Kent have been in the Caribbean, playing in the domestic 50-over competition. This is an excellent initiative that shows that Kent are still taking the 50-over game seriously, though it is open to question whether cricket in 30-degree Antigua in February will prove effective preparation for six degrees in Swansea in May (the 50-over game has been consigned to an early-season ghetto from 2017, in preparation for it becoming a competition for players who can’t get a shiny city T20 contract in 2020).
Overseas participation in domestic competitions is not a new idea. The Netherlands played in the English knock-out tournament for ten years from 1996, and Middlesex were entrapped in the vulgarity of the Stanford extravaganza in 2008.
For six years from 1969 to 1975, New Zealand competed in Australia’s one-day knockout competition. One Bradmanless visit to the Basin in 1946 apart, Australia did not lower themselves to meet New Zealand in a test match until 1973/4, but offered a place at the servants’ table by way of consolation. New Zealand won in three of the six years, all games being played on the west side of the Tasman. Wisden reports that, after trouncing Western Australia (76 all out) in the 1975 final, New Zealand “informed Australia that they do not wish to continue playing in the competition under the present conditions”.
The notion of national teams playing in other countries’ domestic competitions retains value. Bangladesh performed promisingly for part of most matches they played on their recent tour of New Zealand, only for lack of experience outside south Asia to undo them. How much more valuable would it be if most of the squad plus some players just below international level were to stay on in New Zealand to play all six provincial teams in four-day games? The host teams could earn Plunket Shield points so as to make sure that they took the games seriously. What about giving Afghanistan or a West Indies A team a season in the County Championship? But talk of “growing the game” seems to boil down to little more than giving club-grade cricket international status without doing much to improve the standard of the play.
Many supporters will not know that Kent have toured the Caribbean before. They were there in early 1973, part of the prize for winning the 1972 Sunday League, but the details are elusive. CricInfo has nothing and even Cricket Archive, usually a reliable source of the most obscure fixture—see here for Odessa v Galatz, the highlight of the 1881 season in Imperial Russia, for example—offers nothing. The 1973 Kent Annual offers the slimmest of summarised scores with no description, a strange omission for such a ground-breaking event, though it does reveal that it was Kent’s second overseas venture in a few months, two games having been played in Holland the previous September. For the fullest account we turn to the 1974 Wisden, which has more detailed potted scores and a four-paragraph report.
We learn that it was an intensive programme, with 11 games at nine venues in two weeks. The results give a clear indication of relative strength of English and West Indian domestic cricket at that time. Kent won all four games against sub-first-class opposition, but lost all seven against first-class islands and provinces.
The games were played to Sunday League rules: 40 overs a side and restricted run ups for the bowlers, but no fielding limits yet. With so many West Indians in county cricket in the early seventies, unfamiliarity with the format was not an issue for the home teams. Some of the Caribbean’s finest appeared for the opposition: for Guyana, Lloyd, Fredericks and Kallicharran, and for Antigua 19-year-old VA (sic) Richards top-scored with 63.
There were individual successes for Kent players. Both of Kent’s West Indians, John Shepherd and Bernard Julien, had good tours. The best individual score was 82 against Antigua by Mike Brearley.
Yes, that’s right. Mike Brearley.
With Denness, Knott, Underwood and Asif Iqbal all involved in tests in south Asia, three guest players were drafted in. As well as the Middlesex captain, Keith Boyce of Essex and Barry Dudleston of Leicestershire were added to the party, joining a distinguished collection of players who had short careers with Kent. These days, it is commonplace. Steve Waugh, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kagiso Rabada among others have all briefly saddled up the white horse in the last couple of decades. But it has been happening for a lot longer. One of my favourite obscure facts is that before Aravindra da Silva’s brilliant one-season Kent career in 1995, the highest career batting average in Kent history was that of WG Grace, on the back of two half centuries in a single guest appearance for Kent v England in the Canterbury Week of 1877.
Boyce was almost a regular Kent player. When he and John Shepherd were identified by Trevor Bailey and Les Ames on a tour of Barbados as potential county players, Bailey had first choice and went for Boyce, who consequently became as successful and as much of a favourite with Essex crowds as Shepherd was for Kent.
I have recorded before in these columns that Barry Dudleston once wasted two traumatic hours as My Life in Cricket Scorecards’ personal ski instructor. Barry once produced a team photograph from that 1973 tour to test whether the extent of my cricket knowledge was as tragic as he suspected. His fears were confirmed by my identification of Richard Elms and David Laycock, a feat otherwise achieved only by close family members of those two players.
Barry would be surprised to read in the Wisden report that “Johnson and Dudleston were pressed into service with off spin and “Chinamen” respectively”. Unless there was some sort of close-season experimentation going on, Barry was a purveyor of orthodox slow left-arm, and proud of it. As previously reported, he was once heard to say “Fred Titmus took more than 2,000 wickets, but how many of those can he remember? I took 47 and I can talk you through every one.” The suggestion that Graham Johnson was merely an occasional spinner is also harsh.
The Wisden reporter was Michael Carey, on the tour as press officer, possibly on the strength of standing in for Frank Bough as Sunday League presenter on BBC2 during the Munich Olympics. Carey later became cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and joined the Test Match Special team overseas on several occasions. It was a shame that he wasn’t used at home as he was a talented broadcaster with a pleasantly soft Derbyshire accent and a dry and ready wit.
The “whistle-stop nature of the tour” to which Carey refers in his report may be, at least partially, a euphemism for the hectic socialising that was bound to be part of any visit to the Caribbean. During one of these sessions Carey disclosed to Dudleston that whenever he had been assigned to a Leicestershire game, Barry had been out very cheaply. This became something of a standing joke, one that played out the following season when Norman Graham prepared to bowl the first over of the match to Dudleston. After he had marked out his run up, Graham pointed to the press box and shouted down the pitch “Look, Carey’s here”. Dudleston didn’t survive the over.
Kent 2017 did better than their predecessors, winning one match and losing the other against each of their three group opponents, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands and West Indies Under-19s, respectable, but not quite enough to qualify for the semi-finals.