Looking back to the 1957 visit to Taunton of the West Indies with Wes Hall, Gary Sobers et al

PUBLISHED: 09:48 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:48 02 June 2020

A cricket ball on the scorers table.

A cricket ball on the scorers table.

Archant

It’s a mystery how something will suddenly happen out of the blue, writes Dick Sturch.

Roy Gilchrist in action for the West Indies. Picture DICK STURCHRoy Gilchrist in action for the West Indies. Picture DICK STURCH

I watched Trueman, Tyson, Statham, and many other fast bowlers of that time thinking, ‘I wish I could do that’.

Then it happened. I was bowling in the nets at School and decided to take a longer run up; I hit the bowling crease and suddenly everything came together.

Not a classic style, but my arm swung over very quickly and the batsman looked in astonishment as the ball whizzed past him.

I was then too scared to stop in case I forgot how I had achieved it!

Wes Hall in action for the West Indiies. Picture DICK STURCHWes Hall in action for the West Indiies. Picture DICK STURCH

However, forget it I did not, and I became opening bowler for the School together with Gerald Cook and Keith Ham, and between us we accounted for quite a few of our opponent’s wickets.

The highlight of the season for me at Colyton Grammar was the ‘Old Boys’ match when I had ample opportunity for ‘legal revenge’ on one or two of my past tormentors!

I played my first competitive cricket for All Saints in 1956 when Fred Seward persuaded me to go along and join the Club.

An early memory of this time is Fred pulling the gang-mowers behind his car cutting the outfield.

Bill Alley batting for Somerset. Picture DICK STURCHBill Alley batting for Somerset. Picture DICK STURCH

The Pavilion was a small shed at the top of the field where we changed and the mower was stored.

Brian Sweetland, Peter Reid and Sam Smith were the local players and apart from Fred I also remember Jim Matthews and Tony Burt from Axminster being in the team.

One game for All Saints I shall always remember was an away game. I can’t recall the name of the village, but the pitch was in the grounds of an Estate.

The home team won the toss and chose to bat. Two rather distinguished looking gentleman opened their batting. One was somewhat older than the other, but both kitted out in identical caps and old school sweaters.

They provided their own umpire (not a member of the team as ours always was.) Their man was quite elderly. A little bent up, which together with the position he adopted, brought his head almost level with the top of the stumps.

I opened the bowling with Brian Sweetland coming in from the opposite end.

After several balls I got one that went past the older gentleman’s bat and hit his pad below the knee, plumb in front of the stumps.

I yelled ‘Howzat’ expecting the finger to go up, but alas all I could by return was ‘Not out Sir’. Of course, I did not agree with the decision but I was left thinking how very polite the umpire was!

An over or two later they went for a second run but the older gentleman was a good foot outside the line as the ball shattered the wickets.

‘Howzat’, went the cry. ‘Not out, Sir’ came the same reply.

I then realised just who ‘Sir’ was when the gentleman concerned replied; ‘Good call Jessop’. To which the umpire replied ‘Thank you, Sir.’

I have played on the County ground at Somerset several times, but only ever went once to watch a game there.

It was in July 1957. We had just finished O’level exams and I decided I’d earnt some time off school as a reward.

That summer the West Indies were in England on a five match Test series and playing at Somerset.

I decided instead of catching the bus to Colyton I would cross over the road and catch the one going in the opposite direction to Taunton.

I was at the ground for the second- and third-day’s play. Most of the first day had been washed out by rain, but on the second day Somerset bowled out the ‘Windies’ for a meagre 78 runs in 32.1 overs!

The heart of their batting; Kanhai, Sobers, Weekes and Walcott, went for only 45 runs while the top score was the 16 from the bat of opener Pairaudeau.

Their tormentors in chief Somerset’s two medium fast opening bowlers Alley and Lobb who, under an overcast sky, made the ball swing with devastating results.

They finished with five wickets apiece. Australian Bill Alley, who had only recently joined Somerset at the age of 38 after playing Lancashire League cricket with Colne and latterly Blackpool, finished with figures of 5-38 from 16 overs and Bryan Lobb, bowling at the other end, had 5-37 from 16.1 overs.

One reason I had wanted to go to the game was to see West Indies new, young, fiery fast bowlers Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist.

The latter was making a name for himself both with the ball and his temper.

He was only of medium build 5`8” and looked very short against the giant that was Hall, but the speed he could make the ball travel was phenomenal. (Rohan Kanhai recalled a game in which Gilchrist bowled a very fast, short pitched delivery which flew high over the wicketkeepers upstretched arms before hitting the sight screen without bouncing again.)

Gilchrist didn’t disappoint when Somerset went into bat. By the end of the first day’s play he had taken four wickets (clean bowling three of them) and Hall took the other as Somerset finished on 38-5. None of batsmen had looked comfortable against Gilchrist, especially when he dropped the ball short. Only all-rounder Ken Palmer, who at 20 and in his first full season at Somerset, put up any resistance. Coming in at 27-4 to face a constant barrage of fast, short pitched, body biting bowling, he finished the day unbeaten on five.

After seeing this ‘wicketfest’ and the thrill of Gilchrist and Hall bowling in tandem, I caught the bus back to Millwey Rise informing my parents I was late home because of cricket practice at school!

I had already decided I would head for Taunton the following morning and watch the final days cricket.

No one would miss me. I told my parents that I would be late home again as I was visiting a friend at Seaton after school!

Palmer resumed his gallant innings at the start of the final day reaching 23 (the highest individual score of the first innings) before being run out.

On getting back to the pavilion he was horrified to discover he had been batting against Hall and Gilchrist without a box which he’d forgotten to put in place.

Gilchrist took his fifth wicket of the game to finish with figures of 5-33 as Somerset were dismissed for 114, holding a 36-run lead.

The match ended in a draw when the ‘Windies’ second innings finished on 254-6, dominated by a partnership between Walcott (61) and a 21-year-old Garfield Sobers (104).

As I returned home on the Southern National double decker that Friday evening I couldn’t wait for my first over the following day for All Saints.

I enjoyed my cricketing days playing for All Saints, Axminster, Owermoigne, Offwell, Kilmington and numerous invitation games.

I have been lucky to play with and against some great players and characters during this time.

For myself, there was nothing better than, after coming off a twenty-pace run, firing the ball at a batsman 22 yards away and hearing the wickets clatter as the ball hit them.

I never kept count of the wickets I’ve taken as my satisfaction was seeing the disconsolate look on a batsman’s face when I did.


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