Saturday, 21 January 2012

K is for Kirsten....

There are four outstanding candidates for the best "K" to represent Derbyshire.

Simon Katich had but one season in our colours, in 2007, yet finished it with the highest average in a championship season by a Derbyshire player (75.52). He was an accumulator, someone who, having got in, rarely gave it away. By the same token, Katich was somewhat one-dimensional and really couldn't play the one-day game, while T20 was, it appeared, anathema to him. For me, his season at the club will be remembered for an outstanding championship season, but a limited overs one that was, at best, average. That season's T20 campaign was, even with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat shambolic.

Adrian Kuiper was, as pointed out on the club site, largely responsible for our Refuge Assurance win in his one full season with us. A useful medium pace bowler and good fielder, Kuiper's strength was that he could hit a ball a country mile and did so with remarkable frequency. Potentially close finishes that year were blown away by the brilliance, yet common sense of his hitting, showing a man with good judgement of the hittable ball. With Chris Wilkins he was the biggest hitter I have seen in Derbyshire colours and that judgement made all the difference. If a target  looked like it was getting away from us, Kuiper simply smacked a couple of boundaries and brought it within the realms of respectability again. It sounds easy, but isn't - despite the South African making it look so. Were he playing today he would make a fortune in T20.

For me, Kuiper is just shaded into second place by Karl Krikken, largely by dint of service over a protracted period. By no standards would you say that Krikk was a conventional wicket-keeper, his farmer in wellingtons-style waddling between balls behind the stumps a long way removed from the textbook crouching manner, while he looked almost like a goalkeeper facing a penalty kick as the bowler's arm came over. Yet Krikk missed little over 400 games, often taking catches, especially down the leg side, that a more orthodox stance may not have allowed him to get to. He had great hands and an even greater mouth, a never-ending source of encouragement from first ball to last.

As a batsman he was more than useful and should have scored more runs than he did, though the Derbyshire side of his time was blessed with greater batting talent than some of more recent vintage and Krikk often went in the search for quick runs. Having said all that, his greatest contribution to Derbyshire cricket may be yet to come...

For me, though, the number one simply has to be Peter Kirsten, with Dean Jones the best all-round batsman I have seen in Derbyshire colours. Kirsten could accumulate and would often get to thirty before you realised it and while you tried to recall the strokes that got him there. Yet once he was in, the strokeplay was dazzling and he had them all.  From late cuts to sweeps, "Kirst" played all round the wicket and had lovely footwork. He was compact and composed at the crease and some of us called him the "Little Don", reference to the dapper and uncomplicated style that was reminiscent of the great Bradman.

His first two seasons saw him scrape past a thousand as he got used to English wickets as a young player, but from 1980 to 1982 he was as good a player as any in the country, recording 1895, 1605 and 1941 championship runs in each season with averages of 63, 55 and 64.  In that 1982 season, with John Wright making 1830 runs, Derbyshire fans enjoyed two batsmen at the peak of their form and batting talent that had never been seen before, or, dare I say it since. Kirsten hit eight centuries that summer and Wright seven. It was a summer, in my mind's eye, where Derbyshire were usually 195-1 or somesuch at the sports bulletins, and there were times during matches when they hardly looked like getting out. So good were they, indeed, that opponents started setting ridiculous targets for us in the fourth innings of games, yet we sometimes got them.

Kirsten was a brilliant fielder and a useful off-spinner, at least until a knee injury started to cause problems and he should never have been allowed to leave the county. A request for a year's break was met with a refusal and his release, a startling example of the way the club has shot itself in the foot too many times over the years. He was just 27 and approaching his prime at the time.

He would have graced international cricket and, although past his peak, at least made a dozen Test appearances when South Africa were re-admitted to the fold. When he reached a century against England at Headingley in 1994, I cheered more than if an Englishman had reached the milestone. His Test average of 31 in no way reflects the talent that was Peter Kirsten, yet was itself impressive considering he was 37 on debut.

57 centuries and 107 fifties; another ten centuries and 83 fifties in one-day games - oh yes, Peter Kirsten could play alright. I consider it an absolute privilege to have seen him in his prime and would be astonished if I saw anyone comparable in our colours in the years ahead.

K is for Kingly, Klassy, Kultured Kirsten - one of only a handful of genuinely brilliant Derbyshire cricketers in my time.


mastervillain said...

Kirsten was the best overseas player we have had in my view. Although he emerged amongst a group of other very talented South African batsman, including Fotheringham and Lamb, to my mind he was the best.


Peakfan said...

I'll agree there MV, with the exception of Barlow, for me he's out there on his own.

Chris said...

You missed Khan? 3 of them to choose from Rawait, Gul and Zubair. They must have slipped your mind eh?

I had to google what anathema meant, can you use less intellectual words please Peak for us less intelligent posters :)

Anonymous said...

Remember seeing Kirsten for the first time on either his debut or at least one of his very early appearances for the county at Ilkeston.

He emerged from the pavilion looking like some slightly scruffy schoolkid with pads that looked a little too big for him. Turned out to be the first glimpse of a batting genius.

Barlow and Kirsten...legends. Those were the days.


Peakfan said...

Chris - sorry, no Khan do...
Nice memory Jasper!

Anonymous said...

My favourite Derbyshire player of all time. I was fortunate to witness one of his double centuries against Glamorgan at Derby in 1980. Aged 12 I sat with three of my mates on the boundary edge. We had never seen a double century before and in those days the first innings was limited to 100 overs and we were concerned that the overs would run out before Peter had chance to complete his double century. He did it easily in the end and ended up 213 not out. One of my best days watching cricket. Natwest 81