Mike Denness: Cricketer who famously dropped himself from the team as captain of England

After he had sanctioned six Indian players in 2001, his effigy was burned in the streets

The only Scots-born cricketer to captain England – Douglas Jardine was born in India to Scottish parents and spent part of his childhood in Scotland – Mike Denness played 28 Tests between 1969 and 1975, 19 of them as captain. He later became a Test match referee and found himself embroiled in a bitter controversy.

He was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, and began playing cricket when his family moved to Ayr, where he was educated at Ayr Academy. A stylish batsman, he made his debut for Kent in 1962, and spent most of his career there, making 17,047 first-class runs and captaining the county to six domestic trophies in the 1970s before finishing his career with Essex.

He made his England debut against New Zealand at the Oval in 1969 and replaced Ray Illingworth as captain for the drawn 1974 tour of the West Indies. He made consecutive centuries later that summer as England beat India 3-0, but his captaincy was dogged by a lack of support from senior players, in particular Geoff Boycott, who felt they had been unfairly passed over.

A drawn series with Pakistan followed before England headed to Australia for the 1974-75 Ashes series, in which Denness controversially dropped himself for the fourth Test after making only 65 runs in his first six innings. He returned for the fifth and sixth Tests, making a Test high score of 188 in the latter, but England would lose the series 4-1.

It is fair to say that whoever had been captaining England that winter could hardly have hoped to fare better, giving the destructive appetite of the fast-bowling pair of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. As Denness’s predecessor, Ray Illingworth, put it on hearing of his death, “If he was not the most successful England captain, it is only fair to say that not many England sides ran into opponents as fierce as Lillee and Thomson.”

In fact Denness’s decision to drop himself was remarkably brave. “It is difficult to describe how I felt,” he later wrote. “It was probably a mixture of despair, sadness and frustration. If I had had my leg in plaster or my arm in a sling, it would have been different, but I was fully fit.”

When Denness was relieved of his duties the following summer following defeat in the first Ashes Test he received a letter from John Inverarity, Australia’s then chief of selectors, who wrote: “At this moment I am thinking of you, for I admire your attitude to cricket and life. You may or may not know that I am a secondary school teacher. I was asked last February by some students what I considered to be the highlight of the recent England-Australia clash. I was expected to give one of the following as an answer – the speed of Lillee or Thomson, the aggression of these two bowlers, the crushing defeat of the ‘Poms’, etc. I gave my answer – the conduct, demeanour and example of Mike Denness.”

Denness’s final Test century came shortly after as he helped guide England to a 2-0 series victory over New Zealand but an innings defeat in the first Ashes Test in the summer of 1975 saw him relieved of his duties and exit the Test arena with a batting average of 39.69. He had scored four Test centuries and seven fifties, and also played in 12 one-day-internationals, scoring 264 runs.

He retired in 1980, after 501 first-class and 232 one-day matches, scoring 25,886 runs at an average of 33.48. He went on to earn a living in insurance, finance and public relations.

He later became an ICC Test referee and caused controversy in 2001 when he gave six Indian players suspended one-match Test bans during the second Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth – four for excessive appealing, Sourav Ganguly for failing to control his players and the team’s star, Sachin Tendulkar, for ball-tampering. The Indian authorities refused to accept the sanctions and selected the six for the next Test. Denness’s decision was met with huge hostility in India, with demonstrations on the streets and effigies of Denness burnt. The Indian Cricket Board threatened to boycott the third Test if he was not replaced as referee.

The ICC supported him but the South African board sided with the Indians and replaced Denness, who was not even allowed to enter the stadium, with Denis Lindsay. The ICC declared the match to be unofficial and classified it as a “friendly five-day match”. The series was officially limited to the two matches already completed, with South Africa named as the 1–0 winners.

It was an appallingly difficult time for Denness, who was accused of racism by the Indians. “It was easier facing Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson,” he said afterwards.

Denness went on to coach the second XI at Kent and served as chairman of the county’s cricket committee. He was in the final week of his year as the club’s president when he died. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1975 and was an honorary member of the MCC. Denness, who died after a long struggle with cancer, was awarded an OBE in this year’s New Years Honours for services to sport.

Michael Henry Denness, cricketer and match referee: born Bellshill, Scotland 1 December 1940; OBE 2013; married Molly (marriage dissolved; one son, two daughters); died London 19 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Application Developer / Software Developer

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Anna Woodward: Invoicing Clerk

£21,500: Anna Woodward: The Accounts Payable team for this group is recruiting...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower