England recently retained their No. 1 spot in the Test rankings because a match between New Zealand and South Africa was rained off. This is just the latest example of cricket triumph in absentia, a phenomenon that reached its pinnacle with England's 2005 Ashes victory, which was marked by a weird stump-withdrawing ceremony carried out by the umpires with neither team present. There have been other, less well-known examples, however.
Calcutta XI v England XI, 1892
Those complaining about the excessive use of substitute fielders in the modern game would do well to read the reports of this fixture. The England XI batted slowly until tea on the first day, at which point they had reached 72 for 2. The not-out batsmen, ATB Henderson and TBC Sanderson, returned to the dressing room to find that their team-mates had retired to Calcutta Polo Club for drinks. Not wanting to miss out, the pair persuaded the opposition to supply them with two stand-ins for the evening session.
Not wanting to offend their guests, the Calcutta XI provided their two finest batsmen, meaning they themselves were down to nine men. When the England XI turned up for the second day's play, they were delighted to find that they had reached 282-8 and had gained another six players. With things going so well, they headed straight to Calcutta Polo Club for a morning glass of port.
The match continued in this vein with the so-called England XI in fact comprising the best nine players from the Calcutta XI, which was now a Calcutta II. The tourists eventually triumphed by an innings and 212 runs, although news of their victory didn't reach them for another three days. It was the only match they would win all tour.
Warwickshire v Yorkshire, 1896
Following a dire first-innings batting performance, Warwickshire were left needing 321 to win. At 18 for 5, the game appeared to be up for the home side. The situation was compounded when one of the not-out batsmen, RBJ Hyde, received a telegram calling upon him to lead an expedition in Sudan. Hyde left immediately and Warwickshire quickly fell to 32 for 9.
The match could and perhaps should have ended there, but all involved felt it was unfair that Warwickshire should suffer because one of their number was such an exceptionally fine, upstanding gentleman that he was needed for higher purposes. It was agreed that Hyde could return to the crease in the form of his cap and bat, which were carefully laid in front of the stumps. Wisden shows that "RBJ Hyde" made 146 over the next two days " playing a series of exquisite cuts and glances and scoring exclusively behind the wicket." Hyde could have been given out on hundreds of occasions, but Yorkshire felt it was poor form to appeal in his absence and so refrained.
The match ended in a Warwickshire win, but descended into acrimony when it was revealed that Hyde's batting partner, Arthur Richardson, had not in fact also been called to Sudan when 11 not out. Richardson had in fact been hiding in a cupboard in the dressing rooms while his cap and bat took advantage of the away team's kind-hearted generosity.