Derbyshire's cult heroes
After a shift at the coal face, where better for thirsty miners in summer than Queen's Park, Chesterfield? Cricket, a beer tent and, in the years around the First World War, one of their own on the field. Bill Bestwick was one of the great Derbyshire bowlers, strong, broad shouldered, persistent fast-medium. He also had a thirst measured not in pints but gallons, to the extent that another member of the team was detailed to make sure he arrived in one piece. Derbyshire sacked him in 1909, muttering about intemperance. He was back in 1919, but missed most of the classic 1920 season - played 18, lost 17, abandoned one. In 1921, at the age of 46, he took 147 wickets at 16.72, including five in an innings 17 times. One morning at Cardiff that season, the captain was doubtful about Bestwick's health but decided to see how it went. Pretty well, as Bestwick took 10 for 40 before lunch. The classic remedy, sweat it out, then sleep it off. (See also the XI on page 15.)
Like his new-ball partner Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson was a late starter. Although Gladwin played in 1939, he did not take a wicket until 1946, when he was 30. Jackson, from mining country in the north of the county, joined him the following year, aged 26, and became the greatest of all Derbyshire's fast-medium bowlers, with shoulders that no jacket has ever been able to contain. His strength and a slinging action added venom and few batsmen relished facing him. Trevor Bailey wrote that professionals around the country were aghast when John Warr, of Cambridge University and Middlesex, was preferred to Jackson for the 1950-51 trip to Australia. Jackson played two Tests, against New Zealand in 1949 and Australia in 1961. Derbyshire folk, secure in the knowledge that Jackson was the best bowler in the country, took this as further evidence of prejudice. Jackson's county record, 1,670 wickets at 17.11, merely confirmed this.
Arnold Hamer Although he played twice for Yorkshire, Arnold Hamer was a product of League cricket. He completed a record season for Pudsey St Lawrence in 1949 before, at the age of 33, joining Derbyshire. In a dour batting environment, he was a revelation as an opener who went after the bowlers and scored 1,000 runs in 10 consecutive seasons. Only Kim Barnett has improved on that in Derbyshire's history. Hamer had the bandy legs appropriate to an occasional York City full-back and, although a safe catcher in the slips, was no greyhound when he found himself in the outfield. The Hamer `glow' was famous at the County Ground. When he scored runs in good weather, his face became steadily redder, a light skin going with his sandy hair. As Guy Willatt, one of Hamer's grateful captains, said: "Arnold was totally fatalistic. He always played the same way and if it was his day, so much the better." Not for another couple of generations would a Derbyshire batsman command so much attention.
Just as Derbyshire followers were convinced about Les Jackson's bowling, so they were passionate about Bob Taylor's wicketkeeping. For years he was second to Alan Knott, who was clearly a better batsman and about equal behind the stumps. A token Test against New Zealand at the end of the 1970-71 tour of Australia seemed to be Taylor's lot, putting him in the same bracket as the Northamptonshire wizard Keith Andrew and confirming local chunters that Derbyshire did not count. Then came Kerry Packer, Knott went off to World Series Cricket and Taylor embarked on a considerable international career of 57 Tests. His record of 1,649 dismissals in first-class cricket is unlikely to be beaten. To Derbyshire people he remained the same, quiet, courteous, perfectionist who always had time for people. And a marvellous wicketkeeper.
One of the determinedly cheerful local-radio announcers that counties recruit for Twenty20 matches christened Graeme Welch the `Ginger Warrior'. It was one of the radio man's better moments because Welch, who arrived from Warwickshire in 2001, has been a treasure in a confused, often chaotic and always unsuccessful period for Derbyshire. He has often taken the new ball, simply because there was nobody else, when he should be a third seamer to follow the opening burst. His batting is now equally vital and Derbyshire dread to think what a pickle they would have been in without him. He is a proper professional who guarantees maximum effort, best exemplified at Bristol in 2001 when Ian Harvey was savaging a young Tom Lungley. It was September and bits were falling off Welch but he insisted on taking the ball again. In 2005, no county allrounder was more effective.
This article was first published in the November issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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