Saturday, 18 July 2009

Farewell to Forty Overs

Mention 40-over cricket to me and my eyes are likely to mist over with a rush of nostalgia.

I saw my first game of cricket in 1967 (Derbyshire v Yorkshire at Chesterfield, final day) and saw a couple of games in 1968, then fell in love with cricket when we went to a few Player's County League matches, as it was then called, in 1969.

My appetite was really whetted by a game between Derbyshire and the International Cavaliers at Chesterfield in 1968, when Geoff Boycott (a Cavalier?)opened with South African Fred Goldstein with Barry Richards at number 3. Rain ruined the game, but not before the young Richards had hit 49 from 112-3 in 23 overs, with Derbyshire unable to bat. Les Jackson came out of retirement for that one and bowled 9-1-19-2 at the age of 47.

Even for a novice it was obvious that Derbyshire weren't very good at this game. Anything around 150 in 40 overs was usually too much for us. The "highlight" was watching us play an albeit strong Kent side at Chesterfield, when we batted through the 40 overs for 109 all out... David Smith carried his bat for 36 not out. My Dad reckoned he wanted it wrapped around his head batting all that time for so few and Kent won in a canter with Denness, Woolmer, Luckhurst, Knott and Underwood in their ranks.

The following year we actually turned things around and became good at it. We came third that year, thanks to some good captaincy by Ian Buxton and the addition of South African Chris Wilkins to the ranks. I loved to watch that man bat! My Dad worked down the pit and often took the chance of a snooze at the game, but I'd instructions to wake him when "Wilko" came in. He was that rarity, a player who would go for it from ball one. It was sometimes his undoing but he was a very good player who gave huge entertainment. Bowlers were unprepared for someone to walk down the pitch and hit them back over their heads as soon as he came in.

The thing is, the 40-over game worked because of its length. No run up past 15 yards at that time, eight overs per bowler, none of this power play stuff and pinch hitters were unheard of. Yet the game ebbed and flowed. You'd get a steady start, then the middle order would crank it up a bit (or get out quickly, if you supported Derbyshire) then the tail would either flail wildly or play some sensibly placed and timed shots to take the innings to a conclusion.

150-160 was a good score when it started, then as batsmen looked for new areas to score, 180, then 200 became attainable. Barry Richards was probably the first batsman I saw go inside out and hit over extra cover, while anyone who tried a reverse sweep would probably have been locked up, or at least dropped from the team.

The "sweeper" on the point boundary became a necessity, while even then the merits of slow bowlers against batsmen who failed to improvise was obvious. People like Brian Langford of Somerset (who once bowled his eight overs for no runs) became useful cricketers, while erstwhile journeymen like Brian "Tonker" Taylor of Essex, Tony Cordle of Glamorgan and Graham Burgess of Somerset became good at the game. Keith Boyce, John Shepherd, John Sullivan and others became names with their ability at the 40-over game, more so than perhaps other formats.

The timing was right. I loved getting up on a Sunday and going to a match (after Sunday dinner, mind) yet it was just as good settling down in front of the TV. Sunday cricket all afternoon from 1.55pm. The credits would roll and you'd get your first glimpse of the game, hoping it might be Derbyshire in an away game, but happy if it turned out to be Gloucestershire v Hampshire, Procter against Richards. With a full stomach, a glass of pop by your side and chocolate to hand, John Arlott's distinctive burr came out of the TV as he welcomed you to the day's game.

Arlott and Laker, broadcasting heaven! Both so knowledgeable, yet minimalistic by today's standards, only saying something when it was worthwhile. You'd sit enthralled listening to their comments and tales of cricketers past. It was even great when it rained and they simply talked to camera with Peter West or Peter Walker. They'd bring players in to chat and I still recall Peter Walker talking to Viv Richards about bowling.

"How do you hold it to spin it then Viv"

"I don't"

"How do you mean?" said the slightly puzzled Walker

"I don't spin it, I just bowl it" grinned Richards.

There was no teletext, certainly no Internet for the score updates at this time and you'd wait for the rickety score updates from the other games throughout the afternoon. They looked like someone had done them with a set of stencils (and had never done it before).

Sussex v Derbyshire. Derbyshire are 21-1 in 8 overs. Quite good, we think. Good basis for a score. Mike Page will be in, then Wilkins.

Next time its 57-4 in 19. No news of who is out, but the lack of runs suggest one is Wilkins.

Then it's 113-8 in 36 overs. Ever the optimists, Dad and I convince ourselves that a late slog could take us to 140 which is defendable.

Later we find that we made 120 and Sussex are 95-1 in 26 overs. Even we can't convince ourselves at that point....

Halcyon days. The Refuge Assurance win in 1990 after John Player pulled out, with the batting line-up of the Gods. Barnett, Bowler, Morris, Kuiper, Adams. The amazing win over Kent at Chestefield that year, when the visitors hammered 276-4 in 40 overs and we got them with nearly 2 overs to spare, Barnett scoring an imperious century and Bowler and Morris lending superb support. Alan Ward taking 4 wickets in 4 balls at Derby, Hendo taking 6 for 7 against Nottinghamshire.

Great memories, days and players. The 40 over game will return, when the current fascination for 20 over cricket ends and people are looking for a form of the game that sits neatly between the sedate and the manic. I don't think 160 will trouble many sides, but if they get it back to Sunday at 2pm and stick it back on the TV, they'll make a lot of people very happy.

Especially me.

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