The highest innings - Part Two - William Roe March 31, 2007

Flogging the students

Simon Wilde continues charting the progress of the highest score in cricket ... this week, William Roe

Simon Wilde continues charting the progress of the highest score in cricket ...

William Roe: found life precarious on his cricketing Olympus © WCM
Tylecote's remarkable score could not remain unequalled for ever. Run-getting was becoming easier all the time, with the improvement in pitches, the limiting of boundaries, and the advances in batting technique; while, after the raising of the level of the arm, bowling had few counter-measures until the introduction of the googly. More significant than any of these developments was the influence of WG Grace. As a batsman he bestrode the latter half of the 19th century like a colossus. It was by his consistenly as a mammoth scorer that previously-recognised limits to tall scoring were wiped away.

Many of Grace's prodigious batting performances took place during the 1870s, in the period before he reached the age of 30. By 1876 he was at the height of his powers and in a summer of heavy scoring he made three triple-centuries, one of which only narrowly failed to establish a new record. Playing for the United South against twenty-two of Grimsby and District, he made 400 not out in 13½ hours). The record was almost certainly only denied WG because he ran out of partners. He had to be content with a moral victory over the record-holder instead; Tylecote, after all, had made his 404 against just 11 fielders! WG made the most of it. He belittled Tylecote's Clifton score whenever the opportunity arose.

Tylecote's record was eventually beaten after 13 years -- not by Grace but by William Nichols Roe, a 20-year-old Cambridge undergraduate. He was playing in a long vacation match between Emmanuel College and Caius College at Cambridge in July 1881. Roe was one of two substitutes playing in the Emmanuel side and strictly he was ineligible to play in the match at all because he was in residence at Magdalene. (These long vacation games, arranged among students who stayed up during the summer, tended to produce extraordinary happenings. On one notable occasion at Cambridge in 1868 the Students scored 689 against the College Servants -- then the highest total ever made -- and as bad a piece of employer diplomacy as one could expect to meet.)

Roe's match began on Tuesday, July 12, 1881, and continued the following day, after which it appears that Caius, in the face of overwhelming common sense, conceded. The game was played on the university ground, which only the day before had been re-acquired from F. P. Fenner for the long vacation season. There were no boundaries, and the hours of play on both days were 2.40 pm to 6.30 pm, with an interval of 10 minutes.

Caius went in first and were dismissed for 100. Roe, with his fast off-breaks, and Charles Allcock shared the wickets between them and then, at 20 minutes to five, went out to open the batting for Emmanuel. The previous day they had opened the innings for the University LVC in its opening match of the season against Rickling Green, a village about 15 miles from Cambridge. In that match Allcock had gone on to make a century but Roe had not gone on to make anything at all: he collected a 'duck'. If Roe had fears of a similar fate now they were soon dispelled and by stumps the pair were still together after 110 minutes of batting. Roe was near his century, and the total was 157 for 0.

When play continued next day, Allcock was soon caught off FitzGerald's bowling for 66, but Roe settled in and got his century. Completely familiar with the vagaries of the weak bowling, he began taking runs at will. When his double-century arrived he probably decided that he had had enough. He played loosely for two or three minutes but was advised by some sage -- presumably his partner Hewetson -- to bat with more care.

This did not immediately have the desired effect because he then gave his first chance (he was missed three times altogether). However, Roe continued to score runs very rapidly, and found in Hewetson an aggressive assistant. Together they plundered 371 runs (taking the total from 311 to 682), and Hewetson's share was 121. By the time Hewetson was finally caught, the right-handed Roe was in sight of his fourth century and the world record. At 6.30 and stumps, both had been achieved and the score was 708 for 4, Roe 415 not out.

At this point the Caius players must have begun to wonder what on earth they were about. Here they were bowling over after over in the sweltering heat to these fellows (one fellow in particular), and sent chasing time after time to some remote part of the field to fetch these fellows' hits (one fellow's in particular). This substitute chap, Roe, had got his record. And give him half the chance, he would bat until Michaelmas term. No-one could blame them if they conceded, could they?

Roe later enjoyed a quite successful career with Somerset as one of their leading amateurs until the end of the century
Roe batted for 5½ hours. His scoring strokes were: one six, six fives, 16 fours, 48 threes, 52 twos and 67 singles. He ran 705 runs and did not give a chance until past his second century; but what is most remarkable is that he kept track of his own total and after the game had finished assured the scorer that he had made 416!

Meanwhile the press proclaimed: The Largest Score On Record! Roe found life precarious on his cricketing Olympus. He was being chosen for games on the expectation that he would reproduce such form. He had performed great deeds while at Clergy Orphanage School in Canterbury and had played for Somerset before coming up to Cambridge; but he had played only once for the University before he made his celebrated score. In 1882 he played five matches for Cambridge and four for Somerset; in 1883, six for Somerset and seven for Cambridge. Yet just once did he make fifty in any of these games - a 53 against the Orleans Club. Nonetheless he was given his Blue in 1883, and in return made a 'duck' against Oxford.

The burden was only removed when, in 1885, his record was beaten. Roe later enjoyed a quite successful career with Somerset as one of their leading amateurs until the end of the century.