Not every childhood highlight stands the test of time. Were Curly Wurlys really that good? Or Toffos? Or Puffa Puffa Rice? It prompts a faint sense of apprehension as I start to search for my most sacred piece of sporting footage, from Saturday 5 September 1981. And breathe: as well as being awash with glorious distant summer sepia, it retains an emotional resonance like nothing before or since.
The context may need a little explaining. Despite living more than three hours’ drive away, only one cricket team really mattered. Derbyshire CCC had won nothing since 1936. Not only that, there were few more downtrodden underdogs in any team game in Britain. Even now, people unfairly refer to something being “about as much fun as a wet day in Derby”.
It was, admittedly, the case that Derbyshire routinely finished bottom of the County Championship in the 1970s. But tree-ringed Chesterfield was high among the country’s most scenic grounds, Bob Taylor had an irresistible pair of blue wicketkeeping gloves and my pet rabbit was named after Geoff “Dusty” Miller. It had a lucky escape, given Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan also made the shortlist.
Now, finally, there was a chance of validation, both for the Peak District’s finest and my perverse obsession. Courtesy of a madcap last-ball win in the semi-final against Essex, “Derbs” had somehow made it to a sun-baked Lord’s for the NatWest Trophy final. Could they do it? With Derbyshire, it seldom paid to be too optimistic. Soon enough Northants were 99 without loss on a flat, dry pitch, only for a swiping Wayne Larkins to pick out a sun-hatted Miller in front of the Mound Stand. When Allan Lamb was narrowly run out by a direct hit from Miller and a diving Alan Hill pulled off an improbable catch in the deep to remove Richard Williams, the contest was wonderfully poised.
Geoff Cook went on to make a fine 111 but, from 168 for two, Northants were pegged back to a moderate 235 for nine from 60 overs. Derbyshire, in reply, began slowly. John Wright’s autobiography, Christmas in Raratonga, is an uproarious read for connoisseurs of well-told Derbyshire anecdotes but the Kiwi was rather less flamboyant here. The good news was that the dapper Peter Kirsten was at the other end: shirt unbuttoned, chest glistening, the scoreboard ticking over nicely at 164 for one.
Until both went in quick succession to ratchet up the tension significantly. Unlike rugby or football, there is more time in cricket to fear the worst. Miller swung a juicy full toss from Sarfraz Nawaz for a relieving six but Northants gamely clung on. Everything, in the end, hinged on the game’s final delivery: Jim Griffiths to Colin Tunnicliffe with one run needed to tie and earn Derbyshire victory by virtue of losing fewer wickets.
From the boundary rope, it felt as if my whole life was on hold. Sport-obsessed, rural upbringings can do that to you. Up ran Griffiths and bowled to Tunnicliffe. Did it hit his pad or had he got an inside edge? No matter. Miller hurtled up the pitch from the non-striker’s end and, simultaneously, hundreds of us rushed on to the field with no idea of the outcome. Had he made it? Incredibly, a couple of Derbyshire sun-hats were flying in the air. Eureka! If you check out the dopey-looking youth jumping around in front of the Lord’s pavilion at the bottom of the screen, you can still see what teenage nirvana looks like.
In that instant, too, it was clear Superman had a beard and wielded a Gray Nicholls. As the BBC’s Peter West put it: “And there’s Miller, diving for the crease as if he was scoring a rugby try!” Watching it back is to rejoice afresh at the split second when every single planet in the solar system was miraculously aligned. Almost 40 years later I can still recite every word of Barry Wood’s gap-toothed post-match interview – “Total elation for me but I can’t help feeling sorry for Geoff [Cook] here” – and West’s twilight sign-off – “And that’s our first moon shot at Lord’s” – after the highlights. One small footnote in cricket history, maybe, but a giant leap for some of us.