Saturday, August 5, 2017

Derek the Conqueror: 28 July to 4 August 1967

No outsider had wrought such havoc in Hastings since 1066. And William of Normandy only passed through; Derek Underwood returned year after year to pillage afresh. His 1967 bounty was about average: seven for 38 and seven for 44. Neither was a career-best: that had been achieved at Hastings three years before, nine for 28. In 1973 he took eight for nine. In just nine first-class appearances at Hastings, Underwood collected 61 victims. But that’s not all. Seventeen years after this appearance, Underwood’s one and only century was made here, in his 618th first-class innings. The previous day he had taken six for 12 in the Sunday League. My appreciation of Derek Underwood on his seventieth birthday is here.

Underwood’s mesmerisation of Sussex had resulted in Kent’s second win by an innings and a hundred-plus is a week. The county went into August as Championship leaders, a position that they had not been in at that time of the year since at least the Second World War, and quite possibly the First. Leicestershire were four points behind, but had played two more games. Yorkshire had a game in hand and were 12 points behind, exactly the number available for a win plus first-innings points. 


What’s more, Leicestershire and Yorkshire were the visitors for Canterbury week, which would decide the 1967 Championship. More of that next week, including a conspiracy theory that some Kent supporters propound to this day.

The first test against Pakistan was drawn, the visitors refusing any attempt at chasing a target of 256 at 79 an hour, which John Woodcock described as “eminently attainable”, but seems tough by the standards of the time. Even now, 256 in under two sessions on the fifth day would be challenging. Woodcock had been patient in the face of some laboured batting, describing Hanif Mohammad’s  187 not out as a “masterly exhibition of defensive batting” that was “never dull”, but he was testy by the final afternoon, writing that Khalid Ibadulla’s batting “makes postal chess seem a lively game”. 

In passing he notes that John Murray had an indifferent game behind the stumps, bad timing with every cricket writer in the country lauding Alan Knott. Though they didn’t know it, Murray and his Middlesex colleague Eric Russell were playing their last test matches.

After the test John Woodcock went to Hove to report on Sussex v Worcestershire and Basil D’Oliveira’s sixth century of the season. He noted that John Snow “summoned no great speed for the occasion”. Snow was a pioneer of resting fast bowlers between tests, with the difference that he took a break while still in the selected Sussex XI (it was an approach Bob Willis was to adopt, and I don’t criticise either man for it). Snow was a fine fast bowler with as aesthetically pleasing an action as any, apart perhaps from Dennis Lillee. Yet my abiding memory is of his loitering on the boundary, arms folded, not moving in with bowler, bored by a meaningless late season match and not caring to hide it.

It was announced that Leslie Ames, secretary-manager of Kent (a role that occupies a medium-sized team of people these days) was to manage MCC (and therefore the England test team) on its forthcoming tour of the Caribbean. Ames had filled this role on the under-25 tour of Pakistan the previous winter. More than anyone else, Ames was responsible for Kent’s rise to the top of English cricket. As respected a figure as any in the game, the maker of a century of centuries, he was able to neutralise the meddling of the amateurs in the cricket-week marquees. More here. But, speaking as we were of conspiracy theories, read John Woodcock’s piece on Ames’s appointment. 

It seems strange that an England captain with a record of four wins from five matches would not be named as scheduled, and that two men not at that time in England team would be offered as alternatives. Watch this space.

In the rest of the paper the big story of the week was the report of the Aberfan disaster of the previous year. A slag heap collapsed killing 140 people, mostly primary school pupils. It was the first national event that I recall feeling affected by, the victims mostly sitting in classrooms presumably much like our own on the north Kent coast as they perished.

The report allocated the blame two-thirds to the National Coal Board (NCB), one-third to Merthyr Tydfil Council. Lord Robens, Chairman of the NCB, had chosen to be installed as Chancellor of the University of Surrey rather than travel to Aberfan, eventually turning up 36 hours after the event. He did not resign (he offered knowing that the Minister of Power, Richard Marsh, would refuse to accept), nor did anyone else. £150,000 was taken from the victims’ relief fund to pay for the removal of remaining tips. 

Of course, disasters caused by incompetence or negligence still occur, such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy. But it is inconceivable now that there would be such a lack of accountability. The music may have been better in ’67, but this exercise provides plenty of evidence that not much else was.

I tweeted other stories this week that show that the world was different then. There was debate on the letters page of The Times as to whether pipe-smoking drivers should drive with the windows open or closed.

Finally, Mr William Freeman, 62, of Neasden, pleaded not guilty to driving his bus without consideration, a law that might fill the courts with bus drivers if strictly applied, then or now. 

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, First Test, Basin Reserve, 15 ­­– 19 December 2018

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