1904 February 11, 2006

Harrogate's self-repairing pitch

Martin Williamson on some odd goings on at Harrogate

Cloudesley Marsham, Kent's captain, was in no doubt the pitch was doctored © The Cricketer
The quality of pitches is an issue as old as the game itself, and cricket's history is littered with instances of allegations of tampering and doctoring. Rarer, but not unknown, are claims that surfaces have been repaired during the course of a match. That's what is alleged to have happened at Harrogate in 1904, and uniquely a decision was made to expunge the game, which ran for two days before being abandoned, from the record books.

Yorkshire came into the match at the St George's Road ground against Kent on Thursday, July 7 on the back of four straight wins, results which lifted them into second place in the Championship behind runaway leaders Lancashire.

A large crowd saw Kent put in, and they were soon in trouble against the spin of Schofield Haigh and Wilfred Rhodes, and their innings ended shortly after lunch when they were bowled out for 177. But Yorkshire found the going equally tough against Kent's spinners, Colin Blythe and Willaim Fairservice, and they ended the day on 212 for 7, a slender lead of 35 but a crucial one on a surface likely to get worse. Local reporters noted that the pitch was already showing signs of wear, especially at the Pavilion End.

Following the early-morning rolling on Friday, the two umpires - Dick Pougher, formerly of Leicestershire, and William Shrewsbury - inspected the pitch and discovered that it was in a better state than it had been at the close the previous day. Cloudesley Marsham, Kent's captain, had no doubts that the pitch had been tampered with. "Some spots which were very noticeable on the Thursday evening had been filled up by the time we arrived," he recalled. The History of Kent County Cricket, published three years after the game, was even more certain. "Some person or persons rolled, watered, and doctored the wicket."

The umpires and captains consulted and agreed that it was not right that the match proceeded, but they agreed to continue playing as there was another large gathering already in the ground. "In order to amuse the crowd," Kent's history added, "play (not of a very serious nature) was indulged until five o'clock." But it was agreed that the match could not be considered first-class or count towards the Championship. A substitute, Lees Whitehead, not only fielded for Rhodes throughout Kent's second innings, but also bowled 19 overs. And spare a thought for Haigh, who took his score to 74 not out on the Friday and then took a hat-trick. Neither count towards his career records.

Schofield Haigh had more reason than most to regret the abandonment © The Cricketer
As the third day was abandoned by agreement, the inquests started, with John Redfearn, Harrogate's groundsman and professional since 1898, in the firing line. He strenuously denied that there had been any wrongdoing and insisted that the pitch had only been swept and rolled in accordance with the laws. The Harrogate CC committee held an emergency meeting and decided that nothing untoward had been done.

In a letter to the Yorkshire Post, Frederick Mudd, the chairman, gave the following explanation: "The improvement in the pitch was solely due to climactic influence, there having been an exceptionally heavy dew which caused the clay, of which the wicket is largely composed, to roll out, and to give the players a better wicket than on the previous day." The findings were backed by a local nurseryman who examined samples of the clay and opined that no liquid had been added.

Yorkshire's committee maintained a low profile, backing Harrogate's findings while expressing regret at the unfortunate circumstances and supporting the decision to abandon the game. Harrogate did ask the MCC to carry out an investigation, but their request was brushed aside. At that, the whole affair was quietly allowed to blow over, although debate continued in the local papers for another two or three weeks. Wisden of 1905 simply referred to the match being abandoned because of "the wicket being tampered with" - but it was slightly less impartial in those days.

Yorkshire's good form continued unchecked - the Harrogate match was one of two draws in a spell of eight wins from ten matches - but they then went without a victory between mid-July and their last outing of the season, finishing second to Lancashire. Kent, on the other hand, staged a storming finale, thanks to the availability of their amateurs in the latter part of the season, and finished third.

As for Redfearn, he continued as Harrogate's groundman until 1941 by which time he was 81, although he was assisted by his grandson in his last few years.

While the abandonment of the match by the two umpires at the start of the second day was quite understandable, their decision to expunge the first day from the records was less so. There had been nothing at all wrong with the game until the overnight pitch changes, and common sense would have seemed to have favoured a line being drawn under proceedings then, much as if the second and third days had been washed out.

At the height of the row, Mudd, who also sat on the Yorkshire committee, received an anonymous postcard on which was written:- "Kent v Yorkshire. See Genesis 2.6"

That particular verse reads: "But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground." The previous verse would have been equally apt: "And there was not a man to till the ground."

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

History of Yorkshire CC 1903-1923 - AW Pullin (Chorley & Pickersgill Ltd, 1924)
History of Kent County Cricket Lord Harris (Eyre And Spottiswoode, 1907)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (1905)
The Journal of the Association of Cricket Statisticians

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo.