It is the morning of 24th May 1979 and Somerset are due to play Worcestershire at New Road in a Benson & Hedges Group A game. It is the last of the qualifying matches with Somerset sitting top of the table and their hosts one place and three points behind with the top two teams making their way into the quarter-finals. If any two teams finished level on points then the tie-breaker was the rate of their wicket-taking.
If Somerset won this game, like they had won all of the games in the competition to date, then they would of course qualify. But defeat to Worcestershire coupled with Glamorgan beating the Minor Counties could see the cider county eliminated in the group stage. For this to happen the Welsh county would have to improve their wicket-taking rates significantly, and if this was going to happen then it was most likely to happen against the part-timers.
The game at New Road was due to be played the day before but was washed out. With rain in the air, and the start of the second day delayed also, Somerset’s 28-year-old skipper Brian Rose was very nervous about proceedings.
Somerset had yet to win a trophy but were a team on the climb. The previous season saw the cider county lose to Sussex in the Gillette Cup Final and finish 2nd in the 40-over John Player Trophy in a last day shoot-out at Taunton. Rose was determined that his team would go one better in 1979.
Rose was as shrewd as he was determined. He was also ambitious having played five Tests for England already and was tipped as a future captain of his country. He studied the league table on that Thursday morning and realised that he could protect Somerset’s wicket-taking rate, even if they lost the game.
Somerset batted first and Rose opened with his usual partner in crime Peter Denning and after the first over were 1-0 thanks to a Vanburn Holder no ball. Then, to the total surprise and equal outrage of the 100 or so spectators in the ground, he declared knowing he had put his team in a losing position. Rose had discussed this action prior to the game with his team and Somerset’s committee, all of whom supported the tactic.
Worcestershire batted and, after Colin Dredge’s maiden over, Glenn Turner struck Keith Jennings for two to win the game. The ten-minute game (not including the time between innings) generated 3 runs from 17 balls. By taking this action Rose had protected Somerset’s wicket-taking rate.
Rose’s actions were unusual to the extreme but not illegal; there was nothing in the rules to prevent him from taking this course of action. But being in the right and doing the right thing can be total opposites and Rose paid scant regard to the cash-paying supporters, many of whom had travelled up from the west country and most hanging around for a day-and-a-half to see some action.
On 1st June the Test & County Cricket Board expelled Somerset from the competition for failing to comply with the spirit of cricket so Worcestershire and Glamorgan made their way into the next round in a competition that was ultimately won by Essex, the first in their history.
This certainly cost Rose the chance to be England captain. The press had a field day with phrases like ‘disgrace to cricket’ and ‘not in the spirt of the game’ being bandied about. All the time Rose insisted he was acting within the rules while reminding all that his first duty was to Somerset.
Rose had the last laugh. Later that season Somerset broke their winless run grabbing the Gillette Cup and John Player League Trophy to cap a memorable double. The county would also win two of the next three Benson & Hedges trophies too.