Steve Dean and Dave Cartledge formed a hugely successful opening partnership on the minor counties circuit. CHRIS TRAVERS talks to the duo about what made them the finest opening pair in Staffordshire and beyond…
DUNSTABLE. Sunday, August 10, 1983. Staffordshire are about to begin their response to Bedfordshire’s 196-9 declared in their two-day Minor Counties Eastern Division game.
Fingers are crossed in the Staffs camp as a new-look opening partnership strides out.
A 27-year-old Dave Cartledge is joined by 22-year-old Steve Dean for the first time at the top of the order in the Championship arena.
Leek batsman Cartledge had been part of the set-up since 1979, while Dean, playing for Cheadle, was making his ninth two-day appearance for Staffordshire.
The pair had opened together for the league XI before, but had never fronted the innings for Staffs.
Usually one of them had nestled in the middle order. But with skipper and regular opener Peter Gill unavailable, they were afforded the opportunity to pair up.
And what followed provided a tantalising glimpse in to what would develop in to arguably the greatest double act in the history of minor counties cricket.
A first-innings stand of 171 was followed by a partnership of 140 second time around as Staffordshire secured a five-wicket win at Bull Pond Lane.
“We’d played for the league XI a few times against the Birmingham League,” said Cartledge.
“We played at Newcastle & Hartshill one day and their attack was Joey Benjamin from one end and Michael Moseley at the other.
“That was a quick attack and we murdered them. We put on 70 or 80 very quickly. It showed we could bat together.
“The first time opening for Staffs was amusing. Beds had a New Zealand seamer called Grant Cederwall. His opening over was quick and he hit Deany on the gloves in front of his face. We looked at each other and went ‘oh my god, what’s this?’
“He then went around the park. When we walked out for the second innings I’m pretty sure Bedfordshire were thinking ‘they won’t do that again’.
“We did… only quicker.”
Dean’s 123 on the Sunday was the first of a county record 19 Championship centuries. And the duo’s treatment of Cederwall lingered long not only in their memories, but that of their victim.
“Dunstable was one of those games,” recalled Dean. “Cederwall bowled quick and they had another bowler called Keith Jones, who never reached you.
“I said to Carlo: ‘I can’t hit Jones, the ball’s not getting to me’. He replied: ‘We’ll have to go back to the old method and run at him’. We hit them all over that day.
“Jon Waterhouse (former Staffs player) went to New Zealand some time later and had a physio appointment.
“The bloke next to him was Grant Cederwall and they started chatting about cricket. Wart explained he played for Staffs and Cederwall said ‘Dean and Cartledge, I still have nightmares about those two’.”
The pair continued their partnership in the next game against Durham, but it wasn’t until Nick Archer became captain in 1985 that the dynamic duo were regularly paired together.
Archer, who had been stand-in skipper for the duo’s bow at Dunstable, says Staffordshire’s strength delayed their relationship.
“When they first came in to the side, David Hancock and Peter Gill were the openers. They batted in the middle order early on,” he explained. “But they were due to open together. They had proved themselves.
“Some people thought it wasn’t a great combination because of the way they played. I think we backed them to play their way and it worked.
“There were some concerns that they would not be as consistent as you’d like. There was the thought that they gave the opposition a chance, but technically they were better than that. They were also clean hitters of the ball.”
Dean concurs with those sentiments – and for all the stories about them bludgeoning opposition attacks, a high price was put on their wickets.
It was a lesson Dean had logged early in his career.
“I got in to cricket pretty late really. I played one game for the county at under-16s and never played again,” he revealed.
“I made it in to the under-19s at the age of 16 after getting 90-odd against Sneyd. Jess Hall was watching and he was the team manager and asked who I was and got me in.
“The first game was against Lancashire at Moddershall. I scored a slow 50 and a bloke called Doug Beckett made 150. It was a terrific knock.
“I thought this was a different game, but I never saw him again. In my time playing for the under-19s, only about three players graduated to the senior side.
“I played in the under-25s with Carlo and Nick. We had a team full of batters. Everyone got out because they were leaving it to other people. That taught me if you get in, you stay in.”
And more often than not Dean and Cartledge stayed in to devastating effect.
Once Archer had taken the reins on a permanent basis, their partnership at the top of the order became set in stone.
“Just playing for Staffordshire and being part of the set-up was fantastic – I didn’t give a monkeys where I batted,” added Dean.
“It was an honour to be in the senior Staffs side. I played with Carlo in the league side and I’d say that I became a better player because of him.
“I could sit in if needed and there were days when it was the other way around. We dovetailed.
“We were ahead of our time. The stuff they do in T20s these days, we were doing it back then.”
Cartledge, who scored nine Championship tons, says the pair both brought different attributes to their partnership.
“He had strengths that I didn’t have and vice versa,” he said.
“Deany played down the ground and pulled and hooked very well because he was smaller in stature. Some players ‘paddle’ short balls, Deany just smashed them.
“I cut well. I would rather have a short ball outside off stump, and I was strong through mid-wicket.
“Anything swinging in, I could play through there. When you’ve got two players who can play all around the wicket, as a bowling side you have mega problems.
“There were times when one of us was unplayable. If a team was unlucky, you got both of us.
“We were pro-active, not reactive and that makes a difference. It’s a mentality thing.”
Pro-active was certainly the word to describe a clash against Lincolnshire at Stone in 1991.
After dealing with business in the field, Dean and Cartledge launched an astonishing assault on the visitors’ attack on the first afternoon.
“We were 110-0 off 10 overs… and the first over was a maiden,” recalls Cartledge, who is now the county’s head of cricket. “Jim Love (Lincs captain) got the ball to come on to bowl and said ‘crikey, this thing is hot’.
“That is the sort of craic that you don’t forget.”
The duo’s blistering start, though, did manage to fool one of their team-mates.
“Blanky (David Blank) came out of the shower after bowling, and looked at the scoreboard,” adds Dean. “It read 110-0. He said ‘bloody scorers, useless, they’ve left the one on from the first innings’.
“He had to be told, ‘no, Blanky, it really is 110-0’.”
“We were ground breaking. You had to score runs quickly because the best teams spend the most time in the field.”
It wasn’t always as easy as that for Staffordshire’s openers.
Dean can readily recall when he could only watch his partner have fun while he struggled to get in to his stride.
“We played Beds and Carlo scored 50-odd at the other end and was out and I was still hadn’t got off the mark,” he said.
“Harshad Patel hit his first ball for four and then was out a couple of deliveries later. So the number four comes in and we’re 60-2 and I’m still on nought!
“Something similar happened in a one-day game against Buckinghamshire at Longton. They had Martin Jean-Jacques, who played for Derbyshire, opening the bowling – and he was very decent.
“Carlo is smacking another lad at the other end and I’m facing Jean-Jacques and he’s doing all sorts with it. I couldn’t get near it.
“Carlo then hit one on to the Tollgate roof at the end of the eighth over, so they brought out a brand new ball for the ninth.
“That was the last thing I needed with Jean-Jacques bowling as he was.”
Struggles against the new ball were a rarity, though, but despite Dean and Cartledge laying firm foundations at the top of the order, Staffordshire had to wait until 1991 to end a long wait for silverware.
However, that 10-wicket success against Oxfordshire at Luton’s Wardown Park signalled the start of a golden era for Staffs cricket.
Three successive Championship titles were won, while a hat-trick of Lord’s appearances between 1991 and 1993 resulted in two one-day victories.
That win against Oxfordshire highlighted the duo’s destructive powers. Set a target of 216 to win, they knocked them off without loss – and with 17 overs to spare – as Dean compiled 117 not out and Cartledge made an unbeaten 83.
And occupying the best seat in the house was umpire Keith Bray. The popular Norfolk official says it was a sight to behold as Oxfordshire’s attack was dismantled.
“Staffs made a fairly steady start and both Dean and Carlo both got to their 50s,” he said.
“Oxfordshire then decided to bring back their opening bowler, Keith Arnold, whose tactic was to try to bounce Deany out.
“He hit one over the scorebox for six and the next ball was shorter and quicker. Deany got a top edge over the keeper’s head for another six.
“Arnold turned to me and said ‘How are you supposed to bowl to that?’. I replied: ‘Better, would be a start’.
“Dean and Cartledge are legends in minor counties cricket. And they couldn’t be more different characters.
“Carlo was the big jovial bloke and hit the ball hard. Deany was a class player. And, how do I put this as kindly as I can, he could be difficult to umpire!
“But I’ve not seen a better player in minor counties cricket than Steve Dean.”
Lord’s – the home of cricket – was also treated to some Dean and Cartledge magic.
And Dean fell agonisingly short of a ton in St John’s Wood in the 1993 one-day final against Wiltshire with a bizarre dismissal which made it in to the ‘What Happened Next?’ round on a Question Of Sport.
“Deany had just hit a six in to the Mound Stand to get to 99,” explains Cartledge. “There were only four men in the circle and they were on the edge. It was a tap and run for a century at Lord’s.
“Deany smashed the next delivery back at the bowler, it hit my foot, looped up and he was caught.
“I also remember Deany getting run out trying to run a four at Jesmond, which is virtually impossible. It’s a bugger when you have to dive to cross!”
They hunted as a pair out in the middle, and both admit it was a “working relationship” for the greater good of Staffordshire cricket.
“We got on reasonably well off the pitch. Deany was a bit of an acquired taste, but you could have a pint with him,” says Cartledge.
Dean agrees: “I think it was more of a working relationship. We would go out for a drink, especially on the northern tours.
“We just chatted cricket. He was a man of few words and when he did speak, you listened. He’s a level-headed guy and that’s what’s taken him to where he is.”
When they retired, Dean – who departed in 2003 – had a county record 10,163 Championship runs under his belt, and the little matter of 1,901 in one-day cricket.
Cartledge, who bowed out in 1998, accrued 6,371 in the long format and 735 in the short game.
They were also afforded the chance to test themselves at a higher level.
Battles against first-class counties ensued in the days of the NatWest Trophy and the like – with Dean unwisely opting to walk down the wicket to Curtly Ambrose in one game against Northants.
Dean featured in one match for Warwickshire as well, but despite piling on the runs at club and county level, as well as England Amateurs, a career in education beckoned, rather than as a pro cricketer.
“Sometimes you do look back and wonder if something different could have happened,” concedes Dean. “Northants came in, but I got injured, then I spent time training at Derbyshire one winter and things didn’t work out.
“I played for England Amateurs and my record as a non first-class cricketer is second to none. Jack Birkinshaw was the coach and he wanted me to go to Leicestershire to play one-day stuff.
“He couldn’t speak to me, though, because Warwickshire and Staffs had a link and they had first dibs.
“I played one game for Warwickshire, but that was it. Warwickshire then signed a chap called Brian Lara, so that worked out ok!”
Cartledge is in no doubt that in another era, they both could have forged first-class careers.
“We could both play county cricket in the modern day,” he says. “We scored at a hell of a rate.
“Kim Barnett used to say the things we would have to adjust to were the pace of the bowlers and the wicket.
“The downside of the NatWest games were you faced a pro bowler with a new ball, who bowled at a pace you weren’t used to.
“At minor counties level, we were never concerned. There was respect for people like David Surridge and Stuart Turner, who has come out of first-class.
“But you wouldn’t fear anyone for pace. There were some good bowlers around and when you were on top, you had to stay there.
“Through all the runs, though, we both had a great defence. If we were going through the mill, we could hang around and people don’t always see that.”
The pair do have an abundance of memories, however, from their Staffordshire days.
It all started in Dunstable, but their legacy lives on far and wide across the minor counties scene.
“The explosiveness of the Staffordshire partnership made it good. Carlo would be the one I had the most success with and that makes it memorable,” admits Dean.
“I don’t think teams were scared of us because it only takes one delivery to get a wicket.
“A batsman only has to make one mistake and it’s all over – a bowler can make 200 and keep going.”
For Cartledge, the partnership was always destined to happen.
But he admits Staffs’ success was not just down to himself and Dean.
“Everything just aligned that day at Dunstable,” he says. “Deany took the pressure off me and I probably did the same for him.
“If someone is scoring at the other end, it helps because the onus is not on you. There weren’t many times that we failed, but the players that came after us were brilliant – the likes of Phil Oliver, Nick Archer, Simon Myles and Tony Dutton.
“Then you had Paul Newman and Mark Humphries who were hitters.
“Teams were really wary, not just about us, but the whole side. You could see it. Myself and Deany used to get encouragement off Russell Flower and David Hancock to go and play. Russ used to say ‘now you two are out we can have a proper game of cricket’.
“But I don’t think the rest of the team gets the credit it deserves, but it’s not lost on me. That side was so good and I’d say Simon Myles was probably the best player because he could bat, bowl and field.”
County skipper Archer says the role Dean and Cartledge played in Staffs’ trophy-laden time can never be under-estimated.
“They gave us chances to win. We hadn’t been minor counties champions for 60 years and then won three in a row, so they played a big part,” he explained.
“They also enabled players following them to play because the opposition had gone defensive.
“We had a formula and were an established side.”
And nothing was more established than Dean and Cartledge leading the Staffordshire batting charge.
No doubt there was a collective sigh of relief from bowlers around the country when the duo finally packed away their bats for the final time…