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Bert Vance’s 77-run over: The most expensive over in first-class cricket history

by Josef Rindl 7 minute read

What’s the most runs anybody’s ever scored off one over? Most fans of the game might think of Malcolm Nash who conceded six consecutive sixes, totalling 36, to Garry Sobers, but they would be wrong.

In 2018, courtesy of a few no-balls and wides, even that mark was breached, with Willem Ludick conceding 43 off a List A over.

However, even that pales in comparison to the 77 runs conceded off an over in New Zealand first-class cricket in 1990. And yet few know the tale of Bert Vance, who played four Tests for New Zealand, and one of the oddest spells in cricket’s history.

It was the final day of the final round of fixtures in the Shell Trophy as Wellington took on Canterbury at Christchurch knowing a win would guarantee them the title. And they looked well on course to achieve that, declaring on the final morning and setting the hosts 291 to win from 59 overs.

Wellington soon had Canterbury on 108-8 and were already thinking about their celebrations later that evening. But wicketkeeper-batsman Lee Germon and No.10 Roger Ford stopped the slump and looked undisturbed blocking out for a draw.

As Wellington skipper Ervin McSweeney saw his title chances slipping away, he hitched up a Balderick-style cunning plan with Vance, usually an out an out batsman.

The hope was that by offering Germon and Ford some free runs and in doing so getting Canterbury close to victory, they pair would play more expansive shots and be susceptible to losing their wickets. Vance, 34, was nearing the end of his career and as he had no bowling figures to protect, was more than happy to chuck a few bad deliveries.

Beginning the over on 196-8 with Germon 75 not out, Vance took his new role to heart. Of his first 17 balls, only one of them was ruled legitimate. Full toss after full toss was bowled with Germon smashing each one past disinterested fielders, including five consecutive sixes at one point.

The Canterbury batsman brought up his 100 on the sixth ball of the over. When it was finally complete, he’d added 70 to his individual total including eight sixes and five fours, with Ford grabbing five runs from the two balls he faced midway through the carnage.

The runs came at such a frequency that the scorers asked spectators to help keep count. The umpires too were having a hard time of it, calling the over complete when in reality only five legitimate balls had been delivered.

By the time the match reached the final over, the scorecard had yet to be updated. Unbeknownst to the players, Canterbury were only 18 runs from victory. They struck another 17 off Ewan Gray’s first five, but Ford – unaware the scores were level and Caterbury needed just one to win – blocked out the final ball.

As such the match finished in a draw and ironically, results elsewhere fell Wellington’s way. Amid accusations of foul play, they lifted the Shell Trophy for the first time since 1985. Had Vance conceded another run, they would have thrown the title.

So, in a way, you could say Vance’s 77-run over was excellent death bowling.

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