Saturday, 9 June 2012


“You need a big heart to bowl quick. It’s hard work.”
Ole Mortensen

For a teenager from Staffordshire keen to watch first-class cricket in the second half of the 1980s, Derbyshire was the natural destination, the logical team to support. This was even more the case after they signed a deal with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to play some home Sunday League games on ‘foreign’ soil: at Leek, Checkley, Cheadle and Knypersley. I duly persuaded my Dad – still keeping wicket for Leycett then although right at the end of his cricket-playing days – that we should go and watch. Given the lack of elegance and/or genius among the Derby batting ranks (John Morris was aesthetically the easiest on the eye; Kim Barnett, Peter Bowler, and Chris Adams all effective) the primary attraction was the ferocious pace of the scattergun Devon Malcolm and fluid, feline Michael Holding (then later Ian Bishop, quite awesome before his stress fractures).

However, what most compelled my young imagination was a slightly inelegant, glowering Dane, a bustling heart-on-sleeve merchant whose skill and exoticism (a relative concept, of course) was utterly captivating. Bowling from quite wide on the crease and almost always pitching the ball up, the gunslinger Mortensen would get splice-thudding bounce and late away swing at a lively fast-medium. Seared into my memory is the sight of the ball hitting the seam on the grassy Derby surface and zipping over top of off peg, the batsman a Sardine tin wondering why his tuck off the hips into square leg hadn’t materialized, as the red pill, now halfway to the ‘keeper (foghorn-voiced and Danish-named Karl Krikken), canted itself to the perfect angle to swing a touch before thwacking in to the mitts. Decent.

Perhaps thought of as a cult figure – and, let’s face it, there haven’t been too many world-class Scandinavian pacemen – it would be a grave error to remember the primal appeals and occasionally gauche sledging (his skipper, Kim Barnett recalls a favourite line of the Dane’s, “do you know how to use that bat?” being said to DI Gower on 120 not out, who pointed to the scoreboard) and to construe these idiosyncrasies as traits of some sort of buffoonish character. Not so. Barnett, his skipper for the twelve years he spent in county cricket, rated him very, very highly. Of the 29 seamers who debuted for England between 1983 and 1994*, the time Mortensen was with the Peakites, Barnett believes only Caddick and Fraser were better bowlers, with Neil Foster, Gladstone Small and Steve Watkin as ‘maybes’. 

Anyway, it was looking back at these young memories and one of the first cricketing heroes of mine that led to my first article for Cricinfo. You can read the article here:

Suffice to say Ole was a charming and ego-free bloke, respectfully listening when I spoke, answering the questions thoughtfully and being humble about what he had achieved in the game. I buttonholed Michael Holding at Trent Bridge and asked him about him, and he was full of praise for both his character and ability. The two remain friends and the Jamaican will be popping over to Denmark in September for a visit.

Ole, a Liverpool supporter, emailed me today, offering “a quick delivery on off stump to say I have read the article with a great big smile on my face” and telling me that he would be supporting England against the French after Denmark’s surprise win over the Dutch, the European country that, in cricketing terms, has left the Danes behind. 

Denmark, 1986
The 1980s and 1990s were the golden era of Danish football: in the European Championships of 1992, they famously replaced Yugoslavia, a nation coming apart at the seams, and beat Germany 2-0 in Gothenburg. But the better team was the so-called Danish Dynamite of 1986, the team of Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjaer, Frank Arnesen, Soren Lerby, Morten and Jesper Olsen, a team so beloved of football romantics and regularly bracketed with the Hungarians of the 1950s, Dutch of the 1970s and Brazil of 1982 as among the great purveyors of the beautiful game never to have won a trophy. Indeed, their 4-2 victory over Russia on June 5, 1985 is considered the true zenith of Danish football.

Well, the true zenith of Danish cricket was undoubtedly the big seamer from Copenhagen, loved by teammates and supporters alike, and probably equal first with Brian Lara as my favourite-ever cricketer.

* List of England  quick-bowling debutants: 83-94 

Neil Foster
Tony Pigott
Jonathan Agnew
Richard Ellison
Arnie Sidebottom
Les Taylor
Greg Thomas
Neil Radford
Gladstone Small
Phil DeFreitas
David Capel
Paul Jarvis
David Lawrence
Phil Newport
Angus Fraser
Devon Malcolm
Alan Igglesden
Chris Lewis
Neil Williams
Steve Watkin
Dermot Reeve
Tim Munton
Neil Mallender
Paul Taylor
Andy Caddick
Mark Illott
Martin McCague
Martin Bicknell
Craig White


David Mutton said...

Congrats on your Cricinfo debut - I am sure it will be the first of many!

Scott Oliver said...

ah, thank you very much, Sir!

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