On September 13, 1983, Steve O’Shaughnessy equalled a 63-year-old record of Percy Fender for scoring the fastest century — off 35 minutes. O’Shaughnessy’s ton was recognised as the fastest ton by the organisers of the Walter Lawrence Trophy. Wisden however didn’t recognise the knock since it would mislead the people as it was played under farcical circumstances. Sarang Bhalerao goes into the rewind mode.
It was the final day of the 1983 season in England. In the game between Lancashire and Leicestershire only one result was possible: a draw. That was because the three-day game at Old Trafford commenced on the second day afternoon at 3.30 pm. Continuous showers ensured that a substantial amount of time was already lost.
Leicestershire won the toss and chose to bowl first. Lancashire lost Steve O’Shaughnessy for three. Frank Hayes (11), Clive Lloyd (24), John Abrahams (7), David Hughes (0) and Neil Fairbrother (4) failed to get a substantial score. Graeme Fowler, the England opener, top-scored with 85. At the end of the second day, Lancashire were 187 for seven.
Jack Simmons and wicketkeeper John Stanworth put 79 for the eighth wicket. On the final day, Lancashire were all-out for 236 with Zimbabwean Paddy Clift picking up five for 73. Nick Cook, who played Test cricket for England, got three scalps. The innings got over just before noon on Day Three. Leicestershire fielders were running through the overs as they were in danger of getting fined for their slow over-rate: a perennial problem throughout the 1983 season. Their over-rate was 26 during the last hour of the Lancashire innings.
Both the sides would have forfeited the game and made the game alive but since Leicestershire were in need of only one batting point to take up fourth position, they decided to bat on. The visitors consumed 44 overs to score 150 runs and that ensured that Leicestershire got the batting point. With just about three hours remaining in the game, Leicestershire skipper Roger Tolchard declared the innings. With this decision, Tolchard passed the ball onto Lancashire’s court. He had yet another chance of improving the county’s season over-rate. What the declaration did was it encouraged Lancashire to go for the quick runs and possibly set a target for Leicestershire.
When Lancashire openers O’Shaughnessy and Fowler walked out to bat they were confronted with the challenge of facing David Gower and James Whittaker. The non-regular bowlers bowled a barrage of loose deliveries. The full-tosses and long-hops became a regularity. O’Shaughnessy stuck Gower into the second tier of the pavilion. Fowler smashed Whittaker for three consecutive sixes and the run-rate was increasing exponentially. ESPNCricinfo’s Martin Williamson wrote, “In the 35 minutes before tea, Lancashire raced to 190 for 0. Fowler hit 10 sixes (these were successive scoring shots, also a world record) and five fours in making 100 shortly after the break; O’Shaughnessy, who brought up his own milestone by cutting Gower for four from the last ball before the interval, struck five sixes and 17 fours. ‘With a semi-embarrassed wave of his bat,’ Wisden Cricket Monthly noted, ‘he acknowledged the applause of the crowd of some 400 spectators.’”
Gower was pounded for 102 runs from the nine overs while Whittaker went for 87 from his eight that included a maiden over as well. The mayhem was just a result of the farce and there was no declaration by tea from Lancashire who were making merry. After tea Leicestershire employed the regular bowlers John Steele and Chris Balderstone. O’Shaughnessy was dismissed eight minutes after the tea interval, stumped by Tolchard off the bowling of Balderstone. Fowler was dismissed in Balderstone’s next over for 100. He got to his century off 45 minutes. John Stanworth was bowled for four by Les Taylor. Soon after that bad light stopped play. It started to rain a few minutes later and the match got over.
O’Shaughnessy’s ton was recognised as the fastest ton by the organisers of the Walter Lawrence Trophy. Wisden however didn’t recognise the knock since it would mislead the people as it was played under farcical circumstances. Percy Fender’s record remains in the book whereas O’Shaughnessy’s record is reduced to a footnote under the heading “contrived circumstances”.
To O’Shaughnessy’s surprise he found a telegraph waiting for him at Old Trafford the following day from none other than Fender. He wrote: “Congratulations on equalling my 63-year-old record. Fender.”
Only two days later, the two record holders met. Martin Williamson wrote in Wisden Cricket Monthly: “O’Shaughnessy travelled south to meet Fender at his Horsham home where the two chatted. As he was about to leave, Fender, who was by then blind, asked to feel the bat O’Shaughnessy had used. ‘Thank you,’ he said as he stroked it. ‘It was very good of you to come all this way to give it to me.’
Fender was making the remark in jest.
O’Shaughnessy played in 112 First-Class games. He scored 3,720 runs at 24.31 with five tons. He also has 114 wickets to his name. His claim to fame remains the 35-minute century.
Lancashire 236 (Graeme Fowler 85, Jack Simmons 57; Percy Clift 5 for 73) and 214 for 3 (Graeme Fowler 100, Steve O’Shaughnessy 105) drew with Leicestershire 150 for 4 decl. (David Goweer 56; Jack Simmons 2 for 51).
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)