February 17, 2016

Vaughan Brown's Test wicket

He took only one, but what a wicket to take

Brown: "I was just the baby of the team who used to clean their shoes and just do my job, and a hell of a nervous one at that" Brydon Coverdale / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

"He'll be the answer to a trivia question one day." You've probably heard that phrase in cricket a few times. Usually it would a boring, irrelevant question whose answer nobody would know or care to know. Take it from somebody who takes their quizzing seriously: trivial does not equal trivia. But with the man standing in front of me, it is different. He is the answer to a trivia question, and quite an interesting one at that.

When Richard Hadlee took 9 for 52 against Australia at the Gabba in 1985, who took the other wicket?

It was not Martin Snedden or Ewen Chatfield, the other pace bowlers who played in that match. It was not the offspinner John Bracewell; he came into the team only later in the series, on the turning SCG pitch. It was not one of the part-timers, Martin Crowe or Jeremy Coney. No, the answer to this trivia question, and probably the least recognisable face at the 30-year reunion of that team at the Basin Reserve over the past week, is Vaughan Brown.

If you haven't heard of Brown, that is no surprise. He was an offspinning allrounder who made his debut in that famous victory in Brisbane. He also played the second Test, in Sydney, but those were the only two Tests of his career. And the wicket that denied Hadlee his ten-for was Brown's only Test wicket. And, just to add another fascinating element to the story, the man who took the catch that gave Brown this wicket was Hadlee himself.

"He could have opened his mouth and caught it," Brown says. "The media would have rubbished him [if he'd dropped it] because it was such an easy catch."

Maybe, maybe not. You can find the match highlights on YouTube, and when you get to the part where Geoff Lawson goes for a mighty slog off Brown, you will note that Hadlee takes the catch only after running back from midwicket, with the flight of the ball. To be truthful, he made a somewhat challenging catch look much easier than it was. In doing so, Hadlee left Australia at 9 for 179, and ended his own run of eight wickets in the innings.

He came back to take the last, though, when Bob Holland could only push a catch to short leg. And the man who was under the helmet to take the chance and give Hadlee his ninth wicket for the innings? Vaughan Brown. The same man whose one and only Test wicket prevented Hadlee from having a shot at the greatest figures in Test history, which to this day remain Jim Laker's 10 for 53 against Australia in 1956.

"It wasn't until later on that I realised," Brown says. "I didn't know there was a world record at stake for him."

But Brown, now 56, is quick to point out that he could have actually ended Hadlee's streak of wickets even earlier, when John Wright put down a chance. "People don't realise that Wrighty dropped a catch off me a couple of overs beforehand," Brown says. "But I have to give Mr Lawson his dues, because everyone knows that John Wright can't catch a ball on the boundary."

At the Basin Reserve during the New Zealand-Australia Test over the past week, most members of the team that achieved that historic series win over Australia on that tour 30 years ago were present for their first proper reunion. There were a few absentees - the ill Martin Crowe, the ICC match referee Jeff Crowe, and the Wellington coach Bruce Edgar - but most of the players were there.

"I was just the baby of the team who used to clean their shoes and just do my job, and a hell of a nervous one at that," Brown says. "It was great to be part of, in hindsight - such a memorable thing. It hasn't happened since. I think everyone thought this current team might've done it before Christmas, and that didn't happen."

Brown was an allrounder rather than an out-and-out bowler - he batted at No. 7 in that Brisbane Test, ahead of Hadlee - but 190 first-class wickets at 28.97 tell of his bowling ability. But he holds up his right hand to show one of the problems he faced: his fingers are distinctly stubby, not the typical long digits you expect on the hand of a spinner.

"Look at these fingers: these are not spinning fingers," Brown says. "We went down to Adelaide pre-Test and Ashley Mallett was there. Ashley was a well-known, fantastic bowler, the guys said, 'Go and have a session with him.' Ashley was trying to get me to bowl a straight ball, which is literally bowling against the seam.

"I was petrified. When I bowled, my hands were sweating. It was humid, admittedly, but I was so nervous it wasn't funny"
Vaughan Brown

"Ashley has got big fingers. I said, 'I've got a problem, mine are half the length of yours, so I can't do it.' I used to flight the ball a lot more. I had a lot of competition with Braces, who had massive fingers and would just rip it. I relied a lot more on flight than him."

Hence the wicket-taking delivery to Lawson was tossed up somewhat, and Australia's No. 8 was beaten in flight.

"I was petrified," Brown says. "When I bowled, my hands were sweating. It was humid, admittedly, but I was so nervous it wasn't funny. Fortunately the guys encouraged me and supported me.

"[Lawson] was nervous and the other batsmen were nervous as well, because we had them on the back foot, so it creates opportunities. You've got to seize them. Carpe diem - seize the day."

Of course, Hadlee has often been asked about his part in the dismissal, and the one that got away because of the catch that didn't. On that same YouTube video that features the match highlights, there is an interview between Richie Benaud and Hadlee, in which the fast bowler is asked about the catch.

"People have often said to me, 'Why didn't you drop it?'" Hadlee says in that clip. "I said, 'The game of cricket is not like that. You take every chance that you can.' It was significant for Vaughan Brown, of course, because that was his first ever Test wicket."

First and only. Just 430 short of Hadlee's tally. Whereas Hadlee only strengthened his status as a great of the game, Brown slipped off the international cricket radar and back to a regular working life in sales and marketing with Air New Zealand. But he remembers with great fondness his part in the Gabba Test, and in a series that remains arguably the high point of New Zealand's cricket history.

"You've got to be honest about it, the Australian team wasn't strong," he says. "They had challenges. We had a pretty good all-round team, if you look at what everyone has achieved. To get that win, and then the second Test in Sydney - we knew it was turning and they brought Braces across. It's just like prey with wildlife, when there's a weakness there, you go for it, and we knew Australia were at that level.

"I remember we got a dozen bottles of wine from the minister of tourism, and [New Zealand businessman] Sir Ron Brierley sent another dozen… The boys were certainly enjoying it, because a lot of them had been playing cricket for a long, long time, and this was a very special time for them."

And for Brown. After the series there was the typical camaraderie between the Australians and New Zealanders, and some swapping of equipment. In a suitcase at home, Brown still has Holland's baggy green cap and jersey. Thirty years on, he is happy with the part he played in a slice of New Zealand cricket history, even if Hadlee occasionally gives him a light-hearted ribbing about taking that wicket.

And, of course, he remains the answer to a trivia question: "I'm still on a card game and on bottle tops - 'Who was that other person?'"

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

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