Thomas Hastings (left) and Matthew Ellis (right) in front of the Melbourne Cricket Ground scoreboard that displays their scores. Photographer: John Beaumont (the picture is now out of copyright)
Thomas Hastings (left) and Matthew Ellis (right) in front of the Melbourne Cricket Ground scoreboard that displays their scores. Photographer: John Beaumont (the picture is now out of copyright)

 

A brochure of the Carlton Cricket Club describes a meeting taking place at the Orderly Rooms, Grattan Street, on Thursday, September 15, 1864. Chaired by the honourable Jos McLean, the assembled gathering was in the process of founding the Carlton Union Cricket Club with Sir Redmond Barry as first President, Fred Ateyo as first Treasurer, and Ben James as first Secretary. The other members of the first Committee were George Bowen, Jos McLean, M Pierse, A Whiffin, and Walt Williams. There were a total of 21 original members of the club.

A triangular swathe of grassland between the University paddock and the Prince’s Park was allocated to the club on May 12, 1865. The area measured just over 5 acres of “no man’s land”. The industrious members all pitched in to convert the grassland into a proper cricket ground, lined by 72 newly planted trees, and complete with a pavilion. No expense was spared, the members dipping into their own pockets for the purpose.

The Committee held their first meeting in the new clubroom in January 1867. In the midst of all this frenzied activity, the name of the newly-formed club was changed to the present Carlton Cricket Club. Today, the club is almost 154 years old, one of the oldest cricket clubs of the Melbourne area.

Over the years, the club has been the home of some iconic cricketers. The names of Tommy Warne, Jack Worrall, Jack Saunders, Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford spring immediately to mind. This narrative is about a man who batted a bit and kept wickets, and who carried out his given tasks in a generally unobtrusive and self-effacing manner, but one who once, showing grit and spirit of extraordinary calibre, had a glorious moment in the sun and who has etched his name in the history of First-Class cricket forever with an extraordinary batting effort.

Thomas James Hastings was born January 16, 1865, shortly after the formation of Carlton CC. Interestingly, Hastings made his First-Class debut even before he played Grade cricket for Carlton, against Victoria against Arthur Shrewsbury’s XI 1887-88. He was just over 22, and was in the side as a lower-order batsman and wicketkeeper. It was to be a chastening experience for him: he scored 4 and 10 and conceded 22 byes as Victoria lost by an innings and 456 runs.

Surprisingly, in a relatively long span of 1887-88 to 1908-09, Hastings played only 15 First-Class matches. His entire documented cricket career comprised 164 matches in total. He played a considerable amount of Grade cricket in Melbourne, mainly for Carlton (1889-90 to 1908-09), and some for Fitzroy (1890-91 to 1904-05). In these 164 matches, he scored 2,452 runs with a highest of 106* (his only century) and an average of 14.33. He had 4 fifties, held 125 catches behind the stumps, and made 147 stumpings, rather unusual considering that a wicketkeeper would normally take more catches than make stumpings. Indeed, in one game for Carlton against Northcote in 1907-08, towards the end of his career, Hastings had 8 dismissals in the game, all stumped, 5 in the first innings and 3 in the second.

There was a gap of almost 10 years between his first two First-Class appearances, and it was not before 1897 that he was able to secure for himself any sort of permanency behind the stumps for Victoria. New South Wales were having a very successful campaign in the 1902-03 Sheffield Shield, ultimately winning the trophy. Victoria, on the other hand, were having a rather indifferent season, losing their first Shield match against NSW at home by 136 runs. They were to lose the return match at Sydney by 5 wickets. In between, they played a match against South Australia at Melbourne.

There was some bad news for the Victorians when Jack Saunders, who had had a successful tour of England in 1902, was unavailable due to illness. The home team decided to include 23-year-old leg-spinner Matthew Ellis, who had originally been named 12th, in his place. This was to be the second First-Class match for Ellis after his debut against Tasmania in 1900-01. The media reported a first day crowd of about 7,000 and a gate of £254.

Frank Laver won the toss for Victoria in fine weather (it is surprising how the media always seemed to find the sun shining on the cricket during the Golden Age of the game). Percy McAlister scored 68, Warwick Armstrong 40, and ‘Son’ Noonan 54, and Victoria reached 261 for 9. No. Hastings came out to join Ellis. The 300 of the innings came up with Ellis batting briskly on 31 and Hastings on an enterprising 22. Ellis reached 50 in 63 minutes. Victoria went in at stumps at 348 for 9, with Ellis on 60 and Hastings on 40, the tenth wicket having added 87 valuable runs.

The Sydney Morning Herald estimated a second-day gathering of about 6,000 and a gate of £173 11s. Warm and pleasant weather continued when play resumed at noon. When Ellis reached 71, the top individual score of the innings so far, the partisan crowd gave him a generous hand. Shortly after this, Hastings reached his individual 50 with a brace off left-arm spinner Joe Travers. Considering that Hastings’ previous highest First-Class score had been 23, there was another volley of applause around the ground in appreciation of his efforts for the team. Unbelievably, the 400 of the innings was brought up in 328 minutes of batting, with Ellis on 88 and Hastings on 65. The spectators sat mesmerised by the dramatic spectacle unfolding before their eyes.

Understandably, Ellis became a little more cautious and circumspect as he approached his maiden century. A boundary off Ernie Jones took Ellis to 96. Two runs later he hit a boundary off seamer Robert Waters took Ellis to his maiden First-Class century amid tumultuous adulation from the home crowd, his century coming in 148 minutes. Meanwhile, at the other end, Hastings had reached 73. Lunch was taken with Victoria on 439 for 9 with Ellis on 107 and Hastings on 84. The undefeated pair had so far added 178.

The post-lunch session began at 2:20 in the afternoon. The light began to dim to some extent and the wind began to pick up, reportedly becoming quite “heavy” later in the afternoon. On the total of 465, Hastings reached his own century with a push for two. This was first instance of a man batting at No. 11 scoring a First-Class century. The cheers were long and loud for the extraordinary feat, the knowledgeable Melbourne crowd exulting in the fact that one of their own had breached this unprecedented landmark.

The innings ended at 472 when Ellis, then on 118, was stumped while advancing down the wicket to play an extravagant shot. His innings had lasted 185 minutes and had contained 9 fours. The last man in, Hastings, remained not out on 106, scored in 157 minutes with 9 fours. For South Australia, Jones (4 and 134) and Travers (3 and 129) shared 7 wickets. Interestingly, these were to be the only individual First-Class centuries scored by both Ellis and Hastings.

The last-wicket partnership had registered 211, a new record for Australian First-Class cricket at the time, and the highest for Victoria till date. It was not, of course, the first instance of a 200-run partnership for the 10th wicket in First-Class cricket, the palm for that achievement going to Richard Nicholls (154) and Mickey Roche (74*) for Middlesex against Kent at Lord’s in 1899, who added 230. The Australian record for the 10th wicket has since been bettered, Alan Kippax (260*) and Hal Hooker (62) having put on 307, the highest tenth-wicket stand of all in First-Class cricket. There has also been a 219-run stand between Dominic Thornely (261*) and Stuart MacGill (27) for NSW against Western Australia at Sydney in 2004-05.

Captain Clem Hill led the South Australian response. He scored 110 by stumps, with Algy Gehrs for company. Although the third day’s play began in good enough light, overhead conditions deteriorated throughout the day and play had to be called off earlier than scheduled. Even so, an attendance of about 7,000 was reported and the gate was reported to have produced £185. Regretfully, the Victorian bowlers deliberately bowled wide of the stumps to Hill on both the second and third days to curb his run-making and to restrict his scintillating strokeplay. Things had apparently come to the stage when regular viewers at MCG grouped under the elms in the outer rim of the stadium,had taken it upon themselves to advise Victoria skipper Laver on points of cricket strategy for dismissing Hill and exhorted fast-medium bowler Fred Collins that he should practise “bowling hoops”. Free speech has always been a hallmark of the Australian psyche.

Stung by the repeated and stentorian counselling from the stands, Collins changed ends and clean bowled Hill for a well-made 124. The innings ended at 317, the first-innings deficit being 155 runs.

An incident was reported after the fall of the first wicket for Victoria when Mailer and Noonan were at the wicket. With light fading and visibility becoming restricted, sighting the ball gradually became a problem for the batsmen. Play was held up for a while when Noonan requested some people sitting directly behind the bowler’s arm and over the sightscreen to move somewhere else. Perhaps fuelled by liquid refreshment, the spectators in question steadfastly refused to budge, completely ignoring the entreaties of both umpires and a constable who had tried to reason with the group. After play had been interrupted for slightly more than five minutes, there were urgings from the saner elements in the stands to “play on”. The offenders then moved on, very reluctantly, and with very bad grace.

The weather then intervened and the skies opened up, forcing the players into the pavilion shortly after 5 o’clock, with the Victorian second-innings total reading 94. Play resumed at about 5.45 for a short while before a resumption of the rain ended the entertainment for the day with Victoria on 102 for 3.

When the game was resumed on the Monday, the wind was still blowing at an appreciable rate of knots and the attendance was rather poor. A gate receipt of only £62 was reported for the day, bringing the total for the match to £684. Before a run had been added, Mailer was caught and bowled on his overnight score of 49. Things got progressively worse for the home team, the final total reading 164. Much was expected of the first-innings centurions, but both disappointed, Ellis scoring 14 and Hastings 9. Jones (2 for 69) and Travers (4 for 57) were joined by Reedman (3 for 23) in sharing the wickets.

South Australia had a target of 320, and Hill had been looking anxiously at the wicket during the latter part of the Victoria innings for any signs of the surface breaking up. In the end, Hill opted for the light roller before his team came in to bat. The Victoria innings had ended at about a quarter past 1, and lunch had been called resulting in the loss of about 20 minutes of play on the day, a point reported by the media, who were not happy that the paying public had been deprived of their entertainment.

As it turned out, it was a rather timid batting display by South Australia, with wickets falling at regular intervals. For the second time in the match, Hill was bowled comprehensively by Collins. The fourth wicket, that of Kirkwood (44), fell at the total of 100, but Armstrong gradually became a destructive force with his mixed bag of seam and leg-breaks, and the innings folded up for 140. Armstrong (5 for 20) was the pick of the bowlers. Victoria won the match by 179 runs.

In view of the negative tactics employed by Victoria against Hill in the first innings and the deliberate loss of playing time after the home second innings, it may be an educative experience to take cognisance of some comments made to the media by Frank Allan, often referred to as the Bowler of a Century, about the vice of being dilatory on the cricket field and how that had a deleterious effect on the game, particularly from the paying spectator’s point of view.

The observations were revealed in The Argus (Melbourne). Speaking particularly about the Inter-State games of the times in Australia, Allan outlined the scenario that used to be enacted “nine times out of ten” as follows: “The umpires come out some five or ten minutes late, stroll out to the pitch, and have a chat on the prospects of the game and the weather. Five minutes later, the team quietly meanders out, followed another five minutes later by the batsmen. Then the various preliminaries of placing the field, adjusting the sight-board, the bowler bowling half a dozen balls to the wicketkeeper, and the game starts about 15 or 20 minutes late. First robbery of the man who pays. Then over is called, and the fieldsmen gently cross over, more sight-board [adjustment], more trial balls to the wicketkeeper…”

The harangue goes on and on, bemoaning the criminal loss of playing time and the subsequent loss for the cricket-going public, a very sad commentary on an ill that has been the bane of cricket through the ages.

Let us now return to the man who had set the local media buzzing by becoming the first man to score a First-Class century from No. 11 in the batting order. Hastings played one more match in the same season for Victoria, against Queensland (who had not yet been admitted to the Shield) at Brisbane. His only contribution in the match was a solitary run. He neither held a catch nor made a stumping but conceded 19 byes.

Hastings played his last First-Class match against South Australia, a Shield game at Melbourne in 1908-09. South Australia won the encounter by a marginal 15 runs. Hastings scored 9 and 0, made only one stumping, but conceded 36 byes, thus contributing handsomely to the margin of defeat.

Thomas Hastings, the 182nd player for Victoria, gradually faded away from public view and memory. He passed away on June 14, 1938 at North Brighton, Victoria, aged 73.

Brief scores:

Victoria 472 (Peter McAlister 68, Son Noonan 54, Matthew Ellis 118, Thomas Hastings 106*; Ernie Jones 4 for 134, Joe Travers 3 for 129) and 164 (Joe Travers 4 for 57, John Reedman 3 for 23) beat South Australia 317 (Clem Hill 127) and 140 (Warwick Armstrong 5 for 20) by 179 runs.