No. 20 May 3, 2009

Harper runs out Gooch

A burst of athleticism in the MCC bicentenary Test makes Lord's gasp

London, 20 August 1987

Lord's, 1987, and the MCC Bicentenary celebrations are in full swing. MCC v Rest of the World, a Who's Who of contemporary titans lacking only Ian Botham, Martin Crowe, and Viv Richards. National loyalties, for once, are lowermost: Malcolm Marshall dismisses Jeff Dujon; Ravi Shastri ejects Sunny Gavaskar. A strictly festive "Test", Wisden would describe it as "a game rather than a contest". Full houses revel

Before rain ruins the final day, the G-Men reign: Graham Gooch, Gordon Greenidge, Mike Gatting, and Gavaskar all make centuries. It is a piece of fielding legerdemain by the least celebrated participant, though, that glues itself most indelibly to the memory.

Moustache snarling, Gooch, on 117, faces up to a flighted offbreak from Roger Harper, the lofty Guyanese who has already pulled off a blinding catch to unseat Greenidge. That, though, was merely the appetiser.

Gooch moves a couple of paces down the track, driving crisp and straight. In a single, feline movement, typical of a cat-man to whom fielding is as natural as thinking, Harper gathers and fires the ball back. Carried by momentum, Gooch is still out of his crease, has not even considered reclaiming it, when leather topples timber. The gallery is momentarily confused (did we really see what we think we just saw?), then takes a collective deep breath, and roars in awe. Even the victim smiles. Has an England batsman's exit at HQ ever inspired such hometown pleasure?

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine