LOOKING BACK: It was the best of summers... and the worst - Northants 1987

A dip into the archives and memory banks to recall a monumental summer of cricket for Northants in 1987.

By Jeremy Casey
Friday, 1st May 2020, 11:05 am
The Northants players, including current head coach David Ripley, show their disappointment following the NatWest Trophy Final loss to Notts
The Northants players, including current head coach David Ripley, show their disappointment following the NatWest Trophy Final loss to Notts

Sports editor JEREMY CASEY has been watching Northampton sport for 45 years now, the first 13 as a fan and for the past 32 years as a journalist. With live sport shut down for the foreseeable future, Jeremy delves into his memory banks and the Chron’s archive to relive and revisit some of the great town sporting moments he has been lucky enough to witness... number five - we go back to the summer of 1987 and a season of heartbreak for Northants

THE EVENT

The summer of 1987... a race for a first Championship title and two Lord’s finals... but no silverware

In many ways, it could be argued that the summer of 1987 was the best in the history of Northamptonshire CCC... but it was also a season of disappointment, heartbreak and, ultimately, failure.

I was a few months into my new job as a trainee reporter on the Northants Post newspaper, and it was definitely an exciting time for an 18-year-old journalistic hopeful with a genuine love of cricket.

I went from being a fan at the County Ground watching star players such as Geoff Cook, Wayne Larkins, David Capel, Rob Bailey and Allan Lamb doing their thing, to suddenly having the sort of access I could only have dreamed of, and getting the chance to chat to and interview those same people.

It was something of a dream job for me, but it was also a case of being thrown in at the deep end for the rookie reporter I was, as I had to learn the rules of the game, and the boundaries that exist pretty quickly.

Wayne Larkins scored 87 in the NatWest Trophy Final, but ended up on the losing side

I have to be honest, the phrase wet behind the ears doesn’t get close to covering it - it was soaking back there!

At the time, the Post only published two papers a week, so my job was more about interviews and features rather than reporting on matches as such, that was the remit of the Chron’s Peter Clifton, who travelled up and down the country following the team’s every move.

But I did get to see plenty of cricket along the way, and I did get to watch two absolute classic Lord’s finals (over three days!) - I just didn’t get to see what was arguably the best Northants team of my lifetime win either of them!

The weather wasn’t always great, but it was still a brilliant summer of cricket at the County Ground with Cook’s team, as well as reaching the two one-day finals, being genuine challengers for the County Championship title.

Geoff Cook skipper as Northants lost both one day finals in 1987

So, where to start?

Well, we’ll kick off with the Championship campaign, shall we?

The County Championship...

Northants went into the season having never won the Championship (they still haven’t), but by the midway point of the campaign they were red-hot favourites to do just that.

A stunning win over fellow title chasers Yorkshire at the County Ground at the end of June was an example of what this Northants team was all about.

A rain-hit three-day fixture saw a couple of attacking declarations from captains Cook and Phil Carrick, but Northants still needed 283 to win from 45 overs on the final day.

Key trio Cook, Larkins and Lamb all went early, but that didn’t stop Northants as Bailey and Capel took up the challenge instead.

It was a truly breathtaking performance as the pair smashed the Yorkshire bowling to all parts to win the game with nine balls to spare.

Bailey ended on 152 not out from just 128 balls, while Capel finished on 91 not out from 85 balls, with the duo putting on an unbeaten 208 in just 27.3 staggering overs.

Further wins followed against Glamorgan and Lancashire, and by the time the County had drawn their clash with Gloucestershire at Bristol on July 21 - they were top of the table, with THREE games in hand.

The next four games saw three draws and a seventh win of the season to ensure the County were still top at the beginning of August, but then the wheels started to come off.

Nottinghamshire had been on a great run, and went top in mid-August ahead of their crunch clash with Northants at Trent Bridge - and it was to all go wrong for the County.

Notts made 452 for eight before dismissing Northants for 223 and 97 on a wearing pitch to win by an innings and 132 runs.

Was this the match that saw the end of the title dream?

Well, sadly, yes it was.

With injuries biting into a weary squad and poor weather scuppering their chances when they did come along, Cook’s men failed to win another match.

Of their remaining seven fixtures, the County drew four and lost three to finish the season in seventh place.

That was hardly a disgrace, and one they had only bettered once in the previous 10 seasons, but from the position they had been in at the mid-August point, it was a huge disappointment.

Benson & Hedges Cup Final, Lord’s - July 11, 1987

SO, on to the one-day stuff, and a glorious and sunny day at the home of cricket for a B&H ding-dong against the mighty Yorkshire.

The County had reached Lord’s thanks to a stunning semi-final century from Allan Lamb, who hit 126 not out from 101 balls to see off Kent in a last-over classic at Canterbury, and the final was to be another match that went right to the wire.

It’s something of an understatement to say I was excited to be making my first visit to St John’s Wood, making my way to London with my Post work-mates.

To step through the Grace Gates for the first time was an experience, and I was taken aback at the view of the historic venue once I took my seat in the press box at the back of the Warner Stand.

Hope and confidence was high that Northants would claim their first trophy since beating Essex in the same competition in 1980.

The County went into the final on a four-match winning streak in the Championship, including that County Ground hammering of Yorkshire, and they were bookies’ favourites.

Anticipation was high, and I can still remember the rousing reception that opening pair Geoff Cook and Wayne Larkins received as they emerged from the old pavilion - the noise more akin to that you would hear at a football game rather than a cricket match.

But things didn’t go to plan early on.

Future England bowler Paul Jarvis snared Cook early, and when Larkins when shortly after for 15, Northants were 31 for two.

Rob Bailey (26) and Lamb (23) made starts but then perished, and at 92 for four, Northants were in a bit of bother.

Step forward David Capel and all-rounder Richard ‘Chippy’ Williams, to rescue the day, with Capel hitting 97 from 109 balls and Williams a crucial 44 to help the County total a more than useful 244 for seven in their 55 overs.

It meant Yorkshire would need to make the highest total of a team batting in the second innings of a B&H Final to win.

Meanwhile, I had discovered that working at Lord’s meant you had access to the free media bar and were also fed at regular intervals, and as I still hadn’t learned how to drive and was getting a lift home, it was a gift horse that couldn’t be looked at in the mouth!

All in moderation of course.

And with B&H being the sponsors, they also dished out free packets of cigarettes to all the press! They were very different times...

Anyway, back to the cricket. As Yorkshire began their reply, I found myself sitting beside a cricket legend in former Essex and England all-rounder Trevor Bailey.

I was delighted to be able to chat with him for a couple of hours, and he was very complimentary about fellow all-rounder Capel - although the Northants’ man’s star would fade a little as he struggled with the ball.

Yorkshire made a great start and had reached 97 before the spin twins of Williams and Nick Cook made the crucial breakthroughs, snaring the wickets of openers Martyn Moxon and Ashley Metcalfe.

Richard Blakey went soon after and they were suddenly rocking a little at 103 for three.

Northants kept chipping away, taking wickets at crucial times, but they couldn’t dislodge Jim Love, who was holding the Yorkshire innings together.

Going into the final over, Yorkshire needed five to win and it was anybody’s game.

With the shadows from the early evening sun creeping towards the square, and with the tension almost unbearable, Northants missed their big chance when Bailey failed to run out Arnie Sidebottom from the penultimate ball, missing the stumps from a few yards.

That meant the scores were tied at 244, but Yorkshire had lost a wicket less, and Love knew if he could keep out the final ball of the match from Winston Davis, then the cup was theirs - and he did just that.

It was a painful outcome for Northants, and effectively, the County’s weak links proved to be the normally reliable pair of Capel (0-66 from his 11 overs) and Alan Walker (0-62), with skipper Cook persevering with both when he might have been better giving all-rounder Duncan Wild a go with the ball.

That was something the captain later admitted he got wrong, but of course, these things are easy said in hindsight.

So, just as they had in their previous Lord’s final against Derbyshire in 1981, the County had lost with the scores tied.

Still, there was always the NatWest Trophy to go for...

NatWest Trophy Final, Lord’s - September 5 & 7, 1987

WHILE the sun had shone brightly on the B&H Final, it was a very different weather scene that greeted the fans of Northants and Notts as they arrived at Lord’s in early September.

At the scheduled start time of 10.30am the rain was still bucketing down

It did relent though and the match got underway shortly before midday, with Northants, unsurprisingly, being asked to bat.

The match had been reduced to 50 overs a side, and things all went smoothly as Cook, Lamb, Bailey and Capel all made decent contributions around the pivotal effort of Larkins, who hit 87 from 124 balls.

Northants ended up totalling 228 for three, and it could have been more but for a couple of stoppages and restarts for the wet weather that definitely upset their rhythm as the batters had to keep starting again.

By the time Notts started batting the sun was starting to peer through the gloom, but that was no help to England openers Chris Broad and Tim Robinson who were both rushed out by an on-fire Davis.

Then Nick Cook bowled Derek Randall and Alan Walker pinned Paul Johnson leg before to leave Notts reeling at 38 for four.

Frustratingly for Northants, and with the sun still shining, play was called to a halt for the day at just before 7pm due to ground regulations, but with Notts in all sorts of bother at 57 for four.

As was the way at the time, the reserve day for the final was the Monday, so after a Sunday off and with the Northants players having the time to stew on what a great position they were in, everybody returned to Lord’s on the Monday, with the rain again delaying the start.

But once underway, John Birch went quickly and when Williams had Notts skipper Clive Rice caught by Cook, Notts were 146 for six and surely their goose was cooked?

Unfortunately for Northants, one of the world’s cricketing greats in Richard Hadlee had other ideas.

In what seemed to be a last resort, the New Zealander launched a hard-hitting counter-attack, and along with England wicket-keeper Bruce French saw Notts edge closer to their target.

But Northants were still their own worst enemy, as they incredibly dropped Hadlee FOUR times, from FOUR successive deliveries.

It was tough to watch from the press box, and scarcely believable, but it was probably also all too predictable for the thousands of Northants fans who had made the trip to Lord’s, and those at home watching on television.

The guilty men were Lamb (twice), skipper Cook and Bailey, with the final three coming off the bowling of Williams.

They were all tough chances, but if they had held one of them, then the trophy would have been the County’s, but they didn’t.

And it wasn’t.

Hadlee kept battering away, but Notts still needed eight to win off the final over of the match, bowled by an injury-hit Walker.

When French was run out off the first ball, Northants sensed victory, but that only put Hadlee on strike and he effortlessly hit a six and then a four to win the game with three balls to spare, finishing on 70 not out to break County hearts at Lord's once again.

I’m not sure how I managed it, but ended up on the Pavilion balcony for the presentation ceremony, and the agony and disappointment was etched across the face of every Northants player, none more so than distraught captain Cook.

You had to feel for them.

They had put so much into the season, given so much joy and entertainment, but ultimately, ended up with nothing to show for their, at times, superb efforts.

Cricket can be a cruel, cruel game.

MATCH STATS

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP

Northants’ overall record: P 24 W 7 L 4 D 13

Finished: 7th

Leading run-scorer: Wayne Larkins - 1,363

Leading wicket-taker: Winston Davis - 70

BENSON & HEDGES CUP FINAL

Lord’s, July 11, 1987

Northants: 244-7, 55 overs (David Capel 97, Richard Williams 44, Allan Lamb 28, Rob Bailey 26; Paul Jarvis 4-34)

Yorkshire: 244-6, 55 overs (Jim Love 75no, Ashley Metcalfe 47, Martin Moxon 44; Williams 3-32)

Match tied - Yorkshire won by having lost fewer wickets

NATWEST TROPHY FINAL

Lord’s, September 5 & 7, 1987

Northants: 228-3, 50 overs (Wayne Larkins 87, Allan Lamb 41, Rob Bailey 39no)

Notts: 231 for seven, 49.3 overs (Richard Hadlee 70no, Clive Rice 63; Alan Walker 2-38; Winston Davis2-45)

Notts won by three wickets

REACTION

Northants skipper GEOFF COOK

After the B&H Final defeat to Yorkshire

“DUNCAN Wild should have bowled. But it was a difficult decision to make, because the only time he could have come on was late in the innings, when it was getting hectic.

“It is very disappointing, because we came so close on a day when we only played to about 90 per cent of our full ability.

“David Capel perhaps strived too hard to match his heroics with the bat, and Winston Davis went for a couple of boundaries in the 53rd over when we needed a really tight one.

“The lads are dejected, but they are just even more determined to do well for the rest of the season.”

After the NatWest Trophy Final defeat to Notts

“THAT was amazing - if we had taken one of those Hadlee catches then we would have won the game.

“The result hinged on those few deliveries.

“It is disappointing from a personal point of view, and particularly hard to take when so many people were calling us winners on Saturday evening.

“I always felt this would be a good time for the team to win something - I just hope we’ve got enough spirit to come back next season.”