The cricketing summer of 1981 will always be remembered for England’s sensational Ashes victory over the Australians and the exploits of a certain Ian Botham and Bob Willis. It was also the season that a Midlands county won its first County Championship title in 52 years. In 1929, Nottinghamshire won their second ‘official’ county title thanks to the likes of Dodger Whysall, George Gunn, Bill Voce, and Harold Larwood. In 1981, it was the combined talents of Richard Hadlee, Clive Rice, Derek Randall, and Eddie Hemmings, that helped them to first place in the table.
The South African all-rounder, Clive Rice, was the man in charge and determined more than anyone to lead Notts to the championship title. Having been named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year, Rice was one of the architects of the success with 1462 runs (at an average of 56.23), and 65 wickets (at 19.20). His six hundreds included a memorable 105 not out against a Malcolm Marshall-led Hampshire out of a lowly total of 143. He had runs of 102, 166 not out, 105 not out, 152, 172, and 80 in seven successive matches.
The main man was of course New Zealand’s greatest ever bowler, Richard Hadlee. He captured 105 wickets at an average of 14.89, and hit 745 runs. In the county’s first win of the season he took five wickets and scored 66 runs. This was followed by a thrilling innings of 142 not out and season-best bowling figures of 7 for 25. He took five wickets in an innings four times, and there were several four-fors and three-fors.
Apart from Rice, the only other batsman to pass 900 runs for the season was the charismatic Derek Randall. The chirpy middle order batsman accumulated 1093 runs during the campaign with three hundreds and six fifties. He featured in stands of 229 with Rice when making an unbeaten 162 against Lancashire, and then one of 263 again with the skipper in the victory over Yorkshire. Another batter to impress was opener Paul Todd, who stacked up 899 runs. He compiled a vital 112 as Notts chased down a target of 193 playing Lancashire.
It was said that the Trent Bridge wickets were nurtured to help the seam bowling of Hadlee and Rice, but veteran off-spinner Eddie Hemmings also played a major factor in the club’s success. He captured 84 championship wickets at around 20 apiece. Ten times he took four wickets or more in an innings, and twice ten wickets in a match. Figures of 7-59 and 6-21 showed testament to his contribution. In a crucial match against eventual runners-up Sussex, he picked up nine wickets and batted for 10 not out as the opposition failed to take the final winning wicket.
In some other notable performances, Warwickshire were swept away for just 49 runs in 33.2 overs, as Hadlee (3-8), Kevin Cooper (2-17), Mike Bore (2-8), and Hemmings (2-5), wreaked havoc, and in the next game, Northamptonshire succumbed to 85 all out, as Hadlee (5-34), and Rice (4-25), opened the bowling to great effect in a match that was held away from home at the Cleethorpes sports ground. And to round off a magnificent season, Glamorgan folded for just 60 as Hadlee (4-18), and Cooper (4-25), inflicted the damage on the penultimate day of the season. A day later, Nottinghamshire were crowned champions, as Mr Hadlee again (4-38), and ‘steady’ Eddie Hemmings (4-51), gave the team an easy ten-wicket victory and the title. On the Rice innings of 105 not out against Hampshire, he had come in at 19-2 and proceeded to score his runs out of another 124 added. The next highest innings was 10.
In the end, Nottinghamshire actually won the championship by just two points (304 to 302), from the gallant second-placed team Sussex, who had the ferocious bowling power of Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux and the astute captaincy of John Barclay. In all 11 games at Trent Bridge, Nottinghamshire did not bat first once and Rice won the toss on ten occasions there. They won nine of their 12 games at home and, like Sussex, their last four on the trot. Since 1930, their highest finish in the championship previously had been third place.
Whether other teams may have argued that the Trent Bridge wickets were prepared to suit the home bowlers, there is no doubt that the stubborn and ruthless captaincy of Rice, the world class bowling of Hadlee, and the major contributions from the likes of Randall, Hemmings, Todd and co. were the real reasons why Notts captured the three-day title that season.
*Article provided by Hitesh Darji (Cricket Correspondent)
*Main image @TrentBridge the team ahead of the 1981 summer season.