Justin Langer's decision to declare Somerset's first innings against Middlesex at Lord's on 50 for 8, ostensibly to expose Middlesex's batsmen to the pitch while it still retained dampness, set tongues wagging. And yet a similarly bold move on the same ground 30 years ago was handsomely rewarded
A sodden Saturday meant almost all matches were washed out. After another wet Sunday - this was the era when Championship matches were interrupted by the Sunday League - Middlesex and Surrey finally got underway on after lunch on Monday, Brearley winning the toss and sticking Surrey in. Only five overs were possible in 23 minutes before bad light and then heavy rain brought another premature end.
Those 23 minutes were crucial. Under the regulations as they stood, if there was no play on the first two days of a three-day game, then the two sides could play a one-innings game with 12 points to the winner. But the game had started, and that option was not available. "Only a series of declarations will produce a result," The Times noted the following day.
The third and final day was cloudy and dry, although the pitch, which had remained uncovered overnight, was green and damp. Nevertheless, the general expectation was that both sides would settle for as many bonus points as they could scrape together in the limited time available.
But Brearley, who had yet to establish his reputation as an often brilliant captain outside the county circuit, thought otherwise. He had spent much of the weekend distracted by negotiations over the treatment of England players who had signed for World Series Cricket. On the Tuesday, he was utterly single minded.
Mike Selvey took one look at the surface and told Brearley that Surrey could be bowled out twice. Resuming on 8 for 1, Surrey were bowled out for 42 in 76 minutes. Wayne Daniel, in his first season of what was to be one of the most successful spells by an overseas player in county cricket, was lethal from the Pavilion End, taking 5 for 16, Selvey took 3 for 29, and the wobbly swing of Mike Gatting polished off the tail.
With four bowling points in the bag, the crowd expected Middlesex to press for the score of 300 which would give them another four batting points. Surprisingly, John Emburey and Ian Gould emerged to open. Emburey took an industrial heave to the first ball from Robin Jackman and immediately the batsmen headed for the pavilion. Brearley had declared.
"We wanted to forfeit out first innings altogether, to save time" Brearley recalled. "But a rarely cited Law of the game states that this can only be done in a side's second innings, so we had to receive one ball before declaring at 0 for 0."
So, still 45 minutes before lunch, Surrey were batting again, and in that time they lost Geoff Howarth and Monte Lynch, both dismissed twice in the session. For Lynch, it was a particularly forgettable first match at Lord's as he bagged a pair.
The batsmen dug in rather than counter attacked, and Surrey's innings was a turgid affair. Alan Butcher took almost two hours to make 10, and the only stand of note came when Jack Richards and Geoff Arnold put on 24 for the eighth wicket. Again it was Gatting, who finished with match figures of 4.2-2-3-4, who mopped up the tail as Surrey were bowled out for 89. It could have been far worse had Middlesex not dropped five catches.
By then, the clock was against Middlesex who were left to score 139 in 27 minutes plus 20 overs. This time, the regular openers of Brearley and Mike Smith came out, and they got Middlesex off to a flier in scoring 47 off the first seven overs. At the start of the last 20 the target was 92 and the odds had swung right behind the home side.
Surrey were further handicapped by the absence of Arnold, who would have taken the new ball with Jackman. He had a sore toe, although Norman de Mesquita in The Times observed that he had not seemed handicapped when making 19, by some way the highest score in either innings.
Brearley, who in county cricket was a far more commanding batsman than he ever showed at Test level, attacked the wily Intikhab Alam, whose three overs cost 20, while Smith made the most of being dropped twice to make 51 before being stumped. By then, the game was as good as over and Brearley (66 not out) and Clive Radley (21 not out) guided them to victory with 11 balls to spare.
There was no time for Brearley to celebrate as he had to jump straight into his car and drive up to Headingley for the fourth Ashes Test which was due to start on the Thursday. On arrival he bumped into Derek Underwood, England team-mate and Kent rival. He turned to Brearley and said: "You deserve to win the title if you bowl a side out twice in a day."
Kent, meanwhile, had been bowled out for 51 by Worcestershire on the way to a heavy defeat, and so Middlesex regained a ten-point lead at the top of the table. In the end, the extra points resulting from the win over Surrey made all the difference. Middlesex and Kent finished level and the title was shared.
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The Return of the Ashes Mike Brearley (Pelham, 1978)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1978
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa