Could there have been a better time and place to be growing up if you were a cricket-mad kid than Somerset in the seventies? Could I have been luckier to have shared all my formative life experiences with my Dad? His passing left a huge void in my life in so many ways but I feel it most at the end of any day’s play for Somerset.
Thanks to Steve Jennings and the wonderful people at The Incider I’ve found that writing about Somerset cricket has helped fill that gap to a certain extent.
Today would have been his 89th birthday so I wanted to write something for him. So I’ve been mulling over his favourite Somerset players of all time (with a bit of poetic licence) and have come up with the following XI.
Remember Dad was Somerset through and through. Taunton born and bred and, apart from his 2 years of national service, lived there all his life. The one memory above all others is the phone call immediately after Notts had won the title in 2010 and, in the most contrived circumstances, pipped Somerset to the title. Dad was in tears on the phone but the one thing he said before we agreed to give it an hour and speak again was, “they are never going to win it in my lifetime. What I’d give to see it, just once.”
This team is based on the totally arbitrary selection criteria that I know from our hours and hours of discussion Dad loved watching play cricket. They may not in some cases to have been the greatest players to have graced the County Ground, but they were all loved by him and mention of their names always raised a smile.
- Brian Rose (captain) – above and beyond being the man who captained Somerset to their first silverware in 1979 this quiet unassuming man was I think to Dad the epitome of what a leader of Somerset should be. Undemonstrative but coldly analytical (Worcester 1979) a true leader and no mean batsman either as his recognition by England demonstrated.
- Marcus Trescothick – Dad loved him form the first, the way he played the game, his obvious love of Somerset and pride in representing the county. His selection for England was a source of great pride to Dad and his subsequent health issues a cause of great sadness.
- Viv Richards – Dad made me really appreciate how lucky I was to see the winning Somerset of the 70s and 80s after he had spent so long suffering them being bottom of the pile. He believed that the signing of Viv was the joint catalyst with the appointment of Brian Close for Somerset’s “glory years”. Viv was to him a Somerset man through and through – he was just born in the wrong place. But the joy of every Viv innings, the disappointment of his dismissal was a constant theme for Dad.
- James Hildreth – even though like Tres his career was still in its prime when Dad left me so he has missed the blossoming of the last four seasons. Dad was a great admirer of the way Hildy could make batting look so effortless but also identified with his occasional want to get himself out when well set. Something that Dad felt was quintessential to a Man of Somerset. He will be fuming that the much-deserved England call still hasn’t come.
- Harold Gimblett – carried Somerset’s batting single-handed in the fifties when Dad was, like many others, supporting the club through the lean times. By all accounts you couldn’t take your eye off the game when Harold was batting. But I think the association Dad felt went deeper than that. Gimblett – a man of rural Somerset – had a very similar upbringing to Dad who was brought up in Corfe which was in the thirties far enough out of Taunton to be considered “the country”. Dad felt the tragedy of Harold’s later life very deeply.
- Bill Alley – the Aussie who, by all accounts, was more Tauntonian than Tauntonians. It was a thing of wonder that Bill came to Somerset and for many years enthralled with his wonderful all-round talents. I was regularly chastised when I dared criticise the umpiring Alley (trigger?) on the grounds that he was one of ours and beyond reproach!
- Arthur Wellard – Dad simply adored him. Big hearted, strong a real one of our own. Whenever Viv was taking opposition bowling attacks apart or Botham ripping through batting orders my words of wonder were often met with a response which started, “You should have seen Arthur Wellard…….”
- Vic Marks – from the moment the young undergraduate off-spinner came down from Oxford at the end of term Dad was a huge admirer. I think there was a little of the upward looking aspiration in this admiration – but it never faltered. No matter how well Botham and Garner were bowling in a one-day game Dad would constantly be in my ear saying, “he needs to get Vic Marks on now you know.” One of our happiest memories was the 1983 World Cup game at Taunton when Marks recorded the then best bowling by an England player – a mark (excuse the pun) than stood for many years.
- Harold Stephenson (WK) – admired simply because he was the best gloveman ever to play for Somerset. Derek Taylor got grudging admiration, Jim Parks was “an outsider past his prime” none came close for Dad to Harold. Another in the Hildy category of non-selection for England causing great consternation.
- Maurice Tremlett – Like Wellard was often used as a comparison to the players I grew up watching. If I am right Maurice had the accuracy of Tom Cartwright, the genius of Ian Botham and the honesty of Graham Burgess plus some!
- Bertie Buse – I remain to this day convinced that Buse’s place in Dad’s heart had little to do with his playing ability but was a sympathy vote for his benefit game against Lancashire at Bath ending in a day. I think Buse’s happy go lucky approach would have driven Dad to distraction in later years but in an era when Somerset had won nothing and rarely came close it didn’t seem to matter, perhaps made it all a little more bearable?
12th Man – Roy Smith a hugely talented sportsman and contemporary of Dad at Huish’s I was lucky enough to be taught by Roy in my time at the grammar school. Dad thought the world of Roy as do I, the most wonderful genuine character who must have been great in a dressing room and would have loved to be in and around these greats.