Throughout 2015 Peter Trego has been enjoying a richly deserved benefit year, awarded to him by Somerset County Cricket Club for many years of loyal service in which he has delivered consistently high performances for his home county team. A true crowd favourite, the cider county supporters have backed Tregs fund raising efforts and no-one will begrudge him the income he gains from this year.
These days a county cricketer’s benefit year is subject to meticulous planning including a well-honed marketing plan of a full twelve months of lucrative events and corporate functions planned and professionally executed by a select committee of friends, club officials and volunteers.
The income gained can be substantial. Mortgages can be paid off early or businesses started. Maybe not life changing amounts but life setting nonetheless.
That was not the case in years gone by. A county cricketer’s wage was comparable to a normal working man even if the lifestyle was more appealing. Any player rewarded with a benefit year selected a single home match and enjoyed the gate money generated minus the costs to host the fixture. If the weather was forgiving and the fixture lasted three days a well-attended fixture against local opposition or one of the glamour teams could generate the equivalent of 2-3 years’ salary for the beneficiary.
In 1953 Somerset awarded Bristol-born Bertie Buse a benefit year for the dedicated service he gave the county before and after the war. A great team man, he had been around for 24 years and was immensely popular heading into his final season aged 42. When not doing county duty, he played for Bath CC and as a fullback for Bath RFC.
The game he and the county selected was against much fancied Lancashire, the first of two scheduled fixtures in one week as part of the Bath Festival. With his obvious connections in the city – one in which Somerset enjoyed a large, loyal and passionate support – combined with the star-studded opposition led by England opener Cyril Washbrook and consisting of players like Jack Ikin, Brian Statham and Roy Tattershall, the game should have ensured a decent payday for the beneficiary.
In 1953 a game lasting the full three days would generate £1,000. Even if the costs amounted to 50% of this the £500 profit would have made retirement comfortable for Buse. Unfortunately for him the game he chose was done and dusted in just one day – 82 overs in total to be precise – and his Somerset team-mates were on the wrong end of an innings defeat.
1952/53 had been a harsh winter and the inclement weather had invaded even the early summer season. The pitch at the Bath Recreation Ground had been resurfaced during the close season and was subject to producing some vicious spin from the first deliveries. Buse, by tradition, tossed the coin to start the match – which he won – and Somerset were batting. Unfortunately this innings lasted just 90 minutes and Somerset were 55 all out with not one player making double figures, not even Harold Gimblett who was run out for 0. Tattershall’s bowling was devastating as he helped himself to 7 for 25. Somerset’s cause actually helped by the Lancashire fielders who dropped several catches.
Buse then decided to give the northerners a taste of their own medicine and, at one stage, had figures of 4 for 16 as Lancashire slipped to 46 for 5. But a stand of 70 in 25 minutes for the sixth wicket helped the visitors to 158 off just 32 overs with Buse taking six for 41. Two innings had been completed by teatime on the first day.
Somerset’s second innings was scarcely better than the first, with Brian Statham joining Tattersall in the wickets. Somerset were all out for 79, even allowing for a last-wicket partnership of 35 by Jim Redman, in his last Somerset game, and the debutant Brian Langford, thereby losing by an innings and 24 runs. Tattersall enjoying match figures of 13 wickets for 69 runs. The game was over by six o’clock on the evening of the first day with 55 minutes still scheduled for play. Ironically Buse’s devastating spell had reduced the playing time of his own benefit game. Scorecard
The match could have been a financial disaster for Buse. Gate money equalled just £448 but Somerset waived the match fees (around £400) and most of the crowd of 4,195 threw money in a bucket to raise £64 to give Buse at least some return for the day. The night after a concert was held in the city to further enhance Buse’s income. At one stage he grabbed the microphone: “I hope they don’t give me another benefit game“, he quipped, “I can’t afford it!”
A fresh wicket was cut for the second game of the Bath Festival against Kent but Somerset batted first and were 123 all out with Bertie scoring zero. Langford took 8 wickets in only his second game to reduce Kent to 178 before Buse scored a hundred in the second innings – the last one of his career – as did Gimblett, as Somerset registered 416 for 8 declared before bowling Kent out for 208 to win by 153 runs. Youngster Langford took 14 wickets in all and another Somerset legend was born. Scorecard
Herbert Francis Thomas Buse called time on his career at the end of that season. In 304 games for Somerset he scored 10,623 runs, including 7 centuries and 47 fifties, and took 657 wickets with a best of 8 for 57.
He died aged 81 in February 1992 in Bath. He will be remembered for an incredible game at Bath, the last but one first class game to be completed in one day, which was definitely of no benefit to Bertie.