Paul Edwards hails Michael Henderson, Les Townsend and Tommy Mitchell.
On Monday The Times printed an article by my colleague Michael Henderson which should be read by all sports editors who believe that cricket coverage begins and ends with KP, Broady and the England boys.
The focus of Henderson's thoughtful attention was Derbyshire's renaissance in 2012 and the possibility that this "unfashionable" county might win promotion to the First Division of the LV= County Championship. Predictably one of cricket writing's most quixotic and original minds offered a generous tribute to the efforts of officials at the Racecourse Ground and gave short shrift to the oft-expressed notion that the county should amalgamate with Nottinghamshire.
"County cricket should reflect something of England, and there is no more handsome county in England than Derbyshire," wrote Henderson, plainly warming to his theme. "It speaks unashamedly of a land that we all like to visit in our imagination. If we are sensible we can visit it in person as often as possible."
No one who has read many of these tales will be astounded to learn that this Lancashire-based cricket writer felt rather like cheering when he read these words. He remembered 1975, a summer which, for him, was caught deliciously between school and university. On May 31st he sat on the benches at Buxton's Park Road Ground and watched Clive Lloyd hoisting the Derbyshire bowlers high into the woods which adjoined that lovely ground. Clive made 165 not out that afternoon and Fred Swarbrook's figures were 17-1-111-0. That maiden still intrigues - but then maidens always did in those days.
Many of you will recall that it snowed on the Monday of that quirkily famous game and that Lancashire bowled out Derbyshire twice to win by an innings on the Tuesday. First-class cricket hasn't been played at Park Road since 1986 and nor is it seen any more at Ilkeston, Burton upon Trent or Glossop. But Derbyshire still play at Chesterfield and, as I write, the county's 2012 vintage are in the process of building a winning position against Essex at Chelmsford.
But let us return to Michael Henderson's article and the whole page it was given by his wise editor. Taking up half the space is a photograph of two Derbyshire cricketers from the 1930s. Both of them played in the side which won the Championship in 1936 and both played for England, but I wonder how many cricket writers under the age of 40 have heard of Les Townsend or Tommy Mitchell.
Townsend was a formidable all-rounder who scored 19,555 runs and took 1,088 wickets, mostly with his off-breaks, yet made only four appearances for England, all of them on tours to India and West Indies, which were then considered very much second-rank destinations by the England swells. Mitchell was luckier when it came to winning caps - but not much. Despite dismissing 1,483 batsmen with his leg-spin and googly bowling, he won just five caps and took eight wickets.
Yet here they are, something like eighty years later, the teetotaller Townsend wearing his MCC touring blazer and gazing evenly at the camera, and the former miner Mitchell sitting in a deckchair and clearly distracted by something to his left. Behind them, a little blurred, are four spectators, all of them, needless to say, in jackets and ties. Together they constitute a reminder of an age in which Derbyshire was a power in the land. What a delight it would be if Wayne Madsen's men won a place in the top division this September. It would be interesting to see if people were still suggesting that they join forces with Nottinghamshire.
Photo (c) Getty Images
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd