Following the recent celebration of Alan Knott on his seventieth birthday, some readers have requested more on Kent players of the golden era. I will take Brian Carpenter’s suggestion of Norman Graham first, partly because Graham was a favourite then but rather forgotten since, and partly because Brian is responsible for my name being mentioned (and kindly at that) in the 2016 Wisden, in his review of cricket blogs.
From time to time I have set about compiling an XI of players of the past who would would have no place in the modern game, not from lack of ability, but because they would not meet contemporary fitness standards. But this is a hard call. What are the criteria for selection?
For example, some would put Colin Cowdrey at the top of the list. A cheer would rise around St Lawrence when he chased the ball to the boundary every couple of years or so. Yet Cowdrey was a talented sportsman and superb slip who, in a later era would have romped around the field like his sons Chris and Graham, both of whom were excellent fielders. So he doesn’t qualify.
In my piece on Derek Underwood I suggested that many a modern coach would have taken one look at a 17-year-old bowler with round shoulders, cigarette on, and the acceleration of a Morris Marina and pointed towards the gate with no need for further discussion. But while Underwood never quite shook off giving the impression that whenever he ran, it was through an invisible trough of treacle, he became a highly dependable fielder capable of the occasional remarkable catch: one at Gloucester in the Sunday League in 1979 sticks in the mind, running back from mid on to stretch out a hand to dismiss Jim Foat when most of us hadn’t thought it a chance.
So not Underwood either.
In fact there are only two players who I would have as stone-cold certainties for this team (the Bradman and Hobbs of the lumbering, if you will). One was playing at the Wagon Works Ground that day and was, to nobody’s surprise, run out: David Shepherd, later one of the great umpires, then a spherical Gloucestershire batsman.
The other: Norman Graham.
Graham opened the bowling for Kent for a decade, one that encompassed almost all of the glory years. He contended with Tony Greig for the title of tallest first-class cricketer of the time, being six foot seven or thereabouts. But before we consider what Norman Graham was, let us address what he wasn’t: he was neither a batsman nor a fielder.
Every team used to have one. Some had two, or even three: a No 11 batsman who was never absolutely certain if he was a right or left-hander. They have disappeared almost completely. I watched a one-day game from Taunton on TV last week. Somerset wanted 60 when the last man, Tim Groenewald, came in. He proceeded to knock them off while doing a passable imitation of Walter Hammond.
Norman Graham wasn’t the worst batsman I have seen; Kevin Jarvis was comfortably that. When the two batted together Graham was at No 10, as he was when he and John Dye were both in the team. One shot sticks in the mind when many by real batsmen have disappeared, because it was such a surprise. St Lawrence, August 1972: Graham plonks the long left leg well down the pitch and drives Johnny Gleeson of the Australians over mid off and to the boundary, two bounces. There was a gasp, then a cheer as loud as for anything in the match.
Another thing that has gone from first-class cricket is third man. Until quite recently, there was invariably a third man from the start of the innings, but these days it seems that no matter how often the ball finds its way there, captains will no more deploy a fielder in that area than they would in a minefield (even though it takes only a couple of cover boundaries for them to install a sweeper for the duration; I sense my inner Fred Trueman emerging).
One reason for this may be that third man is no longer required to fill the role for arthritic fielders that country parishes did for the stupid sons of the aristocracy: to be somewhere for them to hide.
Norman Graham spent much of his time at third man. If the ball came straight to him, all would be well, provided that he had enough notice to get the bending down organised. He had a powerful and accurate throw.
If a pursuit were needed, it would start like a farm tractor on a frosty morning. When the ball beat him he would throw back his head and smile in surprise, as if that were only the second time that season that one had eluded him, rather than the third time that over, as was more probably the case. On the odd occasion when the ball was intercepted, its progress would be allayed by a large boot, and would then rest awhile while it waited for Graham to return from the distant point where he had managed to stop and turn.
There was obviously no question of him diving. Had he done so, it would have required the equipment and expertise necessary to right a felled giraffe to have restored him to the vertical.
What Norman Graham did so very well, was to bowl. Go to 23:30 here to see him in action in the Benson & Hedges Final of 1973. At first glance he does not look much at all: a 12-pace amble to the crease a prelude to a delivery action that Richie Benaud fairly describes as “ungainly”. Yet he took 614 first-class wickets, and a further 172 in one-day cricket.
His height meant that the ball reached the batsman at a steeper angle than his pace suggested, a sort of bargain basement Glenn McGrath. Like the great Australian, Graham bowled with a proofreader’s accuracy, searching out whatever assistance the pitch had to offer.
He established himself as a regular in 1967, when he finished third in the national averages with 104 wickets at 13.9. At Bradford early that season, Geoff Boycott bagged the only pair of his career, bowled Graham in the first innings, caught Knott bowled Graham in the second.
Let’s look again at that 55-over trophy win in ‘73. In seven matches he took 11 for 206, conceded at just under three an over. Remember that then the opening bowlers were usually the death bowlers too. Norman Graham was as important as Derek Underwood in that one-day attack. He played in three Lord’s finals and Kent won them all (it is often forgotten that he pulled out of the ‘71 Gillette final on the morning of the game; in his absence the partnership of Hughes and Simmons at the end of Lancashire’s innings made all the difference).
The public showed its appreciation during his benefit year in 1976, when it was said that he visited every pub in Kent. Perhaps not absolutely true, but within the margin of error. He was rewarded with a declared return of £70,000 (the average house price in England in 1976 was £13,000). It was rumoured that the actual figure was somewhat higher, but camouflaged so as not to provoke Her Majesty’s tax inspectors into a review of the tax-free status of cricketers’ benefits. This was an appreciation of Norman Graham’s skill, and of his whole-hearted effort. More than that, it acknowledged that here was a cricketer who set out to enjoy the game and was proud to play it.
If it is the case that cricket would not have room for a Norman Graham these days, the game is the worse for it.