Derbyshire took a considerable gamble in May 1983 when they appointed Kim Barnett as captain. Barnett was then 22 and still feeling his way as a player, but after a sequence of six different captains within the space of nine seasons, they were desperate for some kind of stability. Eddie Barlow had revived the county and Barry Wood had led them to victory in the 1981 NatWest Bank Trophy, their first success since the 1936 Championship. Wood became another to step down during a season, so Charles Elliott, then chairman of the cricket committee, and Philip Russell, the coach, persuaded others that Barnett offered the only hope of a long-term solution. It was a bold decision but, in 1988, Barnett was in his sixth season as captain, the longest Derbyshire reign since Donald Carr (1955 to 1962). Carr was also the last Derbyshire player to be picked for England as a batsman, on the 1951-52 tour of India, until Barnett's début against Sri Lanka last year.
There had, too, been talk of Barnett as a potential England captain; good progress for a man who describes himself as a glorified No. 7 and who joined Derbyshire as a leg-spinner. He has Derbyshire's admittedly modest batting records at his mercy. His 25 centuries for the county put him five behind Denis Smith's 30 and his 11,412 runs bring him within sight of Smith's 20,516, especially as he has established himself at around 1,500 runs a season.
KIM JOHN BARNETT, born in Stoke-on-Trent on July 17, 1960, grew up in Leek, a small Staffordshire town now on Derbyshire's extensive rota of Sunday venues. He was educated at Leek High School and, even before starting there, had played for Thomas Boltons' second team under the captaincy of his father, Derek. He graduated from the North Staffordshire League club to Leek, in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League, and came under the influence of the former England and Lancashire batsman, John Ikin, as he worked his way up the county representative teams. Ikin toughened his approach and Barnett continued to develop, first playing for England at Under-15 level as a leg-spinner. Counties began to pursue him. Barnett chose Derbyshire ahead of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire because he felt more at home there; and he could see more chance of winning a place. For a time he had worked for the National West-minster Bank, and two years after his début he would help Derbyshire win the trophy sponsored by his former employer.
Barlow had left Derbyshire before Barnett joined them in 1979, after heading the England Under-19 batting averages in Australia, but there was significant contact between them in 1982-83. It was the first of Barnett's three South African seasons for Boland, then led by Barlow. "I was impressed by Eddie's positive thinking about the game," Barnett says, "and he had a great effect on my career when I needed it. He taught me to channel my mental efforts and make the most of my strengths. He told me to make it clear to Derbyshire that I wanted the captaincy. I thought that was ridiculous, but it was due to Eddie that I was prepared when the opportunity came the following May."
Captaincy turned Barnett into an opening batsman because he felt, as leader of a largely inexperienced team, that he should go over the top first. He batted adventurously, chasing anything wide of the off stump with strokes which brought him many runs and, sometimes, accusations of rashness. Progress was recognised by selection as vice-captain of the 1985-86 England B tour of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but the fact that Barnett and others had played in South Africa turned it into a one-leg trip to Sri Lanka. The same problem cropped up when he was picked for last winter's tour of India, and Barnett was Keener than most for the International Cricket Conference to produce a definitive ruling. He returned home early from Sri Lanka, a debilitating virus having caused alarming loss of weight, but he has maintained a high level of consistency for his county. When he missed a Championship match against Surrey at The Oval last June, it was his first absence for four years. It was ironic that a hand injury stopped him making his England début in the Fifth Test against West Indies, and a broken nose, suffered while fielding in a Sunday game at Old Trafford, caused further doubts before the Sir Lanka match.
The first England appearance was a logical result of increased maturity and a greater appetite for big scores. David Graveney described Barnett's 175 against Gloucestershire as one of the finest innings he had seen, and this was followed by 239 not out against Leicestershire. At this stage of the season, Barnett had evolved a technique of moving early, almost dancing at the crease. It looked odd but it obviously worked. He had often been vulnerable against medium-paced in-swing and felt that early movement pulled him nearer to the pitch of the ball. When he used this method for England, commentators came to the conclusion that he was primarily a front-foot player, but in fact he is stronger off the back foot. It is simply that he can adapt more easily and, with greater experience at international level, he may well fulfil the predictions made on his behalf.