Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kent v Sussex, Gillette Cup Semi-Final (60 overs), Canterbury, 19 July 1967

To begin at the beginning. This is the earliest scorecard I have, though I became a junior member of Kent in 1966, for the substantial fee of one guinea. It was the first List A match (the equivalent of first-class status for limited-over matches) played at the St Lawrence Ground.

I watched from what is now the Leslie Ames Enclosure, then simply wooden benches with backs, like the other public seating on the north and south sides of the ground. Why there, I’m not sure. I can’t remember ever watching from that part of the ground since.

Let us take a trudge around the ground to see how it has changed. At the Nackington Road End the sightscreen was canvas (or some similar material), with pegs holding it upright. The wooden sightscreen was a mid-seventies innovation.

There wouldn’t have been marquees, it not being Canterbury Week, instead cars would have been parked almost up to the boundary line from the sightscreen round to the start of the public seating square of the pitch.

The most obvious difference between then and now is in this quarter: the lime tree, then in its pomp, was the totem of the ground, as it remained until a gale brought it down in 2005 (though it was in a reduced and somewhat pathetic state when I last saw it in 2002).

The Deal Beach Parlours ice cream van would have been somewhere around here, as would a mobile bar in the name of Chas Cox caterers of Gillingham. Both would have been popular on this warm July day.

The public seating on this northern side of the ground was over-flowing. There was no advertising around the boundary (marked only by a white line), so people could sit on the grass in front of the seats. Something was lost when the introduction of hoardings put an end to this (c1976).

It was just as well on this particular day, because, being quite happy to take people’s money as long as it was profered, they didn’t close the gates. The report in the 1968 Kent Annual estimates that almost 17,000 were in the ground by late afternoon. The only place they could sit was on the boundary, which consequently shrunk as the game wore on.

Moving on. The old white scoreboard stood at the end of this block. I was pleased that, when the time came, they kept the replacement white, though they could have made the effort and covered the brick with a wooden veneer.

Behind the scoreboard was the printer’s hut, presided over then, and for another twenty years, by Cyril Garnham of JA Jennings Ltd. Given the title of this blog, it is important that we pause here and look closely.

Scorecards were printed on the spot, on a proper printing press. No cards were printed until the toss had been made and Cyril had ascertained the composition of the teams. Cards were reprinted in small batches throughout the day, always with the latest fall of wickets included (some legal or contractual reason prevented this happening for Sunday League matches from 1969, a point concerning which Cyril found it difficult to hide his contempt).

At the end of every match a final scorecard would be prepared, and quite a crowd (including, I think it will now be obvious, me) would wait to take away a complete record of the game. Most of the Kent scorecards in my collection are in this form.

Scorecards are a particularly English thing. The rest of the cricketing world took the trouble to design scoreboards that give players names, full details of batsmen out, and bowling figures. But a scoreboard can’t be taken home and won’t make you remember things forty years later.

Ever onward.

We come to the pavilion annexe, built in 1906, and hardly changed since, except that the individual wooden chairs have been replaced by plastic seats, and the press box has become the media area, and has been partitioned off, to keep the public out or the journalists in, depending how you look at it. Copy had to be phoned through, and such was the shortage of lines that reporters sometimes joined the queue for the public phone next to the pavilion.

The present dressing rooms were still a couple of years away, and the space was occupied by a tree and a tea hut. I have always assumed that the new building was the result of a competition to find a design that clashed utterly with the adjoining structures while having no architectural merit of its own.

Externally, the pavilion looked much then as it does now, except that the radio commentary boxes were used for other purposes (possibly a players’ viewing area). Commentary was done from the back of vans parked on the bank next to the sightscreen at the Nackington Road End. Inside, it was much more crowded, and contained the dressing rooms, allowing the players to enjoy members’ comments as they returned after being out for a low score.

Incredible as it may seem, there may not have been a sightscreen at this end; if there was it would have been a rudimentary cloth arrangement behind ground floor seats.

Next, there was the concrete stand (built 1927), much as it is now, except for the seating, as in the pavilion annexe. It didn’t become the Frank Woolley Stand until the seventies.

The road behind the pavilion was wider than it is now; some it was taken for the large houses now adjacent to the ground. The area by the oast houses now used for nets was then just a car park. The main office was in the house that it still occupies, but it was unextended.

There was no Cowdrey Stand until 1987. The southern side public seating extended further round. The area occupied by the sports centre then contained a smaller, Nissen hut-like structure for indoor nets. A large marquee for public catering would have been next to it.

Finally, we come to what is now the Leslie Ames Stand, then simply the iron stand. Since the seventies it has been dedicated to corporate boxes (Kent was one of the first counties to exploit the commercial potential they offered). In 1967 it was still a public stand. The top floor offered a good view, but the bottom deck was usually empty even when the rest of the ground was quite full, as it was open to the wind and had uniquely cold and uncomfortable metal chairs.

The present scoreboard appeared in the early seventies. Then the scoreboard was taller and narrower. Canterbury was the only non-test ground that I came across with two detailed scoreboards.

As for the match itself, it was the start of Kent’s greatest era, the first time that a full ground had revelled in the crushing of a rival. Kent’s score of 293 was equivalent to about a hundred more in a modern one-day game. This was partly because there were no fielding restrictions, so only one or two fielders would have been in from the boundary in the closing stages of an innings, but it was more to do with a frame of mind. For much of its course, a sixty-over innings would proceed as if it were a first-class innings, speeding up in a polite way only in the final third.

So seventies from Brian Luckhurst, Colin Cowdrey and John Shepherd (batting at three, suggesting that his batting ability was largely wasted in the lower order for much of his Kent career) settled it. John Snow, already an England bowler, was hit around, as was Tony Greig, in his first season. Both would gain revenge as the years passed. Sussex lost early wickets and never looked like catching up.

Six weeks later I was off to Lord’s for the first time, for the final against Somerset. But that’s another scorecard.

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