The record that shouldn't have been
Cricket records are broken fairly regularly, but few in such controversial circumstances as happened at Leyton in 1932. And rarely has a potential row been defused by what most people agree was a tactical amendment to the official score.
The incident occurred at Leyton, then Essex's home ground (but only for one more season), when they entertained Yorkshire in a Championship match in the middle of June.
On a mild morning, Yorkshire won the toss and chose to bat on what appeared to be a flawless pitch. Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe opened, but when he had made 3 Holmes, who had been a doubtful starter because of lumbago, gave a hard chance off AG Daer which was spilt by Roy Sheffield, the wicketkeeper. That was as good as it got for Essex - it was the only chance offered by either batsman. At lunch, Yorkshire were 113 for 0; at tea they had advanced to 237; in the final session both batsmen cut loose, and by the close the score had reached 423 for 0, with Sutcliffe on 230 and Holmes 180.
Overnight, the national newspapers went to town with speculation that the then world-record first-wicket partnership - 554 by Jack Brown and John Tunnicliffe for Yorkshire against Derbyshire at Chesterfield in 1898 - would fall. A large crowd gathered in glorious sunshine the next morning ... and they weren't disappointed. At just after one o'clock, Sutcliffe hooked a short one from Lawrie Eastman for four to take Yorkshire to 555 for 0, and so break the old record by one run. Brian Sellers recalled that at the start of play he had given them until one to break the record, and although Sutcliffe was not too happy with his captain, Holmes said that he "had come to get the 15 points so that was fair enough". Sutcliffe got himself out to what Wisden described as "a rather casual stroke" off the next ball for 313, and Sellers promptly declared.
Then the fun started.
As the players reached the pavilion the total on the scoreboard clicked back by one run. "The scoreboard often went wrong at Leyton," recalled Charles Bray, Essex's captain, "because the scorers sat underneath and could not check visually." A quick enquiry revealed that the scorers had checked their books and believed they had made a mistake. Both agreed that the correct score was 554. Sellers admitted: "Then all hell broke loose."
Inside the pavilion, Sutcliffe and Holmes (who finished with 224 not out) slumped down, briefly oblivious to the growing furore outside. "My word," Yorkshire's Bill Bowes remembered Holmes saying: "If it hadn't been for my lumbago we'd have brayed 'em."
Inside the scorebox attempts to resolve the issue by adding an extra runcame up against a brick wall as Billy Ringrose, the obstinate Yorkshire scorer, refused to fiddle the books. The issue was further complicated by reports that Charlie McGahey, the former England allrounder who was Essex's scorer at the time, had arrived late on the first day.
The press were demanding to know what was going on, and Tiger Smith, one of the umpires, had persuaded Ringrose that he had missed a no-ball from Daer while trying to fill in two books before McGahey turned up. "No fiddling was involved," insisted Smith. But while Ringrose agreed to the amendment, McGahey dug in his heels.
Bray was also unaware of the row until McGahey burst into the home dressing-room. "Sorry to disturb you, skip," he panted, "but all hell is going on out there. They want us to find an extra run to beat the record and I won't do it without your permission."
"Find a run for them, Charles," replied a weary Bray. "They've batted magnificently and more than deserve the record." McGahey was clearly unhappy but agreed. Arthur Daer, who had finished with 0 for 106, had one more added to his analysis.
And so it was more than half-an-hour after the declaration before all parties agreed and the scoreboard total reverted to 555. Holmes later claimed that a clergyman in the crowd, keeping his own scorebook, first alerted the scorers to the missing extra.
McGahey's involvement in the confusion deepened when, some years later, the Essex stalwart TN Pearce revealed that McGahey had been in the habit of sending the boys operating the scoreboard off to buy him bottles of Bass beer. Pearce suggested that McGahey's intake might have led to frequent visits to the toilet, and that Ringrose could have been coping with two scorebooks for more than just a few overs on the first day.
The journalists rushed to file their stories, but there was only one telephone at Leyton, a public one at that. EW Swanton, then a young reporter for the Evening Standard, was low down the pecking order, as most of the national dailies had dispatched their big guns to cover the game. As a result, he missed the early editions of his paper, and - so he maintained - his trip to cover that winter's Bodyline series. "If you can't file on time from Leyton," his editor told him, "then I don't trust you to do so from Australia."
And spare a thought for the Essex fielders. They arrived at Leyton straight from The Oval, where they had fielded almost all the previous day in searing heat as Jack Hobbs and Robert Gregory had put on an unbeaten 232 for Surrey's second wicket - an amazing 787 runs between the fall of wickets. Unsurprisingly, when they batted, a weary Essex were dismissed for 78 and 164, and lost by an innings and 313 runs.
The record dominated the headlines. "Stacks of 555 State Express cigarettes arrived in the dressing-room for Herbert and Percy," Sellers remembered. "Later Herbert bought an AC car with 555 on it."
A week later, Bray was given a lift by Percy Fender, Sussex's captain, and given "the biggest dressing down" he had ever received. He was accused of breaking the laws, and the umpires were not spared Fender's wrath. "I was wrong and Fender was right," he admitted 46 year later. "I should not allowed the total to have been amended."
The record stood until 1976-77, when it was surpassed by Waheed Mirza and Mansoor Akhtar, with 561 for Karachi Whites' first wicket against Quetta at Karachi.
Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.
The Cricketer - June 1932
Wisden Cricketer's Almanack - 1933
Great Moments in Cricket - Gordon Ross (The Cricketer 1975)