DateLine: 8th December 2005
Where to start with Kim Barnett? No man has scored more runs (23,854) for Derbyshire, or made more centuries (53), or captained them for longer (13 seasons). Of the four pieces of silverware Derbyshire have won in their success strapped history, Barnett collected medals for three of them and was captain in two. He was also a runner-up three times, and he is joint holder (with Tim Tweats) of the highest ever wicket partnership (417) in Derbyshire’s history.
With this in mind, it seems scarcely believable that Barnett was paid to leave the County Ground in the early months of 1999. This was after publicly backing skipper Dominic Cork in a row with the committee over the extent of his captaincy powers, although Cork subsequently stayed on as captain. Trouble had brewed for some time, with Barnett erroneously fined mid-season in 1997 for daring to reply to the charges made by departed captain Dean Jones, whose accusations of poor attitude amongst senior players many had seen as a direct reference to Barnett. This was after the club’s committee had imposed a completely arbitrary ban on the remaining players speaking out. Although the departure of Barnett from Derbyshire after 20 years led many to fear that it may have an effect similar to that of the Ravens leaving the Tower of London (and for several different reasons, Derbyshire have had a largely miserable time since his departure), his own career went from strength to strength. After his move to Bristol he played in four limited-overs finals with Gloucestershire, and scored significant runs in every one of these matches. Not bad for a man who had already played for 20 English summers before moving to the South West.
Barnett’s success as a batsman was founded on one of the most idiosyncratic stances of the modern age, with a guard taken well outside leg stump and with a shuffle across the stumps as the bowler was about to release. However, it was natural for Barnett and it clearly worked. If he was lucky to have not been coached out of it at a younger age, it may have counted against him in the stuffy, orthodoxy approving world of 1980’s England selection committee’s. However, he did receive international chances, making 66 & 0 on debut against a mediocre Sri Lankan side in 1988, and he confirmed his international pedigree by top scoring with 84 in the only ODI against the same nation. Such form booked Barnett his ticket to tour India that England, and although this tour was cancelled, Barnett was in the side for First Ashes Test of the following summer, where he made 80 & 34, comfortably outscoring Graham Gooch & David Gower. With 27 runs in the next three innings, and with it being firmly in the era of the revolving door, Barnett was out. His acceptance of a place on the Rebel Tour to South Africa that winter seemed to signal the end of his international career. However, when the ban was commuted to three years, and when Gooch resigned the England leadership in 1993, there were some who felt that as an established and successful county captain (and a quality batsman), it would be better to install Barnett as a transitional captain rather than risk the inexperienced Mike Atherton, although of course that plan came to nought.
It is often forgotten that Barnett started out as a leg-spinner who could bat, and for those who got used to seeing his bald head it is genuinely startling to come across dusty photographs of the floppy haired teenage Barnett. With 188 First-class wickets, and career best figures of 6-28 in 1991 it is clear that his bowling certainly didn’t die away completely. In 1994 he even topped the national bowling averages, with 13 wickets at just 13.30. As such, it was always a surprise to hear Barnett downplaying his bowling ability. In later years he developed slow, but accurate dobbers (not too dissimilar to Chris Harris), which were a lot harder to hit than they looked, and which naturally found a place in limited-overs cricket.
Barnett did make a mistake in announcing before the 1995 season that it would be his last as Derbyshire captain. Situations like that inevitably lead to a certain inertia and drift, and probably contributed to a mediocre 1995 season for Derbyshire. Barnett was also cited in the reasons for departure of John Morris and Peter Bowler, with the former feeling that his role as vice-captain was a meaningless sop and the latter no longer wanting to play under Barnett’s captaincy. Those ill-feelings may or may not have been justified, although whatever his merits or demerits as captain, it is hard to deny that Barnett’s tenure as captain and player brought a period of success to Derbyshire that was like an oasis in the desert of mediocrity which was, and continues to be, the club’s history. After his release by Gloucestershire at the end of 2002, Derbyshire toyed with the idea of bringing him back, although in the end decided it would be too much of a retrograde step, although his experience and quality would not have gone amiss in a poor team. His career and captaincy achievements were even more remarkable considering he was given the Derbyshire captaincy as a 22 year old in 1982, with the Natwest Trophy success of the previous year having done nothing to stem the involuntary dismantling of the team. He forged a team of achievers with the limited resources typical of Derbyshire’s history. As such, the Barnett model is still the one to follow as the present Derbyshire team seek to resurface after five seasons of poor results.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)