen play against Derbyshire and the top ten best performances you have seen against Derbyshire either by a team or an individual.

From my own recollections I would put forward Muralitharan in the Benson & Hedges match at Liverpool on 4th May 2001.  His bowling figures were ten overs seven maidens, four runs and one wicket. The Derbyshire batsmen (Di Venuto included) couldn’t get the ball off the square. Just three scoring shots off 60 balls in a one day match!

As a contender for team performance, Warwickshire at Chesterfield in July 1994 was memorable.  Brian Lara 142 and 51, Tim Munton 7-52 N M K Smith 5-69 and Keith Piper achieved a then Warwickshire record of 11 dismissals in the match.

Heritage Officer, David Griffin, writes;

Those are a couple of great recollections from Don – there was a particularly good crowd at Chesterfield when Lara scored that hundred in 1994, so plenty of people will have fond memories of it – even if it was scored against Derbyshire!

Muralitharan was a great bowler, but even so, to produce such economical figures in any form of one day cricket is outstanding.

I’ll happily separate my top ten best opponents and top ten best performances and am happy to start with the ten best players I’ve seen play against Derbyshire.

However, some qualification before I go any further; Garry Sobers played one of the greatest innings I’ve ever seen at Ilkeston in 1974, however, I only ever saw Sobers bat three times, and bowl twice, so whilst his position as one of the absolute greats of the game is assured, I’m not going to include him in my top ten.

Likewise, some of the greatest players in the modern game only played infrequently against Derbyshire; Kumar Sangakkara (three games), Ricky Ponting (three), Brian Lara (five) and Sachin Tendulkar (three), were unquestionably some of the finest players of all time, but I’m restricting my top ten to players who produced regularly outstanding performances against Derbyshire, so they are omitted.

Yes, it would be easy to just list a World XI – I offer Richards BA, Greenidge, Richards IVA, Lara, Chappell GS, Sobers, Imran Khan, Taylor RW, Warne, Marshall and Lillee as a starter for ten – and two of them are included in the top ten – but either they had moderate records against Derbyshire, or rarely played against them.

There will be an opportunity for Lara, for example, to feature in the later article about the best performances against Derbyshire, as will a number of other modern-day players, but for now the focus is upon players who I have watched  produce outstanding performances against Derbyshire on a regular basis.

1: Vivian Richards

I first saw Richards in the flesh in 1977 at Ilkeston. In those days, the back row of the pavilion was reserved for the players who would sit in front of their respective dressing room. I sat in the pavilion in my usual spot with my teenage mates, directly in front of the row which was occupied by the Somerset players. This required an early arrival at the ground to ensure this hallowed spot.

The Gillette Cup quarter final clash attracted a crowd of 11,000 and the ground was heaving as Brian Rose and Peter Denning walked out to open the innings for Somerset while Richards and the rest of his team mates sat behind us.

I was just 15 and collecting autographs was part of the fun of county cricket and it took some courage to turn and ask for Viv’s signature, knowing he was due in at the fall of the first wicket.

He was truly kind, however, and chatted briefly to us, signing our books and pictures before going out and making a quickfire 37 batting alongside a young Ian Botham who had just returned from making his Test match debut for England.

Two years later, in the same competition, but this time at Taunton, Richards batted a little longer, making 73, including two huge straight sixes out of the ground off the bowling of Mike Hendrick. The England fast bowler had bowled 11.4 overs for just 20 runs before the Antiguan struck those final two deliveries into the far distance.

Richards made a fine 130 at Taunton in a championship match in 1981 and in the Sunday League game sandwiched in between days one and two of that match he made an explosive 86 not out although his best innings was the 123 he made against Holding and Mortensen on a testing pitch at Derby in 1985 when he truly looked in a different class to any other batsman.

My greatest Richards memory, however, came in his final game for Somerset, which happened to be against Derbyshire at Taunton in 1986.

Somerset had decided not to re-engage Richards and Joel Garner as overseas players, and Botham was determined that if they were going, so was he. The decision brought the county to its knees with an extraordinary general meeting, and huge infighting within the club.

The ground for that final game – a John Player Special League match – was filled to capacity with both factions seemingly equally represented, and a handful of Derbyshire spectators simply happy that this internecine squabbling didn’t involve them!

A plane flew over the ground trailing a banner bearing the legend, “Richards, Garner and Botham – Don’t Go!” and the atmosphere was truly electric.

Derbyshire batted first and during a partnership between Roberts and Maher, the ball was struck to the square boundary where Richards was patrolling in front of the scoreboard. He collected the ball after running perhaps twenty yards to his right while the batsmen ran a single. Roberts and Maher paused – was there a chance of a second run?

At which point Richards dropped the ball at his feet, and placed his hands on his hips, intimating to the batsmen that if they were willing to risk it, they might like to try a second run. The crowd goaded the batsmen, and cheered on Richards, all for at least ten seconds, before he bent down, picked up the ball and hurled it in almost underarm, like a rocket and into the keeper’s gloves.

It was pure theatre.

Richards was an outstanding batsman, certainly the best I’ve ever seen, and he had a sense of occasion even if domestic three day cricket was perhaps not always the biggest stage on which to play.

But when he batted in his final innings for the West Country side – he made 55 as Somerset beat Derbyshire –  everyone in the ground, friend, or foe, must have recognised that they were watching a supreme talent. No helmet, just remarkable hand-eye co-ordination, and every shot in the book allied to immense power and style.

He was 40 years old when he scored his next hundred against Derbyshire – 109 not out for Glamorgan at Pontypridd in a Sunday League game in 1992 – when the master of one day bowling, Ole Mortensen went for 65 runs off eight overs and Cork 56 from his eight. On that day – ultimately ruined by rain – it seemed that Richards could strike the ball to whatever part of the ground he wished, irrespective of where the ball pitched and where the fielders had been placed.

A fine 86 for Glamorgan at Derby in a championship match in 1993 was the top score in Glamorgan’s first innings as Richards took on Malcolm and Cork as though he was batting in the days of his pomp.

Richards played greater innings than those he scored in county cricket against Derbyshire, but on the occasions between 1977 and 1993 that I had the pleasure of watching him, it was easy to put partisanship to one side, and simply marvel at the greatest batsman of his generation.

2: Richard Hadlee

My first glimpse of the great Richard Hadlee was at Trent Bridge in 1978. It was the game in which Tony Borrington suffered a fracture of the skull after being hit on the head by Clive Rice late in the evening on the opening day of the championship match against Nottinghamshire.

Earlier in the day, Hadlee had scored his maiden first class hundred after Nottinghamshire had been in trouble at 27-3. The Derbyshire attack was a strong one – Hendrick, Tunnicliffe, Barlow and Miller included – but Hadlee had a quite simple way of playing the game; if the ball was there to be hit, he hit it, otherwise he played the ball on its merits in a very uncomplicated way.

This was a Bank Holiday weekend fixture so with no school on the Monday it was back to Trent Bridge to see Hadlee unleashed on the Derbyshire batting, taking 5-25 in 19 overs.

At this point, he had still to become the leading bowler in the world, but his all-round performance in this match offered a foretaste of how good he would become.

Thereafter, while he never made another hundred against Derbyshire, although he did make some telling contributions with the bat, it was with the ball that he excelled. I can honestly say that he was never once collared by any Derbyshire batsman – even when Derbyshire scored 381 all out at Trent Bridge in 1984 his figures were 25-9-47-3 – calm amongst carnage.

In one day matches he was outstanding – 4-13, 2-26, 3-25, 2-34, 1-15, 3-33, 2-12 – off never less than eight overs, whilst in red ball cricket he was quite devastating. I recall the 1987 championship game at Nottingham when he took 4-71 in Derbyshire’s first innings before the home side accumulated a 50-run lead. When Derbyshire batted again, Hadlee didn’t take a wicket, but he bowled 13 overs for only 13 runs with eight maidens.

I went and sat in the Parr Stand, side on to the action, and marvelled at how batsmen of the calibre of John Wright, John Morris and Kim Barnett struggled against Hadlee. He bowled such a challenging length leaving the batsmen in two minds almost every delivery. Go forward and risk the ball rearing and taking an edge; go back and risk a fuller delivery and a nip back LBW shout? It was gripping, superlative cricket, watching one of the great bowlers in world cricket up against some of Derbyshire’s finest ever batsmen.

Hadlee is in my top ten, therefore, for his mastery of the art of fast bowling, his dashing and dangerous batting, and most of all, for his remarkable consistency. Without doubt, I have never seen a more consistently accurate and challenging fast bowler play against Derbyshire.

3: Graham Gooch

Graham Gooch scored almost 2,000 first class runs against Derbyshire at an average over 50 and was one of the greatest England Test batsmen of his generation.

He was a run machine against most opponents and he certainly took a liking to Derbyshire. He made 227 at Chesterfield in 1984 and was third man out with the score on 343 having struck 5 sixes and 32 fours. And in five-consecutive all formats innings scored 50*, 85, 56, 54 and 53 between 1986 and 1988.

He scored 148 at Chelmsford in 1989 in a huge Essex win and then 53 and 123* in Essex’ monumental victory at Derby in 1992.

That game remains etched in my memory as one which Derbyshire should have won, but which was snatched away by a superlative Gooch innings.

Derbyshire made 226 on the first day before Ian Bishop (6-18) reduced Essex to 96 all out. Derbyshire made 309 in their second innings, Chris Adams adding a century to his first innings 60, leaving Essex to score 440 to win in the fourth innings with two days and almost one full session remaining.

Although many present, including me, with a great view behind the bowler’s arm at The Grandstand End, thought Bishop had trapped Gooch LBW before he had scored, the Essex man – batting at six in both innings – scored a masterful and undefeated 123 to see his side home. It remains a record successful fourth innings run chase against Derbyshire.

The glory of Gooch – like Hadlee – was his remarkable consistency. He was not an England batsman for whom the county game was a distraction – quite the opposite. Just like Geoff Boycott and many others of his and former generations, county cricket seemed to be as important as Test cricket. World class overseas players were in evidence throughout the game, and county attacks could often be of the highest class, viz-a-viz the Derbyshire bowlers against whom Gooch scored that match-winning 123* – Bishop, Malcolm, Cork, Mortensen, and Warner – as good a pace attack as any in the country and including three Test match bowlers.

4: Malcolm Marshall

I remember sitting on The Grandstand Terrace at Derby on the opening day of Derbyshire’s match against Hampshire in 1989. Malcolm Marshall opened the bowling for the visitors and was walking back to his mark – or rather, ambling back to his mark, when a seasoned spectator turned to me and said; “See, he’s not bothered about county cricket. He’s just going through the motions.”

In that first innings he bowled ten overs of fairly innocuous fast medium and conceded 41 runs. I did wonder if indeed, he was just going through the motions.

Fast forward to Derbyshire’s second innings and in came Marshall, racing in, knees and arms pumping to take 6-69 including the wickets of Barnett, Bowler and Morris and almost forced a victory for his side.

So, a year later when he took a fairly unremarkable 3-60 at Portsmouth in Derbyshire’s first innings, I was more than prepared for what followed second time around.

With Derbyshire requiring less than 240 to win on the final day, Barnett and Bowler began well, putting on 91 for the first wicket before Marshall, once more energised and sprinting to the crease, took 7-47 in 15 overs of highly controlled fast bowling.

My recollection of that performance was his astonishing accuracy – there was nothing for the batsmen to hit, his length was perfect, and his line never wavered from the top of off stump. Three batsmen were caught behind by Parks, two were clean bowled, one was LBW, and the seventh was caught and bowled. Single-handedly, Marshall demolished Derbyshire and ensured a win for his side.

What those two performances demonstrated was that Marshall was an outstanding cricketer who could almost turn on the magic when necessary, a little like Michael Holding when he was at Derbyshire, and who recognised that flat out fast bowling was just not possible day in and day out in county cricket, and so his best performances were reserved for when they were most needed.

5: Kevin Pietersen

It depends which version of events you believe, but there were rumours back in 2001 that Derbyshire had turned down the opportunity to sign Kevin Pietersen. However, even if there was any truth in the story, Derbyshire would have seen little of him once he became an established England cricketer.

Nonetheless, Derbyshire did see plenty of him over the course of his six first-class matches against them – in only nine innings he scored 809 runs at an average of 115.57 with five centuries.

And he didn’t miss out in List A cricket, averaging 96.5 over the course of his four innings.

Derbyshire’s first close look at Pietersen came in July 2001 during the course of a four-day match played in scorching hot conditions at Derby. This game – as boring a match as one could wish to see – saw Nottinghamshire make 526, Derbyshire 572, and Nottinghamshire 557-5. In the visitors first innings, Rob Bailey trapped Pietersen LBW for a duck, but the South African-born batsman capitalised in the second innings scoring 218 not out with nine sixes and 23 fours as Derbyshire used nine bowlers in an attempt to curtail his scoring rate.

Less than a month later he struck six sixes in the return fixture at Nottingham as he made a superlative 150, and yet another ton, an unbeaten 103 followed in Nottinghamshire’s narrow one wicket win at Derby in 2002.

It was a National League game at Trent Bridge in 2003, however, which saw Pietersen demonstrate his absolute command of the bowling in an innings of remarkable power and timing.

Derbyshire made what appeared to be a competitive 252 in 45 overs and at 68-4, Nottinghamshire were well behind the required rate with Derbyshire the favourites to win.

Coming in at 29-3, Pietersen made 130 not out with five sixes and 13 fours, facing just 109 balls and taking his side to a one-wicket win with four balls to spare. His last 80 runs came from only 40 balls.

It was a beautifully structured innings, steady at the start before the asking rate forced him to accelerate; and when he decided to cut loose, simply unstoppable. One shot remains in the memory, of him walking casually across his stumps and flicking a Tom Lungley delivery over mid-wicket and into the crowd for six.

Watching from the pavilion end, I recall thinking that on this particular day Pietersen was as impossible to bowl to as any batsman I had ever seen.

After two more first-class hundreds – home and away – in 2004, that was the last Derbyshire saw of Pietersen – he never played against them ever again, signing off with 153 in Nottinghamshire’s innings win at Derby in August of that year.

As we know, Pietersen went on to become one of England’s greatest batsmen, and for a few years when he was at Nottinghamshire and outing Derbyshire’s bowlers to the sword, it was easy to see his world-beating potential.

6: James Foster

James Foster batted 37 times for Essex against Derbyshire in first class and List A cricket with the highlight being 96 at Chelmsford in 2012 when Derbyshire won inside three days en route to the division two title.

Derbyshire had a first innings lead of 141 runs and when Essex batted for a second time were quickly in trouble at 3-2 and then 77-4. His battling innings occupied more than three and a half hours and even the Derbyshire supporters present would surely not have begrudged him a three figure score. His final career average in first class cricket of a shade under 37 would be welcomed by many a front line batsman. Indeed, of Derbyshire’s current squad only Wayne Madsen and Leus du Plooy have higher averages than Foster’s.

But he’s on this list not for his batting, but his superb wicket-keeping. Derbyshire followers have – unsurprisingly – always favoured a specialist wicket-keeper over a batsman-keeper.

Bob Taylor – career average 16 – would scarcely have been offered an opportunity in the modern game, and Karl Krikken – average 21 – might also have struggled to get a in a county side. The present incumbent, Harvey Hosein averages just under 32, twice Taylor’s mark.

But Foster was a gloveman supreme, straight out of the Taylor mould, and to these eyes at least, the purest wicketkeeper since the legendary Derbyshire ‘keeper retired.

‘Jack’ Russell and Chris Read were also superb ‘keepers, and the difference in quality between them all was minimal, but for me, Foster simply had the best and surest hands.

Taylor always talked about the art of ‘keeping as being based on the ability to stand up to the wicket, arguing that a good catcher should be able to do the job standing back.

Foster, like Taylor, was undemonstrative, and his ‘keeping was most notable for his positioning – always in the right place at the right time and therefore rarely needing to dive.

7: Paul Collingwood

For 23 seasons Paul Collingwood was often a thorn in Derbyshire’s side – from his 1996 appearance at Chesterfield to his last at Derby in 2018.

He scored four first-class hundreds against Derbyshire; the first in 2000 and the last in 2017 which confirms his widely recognised consistency at domestic level, something not always maintained by players once they have gained international recognition.

Many Derbyshire followers will remember his marvellous 190 at Derby in 2005 after Durham had slipped to 59-3, as he and Dale Benkenstein added 250 runs for the fourth wicket.

Even better was his 112 at Chester-le-Street later in the same season after Derbyshire had achieved a first innings lead of 96. Durham were 59-3 (again) before Collingwood and Benkenstein (again) added more than 200 runs for the fourth wicket for the second time in a matter of weeks.

What had seemed like a potential win for Derbyshire just disappeared on a hot steamy day as Collingwood ground out a dogged and determined hundred.

He saved his best for last with 177 at Chester-le-Street in 2017 when a Derbyshire attack including Hardus Viljoen, Tony Palladino, Luis Reece and Imran Tahir was held up for more than six hours as the 42 year-old Collingwood delivered a match-winning performance.

Collingwood’s inclusion is determined by his batting, but he was also an especially useful bowler, and occasionally a destroyer, as his 5-14 in a Twenty20 game at Durham in 2008 confirms. Factor in his world class fielding anywhere in the inner ring, and Collingwood rightly earns his place on this list.

8: Graeme Hick

A first class average of over 50 against Derbyshire, and 48 in List A cricket with five hundreds offer at least some statistical evidence of Graeme Hick’s quality.

But the ruthless manner in which he scored his runs was something else altogether. Whilst he may have fallen just short of the greatest of expectations at Test level, his record and appetite for run-scoring in county cricket with Worcestershire ranks him alongside anyone who has ever played the game.

Hick scored 64,372 all formats runs – only Graham Gooch with 67,057 has scored more in the history of the game. For context, Kim Barnett, for England, Derbyshire, and Gloucestershire, scored 44,157 all formats runs.

Hick was a giant in county cricket, by some distance the heaviest run-scorer in the game, if lacking the purity and style of Viv Richards, Mohammad Azharuddin, and others – usually from overseas – who were plying their trade in common with Hick.

But Hick had a hunger, a desire, which few in the history of the game have had – maybe Boycott-esque in his eagerness to bat. And could he bat.

One outstanding Hick innings will surely be recalled by many readers, as it featured one of the most remarkable overs ever bowled in Derbyshire’s long history. On a hot, late May afternoon in 2005, Derbyshire’s Mohammad Ali bowled the second over after lunch to Hick who was well set with the score on 106-1 on the opening day of a championship match.

Ali began the over with a no ball off which a single was scored, then a boundary, two more no balls, a wide which went to the boundary, and two wickets from the seventh and ninth balls; all told, Ali took 2-16 off a 10-ball over, ending with figures of 4-124 in 10 overs.

Hick went on to play at his imperious best, smashing or caressing the ball as required all around the ground, making 155 from 165 balls, setting Worcestershire up for a nine-wicket win.

Hick, like Collingwood, played against Derbyshire over a period of 23 years and was as destructive and heavy-scoring at the end of his career as he was at the start, and his 149 at the age of 42 in 2008 at New Road, Worcester, was as good as any of his previous hundreds against Derbyshire. A measure of his performance that day is that Worcestershire declared on 450-8 off only 82.2 overs, as Charl Langeveldt conceded 104 runs from only 14.2 overs.

Strong off the front or back foot, powerful straight or wide of the wicket, and with that aforementioned appetite for run-scoring, Hick was one of the most outstanding batsmen Derbyshire faced over a quarter of a century.

9: Mike Gatting

If ever a batsman liked playing against Derbyshire, it’s Mike Gatting. A first class average of a shade under 75 with six hundreds meant that Derbyshire’s bowlers frequently experienced the broad blade of Gatting’s bat between 1977 and 1998.

My first sight of Gatting was during Middlesex’ ignominious innings and 177 run defeat at Ilkeston in 1977 when Gatting scored 0 and 2, but he made up for those failures with hundreds in 1978, 1981, 1982, 1990, 1991 and 1994.

His highest of those tons was 215 at Lord’s in 1991 – a game Middlesex won by just one run. Middlesex scored 454-3 declared in their first innings off 109.4 overs as Gatting dominated proceedings, with Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork, Simon Base and Ole Mortensen taking 3-286 off a combined 75 overs.

It was a three-day game and as was so often the case, sides declared with batsmen well set – Gatting looked so at ease on that day that a triple hundred, and beyond, looked more likely than not.

A player who never looked as graceful at the crease as some of his contemporaries, he was, like Gooch and Boycott, a run machine with a career aggregate of 51,025 runs.

Gatting’s great skill was his ability to accumulate runs without ever looking like he was going to cut loose. Like Peter Kirsten, at the start of an innings he batted in a seemingly casual and almost disinterested manner, and before spectators knew it, he had 30 or 40 runs without breaking sweat.

On occasion, however, he did cut loose, most notably in Middlesex’ innings win at Derby in 1994 when he virtually assaulted the Derbyshire attack, making 147, an innings only ended when Adams ran him out.

His innings – one of the best witnessed at Derby in the 1990s – was overshadowed by Richard Johnson who took 10-45 in Derbyshire’s second innings.

10: Rikki Wessels

My tenth and final selection is Wessels, who twice in recent seasons destroyed Derbyshire bowling attacks in limited overs matches.

Wessels was scoring runs against Derbyshire as long ago as 2005 when he featured for Northamptonshire, but in 2014 he played a superb innings in a Twenty20 game for Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, making 95 not out from just 51 balls.

As Twenty20 cricket has expanded and developed, these kind of innings have become more commonplace, but nevertheless, the destructive nature of his batting was quite breathtaking, as, for several years, Wessels appeared almost impossible to bowl at in white ball cricket.

Another fine innings – 66 off 33 balls at Derby in 2015 – wasn’t enough to prevent Derbyshire winning a Twenty20 game, but his 85-ball 114 helped Nottinghamshire to a comfortable RL50 over victory at Welbeck in 2016, when 92 of his runs came from boundaries.

That series of powerfully struck and dynamic innings was bettered by his 110 off 54 balls in another Twenty20 game at Trent Bridge in 2017, despite being struck in the face by a delivery from Matt Henry early on in his innings. He struck 7 sixes in that innings against an attack that as well as Henry included Hardus Viljoen, and Imran Tahir. It was another innings to marvel at, and Derbyshire supporters were probably not surprised when Wessels smashed 63 off 34 balls in a RL50 game at Trent Bridge in 2018.

Despite that roll call of superb innings, they were all overshadowed by his performance for Worcestershire in a Royal London 50 game at Derby in 2019.

Derbyshire had scored 351-9 in 50 overs thanks to hundreds from Luis Reece and Wayne Madsen, but Wessels batted in a fashion rarely seen at Derby.

He scored 130 off 62 balls with 11 sixes (an individual ground record) and 10 fours, reaching his century off 47 balls, moving from 50 to 100 in 16 deliveries, as Worcestershire won by four wickets.

And so, some great players missed the cut, but mainly only on the basis that they played so infrequently against Derbyshire or missed out simply because I hadn’t seen enough of them as their careers were ending as my watching began.

But these ten players, over much of my adult cricket-watching life, have consistently produced outstanding performances against Derbyshire, thus earning their place on this roll of honour.

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