Hampshire versus Middlesex 3rd September 1978.
The current issue of The Nightwatchman is largely given over to the influence that overseas players have had on domestic cricket since the summer of 1968, the season after the rules on their registration were relaxed. In the 1970s much of the excitement that followed came from West Indian cricketers who dominated on the international stage but who starred in domestic cricket as well.
Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharran had county careers that between them spanned more than 70 years, brilliant but also lasting, and apart from Roy Fredericks who by then had left Glamorgan, 10 of the West Indian team that won the inaugural World Cup in 1975 returned to play for their counties that summer, 6 of them in Sunday League fixtures the following day. Seen from 2018 the general strength of West Indian cricket in the 70s and 80s, and the loyalty of the individual players to their respective counties, put the game decades ahead of football in helping combat prejudice.
As to the Sunday League match played on the 3rd September 1978 at Dean Park, after the mid-season exit of Barry Richards, it was a game largely won by Gordon Greenidge batting about as well as at any time for his county. The strong Hants team of the 70s were on the wane, but were to claim the JPL trophy that evening as he got on top against a Middlesex team, that boasted a bowling attack of fellow Barbadian, Wayne Daniel, Mike Selvey , the ‘spin twins’ Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, and Mike Gatting. Even after 40 years it is not at all difficult to remember just how hard Gordon Greenidge hit a cricket ball, back over the bowler’s head as much as anywhere, and the general excitement, apprehension then relief that followed the ball’s trajectory after the shot, realising that someone might have to catch it, and then seeing the ball land in or sail over the hedges that surrounded the ground.
The Middlesex team that afternoon had nine players who either had or who would go on to play international cricket; although it was actually Norman ‘Smokey’ Featherstone that led the visitors’ reply, having also checked the Hants innings with the ball. Harry Pearson in his piece ‘The Journeymen’ points out just how important ‘bits and pieces’ players can be to their teams and how much appreciated they are at times by supporters as well; in the case of Norman Featherstone a career lasting a decade and more, giving ‘glue’ to a Middlesex team that was generally on the rise in the 70s.
In a separate piece titled ‘Box of Delights’, Matthew Engel recalls happy summer days past when county cricket was quite widely covered by the national press, but also by local, independently-minded journalists as well. It could fairly be said that the press box at Dean Park, to the left in ‘the cowshed’, did basics; a building shared with the scorers to the right, a store of historic equipment in the rear which also provided a place for the umpires to change in. But a way of life for those doing reports that had a certain charm to be sure, particularly then perhaps; even if, unlike their colleagues going round the nation’s racecourses, there were no telephonists to assist with dispatches.
There were other ways, now largely forgotten, in which domestic cricket exercised its voice then; tea-time interviews given by county players and officials as a part of the Beeb’s coverage on Sundays being one of them. Twenty minutes or so once a week through the summer months; ground level views in a manner of speaking, often from pleasant settings at a time when the game was still largely viewed as a game, and batsmen who walked, such as Hampshire’s captain Richard Gilliat, won their share of trophies. In his interview that summer he expressed complete scepticism about the long-term benefits of the Packer revolution for ‘ordinary’ county cricketers, which from the vantage point of 2018 is a judgement that seems to have been largely, if not entirely, right.
Of Dean Park, Hants continued playing home fixtures there until the early 1990s after a decade in which the county of the Hambledon club began to rather lose its way off the field. If cricket is a mirror of sorts to the world beyond, the Rose Bowl, conceived in the late 80s during the excesses of the ‘Lawson Boom’, led to decades of financial strain in Southampton, as an essentially solvent cricket club making small surpluses became something rather different. Others since have added to the over-expansion of TMGs and are still counting the cost.
Hampshire 221-4, (C.G. Greenidge 122), Middlesex 195ao (N.G. Featherstone 76, T.E. Jesty 5-32).