1911 May 21, 2011

The most explosive innings of all time?

One hundred years ago this week, 27-year-old Ted Alletson played what remains one of the most brutal knocks in any form of cricket

One hundred years ago this week 27-year-old Ted Alletson, a journeyman professional for Nottinghamshire, played what remains one of the most explosive innings in any form of cricket, smashing 189 in 90 minutes in a county match at Hove. The last 142 came in 40 minutes, including 34 off one over, a record that remained for 57 years until broken by Garry Sobers. And yet, to his frustration, it was his only contribution of note in an otherwise forgettable cricketing career.

Alletson was born and raised on the estate of the Duke of Portland, who had recommended him to Nottinghamshire as a fast-medium bowler. A big man - he was over six feet tall and weighed in at 15-and-a-half stone - he struggled for a place in the county side, although his good fielding ensured he played a fair number of matches even if not given much opportunity to bowl. He had a reputation as a solid lower-middle order batsman, with a highest score of 81 in his 71 first-class matches up to the start of the 1911 season.

After victory in their first game of the summer at home to Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire travelled to Hove, where they were bowled out for 238 (Alletson, batting at No. 9, making 7), conceding a first-innings lead of 176 as Sussex replied with 414, during which Alletson bowled one over. He was not even meant to be playing as he had injured his wrist in the previous match, but of the 12 the county travelled with, Tom Wass was even more incapacitated and so Alletson had no choice.

By the close on the Friday - the second day - Nottinghamshire were 152 for 3, still 24 runs in arrears, and on the third and final morning the crowd at the County Ground only numbered a few hundred for what was assumed would be an uneventful final day.

Within the first hour, Nottinghamshire had lost four wickets in quick succession, and Alletson walked to the middle with them 185 for 7, nine runs ahead and facing likely defeat.

For the next 50 minutes the game progressed in the same way, although Alletson, who described his batting in that period as "normal", showed some resistance, reaching 47 not out when the ninth wicket fell on the stroke of lunch with Nottinghamshire's lead stretched to 84.

At the break, Alletson asked his captain, AO Jones, for instructions and was told: "I don't think it matters what you do." Alletson replied: "Then I'm not half going to give [Tim] Killick some stick."

When play resumed the crowd had thinned even more, the prospect of a routine Sussex win not enough to keep everyone in the ground.

Statisticians have argued long and hard about the detail of what followed as only one scorebook survived - and even that showed a number of alterations, which may or may not have contemporaneous. Few newspapers had correspondents at the ground and so their accounts of the onslaught were often brief and mainly inaccurate.

What is unquestioned is that in the 40 minutes between 2.15pm and 2.55pm, Alletson clubbed 142 runs off 70 deliveries in a tenth-wicket stand of 152 with William Riley. In the second to eighth overs of the afternoon - bowled by brisk left-armer George Leach, and Killick with his slow legbreaks - he made 115 runs.

As he predicted, Alletson was particularly brutal on Killick. He hit one of his overs for 22 and off another, which contained two no-balls, 34. Nottinghamshire's Bob Relf said: "Poor Tim was frightened to bowl at Ted… not because he minded punishment, but he was afraid he'd drive one back at him."

But this was not slogging, it was real batting, with the bulk of Alletson's runs coming from drives between mid-on and extra cover or rasping square cuts. Several minutes were occupied in prising out a ball that had been driven into soft wooden panelling in front of the south stand. By the end, five balls had been hit out of the ground, and but for the time taken looking for them, the statistics of his innings would be even more remarkable.

Nottinghamshire's George Gunn said Alletson had hit the ball harder than anyone he had seen. Years later he told John Arlott: "Ted sent his drives skimming; you could hear them hum; he drove several at the Relf brothers and the ball fizzed through them as if they were ghosts. I have never seen another innings like it."

Gunn singled out one square cut, which smashed the pavilion window and wrecked the bar clock. "It was not a case of it being hard to set a field to him, but one of those drives would have smashed a man's hand if he had tried to stop it."

Bertie Chaplin, the Sussex captain, who was injured but was on the ground for a committee meeting, described it as "the best innings I ever saw, bar none… it was simply wonderful; and the man had an injured wrist, too".

Alletson's innings ended, rather unfortunately, when he was caught at long-on by CLA Smith, who leaned back on the boundary fence to complete the catch. Under the laws of the day that should have been signalled a six. In all, Alletson scored 189 off 90 balls and hit 23 fours and eight sixes. Killick, who had taken 5 for 14 in Nottinghamshire's first innings, finished with 1 for 130 from 20 overs - 76 of those had come from four post-lunch overs.

From a position of almost certain victory, Sussex were left to chase 227 in a little over three hours, and they fell just short, closing on 213 for 8.

Despite the scant newspaper coverage, Alletson's innings did attract attention and a fortnight later he was called up to play in the Test trial. He scored 15 and 8, did not bowl, and that was that. By the start of the 1914 season his county career was all but over.

Unlike some other big hitters, most notably Albert Trott, who had struck a ball over the Lord's pavilion 12 years earlier, Alletson's onslaught did not ruin his technique. He had always by nature been cautious and possessed a solid and orthodox defence, and that remained. But on his day he could still cut loose.

Five days after his Hove innings he made 60 in 30 minutes against Gloucestershire, and in 1913 he scored 69 in 47 minutes against Sussex, 88 in 60 minutes against Derbyshire and 55 in 25 minutes against Leicestershire. That summer at Dewsbury he also drove three consecutive balls from Wilfred Rhodes for sixes.

But he was not able to score runs consistently, and his under-used fast-medium bowling deteriorated to such an extent that he took to legspin, at which he was initially successful, but that experiment ended when questions were raised over his action. "As a bowler, Alletson won the Kent match at Trent Bridge, but he was scarcely tried afterwards," Wisden noted, "it being freely rumoured that complaints were made about his delivery."

Alletson played his last match in May 1914, and his final career record is ordinary - 3217 runs at 18.59, with his Hove assault his only hundred, and 33 wickets at 19.03. He served in the Artillery in the First World War, and then returned to the Nottinghamshire coal fields, retiring 20 years later with crippling arthritis.

Until his death in 1963, the bat he had used, which weighed only 2lbs 3ozs, hung on the wall of his home in Worksop. "It has extra thickening in the handle to give his great hands the big grip that satisfied them," Arlott noted after visiting the house. "[Alletson] liked to take it down and feel its balance: and he never tired of answering questions in his deep Nottinghamshire countryman's accent about his historic afternoon."

In 2003 the bat was sold at auction to a private collector for £15,000.

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Alletson's Innings - John Arlott (Epworth Press, 1958)
Various contemporary newspapers and journals

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