Tales from the Boundary
Essex at Ilford in the 1950s
Living in Ilford only 5 minutes from Valentines Park and having a cricket mad father, it was natural that I should be keen on Essex from an early age.
My first visit was in 1952, when the Indians came. On the last day, Essex - set 154 to win in 75 minutes - finished 10 short with 9 wickets down; in other words, a typical Essex match.
In 1954 Essex met Sussex, and batted. There was a sensational start, as Dickie Dodds hit the first ball of the match for 6. Ian Thomson delivered a nice half volley which Dodds deposited over square leg into the nearby bowling green. Ah, Dickie! As Arthur Wellard observed ”When he's in the mood, there's no bowling at the bugger”.
In 1957, the West Indies were at Ilford. Essex took a first innings lead of 82 and hopes were high. Eventually the tourists, set 200 plus to win, subsided to 15 for 4, but Walcott, Worrell and co. saw them home.
The most remarkable Essex win at Ilford came in 1959, against Northants. On the last day Northants, set 271, seemed to be cruising following a sublime knock by Dennis Brookes (was there ever a more stylish County batsman?) At 268 for 7 it seemed all over. Then Jack Manning ran himself out. Still odds on Northants. Number 10 came in and aimed a huge swipe; the ball soared into the stratosphere as every Essex fielder prayed it would not come down near them! Finally it came down to third man, where Ilford's own Roy Ralph held his nerve and caught it. 3 to win and last man in; he blocked the first one, but the next ball from Ken Preston knocked back the off stump and Essex had sneaked home by 2 runs.
1959 was a memorable summer; it was boiling hot and early on, the unthinkable happened – Essex were top of the table! It couldn't last of course, and we ended up 9th. But Trevor Bailey scored 2000 runs and took 100 wickets - the only man to do so since the war. And there was another tense finish at Leyton, where Essex tied with Gloucestershire in Ken Preston's benefit match.