Brian Rose. Photo Courtesy: eBay
May 24, 1979. Implementing a foolproof but questionable tactic, Brian Rose declared the Somerset innings after one solitary over, ensuring a match of just 18 minutes. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day that saw the Benson and Hedges zonal match ending before many of the spectators had taken their seats.
Was it smart thinking? Was it a proverbial ‘out of box’ idea?
Had Brian Rose belonged to the corporate world instead of being the captain of Somerset, he would have probably received an award for innovation. The Rose Way of Decision Making might have made its way to the library of management masterpieces. But this was cricket. Rather, in the opinion of most, what Rose did was actually not cricket.
This time, the much hackneyed complaint was almost literal. Rose’s tactics resulted in just 2.4 overs of action, whereas the spectators had thronged inexpecting a whole day’s entertainment. The match was over before a lot of them had even entered the ground.
However, even though it was Rose who was hauled over fire, the entire fiasco was a result of poor legislation. It was not exploited by Rose alone but through a well deliberated decision taken across the Somerset County Cricket Club.
The 18-minute match
When Somerset reached New Road to take on Worcestershire in the Benson & Hedges Cup zonal match, the equations to qualify for the quarter final were complicated.The west county led, but Glamorgan and Worcestershire were in hot pursuit. Glamorgan’s final match was to be with Minor Counties South, and they were more or less certain of an easy win. If Worcestershire won, all three would be level on points. However, Somerset were well ahead on bowling strike rate – the criterion used as tie-breaker in case of equal number of points. The only way they could be ousted was to lose by a big margin. Rose found a loophole in the rules that would enable them to nullify any such possibility – the only downside being that there would be almost no cricket on view.
Rose hatched the plan to declare after one over. That way Worcestershire would win, but the west county could not be overtaken on bowling strike rate. He ran it through members of the club and teammates. Not everyone was sure, but it did seem a good ploy. The gutsy left-hander wanted a second and rather more important opinion. He approached Donald Carr, secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB). Carr admitted that the ploy was legal, but added that it was not a done thing. He was certain that there would be repercussions.
Rain allowed no play on May 23, the scheduled day of the match. The following morning dawned damp, grey and gloomy. However, the match did get underway on time. If Rose had lost the toss, if Norman Gifford had won and batted, nothing of this would have taken place. To be precise some cricket would have been played. But, Somerset won the toss and batted.
The Somerset committee stood behind the captain, although they admitted they were not too pleased with the tactics. The county declared that they would be happy to replay Worcestershire, but the cricket calendar did not allow it.
Vanburn Holder charged in, and Rose faced him. He batted out the over, the only run resulting when the Barbados bowler overstepped. And then he declared the innings. Spectators were still flocking in when Glenn Turner and Alan Ormond walked out to bat. They were still coming in when Turner took the second single off the 10th ball of the innings to finish the game.
The 18-minute affair – which included the 10-minute innings break – resulted in shock and fury. Many found out on the way to the ground that the game was already over. Their numbers included the journalist Alan Gibson – writing for the Times. However, given that most of his match reports by then were accounts of his train journeys, it did not make much of a difference. He was told of the farcical outcome by a porter in the station and promptly hopped on a train to Bristol.
There were men who had driven hundreds of miles to watch the game. One furiously declared that he would not become a Somerset member. Rose and his teammates packed up and left almost immediately, but the captain was subjected to angry words in the parking lot. Mike Vockings, the Worcestershire secretary, called the action of Somerset an absolute disgrace. He refunded all the gate money. Charles Burnett, the Man-of-the-Match adjudicator, had precious little to do.
“Rose did not infringe the laws, he exploited them,” John Arlott was unforgiving in the Guardian. The Daily Telegraph was equally scathing when they said that Rose plumbed the depths. TCCB’s policies were also roundly criticised for leaving such an enormous loophole.
Rose himself was not apologetic: “I had no alternative. The rules are laid down in black and white. If anybody wishes to complain, they should do it to the people who make them.” The Somerset committee stood behind the captain, although they admitted they were not too pleased with the tactics. The county declared that they would be happy to replay Worcestershire, but the cricket calendar did not allow it.
Eight days later, the TCCB assembled in an emergency meeting of its disciplinary committee. Somerset were disqualified from the competition by a vote of 17 to one. Strangely, the one vote in their favour came not from Somerset but Derbyshire. No one is quite sure why the East Midland county voted against the motion.
In the following month’s Wisden Cricket Monthly, editor David Frith wrote that he was happy with the disciplinary action, because: “I have been waiting, with some trepidation, with six runs needed off the final ball and a lot of money at stake, the bowler informs the umpire of a change of action and rolls the ball along the ground. Maybe this dreadful vision will now vanish.”
The vision actually became apocalyptic reality. Less than two years down the line Greg Chappell asked brother Trevor to do exactly that. There were many other teething problems in the rules for limited-overs cricket in those early days. Barely six months after the Rose incident, Mike Brearley took advantage of there being no field restrictions and placed all his men – including wicketkeeper David Bairstow – on the boundary with West Indies requiring three off the final ball.
It was a shame for Somerset though. In all probability they would have gone on to the next round even if they had lost because the Glamorgan game was washed out. Besides, they won the John Players and the Gillette trophies that year and thus missed out on a possible hat-trick of triumphs. In the finals, Essex beat Surrey by 35 runs.
Riding on the firepower of Joel Garner, Viv Richards and Ian Botham, Rose went on to lift the trophy in 1981 and 1982.
Somerset 1 for no loss decl. lost to Worcestershire 2 for no loss by 10 wickets
(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)