Gilbert Jessop smashed an excellent Yorkshire attack and smashed both his centuries of the game before lunch © Getty Images
July 25, 1900. One of the most devastatingly attacking batsmen of all time, Gilbert Jessop, scored a century before lunch for Gloucestershire in just 70 minutes. The very next day, he did so again, this time in 59 minutes. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the two days of carnage that took place against an excellent Yorkshire attack at Bradford.
Hurtling along at eighty runs an hour
As his five foot, seven inch frame bent down in the low crouching stance, he could have been mistaken for one of nature’s incorrigible stone-wallers. Yet, transformation took place as soon as the ball was released.He erupted like a quantum of uncoiled energy, leaping out as if on spring to the fastest of bowlers. He drove them mercilessly, always hard and often high, forcing them to shorten the length; and then would cut and pull with the same heartless brutality.
“Gilbert Jessop was a force of nature, not to be accounted for in terms of cricketing talent. Nature breaks the mould in which her wonders are made. There will be no second Gilbert Jessop, the ‘Croucher’,” wrote Neville Cardus in The Manchester Guardian. In Close of Play, he spoke about the way his aura preceded him to the wicket: “The sight of Jessop merely going forth to bat would cause a cricket crowd to wonder what on earth was about to happen to the game. Before he had walked purposefully half-way to the wicket, four fieldsmen were to be seen journeying to far-flung positions, going there as though by instinct and not official direction.”
Jessop’s biographer Gerald Brodribb analysed that in the days when overs were quicker, WG Grace and Len Hutton scored at a cautious 36 runs an hour, Jack Hobbs, Clem Hill and Wally Hammond at 43, Denis Compton, Don Bradman and Archie MacLaren at 47. In contrast, Jessop’s 179 half-centuries in First-Class cricket came at 79 runs per hour and his 53 centuries even quicker, at 83 runs per hour!
For Gloucestershire, he reached his century within an hour on as many as a dozen occasions, the fastest being the famed Harrogate hundred against Yorkshire in 1897, notched in just 40 minutes. His highest score of 286 was made in 170 minutes out of a total of 355, the 200 coming up in two hours during a spectacular Whit Monday in 1903. It is too bad that the number of balls were seldom tracked in those old days, but the frequency and ferocity of Jessop’s hits redefined the parameters of time and distance that governed the game.
In many of his innings he would have scored much more had the present law for sixes held good. In his days, sending the ball over the ropes got only a boundary, while a six registered in the rare event ofthe ball being hit out of the ground. During his 191 at Hastings in 1907, for instance, he hit five legitimate sixes, along with 11 other balls he sent over the boundary line. In the modern day, this would have added up to 213.
His furiously fast knocks kindled the imaginations of many, producing more than the lyrical prose of Cardus. The 1902 epic at The Oval, which won England the Test match from the realm of hopelessness, incited a remarkable piece of poetic effusion from Harry Dutton. Told in manner and metre of Lord Macaulay relating the prowess of Horatius against the Romans, it ran: “To every corner of the green/ He drove with mighty power/ And turned despair to hopefulness/ In one brief fleeting hour.” When Jessop travelled to America with Plum Warner’s side in 1897, a local poet, Ralph Paine, was inspired to describe him as: “…the human catapult who wrecks the roofs of distant towns when set in his assault.” More than a hundred years later, he was still stimulating the literary world — his exploits even ending up in a mystery novella.
Serial murder of bowling
It was in 1900 that Jessop took over the captaincy of Gloucestershire, from the august hands of WG Grace. And he proceeded to enjoy one of his best seasons with the bat. It was also the most prolific season for him with the ball. He captured as many as 104 wickets with his fast bowling which at times could be genuinely quick.Yes, this remarkable man was an all-rounder and also the best cover-point in the world.
The most glorious performance of his brilliant summer was produced against Yorkshire at Bradford. Jessop had already hit mid-season form in early June. At Hove against Sussex, he had plundered 179 from 105 minutes out of the 257 scored while at the crease. He had looked set to score many more when one of his furious lofts off KS Ranjitsinhji was caught on the boundary line at long on.
Ten days later, he had scored his first ever hundred at Lord’s, a scintillating 109 against the Middlesex bowling of JT Hearne, Albert Trott, William Roche and Billy Williams. He had reached 51 in 30 minutes, 100 on the stroke ofthe hour and the 109 came out of 120 that were added during the 67 minutes he spent at the crease. The Bristol Times and Mirror reported, “As was the case when he made his big score of 179 at Brighton, he made a target of the permanent buildings on the ground. Twice he hit balls into the pavilion, twice into the covered stand at the opposite end of the enclosure, while he had several shots at the windows of the hotels and the members dining room.” All these huge hits were unfortunately scored as four, since to hit a six he had to send the ball into St John’s Wood Road or thereabouts.
Stacy Aumonier, short story writer of the day, tells of the American gentleman who had come to the ground for forty minutes, seeking instruction in the basics cricket, and had gone away fully convinced that the noble game involved far more fireworks than baseball. Jessop batted again in the second innings of that match, helping to chase down 224 for victory, rattling a rather sedate 58 in 37 minutes.
Yet, it was at Bradford that one saw Jessop reaching the zenith of that amazing summer. Yorkshire, the champions of the season, did not lose a match that year, but this game was when they came closest.
Early morning massacres
It was a supremely strong side led by Lord Hawke that met Gloucestershire at their home ground. By the end of the first day, the match could not have been more one sided.
The great all-rounder George Hirst cruised to 111 and Test batsman David Denton got 85 as the Yorkshiremen piled up 409. And late in the final session, the prodigiously talented young left-arm spinner Wilfred Rhodes struck three crippling blows to leave Gloucestershire on nine for three.
On the following morning, Charlie Townsend and Noel Tagart fought back before both being dismissed at the same score. It was at 77 for five when Jessop walked in.
Hirst, Rhodes and Schofield Haigh combined to form one of the strongest bowling attacks in England. Initially, Jessop did ride on his luck while racing to 50 in 40 minutes. Hirst was hit deep into the crowd, for which he got only four. Rhodes was lofted straight over the football stand. It was only during lunch that it was announced that six would be awarded for the stroke.
He went on to make 104 out of the 153 scored with him was at the crease, the runs rattled in just 70 minutes — all of it during the morning session. It was a fantastic counter-attacking century before lunch, but more was to follow.
After Jessop departed, seventh out at 230, the rest of the batsmen could add just 39. Rhodes finished with incredible figures of eight for 72.
Jessop proceeded to field brilliantly as Yorkshire batted a second time. And, spurred on by the example set by the captain, the rest of the side threw themselves around. Yorkshire found runs difficult to come by and were restricted to 187, with Hirst scoring another impressive 92. It left Gloucestershire 328 to win, and before the close of the Day Two, Rhodes had struck again to reduce them to 13 for one.
The following morning, the final day of the match, Rhodes and Haigh kept striking blows. One after another the Gloucestershire batsmen kept tracing their paths back to the pavilion. Jessop walked in at 69 for four, the target almost an impossibility on the horizon. And he blazed away from the start.
He began by striking Rhodes over the football stand, the biggest hit of the match. It took a considerable while for the ball to be retrieved. A single ball of quiet interlude followed before the stroke was repeated, as high, as hard, as handsome and almost as huge. Twice the ball had gone out of the ground, twice hands had been raised to demonstrated the unusual sign of six. Jessop drove the next ball for two before dispatching the last for four. Eighteen resulted from the over.
A flurry of fours followed off both Rhodes and Haigh. The fifty was notched out of the 60 runs scored, in just 25 minutes.And then Jessop lofted Rhodes out of the ground again, the ball ricocheting from the bottom part of the wall of a nearby park. In the next over from Rhodes, he cleared the football stand again, and two balls later repeated it for his fifth six.
In contrast to all this carnage, the hundred was reached with a sedate single, the landmark raised in 59 minutes.It was the second time in the match that Jessop had brought up his hundred before lunch.
A period of singles and twos followed, and at 106 he was missed in the infield. It perhaps reminded Jessop of the dangers of caution. He immediately hit Haigh to the top of the football stand. The ball did not sail over it, but thudded back off the roof. Hence, he got just four runs for that enormous strike. Gloucestershire were zooming in on the target. With the score on 235, Rhodes was put on again. It was a gamble. Either the wily spinner would snare Jessop out, or the remaining runs would come in a violent cascade.
The first ball went for four, streaking through the off-side off a blistering cut. The second was driven, with massive power, and it shot straight over the clock of the football stand for six.
The third delivery was left alone, and the spectators waited in anticipation for the savage brutality that would counter-balance this moment of sanity. And the foreboding came true. The fourth ball pitched outside off, and Jessop drove mightily through the covers. The ball travelled in the air in a red blur of frenzy. It was caught, deep in the crowd, by a Yorkshire spectator in a top hat. But, only four runs were awarded.
This must have jarred with Jessop. He took no chance of such low returns off the next delivery — sending it screaming over the football stand once again. Twenty runs had come off the five balls. The score stood at 255 for six. Lord Hawke was at the end of his wits. At this rate another three overs would be enough for the hitter to win it for his team.
Rhodes ran in again and Jessop lofted once again, the ball sailed high over long off …
And then there was John Tunnicliffe, nicknamed ‘Long John of Pudsey’, a giant of a man with arms that were endless and then some more. He covered ground like a greyhound on the boundary line, leapt high at his furthest stretch and clutched it one-handed. Jessop was out. No other man in England would have caught that.
The 139 had galloped in 95 minutes, ten of which had been spent in recovering the ball. His runs had come in torrents — and according to Brodribb, the sequence of his run-making strokes had been: 1,1,6,6,2,4,1,4,3,2,4,4,4,4,4,2,2,3,6,1,1,6,4,6,2,2,1,4,2,2,4,1,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,1,4,4,2,4,6,4,6.
The chance at 106 had been his only mishit. The hurtling ferocity had somehow not come at the cost of safety.
Teammate Townsend later wrote, “I shall never forget the roar of the Yorkshire crowd when Jessop was in. In looking back, I think perhaps this was the most thrilling game I ever played in.”
Autopsy of the Murder
With Jessop back in the pavilion, Rhodes and Haigh made short work of the remaining batsmen. The Gloucestershire innings ended at 287, the visiting side losing by 40 runs. It could have perhaps been a bit closer had Harry Wrathall not suddenly gone wild during the lunch interval. For some unknown reason, this middle-order batsman suddenly started chasing the Gloucestershire lower-order around the table, upsetting Arthur Paish badly enough for the batsman to be bowled by Rhodes almost immediately after walking out to bat.
Wisden notes that in all Jessop cleared the ropes more than 20 times during the innings, although only seven of them were registered as sixes. Under the present rules, it would have still stood as the world record for number of sixes in a First-Class innings.
Old score books tell us that in the innings Jessop scored 76 runs off the 27 balls from Wilfred Rhodes. The sequence ran 0 6 0 6 2 4 0 4 3 4 4 0 0 6 1 0 6 0 4 0 6 4 6 0 4 6 W.
Never before or later was the great left-arm spinner clobbered in this way in his long career. To put the demolition in perspective, we need to remember that Rhodes topped the bowling charts that year with 261 wickets at 13.81 apiece.
Jessop scored two centuries in a match three more times in his career. For someone who took as many apparent chances with the bat, this statistic comes as more than a surprise.
At the end of the game, Charles Townsend got hold of the ball and presented it to Jessop girdled with a sliver band with the simple legend ‘Yorkshire v. Gloucestershire, July 24, 1900, 104 and 139’.
As he left the ground at Bradford and was making his way to the station with his cricket bag, Jessop met a couple of young men evidently returning from some local cricket match. One of them sidled up to the Gloucestershire captain and said, “Ay, mister, let’s roob ma bag agin yourn fur look.” Stripped off the Yorkshire accent, it meant, “Let’s rub my bag against yours for luck.” And he was not satisfied until he had ‘roobed’ the two bags together. “I hope it brought him luck,” Jessop remarked later.
Yorkshire 409 (David Denton 85, Tom Taylor 85, George Hirst 111; Arthur Paish 4 for 154) and 187 (George Hirst 92; Charlie Townsend 4 for 58) beat Gloucestershire 269 (Charlie Townsend 42, Harry Wrathall 42, Gilbert Jessop 104; Wilfred Rhodes 8 for 72) and 287 (Gilbert Jessop 139, Francis Bateman-Champain 53; Wilfred Rhodes 6 for 120, Schofield Haigh 4 for 114) by 40 runs.
(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 on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)