DEREK ASLETT, the former Kent batsman, talks to MARK PENNELL about his county career and his life since those playing days…
Mop-topped and bespectacled, Derek Aslett was every inch a cricketer of the 1980s who, after his playing days, might have made a living as a Leo Sayer lookalike.
As it was, Aslett turned to the antiques trade in, of all places, Western Australia where, now aged 56, he runs Empire Antiques stores in the suburbs of North Perth and Fremantle – 9,000 miles and a lifetime away from Dover, where he went to the town’s Grammar School.
Cricket must have seemed all so simple when, on August 29, 1981, aged 23, Aslett scored an unbeaten 146 on first-class debut against at Dean Park in Bournemouth to help Kent to a comfortable eight-wicket win over Hampshire.
It remains the highest score by a Kent batsman on first-class debut.
Recalling his county bow, Aslett said: “I remember almost being run out for nought after I tried to call Laurie Potterthrough fora very nervous run to gully.
"Fortunately, Paul Terry, who I now see quite a bit of out here in Australia, missed the stumps with his shy.
“I think it’s fair to say that if Paul had hit the stumps my career at Kent might have been over, but thankfully I went on and, in time, paid back the faith Colin Page put in me, as well as Alan Ealham, who had somehow got me into the side.”
Aslett added: “I also remember Johno (Graham Johnson) helping me through the nervous nineties and,after getting to my hundred, hitting John Stephenson over cover for six.
“I didn’t get to bed until rather late that night after the celebrations at Dover Cricket Club,all of which made running singles with Asif Iqbal in the following day’s Sunday League match a bit of a challenge!
“The standard in the first team was quite a bit higher than Second XI cricket but the better wickets made life easier. However, there was a huge difference when the opposition had a real quick in their side, which most counties had in those days, or a quality spinner like Phil Edmonds.”
In 1983, Aslett went on to score 168 and 119 in the same game against Derbyshire at Chesterfield. In all that season, Aslett – nicknamed ‘Dazzler’ by the team – scored 1,437 runs at an average of 43.54 and was awarded his county cap.
Aslett said: “1983 was my best season, although I didn’t play my first game until the beginning of June at Hove where Eldine Baptiste and I both scored hundreds to chase down a target set by Sussex.
“I felt my best innings that year, however, was in the last Sunday League game at Taunton which, if we’d won, could have given us the title.
“I scored a century to give us a reasonable total after we’d made a poor start, but unfortunately for us, Viv Richards survived an lbw shout on nought, when appearing plumb, and he went on to win the game for them.”
In the following summer, 1984, Aslett struck a memorable career-best of 221 not out to save Kent from probable defeat against the touring Sri Lankans at St Lawrence.
Kent had much the worst of the opening two days and were made to follow-on 158 runs in arrears after the visitors had posted 340 courtesy of an Arjuna Ranatunga hundred and a stylish 59 from an 18-year-old Aravinda de Silva, playing in only his fifth first-class match.
At 29 for two second time around, things appeared bleak for Kent until Aslett joined forces with Mark Benson and then Graham Johnson in order to save the game.
Recalling that August day 30 years ago, Aslett said: “I vaguely remember Aravinda’s batting and I think he had a brother who bowled leggies, but yes, I will always remember my knock.
“I recall so clearly, after reaching 150, getting into a zone where I felt I could hit the ball anywhere I wanted to, and I can only remember batting like that a few times throughout my career.”
Described – unfairly in his view – in the History of Kent Cricket (Volume 3) as an “unorthodox right-hander, particularly strong on the offside and reliant on variations of the square cut”, Aslett went on to score a dozen hundreds for the county.
“I`ve never been too happy about that description of my batting and, I must say, it could have been written with a lot more generosity of spirit,” said Aslett.
“It made me sound like one of those old pre-war amateurs who clearly only appeared during the school holidays and who all seemed to average 20 at most. They might have said it was his only shot,but that it was a good one!”
Yet he added: “There is some truth to it as I relied on the cut quite a bit, particularly against the quicker bowlers,but quite honestly I couldn’t see any other way of scoring runs against 90 to 100mph bowlers who refused to pitch it up!
“I relied on the cut and improvising because I didn’t have the technique to force a good length ball off the back or front foot, so I found it quite hard when medium pacers bowled a consistent length.
“I did have a few more shots other than the cut, but maybe the author of History of Kent played for The Mote, Beckenham or Sevenoaks Vine, as they’ve always had a problem with us Dover boys!”
Though five years separated Aslett from fellow Dover Grammar School prodigy, Chris Penn, the pair became firm friends in the St Lawrence dressing room.
“Chris and I travelled to games together a lot of the time and we often shared driving Knotty to away games in his 1970s Volvo. It was all good fun and very entertaining.
“We were lucky as the changing room at Kent always had a good mix of characters from all walks of life and all the guys were good to play with.
"It was a real privilege to play with the likes of Deadly, Knotty and Bob Woolmer, who were not only great players but very willing to encourage and pass on knowledge.
“I roomed most of the time with Eldine Baptiste, who was a brilliant bloke. He played the game in such an unselfish way. He always played every situation for the team, rather than for his average.
“As far as batting mentors went, Brian Luckhurst was very helpful, particularly with regards to playing against spin, but Bob Woolmer was a mentor technique-wise. Knotty was great for some innovative methods, particularly against genuine fast bowling, and so was Chris Tavare. They were a great bunch.”
After playing 119 first-class games for the county between 1981 and 1987, Aslett was released by the county and retired from the game with 6,128 runs to his name at an average of 34.23.
The following year Aslett emigrated to Perth with his Australian wife Bernadine for a new life and a family adventure that now includes a brace of antique shops.
Aslett said: “I have always been interested in antiques as my mother’s family have been in the furniture trade since the 1890s.
"The antiques world also provides a working way of life that isn’t so mainstream or really that nine-to-five, which seemed attractive at the time and still does.
“We now have two shops that are family-operated and which specialise in English and French furniture from the 18th Century onwards. I manage to get back to the UK a couple of times a year on buying trips which also keeps me in touch with events at Kent.
“Down the years there are so many things I wish I hadn’t bought. Mark Benson always used to try to sell me stuff but fortunately I never bought anything from him, otherwise I'm sure I would have been done over!
“I once sold a huge pair of large binoculars from a Japanese World War Two warship for 300 US dollars.
“The guy who bought them came into my shop a couple of years later and told me they had been valued by Sotherbys at 33,000 US dollars! That’s how the trade goes: some days you win, others you lose – just like cricket.”