Saturday, June 10, 2017

Single wicket in Kent; single-minded from Boycott 3 – 9 June 1967

Anybody in need of reassurance that the world is a better place in 2017 than it was fifty years ago need only read this report of a match between the England women’s team and the Lord’s Taverners, played at the Oval.

Where to begin? For a start it is in the news pages, rather than sport, a bit of colour at the bottom of page two. To add to the disappointment, it was written by Philip Howard, later a distinguished literary editor of The Times, and a fine writer for the paper until his death in 2014. He tries to be nice, but the allure of a rolling pin metaphor becomes too much. One might have expected more of a former women’s lacrosse correspondent of the Glasgow Herald

Perhaps most grating is his use of first names. Who would guess that opener “Enid” is Enid Bakewell, named by Wisden as one of the five best women cricketers for all countries? I expect that the bowlers were ungainly compared to Statham. Roughly 98% of male bowlers were, after all. And perhaps WG Grace would have been less scandalised by women playing cricket than Howard believes, given that the great man was taught the fundamentals of the game in the orchard at Downend partly by his mother, Martha.

In the first half of the week, for the first time this season, Kent had no fixture. But instead of a much-needed day off, the playing staff had to report to St Lawrence for a single-wicket competition. It was appropriate that Kent should participate in a revival of this once-popular form of the game as at its peak in the first half of the nineteenth century its most famous practitioners were all Kent players: Alfred Mynn, Nicholas Felix and Fuller Pilch. Perhaps the most famous contest of all took place at Lord’s in 1846, a two-innings contest. There were just two fielders available to the bowler, but no runs could be scored behind square, and to score a run the batsmen had to make it to the bowler’s end and back. Shots had to be played with at least one foot behind the front crease. Felix batted first and was bowled for a duck. Mynn replied with five. In his second innings, Felix faced 247 balls from which he scored three runs (one a wide) before being bowled, leaving Mynn the victor by an innings and two runs. The crowd that packed Lord’s loved it.*

By 1967 the rules of single-wicket had evolved so that it more resembled a normal game of cricket. Each player had the full complement of fielders available and matches were limited to eight overs a player. But out was out, so when Derek Underwood was out for a duck, Alan Dixon scored a single to progress. Scheduling must have been a nightmare. 

As might be expected, the all-rounders Dixon and Shepherd got through to the semis, joined by fast bowler Alan Brown and batsman John Prodger, who was in his last season (though he may not have known that at the time) after ten years as something of a bit player. He was renowned as an outstanding slip fielder. In the final, Prodger made an unbeaten 41 in his eight overs, which Dixon overcame to win the competition. He would represent Kent in the national competition at Lord’s later in the season.

The following day, again at St Lawrence, Kent played the International Cavaliers, a match I was present for. As I have written before, the extent to which the Cavaliers have been forgotten is reflected in the fact that my piece on them comes up second in a Google search behind a brief Wikipedia entry. The Cavaliers played against counties and other teams on Sunday afternoons live on BBC 2. As can be seen from the scorecard, the Cavaliers consisted of a mix of the best contemporary players—Sobers, Close, Boycott, Gibbs in this case—some famous names in or near retirement—Evans, Bailey, Trueman—and a few others to make up the numbers. The Cavaliers opener C Smith is Cammie Smith, a Bajan who played one test and later became an ICC match referee. Mohammad Younis became better known as Younis Ahmed during a long county career.
It was cricket designed for TV, a progenitor of World Series Cricket and T20 and it packed out Canterbury that afternoon as it did around the country every Sunday. The world’s best cricketer dominated the game: Sobers four for 18 and joint top scorer with 33 against Kent’s modest 120.

It was an unpredictable week in the Championship. Champions Yorkshire lost twice, and badly at that, at Lord’s and Bath. The top two, Hampshire and Leicestershire, both lost but kept their places. Tom Graveney “struggled” to a century against Warwickshire, according to the headline. Graveney struggling would be a better watch than most batsmen at their best. Middlesex followed their victory against Yorkshire by clinging on against Kent thanks to a two-and-a-half hour unbroken seventh-wicket partnership from Eric Russell and Harry Latchman. Mike Denness scored his first century of the summer, but it was an innings from Colin Cowdrey that had Vivian Jenkins purring in The Times.

Jenkins was a Welsh rugby international and former Glamorgan cricketer who had covered the MCC tour of Australia in 1946/7 and was rugby correspondent of the Sunday Times for many years. He was sensible enough to spend his retirement winters in New Zealand according to his obituary in The Guardian.

Cowdrey was, unusually, not in the test team for the first test against India at Headingley. It was the scene of Geoff Boycott’s most notorious innings, one that John Woodcock laid into in his report.

Nobody, I am certain, has scored more than Boycott’s unbeaten 246 and then been dropped, as he was for the second test.

The Middle East had descended into what we know as the Six Day War, the short duration measuring the degree to which the Arab alliance underestimated the Israeli military. Israel took over the Sinai, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Arab sector of Jerusalem, all of which except Sinai and Gaza it continues to control to some degree to the present day. Reporting from Beirut for The Times was Norman Fowler, still claiming expenses half a century on, now as Lord Speaker, having spent much of the interim as a leading Conservative politician.

*This account of Mynn v Felix is based on John Major’s More Than a Game. Major may not have been much of a prime minister but he’s a cracking cricket historian.

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