Forty four years ago, Malcolm Nash of Glamorgan bowled the most famous over in the history of First-class cricket. Arunabha Sengupta does a ball by ball analysis of the day Gary Sobers launched into an explosive exhibition of his genius.
Malcolm Nash is not allowed to forget the day.
Even after moving to sunny shores as distant from cricket as California, the questions continue to dog him.
Nash reflects, “I reckon I get asked about it (the six sixes) if not once a week then at least once a month. It is never, ever far away or out of the limelight. I was just part of history and there was nothing I could do. It was just one over in my life. Would I take it back? Never. I just wish I got paid for it. It would have made me rich.”
August 31, 1968
Thirty four years ago, at the scenic St Helen ground of Swansea, with the blue bay in the backdrop, Gary Sobers won the toss against Tony Lewis and Nottinghamshire batted.
The county championship was drawing to a close and Glamorgan lay a distant second behind leaders Yorkshire. Notts were languishing in the fifth position on the table. Legend has it that Sobers had wagered a case of champagne on a win.
The Nottinghamshire captain walked in with the score reading 308 for five after tea on the first day. The need of the moment was quick runs and a declaration to allow his bowlers to have a go at the home batsmen.
What happened next is one of the most well documented phases of cricket. Yet, the conflicting accounts of bowler Nash and Glamorgan captain Lewis remain dubious.
Nash, who played most of his cricket as a left-arm medium pacer, had the following to say to The Guardian in 2008, “The captain asked me if I fancied having a go at bowling some slow-left armers. Sobers came along and quickly ended my slow-bowling career. It was a pretty short experiment.”
Lewis, however, has a slightly different and more comic version. “Nash believed if he tried the (Derek) Underwood style, he could top the averages.”
What we scarcely remember while watching the videos of a slow left arm bowler being pummelled by the great man is that Nash opened the bowling for Glamorgan during the innings and took four of the five wickets, all with his normal seam up stuff.
And now, with Sobers going berserk, something possessed him to try left-arm orthodox spin.
The recollection of the batsman is much more straightforward, “I wasn't bothered if I was out or not. All I was interested in was quick runs and a declaration.”
Nash perhaps played into his hands by going on the attack.
“I was just trying to get him out, simple as that. There was no point in bowling wide to him, because then I wouldn't have got him out. It was the first time I had played against Sobers in a First-class match, and I wanted his wicket.”
Six of the best
Nash wasn't turning the ball much. The pitch was on the Gorse Lane side, with a very short leg boundary for the left-handed Sobers, providing him full license to swing with the spin in gay abandon.
The first ball was heaved over mid-wicket, out of the ground. The second followed the same way and landed in the stands, where a number of Welshmen had thronged to enjoy themselves.
In response, Nash pushed the third ball wide of the off-stump. Sobers hit it hard and high over long-off. There was hardly any foot movement, and the power unleashed in the stroke was so immense that Sobers lifted his right leg as he launched into it.
At this stage, the calm Tony Lewis slowly walked up to Nash and suggested, “If you want to go back to the usual stuff and whack it in the block-hole, that's fine with me."
However, by then destiny had gripped Nash firmly by the collar. He replied, “I can handle it, leave him to me.”
Nash bowled the fourth one straight and faster, and Sobers swivelled and pulled him over square-leg. It landed on the concrete terracing and rebounded back close to where the leg umpire stood.
By now, even the crowd had switched allegiance and the chants, “Six, six, six…” became louder.
It was only after the fourth six that Sobers thought of the history in the making.
The fifth delivery was straight and pitched up. Sobers stood in the crease and smashed it back over the bowler’s head. However, the timing went awry.
Roger Davis, running back at long-off, jumped to take the catch and landed over the rope.
It was not Nash’s day. A year earlier Sobers would have been out, but the law had changed prior to the 1968 season. Even as the West Indian started walking towards the pavilion, the umpires consulted. Davis shrugged to indicate he was not sure. Tony Cordle, the fielder nearest to Davis, believed it was a six. The crowd wanted the carnage to continue. And when umpire Eddie Phillipson turned and signalled six, there was a huge roar of approval.
Lewis now packed the boundary with men, mostly on the leg side. And Nash came in to bowl seam up, trying to fire it into the block-hole. According to his admission, “But I didn't change my run-up and that was a real mistake. It was a half-tracker ... It was the first ball I bowled all day that deserved to be hit for six.”
Sobers had anticipated it would be a faster one. He rocked back and pulverised it over the mid-wicket. It went out of the ground and landed on the streets, rolling towards Kind Edwards Road. A large-hearted schoolboy returned it the following day, and the battered cherry now rests in the museum of the Trent Bridge cricket ground.
Sobers declared immediately, having scored 76 of the 86 that rushed forth while he was at the crease.
In the pavilion, Nash is said to have noted, “I will make a fortune of it … they will make it into a movie.” In response one of his teammates had asked, “What are they going to call it? Gone with the wind?”
Fate had packaged Nash's humiliation with care, leaving no loose ends. BBC producer John Norman had been asked by the Grandstand office to stop filming at tea. Norman, however, kept the cameras rolling because BBC Wales wanted to practise filming cricket. "Fifteen minutes after it was all over, the producer, who had told us to stand down, rang back and begged me not to spill the beans," Norman recalled later.
The film has been preserved for posterity – the six sixes are replayed over and over again, millions of times every day.
Nottinghamshire won the match by 166 runs, Sobers scoring another 72 out of 139 for six in the second innings.
Over the years, Nash and Sobers have become close friends, and, according to the former, they play at least one round of golf a year.
John Parkin, the batsman at the other end during the massacre, went on to become a brick-layer, but even his life revolves around questions about that single over.
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the event, an entire book about the six sixes – Six of the best- Cricket’s most famous over by Grahame Lloyd – was launched on August 29, 2008.
The feat was repeated by Ravi Shastri off Tilak Raj, in 1985, and the bowler never really recovered. In the more instantaneous circumstances of Twenty 20 International cricket, Yuvraj Singh struck Stuart Broad for six sixes in 2007 during the inaugural T20 World Cup.
Nash continued to be a successful bowler in the county circuit. However, on August 29, 1977, two days ahead of the eighth anniversary of the incident, the nightmare was revisited. He was hit for 6, 4, 6, 6, 6, 6 in an over by Frank Hayes on the very same ground. Nevertheless, he managed to capture 993 wickets in First-class cricket at 25.87, mainly as a medium-pacer.
And Nash was a competent enough batsman to score two First-class hundreds and 25 half centuries. In 1978, at Taunton, he obtained some sort of retribution when he himself struck the Somerset left-arm spinner Dennis Breakwell for four sixes in an over while making 55 against an attack that included Joel Garner and Ian Botham.
(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)