Booted off the back page
England’s series loss to Sri Lanka in Leeds came to its dramatic crescendo while the England football team were in the closing minutes of their World Cup campaign. Being England’s second most popular team sport doesn’t mean that cricket comes anywhere close to football in popularity. And that provided Alastair Cook, Peter Moores and the ECB some protection when the mass media were deciding their targets the following day.
The media now is fragmented and specialised. Cricket-folk read cricinfo, their favourite cricket journalists on newspapers’ online outlets and debate the matters of the day on twitter and forums. This, you may have thought, was self-evident, but not to England’s Managing Director who was taken aback by the force of social media comment when he conspired to rid English cricket of Kevin Pietersen.
Until the 1980s saw an expansion in sports coverage, topical sports news was fitted into two or three broadsheet pages, maybe five or six tabloid. A Test series defeat during a World Cup would only get prominence relative to the other sports stories of the day. A specialist media, feeding off each other’s scoops, interviews and polemics, existed within the press box, but didn’t play out its jostling for position for the enthusiasts in the public to enjoy.
Cricket has been England’s summer sport, only insofar as World Cups, European Championships and Olympics don’t crowd it out of the spotlight. This post looks at cricket stories prior to the 1980s that today’s specialist media would have savoured, or feasted upon, but in the past were booted from the back page by reports, results and previews of the World Cup.
1954 World Cup in Switzerland
In the Final played on the 4 July, West Germany defeated the favourites Hungary, ending their 32 game unbeaten run. Hungary had beaten the Germans 8-3 two weeks earlier, but with their star, Puskas, not fully fit, and his late equaliser ruled out by a linesman for off-side, West Germany won the Final 3-2.
The Final fell on the rest day of Pakistan’s second Test match in England. Anticipation of the match in Berne would have displaced some of the reflection of an awesome innings played by Denis Compton at Trent Bridge. He amassed 278 in a little under five hours. Compton shared stands of 154 in 85 minutes with Graveney and 192 in under two hours with Bailey. “Compton sent the bowling to all parts of the field with a torrent of strokes, orthodox and improvised, crashing and delicate, against which Kardar could not set a field and the bowlers knew not where to pitch” (Wisden). Rain took the game into a fourth day, but Pakistan fell 129 runs short of making England bat again.
1962 World Cup in Chile
Brazil retained their world champion status, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Final on 17 June.
The aristocrats of world football managed to overshadow one of the aristocrats of English cricket. In a county game at Tunbridge Wells (16-19 June), Ted Dexter had a near faultless all-round performance. On the first day, he took six wickets in dismissing Kent for 187. Sussex lost three early wickets, before Dexter added 205 in 125 minutes with Ken Suttle. Dexter scored a century; Suttle made a maiden double-hundred. Two hundred runs ahead, Dexter took another four wickets and the game was won before lunch on day three.
The 1966 World Cup in England
England’s campaign began on 11 July with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, prompting much discussion about how far the home team could progress in the tournament.
England’s Test series with West Indies was put on hold for 30 days so that the main event of the cricket season would not compete directly with a force greater than it could muster. The West Indies continued their tour and played a three day match at Canterbury while the England football team were getting their tournament under way at Wembley. Late on the 11 July, Sobers took two wickets bowling fast at the start of Kent’s second innings. The next morning, he switched to left-arm wrist-spin and dismissed the county for 124, taking 9-49, and securing an innings victory.
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico
Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 on 21 July, to achieve a third World Cup victory and become the permanent holders of the Jules Rimet Trophy. Their team, supported by the results and playing style, is recognised as one of the greatest World Cup teams ever.
Across the Atlantic, another all-time great team was assembled. The Rest of the World took on England in the first of the five Test series, that had been scheduled for South Africa. The First Test at Lord’s (17-22 July) was a triumph for a cricketer as iconic to his sport as Pele was to football: Garry Sobers. Swing bowling in England’s first innings brought him 6-21. He top-scored, with 183, in the only innings the Rest of the World would need in this game. Switching again to slow bowling, Sobers picked up two second innings wickets.
1974 World Cup in West Germany
Dutch Total Football, exemplified by Johan Cruyff, lost to West Germany in the Final held on 7 July. Two controversial penalties awarded by referee, Jack Taylor, meant that one Englishman had an influence on a tournament for which the England team had not qualified.
The England cricket team found no barriers to their progress that summer. The third Test against India was played at Edgbaston on 4-8 July. England became the third side in Test history to win a match losing only two wickets. Their first innings of 459-2d featured a century from Mike Denness and 214* by David Lloyd.
The meaning of the term, ‘Mankading’ is well understood in cricket (running out the non-striker backing up too far). Vinoo Mankad’s son, Ashok, could have been the source of an alternative sense. He was dismissed in the second innings hit wicket when playing a short ball from Chris Old, his cap fell backwards onto his stumps knocking off a bail.
1978 World Cup in Argentina
Scotland’s inflated expectations bumped up against unexpected defeat, a red card and a drugs test failure before a 3-2 victory over Netherlands on on 11 July left them eliminated on goal difference.
While the UK digested this news, an odd and very nearly tragic incident in county cricket took place. By 1978, batsmen were routinely wearing helmets for protection. Close fielders were also crouching under hard-hats. Phillip Russell of Derbyshire, fielding at short-leg took a blow on the visor from a fiercely hit shot by Malcolm Nash at Chesterfield, fracturing his cheek bone. The ball lodged in the helmet and an appeal for a catch made. Dickie Bird called ‘dead ball’, a decision endorsed afterwards by the authorities.
The first item in this list was to have been England’s World Cup Finals debut in Brazil in 1950. England, strongly fancied for the title, lost 1-0 to the part-timers of the USA. That same day, 29 June 1950, the West Indies won their first Test match in England, defeating the hosts at Lord’s by 326 runs.18 wickets were taken by the 20 year old spin bowlers Ramadhin (11) and Valentine (8). The three Ws accumulated 97, 125 and 182 runs each in the match (Walcott scoring an unbeaten 168).
In background reading for this post, I was surprised to find that few reporters had travelled to Brazil from Europe, let alone England. In this instance, it was the England Test team’s defeat that provided cover to their humbled football brothers. A rare case of football being driven from the back page.