It’s 50 years now since Pat Pocock tore his way through the record books by taking a remarkable seven wickets in 11 balls for Surrey against Sussex at Eastbourne in the County Championship, which remains a world best. Richard Spiller looks to the match which came to a remarkable climax on Tuesday August 15, 1972
Even now, half a century on, Pat Pocock’s seven wickets from 11 balls seem barely credible.
An unremarkable match at Eastbourne’s Saffrons ground was moving peacefully to a close, the hosts closing in steadily on a target of 205.
Their chase had been set up by three declarations after all but 45 minutes had been washed out on an unseasonably wet Saturday on the Sussex coast.
It wasn’t an encounter likely to attract much attention either. Champions the previous summer – after a gap of 13 years – Surrey had mounted a most unconvincing defence and were limping towards the end of the season, skipper Micky Stewart’s last in the first-class game. They would finish 12th, four places above their southern neighbours while the rest of their campaign was similarly undistinguished, slipping to 12th in the John Player League on Sundays, failing to progress from the zonal stages of the Benson & Hedges Cup and making little impact in the Gillette Cup.
Looking back now, Pocock – known to all in the game as ‘Percy’ – reckons the remarkable climax to the game did not attract the headlines it might have done: “All the attention was on the final Ashes Test at The Oval, so a match between two teams in the bottom half of the County Championship wasn’t going to merit much attention.”
Surrey had Roy Lewis (72) and Mike Edwards (81) to thank for making 300-4dec after play resumed on Monday, Roger Prideaux’s 106no behind the reply of 226-5dec. A dash to 130-3dec in the second innings by the visitors saw Stewart leave Sussex two-and-a-quarter hours to make their 205 and, as Wisden Cricketers Almanack states, “everything that really mattered happened on the final day”.
Rather late in it too given Prideaux, who had won three caps for England in 1968-69, led the chase in in another fluent innings of 97.
With three overs of the final hour remaining, Sussex looked the inevitable victors after Prideaux and Geoff Greenidge had added 160 for the second wicket in 107 minutes.
Yet off-spinner Pocock, who had that stage had taken 0-63 from 14 overs, suddenly changed the whole complexion of the match. He stepped up to bowl his 15th as the nearby town hall clock struck 6pm, the scoreboard reading 187-1, attempting to prevent Sussex scoring the 18 they needed.
“It was one of those days when you just wanted to get the game over and put it down to unhappy experience,” he wrote in his autobiography Percy: The perspicacious memoirs of a cricketing man.
His emotions were to change rapidly over the next 20 mad minutes.
He bowled Greenidge with the first ball, Mike Buss keeping out the next and then being bowled himself by the third. Jim Parks, the former England wicketkeeper, took two off the fourth, failed to score off the fifth and then offered a return catch to Pocock, making it 189-4.
Eleven runs came off the 19th over of the final hour, bowled by Robin Jackman, to put Sussex’s chase back on target. But Prideaux’s 97 was terminated by a catch to Jackman from the first ball of Pocock’s next over – the last of the match – and then home skipper Mike Griffith offered a chance which was gobbled up by Roy Lewis, handing the off-spinner the second hat-trick of his career.
If those spectators who had stayed on at The Saffrons thought that was the end of the excitement, they were badly wrong. As the Sussex batsmen became increasingly panicky that victory was escaping their grasp – five still being needed – left-hander Jerry Morley entered and lasted one delivery, wicketkeeper Arnold Long stumping him to make it four wickets in four balls.
John Spencer temporarily ended the wicket sequence by taking a single off the next, making it four to win off two, but Tony Buss was bowled by the fifth ball of the over and Dulip Joshi – knowing he could still win the ball by hitting a boundary – swung hopefully and was run out returning for a second to leave Sussex 202-9 and the match ending as a draw.
In all, Sussex had lost eight wickets for 15 runs in 18 balls, the final over taking 10 minutes to bowl as batsmen rushed on and off, as records tumbled.
Pocock – finishing with 7-67 – had become the third Surrey bowler to take four wickets in four balls, joining Alan Peach (v Sussex at The Oval in 1924) and Alf Gover (v Worcestershire at New Road in 1935). That group has subsequently been augmented by Gary Butcher, v Derbyshire at The Oval in 2000.
Five in six wickets set a new world record, which has since been equalled by Yasir Arafat (Rawalpindi v Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, 2004-05) and Neil Wagner (Otago v Wellington, Queenstown 2010-11).
No one has equalled the feat of six wickets in nine balls or seven in 11 and Pocock reckons it will take a massive dose of fortune to do so, explaining: “You need a huge amount of luck for that sort of thing. Sussex were attacking me because they were chasing a win, if they had just been blocking it out then it couldn’t have happened.
“If a batsman scores 400 in four hours then that’s down to skill, with maybe a bit of luck along the way.”
Pocock doesn’t even believe it was his best bowling performance: “I took 0-152 in a Test at Jamaica in 1974 on a perfect pitch in which you could see your own reflection, against a batting line-up including Rowe, Kallicharran, Lloyd, Kanhai and Sobers and with a 50-yard boundary. Bowling more than 50 overs against that lot and keeping control was a feat, all my team-mates shook my hand, but the statistics don’t represent that.”
One memory which stays with Pocock from 1972 is a phone call to the Eastbourne dressing room from the Surrey coach, Arthur McIntyre, who was at The Oval: “He called up to get the details when all the wickets started going down. He thought our 12th man, Ian Payne, was winding him up by telling him I was taking all those wickets.”
The reaction of the shell-shocked Sussex side is another memory: “They sat in there asking each other ‘how the hell did that happen?’
“It was a good question really.”
Pocock’s haul enabled him to finish joint top wicket-taker for Surrey in the Championship, his 69 victims level with Jackman’s. When England next took the field, with England skipper Ray Illingworth resting for the winter, Pocock ended a four year absence from Test cricket by being among Tony Lewis’s side playing India at New Delhi.
Thanks to Brian Cowley of the Surrey Statistics Group for additional information.