'A perversion of positive cricket'
Fifty years ago this month Lord's played host to the world's first official limited-overs final. By modern standards it was traditional cricket condensed into one day - white clothes, a red ball, little slogging and no fielding restrictions - but it ended in a very modern way - with the winning captain criticised for his tactics which, so some warned, would kill the new format dead.
The idea of a one-day cricket competition had been mooted in the 1940s when the structure of the post-war game was being discussed. But at that stage nobody thought about limiting the number of overs. By the early 1960s the public was turning off domestic cricket in large numbers (attendances had fallen from 2.2 million in 1946 to 700,000 in 1962) and county treasurers desperately needed a way to balance the books. In 1962, Leicestershire experimented with a small limited-overs knock-out cup and it proved a commercial success, drawing big crowds. Buoyed by that, the authorities decided to go for broke.
It was perhaps fitting that the announcement of the new competition, sponsored to the tune of £6500 per annum, came on November 16, 1962, the day the distinction between amateurs and professionals was finally abolished.
Most sides approached limited-overs games much as they would any other match. If you watch the BBC TV footage of the first final, the fields are conventional, and slogging is for the final overs. Maidens were common, balls played on their merits. And in an era where over-rates were still high, each side faced 65 overs - bowlers were limited to 15 overs each - which meant 130 overs in a day. And as for diving around the field...
Captains soon realised early that batting first was the best approach as it enabled their side to set the pace - only four out of 14 matches up to the final were won by the side chasing. Fewer captains looked much beyond that, but Sussex's Ted Dexter did. "He was innovative in his field settings and his use of different players," Robin Marlar said. "And he comprehended what it was all about."
"My basic tactics were really quite simple and I am not convinced they wouldn't stand up today," Dexter said in 1996. "I told my bowlers to bowl a fuller length and straight. Any ball that wasn't going to hit the stumps was a bad ball. The same could be said of a short ball which was likely to pass over the top of the stumps. The only way that might get a batsman out was with an edge to the wicketkeeper and there are too many scoring opportunities from nudges through the area of the slips.
"With the bowlers aiming at the stumps it was my job to set the field according to the batsman. But I felt if you bowled the ball in the same place all the time it was the best way to stop batsmen scoring because you could set a field accordingly."
Sussex and Worcestershire, the two finalists, had fairly untroubled routes to Lord's. Sussex beat Kent scoring a daunting 314 for 7 - Dexter's posting of men around the boundary resulted in a letter from the Kent committee about his "unsporting tactics" - and then Yorkshire in front of a record 15,000 at Hove, and Northamptonshire in the semi-finals. Worcestershire defeated Surrey and Glamorgan and then routed Lancashire in the semi-finals, bowling them out for 59.
The reaction to the large numbers flocking to Gillette Cup games was much as it was when Twenty20 launched - initially amazement and then delight that a product had been found which appealed to the public and brought in much-needed cash.
More than 20,000 paid a flat price of 7/6d (37p) to watch the final on September 7 but, deterred by the miserable weather, some tickets on available on the day remained unsold. "Supporters wore favours [rosettes]," Wisden almost spluttered, "and banners were also in evidence."
The MCC members looked on more suspiciously. Tongue in cheek, Peter Wilson in the Daily Mirror noted their spluttering surprise when a hunting horn was blown to celebrate Dexter's dismissal and when "a couple of players slapped the catcher on the shoulders in a soccer-like excess of enthusiasm".
The Times, in a nod to its readership, said there was "some of the ribaldry of Eton and Harrow before the war", adding that "devotees from Dudley and aficionados from Angmering found themselves reacting to a boundary hit more like West Indians than Englishmen".
Sussex named a side geared to the one-day game, batting right down the order and reliant on a four-man seam attack. Worcestershire went for a more conventional set-up, with only two seamers and three spinners; they were also without one of their best fielders, Jim Standen, who chose to play football for West Ham instead (the following year he would achieve the double of an FA Cup and a County Championship winners medal).
Everyone agreed that the final was an exciting affair, but it was hardly a run fest. Dexter won the toss, Sussex batted on a sodden wicket and got off to a good start with Alan Oakman and Richard Langridge putting on 62 for the first wicket. But the left-arm spin of Doug Slade (11-2-23-2) and Norman Gifford (15-4-33-4) ground Sussex down and in the end only Jim Parks' 57 enabled them to a score of 168 in 60.2 overs. If anything underlines the difference between old and new it is this total, one that would barely be sufficient in a modern Twenty20 match.
Dexter had picked up the nuances of the format from the off. His first-change bowler was Oakman, an offspinner, who proved as hard to get away as Gifford and Slade had been. He finished with figures of 13-4-17-1, his wicket the priceless one of Tom Graveney. Oakman's 13 overs took the total number of overs by spinners employed by Dexter in the four matches to 23. Dexter also eschewed close fielders, operating with one slip almost throughout, whereas Worcestershire were, again, more conventional.
As the asking rate grew, the light faded and it started to drizzle. Bad light was not an issue, and Dexter showed his ruthless side, bringing on his fastest bowler, John Snow, who was making his one-day debut, and proved almost unplayable. Snow had never even been to Lord's before, and when he batted he had got lost and had to be pointed through to the Long Room to get to the middle. He took 3 for 13 in eight overs to leave Worcestershire 133 for 9.
The game had one last twist. Roy Booth milked the strike, protecting the No. 11, Bob Carter, and Worcestershire inched towards the target. Dexter, as was allowed then, posted everyone on the boundary to save fours, underlining his understanding of the format's requirements. Booth made his point by holding up the bowler and ostentatiously and deliberately counting the nine men in the distance.
In the end the ask proved too much. Carter failed to beat Ken Suttle's throw as he scurried to come back for a second run. Worcestershire were left 14 runs short with ten balls remaining.
The crowd rushed on, and in stygian gloom Dexter lifted the trophy and accepted the winner's cheque for £2000. The players got a bonus of £9 (on top of their match fee of £5) but they had to wait until Christmas for that.
Gifford, playing his first one-day game, was named Man of the Match for his four wickets despite being on the losing side. "We didn't have a plan," he said. "Don Kenyon posted two slips and a gully as per normal. With batsmen like Graveney we fancied our chances but we couldn't get the ball through the ring and committed suicide."
Not everyone was happy with Dexter's approach. In the Daily Mirror, Brian Chapman said his attitude "flew against the whole spirit" of the competition. "His tactics could eventually kill a great idea."
Richie Benaud, recently stepped down as Australia's captain and now a journalist, said Sussex won "because they employed deliberately negative field placings… it would be a pity if every team did this next year and brought about the demise of what could be a fine competition".
The Times concluded that "the end was close enough for anyone even if the means on the way had, at times, been a perversion of positive cricket".
Five days later Sussex, as champions, took on West Indies in a special one-day match at Hove. The game was 55 overs a side, given that it was mid-September and the light would not allow for more, and Hove was again packed to the rafters. Sussex underlined their one-day credentials, scoring a four-wicket win with more than three overs in hand.
What happened next?
- Sussex retained their Gillette Cup crown in 1964. The competition was amended to allow some minor counties to enter, and the number of overs was reduced to 60 a side. Gillette's sponsorship lasted until 1980
- Restrictions on where fielders could be placed, designed to eliminate captain's packing the boundary, were not introduced until 1980
Lord Ted by Alan Lee (Gollancz/Witherby, 1995)
Cricket Rebel by John Snow (Hamlyn, 1976)
Playfair Cricket Monthly
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa