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Monday, October 26, 2015

Hat tricks I have seen (Part 2)

The middle three of my seven hat tricks were all taken by Kent quick bowlers all of whom experienced fleeting glory for England.

3. Richard Ellison, Kent v Hampshire, Sunday League, Canterbury, 29 May 1983

When Fred Trueman first saw Richard Ellison bowl in test cricket, the king of curmudgeon took just one over to write him off as a mere medium-pacer, and a southern one at that. But any batsman who thought that he could reside on the front foot against Ellison would likely be disabused by a surprisingly sharp bouncer.

He was brisk enough to make his command of swing devastating on his day. He is one of those who will be remembered for one day—little more than one hour really. Late in the afternoon of the fourth day of the fifth Ashes test in 1985 Ellison took the top off the Australian order, leaving them 36 for five at the close and completing ten wickets in the match for him.

Ellison played his last test less than a year later, a persistent back injury taking the edge off the swing and the pace, though he played on for Kent until 1993.
His hat trick was the most prosaic of my seven, the last three balls of a mundane 40-over game, the result already clear. Hampshire were 133 for seven, 66 short of their target with seven overs left, the Kent innings built around a fine 62 by the great CJ Tavaré.

Ellison, bowling from the Pavilion End, bowled Tim Tremlett, then had Bobby Parks caught behind by Alan Knott. Steve Malone—in 1985, high on the list of players who the bowler would choose to face a hat-trick delivery—came in at No 11. I would assume that Ellison bowled cross-seam and cut the pace down as it is inconceivable that Malone would have come within a bus ride of a swinging ball; to have found the edge to a first delivery, as he did, was an achievement in batting equal to most other players hitting it back over the bowler’s head for six. So it was that for the second time Alan Knott made the dismissal that completed a hat trick that I have seen.

Ellison again took three wickets at the end of another match between the same teams at St Lawrence just a few days later, with Hampshire again chasing 199 for victory, this time in a 55-over quarter-final. Despite being hat-trick free, it was an altogether more gripping occasion. Hampshire’s collapse, from 167 for two to a five-run defeat, was as spectacular as I have seen, worth a post to itself sometime.

4. Graham Dilley, Surrey v Kent, County Championship, the Oval, 6 July 1985

It was the English summer at its finest. A Saturday when the sun shouted from a cloudless sky, to demand that decent people gather up their binoculars, Wisdens and scotch eggs, and go to the cricket. So it was the early train from Bristol, then the Northern Line to Kennington.

County cricket does not seem out of place at the Oval, as it does at Lord’s. Middlesex—usually poked away on the edge of the square with an absurdly short boundary on one side—are the servants allowed to dance in the ballroom when the owners are away, but the Oval seems able to adjust to the occasion (perhaps the majestic new stand at the Vauxhall End has changed that since I was last there, but I hope not). I watched from high in the Pavilion with Allen Hunt, George Murrell and others.

Chris Cowdrey—in the first year of his usurpation of the captaincy—won the toss and Kent compiled 301 at a pleasant tempo. Simon Hinks’ 81 was the top score. Hinks was a tall left-hander with a pleasing drive, but whose career statistics do not reflect his potential

There was drama at the end of the innings, Shakespearian servings of plot, pathos and comedy. When the ninth wicket fell, Kent were 13 short of the 300 needed for a fourth batting bonus point. When Derek Underwood saw Kevin Jarvis walking down the pavilion steps to join him he could have thought himself in the position of a general struggling for survival in battle who sees a friendly army coming to rescue, only to discover that it is the Italians.

KBS Jarvis is the worst batsman I have seen in my half century of spectating, a judgement made without hesitation or equivocation. For Underwood to distil the required 13 from the partnership was to scale the north face of Mt Pessimism. Jarvis’ 0 was one of his finest.

But the best cricket of the day, pre hat trick, came from the off spinner Pat Pocock, who took seven for 42. Underwood bowled only 16 overs in the match, and Pocock went wicketless in the second innings, so this was pure art and craft, and three of them were clean bowled. Pocock had played the last of his 25 tests as recently as the previous February, 17 years after his first. He couldn’t bat and was no more than reliable in the field, so might not have had a place in the modern game, but what a lot of wickets he would take.

Surrey were left to face 40 minutes or so of Kent bowling. Graham Dilley opened the bowling from the Pavilion End. Dilley had returned to cricket after missing the whole of the 1984 season with a neck injury, and it was hard going as he tried to get that manufactured, goose-stepping action back into rhythm. It is a generalisation, but when Dilley was bowling well he was mostly away playing for England, and when he wasn’t he was a bit of a liability. As a county cricketer, Worcestershire got more from him later on. He took only 32 first-class wickets in 1985, but eight of them were in this game, and three in three balls this sunny afternoon.

Opener Duncan Pauline was caught by Hinks at slip, then nightwatchman Nick Taylor had his stumps demolished first ball.

“I have never seen a hat trick,” said George Murrell. This seemed an unlikely claim from one who had seen so much of Doug Wright, taker of seven hat tricks, more than anyone else in cricket history. But only two of those were taken in Kent, and there were few others in the fifties and sixties, so it was not improbable.

When Andy Needham edged the next ball for Hinks to take another catch to complete Dilley’s feat, I turned to George, expecting a jubilant reaction.
“I was going to have the words ‘He never saw a hat trick’ on my headstone, but that’s put paid to that” was all he said.

5. Dean Headley, Kent v Hampshire, County Championship, 14 September 1996

In terms of hat tricks, 1996 was to Kent cricket what 1849 was to California’s gold prospectors. Dean Headley’s hat trick that I saw on the third day of this game was his third in under two months. Martin McCague took another on the final day of the same match. To put this in its full probability defying context, there has only been one first-class hat-trick by a Kent bowler in the 20 seasons since.

Headley came Kent from Middlesex and his enthusiastic approach made him very popular with the Kent faithful. Discordant cries of “Dean-oh!” would fill the air once the bars had been open for a few hours. When it all worked, he could get movement in the air and off the pitch.

He began a 15-match test career in the 1997 Ashes, taking eight wickets on debut at Old Trafford. I was at Sydney for the New Year test in 1999 to see him repeat this achievement, but it is for the previous test at Melbourne that he is best remembered. At 130 for three, Australia appeared to be cruising to a series-winning target of 175 when Headley ripped out the middle and lower order to finish with six for 60. England won by 12 runs.

In the match in question, Hampshire were 87 behind Kent on first innings with the eighth-wicket partnership together. With captain John Stephenson still there—albeit proceeding at a glacial pace—parity was not out of the question. Kent were still in with an outside chance of the Championship, but needed a win in this, the penultimate match, to stay in the race.

Stephenson was the first of the three hat-trick victims, caught by Ealham (perhaps at mid off or mid on, but I am not certain). Fast bowlers James Bovill and Simon Renshaw followed from the next two deliveries, both leg before. The reaction of the bowler and his teammates was one of disbelief followed by laughter.

Preparing for this piece, I had no memory of who the umpire was raised the fateful finger twice in succession. The scorecard tells me that the two on duty that day were George Sharp and Ray “Trigger” Julian. I would wager a considerable sum that it was Julian who was at the bowler’s end on that occasion. His nickname was the result of his interpretation of the lbw law in a way that dispatched batsmen at an attrition rate of a wild west saloon on a Saturday night.

The first thing bowlers would look for when the umpires’ roster for each season was published would be how many times Trigger was doing their games. Tense negotiation with their captain would ensue to ensure that they bowled from his end.

Julian was of the view that umpires were far too cautious about lbw decisions, and that, other conditions being satisfied, if on balance it was more likely than not that the ball would have hit the stumps, off the batsman should go. It has to be said that the advent of DRS has vindicated his view entirely, and had he been umpiring now, he might have had a lengthy international career.

He used to keep a count of his victims through the season, and the temptation of claiming two-thirds of a hat trick may have been irresistible, though my memory is that both looked out from the top deck of the Frank Woolley.

On the following Monday (Sunday was still set aside for a one-day game), Hampshire were well-placed at 143 for one, chasing a target of 292. Then McCague turned in a fearsome spell that those who saw it claim was one of the fastest seen at St Lawrence. Nine wickets fell for seven runs, so Hampshire collapses at Canterbury become a theme of this post. Kent finished fourth in the Championship that year, and after an 11-year hiatus, my hat-trick count was up to five.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hat Tricks I Have Seen (Part 1)


I have seen seven hat tricks over my half-century in the stands.

Have I been lucky to have been there for so many, or deprived to have witnessed so few? A straw poll of two people suggests the former. My Blean correspondent reckons that he saw one of Dean Headley’s in 1996, the year when an epidemic of Kentish hat tricks stared down the laws of probability. The other half of my sample has been hat-trick free for forty years or so despite spending many summer days at the Basin and other New Zealand venues, so seven seems a good return. After all, there have only been 41 hat tricks in all test cricket.

Of my seven, one was in a test match, four in the County Championship, one in the Sunday League and the other in the kiwi curiosity that was Cricket Max. Over a short series of posts I will describe them in chronological order, with the fixture linked to the scorecard.

1.  Robin Jackman, Kent v Surrey, County Championship, Canterbury, 21 May 1971

Simon Langton Boys’ School was just half a mile down the Nackington Road from the St Lawrence Ground, so on a match day I invariably took my seat during the tea interval.

That Friday I arrived on the final afternoon to find Mike Denness and Brian Luckhurst setting a good pace in pursuit of a target of 207 in roughly 40 overs, which sounds nothing much now, but would have been thought a tallish order then. No doubt quick singles, taken without a perceptible call, kept the scoreboard turning. Never have I seen a pair bat with more understanding of each other than Denness and Luckhurst.

Denness went with the partnership at exactly a hundred, and Cowdrey soon followed. Alan Ealham joined Luckhurst. Ealham’s career statistics—average 28, 7 centuries in 16 years—are not impressive on the face of it, but they tell nothing like the full story. Time and again, when an injection of momentum was required it would be Alan Ealham who would provide it with a quick 30 or 40, anonymous in the scorebook, devastating on the field.

So it was today. With 58 needed from the last ten overs, Wisden says that “Ealham really punished the Surrey attack” (which won the Championship that year) and the Kent annual that he was “hitting hard”. You bet he was. In no time he was on 45, and Kent were 11 short of victory, coasting it seemed.

Alan Gibson called Robin Jackman the “Shoreditch Sparrow”. This made the public schoolboy (St Edmund’s in Canterbury, as it happens) appear more of a common Londoner than he actually was, though he certainly bowled in the artisan tradition. Fast-medium off a long run up with short steps, Jackman was on the edge of test selection for a decade. At the Oval test match in 1976 I sat next to a couple of friends of Jackman. He had been talked about for much of that summer, but not picked and they relayed his view that, at 31, his chance had gone. Four years later, he played the first of four tests.

His lbw appeals had the volume of a soprano and the passion of a barrister arguing for the life of a murderer. A few years ago, when commentating on a test in India, he criticised a bowler for appealing loudly and I emailed to ask if he was any relation to the RD Jackman who appealed for Surrey.

Here, he had Ealham caught-and-bowled, then bowled Bernard Julien off the last ball of the over. The hat trick was completed off the first ball of Jackman’s next over when Stuart Storey “brilliantly caught” (Kent Annual) Luckhurst. John Shepherd was also out in this period, causing nervousness among the faithful, but Knott and Woolmer took Kent to victory with seven balls to spare.

2.  Derek Underwood, Sussex v Kent, County Championship, Hove, 31 August 1977

1977 was an uneasy season. The Kerry Packer issue had exploded with the impact of an asteroid on the dinosaurs, though it did not so much make cricket’s T Rexes extinct, as provoke them into a cacophony of over-reaction and foolishness. Six players at Hove that day had already signed for WSC: Derek Underwood, Alan Knott and Asif Iqbal of Kent, and for Sussex Imran Khan, John Snow and Tony Greig, who was cricket’s Darth Vader in the summer that Star Wars first appeared in cinemas. Bob Woolmer’s “defection” (to use the absurd language of that confused time) was announced the following Saturday.

The dinosaurs were trying to drive the WSC players out of county cricket, so it was possible that it was the last we would see of these fine players if the dinosaurs continued to rule the world. In itself, that made the trip to Hove worthwhile, as did the fact that Kent had their best chance in seven years of winning the Championship.

It was a dismal summer in terms of the weather as well as cricketing politics; just few days previously, my Blean correspondent and myself had spent much of a test match Saturday afternoon sheltering under the terraces at the Oval, our only consolation a grotesque tenth wicket stand between Bob Willis and Mike Hendrick during the brief period of play.

Play did not begin until three o’clock at Hove that Wednesday. The Kent Annual says that “Knight [who has just taken office as MCC President] attacked vigorously and Barclay defended dourly”, a division of labour that produced a second-wicket stand of 61. But as the afternoon wore on the pitch started to dry out and the wickets started to fall, though only two of the first six went to Underwood, which suggests that it was difficult rather than lethal.  

Imran Khan was the first leg of hat trick, falling to a diving catch by Bob Woolmer at short leg. Woolmer continued to field at short leg—still in the helmetless era—long after many players would have called rank and retreated to the slips.

John Snow was next. With a little application Snow could have become a bowling all-rounder, but his attitude to batting suggested that he felt it a bit beneath him, though not as much as fielding was, as those of us who watched him on the boundary, immobile with arms folded in a Championship match will recall. It would be dishonest to pretend that I remember what shot Snow offered to Underwood on this occasion, but trust that it was a wild swipe. One way or the other, he was bowled.

That completed the over, so Tony Greig had six deliveries to get down the other end to face the hat-trick ball. Ten were scored off the next over, which leads one to consider whether nine or 11 might have been attainable without great inconvenience. But it was Arnold Long who was left to keep Underwood out.

I have written before that my Blean correspondent and I have spent much of our prime on perfecting the selection of the All-time Boring XI. The wicket-keeping position has caused us particular angst, because boring keepers are oxymorons. The role seems to demand skittishness and militates against tedium bat-in-hand.

So the incumbent is A Long, the very man who now stood between Derek Underwood and his first hat-trick. It was Long’s anonymity that won us over. We had seen him play often, yet could remember nothing that he had done. But Long’s approach to this situation persuades me that we should look again.

You see, on a drying pitch, with the world’s best exponent of such conditions on a hat trick, Long—facing the first ball of his innings remember—chose to charge down the pitch even before the ball had left the bowler’s hand. They could have given him 20 goes at this and the outcome—the easiest stumping of Alan Knott’s career—would have been the same every time. Perhaps it was some sort of protest at this captain leaving him in the line of fire.

It was Derek Underwood’s only hat trick, so was quite something to have seen. The rain washed out the last day, the Packer players were allowed to return to county cricket (though Greig did so for only a few games, so I never saw him play again), and Kent shared the Championship with Middlesex.

It was six years until I saw another hat trick.