Foxes Flashback - Benson and Hedges Win
Benson and Hedges Glory- First Victory (v Yorkshire, July 22nd, 1972)
The Benson and Hedges Cup was often seen as the competition that nobody wanted. The ‘knock out’ Gillette cup had been a great success for over 10 years, the shorter form 40 over Sunday competition had been a hit with families and those wanting to sing and drink their way through an afternoon at the cricket.
The Benson and Hedges was a hybrid, a knockout competition with preliminary round groups. To ensure an equally divisible number of entrants, there was always a combined minor counties team or two plus a university side. In 1989 the student team captained by Mike Atherton lost by just 3 runs in a quarter final at Taunton. In later years, Scotland and Ireland fielded teams.
For Leicestershire though, the ‘B&H’ always a favoured competition. One reason was that the final (we reached 3 of the first four) was always played at the end of July. This meant that it came after the ‘July holiday fortnight’, but crucially before Leicester City started their League season.
Why were Leicestershire so successful?
Well, Raymond Illingworth was captain, and though England captain until 1973, he was crucially available for all matches. He was a very canny captain. Grace Road was a big ground, so the boundaries were kept long to lure unsuspecting visiting batsmen into risky lofted shots that would be six on other grounds. One of the quirkiest rules of the era, was that this 55 over competition had a lunch interval, 2 and a quarter hours after the 11am start. The accepted tactic was bat steadily until lunch, and then ‘have a go’ afterwards. Leicestershire’s tactic was to bowl as many overs as possible before lunch, to leave less time afterwards.
The First Trophy is won, 22nd July 1972
Leicestershire also had a large number of all-rounders. In the 1972 final, at least five were playing, with Davison in conditions favourable to his bowling style bowling 11 overs, counting Roger Tolchard as a batsman/wicket keeper. In the final, Yorkshire became the first side Leicestershire failed to bowl out, scored a mere 136, but the reply was very tense. It was 97 for 5 when Paul Haywood joined Chris Balderstone. Though only 40 runs were needed, Leicestershire had never won a title and Yorkshire were still specialists at winning.
Happily, the partnership saw Leicestershire through to victory without further mishap. The victory margin, 5 wickets with over 8 overs to spare does not really capture the tension of that afternoon. Chris Balderstone received the ‘Man of the Match’ award, but Mick Norman who had nurdled his way to 38 and ensured that the scoreboard kept moving would have been a worthy winner.
Though the bowlers had contributed mightily to the cup success, the innings of the competition that year was scored by Brian Davison. The Courtaulds ground in Coventry was not large, was oval in shape and had ‘rather short boundaries on either side of the wicket’. Nevertheless his 158 not out included ten 6’s and eleven 4’s. He reached 50 in 38 minutes, 100 in 65 minutes and 150 in 92. His 3rd wicket partnership with Micky Norman put on 227 runs.
Their record over the first years was excellent; winners in 1972 and 1975 (Norman McVicker’s 4 for 20 quickly snuffing out Middlesex’s chance), runners up in 1974 (despite a Ken Higgs hat trick) and losing quarter finalists in 1973 and 1976. Somehow the wheels fell off in 1977. How well I remember a May Saturday in 1977. Illness had struck Leicestershire and Graham Cross, Terry Spencer and Paul Haywood answered the call. All to no avail. Hampshire scored a useful 256, with Gordon Greenidge leading the way, but Leicestershire crumbled to 82 in reply.
Though there was another win in 1985 under David Gower’s captaincy, success never matched that of the 1970s. As the administrators tinkered with the format, the 1990s saw two nail-biting defeats at the semi-final stage, and the overwhelming defeat against Essex in the 1998 Final. Here, Leicestershire ended up chasing on a second morning in totally different and bowler friendly conditions. Everyone said how unlucky Leicestershire were, but that was not much comfort.
The Benson and Hedges Triumphs
1972 Leicestershire beat Yorkshire by 5 wickets (Man of the Match: Chris Balderstone)
1975 Leicestershire beat Middlesex by 5 wickets (Man of the Match: Norman McVicker)
1985 Leicestershire beat Essex by 5 wickets (Man of the Match: Peter Willey)
Richard Holdridge - Club Historian