Kent first visited Yorkshire in 1849 but that game was prior to both counties being officially formed. Their first game as CCCs took place 15 years later. Kent have played on 14 different grounds in Yorkshire and Paul Dyson looks back at an exciting game which took place just over 60 years ago at Headingley. The photo of Don Wilson dates from 1958 and is by courtesy of Mick Pope.
August 8, 10, 11, 1959 at Headingley: Kent 365 (MC Cowdrey 108, AH Phebey 93, D Wilson 5-67) & 109 (DB Close 8-41); Yorkshire 231-5dec (DEV Padgett 71, K Taylor 57) & 247-8 (R Illingworth 74*, DB Close 52, A Brown 4-76, DJ Halfyard 4-128). Yorkshire won by two wickets.
Yorkshire came into this match with a clear chance of winning the County Championship outright for the first time for 13 years – at that time their longest barren run since the official competition had begun in 1890. Surrey, who had won the title in each of the previous seven seasons, were again in pole position. Kent, meanwhile were languishing in the bottom half of the table.
Kent batted first on ‘an easy pitch’ (Wisden); Arthur Phebey played ‘attractively’ (Ibid.) for his 93 before being run out after supporting his skipper, Colin Cowdrey, in a stand of 78 for the third wicket. John Pettiford took over and he and Cowdrey shared a century-partnership before the latter gave Don Wilson his second wicket just after reaching his hundred which contained two sixes and 16 fours. The visitors ended the day on 325 for six.
Kent batted on for a further 50 minutes on the second day before being all out for 365; the last seven wickets had fallen for 68 runs, four of these to Wilson’s left-arm spin, him finishing with five for 67. Each of Yorkshire’s top three batsmen then made good scores, including half-centuries for Ken Taylor and Doug Padgett and the scoreboard read a promising 203 for three before reaching 231 for five by the close of play.
In an enterprising move Yorkshire, led by Ronnie Burnet, declared at the start of the third and final day on their overnight total, this giving them a first-innings deficit of 94. Unfortunately for Kent they found the irrepressible Brian Close in outstanding form with the ball. Bowling what must have been a confusing ‘mixture of medium-paced bowling and off-breaks’ (Ibid.) he took each of the first three wickets to fall and later induced such a startling collapse that the final seven wickets fell for a mere 31 runs. Close finished with figures of eight for 41 and these remained the best of his very long career. Yorkshire now had to score 244 in 175 minutes. They passed the hundred mark with three wickets down when the left-handed Close was joined by Ray Illingworth and the pair shared 72 together before Close was bowled by the fast-medium pace of Alan Brown. Wilson struck 34 out of a stand of 40 with Illingworth who kept up the momentum and the hosts eventually triumphed by two wickets with just two minutes to spare. Brown finished with four for 76; David Halfyard, bowling at a similar pace and almost throughout the whole innings, also finsihed with four wickets but he conceded more than five runs per over and with only three bowlers being used, Fred Ridgeway being injured, Cowdrey was very limited in his attack.
This win took Yorkshire to the top of the table but two wins and two defeats in their next four games, all on their southern tour, meant that they had to win their final match to overtake Surrey. Famously, at Hove agains Sussex, they batted faster than in the above match, scored 215 in 105 minutes, and clinched the title in one of the most exciting conclusions to the Championship season ever seen. In keeping with the nature of this match and the one described above, Yorkshire achieved nine of their 14 victories by having to bat in the fourth innings. Also in keeping with these two games, none of the third innings of these matches ended with a declaration. A great achievement and one of Yorkshire’s best title-victories coming against so many odds.
Man of the Match
Don Wilson set the scene for Yorkshire’s eventual victory with his five first-innings wickets which pegged Kent back at a time when they might have accelerated to make an even bigger total. Although only in his third season, he became such a valuable member of the county’s bowling attack that only Fred Trueman took more wickets in the seven title-winning seasons from 1959 to 1968.
Unusually for a Yorkshire cricketer, Wilson was born in the westernmost part of the county, Settle to be precise – in 1937, and, also unusually, made both his second and first eleven debuts in the same season. He played little in his first two seasons but played in 29 matches in 1959 and there was then no looking back. He was awarded his county cap in the following season, when he took 83 wickets, amd took 97 and 99 (frustratingly), respectively, in the two title-winning seasons of 1962 and 1963.
Wilson was rewarded for these efforts by being selected for the tour of India in 1963/64; he played in all five Tests but took only nine wickets at 44.22. Before the second Test he was ‘nursing an injured back’ (Ibid.) but had to play as he was one of only ten ‘fit’ players, so sick was the 17-strong party. So there were mitigating circumstances to his lack of success but he came across as ‘an admirably keen and cheerful touring cricketer’ (Ibid.). Possibly the highlight of the tour for him was to score 112 against South Zone at Hyderabad. It remained the only century of his entire career.
A tall orthodox left-arm spin bowler (6 ft 3 in), Wilson utilised his height effectively; he flighted the ball in an intelligent manner, attacked the batsmen and always maintained a good length. His best performance in the County Championship came in 1967 when he took seven for 21 against Warwickshire at Middlesbrough and had his best season in the following year when he took 109 wickets – one of five occasions when he passed the hundred-mark. In 1966 he had become only the third Yorkshire bowler to take two hat-tricks in a season.
A reward for his consistent success was to be a member of the Ashes-winning tour of Australia in 1970/71 under Illingworth’s captaincy. Although absent from the Test team he played in the first Test on the succeeding leg in New Zealand but that remained his final international appearance. Nevertheless he had become the latest of Yorkshire’s famous line of left-arm spinners – Peate, Peel, Rhodes, Verity, Wardle and Wilson – to play for England. None have done so since.
A senior player in the Yorkshire team by the time Geoff Boycott took over the captaincy in 1971, Wilson deputised for the skipper in 12 Championship matches but, with a team in transition, only one of these games ended in victory. He was belatedly rewarded with a benefit in 1972 and retired two years later having taken 1,104 wickets in his 392 Yorkshire first-class matches at 20.49. A hard-hitting tail-end batsman, he scored 5,788 runs and also took 235 catches, mainly at short leg.