A fox ran behind Derek Underwood's arm and proceeded to bound around the ground before disappearing into the crowd © Getty Images (Representational Photo as fox has been added)
A fox ran behind Derek Underwood’s arm and proceeded to bound around the ground before disappearing into the crowd © Getty Images (Representational Photo as the fox has been added)

June 6, 1982. A fox walked behind the arm of bowler Derek Underwood during a John Player League match, triggering a summer full of animal invasions. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the season that saw play being held up by all kinds of creatures.

That day Derek Underwood finished with incredible figures of 8-4-8-2, his scalps including the prize wicket of Alvin Kallicharran. The powerful Warwickshire batting line-up could manage only 164 in their 40 overs, and that too due to some advanced profligacy demonstrated by Graham Dilley. Underwood was virtually unplayable in the middle overs, choking the innings with relentless accuracy and guile. However, we must mention here that he did have some external help. During his impeccable spell, a fox ran behind his arm and proceeded to bound around the ground before disappearing into the crowd.

Wisden wondered whether it was a stray Leicestershire supporter. Indeed Leicestershire were playing Hampshire in Grace Road, just about 50 kilometres away, and of course the symbol of the County council as well as the County cricket club is a fox. But, given the history of the County and its association with the animal, it would be rather surprising if the creature indeed turned out to be a supporter of the side. The County is, after all, supposed to be the birthplace of the cruel sport of fox-hunting. Hugo Meynell, a resident of Quorn, is generally considered the father of modern fox-hunting — he became the Master of Fox Hounds for the Quorn Hunt in 1753, a role he performed for 47 years.

Maybe the fox had turned up to cheer Kent, the County which was progressing neck and neck with Leicestershire in the John Player League — which is supported by his characteristically sly act of distracting the Warwickshire batsman. It bore fruit as Kent triumphed by 7 wickets. Whatever be the cricketing leanings of the excellent creature, Wisden claimed that the news of the pitch invasion proceeded to spread quickly around the animal kingdom.

On June 12, Surrey took on Gloucestershire at The Oval. As Monte Lynch took strike for the home side on the second day, a pigeon positioned itself extremely close to the wicket at short-leg, forcing the batsman to move away even as the bowler ran in. Poor Lynch could score only 5 after the disruption. However, in the long run it did not matter with the home side triumphing by five wickets.

The invasions continued till the end of the season. When Derbyshire played Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in late August, a rabbit scampered into the ground while home team captain Clive Rice was amassing an attractive 144. This wonderful animal was apprehended by the Derbyshire captain Barry Wood.

The visiting captain followed his excellent work on the field with a sterling innings with the bat, scoring an unbeaten century. The match was drawn.

Brief scores:

Warwickshire 164 for 9 in 40 overs lost to Kent 166 for 3 in 34.3 overs (Laurie Potter 45, Asif Iqbal 41*) by 7 wickets with 33 balls to spare.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)