Franklyn Stephenson: A Debut
Season To Remember

Featured News | 14th September 2013

25 years ago this weekend Nottinghamshire’s West Indian overseas star Franklyn Stephenson completed the coveted 1,000 run and 100 wicket County Championship seasonal ‘double’ – and he remains the last man to achieve the feat. Here is a look back on the Barbadian’s memorable 1988 campaign that saw him named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. 

He arrived as an unknown and ended the summer a hero. Never has a player made such an instant and yet long-lasting impression at Trent Bridge as Franklyn Stephenson did in his unforgettable debut summer.

It was always going to be a tall order for any overseas signing to fill the boots of Clive Rice and Sir Richard Hadlee, whose stints with Nottinghamshire the year before had ended in style with the completion of a County Championship and NatWest Trophy double.

Members were expecting the man in charge, Ken Taylor, to pull out all the stops to get one of the biggest stars in world cricket to fill the void.

It meant that there were more than a few eyebrows raised when the Green and Golds instead plumped for tall Barbadian Stephenson, who was recognisable only to keen aficionados of the Lancashire Leagues. One or two of the more vocal of the club’s supporters, in fact, were questioning the general manager’s sanity.

But if there were doubts over the decision to sign the 29-year-old West Indian in April, they had vanished into thin air come mid-September after a remarkable barrage of wickets and runs the likes of which had rarely been seen in domestic cricket. 

When New Zealand legend Hadlee pulled off the double of 100 wickets and 1,000 runs in the 1984 season, few predicted it would be done again in a hurry, let alone just three years later.

Stephenson, though, was simply sublime and his achievement of 1,018 runs and 125 wickets – the latter the most by a Nottinghamshire bowler since Bruce Dooland’s 136 in 1957 – was made all the more remarkable by the fact he missed two games after having his nose broken by a Kevin Curran bouncer in May. It was to be just about the only thing he did wrong all summer.

“After nine years, phenomenal years, of league cricket in Lancashire, where I’d played for six clubs in four leagues, my chance in county cricket had come and I was ready,” recalls Stephenson.

“I’d assessed a full county season as 22 matches, and if I could count on doing well in 20, taking three wickets in the first innings and two in the second, I knew could get 100 wickets.

“If I showed the right discipline, I believed I could, perhaps should, average 25 runs per innings as well. Luckily, after two weeks out with that busted nose, I was able to locate the surgeon on his holiday, and get permission to remove the gauze. I was down to my 20 games.”

It had not taken long for Stephenson to start making his mark in his new surroundings, particularly with ball in hand – and not just on home turf either. He was equally devastating away from Trent Bridge where he snared a round half-century of his victims. 

"It was a very different weapon to have and a superb contrast between quick and slow." Mick Newell on Stephenson's slower ball.

Current Nottinghamshire director of cricket Mick Newell, then batting at number three for the county, admired the right-armer’s ability to run through a batting line-up just like everyone else. He had no doubt as to his number one weapon; one that befuddled and flummoxed a phalanx of seasoned professionals.

 “Franklyn was genuinely quick with an unusual action, bowled from wide of the crease, generated bounce and bowled a great slower ball,” says Newell. “That slower ball got him an awful lot of wickets. It was quite high and dropped on the batsman and there were a lot of bowleds and lbws. It was a very different weapon to have and a superb contrast between quick and slow.

 “I think there was definitely a shock element too because no-one had really seen him before and he was an unknown quantity. The pitches we played on at home during that period were also very seamer-friendly and there were not many high scores, which obviously worked in his favour.”

Another on the Nottinghamshire staff at that time, current coach Paul Johnson, was a well-established middle order batsman. He was certainly glad not to have to face Stephenson and his ‘moon ball’, other than in the nets.

"He knocked one of Kim Barnett’s stumps out of the ground. I thought: ‘You’ll do for me.’” Paul Johnson's first impression of Stephenson.

“It was the year after Rice and Hadlee and we knew with the good team that we had we were an attractive proposition for a lot of players,” insists Johnson. “I think most people were expecting a stellar signing and, without naming any specific names, there were certainly people out there who we could have gone for.

“But Ken Taylor was very astute and if you ever questioned his judgement, you usually ended up with egg on your face. He had a big understanding and appreciation of players and was a big factor in our success around that time.

“It was undoubtedly a gamble on someone who had never played Test match cricket, especially looking who’s shoes he was trying to fill, but he didn’t make a half bad job of it. The first bowl he bowled for us was against Derbyshire in a friendly and he knocked one of Kim Barnett’s stumps out of the ground. I thought: ‘You’ll do for me.’”

“If Franklyn had played T20 cricket he would have gone down as a legend. He had comfortably the best slower ball I have seen and I remember him winning an lbw against Keith Smedlicott when the batsman turned his back on the ball and it hit him on the back of the leg. He did (Mike) Gatting with it too at a time when people were not bowling these ‘funky’ balls." 

As the campaign unfolded, it quickly became clear that Stephenson was going to end the campaign with a three-figure wicket haul, just like his opening partner Kevin Cooper, who was the only other bowler that season to pass 100 wickets as part of a supreme double act.

What was more in the balance was an individual double; whether his batting would be up to the same mark as his bowling. Although frequently chipping in with fifties, there had been a failure to record a hundred since his days playing for Barbados back in 1982.

By his own admission, Stephenson was becoming a little frustrated about that, but a knock against the old enemy from over the border ensured he never lost faith in his ability to score runs.

He remembers: “I was having some hamstring problems late in the season and my batting form was not the best, but it returned when I got 85 against Derby. Derek Randall got a double hundred in that game, and it was at that stage that I got the heart back and the belief that I could do something similar with one game to go." 

That final match of the County Championship campaign was against another bordering county in the shape of Yorkshire, and those who kept a keen eye on the stats knew the equation. With just two innings left, Stephenson still needed 200 more runs to take him past the 1,000-run mark. It seemed a tall order, even with the fantastic season he was enjoying.

Newell was as intrigued as everyone else by his colleague’s personal crusade. “When it came to that last game, I don’t think there were many people who thought Franklyn could still do it,” says Newell. “But he was always fairly extravagant in his strokeplay, which gave him a chance. He was a very good lower order batsman, who hit the ball very hard.

“The irony was three years previously Richard Hadlee had planned his double to the finest detail. He told us he was going to take 60 of his wickets at Trent Bridge and 40 away from home and score 400 of his runs at Trent Bridge and 600 away – and that’s how he did it. There was certainly no planning like that from Franklyn – he still needed a lot of runs in that last game!”

“He had a big gangling run-up when he bowled with arms and legs everywhere, a frog in a blender action." Paul Johnson

Before he could contemplate his batting, Stephenson first had a job to do with the ball and he did it, as he had all season, with distinction, taking 4-105 from 37 overs as Yorkshire, batting first, accrued 380.

In reply, Nottinghamshire were soon in trouble at 106-4 as Stephenson strode to the wicket, but he responded in style with a belligerent 111 out of his team’s 296. Only Paul Johnson, with 59, also reached the half century mark and he is adamant there were few players he enjoyed playing alongside more.

“He hated training, but when he took as many wickets and bowled as many overs in games, no-one minded,” he remembers. “We just let ‘Frankie’ get on with it. “He had a big gangling run-up when he bowled with arms and legs everywhere, a frog in a blender action, but he went up and down the gears really well.

“And he was world class in terms of giving the side energy. He gave us belief and brought an enjoyment to what we were doing… plus he had the biggest, nicest smile you could ever wish to see.”

Stephenson, despite Yorkshire bossing the match, was, quite simply, having the game of his career. As the White Rose County declared their second innings on 340 for 7, setting the hosts an improbable 425 to win, the West Indian carried his tally of wickets to 11 with 7-111 a haul he ‘remembers vividly’.

With Nottinghamshire once again struggling on 83-4, there was only going to be one likely result. The one thing not academic was whether Stephenson could keep his nerve and achieve the coveted double.

The answer, emphatically, was yes. He cracked a superlative 117, including 92 in boundaries, with Derek Randall (59) the one Nottinghamshire batsman to stay with him in a total of 297, as Yorkshire wrapped up a 127-run victory. Stephenson’s knock ensured he became the first player since George Hirst in 1906 to scored two hundreds and take 10 wickets in the same first class match – and only the third ever.

 “On 99 there was a huge cheer from the committee balcony and the members and it took me a few moments to figure out why,” said Stephenson, as phlegmatic now as he was then. “I was focused on winning a game - the rest was a lesson in acceptance of reality.”

But others were not so trifling of his achievement.

Certainly Newell, who has orchestrated the green and golds’ strategy for well over a decade knows what a huge ask it is to claim so many wickets or score so many runs, let alone do both. Only a handful of bowlers have taken 100 wickets since Stephenson, while it looks likely only James Taylor and Michael Lumb are in with a shout of passing 1,000 runs for Nottinghamshire this summer, albeit from less games.

“To make two hundreds in his final two innings was remarkable,” he says. “It was just an individual effort to a very high level, as was the rest of his season. You basically had to average five wickets a game and 50 runs a match, which would have been a wonderful achievement even in 22 games. To miss two games and still do it, well, what can you say?

“We are never going to see that from anybody while we play 16 County Championship matches because that means you would have to average six wickets and 60-odd runs a game.”

Stephenson went on to help Nottinghamshire secure the Benson and Hedges Cup a year later, with Eddie Hemmings hitting the last ball for a boundary to win the match with Essex in dramatic style, which is still the last time the club won a one-day Lord’s final ahead of the eagerly-anticipated clash with Glamorgan in this year’s YB40 final at Lord’s on September 21. He also played county cricket for Sussex and demonstrated his all-round abilities as a sportsman by playing golf professionally back home in Barbados.

But it is the summer of 1988 for which people, certainly around these parts, best remember the West Indian and Johnson, 25 years on, feels privileged he witnessed a piece of cricketing history at first hand. “It was some season,” he said. “To achieve that and yet we still didn’t win the Championship certainly left us scratching our heads! 

“For someone to score 1,000 runs from (usually) number seven was phenomenal, and his two hundreds in the last game was edge of your seats stuff. Even though he knew what he needed to do, he just went out and batted in exactly the same way. It was electric and fantastic. He faced a lot less balls than he bowled, that’s for sure! It was true calypso cricket.

“I’ve always held Ken Taylor in high esteem for that signing because I think it’s as good a one as has been made in county cricket, certainly in terms of impact. There’s been Warne and Muralitharan and lots of other special talents come over here as an overseas, but no-one has taken it by storm in quite the way ‘Frankie’ did.”

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