Sunday, September 17, 2017

Gillette Cup Final, Kent v Somerset, Lord’s, 2 September 1967

The Second World War was still a point of reference for most things in 1967. I see now that what was a distant event for an eight-year-old was so recent and defining for those that had lived through it that everything that happened would be measured in relation to it. So the scramble for Gillette Cup final tickets in Kent was compared to rationing. Tickets were the oranges of our time, such was the demand generated by Kent’s run in the Cup and the Championship. 

It was fortunate then, that a speculative enquiry at the East Kent Bus Co offices secured the last two seats on the bus to Lord’s and the match tickets that went with them. So with daylight breaking over the pier, my father and I made our way along Herne Bay sea front to the bus stop, he carrying the provisions, me a string bag containing the three books pictured at the top of this page.

The recent debate about the redevelopment of Lord’s has made reference to the “prison wall” at the Regent’s Park end of the ground. This was pretty much my first impression of the ground as the bus deposited us beside it. We found seats on the bottom level of the grandstand, at wide third man when a right-hander was facing bowling from the pavilion end. The pavilion apart, the whole ground has been rebuilt since then, but would still be unmistakably the same place. The Tavern Stand was under construction, though the noise that had spoiled John Woodcock’s day early in the season was silenced for finals day. I don’t recall a space around the boundary; perhaps some temporary seats were installed in front of the building site.

The arrangements were more informal than is the case for big games now. Some spectators sat on the grass behind the boundary. A group of Somerset supporters dressed as stereotypical yokels pushed a haycart around the boundary all day, dispensing cider as they went and waving pitchforks in the air when Somerset took a wicket.   

Seats were unallocated, so a spectator with a ground admission ticket had a wide choice. This was the first of 28 one-day finals that I attended at Lord’s, and this was the case for all those until 1985, when I found that my allocated seat at the Nursery End was perfect other than being directly behind the sightscreen, a discovery that led to my watching a few overs of the afternoon session from the assistant secretary’s office next to the pavilion as I offered him the benefit of my experience on this issue.

Kent’s XI was as it had been for the semi-final, except that Norman Graham was fit and replaced David Sayer. Brian Luckhurst played for the first time since having his hand broken by Fred Trueman at Canterbury a month before. Colin Cowdrey won the toss and chose to bat. 

It would be untrue to claim that I remember the detail of the game, but the ebb and flow of the three sessions remains with me. Easy until lunch; collapse and a good start by Somerset up to tea; a gradual relieving of tension after that. Kent were most comfortable during the opening partnership of 78 between Denness and Luckhurst. Denness played the “one innings of genuine quality”, according to Woodcock. Shepherd was at No 3, and with Luckhurst (who was out of touch but determined) put on 60 for the second wicket. 

The last nine Kent wickets fell for 55, all attempts at late order acceleration to no avail. Dixon and Brown were both promoted, but got one between them. Knott and Ealham’s partnership of 27 for the seventh wicket was vital; as so often, Ealham’s contribution was worth much more in context than the face value—17 in this case—suggested.

Bill Alley did most to slow Kent down, with three for 22 from 12 overs. Alley was 48 years old by 1967. Once said to be the best welterweight in Australia, he brought the fighter’s instinct and temperament to the field. He came to England having missed out on selection for the 1948 Invincibles, playing in the leagues until 1957 when he joined Somerset. He bowled assorted slow-medium that was as close as you could get in 1967 to modern limited-overs death bowling. He later became a fine umpire; nobody got away with anything as he knew every underhand ruse and had been the originator of some of them. 

Graham Burgess bowled six tidy overs for 17. Burgess bookends Kent’s glory years, there at Lord’s as they began and the only member of the Somerset XI still playing when they ended at Taunton in the Gillette Cup quarter-final of 1979, when Kent were routed for 60. Indeed, it was his doughty unbeaten 50 that day that gave Garner and Botham the space in which to wreak havoc.

In 1967 the grammar of one-day cricket was largely unwritten, so we didn’t really know how challenging a target 194 was. Not enough, it seemed as the 50 partnership for the first wicket between Roy Virgin and Peter Robinson was registered. A few balls later Virgin mistimed an on drive off Alan Dixon and the ball went in a high parabola towards mid on. Kent eyes swivelled to see who was there; a gasp followed the collective discovery that it was Norman Graham, who was to high catches what Robert Maxwell was to pensions. No matter. Graham held on. From that point on no Somerset partnership became properly established—only two got into the twenties—and the balance of the game shifted each time a wicket fell.

The Kent bowling was consistently tight. Graham took one for 26 in 12, Shepherd two for 27. Woodcock makes the point that by the 41st over, Underwood, making the first of ten appearances in Lord’s finals, still had nine to bowl. He finished off the innings with three for 41. 

It was tense rather than exciting. Looking back, I am reminded of the 1983 World Cup final, when it seemed impossible that India’s 183 would be enough to hold off the West Indies, but the wickets kept falling, so it was.

The Playfair Cricket Annual 1968 described the game as the best Gillette final of them all, which is a bit of a stretch; Playfair editor Gordon Ross also handled the PR for the competition. John Woodcock was closer to it with his judgment that it was the closest final, but “from the cricketing point of view, the most ordinary”. The best cricket in a Gillette final had—astonishing as it may now seem—been provided by Geoff Boycott (“forcing shots all round the wicket” said Wisden), who took the Surrey attack apart in 1965 like one of those plants that blooms only every 20 years. 

So the first of 11 titles in 12 seasons went to the hop county (the tradition of garlanding the Lord’s dressing room balcony with hops began that day too).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The season ends: 9 to 15 September 1967

The 1967 season ended with the World Cup, which will surprise those who take the orthodox view that the first World Cup was played eight years later. Neither was it the first, a similar event having taken place the previous year. The tournament consisted of a three-match round robin between England, Pakistan and the Rest of the World XI. All matches were played at Lord’s. The shortening evenings meant that they were 50-over contests at a time when 60 overs were the norm, or 40 on Sunday afternoons.

Just as the designation of the game played in Melbourne in March 1877 as the first test match is somewhat random, so there is a case for regarding these games as the first one-day internationals. The quality of the players was more than good enough to warrant the status, particularly the World XI, with its potent harmony of South Africans and West Indians. For years I intended to write about these matches as the first, lost ODIs, but was beaten to it by Philip Barker, who had an interesting piece on the subject in Wisden 2016.

Eddie Barlow made an unbeaten 74 against England, then took four for 23 against Pakistan. Barlow’s name is rarely mentioned when the great all-rounders are discussed, but it should be on the list, at least. He took 571 first-class wickets at 24, 15 less than his batting average. The margin in his 30 tests is +11. He was outstanding in the 1970 Rest of the World series, scoring two hundreds and topping the bowling averages with 20 wickets at 19.80. 

The three-day match at Scarborough between the World and England XIs had been watched by 30,000, but the one-day tournament met public indifference and was not repeated, which is odd given that domestic one-day cricket had become so popular. Perhaps they should have stayed in Scarborough and replaced the rather dour Yorkshire v MCC game in which Geoffrey Boycott made a century as indigestible as seaside rock. 

My cricket watching for 1967 concluded at Canterbury for the Gillette Cup winners challenge match against the touring side, the second and final such fixture.  The thing I remember best about that day was a six hit by Stuart Leary that cleared the famous in-field lime tree. Not the uppermost branches perhaps, but certainly those that bulged out to one side. I had forgotten that Alan Dixon took five that day, following the seven in the quarter-final. Leary and Dixon both had fine seasons. 

Yorkshire beat MCC, thanks to their young off spinner Geoff Cope. AA Thomson was at Scarborough throughout the nine-day festival, delighting Times readers as he had all season with phrases that said more than others would manage in a couple of hundred words. Barlow and Nurse’s partnership “contained every stroke from the book and several daring ones from the appendix”. Lance Gibbs was “the notorious master of guile, who by autosuggestion made them in turn pick the wrong ball to hit”. Milburn “had his leg stump uprooted and the spectators’ tide of pleasure inevitably receded”. 

These were the last cricket reports that AA Thomson wrote. He was too ill when the 1968 season began and died in early June. Here is his obituary:

Alan Gibson had turned from cricket to rugby and reported from three grounds in three days in the first half of the week. It was a surprise that the third of these was Bristol v Cardiff, one of the games of the season in those pre-league days, oddly scheduled for a Wednesday evening with a 6 30 kick off (presumably there were no floodlights at the Memorial Ground in those days—they had arrived by the time I first stood on the terraces in the late seventies, though a full moon in a cloudless sky would overpower them). Bristol led twice but were well beaten in the end, no disgrace when the opposition had Gareth Edwards and Barry John at Nos 9 and 10. 

Tony Nicholls was John’s opposite number, but not at No 10. He would have been wearing shirt F, in Bristol’s tradition of using letters instead of numbers. It was confusing when Leicester were the opposition; they also used letters, but in sequence from the front row, rather than the full back as Bristol did. If the game was boring spectators could find solace in Scrabble. Nicholls was head of geography at Cotham Grammar School when I did my teaching practice there (as a history teacher) in 1982.

Silbury Hill in Wiltshire was to be excavated. The Times report shows how little was known about it beyond that it was a pre-Roman artificial hill. The excavation found that it may date back as far as 2500BC, but deepened the mystery of why it was constructed, as it was found not to be a burial site. Why would people have spent thousands of hours outside, subject to the worst of the weather, on an apparently pointless endeavour? Perhaps they were passing the time while waiting for the County Championship to be invented.

One of the things I have enjoyed about the 1967 project is the realisation that there is little under the sun that is new. This week came a proposal from a civil engineering company to build an airport in the Thames Estuary, an idea that has resurfaced in recent times under the new ownership of Boris Johnson. 

Boris has not taken up another bright idea from fifty years ago—the inevitability of Britain switching to driving on the right-hand side of the road—but it is only a matter of time.

This ends the weekly series of pieces summing up the week fifty years ago. There will be three more posts over the next couple of weeks or so to finish off the 1967 retrospective, looking at the Gillette Cup final, thinking about cricket now and then, and reflecting on the process of recreating a cricket season through social media.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kent win the Gillette Cup, Yorkshire are champions: 2 to 8 September 1967

I’ll be writing separately about the Gillette Cup final. My first visit to Lord’s, and Kent’s first trophy since the First World War, are worth special commemoration, fifty years on. 

The other prize of the week—the only other one available in domestic cricket in 1967—went to Yorkshire, who were assured of the title when Mike Bissex was leg before to Don Wilson to secure first-innings lead. Raymond Illingworth took 14 for 64, all on the second (and final) day. He was on a hat-trick three times, which may be a record.  The match was played at Harrogate, one of seven venues used by Yorkshire for their Championship programme.

So, as it turned out, I had seen the first day of the Championship decider, the game at Canterbury a month or so earlier. Had Kent won that one, the Championship pennant would have flown over Kentish fields three years earlier than it actually did. Had Underwood, Knott and Cowdrey not all been suddenly picked by England…(let it go, just let it go).

Arthur Milton was playing for Gloucestershire in that game. He only scored 38 in the game, but that was enough to make him leading run scorer in first-class cricket, with 2,089 from 49 innings, even more of an achievement as it was made for the bottom county. Milton’s story has been well recorded. He was the last double cricket/football England international. These days, he could open a bank on the back of that, but not then. When when he finished playing sport Milton became a postman, and he enjoyed it so much that when they told him he had to retire he took up paper rounds that covered the same route.

Keith Fletcher and Ron Headley both went to the crease 58 times in first-class matches, both joining 68 other batsmen in passing the thousand mark. Mike Buss of Sussex achieved this at the lowest average: 21.46. 

Tom Cartwright bowled most overs (1,194) and took most wickets (147). In common with eight others in the top 21 of the averages, he conceded under two runs an over. 

A comparison of the first-class averages of 1967 and 2016 shows how much the balance of the game has swung towards the bat (then a slender thing that could be comfortably lifted in one hand and would last for several seasons). Ken Barrington’s 68.84 would have put him in fifth place on 2016. But Barrington was 14 ahead of second-placed Denis Amiss, whose 54.41 would have left him one place short of the top twenty. 

The reverse is true of the bowling, of course. Jimmy Anderson’s top-placed 17.00 would have only got him to No 13 in ’67. There were only three bowling averages under 20 last year (one of which was by Viljoen of Kent, who I’ve never heard of); there were ten times as many in the summer of love. 

The Scarborough Festival, summer’s death rattle for so many years, featured an England XI playing the Rest of the World. These games were an end-of-season feature for several years in the mid-sixties. They were of historical significance for several reasons. When in 1970 the tour by South Africa was cancelled at the last moment, the concept of a Rest of the World team was there waiting, ready to fill the void. The Rest of the World also played a one-day round robin, grandly if hyperbolically called the “World Cup”, of which more next week. 

There is also the composition of the team. Graham McKenzie of Australia, the rest an equal mix of West Indians and South Africans, at a time when apartheid made such a mix illegal had the game taken place within the jurisdiction of the apartheid government. So the opening partnership of 187 between Eddie Barlow and Seymour Nurse was nicely symbolic and would have spoiled Dr Vorster’s breakfast the following morning. 

Barlow made another ninety in the second innings, sharing a partnership of 118 with Rohan Kanhai, who “played, as so often, as though he could have batted with one hand” wrote AA Thomson. England were set 373 in five hours, a target that no England side, official or unofficial, would have contemplated going for in 1967 in any circumstances other than a festival match. John Edrich made an aggressive 87 but Lance Gibbs induced a collapse to 179 for six. However, the Middlesex pair of Murray and Titmus continued to be attacking in a stand of 112 in under two hours to save the game. Thirty thousand spectators watched over the three days and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, though they may have wondered why this sort of enterprise could not be seen other than by the seaside in September. 

It was the first time that world outside Guyana became aware of Clive Lloyd. He looked like a short-sighted librarian who had absentmindedly wandered onto the field, but then there would be a blur as he covered an unreasonable amount of ground with two of three strides, then the stumps would be in disarray, the batsman bemused in mid-pitch, wondering what had just happened.

Outside cricket, Barry Davies, then commentating for Granada and writing for The Times, reported confusion over the new four-steps rule for goalkeepers. Did the counting start when they first touched the ball, or when they picked it up?

Alan Gibson switched effortlessly to rugby for the winter, starting with this report, which may have been more entertaining than the match it described (a goal, by the way, is a converted try, with a try worth only three points).

Mr Gilbert Clark of Fishponds in Bristol discovered that his late wife had left their house to a dog’s home. A trusting man, he believed that his wife had taken this action in the belief that she would outlive him. I’m not so sure. He kept the house but it cost him £1,000 for a dog ambulance. A grand would have been a fair slice out of the value of a Fishponds residence in 1967.

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 ...