I thought I might take a trip down memory lane, whilst my coaching exploits are temporarily suspended due to the Coronavirus lockdown.
I was fortunate to play alongside some outstanding cricketers during my playing time at Somerset CCC. And with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to recall three memorable innings that I witnessed up close from three of the very best batsmen of my generation.
The first happened late June 1984 in a championship match against Leicestershire at Taunton. As I recall, the weather throughout the three days was very pleasant with plenty if sunshine. Leicestershire batted first and were dismissed for 254 inside 91 overs. Colin Dredge our most successful bowler with 4/48. In reply, we were troubled by the pace of Andy Roberts in particular, as he took 7/74 in our innings of 192 all out. Only a few of us managed double figures. I had scored 43 when Mr Roberts delivered a back of length delivery that I clipped through the leg side for four runs. Mr Roberts had a reputation for following up such deliveries with another back of a length delivery next ball, only shorter and sharper. He duly obliged and I merely managed to guide the ball comfortably to leg gully. Gone for 47. Martin Crowe managed the remainder of our innings in scoring a quite brilliant 70 not out.
Leicestershire batted again and scored 278 before declaring nine wickets down. Mark Davis, who was at the time impressing the England selectors, took 5/82 with his left arm swing. Somerset were set a daunting 341 for victory. A task which grew in magnitude as myself and Nigel Popplewell both returned to the pavilion with the score on just 3.
What followed was nothing short of a master class. Martin Crowe, in partnership with Peter Roebuck compiled 319 for the third wicket. Martin was all class and technical perfection, whilst Roebuck was his usual determined and awkward self. The pair combined perfectly. Martin was a player that Peter particularly admired enormously from beginning of his time with us.
The two seemed to gel as cricketers. They were different characters, but they shared an interest in the art of batting. Both were very technical and always seeking greater knowledge in the art of scoring runs. Roebuck’s runs were never compiled with the same grace as Martins, but in 1984 there were plenty accumulated by the Cambridge graduate. In total, he scored 1,702 runs at an average of 47, which included seven centuries. His best season in his fifteen years with the county. Yes, there was no doubt Martin inspired Peter to even greater levels in 1984 than he had achieved previously.
Martin scored six centuries among his 1,870 runs at an average of 53. We spent many hours watching those two bat that year.
Crowe’s statistics see him occupying 30th place in the all-time career batting averages. Obviously, Sir Don Bradman is top, but Crowe’s average of a shade higher than 56 is an extraordinary achievement. I don’t think any of us would have been surprised if someone had predicted such an eventuality, as we watched him in June, July and August of 1984.
Scores of 341 are rarely chased in the fourth innings. I’m pretty certain it’s the only time I’ve been involved in a match where this was the case. Clearly, my three runs at the top of the order set us on our way nicely and Robey and Martin capitalised.
I’m not sure at what point we realised we were watching something special. Whether it was the 100 partnership, the 200 partnership or the 300 partnership. I don’t know, but from further out than would normally be the case, there was an inevitability about the outcome. When the third wicket fell at 322, the game was all but over. It was a shame both Robey and Martin weren’t still at the crease when the final runs were scored, but their partnership remains the highest third wicket partnership in the county’s history. The way the modern approach to batting is moving, its unlikely to be broken for many years yet. There was a sad outcome to the game for me, as I was dropped for the next game. There’s the thanks you get for building the foundation!
The greatest batting experience I was privileged to share was in 1985 at Derbyshire. Unlike the Leicestershire match, the majority of this game was played under gloomy East Midland skies, with the threat of rain never too far away, despite it being late August.
Derby batted first and were dismissed for 272. In reply, we lost two early wickets for 40 runs. At this point, a certain Viv Richards joined me at the crease. Obviously, I had been lucky enough to watch Viv bat many times, but on most of those occasions I was already sat in the dressing room, cursing myself but making sure I was back on the balcony as quickly as possible so as not to miss any of Vivs batting if I could help it.
On this day, I had the pleasure of watching Viv from twenty-two yards. I also had the experience of experiencing what he was, in terms of comparing how I played the bowlers and how he did. I have never felt such an enormous gulf between myself and another batsman.
To ensure the challenge was heightened, Derbyshire had another fine West Indian fast bowler in their ranks, none other than Michael Holding. Mr Holding was in the latter stages of his career and as the pitch had more than a tinge of green, he had bowled with a shortened run up and simply controlled his line and length.
I’m not sure why, but quite early in his spell, he bowled a slower ball, rolling his fingers across the seam. Innocently, I picked up on the opportunity and eagerly drove the ball through mid-off for four runs. I set off and not for the last time that day, Viv asked me why I was running! I returned to my crease and looked up to watch Mr Holding return to his bowling mark. Only this time, he didn’t stop and turn around. This time, he bent down, picked up his bowling mark and proceeded to pace out a much longer run up. Controlled line and length as a plan was no more.
Looking back it was a remarkable and memorable experience. I don’t recall taking a sharp intake of breath when I saw him pace out further, but I’m sure I heard giggles coming from behind me in the slip cordon. Its fair to say that even though he absolutely flew in to bowl, he maintained the same grace and style that he always possessed. If it hadn’t been so life threatening, it would have been a joy to behold. I ducked. I swayed. I fended. I didn’t crunch any more drives through mid-off. I’m not sure an opportunity presented itself again! What I did notice was how differently Viv now approached the challenge. With cap immovable on his head, he pulled in front of mid-wicket with an ease that was almost impossible to imagine. Here we were experiencing an identical situation and he made the game appear utterly effortless. It was both totally inspirational and unintentionally demeaning in the same moment.
What was even more inspiring was the way Viv spoke to me throughout our partnership. He encouraged and he challenged me to compete. If I hit the ball for four runs and set off for a run, he would mildly berate me. “Don’t run for those Jules”. I would simply nod and return to my crease. I recall one particular shot, a back-foot drive, that was four from the moment it left the bat. I took off for the run. Within two or three paces I had already noted that my partner hadn’t moved and was already leaning against his bat. I looked up. He just looked at me as if to say, “what are you doing”? I apologised! I actually apologised before making my way back to the crease! His presence was enormous. He dominated. It was natural for him. It was something he had cultivated. Who has ever owned the batting crease better than Viv?
We shared a partnership of 185, with Viv scoring the lions share with a brilliant 123. Once he was gone, I mustered a few more, before falling just short of my century with 90. The disappointment of missing out on three figures lasted no time at all. What I did have was a memory that will never be erased. Viv is the best batsman I have ever seen and to spend some time at the crease with him is something I will cherish forever.
Earlier in the 1985 season, Viv had scored 322 runs in a day against Warwickshire. A game in which Somerset had declared their first innings closed at 566/5 from just 100 overs. Over the course of that 1985 season, Viv scored 1,836 runs at an average of 76.50. Next season, Somerset sacked him. Go figure…
The final of my three favourite innings was played by Steve Waugh in a Sunday League match against Northants. Steve had replaced Martin Crowe for the remainder of the 1988 season after Martin had a recurrence of a back injury. Steve was brilliant. He was the same age as me but seemed so much more advanced. The best young players always seem to possess this maturity though. Its as if they know something you don’t.
I can safely say, Steve was the best person I played cricket with. He had an attitude, a manner that I totally respected. Justin Langer was quoted as saying, “if Steve Waugh asked me to run through a brick wall, I would ask him how fast he wanted me to run”. I can understand that.
During the remainder of the 1988 season Steve scored runs against almost everyone, with several notable centuries against the greatest of fast bowlers, Marshall, Clarke, Walsh.
The Sunday league game against Northants was squeezed in the middle of the county championship game, as was the norm in those days. I shared a couple of 70 run partnerships with Steve in the county game, but I offered little of value in the one-day game, scoring just 11 runs before being second out in our run chase of 212.
Steve and Ricky Bartlett shared a lively third wicket partnership before Ricky was dismissed. Then wickets fell regularly. Graham Rose went. Vic Marks went. Gary Palmer. Neil Burns. Colin Dredge. At 146/8 and overs running out, it appeared that Steve would be stranded. Northants were buoyant. In walked Adrian Jones. Steve appeared unbelievably relaxed. Taunton was almost full and you sensed that the crowd remained positive, even if there might have been some grumblings. Steve took singles and involved Adrian. If the game was to be won, they had to do it together. And that was something Steve was brilliant at. He showed a trust in his partner. It wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about him having to take the strike. Steve was a team man. He wanted us all to play our part.
Adrian responded well. He returned the strike. Steve clipped and guided. He struck the odd boundary. The run rate rose. But the partnership stayed intact. Steve still strolled and appeared calm and collected. What did he know that we didn’t? Another boundary. Northants less buoyant. Adrian clears the pavilion. Steve brings up his century. We win with two balls to spare. We win at a canter. All planned.
It was such a shame that Australia toured in 1989 as I’m pretty sure the return of Steve would have been unanimously supported. I had an off-season experience involving Steve that I’ll save for another day. Suffice to say, it was an act of selflessness and generosity that I will never forget. Top man.
As I say, I was fortunate to play alongside some fantastic cricketers and those three performances epitomised those three players key traits. Crowe’s technique. Viv’s dominance. Steve’s calmness. To say playing cricket alongside them was a privilege would be an understatement.