August 12, 2012

Once upon an all-run nine

A hit so hard, the batsmen just kept running - a true story from the Aboriginal tour of England in 1868

Sporting long hair and a slinging action, Twopenny was the Lasith Malinga of the 1868 Australian cricket team. But that year it had been just four since the lawmakers allowed a bowler to operate with his bowling arm at a height above the shoulder.

Twopenny was a fast round-armer but his greatest claim to fame on the 1868 England tour was with the bat not the ball. It wasn't the number of runs he hit, for that was a lightweight 589, at an average of 8.29. He was a terrific hitter, but the kind of lower-order batsman who hit across the line - much like, I suppose, the way Doug Walters a hundred years later tried to hit medium-pacer Norm Graham into orbit against Kent in Canterbury in August 1968: with a round-house agricultural swipe that was described the next day in the newspaper as a "wild village-yahoo" slog.

Twopenny's fame came from his exploits with the bat in the match against Sheffield at Bramall Lane over August 10 and 11, when he achieved a feat that eluded WG Grace, Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting or Sachin Tendulkar. In his score of 22, Twopenny hit a ball so high and so far that he completed nine runs before the ball was returned to the wicket. That is, an all-run (no overthrows to swell the tally) nine.

A keen witness was present to record the event for posterity in the form of the cricket correspondent for the Sheffield Independent:

"Twopenny made the sensational hit of the match, accomplishing a feat that has no parallel on Bramall Lane, and we should say on no other ground, and Mr Foster, who was well up, did not offer for some time to go for the ball, and when started it was at a slow pace, the result being that nine was run for the hit amidst vociferous cheering."

Poor Mr Foster. Short of being built like a 104-year-old elephant with lumbago, he must have been very slow in his fielding efforts indeed. Little did he know how the enthusiastic Aboriginals struggled in their judgement of a run, and that in the 47 matches they suffered 60 run-outs in all.

The Aboriginal players were given sobriquets because their pastoral landlords back in Australia could not pronounce their tribal names. This is the popular theory, although there is a condescending tone to some of the nicknames. In any case, cricket scorers were relieved that instead of Murrumgunarrimin, the player was called Twopenny; Brimbunyah was Redcap; Unaarrimin was Johnny Mullagh; Pripumuarraman was Charley Dumas.

Twopenny played 46 of the possible 47 matches, but team captain Charles Lawrence was reluctant to bowl him for any decent spells until late in the tour. When he did bowl, Twopenny collected 35 wickets at 6.9, off just 704 balls - a strike rate of a wicket every 20.11 balls. Against East Hampshire, he proved a sensation, with match figures of 15 for 16 (9 for 9 and 6 for 7). Lawrence's reluctance to bowl Twopenny early on the tour was due to his fear that his fast bowler might be called for throwing. His fear was unfounded - Twopenny's action had never been queried in Australia - and when he did get to bowl in England, critics marvelled at his skill and applauded his performances.

All the Aboriginal players were expert in throwing a boomerang or spear or both, or wielding a stock whip. Dumas was the team's star boomerang man. He brought 15 of his best boomerangs with him to England and blew the crowd away at The Oval with his throwing: he made a boomerang soar the entire length of the ground, past the famous gas holders and back to a position where the ancient aeronautical marvel gyrated "obediently" for its master and landed gently between his feet.

A few years ago Twopenny's boomerang turned up at an auction house. There was some doubt about its authenticity but on the back were autographs of some county players who played against the 1868 Aboriginal tourists.

Mosquito was an expert at the stock whip; Dick a Dick was the veritable Artful Dodger of the group, due to his amazing ability to dodge cricket balls hurled at him from ten paces; Johnny Cuzens, whose action was catapult-like in the Jeff Thomson mould, could run like the wind; and Redcap nailed a squirrel scampering up a tree at Mote Park with the deadly accuracy of Viv Richards throwing down the wicket in the field.

The 1868 Australian team won 14, lost 14 and drew 19 of their matches in England in 1868. This was Australia's first international sporting tour of England, and the team delighted crowds with their cricket, athletic prowess and throwing of spears and boomerangs.

Mullagh excelled with bat and ball, hitting 1698 runs at 23.65 and taking 245 wickets at 10. At the other end of the scale was Sundown, a specialist batsman who played only two matches and scored one run. It was the only run Sundown ever scored in any match, either in Australia or in England. He must have been the original hero of the legend: "In the first innings he made one and in the second he was not quite so successful."

Back in Australia, Twopenny played one first-class match for New South Wales against Victoria in the summer of 1869-70. He was the first man of Aboriginal descent to play top cricket, but his one game produced just eight runs in two completed innings and figures of 0 for 56 off 30 fruitless overs.

However, his all-run nine on the 1868 tour is a batting record that will stand forever.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell, and Lords' Dreaming, an account of the 1868 Australian tour of England

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