MEMORIES OF FIFTY YEARS AGO...
(Photo shows NCCC squad for 1967 season. Standing: Jack Mercer (scorer), Mushtaq Mohammad, George Sharp, David Steele, Hylton Ackerman, Tony Durose, Haydn Sully, Ray Bailey, Mike Kettle, John Turner, Peter Willey, Peter Lee, Roy Wills, Dennis Breakwell, Jack Jennings (physio). Seated: Malcolm Scott, Laurie Johnson, Dennis Brookes (coach), Roger Prideaux (captain), Brian Reynolds, Brian Crump, Colin Milburn - missing from photo, Albert Lightfoot)
By Andrew Radd
My memories of the so-called Summer of Love are admittedly somewhat hazy.
Nothing to do with any hallucinogenic substance, you understand. It’s just that I was only five years old.
To be honest I’m not convinced that many County League – let alone Northamptonshire – cricketers wore flowers in their hair during the 1967 season, half-a-century ago.
Nor do I believe for one moment that ‘love-ins’ with a Hendrix or Scott McKenzie soundtrack were the norm at Short Stocks or the Waterworks Field.
And as for tuning in, turning on and dropping out – only when finding Test Match Special on the radio dial, flicking the tea urn switch or withdrawing from the team through a bad back, respectively.
After all, who needed drug-induced psychedelia when you had a new skipper at Wantage Road, a local legend knocking stumps in all directions and an England opener dropped after hitting a Test double-hundred?
Like, far-out, man…
The decision to promote Roger Prideaux to succeed the retiring Keith Andrew in charge at Wantage Road had been taken the previous August, to the surprise of no-one at all.
But in contrast to that straightforward piece of succession planning the early stages of Northamptonshire’s 1967 campaign went ever-so-slightly awry.
Jim Watts had accepted a job outside cricket which robbed the side of a key all-rounder.
Former England fast bowler David Larter succumbed to injury and retired from the first-class game after a single Gillette Cup outing against Bedfordshire in May.
Colin Milburn and Mushtaq Mohammad both missed matches through Test calls, while left-arm spinner Malcolm Scott’s bowling action was called into question and MCC banned him for the last couple of fixtures.
Years later, Scott admitted his quicker ball had been “a little jerky” but felt he’d been “hung out to dry” – with the press learning of the ban before he did!
To make matters worse, Prideaux himself went down with shingles mid-season and senior pro Brian Reynolds took over the pips for a spell.
In all the circumstances, seven Championship victories and ninth place in the final table wasn’t too bad.
Andrew’s retirement finally gave Laurie Johnson an extended run behind the stumps – a challenge he prepared for by spending the winter months repairing the splintery wooden green seats (now blue and plastic, of course) between the old Ladies Stand and the signal box.
There were hopeful signs in the pace bowling department, too.
A 15-year-old Geordie named Alan Hodgson was invited down to Northampton for the summer holidays, and Peter Lee from the village of Arthingworth joined the staff for the season.
It was, though, another homegrown seamer - certainly not ‘past it’ at 28 – who dominated the local cricket scene to a quite extraordinary degree.
Mike ‘Tex’ Dilley had left Wantage Road back in 1963, but four years on was continuing to make a mess of Rushden’s opponents on a weekly basis.
Dilley’s figures in ’67 were astonishing. He bagged 69 wickets at 5.20 runs apiece, and struck on average every three overs!
No wonder Rushden led the top division from start to finish, going through their 18-match programme undefeated and retaining the title comfortably.
‘Tex’ claimed eight-fors against both Peterborough and Vallence - but it wasn’t a solo performance.
One of his team-mates, David Roberts, topped the batting averages (Rushden had six men in the top ten) while another, Graham Fensome, scored most runs.
Another remarkable statistic from the season is that just three centuries were recorded in the entire County League of four divisions – compared to 25 in the ‘Prem’ alone in 2016.
And the only man to notch one in the top flight in 1967? Old Northamptonians stalwart Geoff Moss.
Lower down the league ladder, Arnold Wyman led Earls Barton to the silverware in Division Two – although that particular triumph had a bittersweet denouement.
Barton applied for promotion at the AGM in October, but in those days you usually went up only if the other clubs were happy to relegate someone.
Irthlingborough had finished bottom - and when the representatives gathered at the Swanspool Pavilion it was frankly unthinkable that founder members of the league, the club of Harry Johnson and Roly White (not to mention a handy young trundler in the second team called Jim Griffiths), would be sent down.
They weren’t. The status quo was preserved. Well, up to a point, anyway.
The County Colts – who competed in the second division – resigned from the league at the end of 1967 as Ken Turner looked to cut NCCC’s costs.
The move, attacked by secretary Mal Perry at the AGM (‘I do not feel the County have given sufficient thought or backing to this decision’), was aimed at saving the princely sum of £150.
It would be 13 years before league officials rather grudgingly allowed them back.
The aforementioned Roly White, incidentally, bagged 8-9 against Raunds on his way to 33 cheap-as-chips wickets in Division Three…at the age of 56.
Further afield, a couple of major controversies – both Yorkshire-themed, strangely enough – made headlines that summer.
Geoffrey Boycott scored 246 not out in the First Test against India at Headingley to set up an England win.
He even hit a six, for goodness’ sake…
But the selectors weren’t happy with his ‘lack of enterprise’ and duly axed him for the next game.
Then Brian Close – captain of both England and Yorkshire – also fell foul of officialdom for alleged time-wasting tactics during the final session of a Championship match at Edgbaston.
The resulting public row polarised opinion broadly along geographical lines – even more so when Close was sacked by MCC (despite winning five of the summer’s six Tests) and replaced by Kent’s Colin Cowdrey for the winter tour to West Indies.
All that in a season which began unpromisingly with the wettest May since 1773.
‘No wonder,’ commented Wisden, ‘the counties are thinking of beginning a fortnight later and stretching it into September.’
For the record, Northamptonshire will start their 2017 campaign against Loughborough MCCU on April 2 and finish the final Championship match at Grace Road on September 28.
Good luck to all who sail in her…
****This article first appeared in the Northamptonshire Telegraph and is reproduced with their permission. You can read Andrew Radd's column in the 'NT' every week****
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