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Kent v Australia 1961: Benaud’s boys entertain Canterbury crowds

Friday 10th April 2015

By a margin of just seven runs, Kent failed to be the only county to defeat the Australians in the summer of 1961, writes Kent Cricket honorary curator David Robertson.

In a memorably exciting and sporting game that produced 1,260 runs in three days it included four magnificent centuries including two from Colin Cowdrey and three challenging declarations.

Although not playing, Australia skipper Richie Benaud’s promise to play attractive cricket could not have been more evident than in this game. Throughout, the tourists demonstrated their desire to entertain and their bowling of 58 overs in little more than three hours on that final afternoon, with entertainment being as important as the result, confirmed their intention.

It was another mid-June occasion following shortly after the first Test at Edgbaston finished in stalemate after England

The tourists were captained by the outstanding all-rounder Benaud who combined his shrewd leg-spin with aggressive batting and was to prove a popular captain.

From the outset he emphasised that his team would play attractive cricket and would bowl as many overs as possible when in the field.

Although Kent’s season was mixed, their batting line up was strong. Six of the team scored in excess of 1,000 runs with Bob Wilson and Peter Richardson coming close to the 2,000 mark. Had the bowling been as penetrative their position in the Championship would have been much higher than eleventh but in a dry summer pitches tended to favour the batsmen.

On a good wicket Bill Lawry and Bobby Simpson gave the tourists the start they would have wanted with an opening stand of 131. Simpson was the first to go, having scored 65 cutting and hooking vigorously. Lawry went on to reach his century whereupon he apparently gave his wicket away with a simple catch to Peter Richardson at mid-on.

There was a fine hundred by the promising young Norman O’Neill supported by acting captain Neil Harvey, Brian Booth and Alan Davidson. O’Neill reached his landmark just before the close and at the declaration was undefeated on 104. Australia’s 428-6 was scored off 124 overs on that first day.

The second day undoubtedly belonged to Kent. After the overnight declaration, the home batsmen set about the task of matching the tourists’ score with some early adventurous batting on what was still a good wicket and against bowling that was not over-challenging.

All of the top order batsmen got a start with Phebey and South African favourite Stuart Leary hitting half-centuries. But the star of the innings was England captain Colin Cowdrey, whose masterly 149 contained a wide range of attractive strokes all round the wicket.

He reached his century in just short of three hours and apart from a single chance when on 115, dominated the bowling. He was eventually dismissed for 149 having hit 27 fours and sharing a fourth wicket stand with Leary of 152 in just under two and a half hours.

In the prevailing spirit of entertaining cricket, the Kent innings was declared closed with the tourists having a lead of 88. They were required to bat out the final twenty minutes of day two which they did without any alarms.

As is often the case, the final day was full of fine cricket, excitement and anticipation especially for the home supporters. The Australians, well led by the innings of Neil Harvey who top-scored with an attractive 66 that included eleven fours, built on their lead at a little over four runs an over.

At 202-5 the third declaration of the match came and with it the challenge to Kent to make the 291 runs for their first victory since 1893 against the Australians. To reach their target they needed to score at a rate of 92 runs an hour.

Pick of the Kent bowlers was the unsung all-rounder Peter Jones, who was enjoying is best season with both bat and ball, in a fifteen year career with the county.

With quick runs required, openers Richardson and Phebey immediately set about the task but with the score on 42 Richardson was out.

Then Bob Wilson was unable to fend off a rising ball and was caught at slip. That brought Cowdrey to the wicket but with the score on 71 Phebey was dismissed.

At that point there was five minutes short of two hours left and 220 runs were still needed. Just the sort of challenge that Cowdrey and his new partner Leary, thrived on. In a little under one and a half hours they had put on 164 runs with attractive stroke play and the excitement was mounting. But with the score on 234 Leary went for a risky second run but failed to make his ground.

Five wickets were down and 57 runs still required. The chase continued with Jones joining Cowdrey. Time was running out. With twelve minutes left and 27 runs needed Cowdrey was caught in the deep attempting another big hit.

He had scored 121 including nineteen fours and a six, to add to his three figure first innings score. He was the first ever batsman to score a hundred in each innings against the Australians in England.

With popular all-rounder Alan Dixon joining Jones, thirteen were required off the final over. A single off the first ball, the dismissal of Dixon off the third attempting a six over square leg, and a single off the fifth, left Kent seven short.

Australia begin the 2015 Ashes Tour in Canterbury with a four-day match at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence.

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