Alvin Kallicharran scored 70 in difficult conditions, but the Man of the Match was awarded for a duck © Getty Images (File photo)
Alvin Kallicharran scored 70 in difficult conditions, but the Man of the Match was awarded for a duck © Getty Images (File photo)

July 21, 1984. On his 32nd birthday, Lancashire captain John Abrahams was recipient of one of the most curious gifts. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the Benson and Hedges Final of the year, that saw Abrahams get the Man of the Match award for unknown reasons.

It was the birthday of an unassuming, honest and rather ordinary cricketer. And it was also the Benson & Hedges Cup final of 1984.The two events combined into one of the strangest birthday gifts presented on the cricket field.

John Abrahams may not have blazed the grounds around the world, but he did have a rich cricketing heritage. Father Cec Abrahams was a fast bowling all-rounder of Western Province who had batted the stigma of colour to carve a niche for himself in the cricket world. In 1958, Cec Abrahams went on the tour to East Africa with the non-white South African side, and his performance with the bat matched the deeds of Basil D’Oliveira.

Young John was just six when his dad was climbing the tough trek of cricketing success as a coloured South African touring East Africa. Soon after that, D’Oliveira famously journeyed to England to script history in the world — sporting and beyond. Cec Abrahams followed him and joined as a pro for Milnrow in the Central Lancashire League. John accompanied his father, and quite understandably they never thought of returning to their homeland.

In the course of time, John Abrahams grew into a capable, if not really dashing, left-handed batsman. He made his debut for Lancashire in 1973, but remained a fringe player for almost a decade. He did score his first hundred for the county in the Roses match of 1977, but that remained his only hundred till 1982.

And then suddenly he started scoring more than 1,000 runs a year. He did so in four seasons, between 1982 to 1986, missing the milestone by only 48 runs in 1985. Yet, he never succeeded in managing a season average of 40-plus other than in 1986. As already stated, he was not the best of cricketers.

It was therefore a major surprise when he was appointed captain of the county in 1984, succeeding a figure as huge as Clive Lloyd. During his first year he led the Lancashire side to triumph in the Benson & Hedges Cup. And during the final of the tournament he became the recipient of this curious present.

The valued duck

The opponents of Lancashire in the title round were an extremely strong Warwickshire side. Led by Bob Willis, they boasted in their ranks men like Alvin Kallicharran, Dennis Amiss, Chris Old, Norman Gifford and Gladstone Small.

But, when Abrahams inserted the Warwickshire men on a spicy Lord’s track, Paul Allott bowled his heart out. Left-arm seamer Stephen Jefferies provided adequate support and the batsmen found it extremely tough to negotiate the movement. Only Kallicharran, playing a supreme knock, scored a superlative 70 while the rest of the batting withered away. The vaunted batting line up could not last the stipulated 55 overs and were bowled out for 139.

In the field, Abrahams quietly led the side. He did not bowl his occasional off-breaks, caught Kallicharran at mid-wicket off Jefferies, and dropped a rank sitter at point.

He did little more with the bat. The skipper came in to bat with the score on 70 for three, snicked the third ball he faced to the wicketkeeper, and walked back for a duck. Apart from not scoring a run, he had also fallen to the part time medium pace of opening batsman Paul Smith.

Lancashire finally won the match by six wickets with 74 balls to spare, thanks to an unbeaten 69-run association between Neil Fairbrother and David Hughes.

However, the climax of the day was yet to take place.

The adjudicator for the Man of the Match award was the former England captain Peter May. And during the post-match ceremony he announced that the Gold Award would go to John Abrahams. The stunned players of the two sides pinched themselves. Abrahams himself was seen to mouth, “Who, me?”

And the man, who had turned 32 that day but had done little else, walked up to receive the Man of the Match award for his duck, a dropped catch and unbowled off-breaks.

Later, Wisden remarked that the Award was “as much for the part he had played in taking Lancashire to the Final as for any outstanding contribution on the day.” Wisden was being uncharacteristically sarcastic. Abraham had played no major role in the journey to the final either, finishing 61st in the batting averages in the tournament.

Twenty years later, legendary scorer Bill Frindall hinted at the reason for the choice.

“John Abrahams was given the Gold Award by Peter May when Lancashire beat Warwickshire by six wickets to win the 1984 Benson and Hedges Cup final. Apart from winning the toss and holding a catch at mid-wicket, he made little impact on the match, being caught at the wicket third ball. It was his 32nd birthday though!

Brief Scores

Warwickshire 139 (Alvin Kallicharran 70; Paul Allott 3 for 15, Stephen Jefferies 3 for 28) lost to Lancashire 140 for 4 (David Hughes 35 not out, Neil Fairbrother 36 not out) by 6 wickets.
Man of the Match: John Abrahams did not bowl, took 1 catch, dropped another, scored 0.

(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)