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.

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