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By any known yardstick DEREK WILLIAM RANDALL is an uncommon cricketer and an unusual character. The contrasting roles of a Chaplin, adored by the masses of India as a slapstick comedian, and a classical Olivier, heroically battling England out of defeat into an impossible victory in a Sydney heat wave, have come alike to him.
He was the perky, immortal figure scoring 174 in defiance of the fire-eating Australian fast bowlers in the Centenary Test at Melbourne, and the irrepressible fielder celebrating England's Ashes-winning victory at Headingley in 1977 with a joyous handspring. His batting technique, with its famous shuffle, can be said to be all his own, and as a fielder in the covers he is spoken of in the same breath as Colin Bland and Neil Harvey. No higher praise can be offered.
Those who admired him in the moments of high drama at Melbourne might find it hard to imagine him only weeks before playing the fool to amuse the Indian crowds. Many a police officer lost his dignity as Randall borrowed his cap and performed some outrageous imitations, or shinned up a pole in sheer exuberance. The same Randall, facing the crisis of the 1978-79 Australian series, had the disciplined determination and skill to take 411 minutes to reach a century. At that time it was the slowest century in 234 Tests between the countries.
In the end he made 150 in a heat of 105 degrees with Bob Willis, David Gower and Ian Botham ill or injured, and by general consent it was the innings that clinched the Ashes for England. In the first innings he had been out second ball to a hook - a match to reflect the peaks and troughs of his ebullient career - and when he went in, England on that January morning, 1979, faced a deficit of 142 runs. Geoff Boycott had been out first ball.
Before he went in, he picked up his 2lb 7oz bat with its extra layer of rubber on the handle and murmured Come on, Rags, England needs you. Over the next nine and threequarter hours, Randall constantly upbraided himself, as is his habit, with such comments as: Wake up, Rags, concentrate. Get stuck in. You idiot, Rags. Concentrate, Rags, come on, come on. Come on England.
The Australian bowlers were, in turn, amused and irritated, but as one said: He's quite inconsistent. If you twice bowl the same ball to him he'll play it in two entirely different ways. Understandably they found it hard to bowl at him, particularly when he shuffled across and hid all three stumps. His movements at the crease are the despair of the purists. But Randall has his explanation: "I haven't got a long reach, and my weakness is outside the off stump. By moving cross I try to get the bowler to aim at my main strengths and straight at the legs."
Australian pitches, with the ball coming on to the bat, suit Randall, and he has three gold medals - or at least his mother, Mavis, has - as Man of the Match. The first was in the Centenary match, which incidentally was his first appearance against Australia, the second at Brisbane in 1978, for his scores of 75 and 74 not out, and for the fourth Test at Sydney. Typically, after the Brisbane Test, he talked only of the class of David Gower, and the medals were sent to his mother in appreciation of her encouragement. She's a good'un, he says simply. A remark to typify the man.
He was born at Retford, Nottinghamshire, on February 24, 1951, and played little cricket at Sir Frederick Milner Secondary Modern School. His father, Frederick, was both an enthusiast and a noted local player. Father, younger brother Stephen, and Derek often batted and bowled in the back garden, and it was natural and Derek should join Retford, members of the Bassetlaw League. By a fortunate coincidence, Michael Hall was both captain of Retford and Nottinghamshire II, and young Randall did well for both teams. In 1970 he joined the Trent Bridge staff, where Sir Gary Sobers was captain and Frank Woodhead coached. Both helped me a lot. In fact, all the senior players gave me immense encouragement, he acknowledges.
There was a modest initiation in 1971 with one John Player League match, but in the following season he had fifteen Championship outings, starting with an eye-catching 78, including five 6s, against Essex at Newark. Not surprisingly he set himself too hard a standard to maintain consistently, but there were frequent examples of rich promise and a refreshing desire to hit the ball hard.
From the start his fielding was superb, and as time went on he became a deadly thrower, much feared by all batsmen. A prime example of his accuracy was the run out of Gordon Greenidge in the Prudential Cup final of 1979. Both for England and Nottinghampshire Randall's speed and agility are a prime asset, and he has been a considerable influence in raising standards generally.
"I have always been fit and loose-limbed," he says. "I have the extra advantage of long arms and big hands. Even at club level I enjoyed fielding. It keeps a player involved in the game. My aim was improved after spending hours throwing at one stump. When there is a chance of a run out I try to get as close to the stumps as I can, which means I need speed. I also field closer to the stumps than most covers. Alertness and anticipation is a must at all times."
Despite Nottinghamshire's poor season in 1973, Randall's personal breakthrough came that year when he was capped, hit his maiden first-class century at Worcester, and represented Young England against the West Indians at Old Trafford. Wisden complimented him as the outstanding member of his county side, conspicuous for his aggressive batting approach and brilliant fielding. By 1976 his progress was recognised by England with selection for two one-day internationals with West Indies. His 88, with one 6 and ten 4s, at Lord's and 39 off 31 balls (eight 4s) at Edgbaston earned him the award of England's Man of the Series.
Tours of India, Sri Lanka and Australia (for the Centenary Test), Pakistan and New Zealand, and the six-Test series in Australia in 1978-79 followed, and he played in all five Tests when the Ashes were won in England in 1977.
One of his proudest moments came at the very end of the last English summer when he became the first Nottinghamshire cricketer to hit a double century and a single one in the same match - 209 and 146 against Middlesex. Moreover, in a county of great batting traditions, he was the first Nottinghamshire player to complete the feat, and it was the first time it had been accomplished at Trent Bridge, a ground noted as a batsman's paradise.
Randall is of comparatively slight build, standing 5ft 8½in tall - the average height in Australia in 1978-79 was 6ft 1in - and weighing eleven and a half stone. He takes size 11 boots, and is dubbed Arkle after the famous racehorse. Typically, on a pre-season training run he lost his way, but arrived back first. In his never-dull career he has fallen at a few fences, but much of his appeal is that he picks himself up with a smile. He is good to be with, good to watch, and on tour is forever talking of his wife Elizabeth and family. A charismatic personality on the field, and everybody's friend off it.