Surrey cricket team, 1910. ‘Razor’ Smith is extreme left in front row, while Morice Bird is third from left © Getty Images Inset: Herbert Chaplin (courtesy: The Sale Room)
Surrey cricket team, 1910. ‘Razor’ Smith is extreme left in front row, while Morice Bird is third from left © Getty Images
Inset: Herbert Chaplin (courtesy: The Sale Room)

On August 25, 1911 ‘Razor’ Smith of Surrey almost became the first batsman to be dismissed timed out in First-Class cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the incident and elaborates on how he got away.

Back in 1997-98, Hemulal Yadav suddenly created headlines by becoming the first batsman to be ruled timed out in First-Class cricket. Yadav merely sat outside the ropes and made no attempt to enter the field of play.

But they changed the laws in 2006, granting First-Class status to 223 more matches. This transferred the ‘honour’ to Andrew Jordaan, who did not arrive on time in a Howa Bowl match in 1987-88: he had been unable to wade through a waterlogged Port Elizabeth.

Harold Heygate might also have had a stake to it. Heygate’s brief career had as good as ended after he sustained leg injuries during The Great War and was afflicted with rheumatism. He happened to be there at the Taunton ground that day, and was coaxed to play in a 1919 match between Sussex and Somerset.

As wickets fell quickly in the fourth innings, last man Heygate was needed to bat with a run to score. He never got the time to change despite a valiant effort to put on pads over his blue serge suit. Heygate was ruled ‘out, absent’, then ‘absent hurt’; timed out would not be a mode of dismissal till 1980.

Our story dates back eight years before the Heygate incident. This time Sussex were hosting Surrey at Hove. The match was rather one-sided. Sussex were quickly bowled out for 148. Surrey captain Morice Bird (151 in 165 minutes, 100 of which came in fours and sixes) then outscored them on his own. With Jack Hobbs scoring a silken 70 and Andy Ducat 63, they took a 247-run lead.

Sussex lost wickets again, and at one stage were 8 down, still 13 behind. Then George Leach and Norman Holloway added 103 for the ninth wicket. It delayed the inevitable: Surrey won easily, by 8 wickets.

The incident took place towards the end of the Surrey innings. They reached 327 for 5 before Vallance Jupp took out three quick wickets. ‘Razor’ Smith, named thus for his slender frame, was next in.

Smith was late in arriving. In fact, four minutes had passed after Sussex captain Herbert Chaplin appealed the moment Smith crossed the boundary line (why not earlier?).

This left the umpires (Arthur Bannister and George Webb) confused, for this was what Law 45 stated at that point: “They [the umpires] shall allow two minutes for each striker to come in, and ten minutes between innings. When they shall call ‘Play’, the side refusing to play shall lose the match.”

Now, the law clearly mentioned the two-minute cut-off, but what were they supposed to do if a two-minute delay actually happened? Would he be given out? Would he be forced to retire? What?

The specific verdict remains unknown, but Field reported that the umpires “forbade him [Smith] to go in.”

But the drama did not end there. Smith had walked for about twenty yards towards the pavilion when Chaplin recalled him. That should have settled the issue, but it had probably hurt Smith’s ego; he decided to consult Bird, his captain (and at that point, the non-striker) before taking a decision.

Field voiced their opinion over the entire matter: “Whether Chaplin’s action was actually serious or was intended as a jocular warning is not known.” But then, had it been serious, what would the dismissal (if it was a dismissal) have gone down as?

Bird played spoilsport by consenting to Smith’s batting on, Not that it mattered: Smith was cleaned up Jupp for 1.

Brief scores:

Sussex 148 (Ernest Kirk 4 for 59, Bill Hitch 4 for 31) and 343 (Joseph Vine 64, Albert Relf 51, George Leach 71, Norman Holloway 55; Bill Hitch 5 for 89) lost to Surrey 395 (Jack Hobbs 70, Andy Ducat 63, Morice Bird 151; Vallance Jupp 5 for 37) and 97 for 2 (Ernie Hayes 54*) by 8 wickets.