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Bert Vance concedes 77 runs off one over!

Lee Germon (above)
Lee Germon (above) scored 70 runs in an over off Bert Vance’s bowling for Canterbury against Wellington in 1990 © Getty Images

Bert Vance had conceded a record 77 off a single over on February 20, 1990. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day when the sport had been reduced to a farce by John Morrison and Ervin McSweeney.

 

What world record do Garry Sobers and Ravi Shastri hold?

Obvious answer: Both have hit six sixes in an over, Sobers off Malcolm Nash and Shastri off Tilak Raj. The 36 runs they had scored remain a First-Class (the number has not been involved even in matches with eight-ball overs) record. Though, Alex Tudor had conceded 38 to Andrew Flintoff at Old Trafford in 1998, four of them had come in no-balls.

What if one says that the answer is wrong?

On February 20, 1990, Bert Vance conceded a whopping seventy-seven runs in a single over for Wellington against Canterbury at Lancaster Park. What makes the ‘feat’ even more astonishing is the fact that the confused umpire had miscounted and had called over after five balls.

 

The scenario

It was a well-defined equation for Wellington: they had to win their last match against Canterbury to ensure that they lift the Shell Trophy. Of course, there was a parallel match (Auckland versus Otago) and two more fixtures to be played (Northern Districts were to play both Otago and Central Districts), but an outright win would have meant that Wellington would have gone beyond any other team.

Wellington were on 61 points before the match; a direct win would have fetched them 16 points, which meant they would have reached 77 (assuming they maintained a proper over rate). Auckland (50), Canterbury (48), and Central Districts (48) would not have been able to reach them in that case.

On the other hand, if Wellington lost their final match, there was a chance that one of Auckland, Canterbury, and Central Districts may go past them. Even if Wellington had managed four points based on a first-innings lead (which would have taken them to 65), there was still a chance for Auckland to go past them and reach 66.

The match

Wellington lost Bruce Edgar early (which was probably good for them, since they wanted quick runs), and an 81-run second wicket partnership between John Aiken and Vance helped them consolidate. However, the two young Wellington medium-pacers, Stu Roberts and Chris Harris, kept on hitting back at regular intervals, and from 86 for one, Wellington were bowled out for 202.

Perhaps Wellington’s biggest challenge lay in the fact that Canterbury were also going for the kill: a direct win would have taken them past Wellington (especially since Otago had been doing a fine job against Auckland elsewhere) and would have made them contenders for the title as well.

Nevertheless, they first wanted to secure that crucial first-innings lead: David Boyle hung around for a 196-ball 63, and a quickfire 43 from captain Rod Latham helped the cause. Harris stuck in for a while, and a seventh-wicket partnership with Lee Germon helped Canterbury overhaul Wellington’s total. Latham declared with a 19-run lead on the second afternoon as soon as Germon had departed.

Edgar surprised everyone in the second innings by taking on Roberts and Roger Ford, scoring a 45-ball 32 out of a first-wicket stand of 38. Geoff Burnett managed 48, the Wellington captain Ervin McSweeney played a quick cameo, but ultimately it was Aiken’s unbeaten 156 that took them to 309 for six. Canterbury were set 291 in 59 overs.

The hosts had probably decided to go for the kill, but Jonathan Millmow struck with the first ball; there were cameos from Peter Kennedy and Paul McEwan, but once they fell, Canterbury slid quickly from 86 for three to 108 for eight: the only way out was to survive and stop Wellington from getting 16 points.

Germon held out stubbornly with some support from Ford, and with two overs to go, Canterbury were on 196 for eight. Scoring 95 off two overs was out of the question, but could Germon hold out for the remaining 12 balls?

It was then the coach John Morrison and McSweeney (also the wicketkeeper) came up with a novel idea: they wanted to concede easy runs to Canterbury to lure them into going for a win. They had, after all, nothing to lose: on the other hand, what if they managed to pick up those two wickets in the process?

So the farce began. McSweeney brought on Vance to bowl his rather innocuous off-breaks. In a career spanning six seasons Vance had sent down 39 overs. Exactly why Vance (and not someone else, who could bowl poorly with a greater ‘precision’) was summoned remains unknown, but whatever it was, he was the bowler of choice.

John Morrison (batting in picture)
John Morrison (batting in picture), the coach of Wellington setup admitted that he was shell-shocked when Lee Germon almost pulled off a miracle win for Canterbury in 1990 © Getty Images

The over

So, Vance came along, and bowled deliberate no-balls, often starting off several steps ahead of the bowling crease: he bowled full-tosses and long-hops, and while Germon kept on dispatching them all around the parks, the fielders stood with their feet fixed to the ground.

It is perhaps a better idea to put down the proceedings that followed in a tabular fashion for the readers to comprehend. One must remember that even the umpires had lost of track of the proceedings. It has to be kept in mind that if one scored runs off a no-ball in that era, he would not have got runs for the extra ball.

Ball number

No-ball

Runs off the bat

Runs scored

Target

Balls left

Batsman on strike

Before over

95

12

Germon

Yes

0

1

94

12

Germon

1

4

4

90

11

Germon

Yes

4

4

86

11

Germon

Yes

4

4

82

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

76

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

70

11

Germon

Yes

4

4

66

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

60

11

Germon

Yes

1

1

59

11

Ford

Yes

4

4

55

11

Ford

Yes

1

1

54

11

Germon

Yes

0

1

53

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

47

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

41

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

35

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

29

11

Germon

Yes

6

6

23

11

Germon

2

0

0

23

10

Germon

3

0

0

23

9

Germon

Yes

4

4

19

9

Germon

4

0

0

19

8

Germon

5

1

1

18

7

Germon

As is evident, only one of the first 17 deliveries was a legitimate one. Germon himself scored 70 runs off the over, Ford somehow managed to assemble five, and two runs came off no-balls. The confused umpire miscounted and called over after five balls.

The final over

Canterbury had suddenly reached to within 18 runs of victory with Roberts still in the pavilion. Apparently neither captain — McSweeney or Latham — was aware of the fact when McSweeney brought on Evan Gray to bowl his left-arm spin. Germon flung his bat at everything and managed to score 17 off the first five balls.

Ford, oblivious of the target, blocked the final ball of the over. He could not be put to blame (and neither could anyone on the field) as the scorers had lost track of the proceedings during Vance’s over and had not been able to keep up. It was only when they reached the pavilion that their teammates informed them.

At the Wellington camp, on the other hand, Morrison was aware of the on-goings. He later admitted that he almost had a heart attack when Germon had nearly pulled off a heist during the chase.

The incident came under a lot of flak from the cricket fraternity. Morrison put up a sheepish defence of sorts, while McSweeney told in an interview to The Herald: “Why should I get criticised? That’s just a variation of scale on what’s happened in other matches.”

What followed?

-          Wellington were not docked a single point for violating the spirit of the game. They were penalised four points for, of all things, a slow over-rate: Vance’s marathon over had cost them in a different way than what they had thought. Their strategy had backfired.

-          Wellington were reduced to 57 points, while Canterbury managed to reach 50. Auckland’s poor performance against Otago did not yield a point. Central Districts needed to win the last match of the tournament against Northern Districts at Nelson to clinch the title, but they ended up losing rather tamely. This meant that despite the entire pandemonium Wellington still managed to clinch the title.

-          Though Vance’s figures from the match read 1-0-77-0, the over is not counted when one lists the most expensive overs of all time. A similar treatment has been dished out to some of the fastest hundreds as well.

Brief scores:

 

Wellington 202 (Bert Vance 51; Stu Roberts 3 for 34, Chris Harris 3 for 42) & 309 for 6 decl. (John Aiken 156*, Graham Burnett 48; Richard Petrie 3 for 80) drew with Canterbury 221 for 7 decl. (David Boyle 63, Rod Latham 43; Andy Pick 4 for 61) & 290 for 8 (Lee Germon 160*; Jonathan Millmow 3 for 59).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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