The English winter of 2011-12 has witnessed some topsy-turvy batting displays around the world, such as the one by Australia in the second Test against India at Sydney as the home side went from 37 for 3 to 659 for 4 declared, thereby adding a mammoth 622 runs for the loss of just one wicket.
This prodigious feat, with Michael Clarke making 329 not out, Ricky Ponting 134 and Mike Hussey 150 not out, must have heartened Australian supporters who back in November at Cape Town had seen their side subside to 21 for 9 in the first Test against South Africa and looking in danger of making the world’s lowest-ever Test total, before ‘recovering’ to 47 all out.
South Africa were also involved in a very one-sided one-day international during their recent series with Sri Lanka, with the game at Paarl seeing the tourists subside to 43 all out after the hosts had amassed 301 for 8.
This massive difference between the two totals evoked, for English audiences in particular, memories of the games which used to be staged in the Gillette Cup when Minor County sides challenged first-class opponents in the first round of what was then the major one-day competition in England.
There were many cases in this competition when the valiant Minor County sides were overwhelmed by their professional opponents, especially when the first-class side batted first, with the list below showing some of the instances of these very one-sided contests:
• Somerset 413 for 4, Devon 67 at Torquay in 1990
• Sussex 384 for 9, Ireland 80 at Belfast in 1996
• Essex 386 for 5, Wiltshire 95 at Chelmsford in 1988
• Essex 307 for 6, Oxfordshire 81 at Chelmsford in 1985
A few cases of giant-killing did take place, with the first and arguably most famous taking place at Harrogate in 1973 with Durham – then a Minor County – beating Yorkshire by five wickets. In the course of the next fifteen years, they added a second county scalp as they won at Derby in 1985.
In that time, Durham’s achievements were also emulated by Lincolnshire who beat Glamorgan in 1974, Hertfordshire who defeated Essex in 1976, Shropshire who beat Yorkshire in 1984, Buckinghamshire who defeated Somerset in 1987 and Cheshire who beat Northamptonshire in 1988.
The involvement of individual Minor County sides no longer takes place in domestic List A games, but for the past few seasons the Unicorns have participated in the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition with their side containing the cream of players outside the professional ranks.
Their decent performances and a handful of victories against first-class opponents has shown that some talented players exist in the Minor Counties and it will be interesting to see how the Unicorns perform again in the forthcoming season.