Mike Hendrick, cricketer whose relentless accuracy made him an England bowling regular in the 1970s – obituary

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Mike Hendrick in 1982 - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images
Mike Hendrick in 1982 - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Mike Hendrick, who has died aged 72, was an outstanding medium-fast bowler for England, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Six foot three, and loping in off a curving run, he would deliver with a classical action, the arm high, the body sideways on. Extremely accurate, he achieved considerable bounce off the pitch, specialising in moving the ball away from the right-hander off the seam.

Unlike many bowlers, however, he was honest enough to admit that he never knew in advance quite how each delivery would behave.

Hendrick was unlucky in that, during his cricketing prime (1973 to 1981), there were so many bowlers – John Snow, Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Geoff Arnold, Peter Lever, Chris Old, Mike Selvey – well qualified to open the England attack.

Nevertheless he played in 30 Tests, taking 87 wickets at a respectable average of 25.83 apiece, while restricting scoring to 2.17 per over. Indeed, he was so relentlessly accurate that batsmen were liable to get out taking risks when facing bowling from the other end.

In action for England in the third Test against India, at Headingley in 1979 - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images
In action for England in the third Test against India, at Headingley in 1979 - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images

One of his Hendrick’s finest performances was against Australia at Headingley in August 1977. This match is chiefly remembered on account of Geoffrey Boycott’s 191, his 100th first-class century. It was Hendrick, however, with figures of four for 41 and four for 54, who ensured that there would be no Australian fightback.

He was again at his peak in the Ashes series of 1978-79, albeit against an Australian side robbed of many of its best players by Kerry Packer’s alternative contests. Playing in five of the six Tests Hendrick took 19 wickets at only 15 apiece.

There were several more fine performances – four for 28 against India at Edgbaston in 1974; four for 45, again against India, again at Edgbaston, in 1979; and four for 82 against Australia at the Oval in 1981. Yet Hendrick never took five wickets in an innings in a Test match.

There were those, such as Bob Taylor, wicketkeeper to Hendrick both for Derbyshire and England, who looked askance at his tendency to bowl just short of a length. It was felt that this method of attack, while securing economy, perhaps lessened his danger to batsmen.

Moreover, Hendrick rarely experimented with much variation in pace, which tended to settle at a steady 80 mph.

Hendrick takes on New Zealand in the 1979 World Cup semi-final: he took three wickets in the match and ended as the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 10 - Shutterstock
Hendrick takes on New Zealand in the 1979 World Cup semi-final: he took three wickets in the match and ended as the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 10 - Shutterstock

In this context it is interesting to compare the bowling of the young Ian Botham who, while less accurate than Hendrick, was always ready to try some new wheeze in order to deceive the batsman.

Botham, after all, captured 100 wickets in his first 19 Tests. It is only fair to add, though, that at the end of their careers, notwithstanding Botham’s 383 Test wickets, Hendrick had a considerably better bowling average.

Michael Hendrick was born at Darley Dale, near Matlock in Derbyshire, on October 22 1948. His father worked for the Inland Revenue, and in the summer was a fast bowler of some repute.

The family moved north in the early 1950s, and Michael was educated at St Mary’s Grammar School in Darlington. By the time his father was posted to Leicester in 1964, the teenager already had ambitions as a bowler.

Yet although he played some games for Leicestershire’s Second XI in 1966 and 1967, he seemed to be making little progress. A job with the Electricity Board afforded no solace. Nor did his cricketing prospects immediately look up when he joined Derbyshire in 1967.

The county had a great tradition of fast bowlers, notably, after the Second World War, in the persons of Cliff Gladwin and Les Jackson, and later Harold Rhodes.

Taking on Rod Hull and Emu in 1981 - Shutterstock
Taking on Rod Hull and Emu in 1981 - Shutterstock

Hendrick made his first-class debut in 1969, against Oxford University, and shortly afterwards played in his first county championship match, against Glamorgan, claiming the wicket of Tony Lewis.

At that stage Alan Ward was Derbyshire’s great fast-bowling hope, and Hendrick an also-ran. Very little changed in the seasons of 1970 and 1971.

The first breakthrough came in 1972, when in July, at Trent Bridge, Hendrick suddenly collected four Nottinghamshire wickets in 12 balls for no runs, finishing the innings with a return of six for 43. At the end of August he followed up with seven for 65 against Somerset, and was awarded his county cap.

Progress was maintained in 1973, when he was selected for a one-day international against West Indies, honoured as Young Player of the Year, and chosen for MCC’s tour of West Indies.

He did well enough in the Caribbean, albeit without playing in the Tests. “I learned a great deal on that tour,” Hendrick recalled, “not least that I was not as great as I thought I was.”

Selected for three Tests against India in 1974, he captured 14 wickets in three Tests without ever quite feeling that he was bowling as well as he was capable.

In Australia in 1974-75, the series in which Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson destroyed the English batting, Hendrick pulled a hamstring in the third Test at Melbourne and did not play again in the series.

Early in his career Hendrick had hardly been a fanatic for physical fitness, least of all for the cross-country running programmes prescribed at Derbyshire. “If ever a batsman manages to hit the ball five miles,” he observed with typically deadpan wit, “we’ll be the first team to get it back.”

Yet, even before the pulled hamstring, Hendrick had decided that he must take fitness more seriously, a resolution inspired by the England physiotherapist Bernard Thomas, and later underscored by the South African Eddie Barlow, who captained Derbyshire in 1977 and 1978.

Throughout Hendrick’s career Derbyshire lingered in the lower echelons of the county championship, apart from in 1977, when they finished seventh.

Hendrick’s bowling for the county was consistently impressive. But whereas in the 1950s and 1960s Brian Statham and Fred Trueman had each frequently sent down more than 800 overs in an English summer – sometimes many more – and regularly surpassed 100 wickets in the season, Hendrick exceeded 500 overs in only six summers. In consequence his best haul in an English season was a mere 68 wickets, in 1975.

Hendrick bowling for Derbyshire against Suffolk in the first round of the 1981 NatWest Trophy: they would go on to beat Northamptonshire in the final, winning their first one-day silverware - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images
Hendrick bowling for Derbyshire against Suffolk in the first round of the 1981 NatWest Trophy: they would go on to beat Northamptonshire in the final, winning their first one-day silverware - Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images

In 1981 Derbyshire obtained the first one-day silverware in the county’s history, when they carried off the NatWest Trophy. Hendrick, however, did not enjoy cordial relations with Barry Wood, appointed county captain in that year. In 1982 he departed for Nottinghamshire, with whom he enjoyed two highly successful seasons.

Meanwhile, Hendrick’s decision to go on a rebel tour of South Africa in March 1982 had put paid to his Test career.

Between 1969 and 1984 he played in 267 first-class matches, taking 770 wickets at a cost of 20.50 each. His best analyses were eight for 45 against Warwickshire at Chesterfield in 1973 and six for 19 against Middlesex at Ilkeston in 1977.

Hendrick’s accuracy made him a valuable performer in one-day cricket. He put in some fine performances in the World Cup of 1979, held in England, not least his figures of four for 15 from 12 overs which destroyed Pakistan’s hopes at Headingley. Nothing, though, could prevent England being thrashed by the West Indies in the final.

In 22 ODIs between 1973 and 1981 Hendrick took 35 wickets at 19.45, with an economy rate of 3.27 per over. In all one-day cricket (1969 to 1984) he dismissed 297 batsmen at a cost of 20.50 each, and at an economy rate of 3.06.

Helping England to a six-wicket victory against Australia at Lord's in the 1979 World Cup - Shutterstock
Helping England to a six-wicket victory against Australia at Lord's in the 1979 World Cup - Shutterstock

Though a brilliant fielder close to the wicket, especially in the slips, Hendrick never seemed greatly concerned about his batting. He averaged 6.40 in Tests, 10.13 in all first-class cricket, and 1.20 in one-day internationals.

His Benefit at Derbyshire, in 1980, brought him £36,050, a healthy sum for those days. After retiring as a player Hendrick continued to coach at Trent Bridge, serving as team manager for Nottinghamshire in 1992 and 1993.

From 1995 to 1999, as Ireland’s first professional coach, he proved an inspiration to the development of cricket in that country; and then in 2000 took up a similar role in Scotland. In his last decade he was once more very much in evidence at Trent Bridge, his favourite ground.

Throughout his career it was noted that he was very much more likely to be amused and amusing off the pitch than on it.

Mike Hendrick was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019.

In 1976 he married Kathy. The marriage was dissolved, and he is survived by their two sons and a daughter.

Mike Hendrick, born October 22 1948, died July 27 2021

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