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Best and Worst: Lord’s Cup finals – From Miller’s race to Lloyd’s loitering

1981 NatWest Trophy, Lord's Cup finals
by Kit Harris 9 minute read

Remember county cricket, and a big day out at Lord’s? Kit Harris lists down the best and worst Lord’s Cup finals – a bunch of games that soared and a few that tanked – in issue 6 of the Pinch Hitter.


Miller’s race

NatWest Trophy, 1981
Northamptonshire 235-9 (60 overs) Derbyshire 235-6 (60 overs)
Derbyshire won by losing fewer wickets

The ‘miracle of 1981’ may have happened at Headingley, but there was another heart-stopper at Lord’s that summer when England’s 29th county cup final became the first to contrive a last-ball finish. Geoff Cook’s authoritative century gave Northamptonshire a confident start but the innings faded, with only 31 runs coming from the last eight overs as six wickets fell.

Derbyshire’s overseas players, John Wright and Peter Kirsten, laid a platform, but at the halfway stage eight-an-over was needed. In diminishing light, Derbyshire required seven from the final over, bowled by Jim Griffiths to Geoff Miller and Colin Tunnicliffe. The umpires confirmed (though not to the crowd) that six would be enough, since a tie would be decided in favour of Derbyshire, who’d lost fewer wickets.

Miller hoicked the first ball for two and cut the second for one. Tunnicliffe could only nudge the third back to the bowler, but nicked a run from the fourth. Miller clipped a single. One to win. Ball hit pad. A race and a tangle, and Miller dived home for the winning leg-bye.

Emburey’s ending

NatWest Trophy, 1984
Kent 232-6 (60 overs) Middlesex 236-6 (60 overs)
Middlesex won by four wickets

Two home counties teams packed with cricketing legends met at St John’s Wood where Kent posted a solid score on a slow pitch. The bowling hero was John Emburey, whose off spin conceded two runs per over, but Middlesex likewise were kept quiet by a spinner – ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood. They had crawled to 128-4 from 43 overs and needed over a hundred more from the 17 that remained. At that point, Underwood’s figures were 9–2–12–1 and he still had three overs left, but Chris Tavare, Kent’s captain, took him off. Pressure was released. The tempo changed. Middlesex accelerated. It came down to seven needed from the last over.

Richard Ellison specialised in yorkers. The first hit Emburey’s pad. He scampered a leg bye. Phil Edmonds sliced the next for one. Emburey dug out the third, straight, for a couple, then a parried stop at cover allowed a run. Edmonds carved another single. One to win. The field came up, but it was Emburey’s day: his signature leg-side nudge found a gap.

Pringle’s gamble

NatWest Trophy, 1985
Essex 280-2 (60 overs) Nottinghamshire 279-5 (60 overs)
Essex won by one run

Essex were imperious in the Eighties. They had won seven professional titles in the preceding seven years and here  they racked up a huge score. Graham Gooch and Brian Hardie’s opening stand was 202. Although Tim Robinson and Chris Broad put on 143 when their turn came, Nottinghamshire were never in touch and when Derek Randall reached his fifty with a single from the last ball of the penultimate over, they needed 18 for victory – an unprecedented task back then.

The last-over showdown between the strategic Pringle and the impulsive Randall was riveting and tormenting in equal measure. Though Pringle bowled a series of immaculate leg stump yorkers, Randall kept stepping to leg and hitting through the off-side. A cover drive for two. A cut for four. A clip for another two. Suddenly 10 needed from three. Now Pringle bowled outside leg, but Randall kept making room and drove two fours. Two to win. Seeing Randall back away again, Pringle decided to follow him with the ball. Randall, second-guessed, forlornly spooned a catch to mid-wicket.

Love’s labour

Benson and Hedges Cup, 1987
Northamptonshire 244-7 (55 overs) Yorkshire 244-6 (55 overs)
Yorkshire won by losing fewer wickets

Watchfulness from the batsmen and parsimony from Yorkshire’s bowlers dominated the early stages. Wayne Larkins, Rob Bailey and Allan Lamb all failed to convert starts as Phil Carrick’s slow turn kept Northamptonshire in check. Then the pitch eased, and David Capel rattled up 97 from 110 balls. Yorkshire’s initial forays were as cautious as their opponents’, and after 35 overs they had only 119. Choosing their moment, Jim Love and David Bairstow plundered 54 in seven overs before Bairstow was freakishly caught. As Winston Davis began the last over, Yorkshire needed five to win.

Love nudged a single and Arnie Sidebottom did his part, heaving a run to leg to return the strike. But Love couldn’t get the third away and hit the fourth for only one. Two needed from two. But if Yorkshire scored only one, they would still win, having lost fewer wickets – as long as they didn’t lose another. Sidebottom was wise: he stole a single and left the dilemma to Love. A pragmatic man, Love judiciously snuffed out the winning dot ball.

Hemmings’ heroics

Benson and Hedges Cup, 1989
Essex 243-7 (55 overs) Nottinghamshire 244-7 (55 overs)
Nottinghamshire won by three wickets

This year’s tournament was initially adorned by an extraordinary Combined Universities team featuring Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain. They lost their quarter-final off the last ball to Somerset, who in turn lost their semi-final off the last ball to Essex. An otherwise unremarkable final reached a sudden crescendo when John Lever bowled the final over to Bruce French and Eddie Hemmings with nine required.

French started with a single. Then Hemmings missed, but French called him through for a bye. French heaved the third for a couple, missed the fourth, and cut the fifth for a single. He wanted two, but the cautious Hemmings demurred. Four to win. Lever ran in, but Graham Gooch stopped him and spent five minutes moving everyone except Brian Hardie to the on-side. “JK [Lever] and I were both 40 and experienced campaigners. We each knew what the other would do. He’d bowl a yorker and I’d make room to hit,” Hemmings tells the Pinch Hitter, “and I absolutely middled it. If he’d bowled off-stump I’d have missed it completely.”

Twose’s two

NatWest Trophy, 1993
Sussex 321-6 (60 overs) Warwickshire 322-5 (60 overs)
Warwickshire won by five wickets

This was the highest-scoring of all the 88 finals at headquarters. Sussex posted 321-6, adding 83 from their last 10 overs, an outrageous scoring rate in those days. “At half time we were 4-0 up,” observed their captain, Alan Wells. Warwickshire had nothing to lose. Paul Smith, described in Wisden as ‘all long hair and long handle’ plundered 60, but when he departed, his team still needed 157 from 24 overs. An unthinkable mission, except to Asif Din, who smashed a legendary run-a-ball century. The final requirement was 15 from Franklyn Stephenson’s last over. No team had ever done it before.

Reeve walloped a lofted drive for four. A repeat attempt brought him two. Then came a misfield at cover, allowing another couple. Seven needed from three. Reeve scythed four through the covers and followed it with a single, leaving Twose to hit two from his only ball of the match. Stephenson tried his famous slower ball, but Twose chipped it up and over the infield to complete a staggering chase.


The unfinished final

NatWest Trophy, 2000
Warwickshire 205-7 (50 overs) Gloucestershire 122-3 (29.4 overs)
Gloucestershire won by 22 runs (DL method)

NatWest’s patronage seemed blessed; three of their first five finals went to the last ball (1981, 1984 and 1985). As if trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Benson and Hedges Cup conjured similar conclusions in 1986, 1987 and 1989. With the Warwickshire heist, there had been seven down-to-the-wire cup finals in 13 seasons. The bank’s bubble burst in 2000, though, when the sponsor’s swansong was ruined by drizzle, dullness and Duckworth-Lewis.

The spectators waited patiently for play on a damp and dismal Saturday, idling the time away for nearly seven hours until they were put out of their misery at 5:15pm. Unsurprisingly, fewer than half turned up the next day. When play finally got underway amidst the downpours, the best Warwickshire could produce was a 104- ball 60 from Ashley Giles, with a mere five boundaries. Gloucestershire toddled towards their target of 206, but at 122-3, the heavens –  and Duckworth-Lewis – had the final say. Only one ‘List-A’ final (2012) has made it to the last ball since.

Dexter’s defence

Gillette Cup, 1964
Warwickshire 127 all out (48 overs) Sussex 131-2 (41.2 overs)
Sussex won by eight wickets

Professional one-day cricket began with the Gillette Cup. In the world’s first ‘List A’ match, on May 1, 1963, Peter Marner and Maurice Hallam scored centuries, and Brian Statham claimed five wickets as Lancashire triumphed over Leicestershire. That first year’s tournament captured the public’s imagination, with Ted Dexter’s 115 for Sussex and Jack Flavell’s 6-14 for Worcestershire bringing their teams together for a nail-biting final, in which Sussex triumphed owing to Dexter’s innovative defensive tactics.

But these same tactics – placing all nine fielders on the boundary and bowling relentlessly down the leg-side – threatened to undermine the new format as Dexter’s Sussex continued to deploy them all the way to the 1964 final. A capacity crowd watched Warwickshire crawl to 127 in 48 overs. Mike Smith made 28 in 100 minutes, and five overs of Dexter’s dobbers yielded six runs. Dexter [pictured] himself prodded an unbeaten 17 in 10 overs as Sussex limped over the line. The following year, fielding restrictions and leg-side wides were hastily introduced, and the format was saved from oblivion.

Bullish Balderstone

Benson and Hedges Cup, 1972
Yorkshire 136-9 (55 overs) Leicestershire 140-5 (46.5 overs)
Leicestershire won by five wickets

By 1972, there had been nine Gillette Cup finals, but there was one problem with the ‘FA Cup’ of cricket: it was a knockout; one defeat and you were done. Thus came the Benson and Hedges Cup, with every county guaranteed four group games. The sponsors put up £80,000 for the first two years (£1 million in today’s money), and this early-season tournament became cricket’s de facto second trophy. A league cup of sorts.

In that first season, the springy spring pitches made for dour cricket. Only two of the eight quarter-finalists scored more than 138; the highest total in the semis was 134. The final was exceptionally drab. It rained all morning, and there were 6,000 empty seats. Barrie Leadbeater top-scored for Yorkshire with 32 in two hours and his colleagues dawdled to 136-9. Leicestershire tiptoed to the target, winning in the 47th over, thanks to Chris Balderstone’s 41 from 80 balls (Wisden called this an ‘aggressive display’). With 2.71 runs per over, this was the slowest-scoring ‘B&H’ final of them all.

Lloyd’s loitering

Gillette Cup, 1974
Lancashire 118 all out (60 overs) Kent 122-6 (46.5 overs)
Kent won by four wickets

It started badly enough. A deluge ahead of this Saturday final drenched the outfield, forcing 24,000 fans home, damp and disappointed. The match finally began at 10:30am on Monday. With a sluggish pitch and slow outfield, Lancashire – the greatest one-day team of the decade – scored pitifully slowly. It took them every ball of their 60 overs to register just 118. Worse was to come. If procrastination is the thief of time, then Kent should have been locked up for grand larceny, remorselessly robbing the public of three hours in the run-chase.

The game’s international stars collectively imploded and sucked the life out of the contest. Among them were David Lloyd, Barry Wood, Farokh Engineer, Brian Luckhurst, Colin Cowdrey, John Shepherd, Alan Knott and Bob Woolmer. Clive Lloyd’s 25 was the highest score of the match; no other batsman passed 19. In all, 240 runs were scored at 2.05 per over, both all-time record lows for a final. Never had such an array of cricketing talent been brought so low.

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