In the world of T20 leagues where teams are racing to get into the top two or top three or top four based on the league’s regulations, the charm of first-class cricket gets lost. The first-class competitions in England and New Zealand don’t host a dedicated final. The top team in the league stage are the winners which leads to a never ending hustle throughout the competition. And consequently, it leads to some inexplicable instances. The most outlandish of them all happened in February 1990, when Robert Vance stretched the limits of the number of runs that can be scored in an over.
You would be safe to presume that the record would stand at 36. Six balls. Six sixes. Quite simple. Considering the possibilities of some no balls and wides, you can extend the number arbitrarily to the 40s or early 50s at best. Recently, Joe Carter and Brett Hampton looted 43 runs in an over in a Super Smash game, New Zealand’s premier T20 competition.
But Vance conceded 77 runs in an over in a first-class match, representing Wellington against Canterbury. Yes, you read it right. 77 runs. More than twice of 36. And if you think that is crazy, how it panned out will spin your mind further.
Heading into their final game of the season, Wellington required an outright victory to claim the title. Chasing the same, they declared at 309/6 on the final day, setting Canterbury a target of 291 in 59 overs. The Wellington bowlers pinned down the opposition to 108/8.
The number eight, Lee Germon, who would later go on to lead New Zealand on his Test debut, dropped anchor alongside Roger Ford, the number 10. The duo trudged Canterbury towards safety, adding 88 runs for the ninth wicket. The scoreboard read 196/8 in 57 overs. Still 95 runs away from the target, Canterbury required to bat out another two overs for a draw. Wellington required two wickets. Staring at a draw, the Wellington skipper Ervin McSweeney thought of an unconventional plan.
He threw the ball to Vance, a part-timer. In a 15-year long career, which involves four Test and eight ODIs in 1988/89, he has no pictures of him bowling available on the internet which tells you everything about his bowling credentials.
The plan was to lure the opposition into a hunt for glory. If the target is within reach in the final over, the Canterbury batters may risk their remaining two wickets in the final over of the match. It was a far-fetched plan, but Vance exceeded expectations.
He overstepped a number of times in succession, serving easy full tosses. Germon cashed in and smashed them for boundaries. Only one of Vance’s first 17 deliveries was legitimate. The fielders were disinterested in stopping the boundaries. Germon smashed five consecutive sixes in between, none of which were off legitimate deliveries. There was harakiri all around.
Soon the scorers, as well as the umpires, lost track of the count of balls and the runs. The scoreboard was literally inactive. The last over began with no one in the ground aware of the score. But Vance fulfilled his role of placing the bait.
Unaware of the score, Germon flung his bat at everything in the last over of Evan Gray’s left-arm spin. He was off strike after the fifth ball at which point he had mustered another 17 runs. Roger Ford simply blocked the last delivery of the match.
Meanwhile, the scorers consulted the spectators to make sense of things. As it panned out, Canterbury needed 18 off the final over. Germon had reached his hundred off the sixth ball of Vance’s over itself and overall, he cracked 70 from the over.
This is how Vance’s 22-ball over went: 0444664614106666600401
(the match was played under the regulations that the extra run off the no-ball won’t be charged if runs are scored from the delivery)
After the players reached the dressing room post Gray’s last over, it was estimated that the match had ended in a tie. Germon finished with 160 not out off 143 balls while the no.10 Ford was unbeaten on 14 off 69 balls. Both batted for 152 and 132 minutes respectively.
It was also found out that only five legitimate deliveries were bowled in Vance’s over as the bewildered umpires miscounted. And you cannot blame them considering the carnage they had to deal with. Fair to say, Wellington were inches away from the move backfiring at them.
John Morrison, the Wellington coach at that time said, "I nearly had a heart failure when I learnt that Canterbury needed only one to win." He also mentioned that the tactic was definitely “a once only” move.
Wellington were docked four points for slow over-rate (Vance’s over had a lot to do with it) while Canterbury were credited four points for playing a draw. But all's well that ends well as Wellington still managed to win the championship with the result in a couple of other games going their way.
Thanks to the chaos, Vance’s extraordinary figures of 1-0-77-0 are removed from the record books as well as from Vance’s career stats.
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