1929 October 25, 2008

The shop assistant who took all ten

When Gubby Allen ran through Lancashire at Lord's in one of the most devastating bowling performances of all time


Gubby Allen: part-time bowler © Getty Images
 

In 1929 Lord's witnessed one of the most devastating bowling performances ever when Gubby Allen, playing for Middlesex, took 10 for 40 against Lancashire. While one bowler taking all ten wickets in an innings is rare - this remains the last such instance at Lord's - the circumstances surrounding Allen's feat make it all the more remarkable.

Allen was 27 at the time, and rated as one of the fastest bowlers in England. But he was an amateur in every sense of the word, playing only when his work commitments allowed, which wasn't that often. In the two seasons before the Lancashire game he had played only six first-class matches, and only four Championship games for Middlesex. Although he went on to play 27 Tests for England, and to captain them both before and after the war, he never played regularly once he found work in the City. In almost 30 seasons with Middlesex he made only 146 appearances.

Lancashire were one of the strongest sides in 1929. They had won the Championship in the previous three seasons and were again riding high in the table, boasting four wins in their previous five matches when they arrived to play Middlesex. Nigel Haig, the Middlesex captain, asked Allen to play, and while he agreed, he warned that he would be late as he had to do a morning's work at Debenham's department store in London's West End. He had an agreement with his employers that he would be allowed three weeks off - which could be taken in odd days - to play cricket.

By the time Allen reached Lord's, Lancashire, who had won the toss, had been batting for about 20 minutes. Haig almost immediately brought him into the attack from the Pavilion End with a stiff breeze behind him. Allen soon bowled Charlie Hallows, but was taken off 40 minutes later with figures of 8-3-18-1. Lancashire had made 90 for 1 by lunch.

Straight after the interval Allen came back for a second spell, with the pavilion behind him, and this time really got up a head of steam. He bowled Frank Watson for 47, and in the same over removed Jack Iddon's off stump, but Ernest Tyldesley and Len Hopwood saw him off after six fiery overs (6-2-9-2).

Tyldesley brought up his hundred shortly before tea, and in the final over before the break Haig brought Allen back for his third - and most devastating - spell. He immediately made the vital breakthrough, knocking back Tyldesley's leg stump, and in the first over after the resumption he bowled Thomas Halliday. Lancashire, who had been cruising on 215 for 3, were suddenly 215 for 5. Hopwood and Bill Farrimond briefly stopped the rot, but Allen bowled Farrimond and then had Hopwood caught behind by Fred Price.

The end came quickly, with Allen taking the last four wickets in five balls. The scorecard shows one oddity, in that Ted McDonald, Lancashire's Australian fast bowler, was stumped. What happened was that Allen struck McDonald on the thigh, and the next ball McDonald decided to give him the charge. Allen saw him coming, as did Price, and he bowled a slow, wide delivery which the batsman missed and Prince, rushing up to the stumps, whipped the bails off. "McDonald was trapped by the simplest of ruses," noted the Guardian.

He polished things off by shattering Hodgson's stumps. "When one has paid a fitting tribute to Allen," the Guardian observed, "it has to be confessed much of the batting was poor." Allen's final spell was 11.3-3-13-7, giving him overall figures of 25.3-10-40-10, including one no-ball (which at the time did not count against the bowler's analysis).

The crowd - over 20,000 were at Lord's on a warm June Saturday - barely had time to acclaim the feat, as Allen immediately took his sweater and trotted off the field.

The next day the Times reported that Allen had made the ball "leave the pitch at great pace", adding that it had been "a truly exhilarating exhibition of fast bowling... real fast bowling at its best". Wisden's report, however, was wonderfully understated, merely pointing out that Allen's had been one of two or three "notable" performances in the match.

Allen made his Test debut the following summer, and continued to play for Middlesex when other commitments - and his notoriously fragile body - allowed, until 1950, by which time he was 48 and still, so contemporary reports suggest, capable of bowling extremely fast. He was an immensely popular England captain on their fence-mending tour of Australia in 1936-37, and led them again in the Caribbean in 1947-48. He went on to become a leading administrator, and lived in a house backing on to Lord's, with his own key for getting into the ground.