July 28th, 1971. The day when David Hughes' heroics shone in the dark.
Wednesday July 28th 1971 has become an indelible memory for Lancashire fans over the last forty years.
An official gate of 24,079 plus many millions of TV viewers witnessed the greatest ever Gillette Cup game – a semi-final as well, with play extending from eleven o’clock through to almost nine in the evening – after rain had delayed play for an hour after lunch.
When I drove into the ground early that morning, I was expecting to watch a superb one-day game between the holders of the trophy, and a Gloucestershire side with the ability to beat any team on their day. I did not anticipate witnessing history being made, but that is what happened.
The atmosphere inside the ground could have registered on the ‘Richter Scale’ as former Lancashire opener David Green and Ron Nicholls gave the visitors a solid start after Tony Brown had won the toss. 57 was reached before a direct throw from Clive Lloyd ran out Green, and sparked off the first of the days many explosive crowd reactions.
Nicholls put together a fine half century before falling to Jack Simmons after lunch, and the rest of the visitors innings revolved round the brilliant batting of South African all-rounder Mike Procter. Roger Knight with 31 and an unbeaten 29 from Mike Bissex contributed hugely to the score, but it was Procter who took the eye. One 6 and nine 4’s flowed from his bat, before he misjudged a leg glance off Peter Lever and was brilliantly caught by the diving Farokh Engineer.
Procter, and many spectators thought the wicket keeper had dropped the ball and then snatched it up, and in his autobiography ‘Flat Jack’, Jack Simmons attempted to shed some light on the incident. “I have watched it on television time and time again, and slowed it down, but I can find nothing wrong with the decision People got upset but the one person who probably didn’t feel anything against Engineer was Procter himself”.
Simmons (left) produced the best bowling figures ( 2 for 25 off 12 overs) as Gloucestershire reached 229 for 6 off their 60 overs, and set Lancashire to score at a fraction under four per over for victory.
David Lloyd and Barry Wood found run scoring extremely difficult against Procter, Davey and Knight, and it took the England players 17 overs to post fifty. The fifth bowler, skipper Tony Brown made the break-through with the score on 61, and although Wood and Pilling then took the score on to 105, overs were ticking away and a certain amount of anxiety was very evident amongst Lancashire members and supporters.
The light started to cause some concern for the umpires Arthur Jepson and ‘Dickie’Bird, and Jack Bond’s side were in big trouble when Clive Lloyd, Johnny Sullivan and Farokh Engineer were dismissed. The wicket-keeper was unlucky, as he slipped when driving and his back foot knocked off a bail, to leave Lancashire on 163 for 6 and needing 67 to win at almost five an over.
Enter Jack Simmons. The arrival of one of Lancashire’s favourite sons lifted the crowd. Every run was cheered to the echo as the winning target came ever closer, and a six off John Mortimore over long on delayed the game, as the players and spectators searched for the ball.
By this time, street lights were shining all around the county ground, the dressing room was lit brightly, indicator bulbs on the scoreboards burned intensely, and the moon made an appearance. Hardly anyone left the ground, although with night falling, it seemed that play would have to be abandoned and resumed the following day.
At 203, Simmons was bowled by off spinner Mortimore, and as he was applauded all the way to the pavilion, a blinking David Hughes came down the steps and onto the grass.
The story goes that the Newton-le-Willows born all-rounder had stayed in a darkened room allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light, but even so he must have wondered just what he was letting himself in for as he walked towards the middle. According to Brian Bearshaw’s official Lancashire history, published in 1990, the pavilion clock was approaching a quarter to nine as Hughes took guard.
Mike Procter still had overs in hand, and bowling extremely fast from the Warwick Road End was difficult to see, never mind score off……..Every ball took an age to deliver as the South African slowed the game down as much as he could without incurring the wrath of the umpires.
With four overs left, Gloucestershire’s captain asked Mortimore to bowl the 56th over from the Stretford End. Lancashire required 25 from five overs as the fielders were carefully placed – moved a yard this way and that – and then the quicker players moved to the outfield, as Tony Brown tried to cover all eventualities. The tension was tangible as Hughes, following a discussion with his skipper, prepared to take the attack to the former England spinner.
His onslaught will always be remembered by those who saw it, either at the ground or in the comfort of their homes. The usual silence as the bowler approached the stumps was replaced by an excited chattering, almost as if the crowd was preparing for the fireworks they were about to witness.
How David Hughes saw the ball we will never know, but see it he did. All six deliveries were dismissed from his presence with a flowing swing of the bat, and the fielders were helpless to prevent the carnage as 24 runs were added to the total. Mortimore went for six, four, two, two, four and six, a display of brilliant hitting which left the visitors in a state of shock, and the Old Trafford spectators hoarse with cheering.
David Hughes pours 24 glasses of champagne - one for each run he scored in one over to win the semi-final
What an incredible turn round. One run to win and four overs in which to get it. The tension and excitement reached new heights as Procter bowled to Jack Bond. Spectators inched their way to the boundary rope ready for an invasion, but Bond had to play four balls with an extremely straight bat. Each time the groans echoed around the ground, but finally the pent up emotion was released as the Lancashire captain found a gap off the fifth delivery, and he and Hughes ran the winning single.
The batsmen, fielders and umpires then ran for their lives, as the playing area disappeared under many thousands of feet. The spectators erupted into a back-slapping and fast moving mass, which only came to a shuddering halt at the pavilion enclosure. The cheering must have been heard all over Manchester, as David Hughes was named ‘Man of the Match’. He and the team had to make several appearances on the players balcony as the spectators refused to leave, and it was well after ten o’clock before the “Lanky, Lanky, Lancashire” chants ceased for good.
Three decades have come and gone since that unbelievably exciting Gillette Cup semi final day, and night!!!! To have reported on that Lancashire versus Gloucestershire game on local radio, and to be in the dressing room and interview the players after it, was a privilege I will always remember and be grateful for. I believe that all who paid to watch still consider it, the best ever one-day game. Can you imagine what it must have been like to play in? Well can you?