On May 21, 1955 Charlie Palmer bowled an unbelievable spell of 8 for 7 (8 for 0 at one point of time) at Grace Road against a mighty Surrey. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a batsman who ran riot with the ball.
It was 1955, which meant that Surrey was in the middle of their famous streak of the 1950s. They had already won three on the trot, and looked good for a fourth (they would ultimately go on to win seven consecutive titles). They defeated Gloucestershire by five wickets at The Oval, Somerset by an innings and four runs at The Oval, and Essex by five wickets at Ilford.
Leicestershire, on the other hand, had done reasonably well: they had drawn against Kent at Grace Road and had beaten them at Gravesend by six wickets, and had beaten Gloucestershire by two wickets at Bristol. Charlie Palmer, their ever-reliable batting star, had batted in the tournament, but was yet to bowl his mixed bag of innocuous medium pacers and off-break in the championship, mostly due to a bad back.
The bespectacled Palmer often baffled batsmen with his ridiculous bowling — often resorting to donkey-drops. Maurice Hallam wrote: “They went miles up in the air…into orbit. We’re talking probably 20 feet. But his strike rate was unbelievable. He hit the top of the stumps, people trod on their wicket or knocked the stump down.” Oddly reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Spedegue’s Droppers — the only difference being that unlike Spedegue, Palmer bowled round-arm.
Just for the record, Palmer finished with 365 First-Class wickets from 336 matches at an average of 25.15, and he took five wickets in an innings five times. In his debut Test (which turned out to be the only one) the previous year Palmer had scored 22 and 0, and had not got a wicket.
Lock and Laker
Palmer began well by winning the toss and electing to bat on what looked like a damp pitch. The openers, Hallam and Gerald Lester, saw off Alec Bedser and put on a solid 68, looking settled, and good for many more.
Enter Tony Lock. As the Sun came out and the pitch started to dry up, Lock controlled the ball with the proverbial string, and with a spell of 18.2-7-37-6, bowled out Leicestershire for 114. Laker supported well with 22-7-24-2, and Tom Clark chipped in with 9-5-8-2. Palmer scored a mere single.
Terry Spencer bowled Clark early, which brought Peter May, the England captain, to the crease. By now the pitch had almost dried out, leaving a wet spot just outside the off-stump. May looked in great touch, and by the time Palmer brought himself on to give Spencer a change of ends, May was well set.
Before he started, he told May “go easy on me, I haven’t bowled this year”. Once he was on, Palmer exploited the wet spot, landing his ridiculously slow military-medium paced balls on exactly the same spot. Wisden later described that Palmer bowled “medium-pace with great accuracy and brought the ball back sharply off the seam.”
He bowled a very accurate maiden over, and decided to keep himself on. He ran through David Fletcher’s defence the very next over, and that’s when it all started. He followed it by having Bernard Constable caught for a duck; the batsmen had changed ends, and Palmer claimed the prized scalp of May — bowled, once again.
Spencer recalled: “He [Palmer] got a couple of wickets and treated it as a joke.” Palmer apparently said: “I’ll stay on for another over now.”
Stay he did, and how! Mike Turner had mentioned about his bowling “They were uncanny. He ran up normally, but then the ball went as high as the roof of a house — I’m not joking — and the length was such that it literally fell on the stumps.”
One Surrey batsman followed another, and the strong batting line-up crumbled in front of Palmer. He simply bowled off-cutters on a nagging line and length, and picked up eight wickets, reducing Surrey to 66 for nine from 42 for one. At this stage Palmer’s figures read an unbelievable 12-12-0-8, and the crowd, aware of the fact that he had a chance to better Jim Laker’s eight for two, shouted “take yourself off, Charlie!”
But Palmer continued, and of all people, Laker holed out one to covers — but he was dropped. It would have given Palmer figures of nine wickets for no run, but that wasn’t to happen. Laker edged a four off Palmer to fine-leg, and when he finally fell to Spencer for 14, Surrey had reached 77, and Palmer had finished with the incredible figures of 14-12-7-8, seven of them bowled. While returning to the dressing-room, he popped into the Surrey dressing-room, and with an almost angelic smile, uttered “sorry, gentlemen” almost apologetically.
Leicestershire ended the day with 12 without loss, but Bedser swung the ball prodigiously the next morning, and removed both openers, reducing them to 21 for two. Maurice Tompkin and Palmer put their heads together, and both scored fifties — before Bedser accounted for both.
Tompkin eventually scored exactly fifty, while Palmer went on to top-score with 64. However, they were two of the three batsmen to reach double figures (Jack Walsh was the other one, scoring 20), and from 98 for two Leicestershire collapsed to 165. Bedser led the rout, picking up six for 53, while Lock picked up four for 41 — giving him match figures of 10 for 78.
Though Surrey lost Fletcher early, Clark and May saw themselves in, and ended the day at 77 for one. Clark fell for 44 the next morning, but May (84) and Constable (49 not out) guided Surrey to victory by seven wickets. Palmer bowled accurately once again, finishing with 13-12-1-0 — with match figures of 27-24-8-8.
Leicestershire 114 (Tony Lock 6 for 37) and 165 (Charlie Palmer 64, Maurice Tompkin 50; Alec Bedser 6 for 53, Tony Lock 4 for 41) lost to Surrey (Charlie Palmer 8 for 7) and 203 for 3 (Peter May 84, Bernard Constable 49 not out, Tom Clark 44) by 7 wickets.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/