Nothing is certain in cricket - except its uncertainty, 1974

The glorious uncertainty

Rowland Ryder

Among the myriad delights of cricket, not least is the glorious uncertainty of the game. Nothing is certain in cricket except its uncertainty. It is not likely that a batsman will hit every ball of an over for six; that a last wicket stand will add three hundred runs to the score; that a wicket-keeper will take off his pads and do the hat trick: none of these things are anything more than remotely possible, yet all of them have happened; and improbable events, their duration in time varying from a split second to a long drawn out week, interesting, exhilarating, something unbearably exciting, are happening every year that cricket is played.

A match can be transformed by an inspired spell of bowling or by a splendid innings. It can be transformed by a single ball; an electrifying catch; a sudden run out; a drive to the boundary can mark a side's turning point from defence to attack and thence to victory; a stand of mammoth potential can be broken by an unexpected full toss. How often has the weather taken sides -- a brief shower; a sea mist; a gust of wind; sunshine after rain? A captain's intuition; a new ball; a crumbling wicket; changing a bat; even a drinks interval or the arrival of The King: these are some of the ingredients that can fashion unexpected victory or defeat.

In the ensuing paragraphs an attempt is made to describe five of the most remarkable matches in the history of the game; all of them, in their respective ways, illustrative of the glorious uncertainty of cricket; beginning with the Test Match, in 1882, when Australia defeated England for the first time, and concluding with Durham's victory against Yorkshire in the Gillette Cup competition of 1973.

England v. Australia, 1882

On August 29, 1882, Australia beat England for the first time, winning the match by seven runs. The Australians, who were captained by W. L. Murdoch, numbered only thirteen in their touring side; they had a strenuous tour involving thirty-eight matches, and extending from mid-May until the end of September. This Test Match, at Kennington Oval, was their thirtieth game.

Australia were all out for 63 in their first innings, only Murdoch, Blackham and Garrett reaching double figures; R. G. Barlow taking five for 19 runs in 31 4-ball overs. England, with a fine batting array that included W.G., Hornby, Barlow and George Ulyett -- indeed, only Peate, the Yorkshire slow bowler, had no pretensions to batsmanship -- did little better. They were all out for 101, Ulyett making 26 and Spofforth taking seven for 46.

Australia's second innings started on a high note, the deficit of 38 was cleared by H. H. Massie and A. C. Bannerman. Massie was a vigorous but scientific hitter; in 1882, an eight-year-old English boy named Gilbert Jessop would certainly have heard of his exploits. In the first match of the tour, against Oxford University, Massie had scored 206 out of 265 while he was at the wicket; now, with the stonewalling Bannerman as partner, he scored 55 out of 66 in less than an hour. After this, Peate (four for 40) came into his own, and the innings closed for 122, leaving England with 85 to win.

Grace and Hornby made a confident start; then at 15 Spofforth bowled Hornby and Barlow with successive balls. Grace now had George Ulyett as a partner. They saw the 50 up: with 35 to win and eight wickets to fall, it was surely all over bar the shouting.

Frederick Robert Spofforth, twenty-eight years old, six feet three, devastating, sinuous and tireless, thought otherwise. He was called The Demon, because, said Lord Darnley, of the terrifying aspect of his final bound at the wicket when delivering the ball. Variation is everything was his own maxim -- variation of flight and pace and break back, skilfully disguised by his flailing arms at the moment of delivery. His speed was of varying grades of fast medium; about once an over he sent down a ball that was tremendously fast.

At 51 Spofforth had Ulyett caught at the wicket, then Grace was out for 32, and England were 53 for four. Lucas and Lyttleton were now in, Lucas stonewalling, Lyttelton trying, unsuccessfully, to force the pace. The score reached 65 for four -- 20 to win. Twelve maiden overs were bowled (48 balls), followed by a piece of deliberate misfielding, so that Spofforth could attack Lyttelton. After four more maidens Spofforth bowled Lyttelton; the score was 66 for five. Lucas hit a four, but Spofforth had Steel caught and bowled; then he bowled Maurice Read. At 75 Lucas played on to an extra fast ball from Spofforth. Barnes failed. Peate came in last, with England wanting 10 to win. A blind swipe for two; another blind swipe, this time Peate was clean bowled, and Australia had won. Studd, at the other end, had not received a ball. Spofforth had taken seven for 44: the spectators carried him shoulder-high off the field, knowing perhaps that they would never see such bowling again.

This Test Match was the subject of the famous obituary of English cricket, in the Sporting Times; Sir Neville Cardus has written one of his most evocative essays about the match, which also inspired John Masefield, when Poet Laureate, to celebrate in verse the triumph of the Australians.

England v. Australia, 1902

The fifth Test Match, at Kennington Oval, in 1902, resulted in a victory for England by one wicket. Australia had won two and drawn two of the previous Tests -- they won the fourth Test by three runs. Had the teams come to the Oval with the series level, the fifth Test Match of 1902 might well have been remembered as the greatest Test Match ever played: as it was, it produced an unforgettable encounter, the climax mounting to almost unendurable excitement during the last two hours of England's innings.

Australia batted first and scored 324. Then came the rain; the rest of the game was played on a difficult wicket. England did well to score 183 in their first innings, narrowly avoiding the follow-on. When Australia batted again Trumper was brilliantly run out by Jessop for two. They did not recover from this disaster, and on a tricky wicket they took three hours to score 121 all out, Lockwood taking five for 45, and England were left with 263 to win.

The stage was set for an exciting finish. The wicket was still difficult; A. C. MacLaren, L. C. H. Palairet and J. T. Tyldesley were all bowled by Saunders, and three wickets were down for 10. Half the side were out for 48 when G. L. Jessop went in to bat, and played what has been described as the greatest innings in the history of cricket.

"He walked in to bat with a big cap on his small head," -- C. B. Fry wrote of Jessop *

*G. L. Jessop by C. J. Britton. Cornish Brothers Ltd. (1935).

"-- peak well over his nimble eyes, at a fast pace and with no fears... he fled out to drive like an amateur thunderbolt projected by Jove after too much nectar... he spreadeagled any bowler in ten minutes, however good, unless the stars were against him."

The stars were with Gilbert Jessop on Wednesday, August 13, 1902. With F. S. Jackson, who had gone in third wicket down, he put on 109 runs in sixty-five minutes, when Jackson was out for 49. Then George Hirst was his partner for about ten minutes, during which 30 runs wee added. When Jessop was out, caught at short leg, he had scored 104 out of 139, in seventy-five minutes, having hit a five in the slips and seventeen fours. George Hirst himself wrote of this occasion: "It was a great treat to me, watching their bowlers' faces change with wonder and consternation in their efforts to try and block his shots by changing the field... It could not be done."

With Jessop out, the score was 187 for seven: Lockwood stayed until 214; Lilley helped Hirst take the score to 248, when he was caught at deep mid-off. Wilfred Rhodes was last man in, and England needed 15 runs for victory. There is an apocryphal story of George Hirst saying "We'll get them in singles, Wilfred." Actually the partnership realised thirteen singles and a two. "With the scores level," says Wisden, "Rhodes sent a ball from Trumble between the bowler and mid-on, and England won the match by one wicket." Hugh Trumble, the fast-medium bowler from Victoria, with 31 overs in the first innings and 33.5 in the second, had bowled unchanged for Australia throughout the match.

Warwickshire v. Hampshire, 1922

Hampshire's defeat of Warwickshire by 155 runs, at Edgbaston, in June, 1922, was probably the most astonishing match in the history of the County Championship. Warwickshire won the toss, batted first, and, on a good wicket, were out for 223, scored at four runs an over; Newman having the unusual figures of four for 70 in 12.3 overs. F. R. Santall made 84 and the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe 70. When the last Warwickshire wicket fell, the general impression was that a good batting wicket had been wasted.

Then came the shocks. In fifty-three balls Howell and Calthorpe dismissed Hampshire for 15, their analyses were as follows:


The entire Hampshire innings occupied forty minutes, fifteen of which were taken up with the procession of batsmen walking to and from the wicket. Eight of the team were out for a duck. Philip Mead, going in No. 4, made 6 not out; the Hon. Lionel Tennyson was second highest scorer with 4. This was surely the most amazing achievement by opening bowlers in county cricket. Warwickshire themselves had been skittled out for 16 in 62 balls by Blythe and Woolley at Tonbridge in 1913; in 1901 Yorkshire got rid of Nottinghamshire for 13 in 15.5 overs, and in 1907 Dennett (eight for 9) and Jessop, opening the bowling for Gloucestershire, dismissed Northants for 12 in 11.3 overs, the smallest total ever made in first-class cricket, but on all these occasions the bowlers were helped by the pitch: Howell and Calthorpe, were bowling on a batsman's wicket, as they found to their cost the next day.

Hampshire, following on, were 186 for six, and it seemed as likely as not that they would have to acknowledge defeat by an innings. Then things went wrong for Warwickshire. Perhaps they relaxed the pressure: if they did, they certainly paid the price. George Brown and W. R. Shirley added 85 for the seventh wicket, then, after A. S. McIntyre had failed, Brown and W. H. Livsey, the wicket-keeper, took the score to 451, before Brown was out for 172 in four and three-quarter hours. A last wicket stand by Livsey and Boyes added 70, Hampshire making 521 and Livsey 110 not out -- his other thirty-six visits to the crease in 1922 brought him a total of 181 runs. Warwickshire, requiring 314 to win, never looked like getting the runs, and although Tiger Smith. W. G. Quaife and Calthorpe offered resistance, the innings closed for 158.

This, above all, was George Brown's match. All-rounder extraordinary, a tall, humorous, kindly man of fine physique, left-hand batsman, fast-medium right arm bowler, wicket-keeper seven times for England, he will be remembered above all for his intrepid 172 that turned total defeat into impossible victory. A framed scorecard of the match was George Brown's most treasured possession in his home at Winchester. He always averred that Hampshire should have been out for 7 and not 15, as, in the general excitement of the collapse, Harry Howell bowled a ball that went for four byes when Tiger Smith was unsighted; and Lionel Tennyson was missed off his solitary scoring stroke.

Australia v. West Indies, 1960

The First Test Match between Australia and the West Indies at Brisbane, on December 9--14, 1960, was, of course, an 8-ball over affair. It was a match that ended in a tie, and it was the last seven balls of the game that raised it to epic greatness. In a feature article for Wisden (1961), E. M. Wellings, who saw the game, wrote It was the Greatest Test Match, the Greatest Cricket Match and surely the Greatest Game ever played with a ball.

The West Indies batted first and made 453 (Davidson five for 135); Australia replied with 505, Norman O'Neill making 181. In their second innings the West Indies scored 284 (Davidson six for 87), leaving Australia 233 to win in 310 minutes. Their last wicket fell with the scores level, to the seventh ball of what was in any case the last over of the match. Such is the bare outline of the story.

Australia made a sorry start to their second innings, their target 233. Two wickets were down for 7. The fifth wicket fell at 57: Wesley Hall had sent back Simpson, Harvey, O'Neill and Favell. Six for 92; then Benaud and Davidson, the last of the established batsmen, actually took Australia to within seven runs of victory. "They brought off some sterling strokes," wrote E. M. Wellings, "among which Davidson's hook off a head-high bumper from Hall stands out as a vivid memory. And they ran like whippets." Now with the score 226 for six, seven to win, four wickets to fall, Solomon ran out Davidson from twenty-five yards and with one stump to aim at. When Wesley Hall began the last over, Australia needed six to win with three wickets to fall.

Grout was hit on the leg by the first ball, and he and Benaud ran a single. Benaud, 52, and going strong, now had the bowling: five to win. Off the second ball, a bouncer, he attempted a hook -- and was caught at the wicket. Meckiff came in and played the third ball back to the bowler. Off the fourth ball Grout and Meckiff ran a bye: four to win. Hall bowled his fifth ball; Grout skied it, half a dozen West Indians converged, Hall got his hands to the ball but dropped it. The batsmen scampered a single. Three balls to go; two wickets to fall; three runs to win. Meckiff hit the sixth delivery towards the square leg boundary. He and Grout ran two and raced for a third, as Hunte threw in fiercely and accurately from near the boundary; Grout flung himself over the crease -- too late. The scores were now level: there were two balls to go, and Kline was last man in. Hall bowled his seventh delivery, Kline played it towards square leg --and Solomon. It was Solomon who, a few minutes previously, had run out Davidson. It was Solomon now, as the batsmen ran desperately for the precious single that would give them victory, who broke the wicket and tied the match before Meckiff could make his ground.

This match at Brisbane is the only Test Match to have ended in a tie, although a dozen or more have been very close things. Both sides at different stages of the game could have elected to play safe and to be satisfied with a draw, both sides preferred to stake everything and go for an outright victory. In the event both sides were successful: this was a victory for cricket.

Yorkshire v. Durham, 1973

Forward to 1973. The last ten years have seen the streamlining of the County Championship and the trend towards one-day cricket in the inauguration of the Gillette Cup (1963), the John Player League (1969) and the Benson and Hedges Cup (1972). The Gillette Cup is a knock-out competition for the seventeen First-Class Counties and the five leading Minor Counties from the previous season. Matches are of one innings a side, limited to sixty overs; no bowler to bowl more than twelve overs. Under this system Minor Counties come into conflict with First-Class County sides, hence the exciting possibility that a David might overcome a Goliath. In 1973 this possibility became astonishing reality.

On Saturday, June 30, 1973, Durham played Yorkshire at Harrogate. Yorkshire won the toss and batted first on a good wicket. Boycott and Lumb opened the batting against the bowling of Stuart Wilkinson and Alan Old, the England rugger player and brother of Chris Old, the England cricketer, who was playing for the other side!

When the score was 18, the fast, wiry, thirty-three year old Stuart Wilkinson bowled the ball that decided the match. He bowled Boycott neck and crop with a superb delivery that pitched on a length, came quickly off the pitch, and knocked back the middle stump. Boycott himself was quick to pay tribute to this splendid piece of bowling. The loss of Boycott clearly affected Yorkshire's morale. Lumb and Sharpe were soon out, and at 49, Lander, the Durham captain, took the wickets of Hampshire and Hutton with successive balls. Only Johnson resisted to any purpose; he scored 44 before being out to Greensword, the ex-Leicestershire player, who also had Bairstow l. b. w. when the latter seemed about to cut loose. Yorkshire's sorry start was retrieved to the extent that the hundred went up with six wickets down; but they were all out for 135 in 58.4. overs. Brian Lander took five for 15 in 11.3 overs. Yorkshire had failed against good medium-paced bowling, supported by splendid fielding.

Before the match started the Durham team were hoping to put up a good performance, and, if possible, to give Yorkshire a run for their money. That was the ceiling of their aspirations before opposing a team that included five England players. Now, with their opponents dismissed so cheaply, there was a feeling of confidence in the Durham dressing room -- 136 was not too difficult a target, and the wicket was good.

Inglis and Atkinson gave their side an excellent start, putting on 58 for the first wicket. Four wickets were down for 96; and Yorkshire were still in the hunt; but Greensword was obdurate as sheet anchor, and the Yorkshire challenge died away. Riddell lived dangerously, hitting Nicholson for two 4's in succession, then the latter bowled him for 15. Durham were nearly home now. Greensword (35 not out) and Soakell stayed together until the end, Durham, 138 for five, winning by five wickets, with 8.3 overs to spare. Cyril Washbrook adjudged Brian LanderMan of the Match.

"The impossible has happened at last" said the Sunday Times, the following day, and the Observer described Durham's victory as "A result more improbable than Sunderland's defeat of Leeds United in the F.A. Cup final."

There was no fluke about Durham's victory: they dominated the match all day. What was astonishing was not the way that they won, but, rather, the fact that they won; that a side consisting largely of part-time cricketers, however talented, should outplay for nearly six hours the most illustrious First-Class County of them all.

© John Wisden & Co