Bill Pavilion End, Bill Ricquier's Cricket Views

Champions for all Time

In About the Game by Bill Ricquier

It is fifty years since Hampshire last won the County Championship. In the period between then and now some of the world’s greatest players have represented the county – Andy Roberts, Robin Smith, Malcolm Marshall, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Wasim Akram, Shane Warne – but, although they have come close a few times they have never won the title. 1973 was their second title; they won first in 1961. The 1973 side contained one incontestable all-time great, and another who was to become a great Test cricketer, but the side was made up mainly of solid county professionals, a couple of whom flirted with international honours. The current side is highly regarded and has two overseas players who have proved themselves at international level. They were many people’s favourites to win this year’s Division One title but after six games (out of fourteen) it is fairly clear that this is not going to happen.

The comparison raises interesting questions about the standard of first-class cricket in England and Wales now and then.

In 1973 the Championship was a single-division competition between 17 counties. Every team played 20 matches, securing ten points for a win and none for a draw. Plenty of batting and bowling bonus points were available. Hampshire won ten matches – more than anyone else  – and lost none. They secured comfortably more bonus points than anyone else, though Kent, who came fourth, had more batting bonus points.

Although Hampshire were comfortable winners, their title came completely out of the blue. They had gone through a prolonged period of rebuilding. There was one survivor of the team which had won the title in 1961, the all-rounder Peter Sainsbury. The end of the 1972 season had seen the retirement of one of the great county batsmen of the previous two decades, the Barbadian Roy Marshall, but his departure, at the age of 42, was hardly premature; although Marshall remained a brilliant player on his day, body language made it fairly clear even to the casual observer that there was not much love lost between him and his successor as captain, the former Oxford Blue Richard Gilliat.

The 1973 side was clearly Gilliat’s team. Many of the team were either relative youngsters who had grown up in the team alongside him, like Richard Lees, Trevor Jesty, David Turner and Gordon Greenidge, all of whom, except Lewis, were under 25, or recruits from other counties who were keen to impress in a club which had given them a second chance, like Bob Herman, Bob Stephenson and Mike Taylor.

England played six Tests in that summer ; Hampshire did not lose anybody to international call-ups (West Indies preferred Worcestershire ‘s Ron Headley to Greenidge). Hampshire used only thirteen players in the Championship. Six of them – Greenidge, Turner, Sainsbury, Taylor, Stephenson and Herman – played in all 20 games; Gilliat missed one, Jesty and Tom Mottram both missed three and Barry Richards four. Four of the side – Sainsbury, Herman, Lewis and Jesty – were Hampshire-born. Herman’s father,” Lofty”was a regular for the county before and after the Second World War; Gilliat and Turner had been born in neighbouring counties which did not play first- class cricket.

The numbers show that it was a real team effort. Only two batters, Greenidge and Richards, topped a thousand runs in Championship cricket (Turner joined them in all first- class matches). Greenidge averaged 52 and Richards 49. Of the not very threatening looking attack, five bowlers, Herman, Taylor, Mottram, Sainsbury and David O’ Sullivan – took between 47 and 63 wickets at an average of under 24. Stephenson claimed more victims as wicketkeeper than anyone apart from Yorkshire’s David Bairstow, while the leading non-wicketkeeper catchers in the country were Hampshire’s slip fielders, Richards and Greenidge.

Embed from Getty Images

A brief word about each of the thirteen.

Richards’ status as one of history’s greatest batters is generally acknowledged, despite the fact that he played only four Tests, all for South Africa against Australia in 1969-70 (he averaged 72.57). In domestic cricket in South Africa, Australia and especially England, he faced the best bowlers in the world; they all came alike to him. As a Hampshire supporter of the time it was a real privilege to be able watch someone who was simultaneously a master technician and an artist at work. The time would come when the sheer grind of county cricket would get to him. But that time had not come in 1973.

Richards’ opening partner was the young Bajan, Greenidge, born in Barbados and raised in Reading. Has any cricket team, anywhere, at any time, had an opening pair to match this? Greenidge was not yet the ruthless accumulator he was to become as a key member of one of the best Test sides of all time. But he was already a pulverising shot-maker; there were 13 sixes in his 259 against Sussex at Southampton in 1974.

They were a mouth-watering opening pair but my personal favourite was Turner, the nuggety left-hander from Wiltshire, who came in at number three. At the start of his career he was often talked of as an England possible. In 1972 he made a marvellous hundred against the touring Australians, including Dennis Lillee. A couple of weeks later he suffered an eye injury and was never quite the same afterwards. But he was a Hampshire player for 24 consecutive years. In his younger days he was an outstanding cover fielder.Mark Nicholas has written of the value Turner provided as senior professional in the late 1980s.

Gilliat batted at four. In 1969, his first full season with the county, he had batted first wicket down, averaged 40 and hit six centuries, more than anyone else in the country except John Edrich. He moved down the order to accommodate Turner (and subsequently Jesty) but was always good for his quota of runs. He cut a quiet but commanding figure at mid-off. History will probably regard him as the county’s most successful captain.

Sainsbury was an outstanding county cricketer. He was an ugly but effective right-handed batter whose aim seemed to be to push every ball to midwicket. He was a very accurate slow left arm bowler, who headed the averages in 1973, with 49 wickets at 17, to add to his 721 runs at his first season, 1955, he had dismissed Len Hutton twice in a day, and finished the campaign with over 100 wickets. The next time he took 100 wickets in a season was 1971, when he also scored 959 runs. He was an absolutely brilliant fielder, especially at short leg. He was one of those players – Colin Cowdrey was another – who, if he took a catch as an interval approached, would cause the ball to disappear into a pocket and make to walk off; it really was like magic. He coached the county after retiring. He is the only member of the side no longer with us.

 Jesty was another highly accomplished all-round cricketer, and another favourite of mine. On his day he was a glorious stroke maker – he modelled himself, consciously or sub-consciously, on Richards – and a useful and occasionally penetrative medium pace bowler. His figures in 1973 –305 runs at 14 and 35 wickets at 20  – do not do him justice. His full development as a batter came a couple of years later. He was to play ten ODIs but never got a Test cap. He left Hampshire after the 1984 season, disgruntled at being overlooked for the captaincy, and played for Surrey and then Lancashire.

Taylor was one of those cricketers who every captain wants in their side – a tireless, accurate and effective seam bowler, a sensible, pragmatic lower order batter, and a totally  reliable fielder. He joined Hampshire from Nottinghamshire in 1973, and was joint leading wicket-taker with Herman. After retirement he took up a management role with the club. His twin brother. Derek, kept wicket for Somerset (which, oddly, was both twins’ third given name).

Stephenson was another sound county cricketer of the sort one used to somehow take for granted. He went to Hampshire after a number of years under-studying the great Bob Taylor at Derbyshire and stayed for over a decade. He was an unobtrusive keeper and a useful batter with an unusually upright stance. He succeeded Gilliat as captain, leading the county in 1979.

O’Sullivan was a New Zealander, who played a few games for the county in 1972. He really came into his own in 1973. Like Sainsbury he was a slow left armer, but he had both more flight and more spin; they were perfect foils for one another. As the season reached its climax – Hampshire won six of their last eight matches, as the summer got warmer and drier – O’Sullivan became a real match-winner. This turned out to be both the pinnacle and the conclusion to his Hampshire career. Restrictions on overseas players meant that for 1974 the county would have to choose between O’Sullivan and Roberts, the exciting Antiguan pace bowler. Not surprisingly they went for Roberts. Hampshire finished second in 1974 and third in 1975.

Herman was the leader of the attack. He had moved to Hampshire from Middlesex in 1972 after the county had lost the ageing “Butch” White to retirement and the highly-regarded Bob Cottam to Northamptonshire. Herman, right arm fast medium, had a goodish 1972, and an extremely good 1973, picking up 63 wickets at 23.76.

Mottram, Herman’s opening partner, was perhaps the most surprising of the 1973 Championship cadre. A Liverpool-born architect, who moved south to work, he made his county debut against the 1972 Australians and then found himself opening the bowling for the champions; he took 57 wickets at 22. Like O’Sullivan, he was a victim of the recruitment of Roberts. He played little more first-class cricket, but played a full part in Hampshire’s first limited-overs trophy, the 1975 Sunday League.

That was the basic eleven. O’Sullivan only got into the side in the second half of the season. Prior to that there was an extra bater, Lewis, who actually played 13 matches without making a major contribution. He was a handsome right-handed stroke maker, by preference an opener, but he never established himself. He  coached at Charterhouse School – Gilliat’s alma mater – after retiring. The other “reserve” was Andrew Murtagh (uncle of Tim) an Irish- born batting all-rounder who spent a few years on the staff, again without establishing himself. He played six games in 1973. In later life he has written a number of cricket biographies, including one of Richards.

Hampshire started the season in fine form, beating Sussex at home and Yorkshire away. After that they were never out of the top three. By the end of July Northamptonshire seemed to be edging ahead but at Southport Hampshire trounced Lancashire by an innings. Richards and Greenidge both made centuries – not as common an occurrence as you might expect – and Jesty took five for 24. Hampshire took nine bonus points and went top, and stayed top.

The crucial game came at the County Ground in Southampton in mid- August. I can assure you that nobody who was interested in Hampshire cricket in 1973 will have forgotten this game. I have seen a lot of cricket over the years but this remains, for me, one of the most memorable of all matches.

It does not seem like that from the scorecard. It was a low- scoring match – so many of the truly great games are. Neither side made more than 167. No batter made more than 45 (both Richards and Greenidge in Hampshire’s first innings). The stand-out performance from a statistical perspective was Bishan Bedi’s six for 69 in Hampshire’s first innings.

What was it that made the game so unforgettable?

The race for the title was definitely a factor. It was clear that whoever won the match would almost certainly be champions.

That meant there was a big crowd on both days. “ Big” is a relative term here. I have no idea what the capacity at Northlands Road was – five thousand ? For cup games there would be temporary stands. The point is the ground was full. We sat where we often sat in the member’s area in front of the lovely old Pavilion. The Hampshire dressing room was a strange little white shed-like building up a flight of stairs to the left of the Pavilion. It was great to stand there as the players filed out. Anyway the point is there was a fantastic atmosphere. However many millions of pounds are piled into Hampshire’s splendid new stadium, the Ageas Bowl, you will never get the atmosphere you got at Northlands Road : you can’t pay for that, it’s either there or it isn’t. Strange as it may seem, I think a key factor was that you could walk there from the city centre – like the equally lamented Dell – or from Southampton Central – as it then was – station. A ground you can walk to from the city centre – I love that about the Adelaide Oval – has a certain something. The Ageas Bowl is great if you’ve got a car or a helicopter; otherwise, getting there and away is a pain.

Embed from Getty Images

The game itself – so enticing in prospect – was riveting from start to finish. I mentioned that it lasted two days. Championship matches were scheduled for three days, this one took two, Saturday 18 and Monday 20 August. So the players had a rest day on Sunday ? Well, Northants did have a break, but Hampshire went up to London and beat Middlesex at Lord’s in a 40-over Sunday League match; and they say they play too much county cricket now !

Anyway, Gilliat lost the toss and Northants batted. Herman and Mottram ripped through the top order and at lunch they were 45 for six. They staggered to 108 all out, last man Bedi top- scoring with 32 not out. When Hampshire batted it looked for a while like a different game. Richards and Greenidge put on 76 for the first wicket and at one point they were 111 for one. Then Bedi got to work; at close of play they were 152 for eight. They finished on Monday morning with a lead of 59. Northants did a bit better second time round. Several players got a start but nobody really went on; four batters made between 23 and 30. Mottram and O’Sullivan each took four wickets and Greenidge held four catches.

Hampshire’s target was 90, and the scorecard tells you they won by seven wickets in 30 overs. That reveals nothing of the tension and drama of this fabulous passage of play. Hampshire and Kent supporters of thirty years later will recall a county match when the teams ‘ respective overseas players, Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid, confronted each other. Everyone said this was an epic encounter, worthy of Test cricket at its best. The same could be said of this final session of play at Northlands Road. In fact it was better than Test cricket; Richards as an apartheid-era white South African could not play Test cricket.

Bedi had got him out in the first innings. In the second, soon after Bedi came on, Hampshire were 16 for two. Gilliat held himself back – presumably letting someone else enjoy the moment of victory – if it came. Jesty joined Richards.

This was all about Richards and Bedi. Everybody on the ground knew that. Dravid was a fine player, a great player. But even he was not as good as Barry Richards when Richards was in the mood. Warne was a magnificent bowler, the greatest of our time. But he wasn’t a beautiful bowler in the way that Bedi was a beautiful bowler. This was a wonderful contest; in a way you didn’t want it to end.

Jesty fell with 44 still needed and the old pro, Sainsbury, came out to join Richards. Richards finished on 37 not out. I was lucky enough to see Richards make a lot of runs for Hampshire. I remember seeing him get 70-odd at The Oval in 1969: how can anybody make this game look so easy ? (This was one of my best ever day’s cricket ; Turner, aged 20, made 181 against an attack including Robin Jackman, Bob Willis, Pat Pocock and Intikhab Alam.) There was nothing easy about facing Bedi on that pitch on that lovely summer’s day in August 1973. That, I think, is the main reason people remember that game.

I have three other specific recollections. Two, oddly enough, involve Mottram. On the first morning he was bowling to the Northants opener Roy Virgin, who drove a full ball hard and low towards mid- off . Mottram was a tall, lanky man, and not especially athletic, but he halted in his follow through, dived low and held an absolutely amazing catch.

In Northants’ second innings Mottram was bowling to the obdurate future England batter David Steele. Steele leaned forward to a ball that passed outside off stump to Stephenson, standing back. Stephenson, noting that Steele was outside his crease, threw down the stumps: D S Steele st Stephenson b Mottram 2, a most unusual dismissal.

The other memory is a less agreeable one. Virgin’s opening partner was the former England batter Colin Milburn. Milburn was a large, well, fat, and highly convivial man whose attacking batting for England as well as Northamptonshire had made him a very popular figure. But May 1969 he was involved in a car accident and lost his left eye. His career was over. In 1973, he returned,  as the county faced injury problems. It has been called cricket’s bravest comeback. It lasted a couple of years but it didn’t really work. All the batters struggled at Southampton – even Richards had to try – but it was especially poignant to watch Milburn.

But that didn’t stop people enjoying Hampshire’s famous victory. That eleven – the strongest eleven from the squad of thirteen – remain among my greatest sporting heroes. How do they compare with their successors of 2023? My two-word answer is Very Well.

A few preliminary points. First, there is the old mantra about the impossibility of comparing sportspeople of different eras; true, but it’s still fun.

Secondly, I love first-class county cricket. I have watched games in all the first-class counties except Durham, but most often of course in Hampshire, at the County Ground, the United Services Ground Portsmouth, Dean Park, Bournemouth, and May’s Bounty, Basingstoke, as well as, once, I think, at the Ageas Bowl. I think it used to be more fun when there were more out-grounds but that is just a view through rose-tinted spectacles. I do understand the reasons for not using them these days. The great thing about county cricket today is that you can watch every game free on livestream. No wonder hardly anybody actually turns up at the grounds.

There is also the fact that, surely, as I have mentioned before on From The Pavilion End, sportspeople get better as generation succeeds generation. I sometimes wonder if county cricket is an exception to this rule but it is very clear that there are plenty of very talented players in the county game today.

There is a complication here because of the impact of international cricket on the domestic game. Since 1973 England have had some great sides – the Brearley-Botham team, and in particular the teams led by Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and – subject to the ultimate forthcoming challenge of The Ashes – Ben Stokes. There were, and are, some great players in those sides. They were all developed through local age groups, county second elevens, and finally the county game itself, so the counties must be doing something right. But, once established, how much county cricket do these great cricketers play? In 2022, Ollie Pope played eight games for Surrey – I have to admit when I looked it up I was surprised it was so many – Joe Root played three games for Yorkshire. People like to see their heroes and favourite players, but, again, everyone accepts that with central contracts that is not always going to happen.

This is not directly relevant to the issue at hand in that no current England player features or featured in either Hampshire side. But like all county sides (except initially Yorkshire) from 1968 Hampshire often had outstanding overseas players. This really was part of the excitement of watching county cricket. You could be watching some of the world’s best players. That too has changed, because of franchise cricket and other attractions. You no longer get overseas players who stay for years, like Mike Procter and Courtney Walsh at Gloucestershire.

I watched a bit of the recent Worcestershire-Leicestershire game at New Road on livestream. It was an exciting game though much of the cricket was not of an exceptionally high quality. The match featured four players with Test match experience, Azhar Ali Peter Handscombe, Wian Mulder and Rehan Ahmed. In the equivalent match in 1973 there were ten past, current or future Test cricketers, including the then England captain Ray Illingworth, Glenn Turner, who made 1, 000 runs by the end of May that year, Graham McKenzie, Basil D’Oliveira and Imran Khan, plus the brilliant Brian Davison, who never played Test cricket but would walk into the Zimbabwe or South Africa side now. 

The overseas influence on county cricket now is different – not insidious exactly but, well, different. It started with the Kolpak arrangement and has just carried on. Most foreign-born players now are not going to play international cricket – that makes them even more valuable to their counties. Many leading county players, especially in Division Two, were born in Southern Africa or the Antipodes. Of the eighteen men who played county cricket for Glamorgan last year, only eight were born in the UK, five of whom were born in Wales. It may be difficult for British players of south Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent to break into county cricket, but the net is certainly cast wide.

Generally one would have to say that life in Britain has improved in all sorts of ways since 1973, economically, socially and culturally. Opportunities are greater for people in all sectors. But in one sense men’s county cricket in 1973 demonstrated more diversity and inclusiveness than it does today. Of the sixteen players in that Hampshire-Northants game who were born in England, only one, Gilliat, was privately educated. (Mottram went to Quarry Bank, a grammar school that became one of the first comprehensives, and is as distinguished in its way as Charterhouse; Charterhouse produced Phil Collins, but for Quarry Bank it was John Lennon.)

Some people say the modern game is more “professional”. I’m not sure. Cricketers are certainly paid more. But does anybody seriously think Root or Pope are better prepared for a Test match than Geoffrey Boycott, who played for England from 1964 to 1982?

Players are certainly, or at least presumably, fitter. The thought of a tournament being sponsored by a cigarette company seems bizarre now. Players back then spent less time in the gym, but they spent more time playing cricket. In 1973 Geoff Arnold, England’s opening bowler, bowled a total of 574 overs in all first-class cricket; Stuart Broad bowled 357. England’s younger fast bowlers keep getting injured; whatever the cause, it doesn’t seem to be too much bowling.

Today’s players are certainly, like everyone else, more cosseted and looked after. As it happens, Hampshire played Northants in the latest round of Division One matches, and I watched a bit on live stream, armed with my trusty Playfair Cricket Annual, almost as though I was at the Ageas Bowl,  so I could find out who was who. (The game was not a great contest as Northants were woeful.). Back in 1973 Hampshire had a coach, Geoff Keith, but he spent all his time with the second eleven. The first team looked after themselves. (England did not manager till the late 1980s.) Hampshire now have a Cricket Operations Manager, a Director of Cricket, a first XI Manager, a first XI Assistant Coach and a Bowling Lead Coach. Northants make do with a Head Coach, a Batting Coach and an Assistant Coach / Bowling Lead. That said, the Northants historian Andrew Radd, a fine livestream commentator, claimed to have spotted the club’s chaplain in the crowd, so they seem to be leaving nothing to chance. Even so relegation seems inevitable.

As to the current Hampshire side, they are certainly good. Kyle Abbott and Mo Abbas are proven international players; with the excellent Keith Barker they are much stronger on paper than Herman, Mottram and Taylor. James Fuller (born in Cape Town) is a bit of a one-off and a valuable county cricketer. Ben Brown is a good keeper and a much better batter than Stephenson. Liam Dawson is a like for like replacement for Sainsbury. Mason Crane, one fears, will never have the sort of season O’Sullivan had in 1973. Ian Holland (born in Wisconsin and raised in Australia) is a handy all-rounder but not as good a cricketer as Jesty. Nick Gubbins, although a different type of player, is, like Turner, a fine county cricketer who will not make quite enough of an impact to play international cricket. James Vince is one of the best players in the country, but not as good a captain as Gilliat. No need to discuss the openers.

I am happy to call it a draw. The fact is the 1973 side actually won the title. I hope the current lot do so one day. My more fervent hope is that there will be a county championship for them to win. With Test cricket seemingly under threat – and where do most counties get their money from ? – nothing can be taken for granted.

Embed from Getty Images

Share this Post