“Spirit of the game’ is a phrase that is often loosely used. There have been instances where cricketers have lived up to it – be it Adam Gilchrist walking off in the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup after being given not out or MS Dhoni calling Ian Bell back despite being run-out. However in a few instances – be it the ugly spat between Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee or the underarm incident in 1981 – where cricketers have not gone with the spirit of the game.
In one such incident in 1979, Somerset captain Brian Rose, in consultation with his players decided to declare with the score at 1 for no loss after just one over in a match in the Benson and Hedges Cup. Worcestershire took just 10 deliveries to chase the target down and the match lasted just 18 minutes. The match just lasted for 2.4 overs, including a 10-minute break, and it was so short that the crowd who were just trickling to catch a glimpse of the match and those hundreds initially present could not believe what they had just witnessed.
Many driving in from hundreds of miles and school children who had come to see the match at New Road in numbers had to go back home disappointed. Journalist Alan Gibson, who reported for The Times, was told by the porter at the train station upon arriving at Worcester to jump on the train back to Bristol as the match was over.
But why would the captain of a side decide to take this out-of-the-box decision? What was in it for him or the team? Why deliberately lose the match? If you are thinking of a match-fixing angle or any such theory, that was not it.
Somerset had won all three matches in Group A, which also consisted of Worcestershire, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Minor Counties. In their fourth match against Worcestershire, there was a fear that they could lose the match and not make it to the semi-final despite that fact that Somerset were well placed when it came to bowling strike-rate – which was the tie-breaker then.
If Glamorgan beat Minor Counties, which ideally should have been an easy win for them and Somerset were to lose by a big margin against Worcestershire, it could see them not make it to the top two based on bowling strike-rate. A complicated system – one that Rose understood quite well.
In order to absolutely make sure that Somerset make it through to the semis, Rose decided to declare his inningsearly and chose to lose the match instead of playing a full match. As it turned out, the match between Glamorgan and Minor Counties was washed out later. Somerset, even with a heavy loss would have eventually gone through.
Rose’s tactics was not well received as it was against the spirit of the game, but certainly not against the laws. While the Somerset committee stood by him, they too were not particularly pleased with what had transpired. Rose did not see anything wrong in what he did. He said, “I had no alternative. The rules are laid down in black and white. If anybody wishes to complain, they should do it to the people who make them.”
Law 15 of the Laws of Cricket, pertains to the part Declarations and Forfeitures states that:
15.1: The captain of the side batting may declare an innings closed, when the ball is dead, at any time during the innings. A declared innings shall be considered to be a completed innings.
15.2: A captain may forfeit either of his/her side’s innings at any time before the commencement of that innings. A forfeited innings shall be considered to be a completed innings.
However, what it does not mention is if declaration is permissible in limited-overs cricket. Before the 1979 World Cup, the organising committee met and decided declarations would not be allowed in the tournament to avoid such an incident. Furthermore, declaration in one-day game was banned completely.
As a result of Rose's actions, Somerset were ejected from the tournament. However, he would go on to end Somerset's trophy drought in 1981, leading them to a win in the same competition. They beat Surrey by seven wickets in the final at Lord's, in which Viv Richards smashed an unbeaten 132.