The day the record went
Reg Hayter has a few words with Sir Len and Denis Compton. When Hutton had made 40, Ben Barnett missed an easy stumping from Fleetwood-Smith. A very big miss and the bill followed late
Maurice Leyland scored 187, Joe Hardstaff 169, Wally Hammond 59, Arthur Wood 53, Denis Compton one-and England reached 903 for seven before Hammond declared.
With a gentle prod here and there, the Editor of The Cricketer has encouraged Sir Leonard - he was knighted in 1956 - and Denis, C.B.E., to delve into their memories about this historic occasion of 40 years ago. Denis's recollections begin with his own sparse contribution.
"While Len went on and on, seemingly unbeatable, Eddie Paynter, at No. 5, and I, No. 6, sat with pads on for a day and three-quarters.
"Suddenly Eddie leaned across to me on the players' balcony and said, `Denis, I bet you a pound you and I don't make ten between us!' Now in those days a pound was worth a bit and, foreseeing some easy money, I promptly accepted.
"You know what happened. While Len watched from the other end, Eddie was out to Bill O'Reilly for nought and a minute or two later I had been bowled by, of all people, Mervyn Waite, for one. I purposely say Mervyn Waite of all people. You see this was the only wicket he took in his Test career and he became so proud of his achievement that to this day every time I have arrived in Australia or he in England, he rings me to arrange to buy me a "thank you" drink."
A year or two earlier Len's fellow-Yorkshireman, Herbert Sutcliffe, had forecast that Len would become an even better player than he had been. At that time many people thought that the usually cautious Herbert had been momentarily carried away. After all Herbert had retired with a Test average 60.73 in 84 Test innings.
"Len's innings at The Oval," recalled Denis, "convinced me that Herbert had not exaggerated. I was struck by his marvellously relaxed stance and the amount of time he had to play the ball. Apart from his endurance, his concentration and dedication were fantastic, he was just never out of tempo. I have never seen anyone who looked less likely to get out.
"I soon realised that Len could play the type of innings that was foreign to my nature. I could not have batted that length of time without having a number of rushes of blood, but he just ground on, unwilling to break his concentration even for one ball.
"When Len was 40, however, he gave his one chance of the innings. This was an easy stumping to Ben Barnett from Fleetwood-Smith's googly. Poor Ben missed it and was never allowed to forget the fact.
"Lunch and tea breaks, Len just sat quietly in the corner of the dressing-room. I think he had fruit salad and a cup of tea-nothing else-each time but, as the innings went on, he showed signs of tiring. Yet Wally Hammond, Hedley Verity and Bill Bowes pressed him to keep going. In the end they were keener on Len attempting to beat Don's record than he was.
"Moreover, Wally seemed determined that England, so often on the receiving end of Don's mighty bat, should turn the tables this time.
`For instance, when Arthur Wood, the Yorkshire wicketkeeper, went out to bat with the score at 770 for 6, he was told that many more runs were required before the skipper would think of declaration. To the Surrey member who wished him good luck' as he ran down the pavilion steps, Arthur solemnly replied! "Ay, I'm just man for crisis."
"And, but for injuries to Jack Fingleton and Don Bradman-who retired from the match and took no further part in the tour-I believe Wally would not have declared as early as he did.
"Even when it was all over, Len remained his calm, controlled self, I know I would have been over the moon and would have shown my enjoyment to everyone. But, even when the champagne was flowing, Len accepted the mass of congratulations with a quiet `Thank you very much' and little else. Of course, he was tired out, physically and mentally."
Len Hutton's own recollections are of that very tiredness. "Some time during Monday, when I had already batted eight hours or so, I started to relax. I thought I would enjoy myself a bit. I lifted a ball over mid-on's head. Immediately Wally Hammond stood up on the balcony and indicated, in no uncertain way, that he wanted me to keep my head, and my shots down. So I had to go on.
"I don't think the idea of trying for Don's record came into my head until I was around 250 By the Monday night, however, the strain was beginning to tell. In fact Maurice Leyland told me I would probably have difficulty in sleeping and he advised me to drink a port and Guinness.
"I was then a strict teetotaller-not much of a drinker now-and I did as he suggested. It was no good. I should have had five or six. With so many people telling me that I needed another 35 runs to break the record, I tossed and turned most of the night, haunted by one face. That of Bill O'Reilly.
"I could not shut out of my mind the thought of his charging up, ball after ball, as he always did, as though he was going to eat me. My, how that man hated batsmen. What a great competitive bowler. I've never played against a better.
"And, next morning, sure enough Bill asked Don Bradman to field at silly mid-off. With our score at the start of play at 634 for 5, you would have thought the Aussies were skittling us out. Every time I looked up there was Don crouching in front of me, other fielders creeping closer and' closer, and O'Reilly still breathing fire and brimstone as he galloped in.
"Anyway, in the end Fleetwood-Smith bowled me a long hop outside the off stump. Gratefully, I chopped it through the slips and I had done it. Many years later in Australia when Fleetwood-Smith was down on his luck, he came up to me and asked if I could help him a bit financially. I remembered the long hop in 1938-and I reckoned that had been worth a fiver of anybody's money.
"On the way from The Oval at the end of the game, I stopped at traffic lights. A woman in an adjoining car pulled down her window and said: 'Well done, Len, but why ever didn't you score one more-one for every day of the year?'
"As I said to Denis later: `Denis, tell me, can you ever satisfy a woman?'"