On 8th August 1979 the number one record in the charts was the controversial ‘I don’t like Mondays’ by the Boomtown Rats. In the cinema there was The Amityville Horror, Moonraker and Rocky 2 and on TV that day was The Wombles, The Omega Factor and Why Don’t you…?
Also on TV was live coverage of the Gillette Cup Quarter-final clash between Somerset v Kent introduced by Peter West. Kent went into the fixture one of the glamour sides of limited overs cricket, having won eight one-day titles, including two Gillette Cups. Somerset on the other hand, had yet to win a trophy having been runners-up twice in the Gillette Cup; in 1967 when they lost to Kent and in the previous season when they were soundly beaten by Sussex.
In fact previously the same season, Essex, who started the season as the only other county never to win a trophy, had won the Benson & Hedges Cup and already had one hand on the Championship title leaving Somerset as the only club never to win silverware.
On a sunny day at Taunton Somerset skipper Brian Rose won the toss and elected to bat and this looked a poor decision as Somerset were reduced to 45 for 4. They were being undone by a 20 year-old fast bowler called Graham Dilley who had a fascinating action where his arm seemed to stop in mid-air before delivering fatal blows. The home team were in trouble.
There was brief respite in the form of a 50 partnership between Ian Botham (29) and Viv Richards (44) in just 11 overs, but both of these would be out before lunch to see Somerset languishing at 112 for 7. Soon after the break the situation became even worse at 126 for 8 and it seemed like Somerset were playing just to delay the inevitable against arguably the strongest side in the country.
Graham Burgess, known affectionately as ‘Budgie’, was the only remaining player that played in the 1967 final. He had taken his place at one end but it looked like no-one was capable of sticking around with him. He was joined by Joel Garner, aka ‘Big Bird’, and the two set about restoring some respectability to the bedraggled home team’s depleted total. Garner was playing with unexpected caution allowing Burgess to get into his stride. They took the score past 150 but on 157 Garner lost patience and swung at a straight one from Asif Iqbal and he was on his way back for 12.
The last man was Keith Jennings. The Wellington born seamer was not known for his run scoring but he blocked desperately so Budgie could take singles to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Kent’s bowlers were frustrated they couldn’t finish Somerset off and Burgess found his way to a determined if unspectacular half century. It was just what Somerset needed. In the last over Jennings was out, bowled by Shepherd, and the home side finished on 190 all out. The last two wickets produced 64 runs and the cider men were buoyant as this score was beyond their wildest dreams at lunch. They now had a chance.
Predictably Garner opened the bowling with Botham, who took a stunning catch at second slip to help Joel remove Woolmer. Big Bird took three more wickets in a simply devastating spell and Kent were 19 for 4. Before lunch Botham bowled Iqbal for 10 and Kent were 40 for 5 when Rose rested the pair.
Batting heroes Jennings and Burgess replaced the two and maintained the pressure. Botham took another stunner at slip off Jennings to remove Shepherd and Budgie accounted for Cowdrey with Kent facing the barrel at an incredible 59 for 7.
Rose brought the big guns back to kill Kent off and they duly obliged; Garner reached a fivefer and Botham bowled Underwood and Dilley for ducks as Kent were bundled out for 60, losing the last three wickets for 1 run. It was an absolutely amazing bowling and fielding performance from Somerset especially against such normally impressive opposition.
After the game Test legend Jim Laker presented the Man of the Match award on the pitch in front of the old pavilion. I was a 14 year-old boy and recall being stood immediately to his right as he addressed the crowd saying that “Budgie Burgess had set up this magnificent Somerset win”. As the crowd cheered and Burgess moved nervously forward to collect the medallion Laker butted in: “But the man that won the game today was the Big Bird, Joel Garner.” Cue more cheers. I think Laker got it right. Whilst Somerset would not have taken to the field with such enthusiasm but for Budgie’s runs Garner was just unplayable and this remains the greatest exhibition of fast bowling I have ever seen!
The great Barbadian’s figures were an amazing 9.4-2-11-5 ably supported by Botham’s 10-4-15-3. This truly was an amazing game!
Somerset went to Lords for the semi-final and soundly beat Middlesex before returning to the Home of Cricket for the Final against Northants. This time Somerset would finally break their trophy hoodoo and win some silverware. But that is a tale for another day.