Ross County Nil
It never happens deliberately. There’s no spot-fixing on the village green. And yet….
When ignominy strikes, it can sometimes bring unwanted fame. I speak personally, as somebody who used to turn out – with the emphasis on “out” for a part-time collective called Atlas.
We were never in any danger of interesting the Scottish selectors. Yet we hit the front page of the “West Lothian Courier” all the same.
The story started: “Atlas thought they were in for an early finish when they skittled Westquarter for 24 on Saturday. Well, they got their wish….but only because they themselves were routed for 15.”
That, though, was a relatively sizeable effort, compared to the fate which befell befell Ross County CC in the Swinging 60s.
There’s no point beating about the bush: on an afternoon in Strathpeffer in May, 1964, they were bowled out for 0 in the space of four overs by their opponents. It was one of the few proven instances of a side’s scorecard containing more zeroes than you’ll find on Rihanna’s personal fortune. And, despite the passing of time, the sorry events from that day’s carnage have reverberated for over half a century.
There was little indication of the drama in store when Elgin batted first and amassed 145 for 5 from their 37-over spell at the crease. Their normally prolific willow-wielder, Bernard Woolfson, made a duck, but his colleagues chipped in with 20s, 30s and 40s. Woolfson, a man born in Beccles near Norwich, watched from the sidelines with a tangible sense of frustration. But eventually, he would have the last laugh.
There were entirely different emotions among the County brigade. “We’re still trying to forget it, but we keep getting reminded about it,” said their president Peter Bowen. “We have a pretty healthy set-up, we have won a variety of honours in our history and there was one match where we hit more than 300. But that day in 1964 still gets all the attention. Believe me, it’s not funny at all to be on the receiving end of a horror like that.”
The innings lasted just four overs. Woolfson, who worked as a Post Office sales representative, opened the bowling in tandem with Dave Murray, a Forestry Commission employee in Elgin. Soon enough, the cries of “Timber” were ringing out across the ground, while the scorers were as quiet as Trappist monks.
Woolfson took a wicket with his first delivery and another with his second. Murray subsequently followed that up with a wicket-maiden and Ross County had slumped to 0 for 3 in 12 balls. Life was only going to get worse.
“It probably goes without saying that they didn’t play very well, but it was still a remarkable state of affairs,” recalls Scott Campbell, Elgin’s record-holding wicket-taker with no less than 1557 league victims, who actually missed the rout of Ross County with a viral infection.
“My mates joked it was as well I wasn’t playing, because I would have conceded some runs, but they didn’t need me that day, that’s for sure.”
Elgin were certainly in indomitable mood as the contest hastened towards a conclusion. Woolfson continued to wreak havoc with the first, fourth and sixth deliveries of his second over and the hapless County line-up had subsided to 0 for 6. The end was nigh. Indeed, it was a lot quicker than anybody could possibly have envisaged 20 minutes earlier.
“Bernard was more of a batsman than a bowler, but he put it in the right place and you can’t argue with his figures [five for nothing from a brace of overs],” said Campbell. “Dave, on the other hand, was one of our best performers at that stage and as things got worse, they were like rabbits in the headlights.”
At the outset of the fourth over, Murray lived up to that reputation, taking wickets with his third and fourth balls. The hat-trick never quite materialised, but he wrapped up proceedings by bowling Neil Frazer with the very next delivery.
And that was it. Since Ross County only had ten players, they were gone without anybody mustering a single run.
It’s easy to mock their plight, but there’s nothing comical for those involved in these calamities.
Andrew Ward, who covered this tussle in his absorbing book “Cricket’s Strangest Matches” was magnanimous on County’s behalf. “Observers pointed out that they hadn’t had much luck,” he wrote. “One batsman hit his own wicket, two others played on to their stumps and they had no run of the ball.”
But, in the big picture, this was the sporting equivalent of a group receiving “nul points” at the Eurovision Song Contest. “We have the card on the wall on the clubhouse to remind us how bad things were that day,” said Bowen.
“But life has moved on and we have plenty of things to be positive about. We have two teams, we are going into the schools in the area, and we have a Cricket Festival every summer. We have to focus on the future of the game, not the past.”
They should avery their gaze now.
Here’s the scorecard….
T Manley b Oliver 28
B Woolfson b Henry 0
J Wright b Niven 43
F Muir lbw b Niven 8
J Leithhead not out 36
W Phiminster b Niven 6
R Draggan not out 12
TOTAL (for 5 wickets) 145
B Kenny c Phiminster b Woolfson 0
G Shiels c Stewardson b Murray 0
J Hendry b Woolfson 0
W Oliver b Woolfson 0
J Niven hit wicket b Murray 0
R Hannant lbw b Woolfson 0
I Taylor b Woolfson 0
S Bull not out 0
J Northcliffe b Murray 0
N Frazer b Murray 0
TOTAL (All Out) 0