Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tunbridge Wells Week: 17 to 23 June 1967

“…the Nevill Ground is looking at its midsummer best for cricket week. Kent is unusually rich in grounds…and many people vote the Nevill the pleasantest of the lot”.

That could have been written now, at the end of the nineteenth century or at any point in between. Certainly, it was my sentiment when I was there last July. Here, it was AP Ryan, reporting for The Times in 1967 on the perennial Tunbridge Wells fixture between Kent and Sussex, the county border separating the two being nearby, if not cutting through the ground as the story goes.

In 2017  there were problems with the preparation of the pitch, with talk of moving the game to Canterbury at the last minute. Standards are higher now than fifty years ago when 253 was the highest of the eight innings, and Brian Luckhurst’s 126 was the only individual score higher than 64. In comparison, 2017’s “questionable” pitch saw two 350-plus totals and a 298 for two declared. That doesn’t mean that the cricket is necessarily better, and a different balance between bat and ball was essential for three-day cricket to work.

Hero of the week was Norman Graham, whose 22 wickets took him back to top of the national bowling averages. UA Titley, taking up The Times’ pen for the second half of the week, said that Graham brought the ball down from a greater height than anybody since Farnes, the Essex quick bowler of the 1930s (Titley may not yet have seen Tony Greig). “He only takes seven real paces in his run-up, an economic approach, in direct contrast with others of about similar pace, which enables him to bowl for longer periods than most.”

Unusually, Derek Underwood did not bowl against Sussex, but had match figures of seven for 48 as Worcestershire were shot out for 106 and 73.
Kent’s two wins raised them to fourth place in the Championship, six points behind the new leaders Yorkshire, who beat Northamptonshire by an innings  thanks to a point-making unbeaten 220 from Geoffrey Boycott. In less than a fortnight the great accumulator had made two of only five double centuries made in 1967. In 2016 (when the Championship consisted of 16 games per team rather than 28 as there were in ’67) there were 26 double hundreds; four-day cricket and “better” (ie batsman-friendly) pitches the explanation. 

The second test at Lord’s was a Boycott-free zone, with Amiss coming in for him and Barrington moving up to open. India reverted to their first-innings form at Headingley and were skittled out for 152. John Snow and Warwickshire’s David Brown took three each. The pitch at Lord’s was fast enough for John Woodcock to be thankful that a really quck bowler like Charlie Griffith or Graham McKenzie was playing, though I think it would have been quite fun. Besides, I doubt that McKenzie was any quicker than Snow, than whom I have not seen a smoother or more rhythmical bowler play for England.

According to Woodcock, John Murray was standing further from the stumps than any English keeper since Evans and Andrew to Frank Tyson at his typhonic fastest in Australia in ‘54/5. Murray took a world-record equalling six catches, but there was a hurricane brewing to the south-east by the name of Knott that was to blow him out of international cricket within weeks.

I tweeted three general news stories this week. Paul Fox was appointed Controller of BBC 1. Fox was a—arguably the—founding father of televised sport in Britain and also edited Panorama. His six-year tenure of the role has a credible claim to be the golden age of British TV, as colour replaced black-and-white and programmes such as Parkinson, Dad’s Army, The Two Ronnies appeared, with Fox the midwife (there were a fair few stinkers too). But what caught my eye was his salary: £5,000 a year. The Bank of England’s inflation calculator tells me that is worth £83,000 today, healthy enough but not exceptional. The nearest equivalent role today—Director of Content—is paid £325,000. 

One of the most pleasurable things about rummaging through the pages of The Times for 1967 is the parliamentary reports, detailed accounts of the day’s debates. Such coverage has all but disappeared now, the press gallery apparently occupied only by the writers of spasmodically amusing sketches. This week the House was debating decimalisation, on the principle of which both main parties agreed, while still arguing about the detail. Iain Macleod, shadow Chancellor, wanted a ten-shilling base for the new currency, while Chancellor Jim Callaghan supported the pound (as he frequently had to in more substantive ways in years to come). 

If the decimalisation debate is a curiosity, that on Leo Abse’s private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexual activity between consenting adults is horrifying. The antediluvian attitudes that rumbled out from Tory knights of the shire on the backbenches were shameful.

One may feel nostalgic for three-day cricket on uncovered pitches, but, once more, a close look at 1967 shows that the present is a better place to be.

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 ...