English County Cricket: Kent and Worcestershire

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Ben Roberts continues looking at the different histories of English Counties as the County Championship starts on April 8th.

Kent

The Kent County Cricket Club are one of the more successful teams in the history of the County Championship, yet their success came in two bursts 57 years apart. From the total of seven championships that the county has won, the first four came between 1906 and 1913 and the next three between 1970 and 1978; the latter three also being supported in a golden period with a number of limited overs trophies.

During the 1970s a key player in these victorious teams was the England left arm spinner Derek Underwood. Underwood, a common nemesis for Australian test teams in the 1970s, had a successful 25 year career for Kent, finishing with 1,941 wickets for the county. Kent have a great history of spin bowlers, Underwood, at number three on the all time wicket taking list for the county, is headed by two other spinners, ‘Tich’ Freeman and Colin Blythe.

Blythe was the earliest of the three and played through the period in which Kent’s first four championships were won. He finished his career the leading wicket taker for the county with 2,210 but was later overtaken by county legend Tich Freeman. Freeman’s record is just phenomenal. He is the only player to have taken over 300 wickets in an English summer, he collected 304 in 1928; he took 66 wickets in just 12 test matches; and his 3,776 leaves him second behind Yorkshireman Wilfred Rhodes in overall first-class wickets taken. Freeman collected 3,340 of his wickets for Kent.

Batsman for Kent have also not been in short supply. Frank Woolley is the leading run scorer for Kent with in excess of 48,000 runs in his 33 year career. Overall in first-class cricket his run scoring sits second behind Jack Hobbs. Woolley also played test cricket for England in a career that spanned 26 years. Complementing his batting is the fact that he is high on Kent’s wicket taking list with 1,680 dismissals. Probably the most famous name (and initials) though for Kent belong to (Michael) Colin Cowdrey.

Cowdrey is one of the greatest batsmen in England’s history. He played 27 years for Kent and scored over 22,000 runs. As well he played 114 test matches, his final handful at the age of 42 answering a call to face the wild colonials in Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

International players have represented the county, but are less commonly noted in history than local players. The former Sri Lankan captain and dynamic batsman Aravinda de Silva played for the county in 1995. Despite Kent finishing last in the championship de Silva still set some records. Other subcontinental players have turned out for Kent also, including India’s ‘Wall’, Rahul Dravid.

From Australia, Andrew Symonds played, from 1999 until the 2004 season, for the county. As is, Symonds’ preference, his first-class career does not register highly on Kent’s records, but his performances in List A and T20 cricket do. He holds the record for two highest scores in T20 cricket for Kent, 112 and 96*, as well as the highest score in List A for the county also, 146.

Worcestershire

Outside of Durham, Worcestershire had one of the longest waits for a club between formation and being granted first-class status. The club was formed in 1865 and had to wait 34 years before being admitted to first-class ranks. The patience of the club was obviously noted by some power, as after being admitted to the championship they were forced to wait 65 years before winning their first of five.

The early years of first-class status for the county were a struggle. It was noted that between batting and bowling the team seemingly always carried one as a weakness, with the other unable to make up for it. By 1919 the county had become so weak in both facets that it elected to sit out the championship season.

When they broke through for their first championship in 1964 it was rather promptly followed up with two further during the next decade. Come 1988 and 1989 and Worcestershire was strong enough to collect consecutive county championships. The New Zealand batsman Glenn Turner was a long time representative of the county and a key player in the 1974 championship. Ian Botham after his departure from Somerset arrived at Worcestershire and along with Zimbabwe-born Graeme Hick formed a nucleus of the 1988 and 1989 championship winning teams.

No review of Worcestershire county cricket club is complete without reference to the enigma that was Graeme Hick  – a man who quite literally battered bowlers on his way to 31,000 runs for the county with a first-class average of 52. He holds the record for the highest individual score for the county, a brutal 405*.  Yet it was this same enigma becoming mere mortal in looking so bamboozled when it came to test matches, that he averaged just 29, and became probably the sports greatest ‘could have been’.

Worcestershire have a liking for strapping, big hitting batsmen as they had the Australian ‘Long’ Tom Moody for 9 seasons, including as captain between 1995 and 1999. His predominate strength was in the limited overs game and set  the highest List A score in the county’s history of 180* in 1994.

Ben contributes regularly to the following two Blogs:

Balanced Sports – The thinking fans sport opinion and analysis site.

Books with Balls – Reviewing the literature of a number of genres but definitely no Danielle Steele.


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