Derek Bridge: Giant of Minor Counties cricket

 

Derek Bridge was a man of many parts. By profession, a distinguished schoolmaster of long standing, for more than half a century, he also served the world of cricket with unswerving devotion. Here, his unstinting efforts, both on and off the field, made a most vital contribution to the game at all levels.

The eldest son of an electrical engineer, Bridge enjoyed a somewhat nomadic childhood, educated at Newbury Grammar School, Selhurst Grammar School and The King's School, Peterborough. However, like so many of his generation, his seemingly effortless progress was rudely interrupted by the Second World War. Having served as a captain in the Tank Regiment he returned to his studies, reading English at Hertford College, Oxford.

Although he was a talented right-arm off-spin bowler and resourceful lower-order batsman, his first class cricket career encompassed a mere two months in the summer of 1947. At the beginning of May, he took 2 wickets for 30 runs for Oxford University against Gloucestershire in The Parks.

A month later came the first of three appearances for Northamptonshire as he scored 25 not out against the visiting South African tourists. Two further games quickly followed, a rather uninspiring draw with Surrey at Peterborough and then a trouncing within two days by Warwickshire at Edgbaston, as the legendary leg spinner Eric Hollies ended with match figures of 11-101.

Alongside cricket, Bridge's equally enduring sporting passion remained rugby union. Tall, lithe and extremely quick on his feet, in his day he wasa dashing wing three-quarter. Having been awarded a Blue three years in succession while at Oxford, he went on to play for the Barbarians, Bedford, Richmond, Dorset, Wiltshire, the East Midlands – and on one occasion made the reserve bench for an England international.

In 1948, his talents found a particularly happy and expressive outlet teaching English at Sherborne School. There, over the next four decades, both the breadth of his intellect and the warmth of his personality made him an inspirational guide for countless generations of students. Equally at home in the classroom or on the games field, Bridge influenced all aspects of school life. Having served as an officer in the Combined Cadet Corps, for 21 years he ran the 1st XI Cricket team and, from 1959 until 1974, served as Housemaster of Harper House.

He made his debut for Dorset at Dorchester in July 1949, his first ball in Minor Counties cricket claiming the wicket of the redoubtable Lancashire batsman Cyril Washbrook, caught behind for 15. Captaining the side for 12 seasons from 1954 onwards, his best bowling return of 7 for 40 came at Wimborne in August 1959 and heralded a fine 10-wicket victory over Berkshire. Amid a remarkable 20-year playing career with the county he made 173 appearances, scored almost 3,600 runs and captured 429 wickets.

Soon after retiring from playing, Bridge joined the Dorset committee, serving as secretary from 1977 until 1993. Proving an able administrator with an ordered mind and a keen eye for detail, he also became the first Chairman of the Dorset Cricket Board. At the same time, his expertise found a ready outlet within the management structures of the Minor Counties Cricket Association. In 1993, he succeeded Derek Wing as Chairman of its all-powerful Cricket and Selection Committee.

For many years he represented the Minor Counties Cricket Association, initially on the Test and County Cricket Board and later on its immediate successor, the English Cricket Board. When, during the 1990s, the very future of the MCCA was threatened by the radical restructuring proposals contained within the all-encompassing Maclaurin Report, Bridge proved as adept in committee as he had been out in the middle. Indeed, the very continuation of competitive cricket at minor-counties level bears testimony to his remarkable talents.

It was easy to like Derek Bridge: he was a modest man, pleasant and friendly, his cricket matching his personality, stylish and elegant. A sporting ambassador without equal, for five years between 1997 and 2002 he enjoyed a particularly successful period as President of the Minor Counties Cricket Association. At the time of his death he was the long-serving President of Dorset County Cricket Club.

Derek James William Bridge, schoolmaster and sportsman: born Crumpsall, Manchester 30 November 1921: married 1944 Sheila Chivers (died 2011; one son, two daughters); died Tyn-y-Graig, Builth Wells, Powys 13 March 2012.

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