Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Cricketer: July 1972

 



The Ashes were the main attraction of 1972 and The Cricketer was fortunate to have John Woodcock as its test match reporter. The July edition carried his account of the first test, played at Old Trafford in early June.

England won a seam-dominated match by 89 runs. John Snow took eight wickets, backed up by Geoff Arnold and Tony Greig with five each. Greig was making his test debut, though this would have come as a surprise to him, given that he had appeared four times for England against the Rest of the World in 1970, contests that were regarded as test matches at that time. He was also ever present in the Rest of the World team that had played in Australia the previous winter, matches that were never categorised by the Australians as tests, though, as discussed here previously, they were manifestly of test quality. Greig also made two half centuries at Manchester.

Anybody who has read much of this blog will know of my admiration for John Woodcock, but he did have a blind spot when it came to the nationality qualifications of England cricketers in general, and of Tony Greig in particular. It will be remembered that he wrote that one of things that explained the Packer schism was that Greig was “not a proper Englishman”. His report here develops this theme.

The ideal England team would be composed of Englishmen, pure and simple. One might have said the same when Ranji, Duleep or Pataudi were playing, or when D’Oliveira was first picked. If I were an Australian I might wonder about the fairness of it all.

But then I might count up the number of Aborigines in the Australian team, find that there were none, and reflect that my team consisted entirely of players who were, in the great scheme of things, recent immigrants themselves.

Woodcock reports that only 36,000 attended the test, which lasted well into the fifth day. That is less than a third of those who went through the gates of Old Trafford for the equivalent fixture in 2019, a comparison that those who argue that test cricket is on permanent decline should note.

Alex Bannister, long-serving Cricket Correspondent of the Daily Mail (and no relation of Jack Bannister, as far as I know) had a series running featuring a different county each month. In July it was Worcestershire. The article ranges between the past and the present in a pleasing way. I learned several things, including that county secretary Mike Vockins was an agricultural biochemist (which might have come in useful when the Severn made one its regular visits to the Worcester outfield), and that the Nawab of Pataudi senior (the same as cited by Woodcock, above) became a Worcestershire player only after having been turned down by Kent. This would have been around the time that Lord Harris insisted that Walter Hammond had to serve a two-year qualification for Gloucestershire because he had been born in Dover while his soldier father was stationed there, so perhaps embracing Pataudi would have been a double standard too far, even for that scion of the aristocracy.

Bannister rated the 25-year-old Glenn Turner highly.

There are two Turners – one intent on crease occupation; the other a magnificent strokemaker. In either mood – and I prefer the latter – he is one of the world’s leading batsmen.

Another New Zealander, John Parker, was on the Worcestershire staff in 1972. Years later, when I was writing for CricInfo, Turner and Parker joined us in the press box at Seddon Park in Hamilton and reminisced about their New Road days. The conversation turned to the use of statistical analysis in modern coaching. One or other of them said something along the lines of:

We had a computer that gave feedback based on the study of the available data. It was called Norman Gifford and it used to stand at short leg giving insightful readouts such as “what the eff are you bowling that effing crap for?”.

I am writing on T20 Blast finals weekend, against which the ECB have scheduled an ODI against India, thus depriving the participating counties of their international players. A similar issue half a century ago saw the boot on the other foot. Surrey and Sussex both refused to release their players to appear for MCC against the Australians in the traditional pre-tests fixture, preferring to retain their services for the Benson and Hedges Cup. I generally avoid a romantic view of cricket in those days, but a time when counties could tell Lord’s to stuff it was a great one in which to be alive.

Denis Compton and John Snow both defended the decision, but the majority of the cricketing establishment was outraged. Crawford White of the Daily Express wrote that “as a member of Surrey for 20 years and more, I think that this is a disgraceful decision”.  MCC Secretary Billy Griffith called it “absolutely deplorable”, while EW Swanton, as Bryon Butler put it in his monthly press review, “drew his sword”.

History of a most regrettable sort has been made…It never occurred to me for a moment that this fixture would not be held sacrosanct…In football, one hears, England suffers from the selfishness of clubs. That is football’s affair. It is cricket’s affair to put country first rather than the short-term financial advantage of a sponsored competition, however good in itself…cricket has been done a grave disservice, which is sure to have strong repercussions.

This is vintage Swanton. “Football” and “sponsored” become terms of abuse. MCC is awarded dominion status. We see in our mind’s eye the oafish member of the lower classes to whom he slips sixpence for furtive news of the association game. And he gets it completely wrong. By the way, that whirring noise is Swanton turning like a rotisserie chicken at the news that the Varsity match has been exiled from Lord’s.

John Arlott profiles Peter Lever. His opening paragraph will move any of us who treasure county cricket.

The heart of English cricket is the county game; and the essence of county cricket is not the Test star who dominates it but the ordinary county cricketer who is there every day and gives it his constant and fullest effort. He does not, like the representative players, miss a dozen county games a year to play for his country. He is a man for all seasons; county cricket is for him an achieved peak and a fulfilment.

But the highlight of the July edition comes in the School Review. It is the historic first appearance in the press of the great CJ Tavaré. Then captain of Severnoaks School, he made 116 including 12 fours and—wait for it—ten sixes.



No doubt this news will provoke ill-judged and distasteful remarks from the class of person who in earlier times would have earned a crust by slipping news of Aston Villa’s away form to Swanton, and who know Tav only as the obdurate fellow who was the tax manual of England’s batting in the early eighties. But it will come as no surprise to those of us who knew the Sunday Tavaré, the man who would dismantle any attack in the country over 40 overs. Three of the Australians at Old Trafford would still be around in 1982/3 to play tests against Tavaré.

 

 

 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Cricketer: June 1972

 


The touring Australian batter Doug Walters appears on the cover of the June 72 edition of The Cricketer, right knee almost grounded, bat above his head on the follow through, ball presumably clattering over the boundary at Worcester even as Patrick Eager’s shutter clicked. It was a shot seen only on county grounds that summer; in the tests he scored just 57 in seven innings. On his four tours to Britain, Walters never made a test century, an astonishing omission for a man who averaged almost 50 in that form of the game.

Henry Blofeld reported from the Caribbean on the final test of New Zealand’s first tour to that part of the world. It was drawn, as were the previous four games in the series. It was only New Zealand’s third five-test series. With none in the half century since, we can safely say it was our last.

The West Indies were in transition between the great side of the early and mid-sixties and that of the mid-to-late seventies. In the featured game, at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain, the bowling was opened by Vanburn Holder and Garry Sobers, now 35, who went for only 67 from 40 overs across the two innings.

The run rate for the match was well short of two-and-a-half an over. What a contrast to the turbo-charged series just completed fifty years on. Readers of these pieces over the years will be aware of my admiration for Brendon McCullum. We all have our XIs of favourite cricketers; McCullum is captain of mine.

But the most dedicated of his fans could not have anticipated the extent and speed of the change that he has brought to the England team, transforming them from the frightened, risk-and-esteem-free unit that we saw in Australia and the Caribbean into the warp-speed daredevils now before us. What he has done is make them forget that they are English.

At this rate, if he stays in post for the full four years he could change the entire fabric of British society. People will start talking to strangers on public transport. Beer will be drunk only if refrigerated. Café patrons will refuse to accept bad coffee.

For us in the South Pacific, it has all been a bit much. We feel a certain nostalgia for the days when you could block for a draw for five days, five times in a row.

Blofeld identifies four New Zealanders as “world-class”. Glenn Turner hit his peak and averaged 96. Like Turner, Bevan Congdon made two centuries in the series. The following year, Congdon was to score another pair of hundreds (both170s) in a losing cause; Daryl Mitchell has gone one better.

Another to reach a career peak in the sun was Bruce Taylor, whose fast-medium took 27 wickets at 17. More surprisingly, Blofeld’s quartet is completed by slow left-armer Hedley Howarth, whose contribution was “a much bigger one than his figures suggest”. You might hope so, given that those figures were 14 wickets at 50, At least Howarth was picked; Ajaz Patel has bowled all of two overs for the national team since he took all ten in Mumbai at the end of last year.

The most interesting piece in the June edition was Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ profile of Alan Knott. These days, it would be entirely unremarkable for a cricketer to speak of yoga (taught to him first by Bishen Bedi), training with a soccer team (Charlton FC) for better fitness, or pursuing perfection through continuous improvement. Knott, frequently mocked by away crowds for his stretching regime during play, was way ahead of his time.

CMJ reminds us that, earlier in 1972, a selection panel of Arlott, Cardus and Johnston had picked Knott ahead of Godfrey Evans as keeper in England’s greatest post-war XI for a computer Ashes test (featured nightly across a week on Radio 4 as I recall). It is gratifying to find that his genius was recognised by his contemporaries.

There is also a profile of Warwickshire skipper Alan Smith, better known as AC to differentiate him from MJK Smith, also of that parish. Those familiar with AC as a keeper-batsman good enough to play six tests will be surprised to see him pictured in mid bowl, deploying a Procter-like chest-on action. There is a piece to be written on keeper-bowlers. Something in the air at Edgbaston made custodians cast off the pads and grab the leather. Geoff Humpage was wont to have eight overs of a Sunday in the eighties.

With Deryck Murray now in the team, Smith was free to bowl more often, and did so with some effect in 1972, taking a five-for in both the Championship and the Sunday League. He was a frightening sight, ball in hand. His run up was that of a man charging a locked door, the teeth, bared in a clown’s smile, only accentuating the aggression. The ball emerged from a confusion of limbs, apparently an afterthought.

AC Smith later became one of English cricket’s leading administrators, famously (if Martin Johnson is to be believed) responding to a journalist’s enquiry with “no comment, but don’t quote me on that”.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

A Sunday League catastrophe

Kent v Middlesex, 11 June 1972, Folkestone, 40 overs

The 2022 season has been a wretched one for Kent. In each of the county’s first five Championship games, the opposition made more than 500. The Sri Lankan Development XI did the same in an additional first-class fixture. The sequence may be a record. The dismissal of Northamptonshire for a mere 430 in the sixth Championship match was, no doubt, greeted by dancing in the streets of Tunbridge Wells.

If we expected Kent’s status as champions to give us solace in the T20, we were to be disappointed. Despite the recent win at Taunton, they remain ninth of nine in the southern group. Being able to watch the live streams of county cricket here in New Zealand is a wonderful thing, but breakfast watching has been a Groundhog Day of Kentish defeats.

My Blean Correspondent and I have been wondering whether 2022 displaces 1980 as the annus horribilis of our times. In that wet summer, Kent were kept off the bottom of the Championship only by a win over Warwickshire off the penultimate possible ball of Canterbury Week. There were exits at the earliest possible opportunity in both knockout competitions, and Sundays were spent adrift in the bottom half of the league.

Allen Hunt and George Murrell always maintained that the fifties were universally grim. One day, I mentioned that in 1951 Kent had a run of 20 Championship games without a win. George just said “Ah yes” as if remembering a summer spent in a foxhole and preferring not to talk about it.

So it is tempting to take refuge in the past, to return to the seventies when the sun shone every day on a never-ending series of Kentish victories, except when it didn’t.

Exactly half-a-century ago today as I write, Kent played Middlesex in the Sunday League at Folkestone. I loved the Sunday League, but it is in the nature of the shorter forms that many of its matches have not stuck in the mind. I look at scorecards knowing that I must have been there, but struggle to excavate corroboration from the memory.

Not this one. Kent v Middlesex at Folkestone in 1972 is a contest that I have thought about more than any other that I have watched. It was again in my mind just last week as I willed New Zealand to take some wickets even as England were within a couple of shots away from victory at Lord’s. Remember Folkestone ‘72, I thought as I invariably do as cricket matches reach their conclusion with one team well ahead, either from caution or hope, depending on whether it is my team that is winning or losing.

For this was a game in which Kent snatched defeat not just from the jaws of victory, but from its lower intestine, almost fully digested.

It was a top-of-the-table fixture. Kent had won four from five thus far in 1972, Middlesex were unbeaten. The first Ashes test was taking place at Old Trafford so Kent were without Luckhurst and Knott. Middlesex had no international absentees, through Price and Parfitt were both to feature later in the series. The Times sent Peter Marson along. His report supplements my memories and is reproduced below.

Kent won the toss and put Middlesex in. We can’t deduce anything about the pitch from this; it was what usually happened on Sundays in 1972. The visitors struggled from the start. It is unusual to write about a Middlesex one-day match in the seventies and eighties without mentioning a match-winning innings of nudging and nurdling from Clive Radley, but here he was run out for three. With MJ Smith and Parfitt also going for single-figures, Middlesex were 15 for three.

Norman “Smokey” Featherstone and Mike Brearley started a cautious rebuild, but both were out with the total at 40. Brearley was in the second of twelve seasons as Middlesex captain, and had not yet attained the mythical status with which he was later to be invested, but his apprenticeship with the Jedi was well under way and may have been behind the mysterious turn that events were to take.

That Middlesex reached 127 was down to a partnership of 54 in nine overs between former England keeper JT Murray, and Keith Jones, who was from Central Casting’s plentiful stock of bits-and-pieces seaming all-rounders.

Derek Underwood, incomprehensibly omitted from the test team for Norman Gifford, took two for 28, but it was John Shepherd who was the meanest of the Kent attack that day with just 12 runs from his eight overs.

Norman Graham took two for 29, getting Smith and Murray both caught behind, no doubt from balls that did just enough, and bounced a little more than expected off the most inconvenient line and length. As I have written before, Graham probably wouldn’t pass the two-skills athlete test to be a cricketer these days, and the game is poorer for it.

Bernard Julien took three wickets, Parfitt early and Titmus and Price to finish the innings. On the basis that he was West Indian, a left-arm bowler who mixed a little wrist-spin in with the quicker stuff, and had unquestioned talent, Julien was lumbered with the worst of all labels: the new Sobers. Ridiculous as that was, he was potentially a high-quality player who never quite achieved what he promised. It didn’t help that for Kent he, the maker of two test hundreds, was a perennial No 9.

As ever, we should remember that 127 was, in 1972, not quite the cinch that it would be now. But it wasn’t far off. For the greatest part of the chase, Kent made it look easy. Dave Nicholls opened the batting at the ground where, nine years before, he had made 211 against Derbyshire, one of only two double hundreds in the County Championship that year. He was bracketed with Luckhurst and Denness as the future of Kent’s batting in the annual report. But it was eight years until he made his only other first-class hundred. He might have drifted out of the game had it not been for Kent’s lack of a deputy for Alan Knott when the great keeper began his England career in 1967. It was a role that Nicholls filled most capably for a decade. In 1972 he made regular appearances as a batter even when Knott was available. In this game he opened, put on 51 for the first wicket with Graham Johnson and was sixth out, for 54, going for the run that would have levelled the scores. No doubt he returned to the pavilion thinking that a good job had been done.

Denness and Cowdrey were both out for five, and Asif Iqbal was unable to bat at his usual place as he was ill. As so often, it was Alan Ealham who moved things along, with 24 of a fourth-wicket partnership of 33 with Nicholls. Only 19 were needed when Ealham was out, only ten when Shepherd’s was the fifth wicket to fall.

Neither Woolmer’s duck two runs later, nor Nicholls’ departure caused us any worries. People round the ground were packing up their picnic baskets, folding their chairs and making for car park or railway station. Some of them may have gone to their graves ignorant of the catastrophe that unfolded as they left the ground.

Only when Julien edged Selvey behind for the second of five noughts on the scorecard did it sudden occur to us that the victory that had seemed captive since the opening overs was tunnelling beneath our feet and had almost reached the perimeter fence. But still it was only two runs to win, one for the tie.

The next sight offered no reassurance. Peter Marson reported that Asif, who now walked down the pavilion steps, was unwell and running a high temperature. The story that went round at the time was that he had malaria, and had gone into quick decline shortly after the toss. He had left the field not long into the Middlesex innings. Now, this most swift footed of cricketers appeared to be using his bat as a walking stick as he made his way to the middle.

The simple act of scoring a run now seemed akin to splitting the atom or running a four-minute mile. Asif appeared incapable of lifting the bat with sufficient purpose to play a shot, nor of getting down the other end if he had, when normally he would have been there and back in an instant. Twice he watched the ball go by before the desperate attempted slog against Mike Selvey that resulted in the loss of a stump.

It was telling that, so ill as he obviously was, Asif was still considered a better bet to win the game than a perfectly well Norman Graham, in whose hand a bat was as effective as a bow and arrow when charging machine guns. I am not sure if Norman received a ball when he replaced Asif. Marson makes it clear that Underwood was faced the last over, bowled by Sam Black. The “dire alarms” sounded by the first two balls of the over were wild swipes as the collective hysteria that overtook the Kent lower order spread to the usually phlegmatic Underwood.

Frankly, the leg before decision given to the third ball was a relief as much as anything, so unbearable was the tension, so improbable the scoring of even a single run. There was an awful silence as the ground emptied, as spectators tried to work out what they had just seen.

Four wickets fell for no runs when only two were needed for a win. If ever you need to cling onto hope a little longer as your side nears defeat, or if you want to guard against complacency when victory seems certain, say to yourself as I do, “Folkestone ’72”. 





Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Cricketer, May 1972

 

Continuing the new series looking at The Cricketer from 50 years ago.

The cover of The Cricketer was usually graced by a photo from Patrick Eager, cricket’s greatest photographer. In what was still a largely monochrome era, the action shot on the cover of this edition was something of a novelty. It is described simply as “Richard Hutton bowls watched by Alan Knott”. It was almost certainly taken at Scarborough the previous September, when Yorkshire played Kent in the Fenner Trophy, a four-county knockout played over three days as part of the Festival. The uncredited batter is Derek Underwood.

EW Swanton returned to the editorial page. For those unfamiliar with the Great Pontificator’s style, the opening couple of sentences offer a primer.

Ian Chappell, we notice, remarks from Adelaide that he considers that in the advance notices his team has been underrated. In the Australian vernacular ‘Good on him’ for that.

Swanton was not afraid of the regal plural.

One aspect of the selection disturbs us; the over-weighting of the attack in favour of fastish bowling at the expense of spin.

Despite sympathising with Chappell, he does not dissent from the general view that this is an underwhelming Australian selection.

The green caps have the same magic about them, even if for the moment they do not inspire quite the old dread.

The visitors proved to have plenty of quality. After the moribund 1964 series and the damp, dull contest of 1968, the ‘72 Ashes were outstanding, a two-all draw full of memorable, top-draw cricket.

On the same page, Tony Pawson welcomes the Benson and Hedges Cup, the 55-over competition with the midsummer final that was to be become a favourite of the fixture list for the next three decades.

Does it remind you of anything? There was no great demand for it, but the marketing people at Lord’s thought that it would be a new source of revenue. It cut into the County Championship programme. In 1968, before the introduction of the Sunday League, each county played 28 three-day matches. In 1972, this was cut to 20, which adds up to only four more potential playing days than the 14 four-day contests of 2022.

But unlike the Hundred, the shorter form then took the early weeks of the season (which were the last week of April and May, rather than the tail end of Christmas as is now the case) leaving high summer to the Championship. Whether it was the different climate patterns, or that the cricket fields of that time were the least porous materials known to science is unclear, but only one of the ten games in the south group finished on the first of the scheduled three days.

I saw no games in the new competition that year. Kent played their two home group games at Blackheath and Tunbridge Wells and did not make the knockout phase.

There was a cracker at Lord’s. Colin Cowdrey, batting at No 3, made an unbeaten 107. Wisden said

Cowdrey batted with all his old mastery, grafting on to his vintage ability the urgency needed in limited-overs cricket.

He hit three sixes, and with Asif Iqbal but on 70 in 30 minutes. I have written before that when Cowdrey escaped the prim prison of his background and character and batted like a free man­­--a cricketing Brigadoon in its own way--it was a grand day to be at the cricket.

In that era, 234 would usually have been enough to secure a comfortable victory, but here a well-measured reply, led by MJ Smith’s 73, took Middlesex home with eight balls to spare.

Leicestershire won that inaugural competition. Yorkshire prised free 136 from 55 overs (no blaming Boycott, who was injured) and Leicestershire took 47 overs to get them. It was the worst of the B&H finals, with the possible exception of that of 1984 when Lancashire took 43 overs to chase 139 and Peter May gave the man-of-the-match award to John Abrahams, who made a duck and did not bowl. It was Leicestershire’s first trophy, one of four that Illingworth would lead them too.

The most interesting article in the May 1972 edition was a piece of journalism/stalking by David Frith. Presenting himself as an autograph hunter with a few books for signing, Frith drove 200 miles, to see a man, who he describes thus:

Jack Gregory, First AIF, New South Wales and Australia fast bowler who made even Walter Hammond blanch, scorer of the fastest-ever Test century, arguably the greatest of slip fieldsmen, was not discernibly pleased to see me.

Gregory played in all of Warwick Armstrong’s eight successive wins over England in the consecutive Ashes series of 1920-21. With Ted McDonald he formed the first of Australia’s great fast-bowling partnerships.

Frith managed to get to Gregory’s kitchen table, but his description of the great bowler as “Garbo-like” indicates that he didn’t get any revelations out of him, though it is interesting to learn that Gregory bowled off just 12 paces, and did not share the contempt that most of his generation of cricketers had for one-day cricket.

“By jove, I like that 50-overs stuff…They have to get on with it. I liked to hit hard myself, because I love the game and I tried to amuse the public. They like to see bright cricket.”

I bought a recent edition of The Cricketer the other day. David Frith had two pieces (both obituaries) in it. Only Swanton  has had a longer association with the magazine, though as founder of the Wisden Cricket Monthly, a good deal of the interim was spent with Frith in competition with it.

 

 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Cricketer, April 1972


It has been a while since I last blogged. Partly, this is because I have watched no cricket at the ground since the first week of the year. Omicron cut into the schedule here in New Zealand, costing us a test match at the Basin Reserve (both games against South Africa were played in Christchurch) and a couple of T20s versus Australia at the Cake Tin.

Wellington’s home domestic fixtures were concentrated into the first half of the season so as to free the Basin for the Women’s World Cup. I had intended to go to four or five games, and was contemplating flying down to Christchurch for the final, but restricted numbers meant that the tickets set aside for Wellington members were withdrawn. When, towards the end of the tournament, the limits were lifted, I still did not feel sufficiently at ease in a big crowd to attend. I watched a good deal of the competition on television and enjoyed it greatly.

When I have the time, I intend to give another season the treatment that I gave 1967 five years ago: to record it day-to-day on Twitter, with a weekly round-up here. A busy job means that I do not have the time for that yet, but the arrival of a consignment of 1970s editions of The Cricketer from my late parents’ house in Herne Bay has provided the impetus to get blogging again, and to resume reminiscence from half-a-century past.

The intention is to use editions from 1972 as the basis for a piece half a century after the month on the cover. Not a summary or a review, but as a starting point for something probably historical, but possibly contemporary.

We begin with the April edition, which features Geoff Boycott on the cover, playing an on drive like the one that was to bring him his hundredth hundred five years later. Edited by EW Swanton warns the front page, but that is the extent of the Great Pontificator’s contribution to this edition, which appears to have been left in the hands of assistant editor Tony Pawson, who fitted these duties in with writing for The Observer on cricket and football, and a full-time management job in industrial relations, a profession that in the 1970s was as stressful as bomb disposal.

Pawson headed a distinguished list of contributors that included Arlott, Cozier, Frith (soon to become editor), Gibson, Lewis, Martin-Jenkins, Peebles and Rosenwater.

Also, Ray Robinson, who reported on the final match between Australia and the World XI, which had replaced the tour by South Africa, copying the arrangement made when the Springboks’ series against England was cancelled in 1970. The England v Rest of the World matches were classics, regarded as test matches when they were played, and well worthy of that status. Only later were they downgraded, famously at the cost of the entire test career of Glamorgan’s Alan Jones.

The Australians never claimed that their games against the World XI were tests. The touring party (there were games against the states as well as the national team) included a few players who would not have been close to a genuine World XI, such as Richard Hutton, unaware that his brief test career was already over, and Tony Greig, who didn’t know that his hadn’t started (he had played in the 1970 series). Nor had Hylton Akerman’s, and his never would (I interviewed Ackerman for CricInfo on a wet day in New Plymouth, twenty years ago, when he talked about this series). None of Norman Gifford, Bob Cunis or Asif Masood could be described as world-class. Perhaps this explains why history has paid these matches scant attention.

But Robinson’s report made me take a closer look. A batting order that included Gavaskar, Kanhai, Pollock, Zaheer Abbas, Lloyd and Sobers could not be faulted for quality; neither could the spin attack of Bedi and Intikhab Alam. Pace was short, especially until Peter Pollock arrived halfway through the tour, but the cricket world then had fewer fast bowlers of international quality than at any time since. West Indians Hall and Griffith were done, and the next generation had not yet come through. Indian fast bowlers remained a contradiction in terms. John Snow would have made a difference, but perhaps he did not fancy renewing his acquaintance so soon with his friends on the Sydney hill.

In these circumstances it was not surprising that the batsmen flourished, most of all Ian Chappell, who made four centuries in his first full series as Australian captain, including two in the opener at the Gabba. There were also two centuries each for Keith Stackpole, Doug Walters and Greg Chappell. For the World XI, Ackerman made a hundred on international debut, Rohan Kanhai made two, and Graeme Pollock another. And Sobers, 254 not out at the MCG in the third international, the one thing that this series is remembered for, described by Sir Donald Bradman thus:

“I believe Gary Sobers’ innings was probably the best ever seen in Australia. The people who saw Sobers have enjoyed one of the historic events of cricket, they were privileged to have such an experience.”

When Sobers came in, his team had a lead of 45 with seven wickets standing. Wickets continued to fall at the other end. Shortly after Sobers got his century, he was left with the tail. Intikhab Alam, the mildest of cricketers, made his reaction clear when given lbw a bus ride away from the off stump. This was the season after England won the Ashes despite not getting a single favourable leg-before decision in six tests.

Other cricketers have rescued their team with a backs-to-the-wall innings. Few have done so while refusing to make any concession in terms of style or approach. There are nine grainy, black-and-white, joyous minutes of the innings on YouTube. Look at the way Sobers moves: he flows. Lillee bowling to him is ballet and theatre, as aesthetically satisfying bowler/batter combination as the game has produced.  

The World XI won by 96 runs to level the series.

It wasn’t all batting. Australia won the second game, at Perth. Dennis Lillee announced himself as a bowler of the highest quality: eight for 29 to dismiss the World XI for 59 on a WACA pitch on which Australia had made 349. He was never to beat this performance. His test best of seven for 89 came at the Oval in 1981. I was there on the third day to see six of them. That the Perth eight included Gavaskar, Lloyd, Greig and Sobers pokes fun at the lower status of the series.

For the third and fourth games, Lillee’s new-ball partner was Bob Massie, who ran through the World XI in the first innings at Sydney with seven for 76. So Massie’s 16 wickets on test debut at Lord’s a few months later were not quite the one-test wonder that many have always assumed them to be.

The first and fourth games were affected by rain. The first had three declarations with only three or four wickets down, so it is hard to say how it would have gone without the interruptions, but in the fourth the World team needed 450 with five wickets standing when the final day was washed away, so the visitors’ victory in the final game, giving them a two-one win, was not a fair reflection of the series as a whole, as Sobers, with characteristic generosity, acknowledged.

There is more of this enjoyable, neglected, series on YouTube.

It gave the Australian selectors plenty of data to work on when they picked the tour party to England. The April edition of The Cricketer devoted several pages of analysis to the results of their deliberations. Bryon Butler—better known as the BBC’s Football Correspondent—wrote a monthly press review that summarised criticism of the omissions of McKenzie, O’Keefe, Lawry and Redpath, among others.

Ray Robinson profiled five members of the party, including Massie, who he describes as an “up-the-cellar-steps” bowler, which makes me want to read more Ray Robinson. He gives the professions of four of the five, another echo from a different age.

This edition of the magazine was branded as the Spring Annual, one of two occasions in the year when a double-length edition was produced, though, at 80 pages, it was shorter than 2022’s Cricketer.

Let us end with Gerald Pawle’s profile of Cecil Buttle, recently retired as Taunton groundsman after fifty years’ service. When he started the heavy roller was pulled by a horse. Somerset owned only one set of horse boots, so had to hire horses that fitted the boots. Perhaps Rob Key could use this as a way of picking the England pace attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 31, 2021

The 2021/22 Season in New Zealand So Far

The 2021/2 Plunket Shield began with the unexpected but glorious distinction of being the domestic first-class competition of the World Test Match Champions. As the world’s cricketing media sought to account for this unlikely turn of events, the strength of New Zealand’s domestic game was cited by many as a significant factor, particularly the pitches that are, we learn from the overseas press, balanced perfectly between bat and ball.


Well, I’m as surprised as you are. We devotees of the Plunket Shield (we are a select band) are puzzled that a competition consisting (in normal times)  of eight matches a team (not enough for a double round-robin), played in the season’s dawn and dusk, should have propelled us to the summit. It is like finding that your loved but unexceptional child Wolfgang Amadeus is a fair piano player. I should not be surprised. Almost everything that I read about New Zealand in the foreign media is wildly inaccurate. 


But the Plunket Shield is still something to be treasured, especially in these times. This season started with only four of New Zealand’s six cricketing provinces able to participate, Auckland and the bigger part of Northern Districts being in lockdown. 


In the Basin Reserve’s Long Room we were all masked, even though Wellington remained Covid-free. I am astonished, when I look at sports fixtures elsewhere in the world, that hardly anybody is wearing a mask. How have those who find a small square of cloth such a challenge coped all these years with trousers, not to mention the myriad challenges that  underwear brings? New Zealanders, much more than most people, believe that the common good is a common responsibility. As I write, fifty people have died from COVID-19 in New Zealand since the whole thing kicked off (which does not stop people in places with thousands and thousands dead telling us how we are getting it wrong).


Wellington v Otago, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 23-26 October 2021


The Basin Reserve will be hosting international cricket when the Plunket Shield concludes next February and March, so Wellington’s four home games were done with by mid-November. So this account represents not just the start, but also the totality of my domestic first-class spectating for this season. 


Wellington were without Jimmy Neesham and Devon Conway, both at the T20 World Cup. Hamish Bennett has given up red-ball cricket so as to extend his career in the national limited-overs teams. Wellington will miss him, but have found a replacement in Nathan Smith, a 23-year-old all-rounder who has represented the national Under-19 and A sides. Smith made a fine start against his old team, trapping Hamish Rutherford lbw with his second ball. Rutherford offered no shot. As ever I invoked the words that the great Arthur Jepson would deliver as he raised the finger in such circumstances: “there’s a reason why tha’s got a bat in thy ‘and lad”.


Smith continued to impress, with two more wickets in the first innings and six in the second. He is skiddy and slippery, at a decent pace too. 


Wickets fell regularly. The biggest partnership of the innings was 49 for the seventh wicket. This naturally raises the question of the pitch, which was the Basin’s traditional first-day green, but with a yellow tinge down the middle, as if to profess its love for Norwich City. Otago’s 207 was the highest total of the match, the difference between that and the lowest being only 27, so the pitch was at least consistent in its capriciousness, which was no more than might be expected of the early season in a temperate climate. 


This being the context, a target of 193 was an anxious one for the home supporters, the more so when Rachin Ravindra went off holding his arm gingerly, having been hit. He missed a good deal of last season with a shoulder injury so we feared a repeat. Happily no damage was done, and has since made his test debut in the two tests in India, saving New Zealand from defeat in the first test by blocking for the last 90 minutes of the match and taking the catch that completed Ajaz Patel’s miraculous ten-wicket haul in the second. Regular readers will know that I have been tipping Ravindra for success for a while, though that requires no more insight than predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Now we know that he has the temperament as well as the talent.


The most memorable moment of the match was Luke Georgeson’s catch at third man off Rutherford’s ramped cut in the second innings. The ball went towards the boundary in a flat arc. Georgeson had to make a fair distance backwards before diving to take a one-handed, over-the-shoulder catch, always aware of the proximity of the boundary. This initiated a discussion among the stalwarts of the Long Room about the best catch seen at the Basin. The consensus was for  Mayu Pasupati’s full-length dive in the 50-over final in 2000, though Trent Boult has multiple entries in for consideration, as CricInfo has recorded. Georgeson’s was at least the equal of any of them. 


Rutherford was seventh out, having raised then dashed my hopes of seeing an opener carrying his bat through a first-class innings. A man needs an ambition in his declining years. 


Throughout the game in the Long Room there was an empty chair with a reserved sign on it in the name of Fred Goodall, New Zealand’s most famous pre-Bowden umpire, mostly for being body checked by Colin Croft. Fred had passed away a week or so before. He was a regular attender right up to the end of last season, despite declining health. On the first morning, Otago’s top three were all out leg-before, as fitting a tribute to Fred as could be. 


Wellington v Canterbury, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 31 October-3 November 2021


This fixture was scheduled to be against the quarantined Northern Districts, so Canterbury, unable to host Auckland, filled in, so we had successive first-class matches between the same teams on the same ground. Canterbury won both resoundingly, their Shield-winning form continuing from last season. 


Five wickets fell in the first session after Canterbury were put in by Michael Bracewell, and it seemed that we were in for a repeat of the moderate scores of the Otago game. But none followed between lunch and tea as Canterbury took control. It was a match in which class told, first in the form of Henry Nicholls, who made 97 while he second-highest score from either top six in the first innings was 26. Nicholls is Mr Imperturbable, unfazed by what is happening at the other end or by any ball except the one he is about to face. 


There was a strong performance from the bottom half of the Canterbury order, most notably from keeper Cam Fletcher, who made 110. Fletcher kept beautifully too, standing up impeccably to the sharp medium pace of Will Williams. Tom Blundell played here before heading off to India as successor to BJ Watling as the national team’s custodian (a term worthy of rehabilitation). During this first phase of the Plunket Shield I also saw Max Chu of Otago (another recent centurion) and Wellington’s reserve Callum McLachlan. Of the four, Blundell was the least impressive with the gloves. He will need to improve, or score a stack of runs, or both to keep his place. 


A lead of 218 was not enough to tempt Canterbury to enforce the follow on. Instead, Tom Latham’s unbeaten 127 was the innings of the season so far, and gave context to the challenges that the pitch presented to those of lesser ability. Ravindra’s second-innings 70 approached its quality, and constituted not far off half of Wellington’s second innings.


Wellington v Canterbury, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 7-9 November 2021


An hour or so into the first day, most of the players on the field dived to the ground and lay flat, reminiscent of that photo of Lord’s during World War Two when a doodlebug cut out above them. Here, it was bees. There was a story on the radio the other day about the tradition of telling bees the news. PL Travers wrote about her aunt doing this. “ ‘I have to tell you,’ she said, formally, ‘that King George V is dead. You may be sorry, but I am not. He was not an interesting man.’ ” I’m sure that the bees were interested in the state of the Basin Reserve pitch. Someone should have faced them and said “Bees, it’s another one in which you could hide an emerald in plain sight, but batting of quality can still produce runs, and that will decide the game”.


I was present only for the first day of this one, but, in terms of wickets down  that constituted almost half the match. With the test players gone, it was Canterbury’s opener Ken McClure who stepped up, with 130, four fewer than Wellington managed in their first innings, and 15 more than their second. 


The fourth match of the series, against Central Districts, was during the working week, so I didn’t get to any of it. For the first time this season Wellington scaled the heady heights of 200, and in both innings, but Central’s first-innings lead of 120 was the foundation of a seven-wicket victory. 


Wellington v Otago, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 1 December 2021


It was something of a relief for us Wellington folk to send the Plunket Shield into summer hibernation and to turn to the shorter forms. The 50-over Ford Trophy began with another visit from Otago, who put Wellington in. This year the longer shorter form is mixed in with the T20, As every match in the latter is on TV, they have first call on the pitches in the centre of the block, so as to be aligned with the camera towers. Thus the Ford Trophy finds itself in the cheap seats at the edge, where the pitches have a shifty countenance, coloured like a damaged car with a hasty respray. This is no bad thing as it produces a balance between bat and ball and a fuller test of skills that is much preferable to a 370 v 370 slugfest. This game was a fine example. 


Here, Wellington reached 255, more than looked likely for much of the innings, thanks to some effective hitting from Nathan Smith in the final overs. Otago’s slow bowlers were their most effective. Left-arm wrist spinner Michael Rippon took four for 41 while Anaru Kitchen conceded only 26 from his ten overs. 


So Michael Bracewell’s early exit from the field after a blow on the fingers seemed decisive, depriving Wellington of ten overs of slow stuff (a better representation of Bracewell’s oeuvre than “spin”). Bracewell returned to the field periodically, unsuccessfully trying to persuade the umpires that the binding on his hand would not assist his bowling, the cricketing equivalent of claiming that the Norwegian Blue remained sentient. 


For the greater part of their innings it seemed that Otago were coasting it, led by Neil Broom’s 72. Broom has reached that stage when people ask if the Broom playing today is the son, or maybe grandson, of the former Otago player Neil Broom, but it is still the original, accumulating away in the cause of the South. When he was fifth out Otago had to score 54 to win in ten overs. As so often, it was a run out that undid them, as Rippon sold non-striker Kitchen a dummy of which any Otago outside half might have been proud. Jakob Bhula, slow bowling stand-in for Bracewell, did a fine job in the final phase with five overs for just 19 as Wellington picked the match from Otago’s pocket. 


Wellington v Otago, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 21 December 2021


The Ford Trophy has a veneer of equity about it, with each province playing all the others twice. However, eccentricity lies underneath. In each pair of fixtures, the same side is at home for both games. This is supposed to be cost-saving, with two matches in three days. Three weeks separated the two fixtures between Wellington and Otago, yet  the southerners were asked to make the long journey to the capital once more, when a reversal of venues would have meant that each team played five at home and five away. 


It was an enjoyable day in the sun, without there being much of note to report. Wellington made 333 with solid contributions from most of the batters led by the increasingly impressive Troy Johnson with 88. Otago lost wickets regularly and soon fell irredeemably behind the required rate. I left early, something I rarely do out of fear of missing the extraordinary, but nothing of that nature occurred in my absence. 


To finish this round up of the first half of the season, four T20 games.


Wellington v Central Districts, T20, Basin Reserve, 5 December 2021 Women Men 


Wellington v Canterbury, T20, Basin Reserve, 19 December 2021

Women Men  


New Zealand Cricket continues its admirable policy of making every match day a double header, with a women’s and a men’s game. The inclusion of the women widens considerably the range of approaches and skills to be seen, a pleasing degree of aestheticism replacing an over-reliance on power.


Regular readers will know that, for several seasons now, Amelia Kerr’s legspin bowling has been one of the great pleasures of my cricket watching. To this she has added consistent and heavy scoring. Her lowest score in the five games so far is 42, the only time she has fallen short of a half century, which goes some way to explaining why Wellington are the only team with an unbeaten record at the halfway stage. 


The same cannot be said for the men. The chances of a home final as top-placed team in the round robin are remote, with just two wins from five. 


We begin 2022 with a 50-over game on New Year’s Day; I can’t think of a better way.


Sunday, August 15, 2021

“McKenzie’s Over of Agony at Folkestone”

 Kent v Leicestershire, 40 overs, Folkestone, 19 July 1971

In 1971, the Sunday League was in its third season, and well-established. On 18 July there were 18,000 at Headingley for the Roses Match. In The Times, John Woodcock noted that the New Road crowd was the largest since Worcestershire last won the Championship six years earlier. At Glastonbury, there were record receipts for a Somerset home game, for the second week in a row.

I was at the Cheriton Road Ground in Folkestone, which was also packed out. Outside St Lawrence, Folkestone was the best of all the Kent grounds in terms of spectator accommodation. A stand about ten rows deep embraced half of its circumference, not quite the Great Southern Stand at the MCG, but a step up from Maidstone’s planks balanced (or not) on logs.

All of us there that day saw something that none of us have seen since, for which we should all be grateful. Graham McKenzie of Leicestershire and Australia bowled eight no-balls in one over, and kept bowling them even when he cut his run-up down to three paces.

Leicestershire had batted first and made 168 for nine, a better score in 40 overs than it will appear to be to the modern spectator, but a little disappointing given that Barry Dudleston (unaware of the presence of a future remedial skiing student in the crowd) and Mick Norman put on 49 for the first wicket. Inevitably, it was Derek Underwood who reined them in, with four for 26. Two of the four were tailenders, which suggests that Underwood bowled at the death (as we didn’t say then), which was most unusual. Bob Woolmer was as effective, with two for 22. Woolmer was one of the best one-day bowlers around, and it was in that capacity that he was first picked for England the following season.

None of the home crowd would have regarded victory as inevitable. For a start, Graham McKenzie was opening the bowling for the opposition.

McKenzie is not much mentioned when the great Australian fast bowlers are discussed, which is an omission. He opened the bowling with Alan Davidson at the start of his career, and with Dennis Lillee at the end. At that time he had 246 test wickets, two short of Richie Benaud’s then record. He was not to play test cricket again, but he would have had the record had the wickets he took against the World XI in the following Australian season counted.

Glimpses of McKenzie’s run up on You Tube are surprisingly fleeting, but there is enough to be reminded that it was a rolling action, with none of the beauty of Lillee’s approach nor the menace of Thomson’s. I have trying to work out who it reminds me of. Were it not for the threat of a letter from McKenzie’s legal representatives, I might suggest Darren Stevens.

He wasn’t out-and-out fast, but was quick enough. Gideon Haigh writes that “when stirred he possessed a wicked bouncer”. He would extract what help the pitch could give him like a Tudor torturer seeking their preferred version of the truth.

All of which makes what happened that day on the Kent coast one of the strangest things that I have ever seen on a cricket field. Dick Streeton was there for The Times. I have borrowed the headline on his report as my title.

People forget about the 15-yard restriction to the bowler’s run up in the Sunday League, but it existed for most of the duration of the 40-over competition, showing that fixing the rules so that the game fits a TV slot is not a new thing.

The limit caused surprisingly few problems; most bowlers adjusted remarkably well. Mike Procter managed to summarise most of the quirks of his 30-yard charge to the crease; Bob Willis swayed out and in again. JSE Price of Middlesex, who had a run up of a man who was not very good at orienteering, extracted maximum value from the fact that a straight line marked the 15 yards, running parallel to it for some of the way before turning 90 degrees to port.

Many will not understand the talk about the front-foot law, and will not know that no-balls have been defined in any other way than part of the front foot having to be behind the popping crease. There is a clue in that the line on which the stumps are pitched is the bowling crease, for that was the line that the old law demanded that the back foot stay behind. Over the years, some bowlers developed the art of “dragging” the back foot, allowing the ball to be delivered closer to the batsman than the law intended, which is why it changed. The transition from back to front foot was messy. Some countries operated under one law, some under the other. In England in 1963, the front-foot law was used in the Championship while the back-foot was applied in test matches. The change became accepted, though Fred Trueman complained about it to his dying day.

I have been reading about Simone Biles, a great gymnast who had to withdraw from most of her Olympic events because of an attack of the twisties, the equivalent of the golfer’s or slow left-armer’s yips, but more frightening as the sufferer may be upside down in mid-air when they strike. What afflicted McKenzie that day seems to have been something similar; a sudden, unexplained inability to perform an action at which he had previously executed with skill and expertise. As far as I am aware, it was a one off, the demons departing almost as soon as they arrived.

The striking thing about Streeton’s report is that nobody offered McKenzie any support; the sight of Illingworth taking up a position in the covers would simply have indicated to the bowler how desperate things had become.

The only time I have seen anything similar was on the television coverage of an ODI between New Zealand and Australia in Auckland in 2005. Daryl Tuffey began the game with four no-balls. Four wides followed as he struggled to complete the over, but he was never reduced to three paces as McKenzie was.

Kent, mostly Denness, took 31 from the over. It should be remembered that in those days no extra was recorded from a no-ball if runs were accrued in another way; it would have been more under contemporary laws (as many as five of the no balls were not scored from because would not have bothered to take singles as they had the extra already). Victory came with 14 overs to spare for the loss of only Dave Nicholls.

A strange day.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

1982: A War, a Minister and a wait for Chris Tavaré to get off the mark

Continuing the (very) occasional series remembering Lord’s finals at which I was present.

It was a funny year. On 2 April I was revived from the anaesthetic after a lengthy operation in Frenchay Hospital in Bristol to be told that the country was at war with Argentina. For almost a day I believed this to be a delusion brought about by the power of the drugs, but no. The following few months were like living in a lost work by Gilbert and Sullivan. I have recently finished Dominic Sandbrook’s Who Dares Wins, an 800-page reliving of the three years between Mrs Thatcher’s victories at the polls and in the South Atlantic. Just as with Seasons in the Sun, Sandbrook’s history of the previous five years, the unrelenting picture of misery and economic buffoonery that he presents is in contrast with what the young people these days would call my lived experience.  On the whole, these were very good years for me, not least because they were cricket seasons (sometimes) in the sun. 

My spectating summer was delayed by a day due to an encounter with one of Mrs Thatcher’s ministers, William Waldegrave. As MP for Bristol West, he agreed to spend an hour of so of Saturday afternoon talking to a group of school students as part of an introduction to politics course that I ran as part of my postgraduate teacher training. Waldegrave was friendly and engaging, though I became alarmed when he opened his ministerial case and spread a pile of papers, each of which was stamped “Falklands: confidential”, across the floor of our student flat. When I expressed concern he said “Don’t worry, they wouldn’t tell me anything significant. These are all three weeks out-of-date and copied straight out of the Daily Telegraph”. I developed a level of respect for William Waldegrave that day (though not enough to ever vote for him). I enjoyed his memoirs A Different Kind of Weather, particularly the opening paragraph of the chapter on the poll tax, surely the most self-depreciating of any in the genre—

Local government finance is, famously, the most boring and complicated subject in all of public life. The threat of a chapter on it is a serious threat indeed. But my triumph was this, it must be remembered: I made this most tedious of subjects so interesting that it became the cause of widespread riots up and down the land and, one cause of the defeat of a great Prime Minister. This is how I did it.

The following day I went to the County Ground in Bristol for the first time that season, for the best innings I ever saw in the Sunday League. Middlesex were 51 for six when Phil Edmonds joined Clive Radley. They put on 90 as Radley pushed, glanced, nudged, nurdled and contemplated Middlesex to 184 and himself to a century. The home side fell 20 short. Radley was a masterly one-day batsmen, capable of conjuring runs out of nothing, as if he had snuck into the scoreboard and added 50 to the total while nobody was looking. When we get to 1986 in this series on one-day finals (if any of us live that long) we will discover how he denied Kent a trophy.   

It was odd watching John Shepherd, on Sunday debut for Gloucestershire, playing for someone other than Kent. 

With the world of work hurtling towards me like the asteroid that accounted for the dinosaurs, I made full use of my student railcard. Over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend it was Taunton on Saturday and Monday, with a Sunday game at Worcester (yes, Kent were sent on a five-hour round trip up the M5 on one of the busiest weekends of the year in the middle of a Championship game).

In Somerset, there were two centuries that were, to say the least, contrasting. I need say only that they were made by Viv Richards and Chris Tavaré for the reader to infer the nature of the difference. I have written often enough in these columns about the two Tavarés, the carefree strokemaker of Kent, and the survivalist who played for England. Here, the latter bled into the former. He was opening the batting for the national team the following week, so was getting into the mood, though he did hit Vic Marks into the Tone late in the innings. A couple of months later I saw Tavaré take 67 minutes to get off the mark in the Lord’s test against Pakistan (and enjoyed every one of them).

I went to all three days of Kent’s Championship match at Lord’s. Alan Ross was there for The Times, but it was not an occasion for poetry. His report on the second day began “As entertainment, yesterday’s play was pretty much a dead duck”.

Kent squandered a lot of talent in the eighties, none more than Laurie Potter’s. In this game he made a century in the first innings and fifty in the second, the latter described by Ross as “another brawny effort”. Ross described Potter, who had spent the bulk of his childhood in Australia (he captained both Australia and England under-19s), as “Swarthy and with a moustache in the old fashioned manner—one of Ned Kelly’s gang”. Nothing seemed more certain than that Potter would score many more centuries, for Kent and England, and that he would captain both. But there were only seven more first-class hundreds and he spent most of his career as a spin-bowling all-rounder for Leicestershire. 

The Championship match was interrupted by a Sunday League game, quite the most unusual I ever saw. Kent batted first, disastrously it seemed. The first boundary did not come until the 35th over. Graham Johnson top scored with 29 in 28 overs. Only a bit of eyes-shut hitting from Graham Dilley and a ninth-wicket partnership of 22 with Chris Penn took the total to 119 all out in the 39th over.

Yet the Middlesex innings quickly became one of the most gripping that I have seen, with Brearley, Radley and Barlow all gone: seven for three. From that point on, every run was acquired with the difficulty of extracting diamonds from the deepest mine. The Kent bowlers gave nothing; both Ellison and Underwood conceded only 14 from their eight overs. Colin Cook and John Emburey put on 49 for the fifth wicket, but so slowly that they fell well behind the required rate of just three an over. 

Eleven were needed from the last over, bowled by Dilley. Paul Downton brought the urgency and deftness of placement that had been missing so far, and got two from each of the first four deliveries. Up in the Warner Stand, I remember that the tension, which had been ratcheting up for two hours, became unbearable. Three were needed from two balls (points shared for a tie). Downton was run out with no addition from the fifth, so Cook faced the last.  Peter Marson described for The Times what ensued.

Cook drove towards cover and he and Cowans set off like Greyhounds [sic].  Alas, they managed only one run, for as Cook turned he was well-beaten by Ellison’s throw.

So, a most unlikely one-run victory for Kent. I am told by Wisden that these two games were the last that Asif Iqbal played for Kent. He was captain, but stood down to allow Eldine Baptiste to take the overseas place, and to place Tavaré and Chris Cowdrey in an uncomfortable head-to-head leadership trial. Asif never got the send off he deserved, which should have been a full St Lawrence standing to cheer him all the way out and back. If one mental image sums up my early years of cricket it is Asif dancing down the pitch, then sprinting a quick second at a pace that had his teammates gasping. 

It was the last year I was able to attend every day of Maidstone week. Malcolm Marshall took ten in the game to give Hampshire a win by 45 runs in the last hour. Bob Woolmer got one from Marshall in the face. The crack of leather on cheekbone was heard right around the boundary. In the other game, it was Potter’s unbeaten 90 that saved Kent from defeat by Surrey after being behind by 123 on first innings, this a few weeks before that maiden hundred at Lord’s. In the Sunday game, Gehan Mendis made a century and Paul Parker square cut a six into the press box as Sussex won easily. 

Graham Gooch dominated Canterbury week. He made 303 in three innings. A six he hit in the Sunday game was one of the biggest I have seen at St Lawrence. A casual flick off the pads sent the ball over the terrace, bouncing off cars and almost making it to the Old Dover Road. 

The discerning reader will have noticed, in this piece about the one-day finals of 1982 there has been no mention of one-day finals. This is because both games were very dull, two of the three worst of the 26 Lord’s finals I saw. The only match I watched in either of the two knock-out competitions was the 55-over quarter-final in which Kent were, as had become traditional, beaten by Somerset. 

The Kent scorecard is as strange as you will see. A total of 203 contained only two scores (plus extras) bigger than single figures. It was Neil Taylor’s first season as a first-team regular, a position he was to hold for more than a decade. No Kent player was more underrated. He stands twelfth on Kent’s first-class runscorer list, at a similar average to the two just above him, Mark Benson and Brian Luckhurst (as ever, we note that Luckhurst played in the era of uncovered pitches, which will have depressed his figures). Taylor was Luckhurst’s natural successor, less showy than some lower in the order, but more dependable. In an era when selection for the national side appeared to be a trial for the later appearance of the National Lottery, Taylor was unlucky not to pick up a few caps. Some players no better than him did so.

This day, he was unperturbed as Kent’s top order, as Alan Ross told readers of The Times, “seemed bent on self-destruction”. The poet was impressed by the young opener一

Taylor has negligible backlift, but his judgment of length and timing are such that the ball, played very late, fair hums to the boundary. 

The fifth-wicket partnership of 119 with Chris Cowdrey looked likely to take Kent to a fair total, but Garner and Botham blew away the tail, the last six wickets falling for 34. Taylor finished on 121, the same score that he had made against Sussex in the final group game, again undeterred by the sound of wickets crashing around him. Underwood’s three not out dragged Kent to 203, which was almost, but not quite, enough. 

With Richards going early, leg-before to Kevin Jarvis, Rose and Roebuck used the contingency given them by a comparatively low target to exercise caution. They played Underwood out; the Legend went for only 21 from 11 overs, but took no wickets. Botham’s measured innings brought about the required acceleration. Ross reports that he was “hitting boundaries left-handed”, which was his way of describing the reverse sweep. I thought that these were off Underwood, but this could not have been so; it must have been from Graham Johnson, who bowled three expensive overs. 

We can put it off no longer. Somerset reached Lord’s for the fourth time in five years, where they faced Nottinghamshire, at their first Lord’s final. Put in by Brian Rose, they were like tourists in a new city holding the map upside down. Again, the memory misleads. It tells me that, as a means of distracting ourselves from the torpor before us, spontaneous games of I-Spy began, that classes in languages, nuclear physics and rustic crafts broke out and that busloads of counsellors were sent in by the Samaritans, just in time. This may not be the literal truth, but it conveys the general tenor of the occasion. 

Of course, what I was hoping for was another Viv Richards Lord’s century, but a target of 131 provided no scope for that to happen. The great man did make it to fifty, with what Wisden called “a carefree cameo”, and had the decency to finish the game just after five, so we could be at the pubs when they opened.

The September final was from the same template. This time it was Warwickshire trying and failing to get on the right bus after being put in. That the highlight of the innings was a batting partnership that involved RGD Willis tells you most of what you need to know. He and Asif Din put on 22 for the last wicket to take Warwickshire to 158, after Din and Gladstone Small contributed an admirable but unenervating 62 for the ninth, at a rate that would have triggered a slow handclap at a funeral.

Alan Butcher led Surrey home with an unbeaten 86. It was good that Butcher had his day of triumph; three years earlier he had been the subject of the cruel and unusual punishment of having his potential as a test cricketer judged on the basis of one appearance in the final test of the summer. He made 14 and 20 and was never picked again. The man-of-the-match award went to left-arm seamer David “Teddy” Thomas for his three wickets. It was Surrey’s fourth Lord’s final appearance in as many years, but their first win; it would require a very hard heart indeed not to feel some pleasure for them. 



The Cricketer: July 1972

  The Ashes were the main attraction of 1972 and The Cricketer was fortunate to have John Woodcock as its test match reporter. The July edi...