Hampshire Cricket History

1961: THE VERDICT (Part Two)
February 22, 2021, 8:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

What did people make of Hampshire’s achievement? In the relatively new Playfair Cricket Monthly, Ron Roberts reported retrospectively on the County Championship in each edition. On the opening weeks in 1961, he noted that Yorkshire “set a cracking pace” and said nothing of Hampshire, while in the next edition he suggested Middlesex were “on Yorkshire’s Tail” – adding appropriately that Hampshire “in racing parlance” were “in a handy position, just inside the rails”. They were indeed, but his next report criticised “the farcical complications” of calculating when teams played different numbers of matches – some not playing everyone twice. He noted Worcestershire’s “prosperous” season but a pitch that was “apt to turn unreasonably early” and the impact of Leicestershire’s bonus payments for results but again said nothing of Hampshire – or indeed the top three. The October edition, which marked the end of the season opened with an editorial headline “Australia, coupled with the name of Hampshire” and described their success as being “like a breath of spring”, playfully praising their captain as a “rigid disciplinarian” for insisting the team should be “back in their hotel in time for breakfast”. Hampshire had been “a good and happy side” and tribute was added to Desmond Eagar “still driving Hampshire on with heart and mind”.

The magazine gave more than two illustrated pages to John Arlott who suggested “much that is superficial – and more than a little nonsense – has been written and spoken” about Hampshire’s achievement, noting that “perhaps the outstanding facet – yet the least remarked – lies in the fact that Hampshire is by far the poorest of the first-class counties”. He called it a county that has “existed for years on a shoe-string economy with a small staff” and praised coach Arthur Holt, suggesting, “Hampshire’s team-building emerges as a remarkable feat”. He praised the” ideal balance” of the side and of Ingleby-Mackenzie’s carefully calculated declarations suggested, “he will set a team runs they ought to get, and yet beat them”.

Arlott did not argue that man-for-man “Hampshire were a better team than Yorkshire or Middlesex” and noted presciently that the ageing members of the side had perhaps “reached their playing peaks” in 1961. Crucially, unlike the near misses in 1955 & 1958, when “Yorkshire and Middlesex faltered on the run in” Hampshire did not, winning the five successive matches that took them to the great day on 1 September, when “relief bubbled over in laughter”.

In the Daily Telegraph EW Swanton thought that “perhaps the outstanding characteristic … has been their form on the third day in any sort of tight situation. Whether batting or bowling, they have produced the goods and this is where morale and leadership come in”. The Times praised “the continual encouragement and valuable advice” of their “President of Presidents”, HS (Harry) Altham the fourth architect with Ingleby-Mackenzie, Eagar and Holt of the great achievement. Of Ingleby-Mackenzie they suggested he “has a zest for cricket which he can communicate to others” and “an old-world charm which … is a joy to meet”, along with a “friendly, keen and modest side”. In the immediate aftermath, even Yorkshire’s captain Vic Wilson praised their “splendid and entertaining cricket”.

In the following spring came evaluations that had taken time to mature. InThe Playfair Cricket Annual, Michael Melford suggested that Hampshire’s success had been “so widely lauded that there is little more to say” although he added “the victory owed much to the personality of the captain and the esprit de corps which he has instilled” although they required the “extra match-winning thrust” of, in particular, Marshall, Shackleton and White. He thought Yorkshire “did well to finish second in a season when possibly only Bolus of their batsmen “seemed to be fit and in form for long”, adding they “were not invincible”. He thought that with one more “really penetrative fast bowler” Middlesex “must have won easily” but their next great years were still more than a decade away. The Editor of Wisden, at a time when there was a constant plea for ‘Brighter Cricket’, praised Marshall as “one of the few enterprising opening batsmen in the country”, who could still play for England (he did not) and suggested that “one quality bowler in Derek Shackleton made the attack”, in a side “bound together by an ebullient captain”. He noted that Hampshire’s success “was extremely popular and rightly so” but there was sting of sorts in the tail as he concluded “apart from Marshall and the captain, much of their cricket was of the defensive type which is causing the authorities so much concern”. Around these years, Hampshire’s bowling and usually fine fielding was indeed difficult to dominate and over the course of 1961 in the 32 matches, Hampshire’s opponents scored at a rate of 2.53 runs per over, while Hampshire took a wicket every 9.28 overs. Over-rates were much better than they are today but with Hampshire in the field on average a side might be bowled out a little before the close for around 250. Not thrilling perhaps, but match – and title – winning cricket.

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John Arlott always spoke a great deal of sense. Not too sure about one or two of the others!

Comment by James

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