Ac­tion Re­play

Richard Edwards re­counts the events of 30 years ago in Somerset that re­sulted in the exit of the county’s in­ter­na­tional su­per­stars

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS - A new series on ma­jor events that gripped the cricket world starts to­day with a tale of ac­ri­mony in the West Coun­try

A new series look­ing at events that gripped the cricket world

At first glance, Shep­ton Mal­let seems an in­con­gru­ous lo­ca­tion for a sport­ing revo­lu­tion but it was here, 30 years ago, that a de­ci­sion was taken that still re­ver­ber­ates around the county game to­day.

At an ill-tem­pered meet­ing at­tended by some of the big­gest stars in world cricket at the time, the Somerset com­mit­tee sur­vived a vote of no-con­fi­dence brought by a group known col­lo­qui­ally as ‘the rebels’ who showed open dis­sent at the club’s de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate the con­tracts of Viv Richards and Joel Gar­ner and the in­evitable departure of Ian Botham as a re­sult.

With over 60 jour­nal­ists de­scend­ing on the town’s old show­ground, there was more than a hint of ac­ri­mony and re­crim­i­na­tion in the air.

“We were all ex­pec­tant and all hun­gry,” wrote David Foot in his sum­ma­tion of those tu­mul­tuous events in Wis­den in Jan­uary 1987.“It re­minded me of school din­ners.”

Life was far from a piece of cake for then county chair­man, Michael Hill, who, along­side the county’s com­mit­tee had de­cided that Somerset’s fu­ture would be a brighter one with­out the pres­ence of Richards, Gar­ner and Botham – play­ers who had turned the club’s for­tunes on their head over the pre­vi­ous decade.

The heady days of the late Sev­en­ties and early Eight­ies, though, seemed a long way off by the time the 1986 sea­son had drawn to a close.

Fin­ish­ing sec­ond from bot­tom in the Cham­pi­onship for the sec­ond year in suc­ces­sion and with a dress­ing room riven by con­flict and self-in­ter­est, Somerset ap­peared to be a club hell-bent on de­struc­tion.

Un­der the cap­taincy of Peter Roe­buck, who would emerge as pub­lic en­emy No.1 for those who were de­ter­mined for Richards and Gar­ner to stay, Somerset were a pale im­i­ta­tion of the side that had won five one-day tro­phies be­tween 1979 and 1983.

Those were the first pieces of sil­ver­ware de­liv­ered to Taun­ton since the county won first-class sta­tus back in 1882. The at­mos­phere at a club that had pre­vi­ously been dizzy with suc­cess had, though, long since turned sour.

As Somerset’s slide con­tin­ued dur­ing the 1986 sea­son, the county were alerted to the avail­abil­ity of Martin Crowe as a po­ten­tial over­seas player for the fol­low­ing cam­paign.

The New Zealan­der had al­ready made a huge im­pact for the county in 1984, stand­ing in for Viv Richards as the Caribbean’s mas­ter blaster carted Eng­land’s bowl­ing to all parts in the West Indies’ 5-0 series white­wash. The con­cern was that if a move wasn’t made for Crowe quickly he would end up sign­ing for another county, most prob­a­bly Es­sex.

On Au­gust 8, the com­mit­tee voted 8-3 in favour of the re­place­ment of both Richards and Gar­ner – know­ing full well that Botham would also pack his bags as a re­sult – set­ting in mo­tion a series of events that would thrust Somerset onto the front and back pages. It would sig­nal the end of one of English cricket’s most colour­ful eras.

Just two weeks later, the club com­mit­tee rat­i­fied that de­ci­sion, lead­ing to Roe­buck to de­clare that Richards and Gar­ner must be made aware of the sit­u­a­tion im­me­di­ately.

A clear split be­gan to de­velop both among the play­ing staff and the mem­bers, many of whom, un­sur­pris­ingly, wanted to see the county’s big­gest stars re­main while also un­der­stand­ing the need for team unity.

As the whole sorry episode played out it was clear that the meet­ing at Shep­ton Mal­let would de­cide both the fate of Richards, Gar­ner and Botham and those who sought to send Somerset in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, namely Roe­buck, who had played with the afore­men­tioned trio for over a decade since mak­ing his de­but for the county in 1974.

It was per­haps the most widely an­tic­i­pated mem­ber get-to­gether in the his­tory of the first-class game.

“The Big Bang hap­pens in Somerset to­day and the re­sult will mean that Viv Richards, Joel Gar­ner and Ian Botham will be out of a job,” wrote Colin Bate­man in the Daily Ex­press on the morn­ing of a vote and meet­ing that was ex­pected to at­tract more than 2,500 Somerset mem­bers.

De­spite that as­ser­tion, the re­sult was far from cut and dry. A poll the pre­vi­ous day for Sportsweek magazine had found that 59 per cent of those ques­tioned in the county were in favour of the rebels. The case of the county’s com­mit­tee was im­mea­sur­ably aided by the fact that Somerset’s per­for­mance in the Cham­pi­onship had been so ut­terly dis­mal since 1984. The flair brought to the County Ground by the star-laden tri­umvi­rate, how­ever, was some­thing that even the most har­dened Somerset mem­ber was re­luc­tant to let slide.

In an ironic twist to the whole af­fair, the book It Sort Of Clicks – a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Botham and Roe­buck over the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons – was pub­lished in the week of the Shep­ton Mal­let show­down.

“Had I known all this busi­ness was go­ing to crop up I would not have writ­ten

The at­mos­phere at a club that had pre­vi­ously been dizzy with suc­cess had, though, long since turned sour

it,” said Roe­buck in one of the great un­der­state­ments of 20th-cen­tury sport.“It’s done but I will never write another book like it,” he con­tin­ued.

When the day of the meet­ing fi­nally ar­rived, a sullen Gar­ner took his place along­side the rank and file Somerset mem­bers who had cheered him on since he first ar­rived at the club in 1977. Sit­ting im­pas­sively at the back of the room was Roe­buck, who didn’t speak through­out the su­per-charged meet­ing.

Plenty of oth­ers did. Peter ‘Dasher’ Den­ning spoke pas­sion­ately of the need to keep Richards and Gar­ner at the club. Nigel Pop­plewell, though, was of the op­po­site opin­ion.

“Wear­ing a kind of ill-fit­ting jersey that sug­gests times are hard for a trainee lawyer earned most ap­plause when he re­lated what it was like shar­ing a dress­ing room with the Somerset su­per­stars,” wrote Foot in Jan­uary’s Wis­den Cricket Monthly. “He spoke for just two min­utes, it was suc­cinct, well-de­liv­ered, con­demn­ing. He was a key wit­ness as a player and a favourite with all sup­port­ers.”

Whether Pop­plewell’s con­tri­bu­tion was de­ci­sive we will never know but the com­mit­tee ended up sur­viv­ing the vote of no con­fi­dence com­fort­ably – de­feat­ing the rebels by 1,828 votes to 798.

Roe­buck would later say that there was no sense of tri­umphal­ism once the re­sult was made clear. The time for cheer­ing at Taun­ton had long since ceased. He ad­mit­ted his one re­gret in the whole af­fair was to also not exit the county at the same time. He would even­tu­ally play his fi­nal game for Somerset in 1991. He com­mit­ted sui­cide in Cape Town in 2011.

Botham, who was in Aus­tralia at the time of the meet­ing, would waste lit­tle time in sign­ing for Worcestershire, while Gar­ner would never play county cricket again. Richards would go on to star for Glam­or­gan be­fore fi­nally call­ing time on his ca­reer in 1993.

Roe­buck and Botham never spoke to each other again, de­spite shar­ing a Press box for the ma­jor­ity of their post-play­ing ca­reers. That rift never healed but Somerset ul­ti­mately moved to build bridges with the play­ers who had brought the county un­ri­valled suc­cess in that pe­riod.

A stand at Taun­ton now bears the name of Botham while the county’s gates have been named af­ter Richards.

Roe­buck re­ceived death threats fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion but, ul­ti­mately, life went on for those in­volved and for the county.

For all con­cerned, though, it would never be the same again.

PICTURES: Getty Im­ages

De­part­ing heroes: The re­lease by Somerset of Viv Richards, left and Joel Gar­ner, right, led to the departure of Ian Botham, who re­signed in protest at a Press con­fer­ence, in­set

Part­ing of the ways: Peter Roe­buck, right, and Ian Botham, left

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