One ball, 286 runs: fact or fiction?
By Michael Jones, the UK
Cricket has built up more than its fair share of urban legends over the years. Just as with any other subject, some of them are so far-fetched and easily proved false it's surprising that anyone could believe them at all.
It only takes a brief check of the results between the two teams to show that Pakistan have not beaten India in every ODI they've played on a Friday, while the story that Adolf Hitler had the German cricket team killed suffers from the rather obvious flaw that Germany did not have a national team during the years of the Nazi regime. A few, on the other hand, turn out to be true: CK Nayudu really did hit a ball into the next county (batting in a tour match at Edgbaston, he hit a six onto the opposite bank of the River Rea, which at the time formed the boundary between Warwickshire and Worcestershire), and Ajay Jadeja is indeed related to KS Ranjitsinhji, albeit by adoption rather than blood.
Perhaps the most interesting of the legends are those on the middle ground: improbable, but not inconceivable; difficult to prove, yet also difficult to disprove. A common theme for such stories is the sought-after record for the most runs scored from a single hit. The first class record is 10 (set by Albert Hornby in 1873 and equalled by Samuel Wood in 1900), but tales from club cricket claim figures far higher than this.
In Fore's Sporting Notes and Sketches in 1894, Somerville Gibney writes: "Without doubt the biggest hit of the year was one for 93! It was recorded in an evening paper -- and I give it as there stated. The Peckham Pushers were playing Camberwell Albion, on the 26th of May. Albion made 129, and there remained fifty-five minutes for play. The Pushers could only look for a draw, and sent in JH Brown and A Archer. From the very first ball Brown made a big drive, the ball lodging in a rook's nest. While a fielder was getting the ball, which could be seen, and was therefore not lost, they ran 93. The Pushers eventually knocked off the remainder, and won by four wickets."
The story travelled halfway around the world, appearing in the Inangahua Times in New Zealand in July of the same year - but is it true? What was the evening paper which Gibney mentions as his source, but does not name? The South London Observer was widely circulated in the area in the 1890s, and regularly carried reports of club matches in Peckham - but no trace of this one. Perhaps, more tellingly, it does not even mention the Peckham Pushers or Camberwell Albion at all. Nor, as far as I can find, does any other publication except in relation to the rook's nest story. Two active clubs could scarcely have escaped the notice of a newspaper which regularly reported on cricket in the area. It seems that the story is a fabrication, and whoever made it up also made up the names of two clubs to feature in it.
Among its 'Sporting Notes and News', the Pall Mall Gazette of 15th January 1894 carried this: "Western Australia is advancing rapidly, but it seems to be still a little behind in the matter of scientific cricket. A match was recently played at Bonbury, Western Australia, between the Victorian team and a scratch XI from the neighbourhood. The 'gumsuckers' went in first, and the first ball bowled was skied into a three-pronged branch of a tall jarrah tree. The home team cried 'lost ball', but the umpire ruled that as it was in sight it could not be lost. The Victorians started running, while the West Australians sent for an axe to cut down the tree. No axe being obtainable, somebody brought out a rifle, and the ball, after numerous misses, was shot down. The score on the one hit was 286, and the Victorians 'stood' [declared] on that, and put the other side in. The Victorians won."
The most noticeable point about this story is that the match is supposed to have taken place in Australia, but the newspaper reporting it is one published in England. Is there any contemporary Australian source for the story? Apparently not: its first mention there is on 2nd March that year in the Inquirer & Commercial News in Perth - but that article does not vouch for its truth, only for the fact that the Pall Mall Gazette published it.
The story appeared in other Australian newspapers in the following months, and even made it to the US, with a mention in the Lowell Daily Sun in Massachusetts on 15th May the same year - but while the latter published it as fact, all the mentions in the country where the feat was allegedly achieved express scepticism, with the Western Mail in Perth referring to it as 'that enormous fairy tale' and saying 'a hit for 286 licks all cricket creation, using the word in its imaginary sense, of course'. The story of the hit for 286 has been repeated countless times over the years, and is probably the most popular answer when the question of most runs off one ball comes up on internet forums, but appears to be nothing more than an invention of the Pall Mall Gazette.
A more modest claim, but one which appears to be true, is one ball for 17 by Garry Chapman in a club match in Australia, when the ball was hit into a patch of long grass and the fielders struggled to find it. As luck would have it, the Banyule CC website features a collection of anecdotes from the club's history written by Chapman himself, so we have an account from the horse's mouth: "Vinny umpired against Macleod as Borrie and I ran, walked and, finally, staggered our way to the world record of 17 runs from a single ball (p. 247 Guinness Book of Records 1992). We were enjoying ourselves. 'Twelve…' we'd shout as we headed back for another. "Thirteen..." and so on. At the end of it all Vinny had the final say. He turned to the scorers and, in his wonderful Yorkshire voice, he announced, 'Scorers, that be seventeen!' He turned to me and confided, 'Aven't got signal for seventeen!' He then proceeded to lecture the Macleod blokes on the intricacies of the Lost Ball rule."
In the absence of evidence in support of any of the higher figures claimed, it seems likely that Chapman's 17 is indeed the world record for most runs scored off one ball, but if anyone knows of a substantiated instance of more than that, I would be fascinated to hear of it.