27 February 2013

The worst over ever bowled

[Following a list of four thoroughly bad ideas in cricket] No1 though, a scheme so cunning that, as Blackadder would say, it was as cunning as a fox who has just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University, has to be the [...] plan devised by Wellington on the final day of their Shell Shield match against Canterbury at Christchurch on 21 February, 1990.

If Wellington won the match, they would win the title too. Canterbury were chasing 291 in 59 overs, but by tea on the final afternoon, they were 108 for eight, and Wellington were worried the match was petering out to a draw. So John Morrison, Wellington's coach, and Erv McSweeney, their captain, decided to lure Canterbury into trying to win their match in the hope that the potential reward would encourage them to risk their last wickets. The best way to do this, they figured, was to bowl an over so bad that Canterbury would be compelled to cash in on it.

Then Wellington would pull a rope-a-dope, and bring their best bowler back on just as the opposition were within sight of the win.

Batsman Bert Vance was the hapless sap who was roped in to bowl, because, Morrison said afterwards, "he was coming to the end of his career and didn't have averages to protect."

"The idea," Morrison explained, was "to leave Canterbury about 20 to get off the last over so that they might have a crack and throw away their two wickets." But "Bert overdid it somewhat. It's fair to say he embraced the instructions somewhat more than we imagined." That was an understatement. Vance's first delivery was a no ball, delivered from two yards down the wicket. The batsman, Lee Germon, was so startled that he didn't score off it. He did off the next though, a full toss which he hit for four. Vance's next 15 deliveries were all no balls, which went for four, four, six, six, four, six, one, four, one, zero, six, six, six, six, and six.

"He would just walk over the mark and toss up these no-ball full-tosses," Morrison recalled. "It was a free slog to the batsmen, who got fours and sixes in droves. It all got a bit chaotic. The scorers, the umpires and the players – it got to the point where none of them had a clue how many fair balls had been bowled or what the score was. It was an old-fashioned scoreboard, so there were boys running up and down ladders trying to keep up, but they were all over the place. Halfway through the over, no one knew what the hell was going on and I remember sitting on the side thinking, 'Oh my God, we're going to throw this game away.'"

Vance obviously had the same thought. His next two deliveries were both legitimate, and he didn't concede a run off either of them. Then there was another four, followed by one more dot and a single to finish. There were 77 runs off the over, the last of them a little twist of salt in the wound because it meant Germon would keep the strike. He had scored 70 runs off the over, and took his score from 75 to 145. Canterbury could have made even more, but in all the confusion the umpires lost count and Vance got away with only bowling five legitimate balls.

Ewan Gray was left to bowl the last over. Canterbury needed 18 from it to win the match, and Germon, his eye in, hit 17 from the first five deliveries. But the scoreboard was still kaput, with smoke streaming from the ears of the bamboozled scorers. Germon and his partner Roger Ford, who had added just five runs to his own score while his Germon had been busy making whoopee, were completely oblivious to the fact that they only needed one run to win. So Ford blocked the final ball of the match, making it a draw with the scores exactly level.

"I nearly had heart failure when I learnt a little time after the game that Canterbury only needed one to win and we had Vance bowling to a very leaky field," Morrison explained. The over, the most expensive in the history of first class cricket, was struck from the official records, though the ninth-wicket partnership of 182 is still a record for the club. "I decided," Morrison said ruefully, "that the tactic, while being innovative, was definitely a once only."

- Andy Bull, 'The worst over in the history of cricket and other awful ideas', Guardian, 26 February 2013
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