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Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Canterbury week to remember: 6 to 12 August 1967

It’s been a bit sad this week keeping an eye from afar on Canterbury week, cricket’s Royal Ascot now more by way of an autumn meeting at Pontefract. The main attraction was a three-day game against the West Indians, once a cast of legends, their roles now filled by understudies. Kent rested a number of players, so I trust that the club didn’t have the gall to charge extra just because it was Canterbury week, as has been recent practice. The T20 games that bookended the week will have got people through the gates, but not in the numbers that they came in 1967.

The Times said that almost 40,000 attended the week, and I suspect that this does not include members, who were not counted as we passed through the members’ gate on Old Dover Road. If this is so, 50,000 would be a better estimate.  The attraction? Kent, leading the Championship, were playing Leicestershire (second), then Yorkshire (third). 

I was there for the first four days. I’m certain of this as I remember that sort of thing, but was puzzled that I couldn’t recall much about the Leicestershire match. Reading John Woodcock’s reports, all was explained. It was as unmemorable a game as was played all season. As the week went on, Woodcock was to become increasingly exasperated with the low-entertainment value of the cricket about which he was writing. As early as Monday he was calling Colin Cowdrey “pensive”, and reporting with an undertone of surprise that the crowd accepted the slow batting in silence. The following day he described Lock’s decision to settle for a draw as “baffling”, given that Leicestershire had played two more games than Kent and three more than Yorkshire.

The game was Stuart Leary’s benefit match. Leary was the epitome of the long-serving professional for whom the benefit system had been designed in an age of poor pay and no retirement provisions. Leary’s winter career as a footballer with Charlton Athletic and Queen’s Park Rangers was over by 1967. It had mostly taken place in the maximum wage era, and even after Jimmy Hill’s successful abolition campaign, there were no crocks of gold in the middle divisions of the Football League. Leary was having a good season, chipping in when runs were most needed. He was often dogged, but could hit to effect when required. His benefit year returned £9,000, a fair sum in 1967 (my parents bought their semi-detached in Herne Bay for £2,500 in 1964).

Stuart Leary was a joker who would interact with the crowd; like many who cultivate a breezy persona, it was in part a disguise. He died by throwing himself off Table Mountain in Cape Town in 1988. There were rumours of Leary’s fears of vice squad investigations and AIDS, so it is important to note David Frith’s account in his book about cricketing suicides Silence of the Heart, in which he presents no evidence that such fears were anything other than the product of Leary’s own tormented mind.

The bored crowd at the Leicestershire game passed some of the time by generating a conspiracy theory. The England XII for the second test was announced on Sunday. Surprisingly, given that England had won three tests out of four so far that season, there were six changes from that picked for Lord’s. Colin Cowdrey, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood were three of the inclusions. Cowdrey was having a good year and remained one of the best batsmen in the country. Underwood was the leading wicket-taker and Knott, as we have seen, was attracting rave reviews from every reporter who watched him, so none of this trio was a controversial selection. But the Salem branch of the Kent Supporters’ Club has always been strong and for many the coincidence of a Yorkshire captain and three of Kent’s best being called into the nation’s service on the eve of a possible Championship decider was too much to bear, especially as Ray Illingworth, who had performed decently in the tests thus far, was dropped and thus available to play at Canterbury. 

Brian Close must have wished that he had such power. In fact, the last thing he would have wanted was Cowdrey, the establishment’s favourite, back in the test team, with the anointment of the captain for the winter tour yet to be made. It was the chairman of selectors, Doug Insole of Essex, who guided the choice. Insole died just last week, taking the story of the selection meeting for the South African tour of 1968 into the silence with him.

Kent needed a wicketkeeper, and thinking that experienced hands were needed in such an important contest, called Godfrey Evans back to the county colours for the first time since 1959. I’ve written before about watching Godfrey Evans that day and later. His return created a stir, with The Times carrying the story on its front page. He was one of that small band of cricketers who inspired lifelong adoration in a whole generation. You could see it at the SCG in the eyes of the elderly sisters in my earlier piece. Compton, Botham and Viv Richards were three others, but there aren’t many.

Once more, roads around Canterbury were jammed because so many people were going to the cricket. Instead of the blandness of the first game of the week, there was tension and incident throughout. We watched from the benches on the northern side of the ground, where the flats have been built. In Brian Close’s absence, Fred Trueman led Yorkshire and played the role of pantomime villain with enthusiasm. Just a year off retirement, Trueman had become a craftsman as skilled as any in the manipulation of the ball at medium-fast pace. But for a couple of overs when required he could roll away the years and bowl with pure speed. He was warned for persistent short-pitched bowling, but only after he had broken Brian Luckhurst’s hand in the opening overs. 

For the rest of the innings Kent mined for runs in difficult terrain: 42 for Denness, 66 for Leary. Evans got a hero’s welcome and Trueman dusted the crease with his cap as Evans reached the middle. The thing that people who were there remember most about the day was the hitting of Alan Brown, coming in at No 10. He made a quick 33 including 18 flayed (as Charles Bray reported) from four Trueman deliveries. When I was back at St Lawrence last year I saw Alan Brown walking around the boundary and went up to say hello. “I remember you hitting Fred Trueman into crowd” I said, pointing towards the Nackington Road End. 

“No” he replied. “Fred was bowling from the Pavilion End. I hit him into these seats here” (gesturing towards what was then the concrete stand). He was pleased to be acknowledged, even if inaccurately. 

It was probably true that the absence of the test players cost Kent the game, and perhaps the Championship. I wasn’t there for the last two days, but more to the point, neither was Derek Underwood, who might, on a sunny second morning after overnight rain, have cleaned up. Alan Dixon (the captain in Cowdrey’s absence) took seven, but at more than three an over, and he put down an easy catch that would have ended the tenth-wicket partnership and given Kent first-innings points. It seems very odd that the 85 overs of the Yorkshire innings were delivered by only three bowlers: Dixon, Brown and Norman Graham, who bowled 37 overs for 60 runs. Young off spinner Graham Johnson did not get a chance, and neither did John Shepherd. Bryan Valentine shrewdly noted in his President’s report on the season that Shepherd’s 54 wickets at 20 were all the more creditable given that he only got on when conditions favoured the bat. 

Kent “went to pieces” (according to the 1968 Kent Annual) in the second innings and were bowled out for 100. Only Bob Wilson, the end of his career just a few weeks away, resisted with any effect, making exactly half the total. Tony Nicholson took five for 37. Nicholson was the only member of the Yorkshire XI who would end his career without playing test cricket, and was a better bowler than some who did. His Wisden obituary says that “he swung the ball, had excellent control and was often found to be sharper in pace than the batsman expected”. We saw the best of him in Kent; the following year he was back at Canterbury and took eight for 22.

There was no way back for Kent. Yorkshire wrapped the game up on the third morning, and Leicestershire took over at the top of the table. Alan Gibson, who spent the latter part of the week at Lord’s watching the new leaders play Middlesex, was grudging:

Gibson was in peak mid-summer form. The first two paragraphs of his report on Sunday’s play at the Oval is a typical Gibson opening. 

If this exercise in retrospection introduces a handful of readers to the writing of Alan Gibson, my work will not have been in vain (they should get hold of Of Didcot and the Demon, Anthony Gibson’s collection of his father’s work).

Gibson’s colleague the Sage of Longparish (as he called The Times’ cricket correspondent John Woodcock) was moving ever closer to the end of his tether by the end of the week. Having become impatient at the slow going at Canterbury during the first half of the week, he was exasperated by events on the first three days of the second test, at Trent Bridge, by the end of which England had scored a morose 252 from 135 overs, against an Asif Iqbal-led Pakistan attack. Woodcock did not hold back:

Outside cricket, my eye was taken by a proposal to build a bridge across the Thames Estuary to the Isle of Sheppey, to take traffic from the north to the unbuilt Channel Tunnel while steering well clear of London. On a clear day this bridge would have been visible from our house further along the coast and it was a cracking idea, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it, so cannot have been taken at all seriously.

The playwright Joe Orton died at the hands of his lover Kenneth Halliwell (or “friend” as The Times called him, showing that there was still some way to go after the decriminalisation of homosexuality a few weeks before). I had forgotten that the pair had been jailed a few years before for defacing library books.

The Consumers Council proposed that food should be commonly served in pubs, a suggestion that to some was as if they had suggested holding bingo sessions in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral.

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. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Maidstone week: 22 to 28 July 2017

Maidstone week was always a highlight of the Kentish season.  I wrote about cricket at Mote Park a couple of years ago. It was at Maidstone that writers could bring out the thesaurus of high summer: shimmering…baking…sweltering, cricket played to the sound of eggs frying on the pavement. Much of this is nostalgia cleansing the memory of course; it was as likely to pour down there as anywhere else, but for many of us Maidstone week was the first element of the holy trinity of cricket watching in Kent, along with the weeks at Canterbury and Folkestone that followed, though in 1967 it would be another five years until I watched cricket at the Mote.

It was a cracker of a week, with an exploding pitch and a match-saving last-wicket stand. The week began with Kent making 296 in the first innings against Hampshire. John Shepherd was now established at No 3, and followed his semi-final 77 with 72 here. Shepherd remained at No 3 for the rest of the season, but never batted as high thereafter. He had the talent, but it was to be his lot to carry the seam attack for the next decade and more, so he usually found himself down at No 8, which was something of a waste.

On Sunday, 10,000 crammed into a ground that had reasonable seating for no more than a tenth of them; this just a few days after almost 17,000 had gone to Canterbury for the Gillette Cup semi-final. What a time, when everybody wanted to be at the cricket, and what a day they saw. There was a large worn patch at one end that Derek Underwood could use as a torturer uses a rack. He took seven for 35 in the first innings as Hampshire were skittled for 95. Their day got worse. The last six wickets in the second innings all fell at 31, the last five partnerships contributing not a single run. Nobody got into double figures. Underwood took five more, and Alan Dixon got four.

Hampshire captain Roy Marshall (six and one) fumed, describing the pitch as “an absolute disgrace to county cricket” saying that he had seen only three worse (oddly adding that they were all in the west country, as if in mitigation) in 15 years.

Charles Bray in The Times reports that Underwood made the ball “kick shoulder high”. It might be that these days the match would have been called off; anyway, the chances of a pitch being that bad are remote. We are worse off for this. It took a fine bowler to make the most of that rough patch and with 28 games in a Championship season the competition could indulge the odd piece of negligence by a groundsman here and there. 

Expecting more turn on another part of the square for the second part of the week, Kent brought in Graham Johnson for John Dye (Norman Graham and David Sayer were still injured). Against Hampshire, Underwood and Dixon between them had 17 for 73, not appearing in obvious need of assistance.
It was back to go-slow cricket on the first day as Surrey crept to 233 for five, finishing on day two with 354 from 155 overs, Underwood four for 100 from 63 overs. Yet it was not Underwood, but another young spinner, Pat Pocock, who had the better day, with six for 43 that made Kent follow on. Four of his victims (and two of Stuart Storey’s) were caught in the leg trap (do they still call it that?). 

Pocock was having as good a run as Underwood and was spoken of as the new Laker, an albatross to hang around anyone’s neck. It was him, not the Kent player, who was selected for the tour to the Caribbean the following winter, but in the long term Underwood  (297 wickets in 86 tests) did better than Pocock (67 wickets from 25 appearances). Given more opportunities, Pocock would have become a notable test bowler, but was not well treated by the selectors. Ray Illingworth’s tenure of the captaincy excluded him for four years, and later they favoured Geoff Miller and John Emburey, both inferior bowlers to Pocock but better batsmen.

At half past two on Friday afternoon Kent’s last pair, Alan Dixon and Alan Brown came together. No doubt some people were already making their way to the car park or to catch the earlier train. Yet, with the help of an hour’s rain break, they were still there at the end, having saved the draw and the two championship points that went with it. Dixon was having a brilliant season with bat and ball. Brown was a very capable batsman, but a hitter, so his restraint was all the more meritorious. The partnership was the stuff of legend, so I am surprised that I had never heard of it until excavating the archives this week.

With five weeks to go, Kent were top of the Championship and in the Gillette Cup final, and the word “double” was being whispered around the boundary.

The second test series of the summer began this week, against Pakistan at Lord’s. A better contest than that against India was hoped for, in vain it appeared at the end of the first day with Barrington and Graveney putting on 200. Kent people who so enjoyed Asif Iqbal’s batting over the following 15 years may be surprised to be reminded that his main role on that tour was as an opening bowler. On the second day he took three wickets, as did Mushtaq Mohammad and Salim Altaf. England lost eight for 86, but were back on top by the end of the day thanks to three wickets from the restored Ken Higgs. This was the last time England took the field in a test match, home or abroad, without a Kent player until the first test in Pakistan a decade later.

Elsewhere, the BBC announced that the reconstructed radio network would go by numbers: Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, while solemnly promising that Radio 1 wouldn’t be too “mid-Atlantic”, which is precisely what had made the pirate stations so successful. They needn’t have worried. Needle time—the agreement with the musicians’ unions that restricted the number of records that could be played, thus guaranteeing work for their members—meant that in the early years the station was more perm than perfumed garden.