An interview with former Derbyshire batsman Alan Hill - Part 3
Your first team debut came in 1972. How did that come about?
It was towards the end of the season and at that time coaches are starting to give chances to young players, aware of others that are leaving and wanting to see who might be able to step up. I had been in and around the second team for three years by that stage, so I had a good grounding.
A lot of young players now are impatient and wanting to play the first-class game early, perhaps when they're not always ready for it. I felt I was ready and, in an era when batsmen had to face some seriously talented players, especially from overseas, you really had to be to survive.
You faced Somerset at Chesterfield, the wily Tom Cartwright and the lively Hallam Moseley. Quite a step up?
Cartwright was a master of moving the ball off the seam. They perhaps wouldn't look at him now, because he was a very gentle medium pace, but he zipped it around all day. I remember facing him one time at Weston-super-Mare and I must have played three or four balls an over with my front pad.It was a real education, as at his pace you had to move it in the air and off the seam, as well as bowling a 'forward' length.
You then faced Bob Willis at Edgbaston against Warwickshire, before going on to Blackpool, where you made your first senior fifty at Stanley Park. That would have been special against a decent attack?
My memory of that Warwickshire game is fielding at fine leg for Alan Ward. Their great West Indian batsman, Rohan Kanhai, got a quick bouncer from him and picked it up so quickly that, instead of top edging to me, he hit it over mid-on, one bounce for four. It was an extraordinary shot but, as I saw subsequently on several occasions, far from unusual for him. He was a fine player.
That first fifty was on an uncovered wicket, which was a little lively. It was very satisfying, but I still had much to prove.
I think it's fair to say that it wasn't a great Derbyshire side at that time. How did you find it, coming into a struggling side?
We struggled at times, as there were some good sides around. We had some good players, like Peter Gibbs and Mike Page, but we never seemed to fire as a team.
Mike was a wonderful player, especially of spin, and I learned so much watching him play it with soft hands and quick feet. He loved the social side of the game and perhaps suffered from being seen to not take it as seriously as he might have done. He didn't smash spin all over the place, but I remember seeing him make two 90s against Ray Illingworth and Jack Birkenshaw at Leicester and he looked on a different level to the rest of us.
He was also a brilliant fielder at short-leg and held many catches off Brian Jackson and Harold Rhodes there. He did get hit badly once and that shook him for a while. There were no helmets and pads at that stage, of course.
He was great in the dressing room. He was playing a second team game one day and had been having a bit of banter with Lancashire's wicket-keeper, Keith Goodwin, who he knew very well. During the tea interval, Mike persuaded our seam bowler, Michael Glenn to bowl a tomato to Keith, first ball after tea.
Michael bowled a full toss and Keith hit it, bang in the middle of the bat and was showered in tomato seeds as we all broke up, laughing! I think he got hauled before the committee, but that was the sort of man that he was. A really lovely guy and a very talented cricketer.
Chris Wilkins was coming to the end of his stint as our first overseas player. How did you find him?
He was one of the hardest hitters of a cricket ball I have ever seen. Only Clive Lloyd matched him and if you were batting in the indoor school at Derby, where there wasn't much room as the bowlers waited to bowl their next ball, you never turned your back on him.
He was a talented all-round player. He could bowl useful seam, kept wicket pretty well and was a fine all-round sportsman. He had an amazing eye and he made the first switch-hit that I ever saw.
It was in his last season and he was batting in the nets against David Wilde. He was a pretty lively left-armer and Chris switched round and absolutely hammered this ball. We all stood there with our mouths open, just wondering at how good an eye you must have to do something like that.
Then of course Lawrence Rowe came in for a summer, having put England to the sword for the West Indies. There must have been great expectations on his arrival that never came to fruition?
Well, he came off the back of scoring 302 against England that winter and expectations were high. In his first game at Derby, against Sussex, he made 94 in the second innings and batted with his red West Indian tracksuit underneath his whites – he was so cold!
He was a very cool, laid back West Indian and oozed calm and class whenever he batted, but he found the county grind very difficult. Various ailments and illnesses didn't help, but we never saw the best of Lawrence at Derbyshire. Michael Holding will tell you he was among the best batsmen he ever saw, so it is hard to argue with that
Your own style was usually described as 'dour' or 'attritional'. Was that always your style or were you conscious of a need to stay in there and minimise risks?
It goes back to my upbringing in the Peak District really. We played on uncovered wickets and you could never play forward with confidence because the ball 'stopped' on you. I think that was a factor, but I was told that one of my roles was to see the shine off the new ball and ensure that the side made a solid start, so that meant that I tried to stay there as long as I could.
I wasn't blessed with great self-confidence either, and the demons took over when I had a bad trot. If I was batting well, I went out confident that I could make runs against anyone, but there were times when I would wonder where the next run was coming from, especially against the many fine opening bowlers of that era.
To be continued..