Summer of Success
Author: David Lemmon
Publisher: Pelham Books
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
13 Nov 2011
At the start of the 1979 English season, there were two counties who had never won a Championship or one-day title - not Derbyshire, Glamorgan or Northants, who had all had their share of wooden-spoon finishes and who would have been among many people's guesses, but Somerset and Essex, two sides who over many years had been highly regarded for playing enterprising cricket. Somerset, whose story I will come to eventually, were the county of the big hitters - Wellard, Gimblett and Botham, among others - while Essex were known for a series of shrewd captains including Doug Insole, Trevor Bailey and the incumbent at the time of this book, Keith "the Gnome" Fletcher. And it was he, two years after being dropped by England for what looked like the last time, who would lead the county in this memorable season.
David Lemmon, who died in 1998, wrote a number of books on cricket and for many years was the editor of the Pelham Cricket Year which became the Benson and Hedges annual. He could be opinionated - in the 1980s in the B and H he was regularly calling for the return of Test cricket against South Africa - but here he is an unashamed fan. He was a lifelong supporter of the county and served on their Schools Cricket Committee from 1972 to 1978. I suspect that few of his books would have been as pleasurable for him to write as this one.
Essex in 1979 were well placed to do well. They had two current England players in Graham Gooch and John Lever, and two former England batsmen in Fletcher and Mike Denness. Their overseas player was the under-rated Norbert Phillip who had played for West Indies during the WSC schism, and making up the side were the likes of Stuart Turner, Ray East, Brian Hardie and David Acfield, who were never going to play for England but who were good county players who wouldn't let anyone down. Coming up were young prospects like Alan Lilley and Mike McEvoy.
This book is a retelling of the county's historic 1979 season, when they broke their duck by winning the Benson and Hedges Cup and later the County Championship (Somerset took the John Player League and Gillette Cup). The Championship run wasn't an exciting one - Essex were on top for most of the season after routing Lancashire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire by an innings early in the season, and they wrapped up the title with games in hand. Nevertheless the excitement for those connected with the club, and the sense of occasion, is well conveyed here. The B and H win I remember very well - as a Surrey supporter, watching my team in a final for the first time, I was aware that most neutrals would be happier with an Essex win (it was their first ever one-day final). A chapter of the book is, rightly, devoted to this match, and Lemmon is generous to Surrey as well as other vanquished opponents.
This is an enjoyable book which I suppose is largely of interest to English fans, but indispensable for Essex supporters, and well worth tracking down for anyone interested in English cricket of the late seventies.