October marks Black History Month, the annual celebration of the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK. Derbyshire’s Heritage Officer David Griffin looks at the black players who have made significant contributions to the club’s rich history over the course of the past century.
Although October is designated as a month for celebrating Black History, Derbyshire County Cricket Club has been enjoying the contributions made by black cricketers for more than a hundred years.
To most Derbyshire supporters, the name of Michael Holding probably resonates as the best-known black cricketer to represent the county.
One of the greatest and fastest bowlers in the history of the game, his legacy has been enhanced by several decades in the commentary box where he has routinely been the voice of reason alongside his undoubted knowledge of the game, as well as by his pronouncements on the subject of racism.
However, over fifty years before Holding was born, another West Indian made his impact on Derbyshire and the county game in general.
When Charles Ollivierre was born on the Windward Island of St Vincent in 1876, Derbyshire had only played 23 first class matches, and the club was very much in its infancy.
By the time he became Derbyshire’s 166th first class cricketer in 1901, he was not only the first black player to represent the county, but also just the 3rd born outside of the UK; two players having been born on the British Overseas Territories of Ascension Island and Gibraltar.
Believed to be the first black cricketer to play county cricket, Ollivierre had toured the UK in 1900 with the West Indies, and although the tour featured no matches of first class status, Ollivierre scored 883 runs, averaging 32 with a best of 159 against Leicestershire.
Although he had full-time employment in Trinidad as a government clerk, he took up Derbyshire’s offer to play first class cricket after Samuel Hill-Wood, a wonderful benefactor of the county club, employed him in his company offices in Glossop while he awaited qualification.
He appeared in several non-Championship games, including matches against touring Australian and South African sides before his Championship debut in 1902. In his 11th match for Derbyshire he made 167 against Warwickshire at Derby but enjoyed his greatest and most celebrated game at Chesterfield in 1904.
When Essex batted first at Queen’s Park in July of that year and scored 524-8 at the end of the opening day, it’s highly unlikely that anyone could foresee the outcome of the game being anything other than a win for Essex. At best, for Derbyshire, a draw.
Percy Perrin made 343 as Essex closed on 597 before Derbyshire replied with 548, Ollivierre making a career-best 229. Essex were then skittled for 97 in their second innings and with 149 required to win, Derbyshire knocked off the runs for the loss of only 1 wicket, Ollivierre making 92 not out. His contribution to that game – 321 runs – remained a record match aggregate for the county until 2010 when Chris Rogers made 200 and 140 not out against Surrey at The Oval.
Ollivierre retired from the first class game in 1907 and played club cricket in Yorkshire alongside his work in various colliery offices. Finally, he coached schoolboy cricket in the Netherlands for 15 years up until the outbreak of World War 1.
If Ollivierre was expected to be a trailblazer for black cricketers, however, this was not the case as it took many years before cricketers of colour became a regular feature within the county game.
When they did, it was cricketers from the West Indies who were to the fore with 13 Derbyshire players born in the Caribbean, but black players from other parts of the world have all featured in Derbyshire sides alongside other players with a family heritage from those countries, but who were actually born in places like Barking and Birmingham.
Without doubt, the highest-profile player was Michael Holding, born in Jamaica and arguably as fast a bowler as any that have played the game.
Holding, was not just an outstanding bowler, however, he was also a superb source of support and advice to Kim Barnett who had inherited the Derbyshire captaincy aged just 22. He also assisted in the development of Derbyshire’s other fast bowlers, most notably Devon Malcolm, a fellow Jamaican, who would go on to play for England in 40 Test matches taking 128 wickets including a remarkable 9-57 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994.
Holding’s influence extended to the signing of Ian Bishop, a Trinidadian with a splendid action, who spread fear through the county game during 1990 and 1992, his two principal summers with the club. A highly skilled performer, at his peak, he was as fast as any bowler in the world.
Phil DeFreitas, Dominica-born, played 44 Test matches for England, 11 of them while on the Derbyshire staff, and memorably opened the bowling with Devon Malcolm in a Test match as Derbyshire cricketers, thus emulating their predecessors Bill Copson and Cliff Gladwin who did the same thing on the same ground in 1947.
Overseas players made up the bulk of black cricketers during the latter stages of the 20th century, but UK-born black players, as suggested earlier, also started to be recruited into the county side.
For example, in 1988, alongside Holding and Malcolm, Frank Griffith, Martin Jean-Jacques, Rajesh Sharma and Allan Warner, were all members of the first team squad. Sharma was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and Jean-Jacques in Dominica, but, demonstrating the greater diversity of the UK in general, the other two were born in Leytonstone and Birmingham, respectively.
Warner, known universally as ‘Jack’ was an outstanding cricketer with one day cricket his absolute speciality. His record of 246 List A wickets will probably never be beaten by a Derbyshire bowler, and his ability to bowl at the death, when such a skill and tactic was still in its infancy, played a significant part in Derbyshire’s RAL Sunday League title win in 1990 and the Benson and Hedges Cup win of 1993. He’d have been a shoo-in for T20 cricket today.
That latter final propelled Frank Griffith into the limelight, and for as long as the game is played in Derbyshire, he will be remembered for bowling the final over with Lancashire needing 11 runs to win. He conceded just 4 runs and the trophy was secured.
Around this time, another Essex-born cricketer, Adrian Rollins, emerged as a fine opening batsmen, capable of scoring 2 double centuries for Derbyshire.
Although South Africa has provided a large number of – mainly white – cricketers to Derbyshire, Charl Langeveldt and Robin Peterson both enjoyed season-long spells at the club in the 21st century.
More recently Chesney Hughes, Anguilla-born, has been the most successful black cricketer at Derbyshire. Aside from his monumental 270 not out against Yorkshire at Leeds in 2013 – the second highest individual score ever made for Derbyshire – he scored a further nine first class hundreds and was a very useful white ball cricketer.