Kent Cricket’s Scottish history

Monday 25th January 2021

Kent Cricket’s Scottish history

Written before the 2021 season, cricket writer Jake Perry argues that Kent Cricket’s connections to Scotland are worth celebrating, and these roots are much deeper than the nationality of one of our greatest captains.

On 1 December 1940, a legend of Kentish cricket was born. Mike Denness, pictured above (back row, far right) proudly wearing his Scotland jumper at Kent’s 1962 team photoshoot, would carve his name into the history of the county twice over.

His elegant batting and unflappable captaincy became the bedrock upon which unprecedented success was to be built. He would score over 17,000 first-class runs for Kent and, after succeeding Colin Cowdrey as its skipper in 1972, guiding the county to six one-day trophies in the space of five glorious years.

But a wider tale can be woven around his story. Denness’ name is revered to this day, but he was neither the first nor last cricketer from Scotland to make their mark in Canterbury.

That Denness found his way to the St Lawrence Ground in the first place was due in no small part to another Scot who wore the White Horse of Kent with distinction. Jimmy Allan played 40 first-class matches for the county between 1954 and ’57, scoring 1329 runs and taking 88 wickets with his wily left-arm spin.

Just how wily can be judged by his earliest returns for Oxford University, where he followed up a stunning debut against Yorkshire – his figures were 7-7-0-1, five of those maidens being bowled to Len Hutton, no less – with the wickets of Keith Millar and Ian Craig in the first over he bowled to the visiting Australians a week later. It wasn’t until the fourth over of his spell that day – the eleventh of his first-class career – that he conceded his first run: not for nothing is the former Edinburgh Academical remembered as one of the country’s finest-ever all-rounders.

Jimmy Allan was in the team when the eighteen-year-old Denness made his first appearance for Scotland in June 1959. In a three-day game against Ireland in Dublin, the teenager contributed 47 to a first innings partnership of 144 with the great James Aitchison.

He would win nineteen Scotland caps in all, the last coming in 1967, by which time a call from the England selectors was on the near horizon. Allan, meanwhile, would round off his career with yet more success at Warwickshire.

It was probably Jimmy Allan who first alerted his former county to his team-mate’s potential. Kent secretary Les Ames was quickly in touch by letter as Warwickshire also expressed their interest, but it was a chat with EW Swanton at the centenary dinner of Ayr Cricket Club, for whom Denness had played since boyhood, that finally made up the young man’s mind.

After a month’s trial which yielded two fifties in three games for the Second XI, he made his first-class debut for the county on 14 July 1962: Jim Laker got the better of him – and everyone else – on that occasion, but a knock of 51 against Surrey the following week underlined his promise.

Denness would score over a thousand runs for Kent in each of the next five seasons, and, with Cowdrey away on international duty in 1970, lead the team to its first County Championship title since 1913.

The cricketing connection between Kent and Scotland was far from one way, however. George Dickins, a Major in the 21st Fusiliers who played seven first-class matches for the county between 1849 and ‘64, played a significant role in the development of cricket in the Scottish Borders after his move to the area from the south of England.

It was to Kelso Cricket Club that Dickins made his way. Founded in 1821 – and so predating the formation of Sussex, the first of the English county teams, by eighteen years – Kelso CC is the oldest in Scotland, a founder member of the historic Border League and a leading light in the thriving East of Scotland Cricket Association competitions that continue today.

Its earliest days saw matches against teams from the north of England as well as more local rivals, together with three games against the All-England and United All-England Elevens, two of the star-studded professional teams which did so much to popularise the game before organised county cricket was established.

A left-handed batsman and slow right-arm lob-bowler who scored 158 first-class runs for Kent, Dickins played in Kelso’s 58-run loss to United All-England in September 1857, losing his wicket to John Wisden, once of Kent, who went on to finish with the eye-catching match figures of 25 for 45 in the twenty-two-plays-eleven format.

The Major had already represented a Twenty-Two of Scotland against All-England in Edinburgh in 1849, an occasion which did much to spread the popularity of the game north of the border, and would later be invited to turn out for United All-England himself against Stockton and Middlesbrough in September 1863. But it was Kelso which had become closest to his heart, and through the 1860s and ‘70s the enthusiasm and cricketing ability of Dickins was central to his adoptive town fielding one of the most formidable sides in southern Scotland.

Perhaps the most remarkable link of the Victorian era, though, was forged by another military man.

In a time in which all-round sportsmen were far from rare, Henry Renny-Tailyour followed a path all of his own, winning caps for Scotland in both football and rugby union – he remains the only Scot to have done so – as well as making 28 first-class appearances on the cricket field, nineteen of them for Kent. As a footballer, he played in three of the first four FA Cup Finals, scoring both goals in the Royal Engineers’ two-nil victory over the Old Etonians in 1875, and, in the first official international match held in England, he had the honour of netting Scotland’s first-ever international goal. The game was lost, but his place in history was assured.

Although all of those occasions, as well as Renny-Tailyour’s sole appearance for the Scotland rugby XV in February 1872, took place at The Oval, he never appeared there in a cricket match. He played at Lord’s a number of times, though, scoring an unbeaten 88 in Kent’s defeat of MCC in May 1883, and, in an indication of the wider esteem in which he was held, he took to the field alongside WG Grace for the South in its match against the North in 1875.

His finest performance had come a year earlier, however, when, opening the batting, he scored 124 to set Kent on its way to a ten-wicket win over Lancashire. While his career in the army put a limit onto his cricketing ambitions, perhaps only Leslie Balfour-Melville, who also played at The Oval in 1872, is ahead of him in Scotland’s roll-call of great sporting all-rounders.

In addition to their shared connections from the dressing room, Kent and Scotland met several times on the field, too. Their first encounter was in the NatWest Trophy in June 1986, when Graham Dilley’s 5 for 29 took the county to an eight-wicket win over the Scots at Myreside.

The hosts had to wait until 2009 for a modicum of revenge, when Fraser Watts led the way in overhauling a rain-adjusted target of 77 at Raeburn Place – bowler Dewald Nel, who also played in that game, would spend the next two seasons at Canterbury, announcing his arrival with 6 for 62 against Yorkshire at Headingley – but, by the time of the ECB’s reorganisation of its limited-overs competition in 2013 (which put an end to Scotland’s participation), the overall tally stood at eight victories to one in the county side’s favour.

And what of the future? Kent’s acquisition last summer of wicketkeeper-batter Sarah Bryce and Huntly-born slow left-armer Kirstie Gordon will only strengthen what is already the most successful women’s side in the history of the English county game

The honours are piling high for twenty-one-year-old Bryce even now, with a nomination for the ICC Associate Player of the Decade to go alongside her recognition as Batter of the Year and Player of the Year at the 2020 Spitfire Kent Cricket Awards. With world-class talent and temperaments to match, the sky is truly the limit for these most genuine of stars.

Mike Denness, like Sarah Bryce, was twenty when he took his first steps onto the The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence. Those watching on from the north will be fascinated to see just how this latest chapter in the shared story of Kent and Scotland continues.

Jake Perry’s book, ‘The Secret Game: Tales of Scottish Cricket’, celebrates the history of the game in Scotland and the famous names who have played there, including WG Grace and Donald Bradman, as well as providing new insights into the stories of Douglas Jardine, Archie Jackson and Leslie Balfour-Melville.

It is available in paperback and e-book form direct from Chequered Flag Publishing at The Secret Game: Tales of Scottish Cricket – Chequered Flag Publishing or via Amazon at The Secret Game: Tales of Scottish Cricket: Perry, Jake: Books