ACTION was needed when Derbyshire failed to win a Championship match in 2016 so the board turned to a man who had been there and done it.
During his career with the county from 1979-98 as an aggressive right-hand batsman who played in four Test matches, three of them in the heat of an Ashes series, Kim Barnett scored more runs (23,854) and made more hundreds (53) than anyone in the club’s history. He became their youngest-ever captain – 22 years 315 days – in 1983 and led the team in more matches than anyone before or since until he stood down in 1995.
He was a member of the 1981 NatWest Trophy-winning side and skippered the side to the Benson & Hedges Cup final in 1988, going on to win it in 1993 as well as the Sunday League in 1990. His team reached third place in the 1991 Championship and he was in the side which finished runners-up in 1996 – their highest position since winning the title in 1936.
His aggregate in limited-overs matches is another county record and he enjoyed further glory in Lord’s finals with Gloucestershire.
With Barnett as Derbyshire’s director of cricket (later cricket advisor) the coaching set-up was streamlined. Genuine pace was introduced into the attack.
His sudden resignation from this position on 2 July came as a shock to the county’s followers, although he always said he saw his role as having a limited period.
As captain, his cricket was played in an era dominated by fast bowling and he lost no time in pursuing his dream of a Caribbean-style attack. It was a policy which touched the heights during an epic game against the Australians at the County Ground in 1989. But how did a cricketer who joined the county “as a young leg-spinner who could bat a bit” progress into a player who would be in anybody’s all-time Derbyshire side and has been such an influential figure in the club?
Kim John Barnett was born at Stoke-on-Trent on 17 July 1960 and attended Leek High School. He excelled at youth level and made an impressive start for Derbyshire. Playing under Eddie Barlow with Boland in South Africa was a massive influence and, with the backing of Charlie Elliott, Guy Willatt and cricket-manager-in-all-but name Phil Russell, he adopted a dynamic and aggressive approach to his captaincy.
Towards the end of the 1983 season he began to go in first, regularly in the Championship, rapidly becoming one of the most adventurous and entertaining opening batsmen on the circuit. With effortless and crisp timing and a glittering array of forceful and attacking strokes either side of the wicket, he could shred an attack. Perhaps a little impetuous outside the off-stump, where he played the percentages with hundreds of runs coming from square cuts or superb cover drives to compensate for the occasional edge, he was still capable of digging in when the occasion demanded. For example, at Folkestone in 1985, he occupied 50 overs in making 14 to defy Kent’s spin bowlers and help save the game.
The West Indies had raised the art of using four genuinely fast bowlers as a unit to a new level. Barnett and Russell looked on enviously but it is one thing to employ such an attack over a five-match Tests series. It is quite another to attempt it on English pitches through the varied conditions of a Championship season. The answer was a rotation-policy which was ahead of its time. Barnett said:
“With covering producing hard pitches bowlers were finding it more difficult to take wickets and unless you found a pitch which was seam-friendly you needed genuine pace to make a difference. Covering the ends made it tougher for the bowlers, who had to run in hard and were landing in their delivery stride on what must have felt like concrete. It all added to the stress and the risk of injury.”
A policy evolved which was based on quality allied to numerical strength. In 1989, with Ian Bishop’s arrival to share the overseas place with Michael Holding, the permutations appeared endless. Nine bowlers – Ole Mortensen, Devon Malcolm, Allan Warner, Martin Jean-Jaques, Simon Base, Frankie Griffith, Paul Newman and either Bishop or Holding as the overseas choice launched fusillades of pace, either fast or fast-medium, at the County Ground.
By now Barnett was attracting the attention of the Test selectors. In 1988 he made a dazzling 175 against Gloucestershire at Derby which included a century before lunch off an attack which included the Australian fast-medium bowler Terry Alderman, who had taken 42 wickets in the 1981 six-Test series. He followed this with an unbeaten 239 at Leicester and he was selected for the fifth Test against the West Indies at The Oval only for a hand injury to compel his withdrawal.
His chance came in the Lord’s Test against Sri Lanka when he made 66 and 0 and he followed this with 84 in the Texaco Trophy limited-over game at The Oval.
His selection for the subsequently cancelled tour of India (the Indian government would not grant visas to eight players, including Barnett, because of links with South Africa) followed as a matter of course.
And then, in 1989, the Australians, led by Allan Border, arrived.
England, with Ted Dexter as chairman of selectors, Micky Stewart as team manager and David Gower appointed captain, held the Ashes and were favourites to retain them. In their final match before the first Test at Headingley, the Australians met Derbyshire at the County Ground on Saturday, Sunday and Monday June 3, 4 and 5. Barnett recalls it as probably the best match in which he played:
“Castlemaine, an Australian brewing company, had offered a share of £25,000 for victories in county matches and while the prize money was a factor we needed no financial incentives to turn out our best side against the Australians. They had lost by three wickets against Worcestershire on a well-grassed wicket and we felt this type of pitch gave us the best chance of winning. There was a strong feeling that it was our job to help England by trying to soften them up before the first Test which was beginning on the Thursday. We certainly didn’t expect any favours from the tourists.”
Consequently Derbyshire fielded a four-man pace attack consisting of Bishop, Malcolm, Mortensen and Base, and Barnett put the tourists in on an emerald-green pitch. They began reasonably well but on the stroke of lunch Border completely misjudged a ball from Base, did not offer a stroke, and was bowled to make the score 123 for six. Although most of the damage was done by the fast-medium Base and Mortensen rather than the quicker bowlers, Border complained to Barnett that somebody was going to get hurt on such a pitch.
It was clear that the Australians had a fight on their hands but they battled to 200 and then unleashed their own bowlers: Alderman, Carl Rackeman, Greg Campbell and Steve Waugh. Barnett had something to prove. He had been left out of the England squad for Headingley and responded by driving Alderman’s first ball through the covers for an all-run four. Playing with superb timing on the off-side he raced to 50 from only 58 balls. He faced 86 balls and struck 12 fours in making 76 before being caught at first slip off Campbell to make the score 106 for two.
By the close Derbyshire were 153 for four and the following morning they were dismissed for 228. The Australians struggled again and left Derbyshire a target of 153. Barnett set off at a gallop before he was bowled by Campbell for 23 and then a devastating spell by Alderman, who took three wickets in 11 balls, left the game in the balance with the county 63 for five. On Monday, despite a good effort from John Morris (34) and an unbeaten 37 by Reg Sharma, the tourists got home by 11 runs after what Wisden described as a close, exciting and frequently ill-tempered match. Alderman finished with four for 32, giving him a match analysis of seven for 70.
The Australian coach Bobby Simpson described the pitch as ‘bad for the game’ saying that no matter how good a batsman was he was never really in. Far from being demoralised had they lost, his team would have been grateful to get away without a batsman being injured. Derbyshire’s chairman Chris Middleton hit back by saying the public of Derbyshire would not complain if they had pitches like that for every game. Barnett, whose 76 was the only score above 39 in the match, said:
“The Australians probably wanted something very flat so that they could have extended batting practice but they were the tourists and we did not have to go out of our way to suit them. In my view, the wicket was never dangerous. I agree it was too much in favour of the bowlers but you can’t always get a correct balance. To be honest, I thought some of the batting made it look a lot worse than it was.”
Meanwhile, an injured Mike Gatting had withdrawn from the England squad and Barnett was called up. Australia made 601 for seven declared after Gower had put them in and Barnett came in when Graham Gooch was trapped leg-before by Alderman. Chris Board fell at 81 but then Barnett and Allan Lamb shared a third-wicket partnership of 114. “Facing a total of 600 is obviously daunting,” said Barnett. “The bowlers can set attacking fields and the need for the batsmen to make a big score means there is a lot of pressure. I asked Lambie how we should tackle it and he simply said ‘we’ve just got to bat and bat.’
Unfazed, Barnett played with delightful freedom, particularly off the front foot in front of the wicket. But his shuffling, rather jumpy style which involved him moving across the crease was a factor in his dismissal. He had reached 80 with ten fours in 163 minutes when umpire John Holder gave him out lbw to a ball from Alderman which appeared to be going down the leg side. Barnett glanced at his legs to confirm his suspicions before heading quickly for the pavilion. “John Holder was a good umpire but I think he got that wrong. Maybe today’s Decision Review System would have saved me. John said that if I hadn’t been shuffling around so much he might have been able to line it up better.”
During that six-Test series, which Australia won 4-0, Terry Alderman took 41 wickets, 19 of them lbw. It almost became part of the national consciousness, so frequently did the radio commentators utter the phrase, ‘lbw bowled Alderman’. Gooch was lbw five times in his nine innings, thrice to Alderman. His answerphone message stated: “I’m out – probably lbw to Terry Alderman.” In the prevailing political climate, an activist scrawled ‘Thatcher out’ on a wall. Added underneath, in a different hand, was ‘lbw b Alderman 0’
During his career Alderman played in 41 Tests from 1981-90, taking 170 wickets, 34 per cent of which were lbw.
Barnett’s movements at the crease never bothered Derbyshire’s followers but they did not please the purists, as the magisterial Jim Swanton proclaimed:
“The chief event of Saturday, apart from Lamb’s flawless 100, was Barnett’s innings. His antics as the bowler nears the crease defy every canon, but, that said, a good eye and a determination to play his natural attacking game saw him through. If the supremo can modify that stance and drop the strongest hint to exercise his wrist-spin regularly for Derbyshire he could serve England well.”
Barnett made 34 in the second innings and his first four Test innings had produced 180 runs. But there was to be no lengthy international career and after scores of 14 and 3 at Lord’s and 10 at Edgbaston, he was dropped. Opting to tour South Africa with Gatting’s ‘rebel’ side did not help and he did not play Test cricket again, although in 1993 there was speculation that he might be chosen as England captain.
There were many highlights – and controversies – during the remainder of his career and a sequel to the 1989 game against the Australians.
“Steve Waugh said that match was played with all the intensity of a Test match and when they played us again at Derby in 1993 I bumped into him at Breadsall. He asked me straightaway what kind of pitch they were likely to face this time. I told him he had no need to worry because it was white rather than green. ‘It depends what your definition of white is,’ he replied.
There was rain about and the pitch turned out to be green but sluggish. Border, doubtless recalling 1989, put Derbyshire in. The match ended in a weather-affected draw and in his only innings Barnett made 114.