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.

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