When Botham Lit Up Molineux
Summer Spectacular That Fell A Little Short
It was billed excitedly – by me and others – as the first floodlit cricket game ever to be staged in England. And it was said to be the first time Molineux had hosted a fixture in the summer sport.
There was plenty going for it, too…..Ian Botham was playing (and unleashing some big hitting), we witnessed boundaries aplenty and the sun shone throughout.
Yet the match, between Warwickshire and Worcestershire 31 years ago this week, somehow fell short, mainly because the floodlights didn’t flicker on until 8.02pm and by then only two runs or one wicket were needed for victory.
By great irony considering this was a summer in which rain had played havoc with sporting fixtures, the scheduled 2.30pm start time came and went with the Bears and Pears still warming up.
So high was the temperature that the start was delayed by 41 minutes because the grass under the mat wicket had grown and needed a trim by groundsman Bill Pilbeam.
Other preparations went more smoothly. Aussie-style trappings, such as black sightscreens, white balls, coloured clothing and a giant scoreboard – the latter borrowed from Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham ground and erected in the corner between the (old) North Bank and the Waterloo Road Stand – were in place.
Match organiser Mike Keep, from Manders in Wolverhampton, proclaimed that Molineux had never seen anything like it in its 102-year history, revealing that special insurance had been taken out on £1,000-a-time windows in the 42 executive boxes in the John Ireland Stand.
With Botham around, that was just as well. He had declared four days before this derby with a difference that he was fit to play, having been sidelined by a hamstring injury since starring in England’s one-day triumph over the West Indies in May at Edgbaston.
He planned to use the gentle 50-overs-per-side occasion as a way of easing himself back into action and the advance publicity told us he was to be joined by Tom Moody, Graham Dilley, Gladstone Small and Allan Donald.
Among the absentees, though, were Graeme Hick and Richard Illingworth, the Worcestershire pair who were playing against the Windies at Trent Bridge in the Third Test.
Dominic Ostler (62), Paul Booth (43) and Neal Radford (32) were principal scorers as the game ended in a contrived tie, each side hitting 208 runs and Phil Newport deliberately ending his 32-run last-wicket partnership with Stuart Lampitt by scooping the ball into Asif Din’s hands at short leg.
But Botham was the star. He opened the Worcester reply and smashed 52 off 28 balls, his four sixes including giant blows into the John Ireland Stand and deserted South Bank. He then departed to attend a function in Taunton but not before the Express & Star correspondent had made a mental note to record on the following day’s back page that he was being targeted by Durham for when they stepped into the first-class game the following year.
The Molineux occasion was high on novelty value, not least because the alcohol ban that had existed for Wolves matches was relaxed sufficiently for spectators to be allowed to take drink in with them.
Some 3,000 were present and a tidy sum was raised for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Leukaemia Fund. Yet, as a spectacle, it was underwhelming, with the clatter of wickets and the bowlers’ shortened run-ups seeing to it that it was all over by 8.05, well before we could truly sample the experience of floodlit cricket.
Oh well…we would be back in the stadium before long. On the day of the game, Wolves learned from the Football League that they would be starting the season with a trip to Watford and then facing Charlton in their first home match. Normality would resume soon enough.