IT IS etched into cricket folklore. Derbyshire versus Lancashire, 1975. An unbelievable game which saw play halted by snow — in June!
Few remember the three-day match at The Park, between Derbyshire and Lancashire, for being one of the biggest defeats in County Championship history, instead for the unseasonal and unexpected influx of the dreaded white stuff.
And it’s one experience that certainly sticks in the mind of retired English international cricket umpire Harold Dennis Bird, MBE – affectionately known as Dickie Bird – who officiated the Championship tie alongside Tintwistle-born Albert “Dusty” Rhodes.
“It was a real experience,” explained Bird, 77. “I’ve never known anything like it during my 50-year involvement in cricket. I’ve seen plenty of games affected by rain and bad light in my time, but never snow.”
Glorious sunshine had greeted the crowds at The Park on Saturday May 31, 1975, as Lancashire won the toss and elected to bat, before racking up 477-5. Frank Haynes (104) and power-hitter Clive Lloyd (167no) both struck centuries - Lloyd’s unbeaten knock took ironically 167 minutes!
Derbyshire reached 25-2 off 15 overs in reply by the close of play on day one, still trailing Lancashire by more than 450 runs.
There was no County action on the Sunday as Buxton hosted a John Player League game, witnessing Derbyshire inflict defeat on Glamorgan.
Bird continued: “We planned to recommence the county game on the Monday morning. But when I woke up in my hotel room in Buxton and threw back the curtains I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Saturday had been marvellous, a beautiful scorching day, and there had been a good crowd up at Buxton. But now there was snow everywhere, six inches in some places. I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought ‘good God’.”
Bird left his Buxton hotel and struggled to make his way to the The Park, only to be greeted by a thick layer of snow covering the entire ground, the cause of which, the Meteorological Office would later reveal, had been a depression bringing cold air down from the Arctic.
“It was impossible to play, and the match was abandoned for the day,” the umpire recalled. “It was amazing to see, and something that I will always remember. But then on the Tuesday, the sun shone, and we went on to have the best summer we had ever had.”
An overnight thaw enabled play to continue on the Tuesday, but for Derbyshire the damage had already been done, with the drying, soggy wicket virtually unplayable. The hosts were skittled out for just 42 and forced to follow-on.
Bird said: “The pitches in those days were uncovered and left to the elements, so Derbyshire had to bat on a snow-affected pitch and they collapsed. The ball was just flying all over the place. I had never seen anything like it in my life.
“Ashley Harvey-Walker, who in those days batted for Derbyshire, came in to bat at number five and he said to me ‘just hold onto my false teeth for me, because I won’t be here long’, and he wasn’t, as a couple of balls later he was out. He came back to me for his teeth, put them back in and off he went.”
With fast bowler Peter Lever tearing through the batting line-up – he finished with match figures of 6-34 – only Alan Morris (26) and Harvey-Walker (26) offered any resistance in the second innings as Derbyshire crumpled to 87 all out. Lancashire won by an innings and 348 runs.
The snow disruption made headlines right across the country, with the Express, The Times and The Daily Mail among the national newspapers to feature pictures and reports.
The match aside, Bird has fond memories of his time in Buxton.
“The hospitality at Buxton was marvellous, and it was marvellous to play county matches out there,” he added. “The food was excellent, all the lunches and the teas were excellent, and they always made sure we had coffee and biscuits when we arrived at the ground.
“It is a very pleasant ground, set in beautiful countryside, and I think Derbyshire should return there to play a match.”
* Interview appeared in the April 2011 edition of Stumped!, the Buxton Advertiser’s guide to the local cricket scene.