Late June 1974, and Middlesex were playing Yorkshire in the championship, at Middlesborough. We'd had a pretty decent first day too, with Fred Titmus taking 7 for 39 as Yorkshire were bowled out for 116, and then Norman Featherstone rattling up a century to give us a handy lead. So much for Saturday. That evening, we packed our bags and headed for Leeds, where we were to play a Sunday League match before decamping back to Middlesborough once more.
There was a decent crowd in at Headingley, and if any had wandered out to the middle they would have seen a pitch the like of which none of us had ever encountered. Imagine, if you will, a mosaic of hexagonal platelets, bare of grass and perhaps six inches across. Then further imagine the joins between these grouted with thick lush grass. There would be some interesting cricket. For reasons which I cannot recall – injuries I imagine- we were depleted in the seam department in the championship match and so summoned a debutant fast bowler called Martin Vernon for the Sunday.
Geoffrey Boycott won the toss, opted to bat, and then set himself the task of batting through the innings, which he did diligently enough for most of the 40 overs scoring 48. Vernon had a field day, bowling his allotted eight overs off the reel with the new ball, took 3 for 13, and as he pulled his sweater over his head and strode down the hill to fine leg, was heard to mutter that he'd come up all that way on the train for a “ no effing contest”. He was not wrong. It was a real struggle for Yorkshire and only Richard Hutton's 60 hoisted them towards anything like a total against what essentially was entirely the wrong sort of attack for the pitch.
The following 19 overs and four balls showed quite how prescient Vernon's words were. Yorkshire's four seamers- Tony Nicholson, Rocker Robinson, Graham Stevenson and Hutton- proved unplayable. The ball either played slowly, scuttled through low or bounced disconcertingly according to whether it hit platelet or either side of a clump of grass. Graham Barlow, on the back foot and lbw to one from Nicholson that hit him on the ankle, countenanced the next batsman Larry Gomes to play forward at all costs, which he duly did and found himself, first up, fending from his throat to slip a delivery of similar length. The first wicket added 6 and the seventh 7. These were the highlights. Clive Radley's doughty half dozen was the top score and Middlesex were all out for 23. The total aside, there were no double figures either on the batting scorecard nor among the bowling figures. No effing contest.
So, chastened, we returned to Middlesborough, where, the next day, Titmus completed match figures of 14 for 114 and Middlesex won the match by 8 wickets. It really can be a daft game at times.
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I remember that day, playing cricket with my friends in Gladstone Park, north London, and following the score on a transistor radio. I remember it because 23 all out caused such shock and hurt among us teenage Middlesex supporters. We really felt such overwhelming humiliation. It mattered so much. That's still, not surprisingly, Middlesex's lowest 40-over score and I also remember their lowest 50-over score, two years earlier against Essex. I was on the Middlesex supporters' coach which got lost (Westcliff?). By the time we got there Middlesex were several wickets down and struggling against Lever and Boyce, who got five each. All out 41 and match over by about 2pm.
– Laurence, December 20 2012 at 23:36