August 18, 1981
Nottinghamshire 102 (Hassan 58, Waller 5-36) and 223 for 9 (Hassan 79, Rice 58, le Roux 3-18, Imran 3-53, Barclay 3-56) drew with Sussex 208 (Mendis 65, Hemmings 5-94) and 144 (Hemmings 4-57, Bore 3-71)
September 14, 1981
Nottinghamshire 180 (Nash 4-48, Ontong 3-47) and 30 for 0 beat Glamorgan 60 (Hadlee 4-18, Cooper 4-25) and 149 (Miandad 75, Hadlee 4-38, Hemmings 4-51) by ten wickets
"It takes a very special person to absorb the trauma of being sacked by a club and then return to lead them to their most successful season for fifty years," teased John Lawson in the 1981 Wisden. Inevitably, of course, Lawson then assured readers that Clive Rice was just such a person and he went on to consider the achievements that had led to Rice being named as one of the almanack's Five Cricketers of the Year. Rather more surprising, though, was the implicit fact that Nottinghamshire had not finished higher than fourth in the County Championship table since 1930.
Elsewhere in the yellow brick Lawson was confident that the overall improvement in Notts cricket during the previous season "could not fail to be recognised", a conclusion which one or two folk at the Radcliffe Road End might have disputed quite volubly. Rice's team had been knocked out of the 1980 Gillette Cup in the second round and had got no further than the quarter-final of the Benson and Hedges. It had needed three wins in their last four games to hoist them off the bottom of the John Player League table, so it was only a third-place finish in the Championship that justified any modest accolade.
But Nottinghamshire's correspondent had watched the side and he knew his business. He was writing about a county which had finished 11th or worse in 18 of the 21 seasons between 1957 and 1977. (Indeed, Nottinghamshire have finished bottom of the County Championship more often than they have won it. The golden eras have been interspersed with some distinctly pewter ones.) And although the success achieved by Rice's team in 1980 was relative in another respect - they finished 80 points behind champions Middlesex - it was also the happy prelude to the following summer in which they would win the title for the first time since 1929.
They still cherish that season at Trent Bridge; they also savour the three Championships that have followed it. The pennants hang like regimental banners in the corridor leading from the dressing rooms to the field. "Rice and Hadlee" some supporters respond, maybe a little too glibly, when reminded of the summers in which a couple of the best allrounders in the world played for their county. Yet it also seems a fair call. Less than two years after being recalled as captain - he had been appointed in 1978 but was dismissed when he agreed to play World Series Cricket - Rice scored 1462 runs, took 65 wickets and pocketed 25 catches. His six centuries included an unbeaten 105 out of a total of 143 against Malcolm Marshall at Bournemouth. That innings was played in a losing cause but he epitomised the approach of a cricketer Scyld Berry ranks with Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Hadlee as one of the greatest allrounders of an extraordinary decade. "You would have followed him through a brick wall," said Derek Randall.
The problem for Rice was that South Africa's ostracism meant an even more formidable different barrier prevented his playing Test matches, "a fact which frustrates him to the point of embitterment" thought Lawson. The skipper's new-ball partner, Richard Hadlee, had been free to play international cricket and, aged 30 in 1981, he was just learning to husband his resources. His run-up was shorter but the level of skill was greater and he took 105 Championship wickets in 1981 at an average of 14.89 runs apiece. "The longer Hadlee went on the craftier he became," John Woodcock wrote, "so that he was feared more when he was thirty-five than when he had been twenty-five."
"We're going to exploit every conceivable advantage of playing at home," Rice had said at the start of the season. The skipper was better than his word, with eight of his side's 11 Championship wins achieved at Trent Bridge
It was also clear to team-mates that the pair often inspired each other in the manner of Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards at Hampshire or Botham and Viv Richards at Somerset. "He was tough, he expected high standards and he always played hard," said Hadlee of Rice. "He played the game to win - he would take high-risk options. When he was 100% fit, he was as slippery as anyone. I would bowl with the wind and he'd bowl into it. That's where he lost most of his hair, I think."
The inspiration percolated throughout the club. It extended to the 32-year-old offspinner Eddie Hemmings, whose 84 Championship scalps in 1981 were as valuable as those taken by Rice or Hadlee. And Hemmings' ten hauls of four or more wickets is a counter, albeit not a rebuttal, to the argument that Nottinghamshire won the title only because groundsman Ron Allsop prepared green-quilted seamers for Rice and Hadlee. Although the average first-innings total at Trent Bridge that season was 156, any strategy was largely dependent on Rice winning the toss and inserting the opposition, something he was lucky enough to do in ten out of eleven home fixtures. (Leicestershire opted to bat in the first game of the campaign and the only match played at an outground took place at Cleethorpes, where Northamptonshire were skittled for 85.)
What may have annoyed the detractors was the brazenness of Rice's approach. "We're going to exploit every conceivable advantage of playing at home," he had said at the start of the season. The skipper was better than his word. Eight of his side's 11 Championship wins were achieved at Trent Bridge, although the more thoughtful of Rice's rivals were careful to position the season in a proper context.
"Notts played great cricket, too," said the Sussex skipper Johnny Barclay in his lovely book The Appeal of the Championship. "Clive Rice relied upon the pace bowling of himself and Richard Hadlee, followed by the spin of Eddie Hemmings, and all three of them bowled magnificently. It is true that they prepared wickets to help their bowlers, but then so did we at Eastbourne, against Derek Underwood."
Barclay's assessment is particularly valuable given that his own new-ball attack of Garth le Roux and Imran Khan helped Sussex finish just two points behind Nottinghamshire in the final table. Barclay also understood the plain truth that at some points in any game the batsmen have to score runs if the bowlers' havoc is to be effective. And even the frankest critics of the champions' approach had to acknowledge the importance of the 1093 championship runs made by Randall and the 899 accumulated by Paul Todd. Behind the stumps Bruce French was a model of tidiness and unfussy competence: a wicketkeeper's wicketkeeper. While the architects of Nottinghamshire's third title were born in Johannesburg and Christchurch, three of the builders came from Retford, Morton and Warsop.
The only match between Nottinghamshire and Sussex took place at Trent Bridge in mid-August and was billed as a championship decider. For once the publicists had things about right; the game was described by Rice as the tensest draw in which he ever played. After conceding a first-innings lead of 106 Nottinghamshire were left needing to 251 in the fourth innings. That target looked attainable when Rice and Basharat Hassan were steering their team to 174 for 3 but Hassan was bowled by Imran and Barclay's offspin accounted for both Rice and Hadlee. Le Roux's pace took care of the next three wickets and on a steamy evening the destination of the title seemed to depend on Sussex dismissing either Hemmings or Nottinghamshire's last man, Mike Bore, a batsman who Barclay charmingly describes as being "quite unscathed by natural ability".
A very fast ball from Imran hit Bore halfway up on his back pad. Umpire Peter Stevens turned down the appeal and the match was drawn. Barclay takes up the story.
"In the sanctuary of the dressing room Imran was inconsolable.
'Plumb, it was absolutely plumb,' he kept groaning.
'That Shakin' chap must be blind,' someone else said. Champagne was being opened, the legacy of a Sunday Telegraph team of the month award. We had been carrying it around with us and now seemed as good a time as any to drink it.
'Home crowd, innit,' bellowed [Ian] Gould, who was standing on a chair, determined not to waste any of the bubbly. We all drank champagne, except Imran, who didn't drink.
'It was plumb,' he continued to complain."
Both sides won their final four games. Needing only a victory and five bonus points to secure the title, Nottinghamshire swept aside Glamorgan by ten wickets inside two days. Hadlee and Kevin Cooper took four wickets apiece as the visitors were dismissed for 60 before nine home batsmen reached double figures in Nottinghamshire's 180. Javed Miandad's 75 offered the only substantial obstruction on the second day but he became one of Hadlee's eight victims in the match. Only the delicious formalities remained.
"Not since the days of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce had Trent Bridge hosted such celebratory scenes as those that greeted Nottinghamshire's final victory over Glamorgan," Wisden reported. In the home dressing room Reg Simpson, whose time as player, captain and chairman covered 35 years, found the occasion too much for him. "When I saw him in tears," Hassan said, "I realised just how important a day it was for Nottinghamshire cricket."
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Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications