1934: Essex v Kent

Essex v Kent 1934

Kent’s Ashdown (332), Ames (202) and Woolley (172) one assumes. 

Kent 803-4 (146.2 overs). Essex 408 All Out (139.5 overs) & 203 All Out (81.2 overs).  Kent won by an Innings & 192 runs.

1934 saw the return of County Cricket to Brentwood after a break of twelve years.  Two ‘local derbies’ filled the Festival Week – Kent first, then Surrey.

It is fair to say that Essex aficionados of the time were not unhappy with the prospect of starting the week with Kent.  Fair enough – their batting boasted Frank Woolley and Arthur Fagg, but their bowling was heavily reliant on ‘Tich’ Freeman and the emerging Doug Wright – both spinners.  Their seam attack didn’t frighten anyone.

Surrey, on the other hand, had the imperious Jack Hobbs and Andrew Sandham to open their batting with the ferocious hitting of Percy Fender later, and one of the best seamers in the country at the time, Alf Gover, to carry the attack.

The wicket in those days was prepared by the groundsman at Brentwood School.  He clearly put his faith in our four-legged friends, since his idea of the perfect pitch was to slap bucket-loads of wet cow dung on the strip and then roll it for hours on end with a roller that stood nearly as high as a man, drawn by a willing shire horse.

Kent won the toss and decided to bat.  And bat.  And bat.

At the close of the first day they had managed the small matter of 623-2.  Willie Ashdown was 307* and wicketkeeper Leslie Ames 106*.  Woolley had already helped himself to 172.  One might think that in a three-day game that would have been regarded as more than enough, especially since the pitch was obviously a belter and somehow Kent had to try to bowl Essex out twice.  But Kent had other ideas and batted on until lunch on the second day.  Ashdown couldn’t repeat his heroics of the previous day, adding only a further 25, but Ames completed his double-century just before lunch and the declaration.

Essex made a spirited start in reply.  Eastman (the uncle of a former Brentwood player from the 1980’s, Mike Eastman) and Pope put on 75 for the first wicket, and then Pope and Pearce a further 156 for the second wicket.  But by this time Freeman and Wright were twirling away, and Essex started to falter a bit, ending the day at 366-7.  Most thinking men would have put their money on a draw at that point, even if Essex did need a further 287 to avoid the follow-on.  But on the third day Essex’s remaining three wickets went quickly for the addition of only another 42 runs.  They were promptly invited to have another go, but by now Freeman and Wright were rampant and Essex were knocked over in 81 overs for a pretty miserable 203, and lost by the impressive margin of an innings and 192.

They had little time to reflect on that stuffing, with the game against Surrey starting the next day.  Essex made three changes, bringing in a fast bowler, ‘Hopper’ Read; another batsman, Hubert Ashton, and a different wicketkeeper, Wade.  This meant that there were four Brentwood players in their line-up: Cutmore, Hubert Ashton, Claude Ashton and Read.  And that local knowledge quite clearly made all the difference!  Surrey were shot out for 115 (Read 7-35): Essex replied with 570-8, declaring before lunch on the second day (Claude Ashton 118), and Surrey didn’t do much better the second time round, mustering only 263 and capitulating before the scheduled close of play on day 2, with two more wickets for Read and three for Claude Ashton.  The mathematically minded amongst you will have immediately spotted that the result was identical to that of the Kent match – victory for one side by an innings and 192, although this time Essex were the victors of course.  One of the earliest examples of what a well-known soccer manager referred to years later as “bouncebackability”.

So in less than five days’ cricket, 2,363 runs had been scored, including one triple-hundred; two double-hundreds; five centuries, and six half-centuries.  The major beneficiary of the benign track, Ashdown, never again got remotely close to repeating his feat and never played for England.  In later life, when asked what his abiding memory of the game was, he reputedly said “the smell!”

Yet amongst all the hiatus and publicity of the two games, what is less well-known is that just a few days before the Kent game the M.C.C. played the Club Cricket Conference at Brentwood on a wicket that, although good to start with, deteriorated and misbehaved somewhat later in the game.  This prompted a qualifying M.C.C. member, E W Swanton – later a venerable journalist – to express his doubts to the Essex Secretary at the time about the pitch’s ability to stand up to two three-day games, only to be told by the Secretary “Don’t worry, we’ve got something to take care of that”. 

An endless supply of cow dung, presumably.

Malcolm Webb
Brentwood Cricket Club




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