Buxworth batsman Alan Hill is a Derbyshire legend

A Derbyshire cricketing legend is delighted with how the new-look County side are performing.

Monday, 25th July 2022, 3:40 pm
Updated Monday, 25th July 2022, 3:40 pm

"If you had offered me at the start of the season what they have achieved so far, I'd have snapped your hand off," said Alan Hill.

Derbyshire were the only Division Two side to reach the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast T20 and are still in with a chance of promotion in the County Championship.

This is a contrast to 2021 when they were eliminated in the group stages of the T20 and won only one four-day game all year.

Buxworth's Alan Hill has been reflecting on his time with Derbyshire. Photo by Noëlle McCarroll.

"I think they have done extremely well," said Hill.

"It's been a credit to everyone involved, particularly the players and the coaching staff.

"It's down to the players when they cross the white line but head of cricket Mickey Arthur and the coaches have really turned things around."

Hill has played a huge role in Derbyshire cricket over the last half-century.

The Buxworth-born batsman appeared in more than 400 first-team games, scoring nearly 17,000 first-class and one-day runs, including 22 centuries.

He also had spells as first-team coach, second-team captain, second-team coach, chief executive and cricket development officer.

He was a member of the team that beat Northamptonshire in the 1981 NatWest Trophy final at Lord's, winning Derbyshire's first trophy for 45 years.

The finish of that game is etched indelibly on Hill's memory.

Derbyshire had won a nail-biting semi-final against Essex off the final ball. The scores were level but Derbyshire went through because they lost fewer wickets.

The final was just as tight.

With one ball to go, they needed one run to tie - and that would be enough because they had again lost fewer wickets.

"I was on the dressing-room balcony," Hill recalled.

"I turned and looked into the room and who was sitting in a chair with a towel over his head because he could not look but the great Bob Taylor. That's how much it meant to us."

Colin Tunnicliffe and Geoff Miller scrambled a single to spark elation and relief in the Derbyshire camp.

The Lord's win was only the start of a long weekend for the squad because on the Sunday morning they travelled from London to Hove where they lost a 40-over game to Sussex.

They eventually got back to Derby at 1.30 on the Monday morning, leaving Hill to reflect on the importance of tiny margins in sport.

"If we had lost the final, it would have been an eminently forgettable weekend. As it was, it was the highlight of our careers for some of us," he said.

"I'm not one to believe in fate but, the more I think about it, the more I think our name was on that trophy."

Hill rates Taylor as day-in, day-out the most professionally outstanding player he has seen, a view borne out by the wicket-keeper's world record 1,649 first-class dismissals.

Hill played in many other memorable games, several of them at Chesterfield, where he used to appreciate the bounce in the wickets.

"It was a good place for me to bat because I liked to use the pace of the ball on to the bat," he said.

In a golden era of fast bowlers, that made Queen's Park the venue for some epic encounters.

In 1976 the West Indies gained a first-innings lead of 240 before Hill went out to open the Derbyshire second innings late on the Monday evening.

"I walked down the pavilion steps and there was the great Andy Roberts making his mark to start his run-up about a foot inside the boundary - and he was going to be bowling down the hill. He made the ball really fly through."

Four years later the West Indies were back in the Park with Roberts joined by Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner in an awesome pace attack.

Hill did not play in that match but remembers how the drama unfold.

"Viv Richards reckoned it was the second quickest wicket he had seen," said Hill.

"John Wright made 96 but he was battered black and blue by the ball and I think it was the only time that David Steele wore a helmet in his career."

Hill is often asked who was the fastest bowler he faced and he replies that it depended on the wicket as well as the bowler.

Two matches are prominent in his memory. One was on a quick pitch against Surrey at The Oval.

He said: "Sylvester Clarke just seemed to amble in. But, when he pitched one short, I ducked.

"I turned round and saw wicket-keeper Jack Richards - who was 30 yards back - finger-tip it over the bar like a goalkeeper and it thundered into the sightscreen."

The other was facing Australia's Len Pascoe on a fast wicket at Chesterfield when edges were flying over the slips so the tourists put a catcher at fly-slip, halfway back to the boundary.

But even the first day of a County Championship match can be special at Queen's Park.

Hill said: "On a Saturday morning against Yorkshire there would be 3,000 people in the ground, even though 2,500 had come over the border from Sheffield! It was often a great atmosphere."

It is hardly surprising that, as a spectator, Hill still visits a ground which holds such fond memories - and he is still hoping to see more Derbyshire success there.