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Following his two hundreds and six for 70, George Hirst picked up five more wickets on August 29, 1906, at Bath. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a unique feat achieved en route to another.
A trick question made rounds at the English pubs at the turn of the 20th century: “Who is the best all-rounder in the world?”
The answer was a bit complicated: “I don’t know, but he bats right-handed, bowls left-handed, and comes from Kirkheaton.” The definition, of course, was applicable to two legends of the sport, who remain the only ones (other than WG Grace) to have scored 25,000 runs and have taken 2,500 wickets in First-Class cricket.
In 1,110 First-Class matches, Wilfred Rhodes had scored 39,969 runs at 30.81 and had picked up 4,204 wickets at 16.72. Hirst, on the other hand, had scored 36,356 runs at 34.13 and had accounted for 2,742 wickets at 18.73. There was little to choose from the two men, who often batted and bowled in tandem, and when in action together, turned out to be a menace for the opposition.
Both champions played in that Championship match against Somerset at Bath. Despite an excellent all-round performance, Rhodes’s display could come nowhere close to what Hirst managed to achieve over those three days at Bath.
Both captains had pulled out of the match. For Yorkshire, Lord Hawke had been taken ill while the Somerset captain Sammy Woods had injured his legs. Ernest Smith and Lionel Palairet, their respective deputies, had taken over.
Yorkshire were the defending champions, but had already lost the title to Kent in their previous match when they had gone down to Gloucestershire by one run at Bristol. It would be Kent’s first Championship title.
The match at Bath was supposed to be their last match of the season. Smith won the toss and decided to take first strike.
Act One: The first hundred
Len Braund, that champion fast bowler, started with the new ball, and John Tunnicliffe hit one back to him almost immediately. David Denton joined Rhodes, and immediately the two settled down into a partnership. Soon they began to accelerate and added 102 in 55 minutes before both fell in quick succession, Rhodes for 64 and Denton for 67. Yorkshire were 161 for three when Hirst walked out to join Tom Taylor.
Runs came at a breakneck pace once the duo had settled down. Hirst added 64 with Taylor and 83 with Horace Rudston, of which the latter contributed only 21. Hirst was sixth out, scoring 111 in 155 minutes. He had scored these runs out of 157 scored during his stay at the wicket.
Once Hirst departed Braund, now bowling leg-breaks in tandem with the rather exotically named right-arm slow bowler Osbert Cautley Mordaunt reduced Yorkshire to 347 for eight at stumps. 20 minutes into Day Two they were bowled out for 368, Braund picking up six for 125 and Moradaunt three for 71.
Act Two: The first five-for
William Ringrose gave Yorkshire the first breakthrough, clean bowling Henry Martyn. Hirst responded immediately, hitting the timber of Talbot Lewis. Somerset were 18 for two and in trouble.
Randall Johnson and Braund put up a resistance of sorts before they were bowled by Rhodes and Hirst in quick succession. Palairet was the only one to offer resistance of some sort, coming out at 62 for three and leaving at 103 for seven, scoring 31 runs before being bowled by Hirst, who had also accounted for Ernie Robson.
With Rhodes picking up wickets at the other end Hirst ran through the tail, clean bowling Mordaunt and Alfred Bailey in successive balls to finish things off. He finished with six for 70 and Rhodes with three for 28; Somerset were bowled out for 125, 243 in arrears.
Act Three: The second hundred
With the weather being “extremely hot” Smith did not enforce the follow-on. With two hours left in the day Tunnicliffe and Rhodes began at a brisk pace, adding 78 in 45 minutes before Bailey had the former caught by Braund for 38. Smith promoted Hirst to three, possibly to help the great man reach the 2,000-mark in the season (he was on 1,948 before the innings), and all hell broke loose.
The Glasgow Herald called it “batting of a brilliant description without any serious blemishes.” Hirst duly reached the coveted mark for the third consecutive season (he had scored 2,501 in 1904 and 2,266 in 1905). The pair hit out mercilessly at the Somerset bowlers — Braund included — and managed to add 202 runs by stumps in 75 minutes.
Hirst dominated the partnership, remaining unbeaten on 117 while Rhodes scored 115. In the process, Hirst had become only the second Yorkshireman to have scored two centuries in a match, the first being Denton, who had scored 107 and 109 not out against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge a shade over two months back.
“Towards the close the cricket became a little farcical,” wrote The Glasgow Herald. With the lead well past 450 Palairet asked his wicketkeeper Martyn to bowl over while he himself kept wickets without putting his pad on. As Martyn finished his over, Palairet continued from the other end. Frank Phillips also bowled, and the two made merry, reaching to 280 for one in two hours before stumps.
Act Four: The second five-for
“There was a tame finish to the match at Bath yesterday, Somerset giving an inglorious display,” began The Glasgow Herald the next morning. After Smith had declared overnight and set the hosts an impossible 524 to score in a single day the only point of interest was Hirst’s performance.
The previous season Bernard Bosanquet had scored 103 and 100 not out and had taken three for 75 and eight for 53, thus becoming the first player to score two hundreds and take ten wickets in the same match. Could Hirst go a step ahead and take two five-fors?
Hirst was on track from the beginning, clean bowling Johnson and Lewis. Braund, opening the batting, was bowled by Ringrose soon afterwards, and when Hirst bowled Phillips to reduce Somerset to 40 for four even survival looked distant.
Palairet put up a resistance to match his first-innings effort: he top-scored with a 75-minute 42 and added 47 with Martyn for the fifth wicket. It was then that Hirst had Martyn caught by (rather fittingly) Rhodes to give him his ten-for, and then had Palairet caught by Hunter to get the much-anticipated second five-for.
Schofield Haigh, who had bowled a single over in the first innings, came on to bowl Robson, and then, in the 39th over of the innings, finished things off by removing Hugh Poyntz, Mordaunt, and Bailey in the same over.
Somerset were bowled out for 134, nine more than their first-innings effort, and lost the match by a colossal 389 runs. They actually scored only 31 more than what Hirst had scored on his own, despite getting out only once in the match.
Yorkshire 368 (George Hirst 111, David Denton 67, Wilfred Rhodes 64, Tom Taylor 41; Len Braund 6 for 125, Osbert Mordaunt 3 for 71) and 280 for 1 decl. (George Hirst 117*, Wilfred Rhodes 115*) beat Somerset 125 (George Hirst 6 for 70, Wilfred Rhodes 3 for 28) and 134 (Lionel Palairet 42; George Hirst 5 for 45, Schofield Haigh 4 for 11) by 389 runs.
(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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