The men who planned and achieved it, 1974

Kent's triumphant revival

Dudley Moore

Educated at King's School, Rochester, Dudley Moore played for Young Amateurs of Kent and for fourteen years he has regularly watched and reported about Kent in the cricket field.

Success breeds success -- and how true that is in Kent where their appreciative members and supporters are having recaptured for them, by a great and entertaining side, those triumphant years of the early part of the twentieth century. Between 1906 and 1913 Kent won the County Championship four times. Now that brilliant form is being repeated. In 1967 Kent won the Gillette Cup; in 1970 they took the County Championship; in 1972 the John Player League; and in addition to retaining it in 1973 they also won the Benson and Hedges Cup.

Such a purple patch has not been achieved in any way spontaneously. It is the result of some twenty-five years hard graft on and off the field; careful planning designed to produce a side capable of achieving great success; strategic moves behind the scenes; and a dynamic approach to administration.

These and many more qualities and assets of the county club have yielded rich dividends because now Kent with 7,000 members possess a side to be proud of and in reverse the team benefits from a partisan and often huge following. The stars on the field are backed by a club which enjoys considerable financial success. In 1973, Kent had a surplus of something like £15,000, representing yet another highly satisfactory year.

From the playing point of view the wheel has turned full circle since 1913 when E. W. Dillon led Kent to their fourth county championship success in eight seasons. In 1914 the county finished third but the First World War intervened. When cricket resumed Kent maintained their position as one of the leading counties in the land -- without again winning the championship. Many great sides followed each other into the field between 1919 and 1934 when Kent were only once out of the first five and then they only dropped to eighth position. In the next four years leading up to the Second World War Kent's fortunes faltered as some of the great stalwarts began to disappear from the arena.

In the 1939 season the position improved. Under a new captain, F. G. H. Chalk, who had taken over the previous year, Kent climbed back to fifth position. The signs of a great future were in evidence again. T. G. Evans was emerging as one of cricket's future international stars; D. V. P. Wright had proved himself a match winning leg break bowler; and L. E. G. Ames, L. J. Todd, A. E. Watt, A. E. Fagg and B. H. Valentine were all going strong. Kent had great expectations in the summer of 1939 in their new skipper, regarded as a high-class captain, a fine player and possibly good enough at both levels for his country. But war intervened again and Chalk tragically was not to return.

For two years after the war Kent more than held their own under the captaincy of Valentine but there came a not altogether unexpected decline in performance. The statistics speak for themselves. In 1948 when Kent, because of the tragic death of N. W. Harding found themselves without this very promising fast bowler, dropped from fourth to fifteenth place. For fifteen years they only twice got into the first nine in the table -- their best effort coming in 1958 when they were eighth.

In 1949 D. G. Clark took over as captain and he recalls how Kent then were well aware of the situation they faced. With a happy twist of irony Clark, so closely associated with Kent as they entered the dark days, has seen the county through all the crises and he has emerged as close to the county as he ever was -- and now no doubt extremely proud to be the club's chairman as the long looked for and hard worked for success has been achieved.

Clark took over as chairman of the club midway through the 1969 season and his contribution in that office has been of immense value to his county. Indeed he has been of great service to cricket on a national level, serving on many sub-committees at Lord's and of course managing the 1970-71 M.C.C. team to Australia and New Zealand.

An excellent administrator, he possesses a clear mind and a high sense of fair play which can only be to cricket's advantage in Kent or indeed anywhere else. Looking back Clark said: "Our decline was due to a certain extent to an intended change of policy predominantly to give youth a chance in the knowledge that in the next five years or so we had to rebuild our side completely."

Always the objective was to build a side that was going to last 10 or 15 years and youth was the main priority in the minds of Clark and his exceedingly wise senior professional Les Ames whom the skipper described as God's gift to any young amateur coming in to captain a county side with very little experience.

Clark recalls: "We had long conversations about the long term position in cricket of the part-time player whether he be amateur or paid part-time. Although I took a great deal of persuading and perhaps was never fully persuaded, Les's view was that whereas the amateur was very valuable from the point of view of the way cricket was played he was never likely to contribute to the game to the same degree as a professional. And as it turned out Les was right when one considers that in the very near future cricket was going to be played as a professional game almost entirely."

So the stage was set for Kent's rebuilding. But Clark had never seen himself in a long term role as skipper. I think that he already harboured thoughts for Kent's fortunes to be taken over by the first professional captain in the county -- and the man he had in mind was undoubtedly Ames. But in the summer of 1951 Ames, plagued by back trouble over the years, had to make a final decision to retire. So Clark stayed on perhaps longer than intended, and was followed by W. Murray-Wood, before Wright emerged as Kent's first professional skipper for the 1954 season.

Meanwhile the aftermath of the war was not helping Kent's youth policy. Explained Clark: "Some of the players still showed the effects of six years of war, whether it be stress and strain or purely the fact that there had been a long gap in their cricket. Moreover many young players who had looked so promising disappointed for the same reasons."

So to be the stars of the future those boys who had been at school throughout the war tended to have the better chance -- and very much in this category was M. C. Cowdrey. He played his first county match for Kent in 1950 and Clark also supervised the debut for Kent of another youngster who was to prove such a great servant -- the South African, S. E. Leary.

As the years moved by Clark singles out the tremendous contribution made to Kent cricket by people like Wright, Evans, Fagg, F. Ridgway and that tireless stock bowler R. R. Dovey. Yes, the seeds that had been sown were beginning to show healthy development and an important part in their nourishment was played by the captain of the second eleven, T. A. Crawford.

He assisted tremendously in the development of the younger cricketers and received great support from W. H. V. (Hopper) Levett, who even after his own career ended was always anxious to help the young players. Both have in the same way as Clark stayed closely attached to the county's development. Crawford was President of the Club in 1968, having been Chairman for half a season until ill-health forced him to give way, and Levett is President in 1974. The county also owed a great debt at this time to the efforts of the former slow left arm bowler C. Lewis, who had taken over as coach in 1948.

Ames was never to captain Kent but even though his playing days were over there was a demand for him to play a second innings for the county and he returned to the crease, as it were, in the guise of cricket manager in 1957, becoming Manager in 1960 and Secretary-manager the following year.

By now the young Cowdrey had emerged as a potential captain and he duly assumed that role in 1957. Kent were still a struggling side but the great partnership of Ames and Cowdrey was forged. Few will disagree with Clark when he says: "And it was that partnership which really put Kent back on its feet, without any doubt at all."

Ames was blessed with an astonishing fairness, and very great experience and therefore able to enjoy the respect of the players to a tremendous degree. Cowdrey predominantly was an outstanding player. Totally involved in his cricket he produced an admirable thoughtfulness for his players. In his reading of the game he was the soundest of tacticians, his dressing room enthusiasm and exuberance could not fail to keep the side buoyant and he excelled in public relations and diplomacy both at home and abroad.

While Cowdrey bestowed his qualities of leadership on the field his father-in-law, the late C. Stuart Chiesman, was displaying his own particular brand of dynamics in the committee room. A highly successful businessman, he took over as Chairman in 1957/58. The financial assistance which he gave and his flair as an administrator were to prove invaluable as the club's attitude and approach underwent a marked change. Stuart Chiesman's tremendous drive and his enthusiasm could not fail to be infectious. He had the power to sweep people up into following his almost fierce loyalty for Kent cricket. Said Clark: "He was supremely good with people. If he went off round the outfield during a match it would take him hours to complete the circuit -- he would talk to everybody and anybody." How he would have revelled in Kent's playing successes of recent years. Kent cricket is indebted to him and the impressive new pavilion extension and renovations at the St. Lawrence ground, Canterbury, named after him, provides a permanent reminder.

On the now very important financial side of the fence Kent are also indebted to the quiet but remarkably efficient efforts of the former treasurer Leslie Cremer during often difficult and critical times and to his successor Oliver Grace.

In 1964 Kent finished seventh in the county championship. In 1965 and 1966 they were fifth and fourth respectively and in 1967 they were runners-up. Very real compensation was afforded in 1967 when they won the Gillette Cup, but Cowdrey was now determined to lead Kent to the county championship title. He had to be content with second place again in 1968 but in 1970 his ambition was fulfilled as Kent won the title, appropriately crowning their centenary year.

But in 1968 with the Gillette Cup won the previous year and with other honours so obviously on the horizon the Kent committee made an important decision. The playing staff had been run down to about 13 or 14 players but the county had started to get a fairly big influx of money. It was also obvious that in view of substantial Test match calls future Kent success would depend on the standard of the reserve players. So the size of the squad was increased to 15 or 16 and this has obviously played an enormous part in Kent's success. The policy was quickly rewarded with the 1970 championship success and by now the one day game was making its impact on the scene.

Here again Ames' influence was to be felt. He was quick to appreciate the peculiar demands of the new game. Always an aggressive batsman himself he was continually calling for the positive approach -- for batsmen to get on with it even if they got out. And he could well afford such an outlook with the batting talent Kent had at their command. Whatever the arguments about the merits of the one-day game and the three-day game Ames knew that the one-day game was here to stay and vast crowds all over Kent on Sundays backed his judgement to the hilt.

In 1972 Kent won the John Player League title. Their ultimate success came before a deliriously excited crowd of 12,000, appropriately at Canterbury's St. Lawrence ground. In 1973 the title was defended and retained in very convincing fashion. Indeed, Kent won their Sunday matches throughout the summer in such fine style that it would have taken a courageous man to oppose their steadily increasing position of favourite in the betting. By the middle of July they had won the Benson and Hedges Cup at Lord's -- swift revenge for being eliminated in the qualifying stages of the competition the previous summer.

Cowdrey had ended his triumphant 15 years reign as captain and been succeeded in 1972 by M. H. Denness. The new skipper took over a successful side but that is not always the easy task it looks on paper. He was taking over from a captain who had enjoyed a wonderful personal following among Kent fans in the county. Those same fans were looking to Denness to provide the same success with which they had become acquainted. He could not afford to fail and he did not, indeed.

One important point in Kent's success has been their wise and successful acquisition of cricketers from overseas. From the service of Leary over many years the county had derived great benefit. Then from Barbados came John Shepherd to demonstrate his fine all-round talents exhibited yet again in his wonderful season of 1973. From Pakistan came Asif Iqbal to excite the Kent supporters with his wide range of stroke play and finally from Trinidad came another young all-rounder, Bernard Julien.

After his stirring exploits both with bat and ball for his native West Indies in the Test series in England last summer, all Kent supporters will be looking forward eagerly to this very talented young man's progress in a full county season again in 1974.

Kent have a very rich tradition in home-bred cricketers. International players like Knott, Underwood and Luckhurst and many more current Kent stars began their careers as very young boys in the nets under the watchful eye of men like Claude Lewis, former player and now coach and scorer, who is entering his 45th year of faithful service to the county and Colin Page who in more recent years has done such sterling work in the development of young cricketers.

It is work which will continue, indeed be advanced, for in the chairman's view a great deal more needs to be done throughout the county to encourage cricket and young cricketers.

With Kent's place firmly established at the highest level in the game any encouragement that the county gives will surely find the right response.

© John Wisden & Co