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When I watched Sussex tame the mighty West Indians

Fifty years ago, West Indies, led by Sobers, seemed unbeatable in England. Over two days in Hove, it was a different story

Patrick Hicks
The West Indies team in England in 1966, June 15, 1966

That was just a dream: the West Indies team of 1966 bossed the five-Test series in England. The only blip was the Hove horror tour game  •  PA Photos

Amid the English sporting nostalgia of 1966 - and all that we will have over the coming month or two - you'd be forgiven for missing the 50th anniversary of one of the most remarkable cricket matches to take place in the same year. Sussex supporters, however, might reflect with pleasure and pride on that particular game in June in Hove. Over the course of two days, Sussex completed an extraordinary victory, overcoming the mighty West Indians - unbeaten until that point in their tour of England - in just two days.
The brain plays strange games with memories. Apart from the cricket in that summer of 1966, the rest of the year is a blur for me. I was 10 at the time, but I cannot actually recall England winning the football World Cup - I have frequently tried to search for it in my memory, but it is frustratingly just not there. So why is it that I can remember more details of that match from 50 years ago, than that of the Cardiff Test I attended last year?
Led by Garry Sobers, with Conrad Hunte as his vice-captain, West Indies came to England in 1966 with 12 of the team that had toured three years earlier. The touring party featured a hugely impressive batting line-up - apart from Sobers and Hunte, it included Rohan Kanhai, Seymour Nurse, Basil Butcher, Joey Carew, with wicketkeeper Jackie Hendriks and allrounder David Holford. Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall opened the bowling, with Lance Gibbs as the leading spinner.
This was a key season in that era of West Indies cricket, with three tours to the UK in the 1960s. Their series win in the 1963 tour had led to their visit in 1966, which was arranged at relatively short notice. Though the focus was largely on the football World Cup that summer (there was a month-long gap between the third and fourth Test matches to avoid any clashes), there was massive interest in the cricket, with West Indies dominating the series and winning it 3-1.
West Indies arrived in Hove on the back of a thumping win over England in the first Test at Old Trafford, followed by a game against Gloucestershire in Bristol that ended in an exciting draw.
At Old Trafford, West Indies (484) had beaten England (167 and 277) by an innings and 40 runs - England's first three-day defeat since 1938. Hunte hit 135 in five hours on the first day, and then Sobers took over with 161 in 244 minutes. After England were made to follow on, only Colin Milburn (94) and Colin Cowdrey (69) coped with the spin of Gibbs and Sobers. Gibbs finished with 5 for 69, taking his match figures to 10 for 106.
In the three-day game in Bristol, West Indies needed 12 to win off the last over, with five wickets in hand. They scored 11 off the first five balls. "Holford took a mighty swing," Wisden reports, "but was bowled, leaving the scores level."
The tourists then travelled to Hove for their match against Sussex, which would start the following morning. That day, Saturday June 11, was my brother's birthday, so as a treat, our mother took both of us to the game.
Sussex had the reputation of being the "one-day specialists", having won the Gillette Cup (the inaugural one-day competition) in 1963 and 1964. At the time, Sussex had never won the County Championship - that would only come in 2003 - but the side featured a number of Test players, including Jim Parks, John Snow and Alan Oakman. Ted Dexter was absent for nearly the whole season after breaking his leg in a car accident the year before, hence the captaincy was taken over by the Nawab of Pataudi, who went on to captain India in 40 Tests.
Sussex had been my team since 1964, when I went to my first match in Hove to watch them (as the Gillette Cup winners) play a one-day game against the touring Australians. This was the match when, as we were making our way to the exit, the Australian captain Bob Simpson came up to my mother and said: "Thanks Sheila, for all your support this season." For years after, she never understood how he knew her name.
Two years later, along with 10,000 other Sussex supporters, we were looking forward to a great batting performance by the tourists. Can you imagine the excitement of seeing our Sussex heroes play against these giants of the game in real life? Sobers, holder of the world record Test score, Hunte, who had just scored a century at Old Trafford, Joey Carew, the centurion in Bristol, the fast and menacing Griffith. We had seen them on television, but that was very mono and grainy. All this meant that the atmosphere, colour and ambiance that day was all the more thrilling and full of anticipation.
Pataudi won the toss. We will never know whether he was influenced by the crowd's wish to see the West Indians at the crease, or, more likely, the grassy pitch and a sea breeze that was conducive to swing. Whatever was the case, he asked the West Indians to bat first.
His decision was justified. By mid-afternoon, West Indies had been bowled out for 123. Only Carew (56), Nurse (24) and Butcher (12) reached double figures. Sobers was out for a duck. If the crowd had come to see the West Indians score freely, their disappointment was certainly tempered by the performance of the Sussex bowlers. Snow did most of the damage, taking 7 for 29 from 16.5 overs (leading to his call-up for the third Test at Trent Bridge two weeks later).
Wisden described the tourists as being "visibly shaken out of their stride". Carew led a "charmed life", adding: "the kindest comment on his knock was to say that he did not let the good fortune affect him. He played each ball on merit."
Sussex started their first innings before tea, but were swiftly 2 for 2, with the openers Ken Suttle and Les Lenham getting out for ducks. By the close of play on Saturday evening, Sussex had reached 122 for 7, with Peter Graves on 30 and Tony Buss on 13 batting overnight.
There was no play on Sunday. I cannot recall what I did, although I imagine a major part of the day involved my brother and I re-enacting the Snow-Sobers duel in our pocket-handkerchief-sized back garden.
On Monday, my mother somehow managed to convince our school in Sompting that our education would be better served by taking us out of class to watch the second day's play (no fines in those days for such behaviour). During the morning, Sussex's problems with Griffith and his opening partner Rudolph Cohen (Hall was rested for the match) continued. However, Graves went on to score 64, taking the total to 185, giving Sussex a first-innings lead of 62. "This 20 year old left-hander showed a more sensible approach than older colleagues and opponents," noted Wisden.
West Indies' second innings was quite extraordinary, or, as Snow later put it: they were "put through the mill again". Over the course of the next two and a quarter hours, they were bowled out for just 67, with Snow taking 4 for 18 (match figures of 11 for 47). Buss, likewise, took 4 for 18, with the other two wickets going to Don Bates.
This was the second-lowest total recorded by a West Indies team in England, being nine more than the 58 by Robert Nunes' side against Yorkshire in 1928.
Only Joe Solomon and Peter Lashley passed double figures in the second innings. Parks took seven catches behind the wicket in the match, which, according to Wisden, "perhaps reflected the lack of resolution in the batting".
However, with only six runs to win in the second innings, the drama had not yet ended. Although most captains would probably have thrown the ball to a part-timer, Sobers passed it to Griffith. The field that was set for his opening over was quite extraordinary - a complete umbrella behind the batsman, and not a single player in the outfield.
The first ball was bowled to Suttle - a short-pitched delivery that rose sharply. As he went to hook, it struck him on the jaw - no helmets or protective visors back then. He was immediately taken to hospital for an X-ray, but it showed nothing more than severe bruising.
For many years, Suttle had written a column for his local paper, the Worthing Herald, titled: "The 'Suttle' Side of Cricket". With typical humour, he described the Griffith incident as follows: "He wasn't as quick as he was on the 1963 tour. The last time he hit me before I had time to deliver the shot. This time he hit me after I had finished it."
Some years later, Snow wrote about Griffith: "It was obviously a delivery bowled in anger, a sign of his disappointment over the West Indies' batting performance, an attempt to show the Sussex 'upstarts'."
Snow continued: "Whatever Griffith's speed, the injury and the situation he had created obviously worried Garry [Sobers] for he immediately took Griffith off after one over. There was still time, however, for Jim Parks to take a couple of bouncers. That over was about the quickest I've ever seen. Wicketkeeper Jackie Hendricks, standing some 20 yards back, was having to leap to take the ball with arms outstretched above his head. It was also 'chucked'. Griffith was in the process of re-modelling his action that summer, but this was a pure 'throw-back'."
After Suttle had retired hurt, Graves was trapped lbw later in the same over. But Lenham and Parks helped Sussex win the match by nine wickets. However, the victory was, unfortunately, not the prelude to a glorious Championship season for Sussex. They won just eight of their 30 first-class matches, although, oddly, three of their victories came against the three strongest sides: apart from West Indies, they beat Yorkshire (the eventual county champions) and Worcestershire (the runners-up). It can best be described as "mixed", after finishing tenth. In the Gillette Cup, they were knocked out in the first round.
Part of the square in Hove had been re-laid at the beginning of the season, which might explain West Indies' defeat and three other matches ending inside two days. Snow's performances as a bowler throughout the summer led to him forcing his way into the Test team, while his batting also improved - his 59 in the last Test at The Oval, in a tenth-wicket partnership of 128 with Ken Higgs, was only two short of the Test record at the time.
For West Indies, despite their loss in Hove, it was a highly successful tour. The second Test at Lord's was a well-contested game that ended in a draw. They won the next two Tests to take the series, but England did get one back by winning the final match at The Oval.
But, as I said, the brain plays its own games. Which is why, even 50 years later, I have a clear memory of the sight of Suttle being felled by one of cricket's most intimidating bowlers. Hove was emptier on the Monday, and we watched the day's play from the seats just in front of the Sussex dressing room, reserved for players' families and friends.
We knew the Suttle family quite well - we lived just five doors down from them in Goring-by-Sea. At that time, Suttle was 35 and still on his way to achieving one of cricket's unbeatable records - 423 consecutive County Championship matches, from 1954 to 1969. The year 1966 had been his benefit year and he topped the county's averages - although, with an average of 29.36 from 53 innings and a total of 1439 runs, he only finished 30th in the overall first-class figures. A few years later, he was dropped from the side - with little recognition of his achievement of service for the county - and he then went on to play for Suffolk for a couple of seasons.
The day after being dropped from a Championship match in 15 years, we saw him trying (unsuccessfully) to cut the hedge in his front garden with a pair of lawn trimmers - my mother reckoned he had never had to do the garden before, as he had never been at home during the summers.
However, one memory of 1966 is clearer than any of the others. The day after the West Indies match, on returning from school, I recall walking the few steps up the road and knocking on the front door of the Suttles' house.
"Sorry to bother you," I said, "but we just wanted to know how your jaw was."
"Oh, it's not too bad," Suttle replied. He lifted his head, and showed me the side of his face, where the sharp, red, indentations of the seam of a cricket ball were clearly visible. "It's a bit sore, but I should be okay to play in the next match."
And he did.