The boy who knew no boundaries
Simon Wilde concludes his series with the 1899 record which stands to this day
By coincidence, Collins played his innings in a school match at Clifton College, where an earlier holder of the record, E. F. S. Tylecote, had made his score. However, as it was a junior house match, Collins played on the Junior School field, situated to one side of the college buildings, and not on the College Close, where senior games took place and where Tylecote made his 404 in 1868. The conditions for play were unusual. An Old Cliftonian described the Junior field in The Athletic News Weekly for July 3, 1899:
"It is 60 yards wide and 100 yards long. Then the ground abruptly slopes (down) nearly three feet ... As they (the wickets) were placed across the narrow section of the ground, there were only 19 yards behind each set of stumps. To the wall, square with them on one side was a distance of 70 yards, while on the other, down the slope . . . all hits had to be run out, there being practically no limit to the space in that direction, for the land shelves away to the sanatorium in the far corner."
Although two sides of the boundary were thus very near to the wicket, all boundary hits -- including those to the wall -- were worth only two runs. Collins, 13 years of age, was playing for Clark's House against North Town in a junior house match towards the latter end of the summer term, 1899. The game began on Thursday, June 22 at some time between 3 and 3.30 p.m. Collins won the toss for Clark's and, with Champion, went out to open the innings. He began quietly, not scoring particularly fast at first, but by the drawing of stumps at 6pm he was 200 not out. He was missed three times: a difficult chance in the outfield when about 50; a fairly easy chance to print at 110; and another difficult chance, this time to third man, at 140.
The next day play began at about the same time. Of course, little attention was being paid to the game at this stage. It was, after all, a relatively unimportant school match. Only a short distance away, though, a large crowd had assembled to watch the Clifton College v Old Cliftonian match on the Close. (This fixture was great event in the school's calendar; half holidays were given on the two days that it took place -- which is what enabled then to be play in the house match on Thursday and Friday.) Collins meanwhile was batting in brilliant fashion, and went quickly to his, third century. Gradually, as the news got around that a young lad was approaching Tylecote's college record, the big match ceased to be an attraction and everyone began crowding around the enclosure where the juniors played. When Collins passed 350 it was to cheers from the spectators. A man had been sent down by The Bristol Evening News to follow the Old Cliftonian game and he was able to clinch something of a scoop for the stop-press, although he listened to too much gossip:
"Collins, a lad under 10, put on runs at an extraordinary rate, and amid considerable enthusiasm he beat the school record of 404. In front of his suddenly-acquired audience Collins was not in the least nervous as he continued to collar the bowling. The brilliancy of his strokes and his reserves of energy -- he never seemed to tire -- were marvelled at. There he was driving the ball up against the college buildings, over the wall into Guthrie Road, and sometimes into St Emmanuel churchyard, and, not infrequently sending the ball away down towards the sanatorium for five or six."
Every landmark in his innings was being loudly signalled by the crowd. Collins was nearing the world record, but still the enthusiasm of the spectators, and his own natural desire to break A. E. Stoddart's record of 485, in no way affected his play". At 5.30, to great cheers -- though the batsman himself seemed quite unconcerned -- the record went. Collins was hitting with as much power as when he commenced and by the close at 6pm he was 509 not out. He had added 309 runs that afternoon in something over two-and-a-half hours, and had become the first batsman ever to score a half-thousand. The total was in the region of 680 for 8, after nearly five-and-a-half hours.
On Saturday the newspapers were full of the story of the wonderful cricket score made by a Clifton College boy. Rather amusingly, W. G. Grace, who had a regular column with The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, had written an article that appeared that morning specifically about A. E. Stoddart and his 'world record score' of 485! The 13-year-old Collins was now the toast of the nation and the junior house match more talked about than the Test match starting in Leeds that Thursday.
(Owing to a long-standing error in Wisden that states Collins batted on five afternoons it has been supposed that there was play on Saturday. This was not the case. Collins's innings lasted only four afternoons; it was the match that lasted five. If for no other reason, play this day would be out of the question because North Town were day-boys and they would not be at school on Saturday -- even if it was only to play cricket!)
Collins resumed his innings on Monday after a break of two days. Usually one afternoon would have sufficed to see a march like this completed, but it was accepted practice that they were played to a finish, so this game now -- with no half-holidays left to assist -- had to continue when it could. This meant the hour's leisure that began at 12.30pm. Thus on Monday there was some 50 to 55 minutes' play. A large crowd gathered, and Collins batted superbly once more. He added 89 and took his score up to 598, giving one chance in the long-field when 566. A wicket had fallen quickly and the innings looked to be finished, but Redfern was the ideal last man. He gave admirable support and stayed to the close, at which point the tenth wicket had added 106, of which Redfern's share was 12.
The national press were lyrical about Collins the next morning. And The Guardian had got hold of his background:
"The hero of the match is an orphan, and was born in India, where his father was engaged in the Civil Service. He went to Clifton College in the winter term two years ago. He had been at school at Cowes and at Bath College previous to going to Clifton, and though he played cricket there, he has, he says, learnt eractically all his cricket at Clifton ... he is remaining there for four years longer, and then intends going to Woolwich. Standing in an easy way, he plays remarkably straight, but watches the ball sharply with his keen blue eyes, and seems as cool as a cucumber. His style suggests that he is a 'born cricketer', and he says he is fond of the game."
At 12.30 on Tuesday the game resumed once more, before another large attendance of spectators, Collins and Redfern going out to the wicket with the total at 804 for 9. All the players had probably by this time been urged to take a positive approach; world records were all very well but the disruption they caused to a school was considerable, and already one pupil could not call his life his own.
Play was extended beyond 1.30pm to help bring about a result. Collins took a two off the first ball he received to give him his 600, and he seemed ready to get a move on -- being 'downright reckless', giving chances at 605, to slip, and at 619. Redfern's was the wicket to fall though, caught at point, after 25 minutes' play, in which time Collins had added 30 and Redfern a single. Collins thus carried his bat for 628 through the innings of 836. North Town, shortly after, went in and were all out in 90 minutes for 87. Collins took 7 for 33 in 21 overs. They had their second innings on Wednesday afternoon and were bundled out for 61, Collins this time taking 4 for 30.
Collins, during his huge innings, had been batting about 6 hours 45 minutes, 6 hours 50 minutes at most. He gave six chances - probably more. On Friday everyone was so dazzled by his brilliant play that they failed one and all to remark on its purity. It seems that the fielding could not be criticised for lacking in effort, despite the ferocity of Collins's batting. His scoring strokes were given as: one six, four fives, 31 fours, 33 threes, 146 twos and 87 singles, but the scorebook is near-illegible in parts, crammed with figures, and these totals could well be wrong. It must have been a trying experience for the two scorers, E. W. Pegler and J. W. Hall. Apart from anything else, they were the only means the large crowd -- and the press -- had of knowing Collins's rapidly-changing score,
Hall, many years later, wrote: "I was myself (subject, I hope and believe, to checking by a master) the depressed and over-worked scorer for the losers during most, if not all, of that innings ... the bowling probably deserved all the lordly contempt with which Collins treated it, sending a considerable number of balls full pitch over the fives courts into the swimming bath to the danger of the occupants."
This was written in a letter to The Times in March 1938, prompted by the recent death of E. F. S. Tylecote. Hall's father, Henry Sinclair Hail, had actually batted with Tylecote during his innings of 404, and was at the wicket with him when he passed William Ward's celebrated score of 278.
The match was over, but the boy Collins found himself in ever-greater demand. He was pestered to death for portraits, photographs and interviews. Meanwhile, congratulations poured into the school for him, including one he must have prized above all: a letter and a bat from A. E. Stoddart. But it was Collins's fate to be constantly reminded of, and associated with, his 628. The score was so immense, its maker so diminutive, that the grotesqueness was, and is, compelling. Collins was, whether he liked it or not, famous. One contemporary newspaper got it right when it said:
"Collins at the age of 13 has sprung into worldwide fame. Who knew him a week ago except his schoolmates and his aunts? Today all men speak of him; he is a household word; he has a reputation as great as the most advertised soap; he will be immortalised in cricket guides; and his name will shine out conspicuously in the lists of records."
Notes1. Probably through a mistake when the figures were first released to the press, Collins's score was initially given as 501 at the end of Friday's play, but later corrected to 509. This error led to confusion over how many runs Collins scored on Monday, his total varying according to what it was thought he had begun the day with. The alteration of Collins's score from 501 to 509 has also assisted the belief that there was a short period of play on Saturday.
2. At the time, the total at the end of Friday's play was always given as 650 for 8, but this seems to take no account of the extras scored to that point.
3. If there were two scorers, one for Clark's and one for North Town, presumably there were two scorebooks. Whether both remain in existence is another matter. One hangs in the cricket pavilion at Clifton College.
I should like to acknowledge the help given by Gordon Tratalos, Robert Brooke and H. S. Reed, the librarian at Clifton College, during the writing of this series.
This article first appeared in the August 1982 edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly