February 3, 2009

Gone in 34 seconds

The over that lasted little over half a minute, and a tribute to Bill Frindall

Cinderella Man: Bryan "Bomber" Wells is believed to have finished an over before the church clock finished striking 12 © Hulton Archive

Regarding last week's question about Younis Khan's 35-second over, I seem to remember a recent story about someone who once bowled an over while the local church clock was striking 12 o'clock. Wouldn't this have been faster? asked Tom Allkins, among others

This did indeed ring a bell, if you'll pardon the pun. The cricketer mentioned in the story was the former Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire offspinner Bryan "Bomber" Wells, a renowned character on the county circuit who sadly died last year. The obituary in the Daily Telegraph talked about this incident, saying that, with the agreement of the batsman - the England spinner Roly Jenkins - Bomber managed to complete an over during a match in Worcester while the bells of the nearby cathedral struck 12.

The Telegraph adds that Wells' captain, the baronet Sir Derrick Bailey (the son of the man who had the original idea for the ICC), ordered him to stop as he was making the game look ridiculous - but Bomber carried on regardless.

The next question was, how long would it have taken the Worcester Cathedral bells to strike 12? I enlivened the Worcestershire CCC office by asking Mark Newton, their chief executive, and he and his staff timed the next mid-day peal at around 40 seconds.

But to get a more accurate timing Newton asked Mark Regan, who is in charge of the Cathedral Bellringers, and he took the possibility of a new world record for Worcester very seriously indeed. "I took a recording of the cathedral's clock's chimes to a friend's recording studio, and analysed the wave pattern of the hour bell," he says. "When a bell 'bongs' it emits a lot of noise and then one note will predominate. We call this the strike note. The bell will reverberate and then the note will decay. This will sound like a bong and then you'll hear some hum. This all happens in tenths of seconds. Measuring the impact of the clock hammer on the bell between the first and last strikes takes 34.98 seconds. If you include the hum, it takes 35.23. An interesting comparison is Big Ben, which is cracked. The bell hardly hums. There is a lot of silence between the bongs - two to three seconds, which is a long time compared to the speed of a cricket ball between the stumps." Finally, Regan adds: "The speed of the clock's hour bell was slowed down a few years ago. Not much - a couple of seconds at most for 12 bongs - but which in this instance could make all the difference. The clock's mechanism, unusually, is still mechanical. It's probably been altered several times since the 1950s."

So if Bomber really bowled his final ball before the 12th and last strike, he would have completed his over in 34 seconds, or even less, and Younis Khan wouldn't have this esoteric record after all.

However, the key word is "if". The trouble starts when you try to track down the scorecard of the match. The first problem is that Bailey never captained Gloucestershire at New Road. He was the county's captain in 1951, when their match against Worcestershire was played at Evesham (Wells did play, but it was only his second first-class match, which would be a bit early for high jinks like this even for such a character, leaving aside the shortage of bells), and in 1952, but neither he nor Wells played in the match in Worcester.

Wells did play for Gloucestershire at New Road, against Worcestershire sides including Jenkins, in 1954 (when his captain was Jack Crapp), 1955 and 1956, when the side was led by George Emmett. Wisden doesn't mention the rapid over in any of those reports.

However, all is not lost. Stephen Chalke, who wrote a charming book with Wells a few years ago, says: "Bomber was a wonderful storyteller, the very funniest of them all, and he was not over-worried about getting the details right. He probably did bowl an over while the cathedral clock at Worcester struck 12, but the rest of it - about Sir Derrick's reaction - may belong to another occasion and have been rolled into it to make one story. I have been struck over the years by how much of what Bomber told me has proved to be truer than I imagined. There was always an essential truth in his stories, even when they'd been a little egged up, and there were some stories that I didn't use in the book, thinking them too far-fetched, that I later discovered were indeed substantially true."

And Chalke concludes: "From what I've learnt over the years, I would say that any encounter between Roly Jenkins and Bomber had great comic potential."

So although we can't be quite sure when, Bomber Wells probably did bowl an over at Worcester that lasted little more than 30 seconds. Is there anyone out there who saw it?

Bill Frindall 1939-2009
And finally it would be remiss in a column like this one not to mention the passing of the long-serving Test Match Special scorer Bill Frindall, who died last week after contracting Legionnaires' Disease, apparently while on a cricket tour in Dubai. "The Bearded Wonder", who had been the resident scorer on TMS since 1966, almost single-handedly made cricket scoring fashionable. His various books were notable for their accuracy, and his neat score-sheets were fascinating to look at, even for people who had never even put on an anorak. Frindall had an influence on this column that he wouldn't have known about: I learned to type while hammering out update sheets for my copy of his first big statistical tome, The Kaye Book of Cricket Records.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket (reviewed here)