The Memory Bank – Somerset v Kent, 1979

There first in an occasional series looking back at games that mean so much to a lifelong Somerset supporter

This is my first venture back into the archive of Somerset cricket. The intention is, initially at least, unashamedly personal. To relive matches that mean something to me. The order I present them in is entirely random. My aim is to write about games that simply take my fancy during the off-season while during the season I am going to try to do a similar exercise once a month with relevance to the current Somerset schedule.

One thing that has always struck me as important and is often missed in such writing is the context the game in question was played in. Something that is very relevant to the understanding of the game is often missed and that is to try to put the reader back in the position of the supporter on the day. The selection of the first game in the series may surprise many but for me it was an easy choice. It was a game that regularly comes back to my mind. 

So to start with here I revisit my 17-year-old self at Taunton on a Wednesday in early August  1978.

The Gillette Cup became all-consuming for many Somerset supporters (me included) in the late seventies. Somerset were there or thereabouts in the Championship during this period but the opportunity for that first ever trophy first came in the 60-over knock out competition. 

The disappointment of the final defeat to Sussex in 1978 carried right through the following winter. Elimination from the B&H Cup after the events at Worcester in May heightened the importance of the older, longer competition. Almost exactly 11 months after that Lord’s final Somerset had progressed to the quarter-final and were drawn at home to a Kent side that was, at the time, packed with cricketing royalty.

Somerset’s had comfortably beaten Derbyshire in the previous round by 8 wickets with 4 overs to spare while Kent squeezed home at Canterbury against Lancashire by 18 runs. 

I remember being at the ground before 8.30 and even then sensing that this was a special day. The queues to get into the ground were long. As soon as we were let into the ground the atmosphere was intense, the game was a sell-out. Somerset expected.

Brian Rose won the toss and elected to bat. While my memory is somewhat hazy I think I am right in recalling that the early morning brightness turned overcast at around the time the toss took place. Whatever, Rose must have been confident in the surface and overhead conditions to bat first.

Within an hour the Somerset innings, and hopes of a first ever trophy, were in tatters. The score had not reached 50 and Somerset were four down when Peter Denning was caught at slip by Chris Tavare off the medium place mediocrity of Bob Woolmer. 

All hope was however not lost as Ian Botham joined Viv Richards. With plenty of overs in hand there was still the possibility of a respectable total to defend. Initially all was well but after adding exactly 50 the partnership was broken and 95-5 quickly became 110-7 and 126-8 as Richards, Botham, Dennis Breakwell and Derek Taylor perished.

Stoically Graham Burgess remained undefeated. He found support from Joel Garner who, while only scoring 12 enabled “Budgie” to add a crucial 31. When Garner was bowled by Asif Iqbal with the total on 156 the end of the innings seemed imminent. This was clearly not going to be enough against the batting line-up Kent had that day. The mood around the ground was sombre, and that was being generous!

But Somerset’s last man was the redoubtable Keith Jennings. Like Colin Dredge, Jennings was a much-underrated but vital member of that Somerset side. But not, with all respect to Milverton’s finest, for his batting!

Somehow, improbably the last pair took the innings into the 60th over adding another 33. The last two wickets had added 64 and Somerset at least had something to bowl at.

This is where, just thinking about it, the hairs rise on the back of my neck. The crowd in the County Ground that day seemed to sense they had a big part to play and by the time Brian Rose led his team out the atmosphere was like nothing I had ever witnessed at the ground before.

Bob Woolmer and Graham Johnson opened the batting for Kent. Charged with the dubious pleasure of seeing off the opening spells of Garner and Botham and setting Kent’s run chase off to a solid start. It was a task they failed, spectacularly to achieve. 

Botham was we all know a superb cricketer, but his bowling was rarely what could be described as quick. But there were occasions, when bowling in tandem with Garner, that he could be seriously rapid. This was one of those occasions.

Woolmer was caught at second slip by Botham off Garner for 6. Johnson was bowled for 1. 14-2. Johnson’s dismissal was particularly sweet for those of us who were in the River Stand. Johnson had spent most of the Somerset innings fielding at third man and it is fair to say his smugness as the Somerset innings collapsed did not endear himself to the locals. Strangely I also remember he was wearing a black leather necklace, clearly visible under his Kent shirt. It was the source of much amusement to the packed crowd behind him. Funny how these random insignificant things stick in your brain

Suffice to say Johnson was considerably more contrite when he left the crease following his dismissal.

If Botham was quick that day Garner was fearsome in this spell. Derek Taylor seemed to be standing more than half-way back to the boundary and even Ian Botham was an unusually respectful distance at second slip. The broad grin on Botham’s face as ball after ball whistled at unplayable height past the hapless Kent batsmen was clear to see even at the distance back in the River Stand. He like us was enjoying this.

14-2 soon became 19-4 as Tavare and Ealham were also dismissed for ducks. John Shepherd joined Asif Iqbal and they managed to add 21. Kent were still well short of their target but just as the nerves started to seep back in to the minds of the faithful Jennings, who had been brought on second change, made the crucial breakthrough removing Shepherd for 9. 

From 40-4 the end was swift. Botham removed Asif for 10 and while Chris Cowdrey was on his way to a top score of 12 the rest could not stay with him. Fittingly it was Burgess who removed the future Kent captain and with the Garner and Botham returning to remove the tail (for 6,0 and 0) Kent we hustled out in 28.4 overs for 60. 

Garner finished with a man of the match 5-11 in 9.4 overs, Botham 3-15 in 10. Burgess who had been responsible for such a huge contribution with the bat was incredibly unlucky not to be adjudged man of the match. Ironically Budgie’s contribution which began with Somerset 95-5 was rendered irrelevant by the force of nature that was Joel Garner and I an Botham that afternoon.

Somerset 190 all out 59.2 overs (Burgess 50*, Richards 44, Woolmer 4-28) beat Kent 60 all out 28.4 overs (Garner 5-11, Botham 3-15) by 130 runs