Cricket in the City: Southend-on-Sea


On the day that Southend-on-Sea was afforded City status, it is an opportunity to look back at first-class cricket staged at the two venues in the south of the county. For the purpose of this feature, the Chalkwell Park ground in Westcliff has not been included.

First-class cricket was first played at Southchurch Park in 1906 and regular cricket festivals, usually in July, continued to be staged there until 2004. Sadly increasing vandalism and difficulties with security forced Essex to look elsewhere in the locality and the following year, Garon Park took over hosting the county cricket festival.

The cricket week at Southchurch Park with its quaintly named Duck Pond End and two Pavilions was always eagerly awaited. A total of 130 first-class matches were staged there will Essex triumphant on 45 occasions.

The ground was barely half a mile from the seafront and the relaxed setting attracted many memorable performances and probably the most notable is a Tourist match against Australia in front of a 16,000 crowd!

The match took place in 1948, with the visitors scoring 721 runs, thanks to 187 from the great, Don Bradman. The next day, Essex were bowled out twice losing by an innings and 451 runs.

Don Bradman batting at Southchurch Park.

Don Bradman batting at Southchurch Park.

In 1924, England and Yorkshire opener Herbert Sutcliffe scored an unbeaten 255, which was the highest individual score at Southchurch Park and a record that was still standing when the venue ended its association with first-class cricket.

In 1930, the great Kent bowler, Tich Freeman had match figures of 16/94 including all 10 in an innings as his side crushed Essex by 244 runs.

Essex too were able to celebrate some wonderful individual performances by their own players. In 1933, fast bowler Ken Farnes took 7/21 as Surrey were dismissed in the second innings for 57 and capitulated to defeat by 345 runs.

Farnes was also the destroyer-in-chief when Yorkshire were beaten by an innings the following year, taking 11/131.

In 1936, Morris Nicholls scored 205 in a drawn affair with Hampshire that remained a ground record for a home player.

In 1958, England all-rounder Trevor Bailey, who lived in Westcliff, returned match figures of 12/75 against Derbyshire, which remained the best figures by an Essex player on the ground.

The county took revenge for the mauling by the Australians when they beat their opponents from Down Under by 6 wickets. Gordon Barker, who also played football for Southend United between 1954-59, and Keith Fletcher each posted centuries and spinner Paddy Phelan took 10 wickets in the match.

Southchurch Park was treated to their first one-day match at the venue in 1977. It proved to be a thriller with Essex beating Middlesex by one run.

Six years later, the Southend crowd were lauding a magnificent innings of 176 by Graham Gooch in a one-day clash with Glamorgan. It proved to be one of five centuries in 15 one-day matches at Southchurch for the Essex legend.

Controversially, in 1989 Essex were docked 25 points by the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) after beating Yorkshire, with the decision ultimately cost Essex the County Championship title.

Members and supporters will have their own host of Southchurch Park memories. They would surely include some wonderful exhibitions of batting by the afore-mentioned Gooch and Fletcher, together with Overseas gems, Mark Waugh and Stuart Law.

Bowlers too also provided fond reminiscences with the exploits headed by the irrepressible John Lever who combined a series of successes in the longer form of the game with a haul of 29 one-day wickets.

The last victory by Essex on the ground in four-day cricket came in 1999 when a score of 99 by Nasser Hussain underpinned a win over Middlesex.

A general view of Garon Park in 2010.

A general view of Garon Park in 2010.

The switch to Garon Park, which was further inland and with its very large playing area, proved to be short-lived.

The new era started in early August 2005 with a win for Essex against Durham.

After Andy Flower had steadied the ship with an unbeaten 132, steering Essex to a two-wicket success.

In their first innings, a young 20-year-old opener named Alastair Cook scored 107 before adding another 44 in the second innings that took his tally for the season at that stage to 999 Championship runs.

The landmark next run soon followed as did a plethora of runs over the ensuing years for this outstanding batter who continues to grace Essex Cricket.