Cider and hops ~ 1967-83

Somerset v Kent in one-day cricket – from the 1967 Gillette Cup Final to the 1983 NatWest Trophy Final

From 1967 to 1983 Kent were one of Somerset’s main one-day rivals. It was a decade and a half marked by periodic set-piece matches between two great one-day sides. The Somerset teams of the time contained such great Somerset names as Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Tom Cartwright, Peter Denning, Vic Marks, Joel Garner, Hallam Moseley, Derek Taylor, Roy Virgin, Mervyn Kitchen, Peter Roebuck, Graham Burgess, Colin Dredge, Brian Close, Brian Rose and in the very first match Bill Alley and Ken Palmer. For Kent there were Colin Cowdrey, Mike Denness, Asif Iqbal, Alan Knott, Derek Underwood, Alan Ealham, Bob Woolmer and John Shepherd; and for both sides, as they say, many others.

Kent held the ascendancy in the early days of the period but as the Somerset team led by Brian Close and subsequently by Brian Rose grew in experience and strength the balance of power shifted from the hop county from the South East to the cider county from the South West; those two products gaining frequent mention in the media when the two counties played one another at the time.

The period began with a gruelling defeat for Somerset in the 1967 Gillette Cup Final in days when spectators still sat on the grass at Lord’s. It was a match marked by three distinct phases which fitted more or less neatly into the three sessions in which one-day cricket was played in those far-off days. As in first-class cricket, lunch and tea were taken. Lunch at a fixed time, usually just before the two-thirds point of the first innings. Tea was taken after 25 overs of the second innings.

Kent won the toss, batted and by lunch were well past 100 for the loss of only one wicket. Between lunch and tea Somerset fought back, bowled Kent out for 193, Bill Alley having figures of 12-4-22-3, and began to build their own score in reply. However, Somerset’s top order batsmen scored slowly and after tea, as the pressure and the required run rate rose, the wickets fell and Somerset were all out for 161.

I was not at that 1967 final. I watched it at home in black and white. I was at the 1974 Gillette Cup semi-final at Canterbury, the next great set-piece between the two sides. It is etched indelibly on my soul to this day. Somerset lost another gruelling match by three wickets as they pressed Kent ever-harder.

I lived in Whitstable at the time and went to the match. By the time I had fought through the traffic it was standing room only. It took Kent 52.3 overs to grind their way past the 155 Somerset managed to set after their batting failed to fire against some stringent Kent bowling. Only Derek Taylor, with a gritty 49 made a significant score.

Somerset initially hit back hard and reduced Kent to 40 for 4, but Kent, still the stronger side, dug in and Somerset could not quite hold them. Hallam Moseley and Bob Clapp bowled 21.3-10-42-3 between them. Less than two runs an over in a limited overs match. Different days. A full version of my memories of that match is available here: Memories. A Close run thing.

Then came 1976. Somerset came second in the John Player League, one of five teams to finish with precisely the same playing record, namely: P 16 W 10 L 6 Pts 40. Kent, again heading Somerset, came first on run rate. Coming second on a tie-breaker rather than points is not just a recent experience for Somerset. 1976 was the year the trophy was lodged in a helicopter to be flown to the ground with the team which eventually won it. Somerset’s final match was against Glamorgan.

Somerset reached the last ball of that final match with Graham Burgess on 46 not out and needing four runs to win, or three to tie to take the trophy. Burgess managed two and Somerset lost by one run. A young Colin Dredge was at the other end. I watched, on the interminable edge of the seat which Somerset supporters perpetually occupy, again on a black and white television set in Lincolnshire, the land of my third exile.

Dredge hesitated at the start of the second run and again at the start of the third. He was run out short of that third run and Somerset had failed to win their first title by a few short feet. Those two hesitations are etched onto my retina. I wonder to this day if, without them, enough pressure might have been put on the fielder for Dredge to have got home. One of the myriad pointless ‘ifs’ of cricket that linger in perpetuity. Kent had edged Somerset by 0.142 runs per over, the tie-breaker in those less complicated days.

And so the apparently perpetual struggle between the two sides moved on to 1978. The Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final at Taunton. Kent won by 41 runs in a match that stretched interminably over three days. Three days were set aside for a semi-final in those days. Having travelled down from Lincolnshire to see it I went home after rain ended play just after lunch on the first day with Kent two wickets down.

There followed two dispiriting days at work desperately trying to sneak a listen to the, then hourly, cricket scores on the sports desk on Radio 2 via a crackly transistor radio secreted in my desk. At least when Somerset ended the John Player League that year, again in second place on the same number of points as the winners, it was Hampshire and not Kent that edged Somerset to the title.

And so to the Gillette Cup quarter-final at Taunton in 1979, one of Somerset’s greatest days. The match was preceded for me by another trip from Lincolnshire, this time for a holiday in Combe Martin. The wettest holiday I have ever had, and that includes several in Wales. Photos of the family on the beach in anoraks in August. A storm in the Western Approaches so powerful it resulted in the Fastnet disaster. Somehow the weather lifted for the quarter-final.

Somerset won the toss, batted first and were 112 -7 at lunch – still lunch and tea in one day games then, not to mention a red ball. Another defeat to Kent, perhaps the heaviest yet, beckoned. Someone saw Phil Slocombe in the lunch interval (caught at slip off Dilley for 2). He said, “Should have put them in and let Joel get at them.” 126-8 shortly after lunch. Hearts were as heavy as the hot humid atmosphere. The Kent bogey sat large upon shoulders all around the ground.

Graham Burgess, in his final season, had shoulders strong enough to bear the load. Supported by Joel Garner and Keith Jennings he ground out a fifty, took Somerset into the sixtieth over and to 190 all out. My brother, who had travelled from the South Coast, turned to me and said, “They need three an over now. That gives us a chance.” And in those days it did. Garner had held an end up while 31 precious runs were scored before he was bowled “swiping” to use his own word. He walked off banging his bat into the ground apparently furious with himself.

He must still have been furious when he came out to bowl. At least his bowling was furiously fast, perhaps the fastest I ever saw Garner bowl. I was sitting square where the Caddick Pavilion now stands. I didn’t see a ball he bowled. I doubt the Kent batsmen did either, for with Botham storming in from the other end Kent were suddenly 19 for 4. A brief recovery was only the prelude for another avalanche of wickets. Kent 60 all out. Garner and Botham together 19.4-6-24-8. Miraculous days.

Somerset went on to win the Gillette Cup against Northamptonshire that year. And, although the John Player League match against Kent was lost, the balance of power was shifting. On the last day of the season Somerset beat Nottinghamshire as now Kent were the ones to yield to the pressure. They collapsed against Middlesex in their last match, losing their last six wickets for 33 runs and the League to Somerset by two points. The balances had shifted decisively.

In 1981 Kent came to Taunton for the Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final. Kent were put out for 154. Garner and Botham took six wickets between them. Soon Somerset found themselves 80 for 4. “Bloody Kent!” said my friend. Richards and Botham had gone for a total of four between them. But times had changed. It was now Somerset who supplied the grit and applied the pressure in these matches. Peter Roebuck and Nigel Popplewell added 67 for the fifth wicket and the rest of the game was, as you might say, academic. The cup, with another five wickets for Garner and 132 not out for Richards, was won against Surrey at Lord’s.

And finally to 1983 and the Nat West Trophy Final at Lord’s where something approaching a mirror image of that 1967 final was played out. There had been heavy overnight rain and more threatened for late in the day. In response, in those pre-floodlight days, the umpires opted for a 50-over match. Somerset, in fits and starts, reached 193 for 9, Kent had been 193 all out in 1967. Viv Richards top scored with 51 and Nigel Popplewell and Vic Marks added crucial runs later in the innings.

Kent started solidly, just as Somerset had in 1967, reaching 60 for 1. As the Kent score mounted the tension rose. My brother, a friend, his brother and I occupied seats high up in the Tavern Stand and were, literally, on the edge of those seats. Then Vic Marks broke through. The four of us leapt to our feet, arms raised aloft and let out a roar which might have been heard back in Somerset. From the looks we received from all around we gathered it wasn’t the sort of thing you did up there in those days. But it was the sort of thing we did in those days. And it was not the last roar we let out on that day, for rather as Kent had done to Somerset in 1967, Vic Marks and Viv Richards ripped out the heart of the Kent top order assisted by two peerless leg side stumpings from Trevor Gard. Two more indelible memories. The cup was won. The tables, for the time being, well and truly turned. Kent were dismissed for 169, just eight more than Somerset had made in 1967.

And so ended a decade and a half of incomparable one-day jousting between two great sides. And all, as far as I can recall, played in the best cricketing spirit. For many, Gloucestershire, or in more recent years, Surrey are the team for Somerset to beat. For me, in one-day cricket, after living that decade it has always been Kent. Always.

They were tremendous matches all, and perhaps indicators that it is tension rather than mountains of runs which make great cricket matches that stick in the memory for a lifetime.

This is an extended version of an article posted on on 1st May 2017.