Cup Match reaches 50-year turf milestone
One of the most significant anniversaries in Cup Match might have gone by virtually unnoticed had Somerset not gone back on their decision not to play in this year’s classic.
Even Noel Gibbons, a 16-year-old colt for St George’s in 1971, was stumped when recently asked about the significance of this year.
“It didn’t even switch on in my mind to think that this is 50 years since I first played Cup Match, but between now and Cup Match I’m pretty sure it would have hit me,” Gibbons admitted.
“Six hundred months really makes it sound like a long time ago!”
Two weeks from today — on the same July 29 and 30 dates — will be 50 years since turf wickets were introduced at Cup Match, with Somerset taking the game into the new era, replacing the concrete and matting batting surface, which was common in Bermuda at the time.
It was fitting that Sheridan Raynor, who would go on to become one of the island’s leading groundsmen, along with his uncle, Harley Raynor, would score the first Cup Match century on turf that first year. He hit nine fours and two sixes in a knock of 109 in the Somerset first innings of 334 for eight declared.
“Generally speaking, batting should be much more improved on turf, and unless the batsmen get themselves out, the wicket is good enough to score a lot of runs,” Raynor said in a Royal Gazette article on the eve of Cup Match.
Bergon Spencer, the Somerset colt who shared in a sixth-wicket stand of 135 with Raynor, also batted himself into the record books that day with a colt’s record of 75. It broke the old record of 71 set by Neville Roberts, also of Somerset, in 1958.
Spencer’s record was almost broken in the second innings when Gibbons scored 67 before he was run out in a mix-up with opener Dennis Wainwright, who scored 55 not out as the pair put on 102 for the first wicket. The match ended in a draw after Somerset declared on 165 for two to set St George’s 246 for victory.
Colin Blades also scored a half-century for Somerset that year, with 66 in the second innings, which included five sixes and seven fours.
Fred “Dickty“ Trott, the St George’s spinner, earned the distinction of taking the first Cup Match wicket on turf when he bowled Campbell Simons, the Somerset opener, in what would be Trott’s last Cup Match appearance.
The match signalled the emergence of an exceptionally talented batsman, with Gibbons holding his own in an experienced St George’s team that was unbeaten in 12 years. He scored 17 in the first innings, but he had time in the second innings to make his mark, the match heading for a draw after St George’s were given 150 minutes to score 246.
“Bergie had passed the record so I was chasing 75 and was on 67 when I was run out,” Gibbons said. “That was one of my better innings in Cup Match because I was just a youngster and heading for the colt’s record.”
He beat that score with 82 in 1982, but the century in Cup Match eluded him in 40 innings, although he is ninth on the list for all-time aggregate with 783 runs.
Gibbons almost ended up as a Somerset player, actually training with them one evening and then showing up at St George’s the next in his debut year. He and another colt, Lionel Thomas, sealed their places with centuries in the final trial.
“The last trial match was at Devonshire Rec and I got 126,” Gibbons recalled. “That was my in.
“In those days at St George’s, you had to play five trial matches to play for the first time in Cup Match. We were losing time; I had played three with the final trial to go. We played a 20-overs game one Wednesday night that they made a trial match. If they hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have played in five trials.”
In those days the final trial matches at both clubs were played on Thursdays, with Somerset picking their team on the Friday and St George’s on the Saturday. St George’s gain turned out to be Somerset’s loss, just like Gibbons’s cousin, Charlie Marshall, nine years later with a famous century on his debut.
“I trained in Somerset once because my uncle, Bert Philpott, was the chairman of selectors at that time and he wanted to make sure that either me or Charlie played for Somerset,” Gibbons said.
“I went training on a Tuesday, he came from Somerset to Bailey’s Bay to pick me up and took me back home, but the drive was too far and when Oliver Caisey called me and said he was sending a taxi for me, I went training in St George’s the next day.”
Gibbons had made his Eastern Counties debut for Bailey’s Bay two years earlier, a competition where he is featured prominently, with the second-highest aggregate of 1,915 runs — behind Charlie Marshall’s 2,118 — and the leading bowler with 102 wickets.
“When you look back, the first year I played Cup Match I made history by being a young colt and getting close to the colt’s record,” Gibbons said.
“I hit a six in that second innings when I straight-drove [George] ʽFriday’ Bremar into the concrete seats. I won’t forget that!
“1971 was a big year for me; my first Cup Match, third year in the Eastern Counties and my first tour with the national team — to England and Denmark. Then I played in the double-wicket competition with [partner] Garry Sobers, one of the world’s greatest cricketers.”
Gibbons also played in the double wicket with partners Mushtaq Muhammad, Clive Lloyd and Bernard Julien in the 1970s.
The former all-rounder is still giving back to his club, Bailey’s Bay, where he is helping Irving Romaine with the coaching. “I just find it hard not being there to help,” he said.
“I coached St George’s for one year but my life is Bailey’s Bay.”
Gibbons watched Bay beat St George’s by three runs in an exciting Twenty20 match last Sunday.
“They lost a game they should have easily won,” he said of the East Enders, who have only two weeks to go before Cup Match.
“The batsmen didn’t give St George’s any help. Bermuda players play Twenty20 as a slog, but you don’t have to slog. Two sixes are 12, but three fours is also 12.”
Asked his views on the captain vacancy at St George’s, Gibbons responded: “That’s probably the hardest choice they will have to make. The person I would look at would be Rodney Trott, if he’s going to play.
“If he is going to play, he will be head and shoulders above everybody else for captain!”
1971 Cup Match teams
Somerset: Joe Bailey (captain), Shiraz Ali, George Bremar, Colin Blades, Winston Trott, Quinton Sherlock, Bergon Spencer (colt), Reggie Tucker, Campbell Simons, Albert Donawa, Sheridan Raynor.
St George’s: Neville Darrell (captain), Dennis Wainwright, Lloyd James, Lee Raynor, Eldon Raynor, Rupert Scotland, Lionel Thomas (colt), Noel Gibbons (colt), Fred Trott, Clarence Parfitt, Elliott Pitcher.