Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Golden Years

"Those were the days my friend,
We thought they'd never end..."

Most of the tributes paid to Bob Woolmer have concentrated on his coaching achievements with just a passing reference to his domestic career, but for a generation of Kent fans who are now over 40, memories of Woolmer will automatically kindle stronger memories of the 1970's - a magical decade of success which I'd suggest is unequalled in domestic cricket. Ok, I'll accept Surrey's run of seven championships between 1952 & 1958 as coming close, but it's well known that they used to doctor their Oval wickets to suit their bowling line-up, whereas the only 'doctoring' Kent needed to do was of the 'witch' variety - pray for rain and then mutter 'Underwood' into the opposition dressing room!

In a nine year period from 1970, Kent appeared in no less than six one-day finals (winning four) as we 'White Horse' fans all came to memorise the underground timetable between Charing Cross & St Johns Wood. On top of that, there were three County Championships and three Sunday League titles thrown in for good measure. if you're scoring at home, that's ten trophies in nine seasons. All this was achieved with a team continually denuded by international call ups Denness and Luckhurst made regular appearances, Knott and Underwood were virtual ever-presents in the England team, - and then from 1975, Woolmer joined them.

In the early 70's Woolmer spent his time batting nine behind a phenomonal batting order than included the aforementioned Luckhurst Denness,and Knott, plus Alan Ealham, Cowdrey and overseas stars John Shepherd and Asif Iqbal - plus occasionally Bernard Julien - the first 'next Gary Sobers'.

His medium pace bowling was more important at that time - think Paul Collingwood, but with a much better inswinger, whilst his batting was considered little more than 'steady'. On the face of it, therefore, his selection for England in 1975 was something of a surprise. Fred Trueman's comment was that 'I'm three yards faster than him, right now' (yes Fred, and five stone heavier and seventeen years older) A ton against Lillian Thompson in his second test silenced the doubters and secured his place.

Back at Kent, Cowdrey had retired, Luckhurst had moved onto the coaching staff and Denness was shortly to move over the river to sample the scenic delights of Essex, so at last there was some room at the top of the order - an opportunity Woolmer grabbed with both hands.

His batting style was classical - unhurried and correct, with perfect strokeplay - you could almost call it 'Cowdreyesque'. This piece by Mike Selvey in yesterdays Guardian sums it up nicely. (Scroll down)

He seemed to excel in one day finals - there was a fifty in the B&H final in 1976, followed by another one, in a losing cause, the following year when he was the only Kent batsman who managed to handle a rampant Mike Procter. At one stage Kent were 50-5, of which Woolmer had 38 not out and no one else had got beyond 5. 1977 also saw more test runs against Australia as England regained the Ashes. He scored two consecutive centuries against the old enemy that summer - and all his three test tons were against the 'Baggy Green'.

Then came the Packer Revolution, and things would never be quite the same again. Half the Kent side, including Woolmer, signed up for the circus - and by the time the dust settled and peace had broken out, the names on everyone's lips were Botham, Gower & Gooch rather than the old guard.

For Kent, there was another season of success in 1978 as they won a further County Championship by a landslide as the ban on Packer players meant all the internationals were available all season, and another B&H trophy with Woolmer scoring yet another fifty in the final - three on the trot must be some sort of record.

The 1978 season, however, is now regarded as some sort of 'last hurrah' as gradually the team was broken up and the 1970s elite retired one by one. There have been Lords finals since, but the record has been played six, lost six. But then Woolmer didn't play in any of them so it's no wonder Kent lost them all.

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