Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Green Pitches of Dover: 26 August to 1 September 1967

Kent played their final two Championship games of the season at the Crabble in Dover, as attractive as any ground in the county. It has not hosted county cricket since 1976, but on a visit to England in 2011 I returned there for a look around: In Search of the Crabble.

Kent finished on the charge, with two wins, the first with just two minutes remaining, the second with a day and a half to spare. We will begin with Peter West’s report on the half day’s play that ended the week. 

It’s funny reading that report now, fifty years after I watched West write it. As recorded in the earlier piece, that day the Crabble became the second ground on which I watched county cricket. With game over in mid-afternoon and my Dad not picking us up until later (in our brand new Ford Cortina: I had watched him write a cheque for £700 for it at the start of the month and could barely believe that there was so much money in the world), hanging about for autographs passed the time satisfyingly. Norman Graham signed after passing a hundred wickets for the season while taking 12 for 80. Bob Wilson also did so, but was rueful when asked by another hunter if he was playing at Lord’s in the final on Saturday. “I don’t know” he said, but he did, and he wasn’t. In fact, a second-innings duck in the Warwickshire game had been the last of 647 innings that brought just short of 20,000 runs with 30 centuries.

With the players gone, my attention turned to the press box, a standalone hut on one of the terraces, painted in green and white stripes. West politely rebuffed someone trying to have a chat, explaining that he had a report to write. So I observed as he wrote the piece in longhand, then listened as he phoned it through to the copy desk at Printing House Square. Work done, Peter West (one of television’s best-known faces in 1967) was happy to add his name to the autograph collection (which I still have but can’t find). 

The thing that did for Dover in the long-term, besides the reduction of Championship fixtures, was the poor quality of the pitches. West’s judgment that the pitch for the Essex match “cannot have failed to implant a sense of insecure tenure” identifies him as the Ishiguro of the sports pages in his use of understatement. Its nature may be gleaned by the fact that Underwood—the country’s leading wicket taker—bowled not a single ball in the game. Six of the second-innings wickets that I saw fall on the second day were caught either behind or at first slip as the ball seamed as if from Saville Row. Not many matches are won by as comfortable a margin as nine wickets by a team that has not scored 200 in the match. 

The pitch for the Warwickshire game was also green, more of a risk when the opposition included Tom Cartwright, who duly took ten in the match. A fine 86 not out by Mike Denness got Kent home. The schedulers were, as discussed last week, either sadists or geographical ignoramuses; Warwickshire finished at Dover later on Tuesday afternoon then had to drive to Middlesbrough to start a new game against Yorkshire the following morning.

Leicestershire also won twice this week to finish their season, but in vain as Kent’s extra win kept them ahead with the teams level on points. Alan Gibson described them as the team that had most the most of its talent, thanks to the captaincy of Tony Lock, who bore a strong resemblance to Brian Close, both physically and in his bugger-them-all approach. Lock did not return in 1968, but Leicestershire made another from the same mould when Ray Illingworth joined them in 1969. 

Yorkshire’s draw at Trent Bridge early in the week mean that Kent finished the week at the head of the table, hoping either that bottom-of-the-table Gloucestershire would gather themselves for a redemptive win at Harrogate the following week or, more likely, that the northern weather would wash the Championship pennant to Canterbury (a pennant was all the winners got, by the way; there was no trophy then). 

Brian Close’s 98 put Yorkshire in a winning position against Warwickshire in their second game of the week, a heroic performance on the day that he was defrocked from the England captaincy. If a Times leader couldn’t sway the establishment in his favour, nothing could. Later in the week one of his businesses went into liquidation.
Given Colin Cowdrey’s fortuitous inheritance of the captaincy it is odd that The Times ran this headline on Wednesday:

It is interesting that the selectors supported Close, but it was the MCC Committee—a body including six knights of the realm, two of whom were generals—who signed the execution warrant, declaring the future MCC President as his successor. Amateurism may have been abolished on the field, but it remained the creed of the committee room, in all its senses.

Derek Underwood was the surprise omission from the touring party, despite taking eight wickets at a cost of 16 each in the two tests in which he had played. Titmus, Pocock and Hobbs were the selected spinners. Perhaps Underwood suffered from being regarded as not a proper spinner. John Woodcock continued to him as a cutter, and EW Swanton was forever saying that he should give the ball more air. A season’s haul of 136 wickets at 12.39 were not enough. Geoff Arnold’s fine performance in the final test was also ignored.

The final day of the test series produced the most entertaining international cricket of the season: a joyous world-record partnership of 190 for the ninth wicket between Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam. I recall watching this on television and wanting it to go on and on. It was the first time I watched Asif’s Road Runner footwork, enjoyed from slip by Colin Cowdrey. So when it became known that each county would be able to recruit an overseas player without a qualification period for 1968, it was Asif Iqbal that Kent went for, and joyously so.

Outside cricket the story of the week was the death of Brian Epstein at 32. 

The letter of the week in The Times (for me anyway) was this reminiscence of WG Grace:

And so to Lord’s for the Gillette Cup Final.

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 ...