Saturday, July 29, 2017

Maidstone week: 22 to 28 July 2017

Maidstone week was always a highlight of the Kentish season.  I wrote about cricket at Mote Park a couple of years ago. It was at Maidstone that writers could bring out the thesaurus of high summer: shimmering…baking…sweltering, cricket played to the sound of eggs frying on the pavement. Much of this is nostalgia cleansing the memory of course; it was as likely to pour down there as anywhere else, but for many of us Maidstone week was the first element of the holy trinity of cricket watching in Kent, along with the weeks at Canterbury and Folkestone that followed, though in 1967 it would be another five years until I watched cricket at the Mote.

It was a cracker of a week, with an exploding pitch and a match-saving last-wicket stand. The week began with Kent making 296 in the first innings against Hampshire. John Shepherd was now established at No 3, and followed his semi-final 77 with 72 here. Shepherd remained at No 3 for the rest of the season, but never batted as high thereafter. He had the talent, but it was to be his lot to carry the seam attack for the next decade and more, so he usually found himself down at No 8, which was something of a waste.

On Sunday, 10,000 crammed into a ground that had reasonable seating for no more than a tenth of them; this just a few days after almost 17,000 had gone to Canterbury for the Gillette Cup semi-final. What a time, when everybody wanted to be at the cricket, and what a day they saw. There was a large worn patch at one end that Derek Underwood could use as a torturer uses a rack. He took seven for 35 in the first innings as Hampshire were skittled for 95. Their day got worse. The last six wickets in the second innings all fell at 31, the last five partnerships contributing not a single run. Nobody got into double figures. Underwood took five more, and Alan Dixon got four.

Hampshire captain Roy Marshall (six and one) fumed, describing the pitch as “an absolute disgrace to county cricket” saying that he had seen only three worse (oddly adding that they were all in the west country, as if in mitigation) in 15 years.

Charles Bray in The Times reports that Underwood made the ball “kick shoulder high”. It might be that these days the match would have been called off; anyway, the chances of a pitch being that bad are remote. We are worse off for this. It took a fine bowler to make the most of that rough patch and with 28 games in a Championship season the competition could indulge the odd piece of negligence by a groundsman here and there. 

Expecting more turn on another part of the square for the second part of the week, Kent brought in Graham Johnson for John Dye (Norman Graham and David Sayer were still injured). Against Hampshire, Underwood and Dixon between them had 17 for 73, not appearing in obvious need of assistance.
It was back to go-slow cricket on the first day as Surrey crept to 233 for five, finishing on day two with 354 from 155 overs, Underwood four for 100 from 63 overs. Yet it was not Underwood, but another young spinner, Pat Pocock, who had the better day, with six for 43 that made Kent follow on. Four of his victims (and two of Stuart Storey’s) were caught in the leg trap (do they still call it that?). 

Pocock was having as good a run as Underwood and was spoken of as the new Laker, an albatross to hang around anyone’s neck. It was him, not the Kent player, who was selected for the tour to the Caribbean the following winter, but in the long term Underwood  (297 wickets in 86 tests) did better than Pocock (67 wickets from 25 appearances). Given more opportunities, Pocock would have become a notable test bowler, but was not well treated by the selectors. Ray Illingworth’s tenure of the captaincy excluded him for four years, and later they favoured Geoff Miller and John Emburey, both inferior bowlers to Pocock but better batsmen.

At half past two on Friday afternoon Kent’s last pair, Alan Dixon and Alan Brown came together. No doubt some people were already making their way to the car park or to catch the earlier train. Yet, with the help of an hour’s rain break, they were still there at the end, having saved the draw and the two championship points that went with it. Dixon was having a brilliant season with bat and ball. Brown was a very capable batsman, but a hitter, so his restraint was all the more meritorious. The partnership was the stuff of legend, so I am surprised that I had never heard of it until excavating the archives this week.

With five weeks to go, Kent were top of the Championship and in the Gillette Cup final, and the word “double” was being whispered around the boundary.

The second test series of the summer began this week, against Pakistan at Lord’s. A better contest than that against India was hoped for, in vain it appeared at the end of the first day with Barrington and Graveney putting on 200. Kent people who so enjoyed Asif Iqbal’s batting over the following 15 years may be surprised to be reminded that his main role on that tour was as an opening bowler. On the second day he took three wickets, as did Mushtaq Mohammad and Salim Altaf. England lost eight for 86, but were back on top by the end of the day thanks to three wickets from the restored Ken Higgs. This was the last time England took the field in a test match, home or abroad, without a Kent player until the first test in Pakistan a decade later.

Elsewhere, the BBC announced that the reconstructed radio network would go by numbers: Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, while solemnly promising that Radio 1 wouldn’t be too “mid-Atlantic”, which is precisely what had made the pirate stations so successful. They needn’t have worried. Needle time—the agreement with the musicians’ unions that restricted the number of records that could be played, thus guaranteeing work for their members—meant that in the early years the station was more perm than perfumed garden.  

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