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The fastest hundred that never was

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

Steve O'Shaughnessy and Percy Fender days after O'Shaughnessy had equalled Fender's record for the fastest hundred  •  Wisden Cricket Monthly

Steve O'Shaughnessy and Percy Fender days after O'Shaughnessy had equalled Fender's record for the fastest hundred  •  Wisden Cricket Monthly

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