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Few incidents have been as cynical as Somerset's declaration after one over of their Benson & Hedges Cup one-dayer against Worcestershire
May 23, 2009
As the 1970s gave way to the 80s, cricket's laws began to be challenged as never before. Whereas previously captains and players had abided by the rules and regulations, they now started to look with increasing cynicism to exploit loopholes the lawmakers had never envisaged. One-day cricket, a relatively new phenomenon, was not as wrapped in tradition and so was seen as fairer game.
In November 1979, Mike Brearley caused outrage when, with West Indies needing three to win off the last ball of a one-day international in Sydney, he put all his England fielders - including David Bairstow, the wicketkeeper - on the boundary. The crowd booed, Brearley was vilified by an Australian press that already regarded him with a dislike only rivalled at the time by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, but the result stood.
A little over 14 months later, with New Zealand needing seven to beat Australia in an ODI in Melbourne , Trevor Chappell bowled the last ball underarm - under orders from his brother, Greg - so depriving Brian McKechnie of the chance of tying the game with a six. Greg Chappell was roundly and vehemently condemned, but again his action was within the laws as they stood. In both instances, adjustments were quickly made to ensure there was no repetition.
But perhaps the most cynical stretching of the laws took place in the much quieter surroundings of Worcester, when Brian Rose, captaining Somerset, declared after one over of a Benson & Hedges Cup zonal match. At least in the first two instances the crowd had had a full day's entertainment, and only the denouement was unsatisfactory. At New Road in May 1979, most spectators hadn't even taken their seats by the time the game was over.
Somerset travelled to Worcester knowing that under the rules of the competition they would qualify for the quarter-finals as long as they did not lose by a heavy margin. Even if they won, Worcester (and Glamorgan, who were seemingly assured of an easy win over Minor Counties South) could only finish on the same number of points as Somerset; they needed a conclusive victory to overtake Somerset by virtue of a superior strike-rate, which was used to separate teams on level points. By declaring their innings after one over, Somerset would lose to Worcester - but that didn't matter as it would mean that they could not be overtaken on strike-rate.
Rose realised that what he was planning was likely to cause an outcry, and checked with Donald Carr, the secretary of the Test & County Cricket Board (the forerunner of the England & Wales Cricket Board), whether it was legal. The reply came that while it was within the laws as they stood, it was certainly against their spirit and that there would be "repercussions".
On May 23, the day originally scheduled for the game, there was no play possible, and so the teams reassembled the following morning when, although it was grey and damp, the match started on time.
Rose won the toss, batted, and after one over - a maiden bowled to him by Vanburn Holder, which included a no-ball - he declared at 1 for 0. Worcestershire took 10 balls - with Glenn Turner scoring two singles - to win a game that lasted 18 minutes, including the statutory 10-minute break between innings.
The hundred or so spectators inside New Road were incensed, while those still arriving were understandably bemused when told the game was over. Mike Vockins, Worcestershire's secretary, refunded all the gate money and slammed Rose's actions as "an absolute disgrace". Somerset packed their kit, and within 15 minutes of leaving the field were heading home, although Rose had to endure heckling as he left the car park.
One man who had driven 150 miles to watch the game angrily told reporters he had decided not to become a Somerset member. Another, a schoolteacher, explained he had brought a coachload of children to see the match. "The kind of lesson we have seen today is one no boy ought to be taught," he said.
Alan Gibson, whose reports in the Times often included long descriptions of train journeys to and from games, arrived at Worcester station only to be told "by a kind porter who knew what I had come for" that he best jump on a train back to Bristol. "He had heard the news from the ground and was angry."
One of the most bemused onlookers was Charles Burnett, who was the Man-of-the-Match adjudicator. After some deliberation he wisely decided that nobody was deserving of the award, explaining it would be "improper".
Rose was unrepentant. "I had no alternative," he said. "The rules are laid down in black and white. If anybody wishes to complain, they should do it to the people who make them."
That rather simplistic disregard for the paying public cut no ice, and the outcry was almost universally damning. Few disputed that Rose had acted within the letter of the laws even if he had run a knife through its spirit. "He did not infringe them," John Arlott noted in the Guardian, "he exploited them." In a lead editorial two days later in the same paper, the TCCB was blamed. "If… a day's play consists of one extra and two runs then the fault lies not with the Somerset captain but with the legislators who provided for such an eventuality." There were exceptions - the Daily Telegraph spluttered about "cynical tactics" and accused Rose of "plumbing the depths".
Rose was the scapegoat, even though it was widely acknowledged that he had flagged his intentions with a number of people within the club and discussed the idea with his team, who had agreed. Somerset's own committee immediately backed him, although making clear their displeasure at his actions. They also offered to replay the match, but the crowded schedule made that impractical.
The TCCB responded by calling an emergency meeting of its disciplinary committee. Eight days after the match, that committee voted to expel Somerset from the competition by 17 votes to one. Even Somerset supported the motion, with Derbyshire, for reasons known only to themselves, the sole opposition to it.
The TCCB slammed Rose's action as being "against the spirit of the game" and said that it had "brought the game into disrepute". Colin Atkinson, Somerset's chairman, apologised for the incident, which he described as "wholly indefensible".
Even so, the outcome might have been right, but the way it was reached did not go down well, with many observers accusing the TCCB of punishing a side for a breach of rules that did not exist.
The real irony was that Somerset would have qualified for the quarter-finals even if they had lost; Glamorgan's game against Minor Counties was washed out and so they were denied the win they needed to finish on level points.
In the following month's Wisden Cricket Monthly, the editor, David Frith, wrote that he hoped the events at New Road had restored some sanity to the game. "I have been waiting, with some trepidation, with six runs needed off the final ball and a lot of money at stake, the bowler informs the umpire of a change of action and rolls the ball along the ground. Maybe this dreadful vision will now vanish."
Sadly for Frith and the world of cricket, 20 months later Chappell did just that at Melbourne.
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