Memories. A Close run thing.

Gillette Cup Semi-Final. Kent v Somerset. 14th August 1974. Canterbury.

As the ECB confirm arrangements for the ‘100’ competiton in 2020 a return to a different world in my ‘Memories’ series. Return to 1974 for images imprinted on my memory of a gripping match which was played in a 60 overs a side competition at less than three runs an over.

Toss. Kent. Elected to field.

The 1974 Gillette Cup semi-final at Canterbury is burned into my memory and vivid images abound there. I re-run them often. The impact it made perhaps reflects the importance of Semi-Finals, and for that matter Quarter-Finals, in the two one day cups of the time. They were major set piece events which bestrode the domestic cricketing landscape like Glastonbury Tor, Dunkery Beacon or the Wellington Monument bestride the landscape of Somerset.

The Gillette Cup was especially memorable because it was an entirely knock-out competition. A single defeat ejected a side from the competition. It was cricket’s FA Cup at a time when the FA Cup had a status like no other football competition in the world including possibly the World Cup.

I lived in Kent at the time during my second exile. My brother, also living away from Somerset, travelled a hundred miles to watch the match. The anticipation was enormous. There were previews of the match in the broadsheet newspapers and Gillette Cup matches were headline news on national sports programmes.

There was no internet in those days. Buying tickets was a laborious process. I remember telephoning Somerset to reserve two tickets, sending a cheque and waiting in anticipation for the tickets to come. The envelope arrived containing two numbered cloakroom tickets rather as if I had entered a raffle. They were an orange/brown colour and I distinctly remember one was missing a corner. They were accepted on the gate without the slightest demur. How times have changed.

My brother and I took so long to penetrate the Canterbury traffic we arrived late. Somerset were batting and as we walked along the raised bank towards the original lime tree the scoreboard read 10 for 0. I can still read it now. We had no chance of a seat. The ground was heaving. We opted to stand next to the temporary stand which had been reserved for Somerset supporters in front of the lime tree. ‘Restricted View’ the tickets would say today. The stand was brimming with anticipation.

For Somerset Tom Cartwright was injured. For Kent Derek Underwood played. Wet wicket experts both. Pitches were uncovered in the County Championship in those days. The following day the press reported the wicket was wet at one end. Somerset had young players like Peter Denning, Viv Richards and Ian Botham as well as old hands like Brian Close, Jim Parks and Mervyn Kitchen. One newspaper report dubbed them a team of ‘varying hairlines and waistlines’.

Somerset hopes rose as Derek Taylor and Mervyn Kitchen started to build a partnership. Then Kitchen lapped a ball and Alan Ealham ran around the boundary and caught it right in front of us ankle high under the lime tree a relic of which the author still owns. Peter Denning came in having scored a hundred against Surrey in the Quarter Final at Taunton. He could barely lay a bat on the ball. I seem to remember him being repeatedly whacked on his pads before he was finally out for eight.

Canterbury lime tree paperweight IMG_1118
The author’s relic of the original Canterbury lime tree under which Alan Ealham caught Mervyn Kitchen.

Derek Taylor meanwhile had been building a painfully slow score. So slow that someone from the temporary stand called out, “C’mon Derek. I got to go to work tomorrow!” Thank goodness Derek didn’t ‘come on’ for without what may have been the longest one day 49 in Somerset history there would have been no match at all to speak of.

Eventually we had Brian Close and Viv Richards in together. The two disasters that followed are the most indelibly imprinted of the images of the match along with one from the Kent innings. Close went for a suicidal run, the 22-year-old Richards sent him back, Close slammed on the brakes with the biggest shuddering of knees I have ever seen and was run out by a country mile.

Richards responded with a flat six that went straight up one of the aisles in the stand full of Somerset supporters. The stand erupted. Next ball he was ‘adjudged’ lbw when he was nearly as far down the pitch as Close had been when he was run out and Somerset were 104-5. Cries of protest at the decision issued forth from the temporary stand. A woman of Kent said, “I do hope they don’t run wild if they lose”.

The rest of the innings is a blur of a collapse as Somerset ended up 154 all out off 58 overs. I can still see that paltry score on the huge landscape shape scoreboard that is the main scoreboard at Canterbury to this day. The only other memory of that innings is of the 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey playing to the crowd by feigning a stiff back in response to a heckle about his age.

Then Kent batted. In a blur they were 40 for 4. Out of that blur the only image that remains is of Cowdrey frozen in bemusement as Botham shattered his stumps for eight. The Somerset roar was by now cacophanous and continuous. What became of the lady of Kent is lost to posterity.

After that there was a slow grind of tight bowling and slow scoring as Denness and Knott edged Kent forward to just short of a hundred before the fifth wicket fell. Then Woolmer and Ealham dragged them forward over an excrutiatingly tense and interminable number of overs.

The third indelible memory comes from just before the end with Somerset supporters still clinging hard to hope. Hallam Moseley bowled five consecutive outswingers in an over. All went past the outside edge of Woolmer’s stroke. It was unbearable to watch. Then, in a final blow to Somerset’s hopes, rain started to fall and removed any hope of swing from an ageing ball. Finally Bob Clapp bowled wides when Close sent him round the wicket in a last throw of the dice before Kent scraped home by three wickets.

Oh, the ifs and the buts. If Cartwright had been fit for Somerset to put up against Underwood. If the pitch had not been ‘wet at one end’ as reported in the press the next day. If Close had not set off on that suicidal run. If Richards had not been given out so far down the pitch. If Denning could have found his Surrey form. If Moseley, Clapp, Jones or Botham could have found just one more wicket in that glorious opening phase of the Kent innings. Even if, late in the day, just one of those Moseley outswingers could have found the edge of Woolmer’s bat. Then, perhaps, just perhaps, Close’s team of ‘varying hairlines and waistlines’ might, just might, have pulled it off.

And, of course, no-one ran wild.

Result: Somerset 154 (58/60 overs). Kent 155for 7 (52.3/60 overs). Kent won by 3 wickets.

The original version of this, extended, article was published on grockles.com in February 2017.