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Kent v Australia 1956: Two-day tussle attracts 13,000 to Canterbury

Thursday 2nd April 2015

1956 saw the 50th anniversary of Kent’s first Championship success. But there was no success to celebrate that season. The game against the Australians was unusually early, mid June rather than the customary mid to late August.

Both the hosts and the tourists had already played plenty of cricket yet neither had hit any sort of form.

Kent had so far recorded only one victory in eleven games whilst their visitors’ only victories up to their Canterbury visit had been against the two Universities.

They had already received warnings of what was to come with a demoralising defeat by Surrey mainly at the hands of Jim Laker, of whom they were to see much more before their tour was over. Surrey’s was the first victory by a county against the Australians for more than forty years.

In what was, at that time one of the wettest summers on record, the side led by Victorian off-spinner Ian Johnson had a miserable tour and in all departments they were inferior to England. They achieved victory in only one of the Tests and failed to regain the Ashes.

They recorded victories against only four of the counties and in all won just nine of their 31 first-class games. On the other hand they lost only three. The 19 draws gives some indication of the weather’s influence on the season. The game itself was one of many that season badly hit by the weather.

The first day was completely lost. By contrast, Monday was hot and sunny with a crowd of around 13,000 who immediately had something to cheer with Jack Rutherford, a Perth schoolmaster and the first West Australian to win a Test Cap, being caught by Colin Page off the medium pace of David Halfyard.

A stand of 95 between James Burke and Neil Harvey led to a recovery but when three wickets fell quickly, two at the same total immediately following lunch, it fell to “Slasher” Ken Mackay and Peter Burge to mount a second recovery. This they achieved with an unbroken stand of 175, Mackay scoring 113 and Burge 69.

It was Mackay’s first century of the tour during which he hit seventeen fours. The declaration came when the score was 301-4 leaving Kent just a short time to bat before close of play.

Because of the first day washout, the match was being played under two-day rules. Consequently, the tourists needed to dismiss Kent for 201 or less to enforce the follow-on.

That they failed to do so was at least partly due to fielding lapses and some stubborn batting by Arthur Phebey whose 67 in three and a half hours included a valuable stand of 86 for the second wicket with Alan Shirref, who ran himself out after scoring 46.

In the context of what was to come later these were important contributions. Apart from Cowdrey (22) and Alan Dixon (36) the five middle and lower order batsmen mustered only fifteen runs between them. So by just nine runs Kent avoided the indignity of a follow-on and the tourists were able to leave an hour earlier than the scheduled finishing time.