1983 September 28, 2013

The fastest hundred that never was

How Steve O'Shaughnessy's whirlwind knock managed to upset purists and cause controversy over the tactics used

Manufactured declarations and part-time bowlers serving up full tosses were a feature of the County Championship when matches were three days long. Any weather disruption or even a flat track meant that to get a result, captains often had to resort to stretching the regulations to the limit. It is widely agreed that any records established during such exercises are void, but runs scored and conceded do count for or against the players.

Things were less clear in 1983 when Steve O'Shaughnessy, a 22-year-old Lancashire allrounder, smashed a century in 35 minutes, equalling the 63-year-old record set by Percy Fender for the fastest hundred in terms of time.

O'Shaughnessy's feat came on the last day of the season. The final round of matches was hit by bad weather, and play at Old Trafford in the game between Lancashire and Leicestershire did not start until 3.30pm on the second day.

Lancashire were put in and scored 236, their innings finishing shortly before noon on the final day, by which time there had already been an element of farce - the Leicestershire fielders ran between overs as they were in danger of being fined for their season-long slow over rate. In the last hour of Lancashire's innings, they breezed through 26 overs.

Had both sides then forfeited an innings, a genuine result might have been on the cards, but Leicestershire needed one batting point to take fourth place in the County Championship, and so they batted, taking almost 44 overs to make the 150 runs that achieved that goal. With a little under three hours remaining, most people assumed that was that. But Roger Tolchard, Leicestershire's captain, promptly declared. He had two aims. One, to further improve his county's over rate, and two, to possibly encourage Lancashire to score quick runs and then set a fourth-innings target.

When O'Shaughnessy and Graeme Fowler came out to start Lancashire's second innings, they were confronted with an attack that included David Gower and James Whitaker, probably two of the worst bowlers in the country. "It was at that point," wrote Peter Marson in the Times, "that what had hinted at a farce became a reality." Sure enough, Gower and Whitaker proceeded to send down a succession of full tosses and long hops.

With the pitch right over on one side - the boundary was as short as 60 yards - the right-and-left-hand combination of O'Shaughnessy and Fowler sent the members scurrying for cover as sixes were repeatedly smashed into the pavilion. Fowler lofted Whitaker for three successive sixes, before dead-batting the remaining balls back to the bowler. O'Shaughnessy, meanwhile, struck Gower into the second tier of the pavilion.

In the 35 minutes before tea, Lancashire raced to 190 for 0. Fowler hit ten sixes (these were successive scoring shots, also a world record) and five fours in making 100 shortly after the break; O'Shaughnessy, who brought up his own milestone by cutting Gower for four from the last ball before the interval, struck five sixes and 17 fours. "With a semi-embarrassed wave of his bat," Wisden Cricket Monthly noted, "he acknowledged the applause of the crowd of some 400 spectators."

"My only difficulty was whether to hit the ball for four or six," he told the Daily Express. "Of course it's a bit of a hollow achievement, against that sort of bowling, but all I could do was hit what was thrown up to me."'

Asked if he was aware of the record while batting, he said that when he got into the 80s, Fowler had told him not to throw it away as he was on course for the season's fastest hundred. "But I'd no idea until I got back to the dressing room that I'd equalled the fastest ton of all time."

Gower finished with 0 for 102 from nine overs, Whitaker 0 for 87 from eight. "The bowling was silly," admitted Jack Bond, Lancashire's manager. "But he could have looked just as silly if he had patted the ball back or if he had got out.

"It's a shame the record should be equalled in these circumstances, but you cannot blame Steve for taking advantage. I'm still wondering about the conditions surrounding Percy Fender's knock. They must have had rubbish bowlers in those days too."

There was no declaration at tea, and Leicestershire brought on the more respectable combination of John Steele and Chris Balderstone. Eight minutes and one four after the restart, O'Shaughnessy was stumped by Tolchard off Balderstone, and in the next over Fowler allowed himself to be bowled the ball after he had brought up his own hundred. Half an hour later, bad light sent the players from the field, and soon after, rain ended the farce.

Debate raged over the next few days as to whether the record should count. O'Shaughnessy's innings was recognised by the organisers of the Walter Lawrence Trophy (the annual award for the season's fastest hundred) but it soon became accepted that the record books would be tarnished if lines were not drawn. As a result, Fender's record remains and O'Shaughnessy is a footnote in Wisden under the heading "contrived circumstances".

In his review of the season in the Times, John Woodcock lamented the amount of collusion in that season's championship, singled out Leicestershire's conduct at Old Trafford as "discrediting the game", and called for legislation to outlaw such behaviour.

When O'Shaughnessy returned to Old Trafford the following day to pack up his kit ahead of putting it into hibernation for the winter, he found a telegram waiting for him. "Congratulations on equalling my 63-year-old record. Fender."

Two days later, O'Shaughnessy travelled south to meet Fender at his Horsham home where the two chatted. As he was about to leave, Fender, who was by then blind, asked to feel the bat O'Shaughnessy had used. "Thank you," he said as he stroked it. "It was very good of you to come all this way to give it to me."

O'Shaughnessy froze and went white. Fender grinned. "I think I had him worried then, didn't I."

On the drive back to Manchester, O'Shaughnessy smiled. "You know, I wouldn't have had the heart to take it off him if he had meant it."

What happened next?

  • With the season over, O'Shaughnessy was out of work. Only on a summer contract with Lancashire, he signed on as unemployed. He left Lancashire in 1987, playing two season at Worcestershire before finishing with a decade in the Minor Counties with Cumberland. In 2011 he became a first-class umpire
  • Hundreds in contrived circumstances continued to upset purists and statisticians, with the nadir coming in 1993 when Glen Chapple made a century in 21 minutes for Lancashire, also against Glamorgan. Neither official scorer recorded the time as they were too busy logging the scoring shots, but the BBC scorer did

Lord Ted by Alan Lee (Gollancz/Witherby, 1995)
Cricket Rebel by John Snow (Hamlyn, 1976)
Playfair Cricket Monthly
The Cricketer
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on September 29, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    T20.The sport made for batsman on flat pitches.Yep its interesting to see some of the new shots but it is as close to a cricket game as 5 a side is to real football.As for Sehwag being a great batsman I agree he is a great hitter on flat pitches.That is it.He has all the batting technique of Freddie Flintoff.

  • Robert on September 29, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    Time taken to score runs is an interesting stat but doesn't really reflect the 'speed' of an innings - that is down to balls faced. Strikes me that in this farrago of a match 'Foxy' Fowler scored at a hell of a lick too! Thank the cricketing gods that these farcical situations now rarely occur. Hurrah for four day county championship cricket!

  • Dummy4 on September 29, 2013, 18:32 GMT

    Thinking Cricket, I disagree, T20 shows what happens when a batsmen doesn't need to value their wicket! This is highlighted by the measures shown to represent a batsman's performance in t20 seldom includes their batting average and how many times they have made 30!! A modest score one in every 5 innings is not too impressive. Sehwag is good when the ball doesn't seam or swing, his style is not so affective where it does.

  • Indika on September 29, 2013, 14:42 GMT

    I really don't get the point of talking about T20's here. The article is written about the fastest century scored based off on the time the batsmen took to score it.

    Why is no one talking about the article itself? There is no constructive discussion about the real issue of Balls faced vs. time taken.

    To me balls faced would trump time taken any day with all the other factors taken into consideration. Please try to stay on the subject for once people...

  • David on September 29, 2013, 13:26 GMT

    While Fender's record has stood for over 90 years, it may interest some readers to note that it nearly got beaten five years later. A bloke called Albert Scanes batting for NSW v WA in 1925/26 scored 94 in what contemporary papers said was 30 minutes. WA bowler Inverarity, father of the current chairman of selectors, gave away over 200 runs off 27 overs and Nsw made 639 in less than a full day's batting.

  • Indika on September 29, 2013, 12:29 GMT

    Interesting article... At the same time what value could we add to this? Of all things Time is relative... As in what if the bowlers bowled a slower over rate there could have been someone else who had scored a faster Century somewhere else in the world in First Class Cricket...

    So the defining factor should always be the balls faced. At the same time we should take into consideration breaks, injury time and most importantly weather.

    So to me fastest century scored in time wise is irrelevant. What if the other batsmen got the opportunity to face more balls?!!

  • Brian on September 29, 2013, 7:24 GMT

    @Deuce03: Indeed it is. Perhaps they need more suggestions for incidents to write about. I'd like to see a rewind article about the famous Sunday league game featuring Leicestershire around about this time one rainy Sunday, when the Leicestershire team were sure the game would be abandoned and hit the sponsor's beer tent, but the weather suddenly brightened and they had to play an abbreviated game with half the team severely "under the influence" (and still won). I think it might have been against Gloucestershire (I remember reading about it in David Gower's autobography)

  • John on September 29, 2013, 2:30 GMT

    @ThinkingCricket: No, T20 is showing you what batsmen can do if they are given flat pitches, short boundaries, fielding restrictions and the best bowlers are only allowed 4 overs. Yes, they can hit sixes and fours. Bowlers, on the other hand, are reduced to trying to keep the runs down- anyone who gives away less than 7 runs an over is doing well, whether or not they take any wickets. To say a bowler has had a good game if he gets 0-24 in 4 overs is a mockery of cricket. Cricket was already a batsman's game. T20 multiplies that by at least twice.

    An unbalanced game gets boring very fast. T20 is only for people who neither understand nor appreciate cricket. My fear is that when they get bored and move on to something else, cricket will die; there won't be enough young cricketers and cricket-lovers to keep it alive, because T20 is all they know.

  • Dummy4 on September 28, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    T20 is not a balanced game of cricket. There seem to be only 4 or 5 different scenarios for a game, Most of which are dull are quite predictable. They undervalue 6's (by providing too many of them) and over-value wickets (by making it a batsmans game with free hits and boundaries an 8 year old could chip). As fot Steve O - he was a good lad at Worcs for a couple of seasons. Gordon Lord, and Steve O' filling in while Timmy Curtis had his one season for England with Both, Illy, Rhodes and Picca (and Newps and Radders as well)

  • Android on September 28, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    Andrew I agree with you t20 is dull, the contest between bat and ball that makes the game, the instance discussed here wasn't that either though