Tales from the Boundary
Essex at Romford in the Fifties
Who was the first West Indian Test player to appear for Essex? Answer: Ken Rickards (2 Tests, one in 1947-8, the other in 1951-2 in Australia) versus a Commonwealth XI at Romford in 1953.
Quite why this happened is not clear; Wisden says Essex were weakened by injuries, and Trevor Bailey was away saving England from defeat in the Second Test at Lords. The Essex side included Gordon West, Ron Evans, Roy Ralph (on his debut) and the 17 year old Les Savill. They faced strong opposition - Worrell, Weekes and Walcott as well as Roy Marshall, Bill Alley, Ken Grieves and Alf Valentine. Despite this, a makeshift Essex side won by 108 runs.
The game was played in heavy overcast conditions ideally suited to the Essex seamers.
Essex first played at Romford in 1950. After several rain-affected years, in 1954 Northants won a close game by 3 wickets in the last over, after a typical Doug Insole declaration, the skipper passing up the chance of a century in each innings to set up a finish. In 1956, Essex beat Gloucestershire by an innings in 2 days with another Insole century. Yet the outstanding feature of the game was two knocks by Tom Graveney; he scored 100 out of 153 and 67 out of 107 with only two other batsmen reaching double figures.
Bowling honours went to Ralph with 10 for 76 in the match.
The following year saw Essex win both games at Romford. Victory over Hampshire saw a virtuoso performance from Bailey – he scored 59 and 71 not out (over half Essex's total runs) and took 6-32 and 8-49. In the second game (Gloucestershire again) Dickie Dodds was skipper in the absence of Insole and Bailey. Mickey Bear hit his maiden century, helping Essex to recover from 58 for 5 to reach 306. Wisden praised the bowling of Eric Palmer, a seam bowler who appeared in four games in 1957, while Ralph picked up another seven wickets.
In 1959 Insole and Ralph were again to the fore as Essex beat Nottinghamshire by an innings. The skipper scored 180, adding 196 in a partnership with Bailey (of these, Insole scored 159!) and Ralph again showed his partiality for Romford, taking 12 for 104 in the match.
Essex continued playing at Romford until 1968.