June 9, 2010

Done in one day

Fifty years ago a county side was bowled out twice in a day. Compared to that, Bangladesh's Old Trafford loss doesn't seem so bad

Losing 10 wickets in successive sessions, however elongated those passages of play may have been, takes some doing. It may also strike some as more than a little negligent. Michael Holding will hardly be alone in citing events at Old Trafford last weekend as an incontrovertible argument in favour of dividing Test cricket into two tiers, the better to prevent wheat from having to compete with chaff.

Nonetheless, amid all their numbing disappointment and acute embarrassment, Bangladesh may find some crumbs of consolation in a County Championship match played half a century ago. After all, losing a first-class match in a single day, as Worcestershire did at Tunbridge Wells on June 15, 1960, is a humiliation even Shakib Al Hasan might confidently expect to avert.

As Richard Walsh related in his 1993 account of that historic contest, All Over in a Day, Kent entered Tunbridge Wells Week on the back of an innings thumping by Surrey at The Oval, giving them oodles of time to reach the Nevill Ground and its ravishing rhododendrons. Their visitors, by contrast, had to make the lengthy schlep south from Manchester after drawing with Lancashire, arriving by coach at 4am on the morning of the match. Such was the lot of the county cricketer when two three-day games a week was the norm.

The pitch that greeted the captains, Kent's Colin Cowdrey and Worcestershire's George Dews, was the handiwork of a new groundsman. The weather gods had not been kind: an overnight thunderstorm, accompanied by a torrential downpour, left the grassless surface damp and treacherous. Dave Halfyard, the Kent opening bowler, recalled a colleague returning to the pavilion with a warning: "Wait till you see the wicket." Bat first and win was the widespread prognostication, and Kent won the toss. Not that this stopped the notoriously indecisive Cowdrey, who had just led England to victory in the first Test against South Africa at Edgbaston, from examining the gift horse's mouth for quite some time before eventually taking the sensible option.

Shortly before 11.30am, Arthur Phebey and Peter Richardson, the former England opener, emerged from the pavilion. The pair added 30 at nearly a run a minute as the first half hour gave no indication whatsoever of the ensuing mayhem. Nor, for that matter, did the swift introduction of Doug Slade's slow left-armers. But when another southpaw spinner, Norman Gifford, replaced Slade for the maiden spell of a first-class career that would last until 1988, the fun and games began.

Gifford bowled Phebey with his third ball, whereupon Jack Flavell took out Richardson and Bob Wilson, having softened up the latter by plunking him between the eyes. The game was less than an hour old and the pitch was already beginning to crumble. Cowdrey fell at 68 and Kent lunched at 80 for 4. Thanks to a buccaneering 73 in 95 minutes from Peter Jones, who decided that all-out attack was the best policy, they ultimately totalled 187 - the last wicket, Gifford's fourth, falling at 3.40pm. In Phebey's view, the hosts had comfortably exceeded par. Prescient words indeed.

Worcestershire were immediately on the back foot: cutting his pace and bowling legcutters, Halfyard's first delivery, he remembered, caused the surface to "explode". With the last ball of his second over, the third of the innings, he bowled Ron Headley: George's son, embarking on an illustrious county career, shouldered arms to one that jagged back and uprooted his leg stump. After 37 minutes, the Midland county were tottering at 9 for 6, Halfyard's bustling new-ball partner Alan Brown glowing with figures of 4 for 4 en route to a then career-best 6 for 12. Slade swatted a couple of boundaries but his 9 would prove the top score as Worcestershire folded for 25; their sole sense of achievement was that they managed to limp past the 57-year-old club nadir of 24.

Cowdrey duly enforced the follow-on, and at 5.35pm Headley took guard against Halfyard once more, only to edge the third ball to gully, registering a pair inside two hours. Brown sent back John Sedgeley and Alan Spencer in his opening over, and although Bob Broadbent, Roy Booth and Slade dragged the total from 18 for 5 to 51 for 6, Cowdrey took the extra half hour - the scheduled close was 7pm - and the last four wickets tumbled for 10. At 7.15pm, Gifford was last out, leaving Kent victors by an innings and 101 runs; Brown (3 for 22) finished with match figures of 9 for 34, Halfyard (5 for 20) 9 for 27. In all, Worcestershire had endured for just 43 overs and three and a quarter hours.

"The groundsman had marled the wicket, presumably the day before the start," a rueful Broadbent told Walsh three decades later. "It was damp, and as it dried so it disintegrated. Halfyard bowling legcutters was virtually unplayable, as was Brown. Physical survival was the priority, and had the wicket been of quicker pace then I am sure somebody would have received a nasty injury." Sedgeley sympathised with the groundsman: "[He] got all the blame but this was very unfair as the weather was the true factor." The pitch was due to be used for the next game, against Sussex starting three days later, but two new strips were prepared. As per tradition, the mayor of Tunbridge Wells entertained the teams for drinks come stumps; Booth recalled her gently chiding the Worcestershire players for ruining the match. It was "embarrassing".

ACCORDING TO THE LATE Bill Frindall, the total playing time in the shortest completed Test, between Australia and South Africa on a Melbourne "sticky" on February 12 and 15, 1932 (the second day was washed out), amounted to only five hours and 53 minutes: the tourists were hustled out for 36 and 45 in 54.5 eight-ball overs (72.5 of the six-pack variety) either side of Australia's 153 all out. In the past half-century, however, no first-class match has been concluded as rapidly as that massacre at Tunbridge Wells.

There was a near-repeat at Lord's on August 9, 1977, when the reigning county champions Middlesex, under the not-inconsiderable leadership of Mike Brearley, almost matched Kent's feat. Resuming on 8 for 1 at the start of the final day, after two sodden ones, Surrey were whistled out for 49 in 76 minutes by Wayne Daniel and Mike Selvey, whereupon The Man With The Degree In People dispatched two of his lower orders, Ian Gould and John Emburey, to face a single ball, then declared. Surrey staggered back in, survived five dropped catches and were still brushed aside for 89 - leaving that renowned stump-wrecker MWW Gatting with match figures of 4.2-3-3-4. Left to make 139 in 28 minutes plus the 20 overs available in the final hour, Middlesex hustled home with 11 balls to spare, Brearley belying his all-mind, no-matter reputation with 66 not out.

Let's hope that helps Shakib sleep a tad easier.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton