Warwickshire will complete their 2017 pre-season programme at one of English cricket’s most historic venues, The Parks in Oxford.
Ian Bell will lead his team out against Oxford MCCU on the delightful, sylvan ground which has hosted first-class cricket since 1881. And Bell is one of many Bears to recall The Parks with pleasure, having scored his maiden first-class century there.
Since first visiting in 1920, Warwickshire have enjoyed many eventful visits to the lovely The Parks. Brian Halford picks out ten.
Ian Bell has scored 51 first-class centuries – the first came at Oxford in 2001 and brought him an early entry into the record-books. Aged 19 years, 56 days, Bell became Warwickshire’s youngest century-maker in first-class cricket, displacing Paul Smith as holder of that title.
His 130 arrived in an opening stand of 343 with captain Michael Powell, who struck his maiden double-century, a glorious 236 from 230 balls, before Ashley Giles proved his return to fitness following an achilles injury with a five-for.
Warwickshire launched the English first-class season (on April 26 – those were the days!) at The Parks with a 40-run win during which Dennis Amiss scored a century, John Jameson and Alan Garofall perished for 99, MJK Smith passed 30,000 first-class runs and Bears captain Alan Smith waxed lyrical about the delightful venue.
“It is always a great pleasure to play at The Parks,” said Smith, “for it must surely be the most beautiful first-class cricket ground in the world. Sitting in the pavilion it is possible to count, at the far end beyond the sightscreen, over 60 different varieties of tree.”
Truly great cricketers have frequented the modest dressing-rooms within the old wooden pavilion at The Parks. In 2000 it was the turn of Allan Donald and he was on course for some spectacular figures until the familiar early-season Oxford weather closed in.
After Trevor Penney’s century lifted Warwickshire to 356 for five, the students went in for the last half-hour and encountered Donald at his hungriest. Two batsmen fell for nought and barely a bat was laid on the great South African who had figures of 4-4-0-2 at stumps. Perhaps to the relief of the home side, rain prevented any more cricket in the match.
Warwickshire’s glorious County Championship-winning season started ingloriously with a two-wicket defeat. The Bears fielded a strong side, including Dennis Amiss, MJK Smith, Alan Smith, David Brown and Rohan Kanhai (who pummelled the students for 167 not out) but the university chased down a target off 218 with two wickets and two balls to spare. Michael Heal, a 23-year-old batsman from Bristol, was their hero with an unbeaten 124. It was to prove his only first-class century.
James Fulton st Frost b Giles 13.
Fulton, a left-handed bat from Devon, was destined to leave little impression on the history books during his time in Oxford University’s top order but he did carve out one eternal niche – as Tony Frost’s first victim in first-class cricket.
Frost completed an adroit stumping after Giles turned one a yard and a half past the onrushing batsman to set Warwickshire on the way to victory by an innings and 53 runs. The students, captained by Mark Wagh, were unpicked by a Bears attack led by Graeme Welch (seven wickets), Dougie Brown (six) and Giles (five).
Warwickshire’s first visit to The Parks arrived at a difficult time as they tried to reassemble a team following the devastation of the First World War. An 11 including four men who had played for the first team before the conflict recorded an impressive 36-run win.
In difficult batting conditions, the top score in the match was 55 from Len Bates who, while serving with the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, had fought at the Somme and seen the full horrors of the conflict but, incredibly, went on to score 19,380 runs for the Bears.
Fast-bowlers Bob Willis and David Brown took the opportunity to give their muscles an early-season stretch – and had the University struggling ever so slightly on 11 for eight in their second innings.
After Brown had warmed up in the first innings with 17-13-6-4, things went from bad to worse for the home side as they appeared to be heading for their lowest first-class total. Some spirited tail-end hitting averted that prospect and lifted the total to 84 but Willis (four for nine) and Brown (four for 26) had proved their early-season fitness.
Alan Richardson made his Warwickshire debut and celebrated by dismissing South African opener James Louw in both innings. Richardson was also able to sit back and watch good friend and team-mate Mark Wagh compile a glorious unbeaten 216, with 36 sparkling fours, against the team which he used to captain. All the great batsmen of English cricket have played at The Parks but rarely had the old venue witnessed driving of such timing and elegance.
Ashley Giles then delivered a five-for and added a century of his own to leave the Bears victorious by 129 runs.
As well as great feats, The Parks often throws up strange quirks – and so it was on Warwickshire’s visit in 1975 which brought the unusual, in fact unique, occurrence of Eddie Hemmings opening both the batting and the bowling in the second innings.
On a bunsen-burner, batting was decidedly tricky and MJK Smith needed all his skill to score 122, supported by John Whitehouse’s 83, to lift the Bears to 310 for eight. Off-spinner Hemmings then exploited the conditions to take seven for 40 as the students folded for 119 – and opened the bowling second time round. When Warwickshire were left a victory target of only 21, Eddie was told to pad up and go in and do the job himself, which he duly did in only 2.4 overs with a stroke-bedecked unbeaten 17.
Reigning county champions Warwickshire were in deep trouble and in danger of becoming the first first-class county to lose to the students since 2000 when young seamer Tom Milnes came to the rescue.
Spread across three bitterly cold days, the match was accelerating away from the Bears when their batting misfired in the second innings and Oxford faced a victory target of only 155. They mustered only 133 though as Milnes got amongst them, finishing with seven for 39, supported by Olly Hannon-Dalby, who took two wickets, and debutant Recordo Gordon, who took one.
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