Test cricket has changed in many ways over the decades; to the statistician, one of the most striking is the speed at which it is played. By that, I don’t mean the speed of bowling or scoring, though these are important, but simply the sheer amount of cricket that gets played in any given hour or day. Today, it is rare to see even 90 overs bowled in six hours, but in days gone by, 140 or even 150 overs in a day was commonplace. On the second day of the Lord’s Test of 1946, India and England wheeled through no fewer than 161 six-ball overs.
For spectators, it must have been rich entertainment when batsmen were on the attack. One of the most productive innings came at Lord’s in 1924, when England put South Africa’s bowlers to the sword, scoring 503 runs on the second day, for just two wickets, in less than five-and-a-half hours. England scored 200 runs before lunch and another 223 between lunch and tea. While 200 or more in one session is rare enough, keeping it up for two sessions in a row appears to be unique.
While doing a bit of general research, I came across more details of this Test in the original scorebook, thankfully preserved by the archivists at Lord’s. The 200 before lunch was greatly assisted by the bowlers getting through 57 overs (!) in an extended session. Jack Hobbs made his highest Test score, 211 off 300 balls. Hobbs was not given to collecting giant scores, and the Times commented that towards the end he batted as though he “seemed to think someone else might as well have a turn at batting”. One of those others was Frank Woolley, one of the most aggressive batsmen of his generation, who scored 134 not out off 123 balls, fine hitting in any era.
A tally of 223 runs in one session raises the question of records. Where does it stand? No one seems to have assembled a list before, so here is my attempt. This is one record that favours old-time Tests, but there are a few modern entries [all involving “minnows”]. Pre-War Tests in England predominate, mainly because sessions and days in other countries in the days of high over-rates tended to be shorter than in England. (a pre-War Test day in England was often six-and-a-half hours, but in Australia only five hours.) I have examined only those Tests that had specified tea breaks; tea breaks were not always taken in Tests before 1910.
In fact, there are quite a few extreme cases from sessions that were extended beyond the normal two hours, for various reasons. These have been put into a separate list. Note that all of the two-hour cases were the lunch-tea session, whereas all of the extended-session cases are in the opening or closing sessions.
Most runs in a two-hour (maximum) session
236 (43 overs) Aus v SA, Lunch-Tea, Joburg 1921 (119 off 85 balls by Jack Gregory)
233 (41 overs) Eng v Pak, Lunch-Tea, Nottingham 1954 (Denis Compton 173)
231 (45 overs) Eng v NZ, Lunch-tea 3rd day, Leeds 1949 (both teams batted)
223 (43 overs) Eng v SA, Lunch-Tea, Lord’s 1924
220 (47 overs) Eng v NZ, Lunch-Tea, Wellington 1933 (Wally Hammond 151)
208 (32 overs, 100 minutes) Aus v SA, lunch-tea, Sydney 1910/11
207 (29 overs) Aus v Zimbabwe Lunch-Tea Perth 2003 (both Matt Hayden and Adam Gilchrist scored centuries in the session)
Most runs in a longer session
249 (33 overs) SA v Zim, post-tea 1st day, Cape Town 2005
244 (58 overs, 165 minutes), Eng v Aus, post-tea, Oval 1921
239 (45 overs, 140 minutes), Eng v NZ, pre-lunch, Lord’s 1937 (two teams)
223 (35 overs, 150 minutes) Eng v Ban, post-tea, Chester-le-Street 2005 (Marcus Trescothick 127)
221 (150 minutes) Eng v SA, pre-Lunch, Oval 1935 (Les Ames 123)
219 (35 overs, 150 minutes) NZ v Zimbabwe, post-Tea, Harare 2005 (Daniel Vettori 127)
~210 (150 minutes) Eng v India, pre-Lunch, Oval 1936
208 (47 overs, 154 minutes) Aus v SA, post-tea, Melbourne 1910/11 (Victor Trumper 133)
200 (57 overs, 150 minutes) Eng v SA, pre-Lunch, Lord’s 1924
Readers are invited to submit others that I may have overlooked.
Speaking of remarkable sessions, I was asked if India, all out for 76 against South Africa in Ahmedabad, had become the first team to be bowled out before lunch on the first day of a Test match. Not quite, as it happens, but there appears to be only one precedent, and that was 112 years ago. In the Lord’s Test of 1896, Australia was bowled out for 53 in 85 minutes, allowing England to reach 37/0 before lunch.
India also became the first team to be bowled for less than 100 after scoring over 600 in their previous innings in the same series. Sri Lanka once went from 713/3 to all out 97 in consecutive innings in 2004, but as their opponents were Zimbabwe and Australia respectively, it’s not quite the same thing.