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Kent v Australia: Colin Cowdrey’s debut against the tourists

Thursday 19th March 2015

Kent Cricket honorary curator David Robertson continues his look back at Kent clashes with Australia turns his focus to 1953 and the emergence of a 20-year-old called Colin Cowdrey.

Itwas the summer that will be remembered for England’s triumph in regaining the Ashes for the first time since 1932/33.

It was a Test series that could have gone either way with the destiny of the Urn not being decided until mid-afternoon on the final day of the final Test.

Despite the loss of the Ashes the tourists’ only defeat was at the Oval. They won 16 of their 35 games, a favourable comparison to their visit five years previously. They were led by Lindsay Hassett, Bradman’s deputy in 1948.

Nine of the seventeen had not previously toured England although there was a high level of experience.

In addition to Hassett, the party included Neil Harvey, Bill Johnston, Keith Miller, Arthur Morris, Ray Lindwall, Doug Ring and Don Tallon all of whom were with the 1948 party.

By contrast, Kent’s season had been pretty miserable. They had completed their programme of Championship matches before the tourists’ arrival. Of the 28 matches they won only four and lost fourteen.

They finished next to bottom in the Championship with only two batsmen, Fagg and Phebey reaching 1,000 runs.

It was the third season in succession in which they had finished in the bottom three. Only Somerset, who were bottom, won fewer games and Kent’s 64 points was only four points more than two years previously.

By the time the tourists arrived at Canterbury in late August the Test programme had been completed. Nevertheless, pride ensured that they continued to play with the utmost competitiveness.

In between the Kennington Oval Test and Canterbury they scored 486 against Somerset at Taunton and would almost certainly have won there were it not for frequent rain interruptions on the final two days.

Then at Lord’s they had a resounding eight wicket victory against the Gentlemen of England.

The long-awaited visit to Canterbury coincided with an inhospitable opening day of drizzle in cold conditions. There were frequent interruptions and the conditions seriously affected the Australian fielding.

Six catches were dropped, the main beneficiary being Arthur Phebey who, having opened the innings remained undefeated on 85.

Kent had struggled to 167-9 on the opening day, adding just 14 more on day two. Phebey’s contribution amounted to a further two runs before he suffered a strain that severely restricted his movement.

Bill Johnston was the main destroyer with five wickets including that of 20-year-old Colin Cowdrey who earlier that week had scored two successive half centuries for the Gentlemen of England in the game at Lord’s.

His 25 in this innings was second highest to that of Phebey.

Before a crowd of 17,000 and in much more favourable batting conditions, the Australians set about their task of overhauling Kent’s meagre score and building a decisive lead.

From the outset their batsmen were on the attack despite losing Morris when the score was just 14.

Throughout the day they scored their runs at around 80 an hour and whilst no batsman reached three figures five of them scored half centuries with wicket-keeper Don Tallon almost doubling his aggregate runs for the tour with an undefeated 85.

The irrepressible Keith Miller entertained the crowd with a sparkling 68, his first eight scoring shots all speeding to the boundary.

Spinner John Hill, who played in two of the five Tests, hit an undefeated 51 and shared an unbroken stand of 103 with Tallon in just under an hour. Captain Lindsay Hassett declared overnight with the score on 465-8.

There was little entertainment for the third day crowd until all hope of saving the match had disappeared. Of the early batsmen only Arthur Fagg (28) and Tony Woollett (13) reached double figures.

Seven wickets were down for 55 runs and it was left to bowlers Ridgway and Mallet to provide the crowd with a short period of excitement. In the space of just thirteen minutes of highly entertaining hitting they scored 46 runs that included five sixes, four of which came off the bowling of the young all-rounder Richie Benaud.

Kent’s total second time round was a meagre 108. Bill Johnston added a further six wickets to his five in the first innings. He went on the take another twelve in the remaining games making him the second highest wicket-taker on the tour behind Lindwall.

More remarkably, he is possibly the only recognised number eleven to have finished top of the batting averages. He was not out in 16 of his 17 innings, scored 102 runs with a highest of 28 not out, and went home boasting a batting average of 102!

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

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