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The Changing Face of Derbyshire Cricket: 1972

Tuesday 30th November 2021
& News

As cricket followers across the UK will have noticed, it seems as if the game changes with the wind, although change has been part and parcel of the domestic game for decades.

As Derbyshire approach the 2022 season with renewed optimism following the appointment of Mickey Arthur as Head Coach, our Heritage Officer, David Griffin, is going to examine five cricket seasons – 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2012 – over the course of the close season, looking at how the game was structured, where Derbyshire played, how the team performed, the standout individual achievements, and even how much it cost to be a Derbyshire member.

1972

We begin with the 1972 season which saw the introduction of a fourth competition – the Benson and Hedges Cup – and the opportunity of a glorious final at Lord’s. The County Championship remained the blue riband competition, but the Gillette Cup (1963) and John Player League (1969) had reinforced the view that one-day cricket was the only way to bring crowds back into the game, hence the arrival of the new tournament.

Formats

The immediate post-war years had seen cricket-starved spectators flocking to cricket grounds, but slow run rates and the rather tedious cricket served up at times saw the game’s administrators challenged to do something to reverse the trend of reducing attendances.

The Benson and Hedges Cup format (55 overs per side) saw counties grouped with 4 other sides on a regional basis and Derbyshire joined Minor Counties North in the North Group with Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. Matches were played in late April and early May with quarter finals and semi finals scheduled for mid and late June respectively and the final at Lord’s in July.

Otherwise, the 17-team County Championship consisted of twenty 3-day fixtures, playing everyone once, and demonstrating the inequality long associated with the format, Derbyshire met Lancashire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire both home and away.

The John Player League (40 overs per side) saw all counties play each other once and the Gillette Cup (60 overs per side) was, as usual, a straight knockout competition.

The only side to tour the UK were the Australians who played 5 Test matches and 3 One Day Internationals, including a 3-day game against Derbyshire at Queen’s Park, Chesterfield.

The daily schedule for three-day cricket might surprise some modern readers; hours of play were midday to 7pm on the first two days, and 11am until 5.30pm or 6pm on the final day, although these were brought forward by half an hour for the tour fixture at Chesterfield.

Of Derbyshire’s 20 Championship games, 11 began on a Saturday and all included a Sunday League match on the following day, often but not always at the same venue, with the remaining matches all beginning on a Wednesday.

The Benson and Hedges Cup group games were all played on a Saturday before the knock out rounds moved to Wednesday with the final on a Saturday.

The Gillette Cup matches were also played mid-week with the exception of the final which took place on the first Saturday in September.

The August Bank Holiday had traditionally been at the beginning of August, but clashes with the traditional fortnight off offered by some companies and organisations saw the holiday moved to the last Monday in the month in 1971, where it remains. It may come as no surprise that the then governing body of the game, the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), scheduled no cricket for Derbyshire over that weekend!

Grounds

Derbyshire, not unlike the majority of counties, took cricket around the county in 1972. The Championship season didn’t begin until 17 May – against Leicestershire at Derby – and the allocation for first class matches was The County Ground (four), Chesterfield (four), Burton-on-Trent (one), Buxton (one) and Ilkeston (one).

One day games were likewise scattered around the county, Derby (five) had the most including matches in all three limited overs competitions, with Chesterfield (four), Buxton (one) and Ilkeston (one) hosting the other games.

Away trips would certainly have tested the stamina of players and supporters alike, and possibly the gearboxes of their cars. If Tunbridge Wells to Sheffield on a Friday evening, or Worcester to Bradford and back again over the same weekend weren’t bad enough, then what about starting a three-day game at Blackpool on Saturday, driving to Taunton at the close of play for a John Player League game the following day before returning to Blackpool to resume the Championship game?

Membership

A Patron’s Ticket would set you back £8 and admit the holder to all grounds and pavilions in the county, although at Derby there wouldn’t be a pavilion until 1982. Five pounds would buy a Family Ticket – essentially a double ticket – while a Full Member could join for £3-50 with – as described in the membership literature of the time – Old Age Pensioners able to pay a mere £2 in this category.

For reasons probably long forgotten, there was a Lady Member category for whom the season-long charge was £2 although Junior Members only had to pay £1 for the privilege of watching Derbyshire.

Annual car parking was free to Patrons or £2 for members in all other categories.

Patrons and Full Members were also afforded the opportunity for them and ‘two sons to practice on the County Ground, Derby’. Much has indeed changed!

Personalities

In 1972 Ian Buxton was awarded a Testimonial by Derbyshire and he entered the season as captain for what would be his third and final season in that role.

Chris Wilkins, Derbyshire first overseas cricketer, was in his third and final year with the county and Edwin Smith became Club Coach, replacing his namesake, Denis, who had been in the role for 19 years.

Senior players also included Peter Eyre, Peter Gibbs, Ian Hall, John Harvey, Mike Page, Bob Taylor and Alan Ward, and in a surprise move, Fred Trueman, the legendary England and Yorkshire fast bowler, was coaxed out of retirement to play one day games.

However, of greater significance, mindful of the longer term, it was the names of the younger cricketers on the staff who with hindsight attract our interest today; Tony Borrington, Harry Cartwright, Mike Hendrick, Alan Hill, Phil Russell and Fred Swarbrook would all become mainstays of the county side throughout the rest of the decade, although as we shall see, it was too soon for them to change the county’s fortunes in 1972.

Walter Goodyear was Head Groundsman at Derby and off the field FW Barnett was Chairman of Committee supported by two luminaries of the club as joint Honorary Secretaries, EJ Gothard and WT Taylor.

Major Carr was the Secretary (and PA Announcer), and Carlin Beardmore was in his second year as Honorary Scorer.

Playing Performances

Having ended the 1971 season at the bottom of the Championship, Derbyshire even more disappointingly ended the 1972 season in the same position. Their seventh position in 1970 was a distant memory and it would take a further three or four years in the doldrums before Eddie Barlow arrived to inject his special brand of enthusiasm, skill and influence.

Captain Ian Buxton described the morale at the club as “…at its lowest ebb…’ and one win in the Championship meant they recorded a mere 97 points with only 27 accrued via their batting.

The sole win, a remarkable one against Sussex who finished one place above them, came at Derby when the hosts chased 261 in 63 overs on the final day as Chris Wilkins added to his first innings 52 with a blistering 105. A typical South African cricketer, described by journalist Mike Carey as “…aggressive, confident and rather scornful of the English approach…” he rarely failed to excite and was truly a shining light in the midst of some of the poorest team performances in the county’s long history.  Using a heavy bat, he was an incredibly powerful player, and one wonders what he might have achieved in county cricket surrounded by better players. In the 21st century he would have been a T20 gun for hire.

The John Player League offered some positivity for a while, but five defeats in the final six games saw any challenge for the top spots wither well before the season ended and with early exits from the two longer form one day competitions, it was, all in all, a disastrous summer for Derbyshire. Fred Trueman, although a natural attraction for many, only played six one-day matches, taking seven wickets.

The list of players leaving the county at the end of that year highlights the difficulties facing Derbyshire; aside from Wilkins, Ian Hall, Peter Gibbs and John Harvey all retired. They’d scored 31 hundreds for the county while amassing a combined 35,000 runs and while they were still good players, their best years had passed.

However, there was one significant ray of hope on the horizon. Mike Hendrick, born in Darley Dale, played in 20 first class matches and took 58 wickets at an average of 23.00. Alan Ward, restricted to only 6 matches through injury but bowling very fast nonetheless, took 22 wickets at 17.04 and hopes were certainly high that this pair of opening bowlers could go on to emulate some of their illustrious predecessors with the ball.

One performance by Hendrick which brought him to the wider attention of the cricketing public came in a John Player League game at Trent Bridge. Wisden described Derbyshire’s innings as a “…plodding 147-6…” which in 40 overs, even in 1972, was not seen as a particularly challenging total. Hendrick, however, took four wickets for one run in 13 balls leaving Nottinghamshire on 13-5, a position they never recovered from as Derbyshire won by some distance. He ended with the remarkable figures of 7.4-4-7-6, although honourable mention should be made of David Wilde’s 8-3-8-1 and Phil Russell’s 7-3-7-2.

Aside from that, Bob Taylor was generally seen as peerless behind the wicket but otherwise the words of Major Carr rang large throughout the county when he said at the end of the season that “…the county desperately needed a new image and new players capable of raising their team’s overall level of performance…”

Sadly, an improvement in performance wouldn’t arrive despite Brian Bolus coming in to lead the side in 1973 plus the engagement as overseas player of the Indian Test spinner Srinivas Venkatraghavan. Sixteenth place in the Championship in 1973 and then bottom once more in 1974 and 15th a year later was, however, the final straw. Chairman George Hughes along with Charlie Elliott, his Cricket Chairman, engaged Eddie Barlow ahead of the 1976 season and Derbyshire followers were finally able to enjoy a wonderful turnaround in fortunes.

Leading Statistics

Peter Gibbs, in his farewell season scored 1,640 all formats runs, while Wilkins managed 1,483, some way below his totals in 1970 and 1971 when he exceeded 1,900 runs in both seasons.

Mike Hendrick’s 81 all formats wickets placed him on top of the bowling lists.

Competition Winners

County Champions                                     Warwickshire (Derbyshire 17th)

Gillette Cup Winners                                 Lancashire (Derbyshire first Round)

John Player League Winners                   Kent (Derbyshire ninth)

Benson and Hedges Cup Winners          Leicestershire (Derbyshire Group Stage)

Conclusions

Derbyshire had enjoyed a successful period in the post-war years up until as recently as 1970 when they ended their centenary season in seventh place in the Championship. Despite not winning the title since 1936, they had managed fourth in 1952, third in 1954, and an 11-year spell when in 10 of those seasons they finished no lower than eighth on the back of an outstanding bowling attack. But one by one, Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Brian Jackson, Derek Morgan and Edwin Smith had all gone. Five of those named are among the seven bowlers to take 1,000 or more all formats wickets for Derbyshire and their loss to the side was impossible to bear until an entire new bowling unit appeared later in the 1970s.

But in 1972, with Buxton ready to hand over the captaincy to the incoming Brian Bolus, the side was simply too weak to compete. Things would remain difficult, and much choppy water lay ahead, but by the time we resume this series in 1982, Derbyshire cricket – and the County Ground – will have seen improvements beyond the wildest dreams of many.


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