During the 143 years since the club’s formation, just 47 double centuries have been scored for Derbyshire by 28 players. Many of the names of those double centurions are writ large in Derbyshire’s long history, most notably Peter Kirsten, who scored a remarkable six, and Kim Barnett and Chris Rogers who both scored 4.
I’ve had the privilege of watching 27 of those 47, and the first – Eddie Barlow’s 217 v Surrey at Ilkeston in 1976 - was as thrilling as the most recent at Headingley Carnegie by Chesney Hughes.
In between there have been some outstanding double hundreds – John Morris’ 229 on a fast and bouncy Cheltenham track against Gloucestershire’s fiery pace attack which included Courtney Walsh and David Lawrence in 1993; Chris Rogers’ 200 at The Oval in 2010 in the opening game of the season; Kim Barnett’s 210 against Yorkshire at Derby in 1997 as part of a record 417-run 2nd wicket partnership; Mohammad Azharrudin’s 205 at Chesterfield against Durham including 6 sixes in 1994. And each of Peter Kirsten’s double centuries still animate Derbyshire supporters of a certain vintage.
Over two days at Headingley Carnegie, Leeds, on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th April 2013, Chesney Hughes scored 270 not out opening the batting. This was the 36th occasion that a Derbyshire player had carried his bat through a completed innings and it became the 2nd highest individual score in the history of the club.
He scored 40 fours and three sixes and - in one single innings - increased his career batting average from 31.54 to 36.94.
Hughes, 22 years old, had previously scored just four first-class centuries. But he is not alone in scoring a double hundred so early in his career. George Davidson’s 274 – still the record holder from 1896 – was his first ever century, while Pat Vaulkhard’s 264 in 1946 at Trent Bridge was, remarkably, his only first-class hundred.
Hughes’ innings was outstanding, however, for many reasons beyond the statistical. Having played only one of the 16 LV= County Championship games in 2012, he was forced to watch his colleagues from the sidelines as they lifted the 2nd division title. This was despite an encouraging introduction to county cricket in the preceding two seasons when he had scored four centuries and impressed many observers in all forms of the game.
An impressive hundred in Barbados on the pre-season tour ensured he went straight into the side for the division one opener at Edgbaston, but a score of 20, followed by four and nought at Lord’s a week later, meant he was omitted from the side that played Nottinghamshire just one week ago.
Accordingly, when he returned to first team action at Leeds, he was neither in the best form of his career nor sure of his place in the side beyond the game against Yorkshire.
With Wayne Madsen dropping down the order, Hughes opened the batting and - despite losing partner Billy Godleman with the score on 10 - went on to add 258 for the second wicket with his captain, ending the first day on 170.
He batted circumspectly during the first session before playing more expansively during the afternoon session, unleashing his trademark drives through the offside, powerful pulls through mid-wicket and huge, lofted drives over long-on and long-off. He tired during the final session but seemed determined to see off the second new ball in readiness for the second day.
Day two dawned with sunnier, warmer conditions and Hughes was immediately into his stride, passing 200 and going into lunch on 240 with just four players ahead of him on the Derbyshire all-time highest score roll of honour.
With six fielders on the boundary, Hughes struggled to find the rope as frequently. He resorted to pinching singles and began to lose partners. After Madsen; Wainwright, Poynton and Palladino all accompanied Hughes as he passed 250, leaving him with just two players ahead of him in the all-time list.
Pat Vaulkhard’s 264 was seen off and - with his score on 270 - Hughes was eying up the short-ish leg side boundary as Rashid bowled at him from the Football Stand End with just 5 runs required to achieve immortality.
Sadly, the aforementioned leg break bowler trapped Tim Groenewald LBW and Hughes was left stranded on 270 not out. As he walked off, the Yorkshire crowd gave him a deserving and warm standing ovation.
So, how good was Chesney Hughes’ 270 not out?
Well, one has to take into consideration the quality of the Yorkshire attack – Bresnan, Plunkett and Rashid are England Test match bowlers, while Brooks is a regular England Lion and Patterson is no slouch. Hughes was not in the best of form going into the game, and Derbyshire had just lost back to back matches in what had been a tricky start to their division one campaign
Factor in the concentration required to face 415 balls over nine hours and four minutes - plus the wonderful array of boundaries - and one has to put this particular innings right up there as one of the most outstanding innings of all time for Derbyshire.
For this observer, having waited 41 years to see Davidson’s record score overtaken – and seen many great players try…and fail – I had a sneaky feeling that a West Indian left hander might just get close in 2013.
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