When Brian Rose assumed the captaincy of Somerset for the 1978 season he was attempting to do what no other Somerset captain had ever achieved in the club’s history; to win a trophy. He so nearly succeeded in his first season but the cider county would suffer a weekend of heartbreak when twice in two days Somerset would fall at the last hurdle in the quest for silverware.
Somerset’s appearance at the Gillette Cup Final was only the second in the club’s history and, in fairness, Sussex were worthy winners when all things are considered despite Ian Botham’s brilliant 80 to set up a potential challenging run chase. One day later the club played host to Essex and just needed to tie to secure the John Player League Trophy. The visitors were the only other county whose history was bereft of silverware and it may have been this factor that motivated their players to a two-run victory at Taunton? Maybe it was because Somerset had beaten them with the last ball in the Gillette semi-final that inspired the Essex players to celebrate like they had won the trophy themselves when Somerset fell. Who knows, but it was all a huge disappointment, not just to this 13 year-old boy but grown men cried publicly as they shuffled out of the compact County Ground on that day in September 1978.
But it had still been a fabulous season for Somerset. Additionally the team finished 5th in the County Championship and made it to the semi-final of the Benson & Hedges Cup too. This was all played out in front of big crowds with always a carnival atmosphere. Whisper it, but it felt like little Somerset had made the big time despite lacking that elusive trophy.
1979 had started in controversial fashion with the club disqualified from the Benson & Hedges Cup after Rose’s decision to declare prematurely in a game against Worcestershire. But they went about their business ruthlessly in the 60-over format. Rose starred with 88* as Derbyshire were blown away in the Second Round. Kent were put to the sword in a famous win at Taunton for the quarter-final before an impressive victory at Lords in the semi-final against Middlesex with Peter ‘Dasher’ Denning scoring a quite brilliant undefeated 90. This prompted a second Lords final in two seasons and an opportunity to put right the perceived wrong of the season before. Only an impressive Northants team stood in Somerset’s way now. This would be Somerset’s third game against this opposition in this tournament having beaten them in games at Northampton in 1967 and 1970.
The morning of Saturday 8th September 1979 was a gloriously sunny one. The atmosphere around Lords was electric, as it always was when Somerset were in town. The hordes descended onto St Johns Wood dressed as wurzels, carrying large vats of cider and singing the famous songs. Hope was high.
It is rumoured that Somerset wanted to bat second in this game following their inability to post a winning score twelve months before, but this decision was taken away from them when opposing skipper Jim Watts opted to field first. Somerset’s batting started brightly with Denning and Rose adding 34 runs before the former edged Sarfraz Nawaz to the keeper for 19. Any joy the Northants players may have had would have been tempered by the arrival at the wicket of Antiguan Viv Richards.
Many evaluated that Somerset’s failure to cross the finishing line twelve months previously owed much to Richards’ not firing on all cylinders. Scores of 44 and 26 in those games against Sussex and Essex were hardly failure but were well below the expectations of a player many considered the best batsman in the world. You can never expect a batsman to score a century but Richards was one who would most likely deliver. And at Lords on this day he did.
Viv came in during the 7th over. He was later quoted as saying he knew this was not an occasion for “daring, carefree sixes” so set his stall out early, which was to still be batting at the end. There was a scare when he was on 17 in the 17th over as he dived full length to avoid a run out. Somerset’s supporters had hearts in mouths as he appeared to have injured his back, but he shook this off and scored only the third century in a Lords final following Geoff Boycott for Yorkshire in 1965 and Lancashire’s Clive Lloyd in 1972. When Viv was out in the 60th over he had hit 117 including eleven fours.
He had some useful partnerships with Rose (61 in 18 overs), Roebuck (50 in 13), Botham (41 in 7) before late fireworks with Garner saw 49 runs added in the last 8. Somerset had scored 269 and set Northants a demanding target if they were to win the Gillette Cup. Viv had delivered – this was a master class in batting.
Garner than showed his class with the ball taking a wicket in each of his first two overs as Larkins and Williams were sent packing with only 13 runs on the board. But then Somerset had to play a waiting game as Allan Lamb, who scored an impressive 101 as his team beat 1978 winners Sussex in the semi-final, put on 113 with Geoff Cook in just 13 overs. Were Somerset about to blow a game again? And one that was well in their control?
But the game changed on a run out. Few would have taken Peter Roebuck’s arm seriously when attempting a quick single or two and many perished because of that. Maybe it was the gaunt, student look but when Cook ran for a second to long he was foiled and on his way. Northants were now 126 for 3.
Keith Jennings did a great containing job in those middle overs with his 12 overs costing only 29 runs. But with Lamb going strong Northants always had a chance. The unlikely Richards was the one to get the South African born batsman out when he was stumped by Taylor off a leg side delivery after 33 overs and victory was all but assured. The wickets continued to fall with Garner totally irrepressible.
Even when the game seemed in the bag we Somerset supporters remained uncomfortable with an almost inevitable belief that things could still go wrong. Northants skipper Watts had hurt his hand so was unable to bat so when Garner got number 10 Griffiths for 0 with the score 224 for 9 Northants were all out and the game was won. Somerset were Gillette Cup winners and had secured silverware for the first time in their history.
Garner’s figures of 6 for 29 were by far-and-away the best ever in a Lords final beating his previous competition best of 5 for 11, but it was his fellow West Indian Richards who was named player of the match.
The relief among Somerset supporters was obvious as we piled onto the Lords pitch in our thousands to sing “Blackbird” and “I am a cider drinker” into the now damp London air. Grown men hugged with tears of joy this time, not the tears of sadness of a year back.
Earlier in the season Essex had broken their trophy less run when they won the Benson & Hedges Cup, so for a few weeks Somerset remained the only county never to win a trophy. One day later the players went to Trent Bridge for a final JPL game of the season and a 56-run victory ensured a second trophy in two days to put those bad memories of 1978 to bed.
Somerset were now officially a glamour club with a team capable of winning prizes. The glory years, as they would become known, had well and truly arrived.