Getty Images (representational image)
© Getty Images (representational image)

On May 18, 1871, debutant Walter Powys began his career in spectacular fashion, conceding no-balls, a wide, a bye, and a leg-bye in a single over, that too four-ball. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls one of the most remarkable overs in history.

Well over a century before Mitchell Starc, there was one Walter Powys, of whom Gerald Brodribb wrote in the early 1950s that he “has claims to be the fastest left-hander ever”. It was not about speed, either, for his 98 First-Class wickets came at 14.44 — excellent numbers even in those days.

Powys bowled round-arm — in other words, his arm never went above shoulder level. His career was brief but impactful, and while he did play for Hampshire, his real stint came for Cambridge: in 18 matches he took 78 wickets at under 12.

This included his debut match, where he took 13 for 80 against MCC at Fenner’s in 1871. The following year he took another 13-wicket haul, this time in the Varsity match at Lord’s.

He came from a cricketing family: his elder brothers Richard and Arthur both played First-Class cricket for Canterbury (in New Zealand, not Kent). Their uncle Horatio played for Cambridge as well, while their maternal uncle Arthur Crichton played once for MCC.

However, this dates back to the above-mentioned debut of Powys. He had risen through the ranks of Cambridge bowlers quickly. In a trial of sorts for Cambridge Next XVI against the first XI, Powys had match figures of 5 for 100. He then played for Cambridge and took 7 wickets against a team called Crusaders and Huntingdonshire.

So they picked him for the match against MCC. Leading the side was William Yardley, who, in the year before (1870), had become the first to score a hundred in a Varsity match. Of course, that match was immortalised by Frank Cobden, who was also a part of the side this year.

Yardley tossed the ball to Powys. Frederick Hill took guard. At the other end was John Smith, probably the most common full name in the history of Christianity.

The first ball from Powys, perhaps out of nervousness, went beyond the reach of Hill. It was called a wide, the only one of the innings.

Powys ran in again. Was he too keen to keep it within the stumps? We will never know. What we do know, however, is that he overstepped. Since the extras tally does not reflect a no-ball, one can assume that the ball was scored off.

Till this point Powys had not bowled a legal delivery. He did not overstep this time, and neither did his line go astray. However, behind the stumps was Charlie Evans, another debutant, who let go a bye.

You cannot blame Powys for bowling a no-ball after all that.That one was scored off too, as per the scorecard.

And then came the leg-bye — off the second legitimate ball of his career.Powys thus started his career with four different sorts of extras.

They were an incredible two balls, more so because they were in the same over, even more so because it was a four-ball over. Not that it would have mattered, for Powys ‘achieved’ this with the first two balls. But perhaps the most spectacular aspect of it all was that Powys had conceded all sorts of extras before he bowled a single ball without an extra in his life.

What followed?

Powys took the first 8 MCC wickets. John Martin and Frank Farrands then took MCC from 80 for 9 to 156. Powys finished with 9 for 42, the first 9-wicket haul for a Cambridge bowler. It turned out to be enough, for the great Alfred Shaw bowled unchanged throughout the innings for his 6 for 33 and bundled out Cambridge for 84.

Powys took 4 for 38 in the second innings. Set 230 to chase, Cambridge were bowled out for 128. Once again Shaw bowled through the innings, though the wickets went to Farrands (6 for 40).

Cambridge lost the Varsity match a week later, but Powys left his mark there as well, with 4 for 40 and 2 for 9.

Brief scores:

MCC 156 (John Martin 51*; Walter Powys 9 for 42) and 157 (Frederick Hill 59; Walter Powys 4 for 38, Edward Bray 4 for 63) beat Cambridge University 84 (Alfred Shaw 6 for 33, Frank Farrands 4 for 17) and 128 (Alfred Shaw 3 for 48, Frank Farrands 6 for 40) by 101 runs.