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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Underwood likes to be beside the seaside: 8 to 14 July 1967




It was Kent v Lancashire week this week. Two games at seaside resorts at either end of the country, Derek Underwood the common factor, inducing in the Lancashire batsmen the inhibition of a teenager at their first school dance. Over the two matches his analysis was 118.5-58-181-14.  I was about to write that Underwood was approaching his peak, but he had already taken 100 wickets in three of his four seasons, so he started only a short walk from the summit and stayed at altitude for a quarter of a century. It is surprising that nobody that I have come across so far in 1967 was talking about him in terms of England selection. As we saw earlier in the season John Woodcock, among others, didn’t quite know how to categorise him. Spinner or medium pacer? Simply calling him Derek Underwood was enough, as there has only ever been one of those. A return to the test side was just a few weeks away. 

There was Sunday play at Folkestone, watched by the largest crowd seen at the ground since the Second World War, but Kent were barely more aggressive than Lancashire and slow handclapping—a lost art these days, but common enough then—filled the void. Charles Bray in The Times reported that the Lancashire players and the umpires sprinted to their positions at the end of one over to provide alternative amusement. 

At least the spectators had what Bray accurately describes as “picturesque” surroundings in which to enjoy the sun. In 1967 it would have been possible to walk down the pavilion steps, across the field of play and to continue across green fields right to the top of the North Downs (which terminate spectacularly as the White Cliffs of Dover just down the road). Soon after, a housing estate started to spread in the area below the escarpment and now the walker would have to negotiate the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, but for all that it would still be one of the more pleasing outlooks from the public seats of a cricket ground. I must write about cricket at Folkestone at greater length as there is no ground at which watching cricket has been more pleasurable.

On the third afternoon it seemed that Lancashire, 30 short of making Kent bat again and with six wickets in hand, had done enough to salvage the draw, but a combination of Underwood and brilliant fielding turned the game.

Kent’s fielding (Norman Graham and one or two others apart) was a major factor in their rise to the top of English cricket and was well ahead of the general standard of the time.

That win brought Kent to within six points of leaders Yorkshire, but at Southport in the second half of the week they collected only two points after missing the first-innings lead by six runs and having the third day washed out when Lancashire 116 for six, again mesmerised by Underwood. Yorkshire, at Bramall Lane Sheffield, were also washed out on the third day, but had the first-innings lead so were ten points ahead in the Championship at the end of the week.

Contrast the week for two batsmen. John Prodger of Kent made one before being bowled by Ken Shuttleworth. That was it for him. He was dropped for Southport and retired at the end of the season without making another first-team appearance. Roy Marshall, the West Indian opener who chose to make his career with Hampshire rather than on the international stage, made 160 out of 239 against Northamptonshire in a manner that caused Alan Gibson to suggest that Marshall should be ranked among the best of his time. Who remembers him now? He later ran a pub in Taunton and served on the Somerset committee.

John Arlott (still masquerading unconvincingly in The Times as John Silchester) was vocal on the subject of the points system this week, after a frustrating afternoon at Southampton.

Some of the best cricket is slow, when the wind is with the bowlers and the batsmen are heads down into the gale, but we have already seen ample evidence that in 1967 there was plenty of cricket that was simply dull without cause. The authorities became convinced that something was needed to challenge the inbuilt conservatism of batsmen and captains, and in 1968 the bonus points system was introduced. It has been with us, in one form or another, ever since. 

The three-test series against India was disappointingly one-sided. At the end of the first day of the third test, at Edgbaston, it seemed that India might be in with a chance, having dismissed England for 298 (despite opening the bowling with reserve keeper Kunderan, his only bowl of the tour; Pataudi did the job in the second innings). The talented quartet of spin bowlers—all selected here—now had the sun on their backs and a responsive surface. But no. India were rattled out for 92 on the second day. Brian Close did not enforce the follow on, a highly unusual course of action in the age of rest days. On India’s previous tour in 1959, Colin Cowdrey did not enforce the follow on one occasion, publicly stating that this was to give the Saturday crowd cricket to watch. All very well for a dilettante southern amateur, but surely not the wizened northern pro who carried with him x-rays to prove to doubters that his heart was made of flint?

Basil D’Oliveira was omitted from the twelve despite his first-test century, but as we know a D’Oliveira hundred was never a guarantee of his future selection.

Henry Blofeld made 67 for Eton Ramblers (appropriately, some would say) against Radley Rangers in the Cricketer Cup, the competition for the old boys of public schools, but Ted Dexter’s unbeaten 78 won the game. Fifty years on, Blofeld is on his farewell tour of the commentary boxes. In the days when Henry Blofeld was his name rather than his profession I enjoyed his writing in the Guardian, then the Independent. His reports would often be the most perceptive available; you would learn more about a game you had watched from reading them. Over the years he has lurched into self-parody in a way that Brian Johnston, for example, never did (on TV David Lloyd is in danger of going the same way).

Wimbledon finished with Billie Jean King forcing the tennis writers to plunder the thesaurus for the usual descriptions of losing Brits—doughty fighter etc—by defeating Ann Jones quite easily in the ladies’ final. King also won both doubles titles, in the company of Rosie Casals and Owen Davidson.

At the Open golf at Hoylake Roberto di Vicenzo led with one round to play. Neither Wimbledon nor the Open played on Sunday. 

The bill that reformed the abortion law completed its passage through the Commons, the second major social reform to be passed as a private member’s bill in a fortnight, following the partial decriminalisation of homosexual activity. Readers must be aware that my nerdery extends beyond cricket into the arcane world of parliamentary procedure; in the past couple of years I have seen my name not only in Wisden (thanks to Brian Carpenter) but also in the new edition of Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand (the equivalent of Erskine May). In 1967 the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, ensured that there would be sufficient time for these bills to pass, thus overcoming the usual obstacle to the enactment of private members’ bills. The abortion bill was in the name of David Steel, then a couple of decades off being a mini-puppet in David Owen’s top pocket in Spitting Image.

2 comments:

  1. I'm in complete agreement with what you say about Blofeld. I'm also old enough to remember his days as a regular newspaper columnist, and you're right, he was very good (I'm thinking in particular of his work during the Packer years and then when he used to cover a lot of NZ cricket for the Independent during English winters in the eighties). However, as a commentator he was always technically poor (with a very annoying habit of giving wildly incorrect scores which has only got worse over the years) and has become, as you say, a largely unfunny self-parody, which was indeed true of Johnston. There's always been a feeling in the UK that TMS attracts a lot of listeners who aren't all that interested in the cricket, and I think that they're the people who tend to like Blofeld, which is understandable given the way he commentates but something of a shame when you consider that his knowledge and appreciation of the game is really very deep.

    However, on his 'farewell tour' I'm happy to give him a clap, such as when I saw him ringing the five minute bell at Lord's last weekend.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Brian. I think that the trouble may have started when he began to spend every winter in Australia and NZ working for local media who encouraged him to play up to the "Dear Old Thing" image. He was a regular on the TVNZ commentary team for a decade or so (before I came here). He made (makes) a lot of money out from it of course, and good luck to him.

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