December 2007

The first member of the 300 club

David Frith
David Frith recalls a meeting with Andy Sandham

Sandham: "a neat, calm and admirable sight at the crease" © Cricinfo Ltd

Nobody in that smoky pub in Clapham could have had the slightest inkling that the little old chap in the corner, quietly sipping a beer, was the scorer of the first-ever Test-match treble-hundred. Andy Sandham, warm under his raincoat, was now seeing a reduced version of the world around him through thick-lensed glasses. Those eyes had once assessed the best bowling up and down England and on foreign shores.

It was South London in 1978. He was 87 and feeling it. Discomfort seemed to have been a companion all through life. He recalled the injuries, illnesses and pain that befell him during his long career (1911-1937). To this day he shares three Surrey record partnerships: the 173 with Andy Ducat for the 10th wicket came at Leyton after a bout of food poisoning; his 282 not out at Old Trafford in 1928 was curtailed by something close to pleurisy; on a tour of South Africa he was badly knocked about in a car crash; and during the First World War he was repatriated after an appendix operation just before the Royal Fusiliers went into battle at Delville Wood.

The most amusing of Sandy's discomforts, though, came during that 325 for England at Kingston early in 1930. He talked me through it during an earlier meeting at his flat, recalling that with his spare bats all sold as the tour neared the end, and his remaining one cracked, he borrowed from his captain, Freddie Calthorpe. "It was not a bat I would have chosen myself. It was a long-handle. That's it over there." And sure enough, this precious dark relic was propped up in the corner.

He painted a hilarious picture of the innings. George Gunn, aged 50, was carelessly out for 85. Andy lamented that it would have been nice to have made a Test century at Gunn's age. Gunn retorted: "I thought if one of us didn't get out we wouldn't catch the boat home!" The vessel, Sandham recalled, wasn't due to sail for another 10 days. He batted on and on, and by halfway through the second day he had to contend with fresh young batsmen like Les Ames wanting quick singles. "Now look here, Les," he said, "it's all right for you but I've been in for hours and I'm in my 40th year." Another problem was that he had needed to borrow Patsy Hendren's boots, and one kept slipping off as he scuttled singles. At 325 he played on - "bless me!" - to Herman Griffith. England made 849, bowled West Indies out for 286 and batted again.

Calthorpe took pity on Sandham and put him in at No. 7 this time. He made 50. "I believe even now that's the record for most runs in a Test match." I deeply regret having told him that Greg Chappell had recently surpassed that 375.

Andrew Sandham was notably proud of his long opening association with the charming Jack Hobbs. "He was a great man, Jack. We were together for many, many, many years, and I think twice there was a run-out." What about the newspaper placards proclaiming a Hobbs duck on an afternoon when Sandham had a hundred? "It used to annoy my wife."

The high points included his 100th century, on a damp Basingstoke pitch in 1935: he had even hit Stuart Boyes for six. ("I was not built for hitting sixes, you know.") He reached the glittering milestone with a flick behind square, hoping like mad that Boyes at short leg hadn't crept squarer, as he often did. Then there was his record 428 for the first wicket with Hobbs against Oxford University, and an unbeaten 292 against Northants. He still seemed faintly miffed at Percy Fender's declaration.

His greatest regret was that he played only five Test innings against Australia, for a mere 49 runs, highest score 21 on Ashes debut at The Oval in 1921. "A snorter from [Ted] McDonald finished me ... My off stump went over and over and over. Beautiful bowler."

And Sandy himself, during all those long-ago summers, was a neat, calm and admirable sight at the crease or in the outfield. He died in 1982, aged 91, and it warms me still to think that I once shared a pint with him.

David Frith is an author, historian, and founding editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly