1955 April 2, 2005

Almost perfection

Bits-and-pieces bowler Charles Palmer produced one of cricket's most remarkable spells - 14-12-7-8 - after coming on to allow a frontline bowler to change ends

Charles Palmer: 'I'll stay on for another over now'
Charles Palmer was one of cricket's quieter men. Bespectacled and undemonstrative, he played once for England and in ten full seasons was solid rather than spectacular with the bat. After retiring, he became a leading administrator. His main idiosyncrasy was his bowling.

Usually, he relied on fairly innocuous gentle medium-pace, but he also developed a rather bewildering donkey-drop which was often alarmingly successful. It wasn't just flighted, but as Maurice Hallam recalled in Stephen Chalke's superb Runs In The Memory, "they went miles up in the air ... into orbit. We're talking probably 20 feet. But his strike rate was unbelievable. He hit the top of the stumps, people trod on their wicket or knocked the stump down."

In May, 1955 it was with his medium-pace that Palmer recorded one of the most remarkable returns in cricket history. Leicestershire were entertaining Surrey, then in the middle of their run of seven successive Championship, at the end of a week which had started with the entire country under a blanket of snow.

Leicestershire were bowled out by Tony Lock (6 for 37) for 114 on a turgid first day, and when Surrey replied they proceeded sedately, Peter May, who had just taken over as England captain, looking quite at ease.

Palmer wasn't due to bowl as he was suffering from a bad back (he did not bowl in Leicestershire's previous or next matches) but looking to switch Terry Spencer to the other end, he brought himself on for one over. The pitch, wet early on, had almost dried out, with the exception of a wet patch right on the spot where Palmer's gentle dobblers landed. Wisden reported that he bowled "medium pace with great accuracy and brought the ball back sharply off the seam."

David Fletcher was his first wicket in his second over and then he had Bernie Constable caught - the only one of his victims not to be bowled. The prize wicket of May for 28 followed. "He got a couple of wickets," Spencer said, " and he treated it as a joke. `I'll stay on for another over now'"

Surrey's batsmen were mesmerised and wickets continued to tumble, so much so that with the last pair at the wicket Palmer's figures read 12-12-0-8. Wisden recalled that the crowd, aware that Palmer had bettered Jim Laker's 8 for 2 taken five years earlier, called out "Take yourself off, Charlie!"

Ironically, it was Laker, last man in for Surrey, who spoilt Palmer's figures. First he slashed the ball into the covers where the chance, which would have meant him finishing with 9 for 0, was spilt and then edged a four to fine leg. The innings ended with Palmer's figures 14-12-7-8.

May, one of his victims, wryly remembered Palmer popping his face round their dressing-room door and exclaiming with a cherubic grin, "Sorry, gentlemen!"

Palmer top scored with a gritty four-hour 64 in Leicestershire's second innings as Surrey were set 203 to win. But the pitch had grown more docile, and they eased to a seven-wicket win. Palmer again returned remarkable figures - 13-12-1-0, giving him a match return of 27-24-8-8.

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Runs In The Memory Stephen Chalke (Fairfield, 1997)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1956 and 1964