The Wykehamist who stood alone
Double-hundreds in schoolboy cricket are rare. Not only do the batsmen usually lack the time to play such an innings, but also the stamina - there are exceptions, most notably the amazing exploits of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli in 1988. But in terms of playing such an innings when all around are failing, there can be few to rival the efforts of 17-year-old John Guise.
In 1921, public-school matches still were a significant part of the English cricket schedule, both in terms of the game and the social importance. While Eton v Harrow was the blue-riband event, several other long-established contests ran it a close second. One of these was Eton's match against Winchester.
Eton v Winchester was first played in 1796 and is certainly the oldest schools' fixture, if not the oldest contest still played today. It had been played at Lord's from 1826 to 1854, as part of a triangular week also involving Harrow, but the Winchester headmaster, doubting the effect the distraction of the matches had on his pupils, pulled out and thereafter the contest was played alternately at the two schools. It was the highlight of the Winchester season - although less so for Eton, who still had the Harrow game as their main game - and attracted large and enthusiastic crowds of parents and old boys.
Winchester came into the two-day match - played on Eton's famous Agar's Plough - on the back of wins in 1919 and 1920. On a hard and fast track and in hot June sunshine, they won the toss but were utterly unable to cope with the quick bowling of Gubby Allen: he swung the ball away from the right-handers and took 5 for 20. Winchester were bowled out in a little over an hour for 57.
But Eton hardly fared better before lunch, reaching the break on 28 for 3, before Percy Lawrie and George Cox made good use of a fast outfield to add 144 for the fifth wicket to put them in the driving seat. Shortly before 5pm Eton were bowled out for 255, a lead of 198, and although Winchester wasted no time when they batted again, they were still almost down and out at the close, ending on 130 for 3, 67 short of making Eton bat again.
The newspapers - the game was widely covered by the quality broadsheets - reported that the key on the second day was Guise, who had batted sublimely to reach 86 not out in the hour he had been at the crease. The next day he hardly put a foot wrong, Wisden commenting that "the rest of the Saturday was Guise and practically nothing else. He hardly made a mistake during the whole innings and gave practically no chance."
Despite his efforts, there was little support from team-mates and Winchester slipped to 237 for 7, only 39 in front. But Guise finally found resistence in Dicker and Macpherson - not that they scored runs, but they kept their end up while he cut loose. With the temperature well over 80 degrees, Eton's bowlers wilted as Guise attacked at every opportunity, with only Allen, who was well handled by the Eton captain, the exception. He finished with 4 for 74 off 27 overs; the other bowlers' figures were less impressive. Indeed, the only chance Guise offered was the first he faced, from Allen, but the edge flew between the wicketkeeper and first slip for four.
The ninth Winchester wicket fell with the score on 332, and with Brown, Guise added another 49, although Brown didn't score a run! Guise's innings finally ended when he was run out attempting to keep the strike, and it was only when the last man was in that he attempted anything remotely reckless. And even then it took a remarkable piece of fielding to remove him, Barber hitting the wicket from the boundary with Guise inches short of his ground.
In all, he had batted for four hours and 20 minutes - an average of 60 an hour - and struck 45 fours. Aside from his 278, only 65 runs had been contributed by Winchester's other ten batsmen.
Guise left the field to loud applause from both the large crowd and the Eton fielders who "could not have been more enthusiastic had be been one of their own."
In The Cricketer, barely two months old at the time, the editor Pelham Warner wrote that this was the finest innings he had seen by a schoolboy. "He was completely master of all the bowling brought against him."
Guise's innings had not saved the game, but it had left Eton with a far-from-easy target of 184 in about three hours, and they started sluggishly. Ronnie Aird, however, "with a racket-player's wrist and accuracy of timing", took the situation by the scruff of the neck and cracked a hundred every bit as good as what had gone before. On 45 he was put down, rather ironically, by Guise "standing a yard too close at slip", and that was the last chance Winchester had. Aird went on to make 112 not out, and Eton won by seven wickets with time to spare.
That summer Guise scored 924 runs at 54.35, and also took 31 wickets, and in 1922 he again led Winchester's batting. He went on to play for Middlesex and Oxford University, who he captained in 1925. In 1923 he scored a hundred against the touring West Indians and topped Middlesex's batting and bowling averages. But his career was limited by time spent in India and then when he returned to teach at Winchester.
Allen went on to play for Middlesex and England, and became one of cricket's greatest administrators, being knighted for his services to cricket. Aird also enjoyed a reasonable career, and served, often alongside Allen, as an administrator for 60 years at Lord's.
Lord Dunglass, another member of the Eton side, also enjoyed success, but away from the cricket field (although he did play for Middlesex against Guise's Oxford side in 1925). Dunglass, who renounced his peerage, was better known as Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Britain's prime minister between 1963 and 1964 (and the only holder of that office to have played first-class cricket).
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The Cricketer -1921
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack - 1922 & 1992
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo