Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wellington v Otago, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 17 – 20 December 2015

#plunketshield trended briefly on Twitter in Wellington on the first day of this game, which was heartening, but more indicative of a capital city that gives up giving a damn about anything much at this time in December, rather than one suddenly in thrall to the delights of first-class cricket.
My Life in Cricket Scorecards had intended to be present throughout this game, but single-digit temperatures and a Rottweiler southerly on the first two days meant that it was not until the third morning that I took my seat at the Basin—the tweeting hoards absent, I noticed—with Otago 100 for two in reply to Wellington’s 328.
The best batting for Otago came from Neil Broom and Anaru Kitchen, but the biggest partnership of the innings was only 58. With more than half of the second day had been lost to rain, the game needed moving along and a declaration came at 279 for eight, conceding a lead of 49.
Michael Papps and Luke Woodcock spent the last session putting on a rapid unbeaten double-century opening partnership for Wellington. Almost half the overs in this period were bowled either by inexperienced leg spinner Rhys Phillips, or by Anaru Kitchen, whose slow left arm has reaped four wickets in 52 first-class appearances.
Was there a slightly unpleasant taste to all this, the disappointment of discovering that the cream topping the trifle is artificial, not the genuine full fat? In short, was it declaration bowling?
Yes and no. The bowlers were doing their best, but had Otago skipper Hamish Rutherford been really determined to staunch the flow, others would have been given the ball on the third evening. Even so, attack leader Jacob Duffy bowled more than double the overs that anybody else did over the innings as a whole. So while Otago would have bowled Wellington out if they could, the inevitability of a target being set on the fourth morning was accepted. I don’t think that a deal was done.
Michael Papps’ agony in the nineties was powerful evidence for the defence. He cut and pulled as forcefully as ever, and was particularly hard on Phillips’ nervous leggies. Yet with the century just a shot away, it was suddenly as if he was batting at the bottom of the sea, feet heavy, hands slow. For a couple of overs he offered respect to Kitchen’s nondescript bowling as if under the impression that it was a senior member of the royal family.
It was Papps’ 28th first-class century, so it was not as if he was unfamiliar with the situation. The achievement of a century has been built into a cult, and cults mess with the minds of reasonable people.
After Papps finally forced a cut through the infield to bring up three figures he was away again, and raced to 132 before getting out early on the final morning. An hour’s tonking, led by Woodcock who reached 131, and Wellington set Otago a target of 355, four an over for a minimum of 86 overs.
The pitch was as pacey as has there has been at the Basin for quite a few seasons. This was to everyone’s advantage (except, as we will see, an aging medium pacer in whom it induced delusions of a return to a long-past youth of bouncers and blood); the quicker bowlers found reward for effort; a canny spinner could employ the bounce to good effect; and batsmen could play shots with confidence.
So Hamish Rutherford was most unfortunate to be out early, lbw to one of the very few balls all day to keep low. There followed an exchange of what it would be inaccurate to call pleasantries between the batsman and the bowler, Brent Arnel.
Arnel was on a mission; today was the day he would revive Bodyline. To both Brad Wilson and later Derek de Boorder he placed as many as four legside close catchers, with a deep square leg too. His plan was to pepper the batsmen with short-pitched deliveries that they would fend off into the hands of the waiting predators, just like Larwood and Voce.
Wilson and de Boorder had to avoid playing shots. They were mostly able to do this by simply standing there as the ball passed high or wide of them. If anybody at the Basin on Sunday had said “there are two teams out there, but only one is playing cricket” it would only be because Arnel appeared to have abandoned the game in favour of pie throwing.
Yet it worked.
While de Boorder had been content to leave all but the most punishable of Arnel’s nonsense, Neil Broom, with the confidence that being 85 not out gives you, had a go at a perambulating long hop that was too straight to be pulled. A thin edge to the keeper resulted.
At that point Otago had eased ahead, needing 128 more with six wickets standing and two batsmen set. It turned the game.
Jeetan Patel was the difference. He had two wickets already, following three in the first innings. Brad Wilson had hit him for a straight six, but when he attempted a repeat later in the same over found too late that it was a little quicker, a little fuller. Caught and bowled. Next over, Kitchen followed, bowled playing forward.
Once the Broom/de Boorder partnership was broken Patel was too clever for the rest of the order and last six wickets fell for 35, four to the off spinner. Wellington won by 92 runs.
Which brings us to the Jeetan Patel question: he is by far and away the best spinner in New Zealand, the most respected slow bowler in county cricket (if available he would be a shoo in for the England test team) and a current Wisden Cricketer of the Year. So why is he not in the national team?
The surprising thing is not the answer, but that the question is never asked. Patel has not played for New Zealand since the tour of South Africa when he staged his infamous retreat to square leg against Dale Steyn’s bowling. He was picked for the West Indies tour last year, but put his county commitments first, which is, presumably, why he is no longer considered. But does it matter that he picks and chooses? There is Australia to beat, and had Patel played at Adelaide he might just have made the difference. But neither public nor media seem to raise the possibility. We, the faithful few at the Basin, will be happy to have him to ourselves.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hat tricks I have seen (Part 3)

Hat tricks Nos 6 and 7 are at opposite ends of the sublime/ridiculous spectrum. One a fluent Gower off drive, the other a Devon Malcolm swipe; the first flowing Dennis Lillee, the second twisted Paul Adams. Place, occasion, significance, reaction, everything could not have been more different.
Darren Gough, Australia v England, Sydney Cricket Ground, 2 January 1999
I was in my seat at the SCG more than two hours before play started, my expression that of a Seventh Day Adventist on the morning of the second coming. After so many years of early alarms to tune into a crackling McGilvray, how wonderful it was to actually be there.

And how magnificent for a day’s cricket to be worth the 30-year wait. A partnership of 190 between the Waugh twins would have been the highlight of almost any other day. Mark got a century, but for once the usually more artisan Steve outdid his brother in silkiness of stroke.

Dean Headley dismissed three of Australia’s top four. Peter Such skipped around the field, knowing that there would not be many more test matches for him (just one as it turned out), and set on enjoying himself while he could.

Some spectators left a few overs before the end, replete with the sort of joy that only a good day’s test cricket can bring. Their way of making their day perfect was to get an early bus, or avoid the queues at the train station.

As, with a self-satisfied smirk, they bought their ticket, Darren Gough completed the first hat trick taken by an England bowler in the Ashes in a hundred years.

Watch to see what magnificent fast bowling it was. Quick enough late in the day to produce bounce and enough movement into Ian Healy to make his attempted cut shot the wrong choice. An easy catch for the keeper (three guesses who that was, by the way: answer below).
Next, a perfect yorker to take Stuart Macgill’s middle stump.
Colin Miller, expecting the same, barely raised his bat, planting if firmly in front of middle. Gough was cleverer and better, coaxing enough away swing to clatter the off stump. Up in the Churchill Stand, how we stood and cheered.

My friends, unless you want to live an old age blighted with remorse and regret, never leave a cricket match before the last ball is bowled.
The keeper was Warren Hegg. Remember him? Thought not.

Cricket Max was Martin Crowe’s idea. Then a Sky TV executive, Crowe spotted a gap in the leisure market and TV schedules that three hours’ cricket could fill. This was six years before T20 began in England, with the ECB’s marketing people taking the credit.

But, as he tended to do as a captain from time to time, Crowe overthought a good idea and made it a bit too complicated for its own good. Instead of two 20-over innings, there were four of ten overs. And there was the Max Zone between long off and long on. If the ball entered or passed over the zone, runs scored were doubled.

The CricInfo feature that introduced the competition reminds me that there were other superfluous embellishments, though many of these had been dropped by the time I arrived in Whakatane, on the sunny Bay of Plenty coast, to cover the game in question.

Every New Zealand town has a space like Rex Morpeth Park, often several of them. A pleasant, tree-lined space with a functional dressing room and bar area. No media area though. Thus it was that I delivered my first-ever live reports for CricInfo—my account of each ten-over innings published on-line within a couple of minutes of its conclusion—from the middle of the hospitality area—sausage rolls and lamingtons so near yet so far—viewing the action through a sort of enlarged letter box.
Simon Doull’s hat trick was spread over two innings, which some would argue means that it wasn’t a proper hat trick at all. The record books contain several such examples however, so it counts as one of my seven.
Forgive me for being sufficiently self-regarding as to quote my own account of the event from my end-of-match summary:

He removed Lou Vincent and Kyle Mills with the last two balls of the fourth over of the first innings, completing the hat-trick with the first ball of the second over of the second innings when James Marshall took a good catch to dismiss Llorne Howell.

You might at this point think that you would like to know more, and should consult those live reports. Well, you can’t as they have disappeared from the CricInfo archives. This is just as well, as you would search for mention of the hat trick in vain.

You see, nobody noticed that a hat trick had been taken until Northern Districts’ splenetic scorer Bill Andersson audited his score book at the end of the game. Simon Doull was as surprised as anybody. Max exaggerated one of the deficiencies of quick cricket: it moves like a bullet train, too fast to take in everything that is interesting as you look out of the window.

“Unique” is one of the most overworked and abused words in the language, but I would say with a high degree of confidence that Doull’s achievement that day of a hat trick and king pair all within three hours justifies its deployment.

By the way, Bill Andersson (still ND’s scorer today) was one reason why covering ND for a few summers was so much fun. He had the people skills and vocabulary of a sergeant major. In the press box we used to compete to see how many swear words we could elicit from him in response to an innocently phrased statistical enquiry. If memory serves, the record was thirteen.

So those are my seven hat tricks. There have been no more these fifteen years. Not even the remarkable 2014/15 season could produce one. My first visit to the Basin this season is imminent, so here’s hoping.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hat tricks I have seen (Part 2)

The middle three of my seven hat tricks were all taken by Kent quick bowlers all of whom experienced fleeting glory for England.

3. Richard Ellison, Kent v Hampshire, Sunday League, Canterbury, 29 May 1983

When Fred Trueman first saw Richard Ellison bowl in test cricket, the king of curmudgeon took just one over to write him off as a mere medium-pacer, and a southern one at that. But any batsman who thought that he could reside on the front foot against Ellison would likely be disabused by a surprisingly sharp bouncer.

He was brisk enough to make his command of swing devastating on his day. He is one of those who will be remembered for one day—little more than one hour really. Late in the afternoon of the fourth day of the fifth Ashes test in 1985 Ellison took the top off the Australian order, leaving them 36 for five at the close and completing ten wickets in the match for him.

Ellison played his last test less than a year later, a persistent back injury taking the edge off the swing and the pace, though he played on for Kent until 1993.
His hat trick was the most prosaic of my seven, the last three balls of a mundane 40-over game, the result already clear. Hampshire were 133 for seven, 66 short of their target with seven overs left, the Kent innings built around a fine 62 by the great CJ Tavaré.

Ellison, bowling from the Pavilion End, bowled Tim Tremlett, then had Bobby Parks caught behind by Alan Knott. Steve Malone—in 1985, high on the list of players who the bowler would choose to face a hat-trick delivery—came in at No 11. I would assume that Ellison bowled cross-seam and cut the pace down as it is inconceivable that Malone would have come within a bus ride of a swinging ball; to have found the edge to a first delivery, as he did, was an achievement in batting equal to most other players hitting it back over the bowler’s head for six. So it was that for the second time Alan Knott made the dismissal that completed a hat trick that I have seen.

Ellison again took three wickets at the end of another match between the same teams at St Lawrence just a few days later, with Hampshire again chasing 199 for victory, this time in a 55-over quarter-final. Despite being hat-trick free, it was an altogether more gripping occasion. Hampshire’s collapse, from 167 for two to a five-run defeat, was as spectacular as I have seen, worth a post to itself sometime.

4. Graham Dilley, Surrey v Kent, County Championship, the Oval, 6 July 1985

It was the English summer at its finest. A Saturday when the sun shouted from a cloudless sky, to demand that decent people gather up their binoculars, Wisdens and scotch eggs, and go to the cricket. So it was the early train from Bristol, then the Northern Line to Kennington.

County cricket does not seem out of place at the Oval, as it does at Lord’s. Middlesex—usually poked away on the edge of the square with an absurdly short boundary on one side—are the servants allowed to dance in the ballroom when the owners are away, but the Oval seems able to adjust to the occasion (perhaps the majestic new stand at the Vauxhall End has changed that since I was last there, but I hope not). I watched from high in the Pavilion with Allen Hunt, George Murrell and others.

Chris Cowdrey—in the first year of his usurpation of the captaincy—won the toss and Kent compiled 301 at a pleasant tempo. Simon Hinks’ 81 was the top score. Hinks was a tall left-hander with a pleasing drive, but whose career statistics do not reflect his potential

There was drama at the end of the innings, Shakespearian servings of plot, pathos and comedy. When the ninth wicket fell, Kent were 13 short of the 300 needed for a fourth batting bonus point. When Derek Underwood saw Kevin Jarvis walking down the pavilion steps to join him he could have thought himself in the position of a general struggling for survival in battle who sees a friendly army coming to rescue, only to discover that it is the Italians.

KBS Jarvis is the worst batsman I have seen in my half century of spectating, a judgement made without hesitation or equivocation. For Underwood to distil the required 13 from the partnership was to scale the north face of Mt Pessimism. Jarvis’ 0 was one of his finest.

But the best cricket of the day, pre hat trick, came from the off spinner Pat Pocock, who took seven for 42. Underwood bowled only 16 overs in the match, and Pocock went wicketless in the second innings, so this was pure art and craft, and three of them were clean bowled. Pocock had played the last of his 25 tests as recently as the previous February, 17 years after his first. He couldn’t bat and was no more than reliable in the field, so might not have had a place in the modern game, but what a lot of wickets he would take.

Surrey were left to face 40 minutes or so of Kent bowling. Graham Dilley opened the bowling from the Pavilion End. Dilley had returned to cricket after missing the whole of the 1984 season with a neck injury, and it was hard going as he tried to get that manufactured, goose-stepping action back into rhythm. It is a generalisation, but when Dilley was bowling well he was mostly away playing for England, and when he wasn’t he was a bit of a liability. As a county cricketer, Worcestershire got more from him later on. He took only 32 first-class wickets in 1985, but eight of them were in this game, and three in three balls this sunny afternoon.

Opener Duncan Pauline was caught by Hinks at slip, then nightwatchman Nick Taylor had his stumps demolished first ball.

“I have never seen a hat trick,” said George Murrell. This seemed an unlikely claim from one who had seen so much of Doug Wright, taker of seven hat tricks, more than anyone else in cricket history. But only two of those were taken in Kent, and there were few others in the fifties and sixties, so it was not improbable.

When Andy Needham edged the next ball for Hinks to take another catch to complete Dilley’s feat, I turned to George, expecting a jubilant reaction.
“I was going to have the words ‘He never saw a hat trick’ on my headstone, but that’s put paid to that” was all he said.

5. Dean Headley, Kent v Hampshire, County Championship, 14 September 1996

In terms of hat tricks, 1996 was to Kent cricket what 1849 was to California’s gold prospectors. Dean Headley’s hat trick that I saw on the third day of this game was his third in under two months. Martin McCague took another on the final day of the same match. To put this in its full probability defying context, there has only been one first-class hat-trick by a Kent bowler in the 20 seasons since.

Headley came Kent from Middlesex and his enthusiastic approach made him very popular with the Kent faithful. Discordant cries of “Dean-oh!” would fill the air once the bars had been open for a few hours. When it all worked, he could get movement in the air and off the pitch.

He began a 15-match test career in the 1997 Ashes, taking eight wickets on debut at Old Trafford. I was at Sydney for the New Year test in 1999 to see him repeat this achievement, but it is for the previous test at Melbourne that he is best remembered. At 130 for three, Australia appeared to be cruising to a series-winning target of 175 when Headley ripped out the middle and lower order to finish with six for 60. England won by 12 runs.

In the match in question, Hampshire were 87 behind Kent on first innings with the eighth-wicket partnership together. With captain John Stephenson still there—albeit proceeding at a glacial pace—parity was not out of the question. Kent were still in with an outside chance of the Championship, but needed a win in this, the penultimate match, to stay in the race.

Stephenson was the first of the three hat-trick victims, caught by Ealham (perhaps at mid off or mid on, but I am not certain). Fast bowlers James Bovill and Simon Renshaw followed from the next two deliveries, both leg before. The reaction of the bowler and his teammates was one of disbelief followed by laughter.

Preparing for this piece, I had no memory of who the umpire was raised the fateful finger twice in succession. The scorecard tells me that the two on duty that day were George Sharp and Ray “Trigger” Julian. I would wager a considerable sum that it was Julian who was at the bowler’s end on that occasion. His nickname was the result of his interpretation of the lbw law in a way that dispatched batsmen at an attrition rate of a wild west saloon on a Saturday night.

The first thing bowlers would look for when the umpires’ roster for each season was published would be how many times Trigger was doing their games. Tense negotiation with their captain would ensue to ensure that they bowled from his end.

Julian was of the view that umpires were far too cautious about lbw decisions, and that, other conditions being satisfied, if on balance it was more likely than not that the ball would have hit the stumps, off the batsman should go. It has to be said that the advent of DRS has vindicated his view entirely, and had he been umpiring now, he might have had a lengthy international career.

He used to keep a count of his victims through the season, and the temptation of claiming two-thirds of a hat trick may have been irresistible, though my memory is that both looked out from the top deck of the Frank Woolley.

On the following Monday (Sunday was still set aside for a one-day game), Hampshire were well-placed at 143 for one, chasing a target of 292. Then McCague turned in a fearsome spell that those who saw it claim was one of the fastest seen at St Lawrence. Nine wickets fell for seven runs, so Hampshire collapses at Canterbury become a theme of this post. Kent finished fourth in the Championship that year, and after an 11-year hiatus, my hat-trick count was up to five.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hat Tricks I Have Seen (Part 1)

I have seen seven hat tricks over my half-century in the stands.

Have I been lucky to have been there for so many, or deprived to have witnessed so few? A straw poll of two people suggests the former. My Blean correspondent reckons that he saw one of Dean Headley’s in 1996, the year when an epidemic of Kentish hat tricks stared down the laws of probability. The other half of my sample has been hat-trick free for forty years or so despite spending many summer days at the Basin and other New Zealand venues, so seven seems a good return. After all, there have only been 41 hat tricks in all test cricket.

Of my seven, one was in a test match, four in the County Championship, one in the Sunday League and the other in the kiwi curiosity that was Cricket Max. Over a short series of posts I will describe them in chronological order, with the fixture linked to the scorecard.

1.  Robin Jackman, Kent v Surrey, County Championship, Canterbury, 21 May 1971

Simon Langton Boys’ School was just half a mile down the Nackington Road from the St Lawrence Ground, so on a match day I invariably took my seat during the tea interval.

That Friday I arrived on the final afternoon to find Mike Denness and Brian Luckhurst setting a good pace in pursuit of a target of 207 in roughly 40 overs, which sounds nothing much now, but would have been thought a tallish order then. No doubt quick singles, taken without a perceptible call, kept the scoreboard turning. Never have I seen a pair bat with more understanding of each other than Denness and Luckhurst.

Denness went with the partnership at exactly a hundred, and Cowdrey soon followed. Alan Ealham joined Luckhurst. Ealham’s career statistics—average 28, 7 centuries in 16 years—are not impressive on the face of it, but they tell nothing like the full story. Time and again, when an injection of momentum was required it would be Alan Ealham who would provide it with a quick 30 or 40, anonymous in the scorebook, devastating on the field.

So it was today. With 58 needed from the last ten overs, Wisden says that “Ealham really punished the Surrey attack” (which won the Championship that year) and the Kent annual that he was “hitting hard”. You bet he was. In no time he was on 45, and Kent were 11 short of victory, coasting it seemed.

Alan Gibson called Robin Jackman the “Shoreditch Sparrow”. This made the public schoolboy (St Edmund’s in Canterbury, as it happens) appear more of a common Londoner than he actually was, though he certainly bowled in the artisan tradition. Fast-medium off a long run up with short steps, Jackman was on the edge of test selection for a decade. At the Oval test match in 1976 I sat next to a couple of friends of Jackman. He had been talked about for much of that summer, but not picked and they relayed his view that, at 31, his chance had gone. Four years later, he played the first of four tests.

His lbw appeals had the volume of a soprano and the passion of a barrister arguing for the life of a murderer. A few years ago, when commentating on a test in India, he criticised a bowler for appealing loudly and I emailed to ask if he was any relation to the RD Jackman who appealed for Surrey.

Here, he had Ealham caught-and-bowled, then bowled Bernard Julien off the last ball of the over. The hat trick was completed off the first ball of Jackman’s next over when Stuart Storey “brilliantly caught” (Kent Annual) Luckhurst. John Shepherd was also out in this period, causing nervousness among the faithful, but Knott and Woolmer took Kent to victory with seven balls to spare.

2.  Derek Underwood, Sussex v Kent, County Championship, Hove, 31 August 1977

1977 was an uneasy season. The Kerry Packer issue had exploded with the impact of an asteroid on the dinosaurs, though it did not so much make cricket’s T Rexes extinct, as provoke them into a cacophony of over-reaction and foolishness. Six players at Hove that day had already signed for WSC: Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and Asif Iqbal of Kent, and for Sussex Imran Khan, John Snow and Tony Greig, who was cricket’s Darth Vader in the summer that Star Wars first appeared in cinemas. Bob Woolmer’s “defection” (to use the absurd language of that confused time) was announced the following Saturday.

The dinosaurs were trying to drive the WSC players out of county cricket, so it was possible that it was the last we would see of these fine players if the dinosaurs continued to rule the world. In itself, that made the trip to Hove worthwhile, as did the fact that Kent had their best chance in seven years of winning the Championship.

It was a dismal summer in terms of the weather as well as cricketing politics; just few days previously, my Blean correspondent and myself had spent much of a test match Saturday afternoon sheltering under the terraces at the Oval, our only consolation a grotesque tenth wicket stand between Bob Willis and Mike Hendrick during the brief period of play.

Play did not begin until three o’clock at Hove that Wednesday. The Kent Annual says that “Knight [who has just taken office as MCC President] attacked vigorously and Barclay defended dourly”, a division of labour that produced a second-wicket stand of 61. But as the afternoon wore on the pitch started to dry out and the wickets started to fall, though only two of the first six went to Underwood, which suggests that it was difficult rather than lethal.  

Imran Khan was the first leg of hat trick, falling to a diving catch by Bob Woolmer at short leg. Woolmer continued to field at short leg—still in the helmetless era—long after many players would have called rank and retreated to the slips.

John Snow was next. With a little application Snow could have become a bowling all-rounder, but his attitude to batting suggested that he felt it a bit beneath him, though not as much as fielding was, as those of us who watched him on the boundary, immobile with arms folded in a Championship match will recall. It would be dishonest to pretend that I remember what shot Snow offered to Underwood on this occasion, but trust that it was a wild swipe. One way or the other, he was bowled.

That completed the over, so Tony Greig had six deliveries to get down the other end to face the hat-trick ball. Ten were scored off the next over, which leads one to consider whether nine or 11 might have been attainable without great inconvenience. But it was Arnold Long who was left to keep Underwood out.

I have written before that my Blean correspondent and I have spent much of our prime on perfecting the selection of the All-time Boring XI. The wicket-keeping position has caused us particular angst, because boring keepers are oxymorons. The role seems to demand skittishness and militates against tedium bat-in-hand.

So the incumbent is A Long, the very man who now stood between Derek Underwood and his first hat-trick. It was Long’s anonymity that won us over. We had seen him play often, yet could remember nothing that he had done. But Long’s approach to this situation persuades me that we should look again.

You see, on a drying pitch, with the world’s best exponent of such conditions on a hat trick, Long—facing the first ball of his innings remember—chose to charge down the pitch even before the ball had left the bowler’s hand. They could have given him 20 goes at this and the outcome—the easiest stumping of Alan Knott’s career—would have been the same every time. Perhaps it was some sort of protest at this captain leaving him in the line of fire.

It was Derek Underwood’s only hat trick, so was quite something to have seen. The rain washed out the last day, the Packer players were allowed to return to county cricket (though Greig did so for only a few games, so I never saw him play again), and Kent shared the Championship with Middlesex.

It was six years until I saw another hat trick.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Watching Kent lose on TV

Napoleon, when in exile on St Helena, used to receive news of how badly things were going with the Bourbon Restoration, and mightily did it depress him. The physical distance between him and France did not dampen the disappointment one bit.

Having spent last weekend watching recordings of Kent being swept away by the undercurrent of defeat when just an inch away from the shore of victory not once, but twice, I know how he felt. You would think that being separated from the carnage by 12,000 miles would ease the pain. It does not.

There was also the women’s test match between England and Australia from Canterbury, allowing me to think myself once more at St Lawrence in August. However, my Blean correspondent was quick to send caution. His email compared it to the 1969 Gillette Cup semi-final. It was the summer of Woodstock. My correspondent’s view is that what the festival was to rock’n’roll, the fixture between Derbyshire and Sussex was to slow scoring, a marker that no future event would surpass. So it was a warning to be heeded.

Look at the scorecard and you see his point. Derbyshire hewed 136 from the granite of 57 overs, PJK Gibbs leading the resistance with an innings of 44 that was as dogged as a pack of foxhounds (unfortunately Alan Gibson does not appear to have been there to describe the innings in its full horror). Sussex could merely hang on briefly to the crevices of the rock face; all out for 49 in the 36th over.

The one thing I would say is that limited-overs cricket on a poor pitch (“slow and stopping” is Wisden’s description of the Chesterfield strip on that occasion) can be fascinating. Canterbury this week was merely slow, on the evidence of the two hours or so I have watched so far. Heeding my correspondent’s advice, I turned to the men’s game.

First, I watched Glamorgan v Kent in a group match in the 50 over competition. I used to cross the Severn Bridge to watch cricket at Sophia Gardens at some point in most seasons and always found it a convivial place to spectate. Now, over-reaching ambition has turned it into an arena in which county cricketers are hobbits in the full-sized world.

Though the game was a fortnight old when I watched, I had avoided the result, so the arrow of disappointment met no armour as it pierced my heart. Kent were put in. The Sams Northeast and Billings put on 104 for the third wicket. Northeast has had a good year and seems to be enjoying the captaincy. Rob Key remains club captain, but Northeast leads on the field. Key sits out the shorter forms and was doing a fine job in the commentary box, combining dry wit with observation of the subtleties.

Kent seem to be doing a better job of retaining their young players. The captaincy may be part of the deal that has persuaded Northeast to sign a long-term extension to his contract. Daniel Bell-Drummond has just done the same. It may help that Joe Denly and Matt Coles have returned after unsuccessful stints elsewhere, and that Billings is in the England ODI team without having had to move.

But today all the younger ones were outshone by the old stager, Darren Stevens. What a remarkable cricketer Stevens is. A couple of years ago I was there to watch him play one of the finest innings I have seen to beat Lancashire on the last day of the season. Here he made 110 from 64 balls, with nine fours and six sixes. Just as it was that day at Canterbury, his batting was aggressive, but almost wholly orthodox, each shot right for the ball it dispatched.

How gettable was Glamorgan’s target of 318? The pitch was amiable, if a little slow. There hasn’t yet been time to assess the extent to which the new fielding restrictions will restore the balance between bat and ball in the closing overs. Two fielders are allowed outside the circle in the first ten overs, four in overs 11 to 40 and five thereafter. This suggests that the gorging by batsmen in the final ten overs that we saw at the World Cup will be curtailed. Not today though.

Like Kent, Glamorgan had a solid stand early on: 132 between Bragg and Ingram for the second wicket. Ingram went on to a run-a-ball hundred, but momentum was lost mid-innings, thanks to none other than Stevens, who bowled his ten overs for only 38.

Stevens reminds me of Chris Harris. Both deliver ambling bowling that looks innocuous but makes decent batsmen into fools; both can be devastating bat-in-hand. The difference? Harris played 250 ODIs (taking 203 wickets), Stevens none. I doubt that anybody can think of a better player without an international appearance.

When there was a brief rain interruption in the 42nd over, Glamorgan looked out of it, needing 13 an over with four wickets standing. On the resumption, Kent fell apart in a spectacular manner. The game should have been over when the hard-hitting Chris Cooke was caught-and-bowled off a skyer by Ivan Thomas, only for the replay to reveal a front-foot no ball, one of three no-balls in this period. There was a decent excuse: a wet ball, which made it particularly difficult for spinner Tredwell, but there was some poor bowling and fielding, as well as some fine hitting, by Cooke in particular. The win came with two balls to spare.

The Kentish benchmark for wrenching defeat from the certain hands of victory remains the Sunday League contest against Middlesex at Folkestone in 1972. Chasing 128, Kent were 109 for three, then 126 for six, only to lose the last four wickets without addition (including a malaria-stricken Asif Iqbal at No 10). The Glamorgan game was an honourable contender, but at least, thanks to later rain, they still got through to the knock-out stage.

The second Kent fixture of my weekend was the T20 quarter-final against Lancashire at St Lawrence. I watched this one just a few hours after it was played, again without knowledge of the result. This was a defeat of a different school. Kent struggled throughout, only coming close to an unlikely win at the end, but then losing anyway, by a squeak.

It was good to see the old ground full, though the current definition of “full”—7,000—is less than half the number of us who squeezed in for the Gillette Cup semi-final in ’67. Five-figure crowds were common for the big one-day games of the seventies. It didn’t help that plenty of thought appeared to have been put into finding ways to block the view from the stands. The sightscreen put the lower pavilion out of commission, the TV scaffolding the upper; the dug-outs got in the way of the corner of the Underwood-Knott where I spent seventies summers.

There has been pleasing news about county attendances elsewhere in the last few weeks. There were 6,000 at the Oval for a 50-over game I watched on TV. Best of all, 14,000 attended the three-days of a Championship game at Scarborough. So if county cricket is played at times and in places that suit people, they will watch. This statement of the obvious will be ignored by the ECB as the Championship is further curtailed, probably to take place only on weekdays in April and September.

Kent were put in, and struggled almost throughout, losing wickets whenever a smidgen of momentum had been gained. That they reached 142 was largely thanks to an eighth-wicket partnership of 52 between Tredwell and Fabian Cowdrey, who looks much like his Uncle Graham at the crease, which is no bad thing at all.

A low first-innings in any form of cricket always brings with it the hope that the pitch is to blame, and that the opposition will find run-making just as difficult, if not more so. This strip was next to the one that induced torpor among the women, and shot making was not straightforward; orthodoxy is imposed upon batsmen by this sort of surface. A couple of early wickets gave substance to the hope, but as long as Ashwell Prince remained, there seemed to be inevitability about the outcome, particularly when he was joined by Jos Buttler in a fifth-wicket partnership of 73.

England players appear for their counties so rarely these days that some Lancashire folk may not have remembered that Buttler had joined them from Somerset. He was very impressive, the one batsman able to play cross-bat shots and reverse sweeps with confidence in the conditions. With two overs to go and the partnership intact, 13 were needed, nothing at all in T20 terms. Prince was out to the first ball of the over, but seven were scored off the remainder, leaving six to win, but effectively five as in a tie Lancashire would have lost fewer wickets.

Why is there is no “super” over in the event of a tie in this competition, as there is everywhere else? T20 is only about entertainment so razzmatazz should be pursued to its logical outcome. Deciding a tie on a statistical nicety is like finishing a punk rock concert with the national anthem (actually, the Sex Pistols did end concerts with God Save the Queen so I’ll leave it there).

There was a single off the first ball, then Buttler and Croft holed out in the deep off successive deliveries by Coles. New Batsmen James Faulkner missed the fourth ball, and for the first time in the game Kent were on equal terms.

However, Faulkner—man of the match in the World Cup final a few months ago—is developing the habit of trampling on my dreams. Two runs from the fifth ball left two needed for the tie. They were fluked. Faulkner’s drive hit the stumps at the bowler’s end and ricocheted at precisely the angle needed to place the ball between two fielders to allow a safe two to be taken. It was Jack Bond diving to catch Asif Iqbal all over again.

I look back to the glory days of the seventies and think that we should have enjoyed them even more than we did had we known that decades of frustration were to follow. Distance does not temper that feeling, but the thing about sport is that there is always another game. Surrey v Kent in the 50-over quarter-final, in this case.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Canterbury Week 1965: It Begins

Thursday 5 August 1965.

LBJ is in the White House. That night Morley Safer’s CBS News report showing US troops setting light to the homes of unarmed Vietnamese villagers starts to turn public opinion against the war.

In London, the Wilson Cabinet and the House of Commons meet for the last time before the summer break. “The whole place is completely conked out” records the Minister of Housing and diarist, Richard Crossman. “We have taken a terrible beating; our own people are disheartened and the press are utterly vicious.”

The Beatles are No 1 with Help!, both on Top of the Pops—Alan Freeman presenting on BBC 1—and at the cinemas.

In Kent, My Life in Cricket Scorecards goes to the cricket for the first time, fifty years ago today.

It was Canterbury Week, Middlesex the visitors. A Thursday, half-day closing in Herne Bay, so our grocer’s shop shut at one and we got there for the afternoon session. My Dad had been lent somebody’s membership card (thus adding a touch of illicitness to the outing) and we took our seats in the what was then referred to as “the wooden stand”, but which now bears the names of two of those playing that day, not much more than boys, but who have been surpassed by none in the half-century since, in my eyes at least: Derek Underwood and Alan Knott. Mike Brearley appeared for the visitors.

Piecing together the evidence from Wisden, I certainly saw Knott bat, but not for long; he was out for a duck, just as he was the last time I saw him, twenty summers later. I have no specific memory of Brian Luckhurst completing the first century that I ever saw, but the Wisden helpfully says that he batted for three hours 40 minutes, so I must have joined in the applause, and that for a jaunty eighty by Alan Dixon.

Dixon had a good game. Kent had scored only 138 batting first, but his five for 22 had helped conjure a lead of 65 as Middlesex were skittled for 73. Four of Dixon’s five victims went for ducks, as did two more off Alan Brown the fast bowler. Those were the days of uncovered pitches of course, but Wisden’s report makes no mention of it having rained and tellingly, young Underwood didn’t even get a bowl. Difficult pitches were accepted as part of the game.

Batting was easier by Thursday afternoon. Bob Wilson, captain in Colin Cowdrey’s absence at the test match, declared at nine down at about the time we left. Eric Russell made a hundred, but Kent still won by 76 runs.

In truth, I remember nothing precise about the play. But the occasion stays with me: the buzz of the stand, abating as the first ball of the over was bowled; the attractiveness of white movement on green grass; all those numbers flicking over on the scoreboard; a scorecard (cricket and writing went together even then); the routine, the ritual, the theatre. 

The recruiting officer signed me up there and then.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A test match umpire tries and fails to teach My Life in Cricket Scorecards to ski

The time: 1985. The place: a hillside in the Massif Central, France. Imagine yourself in a helicopter looking down on the snow-covered scene.

You see two figures. The first is flat on the ground, rigid with fear at the imminent prospect of sliding to an icy oblivion. He is thinking that he will die not knowing the identity of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year for 1985.

The second is standing, wedging the first perfectly securely, coaxing him to a standing position (but not in the accidental racing configuration of the skis that led to the wiping out of not one, but two lines of Gallic infants the previous day).

The first figure is My Life in Cricket Scorecards, the second Barry Dudleston of Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and Rhodesia, scorer of 32 first-class hundreds, then at the beginning of a distinguished umpiring career that would include two test matches.

It was a joint trip by two Bristol schools. Barry was tagging along to enjoy the skiing and to help some of the novices stay upright (failing in my case), and a few of us teachers were also there as paying guests (in view of what follows it is important to establish early on that at no time was I responsible for the welfare of the young people present).

I recognised Barry as soon as I got on the bus that took us from Bristol to central France, but it wasn’t until the second night we became acquainted. He was impressed that I had seen him make 171 not out against Kent at Canterbury 15 years before. It was the innings that established him in the Leicestershire line-up. At No 4 rather than the opener’s position that he filled for most of his career, he batted almost throughout the second day and was 159 not out at the close, a fair rate of progress for the time, particularly as Norman Graham, Kent’s opening bowler, delivered 50 overs for 70 runs (yes, 50 overs; I checked).

Of course, it was a delight for a cricket fan to sit in a French hotel room listening to tales of the game, particularly as told by as entertaining a raconteur as Barry. But a bottle of whisky made an untimely but telling intervention. I made the beginner’s error of trying to keep up with a pace practised over almost twenty years on the county circuit. Imagine going for a run with Usain Bolt and trying to keep up; the physical consequences would not be dissimilar. By refilling my glass from the bottle and his own mostly from the tap, my Clifton correspondent—who I also met on this trip—did not materially assist matters.

My recall of the later events of the evening is imprecise, but it is reported that at one point I rose from the horizontal to correct a minor error of cricket statistics before returning at once to the recumbent. I skied little over the following two days, hence the lesson on the last day that did manage to get me down a hill intact and free of collateral damage to other skiers. I have not put on skis again from that day to this.

Over the next three or four years there were regular catch ups, often on Thursday evenings. The usual venue was The Vittoria on Whiteladies Road, run by Sam Glenn, a keen cricket fan. Sam was a resourceful landlord as exemplified by the Vittoria’s winning of a prize in the Pub Garden of the Year competition despite not having a garden, an impediment that a lesser man would have regarded as insuperable. He also had problems with his sight to deal with. Or at least I assume he did. It would explain why most Thursday nights he called closing time and shut the doors apparently not having seen that we were still there, drinking.

Barry was in the category of batsmen just below international level. Several players with career figures similar to his collected a few caps: David Steele, Graham Barlow and Roger Tolchard for example. He might have done so if a run of form had synchronised with the selectoral mercuriality of those times.
Instead he had the satisfaction of being at the heart of the successful Leicestershire team led by Ray Illingworth that won the Championship in 1975 and four one-day titles too, a record bettered only by Kent in the seventies (Lancashire won more one-day titles than Leicestershire, but not the Championship).

Illingworth was the key. He moved from Yorkshire for the 1969 season, taking the captaincy, disillusioned by Yorkshire’s feudal approach to its professionals. It seemed an odd move at the time. His home county had just completed a hat-trick of Championship titles, while Leicestershire were as unfashionable as a powdered wig. It made all the difference to Leicestershire; to Yorkshire too. Yorkshire led by Illingworth would have had a much better seventies than did Boycott’s unhappy band.

Barry regarded Illingworth’s cricketing knowledge and nous as unequalled. One example from dozens cited during those Thursday evening conversations: Illingworth could predict how many runs were in a one-day pitch with oracular accuracy. “This is a 180/220/240 pitch” he would tell his team of a Sunday afternoon. They then knew what pace to set, how many runs they could safely concede, and what level of risk they should take.

He was also the focus of a large number of funny stories, oddly for a man who was never deliberately humorous and, like many from the Ridings, wore dourness as a badge of pride. Much of this stemmed from the fact that, in a career that straddled five decades and consisted of more than 1,200 innings, he never, on any single occasion, believed himself to have been dismissed because the bowler bowled a ball that was better than he was. There was always an excuse so cast-iron that, by comparison, the Queen Mary appeared made of rice paper.

The apogee was reached on a benefit tour of the Caribbean. Leicestershire found themselves playing under a baking sun on a pitch from which steam rose as the bowler came in. Illingworth went out to bat wearing a sunhat, the first time that anybody could remember him donning any manner of head gear on the field. He was soon out, and as he walked back to the pavilion a good deal of money was laid down on whether his excuse would rest in the pitch or the hat.

The dressing room was tense when Illingworth returned as they waited for his preferred explanation. “How can they expect anybody to bat on a pitch like that?” he said. “Besides, my hat got in my eyes.”

Illingworth was also responsible for Barry’s fledgling career as a wicketkeeper. When Roger Tolchard was selected for MCC in the traditional season-opener versus the champion county at Lord’s, Leicestershire were without a stumper for a match against Cambridge University. When Illingworth asked if anybody had ever kept wicket before, Barry responded in the affirmative. This was a flat-out lie, but his view was that any opportunity to wear gloves to protect against the chilling April winds off the Fens should be taken.

He did enough of a job to be reinstated later in the season when Tolchard committed the cardinal sin of missing an easy chance off Illingworth’s bowling. Things went well until presented with a stumping chance when Illingworth lured a batsman down the pitch. Barry took the ball cleanly and with a flourish turned to the square leg umpire expecting the raised finger to be accompanied with a nod of appreciation to the skill of the keeper.

Instead, the hand remained by the official’s side, but he was laughing heartily, as were all the players. Except, tellingly, Illingworth. After gathering the ball, Barry’s sweeping movement with the gloves had failed to make any contact with the stumps and the batsman had returned to the crease bails intact. Thus ended a promising wicketkeeping career.

Playing for another county, Barry might have developed a reputation as an all-rounder. But for Leicestershire there were four slow bowlers ahead of him: the test off spinners Illingworth and Birkenshaw and slow left-armers Steele and Balderstone, so his own left-arm spin was not given the exposure he felt it deserved. “Fred Titmus took 3,000 wickets” he once told me. “How many of those does he remember? I took 47 and I can talk you through every one of them.”

After a spell as Gloucestershire coach (which is what took him to Bristol) Barry joined the first-class umpires list, on which he served with distinction until compulsorily retired on reaching 65. He regularly finished near the top of the assessments and was popular and respected around the county circuit.

Barry umpired two test matches in the era when officials were from the host country: against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1991 and Pakistan at Lord’s in 1992. Along with my Clifton correspondent, I had the pleasure of being his guest on the Saturday of the latter game. From our complementary seats in the Mound Stand we watched Pakistan achieve a lead of 38 against an England attack of Malcolm, De Freitas, Lewis, Salisbury and Botham. Only now have I realised that we saw Botham’s final bowl in test cricket.

We have always regretted not taking up the offer of more free tickets for the Sunday, which turned out to be one of the great test days. England were dismissed for 175 by a combination of top-class fast bowling from Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and Mushtaq Ahmed’s leg spin. Chris Lewis gave us his finest hour (or five minutes, at least) and removed three of the top four for ducks, turning a target of 137 from a hillock to a mountain. They got there by two wickets, thanks to judicious hitting from Wasim and Waqar.

For many years Barry led bands of some England’s more discerning, less barmy, supporters on overseas tours. It was a pleasure to catch up with them in Sydney, Wellington, Rotorua, Auckland and Napier.

Barry Dudleston was 70 a couple of weeks ago. Happy birthday Barry, and thanks for the skiing lesson.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Forty years on: Cowdrey beats the Australians, Lillee steals my shoe

Two of best days’ cricket I ever saw came in the same week in the summer of 1975, when the sun shone from blue skies and the world was full of promise.

The first World Cup final took place on midsummer’s day: ten hours of sparkling cricket to launch the game’s Caribbean era. From Lord’s the defeated Australians travelled to Canterbury to open their Ashes tour at St Lawrence, just as they are now, forty years on.

I got to the ground for the last two hours, straight from the examination hall having taken my final two O levels. The morning was occupied with the deployment of smoke and mirrors in a quantity unseen outside a nineteenth-century mill town or the Palace of Versailles respectively, as I attempted to lure the examiners away from the conclusion that my knowledge of the Russian language was not as comprehensive as they might have hoped.

Two hours of the afternoon were spent stumbling mapless in the foothills of calculus for Additional Mathematics. I passed both subjects, but over the four decades since the benefit extracted from this achievement has never equalled that I would have accrued from the splendid day at the cricket foregone.

By the time I arrived the innings of the day was already done: 156 from the left-handed New South Wales opener Alan Turner made quickly enough to be over by tea. It remained his career-best score.
Some elegance from Doug Walters—who would always return to the field after an interval puffing on a cigarette in the tour games—and biffing from Gary Gilmour and the reserve wicketkeeper Richie Robinson rounded off the day.

At the close we wandered down to the lime tree and started a game on the outfield (it was pleasing the other day to see, on the TV coverage of a T20 game, the new tree within the field of play, as its venerable predecessor invariably was).

I removed my school shoes, which joined a small pile of items used to mark the bowler’s end wicket. Those end-of-play games were joyful, never more so than on a day when the cares of exams were done for two years. They ended only when the groundsman reclaimed the outfield and sent us away.

At one point the great DK Lillee emerged from one of the tents on that side of the ground (usually they were there only during Canterbury Week). A swarm of autograph hunters buzzed around him. Our game paused to let them pass.

Only when play closed half-an-hour or so later did I discover that my right shoe was no longer present. Schoolboy japery eliminated as a possibility, I was forced to recognise that the facts pointed only one way: the great fast bowler Dennis Lillee—who knows for what reasons of psychological turpitude—had stolen my shoe. Forty years later, I am as sure of that as I was as I limped my way down the Old Dover Road that night.

Respectably shod, I was there from the start of the second day. Ian Chappell declared overnight at 415 for eight. The Kent line-up was without the England captain (but not for much longer) Denness and Alan Knott. The great CJ Tavaré was also unavailable, playing for Oxford University. Though they cracked along at four an over (not far off the speed of light we thought then) the wickets fell regularly, not to the shoe thief Lillee, who ambled in only for eight overs of barely-trying medium pace, but to Gary Gilmour, who had appeared from nowhere to swing England out of the World Cup the week before, and the leg-spinner Jim Higgs.

Chappell did not enforce the follow on, choosing to take more batting practice instead, just as Michael Clarke has done 40 years later. I do not remember this being dull, but the scorecard suggests it was: 140 for three declared from 58 overs. The Underwood factor was strong—38 runs from 21 overs—but it was the underrated Graham Johnson who took two of the three wickets to fall, including the Australian captain, bowled for a duck.

The declaration early on the third (and final) day set Kent 354 to win in five-and-a-quarter hours. Ian Chappell told the driver of the team bus to be ready to go by mid-afternoon, which seemed a reasonable request.

But surprise is often one of the ingredients of a great day’s cricket. Just as this year nobody expected Williamson and Watling to break a world record, or Southee to bowl England out for 123, or Guptill to score 237 in a World Cup quarter-final, so then nobody believed that a 42-year-old could take Kent to a famous victory over the mighty Australians.

Colin Cowdrey was as naturally gifted a games player as there can be. It is sometimes said now that he would not have made it in the modern game because he was fat. Well, he was fat because he played in an age when he spent the whole summer at first slip (where he was one of the best catchers of his time). Both of his sons, Chris and Graham, were terrific fielders anywhere, and so would Colin have been in a different age. There are stories of him running people half his age ragged at squash simply by standing on the T and dinking the ball around the court until they could chase no more.

There has not been a batsman with more time or better timing. Only his inhibitions stood between Cowdrey and greatness. Whether from the restrained nature of the times, or personal insecurities, or the burden of captaincy, he was rarely as magnificent as he could be. David Gower is a more recent example of a player who on his best days looked as good as a batsman could be, but frustrated us by putting it all together so rarely, though in Gower’s case it could be that a few more inhibitions might have helped.

On that day though—Friday 27 June 1975—Colin Cowdrey put everything else aside and let his talent take charge. He came in at 77 for two, with Bob Woolmer batting well at the other end. 

Woolmer spent too many years low in the order—he’d have gone to another county these days—but was now taking his chance at No 3 and by the end of the summer would be scoring a match-saving century in the final test. That day he reached 50 in just over an hour with eight boundaries, but was then forced to retire hurt when hit on the elbow by Lillee. Alan Ealham was out for a duck, and at 116 for (effectively) four it seemed that the coach driver should not dawdle.

But Cowdrey found effective support in Dave Nicholls, who did a fine job for ten years as fill-in keeper when Knott was away playing for England for half the summer. Nicholls was a punchy left-hander who was sometimes selected on merit as a batsman. He had made a double hundred—quite a rare feat in three-day cricket—as a 19-year-old, but had never lived up to the expectation that had created. Now he supported Cowdrey admirably with 39 in a partnership of 126.

As the stand grew, the shoots of excitement started to break through, watered by Cowdrey’s excellence. It could be done. 350 to beat the Australians. He worked the spinners around the ground, Chappell filling a gap in one place only to see the ball going through the space thus created.

Though Lillee had barely gone through the motions in the first innings, as the afternoon went on he quickly worked up through his gears. He was offended by the possibility that this old codger, sent out to Australia a few months before to take on him and Thommo, could possibly win the game. Lillee steamed in from the Nackington Road End, shirt billowing, that most graceful, fluent of actions producing pace and wile.

Cowdrey was equal to it all, matching the smooth beauty of Lillee’s bowling with his driving, the ball hardly making a sound as bat caressed it to the boundary. He hooked fearlessly and with time to spare, Lillee’s raw speed compensating for the lack of pace in the pitch. Cowdrey’s century, his 106th and penultimate, came up in under three hours with 17 fours.

The loss of Nicholls was quickly followed by that of John Shepherd, and 107 were needed from the compulsory final 20 overs that began at 5 pm. The young Charles Rowe, whose status as an ironic folk hero for my Blean correspondent and myself probably dates from this occasion, eased our qualms, outscoring Cowdrey with 30 in a partnership of 49 for the sixth wicket. When Rowe fell to Gilmour, 59 were still needed, so it was reassuring to see Woolmer returning to the crease, elbow bound.

Between them Cowdrey, Rowe and Woolmer accelerated in the final phase to the extent that eight an over came from the first ten overs in the final hour, even with plenty of fielders on the boundary, an eye-rubbing rate from two of the game’s supposedly stodgiest batsmen. One shot in particular is fresh in the mind from this phase of the game. Lillee bowls short and the ball rears towards Cowdrey’s head. He swivels and with perfect timing hooks to the square leg boundary leaving long leg no chance whatsoever of covering the ten yards of so needed to cut the ball off.

Soon it was done and Kent had beaten the Australians by four wickets, their first victory on this fixture since 1899 and still their most recent. My, how we stood and cheered.

Several innings have challenged Cowdrey’s that day as the greatest I have seen, most recently Guptill’s extraordinary World Cup double hundred. I would say that none has beaten it, for technique, for occasion, for quality of opposition, for surprise value, for beauty.

How great it was to have two such days within one week in my sixteenth year.

Pedantry Corner

Incidentally, Kent did not beat Australia that day. Kent have never played Australia. However, they first opposed the Australians in 1882. This year’s contest is the 34th between Kent and the Australians. Outside internationals, touring teams are correctly identified by their nationality, except England who, since they stopped touring under the banner of MCC, should be referred to as “an England XI”.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...