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).

1 comment:

  1. A very nice account - I remember the game from watching it on television (no chance for a 10 year old to watch a game live on TV today unless his parents are already fans and prepared to pay for a Sky subscription - which mine wouldn't have!) It led to me going to my first county game (Tunbridge Wells 1968) and most of Kent's Lords finals subsequently. Happy days!


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