At the top of this blog are the men and women who have, I think, had a great influence on making me what I am today. Folks I admire more than any others outside my immediate family. My father would undoubtedly be top of the list were immediate family to be included. The only cricketer there is Sarfraz Nawaz of Pakistan and, critically for me, Northants. Chatting to another key influencer today (my uncle, Christopher Booker) we discussed among other matters our memories of Sarfraz.
The first cricket match I listened to on the radio (we had no TV) was the Gillette Cup Final of 1976 between Northants and Lancashire. At the time we lived in a small village (Byfield) two miles from Warwickshire and three from Oxfordshire so just inside Northamptonshire. And so my father and Uncle Chris (who was staying with us) insisted that we all listen to the game.
Northamptonshire had never won any trophy since becoming a first class county in 1923. Indeed our record in our first 25 years as a proper team was the worst of any team before or after. I suspect no side will be as abject as Northants. We could only finish above second from last four times between 1923 and 1948, finishing last every year from 1934 to 1938 and enduring a run of 99 matches from 14 May 1935 to 29 May 1939 without a single championship victory. After WW2 there was a brief flirtation with glory thanks to Typhoon Tyson and we actually came second in the County Championship in 1957.
But in the late 1970s and early 1980s we had a great side. Going into the final at Lords in 1976 we could boast a line up including Roy Virgin, Mushtaq Mohammad, David Steele and Peter Willey. Future England openers Geoff Cook and Wayne Larkins batted 5 and 6. Leading the bowling attack was Indian spinner Bishen Bedi, Alan Hodgson with John Dye. Larkins and Willey were useful all rounders and then there was Sarfraz.
The winning runs at Lords were hit by either Sarfraz or Northants stalwart George Sharp (the wicketkeeper). I cannot remember who it was but a great cheer went up at Butterwell Farm Byfield and I was a Northants supporter for life. I saw Sarfraz come as close as he ever did to hitting a first class century (he fell a few runs short and, by a year, Sri Lanka were not considered first class opponents) at the County Ground but his brutal clubbing of the ball was always a joy to watch. If a bit hit or miss.
Northants is never a glamorous side to support. And one day my father (a Kent supporter) and I went to our least glamorous home ground (which is not even in Northants), viz Luton, to watch a Sunday League (John Player League) 40 over game against Kent. My father’s side batted first and posted a decent total. Northants (we are in the Allan Lamb era now) made heavy weather of it and coming to the last over Sarfraz strode to the wicket batting number 8 or 9. From memory 19 runs were needed. Sarfraz never messed about but by the last ball 6 runs were still needed for victory. Sarfraz was on strike and he just smashed the ball straight over where my father and I were sitting and out of the ground. The whole crowd including the token Kent supporter (my father) stood up and erupted in applause. Safraz will always be my favourite cricketer just for that moment.
A few years ago I met the man who was the bowler on that occasion, Graham Spelman. He was by then the CEO of a PLC and somehow the talk moved onto what he did before he ran a company. We had a wonderful chat about his career (shortened by injury) and about that day in Luton which he still remembered vividly.
My Uncle Chris said he once had a great chat with Malcolm Nash. The Glamorgan bowler will not be remembered for having taken 1000 first class wickets at an average of 25. Or for his two first class centuries. But for being the first bowler in first class history to concede 36 runs off an over (Sir Garfield Sobers being the batsman).
Chris Booker’s biggest memory of Sarfraz came in 1979 in a match which saw Somerset (the side he supports and has written a history of) win their first and second trophies as a county. The same year (1979) saw Essex become the last county to win a trophy (they also won two that year). To clinch one title Somerset had to ( and did) beat Northants. Booker’s memory was off Northants supporters holding up signs saying “Sarfraz bites yer legs.” It seems that phrase comes from a nickname given to Leeds player Norman Hunter whose tackles were legendary. I am not sure Safraz was that fast – he was not exactly the thinnest of players. Perhaps the phrase has another origin but it is not one you hear these days. My uncle and I would be interested to find out why Sarfraz would be deemed a leg biter or how the phrase moved into popular culture.