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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Gentleman Geoff Miller - England's Spin-Doctor!

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007

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`Gentleman’ Geoff Miller, - England’s Spin-Doctor.

At a time when the `gentlemanly’ game of cricket is plagued by rumours of unsavoury behaviour and un-gentlemanly conduct in various parts of the world, it is refreshing to know that English cricket is in the safe, capable and gentlemanly hands of dedicated men like Chesterfield born, Derbyshire and England all-rounder, Geoff Miller.

`England Test Selector'

His appointment by the England & Wales Cricket Board as an England Test Selector was roundly applauded within the game and regarded as justifiable reward for a man who’s dedication, commitment, and sheer love of the game has earned him the respect and admiration of fans and fellow professionals throughout the cricketing world.

`One of an elite band of famous sportsmen who graduated from Chesterfield Grammar School'

One of an elite band of famous sportsmen who `graduated’ from Chesterfield Grammar School, Geoff joined Derbyshire Cricket Club in 1972 and enjoyed a successful playing career which spanned almost two decades and earned him 34 England caps between 1976 and 1982.

A promising footballer in his younger days, Geoff was born within a cricket-ball throw of Saltergate and is a life-long supporter of Chesterfield F.C.

He played junior football for Highfield Hall and Chesterfield Boys, but cricket was his first love and inspired by his father Keith and family friend and mentor Norman Vickers, young Geoff was playing for Cutthorpe and occasionally for his dad’s local NALGO team whilst still at junior school.

At the Grammar School he quickly caught the eye of Sports Master Tony Roberts, also a Chesterfield cricketer, who transformed his young protégé from a seam bowler into a spinner and at 15 Geoff found himself playing alongside his mentor – (and against yours truly!) - for Chesterfield in the Bassetlaw League.

His burgeoning talent was soon recognised and in 1969 Neil Shepherd recommended Geoff for England schoolboy trials.

A proviso for selection in the England schoolboys team to tour India was that players had to be still at school at the time of the tour, and failing his exams had brought into focus the prospect of Geoff leaving school and thus not qualifying for selection.

“My school headmaster, Mr.Price, was very accommodating” explained Geoff; `he arranged for me to stay on and re-sit my exams by creating a special form, Lower Sixth Extra, which consisted of one pupil, - me!

`Of the 40 separate periods in the school week I spent 38 in the gym and two in the art class’ says Geoff, adding, -`but thanks to Mr. Price, I re-sat and passed my O levels and A level art, - and I made the tour to India!”.

Geoff went on to represent England Under 19’s on the 1971 tour to the West Indies and graduated to the Derbyshire 2nd X1.

Upon leaving school he was employed for two years as a Quantity Surveyor by Thornton, Firkin & Partners, and in 1972 he joined the Derbyshire Ground Staff full-time, it was hard work as Geoff recalls:-

`The transformation from junior to senior cricket is never easy, and many youngsters don’t make it’ he says, “the fact that I did is down to the fantastic support of so many people who put their trust in my ability to learn and in my determination to succeed”. Geoff explains: “Though I loved the game I wasn’t gifted with natural ability, so I had to compensate with sheer willpower and hard work, and it’s thanks to dedicated professionals like Jim Brailsford, and Edwin Smith, the bowling coach at the County Ground, that I successfully made the step up to first class cricket”.

Geoff made his first class debut for Derbyshire against Kent at the Queens Park, Chesterfield in 1973. Two years later a change at the County Ground marked a major turning point in his career when in 1975 South African legend Eddie Barlow replaced Bob Taylor as skipper, and Indian spin-wizard Venkat joined the club and became Geoff’s bowling guru.

“Eddie Barlow was a major influence and a great source of inspiration” says Geoff. `He gave me responsibility with both bat and ball and taught me the art and value of the ability to perform well under pressure. He was a forthright, straight-talking and forceful skipper who tried to instil those qualities in his players, and it seemed to work for me”.

Geoff’s positive response paid handsome dividends and between 1976 and 1981 he played the best cricket of his career. He took 60 runs off the famed West Indies pace attack on his test match debut at The Oval in 1976 and thereafter was almost constantly on tour with the England team until 1982, touring New Zealand and Pakistan in 1977 and the West Indies in 1980.

In between he married wife Carol in 1977, and in 1979 was voted `Player of the Tour’ when the victorious England team brought back the Ashes after a thumping 5 – 1 series win in Australia.

Geoff Miller became a world-class off-spin bowler and a handy batsman but recalls how that maiden first class century eluded him: “Making 90’s was no problem, says Geoff, - but I was out in the `nervous’ nineties twelve times before I finally made it”, he chuckles, no doubt remembering with fondness and satisfaction the 130 he scored against Lancashire at Old Trafford.

But perhaps the match that Derbyshire fans remember best of all was the televised 1981 NatWest Trophy Final at Lords when Geoff and Colin Tunnicliffe saw them to victory in a thrilling run chase.

Geoff played for England in the home test series against both Pakistan and India in 1982, and had come full-circle when his test career ended against the West Indies in 1984. He joined Essex in 1986, returning in 1990 to finish his first-class playing career with Derbyshire.

A successful after-dinner speaker for a number of years, Geoff also coaches the England under 12 and under 19 cricket teams, and his passion for the gentlemanly game still burns as fiercely as ever; ask him what his ambitions are and he will tell you: “The same as they have always been, to put the England cricket team back where they belong, - on top of the world”.

Geoff’s appointment as an England test-selector is a great honour; a tribute to his wholehearted dedication, and a measure of the respect engendered in his fellow cricketing professionals by this modest and unassuming gentleman of the game, - nay, noble art - of cricket!

 
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