The unheralded Mike Hendrick was born on October 22, 1948. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of England’s most consistent performers who could strangle any batsman into submission at his peak.
Michael Hendrick was an uncharismatic fast-medium bowler from unfashionable Derbyshire. Being a Derbyshire cricketer was always difficult in that era. Their attitude is perhaps best represented by an incident when Hendrick had once broken down since there was no stretcher on the ground Hendrick had to be carried off on a door.
Despite the unprofessional attitude, Derbyshire had had a tradition of producing quality seamers on a consistent basis: other than Hendrick the list included Bill Copson, Cliff Gladwin, Les Jackson, Harold Rhodes, Alan Ward, Dominic Cork, and Devon Malcolm.
Hendrick portrayed this attitude — at least in his on-field appearance. He looked so dismal and worn out before he bowled his first ball of the day that it was almost impossible for a captain to take him as a serious and aggressive option. In fact, he looked defeated and unenthusiastic even after he had an excellent spell that had resulted in a flurry of wickets.
As Marcus Berkmann wrote in Rain Men, “English fastish bowlers fall into two well defined groups — the aggressive ones ([Ian] Botham, [Darren] Gough), and the gloomy exhausted ones. [Mike] Hendrick was as gloomy and exhausted as a bowler can get witohut passing out. His heir is Angus Fraser, who bowls frightening numbers of overs a year and yet, after a single ball of a Test match, looks tired, flushed, bored, furious and resigned, even if he has just bowled someone middle-stump. Hendrick had this approach off pat. Once he even grew a gloomy beard, presumably in a last ditch attempt to depress the batsman into nicking the ball. But the batsman never did nick the ball. So Hendrick trudged back and started again…”
The gloomy attitude was perhaps an outcome of the conditions he thrived most under. He was difficult to score against even under normal conditions; however, under overcast conditions he was virtually impossible to play. As Grantlee Kieza wrote in Fast and Furious: A Celebration of Cricket’s Pace Bowlers, Hendrick made the ball do “disappearing acts” in the gloom but had a tendency to “curse clear sky and sunshine”.
But Hendrick bowled; and bowled; and bowled; he bowled for a county that had almost never known the mystery that was winning the Championship. He bowled against strong batting line-ups defending low scores day in and day out, often for a losing cause, but never gave up.
One of the more creative men of his craft, Hendrick’s philosophy would not have sounded out of place on a battlefield: “Nobody seems bothered about how many runs you give away now. It used to be a battle of wits between an opening batter and an opening bowler. A game of chess. Now both are trying to dominate the other and batters are playing big shots at balls they shouldn’t be hitting, and the bowlers pick up wickets with complete rank deliveries.”
It was his unyielding stamina and the ability to get at the batsman relentlessly for hours that made Hendrick stand out among his peers. At 6’3″ he also had the ability to lift the ball off a good length, squaring him up and making things even more difficult for him. As Colin Bateman wrote in If the Cap Fits, he “was a lively fast-medium seam bowler who could produce plenty of bounce to trouble county batsmen.”
However, it was not only the county batsmen that Hendrick had managed to dominate: from 30 Tests he had a tally 87 wickets at 25.83. Let us take out a moment to ponder at these numbers: since 1970 Bob Willis is the only English bowler with fifty or more wickets to have had a better average, which meant that he finished with better numbers than the much heralded John Snow, Darren Gough, Ian Botham, Graeme Swann, or James Anderson.
In terms of economy rate he ranks only behind Phil Edmonds and Geoff Miller with his 2.17 under the same conditions. However, perhaps the most curious statistic of Hendrick’s Test career was the fact that he never took five wickets in an innings. He still holds the record for the most wickets taken without a five-for (given that Mashrafe Mortaza, with 78 wickets, has not played a Test in four years, Ravi Rampaul comes closest with 49).
From 22 One-Day Internationals Hendrick had picked up 35 wickets at 19.45 and an economy rate of 3.27 with a solitary five-for. Put a 25-wicket cut-off and both his average and economy rate are the best among English bowlers of all time.
He had even better numbers at domestic level: from 267 First-Class matches Hendrick picked up 770 wickets at 20.50 with 30 five-fors and three ten-fors. Despite such outstanding figures eye-witnesses believed that Hendrick was ‘unlucky’, and had he found the edges more frequently his numbers would have been outrageous.
Berkmann wrote: “Possibly the shortest route to becoming a nearly man is by nearly taking wickets, which was Mike Hendrick’s speciality. ‘Ooof’, ‘Aaargh’ and ‘Eeee’ were but three of the cries regularly expelled from spectators’ mouths as he passed the outside edge yet again. He was, we were told, the unluckiest bowler in cricket. Batsmen played and missed, and then played and missed again. Hunched and impassive, weighed down by the unfairness of it all, Hendrick trudged back to his mark and started again.”
He was a rank tail-ender with the bat, and did not have a single fifty even in the domestic formats. Willis’ charming presence meant that Hendrick got to bat at number ten in only seven of his 35 Test innings; he was not as lucky on the other 28 occasions (on some of which he paid Willis back the favour).
There is a rather famous story about him facing Jeff Thomson at The Gabba in 1974-75. Poor Hendrick had walked out to bat after Thomson had broken Tony Greig’s toe and Dennis Amiss’ thumb, and had hit several other batsmen. Hendrick did not have a thigh-pad: he shoved a towel down his trousers, and of all things — a handkerchief in his pocket to provide extra protection against Thomson.
He eventually got to face Thomson after seeing off 14 balls. Thomson’s first ball connected with Hendrick’s bat: in utter horror the Derbyshireman saw the bat flying out of his hand. He was clean bowled the next ball, walked up to Thomson, told him “thanks for the game,” and walked back.
Hendrick was born at Darley Dale in Derbyshire (how is that for a wonderfully alliterative name?). His father was a fast bowler who worked for the Inland Revenue (“a potent combination if there was one”, said Wisden). When Hendrick was five the family moved to Darlington, Durham.
After he showed signs of cricket talent at St Mary’s Grammar School his father took him to the nets of Darlington Cricket Club. The ten-year old was selected and played regularly for the Third and Second XIs. Just when it seemed that Durham was going to be the county he would represent the family moved again – this time to Leicester.
Hendrick left school shortly afterwards and had started on a relatively non-lucrative job at the Electricity Board. He was soon selected to play for Leicestershire Young Amateurs and then for Leicestershire Second XI. By then he had made up his mind that he wanted to become a professional cricketer.
Unfortunately he was released by Leicestershire after two years before he could migrate to the First XI. Wisden wrote: “Officially, the kindly explanation was that the county had already many bowlers of a similar type. Inwardly, [Mike] Hendrick sensed he was considered not good enough.”
He eventually moved to Derbyshire. It was strange that he would play cricket for the first time in his birth county (and the county that would go on to shape his career at an age of over 20). After a month’s trial Hendrick made his First-Class debut against Oxford University at Derby, picking up two wickets for 49. He later said that he had spent the trial period often bowling alone in the nets at the off-stump till he became able to hit it on a consistent basis.
After two matches in 1969 he had probably dreamed of a longer run in 1970. However, a sore shin affected him throughout the season, and he was restricted to only five matches that season. He impressed with a spell of four for 77 against Sussex at Buxton, but did little else of note.
The injury persisted for the next season — but so did Hendrick. He played 13 matches, picking up 21 wickets at 33.09. He was still without a First-Class five-for, and was perhaps a tad fortunate in winning the Derbyshire cap next season.
The ascent began in 1972: a spell of three for 16 against Oxford University at the University Parks seemed to be a great start, but things did not seem right for him as the season progressed. Then, with Ward breaking down, he suddenly found form mid-season.
It started at Trent Bridge where he, spearheading the attack, picked up six for 43 — his first five-for — to rout Nottinghamshire for 149. Later that month he bowled unchanged through the Northamptonshire innings on an overcast day at Chesterfield to bowl them out for 97. He picked up eight for 50 himself. With two more wickets in the second innings he acquired his first ten-for.
Towards the end of the season he was at it again with figures of seven for 65 and two for 24 against Somerset at Chesterfield. He finished the season with 58 wickets from 20 matches at 23.00. Suddenly, from a nobody, Hendrick had become a name at national level in the span of a single season.
He had tasted blood by now; in Derbyshire’s opening match next season Hendrick picked up eight for 45 and three for 53 against Warwickshire at Chesterfield. They remained his career-best innings and match hauls. The deluge of wickets continued, and Hendrick bettered his 1973 effort with 66 wickets at 20.53 from 21 matches. Why, he also scored his career-best of 46 against Essex at Chelmsford that season! His efforts made him the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year.
ODI and Test debut
Towards the end of 1973 Hendrick made his ODI debut against West Indies at Headingley. Opening bowling with Willis he finished with a tidy 11-4-27-1 (Vanburn Holder being his first international wicket) as West Indies were bowled out for 181. He walked out to bat at nine for the only time in his international career with 11 runs to win and was clean bowled by Keith Boyce five runs later, leaving Willis and Derek Underwood to finish the job.
By the time the Indians had arrived in England that season Hendrick was already being considered a Test prospect. He made his debut in the first Test on a lively Old Trafford pitch. He picked up three for 57 in the first innings and was asked to share the new ball with Willis in the second, ahead of Chris Old. He had Farokh Engineer caught behind this time.
It was in the first innings of the Test, however, that he effected the famous dismissal of Madan Lal. Hendrick was brought back and he sent down a wide delivery first-up; the ball, 56 overs old, was caught by a strong wind and swerved in absurdly; poor Madan Lal was left clueless as the ball off-stump uprooted. But that was not all: on its way it grazed the middle-stump and flattened the leg-stump. The batsman must have been horror-stricken when he had turned around to find only the middle-stump standing!
Hendrick picked up three for 46 in the first innings at Lord’s but got to bowl a solitary over in the second as India capitulated rather meekly for 42. Hendrick led the route to the whitewash in the next Test at Birmingham where England won by an innings losing only two wickets in the Test: he finished with four for 28 and three for 43. The first-innings figures would remain his career-best.
Hendrick finished the series with 14 wickets at 15.35, finishing next to only Old in terms of both wickets and average. This was followed by a decent two-Test outing against Pakistan as well; he had six wickets at 32.50. However, like most English cricketers he had a terrible Ashes tour of 1974-75 and was dropped for the return Ashes. Things looked bleaker when he failed in the 1976 Wisden Trophy at home as well.
Hendrick knew that 1977 would turn out to be the make-or-break season for him. He had set his eye on the Ashes and had an excellent start against the tourists: playing for MCC at Lord’s he routed the Australians twice with four for 28 and four for 32. Immediately afterwards he routed Middlesex for 54 with a spell of six for 19 at Ilkeston.
As Derbyshire’s new leader Eddie Barlow seemed to rediscover the Hendrick of old. A spell of five for 28 to bowl out Northamptonshire for 72 at their den earned Hendrick a spot for the third Test at Trent Bridge in what turned out to be Botham’s debut. With figures of two for 46 and two for 56 he had been able to impress the selectors enough to earn a place for the next Test at Headingley.
The Headingley Test is generally remembered as the one where England regained the Ashes, and most importantly, as the one where Geoff Boycott became the first cricketer to have scored his hundredth First-Class hundred in a Test — that too in front of his home crowd.
Despite the fact that Boycott’s innings (he was last out in a total of 436) played a major role in regaining the Ashes, Hendrick probably played a bigger role. He bowled unchanged in the first innings; picking up four for 41 as Australia crashed to 101; when they followed-on Hendrick shared the lion’s burden again, picking up four for 54 to bowl them out for 248.
The eight for 95 here remained his best match haul. Wisden wrote that Hendrick had “undermined the opposition”. He finished the series with two more wickets at The Oval and his series haul read 14 wickets at 20.71. Despite playing only three Tests he finished only next to Willis in terms of wickets.
Hendrick played 21 matches in 1977 season and picked up 67 wickets at 15.94 despite picking up only two five-fors. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
He played a crucial yet unnoticed role in the retaining of the Ashes in 1978-79. He never picked up more than three wickets in an innings (or more than five in a Test) but still finished with 19 wickets from five Tests at an astounding 15.73 and an economy rate of 1.64. He finished second in all three columns after Geoff Miller.
This was the series that characterised Hendrick the most: never in the limelight, Hendrick was happy to play the mean, miser support cast who would put a stranglehold that tightened its noose around the Australian necks with every passing day of the series. Miller and Hendrick had epitomised Derbyshire cricket like few had in the famous 5-1 Ashes victory Down Under.
Back home he had another impressive series against India, picking up 12 wickets from four Tests at 15.00 and an economy rate of 1.46. At Edgbaston he returned figures of two for 36 and four for 45 as India slumped to an innings-defeat: it turned out to be their only defeat in the series.
The World Cup
England had a good World Cup, and Hendrick played a part in almost every match, playing a key role in their ascent to the final, though he is unfortunately remembered for being at the receiving end of Viv Richards’ iconic six of the last ball of the West Indian innings in the final.
It could have been a different story altogether for England and Hendrick, especially after the start they had to the tournament. A spell of 12-2-24-0 helped strangle Australia at Lord’s and Canada turned out to be a pushover at Old Trafford. The Headingley match against Pakistan, however, was a crucial one — as the winner of the match would be able to avoid West Indies in the semifinal.
It all seemed over England were restricted to 165 for nine in the stipulated 60 overs. Hendrick rose to the occasion and maintained the stranglehold with Willis: an uncharacteristically uncomfortable Majid Khan edged one, Mudassar Nazar was trapped leg-before second ball, and Sadiq Mohammad was clean bowled. Hendrick had managed to reduce Pakistan to 28 for three.
Having replaced Willis at the other end Botham took out two wickets as well before Hendrick had Haroon Rasheed caught at slip. Pakistan were in tatters at 34 for six: they eventually recovered to 151 but still lost by 14 runs, and Hendrick was named the Man of the Match with figures of 12-6-15-4.
He picked up Jeremy Coney early in the semifinal against New Zealand at Old Trafford, and when Warren Lees and Lance Cairns threatened to take the match away with two sudden sixes he removed both men in quick succession. England won the match by nine runs to proceed to the final.
Richards had walked out with the score on 22 for one. Hendrick recalled that he hit him first ball on his pads in front of all three stumps but the umpire turned down the appeal. “I could not believe it and neither could Viv [Richards]. And Viv looked at me and I looked at him and he just pursed his lips. And as I walked back to my mark, the lads on the balcony have seen a replay and they’re all giving me the thumbs up. So he should have been out first ball.”
The rest is history. Richards and Collis King massacred the hapless bowlers as West Indies reached 286 for nine; Hendrick picked up two for 50 (including clean bowling Alvin Kallicharran) but Mike Brearley’s unfathomable defensive strategy saw England lose by 92 runs.
Hendrick finished the World Cup with ten wickets at 14.90: the wicket count was the highest for any country in the 1979 World Cup, and only Michael Holding had a better bowling average. He also returned an economy rate of 2.66.
Derbyshire gave Hendrick his benefit season in 1980. It raised £ 36,050 pounds. However, it was from this season that his Test career began to go downhill steadily. He picked up his only hat-trick against the touring West Indians early in the season at Chesterfield by removing Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, and Joel Garner.
The Tests, however, turned out to be a different story altogether: Hendrick picked up two wickets from the first two Tests and was dropped from the rest. He disappointed in the Centenary Test at Lord’s as well, picking up a solitary wicket for the cost of 120 runs.
England scored 248 for six at The Oval In the first ODI of the two-match Prudential Trophy. Botham decided to open with Old and Robin Jackman; he himself came on first-change and even brought on Graham Gooch. Then came Hendrick: he clean bowled Allan Border, had Greg Chappell caught-behind, and bowled Graham Yallop in a short burst; from 68 for two Australia had slumped to 75 for five.
The next wicket saw 86 runs being added before Hendrick was brought back again; he immediately removed Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee in successive deliveries. Australia finished with 225 for eight and Hendrick with five for 31. He became the first English bowler to take an ODI five-for. It took three years for another Englishman to emulate the feat, and 12-and-a-half years for an English seamer to do so.
England won the series after winning the second ODI by 47 runs. Hendrick picked up three for 54 and finished the series with eight wickets from two matches at 10.62. However, this was still 1980, and ODIs were yet to be taken seriously in England, which meant that his achievements did not really count.
Then came the 1981 Ashes — Hendrick bowled Yallop and Trevor Chappell in the first innings at Trent Bridge but did nothing else and England lost the Test. England included John Emburey in lieu of Hendrick at Lord’s: the Test was drawn. With Willis injured Hendrick was almost a certainty for the third Test at Headingley.
When Alec Bedser broke the news to Willis the Warwickshire fast bowler was shell-shocked. He insisted that he played while Brearley refused to include an injured player. Eventually it was decided that Willis would be able to play only if he played the 40-over match the next day (Sunday), bowled 12 straight overs in the nets on Monday, and also played for the Second XI on Tuesday.
On Wednesday it was announced that Willis would play the Headingley Test. The invitation to Hendrick was not sent at all. Willis famously routed Australia with eight for 43, and with England winning three Tests on a row Hendrick was out of contention.
Hendrick made a comeback in the last Test at The Oval when Old was injured. He picked up four for 82 in the second innings (including three top-order batsmen). He played three ODIs that season as well, picking up only two wickets but finishing with an economy rate of 2.54.
The rebel tour
Money was always a crucial driving factor for Hendrick. He once said: “For too long, too many counties have taken advantage of players’ in-built love of the game. Well, a brain surgeon loves his job, no doubt, but he gets well paid for his skill. I like to think I am now a craftsman who has served most of his apprenticeship, but I know I will never stop learning.”
It was probably this that led him to become a part of the rebel tour of South Africa in 1981-82. The team also included the likes of Boycott, Underwood, Gooch, Old, Emburey, and Alan Knott. As things turned out, Hendrick played only two matches, picked up four wickets, and lost the chance to play for England forever.
Hendrick got a contract from Nottinghamshire in 1982 and played for three more seasons. He played 34 matches spanning over three seasons and bowled brilliantly in each and every one of them; he picked up exactly 100 wickets for Nottinghamshire at 16.81 and was easily one of the best bowlers in the country at that point.
By the time Hendrick reached his last season the Nottinghamshire attack was led by Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice, which meant that Hendrick was reduced to bowling first-change (or sometimes second-change, behind Kevin Cooper). Hendrick announced his retirement that season: even in his last match he routed Hampshire for 127 with figures of 18.1-12-17-5 at Bournemouth.
Hendrick began his post-retirement life as a not-too-successful car salesman. He switched jobs frequently before finding a job for BBC’s Radio Trent. He did the match reports on Saturdays and also worked for Test Match Special. It was during this stint that he uttered the line “I thought he was going to dive and decapitate himself- badly.”
He always had a sense of humour, which made the migration as an after-dinner speaker seamless. He had earlier christened his Derbyshire colleague Ole Mortensen (of Danish origin) as Eric Bloodaxe. The name stuck. On the dreaded 1974-75 he had gone out with David Lloyd and had come back armed with stink bombs, invisible inks, and explosive cigars and cigarettes from a toy-shop.
Hendrick eventually found his foothold back in the role of a coach. He coached Ireland from 1995 to 2000; during his stint Ireland managed to blast away a strong Middlesex outfit with a 46-run victory in their opening match in the 1997 Benson & Hedges Cup at Dublin.
In 1999 Ireland won a European Competition and for the first time, the Triple Crown, when they beat Wales, Scotland, and an amateur English side in the same season for the first time. This was followed by a stint with Scotland.
In April 2004 Hendrick was appointed the bowling coach of Derbyshire — a post that he held for four seasons. In October 2009 he replaced Heath Streak as the fast-bowling coach for Zimbabwe. From 2011 he has been working as the bowling coach for Nottinghamshire.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)