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Obituaries

Mike Hendrick

Theories and statistics should not obscure his class

England's Mike Hendrick, the bowler with the most Test wickets (87) without ever getting a five-for in the format  •  Getty Images

England's Mike Hendrick, the bowler with the most Test wickets (87) without ever getting a five-for in the format  •  Getty Images

HENDRICK, MICHAEL, died on July 26, aged 72.
It became a familiar sight on English Test grounds in the 1970s: Mike Hendrick approaching the wicket with his loose-limbed, rhythmic run-up and, deploying a classical sideways action and textbook high arm, leaving batsmen groping outside off stump. Oohs and aahs from the crowd would be followed by looks of frustration between wicketkeeper and slips: it seemed Hendrick never reaped the rewards he deserved.
The consensus among coaches and commentators was that he bowled fractionally too short to find the edge, sacrificing incision for economy. "He was a mean bowler, and in some ways he preferred to have two or three for 50 off 30 overs than taking more wickets but going for more runs," said wicketkeeper Bob Taylor, a team-mate for Derbyshire and England.
In 30 Tests, Hendrick took 87 wickets at 25 and went for two an over; no one has taken more Test wickets without a five-for (though he was the first England bowler to take five wickets in an ODI, against Australia at The Oval in 1980). Theories and statistics should not obscure his class. "He was very clever," said Taylor. "He bowled a line which made batsmen play at balls they could have left."
Hendrick played a significant role in two Ashes triumphs. In three Tests in 1977, he took 14 wickets at 20 - including eight in the series-clinching win at Headingley - and 19 at 15 in Australia in 1978-79.
His parsimony also made him an ideal one-day performer. In star-studded company, he was the leading wicket-taker at the 1979 World Cup. Had Viv Richards, only 22 runs into his eventual 138, been given out lbw to the first ball of Hendrick's second spell - as Hendrick always believed he should - England might not have needed to wait 40 years to lift the trophy.
At Derbyshire, he was heir to a proud seam-bowling tradition. Although he took fewer wickets than Billy Bestwick, Bill Copson, Cliff Gladwin or Les Jackson, Hendrick earned the extended international recognition they were denied. Even so, he felt that being at an unfashionable county was a hindrance. "I probably played for England despite playing for Derbyshire," he said.
He was born in the county, but took a roundabout route to a first-class debut in 1969. His father was a feared fast bowler for Darley Dale - and also a tax inspector. "They used to say that if he didn't get you on Saturday afternoon, he'd get you on Monday morning," said Hendrick. But the family moved to the North-East, and his first exposure to cricket was at Darlington. When his father was transferred to Leicester, Hendrick was in his teens, and began to take wickets for the county youth teams.
A few Second XI appearances encouraged him to give up a loathed job with the electricity board, but he was left unemployed when a contract never materialised. Fortunately, an old friend of his father was running Derbyshire Colts, and he was invited to a trial in the spring of 1968. His first exposure to the spartan County Ground was eye-opening: "The dressing-rooms should have been condemned as unfit for human habitation."
After a trial came a contract, as well as the job of bowling at members in the nets. "Myself and Alan Ward used to bowl bouncers, so they wouldn't want to come back the next week." Technical guidance was limited to Second XI coach Denis Smith occasionally calling: "Showder!" Hendrick asked one of the senior bowlers what this meant. "He wants you to get your shoulder round when you bowl." Hendrick agreed this was sound advice, but noted that Smith shouted the same instruction to the batsmen.
Injuries hampered his progress. When he broke his ankle at Derby, there was no stretcher, so a dressing-room door had to be unscrewed from its hinges to carry him off. At the end of his third season, in 1971, he was worrying about a new contract. But it turned up, and he worked as a labourer through the winter to build up his chest and shoulder muscles. He was rewarded with 58 wickets at 23, including eight for 50 against Northamptonshire at Chesterfield. His reputation for accuracy was cemented by figures of six for seven in a Sunday League game against Nottinghamshire.
Hendrick played his first one-day international against West Indies in 1973, and at the end of the season was voted the Cricket Writers' Club's Young Cricketer of the Year. Shortly afterwards, he was named in Mike Denness's squad for the Caribbean, though he didn't play a Test. "I learned a lot about myself on that tour - not least that I was not as good as I thought."
His Test debut came in the summer of 1974: three matches against India, two against Pakistan. Twenty wickets at 20 was an encouraging start, but he felt he underperformed: "I became very uptight, and just could not let the ball go." In Australia in 1974-75, more injury problems limited him to two Tests.
A career-defining moment was the appointment of the ebullient South African Eddie Barlow as Derbyshire captain in 1976. He told Hendrick and Ward they were not fit enough for county cricket, let alone Test matches - and, after being left out of the tour of India, Hendrick pounded the hills around his home.
In 1977, the benefits were obvious: 67 wickets at 15, and an England recall. Late on the second day of the Fourth Test at Headingley, he tore into Australia's top order. "On a hazy evening, the batsmen were always likely to have trouble with Hendrick, whose ability to move the ball about with a high degree of accuracy, and to make it bounce more than most, allowed few errors," wrote Michael Melford in The Daily Telegraph. Australia slumped to 67 for five, and the Ashes were almost secured.
He was one of Wisden's Five in 1978. When England thrashed an understrength Australia in 1978-79, he was even more effective. He was left out for the First Test, but eight wickets against Western Australia at the WACA before the Second presented an unanswerable case. "We almost missed selecting him for the Perth Test because of preconceptions about the kind of bowler he was - English for English conditions," said captain Mike Brearley, who had been told over lunch by WA captain John Inverarity that Hendrick was England's most threatening seamer.
Early on the tour, he had asked Brearley and assistant manager Ken Barrington why he so regularly beat the bat without taking wickets. Barrington urged him to pitch the ball up a little more; the extra bounce on Australian pitches added to his new potency. But his economy remained a prime asset. "We had two attacking bowlers in Botham and Willis," said Brearley, "so it was usually just what we needed to have Mike bowl his way, going at two runs an eight-ball over and getting good players out too."
He had a moderately successful summer against India in 1979, but his career was winding down: his final Tests were at the start and end of the 1981 Ashes. At loggerheads with Barlow's successor, Barry Wood, he also left Derbyshire; his last game for them was the NatWest Trophy final win over Northamptonshire. That winter, he joined the rebel tour of South Africa. He then spent three seasons with Nottinghamshire, before retiring in 1984 with 770 wickets at 20.
He was a genuine rabbit as a batsman, but 176 catches were testament to his ability close to the wicket. After a brief spell as an umpire, Hendrick moved into coaching. He was cricket manager at Nottinghamshire, and later returned there as bowling coach.
In 1995, he was appointed coach of Ireland and spent four years in the role, moving to Belfast and immersing himself in the challenge of making the team more competitive. He set up programmes to identify emerging talent, and ended the policy of selecting older players who offered safety over flair. Nor was he afraid of taking on the Irish Cricket Union. Before one overseas tournament, he demanded that the travelling party be restricted to players and coaching staff; officials could pay their own way.
His dry sense of humour and love of chat over a pint made him a popular dressing-room figure. His final years were blighted by bowel and liver cancer. In July 2021, Mike Atherton contacted him for a Times feature marking the 40th anniversary of the 1981 Ashes. "I'm in the departure lounge," said Hendrick. "But the flight has not quite left yet." He died just over a fortnight later.