The late Don Mosey, one of the great Test Match Special Team of the Seventies through to the Nineties, used to describe Cricket as a situation game: if the situation was exciting, the cricket was exciting, and vice versa. He was correct, of course, but I would extend his maxim to suggest that one of the glories of cricket is that, even in Limited-Over (One-Day) Matches, the game is big enough and long enough for a succession of situations to arise.
Sometimes, those situation develop out of nowhere, and a side gains a sudden ascendence that tips the game their way, and the supporters shift forward in their seats, concentrating on every ball, awakened to a moment that might break at any delivery, but whilst it lasts is rushing you along on a current that you want to last forever.
I was a Member at Lancashire CCC for almost fifteen years, which meant that I got to know Headquarters – Lord’s Cricket Ground, that is – quite well, because in the early Nineties we were playing there in one One-Day Final or another almost every year. In 1990, we became the first Club to win the Benson & Hedges Cup and the NatWest Bank Trophy in the same season, and six years later – the same year I had seen United become the first team to do the Double Double – we were on course to become the second team to win both trophies in the same season.
Like all such days, it started early, at Piccadilly Station at about 6.30am, blearily surveying the platform as we waited for the special commissioned train always put on for Lancy supporters on these occasions. By 9.30am we were gathering our bags, debouching from the train at Euston, and pouring onto the coaches for the short drive to St John’s wood.
The first omen was our driver, who looked like he could have been the younger brother of Graham Gooch, the England opener and Captain and, more pertinently, the leading batsman for Essex, our opponents in this year’s final.
I don’t know the St John’s Wood area at all, and no matter how often I’ve sat on a coach from Euston, I couldn’t navigate the route. Half the time, the coach goes a different route, though there are some landmarks I can normally recognise. This time there were none. The average coach journey to Lord’s is about twenty minutes, which was ample for Start of Play at 10.30am. But I didn’t recognise any of this journey, because the driver got lost. Seriously lost. Going All Around the Houses and Going to be Late for Start of Play lost. We passed signs for Islington, we passed London Zoo, after half an hour, two guys who, fortunately, had a London A-Z on them were sat in the door well, directing the driver so that we could get to the ground and sit down in time.
It was 10.25am before we pulled out and positively sprinted to settle ourselves down before the first ball was bowled. And no sooner were we in than we learned the dreadful news that Paul Prichard, the Essex Captain, had won the toss and invited Lancashire to bat first.
Those who are not cricket aficionados may not understand the significance of this piece of information, especially as it is now a relic of the past. The NatWest Trophy Final (and the Gillette Cup Final that preceded it) was traditionally played on the first Saturday in September, and was a sixty-over a side game. That’s 120 overs to be bowled in the day, in September, when the light is starting to recede in the evenings, and therefore the game has to start at 10.30am, the earliest start of any match during the English cricket season. And a 10.30am start, especially when the sun is starting to rise later, means a diminished amount of time for said sun to burn the dew from the wicket. Which, in turn, means an extremely lively wicket for the first hour, during which it is perfectly possible, and indeed monotonously regular, to take the game away from the batting side for good.
So: Essex had put us in to bat, and accordingly we were fucked.
I mean, six years earlier, in the 1990 Final against Northamptonshire, we won the toss, they batted and after an hour they were 35-5.
Lancashire weren’t that bad in 1996, but wickets fell with the regularity that runs were not scored, and although we managed to bat out the full sixty overs, courtesy of a fighting innings from John Crawley, who top-scored with 66 before being out to a freak stumping, we had only scored 186, though we had stretched the innings out to the very last ball, Gary Yates run out off one of those desperate, even one more run might count attempts.
This set Essex a target, on a pitch ten times more docile, of just a tiny fraction above three an over or, to put it another way, having to score off no more than every other ball.
After ten minutes Innings break, Essex started their pursuit of their Mickey Mouse target. Lancashire opened with Peter ‘Digger’ Martin from the Pavilion End and Ian ‘Bully’ Austin from the Nursery End. They were a good pair of opening bowlers. Digger was, tall, blonde, honest, pounding out a tight line with a pace fast enough to win him a dozen England caps, whilst being a very skilful water-colourist.
Bully, in contrast, was dark, solid, slightly round, approaching the wicket with a short, bustling, shoulder-rolling action, pace not much above medium, strength generated entirely from his shoulders and mean as can be, pounding it in hard, on a line, cramping the batsman and preventing him scoring.
And it was good, tight stuff to begin with, as the two started with opening spells of seven overs each, fourteen bowled and Essex scoring only 31 runs. Nothing to base too many hopes on, given the sheer number of overs available for runs to be scored, but Digger had been hammering away at their upper order, and had winkled out Grayson, Hussain and Prichard for only 25 on the Board. The accuracy of his bowling was measured by the fact that two were catches by the keeper, Warren ‘Chuckie’ Hegg, and the other by Neil Fairbrother at slip.
This last wicket had brought all-rounder Ronnie Irani out of the Pavilion, just as the first bowling change occurred, with the young and eager 22 year old Glen Chapple replacing Bully at the Nursery End. I can’t speak for the majority of the Lancashire contingent, but I will have been far from the only one to recognise the inevitable about to unfold.
The NatWest Trophy Final is the last show-piece of the Cricket Season, and it takes place a week before the Selectors announce the touring party for the winter. It’s ideal for that hotshot performance that attracts the Selector’s eyes, and Irani was a young all-rounder with a couple of caps, on the fringe of the England team. Steady the ship, score a half-century, win the game and book his place overseas. Worse than that, he was a former Lancashire player, who’d left the County during the winter, in search of a better chance. So: steady the ship, score a half-century against your old club, win the game and book his place overseas.
And four balls into Chappie’s first over, Irani launched into a flashing cover point drive that had the ball crossing the boundary before Chappie had finished his follow-through. It had started.
Then the next ball burst through Irani, splattered his wicket and sent middle and off stumps a dozen yards back towards Chuckie.
We were on our feet and roaring, as much because the Story had been abruptly overturned. There is a tremendous difference between 25-3 and 31-4, especially when that additional wicket is a tipping point moment. Essex, from a position of security, were suddenly thrown onto the back foot, against a Lancashire side – and crowd – suddenly energised beyond belief.
His next over, Chapple took two more wickets with the score on 33, bowling Rollins and trapping Ilott leg before. There was a hushed awe at the disintegration before our eyes, as impossible took its clothes off and was revealed as almost bloody certain. And when Watkinson took off Digger and introduced the gentle medium pace of Jason Gallian, he promptly trapped Graham Gooch – a shell-shocked onlooker at the carnage going on at the other end of the pitch – leg before with his first ball.
In what seemed no more time than it took to tell it, Essex had gone from 31-3 to 33-7, and Chappie had not finished because here he was inducing Robinson to nick one to Fairbrother and at 34-8, Essex had unbelievably lost five wickets for three runs.
If the welter of wickets had continued at that pace, the Final would have been wrapped up before Tea, and the resultant Lancy roar would probably have rolled the Thames back halfway to Reading, but Essex managed to fend us off until the Interval. But they were a broken team, and two more stump-shattering deliveries by Chapple after Tea left him with new career-best figures of 6 for 18 of 6 overs and 2 balls.
Essex were out for 57, by far and away the lowest score ever in a Sixty Over Final, which was a nice plus point since the previous record of 118 had been scored in the 1974 Gillette Cup Final by our beloved Red Rose County. We had won by 129 runs, with over half the overs left to bowl, and Chappie had won the Man of the Match.
But, most of all, we had had that glorious rush of blood, when our raw young red-headed first change bowler had blown the middle of the Essex order apart, and I was thrilled because I was there.