Cricket interview

Graham Rose, Former Somerset, Middlesex all-rounder

This month we’re delighted to speak to one of county cricket’s leading all-rounders in the 1990s. His close to 9,000 first class runs and 600+ wickets made him a folk hero at Somerset – it is of course Graham Rose, the world record holder for the fastest List A limited overs hundred, off just 36 balls. More to come on that later.

Graham made over 250 first class appearances for Middlesex and Somerset in a career that spanned 19 years and included 11 first class centuries and 15 five wicket hauls. He finished his Somerset career with 588 wickets to his name.

So where did it all begin? “I was cricket mad as a kid,” remarks Graham. “My dad played club cricket in and around London and I used to tag along with him on Saturdays and Sundays to play with the other kids and it all went from there, really. Cricket had always been in and around my life. The game was readily available on television in those days, which made a huge difference. I was just obsessed with the game.”

Such was Graham’s obsession as a child, there was no preference for being a batter or a bowler, he wanted to excel at everything! “I loved having two bites of the cherry, and that continued all the way up to when I became a professional. I always liked the fact that if I had a bad day with the ball, I could make it up with the bat, later on.”

Graham is forever indebted to his mother who helped his cricket dream come true as she pushed teachers to give him an opportunity to play. “It all started at primary school. My mother knew the sports master and explained to him that she had this cricket obsessed younger one and could he come along and train with the bigger boys. He was more than happy to oblige, so I ended up playing for my primary school under 11 team when I just 8 years of age and everything went from there. I got picked to represent my borough, Haringey – we used to play inter-borough games in those days. A gentleman called Jack Robertson, who had played for Middlesex and England was a junior scout and he went along to these games and that was how I got into the Middlesex system. Through Jack, I got selected for Middlesex under 11s when I was 9 or 10. I remember the first game, I turned up, Jack welcomed my Dad and I, I had no idea of his background, but my Dad was so excited ‘you know who that is? It’s Jack Robertson, he played for Middlesex and England!’ I played in and around that system for a couple of years and it was a fantastic introduction into the game and the art of batting, in particular. It was also an education into being a gentleman. All of the lads adored Jack – when you went away and saw how he carried himself in the game, it made you want to be him.”

Graham progressed quickly through the youth ranks at Middlesex all the way through to the 1st XI where he made his debut in a John Player league game in 1983 against Northants, at Milton Keynes. “I wasn’t officially on the staff then – I got taken on the following year – and because of my age, I didn’t really feel any nerves heading into the game.”

It was so nearly the dream debut, as with his first ball, he tempted Wayne Larkins into a mis-hit only for his captain, Clive Radley to shell, what Graham describes as a ‘dolly’! “Running into bowl that ball, I just kept thinking to myself, keep it simple, just run up and bowl straight. It left the hand perfectly. Wayne Larkins very kindly chipped it to Rads at backward point and he shelled the biggest dolly! Thankfully it didn’t cost us, as he was out not long after, but it was so close to being the dream debut!”

Graham broke into the first team at Middlesex at a time, when they were arguably one of the most successful counties in the country. As a result, his first team opportunities were limited. “We had a fantastically strong team. Half the team were the England Test team at the time, so I only really got an opportunity when the big guys were away with England or if someone was injured – it was the reason why I later had to move to Somerset to get a regular game in the first team.”

Despite limited appearances at Lords, Graham did enjoy some memorable highlights, including a 6fer on debut which went some way towards Middlesex winning the county championship in 1985.

“I made my county championship debut against Worcestershire and I got a 6fer to win the game. We had a really weakened side out due to international call ups. Gatting, Emburey, Downton etc were away and Wayne Daniels was away as well. So, it really was a second-string team we had out; but we managed to win the game and that turned out to be significant in terms of us winning the title. I was only 21 years old at the time, but lots of things fell into place for me and I was able to walk away from that game with a lot of confidence.”

Unfortunately for Graham though, he knew deep down that if he wanted to develop his game and make the most out of his talent, he had to move on from his home county.

“I left Middlesex at the end of 1986 and signed for Somerset. They’d had a bit of a difficult 1986. Viv Richards and Joel Garner were released and Ian Botham moved on. So, suddenly there were some spaces available in the team, particularly for an all-rounder. And so, I felt it was the best place for me to be able to play first class cricket.”

It was the start of an incredible 15-year career at the County Ground for Graham. While silverware escaped him, it was a wonderful adventure full of great games, semi-finals, finals and a period that Graham wouldn’t change.

“When I first signed it felt a bit like treading on egg shells in the dressing room, following the Viv, Joel and Beefy situation. It was like a fantastic marriage that had gone horribly wrong. Wounds were definitely deep. If I’m honest some people still hold a grudge to this day, on both sides. But, I had a terrific time at Somerset. My first game for them was against Lancashire and although we lost, I made 95 on my debut. I should have scored a hundred, but it was a poor shot. That said, walking off having scored 90+ was great. If I’m honest I didn’t consistently back that up for a couple of years.”

With Graham in the ranks, Somerset slowly re-built after the loss of the famous trio and were always a tough side to beat, especially in the cup competitions. “We always did well in the one day competitions and towards the back end of my career we were arguably a better championship side than one-dayers. I played in 5 semi-finals for the club and lost the lot!”

In 1999, Graham and his team mates finally broke the semi-final curse and made a return to his old hunting ground for a NatWest Trophy final appearance against fierce rivals Gloucestershire. “I was fortunate to be selected for the final as I’d missed the semi-final through injury and Stefan Jones had bowled really well. It was one of those difficult decisions that management teams have to make and thankfully it went in my favour.”

Somerset lost the final by 50 runs. “It didn’t help that my first 4 overs weren’t great and they got off to flyer, although I should say it wasn’t just my end that went for runs! I managed to claw it back in my second spell and got a couple of wickets, but we struggled to keep up with the rate with the bat and lost by 50 runs. They talk about Somerset being the nearly team, I’m afraid it’s a legacy that has continued to this day with the current crop of players.

But, what was Lords like as an occasion for a cup final? “It was absolutely fantastic. I’ve never played cricket for the thrill of being in front of a crowd; I would happily play if there was one man and a dog watching. But, this final was a derby and it just had the wow factor. Once you’re in a game, either batting or bowling, you don’t really notice the crowd, but in between overs, you kept getting the realisation that there were 30,000 people watching and it was quite something.”

While silverware on the pitch eluded Graham and his team-mates, the personal milestones came thick and fast for the talented all-rounder. In a NatWest Trophy, first round match in 1990, Somerset were drawn away to Devon, a game in which a world record was set. “In 1987, we’d drawn Buckinghamshire in the 1st Round and we suffered a poor defeat. To draw another minor counties side three years later we were determined not to lose. Everything just came together. Jimmy Cook got a substantial hundred, Tav got a hundred and I came in with about 10/12 overs to go.”

What followed was utter carnage.

“Our coach Jack Birkenshaw had been our coach for a while and he just gave me license to go for it. He was instrumental in taking the shackles off me and to just go for it. If I got out first ball, so be it. It didn’t matter. I guess when I look back now, I played an innings which is similar to a standard T20 innings today. If I’m honest I don’t talk about it too much, after all it was against a minor counties side, and as professionals we were expected to score big totals against those counties. We won the game by 300 odd runs. Everything just went our way.”

Graham’s hundred was brought up in just 36 balls – a world record, his first 50 had taken just 16 balls, the third fastest in the history of cricket. I asked Graham, what goes through a batsman’s head which they are in such form, out in the middle.

“It was just important not to think too much about it. You have to trust your instincts. When you’re at your best, you’re just in a zone. You have to be relaxed enough to just go out and do it.”

For youngsters reading, Graham also pointed out the importance of practice, practice, practice and don’t over think things. “It’s so important to practice like hell. Groove your shots. And importantly don’t have too many preconceived shots. Too often you see batsmen get the mind-set of just having to stick around and don’t get out; what happens? They nick off. It’s the same with bowlers, too often they think too much about the ball and suddenly bowl a big half volley. Don’t clutter your thoughts, just relax and trust your instincts.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done when you’re in bad run of form, like we all experience. “It’s much harder, but you have to back yourself. If you’ve done the right things in training and you keep on practising the right things, you’ll get a bit of luck: a big shout for LBW, which isn’t given, or you nick one and they shell it. Suddenly you then play a good shot, and you’re away.”

I guess it’s that old adage, don’t get too high when things are going well and don’t get too down when things aren’t going so well.

Did being an all-rounder help in terms of not getting too down on the game. “It really did. As an all-rounder, you have two bites of the cherry. If I got out for a nought, I could still run in and take a few wickets. If you’re a top 5 batter and you nick one, you can have a lot of time to stew, while as an all-rounder you can get your anger out with the ball later on in the game.”

So, finals and semi-finals aside, what were some of Graham’s other favourite memories during his time in the game?

“You always remember you’re first hundred. Mine was against Yorkshire. That was a pretty special day. Another favourite memory was when Tav and I batted out most of the last day to save the game against Lancashire at Old Trafford. I look back on that with great satisfaction. Tav just dropped the anchor. The funny thing with Tav was that everyone just saw him as a blocker, but I kid you not, when the mood took him, he could destroy attacks. One of his first knocks for Somerset was away to Hampshire and he smashed them for 130, an attack that included the great Malcolm Marshall - it was breath-taking. We thought we’d hired this really solid batsman, but he played an innings that was just jaw-dropping. Anyway, in this game at Old Trafford we hadn’t batted particularly well and were behind on first innings. On the third evening, we lost 4 or 5 wickets and we were well sunk. I got in early on the last day and Tav was already there and it was just fantastic application. It was absolutely brilliant to save that game.”

Graham also recalls the wonderful overseas players he was fortunate to play alongside. “Mushy was brilliant. He was a laugh a minute guy off the field. On the field, he was just magical and watching him bamboozle the opposition was amazing. It was a privilege to watch that. Jimmy Cook was just fantastic to watch. An interesting story here. He always reeled off hundreds for fun, but after one particular game we’d gone for something to eat in a restaurant. The waiter brought the menu over and told us that the specials were up on a board. Jimmy looked across at the board, puzzled and then turned to me and asked if I could read what was on the board to him. I asked him if he couldn’t see it properly, he responded, ‘no, I’ve never been able to see much out of my left eye.’ To think he scored the best part of 8,000 runs in three years with us and yet he couldn’t see that well out of his left eye!!”

And favourite memories with the ball? “I think I got better as I got older in that I understood my role better. I learnt control and discipline and how to swing the ball consistently. My best match figures were 13 in a match at Taunton, which was special. I suppose whenever you took five wickets it was nice. Bowling at the other end to Caddick was helpful, but I knew my role was to support him as he was our spearhead. I just had to control things and keep things tight. That made him more potent. If we both dried things up, you could get on top of teams. Bowling was always hard work, but it was enjoyable. I understood my role.”

Throughout Graham’s career he bowled to some of the best players to have graced the game. I asked him who were among the hardest to bowl to?

“One of my few games for Middlesex was against Somerset and I bowled against Viv at Lords. I remember he got a hundred and at that age it was a real eye opener in terms of the step up in levels. You didn’t feel like you could get him out and he could hit you for four whenever he wanted to. That was a pretty special experience. Graeme Hick always got runs against us at Somerset. His famous 405 was against us. He was someone special. I remember we had them 132 for 5. We’d just got Botham out and thought we were through them, but Hick was unbelievable. He just took the game away from us. Players like Steve Rhodes and Richard Illingworth just stayed with him as he hit the ball to all parts; you thought how is this guy not going to score runs at Test level? But he just never did. Some people would say he was too front foot oriented and we weren’t quick enough to really push him back. He did play against the West Indies at their peak, but he’d played against these guys in county cricket, ok not collectively, but he still scored a bucket full of runs, it was real surprise he only managed to score two Test centuries in his career.”

What about bowlers faced, with bat in hand? “Allan Donald was never easy. I don’t think he knew how to bowl slow! Whenever you saw him bowl in practice before the start of play he was bowling bloody quick. I just don’t think it was in his DNA to bowl something slow. Every ball hit the bat hard or whistle past your nose. Wasim was pretty special. He was a frantic blur of arms and legs and suddenly this thing was past you and had hit you on the pad. He was something special. As of course was Waqar, although he never blew us away, we actually did ok against him. That said whenever you saw him take his sweater from the umpire, you were definitely relieved! Courtney was another one who was always at you. Looking back, I was just fortunate to play against some of the greats of the game and it was bloody hard work!

Despite a bucket fall of runs and wickets, Graham didn’t get the opportunities at international level. “It just never came my way. I’m not sure if I was frustrated or disappointed, it just didn’t happen. And if that’s the worst thing to happen life then so be it, it wasn’t the be all or end all of life. It would have been nice but there’s no point getting bitter and twisted about it. I was fortunate to play as long as I did and in the era that I did. And you know what there’s a list of far better players than me who didn’t get international recognition.”

Graham spent 15 years in total at Somerset, was he ever tempted to look for a new challenge? “I really enjoyed it at Somerset. It was a different system back then, in that a benefit was a quite a significant thing in your career, so it did somewhat tie you to a club. You could move elsewhere, but you’d forego a benefit. I suppose I could have looked to go elsewhere, but we had a decent team and I really enjoyed it.”

Graham retired from the game in 2002, a decision that was an easy one to make. “My contract had reached its end, but to be honest I’d reached the end of the road. My body couldn’t do what it once could. Even bowling for the 2nd XI I felt in pain the following day. Everything hurt and it felt like I would break. I had just reached the end of my natural life as a cricketer. There was no way I could do one more year. I had got to 38 and it was time to say goodbye.”

Life after cricket saw Graham working as a civil servant in the ministry of defence and he’s now working in IT for Boeing. “I feel very lucky to have ended up in a job that I really enjoy.”

Graham doesn’t watch too much cricket these days. He doesn’t subscribe to Sky Sports and catches up with international highlights on channel 5 but memories of those 9,000 first class runs and 600+ wickets will always remain with the members at Middlesex and Somerset.

It’s players like Graham that make our county game so special.

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