Continuing the history of the club, based on the original work by the Hon. Curator of Kent CCC, David Robertson.
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 late 1930s, 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 on the first day and 25,000 on the second). 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 the 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 for the county 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 in 1954, 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. Arthur Fagg played five times for England before the war, and achieved the unique feat of scoring a double-century in both innings of Kent’s match against Essex at Colchester in 1938, but even in the 40s and 50s he was Kent’s rock at the top of the innings. By the time he retired at the end of the 1957 season, he had scored 26,070 runs for the county, with 55 hundreds. He went on to have a long and successful career as an umpire.
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 England player by the time he was 22. His playing record was exceptional. Besides becoming the first player in the world to earn 100 Test caps, he played 402 matches for Kent and scored almost 24,000 runs for the county at an average of 42. He also hit 107 centuries, of which 58 were for Kent and 22 for England. His elegance at the crease was a joy to watch, and his reactions in the field, mainly at slip, were such that he took 406 catches for the county and 120 more for England. 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 before 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.
It would be wrong to ignore some of the other stalwarts of the Kent side during the 40s and 50s, simply because the tram did not win any trophies then. Men like Bob Wilson, who scored 2,000 runs for the county in 1964, the last man to achieve this feat for Kent, the South Africans Stuart Leary and Sid O’Linn, Arthur Phebey, who scored 1,000 runs in every season between 1952 and 1960, and Peter Richardson who moved from Worcestershire to join Kent in 1960, were the mainstays of the side’s batting during this relatively fallow period for the club.
The bowling attack was led by Doug Wright (pictured above), an attacking and pretty quick leg-spin bowler. It is an interesting fact that Kent’s five leading wicket-takers of all time all have the same stock delivery – one that turns away from the right-handed batsman. Freeman and Wright bowled leg-breaks (and googlies, of course) while Blythe, Woolley and Underwood were left arm spinners (if we can describe Underwood as merely a spinner), whose natural ball is the leg-break. Doug Wright took 1709 wickets for the county, including six hat-tricks, three more than anybody else in Kent’s history. In all first-class cricket, he took seven hat-tricks, still the world record. On his day, he was unplayable. Backing him up in the early years after the war were Fred Ridgway, a fast opening bowler who took four wickets in four balls against Derbyshire at Folkestone in 1951, and retired in 1951 after taking 955 wickets for the county and winning five Test caps; and Ray Dovey, a more than useful off-spinner whose best season for Kent was 1950, when he took 102 wickets for the county. Jack Martin, an amateur, was briefly regarded as a post-war fast bowling hope and indeed played one Test match for England in 1947, but his appearances for the county were limited to around half a dozen games each summer until his retirement in 1953. Dave Halfyard, a tireless opening bowler signed from Surrey in 1956, bore the burden of the attack for a few seasons until a car accident in 1962 finished his first-class career.
Post-war Kent sides were always entertaining to watch, and never let games peter out into uninteresting draws, but too often their style of play proved fatal to their chances of consistent success. It would take the arrival of Colin Cowdrey as captain and Leslie Ames as manager to begin to turn things around.
To be continued