The 1921 tour was a successful one for Warwick Armstrong (left). The Australians comprehensively won the Ashes 3-0 © Getty Images
Warwick Armstrong bowled two consecutive overs in the same innings* of a Test at Old Trafford on July 25, 1921. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day when The Big Ship gave the umpires a tough time twice.
With 2,863 runs at 38.68 and 87 wickets at 33.59, Warwick Armstrong was one of the finest all-rounders of all time. The Big Ship, however, is remembered more in the history of the sport because his huge frame (he was 1.91 metres tall and about 140 kilograms in mass — making him the heaviest international cricketer of all time — way clear of Dwayne Leverock’s 127 kilograms) and the innumerable controversies he created on and off the ground.
July 25, 1921 was yet another of those.
The 1921 tour had begun well for Armstrong’s Australians. They ruthlessly crushed anything and everything that had come their way, and by the time they reached Old Trafford for the fourth Test they had sealed the series 3-0 thanks to emphatic victories at Trent Bridge, Lord’s, and Headingley.
Old Trafford, however, seemed a sorry affair for cricket as persistent rain ruled out cricket on Day One. Play eventually started on Monday, making it a two-day affair: Lionel Tennyson won the toss and decided to bat.
England off to a nice start
Jack Russell and George Brown began soundly, putting up 65 in 70 minutes on a slow, slightly soggy pitch that offered no support to Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald. Armstrong rotated his bowlers around, and it was eventually his own leg-breaks that provided the breakthrough, having Brown caught by Gregory.
Frank Woolley joined, and another 80 were added in 84 minutes before the Kent maestro was caught by Nip Pellew off Armstrong. England were finally in control of a Test in the series — albeit with minimal chances of a result. Phil Mead walked out to join Russell.
The Essex man was eventually bowled by Gregory for a well-compiled 244-minute 101 that included nine fours and England were 217 for 3. Mead was caught by Tommy Andrews off Stork Hendry on 260 and it was left to Ernest Tyldesley and Percy Fender to carry on with the brisk pace.
Warwick Armstrong’s feat of bowling consecutive overs was emulated years later by Alex Moir in 1951 © Getty Images
Tennyson gets it wrong
The English batsmen were in control of the game and reached 341 for 4 at 5.50 when Tennyson came out and declared his innings closed to give his bowlers a go in the dying moments of the day. It was then that the Australian wicketkeeper Sammy Carter pointed out that according to Law 55 of the new code of laws it was illegal for Tennyson to declare the innings closed within the last 100 minutes of a two-day match.
Tennyson’s declaration had come an hour too late to be legal. As the umpires John Moss and Alfred Street walked back with Tyldesley and Fender Armstrong ordered his men to stay back. Twenty minutes were lost before the batsmen and umpires had could walk out and play could be resumed.
Armstrong creates history
Armstrong had bowled the last over before play was stopped due to Tennyson’s erroneous declaration. Now, after abiding by the laws strongly to make sure his side did not have to come out to bat Armstrong ended up bowling the first over after resumption from the other end — thereby becoming the first bowler to bowl two consecutive overs in the same innings in a Test without anyone noticing. It was for a reason the Lawrence Booth called him “never one to be overly troubled by the laws.”
- Tennyson could eventually declare the innings closed at 362 for 4 at stumps. Ciss Parkin picked up 5 for 40 the next day as Australia were bowled out for 175 with nobody going past 40. Tennyson decided to bat on and the Test petered out to a draw as the hosts scored 44 for 1.
- England’s good batting form continued to the last Test at The Oval where they scored 403 for 8 and 244 for two to draw the match. Armstrong’s Australia, however, clinched the Ashes 3-0.
- At Wellington in 1951 Alex Moir bowled two consecutive overs against England on either side of tea without the umpires noticing. This remains the only other incident where a bowler has bowled two consecutive overs in an innings in the history of Test cricket.
- On a lighter note, shortly after this event Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned an incident where Sir James Barrie had put the legendary author for two consecutive overs for Authors against Artists. Conan Doyle had picked up the ninth wicket of an innings with the last ball of an over and Barrie put him on. However, unlike Armstrong’s incident, the Artists realised what was going on and protested immediately — leading to Barrie having to take Conan Doyle off.
* Armstrong was actually the first one to bowl two consecutive overs illegally. Till 1889 the Laws permitted a bowler bowling two consecutive overs. Law 14 of the Laws of Cricket 1884 Code clearly mentioned: “The bowler may not change ends more than twice in the same innings, nor bowl more than two overs in succession.”
According to eminent cricket statistician and historian Charles Davis there have been ‘at least two dozen such instances” in Test cricket. This included Allen Hill in the first ever Test and Fred Spofforth doing it in both innings of the 1882 Test that gave birth to the Ashes.
England 362 for 4 decl. (Jack Russell 101, Ernest Tyldesley 78*, Percy Fender 44*, Frank Woolley 41) and 44 for 1 drew with Australia 175 (Herbie Collins 40; Ciss Parkin 5 for 38).
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42.)