If I could live one day again, it would be the 1981 NatWest Trophy final
THE winners' dressing room after a final at Lord's is a happy place, not one to burst into tears.
But that's what I did 30 years ago when Derbyshire beat Northamptonshire in the first NatWest Trophy.
It could be ascribed to the tension and emotion of the day because Derbyshire won by the tightest of margins, having lost fewer wickets with the scores tied.
But those feelings must have been far keener in those directly involved. Further explanation is required.
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I was already going about my business, collecting reactions for Monday's Derby Evening Telegraph, when Colin Tunnicliffe came in from the balcony with his medal.
The expression on his face caused me to crack, a mixture of joy, pride and, the crucial element, astonishment that this was happening to him.
The left-arm seam bowler first played for Derbyshire in 1973, a local man coming out of the Border League, but the step up to the first-class game proved too much and he was released after a couple of seasons.
Derbyshire kept an eye on him and he was back on the staff in 1977, having a taste of Eddie Barlow's inspiring captaincy.
Gradually he began to take wickets, perhaps through discovering extra nip and a touch of late in-swing. Tunnicliffe became a valuable member of the side, especially with his occasionally destructive batting.
It was a good story to write because, in success or failure, he remained the most affable and amusing of companions. All those things went through my mind as his wonderment was so obvious and, although embarrassed by my sudden sobbing, I could not feel ashamed.
Tunnicliffe was in at the death, when Derbyshire needed a single to win from the last ball of the 60 overs, to be bowled by Jim Griffiths. He managed to get enough on it to nudge the ball into a safe enough position for Geoff Miller, now England's national selector, to complete a personal best between the wickets, dive in and then lift his arms in triumph.
It was Derbyshire's first success since they were County Champions in 1936. That is the magnitude of the occasion.
There were so many strands in a day that Derbyshire followers who are old enough will never forget.
Although it was the first to be sponsored by NatWest, the knock-out competition had been a part of the summer since 1963 as the Gillette Cup. NatWest have been good friends to cricket ever since.
In one way it was a typical Derbyshire season, as mid-term changes of captaincy were frequent in that era.
Miller was captain for the first two rounds and was then replaced by Barry Wood. At 38, Wood was still a fine player, a sound batsman, bowler of wobbling medium pace, accompanied by yelping appeals, and an excellent close catcher.
He had wide experience of the one-day game with Lancashire, who were upset when he left immediately after a profitable benefit season.
Wood had an acute cricket brain but was less good at understanding people and the NatWest campaign remained his finest hour. He suddenly resigned as captain only a few wet weeks into the 1983 season and the young Kim Barnett took over.
There was further experience in David Steele, engaged from Northamptonshire, and two splendid overseas batsmen, New Zealander John Wright and South African Peter Kirsten.
Add Bob Taylor, one of the best wicketkeepers the world has ever seen, plus home grown talent in Alan Hill, Mike Hendrick and emerging fast bowler Paul Newman, and it can be seen there was a good balance, especially with the miserly Yorkshire seam of Steve Oldham to play his part in reaching Lord's.
In the first round, Derbyshire beat Suffolk easily at Bury St Edmunds. Kirsten led the way with an unbeaten 86 as Worcestershire were beaten by four wickets at New Road.
A home quarter-final against Nottinghamshire on a slow pitch taking spin presented more problems. Derbyshire were limited to 164, with Mike Bore's 12 overs yielding only 18 runs.
When Notts reached 75 for one in the 28th over, an exit loomed. Then Wood had Derek Randall lbw, the first of four wickets to fall while eight were added.
Derbyshire never relaxed their grip and won by 23 runs. Although Richard Hadlee hit 14 off one over from Steele, the left-arm spinner's other 11 cost only nine.
The thrilling semi-finals had the new sponsors purring, although two unfashionable counties went through. The ties were so tense that public interest was quickened.
At Northampton, Lancashire were beaten by one wicket with a ball to spare as Griffiths, statistically then the worst batsman in county cricket, played 29 balls in helping Tim Lamb to add the necessary 13 for the last wicket.
Weather took Derbyshire's home game against Essex into a second day. Wood put Essex in on a pitch made for seam bowlers and they were reduced to 78 for six before Norbert Phillip's 42 helped them to 149. As Wright and Kirsten fell before bad light curtailed play at 13 for two, the target obviously presented problems.
Barnett gave notice of the batsman he would become with a splendid 59 but Taylor, who had set a competition record with six dismissals, and Newman needed 11 off the final over, bowled by Phillip.
Newman's crucial boundary through mid-wicket off the fifth ball shifted the odds and he played the last one towards point.
Phillip retrieved it and, instead of finding Brian Hardie, over the stumps at the bowler's end, went for a direct hit and missed as Newman made his ground. The scores were level but Derbyshire had lost fewer wickets and so won in what turned out to be a rehearsal for Lord's.
If Derbyshire were pleased to avoid the experienced Lancashire team in the final, they may have had second thoughts at lunch when Northants, put in, were 133 for one from 39 overs.
It was time to tuck into the sponsors' excellent catering and hope the final total was not out of sight, especially as Allan Lamb, capable of butchering any attack, had joined Geoff Cook after Wayne Larkins fell to Miller's fine running catch on the mid-wicket boundary.
Tunnicliffe's first three overs cost 23 and there was a fear that a bowler was being taken out of the equation, all the more serious as Hendrick was suffering from a side strain and did remarkably well to complete his allocation.
To Tunnicliffe's great credit, his other nine overs went for only 19 as Derbyshire battled back.
A key moment was Miller's direct hit from the covers to run out Lamb. It was a close decision and, although Cook went on to complete a century, an end was open.
The door was further ajar when Richard Williams straight drove Miller and Hill, in the deep, made ground, took off and held a marvellous catch in mid air.
Hill, Bud to one and all, was a conscientious and effective opening batsman but rarely given to the spectacular on a cricket field.
Northants closed at 235 for nine and Derbyshire were well on their way with a second wicket stand of 123 between Wright and Kirsten. But when both were out in an over by Neil Mallender, the balance shifted.
Wood and Barnett reached double figures but Tunnicliffe joined Miller with 23 needed to win or, given the lesson of the semi-final, 22 to level the scores.
While Griffiths kept it tight at one end, Sarfraz Nawaz was going all round the field at the other, battered through the covers and driven first bounce to the pavilion by Tunnicliffe.
In a moment of tense silence, I heard a shout of encouragement from the unmistakable voice of Dave Owen, teacher and local cricketer.
All was set for the final scamper at 7.38. Derbyshire were winners but, alas, it was an end rather than a beginning although one outcome was the completion of the County Ground pavilion, driven through by the energy of Tony Blount and Roy Osbourne on the committee.
There was a clue in the dressing-room when Wright plaintively said to me: "I think Kirsy and I made a contribution, didn't we?"
Only later did I realise that Wood had upset them in the moment of triumph. The side soon broke up and it required years of reconstruction by Barnett and coach Phil Russell before Derbyshire were again competitive.
In my 32 years at Northcliffe House, I saw Derby County win two League titles and reach the semi-finals of the European Cup. I enjoyed Brian Clough and Peter Taylor and, like the rest of Derby, was devastated when they left.
Dave Mackay and Des Anderson performed a miracle to take the Rams to the top again, with the directors far luckier than they deserved to be.
After decline and insolvency, there was a remarkable rise under Arthur Cox and Roy McFarland but it was also the start of the Robert Maxwell era.
In summers, I watched Derbyshire win the Sunday League in 1990, the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1993 and finish second in the County Championship, under Dean Jones, in 1996.
I was privileged and wish my successors could enjoy similar triumphs.
The Bensons victory over Lancashire was a better performance, made more enjoyable by the churlishness of the losers (with the distinguished exception of Mike Watkinson), but if I could live one day again, it would be the 1981 NatWest Trophy final.
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