Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gravesend Week: 20 to 26 May 1967

Kent v Northamptonshire 20 to 23 May

This piece sums up a week reported day-by-day on Twitter @kentccc1967. You don’t have to have a Twitter account to view these tweets.

The first of the cricket weeks around which Kent’s home matches were structured in 1967 took place this week, at the unimaginatively named Bat and Ball Ground in Gravesend, one of three venues in the north of the county—along with Blackheath and Gillingham—that had only five years or so left on the first-class fixture list. It has become a curiosity of Kent cricket that the team does not play where the bulk of the county’s population lives, which is why playing a few games each year at metropolitan Beckenham makes sense. I never watched cricket at Gravesend but am pleased to learn that it is still a cricket ground, home to Gravesend CC in the third tier of the Kent League.

The rain that submerged the early weeks of the season washed away most of the first day of the Northamptonshire game, but the rest of the week went well for Kent. There were centuries for Brian Luckhurst and Stuart Leary against Northamptonshire, and for Colin Cowdrey versus Somerset. Derek Underwood took 11 wickets during the week and Alan Dixon ten. Norman Graham, the country’s most in-form bowler, took another five to make Somerset follow on. The first innings lead against Somerset and the innings win against Somerset (Kent’s first of the season in the Championship) made Kent equal on points with third-placed Yorkshire, 16 behind early leaders Hampshire.

Mike Denness did not play against Northamptonshire having been selected for MCC against the Indians at Lord’s, a traditional pre-test series fixture and effectively a test trial. The England captain Brian Close led MCC, the selection including seven uncapped players all of whom went on to be test players. The Indians were blown away by John Snow in their first innings, but the weather enabled them to salvage a draw.

Denness’s absence allowed Alan Ealham to make his first appearance of the season. Along with Shepherd and Graham, here was a third member of the team of the seventies in place in the early weeks of the 1967 season.

At Worcester, Jack Flavell and Len Coldwell—English seamers from central casting—each bowled 19 overs unchanged to dismiss Somerset for 80.

It is well known that a T20 match cannot be played unless there is a bouncy castle on the premises, so that the young folk can elevate themselves to a height where they can better appreciate the field placings. But there is no such thing as a new idea, and there was to be a fair at Grace Road for Sunday’s play against Sussex in 1967 with roundabouts and donkey rides, no doubt a piece of enterprise from Leicestershire’s forward-looking secretary/manager Mike Turner. Alas, a large crowd was disappointed when the fair failed to turn up, as Alan Gibson reports:

It was an itinerant week in cricket. The rescheduled second round Gillette Cup game between Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire was allotted one day, but Headingley was flooded by a morning storm. A desperate phone search around the Ridings revealed that play would be possible at Castleford, a small club ground eight miles to the south-east. After lunch (The Times style guide for 1967 apparently has players taking lunch in the north, but luncheon in the south), the teams made their way there only for another storm to leave puddles across the field. The groundsman cut a new strip on which it was agreed that play would commence and continue irrespective of the rain, as Gordon Ross (editor of the Playfair Annual and Playfair Cricket Monthly) reports:

That professional cricketers, especially Yorkshire cricketers, should agree to play in these conditions seems astonishing to us; presumably they regarded any game of cricket, however biblical the venue, would give them a better chance than the toss of a coin. Yorkshire overtook the minor county’s 43 for eight in the seventh over of their innings.

They wouldn’t have taken long to get there with Brian Close driving. Close was fined £20 for driving at 55 mph in a 30 mph area this week.

Ray Illingworth once said that the kindest thing his wife ever did for him was to ban him from travelling with Close; later at Somerset, being Close’s passenger was the one thing that could frighten the youthful Richards and Botham, especially when he controlled the steering wheel with his knees while turning the pages of the Sporting Life.

It was a big week for football. Tottenham won the FA Cup final beneath Wembley’s twin towers, beating Chelsea two-one in the first all-London final. Now that the FA Cup has become a competition for reserve teams it is hard to understand that the FA Cup final was the biggest sporting day of the year. John Woodcock criticised MCC in The Times for not delaying the start of the match against the Indians until Sunday so as to avoid a clash.

Tottenham’s goals were scored by Jimmy Robertson and Frank Saul, both praised by Geoffrey Green for their wing play. Watching on television that day turned me into a Tottenham supporter, for a decade or so at least, so I was already spoken for when I watched Celtic become the Lions of Lisbon by beating Inter Milan two-one in the European Cup final at Thursday tea time (at that time because Lisbon’s misnamed Stadium of Light had no floodlights). Geoffrey Green reports:

The Middle East was counting down to war between Egypt and Israel, and the conflict in Vietnam continued, pushed onto the inside pages. But 337 US troops were killed that week, so presumably Vietnamese deaths on both sides of the divide were several times that figure, all for nothing as we now know.

Pirate station Radio 390 was declared illegal, though “pirate” is a bit of a misnomer in this case, as 390 was an easy listening station, the Light Programme with a plastic cutlass. The story took my eye, not just because I listened to 390 along with Radios Caroline and London but because from our house we could see the Red Sands Fort in the Thames Estuary from which 390 broadcast. Friends of my Dad’s ran the tenders out to the station. Tony Benn shut these stations down as Postmaster General. 

But the big story of the week was Good News. Francis Chichester was nearing home. Chichester, a pioneer aviator between the wars, was about to become the first person to sail solo around the world. It is a story that shows how far we have come in these fifty years. Now, such journey would be live streamed and would have the remarkableness extracted from it as a result. Then, once he was out on the open ocean, for weeks on end nobody knew where he was, or if he was alive or dead. Then a grainy photo of a speck on the ocean would be splashed on the front pages and we would update the map on our classroom wall. Half a million were expected in Plymouth to greet him, a measure of how the intrepid pensioner captured the public’s interest. 

The people waiting for the fair at Grace Road probably wished they had gone too.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

George Brown has a bad week: 13 to 19 May 1967

British Foreign Secretary George Brown had a bad week. The Middle East was heading for war, President de Gaulle peremptorily rejected Britain’s bid to entry the Common Market and he was accused of groping Princess Margaret. The Times, with beautifully po-faced prose, reported Brown’s denial on an inside page:

“A moment of euphoria” is one of the great euphemisms for drunk, a condition to which Brown was prone, sometimes to the point of being prone. It was Brown for whom Private Eye minted the phrase “tired and emotional”. Nine years later, when he finally resigned from the Labour Party (to its relief) he was photographed having fallen into a gutter.

Alan Gibson probably retreated to the bar at Taunton at an early stage of the first day of the Somerset v Kent game, describing it as a “desultory affair” for spectators, with the scoring rate well below two an over. As so often happened in these early weeks of the 1967 season, rain prevented a conclusion, though Gibson was cheered up by the wicketkeeping of Alan Knott who was catching the eye of reporters around the country.

There was more play at Taunton than at most venues. Only Sussex won, against Glamorgan. Hampshire stayed top of the table.

There was only one round of Championship matches this week, as Saturday to Tuesday was set aside for the second round of the Gillette Cup, the 60-over knockout competition that was the only shorter form of county cricket. Though scheduled to be completed in one day, they were always given a three-day window, allowing players two rare cricket-free days as long as the rain kept away. Three of the eight second round games needed the extra time and one, Yorkshire v Cambridgeshire, saw no play at all and was rescheduled.

That Cambridgeshire were in the second round was odd. They were one of the top five from the previous year’s Minor Counties competition who qualified for the first-round draw. Seven first-class teams joined them (pulled from the 17 first-class counties at random). However, there was no seeding so Leicestershire and Worcestershire were out, while Cambridgeshire progressed by beating Oxfordshire. 

Kent did not play in the first round and were drawn away to Essex in the second. The game was played at Brentwood, one of seven grounds on which Essex called home in 1967. They had no headquarters as such, their offices being in Chelmsford town centre rather than at what became the County Ground. They moved from ground-to-ground like an orphaned child farmed out to relations a week at a time. Famously, they took their scoreboard with them, on the side of a lorry. I believe that has only finally fallen into disuse this season now that the Colchester Festival has been abandoned.

This was the fifth season of the Gillette Cup, but Kent had yet to beat another first-class county, so hopes were not high. Wisden reports:

A total of 239 in 60 overs doesn’t sound much now that we are used to 300 being about par for 50 overs, but in 1967 it was a decent score. Cricketers had not yet come to terms with one-day cricket, so went about it as they would a first-class game with added hitting in the last few overs. Also, there were no fielding restrictions whatsoever. The Kent XI was exactly the same as had played in the Championship so far that season (David Sayer was the other fast bowler in this case). We were at least a decade away from one-day squads selected with different criteria from those of longer forms. 

It was and is a batsman’s game. The decisive performance was Norman Graham’s four for 19, all from the top seven. Yet Colin Cowdrey was named man of the match, by his old friend and eldest son’s godfather Peter May.
One other curiosity: the Essex opening bowler AM Jorden was better known as Tony Jorden, who made seven appearances for the England rugby team at full back.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

First win for Kent over tourists since 1937: 11 to 13 May 1967

This is the point at which we first encounter the author’s younger self, sitting on the grass by the boundary in front of where the Lime Tree Café is now located. There is a photo somewhere to prove this, showing the boy crouching behind the boundary fielder, Bishan Bedi. We reached St Lawrence for the final session of the first day of the game against the Indians in time to see Alan Dixon and John Shepherd hitting out in an unbroken partnership of 172 for the seventh wicket, compiled in two-and-a-half hours, which was roughly the speed of light in 1967.

I recall that the batting was exciting, and the moment when Dixon reached his century, his first since 1960 and the third (and last) of his career. He was helped by some abysmal fielding; Wisden reports that he was dropped three times. Vice-captain of Kent in 1967, Alan Dixon was a fine county cricketer, a genuine all-rounder who perennially batted at No 8, and who could bowl both seam up (as they would have said then) and off spin. In the latter mode he took five for 39 in the second innings.

Kent’s victory was their first over a touring team since the 1937 New Zealanders. They played plenty of good cricket, but still needed help from the weather. The one over that was bowled before the rain came on the third morning meant that the pitch was left uncovered, the Kent spinners sharing the wickets, Stuart Leary taking three with his leg spin, and Derek Underwood two. 

Or did they? Here is John Woodcock on the second day, making it clear that he does not regard Underwood as a spinner.

Strictly speaking, he is right, but misleadingly so. Underwood was medium pace (as I have written before, Playfair categorised him as LM throughout his career), and as Woodcock says elsewhere in his report, he cut rather than spun the ball. But Underwood filled the spinner’s role in any side and came to be regarded as one of the greatest spinners to play the game.

Notice that Kent played a full-strength team for this match, except for Norman Graham, who may have been injured. Despite the relentless six-days-a-week routine of county cricket in the sixties, players wanted to play in what was a prestige fixture, and spectators expected them to. I see that Canterbury Week this year is to be built around a three-day game against the West Indians, and trust that a full-strength side is put out for it.

The Indians of ’67 had plenty of classy batting, particularly Wadekar, Borde and the captain, the Nawab of Pataudi junior. It was wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer who took the eye here, hitting away merrily as he was to do for Lancashire over the next decade. The great quartet of spinners was here: Bedi, Chandrasakar, Venkataraghaven and Prasanna, but is was decent pace, swing and seam that they needed in a damp English spring, and they didn’t have it. Most counties had three or four quick bowlers better than Guha and Mohol who took the new ball for India.

Around the country there were wins for Yorkshire (Illingworth making his off breaks “talk” at Hull according to Peter West), Middlesex (a strong all-round performance from skipper Fred Titmus), Leicestershire (with Tony Lock “baffling” Glamorgan) and Hampshire, who led the table despite having played only two games.

Continuing with theme of the past foreshadowing the present, there were large Conservative gains in the local elections, though they were then in opposition and there was no election in the offing. 

Mick Jagger and Keith Richard were in court on minor drugs charges at the start of the process that led to William Rees-Mogg’s famous charge that the establishment was “breaking a butterfly on a wheel” by pursuing the matter so censoriously.

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 ...