WG Grace © Getty Images
WG Grace © Getty Images

September 6, 1893. As the penultimate engagement of the Ashes tour drew to an end, John Atkinson Pendlington, a diehard cricket enthusiast, presented WG Grace with a radical scoring sheet — which became the revolutionary Linear Scoring Method. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the day this technique made its first appearance and how it was refined by legendary scorers Bill Ferguson and Bill Frindall.

The Ashes had been decided — England had triumphed by an innings at The Oval.

The tour was drawing to an end, with some unconventional fireworks — a few days ago fielding in the outfield during an odds match in freezing weather at Blackpool, Arthur Coningham had torn off some grass, collected some twigs, piled them together and kindled a nice little fire.

It was time for the penultimate fixture of the tour, played as per tradition at Scarborough, between the tourists and CI Thornton’s XI. A tall scoring match with plenty of runs, it saw Andrew Stoddart and Stanley Jackson put on 176 for the first wicket. When Australia batted, Harry Graham, Alec Bannerman and Hugh Trumble made merry. The game ended in a draw with Australia on 87 for five in their second innings, having been set 185 for a victory.

The 953 runs scored over the three days provided the best possible opportunity to 32-year-old John Atkinson Pendlington, and he made copious entries in his ingenious scoring book.

The founder of the Tyneside Supply Company, which later became the British Electrical Manufacturing Company of Newcastle and London, Pendlington was a die-hard cricket enthusiast. Born in South Shields, he played the game himself for Benwell in the Northumberland League. Later, his son also turned out for the side. Apart from his interests in business and cricket, he was also a noted Shakespearean scholar and a fascinating conversationalist. Once asked about his religion, he had answered, “I am neither heterodox nor orthodox, just a paradox.”

It was a sense of gnawing dissatisfaction with the match reports in Lillywhite and Wisden that had urged Pendlington to ponder about capturing the action on the cricket field with more precision. He could look at the scorecards, get a general idea about how a batsman had performed and how the bowlers had bowled. But, what about the details involving how a batsman played against a particular bowler? Could it only be gleaned from the dispatches of eyewitness reporters — with absolute faith on the accuracy of their accounts? Even in the pre-Neville Cardus days that was a stretch. Could the action not be recorded in scrupulous detail through some method of scoring?

Linear Scoring

Pendlington thought it was possible.

He devised a way, adding a column for each batsman and line for each over, making it possible to follow the progress of a match ball by ball. And during this game between the Australians and CI Thornton’s XI, he sat in the stands, jotting down the action ball by ball in his exercise book. He soon had the number of balls each batsman had received from each bowler and the number of runs he had made from them.

Who would be the most suitable person to present the fruits of his labours? Pendlington did not have to look very far. Seated near the pavilion was the great bearded figure of Dr WG Grace.

A newspaper story dated January 16, 1914, was published marking the death of Pedlington. It noted that on that day the scoring sheet had caused much amusement and pleasure to the good doctor. Of course, with his keen cricketing sense, Grace could very well divine the far-reaching uses of such a method.

This newspaper clipping was preserved by Ken Pendlington, the grandson of the creator of the technique — which has become known as the Linear Scoring method. In early 1994, Ken Pendlington sent a copy of the article to Richie Benaud, to ensure that his grandfather’s efforts would be acknowledged. Indeed Benaud mentioned the contribution of John Atkinson Pendlington to the art of scoring in his book My Spin on Cricket.

What does remain a mystery, however, is the fate of the original score-sheet presented to Grace. What did the doctor do with it? It has never been found. And it is slightly surprising that the method was not immediately adopted by official scorers. The only ones to use it in the subsequent decade were the compilers of scorecards for Australian papers.

It is often believed that Linear Scoring method was developed by the legendary Sydney based scorer Bill Ferguson. However, it is more accurate to say that ‘Fergie’ adopted and refined it. The other great cricket scorer, Bill Frindall, writes in his biography Bearders: “Fergie must have been aware of the Pendlington method and using a school exercise book, he recorded the remaining matches in both that and the traditional scorebook (during his first tour in 1905).”

The original scorebook of the 1905 tour was later bought from the estate of Victor Trumper by a private collector and now finds itself in the Cricket Museum at MCG. The exercise book with the Linear Scoring details was discovered by Frindall in 1975 from the Sydney offices of the New South Wales Cricket Association.

Frindall, who coincidentally possessed the same initials as Ferguson, took the Lateral Scoring technique to the next level once he started scoring from 1966 series between England and West Indies.

He used the same technique as pioneered by Pendlington, but hugely refined and annotated it with marginal notes and comments. The game almost came to life as one browsed through his immaculate calligraphy. The superscript symbol ‘S’ stood for sprinted run, ‘X’ for played and missed, ‘T’ for hit on thigh pad — and many more such codes and keys meticulously detailed the events to perfection. In addition, every scoring stroke was given an index number indicating the zone in the field where the ball travelled to. From these finely documented minutiae, scoring charts and wagon wheels could be easily constructed.

The method was used with excellent effect in the Test Match Special box and was gradually adopted by all professional scorers. In 1971, Jack Hill of Surrey became the first county scorer to undergo conversion to the new technique and others soon followed suit.

Nowadays video analysis and computerisation has changed the art of scoring beyond recognition. But, if we look closely at the algorithms, behind the snazzy graphics and pitch-maps, we will always find the handiwork of Pendlington, Ferguson and Frindall.

It all started with the efforts of one amateur scorer during the Scarborough match of 1893.

Brief scores:

CI Thornton’s XI 345 (Andrew Stoddart 127, Stanley Jackson 62, Billy Newham 52*; Hugh Trumble 5 for 87) and 230 for 8 decl. (Stanley Jackson 68; George Giffen 6 for 88) drew with Australians 391 (Alec Bannerman 74, John Lyons 40, Harry Graham 95, Hugh Trumble 62) and 87 for 5 (John Lyons 47).

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)