1921 April 10, 2010

Lost in transit

The batsman who was given out while he was on a train

In this era of sponsored cars and luxury travel, few cricketers rely on public transport to get them to and from matches. But until the 1960s, counties travelled to anything other than local games by train. It was only the advent of the motorway network in the late 1950s that made coaches and then cars viable and affordable alternatives.

In 1921, Leicestershire's penultimate County Championship match was against Surrey at The Oval. While Leicestershire were bobbing along in the middle of the table, Surrey were hot on the heels of defending champions Middlesex and had everything to play for.

On the first day Surrey were bowled out for 228 but hit straight back to dismiss Leicestershire for 138. Second time around, Surrey declared on 244 for 4, leaving the visitors a stiff target of 335.

With an hour left to bat on the second evening, Leicestershire lost opener Ewart Astill shortly before the close and sent in wicketkeeper and lower-order batsman Tom Sidwell as nightwatchman. He did his job, and at the close Leicestershire were 21 for 1.

The following morning Sidwell failed to appear to resume his innings, and so John King, who would otherwise have batted at No. 3, was sent in to join not-out batsman Aubrey Sharp.

The session was well underway when Sidwell eventually arrived at The Oval. It emerged he had got hopelessly lost on the London Underground en route from his hotel to the ground. Suitably chastised, and relieved his captain was out in the middle and not closer at hand, Sidwell and his colleagues thought no more of it.

Behind the scenes there was frenetic activity. At lunch, when it emerged Sidwell was present and ready to bat if needed, Percy Fender, Surrey's captain, raised an objection with the umpires. He asked whether a batsman who was, although well, not present to continue his overnight innings should be considered out. The umpires said in their view he should, but asked for their views to be confirmed.

Lionel Palairet, Surrey's secretary, proceeded to phone Francis Lacey, the secretary of the MCC, who agreed with the umpires, adding that were Fender to agree to Sidwell resuming then he could do so. Fender, not known for his relaxed attitude to such matters, refused, justifying his decision with the argument for Sidwell to bat against tired bowlers was "a concession which might have a material affect on such an important game".

"Fender, for all his manoeuvrings inside the laws, was a stickler for the proprieties," wrote Richard Streeton in Fender: A Biography, "and could be intolerant if he felt the other person or team had only themselves to blame."

What appeared at the time an academic issue became increasingly relevant in the hour after lunch, as Leicestershire gradually ate into their target, and when they reached 198 for 4 it appeared they might pull off a remarkable win, or failing that, escape with a draw. Either result would have finished Surrey's Championship ambitions.

But from there the innings fell away, as five wickets fell in half-an-hour, and the match concluded at the fall of Leicestershire's ninth wicket, leaving Sidwell in the records as being "Absent - Out". Surrey gained the win but it proved academic, as Middlesex, by virtue of victory over Kent, made sure of securing the Championship.

Fender's actions raised strong opinions on both sides in the newspapers. Some argued he was being unsporting, but the more widespread view was that he was well within his rights, especially given the importance of the match.

Five years to the day later, Sidwell got his revenge. Playing against Surrey at The Oval, he made sure he got to the ground on time, and hammered his maiden hundred, a career-best 105, batting at No. 9. Fender, however, still had the last laugh, dismissing him in both innings, as Surrey went on to win.

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

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Liam on April 12, 2010, 2:29 GMT

    A great article, it is these little stories that make cricket history so fascinating so thank you for this little beaut! As for zxaar's comment "how did umpire know it was hitting stump", that's what umpires are there for, to make decisions. Please re-read Sagir Parkar's intelligent comment, he is obviously someone who is aware of the LBW law and how it is applied.

  • arjun on April 11, 2010, 8:31 GMT

    "t had bounced lower than expected, and the umpire had no reason to give him not out." ---------------------- how did umpire know it was hitting stump. To us it took us 10s of replays with different angles and tonns of debate and still not sure it is was hitting stumps. Umpire did not even think fraction of second to give him out, it was as if he was out to get him.

  • Ashwin on April 11, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    In a Harris Shield semi final match at the Azad Maidan in Bombay,1989 Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli hit centuries for their school Shardashram English on the first day against the hapless St Mary's team who faced the dire prospect of facing the duo afresh the next day

    God and the Indian railways must have smiled on them as Kambli's train from his home in the distant suburbs was delayed the next morning and he arrived late to the ground. Kambli was declared 'ou' failed to report' by the umpires and couldnt resume his innings lower down. St Mary's lost the match anyway and it was sweet revenge for Shardashram who were shockingly beaten by them in the Giles Shield final the earlier year

  • Dummy4 on April 11, 2010, 0:26 GMT

    just a reminder to the individuals who still rant against the LBW against Sachin.. the laws of the game state that "If the ball hits the batsman (without first hitting his bat or a hand holding the bat) when it was otherwise going to hit the wicket, then he is to be judged out LBW" unless it was pitched outside leg stump, or hit the batsman outside off stump whilst attempting a shot.. in sachin's case, it hit him square on the shoulder, was en route to hit the stumps and hadnt pitched outside leg.. it had bounced lower than expected, and the umpire had no reason to give him not out.. it was a fair decision... and i hope that people really do stop going on and on about it.. and before people start pointing fingers, i am an indian myself.. but above all, i am a cricket fan..

  • Mohit on April 10, 2010, 21:32 GMT

    @starsagitarian Sachin wasnt hit on the helmet, he was hit on the shoulders...and even the replays concluded that the ball would have gone well over the stumps...ut i guess the umpire wanted to be famous for giving such unique judgement

  • Harsh on April 10, 2010, 21:01 GMT

    I have been lazy on commenting on Mr. Martin's research based articles. Hands down one of the best Cricinfo's cricket historian author. I respect old hidden moments which changed the way we are. I have been very angry with non-cricket history stuff, but have been always fond of what cricket history has been. Thanks for bringing warm candles which warm many hearts through out cricket history. Thank You.

  • Dummy4 on April 10, 2010, 19:50 GMT

    While it might sound like a limp excuse for Fender to say that his bowlers may be tired when a batsman decides to resumes his innings, I think he would have the support of most of us. To my dying days I will be grateful that on one such occasion our captain objected to a batsman who wish to leave the field because of effects of the heat and asked if he could resume later! He had a decent score at the time and just wanted more runs. On these occasions when your in the field you are no more then a retriver of dispacthed cricket balls. He didn't last long of course, caught by a weary yours truley, we still lost the game. But the principle was fair, the conditions applied to us all and in no way should a player expect extra privliges once a contest has started. The unsportsman conduct really applies to the side whom expects consessions.

  • Baiju on April 10, 2010, 17:22 GMT

    for me the most hillarious of the decisions that went against the batsmen would the leg before appeal Glenn McGrath got against Sachin tendulkar in a test match during India's tour of Australia in 1999. Captain of the Indian side then, Tendulkar was slowly starting weave his magic and rescue india again from a perillious situation when a short delivery from Glenn McGrath hit sachin's helmet as he tried to duck underneath. To everyone's surprise the ozzies appealed and the appeal was with-held. The reason being that Sachin was short and the ball, though pitched short, was just in line to crash into middle and off. It just didnt bounce as much as Tendulkar would have thought. Hence the decision was given in the favor of the bowler. So a leg before decision give because the ball hit the helmet... !! sounds really wierd... !

  • Mahboob on April 10, 2010, 17:18 GMT

    I got the match scorecard from cricinfo database, but it has Sidwell "retired out" not "absent out"... have a look at it: http://static.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1920S/1921/ENG_LOCAL/CC/SURREY_LEICS_CC_24-26AUG1921.html

  • Ian on April 10, 2010, 16:42 GMT

    If Leicestershire were aware that Sidwell was given out for being late early on it wouldn't be so bad, I guess. If they were under the impression that they still had him to come, Surrey made no movement to indicate otherwise, and then when the 9th wicket fell the bomb was dropped, then it would have been rather unsporting. As it was, I think it was a fair decision by Fender. In a village friendly game it might have been allowed, but not in a county championship game, I'd think.

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