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In 1899 a 13-year-old orphan at Clifton College established a world record which stands to this day
July 31, 2004
Collins's feat should be put into context. House matches were a part of public-school life in those days, and participants ranged from the keen to the no-hopers. The game itself was played on Clifton's Junior School field (used by those under 14) and the playing area was far from conventional. The ground was only 60 yards long, with the boundary on one side was formed by a wall some 70 yards away, while on the other the field sloped away towards the sanatorium in the distance. All hits down the hill had to be run, while other boundaries earned only two runs.
On Thursday, June 22, Collins, described as small, stockily-built, and fair haired, won the toss for Clarke's House against North House and chose to bat. In only 150 minutes that day, he reached 200 not out, being dropped when on 50, 100 and 140.
He resumed the following afternoon, and as news of his progress circulated, spectators, who had been watching the battle between the College and the Old Cliftonians on College Close, began to gather. The Bristol Evening News reported that Collins hit the ball "into Guthrie Road, sometimes into the churchyard, and not infrequently sending the ball away down towards the sanatorium for five or six."
At around 5.30 on the Friday - some five hours after he started - he overtook AE Stoddart's then world-record score of 485 to rapturous applause, and by the end of the second day he was unbeaten on 509. On the Friday his 309 runs had been made at over two runs a minute, and Clarke's House closed on 680 for 8.
After a weekend break - Saturday was the day for inter-school matches, and day boys, like Collins, would not have been in school, and Sunday a day of rest - the massacre resumed at Monday lunchtime. A large crowd gathered and Collins did not disappoint. In 55 minutes he scored 89 more, taking his score to 598, and surviving a fourth chance when on 556. Given that the ninth wicket fell early in the session, Collins had to thank Tom Redfern, the No. 11, for staying with him through to the close on 804 for 9.
The fourth day's play again got underway at 12.30, but the authorities extended the hours available for play in a bid to speed the end of the match. As crowds continued to gather and media interest escalated, the disruption to school life was considerable. Collins played his part, his approach described as "downright reckless" as he hit out, being dropped twice more when on 605 and 619. The slaughter was brought to an end when Redfern was caught at point for 13 - he and Collins had added 138 for the last wicket.
Faced with such a daunting total, exhausted by chasing leather, and probably desperate to restore some normality to their lives, North House were skittled for 87 in 90 minutes. Collins, who opened the bowling, took 7 for 33 in 21 five-ball overs. Play ended at the completion of the innings. On the Wednesday, the fifth day, North House again meekly surrendered, making 61 in a little over an hour, with Collins taking 4 for 30, as his side won by an innings and 688 runs.
For a while Collins was public property. "Today all men speak of him," wrote one newspaper. "He has a reputation as great as the most advertised soap: he will be immortalised." But even when the immediate impact waned, Collins was constantly reminded of his achievement.
He continued to play cricket (and rugby, boxing, rackets, cross-country, and swimming) and won a place in the Clifton XI in 1901 and 1902, with some success. He chose to follow an Army career, and that severely limited his sporting opportunities, and he never came close to playing first-class cricket, although as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers he did make 58 and 36 against the Royal Artillery at Lord's in 1912. The following year, aged 27, he returned to England on leave, and played a few games for Old Cliftonians, scoring two hundreds during their annual cricket week.
Collins married Ethel Slater in the spring of 1914, and later that summer was sent to France when war broke out. He was killed in action during the first battle of Ypres on November 11 of that year. His two brothers also died during the war.
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