Hampshire versus Kent, 26th-29th August 1978, Bournemouth. Surrey versus Hampshire 18-21st August 2019, The Oval.
When John Arlott retired in 1980 he wrote of his abiding nostalgia for the county cricket circuit which had anchored much of his career, cricketers as members of a travelling circus going round the country in the summer months, the game’s greats on board. Something from another world now, but in the summer of 1978 it was a strong Kent team, that included ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood, that came for the second half of the Bournemouth week. On the point of becoming County Champions they bumped into Gordon Greenidge going through a great purple patch: five centuries and a fifty (in the SL game below) in seven innings; two of them enabling the home side to win with relative ease, (umpires) Cowley and Jesty at the crease.
The photo of Trevor Jesty from behind looks a bit odd now, although given a camera at just one end with TV coverage at the time, not especially then. In another media age, Radio 2 did hourly sports desks in the afternoon which fed the game’s chatter, with the second reading of the cricket scoreboard at 7.30; a holy of sorts for some, it was often delivered with a certain gravitas if memory serves.
As for those doing the chatter players then perambulated around grounds and talked to members and spectators. This blog takes its name from those who watched from one end of Dean Park in those years: prominent the then chair of CAMRA, real ale and communism, ‘W.G.’, who having trialled the world of work for a fortnight in the 1950s had decided against continuing with it, those too young to have made that decision; those that weren’t and hadn’t and one who remembered matches from the 1930s. Easy days spent watching cricket: part sanctuary, part speakers’ corner, and a comment on those with the patience to follow the game and the tolerances of each other that watching fostered.
The Oval in 2019 is a decent place to take in the pleasures of a Monday morning at the cricket, hearth from its history and strangely, or maybe not all, the Vauxhall End has its ‘sightscreen committee’, independent-minded comments and recollections as standard. Perhaps there is a parallel universe somewhere with many sightscreen committees, the game there might be the better for it , but in this one it should be mentioned the ‘People’s Home’ also benefits from its flag-bearers for the county game in the Peter May stand.
The course of the Surrey-Hants fixture was reset by a big innings of considerable maturity from Ollie Pope, enough to generate interest on the last afternoon despite the fact that, in the end, only 22 wickets fell over four days. The 12 men of Hants (one concussion sub) resisting the 13 of Surrey (two England call-ups) with an innings of promise from Felix Organ leading their rearguard. As the game reached its conclusion Ben Foakes again showed the lightening speed of his reactions (and anticipation) and credit, of course, to those who field at short-leg
When the game was expanding in the direction of more limited-overs cricket in decades past there were mature types then who, understandably, did not give thanks for having their memories, understanding, of the game disrupted. Sentiments that get passed across the generations maybe; but had England won the World Cup in 1979 no-one then would have been bonkers enough to promptly downgrade the Gillette Cup, and when England did win the Ashes in 1981, the County Championship was respected in ways that it just isn’t now. Much centralisation of decision-making since has left the game’s governing body appearing as confused as it is self-interested.