One can only presume the iPhones were not nicked for this purpose. Screen-grab of TechRax   s YouTube channel.
One can only presume the iPhones were not nicked for this purpose. Screen-grab of TechRax s YouTube channel.

June 15, 2014. It could well have been just another Lancashire League match at Blackburn Road, Oswaldtwistle. However, there was a ruckus, as a thief entered the pavilion in the guise of a match official, and did away with 12 iPhones belonging to the players. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the most unusual stoppages of play.

Throughout its history, cricket matches have been stopped by the most unusual of reasons. From too much sunlight to overcooked gravy to toy tigers to extreme cold to fried calamari to people dressed as cigarettes, cricket has seen them all.

Cricket has not adapted to technology to the extent a lot of sports have. When the first match was telecast, little did they realise that batsmen would be given out based on television cameras and advanced equipments.

Smart-phones have not yet become a direct part of the sport (though there is an AT&T Inc. Subsidiary called Cricket). However, unless you are Ashish Nehra, chances are high that you own one, as fans following their heroes on social media find out.

There have been instances of cell-phones used during cricket matches. We are not discussing bookies here, who have led to the restriction of almost all handheld devices in dressing-rooms.

Dickie Bird narrated a tale from 1990, when Allan Lamb forgot to leave his cell-phone while going out to bat, and had asked Bird to hold it. When Lamb did not get off to a flying start, Bird received a call: This is Ian Botham speaking from the dressing room. Tell that fellow Lamb to play a few shots or get out.

While this makes for a fantastic anecdote, I have already explained why that this had more to do with Bird s fertile imagination than anything else.

More recently, in November 2014, Marcus Elliott of Youth Club walked out with a cell-phone in his pocket against Pomonal in a Grampians Cricket Association match. The phone fell on the stumps, and Elliott was given out hit wicket.

The match

The match in question happened a few months before the Elliott incident, in a Lancashire League match between Haslingden and Church. There was nothing unusual about the match: Haslingden captain Phil Hayes put the hosts in.

Matthew Griffin (whose father had also played for Haslingden) and Jack Sudworth (whose grandfather, father, and brother were all Haslingden players) soon reduced Church to 30 for 3. But Captain Craig Fergusson settled down, playing foil to Harvey Aspin, and the pair slowly led resurgence.

The Haslingden professional was Brenton Parchment, an off-spinner who had played 2 Tests for West Indies 6 years ago (along with a handful of ODIs and T20Is). He removed Aspin, but Fergusson and Bilal Abbas carried on.

The innings was not without incident: a former Church Chairman, watching the game, fell ill, and had to be rushed in an ambulance. The match was reduced to 31 overs, and Church finished on 104 for 4. Curiously, despite the halt, Duckworth-Lewis (or any rain rule) was not applied, and Haslingden had 31 overs to chase a mere 105.

Haslingden resumed their innings. At around 3.30, something curious happened: Church wicketkeeper Sam Tucker noticed a man sneaking out of the Haslingden changing-room. It is not known where the players were sitting; outside, perhaps.

Tucker later told The Times: We were playing cricket and we see this guy was sitting in the players area of the pavilion. I assumed he was a club official of the away team, but he kept nipping in and out of the changing room. I kept my eye on him and he made an exit.

The thief had stolen 12 iPhones from the jacket pockets of Haslingden players, and had almost managed to get away with it. What he did not take into account was the fact that one of the Haslingden cricketers was an off-duty police officer (it is not clear who).

Haslingden opening batsman Graham Knowles agreed: One of the Church lads spotted the thief and our lads gave chase and they caught up with him in a field and retrieved the phones.

Police dog-handlers were summoned, and cricket was stopped as Haslingden players joined in the hunt.

Fortunately, one of the phones had GPS trackers installed, which made the police s job easy. The thief was caught in a jiffy. Technology is amazing, we couldn t have done it without the GPS tracking, admitted Tucker.

Lancashire Police announced that the 29-year-old culprit was from Doncaster, Yorkshire. There is no evidence as to whether he was on a mission to avenge a Roses match, or whether he had any affiliation with the YouTube account TechRax.

What followed?

Haslingden were reduced to 27 for 3, and later 55 for 4, with Lloyd Aspin and Andrew Bentley taking a couple of wickets apiece. Like some other cricketers involved in the match, Bentley s family was also devoted to Church, his father and brother having turned out for the club.

However, Hayes (49 not out) marched along, and helped secure a 6-wicket win in the company of wicketkeeper Andy Harris. Haslingden still had 13 balls in hand.

Brief scores:

Church 104 for 4 in 31 overs lost to Haslingden 106 for 4 in 28.5 overs (Phil Hayes 49*) by 6 wickets with 13 balls to spare.

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