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.

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