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When Wally Hammond blitzed a remarkable triple hundred
March 29, 2008
By the time England left Australia in March 1933 at the end of the Bodyline series they had achieved the primary aim of the tour, winning back the Ashes, and also managed to do what many thought was impossible, subdue Don Bradman. He finished the series with 396 runs at 56.57, by his standards poor, but only Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe (440 each) made more in terms of aggregate runs - and both played in one Test more than Bradman.
For all England's success, the rivalry between Hammond, England's legendary batsman, and Bradman was as intense as ever. Hammond ended the Ashes series on a high, finishing the fifth and final Test with a massive six.
England then arrived in New Zealand for two three-day Tests. In Christchurch they dominated a drawn game, with Hammond racing to 227 in five hours despite being hampered by a septic knee. The sides then headed to Auckland for the second game.
New Zealand won the toss and batted, but limped to 158, and by the close of the first day England had almost wiped off the deficit for the loss of one wicket. Hammond, who had come in less than an hour before stumps, was unbeaten on 41.
On the second day he opened up from the off. "He hit with great power and precision to all parts of the field, pulling, cutting and driving in a manner which has seldom been equalled," reported the Press Association correspondent, the only mainstream reporter on the ground, as those who had been in Australia had returned home. "His footwork was also superb, and the way in which he pierced the field left the New Zealanders bewildered." He added a footnote that the bowling was "generally mediocre and the fielding poor".
Hammond brought up his hundred with a towering straight six, one of ten and the only one made before he reached 150. Of those, eight were struck on the off side and the other two disappeared over mid-on. He gave one chance towards the end of the morning when on 134, driving hard to mid-off, where Jack Dunning spilled a hard chance.
The crowd swelled to 15,000 as news of the onslaught spread, and after passing 200 Hammond "hit out with almost reckless abandon" and he raced to 250 in 22 minutes. He struck three successive sixes off Jack Newman, which brought the crowd to their feet, and had a second reprieve when Stewie Dempster got both hands to a ferocious shot but was unable to hold on. Dempster, who was playing his last Test before heading for a new life in England, left the field for running repairs, and soon Ted Badcock was in the firing line. Hammond lofted him for a big six and next ball smashed one hard back at him, injuring his hand. Insult was added the next delivery when Hammond cover-drove him for another six.
He moved from 200 to 300 in 47 minutes - and that included a delay when he broke his bat when he was on 297 and was forced to send for a replacement. It was an era before players carried bags full of spares, and Hammond borrowed Tommy Mitchell's. In his sights was Bradman's record Test score of 334, made at Headingley in 1930, and Hammond noticeably slowed down as he closed in on it. As Hammond stole the run to beat it, he was heard to cry "Yes!" He was caught off the next delivery he faced but it was a no-ball.
At the end of the over there was a delay as the exhausted scorers checked that the record had been broken before Bob Wyatt would declare; it should be remembered that a few months earlier at Leyton, Yorkshire's Percy Holmes and Sutcliffe had broken the world record for the first-wicket stand only for the scorers to reduce the scoreboard total by one run before diplomatically discovering a rogue no-ball. Hammond's score verified, the declaration came and he left the field to a rousing ovation. "It just happened to be my day," he said.
There is no record of how many balls he faced in making his unbeaten 336, although it has been estimated at 355. In terms of time at the crease, his feat is remarkable. His first 50 came in 76 minutes, his hundred in 134, his 150 in 172, 200 in 241, 250 in 268, 300 in 288, and his final score of 336 in 318 minutes - five hours and 18 minutes. His ten sixes were a record in a Test innings - it remains fourth in the all-time list - as were his 34 fours.
The Auckland match was washed out after rain on the third day. Hammond finished the two-Test series with 563 runs for once out, and the seven-Test Australasian tour with 1003 runs.
"As a batsman he had it all," RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote, "and all with double the strength of most players: strength scientifically applied ... his hitting, mostly straight and through the covers, was of a combined power and grace that I have never seen in any other man. I can't think that human agency could do more to a ball."
As the 1930s progressed, Hammond was increasingly overshadowed by the dominance of Bradman, and the battle finally ended when a weary and aging Hammond led England to defeat against Bradman's Australia in 1946-47. Hammond's final Test innings came at the end of that tour when he scored 79 against New Zealand. His innings ended when he was caught by Bert Sutcliffe, who 14 years earlier as a nine-year old had been in the crowd at Auckland when Hammond had been in his prime.
Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith (Aurum 2002)
Hit For Six by Gerald Brodribb (Sportsmans Book Club 1960)
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