Remembering the summer of 76 ahead of Bears visit to Tunbridge Wells

Warwickshire face a huge Specsavers County Championship tussle with fellow promotion-chasers Kent at Tunbridge Wells this week. The Nevill Ground is a lovely venue - but has proved a far-from-happy hunting ground for the Bears over the years. Brian Halford reports.

The summer of 1976 is remembered for several things: The drought, swarms of ladybirds, West Indies' demolition of England (fuelled by some less-than-enlightened comments from Tony Greig), and Elton John and Kiki Dee delivering the cheesiest routine in this history of routines as they warbled to number one with Don't Go Breaking My Heart.

It was also the summer, the only ever summer so far, when Warwickshire won a county championship match at Tunbridge Wells.

When two teams meet at a venue over a long period, in most cases, their fortunes even themselves out. That is emphatically not the case for Warwickshire among the rhododendrons of Tunbridge Wells. Of ten county championship matches there, stretching back to their first visit in 1925, the Bears have drawn two, lost seven and won just one - in '76.

They did not visit the Nevill Ground during their first three decades as a first-class county, but then played there in five successive years from 1925. That was a thin era for Warwickshire and the five games brought them one draw and four good hidings - by eight wickets, an innings & 117 runs, an innings & 294 runs and nine wickets.

In the innings-and-294-runs defeat (their third-heaviest ever), the Bears were undone by experience. Wally Hardinge, aged 42, scored 205 for Kent while 40-year-old Percy Freeman and Frank Woolley (41) each took ten wickets. County cricket was less of a young man's game in those days!

After the tribulations of the Twenties, Warwickshire's fortunes improved little on their next visit, in 1959, when they were beaten by 220 runs. That made it played six, lost five - all heavily. But then came '76.

It helped that the match, in early June, coincided with the opening Test between England and West Indies at Trent Bridge. That deprived Kent of Alan Knott, Derek Underwood and Bob Woolmer and while those three were in Nottingham copping Viv Richards' brilliant 232 (313 balls, 31 fours, four sixes), the Bears took advantage of their absence in Tunbridge Wells.

John Jameson (112) and Geoff Humpage (50) lifted Warwickshire to 312 for eight from 100 overs (to which the first innings was restricted). Then, while swing bowler Steve Perryman built pressure, hardly bowling a loose ball in his 21-7-36-3, spinner Eddie Hemmings took advantage at the other end for four for 58.

Dennis Amiss' unbeaten 107 eased Warwickshire to 219 for two declared second time round, setting Kent a target of 353, which they never challenged. On a turning pitch, Hemmings took six for 43 to complete ten in the match - while the admirable Perryman added another three wickets. Warwickshire won by 211 runs and 51 years of hurt was over.

It remains the Bears' solitary win at Tunbridge Wells. Three subsequent visits have brought a draw in 1991 and defeats by four and nine wickets in 1997 and 2006 respectively.

Will Jeetan Patel's side fly in the face of history this week?

Perhaps, to inspire them on them on the long coach-trip down, they should get out the DVD and have a sing along to Elton and Kiki. Altogether now - "Don't go breaking my..."

Kent v Warwickshire

It's first versus second in the Bears next Specsavers County Championship match of the 2018 season, when they take on Kent at the Nevill Ground in Tunbridge Wells, starting on Wednesday 20 June.

For further ticket and event details, please visit the Kent website.

Kent CCC Website