From left: Billy Bestwick, Jack 'Farmer' White, Tom Rushby, Charlie Parker, Arthur Mailey. All images © Getty Images (except Rushby's, which is courtesy Boundary Books)
From left: Billy Bestwick, Jack ‘Farmer’ White, Tom Rushby, Charlie Parker, Arthur Mailey. All images © Getty Images (except Rushby’s, which is courtesy Boundary Books)

Among the many parameters used to assess the quality of a player’s performance in a cricket match, the feat of taking all 10 wickets in an innings has long been a benchmark of excellence as far as bowling is concerned, considering the relative rarity of the feat. Well, the 1921 English season was replete with five such instances in First-Class matches, the most for any season anywhere in the world. The protagonists of the achievement were an interesting and motley crew.

1. Billy Bestwick, 19-2-40-10 for Derbyshire vs Glamorgan, Cardiff Arms Park, June 18, 20:

Bestwick was a miner by winter and cricketer in the summer months. He was a long-serving right-arm fast-medium bowler for Derbyshire, one of a long line of such virtuosos produced by the county over the years (one thinks of Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Bill Copson, Harold Rhodes, brothers George and Alfred Pope, Mike Hendrick, Devon Malcolm, Ole Mortensen, Dominic Cork, to name a few).

Bestwick made his debut for his county in 1898 with moderate success, and played the last of his 323 First-Class matches in 1925, in his 51st year, having taken 1,457 wickets in a 27-year span. In 1906, he suffered a domestic tragedy. His wife was variously reported as having left him or as having passed away, leaving him with a young son.

As is not uncommon among persons of a philosophical bent of mind under similar circumstances, Bestwick tried to drown his sorrows and to find solace in liquid oblivion. In 1907, he was alleged to have knifed a man to death in a drunken state, though he was later exonerated over a coroner’s verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’. Things got to such a state that the County thought it necessary to appoint a team-mate, Arthur Morton, as his minder, to ensure that he arrived for matches on time and in a presentable condition.

In 1921, in his 46th year, he found his moments in the sun in the match against Glamorgan (for whom he had played a few seasons in Minor Championship cricket, having moved to South Wales, and before the Glamorgan team was admitted to the English County Championship).

The match, Glamorgan vs Derbyshire at Cardiff Arms Park, was scheduled for three days but was completed in two. At the end of Day One, Glamorgan, having completed their first innings at 168 in 69.2 overs, dismissed Derbyshire for a mere 83 in 47.5 overs.

Bestwick spent the Sunday, June 19, in the company of his ale and mixed spirits and was much the worse for wear when the Monday dawned. But George Buckson, the Derbyshire captain, decided to ride a hunch and threw the ball to Bestwick, his experienced new ball bowler.

With his 5th delivery of the day, Bestwick struck gold and the woodwork of Glamorgan captain Tom Whittington, dismissing him for a duck. He took all 10 wickets of the Glamorgan second innings, seven of them bowled, and the last three in four deliveries. In a 19-over spell, he took all 10 wickets for 40 runs, all of them before lunch on the second day, bowling out Glamorgan single-handedly for 106. Derbyshire then scored 193 for 8 wickets. His 3rd wicket of the Glamorgan second innings was Bestwick’s 1,000th County Championship wicket.

The ballad of Bestwick would not, however, be complete without mention of that unique match, Derbyshire vs Warwickshire, played at Derby on June 3 and 5, 1922: Bestwicks, Billy the father and Robert the son, playing for Derbyshire, bowled in tandem against the Quaifes, William the father and Bernard the son, in the Warwickshire 1st innings. This is still the only match in the annals of First Class cricket where a father-and-son pair of batsmen has ever taken strike to a father-and-son pair of bowlers.

2. Jack ‘Farmer’ White, 42.2-11-76-10 for Somerset vs Worcestershire at New Road, June 18, 20, 21:

White was a ruddy-complexioned slow left-arm orthodox bowler who played for Somerset and England. His strengths were accuracy and variations of pace, not prodigious turn. His 2,165 wickets and 393 catches for Somerset, both the highest till date for the county, proclaim a man of rare talent, ability and longevity. His tally of 12,202 First Class runs with 6 centuries and 41 fifties and a highest score of 192 place him securely in the category of a bowling all-rounder. He achieved the “double” of 1,000 runs and 100 in a season twice. He played for Somerset from 1913 to 1937, captaining the side from 1927 to 1931.

He also represented England in 15 Tests (14 of them after he turned 37), taking 49 wickets, from July 1921 to February 1931, captaining the national side in 4 of them. He fulfilled the role of slow left-arm orthodox spinner for England between the eras of the immaculate Wilfred Rhodes and the canny Hedley Verity with a fair degree of competence.

Worcestershire won the toss in the match in question and invited Somerset to take first strike. At the end of Day One, Somerset had been dismissed for 237 in their first innings. In their reply, Worcestershire went in at stumps at 4/108, all the wickets having fallen to White.

A good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast must have done wonders for the spirits of White, because he then proceeded to see off all the remaining batsmen to end the innings at the identical score of 237. Of his wickets, 3 were bowled, 2 were out lbw and one caught and bowled. There was also a stumping. The other three batsmen fell to catches in the field. White’s analysis for the innings read: 42.2 overs, 11 maidens, 76 runs and 10 wickets, a very satisfactory turn of events for him.

Somerset were dismissed for 364 off 89.5 overs in their 2nd innings, the man with an unusual name, Charles Tarbox, causing some excitement on behalf of Worcestershire by taking 7 for 55. Needing 365 to win on the last day, Worcestershire began with a spirited reply, the 1st-wicket pair of Frederick Bowley (99) and Frederick ‘Dick’ Pearson (80) adding 158. Things gradually fell apart for them thereafter, and they were bowled out for 281 in 110.5 overs. White (5 for 99) and Ernie Robson (5 for 83) shared the wickets equally to give Somerset victory by 83 runs.

The above two instances of a bowler taking 10-wicket hauls in a First-Class innings both occurred on the same day, June 20, 1921. Rather like a Greek tragedy being enacted upon the cricket field, Somerset were, however, in line for two rather demoralizing setbacks themselves, about a month later in the season.

3. Tom Rushby, 17.5-4-43-10 for Surrey vs Somerset at Taunton, July 6-8

A right-handed fast-medium bowler who represented Surrey, Rushby He went on to play 229 First Class matches for his County between 1903 and 1921, taking 954 wickets. Not much is known about this hardy son of Surrey apart from his remarkable spell of bowling in the match against Somerset at Taunton in the early part of July, in which he inflicted the first of the indignities that Somerset suffered that season.

Surrey travelled to Taunton to take on Somerset, won the toss and took first strike. They put up a moderate total of 236. At the end of Day One, however, Somerset, in dire straits, had scored 89 for the loss of 9 wickets, all of them to Thomas Rushby, playing his last season for Surrey.

The following morning saw Rushby finishing off the Somerset 1st innings on 110 in 35.5 overs. Rushby had figures of 17.5 overs, 4 maidens, 43 runs and all 10 wickets. Surrey’s 2nd-innings effort amounted to 264, with Andy Sandham scoring a century at the top of the order. Facing a daunting deficit of 390, the Somerset 2nd innings could only limp on to 161 overs. Surrey won the match by 229 runs.

4. Charlie Parker, 40.3-13-79-10 for Gloucestershire vs Somerset at Bristol, July 30, August 1, 2

Parker, a rather late cricket enthusiast, in the sense that he had not given much thought to the game in his early years, preferring golf instead. It was only when he was about 18 that he took up cricket with any positive intent; he was good enough in about three years’ time as a slow left-arm orthodox bowler for the great WG Grace to take cognizance of his abilities and to recommend him to the Gloucestershire Committee, who appointed the young spinner as a member of the County staff in 1903.

Parker was somewhat slow to develop his game and it was not until after the conclusion of World War I that he came into his own.

In a First-Class span of 1903 to 1935, Parker ended up playing 635 matches for his County, capturing 3,278 wickets (the 3rd-highest tally of First Class wickets, behind 4,204 wickets by Wilfred Rhodes and 3,776 wickets by Tich Freeman), taking 5 wickets in an innings an astonishing 277 times and 10 wickets in a match 91 times. He also scored 7,951 runs with a highest score of 82.

The great paradox of his cricket career was the fact that he was selected for only one Test, against Australia, at Old Trafford, in July 1921, when he took 2 for 32 in the only innings he bowled. Selectors have always been a mysterious breed, going about their business in inexplicable and unfathomable ways.

Parker was soon to inflict the second humiliation of the season on Somerset, who arrived at Fry’s Ground, Bristol, for their match against Gloucestershire. There was a twist in the conventional tale, however, when home captain Foster Robinson, also their wicketkeeper, decided to open bowling with their left-arm spinner. Somerset, all at sea against Parker, soon saw their wickets began to tumble at regular intervals, all of them to our hero. Parker had figures of 40.3 overs, 13 maidens, 79 runs and all 10 wickets as Somerset were dismissed for 212 in 80.3 overs.

Gloucestershire did not do much better, being dismissed in their 1st innings for 248. With a deficit of 36, Somerset could only score 240 in their second attempt, Parker picking up 2 more wickets. The home County then made rather heavy weather of their target of 205 runs, losing 9 wickets in the process in 99.1 overs, to win by 1 wicket.

The tables were to turn 24 days later in the capable hands of Arthur Mailey.

In his Benefit Match, against Yorkshire at Fry’s Ground, Bristol, on in August 1922, Parker, very nearly set up an absolutely unique record of taking 5 wickets with 5 consecutive balls, hitting stumps 5 times in succession, only for the second ball to be declared a no-ball. He did, however, take 9/36 in the Yorkshire fist innings, including a hat-trick and 4 wickets in 5 balls. A great bowler was Charlie Parker, a legend and pillar of Gloucestershire, and one who certainly deserved a longer Test career.

5. Arthur Mailey, 28.4-5-66-10 for Australians vs Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, August 20, 22, 23:

Mailey was a somewhat eccentric right-arm leg-spin and googly bowler who took 99 Test wickets in his career (one of only 3 bowlers to do this till date, the others being Ben Hilfenhaus and Abdur Rehman). His avowed aim was always to take wickets and he often “bowled like a millionaire”, without consideration for the runs he conceded in his eagerness to gain his wickets.

He is the owner of the unenviable record of conceding the most runs in a First Class innings, when, in 64 eight-ball overs for New South Wales, he took 4 for 362 at MCG in 1926-27 as Victoria piled on 1,107 runs, still the highest team total in First Class history. When someone had commiserated with him about this particular effort of his, he had been convinced that his figures would have been far better had not three catches gone down from his bowling, “two by a man in the pavilion wearing a bowler hat”, and one by an unfortunate team-mate, whom he consoled with the words, “I am expecting to take a wicket any day now”.

He played 21 Tests for Australia, with a total of 99 wickets as mentioned above and a best effort of 9 for 121 against England at MCG in February 1921, still a record for any Australian bowler. He also played 158 First-Class matches, taking 779 wickets. Following his home success in the 1920/21 Ashes, he arrived as a key member of the Australian visitors in 1921 under the formidable leadership of ‘Big Ship’, Warwick Armstrong. Mailey left an indelible mark on the series with a resounding performance for the Australians against Gloucestershire immediately after the conclusion of the 5th Test with his best First Class bowling figures.

The second encounter of the season between the Australians and Gloucestershire got off to a start at College Ground, Cheltenham, with the visitors winning the toss and opting to bat. The Australians registered a respectable 438, with Warren Bardsley and Charlie Macartney scoring centuries. Gloucestershire replied with a paltry 127, Mailey picking up 3 for 21.

Asked to follow-on, Gloucestershire were completely baffled by the guile of Mailey, who took all 10 wickets for 66 runs in 28.4 overs, 5 of them maidens. Of his victims, six were bowled and 2 caught and bowled, leaving two to be caught in the field. This performance of his inspired a beautiful literary effort later in Mailey’s life.

A man with an impish sense of humour, often bordering on the bizarre, he bought a butcher’s shop in a suburb of Sydney on retirement from cricket and put up the following sign on the shop-front window, “I used to bowl tripe, then I wrote it, now I sell it!”

Upon hanging up his cricketing boots, Mailey, a man known to wear many hats, including that of a columnist, an artist and cartoonist, wrote a rambling autobiography entitled 10 for 66 and All That, in which he described his first encounter with his hero, Victor Trumper, in a Sydney Grade match.

The Sydney Morning Herald of April 3, 1911 reports that Trumper, darling of all Australia at the time was playing for Gordon, and was stumped by Hayes off the bowling of Arthur Mailey, playing for Redfern, for 34. The initial elation at dismissing his hero soon turned to guilty remorse as Trumper, bat under his arm on his way back to the pavilion, said with a wry smile to the rank new-comer, ”That was too good for me”. Mailey writes that he felt “like a boy who had killed a dove”, as poignant and haunting a comment as any in the rich treasure trove of cricket literature. Mailey had taken 3 for 78 in that innings.

Brief scores:

Bestwick’s match:

Glamorgan 168 (Billy Bates 67; Billy Bestwick 4 for 71) and 106 (Billy Bestwick 10 for 40) lost to Derbyshire 83 (Billy Bates 4 for 17) and 193 for 8 (Bill Carter 50*; Jack Nash 5 for 56) by 2 wickets.

White’s match:

Somerset 237 (Ernie Robson 111) and 364 (Randall Johnson 163) beat Worcestershire 237 (Dick Pearson 74, Maurice Jewell 66; Jack White 10 for 76) and 281 (Frederick Bowley 99, Dick Pearson 80; Ernie Robson 5 for 83, Jack White 5 for 99) by 83 runs.

Rushby’s match:

Surrey 236 (William Abel 72; Ernie Robson 4 for 93, Jack White 4 for 61) and 264 (Andy Sandham 109, Thomas Shepherd 73; Ernie Robson 6 for 84) beat Somerset 110 (Tom Rushby 10 for 43) and 161 (Ernie Robson 50; Bill Hitch 6 for 51) by 229 runs.

Parker’s match:

Somerset 212 (Charlie Parker 10 for 79) and 240 (Percy Mills 5 for 92) beat Gloucestershire 248 (Alfred Dipper 53, Edgar Barnett 95) and 205 for 9 (Harry Smith 62*) but 1 wicket.

Mailey’s match:

Australians 438 (Warren Bardsley 127, Charlie Macartney 121, Jack Gregory 78; Charlie Parker 5 for 148) beat Gloucestershire 127 and 175 (Richard Keigwin 65; Arthur Mailey 10 for 66) by an innings and 136 runs.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)