On September 11 and 12 to round off the Scarborough Festival, Carling Black Label Lager Beer are sponsoring a revival of single-wicket cricket for the championship of England, and a first prize of £250 plus further money prizes. In this article GD Martineau recalls some historic encounters of the 18th and 19th centuries.
For less than five-a-side, bounds are placed, 22 yards in line with the off-and leg-stumps. The ball must be hit before these bounds to obtain a run, which also entails touching the bowling-stump or crease, or over-running them, and returning to the popping-crease. The striker must have one foot grounded behind the popping-crease, or it is `no hit'. For less than five-a-side, there are neither byes, leg-byes, nor overthrows; nor can the striker be caught behind the wicket or stumped.
The fieldsman's return must cross the ground between wicket and bowling-stump, or between bowling-stump and bounds, and the striker may run until this happens. If the striker, having completed one run, starts again, he must touch the bowling-stump or crease before the ball crosses the ground to entitle him to another. There are three runs for a lost ball, and also for obstruction.
For more than four-a-side, there are no bounds, and all hits, byes, leg-byes, and overthrows are allowed. Bowling is not restricted to overs, but only one minute is allowed between balls.
In the eighteenth century, six-a-side matches were often played, and, early in the last century, the bowler's wicket had two stumps with one bail, which had to be struck off when running. If it was off already, the runner had to strike out a stump. The wicket had to be put down from in front, the ball being `dead' on passing behind it.
Though conditions limited the speed of scoring, matches might still be exciting. When Kent played Hambledon, six-a-side, at Bishopsbourne, in September 1786, the four days produced 169 runs. Tom Walker batted five hours for 26, scored off 320 balls, Clifford bowling 190 unchanged. Dull?
Sir Horatio Mann did not think so: he strode about, switching at the grass, and finally offered John Ring a pension to carry out his bat and make the runs. He was out for 57, with two runs needed for a Kent victory. Aylward got them - in 94 balls.
At Lord's, between September 9 and October 7, 1796, there were eight single-wicket matches, with one, two, or three a side. Fennex was great at single-wicket, sometimes challenging three opponents, though generally allowed two fieldsmen. Ray did much the same.
Lord Frederick Beauclerk usually favoured three- or four-a-side. At Lord's, on June 27 and 28, 1806 - the year he introduced sawdust for gripping a wet ball - he was playing for England against Surrey, three-a-side, and looked like getting the required runs, when Beldham, by sticking mud and sawdust to the ball, produced a wicket-shattering break.
The last single-wicket match on the old Dorset Square Lord's, in 1810, is perhaps the most historic. George Osbaldeston and William Lambert had challenged Lord Frederick, whose partner was TC Howard. Despite Osbaldeston's illness, the terms were insisted on, and Lambert, playing alone, put Lord Frederick out of temper by bowling wider and then produced a straight one. The details of this match, and of Lambert's victory, are familiar to all acquainted with cricket history, but the importance of the event is that it resulted in the addition of wides to the score of the batting side - though they were first entered as byes.
In 1818, a somewhat presumptuous challenge by Osbaldeston and Lambert to "any four in England" ended in the discomfiture of the Squire, largely at the hands of George Brown, and his departure from the MCC after erasing his name - and two other Os--from the list.
Single-wicket matches gradually be-came less frequent but, in 1833, Fuller Pilch and Tom Marsden met at Sheffield and Norwich respectively; Pilch winning more decisively than he might have done at the time of Marsden's original challenge to any man in England to meet him on the Darnall Ground, offering to pay travelling expenses.
The good friends Alfred Mynn and Felix contended twice in 1846 for the championship of England, the single-wicket laws strongly favouring Mynn's driving methods in front of the bounds. Mynn v. Dearman, in 1838, had been a little too easy for `Alfred the Great'.
The record for a score at single-wicket is held by Tom Hunt, who in 1843 hit up 165 against his fellow Yorkshireman, Chatterton. Hunt also beat a Knaresborough XI in 1845, the match being arranged for August 6, 10, and 14, though there was a blank day on the 10th owing to the Knaresborough umpire's excessive potations.
The late E. V. Lucas, urging a single-wicket revival on the MCC, told a possibly apocryphal story of two octogenarians, who, inspired by the University match, engaged in a single-wicket contest.
One was dismissed for 12, but the other, being too exhausted to continue, tottered to the pavilion, leaving his undefended wicket to be bowled down. As he sat, lamenting his lost vigour, he was acclaimed the victor: his opponent had bowled 13 wides!