‘A cocktail of fascinating history’: County cricket distilled in Scyld Berry’s ‘Disappearing World’

Award-winning author Scyld Berry draws on 50 years of reporting county cricket to write on the state of the game in each of the 18 counties, in a book reviewed by Eric Brown…


Students of county cricket will be feeling the thrill of an approaching new season rising within their souls.

In an attempt to wedge increasing limited overs fixtures into an already cluttered calendar, the precious County Championship has been shunted forward to a period when players used to still be oiling bats, whitening boots and trying out a few practice lobs.

Scyld Berry’s ‘Disappearing World’ focuses greatly on this phenomenon during an entertaining tour of the 18 first-class counties.

Naturally with a book of this type, the temptation is to turn first to one’s own county. So I perused the section on Kent, men’s county champions six times and women’s champions eight times.

I learned that of the 27 highest run scorers in first-class cricket, three came from Kent – Frank Woolley, Colin Cowdrey and Les Ames. Of the 30 leading wicket-takers, five came from Kent – Tich Freeman, Colin Blythe, Derek Underwood, Doug Wright and Woolley again.

This is impressive enough but as the author makes clear, it is in wicketkeeping that Kent has established their greatest dynasty.

Of the 20 leading wicketkeepers, four came from Kent – Alan Knott, Fred Huish, Godfrey Evans and Ames.

Outside that quartet have been plenty of other international keepers such as Paul Downton, Geraint Jones and Sam Billings. Kent produced the first wicketkeeper to make a Test 50 (Edward Tylecote) and the first wicketkeeper to make a Test ton (Harry Wood).

This tradition began with a guy called Kips (not the one written about by H. G. Wells) who was immortalised in a poem after an outstanding display for Kent v The Rest of England at the Royal Artillery Ground, Woolwich.

This poem has entered cricket history as the first match report and it mentions Kip’s talent at stumping batsmen.

The incomplete scorecard does not record his first name but shows he conceded no byes in the two-innings match, a rare feat on the rather agricultural pitches of 1744.

Berry reports that the dashing run-scoring for which Kent were notorious has become more difficult on Canterbury’s slow-seam pitches, which offered encouragement to bowlers such as Darren Stevens.

The Spitfire Ground in Canterbury (Sarah Ansell / Getty Images)

He claimed stacks of wickets for the county into his forties after Kent spotted his potential while taking a modest six first-class wickets at 67 for Leicestershire.

But things are changing with Adrian Llong, who produced run-laden pitches at Beckenham, transferring his skills to Canterbury.

Partly responsible for Kent’s strength, reports Berry, is the deep talent pool of the county’s premier league club structure. I well remember seeing a young Graham Dilley play for Dartford in the Kent League and once had the dubious pleasure of facing him.

Kent’s influence in the corridors of English cricket power has been pretty much constant from Lord Harris through Colin Cowdrey and Downton to Rob Key.

It is four years since Kent celebrated their 150th anniversary with a service in Canterbury Cathedral and Berry predicted a successful future. But I wonder whether financial restrictions unknown by rivals who stage Test cricket will prevent Kent challenging for honours any time soon.

Of course, interest in this book will not be confined to Kent supporters. Each county is treated by Berry with a cocktail of fascinating history, personalities and prospects.

It opens with perhaps one of the saddest paragraphs ever read by cricket traditionalists. Berry, who covered county cricket for 50 years, writes that a friend driving past Lord’s one day saw his seven-year-old son peer through the car window and say: “Look, that’s the home of London Spirit.”

Not Middlesex, not Marylebone Cricket Club, not the home of English cricket.

And this was before the appalling Hundred competition had even been launched. No wonder he called this book ‘Disappearing World’.

‘Disappearing World’ by Scyld Berry is published by Pitch Publishing, price £19.99.

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