September 5, 1976 – John Player League’s Gold Trophy was flying around in a Helicopter

With no idea about the scores of both games, Walker decided to gamble and fly towards Maidstone.

A helicopter hovers just above the ground. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

The John Player League, better known as the Sunday League, went down to the wire in 1976 with as many as five teams having a shot at winning the title. Somerset and Sussex had the best chance among those as they won ten each of the 15 matches they played. Somerset took on Glamorgan in Cardiff while Sussex played Warwickshire in Birmingham. Essex and Kent were in the race thanks to their away wins while Leicestershire also had a chance if the other results go their way.

BBC, who covered the Sunday league, had cameras at three matches that could have a winner. But they had only one gold trophy to award the winner but no replicas. Hence, they kept a helicopter on standby at their Birmingham studio to head to the relevant ground. BBC expected the winner to be at either the nearby Edgbaston ground where Sussex were playing or Somerset in Cardiff.

Somerset team group in 1976, (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

But BBC’s plans went upside down when Sussex collapsed from 114/3. They lost six wickets for 14 runs in the space of four overs to be bowled out for 149. At the same time, Kent put Gloucestershire bowlers in tatters at the Mote Park as they scored 278/5 in the restricted 40 overs. Asif Iqbal’s stroke-full 106 included seven fours and three sixes that helped Kent to have the highest run-rate among the contenders.

Flying Trophy:

If all the five teams ended up with the same points (40) and with the same number of wins (10), the sides will be separated by the number of away wins and followed by run-rate. Kent and Essex had five away wins each which is the most among the teams in contention. Kent’s run-rate helped him to stay ahead of Essex but they needed to defeat the Gloucester team. Meanwhile, Somerset were chasing 192 in 39 overs against Glamorgan to win the title.

Helicopter lands at cricket ground. (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

As the Sussex were going down against the Warwickshire, the BBC producer Bob Duncan could not wait until the end. An hour or so before the finish, he rushed the presenter Peter Walker to nearby Pebble Mill to board the helicopter along with the Gold Trophy. Somerset were struggling at 127/5 in Cardiff while Kent were on their way to a huge win at Maidstone. Walker made the Helicopter hover over trying to reading but the chopper’s radio went down, unfortunately.

A worthful gamble:

With no idea about the scores of both the games, Walker decided to gamble and fly towards Maidstone. At the same time, Somerset kept their fight intact and raced towards the title. Graham Burgess scored an unbeaten 48 as the game went down to the last ball where Somerset were four runs away from a win. Even three runs would’ve done it for Somerset as it would earn them two points and they go ahead of the other teams.

Kent captain Mike Denness with the Benson and Hedges Cup which they won in July. (Photo by Ken Kelly/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Malcolm Nash bowled the final ball which was heaved over his head by Burgess. He and Colin Dredge completed two runs and raced for the third run that they needed. The throw came to the non-striker’s end where Burgess reached the crease safely so he decided to throw it to the keeper who took off the bails to catch Dredge a yard short of the line.

Meanwhile, at Maidstone, the helicopter landed on the square and Walker ran towards the pavilion with the trophy as the players left the ground after Kent won the game by 123 runs. He handed the trophy to Kent skipper Mike Denness in the fading light in front of a near 8000 crowd that stayed on. The presentation took place in the last moments of the transmission just before the clock ticked 7 pm.

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