Cricket in the last long hot summer

In years to come, the summer of 2018 will often be prefixed by such phrases as “the long hot”, “the scorching” or, if you commute into London every day, maybe even “that dreadful”. It has undoubtedly been an incredible one in terms of weather, and for those of us old enough to remember puts us in mind of the last time the country sweltered under continual blue skies and unceasing sunshine – 1976. So it seemed like a good excuse to look back forty-two years, to see what English cricket looked like that summer, and how the game has changed.

The Changing Landscape

Forty two years in today’s high-paced world is equivalent of a millennium in ages gone by. Images of that summer to me, and I’m sure many others, are of bone-dry dusty outfields surrounded by floppy haired youths.

The game has changed a fair amount since then, but the world and those watching it have changed almost beyond recognition. Back then cordless phones were still a decade away. The thought of being able to be communicate with people on the other side of the globe on a phone the size of half a slice of white bread would be like something straight out of Star Trek.

Online gaming, is likely to be the next push forward for sports, clubs and players alike, both in how they interact with and gain new fans. Sports based games are a huge section of the market, one led by  the likes of football and basketball, but cricket is starting to catch up, and if it is to remain relevant – especially with the younger generations – that is something it needs to do more of.

The cricketing landscape in ’76 looked different, without the two-tiered league system, and of course no T20, which is itself set to come under pressure from another new format of the game. The county championship was won by a Mike Brearley-captained Middlesex, in what was to be the start of their most successful period in the game.

Ruling the Roost in ’76

The Gillette Cup, was the 60 overs competition that ran from the end of June to the final in the first weekend of September. The semi finals saw Northants squeeze past Hampshire with one ball to go, and Lancashire defeat Warwickshire, also in the final over. The tight, low-scoring final saw David Lloyd score highly for Lancs with 48, as they reached 195 for 7. The total wasn’t enough as Peter Willey notched up 65 runs to see the East Midlands side to victory with almost two overs to spare.

The rest of the trophies went to Kent. The Benson & Hedges Cup was the 55 over competition arranged in 4 groups (the first year these weren’t done on a regional basis) followed by quarter and semifinals, with a July 17th final at Lords. Kent and Worcestershire beat Surrey and Warwickshire respectively in the semis, before Kent despatched the West Midlanders in the final easing to a 43 run victory, Graham Johnson top scoring with 78.

The Sunday League was in its eighth year, and Kent secured it for the third time in their history. Five teams won ten of their sixteen games, giving them forty points (Kent, Essex, Leicestershire, Somerset, Sussex), with Kent edging it on run rate.

Casting your eye down the leading run scorers and wicket takers for that summer is a who’s who of world cricket, and is an indication of how dominant the county game in England was at that time.

Zaheer Abbas got the most runs that summer with 2554, just ahead of the likes of Viv Richards, Geoff Boycott, Denniss Amiss, Clive Lloyd and Gordon Greenidge. With the ball, Geoff Cope led the way in terms of best aggregate bowler (93 wickets from his 5,500 balls) and Michael Holding had the best average (55 wickets at an average of 14.38).

On the international front, the ECB did not see the game as the cash cow it does now, squeezing as many games into the summer as they possibly can. That summer saw just 5 tests, with the legendary West Indies team securing a dominant series win over England 3-0.

Change for the Better?

It is always easy to look back at days of yore with a nostalgia-infused glow that makes everything look rosier. Comparing those days with the game today there are significant differences, but it is important to note that those differences go both ways. The game of then would not survive in today’s world, where competition for people’s time and attention has increased a thousand fold. Many of those developments have been improvements for the better. It would be fascinating to see what the game looks like in another forty two years’ time, which could well be the next time we enjoy a summer like this one.

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