Yet another tall tale by Dickie Bird (left), though Arthur Jepson might have had a role to play in it © Getty Images
Yet another tall tale by Dickie Bird (left), though Arthur Jepson might have had a role to play in it © Getty Images

Wally Hammond and Charlie Barnett tore the Nottinghamshire attack to shreds on July 4, 1946. Unfortunately, like several other incidents, this one was probably yet another tall tale by Dickie Bird, albeit with some hand from Arthur Jepson. Abhishek Mukherjee elaborates.

Dickie Bird probably has the largest repertoire of anecdotes. Of course, he did not take up umpiring at First-Class level before 1970. One of his colleagues was Arthur Jepson, who stood till 1984 following a moderately successful career as a Nottinghamshire fast-medium bowler (1,051 wickets at 29).

Jepson also stood in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs), and even in World Cup 1975, so he was no mean umpire. Bird starts his story with “He [Jepson] told me this story about a match he played in Gloucestershire at Bristol. He said ‘It’s a true story, Dickie, because I bowled at Hammond, so I know it’s true.’”

Bird has used almost the same version of the story in Dickie Bird — Autobiography and The Wit of Cricket. So far, so good: I felt I was in for a treat.

The story

Hammond won the toss and approached Charlie Barnett: “I want you to go first.”

Barnett, no mean cricketer himself (25,388 runs at 33, 394 wickets at 31, a tally of 20 Tests on the either side of The War), was not happy. He was, after all, a batting all-rounder. He responded with “I’m not going in first. I’ll go in at number three when the shine’s off the ball.”

Hammond was indignant: “I’m captain. If you don’t open the innings, you can go home.”

Following a small argument, Barnett walked out to bat and clobbered everyone across the ground, Jepson included. He fell for 99, last ball before lunch, and met Hammond. The response was somewhat expected: “That’s how you bat, you so-and-so.”

Let me take the liberty to quote the rest from Bird’s own account: “After lunch Hammond went in at number three and between lunch and tea — Arthur Jepson told me he bowled at him all afternoon —Walter Hammond scored more than 200. He came into the pavilion at teatime and he said to Charlie Barnett, ‘That’s how you bat, Charlie. That’s how you bat.”

It would have been a remarkable story involving a remarkable man — one of the champions of all time. Had it been in real, that is.

The facts

Was this story true? Let us find out.

Barnett had played Nottinghamshire 23 times, in which he had batted 34 times. In only eight of these did he go past fifty (we are ignoring the ‘99’ bit as of now); this also included four hundreds.

There was a problem, though: while Barnett played from 1927, Jepson’s career did not start before 1938. The only time Barnett hit a fifty against Jepson was at Bristol in 1946 (the venue matches). Let us delve a bit into this match.

No, Hammond did not win the toss. Nottinghamshire batted first and ended Day One on 397 for 7 before being bowled out for 468 on Day Two. Barnett indeed opened the innings and scored a quickfire 210-minute 171 (104 of these came in boundaries). The score read 294 when he got out, so the bowlers — Jepson included — probably got a bit of pasting.

As is evident, Barnett did not get out for 99. Neither was he the first to get out (Andy Wilson was), which meant Hammond did not come in to bat after Barnett got out. In fact, William Neale batted at No. 3.

Hammond walked out at 294 for 2, and Gloucestershire finished the day on 453 for 5. The great man had scored 97 of these 159. He certainly did not score 200 in a session.

Could Hammond have said those words? It seems unlikely, for he was still 74 short of Barnett’s score. There was no reason for the man to have come up with the line in question at this point.

Hammond declared with the score on 643 for 5 next morning with his own score on 211. The hosts had accumulated 349 while Hammond was around. While Barnett had scored 58% of his team’s runs during his stay, Hammond had 60% during his.

In other words, it was certainly not a difference significant enough to create an impact. That particular sentence, however emphatic, does not seem very likely.

All in all, it was almost certainly an exaggeration on the part of Bird or Jepson or both.

Oh, as for the match, Nottinghamshire played out time, finishing on 168 for 2.

Brief scores:

Nottinghamshire 467 (Charles Harris 51, Tom Reddick 84, Joe Hardstaff jr 113, Harry Winrow 77*; George Lambert 5 for 109) and 168 for 2 (Walter Keeton 100*) drew with Gloucestershire 643 for 5 decl. (Charlie Barnett 171, Andy Wilson 65, Wally Hammond 211*, Basil Allen 41, George Emmett 81*; George Heane 3 for 144).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)s