Charlie McLeod
Charlie McLeod

Charlie McLeod was run out rather cruelly on December 16, 1897 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). Abhishek Mukherjee looks at incident that was simply not cricket — and its repercussions.

Charles Edward McLeod was one of the best all-rounders of the Golden Age of Cricket. A Victorian turn-of-the-century all-rounder, McLeod was a more than adept medium-paced bowler who had picked up 335 wickets at 24.25; he was also a dependable batsman who had scored 3,321 runs at 21.28.

That was, however, not the greatest achievement of McLeod; and neither was the 17 Tests he played, all against England. McLeod was not blessed with the power of hearing: in other words, he would not hear a snick, an appeal, or even the thwack of the ball hitting the middle of the bat.

McLeod had played a single Test three years back at SCG without much success. He was back after a significant gap for the 1897-98 Ashes against Andrew Stoddart’s side. However, just before the Test news came out that Stoddart’s mother had passed away, and Archie MacLaren filled in. He also won the toss and decided to bat.

The English first innings

After Ernie Jones gave Australia the first jolt Tom Hayward joined McLaren and the two added 136 in 116 minutes. MacLaren scored 109 (making it 3 hundreds in 3 Tests at SCG), and just when Australia seemed to be regaining control of the Test at 258 for 5 KS Ranjitsinhji helped George Hirst add 124 for the sixth wicket.

Even after Hirst’s departure Ranji’s elegance did not come to a halt: those wrists came into play as the runs kept flowing; his illness did not seem to deter him as he scored a majestic 175 in 223 minutes, thus becoming only the second player after Harry Graham to score hundreds in their maiden Tests in both England and Australia.

England were eventually bowled out for 551 on the second afternoon. McLeod and Jones had accounted for three wickets apiece, while John Kelly became the first wicket-keeper to have not conceded a single bye in an innings of over 500 runs.

The Australian first innings

Tom Richardson’s early strikes reduced Australia to 24 for 2, and thereafter Jack Hearne took over. England ended the day in tatters at 86 for 5; Syd Gregory and Hugh Trumble helped salvage the situation before the former was snared by Hearne, bringing McLeod to the crease.

Trumble and McLeod took the attack to the English camp: from 138 for 7 they added 90 runs, and for once MacLaren looked clueless. He eventually turned to the fast-medium bowling of Jack Mason, who removed Trumble almost immediately for 70.

The remaining wickets fell quickly, leaving McLeod stranded on 50; Hearne finished with 5 for 42 and Richardson with 3 for 71 as Australia were bowled out for 237. They were asked to follow-on.

The Australian second innings

This time it was Johnny Briggs who picked up the first wicket, clean bowling Frank Iredale. McLeod, with his eye in after his first-innings batting, was promoted to three. He stuck around with Joe Darling, and the two added 89 before stumps; Darling was the dominant partner with 80 and McLeod on 20; Australia were 126 for 1, still 188 runs short.

Not quite cricket from MacLaren

It happened early next morning. Australia had added nine more runs and McLeod had managed to add six more, which is when the incident happened.

Richardson bowled a full-toss to McLeod; the Victorian missed the line completely and the ball hit the stumps. The Englishmen were jubilant at having broken the partnership, but Charles Bannerman, umpiring in the match, had already called out “no-ball” rather loudly.

Unfortunately McLeod’s handicap prevented him from hearing the decision; he walked out of the crease on his way to the pavilion. The ball had rolled to Bill Storer behind the stumps; Storer threw down the stumps with McLeod out of the crease. Jim Philips, standing at square-leg, had no option but to rule McLeod run out.

McLeod was confused at first before getting to terms with exactly what had happened. Once he realised that the Englishmen had been cruel enough to take advantage of his handicap he appealed to Bannerman as a last resort; Bannerman, however, refused to intervene.

McLeod returned to the pavilion amidst a lot of hooting and jeering from the crowd; the afternoon was spent in discussion on whether the run out was a legitimate one given that McLeod had not exactly attempted a run. Storer, on the other hand, “regretted at having acted as he did, and said he did so under orders.”

MacLaren was able to break the all-important partnership. He did not do it by playing cricket, though.

The rest of the match

Darling shortly became the first left-hander to score a Test hundred. Clem Hill, that champion South Australian, scored 96; there was little help from the others as Australia were bowled out for 408, leaving Kelly stranded on 46. Hearne was the wrecker-in-chief yet again with figures of 4 for 99.

Chasing 95 MacLaren and Mason added 80 before Tom McKibbin ran through Mason’s defence. MacLaren reached his fifty and he and Ranji polished off the remaining runs. England went 1-0 up in the series.

Brief scores:

England 551 (Archie MacLaren 109, Tom Hayward 72, Bill Storer 43, George Hirst 62, KS Ranjitsinhji 175; Charlie McLeod 3 for 80, Ernie Jones 3 for 130) and 96 for 1 (Archie MacLaren 50 not out) beat Australia 237 (Syd Gregory 46, Hugh Trumble 70, Charlie McLeod 50*; Jack Hearne 5 for 42, Tom Richardson 3 for 71) and 408 (Joe Darling 101, Clem Hill 96, James Kelly 46*; Jack Hearne 4 for 99) by 9 wickets.

What followed?

McLeod was livid: his fury knew no bounds, and he decided to take it out on the tourists. In the second Test at MCG he opened the innings and scored 112; in the third at Adelaide he scored 31 and picked up 5 for 65; in the fourth at MCG he got 2 for 11 and 64*; and in the fifth at SCG he scored 64: Australia won in all four Tests.

McLeod finished the series with 352 runs at 58.67 and 10 wickets at 23.60 from 5 Tests. His career never scaled such heights: in the other 12 Tests that he had played he managed only 221 runs at 12.28 and 23 wickets at 47.35. MacLaren had managed to irk him all right.

(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)