And so ended the most spectacular cricket festival ever seen in Devon
- Credit: Roger Mann
In 1994, Torquay Cricket Club had spent £50,000 to stage a month-long festival of cricket. The ground would now seat 5,000, and the South African national team had arrived for the key match. We prayed for Riviera sunshine but all we had got was rain!
At last, the sun came out for the final day of the Minor Counties v South Africans match, and, thanks to some sporting declarations, a nail-biting finish was enjoyed by a decent crowd.
Four days later, Somerset came to the Recreation Ground to play Vic Marks’s Invitation Eleven, and another good crowd attended.
West Indian Malcolm Marshall chatted to everyone on the boundary, and fellow countryman, Keith Arthurton, played a calypso innings of 60.
£1,600 was raised for the North Devon Children’s Hospice, which was due to open that winter.
The last game of the festival was due the following week, and Torquay would take on a full strength Essex county side as a benefit match for John Childs.
John, a local lad, began his career at Kingskerswell, went on to play for Essex and England.
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Having played against top professionals in benefit matches, myself, I despised the usual formula.
Who wants to bat against Jofra Archer bowling off breaks, or bowl to Joe Root batting left handed? And, yet, without handicaps, Essex would be so superior that the match would be over in a couple of hours.
No! We needed a format that would produce a keenly fought match, and, also please the crowd.
After some thought, I got the committee’s approval to stage a match based upon a method used by the old touring elevens of the 19th century.
Essex would be asked to play against 22 of Torquay!
This would challenge their batsmen to score against 22 fielders, and their bowlers to dismiss 21 batsmen for victory! Now, the crowd would see a real match!
When I approached Essex, the management was not keen!
I was told that the players saw this as 'a leisure fixture' and would be disappointed if it was 'too competitive' ...but if I insisted, it could go ahead.
It was a sunny afternoon when England opener Graham Gooch walked out to open the Essex innings.
England’s finest batsman of the day, he had come to Torquay straight from the Test Match.
There were no smiles as he surveyed the 22-man field, and no singles to be had to get him 'off the mark'.
He managed to score a couple of fours between the three extra cover fielders, but was, clearly, feeling frustrated.
With his score on 13, he tried to hit leg spinner, Jason Fairbrother for a straight six. To everyone’s amazement, he took a pace forward, was beaten by the spin, and deftly stumped by wicket-keeper Justin Mann.
One by one, the Essex professionals tried different methods to meet the challenge. In the end, they had had to work hard to reach a total of 217 from their 46 overs.
After tea, the crowd enjoyed watching England fast bowler Neil Foster steaming in against Torquay’s early batsmen.
No halves were expected, and none were given!
Although Torquay ended 27 runs short, Haydn Morgan, Phil Bradford, and Tim Western will always remember their scores of 40+ which contributed to a memorable final total of 190-15!
It had been a special day!
So ended a festival of cricket which took 18 months to plan, but which brought 66 Test cricketers to Torbay.
Torquay Cricket Club received letters of thanks for its efforts, from the South Africans, and from the Minor Counties Association.
Despite the rain, our wonderful team of volunteers never failed to turn up with a smile, and, in the end, we paid all the bills and presented more than £11,000 to the causes we supported.
Despite having staged the most spectacular cricket festival ever seen in the county, Devon CCC once again awarded its next Nat West Trophy fixture, (in 1997), to Exmouth! Some things never change!
Twenty six years have passed since Torquay staged this cricket festival, and 60-odd have passed since its forerunners in the 1950s.
Will we ever see another? It seems very unlikely!
I remember the words of Ted Dickinson, who inspired the 1950s events, who said to me: “We got the players, we arranged the matches. It was going to be so exciting that even the rain couldn’t bear to stay away!”