The Derbyshire squad months before John Wright’s debut © Getty Images Back, from left: John Wright, Tony Borrington, John Walters, Ashley Harvey-Walker, Harold Cartwright, Colin Tunnicliffe, Geoff Miller Front, from left: Fred Swarbrook, Bob Taylor, Eddie Barlow, Mike Hendrick, Philip Russell
The Derbyshire squad months before John Wright’s debut © Getty Images
Back, from left: John Wright, Tony Borrington, John Walters, Ashley Harvey-Walker, Harold Cartwright, Colin Tunnicliffe, Geoff Miller
Front, from left: Fred Swarbrook, Bob Taylor, Eddie Barlow, Mike Hendrick, Philip Russell

John Wright played with distinction for Derbyshire for over a decade. He also played a crucial role in New Zealand’s first ever Test victory over England. However, that win included an incident on February 10, 1978, which, as Abhishek Mukherjee narrates, did not go very well with fellow Derbyshiremen…

It worked either way: John Wright epitomised Derbyshire cricket as much as anyone did, and Derbyshire was probably the most ideal home away from home for Wright. Indeed, he scored over 10,000 runs for them at over 44.

At that point Derbyshire County Cricket Club had the least membership count among all counties, and was perhaps by far the least glamorous of them all (though Northamptonshire would have given them a fair run). Wright was gritty and painstaking to watch, but was a pain when he got stuck. He seldom got his runs quickly, but was that immovable, old-fashioned opener who refused to budge.

After a decent home season for Northern Districts, Wright made his Test debut against England at Wellington in the first Test of the series. The England pace attack — Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Chris Old, and Wright’s county teammate Mike Hendrick — was an extremely potent one.

Geoff Boycott put New Zealand in. With the wind behind, Willis steamed in; Robert ‘Jumbo’ Anderson let Wright take first strike. Wright took guard from umpire Robert Monteith: he was ready to take Willis on.

The first ball pitched on a length on leg and middle and moved away. It took Wright’s edge and went to the big gloves of his Derbyshire teammate Bob Taylor. They all went up in unison — everyone barring Monteith, that is.

There was obviously no question of walking (who walks after the umpire gives you not out off the first ball of your Test career?). “I knew no one walked in Test cricket,” Wright would later recall.

The Englishmen were obviously unhappy, but probably understood (what would they, or anyone have done..?). The slip fielders obviously did not remain quiet, but Wright stayed put. As things turned out, he eventually top-scored with an excruciating 244-ball 55 on a deteriorating pitch. New Zealand reached 228 as Old took 6 for 54. They scored at 1.94 an over.

Then Richard Hadlee and Richard Collinge knocked England over for 215. Boycott outscored Wright with a 302-ball 77 as England crawled along at a rate of 1.7. All this involved three days of cricket. New Zealand were shot out for 123 after the rest day by Willis (5 for 32). Wright’s 105-ball 19 was not a poor effort under the circumstances.

The target was a paltry 137, but New Zealand had Hadlee. Collinge started the damage: he got Boycott and Derbyshire’s Geoff Miller quickly, forced Brian Rose to leave with a blow on the right arm, and got Derek Randall as well. Then Hadlee, bowling unchanged with figures of 13.3-4-26-6 (8-ball overs), demolished England for 64.

It was the first time New Zealand beat England in a Test match. They celebrated, and Wright became an instant hero, but there is a little postscript to the story.

When Wright returned to Derbyshire the following English summer, his teammates had a little surprise waiting for him. It is not known whether Miller, Hendrick, and Taylor (all of whom were playing the Test) had a hand in this, but one can always make a guess.

The gift turned out to be a packet of Walkers potato chips.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 228 (John Wright 55; Chris Old 6 for 54) and 123 (Bob Willis 5 for 32) beat England 215 (Geoff Boycott 77; Richard Hadlee 4 for 74, Richard Collinge 3 for 42) and 64 (Richard Collinge 3 for 35, Richard Hadlee 6 for 26) by 72 runs.