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Hove holocaust

March 6, 1984 is the centenary of the birth of Ted Alletson, unchallengeably the greatest `single innings' batsman, and, on that evidence perhaps, the most spectacular hitter in cricket history

Wisden CricInfo staff

© The Cricketer
March 6, 1984 is the centenary of the birth of Ted Alletson, unchallengeably the greatest `single innings' batsman, and, on that evidence perhaps, the most spectacular hitter in cricket history. It happened in the match between Sussex and Nottinghamshire at the County Ground, Hove, in 1911. In the morning of May 20, the last day, when Alletson went in Notts, who had been 176 behind on the first innings, were 185 for 7, only nine runs ahead; and a Sussex win seemed certain and simple. The official scorebooks do not agree; and contemporary accounts were sketchy because the match did not attract serious reporters with its promise of a short day and apparently foregone conclusion. However, according to expert reconstruction by the late Roy Webber, by lunch Alletson had scored 47 in 50 minutes: and had been missed twice in the process. Afterwards, though, he scored an amazing 142 - out of 152 for the 10th wicket - altogether, 189 out if 227 in 90 minutes. In the second to eighth overs of the afternoon - bowled by Leach, lively left-arm, and Killick, slow leg-breaks - he made 115 runs. Analysis reveals that, in 40 minutes after lunch, Alletson received 70 balls, made 38 scoring strokes for 142 runs (including eight sixes and 18 fours). Killick's four overs after lunch cost 76 runs: in one, Alletson scored 22: off another, which included two no-balls, 33. The timing was even more spectacular than it sounds. Several minutes were occupied in prising out a ball which he drove into the soft wooden panelling of the south stand: while, at one time, five balls were lost, out of the ground.
Visited at his home in Workshop in 1956, Ted - baptismally Edwin Boaler - Alletson was still a physical giant, over 6ft tall, heavy-shouldered, strong-armed and deep-chested: his fully-fit playing weight was 15½ stone. The great innings was played with a light - 2lbs 3oz - bat; but he attributed the power of his hitting to his remarkable arm-span of 78ins. He had a rumbling, friendly voice, with a Nottinghamshire county accent - he was born and brought up on the Duke of Portland's estate at Welbeck - a good sense of humour; and only slight bitterness about the arthritis which, in 1950, immobilized him -`Can't get down my pub wi'out being humped.'
He remembered the Hove innings clearly. In pain from a damaged wrist, he would not have played but that Tom Wass had a more inhibiting injury. He had batted `normally' until the ninth wicket fell, immediately before lunch, when A. O. Jones, presumably giving up the game for lost, told him, `I don't think it matters what you do.'`Then,' said Alletson, `I'm not half going to give Killick some stick.'
In 1956, too, several other players in the match were still happy to recall it: men like Bob Relf, John and George Gunn, and Bertie Chaplin, the Sussex captain, who was injured but turned up for a committee meeting - and watched ` the best innings I ever saw, bar none! It was simply wonderful; and the man had an injured wrist, too!' They were unanimous in stressing the power of Alletson's strokes. Basically he was a fairly orthodox, professional, lower-order batsman. At times, though, he embarked on one of these hitting forays. Essentially a driver, he played firm-footed, but straight, going right through with his strokes so that most of them were in the arc between extra cover and wide mid-on. He could cut, though, and George Gunn remembered the square-cut at Hove which smashed the pavilion window and wrecked the bar.
They all agreed - and they had watched all the grand hitters from Gilbert Jessop to Peter Marner- that they had never seen anyone who hit harder than Alletson on his day. Bob Relf said with a grin, `Poor Tim Killick was frightened to bowl at Ted- not because he minded punishment, but he was afraid he would drive one back at him.' George Gunn again: `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.'
Alletson had given Notts a chance to win when C.L.A. Smith caught him leaning back against the boundary fence on the straight drive; but, in a close finish, they needed two more wickets and Sussex 24 more runs to win; it was an honourable draw.
The Duke of Portland marked his performance with an inscribed gold watch and chain: and `my father sent me a home-fed ham.'
The innings created such a furore that Alletson was chosen for the Test Trial at Sheffield a fortnight later; but he scored only 15 and 8; did not bowl; and was not heard of in that context again. It was the only century of his career; but certainly not, as C. P. Foley suggested, the end of his big hitting. In his very next innings - against Gloucestershire at Bristol - in the last half-hour of the day, he scored 60 out of 80 in 17 scoring strokes. Then, in 1913 - against Sussex again - 69 out of 98 from 23 strokes; against Derbyshire, 88 in 60 minutes; against Leicestershire 63 in 25 minutes; and in the Yorkshire match at Dewsbury he hit three consecutive balls from Wilfred Rhodes for six apiece.
Those were, though, isolated peaks of an otherwise relatively undistinguished career in which, between 1906 and 1914, he scored 3217 runs - all but 23 of them for Notts - at an average no better than 18.59; and took 33 wickets at 19.03.
Although he cherished the memory of Hove, he was also deeply and sadly conscious that it was virtually his only claim to circketing fame. He took much thought and strove mightily for years to establish himself. He was at least a serviceable fast-medium bowler; but Notts already had, in Tom Wass, Arthur Hallam, John Gunn (in his main role), James Iremonger and, later, Fred Barratt, a series of practitioners on or around that theme. Often Alletson went a fortnight or more without bowling in a match: a career average of 19 argues that he deserved more. Certainly, from 1907 onwards, he spent many winter hours, with his father to keep wicket, practising leg-breaks. Like Tom Wass, he bowled them at considerable pace; by, he recalled, `turning my body right over when I delivered'. In terms of county discipline, he was a fast-medium bowler, and it was 1913, his playing future looking grim, before he ventured to bowl his leg-breaks in a county match. Then, in the first innings against Kent, the eventual champions, seventh bowler used, he took 2 for 6; and in the second innings precipitated a crucial collapse which won the game for Notts with 4 for 37. Immediately afterwards he had 4 for 15 against Derbyshire, but was not needed in the second innings when Wass and Iremonger bowled unchanged on a difficult wicket. So to the Gloucester fixture when, after he had sent down two overs, umpire George Harrison `told me to stop bowling'.
He was not put on in a county match again until the following season when, in Nottinghamshire's match with Derbyshire at Chesterfield, Harrison was again standing umpire. Alletson, brought on as first change, bowled two overs, took 1 for 7; was taken off and never played in a first-class match again. Wisden for 1914 had already said, `As a bowler, Alletson won the Kent match at Trent Bridge, but he was scarcely tried afterwards, it being freely rumoured that complaints were made about his delivery': but it hurt him most desperately: and for all his life.
Happier to leave him with the words of his old team-mate George Gunn, about the 189 -`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.'