Somerset’s first home game in the John Player League in 1986 was against Middlesex at Taunton. Having lost the first game at Yorkshire, the reigning tournament champions were keen to seal a first win of the campaign.
That success in 1985 was the fifth one day trophy gained in as many years and the supporters largely expected success, even demanded it. But this was proving to be a season of change for the cider county with some disharmony starting to creep in. Too many players were failing to live up to their initial promise and the three superstars were getting older, and playing with a certain amount of apathy some claimed.
Peter Roebuck was Somerset skipper and for this game he won the toss and put the away team in. That looked a good call when Botham bowled Slack in the 6th over on 11. Then Vic Marks picked up three quick wickets, dismissing Gatting, Barlow and Butcher and Middlesex were 41 for 4.
Then a stand of 97 turned the games slightly as Radley, who would bat through the innings for 97, and Downton (50) saw their team to 138.
Joel Garner was wicket less – a rare occasion – but his 8 overs generated only 17 runs for the batting team who scored 196 for 7 from their 40 overs. Ian Botham and Murray Turner took two wickets each, although the latter, a fine club cricketer from Dorset, cost his team 63 runs from 7 overs.
Somerset’s response was as perfect a script as you could write. Julian Wyatt and skipper Roebuck took things to 110 when Wyatt retired hurt on 48. Jeremy Hardy came and went quickly then the crowd were silenced when Viv Richards was bowled by Angus Fraser for 19 with his team 153. Roebuck was third man out – fourth if you include Wyatt’s injury – on 163. But time was running out. Somerset had 5 overs to get 35 runs.
The 36th over, bowled by Fraser, went for just 3 but there was brief respite as Botham found the boundary. Wayne Daniel bowled Marks on 178 so Somerset needed 19 from 14 balls. Botham and Richard Harden added only 4 from 8 balls so the cider county needed 15 from West Indian quickie Daniel’s last over. With Harden on strike.
Two dots balls added to the pressure, and looked to take the game away from Somerset, before Harden struck 3 on the third ball. Botham was now on strike. He smashed a big six before missing the fifth ball altogether. The scenario was simple; six to win from the final ball.
Botham did not disappoint smashing Daniel over the boundary rope to seal a good win to kick-start the 40-over campaign for Somerset.
But it would not end well. Botham immediately walked into a two month ban courtesy of the TCCB and Somerset would finish trophy less finishing bottom of the County Championship.
The club reacted by terminating the contracts of Garner & Richards and recruiting Martin Crowe, who had done so well as a stop gap player in 1985. This prompted an angry response from Botham and the now infamous ‘Battle of Shepton Mallet’ which put Somerset in the national headlines. But it ultimately saw the end of Botham, Richards and Garner as Somerset players. It was an unfortunate end to three great careers.
And for Somerset County Cricket Club it would never be the same again. Not for some time.