Ahead of Nottinghamshire's LV County Championship game against Somerset, Cricket Historian Peter Wynne-Thomas recalls a classic encounter.
Friday May 27 1966 was an odd day at Trent Bridge. In fact the first half the 1966 cricket season was distinctly odd altogether. The authorities devised a system for the County Championship that was unique – it was never to be employed again and it had never been tried before. The first two innings of each match were to be restricted to 65 overs. The aim was to eliminate lethargic opening batsmen! What happened was all to predictable. The new scheme encouraged negative bowling and fielding, adversely affected middle order batsmen and discouraged spin bowling.
Anyway Notts played Somerset at Trent Bridge under this weird arrangement. Somerset scored 189 off their 65 overs; Notts reached 168. Because of bad weather that was more or less the state of play when Friday’s proceedings opened. Somerset made a dreadful start to their second innings. Three wickets were down for just four runs. At this point Bill Alley arrived at the crease. Like the 65 over restriction, Bill Alley was a unique part of County cricket. A boxer, unbeaten in 28 fights, he decided to switch to a cricketing career, having tried night-club bouncer, blacksmith and oyster fisherman. He had a trial for New South Wales and looked very promising, then a tragic accident. Batting in the nets at Adelaide, he was hit by a ball that had been hooked from the adjacent net, through the actual netting and on to his chin. He was in a coma for two days and received 60 stitches. It set back his Australian cricket career. When his wife died in childbirth, Alley decided to emigrate to England and, aged 38 he was signed by Somerset. He was an immediate success – indeed in 1961 he hit over 3,000 first-class runs, the last player ever to do so.
At the time of the Somerset game of 1966, Alley was a mature 47. In Somerset’s first innings he had knocked up 36 in 30 minutes. In the second innings he saw the Somerset total fall to 75 for five, at which point he took charge and hit 115 with two sixes and 12 fours. Somerset then declared setting Notts 241 to get at 80 per hour. Norman Hill and Brian Bolus made a quick 37 for the first wicket, but then came young Peter Robinson. He returned figures of 17.2-14-10-7 and Notts were all out for 62, their lowest ever total against Somerset. The strange coincidence about this abysmal total was that the previous summer, at Bath, Notts had set Somerset 263 to win and then bowled out the cidermen for 62. On that occasion Andy Corran (6-31) and Carlton Forbes (4-28) had bowled unchanged through the innings.
What happened to Bill Alley – when he was 50 Somerset would only offer him a contract to play in One Day matches. He was so disgusted, he switched to umpiring and got on the Test panel, where he was too controversial, so he retired and decided to raise chickens in stead.