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George Headley scores back-to-the-wall 223 in timeless Test against England in 1929-30

George Headley amassed © Getty Images
George Headley amassed 223 runs against England at Kingston in 1929-30 © Getty Images (File Photo)

April 10, 1930. George Headley engaged in a single-handed battle against the England side, in an effort to get to an impossible target of 826. He took his score to 223, and at one point of time it seemed that the miracle would be possible. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the timeless Test match at Jamaica which ended in a mutually agreed draw.

Being at two places at the same time

January 1930. There were plenty of oddities surrounding the cricket played by England.

Maurice Allom produced an incredible over on the first day of the Test match at Lancaster Park, Christchurch. The debutant medium pacer from Surrey skittled out four New Zealanders in the space of five balls. As he completed his hat-trick, he was watched from the stands by Hugh Trumble, that famous Australian off-spinner who had himself scalped two hat-tricks during the early days of the century.

The second day of the three-day Test match was washed away by rain, but Harold Gilligan’s Englishmen still managed to win the match by some distance and plenty of time to spare.

And as the players waited for the rain to stop on the second day, on another side of the globe another England team began the first Test match against West Indies. At Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Hon. Freddie Calthorpe led a second England side in a five-day Test against West Indies. And he found the home team comprising of George Headley, Learie Constantine, Derek Sealy, Clifford Roach and Hermann Griffith, considerably more formidable than the New Zealanders.

Gilligan and his men — KS Duleepsinhji, Frank Woolley, Allom, Maurice Nichols, Stan Worthington and the others — winded up operations on the third day. However, George Gunn, Patsy Hendren, Les Ames, Andy Sandham, Bill Voce, Wilfred Rhodes and the rest of them did not have it so easy in the Caribbean. They had to carry on for three more days, trading largely equal blows before being sent on a leather hunt by a brilliant 176 by George Headley. The match ended in a draw.

Both the series involved four Tests, but the dates of the subsequent matches in the two distant parts of the world did not coincide. The Christchurch and Bridgetown games remain the only instance in the history of Test cricket when the same country played two Test matches on the same days.

The biggest thorn in England’s side

By the time Calthorpe’s men were engaged in the timeless fourth Test match at Kingston, Jamaica, Gilligan’s cricketers were returning to England, passing close by through the Panama Canal.

Headley’s father had been one of the hands behind the construction of the Panama Canal. Both he and his wife dreamed of their son going to the United States to study dentistry. Hence, at the age of 10, Headley was sent to Jamaica, to be educated in English and not in the Spanish of his native Panama.

But, the wide-eyed kid in a strange new land was captured by cricket, and the game never let him go from its clutches. He still wore his short trousers on the playing field when he emerged into serious club cricket.

His career would not have taken off had he received his papers in time. Having migrated to the United States, Headley’s parents had sent across the required documents for Headley to come over and join them in that cricket agnostic land of opportunities and spend a lifetime filling cavities. Fortunately, for the history of the islands and the game of cricket, the post was delayed. And Headley was allowed to discover his mission in life.

When Hon. LH Tennyson’s XI visited the islands in 1928-29, Headley was included in the Jamaican side. Against an attack spearheaded by the mercurial Northamptonshire paceman, Nobby Clark, the 18-year old scored 16, 71, 211, 40 and 71. Later Julian Cahn brought his team to West Indies, complete with bowlers of the quality of Stan Nichols, Jack Mercer and Ewart Astill. Headley, not yet 20, started with 57 for Jamaica and ended with 143 for a West Indian XI.

By the time Calthorpe’s men were in the islands, Headley was an automatic choice. To put this in perspective we have to remember that the islands were yet to have a domestic competition. There was no centralised administration, and for each venue a different selection panel and a different captain were appointed. As many as 28 players turned out for West Indies in the four-Test rubber. Along with Clifford Roach, Headley was the only one to play all the Tests. He scored 21 and 176 on debut at Barbados, failed at Trinidad with eight and 39, roared back with 114 and 112 in a big win at Guyana.

And then there was the timeless Test at Jamaica.

The English hero

With the series tied 1-1, the administrators decided to play the match to finish. Ultimately, even a promise of eternity proved insufficient.

However, the Test started with the deeds of another hero — a considerably less likely one. The 39-year-old Andy Sandham batted for ten hours and scored the first triple hundred in Test cricket. Only, there was yet confusion about the official status of the game and Sandham got to know about his feat with certainty quite some time after Don Bradman had hammered 334 at Leeds that summer.

Veteran as he was, Sandham was quite a slip of a lad compared to the man who partnered him at the top of the innings. George Gunn, the Nottinghamshire great, was 50, and the two put on 173 for the first wicket. When Gunn was out stumped off Freddie Martin after jumping out rather carelessly, Sandham was not too pleased with the effort. It would have been quite a landmark for a man of Gunn’s age to score a hundred. However, Gunn was rather prophetic in his reply: “I thought if one of us didn’t get out we wouldn’t catch the boat home!” The ship was not due to sail for another 10 days, but in the end that eventuality almost came true.

Sandham played with a bat borrowed from the captain. All his spare bats had been sold during the tour, and a big crack had split the middle of his favoured one. The willow Clathorpe lent him had a long handle, not one Sandham would have preferred. But he soldiered on with it.

He finished the first day on 151 and batted through the second. The bowling was not really the main threat he had to deal with. The major challenge came from young Les Ames who hit a sparkling 149 at the other end. Being called for a quick single too many times, Sandham called the youthful stumper over and said, “Now look here, it’s all right for you but I’ve been in for hours and I’m in my 40th year.” Besides, his age, Sandham was handicapped by boots borrowed from Patsy Hendren. One of them kept slipping off as he took his runs.

On the third morning, when Sandham played on to Herman Griffith for 325, he was actually relieved. His innings contained a seven, a five and 27 boundaries.

England were finally bowled out for 849, with the local leg-spinner Tommy Scott picking up five for 266 from 80.2 overs.

When West Indies batted, it was one of the rare innings in which Headley failed. Almost in the aftershock of this stunning event, the home batsmen faltered and collapsed for 286. With a lead of 563, Calthorpe could have made West Indies follow on — perhaps several times if rules allowed . But with the guarantee of unlimited time, he decided to bat again.

Sandham was still suffering from the rigours of his first innings exertions. Hence, Calthorpe asked Bob Wyatt to go in first with Gunn and held the Surrey batsman back to No 7. However, he did not get his prolonged rest. The English batsmen could not match their feat in the first innings and were soon 176 for five. Sandham had to guide the lower order, spanking 50 off 62 balls before falling to Griffith once again. The 375 runs in the match stood as a Test record for 44 years until Greg Chappell went past him in 1974. The second innings total was 272, leaving West Indies 836 to win.

And then there was Headley

It was a task way beyond impossible. But, people forgot to tell Headley. He came in at the fall of the first wicket at 44, and ended the sixth day of the match undefeated on 117. The hosts were 234 for one. Captain Karl Nunes was unbeaten on 78.

The following day, April 10, 1930, saw the great man bat through almost the entire day. He lost Nunes early on for 92, and the others did not really get among the runs, but this champion looked like making all the runs himself. On that placid wicket, there was not much the England bowlers could do rather than keep running in while hoping for the best.

Headley proceeded to drive, cut and pull with grace and poise, batting six and a half hours and bringing up his double-hundred. As he batted on, the result of the match was no longer a forgone conclusion. In fact, as West Indies moved past 300 with just two wickets down, and then neared 400 for the loss of three, they were very much in with a chance. They lacked a batsman of quality apart from Headley, but that man looked likely to bat for ever.

It was towards the very end of the seventh day’s play that he stepped out to the occasional bowling of Bob Wyatt and was stumped by Ames for 223. He walked back at 397 for four, having hit 28 boundaries in his innings.

By the end of the day, Wyatt had claimed another wicket, Martin caught by Sandham. West Indies were at 404 for five at stumps, with two more days to go before their boat left for home on April 13.

The elements – the game’s presiding geniuses

But, by the next morning it was pouring down. With a 400 run cushion and Headley back in the pavilion, the England team looked poised to win. The 20-year-old Nottinghamshire pacer Bill Voce was perhaps raring to go, although as yet without a wicket in the second innings. So, also may have been 40-year-old Hendren, still a regular member of the main England side. But, it is debatable whether the likes of Gunn, Sandham, the 37-year-old Calthorpe himself, the pair of 42-year-olds in Nigel Haig and Ewart Astill and lastly, the 52-year-old Wilfred Rhodes really wanted to go in there again. The match had already been played for over a week.

In any case, it rained for two days on the trot. And on April 13, England had no option but to depart on the boat. The captains, Calthorpe and Nunes, agreed to call it a draw.

It was the first ever Test to be drawn by mutual agreement. The next Test to suffer the same fate was at Durban in 1939 when England again had to catch their boat while poised at 654 for five after Day 10, only 42 runs away from the colossal target of 696.

Brief scores:

England 849 (George Gunn 85, Andy Sandham 325, Bob Wyatt 58, Patsy Hendren 61, Les Ames 149, Jack O’Connor 51; Tommy Scott 5 for 266) and 272 (Patsy Hendren 55, Andy Sandham 50; Tommy Scott 4 for 108) drew with West Indies 286 (Karl Nunes 66, Charles Passailaigue 44; Niegel Haigg 3 for 73) and 408 for 5 (Karl Nunes 92, George Headley 223; Bob Wyatt 2 for 58).

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed

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