There is an old adage about team’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. This is normally reserved for occasions when the result of a game looks a foregone conclusion but an inexplicable end to the game sees an unlikely result. This was certainly the case when Somerset entertained Gloucestershire at Taunton in a 3-day game that started in May 1976.
Somerset went into the game in third place in the Championship table but without key bowlers Hallam Moseley and Tom Cartwright so were relying heavily on a 20-year-old swing bowler called Ian Botham and veteran Bob Clapp to bowl out their local rivals. Their cause not helped by Clapp straining his side and an eye injury sustained to Graham Burgess during the match.
The first day was most definitely Somerset’s. Batting first the home side made 333 for 7 before declaring thanks largely to Brian Rose’s fine 104 and Mervyn Kitchen’s 69. The only blight being the injury to Burgess whilst batting that led to the player leaving the pitch to have stitches applied. The decision by Brian Close to declare offered Somerset the opportunity to grab some wickets and they duly obliged, reducing Gloucester to 43 for 4 from 19 overs when stumps were pulled.
Somerset carried the momentum into day 2 with youngster Botham taking a career-best 6 for 25 and Clapp 3 for 18 as Gloucestershire were all out for just 79, a massive 254 runs behind Somerset. David Shepherd had top scored with just 27. Skipper Close was in no doubt about making the visitors follow on but Clapp’s injury meant he was unable to bowl at all in the second innings.
Botham led the line manfully helping himself to another 5 wickets to finish with match figures of 11 for 150. But he had little support and Zaheer Abbas inspired his team to finish day 2 on 325 for 6, a lead of 71. The Pakistan Test player scored 141 in 165 minutes including 23 fours.
Somerset grabbed two early wickets on the morning of day 3 and Gloucestershire were 327 for 8 and looking down a barrel. But the 9th wicket pair, Shackleton and Brassington, enjoyed a partnership of 44 to see the away team to 372 leaving Somerset to score just 119 to win the game in more than four hours.
The second innings started well enough with Rose (48) and Phil Slocombe (18) taking the score to 43 leaving 76 needed to win the match. Two quick wickets raised the Gloucestershire spirits but Somerset were in command, even when Close became the 3rd wicket to fall at 73. Somerset moved onto 97 for 3 with 22 runs needed with 7 wickets in hand.
The form book suggested that second-bottom Gloucestershire were unlikely to beat their high flying west country rivals in their own back yard and so this looked the case. But nobody told Mike Procter that and he produced a devastating spell of bowling to claim 6 for 35 from 14 overs. 97 for 3 became 101 for 7 and Somerset still needed 18 to win. Two wickets fell with the score on 108 meaning Somerset still needed 11 with two injured men at the crease – Clapp and Burgess. Eventually Clapp edged a ball onto his pad and into the air and was caught.
Despite following on Gloucestershire had won the game by 8 runs in the most spectacular of fashions. Somerset were left to rue the decision to follow on and injuries to key players.
Five years later Botham would again be part of an historic match where a team following on win the game but this time he would be on the winning side in an Ashes game at Headingley in 1981. But that is another game and another tale to tell!