Jim Parks Sr © Getty Images
Jim Parks Sr © Getty Images

June 6, 1924. Frequent rain kept interrupting the match between Surrey and Sussex at The Oval. Amidst all that, controversy arose over the inclusion of one Bob Relf in the Sussex side. In an interesting turn of events, Jim Parks Sr made his First-Class debut, as Abhishek Mukherjee narrates.

Even if he had done nothing else, Jim Parks Sr will remain immortalised by his feats in 1937. He scored 3,003 runs and took 101 wickets that season. No other cricketer has done the 3,000 run-100 wicket double in a single season. Given the drastically reduced number of matches, no one is likely to, either. He got his only Test cap that season too, against New Zealand at Lord’s. He scored 29 runs and took 3 for 36.

In all, his tally read 21,369 runs and 852 wickets, mostly for Sussex. His son, also called Jim, was a Sussex stalwart too: his 36,673 career runs and 1,181 dismissals bear testimony to that. Parks Jr also played 46 Tests. Henry, brother of Parks Sr, also had a reasonable career for Sussex. Dick Richards, also a Sussex cricketer, married the sister of Jim Sr and Henry. Jim Jr’s son Bobby played for Hampshire and Kent, but was a quite decent wicketkeeper-batsman.

But we are digressing. Let us move to the day it all started for the Parks’. 

The Relf confusion

Bob Relf was not in the league of his elder brother, the Test cricketer Albert, but he was a fine all-rounder nevertheless. As was the case with several cricketers of his generation, The Great War took away a chunk of his career. Relf bowled less and less, and could not retain his place in the side as batsman alone. He did not play after 1921.

Then Sussex picked Relf out of nowhere for the 1924 Surrey match at The Oval. While it was surprising, it was perfectly legal — or that was what was perceived. However, there was a catch: Relf did not qualify for Sussex by birth, and had to earn his qualification. There was nothing wrong about that.

Relf would have been eligible to play for the match in question — had he not played for Berkshire in the Minor Counties Championship in between. He did this twice, both against Wiltshire in 1923. According to the prevalent laws, playing for Berkshire (his county of birth) automatically barred him from playing for Sussex unless he ran through the qualification process again.

However, nobody noticed this, and Relf was there on the Sussex team list when the captains walked out for the toss. Leading Sussex was Arthur Gilligan, but Percy Fender, the Surrey captain had been delayed by traffic. Surrey named Fender captain for the match, though Douglas Jardine was there at the toss as “substitute captain”.

It rained incessantly after 4 overs, during which Hobbs and Sandham added 4. There was no play in the day after that.

Fender had showed up meanwhile and had asked for the team sheets. A man of incomparable knowledge, Fender knew of Relf’s appearances for Berkshire. He objected to Relf’s inclusion immediately. 

Parks arrives

Confusion reigned. It was obvious that Relf was ineligible to play. On the other hand, the match was already underway. Several discussions followed, following which they reached a consensus: why not call MCC for clarification?

MCC acknowledged Sussex’s error. They also gave the teams two choices: either Relf would continue to play or Sussex would play with ten men. 

Anyone who knew Fender would have understood that he would not have allowed Relf to keep playing. Fender and Surrey were widely criticised for not showing that mysterious concept of ‘spirit of the game’. They found support in Gilligan, who dismissed the criticism as “extremely unfair in every way” in his book Sussex Cricket.

As for the match, Gilligan offered to withdraw Relf and play with ten men, but Fender did not approve of that either. True, Fender played hard, and though he actually never broke a rule, he was renowned for his gamesmanship. However, he was not one to approve of a contest of eleven versus ten.

So Fender offered Gilligan a substitute. Sussex sent a telegram to Haywards Heath, asking for local boy Jim Parks. Indeed, that was how Parks made his First-Class debut. Relf, on the other hand, never played for Sussex again.

The match

Caught on a difficult pitch, Surrey were shot out for 53. Thomas Shepherd (19) was the only batsman to reach double-figures. Maurice Tate (6 for 22) and Gilligan (4 for 24) bowled unchanged for 23.4 overs.

Note: The two of them would make a habit of this: Gilligan (6 for 7) and Tate (4 for 12) would bowl out South Africa for 30 in a Test in less than a fortnight’s time. Sandwiched between the two matches was one where Middlesex scored a mere 41, Gilligan taking 8 for 25 and Tate 2 for 13.

But Surrey gave it back, too. Alan Peach was not express, but on this day he kept bothering the Sussex men with his superb bowling (to think if it, he lived up to that surname every now and then!). He took 8 for 60 including four wickets in four balls, and from 105 for 5 Sussex suddenly became 105 for 9.

Then came the biggest partnership of the match, between Jack Holmes and our debutant. Parks, batting at 11, remained unbeaten on 17, helping Holmes add 60 for the last wicket.

The 112-run lead could have proved crucial, but there was little time left in the match for a result. Hobbs and Sandham added 74 for the opening stand before Parks caught the latter. Hobbs got a fifty as the match petered out to a draw. Parks bowled 3 wicketless overs for 15.

Brief scores

Surrey 53 (Maurice Tate 6 for 22, Arthur Gilligan 4 for 24) and 121 for 3 (Jack Hobbs 50*, Andy Sandham 43) drew with Sussex 165 (Ted Bowley 43, Jack Holmes 44; Alan Peach 8 for 60).