Nobert Phillip (left, 6 for 4) and Neil Foster (4 for 10) to dismiss Surrey for 14 © Getty Images
Nobert Phillip (left, 6 for 4) and Neil Foster (4 for 10) to dismiss Surrey for 14 © Getty Images

On May 30, 1983 Surrey were bowled out for 14 at Chelmsford. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the lowest First-Class score since World War II.

Surrey were never really one of the pushovers of the County Championship. Nobody considered them as a minnow: thus, on the fateful day at Chelmsford, it came as a shock to everybody when Norbert Phillip and Neil Foster routed them for — believe it or not — 14.

It was an all-time low for Surrey. Yes, Essex was a strong force in the Championship in the early 1980s — but surely they weren’t good enough to skittle out Surrey for a score of 14? So what really happened? Let us find out.

The Essex innings

It was a three-day match, and incessant rain meant that no play was possible on the first day —which was also a Saturday. The next day was a Sunday, and was thus the scheduled rest day to accommodate the customary Sunday League match. Play resumed on Monday, and Roger Knight (perhaps erroneously) put Essex in.

Though David Thomas ran through the defence of Graham Gooch early in the match, Keith Fletcher quickly settled down, and began accumulating runs with a dogged determination that was so characteristic of him. He eventually scored 110; the tail wagged, and from 179 for 5 Essex recovered to reach 287 against a quality attack consisting of bowlers like Sylvester Clarke and Pat Pocock.

The destruction

When Surrey walked out to bat with about an hour’s play left, things looked set for yet another draw. Since the match was reduced to a two-day match Surrey still required 188 to avoid the follow-on, but it was not supposed to be a serious challenge to their batsmen. Between the innings, Knight ordered for the heavy roller.

Alan Butcher walked out with Graham Clinton, and Norbert Phillip shared the new ball with Neil Foster, who was playing his first match after his recovery from a back injury. Butcher later told: “On that evening it just seemed every time we missed the ball it was LBW or bowled or every time we nicked it the ball went to hand” — which is exactly what things had turned out to be like.

Butcher was out first, caught by wicket-keeper David East off Phillip. He had tried to hook a short-pitched delivery, and was caught down the leg-side. Andy Needham walked out, and was cleaned up by Foster for a duck. 5 for 2.

Keith Pont, the Essex batsman and later the Director of Development of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), later told in an interview: “Norbert bowled outswingers and Fozzie was swinging it and seaming it. There were a lot of left-handers in the Surrey team and the bowlers were swinging it like an absolute boomerang. People were letting the ball go because it was starting two-and-a-half feet outside off stump. They were either being trapped LBW or being clean-bowled.”

Knight fell for a blob as well — leg-before to Phillip — which brought Monte Lynch to the crease. Lynch may not have been ready in time, though. He recalled later: “It was late in the day and the first three batsmen were padded up plus a night-watchman. The rest of us were in the plunge bath with an after-match drink. Suddenly the door was kicked open and our coach, Micky Stewart, was standing there like John Wayne, frothing at the mouth, shouting at us to get out and padded up.”

Starting at 6 for 3, Clinton and Lynch were holding on to their lives for survival, and Phillip and Foster were virtually unplayable due to the incredible movement they were able to generate. The lowest First-Class score of 6, scored by ‘The Bs’ against England at The Old Lord’s in 1810 was under threat now.

As the partnership broke, devastation followed: Surrey reached 8, and 5 wickets fell on that score. Other than Needham and Knight, the others to score ducks were Lynch, Jack Richards, Thomas, and Ian Payne, leaving Graham Monkhouse unbeaten on zero. As Richards came in to find Clarke in the bath, he told the fast bowler “Better pad up, Silves, we’re in trouble.”

Clarke was taken aback, and thought it was a joke of some sort. It took some convincing from his teammates to finally get him to pad up. He eventually went out to bat, according to Lynch, “went out to bat without any socks on and soap all over his head”. The score was 8 for 8 at this point, and Clarke was dropped almost immediately. Butcher later admitted: “To be honest, if Sylvester Clarke hadn’t been dropped for nought we would have failed to get double figures.”

Monkhouse eventually edged one from Phillip that fell short of East, and the batsmen scampered for a brace to take the score to double-figures. In the very next over Clarke lofted Foster over mid-wicket for four, and Surrey went past the lowest total in the Championship — 12 by Northamptonshire against Gloucestershire at Gloucester in 1907.

His job accomplished, Clarke was promptly bowled by Foster, and in the next over Phillip trapped Monkhouse leg-before, and Surrey were all out for 14 in 14.3 overs, and stumps were called. It was the lowest First-Class score since the Second World War — 2 less than Border’s 16 against Natal at East London in 1959-60.

Phillip and Foster had bowled unchanged. Phillip returned figures of 7.3-4-4-6, while Foster had to be content with 7-3-10-4. Both registered their career-best hauls (Phillip’s previous best was 6 for 40, while Foster’s was 3 for 32). They led the Essex fielders off the ground amidst great cheer. Pocock recollected: “At the end of our innings, the Essex crowd went mad, clapping them off. The two bowlers led the sides off, and back in the dressing room we looked at each other and we were just dumbstruck, as if we’d seen a ghost. Then somebody burst out laughing and everybody laughed.”

To their credit the Surrey players were not demoralised and took things in a good-spirited nature. Butcher recalls rather wryly — “Roger Knight told some journalists we hadn’t batted awfully well. It was one of the better under-statements of all time.” Writing for The Times, Peter Ball agreed with him with the words that the main reason for the debacle was ‘bad or irresolute batting’.

An exasperated Thomas, who batted at No. 7, said “we can’t sit around like this — let’s go down the nightclub”, to which Butcher responded “it’s alright for you, you probably won’t need to bat until about 11.20 am tomorrow [play started typically at 11 in the morning].”

On a similar note, Butcher recollected: “The temptation to go and get plastered out of our brains on that second night was huge but then suddenly someone worked out, only half jokingly, we could still lose by an innings to the extras [20] we’d conceded, so that was scrapped.”

Derek Pringle, who missed the match due to an injury, later wrote in The Telegraph: “We watched the procession from the dressing-room balcony with some amusement. It was like one of those speeded-up sequences from the Benny Hill Show, complete with its own percussive soundtrack of spikes on concrete as batsmen clattered up and down the pavilion steps.”

Pringle also recalled an incident about a journalist, who had left the ground early. He told his sub-editor: “Finish with ‘At the close, Surrey were ___ for ___.’ Fill in the relevant details.” When the journalist called late and night and asked whether there had been any issues, the sub-editor responded: “Well, yes, actually, you left some blanks for us to fill in. Well, the numbers missing are 14 and 10. Surrey were bowled out for the lowest score in their history. We had to rewrite your piece in the office.”

However, the final word should be Pont’s: “A friend came to the match. She had never seen a professional game before. As I walked off she said: ‘I really like this game — it’s very exciting.’ ”

The next day

Fletcher obviously enforced the follow-on in front of a much larger group of journalists than the usual count in a Championship match on a Tuesday. Lightning almost struck twice — as Foster removed Butcher and Phillip got rid of Needham with just 18 runs on the board.

However, sanity prevailed, and Clinton and Foster played out time — Clinton remaining unbeaten on 61 while Foster scored 101. Surrey finished at 185 for 2. Rather ironically, Surrey picked up the same number of bowling points (4) from the match as Essex.

Andy Needham ‘in honour of’ the seven ducks, got his father to make seven ties with a small silver duck on each of them under the idea that it was a joke. Stewart, however, did not see the funny side of things. As Lynch recollects, “We all walked in as the Magnificent Seven with our ties and Micky cut them up. He told us: ‘If you’re going to be famous, be famous for the right reasons.’”

Brief scores:

Essex 287 (Keith Fletcher 110, Ken McEwan 45) drew with Surrey 14 (Norbert Phillip 6 for 4, Neil Foster 4 for 10) and 185 for 2 (Roger Knight 101*, Graham Clinton 61*).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42).