Martin Chandler |
The present Kent county club was formed in 1870, although there had been a club as far back as 1842. The long history of the club is chronicled in the History of Kent County Cricket Club by Lord Harris. The book first appeared in 1907 and a number of further appendices were issued over the years, and in 1997 all that material was gathered together and republished.
A less ambitious project was Dudley Moore’s 1988 contribution to the Helm series of county histories, and likewise a largely pictorial book by EW Swanton and CH Taylor that was published in 1984, Kent Cricket: A Photographic History. Kent do however get closer to being up to date than most of the counties thanks to Clive Ellis and Mark Pennell. Their 2010 published Trophies and Tribulations looks back over the preceding forty years.
Other historical books include two detailed looks back at early Kent County Championship wins. Clive Porter published Kent Cricket Champions in 2000, looking at the 1906 campaign. Seven years later, in the penultimate summer before The Great War, the county won again and that season was the subject of A Half-Forgotten Triumph, co-written by Tony Quarrington and Martin Moseying and published in 2013. A much later side was celebrated in Dennis Fowle’s Kent: The Glorious Years 1967-1979, published in 1979.
The main focus of these articles is on the relatively recent history of the counties, but occasionally you have to take a nod backwards and with Kent that means to Fuller Pilch, a batsman who was at his best in the 1840s and who was known as ‘The Lion of Kent’. The story of Pilch’s interesting life is well told by Brian Rendell in a book in the ACS Lives in Cricket series. Fuller Pilch: A Straightforward Man was published in 2010.
George Robert Canning Harris, better known as simply Lord Harris, is a name generally recognised primarily because of the autocratic way in which he ran the county club for many years. In fact however Harris was also a fine batsman, good enough to play for England four times between 1878 and 1884. Harris’s autobiography, A Few Short Runs, was published in 1921, and a thoroughly researched biography was subsequently written by James Coldham. Lord Harris was published in 1983.
The England captain who went to Australia in 1882/83 to seek to recover the Ashes was a Kent player. The Honourable Ivo Bligh had a relatively modest playing career, but his place in the game’s history is secure and, almost eighty years after his death, a biography appeared in 2006. Cricket’s Burning Passion is a fine book, which isn’t surprising given that the authors are the excellent Scyld Berry, assisted by Rupert Peploe, Bligh’s great grandson.
The next Kent player to be the subject of a biography also had a relative to thank for the book. Jack Mason is the forgotten stars of the ‘Golden Age’. An all-rounder who played all five Tests in the 1897/98 Ashes series Mason’s life story was told by his grandson, John Lazenby, in Test of Time in 2005.
In the last year of the nineteenth century Colin ‘Charlie’ Blythe made his Kent debut and, as an orthodox slow left arm bowler, was prodigiously successful at both Test and county level between then and the start of the Great War. Killed at Passchendaele two days after the battle ended Blythe was denied the chance to enhance his figures further once peace returned. The game’s writers then left him alone until 2005 when Christopher Scoble’s biography, Colin Blythe: Lament For A Legend appeared. Just four years later a second biography appeared, The Real Colin Blythe, written again by a descendant, John Blythe Smart.
In 1906 one of the longer county careers began when Frank Woolley made his Kent Debut. It would be 32 years before he finally retired, even as a 51 year old scoring almost 1,600 runs for the season. Two years before that retirement, in 1936, Woolley’s autobiography, The King of Games, had appeared and it is perhaps surprising that since then he has attracted little interest from biographers. In the autumn of his years, 1976, his second wife wrote a slim book, Early Memories of Frank Woolley, but that and a slim 1950s book apart only Ian Peebles has attempted to write a biography of Woolley. Woolley: The Pride of Kent was published in 1969.
‘Tich’ Freeman made his Kent debut in 1914. He made a modest start and then, for the decade after peace returned established himself sufficiently to be selected for the MCC parties that went to Australia in 1924/25 and South Africa in 1927/28. It was the summer after he got back from South Africa that Freeman took another step forward, taking a record 304 wickets, and he took at least 200 for the next seven summers. That Freeman is not better remembered is because he achieved little against Australia, and it would not be until 1982 that Tich Freeman and the Decline of the Leg Break Bowler appeared, its author David Lemmon. It remains the only biography of Freeman.
AJ Evans, a batsman who before the Great War had also been a more than useful seam bowler was one of those plucked from county cricket to tackle the speed of Jack Gregory and Ted MacDonald in 1921. He did not let himself down, but was clearly out of his depth and played for England only the once. His only regular county cricket came in 1927 when, just for that summer, he captained Kent. In 1961 Evans privately published Heir to Adventure, sub-titled Notes for an Autobiography. There is a less than a page of cricket content, but the book is still a fascinating one.
Two men who first appeared for Kent in 1924 were future England captain Percy Chapman and, another amateur, Charles ‘Father’ Marriott. Chapman was a superb athlete, who in time paid a heavy price for his good living. Marriott on the other hand was a schoolmaster who looked nothing like a top class sportsman. He was nonetheless a quality leg spinner who played in just a single Test, but took eleven wickets in it. Both men are the subject of a single book. Percy Chapman: A Biography came from the pen of David Lemmon in 1985 and from Marriott in 1968 there was The Complete Leg Break Bowler, part instructional and part autobiography.
Wicketkeeper Les Ames played for Kent for quarter of a century after his debut in 1926, giving way as far as the keeping was concerned to Godfrey Evans after the war. Both of these two England greats have been the subject of books, two for Ames and four for Evans. Ames’ autobiography, Close of Play appeared in 1953 and he was the subject of a biography by Alan Hill in 1990. For Evans there were, in the great post war book boom, as many as three autobiographies; Behind The Stumps in 1951, Action in Cricket in 1956 and The Gloves Are Off in 1960. A biography by Christopher Sandford appeared at the same times as that of Ames, 1990.
In 1946 Oxford Blue Tony Pawson made his Kent debut and, over the next seven years, enjoyed some success as a batsman. Pawson was also a useful footballer and a champion fly fisherman. After a career in journalism he published an autobiography in 1980, Runs and Catches, and then another one in 2005, Indelible Memories.
And then we had the Kent batsman who has inspired more books than anyone else, Colin Cowdrey. Two books were avowedly autobiographical, the first the rather modest Time For Reflection in 1962 and the second, MCC: The Autobiography of a Cricketer, a much better book, in 1975. As for biographies there are three. In 1990 Ivo Tennant wrote The Cowdreys, which in the main is concerned with Colin, in 1999 Mark Peel wrote The Last Roman and, finally to date, Andy Murtagh produced Gentleman and Player in 2017.
David Sayer was a fast bowler who played for Kent from the mid 1950s to 1970. His record is a good one even if he never was selected for a Test match and his biography, Slayer, written by his long time friend Ian Lambert, appeared in 2018, a year after Sayer’s death.
In the 1960s a group of Kent players came together that was, through the 1970s, to be one of the strongest in English cricket. The opening batsmen were Brian Buckhurst and Mike Denness, England players both, the latter as captain. Both wrote autobiographies. The title of that by Denness was I Declare, published in 1977 whilst he was still playing. Luckhurst’s book, From Bootboy to President, had a rather longer gestation period, being published in 2004. In respect of Denness a full biography appeared only last year, The Tale of the Scottish Dexter, self published by Andrew Bee.
With the ball the 1970s side had the metronomic Derek Underwood whose bowling was always controlled and, on a helpful wicket, unplayable. Perhaps one day Underwood will treat us to a long look back at his life, or alternatively an experience biographer will go for him as a subject. As it is we have only his own 1975 effort, Beating The Bat. A lot happened to ‘Deadly’ after that.
The name of Alan Knott is synonymous with that of Underwood, and one of the great wicketkeepers started his Kent career a year after Underwood, in 1964. A Test debut came for Knott in 1967 and his first autobiography, Stumper’s View, was published in 1972. A second, It’s Knott Cricket, came thirteen years later but otherwise, as with Underwood, the cricket world still awaits a definitive account of Knott’s life.
There were also a couple of all-rounders in that great Kent side, both of whom played Test cricket, John Shepherd for West Indies and Bob Woolmer for England. Shepherd played for Kent for fifteen seasons and in 2009 his career was marked by the publication of John Shepherd: The Loyal Cavalier, an early volume in the ACS Lives in Cricket series by Paddy Briggs. As for Woolmer he penned two autobiographies, Pirate and Rebel in 1984 and Woolmer on Cricket in 2000.
The power of the great Kent sight was starting to wane a little by the late 1970s but there were still some good days left for another Cowdrey, Christopher, to enjoy. He is in part the subject of Ivo Tennant’s book already mentioned in the context of his father, and towards the end of his own playing career he wrote an autobiography, Good Enough?
Also making his debut for Kent in 1977 was a young fast bowler, Graham Dilley, who went on to play a number of Tests for England albeit never quite fulfilling early expectations. After nine years with Kent Dilley moved on to Worcestershire for the 1987 season and that year published an autobiography, Swings and Roundabouts.
Only one man who first played for Kent in the 1980s has been the subject of a book and that is Steve Marsh, who was the poor soul who had to replace Alan Knott in 1986. Never quite his predecessor’s equal Marsh was still a fine wicketkeeper batsman and, for two seasons, county captain. His autobiography was published in 2001 – its title was The Gloves are Off, one we have heard before.
Current National Selector Ed Smith made his debut for Kent in 1996, and left for Middlesex in 2004, the year an autobiography, Off And On The Field, was published. A couple of years after Smith began his career Rob Key followed him to the Kent side where he remained until 2015. ‘Oi Key’ was published in 2020, and is an excellent book, despite its not particularly attractive title.
As far as collections of pen portraits are concerned there are two. The first was Dean Hayes Kent Cricketing Greats, that appeared in 1990. A book in the Tempus 100 Greats series followed in 2006. There were three authors of that one, David Robertson, Howard Milton and Derek Carlaw, and the same trio were behind the Fifty of the Finest Matches series as well, in 2005 and 2006. Switch John Evans for Howard Milton and you have the team who put together the Images of Sport volume on Kent in 2000.
Much as we here at Cricketweb don’t believe in electronic books there is one that merits mention, a mighty ‘tome’ from Derek Carlaw, the 555 page Kent County Cricketers A-Z that appeared, free to all, on the ACS Website in 2019. The project will eventually embrace a biography of all who have played for the county. Those 555 pages take the story to 1914.
And, to finish, there are three more Kentish titles that I will mention. The first is 66 Years Memories of Kent Cricket by Charles Igglesden that was published in 1947. It is a series of short essays, some just a paragraph or two, from one of the county’s loyal supporters. Next of the trio is Clive Porter’s 1981 published The White Horse And The Kangaroo which, as the title suggests, is a look at Kent’s contests with the Australians. Finally is the 2006 published A Legend Dies by David Robertson. The book is a tribute to the famous Lime Tree which, for as long as anyone could remember, had until a storm felled it in January 2005, stood just inside the boundary at the St Lawrence ground in Canterbury.
Which brings me to my two choices for Kentish historians. The first is easy, and that is a full biography of the remarkable AJ Evans, a man awarded the Military Cross for his exploits in the air in the Great War, who then had a bar added to it for his remarkable escapes as a prisoner of war. The second is not such a straightforward choice but, after much consideration, I choose a biography of one of the county’s overseas player. Despite that tag Asif Iqbal spent a decade and a half with the county, and if that doesn’t make him an honorary Kentish Man then Farokh Engineer must be Indian.