4.11.12

End of an Era

This, from Alan White's often superb blog The Crap Cricketer, is a find which, for me, turned the clock back nineteen years in an instant.

For anyone who doesn't remember it, the game took place in September 1993, at the conclusion of what was briefly called the 'AXA Equity and Law League'. It was the old John Player League by yet another of its many names, but for the first time matches were played over fifty overs per side rather than forty, and, for the first time in English cricket, players wore coloured clothing.

Memories of the way things used to be were strong, and the changes were largely unpopular, but the competition did throw up a winner-take-all final match between the league's top two sides, Kent and Glamorgan, at Canterbury, which also happened to be the last game of major professional cricket that Viv Richards would ever play.

Glamorgan ended up winning comfortably, but what really stuck in the mind was the bowling of a young Australian called Duncan Spencer, of whom nobody had previously heard but who bowled like the wind. As Alan says, the sight of the ageing Richards fending off Spencer's thunderbolts carries a sense of the passing of an era, with the old master trying desperately hard to show that he wasn't intimidated, or even surprised (as everyone else was), by what was coming down at him. He largely succeeded, and went on to finish on 46 not out, never to be seen again in a match that really mattered.

At the time the game created waves. For one thing Glamorgan had won a trophy, for another Richards had retired, and for another Kent seemed to have found one of the fastest bowlers in the world from nowhere.

And if you're wondering what the players thought, have a look both at some of Steve Marsh's takes and the expression on Carl Hooper's face after an early one whistles past Adrian Dale's bat. These were people who'd seen a bit, and they knew they were watching something remarkable.

Aspects of the film are massively evocative. The standing ovation given to the helmetless Richards for one, and also the sheer size of the St.Lawrence Ground crowd (12,000, some of whom had started queuing at 4 a.m. according to Wisden). Forget Twenty20, which can still pack them in like that in places such as Taunton and Chelmsford, this, in a small, fading way, was what domestic limited-over cricket in England was like in its greatest era. But an era which, in truth, had ended years before.

Earlier that season I saw Richards make a double-hundred in defeat at Cardiff against Middlesex. One lunch interval, in the old Sophia Gardens clubhouse, I glimpsed him sitting opposite Mark Ramprakash. They chatted as Richards finished his ice cream and it was easy to suppose that Richards was passing on the advice of a cricketing lifetime. That's how things were with Richards then. His career was ending and everyone was taking what they could from him in the certain knowledge that his like would never be seen again.

In many ways that day at Canterbury was also the end of an era for both players. Duncan Spencer's career faded away amid injuries and a failed drug test. In late 2006 I saw him bowling for Buckinghamshire against Devon. His hair had gone, and so had most of his pace.

When I saw his name on the scorecard I instantly thought of Canterbury.

In his quiet moments I suspect he still does too.

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