On 16 August 1978, Taunton’s little County Ground was packed and the gates were locked until the chairman of the club, Herbie Hoskins, decided to reopen them. Herbie was a local farmer from Sparkford, a village just off the A303 not so far from Yeovil – if that helps – and he worked on the time-honoured principle that one should make hay while the sun shines.
Somerset were playing Essex in the semi-final of the Gillette Cup, so the prospect of a capacity Lord’s final was on the horizon. Neither side had ever won a trophy of any sort. What followed was probably the best one-day match I ever played in; if not my favourite it was certainly the most agonising since so much seemed to be at stake.
There was tension in abundance though Viv Richards did not seem to be hindered by that; if anything the importance of the game only spurred him on to greater heights. He cracked 116 brilliant runs before falling victim to a fine catch by Mike Denness, one of the few recruits from elsewhere in that Essex side.
Richards’s progress was in stark contrast to that of our captain, Brian Rose, who betrayed the tension in the camp by playing five successive maidens against the fizzing medium pace of Stuart Turner. Peter Roebuck (57) was skittish by his standards; I scurried at the end for 33 and we ended up with a highly respectable 287 from our 60 overs. It was barely enough.
With the exception of Denness, all the Essex batsmen scored freely though none could produce the major innings. They were always up with the rate, aided by an appalling over just before tea from your correspondent that yielded 13 runs to Graham Gooch.
By the start of the 60th over Essex needed 12 to win with two wickets remaining, which meant that the tie suited Somerset. Colin Dredge, christened the Demon of Frome by Alan Gibson, had the dubious privilege of bowling the final over. His first ball went for a single, the second for four but the third one bowled Ray East. The fourth was not so satisfactory as Colin contrived to bowl his first no-ball of the season, from which three runs accrued. Now Essex needed just four from three balls.
Neil Smith, the Essex wicketkeeper, now swung and missed and from the next delivery there was just one run. So three were needed by Essex from the final ball of the match. Everyone was on the boundary now as was permitted in those days. I was at deep midwicket and came to the alarming conclusion that this was the prime spot for the ball to come. Where else would JK Lever, no mean tail-ender, aim? I was desperate for the ball to go elsewhere.
It did. Fittingly it sped to Rose at deep point. He lost it for a while amid the scurrying figures in the distance. Eventually he located the ball and sent it back to our wicketkeeper, Derek Taylor, who dived at the stumps. Smith, in pursuit of that third run, was run out by about the same margin as Martin Guptill in the last act of the 2019 World Cup final. As in that melodramatic final of last year neither side deserved to lose at Taunton back in 1978.
Essex would have to wait until the following year for some silverware (they won the Championship and the Benson and Hedges Cup). And so would Somerset. They were soundly beaten by Sussex in the 1978 final, but they triumphed in the Gillette Cup and the John Player League in 1979. In 2019 these two clubs also shared all the trophies on offer. They may be able to keep them for a while.