My Cricket Memories 6
I first started watching cricket at Grace Road in the early 70s. Sunday afternoons were spent scorebook and pencils in hand, watching intently and recording every delivery, sat on the grassy bank at the Curzon Road end of the ground. Teatime was the chance to play as hundreds of children and families flocked onto the outfield with bat and ball.
My first vivid memories were as a 12-year-old and a Benson and Hedges cup semi-final against Hampshire in July 1975. Anticipation was high, welcoming a team that included the West Indian pace bowler Andy Roberts (later to become a Foxes favourite) and probably the best ever opening partnership ever seen in county cricket, Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge.
Grace Road was full a good half an hour before the start of the game and I’d managed to squeeze myself into a front row seat on the Park Hill Drive side of the ground as Hampshire were asked to bat first.
Opening the bowling for Leicestershire was their Australian overseas Graham McKenzie, with one of the most effortless smooth action you could ever wish to see for a quick bowler.
In his first over sent Barry Richards off stump cartwheeling back towards the keeper, I can still recall the roar that greeted the dismissal and I’m sure it would’ve rivalled anything generated from the King Power during their Premier League winning campaign. What followed next however was a masterclass by Greenidge who went on to score 111 out of Hampshire's 216 all out.
Leicestershire‘s reply got off to a poor start with Barry Dudleston being dismissed by the fiery Roberts however Chris Balderstone held the innings together, although the game was in the balance until the impish Roger Tolchard joined Balderstone and gave the chase some much needed impetus.
The abiding memory for me was Tolchard swaying back to a rising Roberts delivery and ramping him over the keeper for four, these were in the days before helmets were even thought of, how he would have loved T20!
Leicestershire went on to complete the victory in the last over, Balderstone finishing with an unbeaten century and two weeks later went on to beat Middlesex in the final at Lord’s to lift the trophy.
Towards the end of July 1975, Leicestershire then hosted the touring Australians which unlike today’s tourist matches which are just a net practice, this was a full blooded competitive three-day match.
I’m sure it’s a match that has lived long in the memory for many and not just myself as Leicestershire defeated the Australians who included the Chappell brothers by 31 runs on the final evening of the third day.
Highlights for me being a magnificently fluent 189 by Brian Davison and the spin quartet of Illingworth, Birkenshaw, Balderstone and Steele using all their guile and skill to bowl out the tourists!!
The season's successes didn’t end there as Leicestershire went on to claim their first County Championship title and by the end of the summer one schoolboy was well and truly hooked on cricket and Leicestershire.
* Thanks to Neville Chadwick Photography for the accompanying image.