Sunday, June 30, 2019

1979: Forty years on—first wins for Essex and Somerset

I was pleased that Somerset won the last Lord’s one-day final. It seemed fitting that a county outside the metropolitan elite (in whose number Hampshire, by their own choice, are counted these days) should enjoy county cricket’s last day on the biggest stage of all. There was a certain personal symmetry about it too. I was at Lord’s for Somerset’s first final in 1967, and for their first win, in 1979, the year that we have reached in this series of posts on Lord’s finals about which I can say “I was there”.

Britain had recently emerged from the Winter of Discontent, and Mrs Thatcher was in Downing Street, but the state of the nation is never representative of all its people; my own levels of content, at the end of my first year at Bristol University, were at a record high.

I can’t quite remember why I decided that I would go to both the Lord’s domestic finals that year, whoever was in them. It may have been an afterthought when applying for tickets for the World Cup final. Clearly, the price of tickets was within a student’s budget; Mrs T had not yet taken our grants away.

Essex played Surrey in the 55-over competition in July, while Somerset opposed Northamptonshire in the 60-over final in September. It was a good year to be a disinterested observer in St John’s Wood and a privilege to be present when both Essex and Somerset won their first trophies in more than a century of existence.  Tears in the eyes of grown men…“if only Dad had lived to see this, how happy it would have made him…” etc. And there were centuries by two great batsmen, though the greatness of only one of them was apparent by 1979.

What John Woodcock thought of all this I don’t know; The Times was in its year-long shutdown and missed the 1979 season completely, so there are no extracts from its archive in this piece.

I had watched two games in the 55-over competition before the final. My season began as it did for many of the next 19, in the bracing April breezes of the County Ground in Bristol. Gloucestershire despatched Minor Counties (South) with ease, Procter 11-5-18-2 and 82 not out. Two weekends later I returned to Kent for the visit of Middlesex. John Shepherd took three wickets for one run early on, and the Londoners reached 178 only because Mike Gatting and Phil Edmonds put on 75 for the sixth wicket. Knocking it off would be, we thought, a matter of routine, and I felt superior in already having my final ticket when everybody else would be scrabbling for theirs later. Kent were all out for 73, their lowest List A score (but, as we will see, not for long).

So to the final. I got to Lord’s, as I did for most of these finals, soon after the gates opened at nine. My basic ground admission ticket gave access to the lower tier of around much of the ground.  For all the finals in which Kent were not involved I watched from the stands at the Nursery End at long on for the right-handed batsman. No seats were allocated, so it was first-come-first served, but that worked well as like-minded spectators grouped together. In my area the ratio of people to Playfair annuals to pork pies was as near to 1:1:1 as makes no difference. Those there to drink and chant went to the Tavern Stand (this group was bigger for the July finals, outside the football season). Short people could choose not to sit behind tall people. The insistence on sending us all to particular seats was one of the reasons I stopped going so regularly, particularly after I found, in 1985, that my seat was directly behind the sightscreen.

I still like to get to grounds early, especially on big occasions. I’d go into the museum, walk around the ground, watch the players in the nets, and be back in my seat for the toss, won that day by Surrey’s Roger Knight, who did what most one-day captains did then and put them in, perhaps unwisely given that Sylvester Clarke was missing through injury and Robin Jackman playing despite struggling for fitness.

Opening the batting were Mike Denness and Graham Gooch. It was good to see Denness back at Lord’s, the only Essex player to have played in a previous county final, though Gooch had been there just a month before at the World Cup final (as had I). There he made 32 batting at No 4, but had been left in a hopeless position by Brearley and Boycott’s adoption of appeasement as an approach to chasing 286 (on the day of writing this, New Zealand adopted the same method in the World Cup to chase Australia’s 243, with equally disastrous results). Gooch had also—along with Boycott and Larkins—been a third of a fifth bowler against Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge and the rest, but a month later did not bowl a ball against Butcher, Roope and Lynch.
Gooch’s promise was universally acknowledged, but at that point unfulfilled. It was four years after his disastrous double-duck debut at Edgbaston, the last test in England where an uncovered pitch changed the course of the game. He had returned to the England team in 1978, filling a vacancy caused by the absence of the Packer players. In the winter’s series against a second-string Australia he had played in all six tests but reached fifty only in the last of them. Thirteen tests so far, but no centuries. There were those who thought that he was another English batsman—Hampshire and Hayes two recent examples—whose promise was no more than a mirage.

Nobody who saw Gooch bat under the July sun that day took that view. For the first time on a big stage we saw the foreboding backlift, the stop-motion movement, the most reassuring front foot in cricket plonking down to send extra cover into retreat. His 120 was one of the four finest hundreds I saw in Lord’s finals: Clive Lloyd in the first World Cup final, Richards a few weeks before and Aravinda de Silva’s losing effort against Lancashire in 1995 complete the list.

When the names of overseas players who graced county cricket in the seventies and eighties are reeled off, that of Ken McEwan is rarely included, which is an omission. He played for Essex for 12 years, in every one of which he topped a thousand first-class runs, and was as consistent in the one-day game, good enough to bat at any tempo. Here, he outscored Gooch in a third-wicket partnership of 124, his 72 including ten fours.

McEwan always seemed to make runs when I was in the crowd. The day of Princess Diana’s wedding was memorable for me solely for his century at Canterbury. Perhaps the community of cricket bloggers could collect famous days in history that they recall more for cricketing reasons.

Essex reached 290, the second-best domestic final score at that time, beaten only by the 317 that Yorkshire made in 1965, on the day that hard-hitting aliens took over the body of Geoffrey Boycott.

The Essex supporters around me couldn’t have been more nervous had all their mortgages been put on the win. Openers Alan Butcher and Monte Lynch went before fifty was on the board, then Geoff Howarth and Roger Knight put on 91 for the third wicket. But it was just a beat too slow, and the pressure that put on the later batsmen meant that wickets fell regularly, the winning margin of 35 runs making it look easier than it felt, to everybody on the northern banks of the Thames Estuary, at least.

Essex followed up by winning the Championship later in the year, the first of seven titles secured with four games in hand. No county has represented the soul of county cricket better than Essex in the four decades since that first happy day at Lord’s.

A few days before Essex’s victory, Lancashire visited Canterbury for the second round of the 60-over knockout. Kent had beaten Glamorgan at Swansea in the first round, Underwood 12-5-11-1.

Chris Tavaré has been attracting some attention on social media this week having been photographed at the launch of Vic Marks’ book (which is on the list of purchases on our September visit to the UK—we always arrive with light suitcases and leave with heavy ones, all books). It was good that his appearance prompted universally positive comments, admiring of the stoutest defence since Leningrad in the forties. Even more pleasing were the one or two who remembered him as a Sunday dasher, Clark of Kent, the mild-mannered blocker transformed into flayer of one-day attacks. It was this persona that turned up at St Lawrence that day, top scoring with 87 when Kent batted first, and putting on 101 with Asif Iqbal for the third wicket. Some late hitting from Ealham, Shepherd and Cowdrey took Kent to 278, a score that would win many more 60-over games than it lost in that era.

Lancashire’s reply was interrupted by the weather at 35 for one. A surprise here for younger readers: we all went back the next day to finish the game. Cricket was not controlled by the accountants and marketing people to the extent that it is now, so a loss-making second, or third, day to finish the game properly was considered worth the expense.

Day two did not start well for Lancashire, with opener Barry Wood retiring hurt a shoulder injury on 24. Wood was good enough a batsman to play 12 tests, mainly as an opener. He had a fine reputation as a player of pace, but suffered, as so many in that era did, from never being given a real run. The same applied to ODIs, of which he was selected for 13 over a decade. If had started just a few years later he might have played ten times that number as specialist one-day selections became more of a norm, his quality batting supplemented by scheming medium pace.

Here, he returned to the crease with Lancashire in trouble at 124 for five and reached his hundred in under an hour, supported by keeper John Lyon in a stand of 76 for the sixth wicket. They never quite caught up with the required rate though and fell well short of the 22 needed from the last over.

It was Asif Iqbal who swept away the Lancashire top order with a spell of four for five in 17 balls, probably the most decisive spell of his Kent career. Because of a dodgy back he was never a regular member of the attack, and some years hardly bowled at all. The scorecard of this game suggests that he only came on because Chris Cowdrey was getting tonked, but in heavy conditions such as those that day he could get the red ball to swing.

It was off to Taunton for the quarter-final. It was another of several days in 1979 when Kent folk spent the first half of the game thinking that things were going much more swimmingly than they actually were. Dilley removed openers Rose and Slocombe early. Richards (44) and Botham (29) were two of four victims for Bob Woolmer’s deceptive medium pace. Somerset were 45 for four, then 128 for eight, but Graham Burgess led a rally of the tail that produced 62 for the last two wickets.

Burgess’s appearance and demeanour gave the impression of his having left his blacksmith’s forge to play, though in fact he was a ex-Millfield schoolboy. He was the only survivor of the team from the 1967 final, and had held his place as the journeymen were replaced by superstars.  In 1979, he knew that his time was running out and walked out to bat that day with determination borne from the thought that his last chance of a trophy could be gone if he failed.

Even so, a target of 190 did not seem daunting. If the last two pairs could bat with such ease, we reasoned, then the pitch must have detoxed, making a sub-200 target an administrative matter.

What occurred was a cricketing recreation of Wall Street in the late October of ‘29: panic, helplessness and collapsing numbers, the Kent batsmen reduced to penury by Joel Garner. It was the second of three occasions that summer when I watched Garner bowl an irresistible spell that finished off the opposition, the previous occasion being the World Cup final. Chris Tavaré went more square on when he found the pace uncomfortably quick; here his feet pointed straight down the pitch, but he still got one of five ducks in the Kent innings. Kent’s 60 all out remains their lowest List A score to this day.

Watching a World Cup game from Taunton the other day, I realised a sign of the passing years is that what is now referred to as the “old pavilion” wasn’t built when I first went there.

An easy victory over Middlesex in the semi-final took Somerset into the final, where they were favourites against Northamptonshire, just as they had been against Sussex the previous year, only to go down by a comfortable five wickets. Just four years before, Northamptonshire had beaten Lancashire against the odds, so the Somerset fans were every bit as inclined to read the runes as pessimistically as their Essex counterparts had been a few weeks before.

Viv Richards was there to reassure them, in the same way as Gooch had, with a century. It contained many of the same fine shots as his World Cup final hundred, but was of a different tone, as if he had been given custody of a fine but fragile piece of priceless china that he had to deliver safely. Watching Richards bat has been one of the greatest joys of my cricket watching, a combination of elegance, power and pride that was quite wonderful. Brian Rose’s 41 was the next highest score, but most of the rest chipped in for a total of 269.

Garner started as he had at Taunton, removing Larkins lbw in the first over, then trapped Richard Williams hit wicket as the batsman wisely tried to put as much distance between himself and the bowler as possible. It seemed that an early train was again an option, but Geoff Cook and Allan Lamb put on 113 for the second wicket. Wisden says that this took just 13 overs, but this has to be a mistake. Nine an over at any stage was unheard of in those days, and it would etched on the memory and often written about, surely. Lamb was three years off qualifying for England and this was the first time that he showed his class on a big occasion. Cook was to secure a winter in the sun on the back of a Lord’s final performance two years later, but here was run out for 41, the beginning of the end for Northamptonshire. Garner returned not so much to mop up the tail as expunge all traces of its DNA, finishing with six for 29, the best bowling I saw in a final.

Somerset’s first trophy in 104 years was followed by a second fewer than 24 hours later. The team, the whiff of cider in the air all the way up the M1, made their way to Nottingham for the last day of the Sunday League, which they went into placed second. Their modest (but in the circumstances commendable) 185 did not suggest that a double was in prospect, particularly as leaders Kent had three fewer to chase against Middlesex. At 40 without loss in ten overs, to us at Canterbury it looked pretty much in the bag. We were the Habsburgs of our time, thinking ourselves magnificent while bits of our empire were quietly seceding.

All ten wickets fell for 86 runs. News of this inspired Somerset to induce an even more precipitous collapse, with the last eight Nottinghamshire wickets falling for 46. A slightly surprised looking Brian Rose accepted the trophy as if he had been doing it all his life.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

World Cups I have seen

With the twelfth World Cup just a few days away, I have put together links to previous posts about World Cups, starting with the first three finals, all of which I attended:

Given the ticket-distribution issues I’ve read about, I’d note that my tickets for each of these games arrived several months in advance thanks to the Victorian innovation that was the stamped, addressed envelope.

In 2015 the World Cup came to New Zealand (shared with Australia) and cricket consumed the country in a way that I have not experienced before and don’t expect to again. It was all you heard people talking about in cafés and on buses. If only England were to be as cricket-focussed over the next couple of months. The final, I see, clashes with the free-to-air men’s final at Wimbledon.

I saw all four games played in Wellington. The New Zealand v England game was the most astonishing game of cricket that I have ever seen. England thought themselves reasonably placed at 104 for three, but were fewer than 20 overs from defeat, routed by Southee then pulverised by McCullum.  

England v Sri Lanka had centuries by Root and, sublimely, Sangakkara.

The quarter-final, New Zealand v West Indies, had something else that was extraordinary: 237 not out from Martin Guptill, in a World Cup knockout game at that.

And then there was South Africa v UAE. This will, I realise, be as unpopular as Theresa May, but those who lament the absence of “minnows” (perhaps the contemporary cricketing cliché that I dislike the most) should have paid good money, as I did, to see South Africa rattle up the most bored looking 341 you will ever see. De Villiers’ 99 was made in a manner of a great concert pianist refusing to use the black notes as the occasion was not deserving of his full talent. The UAE made no attempt whatsoever to chase the target.

In limiting the participants to ten, the ICC have recreated the format of the 1992 World Cup, the one held by many to be (apart from its odd rain rules) the best. The presence of Afghanistan and Bangladesh allows for the possibility (indeed, probability) of some giant-killing, and no game will be the foregone conclusion that made for such a tedious afternoon at the Cake Tin.

What’s more, the qualifying competition last year was splendid. The need to get their act together or be excluded from the World Cup seems to have galvanised the West Indies, and who wants to reward Zimbabwe with a guaranteed place at the top table?

I hope that readers going to World Cup games will enjoy it as much as we did here four years ago. In a perfect world there will be a variety of pitches so as to test all the cricketing skills, bat and ball will be perfectly balanced and England will display generosity in defeat when New Zealand chase down 370 at Lord’s on 14 July.

1979: Forty years on—first wins for Essex and Somerset

                              I was pleased that Somerset won the last Lord’s one-day final. It seemed fitting that a county outside the ...