Looking Back: Essex v Cambridge MCCU


Had it not been for the Coronavirus pandemic, Essex would be commencing the domestic cricket campaign this week with the traditional visit to Fenner’s to face Cambridge MCCU.

With the start of the season now deferred, we take the opportunity to look back at some past encounters with the students, starting on the match last year.

Alastair Cook and Adam Wheater combined for a fourth-wicket stand worth 217 out of a total of 386 for 5 declared with contributions of 150 not out and 130, respectively. In reply, the home side had reached 93 for 2 when Aaron Beard made a telling impact broke with three wickets in 2 overs on his way to a final return of 3 for 24. Now on the backfoot, Cambridge were dismissed for 176.

Nick Browne then took advantage of the true-paced wicket and was just two runs short of his century when he was dismissed shortly before Essex declared once again, this time at 232 for 3 setting the hosts a mammoth 444 to win. None of the home batman made more than 21 as the students were bowled out for 157 to leave their opponents victors by 286 runs. Stand-in skipper Simon Harmer posed the chief threat with 3 for 28 whilst there were also a couple of wickets apiece for Aron Nijjar and Ravi Bopara.

For Wheater, his season was to be prematurely interrupted when he damaged a thumb on the first day of the next match – a Championship clash with Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl – and he was to spend the next two months on the side-lines.

In 1949, Brian Taylor made his debut for the county at the age of 16 years and 322 days. The wicket-keeper/batsman was to make a total of 539 first-class appearances for Essex, second only to Keith Fletcher, before retiring at the end of the 1973 season.

The match honours, though, belonged to a couple of Light Blues batsmen. John Dewes (204*) and Hubert Doggart (219*) shared in a second wicket partnership of 429, an English record, before the University declared on 441 for 1. Essex replied with 304 for 9 before Cambridge reached 142 for 3 declared to set their visitors 280 runs to win. At the close, Essex had reached 222 for 6.

Cambridge University were dismissed for just 37 in 1965. Having been put into bat, Essex scored 226 thanks to 68 from Geoff Smith and 50 from Gordon Barker. Although, the headline performance came from Guyana-born off-break bowler Rupert Roopnarine who returned figures of 48.2-23-88-8, the best bowling figures against Essex by a Cambridge player.

However, the Students were undone by the fast-medium pace of Trevor Bailey who took 5 wickets for 3 runs from 7.2 overs of which 5 were maidens.

Left-hander and opening bat Keith McAdam accounted for 22 of the sorry University total. They did make a better effort when asked to follow-on reaching 201 before being bowled out leaving Essex to reach the 14 runs required for victory for the loss of Mickey Bear.

One year later, Keith Boyce made his debut for Essex when they met Cambridge University at the delightful setting of The Old County Ground, Brentwood. And although he started his county career with a “duck”, it proved a sensational start with the ball for the West Indian all-rounder from Barbados. He took 9 for 61 including 5 victims who were bowled and, after being dismissed for 6 in his second knock with the bat, he followed up with 4 for 47 to guide Essex to a 188-run victory.

Essex legend Graham Gooch enjoyed his trips to Fenner’s to face the Light Blues attack. In 1980, he stroked his way to the first double-century of his career when posting 205. Three years later, he again battered the Cambridge bowling hitting 174 in an opening partnership of 263 with Brian Hardie.

Brief facts and figures in matches between Cambridge University and Essex:

> Past Meetings – The teams have met on 76 occasions with Essex winning 29 of them, and losing just three.

> The first clash came in 1910 when the students were beaten by an innings after Percy Perrin (144) and Frank Gillingham (141) posted 291 for the third wicket.

> The three defeats to the Light Blues came in a four-year period –
1932 (Fenner’s) – Cambridge won by 3 wickets
1933 (Chelmsford) – Cambridge won by 31 runs
1935 (Chalkwell Park, Westcliff) – Cambridge won by 7 wickets

> The highest total recorded by Essex came in 2001 at Fenner’s when the county side posted 533 for 5 declared. Four batsmen Paul Prichard (111), Paul Grayson (127), Darren Robinson (109) and Graham Napier (104) scored centuries to set a new county record for the most centuries scored in one innings.

> The Students highest tally was 464 for 8 declared in 1929.

> In a bitterly cold and rain-affected game at Fenner’s in 1951, despite 64 from opener Dickie Dodds, Essex were bowled out for 120, their lowest score in a completed innings in these encounters. Cambridge replied with 144 for 9 dec. but, with Essex on 8 without loss in their second innings, rain washed out the third and final day.

> In 1952, Cambridge’s Robin Marlar, later to play for Sussex, took a hat-trick (Paul Gibb, Ray Smith, and Doug Insole).