I suppose it was in my first season. I took over seventy wickets at a low cost in that summer and I bowled consistently throughout. At the end of the summer, Cliff announced his retirement and said that I would be an excellent replacement. I couldn't have wished for a greater commendation than that, really.
The County Ground was always high on the list of disliked grounds for players at that time. What was it like?
It was just a big open space. There was an old wooden pavilion and a concrete stand - that was it. There might have been an occasional ice cream van and a stall selling refreshments, but there was little more to it. 'Bleak' describes it pretty accurately...
When I first joined the ground staff, one of my jobs was to help put out the forms (benches) and portable tiered seating that went between Derby and Chesterfield. They didn't even give me a pair of gloves for the job. Although you were there to learn your trade on the pitch, sometimes it felt like I had taken out an apprenticeship as a groundsman.
On my first morning at the club, I was welcomed by coach Denis Smith and shown in to the dressing room, where he gestured towards a hook and told me that it was my gear.
It was a boiler suit!
How did you find Denis Smith – he was apparently a hard taskmaster as coach?
Denis was tough and some people didn't get on with him because they found him uncouth - he told it as he saw it and didn't mince his words. But he knew his cricket and was instrumental in me getting some good quality league cricket for Frickley Colliery in the Yorkshire Council League. It was a high standard and brought my game on a lot when I was 14 or 15.
As a former batsman himself, he had a lot to offer as a coach, but he could bowl decent seam and spin and he kept everyone on their toes. He justified his gruff manner by saying that no one could hold your hand out in the middle – and he was right..
He had a very dry sense of humour. On one occasion a young quick bowler turned up for a trial. He was pretty quick but sprayed it around and Denis wasn't impressed. At the end of the day, he drove away at some speed in a noisy old car and Denis quipped: “If he drives like he bowls, he won't hit owt...”
How good was that 1950s side? What did we need to have become county champions?
It was very good, but we lacked a couple of batsmen of genuine quality. Arnold Hamer was a very fine opening batsman and often gave us good starts, while Donald Carr was a good player whose availability declined as the 1950's progressed. Derek Morgan was a fine player, but he had a lot of bowling to do. Derek also had several appearances for England as twelfth man, on account of his fielding, which was absolutely brilliant.
As a side, we were prone to big collapses though and that cost us more than a few winning positions. Surrey were dominant in that decade, but we gave them some good games and with another couple of batsmen – who knows?
The attack was as good as any side had, with the possible exception of Surrey.
People often talk about the modern era as having great fielders, but that Derbyshire side had a strong reputation in the field?
It was different in many ways, but there were people with brilliant hands and the likes of Alan Revill, Donald Carr, Arnold Hamer and Derek Morgan dropped very little and held some catches that other sides wouldn't have even considered as chances.
There was no sliding and little diving though – we wouldn't have had the time or money to wash the kit anyway, but we fielded as you did at the time – we used the 'long barrier' and stopped the ball with our feet if it was the best method available.
There was no expectation that the bowlers should throw themselves around, as they were too precious to winning prospects. Both Cliff and Les were good fielders though, especially in the gulley and Les was as good a fielder off his own bowling as I have seen. On numerous occasions he ran batsmen out by moving quickly towards mid-off or mid-on from his follow-through, picking up quickly and throwing down the stumps.
Nearly every side had a specialist (and very good) cover point – both John Kelly and Laurie Johnson were outstanding in that position for us over the years.
Who were the biggest characters in the side?
Cliff was one, for sure! He always had something to say about most subjects, while both George Dawkes, an outstanding wicket-keeper, and Arnold Hamer were usually involved in the fun that we had on a regular basis. They were great days and a lovely bunch of blokes to share a dressing room with.
You played in one of our most remarkable games, when the Hampshire game at Burton ended in one day in August 1958. What do you most remember about that match?
It lasted one day and twenty minutes – we'd lost a wicket in the little play possible on the previous day. The most memorable thing for me was that I got my cap at the end of the game.
The Hampshire skipper, Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, took his team for a brewery tour the day before, so I'm not sure if they were necessarily at their best! It had rained heavily and, with wickets uncovered in those days, it made for a very difficult batting track.
We won because Les and I were considerably quicker than Derek Shackleton and Malcolm Heath on a wicket where the ball moved around a lot and the bounce was erratic. The only bowling change was when Derek Morgan replaced me and cleaned up the tail in their second innings. I was shattered by that stage, mentally as much as physically.
As the 1960s dawned, our fortunes gradually declined as top quality players failed to be replaced. That must have been a difficult time?
It was. Arnold Hamer retired, Cliff had gone, Donald Carr's availability was an issue and the batsmen who came in simply weren't up to the same standard.
Brian Jackson (no relation to Les) came in and did a terrific job with the new ball for a few seasons, but we struggled because we hadn't enough good players and – of course – money was tight.
It always seemed like we could have done with another fifty runs to play with. Sometimes we got them, but it was a constant battle to take wickets while not conceding runs, setting close fields without giving away runs down to third man.
To be continued