Ted Alletson © Getty Images
Ted Alletson © Getty Images

On May 20, 1911 Ted Alletson scored 189 in 90 minutes against Sussex at Hove. Since lunch he had scored 142 in 40 minutes, which included the time lost when five separate balls had soared outside the stadium, and the balls were never retrieved. If one assigns about 3 minutes to every lost ball, then — well  we can do the arithmetic! Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at what he feels is arguably the greatest onslaught by a tailender in the history of the sport.

Throughout its illustrious history, cricket has witnessed numerous acts of glory: some have been acts of magic, spinning a web of mystique to mesmerise the opposition and spectators all alike; some have been sheer lazy elegance, generating oohs and aahs from everyone, making them smile at their stare at each other and nod; some others have been hours of toil under the hot Sun, finally resulting in a long-awaited, well-deserved success.

And then there were the explosives. Amidst the cellos and pianos, the paintbrush and the chisel, the hammer and the tongs, there has been the Molotov Cocktails, lethal enough to ransack oppositions, devastate their psyche, and make them surrender through brute force.

Alletson’s 189 was one such innings. It was an innings that even today’s generation, brought up on IPL, will find hard to come to terms to. What made it even more unbelievable was the fact that Alletson batted at No. 9, and when he came out to bat, his side had marginally avoided innings defeat, and was on the verge of being bowled out.
The first 27 wickets

Arthur Jones won the toss and elected to bat. Though Nottinghamshire lost James Iremonger for a duck to Albert Relf, Jones settled down with George Gunn, who played some glorious strokes. The pair added 89 for the second wicket before Jones fell for 57. Gunn eventually scored a dominant 90. Nottinghamshire fell to build on the advantage, though, as Sussex’s slow-medium paced bowler Ernest ‘Tim’ Killick routed them for 238 with figures of 10.2-4-14-5.

Sussex replied strongly, with nine batsmen reaching double figures (seven of them went past 30); Killick top-scored with the bat as well with 81, whereas Joseph Vine and George Leach contributed with 77 and 52 respectively. Jones, William Riley, and Garnet Lee picked up 3 wickets apiece. Sussex finished with 414, 176 runs ahead. Alletson had injured his wrist, and could bowl only a solitary over.

Jones fell for a blob, but Iremonger (83) and George Gunn (66) put up a counterattacking partnership of 122. Nottinghamshire finished the day with 152 for 3, and as Day Three began, the Relf brothers, Alfred and Bob, made inroads into the Nottinghamshire line-up. From 127 for 1 they were reduced to 185 for 7, and though they had managed to evade an innings-defeat, the obvious result loomed on the horizon.

Alletson arrives

The injured Alletson took guard, and did not give the slightest indication of what was about to follow. Over the years he had built up a reputation as a ‘blocker’, not a ‘biffer’. He played on briskly till lunch, remaining unbeaten on 47 in 50 minutes, as he saw Lee (with whom he had added a delightful 73 runs in 40 minutes) and the wicket-keeper Thomas Oates walk back to the dressing-room. At lunch Nottinghamshire were 260 for 9, 84 runs ahead. Riley had just arrived at the crease, and the 10th wicket partnership had not yielded a single run. He had been scoring fast, but it wasn’t anything spectacular.

During lunch, Alletson had a small but significant conversation with his captain. When Jones told him, “I don’t think it matters what you do now, Ted”. Alletson responded with the words, “Then I’m not half going to give that Killick some stick.”

The carnage begins

Killick began the first over after lunch. Alletson blocked the first ball, and hit the next two for boundaries, bringing up his fifty in the process. He took a single, Riley saw the next one out, and kept the strike in the next ball. Alletson was on 56 now, and Nottinghamshire 270 for 9.

At the other end, Riley managed a single off Leach’s first ball. Alletson, followed this with 2, 4, 2, 0, and took a single off the last ball to retain strike. He was on 65, while his side had advanced to 280 for 9. Without taking any risk the last pair had managed to add 20 runs in 2 overs.

Killick was persisted with. Alletson sent one out of the ground, blocked the next, hit four, ran for two, hit another four, and finished the over with a second six. Killick had conceded 22, Alletson was suddenly on 87, and Nottinghamshire had managed to reach 302 for 9.

Leach managed to bowl a dot ball, but Riley took three off the next one. Alletson promptly hit a four, played out the next one, and then hit a six. A three off the last ball got him to his maiden hundred. Nottinghamshire were 318 for 9, and 58 had been added in the 4 overs since lunch.

The fun had just begun. Killick’s next over resulted in 4, 4, 0, 2, 1 by Alletson, and Riley played a dot ball. Then, as Leach continued from the other end, Alletson bashed him with 4, 6, 0, 4, 3, and Riley again played it out safely. The 2 overs had yielded 28, Alleston had rushed to 128, and Nottinghamshire were 346 for 9, with 86 having been scored off the last 6 overs.

On came Killick again. The first ball raced to the boundary, and the second flew over it — and so did the third. He mercifully let the next one go past harmlessly, and then hit 3 consecutive fours and a six. Killick had bowled 2 no-balls, and the eight-ball over resulted in 34 runs. Alleston was 162 now; Nottinghamshire had reached 380 for 9; 120 had been scored off 7 overs, of which Alletson had scored 115; and 34 was a new record for the most runs scored in an over, till Garry Sobers hit Malcolm Nash for 36 in a six-ball over.

The barrel-shouldered, deep-chested man all of almost 16 stones, with strong biceps that had probably originated from his days at the Nottinghamshire coal mines, had broken the shackles, and had come out of his image as a dour blocker: he was now on rampage, and was finally freeing his arms — all of 6 feet 6 inches between them — to the maximum effect. The strokes, though huge and powerful, were not unconventional: almost all of them came out of the MCC manual, and consistent of violent square-cuts and lofted strokes through the ‘V’.

His bat was unusually light, and weighed only 2 pounds 3 ounces. In John Arlott’s words, “It has extra thickening in the handle to give his great hands the big grip that satisfied them.”

Bob Relf later said: “Poor Tim was frightened to bowl at Ted… not because he minded punishment, but he was afraid he’d drive one back at him.” Killick himself said that he did not fear bowling to Alletson till the moment Alletson did not “lower his sights and hit one straight at me.”

George Gunn told Arlott years later: “Ted sent his drives skimming; you could hear them hum; he drove several at the Relf brothers and the ball fizzed through them as if they were ghosts. I have never seen another innings like it.” George Gunn had special fond memories of a square-cut that went almost horizontally: “It was not a case of it being hard to set a field to him, but one of those drives would have smashed a man’s hand if he had tried to stop it.” The ball had gone on smash the pavilion window and broke the bar clock.

Coming back to the match, Leach was replaced by Bob Relf, and though Riley scampered for a single in the first ball, the next four were dots, though Alletson hit four in the last ball. He was on 166, and Nottinghamshire on 385 for 9.

Once again there was a bowling change, and Killick was replaced by George Cox. Riley played out the entire over, blocking five balls and taking three off the sixth. As he took another single of the first ball of the next over from Relf, Alletson sprang back into life with a sequence of 4, 2, 4, 6, 1. Nottinghamshire was 404 for 9 now, and Alletson was on 181.

Alletson hit two more boundaries off the first two balls of Cox’s over, but was caught on the boundary line by Charles Smith, stop-gap Sussex captain, in the third ball. Since he was caught on the boundary line, it should possibly have been another six. But Alletson returned to the pavilion without any fuss, despite the protest from the Sussex crowd.

He had scored 189 in 90 minutes with 23 fours and 8 sixes. The last partnership yielded 152, of which Riley scored only 10. Before lunch he had scored 47 in 50 minutes. Since lunch he had scored 142 in 40 minutes, which included the time lost when 5 separate balls had soared outside the stadium, and the balls were never retrieved. If one assigns about 3 minutes to every lost ball, then — well — we can do the arithmetic.

Bertie Chaplin, the original Sussex captain who missed the match but was present at the ground, said that Alletson’s onslaught was “the best innings I ever saw, bar none… it was simply wonderful; and the man had an injured wrist, too.”

What followed?

Nottinghamshire finished with 412, leaving Sussex to score 237. After a 112-run opening stand between Bob Relf and Joseph Vine, Riley and John Gunn kept taking wickets, and it took a 40-run stand between Leach and that man Killick to save the match. Sussex eventually finished with 213 for 8.

Ted Alletson, 50 years after his onslaught © Getty Images
Ted Alletson, 50 years after his onslaught © Getty Images

What happened to Alletson?

The Duke of Portland marked his performance with an inscribed gold watch and chain (Alletson’s was born and brought up on the Duke of Portland’s estate).

Five days after the Hove innings Alletson smashed 60 in 30 minutes against Gloucestershire at Bristol, and was chosen for a Test trial at Bramall Lane a fortnight later. He scored 15 and 8, and was never considered again.

He also pulled of 3 more explosive innings in 1913 — 69 in 47 minutes against Sussex at Trent Bridge, 55 in 25 minutes against Leicestershire at Loughborough, and 88 in 60 minutes against Derbyshire at Trent Bridge. He also hit 3 consecutive sixes off Wilfred Rhodes at Dewsbury.

He eventually finished with 3,217 runs at 18.59 from 119 matches, and that 189 remained his only First-Class hundred. He also picked up 33 wickets at 19.03, and given his numbers, it is surprising that he had been used so sparsely as a bowler — though the fact that he had produced several match-winning performances with the ball.

He served Nottinghamshire till the First World War. He served in the Artillery during the war, and after it was over, he returned to the coal-fields. He was later crippled by arthritis, and was virtually immobilised by 1950 (“can’t get down my pub wi’out being humped”).

The bat hung on his wall till his death in 1963. As Arlott had mentioned after his visit to Alletson’s house, the man “liked to take it down and feel its balance: and he never tired of answering questions in his deep Nottinghamshire countryman’s accent about his historic afternoon.”

It was later auctioned, and fetched £15,000.

Oh, and Arlott wrote an entire book on the innings.

Brief scores:

Nottinghamshire 238 (George Gunn 90, Arthur Jones 57; Ernest Killick 5 for 14) and 412 (Ted Alletson 189, James Iremonger 83, George Gunn 66) drew with Sussex 414 (Ernest Killick 81, Joseph Vine 77, George Leach 52) and 213 for 8 (Bob Relf 71, Joseph Vine 54; William Riley 4 for 82).

(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 Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)