County Archives – it’s the great Notts side of 1981

Rice’s re­lent­less charges proved too strong for all-com­ers

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Paul Ed­wards casts his county net back 36 years to look at the ex­ploits of Clive Rice’s at­tack­ing and ag­gres­sive Not­ting­hamshire side

If you asked cricket sup­port­ers to name the county head­quar­ters they most en­joyed vis­it­ing, it is a fair bet that Trent Bridge would fin­ish near the top of the poll. If you con­fined the choice to Test match venues, there might be even more cer­tainty about the mat­ter. Some would im­me­di­ately plump for Lord’s, of course, but the Home of Cricket is not very homely. It of­ten seems too hal­lowed to be love­able, whereas Not­ting­hamshire’s ground both in­spires and re­turns af­fec­tion.

Trent Bridge is three places in one: it boasts the fa­cil­i­ties of a Test venue whilst never los­ing ei­ther the fa­mil­iar­ity of a county ground or the in­ti­macy of a club pav­il­ion. Gate­men wel­come you and the walls are crammed with pic­tures of great play­ers. Although its rooms are no doubt rented out to busi­nesses dur­ing the win­ter, cricket al­ways takes pri­or­ity. Nowhere is this clearer than in the broad cor­ri­dor down which all play­ers must walk on their way out to the mid­dle; from its high ceil­ings are hung cham­pi­onship pen­nants, bat­tle hon­ours from long-gone sea­sons, but un­for­got­ten cam­paigns.

One of the most fa­mous of these cam­paigns was waged in the hot and fevered sum­mer of 1981. In that year’s Test matches Ian Botham took an Ashes se­ries and fash­ioned it into a shape of his own de­vis­ing; else­where, in Eng­land’s great cities, there were ri­ots on the streets... “This town is com­ing like a ghost town,” sang The Spe­cials in a mo­ment of omi­nous pre­science.

And at Trent Bridge, Not­ting­hamshire’s crick­eters won their county’s first ti­tle since 1929 when ‘Dodge’Whysall’s 2,079 runs and Bill Voce’s 107 wick­ets helped end Lan­cas­trian dom­i­nance. The in­ter­ven­ing 52 years had been rather grim for Notts; be­tween 1951 and 1977 they had fin­ished bot­tom of the ta­ble eight times. Lim­ited-overs tro­phies had also eluded them. The thirst for glory was very sharp.

Thank­fully for Trent Bridge’s pas­sion­ate and vol­u­ble faith­ful, Clive Rice shared that thirst and re­solved it should be slaked. Reap­pointed cap­tain just af­ter the mid­point of the 1979 sea­son – Rice had been given the job in 1977 but soon lost it be­cause of his in­volve­ment with Kerry Packer’s World Se­ries Cricket – the South African all-rounder was de­ter­mined to re­store his county’s for­tunes. Pre­vented from play­ing Test matches by his coun­try’s iso­la­tion in world cricket,“a fact which frus­trates him to the point of em­bit­ter­ment” sug­gested John Law­son in the 1981

Wis­den, Rice chan­nelled his prodi­gious en­er­gies into Eng­lish and South African do­mes­tic cricket. Not­ting­hamshire’s cham­pi­onships in 1981 and 1987 were won partly be­cause Rice led his play­ers from the front with such verve, yet he knew when to take ad­vice from col­leagues like Richard Hadlee or Ed­die Hem­mings

It did not harm, of course, that the skip­per was also one of the best crick­eters in the world. Rice scored 1,462 runs, took 65 wick­ets and pock­eted 25 catches in 1981. He hit six cen­turies, in­clud­ing an un­beaten 105 out of 143 against Mal­colm Mar­shall at Bournemouth, and the sight of him de­mol­ish­ing at­tacks with his Stu­art Sur­ridge Jumbo de­mor­alised op­po­nents quite as much as it in­spired his col­leagues.

“There are few more pow­er­ful front-foot driv­ers around, but in no way have tech­nique and tim­ing been sac­ri­ficed for fe­roc­ity,” said Law­son in the 1981 Wis­den, which fea­tured Rice as one of its Five Crick­eters of the Year. “At his best he is equally un­trou­bled by pace or spin and his abil­ity to hit ‘through’ the ball on turn­ing pitches has of­ten saved Not­ting­hamshire when at their most vul­ner­a­ble.”

Ev­i­dence of that vul­ner­a­bil­ity was pro­vided to a de­gree even in the ti­tle-win­ning sea­son fol­low­ing Law­son’s trib­ute. Apart from Rice, only Derek Ran­dall scored over 900 Cham­pi­onship runs in 1981, although some would ar­gue that the dif­fi­cul­ties of the bats­men were ex­plained by the fact that they played half their in­nings on Trent Bridge pitches.

All of which brings us neatly to the ac­cu­sa­tion lev­elled at Not­ting­hamshire even as they cel­e­brated com­plet­ing their tri­umph with a ten-wicket de­feat of Glam­or­gan on the penul­ti­mate day of the sea­son. Put sim­ply, it sug­gested that the new cham­pi­ons had fin­ished top of the ta­ble largely be­cause their grounds­man, Ron All­sop, had pre­pared green, seamer-friendly wick­ets for Rice and Hadlee to ex­ploit.

The ev­i­dence for the claim was that on pitches which had of­ten favoured bats­men in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, the av­er­age first-in­nings score in 1981 was 149. In none of Not­ting­hamshire’s 11 home games did the home side bat first; Le­ices­ter­shire chose to do so in the first game of the sea­son and Rice won the toss in the other ten and in­serted the op­po­si­tion. The re­sult of these tac­tics, so the de­trac­tors claimed, was plain: Notts won nine of their home games, los­ing only to Mid­dle­sex and draw­ing with the even­tual run­ners-up, Sus­sex. Away from Trent Bridge, they man­aged two wins and suf­fered three de­feats.

What may have galled the de­trac­tors most was Not­ting­hamshire’s shame­less­ness and their good for­tune in win­ning ten tosses. No one ar­gued that coun­ties had not pre­pared wick­ets to suit their own at­tacks be­fore, but per­haps no cap­tain had em­ployed the tac­tic quite as ob­vi­ously as Rice had done.Yet those who had both­ered to lis­ten had been told what was on the cards.“We’re go­ing to ex­ploit ev­ery con­ceiv­able ad­van­tage of play­ing at home,” Rice had said at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son.

Another view of Not­ting­hamshire’s strat­egy was put for­ward by the in­cur­ably civilised John Bar­clay in his gen­tly gra­cious and fair-minded book, The Ap­peal of the Cham­pi­onship: Sus­sex in the Sum­mer of 1981. Writ­ing two decades af­ter the sea­son he lov­ingly de­scribes and a year be­fore Sus­sex won their first ti­tle, Bar­clay pointed out that:“Notts played great cricket, too. Clive Rice re­lied upon the pace bowl­ing of him­self and Richard Hadlee, fol­lowed by the spin of Ed­die Hem­mings, and all three of them bowled mag­nif­i­cently. It is true that they pre­pared wick­ets to help their bowlers, but then so did we at East­bourne, against Derek Un­der­wood.”

Maybe it is for­tu­nate that while the pass­ing of 36 sum­mers has prob­a­bly drawn the sting of the ac­cu­sa­tions against Notts, it has not di­min­ished the mem­ory of Richard Hadlee or Ed­die Hem­mings bowl­ing their county to the ti­tle. Hadlee, us­ing a shorter run than his youth, was an even more skil­ful seamer than his cap­tain and a per­fect com­ple­ment to him. To his 105 wick­ets, the New Zealan­der added 742 runs. On the top deck of the Rad­cliffe Road stand, with DH Lawrence’s ‘coun­try of the heart’ in the dis­tance, folk still spend sum­mer af­ter­noons talk­ing of Hadlee’s mas­tery of his art. Here, so the ro­man­tics ar­gue, was a bowler to set be­side Harold Lar­wood in Not­ting­hamshire’s pan­theon.Very dif­fer­ent, mark you, but just as good. “The longer Hadlee went on the craftier he grew, the more in­quisi­to­rial and ver­sa­tile a bowler he be­came,” wrote John Woodcock,“so that he was feared more when he was 35 than when he had been 25.”

Hem­mings’ off-spin, by con­trast, was rarely feared, but it was al­ways re­spected. Those who dis­miss Not­ting­hamshire’s ti­tle as hav­ing been won by ef­forts of their over­seas play­ers need to reckon with the 84 wick­ets taken by Hem­mings – whose ac­cu­racy and vari­a­tions fre­quently came into their own in the se­cond in­nings of games. The crit­ics also need to weigh the im­por­tance of Ran­dall’s 1,093 runs, or Paul Todd’s 899. Be­hind the stumps, Bruce French was the epit­ome of tidi­ness and lack of fuss: a wick­et­keeper’s wick­et­keeper.While the ar­chi­tects of the cham­pi­onship vic­tory hailed from Jo­han­nes­burg and Christchurch, the builders came from Ret­ford, Mor­ton and War­sop.

If one match de­cided the des­tiny of the ti­tle, it was the great draw played out by Notts and Sus­sex at Trent Bridge in mid Au­gust. In a game dom­i­nated by spin­ners, the home side replied to Sus­sex’s 208 with only 102; it was the only time in 1981 that they con­ceded a first-in­nings lead at home. Even­tu­ally re­quir­ing 251 to win on the last day, Notts were 174 for three be­fore Bar­clay and Garth le Roux took three wick­ets apiece.

Left with a vi­tal draw to play for, Hem­mings and Mike Bore bat­ted out the fi­nal min­utes of the game. Bore, a bats­man “quite un­scathed by nat­u­ral abil­ity” ac­cord­ing to Bar­clay, was struck on his back pad by Imran Khan. Plumb as can be, thought bowler and wick­et­keeper. “Not out” said the

Richard Hadlee, us­ing a shorter run than his youth, was an even more skil­ful seamer than his cap­tain and a per­fect com­ple­ment to him

um­pire, Peter Stevens. There may still be Sus­sex sup­port­ers who spend idle mo­ments mus­ing on the de­ci­sion. Notts won nine of their last 11 games in 1981. Like Sus­sex, they won their last four on the trot and re­tained their lead. In the Trent Bridge dress­ing room Reg Simp­son, the county’s for­mer stal­wart open­ing bats­man, cap­tain and chair­man, was over­come and wept. “When I saw him in tears, I knew just how im­por­tant a day it was for Not­ting­hamshire cricket,” said Basharat Has­san.

Other loy­al­ists have pledged them­selves in other ways.“My heart is al­ways at Trent Bridge,” wrote the ac­tor, Michael Jayston, in 1982. Even the gruffest Notts sup­porter will re­mem­ber Clive Rice’s sum­mer and nod in si­lent agree­ment.

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