Kent County Cricket Club first came into existence in 1842. In the mid 19th century there were two clubs playing under the name of Kent: Kent County Cricket Club and the Beverley Kent Cricket Club. But in 1870 a decision was taken to amalgamate into one club, to be called the Kent County Cricket Club with Canterbury as the Club’s headquarters.
“Early Days in Kent”, Chapter 2 of “Barclay’s World of Cricket”, states that in 1719 Kent played London in the first match recorded by a representative London side and it is claimed that this constituted the first county match. Further, it records that many prefer to look upon the matches of 1728 as the first real contests between counties and in three matches against Sussex in that year Kent came out on top, thereby earning the title given to them by cricket historian H.S. Altham of “Kent, the first Champions”.
Frederick Lillywhite’s “Scores and Biographies” , a 15 volume work covering cricket from the mid C18th to the latter part of the C19th., records the first organised match as that between Kent and All England “played in the Artillery Ground, London, 1746”. Kent won that match by one wicket. Between then and the formation of Kent CCC as we know it today, there were numerous matches played throughout the County.
The first recorded inter-county match was played between Surrey and Kent on the Laleham-Burley Ground near Chertsey in 1773. A return match was played shortly afterwards at Bishopsbourne Paddock, near Canterbury, the venue for many such matches at that time. Both of those matches were won by Surrey, the return match by the then overwhelming margin of 153 runs. However, a third match between the two sides played on The Vine at Sevenoaks later in the season, saw Kent get revenge by six wickets.
It was in the early 1800s that two Kent men, John Willes and G.T. Knight were largely responsible for the establishment of round-arm bowling.
In the mid 1830s Kent proved to be formidable opposition and could field a side worthy to rank with the highest. They frequently played and defeated All-England. The nucleus of that side was five of the finest players to have graced the Game: Alfred Mynn, the most destructive fast bowler in England and a dangerous batsman; Fuller Pilch, probably the best batsman of his time; William Hillyer, a most effective medium pace bowler; “Felix” (Nicholas Wanostrocht), described as a glorious left-hand batsman, and Edward Wenman the leading wicket keeper of his day and a much respected captain. During this period Kent won 98 matches.
A further outstanding player at this time was Edgar Willsher, a great left arm fast bowler who took 785 wickets in 145 matches at an average of 12.54. He also had much to do with legalising over-arm bowling.
During this period a number of attempts were made to form the County Club. The first of these was at Town Malling in 1835, the initiative coming from Thomas Selby and Silas Norton, who had been responsible for persuading Fuller Pilch to qualify for Kent and for five years most of the County’s matches were played at Malling. But the ground was proved to be too small and in 1842 during the first Canterbury Week the Beverley Club was reconstituted as the Kent Cricket Club. This arrangement faced early financial difficulties and in 1859 a further County Club was formed at Maidstone, not as a rival to the existing one, but to support its efforts.
This arrangement proved impossible and moves were made for an amalgamation between the two. In 1870 this was successful and the two clubs were merged into what then became and has remained, the Kent County Cricket Club.
The period following the formation of the Club saw serious financial problems and a decline in the quality of the cricket played by the County. The great players of the earlier years had all gone with the exception of Edgar Willsher and although there were many well qualified amateurs they preferred club and country house cricket.
But a number of significant events were taking shape which would prove important in the longer term. Particularly, the emergence of the Fourth Lord Harris as a player and administrator who was to dominate Kent cricket for more than 50 years.
In 1875 he became Captain, a position he held until 1889, and in his first year as Captain he was also appointed President. He was Honorary Secretary from 1874 to 1880 and Chairman from 1906 until his death in 1932. During his playing career he scored 7,842 runs for an average of 30 and in his 157 matches for the County he was the top scorer in 68 innings. He persuaded many top class amateurs to play County rather than Country House cricket, he put the County’s finances on a firm footing and was largely instrumental in the introduction of Benevolent Funds for Kent cricketers. He was a strict disciplinarian and ruled the players, amateur and professional alike, with a rod of iron. He played his last match for Kent in 1911 when he was 60 years old and was still playing club cricket at the age of 79.
Outstanding among the amateurs of this period were Frank Penn, described as a fine batsman, Stanley Christopherson, a fast bowler, and E.F.S. Tylecote, a notable batsman and wicket-keeper. There was also Ivo Bligh who led the England team to Australia in 1882 which won back the Ashes, and J.R. Mason and C.J. Burnup each of whom played leading
roles in the County’s successes in the early 1900s. Of the professionals, the side relied throughout this period on the Hearne brothers: George and Alec, both good all-rounders, and Frank, an outstanding batsman and fielder.
One feature of this period was the success of the County against the Australians. Between 1884 and 1899 there were seven match against the tourists. Kent won five and lost two of those matches. However, in the Championship results were generally unimpressive and although in 1900 and 1904 the County finished in third place, they were rarely in serious contention for the title, with Yorkshire and Surrey being the dominant counties. The big drawback at this time was the shortage of good class professionals and only when the better amateurs were available was the batting up to the required standard.
The development, which was to prove significant to the County’s success in the early 1900s, indeed a real turning point in the fortunes of the Club at this time, was the founding of the Tonbridge Nursery. It is described in “Barclays World of Cricket” as ‘this astonishing institution’ and by 1914 it had produced many fine cricketers. The coach was Captain William McCanlis who was a moderate player in the struggling years of the 1860s and 1870s and who played in 46 matches for Kent. He is described in “Scores and Biographies” as ‘a fine and powerful hitter and likewise a good field’. During his time at the Nursery he developed the great talents of Blythe, Seymour, Hardinge, Hubble, Humphreys, Fielder, Woolley, Collins and Freeman. As a result of the nursery, Kent, for the first time had a nucleus of good professionals. These, together with top class amateurs, were to be the players who brought the Championship to Kent for the first time in 1906 and to play a significant part in the successful sides of the early 1900s and up to the first world war. It is interesting to compare the training regime of the Nursery with the programmes which professional cricketers undertake today. The working day was structured with care, a start being made at 10.30am. The youngsters had 15 minute spells of batting when one fault was worked on at a time, and bowling with the emphasis being on finding a good length. Special emphasis was placed on catching and throwing, and great trouble was taken to ensure that the developing talents were not put under strain. Extended lunch and tea intervals were taken. The young players were required to bowl to members under supervision and they gained experience by local clubs offering the opportunity for them to play in their matches.
In 1906 Kent achieved its first County Championship success. Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack of 1907 said: “that they played the finest cricket of the year and fully deserved the distinction they earned was admitted on all hands.” In only 2 matches out of 22 that season was Kent defeated and those two defeats came in the first five matches at which point, the middle of June, there seemed little likelihood that the title would come to the County. However, it was a close run thing, Yorkshire only being deprived of the title as a result of a one run defeat by Gloucestershire. The turning point came in the match against Surrey at the Oval on 14th and 15th June, which Kent won by just one wicket, inflicting on Surrey its first defeat of the season. This was the match in which Frank Woolley confirmed his outstanding
promise as an all-rounder. Going in at number 8 he scored 72 out of a total of 200 in the first innings, and in the second , with Kent requiring 128 to win he held on to be undefeated with 29 runs. His combined batting and bowling won the match with eight wickets to his name, three in the first innings and five in the second.
The return match with Surrey, at Blackheath at the end of July, was no less remarkable. Kent started their second innings with arrears of 83 and lost their first three wickets for 58 runs before recovering to a total of 327. That left Surrey with 245 to win, but superb bowling by Colin Blythe who took 5-25 in 20 overs gave Kent victory by 164 runs, setting them up for two wonderful wins during the Canterbury Week. The first of these against Sussex resulted in victory by an innings and 131 runs after Kent had scored 568 in 120 overs. The second victory, against Lancashire and was even more emphatic with Kent winning by an innings and 195 runs after scoring 479 and Arthur Fielder taking 11 wickets in the match for 130 runs. This is the match which was the subject of the famous painting by Albert Chevellier Tayler a copy of which hangs in the Chiesman Pavilion at Canterbury.
Despite these wins, it remained that Kent could not win the title unless Yorkshire suffered a reverse. The climax came on 25th August when Kent secured victory over Worcestershire at Canterbury at the same time as Yorkshire were suffering that single run defeat at Bristol. With two matches remaining the title was still not certain and although Kent defeated Middlesex at Lord’s, they still needed to avoid defeat against Hampshire in the final match. Not only did they do so, they won by an innings with another mammoth total, on this occasion scoring 610 runs in 130 overs. This was the team’s twelfth successive victory.
One of the remarkable things about the season was that the first five places in the batting averages were all taken by amateurs who between them scored 4,256 runs including 10 hundreds, whilst 7 of the most successful bowlers were professionals who between them took 368 wickets. Arthur Fielder who appeared in all the 22 championship matches, bowled almost 1,000 overs and took 158 wickets. Colin Blythe, who appeared in 15 matches, bowled more than 700 overs and took 90 wickets.
In those years, the determining of the County Championship was based on an entirely different formula to that which is now the case. Counties did not all play the same number of games. In 1906 Northamptonshire played the lowest number (16) whilst Surrey and Yorkshire both played the largest number (28). The M.C.C. laid down that one point would be awarded for each win, and one deducted for each defeat. Drawn games were not counted for points. Consequently, the side which obtained the greatest proportion of points, in effect losing the least number of matches, would be the champions.
Further successes in the Championship followed in 1909, 1910 and 1913 and on four other occasions in the period the County finished runners-up twice and in third
position on two occasions. During this time, of 188 Championship matches played, just 27 were lost and in the eight seasons from that first championship success to the outbreak of the first world war, Kent’s lowest position in the Championship was third. Outstanding among the bowlers in those eight seasons was Colin Blythe who took 1,328 wickets, his best return being 185 in 1909 with his lowest 138 in 1911. In only two of those seasons did he bowl less than 1,000 overs. His smallest “work rate” (if it can be so described) was in 1912 when he bowled just 920 overs but still picked up 178 wickets! Lest the reader should think these were days of easy pickings for the bowlers, this was far from the case. Some 40 to 50 batsmen were scoring well in excess of 1,000 runs in a season and a third of those close to or above 2,000.
For Kent, the reputation for exciting and entertaining batting prevailed through the whole of this period, with both amateurs and professionals contributing equally impressively. One game illustrates the remarkable versatility and striking power of the side in those years of success. Against Warwickshire at Tonbridge in 1913, Kent’s first innings ended at noon on the third day with a deficit of 130 runs. By 3.30pm. the match had been won by six wickets. Between them, Blythe and Woolley bowled Warwickshire out in 45 minutes for just 16 runs and on a wicket which was still far from easy, Woolley scored 76 runs in 80 minutes. And it was the performances of Frank Woolley which were attracting the attention of a wider audience as one of the country’s outstanding all-rounders. In every season from 1907 to 1914 he exceeded 1,000 runs, with 2,102 in 1914 and in three of those seasons he also took in excess of 100 wickets.
The first world war took its toll of Kent players with twelve losing their lives whilst serving their country. Most notably, Colin Blythe who took more than 2,500 wickets, and Kenneth Hutchings who scored in excess of 18,000 runs. The names of those twelve casualties, together with the thirteen who died on active service in world war two are commemorated on the Colin Blythe Memorial which stands in the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury
Inevitably, the loss of those players, and the retirement of others which the war had undoubtedly deprived of further success, meant that wre not going to enjoy the dominance of pre-war days. However, in the first post-war season of 1919 the title almost came back to the County with all depending on the final match which ended with Middlesex defending stubbornly being just 16 runs ahead with 9 wickets down. For this first season following the war matches were of only two days duration and only once was the side beaten in the 14 matches played.
In the season immediately prior to the war, Kent introduced to the side A.P. “Tich” Freeman, who was to become a legendary figure in the inter-war years. He was another product of the Tonbridge nursery and made his debut at the relatively advanced age of 26. He went on to serve the County for 22 years retiring in 1936 at the age of 48. Prior to joining Kent he played in several Club and Ground matches for Essex, who decided not to engage him! From 1920
onwards he took in excess of 100 wickets in every season. For seven years in succession, from 1929, he took more than 200 wickets per season, and in 1928 he reached the 300 wicket mark (finishing with 304 in the season), the only bowler ever to have achieved that remarkable feat. Surely a record that will never be equalled. He is the greatest wicket-taker that county cricket has ever known. Despite his outstanding record for Kent, he played in only 12 Test Matches.
That the County’s record in the years between the wars did not bring any rewards in terms of the Championship, was due to the side’s refusal to turn down a challenge. Their reputation for exciting and entertaining cricket meant that matches which could well have been drawn, were lost. Throughout those years the team won 258 of the 563 Championship matches played, but 150 were lost, many when the side was chasing a target. But it could not be claimed with any justification that the batsmen let the side down, for in those years between the wars there were 377 centuries scored (an average of almost 19 a season) with Woolley contributing 96, “Wally” Hardinge 52, and Leslie Ames 50.
Although there were no Championship successes, the County produced more than a few players who won international recognition. “Tich” Freeman and Frank Woolley have already been mentioned, but there were many others. Leslie Ames, reckoned to be one of the finest ever wicket-keeper batsmen, and one of a trio of Kent players to have scored a century of centuries, A.P.F. (Percy) Chapman, an adventurous left- handed batsman and outstanding fielder who played in 26 Test Matches and captained England on 17 occasions during which he led the side to recapturing the Ashes in 1926, Arthur Fagg, the only batsman to have scored two double hundreds in the same match, and whose career spanned the pre and post-war years, Bryan Valentine who toured India and South Africa in the 1930s, playing in seven Test Matches and finishing with a Test batting average second only to Sir Donald Bradman, Doug Wright, a brilliant leg-break bowler whose Test career covered the periods before and after World War 2, and Gerald Legge who scored 196 for England against New Zealand in Auckland in 1929/30 and captained Kent for three years, 1928-1930.
These, and many others, entertained large crowds throughout those years. Bill Ashdown, who scored more than 1,000 runs in every season except one between 1926-1939 and who twice in his career scored triple hundreds, with “Wally” Hardinge, who played his first match in 1902 and his last in 1933, (and who lies second to Frank Woolley in aggregate runs for the County) shared almost 40,000 runs in the 20 seasons between the wars. And they both were pretty good all- rounders with Ashdown taking 595 wickets and Hardinge 370, although they were a long way short of Frank Woolley’s record of almost 48,000 runs and 1,680 wickets. Among others who made their mark with the bat in this period were James Seymour, another whose career started in 1902 and extended to 1926 and who scored over 27,000 runs for the County, and Leslie Todd who was a talented all-rounder before and after World War 2. In his 13 pre-war seasons he scored over 12,000 runs and took 498 wickets. Those were the outstanding batsmen and all-rounders.
But it is rightly said that bowlers win matches and Kent had its fair share throughout the inter-war years and although lacking an out and out strike bowler, there was plenty of variety. Mention has already been made of “Tich” Freeman, whose record of 3,359 wickets at 14.45 will never be bettered, but there were others: Charles “Father” Marriott who made his Kent debut in 1924 and combined with Freeman to create the deadliest leg-break combination that English cricket has ever known. He took five wickets in an innings on 38 occasions and ten in the match eight times, and was one of those cricketers who boasted a batting average lower than that of his bowling (4.81 runs per innings against 20.28 runs per wicket!). Doug. Wright, who came onto the scene in Freeman’s and Marriott’s final years, was the third leg-spinner on the staff in the mid to late 1930s. Apart from his Test appearances he played in 125 matches for the County in the years before the second world war taking 488 wickets at 24.45 and in two seasons exceeding 100 wickets. In 1937 he took two hat tricks and by the end of his career had added another five, to create a world record which still stands. He took five wickets in an innings 132 times and ten in a match 38 times. Other outstanding bowlers of the period were George Collins, a right-arm fast medium bowler who was also a useful batsman. He took almost 400 wickets including 16-83 against Nottinghamshire at Dover in 1922. A.C. (Charlie) Wright was also a fast medium bowler who took 598 wickets between 1921 and 1931 and who by all accounts suffered badly from dropped catches!
For all the talent which Kent produced in batting and bowling, the area of cricketing brilliance with which the County became especially noted was in producing world class wicket-keepers. Neither Jack Hubble or Fred Huish, who were the ‘keepers in the years from 1904-1929 won international honours, but both must have been close to it. The former, who played from 1904 to 1929 was in the best tradition of wicket keeper-batsmen, with 628 dismissals from 343 matches and scoring 10,229 runs at 23.51. Huish could not compare as a batsman with a more modest 7,247 runs at an average of 12.84, but he tops the list for dismissals, with 901 catches and 352 stumpings in 469 matches. Jack Hubble was followed into the Kent side by Leslie Ames, whose career with Kent commenced in 1926 and ended on his retirement as Manager in 1974. He was probably the finest wicket keeper batsman of all time, with nearly 30,000 runs for the County, 78 hundreds, a highest score of 295 and 842 dismissals including 330 stumped. All achieved in 430 matches. He also played in 47 Test Matches scoring 2,434 runs at an average of 40.56 and dismissing 97 batsmen of which 74 were caught and 23 stumped. With the calls on Ames for Test Matches, Kent was fortunate to have a second wicket- keeper throughout the 1930s, a colourful character in the form of Howard “Hopper” Levett who was also up to international standard and may well have participated in more than one overseas tour - to India in1933-34 – had it not been for the brilliance of Ames. He was probably the second-best wicketkeeper in the country during the 1930s although he could not compare with Ames as a batsman (average 12.08). But he kept wicket in 142 matches, taking 228 catches and stumping 169. Then in 1939 along came Godfrey Evans, who kept wicket in just two matches before the second world war intervened, but who was to make such an impact in the years following.
During this period there was much entertaining cricket and perhaps two examples typify how Kent approached the game. Against Essex at Brentwood in 1934 Kent scored 803-4 declared, with Ashdown making 332, Ames 202 and Woolley 172. This score was achieved in 146 overs and at a rate of 5.5 runs per over! Despite Essex scoring 408 in their first innings, Kent won by an innings and 192 runs. The second example is the match against Gloucestershire played at Dover in 1937. Gloucestershire had scored 434 in the first innings to which Kent’s reply was 399. Gloucestershire’s second innings score was 182, leaving Kent 219 for victory in less than two hours. The target was reached in 71 minutes, a rate of scoring of which Wisden said ‘history contains no mention of a faster scoring feat in first- class cricket.’ The total was achieved in 23.2 overs.
The 1938 season was Frank Woolley’s farewell. It is worth highlighting the record of the probably the finest all-round cricketer of any age. He played for 29 seasons - from 1906 to 1938 - during which he exceeded 1,000 runs 27 times and 2,000 runs in 6 of those seasons. He took more than 100 wickets in a season on 6 occasions. That was his contribution for Kent. His overall first-class record shows that he was second only to Jack Hobbs as a batsman, scoring 58,959 runs to Hobbs’ 61,760. Whilst Hobbs took just 50 wickets Woolley’s total was 2,066. He also took 1,018 catches!
The report on the Club’s activities during the second world war shows that the St. Lawrence ground was maintained in playing condition with a remarkable 579 matches being played there between 1940-1945 and a great deal of money being raised for Service Charities. For a large part of the war, the army occupied most of the buildings. The ladies lavatory at the Nackington Gate was used as an explosives store; a control room and air raid shelter were set up below the Woolley Stand and the Ames Stand was used as a petrol store.
Close on 150 incendiaries fell on the playing area causing negligible damage, but with their ingredients apparently being good for the grass! Twenty-one members of the 1939 playing staff were actively engaged in the services or essential work of whom eleven received decorations. The Roll of Honour included two of the 1930s captains: Flight-Lieutenant F.G.H. Chalk and Lieutenant-Commander G.B. Legge. The second world war deprived many of the playing staff of what may well have been their peak performance years and the performance of the side reflected this in the two decades immediately following. The nucleus of the first eleven in those early post war years was made up of the players from the immediate pre-war years, notably Leslie Ames, Arthur Fagg, Leslie Todd, Bryan Valentine and Douglas Wright, all of whom were getting on in years. Of the amateurs who remained, only J.G.W. Davies (apart from Valentine) commanded a regular place in the side. But there were some useful newcomers, notably Godfrey Evans, who was to become the world’s leading wicket-keeper - and no mean batsman - and Fred Ridgway an opening bowler of considerable pace who took almost 1,000 wickets between 1946 and 1960. Despite the shortage of top class players, the County finished in sixth place in 1946 and was fourth in 1947.
Thereafter, the highest position attained between then and 1964, when a gradual recovery began, was eighth in 1958.
But there was much entertaining cricket and many personal milestones to bring pride and satisfaction to the vast crowds who supported cricket in those years immediately after the war. (In 1946 the total paid attendance topped 125,000 and in 1948 for the match against the Australians which lasted only two days, there were crowds at the St. Lawrence ground estimated to be 19,000 and 25,000). There was no more entertaining a sight at this time than witnessing Godfrey Evans’keeping to the bowling of Doug. Wright, to witness the nimble footwork against the spinners of Leslie Ames, the running between the wickets of Evans and amateur Tony Pawson, and of all the batsmen chasing runs to achieve an unlikely victory, not successful on every occasion but always thrilling. The personal milestones in this otherwise barren period included Ames’ hundredth hundred in 1950 at the age of 44, Wright exceeding 2,000 first-class wickets, and his appointment as Kent’s first professional captain, Arthur Fagg scoring more than 2,000 runs in four of the five early post-war seasons, and Todd reaching a career 20,000 runs.
It was around the mid 1950s that things started to change for the County. Although the playing record showed no significant improvement, happenings off the field were to have a dramatic effect on the Club’s fortunes and performance. Not least was the appointment of Ames as secretary/manager, Colin Page as coach and then the appointment in 1957 of Colin Cowdrey as Captain. This triumvirate brought together an outstanding, talented and formidable side which was to dominate the County Championship and newly created one-day competitions throughout the sixties and seventies. Cowdrey had long since made his mark. The youngest ever Kent player at the age of 18 to be awarded a county cap, he was an established Englandplayer by the time he was 22. He captained Kent for 15 seasons, until 1971 when approaching his 40th year. The least known of these three, Colin Page, played for the County from 1950 to 1963 firstly as an opening bowler then changing to off spin. But his most notable contribution was as 2nd X1 captain during which time the team won three championships, and as a coach, in which capacity he played a vital role in developing the talents of many who went on to achieve great success for the County
In the 13 seasons between 1967 and 1979 eleven trophies were won. The success in the Gillette Cup in 1967 in front of a full house at Lord’s, was followed by the County Championship in 1970, which was Kent’s Centenary year, the John Player League in 1972, a double success with the Benson & Hedges Cup and the John Player League in 1973, the Gillette Cup again in 1974, a further double of the Benson & Hedges Cup and the John Player League again in 1976, the County Championship once more in 1977, the Championship again the following year, to which was added the Benson & Hedges Cup. In those same years the runners up spot was achieved in the Championship in 1967, 1968 and 1972; in the John Player League in 1970 and 1979, and the County were losing finalists in the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1977 and in the Gillette Cup in 1971.
During this time Kent were able to field a side which would have compared well with any World X1. Playing for England were Cowdrey (21 Test Caps in this time), Denness (28), Knott (89) Luckhurst (21) Underwood (72) and Woolmer (15). Asif Iqbal won 40 caps playing for Pakistan, whilst Bernard Julien (24) and John Shepherd (5) were West Indian stars. It may well be that, had it not been for this level of Test calls, Kent could have matched the achievements of Yorkshire, who dominated the Championship in the inter-war years, and Surrey, who did so in the 1950s. But it says much for the team spirit and talent that, having been deprived of these players through Test calls, those from the 2nd X1 were able to meet the challenge and ensure sustained success for so long. Another source of pride over this period was the amount of talent which came from within the County. A further feature was the level of support which the Club enjoyed in this period and the respect won by the players not only in the County but in the much wider world. Personal experiences of the writer include joining queues in the early morning outside the St. Lawrence ground not just to gain a good vantage point from which to view the match, but to ensure entry before the gates were closed!
A close examination of the records of some who played a major part in the successes of “The Glory Years” justifies favourable comparison with those of that earlier period of success. Derek Underwood’s 2,224 first-class wickets, the 26,000 runs of Mike Denness and the 22,200 of Brian Luckhurst, making them the finest opening partnership in the County’s history, Colin Cowdrey’s 42,700 during which he became the third Kent player to complete a century of centuries, Alan Knott’s 1,260 wicket- keeping dismissals and 17,400 runs with an average of 30.47, and the all-round abilities of Graham Johnson, Asif Iqbal, Bernard Julien, John Shepherd, Bob Woolmer and Chris. Cowdrey. Particularly, it was the abilities of the all-rounders that were such an important factor in the success of this period. In one other respect the team gained a deserved reputation: in the field there was no more outstanding a side, and if one person shone through more than the others, and thrilled the crowd with his outfielding which had such an impact, it was Alan Ealham who led the side in 1978, the last time Kent won the Championship.
In those years of success there were more than 50 instances of batsmen scoring in excess of 1,000 runs per season, yet only 8 instances of bowlers exceeding 100 wickets in a season - a much harder game for them on covered wickets! Yet it would be invidious to compare the talent of those who played such an important part in the successes of the 1960s and 1970s with that of the years when the Championship was won before the first world war, given the intense pressures under which the players found themselves in the latter period compared to that of the early part of the 20th century. The different competitions with far greater emphasis on the limited overs game, the comparative quality of wickets and the change from uncovered to covered wickets.
Although there were three Championship successes, it was in the limited overs competitions that the teams of the time enjoyed such success. The Gillette Cup (now the Nat West Trophy) was won twice, the Benson & Hedges Cup three times and the Sunday League also on three occasions. In the three limited overs competitions from the start of what was the Gillette Cup in 1963 up to 1980, the County’s batsmen scored a total of 25 hundreds and there were well over 200 individual scores of more than 50.
The bowlers emphasised the all-round abilities of the side, with four wickets in an innings being taken on almost 100 occasions with 5 in an innings 15 times. Outstanding among the batsmen was Brian Luckhurst with 7 hundreds and 38 fifties, whilst among the bowlers Derek Underwood took in excess of 450 wickets. The best individual bowling performance for the County in this period was recorded by Alan Dixon in the match against Surrey in 1967 with a return of 7-15.
In 1975 Colin Cowdrey announced that it would be his last season of first class cricket. He had played for 26 seasons and had led the side for 15 of them, the final years with great success. In his last season he was responsible for Kent’s first victory against the Australians in more than 75 years. Accepting the challenge of scoring 354 runs in the final innings at more than a run a minute, he finished on 151 not out, a knock described in the 1976 Annual as “an impeccable and chanceless display of batting which will long be remembered.”
Now we approach the present. By comparison with the 1960s and 1970s, the last twenty years of Kent’s history have been somewhat barren if measured in terms of winning trophies. But as in the past, there has been plenty to remember. The 1980s saw the emergence of many talented and exciting players who performed with great distinction for the County and in a number of cases for England. It was also a time of outstanding overseas players. In the last two decades Kent players won a total of 95 England Caps whilst our overseas players, notably Carl Hooper, Aravinda de Silva and Paul Strang have between them represented their countries 179 times. And in limited overs internationals Kent players have also served England with distinction, with a total award of some 150 Caps.
Despite the lack of team success, there were a number of outstanding individual performances which should not go unrecorded. In this period new record partnerships were created for the first, second, fourth, sixth and ninth wickets involving Mark Benson, Neil Taylor, Simon Hinks, Aravinda de Silva, Graham Cowdrey, Mark Ealham and Paul Strang, Neil Taylor scored his thirteenth first-class century at Canterbury (a record), Matthew Walker’s record score of 275 at Canterbury, Dean Headley taking three hat tricks in a season to equal the world record with a Martin McCague hat trick as well in one of those matches.
In the long term, history will probably judge that this was a time of some disappointment for players and supporters, during which there were a number of seasons of near misses. Runners-up in the County Championship in 1988, 1992 and 1997, in the Nat/ West Trophy in 1983 and 1984, the Sunday League in 1993 and 1997 and in the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1986, 1992, 1995 and 1997. The Sunday League title was won in 1995, but that achievement was overshadowed by bottom place in the Championship, the worst ever performance in the Club’s history. But although there were so many ‘near misses’, the performance of the side over this period should not be dismissed as a failure. To finish runners-up on eleven occasions in the four competitions at a time when the pressures and demands on players have been increasing to such an extent, is no mean achievement. There is a general belief that one or two titles in any of the competitions could open the flood gates to a series of successes to bring a return to those earlier years of achievement.
And with the introduction of the T20 competition and despite a slow start, that is now happening. Appearances at Finals Day in 2007 and 2008 resulted in the Trophy coming to Canterbury in 2007 with runners-up spot the following year. A Quarter Final appearance at the St Lawrence ground in 2009 saw the County make it three finals in a row in front of the biggest crowd since 1993 but unfortunately on this occasion the team was defeated in the semi-final by Somerset.
Although a second T20 Finals Day appearance in 2008 was a great achievement, defeat by Middlesex in the Final off the last ball was followed by the side going down yet again in a Lord’s Final, to Essex in the Friends Provident Final and then defeat once more by Essex in the final match of the NatWest Pro40 League Division 2 which, had it been won, would have resulted in promotion. But without doubt the biggest disappointment of the season was, for the first time, relegation from the Championship 1st Division, confirmed after an overwhelming innings victory by Durham who sealed their first County Championship. It was a bitter pill to swallow especially as a win in the penultimate game would have given the team an outside chance of the Championship had they won that and the final game.
2009 saw the County bounce straight back to the First Division of the Championship. After setting the pace from the start of the season in Division 2 they finished with eight wins from their sixteen matches. They once again reached the T20 finals day, having reached that stage by winning seven of their ten matches in the qualifying group, but were overwhelmed by Somerset in the semi-final. But in the other two competitions they had a disappointing season.
Probably England’s best-ever wicket-keeper/batsman and certainly the most outstanding of his day. One of three Kent players to score one-hundred first-class centuries. Scored 28,951 runs for Kent at an average of 44.33 and a highest score of 295. Behind the stumps he achieved nine dismissals against Sussex at Maidstone in 1929 (5 caught and 4 stumped). For Kent throughout his career he dismissed 842 batsmen, 512 caught and 330 stumped. Manager then Secretary/Manager from 1957 to 1972, he was key to the Club’s playing successes during the 1970s.
A slow left-arm bowler without equal who played for the County from 1899 to 1914. In 381 matches he took 2,210 wickets at 16.67 and but for the intervention of the first world war and his tragic death he would have taken many more. In 14 seasons he only once failed to take 100 wickets and against Northamptonshire in 1907 he took 17 in one day, including 10 in the first innings. He took 5 wickets in an innings on 195 occasions and 10 in a match 64 times. He played for England 19 times. Despite ill health (he suffered from epilepsy) he joined the Kent Fortress Engineers in September 1914 and three months after embarking for France in 1917 he was killed by shellfire. Every Cricket Week his memorial on the Canterbury ground is the scene of a wreath-laying ceremony.
For 27 successive seasons from 1950 to 1976 graced the grounds of Kent with classic batting. He was Kent captain from 1957 to 1971 during which time the County won the Championship for the first time in 57 years and the Gillette Cup. There were also runners-up spots in the Championship, twice, the Gillette Cup and the Sunday League. The third of Kent’s players to achieve one hundred first-class centuries, his total of 23,779 runs puts him in sixth place amongst the County’s run-makers. His average of 42.01 is second only to Leslie Ames amongst those who scored more than 10,000 runs. He , played for England on 114 occasions and was captain 27 times at home and abroad. His record as player and administrator for Kent, for England and as an international representative, spanned more than 50 years.
Opening batsman Mike Denness enjoyed success as Kent’s captain for five years in the 1970s during which time Kent won six trophies including the Championship and the Gillette Cup and the Benson & Hedges Cup and John Player League twice. As one of the most stylish batsmen of his day he scored more than 1,000 runs in a season in twelve out of fifteen occasions. His total of more than 17,000 places him thirteenth in Kent’s all-time list of batsmen. He was a vital part in Kent’s limited overs successes, scoring over 4,000 runs. He played 28 Tests for England and was Captain 19 times.
Godfrey Evans made his debut in 1939 and played his final match in 1967. In that time he built a reputation as a fine wicket-keeper/batsman. He played in 258 matches for the County during which time he scored 9,325 runs at an average of 21.38 and a recorded a highest score of 144. He was an exciting fleet of foot free-scoring batsman, able to push the score along through his running between the wickets. His dismissals as wicket-keeper for the County totalled 554 of which 451 were caught and 103 stumped. In his 91 matches for England he achieved 219 dismissals and in all first-class matches it was 1,066. When just seventeen years of age he was required by the Kent committee to make a choice between cricket and bxing.
With the world record as the only batsman to have scored two first-class double hundreds in a match, Arthur Fagg was one of the most consistent and reliable of openers. His 55 centuries for the County included a top score of 269 not out whilst his aggregate of 26,072 runs put him in fifth place amongst the County’s run-makers. His career spanned 25 years from 1932 to 1957. There were only two seasons when he did not achieve 1,000 runs and on four occasions his total exceeded 2,000. In the period immediately following WW2 his opening partnership with Leslie Todd was one of the few successes for the County in a particularly lean period. He played in five Test Matches including two on the 1936/37 tour of Australia.
‘Tich’ Freeman has been described as the most consistent bowler ever in Championship Cricket with 3,340 wickets for Kent at 17.64 and in all first-class matches a total of 3,776. He took 5 wickets in an innings 348 times and 10 in a match 128 times. His best innings return was 10-53, one of three occasions when he took all ten in an innings. He took nine in an innings five times and seventeen in a match twice. He also took three hat-tricks. In 1928 he took 304 wickets and in the next seven seasons over 200 wickets a season, giving him 2,090 wickets in eight seasons. Despite his remarkable record he played for England only 12 times.
‘Wally’ Hardinge played his first match for Kent in 1902 and his last in 1933. With 32,549 runs he is second to Frank Woolley as the County’s most prolific run-scorer. On seventeen occasions he exceeded 1,000 runs and in five of those seasons he scored more than 2,000. He recorded 73 hundreds with a highest score of 263 not out and retired with a career average of 36.48. A slow left-arm bowler, he took 370 wickets at 26.41. He made one Test appearance and was a soccer international.
George Robert Canning Harris (Fourth Baron Harris) was a dominant force in Kent cricket for more than sixty years. One of the outstanding batsmen of his day, he played his first match for the County in 1870 and his last in 1911. He continued playing at Club level until he was 79. He was County Captain from 1875 to 1889, President in 1875, Chairman from 1886 to 1931 and Secretary from 1875 to 1880. The creation of the Tonbridge Nursery in 1897 was largely the brainchild of Lord Harris. His record of 7,842 runs at 30.04 does not look that impressive, but his career spanned the years when batting conditions were not favourable. He captained England against Australia in the four Tests in which he played.
For five seasons in the 1990s, West Indian Carl Hooper excited Kent crowds with his calypso-style batting and his outstanding fielding. In addition, his off-break bowling was a key element in the County’s consistently good record of that period. Whether it be the one day competitions or the County Championship, he could often be relied on to produce a match winning performance. In the second innings of his debut match at Canterbury in 1992 he scored 115 runs in 82 balls including thirteen fours and five sixes, one of which cleared the famous lime tree. His aggregate of 6714 runs at 50.48 from 142 innings puts him firmly in the top tier of Kent’s all time batting greats. His Limited Overs record is equally impressive. In 106 innings he scored 4158 runs including six hundreds and thirty scores of 50 or more. He hit 67 sixes and his average of 43.76 places him as number one in that form of the game as well.
Alan Knott was another fine wicket-keeper batsman with 22 years service from 1964-1985 which spanned the whole of the ‘Glory Years’. As with the combination of Evans and Wright, he formed a formidable partnership with Derek Underwood and for both Kent and England a score book entry of ‘c Knott b Underwood’ was commonplace. In his 349 matches for Kent he scored 11,339 runs at 27.58 with nine hundreds and a top score of 144. It was in this innings that he recorded the fastest hundred of the season reaching three figures in seventy minutes. That achievement won him the coveted Walter Lawrence Trophy. He had 831 dismissals of which 746 were caught and 85 stumped. His record in the Limited Overs game was no less impressive. He scored 3,000 runs. He played in 95 Tests, scoring 4,389 runs at 32.75 and achieving 269 dismissals.
With Mike Denness, Brian Luckhurst formed a formidable opening partnership and was a prominent member of the successful sides of the sixties and seventies. He made his debut in the 2nd X1 at the age of 15 and was just 19 when he made his first-class debut. He scored almost 20,000 runs at an average of 38.00 with a highest score of 215 and 39 hundreds. In 14 successive seasons he scored more than 1,000 runs. In the Limited Overs game he scored 5,348 runs at 41.78 including seven centuries and 38 half-centuries. In 1970 against Somerset in the John Player League he and Mike Denness had an opening stand of 182 which remains a record. He made 21 Test appearances and played in the five unofficial Tests for England against the Rest of the World in 1970.
Jack Mason was one of a number of fine amateurs who played for the County in the period of Championship successes in the early 1900s. In 300 matches for the County he scored 15,563 runs at 33.98 with 39 hundreds. He was a right-arm fast-medium bowler who took 769 wickets at 22.06. He hit 1,000 runs in a season eight times, his best being 1,561 in 1901 when he also took 118 wickets thus achieving the coveted double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season. He was Kent Captain for five years from 1898.
Known as ‘the Lion of Kent’, Alfred Mynn was the most famous of cricketers until the advent of W.G. Grace. As a man of enormous build (he weighed between 18 and 20 stone and stood over 6ft. tall) he was described as having “shoulders like an ox”. For around 20 years he was regarded as the best cricketer in England and would today be seen in the same light as modern day all-rounders such as Botham or Flintoff. He was an outstanding member of the ‘Grand Old Kent XI’, one of the strongest county sides in the history of the game. Between 1837 and 1849 they played England on 28 occasions, winning 16 and losing 12. In county cricket over the same period they they won 24 of 33 matches played.
Jointly with Alfred Mynn, he did much to create the “Grand Old Kent XI”. He was already hailed as the best batsman in England when he came to Kent from Norfolk in 1835 to manage the ground at Town Malling. His career included the period of transition from under-arm to round-arm bowling which, it is said, he handled with ease. At a time when batting was far from easy he was top scoorer in 28% of the innings he played for Kent and the County’s leading scorfer in twelve seasons.
Known affectionately as “Shep” from his early days with the County, John Shepherd was a vital part of Kent’s successes throughout the 1970s. An outstanding all-round cricketer, he scored 9,401 runs and took 832 wickets for the County in the first-class game and was equally valuable as a limited overs player with 3,555 runs and 332 wickets. An outstanding fielder in both forms of the game, he took 286 catches. He came to Kent from the island of Barbados in 1964 as the result of an invitation from Leslie Ames and Colin Cowdrey when they were touring the West Indies in 1964. John Shepherd was appointed Kent President in 2011.
Derek Underwood holds third place amongst Kent wicket-takers behind Freeman and Blythe. In 519 matches he took 1,952 wickets at an average of 19.25 with 5 wickets in an innings 127 times and 10 in a match 38 times. He was the leading spin bowler in England for 20 years and in 1963 became the youngest player to take 100 wickets in a debut season. By the age of 25 he had taken 1,000 wickets - a feat bettered by only two previous bowlers. His record in Limited Overs cricket is equally impressive. He took 530 wickets but his value was not just as a wicket-taker. He was able to subdue the most aggressive of batsmen – a vital requirement ion that form of the game. He played for England 86 times.
Frank Woolley is the greatest all-rounder cricket has produced. A most elegant and attractive left-handed batsman, a left-arm medium and later slow, bowler and a brilliant slip fielder. For Kent between 1906 and 1938 he played in 764 matches, scoring 47,868 runs at 41.77 including 122 hundreds and a highest score of 270. As a bowler he took 1,680 wickets at 18.84 with 5 in an innings on 115 occasions and 10 in a match 24 times. He also took 773 catches. He scored 1,000 or more runs in a season 28 times, 2,000 or more 13 times and once topped 3,000. On eight occasions he achieved the double of more than 1,000 runs and 100 wickets and in four of those seasons actually scored more than 2,000 runs. No other cricketer has achieved this in four seasons. He made 64 Test appearances.
As an all-rounder, the value of Bob Woolmer to Kent’s successes of the 1970s cannot be overestimated. In the County Championship he played a major part in their title seasons with second place in the bowling averages of 1970 and 1978 whilst in the shared Championship success of 1977 he topped the bowling averages and took second place in the batting. He was equally impressive in the Limited Overs game. In both forms his aggregate of runs totalled 14,415 and he took 703 wickets. He played in 19 Test Matches and six Limited Overs internationals. Following his retirement as a player he became a much sought-after international coach.
An outstanding leg-spin bowler, Doug. Wright played for Kent from 1932 to 1957 and was the County’s first professional captain. In 397 matches he took 1,709 wickets at 22.68 with 5 wickets in an innings 132 times and 10 in a match 38 times. He is the only bowler to have taken seven hat tricks in a first-class career. As a leg spinner he was faster than most and was able to produce a very fast ball which took many wickets. He formed a formidable partnership with Godfrey Evans behind the stumps for both Kent and England, for whom he made 34 appearances, taking 108 wickets. It was said that, on his best days he was “a uniquely dangerous bowler of quick leg breaks and googlies and on his not-so-good days a generous contributor to the general entertainment”.
David Robertson Hon. Curator