Honiton cricket: looking back at an illustrious match
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:48 16 May 2017
In 1975 the Honiton's cricketers played host to Somerset County Cricket Club on a memorable night for all those that were there, writes Steve Jennings.
Somerset County Cricket Club was formed in 1875 after a game between the Gentlemen of Devon and the Gentlemen of Somerset, at Sidmouth.
The county side were fundraising in their centenary year and Honiton Royal British Legion CC – as the town’s cricket club were formerly known – were happy to support.
Club President Terry Linsdell explains how the game came about: “Howard Russell, a former skipper, contacted Somerset with a view to us hosting a game for their celebrations and succeeded. Amazingly they only charged £100. Our only request was they bring a strong side with some first team players to make it worthwhile.”
Somerset obliged and brought a team of big names to the town, a blend of youth and experience. They were led by former Yorkshire and England legend Brian Close, who was helping transform the cider county from sleepy under-achievers into a team capable of winning games. Also in the side were four players who had joined Somerset on the same day in 1974 and would all go on to have excellent careers – Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Peter Roebuck and Vic Marks.
But the game so nearly didn’t get started. Somerset arrived and parked their cars initially in the car park by the sports hall as instructed, but Close decided to drive his car across the field to the pavilion and was followed by his team-mates in the their cars and this brought a disagreement which Linsdell recalls: “Dan Downs was the groundsman then and he was huge - 6 foot 6 inches and 20-odd stone – and he didn’t take too kindly to people driving over his field so took umbrage with Close. It was a real confrontation and neither man was going to back down and the Somerset captain ordered his players to get in their cars and drive back to Taunton. I intervened and managed to calm both down thankfully.”
With peace restored, Honiton’s Roger Hill bowled the first ball to Brian Rose, and it was the bowler who had the early success when the future Somerset captain was caught by Mike Bonetta for 9. Hill recalls: “I was very nervous as this was professionals we were playing against. I knew of a few of their players having seen them on TV and just bowled my best, as we all did.”
After the early setback, Somerset took control of the game as expected and it was the batting of Richards at number four that still creates folklore. Terry Dimond was a youngster playing in the game and recalls one particular shot: “Bob Grove bowled one to Viv and he leaned into and hit it miles. It just kept going and going. I have never seen such a big six - ever. He didn’t just put it into the school he cleared it and the ball was found it in the quadrangle next day. If he had done it the other end it would have cleared George Street and possibly killed someone!”
Dave Rew had the honour of claiming Richards’ wicket after the Antiguan youngster had hit 45. He was one of six catches held by wicket keeper Ian Nex on the night.
There were also fireworks from Botham whose 44 was made up entirely of boundaries - 5 fours and 4 sixes to be precise – then he was caught on the boundary by Hill off Terry Witt’s bowling. Hill recalls: “He hit it hard and high and I was glad to hold on to it. It hurt like hell! It was an amazing knock though.”
Other highlights were Dimond running out a disgruntled Close, who was walking back during a supposed easy single but taken surprise by a throw that was initially aimed at the other end, and a cameo from all-rounder Marks whose 45 runs saw Somerset to 248 for 9 at the close.
For Honiton’s bowlers the final bowling figures were not for the faint-hearted but Witt and Rew had some success taking two wickets apiece.
For Honiton’s innings Richards donned the keeper’s gloves. Somerset showed a generous nature allowing fifteen batsmen to take to the crease. When the home team slumped to 25 for 5 they also took the foot off the pump with some lighter bowling. Roger Hill recalls: “The bowling was what really took us by surprise. The ball was with you in a split second and on the spot every time. There were no bad balls, they were turning it like mad and we didn’t have any answer.”
Only Howard Russell (29) and Mike Bonetta (13) made double figures and the Honiton innings closed on 78 handing Somerset a whopping 170 run victory. But the result was immaterial and it was all about the occasion and memories.
Roger Hill remembers that the match was a real eye-opener for Honiton’s players: “We thought we were a good team – and we were for our standard – but this night showed us the huge difference in class between club and county cricket.
“I was really impressed with Phil Slocombe who looked the real deal. I was surprised he didn’t go on to have a better career.”
Terry Dimond was 17 years old when the game was played and agreed he enjoyed the experience which left a lasting impression: “I was the young, up-and-coming player in a good team with the likes of Bob Grove, Dave Rew and Eddie Marks. There I was batting against Somerset with Hallam Moseley bowling to me and I never before saw the ball coming down at me from such a height. And he was tweaking them as they had sussed the quality of our wicket. Viv Richards was stood up to the stumps sledging me. I was only a boy and he was clearly taking the mick!”
The only disappointment was the crowd that attended as Terry Linsdell explains: “The crowd was not as it should have been given the event. The club did not give it enough publicity so we had a number of schoolchildren, who were allowed in for free, and a few paying customers.
“I was scorer and compere on the night and was persuading people to sponsor fours and sixes and a few hardy vice-presidents obliged.
“But financially we didn’t do well out of it.
“But it was a good night all the same. Simon Martin stills talks about being the only Honiton batsman that Somerset didn’t get out that night!”
Honiton RBLCC hosted a dance at the British Legion for the Somerset players afterwards and they happily mingled with their hosts.
Somerset progressed further under Close’s captaincy and after he retired Brian Rose became skipper and led the county to their first ever trophy success in 1979.
And what about those four youngsters only a year into their professional careers?
Ian Botham went on to become England’s greatest ever all-rounder with 5,200 Test runs and 383 wickets, and was certainly one of the most documented cricketers ever while Viv Richards was an integral part of the all-conquering West Indies team of the ’70s and ’80s and arguably the world’s best batsman in his day.
Peter Roebuck was Somerset captain in 1987 and 1988 before captaining Devon and became an esteemed cricket writer and commentator, as did Vic Marks, who went on to play for England and still writes for The Observer and commentates for Test Match Special, whilst also sitting on the Somerset Board.
And on one gloriously warm night in August 1975, they all played in Honiton. n