by Keith Fletcher OBE
Despite being regarded as one of County Cricket’s most successful Captains, I must admit to one of my major failings; the inability to remember people’s names! The occasions that I have had the Essex lads in stitches have been numerous and one such occasion was in the mid-seventies when we were trying to winkle out the Somerset middle-order to achieve a victory.
A young bespectacled ex-Cambridge University student who impressed me with his competitive nature and technique was holding us at bay. From my close-catching position at silly point I summoned the bowler Ray East and my in-fielders to “get Rupert out and we’ll be through ’em.” This remark, instead of having the desired effect brought about much hilarity and prompted Stuart Turner to say “Who the hell is Rupert?” My reply of “Rupert Pocock” and not Peter Roebuck initiated the nickname of ‘Rupert’ which has since stuck with Peter for over a decade.
Now, in 1990, it is Rupert’s turn to have a Benefit Year after 16 seasons of opening the batting, a career which has spanned the most successful period in the histories of both Essex and Somerset, and some memorable matches.
In 1978 we lost a dramatic semi-final when Neil Smith was run out off the final ball to give Somerset victory by virtue of fewer wickets lost, the scores being level.
However, we exacted our revenge a few weeks later by defeating Somerset and depriving them of the Sunday League title, one day after losing the Gillette Final. I shall never forget listening to my car radio on the final afternoon of the season to find out if we were to retain the Championship in 1984. From the last ball of the match, with a boundary needed, Mike Bore of Notts was caught on the fence by Richard Ollis off Stephen Booth to give us the title, for the second successive year.
Our continued success has been as a result of great strength in depth and the ability to bring outstanding young players into a good side where they can mature and learn how to win. It is bowlers who win matches, and in John Lever we had a top quality performer with excellent support bowlers as well as two home-grown seamers in Neil Foster and Derek Pringle who have developed international qualities. I wonder what difference a left arm spinner may have made to Brian Rose’s 1981 side which came third in the championship?
For Rupert, it must be a disappointment to look back at what might have been. I felt that he had the makings of a good captain but he was unfortunate to be given the reins in a difficult period for Somerset. Having committed himself for three years, a period in which you learn the job, he handed on to Vic Marks. Who knows in a different era Rupert may have been very successful?
Under Chris Tavaré, Somerset have an opportunity to achieve success again. If they can have four or five players of Rupert’s calibre and commitment they will be a hard side to beat.
The Benefit Year is all about players like Rupert who have given so much to cricket and the County; outstanding servants, unlucky not to get the opportunity to test themselves at the highest level, but fully committed to each day as a county cricketer. We at Essex have always placed great emphasis on looking after our players, as after all, without a team there is no club. May I take this opportunity to wish Rupert’s year the success that his career merits.