I don’t suppose many of the Somerset faithful making their way to the County Ground on 31st May 1989 had much expectation for what was about to follow. The opponents were the Combined Universities so a Somerset team which included the likes of Jimmy Cook, Richard Harden and skippered by Vic Marks would surely make easy work of beating a team of students in this Benson & Hedges quarter-final tie?
But this was far from a stroll in the park for the home team in a game that produced 501 runs in total and ebbed and flowed so much so that it could have been won by either side in the end.
Of course it wasn’t known at the time, but all those in the student’s team would enjoy a first-class Cricket career and two would go on to captain England. Somerset’s Jonathan Atkinson, whose father was the legendary Colin who played cricket for Somerset between 1960 and 1967 and had captained the team between 1965 and 1967, was in the away changing room that day. Jonathan would himself play 60 first-class and List A for the cider county.
The students were in good form coming into this game having beaten Surrey and county champions Worcestershire (captained by a certain Ian Botham) in the qualifying round already. By doing so became the first non-first-class team to reach the quarter-finals of the Benson & Hedges Cup.
Their captain, and future England skipper, Mike Atherton, won the toss and put the home side in. Somerset’s openers, Roebuck and Cook, cruised to a century stand before Artherton brought himself on to bowl – the sixth he had employed thus far. He had immediate success snaring Cook lbw for 61. But the runs continued as Ricky Bartlett (36) and Chris Tavare (23) supported Roebuck on his way to a fine century.
Atherton also removed Roebuck (102), Bartlett and Harden for just 7 finishing with impressive figures of 9-0-42-4. Somerset’s total of 252 for 6 was decent enough – nothing spectacular – but surely enough to see of any spirited response from the students, wasn’t it?
Mallender and Jones opened the bowling for Somerset and there was early success when Tim O’Gorman, later of Derbyshire, was removed for 9. 17 for 1. There was a further blow when Mark Crawley, brother of John and later a Notts player, was retired hurt after a nasty blow to the hand.
But this brought the two future England captain’s together when Atherton was joined by Nasser Hussain. Atherton was third man out for 26 with the score on 109 but in came keeper Martin Speight, a future Durham, Northumberland and Sussex player. He and Hussain were allowed to take their exams one day early by Durham University so they could play in the match. In 17 overs they added 114 to turn the game their team’s way with Hussain dominating by scoring a fine century thereby showing off his immense potential. At 223 for 3 victory was there for the student’s taking. With six overs left the University team needed just 30 to win.
But there was another unlikely bowling contribution when Roebuck was brought on and he removed Hussain for 118 when he was caught on the boundary rope by Bartlett. Jones then took two in one over. Crawley limped back into the action but he was run out for 12 and his team fell three runs short of a famous win so Somerset progressed to the semi-final.
Hussain was handed the Gold Award for his fine knock but this was a fabulous effort from all twenty-two players who produced an amazing game of Cricket and one to remember for all those at Taunton that day.
Atherton and Hussain were called into the Test squad later that summer and another, Steve James, would also play Test cricket.
Somerset lost to Essex by 4 runs at the next stage so missed out on a Lords final, and this was the first of three semi-final defeats in this competition in four seasons. Well I suppose some things never change!