Thursday, 12 September 2013

1989: NatWest Trophy Final

After my first NatWest final in 1985, there had been a distinct lack of last over dramas during the next few end of season finals. True, there had been some classy knocks during difficult run chases - Ramprakash and Hadlee spring to mind - but as I sat down to watch the 1989 final between Middlesex and Warwickshire, I yearned for a classic finale played out in a late summer setting of Lord's. As a fan of English cricket, it surely wasn't too much to ask for was it? 1989 certainly owed me one from a cricketing perspective.

That miserable English cricket fans were served up a thrilling final would have been no consolation whatsoever to the players of Middlesex, and a certain analyst. After all, it was hardly their fault that we had been put through the torture of a 4-0 Ashes defeat, the revolving door selection policy that had seen 29 players selected during that series, and the general chaos that surrounded the national side. Like it or not though, Middlesex's skipper Mike Gatting was making back page headlines in the week leading up to the final, as English cricket hobbled from one crisis to the next.

Gatting's role in the forthcoming rebel tour of South Africa was fully in the public domain come the NatWest final, and his presence, along with that of John Emburey, in the Lord's showpiece, made the match a prime target for the Stop The Tour (STT) movement. Approximately 40 members of the anti-apartheid group made their voices heard by the Grace Gates, with one man arrested for invading the pitch during the final, as feelings against the tour were unsurprisingly running high. Gatting was under attack from all angles, yet rumours began to circulate that if he couldn't stand the heat then he may still be offered a route out of the kitchen (insert your own Gatting/food joke here).

English cricket had been pretty tough on Gatting in the last year. Stripped of the England captaincy over the Rothley Court affair in 1988 (or the rumpus over Shakoor Rana, depending on which theory you wish to believe), it emerged that the new England supremo, Ted Dexter, had been persuaded by coach Micky Stewart to offer Gatting the Test captaincy at the start of the inglorious summer of '89. However, one Ossie Wheatley famously got involved, the TCCB chairman of cricket using his right to veto any decision on such an issue, leading England to turn to David Gower. On such a foundation of jelly, it was hardly surprising that the Ashes campaign was so embarrassing.

With Gower's job apparently up for grabs - he would be sacked on the day after the final - many felt that the lure of the England captaincy would be too much for Gatting to turn down, which would then have a detrimental effect on Ali Bacher's proposed tour. Bacher revealed that Gatting had apparently been approached by the TCCB in a last ditch attempt to get him to pull out of the tour. Gatting gave his word though that he would tour South Africa, and the row would rumble on.

Despite the hullabaloo surrounding their captain, Middlesex were still seen as the favourites for the trophy. Stacked full of international players past, present and future, since 1977 they had played in six domestic one-day finals and won the lot. With batsmen like Desmond Haynes and Gatting, backed up by the youthful promise of Mark Ramprakash, it was easy to see why Middlesex had marched to the final, though it was their bowling attack of Norman Cowans, Ricardo Ellcock, Angus Fraser, Simon Hughes, and John Emburey, that gave the side a deep pool of talent from which to tap in to.

Indeed, after Middlesex had strolled to the semis with easy wins over Durham, Nottinghamshire and Sussex, it was the bowlers who ensured that the defending champions would be at Lord's on September 2, by successfully defending a determined run-chase against Hampshire in Southampton. The role of Middlesex's death bowler had been allocated to Hughes for a number of years, his effort in the 1986 Benson and Hedges cup final seeing Middlesex home against Kent, and although it was Fraser in the Hampshire match who held his nerve in the final over, Hughes details in his excellent A Lot of Hard Yakka book, that he secretly joked to friends prior to the match that he would probably bowl the last over in the final with just ten runs needed for victory.

Hughes also highlights in his book a couple of pre-final warning signs for both himself and his county. Whereas Hughes had eagerly anticipated each of his previous finals with both a mixture of excitement and the required amount of nerves to perform to a high standard, he admitted that for the first time he did not feel the same sense of occasion as he had before, that he was maybe too relaxed. Perhaps Hughes was guilty of taking a final appearance for granted, after all Middlesex had played in plenty, but the fact that the county had booked a reception after the final for the very first time, also suggests that complacency had set in.

Whether this is accurate or not, we will never know. Yet for Middlesex's opponents on that day, there was no danger of any such ills slipping into their collective psyche. Warwickshire had not won the end of season final since 1968 (when it was still called the Gillette Cup), were trophyless since 1980, and had hardly been pulling up any trees in the 1989 county championship, going 14 matches without registering a victory, finally ending the run on August 1. But as with buses and England Ashes victories, you wait ages for one and a batch come along at once. A run of five wins and two draws immediately prior to the final - including a match at Leeds on the day before Lord's (such preparation for the players back then) - had boosted the morale of the county, and given the players and supporters hope that better days were around the corner, their semi-final win over county champions and local rivals Worcestershire particularly sweet.

One of the catalysts for the recovery was the South African paceman Allan Donald. Bowling at a rate of knots that led to a pre-White Lightning nickname of the Bloemfontein Bullet, Donald had thrust himself upon the county scene in a dramatic way, taking 79 wickets at 16 runs apiece, and backed up by Gladstone Small, Tim Munton, Dermot Reeve, Paul Smith and Neil Smith, the team contained a more than useful one-day bowling attack. Warwickshire's batting consisted of experience in skipper Andy Lloyd, the 40-year-old Alvin Kallicharran, and Geoff Humpage, although Asif Din, and the one day specialists in Reeve, and both Smiths were just as important to the success of the county, all of the younger players proving their worth in the glory years that followed in the 1990s.

It was pretty much an unwritten rule that the captain winning the toss would always insert the opposition in the NatWest final, the early start in September conditions aiding swing bowlers. So it was a little surprising when Gatting elected to bat first, although knowing the pitch very well, he assumed correctly that it would get slower and lower as the day progressed. Unfortunately, the strip did not allow for much expansiveness, Middlesex's total of 210/5 from their 60 overs at just 3.50 runs per over proving this.

Through the struggles, the class of Desmond Haynes shone through. The Barbadian's 50 from 99 balls ended by the off-spin of Neil Smith, but along the way Haynes hit eight fours, one more than the rest of the Middlesex batsmen managed between them. Gatting continued his poor run in one-day finals, bowled by Munton for just a single, taking his total of runs to 124 in his seven Lord's finals. More pertinently though, it looked as if his decision to bat first was backfiring.

Gatting aside, most players got a start before departing; John Carr made 17, until Reeve had him caught behind brilliantly by Humpage, on his way to miserly figures of 12-4-27-1; Donald removed Ramprakash (24) as would happen six times in the seven Test matches in which the pair played against each other; Mike Roseberry also made 26, but at 148/5, and with just the pace bowlers to come, Middlesex were not sitting pretty.

Fortunately for Middlesex and any neutrals, Paul Downton and Emburey managed to get the total up to a competitive level. Downton (43*) and Emburey (21*) shared a partnership of 62 in the last ten overs, at least giving Middlesex something to bowl at, although in his post-match interviews Gatting revealed that he thought 220 would have been ideal. Every captain of course would like an extra few runs or so, yet for long parts of the Warwickshire reply, it looked as if Middlesex had more than enough runs.

Quick wickets were essential for Middlesex, and Angus Fraser duly delivered, dismissing Andy Moles (10) and Kallicharran (0) in quick succession, leaving Warwickshire on 26/2. With Cowans bowling a tight opening six overs that saw him concede only eight runs, the recovery job was hard going for Lloyd and Humpage. The slow Lord's pitch appeared to be strangling the life out of the run-chase, leading to a promotion up the order for Paul Smith, after Emburey had bowled Lloyd to leave the Midlanders on 66/3 from 28.1 painstaking overs.

Smith's cameo knock of 24 from 25 balls did give the innings some much needed impetus, until Gatting wisely decided to take the pace off of the ball, the Warwickshire man unable to resist Carr's dibbly-dobbly bowling which led to his downfall. When Gatting caught Humpage (36) off Cowans, Warwickshire were 122/5 and at the point of no return. A big partnership was required; step forward Asif Din and Dermot Reeve.

With almost 20 overs remaining, the run rate was not a massive issue for the pair, with Warwickshire 89 runs short of their target, and steadily Reeve and Din built the highest, and probably most important partnership of the day, keeping their team in the hunt as darkness descended upon Lord's. In a typical nip and tuck one day climax, the pendulum swung with almost every delivery, each dot ball heaping more pressure on the batsmen, each shot into the outfield putting the fielders under scrutiny. Roseberry would spurn a difficult chance in the outfield off of Din, as the light started to become increasingly difficult for all players involved, a costly mistake as it would transpire.

Requiring 39 from the final seven overs at 5.57 an over, Warwickshire looked ahead of the game, until a few tight overs nudged the equation to 29 from four (7.25 an over). Emburey's final over was a microcosm of the match; after scoring nine runs from it, including four byes past Downton, the momentum was with Warwickshire, until Reeve was run out, bringing Neil Smith to the wicket. Reeve's 42, coupled with his tight bowling, would later earn him the man of the match award, but even after a partnership of 69 with Din, Middlesex were again favourites.

Even more so when Hughes' premonition arrived to stare him in the face late on that Saturday evening. Ten runs required from the last over, in the gathering gloom, Gatting later commented "I'd have put my benefit money on us," which emphasises just how big a task faced Din and Smith. After what seemed like an age, Hughes bowled a good block hole delivery first up to Din, the resultant single putting Smith on strike.

A player who had struggled to get into the Warwickshire team in the last couple of years, Smith had recently got his chance after an injury to Adrian Pierson, but as many sporting examples show us, it is sometimes difficult to live up to the reputation of your father, especially as MJK Smith had been such a stalwart at the same county throughout his career. But his maiden century the day before against Yorkshire showed that he had talent, and with one swing of the bat, the bespectacled Smith junior was about to enter Warwickshire folklore.

"I wasn't picking up Hughes' slower ball and that is what I expected him to bowl," said Smith after the final. "I made up my mind to give it a go". As the ball left the bat, Hughes initially thought it had gone straight up in the air, whilst the BBC cameraman struggled to follow the flight of the ball, us viewers at home only aware of the magnitude of the shot when Jack Bannister informed us that it had gone for six (the only one of the match). "Well, if ever a game can turn on one ball, that might just have done it," said Bannister, as MJK jumped for joy at what his son had just achieved.

Hughes managed to bowl a dot ball next up, but his leg side wide off the fourth ball of the over was another nail in the Middlesex coffin. "I felt stupid....I felt culpable, and crap," wrote Hughes in A Lot of Hard Yakka, and with fortune clearly not on his side, there would be another cruel twist. His next delivery was an excellent yorker, squeezed out by Smith straight back to the bowler. However, Hughes slipped and the ball got past him, and as he sat disconsolately on the Lord's turf, Smith and Din ran the two runs needed for victory. If it hadn't been for pitch invaders in the 1980s, there is a fair chance Hughes may have remained there to this day.

The 60/1 pre-tournament outsiders had pulled off a famous win, their hero at the death a man who was still wondering whether he would get a new contract at the club. "Neil need not worry," declared a beaming Lloyd after collecting the trophy. Seeing as Smith could still be seen playing for Warwickshire as late as 2003 indicates that Lloyd was true to his word. Smith would also play seven times in ODIs for England, featuring in their doomed 1996 World Cup campaign, including a match in which he took 3/29 against the UAE and famously vomited on the outfield. Simon Hughes probably felt like doing the same in 1989.

"The ball that went for six has become the single most important moment with which my whole cricket career is identified," noted Hughes. "'You're that bloke who was panned out of the park by M.J.K, Smith's son,' punters chuckle. Still, I'd rather be partially identifiable than totally anonymous." Hughes is right; who amongst us would not have loved the chance to have played in a Lord's final watched by millions, regardless of the outcome? It may have ruined Middlesex's reception at the Regent's Park Hilton, it may have left Hughes numb, but you can't deny that the drama provided by both teams, and that final over especially, takes its place neatly alongside other famous moments which make the history of the NatWest Trophy so rich.


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  2. I was there on that day, my brother and I having scavenged two tickets and being invited by a member (one of the ticket sellers) into the Warner Stand.

    My brother was supporting Warwickshire, while I have always been a Middlesex fan. The tube journey home was not pleasant.

    Thanks for the great article!