Wednesday, 27 June 2018

1983: Surrey 14 all out

The Boomtown Rats and Surrey County Cricket Club might not have a lot in common. But I think it would have been safe to say that on May 30, 1983, anyone associated with the county would have agreed that they really didn’t like Mondays. We’ve all had bad days at the office, yet we ordinary folk at least have the benefit of displaying our inadequacies in front of relatively few people.

It wasn’t that easy for the 11 cricketers who represented Surrey on that Bank Holiday in Chelmsford. What should have been a fairly standard Schweppes County Championship match in Essex all of a sudden became headline news. Television news crews and journalists turned their attentions to the embarrassment in Essex, as many searched for the record books.

“Surrey in a shambles” the Daily Express headline explained. “Surrey shamed by Essex pair” the Daily Mirror added. That the latter appeared under the words “14 ALL OUT” goes some way to explaining the magnitude of the media coverage. 14 ALL OUT. Let’s just leave that hanging there.

It appeared as if the three-day county match would be fairly uneventful after Essex’s first innings. With play on the Saturday completely washed out, the home team managed to post 287 after being inserted by Surrey skipper Roger Knight. A fine 110 from Essex captain Keith Fletcher provided the backbone of the innings, ably supported by Ken McEwan and handy runs from the tail.

With Essex dismissed just over an hour before close of play, Surrey were left with a potentially difficult period to negotiate their way through. But nobody could have predicted what was to follow. An innings comprising of just 87 balls in total, that saw Surrey record the lowest ever county score since 1907, creating panic in a dressing room in Chelmsford.

The carnage started when Alan Butcher was caught behind trying to pull a Norbert Phillip delivery. For the West Indian all-rounder it would be the first dismissal on his way to barely believable bowling figures of 7.3-4-4-6. Yes, six wickets for four runs! Down the other end, Neil Foster, playing his first match in a year after a back injury, weighed in with 4/10.

Foster’s first victim was Andy Needham, brought into the team in place of New Zealander Geoff Howarth, who it appears had a lucky escape. Needham’s duck left Surrey at 5/2; soon he would be joined in the club by the five men directly below him in the batting order. Knight and Monte Lynch departed, both trapped lbw by Phillip, as Surrey subsided to 8/4.

Incredibly, worse was to come. Grahame Clinton, top scorer on 6, fell to Foster, and when Jack Richards, David Thomas, and Ian Payne went for ducks, there was some doubt as to whether the visitors could make double figures. Understandably panic spread through the dressing room, with furious coach Micky Stewart frantically instructing Surrey’s players to get padded up.

One man who was apparently unsure about the mess was Surrey paceman Sylvester Clarke. Relaxing in a bath after bowling twenty overs earlier in the day, Clarke was surprised at first when the returning Richards told him he should get his pads on. After checking with his team mates, Clarke knew that the situation was serious.

Making his way to the wicket with no socks on and soap in his hair, Clarke got to the middle to find his team 8/8. Two runs from the bat of Graham Monkhouse literally edged the team total to two figures, the ball just falling short of Ray East in the slips. Clarke slogged a boundary, but Foster ended the partnership of 6 – the highest in the innings – and when Phillip removed Monkhouse, the wreckage could be surveyed.

Described as the fifth lowest total in first-class cricket – there is a debate amongst statisticians as to whether The Bs effort in 1810 should be classed in this category – the figure of 14 runs was the lowest by a county since Northamptonshire’s 12 in 1907, and Surrey’s lowest score in 103 years. Despite this, Knight was adamant that the pitch was not to blame.

“There was nothing wrong with the wicket,” he explained. “We just didn’t bat very well. The ball did swing about quite a lot, but we can have no excuses for getting out for such a low score. It was a freak total, and one we have just got to try and forget.” Knight had ordered for the heavy roller to be used between innings, but he, and the press alike, did not see that as the reason for the mayhem.

“Bad, or irresolute, batting was the main reason,” Peter Ball wrote in the Times. “But it should not be allowed to take credit away from the bowlers, who bowled with fire, accuracy and a speed which neither Clarke not Thomas had managed earlier in the day.”

Both Essex bowlers had reason to be cheerful. Foster had suffered a stress fracture of the vertebrae in the previous season, admitting that “Just to get into the side was great.” Phillip could not wipe the smile off his face, indicating his basic plan through the short innings. “I just made a point of keeping the ball up and letting it do the rest. But I must admit, it did swing a great deal.”

Unquestionably, the conditions had been helpful. But it was now the task of Surrey’s beleaguered batsmen to try and come back the next day to see if they could make a better fist of things after being asked to follow on. Resisting the temptation of going out on the Monday night to drown their sorrows proved wise. Surrey’s players turned up at Chelmsford on the Tuesday to see a lot more press interest than usual.

Play was delayed until 12.30, and with Surrey 20/2 at lunch, there was a fear that an innings defeat was on the cards. But a fine 167-run partnership between Knight (101*) and Clinton (61*) at least gave the visitors a pride-restoring draw. In less helpful conditions, Foster and Phillip took a wicket apiece, although they still ended with match figures of 5/43 and 7/43 respectively.

“It was simply a question of showing a little application – and assuming that the ball was not going round in circles again,” Knight said after the draw had been secured. The team had at least managed to recover from their shame, draw the match, and even take the same amount of bowling bonus points out of the match as Essex.

After the innings, Needham asked his father to make seven ties with ducks on them for the Magnificent Seven who had not troubled the scorers. Micky Stewart was far from impressed with this, though, ordering the offending items to be cut up (according to Lynch) or banned (Pat Pocock). “If you're going to be famous, be famous for the right reasons,” Stewart reportedly stated.

Stewart probably has a point. But I have a certain amount of respect for sportsmen who have taken part in such an unmitigated shambles, and come through it as Surrey’s players did on that day. Infamy can be acceptable in particular circumstances.

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