August 6, 1977. Mike Brearley, trying to enforce a win, declared the Middlesex innings closed after just one ball. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a day when astute, aggressive captaincy helped conjure a victory out of nowhere.

Many rate Mike Brearley as the finest captain of all time. This reputation can largely be attributed to the historic win in Ashes 1981, but he has other success stories as well, the most significant among which was the 3-0 Ashes win in 1977. His other famous victory, 5-1 in the 1978-79 Ashes, came against a Kerry Packer-hit Australian side. When the big guns were back in 1979-80 (an Australia-England series that was mysteriously not an Ashes contest), England were whitewashed 3-0.

In all, Brearley led England in nine series, winning seven and losing one. He won series against India, Pakistan, and New Zealand. A win-loss ratio of 4.5 (18 wins, 4 defeats) is next to only Steve Waugh’s 4.55 (41 wins, 9 losses) — we’re using a 25-Test cut-off here — and Brearley led easily the weaker of the teams. His credibility as the greatest captain is debatable, but in terms of sheer career numbers, there are few who can threaten him.

The foundation, however, was laid in the County Championship. Middlesex won the title five times between 1976 and 1982 (this included the joint title with Kent in 1977) under Brearley. He earned a reputation for his tactical acumen, the most famous of which came in the match against Surrey at Lord’s in 1977.

Five crucial overs

Let us start with the points table. Before the match started, Kent was leading the table with 175 points. Middlesex were on 173; Gloucestershire on 163; and the others were almost out of contention.

A direct win would give a side 12 points in 1977, but a draw (and, of course, a defeat) meant no points. To retain the title, thus, it was extremely crucial that Middlesex kept up with Kent. In other words, they needed a win.

Alas, rain washed the first day away, and there was no play before lunch on Day Two (Monday; the Championship was not played on Sundays, which was reserved for the Sunday League) as well.

When play got underway, Brearley put the South Londoners in. This was not as simple as it met the eye: as per the regulations, if the match was reduced to a one-day affair, it would have been a single-innings match, and the winner would get 12 points anyway.

Wayne Daniel, Middlesex’s new recruit (who would go on to become the lynchpin of their subsequent success story), struck immediately: Alan Butcher (Mark’s father) edged one to Ian Gould (the current umpire).

Unfortunately, rain intervened after 23 minutes of play. Surrey were 8 for 1 after 5 overs. There was no possibility of a result — because those 23 minutes meant the contest was a two-day match.

Deadly Diamond

There was no rain on Monday night. Unfortunately for Surrey, the damp, uncovered pitch had an ominous-looking green tinge. It was certainly not good news for them.

Daniel tore in down the Lord’s slope, bowling at ominous pace. He removed Monte Lynch almost immediately, and followed it with Younis Ahmed’s wicket. Mike Selvey provided excellent support at the other end, taking out Geoff Howarth and David Smith. Daniel also bowled Robin Jackman and Intikhab Alam during his six-over spell.

The reliable Selvey responded with three from the other end. Bowling into the wind (he later complained — in jest — that years of bowling into the wind made his nose flatter), the reliable Selvey took three more, and Surrey were reduced to 38 for 8.

Unfortunately, Daniel was tiring, and Brearley had to take him off. He had included both John Emburey and Phil Edmonds in the side, which meant there was no specialist third seamer. He tossed the ball to a 20-year old Mike Gatting.

It worked. As Selvey kept going at the other end (he bowled unchanged) Gatting rounded things off, removing Jack Richards and Pat Pocock, finishing with figures of 2 for 2 to go with Daniel’s 5 for 16 and Selvey’s 3 for 29.

Surrey were skittled for 49 in 22.5 overs, five of which were bowled the previous day. Intikhab, with 15, was the only man to reach double figures.

A stroke of genius

Middlesex had earned their four bowling points. The conditions had not improved, though it was expected to get better as the day would progress. Surrey did not have a serious reason to worry, for it was very improbable that they would be bowled out again after Middlesex finished their innings.

The Lord’s crowd, expecting Brearley and Mike Smith to walk out, were perhaps surprised at the sight of Emburey and Gould. Jackman took the new ball himself. Emburey tried to give it his all, missed it completely, and to the confusion of everyone, returned to the pavilion, Gould in tow.

Brearley had declared after one ball. It was a remarkable strategy, though, on hindsight, it was probably the only shot Middlesex could have had at a win. Not only would he put Surrey in on a bad (but slowly improving) pitch, but Surrey would never have been able to declare.

Brearley later admitted that he wanted to forfeit the first innings. Unfortunately for him, Law 14 (Declaration and Forfeiture) suggested that the first innings of a match could not be forfeited. It was necessary that Middlesex played that ball.

The law ended up consuming time for two innings breaks and the preparation for that solitary delivery: about 20 minutes were lost. There were still 45 minutes left before lunch.

Wayne Daniel or Mike Selvey was one thing, but Mike Gatting taking 4 for 3 turned out to be the death-knell for Surrey © Getty Images
Wayne Daniel or Mike Selvey was one thing, but Mike Gatting taking 4 for 3 turned out to be the death-knell for Surrey © Getty Images

Gatt at it, again

Selvey triggered the collapse this time, removing Howarth and Lynch (who bagged a pair in the same session in his first Championship match at Lord’s) before lunch.

Butcher and Younis Ahmed dug in after lunch. Butcher batted for over a hundred minutes for his 10, and eventually both fell to Daniel. With the fast bowlers tiring, Brearley brought on Emburey — and was rewarded with the wicket of Smith.

Daniel came back to remove Intikhab and Ian Payne in quick succession, and the score read 59 for 8. The lead was a mere 108, but Geoff Arnold and Richards kept the score ticking, and added 24 for the ninth stand — the highest in the match till then.

Once again Brearley turned to Gatting. Once again Gatting removed Richards and Pocock in no time. He did a notch better: 2 for 1. The match figures of the seamers read Daniel 24-13-39-9, Selvey 30-8-60-6, and, most astonishingly, Gatting 4.2-3-3-4.

A spectacular chase

Surrey had been routed for 89. There was no score of 20 in either innings. Middlesex needed 139 in 27 minutes (6 or so overs) and 20 mandatory overs. The pitch, though better by now, was far from perfect. There were no field restrictions. The approximate asking rate was close to six an over.

There was no surprise this time as Brearley and Smith walked out. Unfortunately, Geoff Arnold (who scored 27 in the match without being dismissed) was not able to bowl due to an injured toe.

Brearley had a Test average of 23 and a strike rate of 30, and an ODI average of 24 and a strike rate of 46. Smith’s ODI numbers read an average of 14 and a strike rate of 44. Though not champions at the highest level, this was just another Sunday League chase for them.

Smith was dropped twice, and he made the most of it. Jackman did the bulk of the bowling in Arnold’s absence. Payne, and even Intikhab, were carted around. And when Smith was finally stumped off Pocock for 51, Middlesex had reached 101.

Brearley (66 not out) and Radley (21 not out) made small task of the target. Middlesex won in 25.1 overs. Brearley, Smith, and Radley were the three highest scorers of the match.

What followed?

– Elsewhere, in Canterbury, Kent had secured a 24-run lead against Worcestershire — but Vanburn Holder and John Inchmore bowled unchanged to dismiss them for 51. They lost by 6 wickets.
– The Championship ended amidst a frantic contest with Kent and Middlesex emerging as joint winners with 227 points each. Gloucestershire finished on 222.
– Following a mutual consent, Nasser Hussain famously forfeited the first innings at Centurion in 1999-2000. Hansie Cronje forfeited their second innings as well, and England chased down 249, but that is another story. Though England did not play a ball, match referee Barry Jarman ensured the score read 0/0 declared.
– Law 14.2 has been changed subsequently. It currently reads “A captain may forfeit either of his side’s innings at any time before the commencement of that innings. A forfeited innings shall be considered to be a completed innings.”

Brief scores:

Surrey 49 (Wayne Daniel 5 for 16, Mike Selvey 3 for 29) and 89 (Wayne Daniel 4 for 23, Mike Selvey 3 for 31) lost to Middlesex 0 for 0 decl. and 142 for 1 (Mike Smith 51, Mike Brearley 66*) by 9 wickets.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)