CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1980

Brian Rose

On September 8, 1979, BRIAN CHARLES ROSE became the first Somerset captain to accept a major trophy. That was the Gillette Cup at Lord's. Next day, he collected the John Player League Trophy. Here was the climax to a truly remarkable couple of years in the life of Rose, born in Dartford on June 4, 1950, a week before the family moved to Weston-super-Mare.

In 1968 he played at Lord's for the English Schools XI; the next year he made his county d├ębut and showed promise. In 1977 he was in the team which, after a fortnight's solid rain, eventually lost a somewhat farcical Gillette Cup semi-final, reduced to 15 overs, at Lord's. This, plus the mathematical considerations which ruled that Somerset did not win the John Player League in 1976 or 1978, although equal on points at the top, doubtless joined the stored experience that played a part in the dark events of Worcester in May 1979.

Rose was appointed captain of Somerset in the autumn of 1977, just before he toured Pakistan and New Zealand with England and won his first five Test caps. On his return he married and then led his county to their most successful season, although they lost two titles in one crushingly disappointing September weekend. Rose became a father next spring, and was at the centre of the events that led to Somerset's expulsion from the Benson and Hedges Cup, which they were fancied to win. Abuse heaped on his head from all quarters, but Rose went steadily on, batting quite splendidly throughout and beyond this traumatic period. Finally, he led his county to their first successes in 104 years of fascinating cricket history.

To accept this bizarre mixture of events in so short a time, and to carry things off so well needed a man of most unusual qualities. Behind a quiet, pleasing, almost self-effacing exterior, Rose is shrewd, hard and realistic, though occasionally showing a pleasing glimpse of charitable understanding. Perhaps his hobbies, golf and gardening, give a clue to his stable but resilient nature. "They were wonderful ways to get away from it all," he says. "I thoroughly enjoy both."

His father kept wicket for the RAF, and on leaving the service became Head Groundsman for the Weston-super-Mare club, whose ground is just across from the grammar school, which Brian attended. Nor is it far from Clarence Park, which stages Somerset's annual cricket festival and is still a favourite with Brian. It's got the real atmosphere of the game, he says with affection.

The young Rose, developing his smooth left-handed stroke-play and the bowling which too rarely enters the scene, worked his way through school and county stages - under 13 and under 15 - which gave him some captaincy experience, and finally into the English Schools team. He remembers no single person as having special influence on his play. He is not like that. He observes, listens, thinks, and comes to his own conclusions. He played irregularly for the county in the period 1969-74 because he was taking a teacher training course at Borough Road College, Isleworth, then connected to London University, and he returned later to his old school for a spell of practical teaching.

Part of his future was reasonably secure, and he had made enough cricket progress during his holidays to be offered a full contract for 1975. In 1972 he had made his first century, against Kent at Glastonbury, this coming soon after a 30 against Procter in full cry at Taunton. I was much impressed by this, a marked improvement in technique and confidence, and told him so at the time. He grinned with pleasure, but said "It's the bat, really." He still remembers the conversation and, more especially, the bat. "Every time the ball hit the middle of that it went for four," he recalls with wistfulness.

In 1975 he began to open the innings, handsomely exceeded 1,000 runs in his first full season, and has done excellently ever since. He emerges well and quickly from poor patches, possessing the skill and determination to adjust a run of failures. If some of his attacking strokes make the purists unhappy, Rose is a results man, and results have been good.

He is thoughtful about his cricket, which he enjoys, and doubtless learnt a lot from - and added to - the highly unusual deliberations involving the England party during the height of the Packer upheaval in 1977-78. He is convinced that the day of amateur-type county organisations is finished. Administrators should be professionals like the players, he avers, and subject to the same penalties for repeated failure. He is chairman of the Somerset players' organisation formed to market their own image, the sort of thing Somerset should have done, but this new body allayed much official alarm by inviting as its legal adviser the chairman of the Somerset club, R. C. Kerslake. Here was a masterly piece of diplomacy traceable to Rose.

He took over the captaincy from Brian Close, the old stormy petrel, and his views on that are fascinating. "He [ Close] was a dominant personality, taking all the decisions and the responsibility without referring to anyone else. As a player you had no responsibility, you just did what you were told. I give the team much more freedom to express themselves in their own ways. In that way they are taking a lot of responsibility on their own shoulders and taking it off mine. I am ultimately responsible, but I think they do better that way."

On the two awful losing days of 1978 he is illuminating. "Some people asked me if I was in despair. Certainly not; we had a damned good season. If someone had told me at the start of the season we were going to get as far in all four competitions, I would have been delighted and so would anyone else in the club." Somerset were fifth in the Championship, second in the John Player League, runners-up in the Gillette, and semi-finalists in the Benson and Hedges.

The Benson and Hedges Cup declaration on May 24 at Worcester brought all sorts of violent criticism on Rose and Somerset, besides expulsion from the competition. This episode brings a Rose response which is sharp, but not bitter. It was all very well sitting back and making a judgement a week after it happened, he says. There was a very different reaction on the spot. They weren't there, watching it belting with rain, and thinking how we'd been done before by arbitrary regulations, especially in the John Player. He never considered resignation. "There was no dissension in the dressing-room about the declaration. Only if it had been my decision alone would I have considered resigning."

I think Rose made one mistake during all the furore, which he later privately admitted. The day after the storm broke, his house was besieged by hordes of reporters and cameramen, at back and front entrances. With his wife and tiny baby to think about, he agreed, after some hours, to talk to get rid of them. Consequently he was worried into saying things he never really intended. After that he remained stoically silent and played no part in what might have been a disastrous players' move to make a public statement. (Happily wisdom, and the kindly advice of two very old friends, prevailed.) As a result he came out of it all with, perhaps, even a higher reputation than before.

Rose's future ambitions are simple. He wants to play for England again. "It's a fantastic experience, a different feeling altogether. I had the same feeling in my first game for Somerset, something to do with pride, I think." He wants Somerset to win the Championship. And of the England captaincy? "I suppose it's a possibility," he concurs.

Brian Rose has so far coped with some unusually difficult problems in his ten years of county cricket and will find others. The first will come this year when his highly efficient side will be reduced by three Test stars and probably by two older and valued campaigners. Everything that has happened to him over the past two years of heavy and continuing pressure suggests that he will cope quietly and admirably, not least because, as one Somerset observer commented recently, "his players for some reason I can't fathom, would walk under a bus for Rosey."

© John Wisden & Co