Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Canterbury week to remember: 6 to 12 August 1967

It’s been a bit sad this week keeping an eye from afar on Canterbury week, cricket’s Royal Ascot now more by way of an autumn meeting at Pontefract. The main attraction was a three-day game against the West Indians, once a cast of legends, their roles now filled by understudies. Kent rested a number of players, so I trust that the club didn’t have the gall to charge extra just because it was Canterbury week, as has been recent practice. The T20 games that bookended the week will have got people through the gates, but not in the numbers that they came in 1967.

The Times said that almost 40,000 attended the week, and I suspect that this does not include members, who were not counted as we passed through the members’ gate on Old Dover Road. If this is so, 50,000 would be a better estimate.  The attraction? Kent, leading the Championship, were playing Leicestershire (second), then Yorkshire (third). 

I was there for the first four days. I’m certain of this as I remember that sort of thing, but was puzzled that I couldn’t recall much about the Leicestershire match. Reading John Woodcock’s reports, all was explained. It was as unmemorable a game as was played all season. As the week went on, Woodcock was to become increasingly exasperated with the low-entertainment value of the cricket about which he was writing. As early as Monday he was calling Colin Cowdrey “pensive”, and reporting with an undertone of surprise that the crowd accepted the slow batting in silence. The following day he described Lock’s decision to settle for a draw as “baffling”, given that Leicestershire had played two more games than Kent and three more than Yorkshire.

The game was Stuart Leary’s benefit match. Leary was the epitome of the long-serving professional for whom the benefit system had been designed in an age of poor pay and no retirement provisions. Leary’s winter career as a footballer with Charlton Athletic and Queen’s Park Rangers was over by 1967. It had mostly taken place in the maximum wage era, and even after Jimmy Hill’s successful abolition campaign, there were no crocks of gold in the middle divisions of the Football League. Leary was having a good season, chipping in when runs were most needed. He was often dogged, but could hit to effect when required. His benefit year returned £9,000, a fair sum in 1967 (my parents bought their semi-detached in Herne Bay for £2,500 in 1964).

Stuart Leary was a joker who would interact with the crowd; like many who cultivate a breezy persona, it was in part a disguise. He died by throwing himself off Table Mountain in Cape Town in 1988. There were rumours of Leary’s fears of vice squad investigations and AIDS, so it is important to note David Frith’s account in his book about cricketing suicides Silence of the Heart, in which he presents no evidence that such fears were anything other than the product of Leary’s own tormented mind.

The bored crowd at the Leicestershire game passed some of the time by generating a conspiracy theory. The England XII for the second test was announced on Sunday. Surprisingly, given that England had won three tests out of four so far that season, there were six changes from that picked for Lord’s. Colin Cowdrey, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood were three of the inclusions. Cowdrey was having a good year and remained one of the best batsmen in the country. Underwood was the leading wicket-taker and Knott, as we have seen, was attracting rave reviews from every reporter who watched him, so none of this trio was a controversial selection. But the Salem branch of the Kent Supporters’ Club has always been strong and for many the coincidence of a Yorkshire captain and three of Kent’s best being called into the nation’s service on the eve of a possible Championship decider was too much to bear, especially as Ray Illingworth, who had performed decently in the tests thus far, was dropped and thus available to play at Canterbury. 

Brian Close must have wished that he had such power. In fact, the last thing he would have wanted was Cowdrey, the establishment’s favourite, back in the test team, with the anointment of the captain for the winter tour yet to be made. It was the chairman of selectors, Doug Insole of Essex, who guided the choice. Insole died just last week, taking the story of the selection meeting for the South African tour of 1968 into the silence with him.

Kent needed a wicketkeeper, and thinking that experienced hands were needed in such an important contest, called Godfrey Evans back to the county colours for the first time since 1959. I’ve written before about watching Godfrey Evans that day and later. His return created a stir, with The Times carrying the story on its front page. He was one of that small band of cricketers who inspired lifelong adoration in a whole generation. You could see it at the SCG in the eyes of the elderly sisters in my earlier piece. Compton, Botham and Viv Richards were three others, but there aren’t many.

Once more, roads around Canterbury were jammed because so many people were going to the cricket. Instead of the blandness of the first game of the week, there was tension and incident throughout. We watched from the benches on the northern side of the ground, where the flats have been built. In Brian Close’s absence, Fred Trueman led Yorkshire and played the role of pantomime villain with enthusiasm. Just a year off retirement, Trueman had become a craftsman as skilled as any in the manipulation of the ball at medium-fast pace. But for a couple of overs when required he could roll away the years and bowl with pure speed. He was warned for persistent short-pitched bowling, but only after he had broken Brian Luckhurst’s hand in the opening overs. 

For the rest of the innings Kent mined for runs in difficult terrain: 42 for Denness, 66 for Leary. Evans got a hero’s welcome and Trueman dusted the crease with his cap as Evans reached the middle. The thing that people who were there remember most about the day was the hitting of Alan Brown, coming in at No 10. He made a quick 33 including 18 flayed (as Charles Bray reported) from four Trueman deliveries. When I was back at St Lawrence last year I saw Alan Brown walking around the boundary and went up to say hello. “I remember you hitting Fred Trueman into crowd” I said, pointing towards the Nackington Road End. 

“No” he replied. “Fred was bowling from the Pavilion End. I hit him into these seats here” (gesturing towards what was then the concrete stand). He was pleased to be acknowledged, even if inaccurately. 

It was probably true that the absence of the test players cost Kent the game, and perhaps the Championship. I wasn’t there for the last two days, but more to the point, neither was Derek Underwood, who might, on a sunny second morning after overnight rain, have cleaned up. Alan Dixon (the captain in Cowdrey’s absence) took seven, but at more than three an over, and he put down an easy catch that would have ended the tenth-wicket partnership and given Kent first-innings points. It seems very odd that the 85 overs of the Yorkshire innings were delivered by only three bowlers: Dixon, Brown and Norman Graham, who bowled 37 overs for 60 runs. Young off spinner Graham Johnson did not get a chance, and neither did John Shepherd. Bryan Valentine shrewdly noted in his President’s report on the season that Shepherd’s 54 wickets at 20 were all the more creditable given that he only got on when conditions favoured the bat. 

Kent “went to pieces” (according to the 1968 Kent Annual) in the second innings and were bowled out for 100. Only Bob Wilson, the end of his career just a few weeks away, resisted with any effect, making exactly half the total. Tony Nicholson took five for 37. Nicholson was the only member of the Yorkshire XI who would end his career without playing test cricket, and was a better bowler than some who did. His Wisden obituary says that “he swung the ball, had excellent control and was often found to be sharper in pace than the batsman expected”. We saw the best of him in Kent; the following year he was back at Canterbury and took eight for 22.

There was no way back for Kent. Yorkshire wrapped the game up on the third morning, and Leicestershire took over at the top of the table. Alan Gibson, who spent the latter part of the week at Lord’s watching the new leaders play Middlesex, was grudging:

Gibson was in peak mid-summer form. The first two paragraphs of his report on Sunday’s play at the Oval is a typical Gibson opening. 

If this exercise in retrospection introduces a handful of readers to the writing of Alan Gibson, my work will not have been in vain (they should get hold of Of Didcot and the Demon, Anthony Gibson’s collection of his father’s work).

Gibson’s colleague the Sage of Longparish (as he called The Times’ cricket correspondent John Woodcock) was moving ever closer to the end of his tether by the end of the week. Having become impatient at the slow going at Canterbury during the first half of the week, he was exasperated by events on the first three days of the second test, at Trent Bridge, by the end of which England had scored a morose 252 from 135 overs, against an Asif Iqbal-led Pakistan attack. Woodcock did not hold back:

Outside cricket, my eye was taken by a proposal to build a bridge across the Thames Estuary to the Isle of Sheppey, to take traffic from the north to the unbuilt Channel Tunnel while steering well clear of London. On a clear day this bridge would have been visible from our house further along the coast and it was a cracking idea, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it, so cannot have been taken at all seriously.

The playwright Joe Orton died at the hands of his lover Kenneth Halliwell (or “friend” as The Times called him, showing that there was still some way to go after the decriminalisation of homosexuality a few weeks before). I had forgotten that the pair had been jailed a few years before for defacing library books.

The Consumers Council proposed that food should be commonly served in pubs, a suggestion that to some was as if they had suggested holding bingo sessions in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral.

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 ...