Coronavirus has put County Championship cricket in serious doubt. The last time sport was disrupted to such an extent was 1939-45, and Richard Browne has delved into the County Gazette archive to revisit Somerset’s last season before war began in September 1939...

THE 1939 County Championship season was the last for six years due to the Second World War, but it did just about finish.

Three matches were not completed, being abandoned on the third day as war was declared, but that did not stop Yorkshire being awarded their 21st title.

The County Gazette concluded that “both as a team and man for man, Yorkshire have well earned their place as champions - for the third year in succession”.

Somerset finished 14th out of 18 teams that year (there was no Division 1 and Division 2 until 2000), with six wins, nine draws, one tie and 11 defeats from 27 matches.

Their 102-point total was greater than that of those three teams above them (Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire and Glamorgan), but the final standings came down to ‘points average’, based on the ratio of matches won to matches played.

The Gazette’s review of Somerset’s season noted: “After their outstanding achievement in the 1938 season, when they gained 10 victories and finished seventh in the championship table, Somerset embarked upon the 1939 season with high hopes.

“Unfortunately, however, the team failed to live up to expectations, and, winning only six matches, finished 14th - one position worse than in 1937.

“A promising start, which included the winning of four championship matches by the end of June, made their fall from grace all the more difficult of explanation.”

Somerset lined up for the season opener, at Surrey on May 6, with seven professionals - Arthur Wellard, Bill Andrews, Wally Luckes, Frank Lee, Harold Gimblett, Horace Hazell and Bertie Buse - joined by Norman Stewart ‘Mandy’ Mitchell-Innes (a former Oxford University captain and England player) and Jake Seamer, “both home on leave from the Sudan”.

The side were captained by Edmund Fallowfield Longrigg (usually known as ‘Bunty’ Longrigg).

The Gazette said of Longrigg: “It is hoped, now that he has got over the demands of a first season of captaincy, that he will regain that form which makes him one of the most scintillating amateur batsmen in the country.

“Longrigg proved an admirable leader last season.

“He was popular with everyone, and fine team spirit was the result.

“There was a big improvement in the fielding, and, as the team this season has the same nucleus, Somerset should enjoy similar success.

“They will continue to play that gay, attractive cricket which has made them popular on nearly every ground in the country.”

Going into the 1939 season, it was noted that “greater batting strength” was required, and Somerset got it with the early season form of Harold Gimblett.

Now aged 24, the man from Bicknoller in the Quantock Hills had burst on to the scene four years previously, when as a trialist he scored a century to inspire Somerset to victory over Essex.

Somerset County Gazette:

CLUB LEGEND: Harold Gimblett. Pic: Somerset CCC

Gimblett - whose record of 49 First-Class centuries for Somerset was only passed by Marcus Trescothick in 2017 - scored five centuries, all of them inside the first seven matches of the season, and four on successive Saturdays.

After tons against Lancashire (108), Sussex (103*), Leicestershire (108), Gloucestershire (108) and Worcestershire (129), the opening batsman’s form dipped a little, but he still finished the season with 1,814 runs from 46 innings, at an average of 42.18.

The Gazette was full of praise for him come September 1939, saying: “Gimblett, one of the most attractive opening batsmen in the game, enjoyed easily his best season.

“He completely fulfilled the promise he gave when he made his century debut for Somerset at Frome four years ago.”

Against Gloucestershire, Gimblett treated the holiday crowd in Taunton to a “courageous and masterly” display - “He never took any risks, and showed at times a sound defence, but he selected the right ball to hit, and he hit with tremendous power, as well as in an attractive style.”

(Quite how he would have taken to T20 cricket with that approach, we’ll never know.)

An estimated 18,000 spectators packed into the County Ground for the match (which was drawn), with a Monday attendance of more than 11,000 setting a new record for the ground, and the gate receipts totalled £823 to swell the club coffers.

A nine-wicket victory over Leicestershire at Bath (Somerset would also play home matches at Frome, Wells, Weston-super-Mare and Yeovil that season, as well as Taunton) meant that Somerset had four wins, five draws and two defeats on the board at the start of July.

But only two more championship wins followed, with Somerset denied victory away to Worcestershire in remarkable fashion.

Bowlers were on top in the match, with Wellard claiming 7-45 for the visitors (having taken 6-15 in his second spell), and the match ended in a tie - the first in a County Championship match since 1926 (when Essex and Somerset could not be separated at Chelmsford).

Set the target of 142 for victory, Somerset had 141 when Dick Howorth clean bowled Hazell with the fourth ball of the final over.

There were no victories at all during July; against Essex at Wells, Wellard took 5-35 on a “tricky” surface, but the hosts were well beaten after they could only muster innings of 51 and 72.

All that was forgotten when, on August 3, Somerset wrapped up an emphatic victory over a touring West Indies side - by an innings and 72 runs.

Andrews (6-40) and Wellard (4-43) conspired to dismiss the Windies for 84, and Somerset responded with 345 - Jack Meyer top scoring with 78.

The visitors made a better fist of their second innings, scoring 189, but still they were beaten inside two days by a rampant Somerset side.

The West Indies cancelled the remainder of their tour, the Gazette reported on August 26, with the team secretary saying: “The international situation is, of course, responsible.”

Somerset County Gazette:

CONFLICT: Somerset's final match of the 1939 season came in the same week as Germany attacked Poland

As the clouds of war gathered overhead, Somerset beat Hampshire to end a sequence of four straight defeats - and pick up their first championship win since June.

Victory over Northamptonshire in their final match of the season came in the same week as the Gazette headline declared ‘GERMANY ATTACKS POLAND: War of aggression starts’.

Poor form in the second half of the season had cost Somerset a top-half finish, but cricket’s ifs, buts and maybes were soon at the back of everyone’s minds in a time of national crisis.

1939 County Championship

Somerset results

Sat, May 6: Surrey (Oval) - lost by 6 wickets

Wed, May 10: Sussex (Hove) - won by 9 wickets

Sat, May 13: Lancashire (Old Trafford) - match drawn

Wed, May 17: Sussex (Taunton) - match drawn

Sat, May 20: Leicestershire (Leicester) - won by 3 wickets

Sat, May 27: Gloucestershire (Taunton) - match drawn

Sat, Jun 3: Worcestershire (Taunton) - won by 10 wickets

Wed, Jun 7: Middlesex (Frome) - lost by 5 wickets

Sat, Jun 10: Glamorgan (Newport) - match drawn

Wed, Jun 21: Kent (Bath) - match drawn

Sat, Jun 24: Leicestershire (Bath) - won by 9 wickets

Sat, Jul 1: Hampshire (Taunton) - match drawn

Wed, Jul 5: Essex (Westcliff) - lost by an innings and 40 runs

Sat, Jul 8: Worcestershire (Kidderminster) - match tied

Wed, Jul 12: Kent (Maidstone) - lost by 8 wickets

Sat, Jul 15: Lancashire (Yeovil) - match abandoned

Wed, Jul 19: Nottinghamshire (Trent Bridge) - match drawn

Sat, Jul 22: Derbyshire (Derby) - match drawn

Wed, Jul 26: Essex (Wells) - lost by 123 runs

Sat, Jul 29: Northamptonshire (Northampton) - match drawn

Sat, Aug 5: Gloucestershire (Bristol) - lost by an innings and 109 runs

Wed, Aug 9: Nottinghamshire (Weston-super-Mare) - lost by 97 runs

Sat, Aug 12: Glamorgan (Weston-super-Mare) - lost by two wickets

Wed, Aug 16: Surrey (Weston-super-Mare) - lost by 10 wickets

Sat, Aug 19: Hampshire (Bournemouth) - won by an innings and 62 runs

Wed, Aug 23: Middlesex (Lord’s) - lost by 225 runs

Sat, Aug 26: Derbyshire (Taunton) - lost by 7 wickets

Wed, Aug 30: Northamptonshire (Taunton) - won by an innings and 92 runs