When a County Championship match was played on a Sunday
Valentine’s Park, Ilford: the ground to host the first County Championship match on a Sunday © Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

History was created on the apparently innocuous morning of May 15, 1966 at Ilford. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the first Sunday on which a County Championship match was played.

Sundays were meant for mass. Cricket was not supposed to be played on Sundays. Players were supposed to attend mass, and spend the rest of the day with their families and other pleasure activities before returning to the gruel of Championship cricket. In fact, the earlier Test matches (played in Christian nations of Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies, and New Zealand) never had cricket on Sundays. In fact, Jack Hobbs had once refused to play a match, only because it was on a Sunday.

The first Test to host a cricket match on a Sunday was the first Test on Indian soil at Bombay Gymkhana. The third day of the Test fell on a Sunday; it was also the day when Lala Amarnath became the first Indian to score a Test hundred (that too on debut).

It was, therefore, a surprise when the Championship match of 1966 had a Sunday scheduled as its second day. Essex hosted the match against Somerset at Valentine’s Park, Ilford, and were probably confident that they would be able to pull something off banking on their home advantage.

Day One: A Knight at work

Colin Atkinson batted first, and Brian Roe and Roy Virgin were off to a decent start against Barry Knight and Tony Jorden, adding 34. Trevor Bailey then brought himself on, and bowling in tandem with Knight, scythed through the Somerset top- and middle-order.

Wickets kept falling at both ends, and Virgin (29) became the only one to go past the 15-mark. Bowling with pinpoint precision they took out the Somerset batsmen one by one. The tail wagged a bit after they were reduced to 63 for 7, but a total of 102 was never going to be challenging. Knight finished with 6 for 36 and Bailey with 4 for 37.

Somerset, however, had other ideas. Atkinson brought on Bill Alley early in the attack; in a short burst of bowling Alley reduced Essex to 44 for 4; he was assisted by Ken Palmer, who removed a young Keith Fletcher for a duck. At this stage Knight joined the Essex wicketkeeper Brian Taylor.

When a County Championship match was played on a Sunday
Barry Knight was in excellent form during the match © Getty Images

Knight, perhaps more prolific with the bat than with the ball, added 45 with Taylor (who was, once again, bowled by Alley) and 46 more with Bailey. Then Atkinson summoned Brian Langford, and the off-spinner ran through the tail with figures of 7.4-4-10-4; Essex lost their last 5 wickets for 21 and managed a 54-run lead.

The drama was still not over: Roe fell for the second time in the day just before a run was scored, but Virgin and Geoff Clayton (promoted as night-watchman) were there at stumps. Somerset finished the day on one for one.

Day Two: Somerset miss mass to amass runs

History was created next morning when Virgin and Clayton resumed batting against Knight and Jorden: it was, as mentioned above, the first Sunday on which a Championship match was played. Virgin and Clayton batted sensibly, adding 79 for the second stand. The score read 103 for 3 when George Atkinson (not related to the captain) joined Mervyn Kitchen.

The batsmen returned at stumps, having stretched the lead to 185. George Atkinson remained unbeaten on 75 and Kitchen on 64. The match was as good as saved. The question remained: would Colin Atkinson push for a result?

Day Three: A close shave

Both batsmen departed early next morning, and Alley did not last long either. Colin Atkinson showed some urgency, adding an unbroken stand of 66 with Ken Palmer before setting Essex a target of 290.

Essex began well, and it took Peter Robinson’s left-arm spin to effect the first dismissal. They were soon reduced to 77 for 3, but Bailey decided to go for it. Fletcher (73) and Taylor (76) batted with a sense of urgency, adding 101 in quick time; Knight fell after a few blows, leaving the hosts to score 16 for the last 4 wickets.

Bailey, never known for quick scoring, was the only batsman left of repute. He tried to push his side towards victory with Rodney Cass trying to survive. When Palmer broke through Cass’ defence Essex were left to score eight; time ran out with Essex a mere 4 short of victory and 3 wickets in hand.

What followed?

- The concept of having no cricket on Sundays continued till 1969, when John Player’s Sunday League was launched; the 40-over format of cricket was covered by BBC, and did not look back till 1987.

- In 2012 ECB announced that the first 14 rounds of the County Championship would begin on Sundays.

Brief scores:

Somerset 102 (Barry Knight 6 for 36, Trevor Bailey 4 for 37) and 343 for 6 decl (Mervyn Kitchen 76, Graham Atkinson 76, Roy Virgin 51, Geoff Clayton 42; Tony Jorden 3 for 61) drew with Essex 156 (Barry Knight 56; Brian Langford 4 for 10, Bill Alley 3 for 36) and 286 for 7 (Brian Taylor 76, Keith Fletcher 73).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)