Umm, what is one supposed to do? © Getty Images
Umm, what is one supposed to do? © Getty Images

The name Tunbridge Wells invariably brings a smile to the lips of Indian cricket fans. The incident, however, dates back to 1963, two decades before Kapil Dev’s monumental innings.

Kent were hosting Middlesex, and the tourists restricted the hosts to 150. With 121 for 3, Middlesex were in complete command at stumps on Day One, which was a Saturday.

Day Two, a Sunday, was typically reserved as the rest day. The Middlesex cricketers decided to leave for London on Saturday night and return on Monday morning.

Unfortunately, they faced severe traffic on their way. At 11.30 AM, the stipulated time of start, only three Middlesex cricketers had showed up (along with the entire Kent side, who were both in town and aware of the traffic).

Of them, Bob White was one of the two men who had remained unbeaten overnight (the other was Ron Hooker). He was out there, all padded up and ready to go out at the middle to face the Kent attack.

Of the other two, Sid Russell had already been dismissed and Ted Clark was the twelfth man. This left the umpires — ‘Lofty’ Herman and ‘Dusty’ Rhodes, both experienced cricketers — in utter confusion.

Herman and Rhodes had three options:

1. Hooker could have been given out, and the other remaining batsmen could have been recorded absent (timed out was introduced as a law only in 1980). However, this had a problem: there was no rule under which they could declare him out.

2. Kent could have got a walkover. However, Middlesex had three players out there, so they were technically not absent.

3. Middlesex could have declared the innings closed. However, for that one needed the captain (Col Drybrough in this case), who was absent. While Russell and White were parts of the XI, they had no authority to declare an innings. Twelfth man Clark obviously did not have the power.

After much deliberation, Herman and Rhodes did what Wisden referred to as “a situation without parallel in the history of First-Class cricket”: they ‘officially closed’ the Middlesex innings.

In postscript, it may be mentioned that Kent captain Colin Cowdrey lent Middlesex eight substitute fielders. The match was drawn, but not before Kent’s John Prodger did something rare: he scored a fifty and took a catch in the same innings.