Chris Old’s last 50 runs came in 9 balls © Getty Images
Chris Old’s last 50 runs came in 9 balls © Getty Images

Chris Old went on a rampage at Edgbaston on August 9, 1977, plundering runs to bring up a 72-ball 100 including a 9-minute 50. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the one of the most outrageous batting performances in the history of the sport.

Names can be misleading. While the Yorkshire line-up for the 1977 Championship match at Edgbaston consisted of ‘non-violent’ surnames like Bore, Old, Love, and Boycott in their line-up (okay, they had Sharp, and perhaps a somewhat aggressive one in Leadbeater), Warwickshire boasted of aggressive ones like Rouse, Savage, and Humpage.

Yet, it was a Yorkshireman who pulled off one of the most violent innings of all time on August 9, 1977.

As per the rules the first innings of each side was restricted to 100 overs; Rohan Kanhai won the toss and with Bob Willis in his pantheon, put Yorkshire in under overcast conditions. The tourists ended the rain-interrupted Day One on 124 for 2 with Geoff Boycott and Jim Love having added 78 for the third wicket.

The duo accelerated the after the rest day, and after Boycott’s departure for 104 (it was his 99th First-Class hundred), Love went on to score 129, and thanks to some lusty blows from Kevin Sharp and David Bairstow they reached 353 for 5 in their stipulated 100 overs. Warwickshire finished the day at 38 for 1.

Dennis Amiss began fluently the next morning, and after he and John Whitehouse departed the West Indians — Alvin Kallicharran and Kanhai himself— added 65 in no time; soon after lunch Kanhai declared the innings closed 149 runs behind,  just avoiding the follow-on, possibly in an effort to try and go for a nearly impossible outright win.

Boycott did not open batting. There was a reason for this: he was stuck on 99 First-Class hundreds, and with The Ashes Test to start at Headingley on August 11 (two days after the County match got over), he was keen on registering his 100th 100 in front of his home crowd in an Ashes Test.

Barrie Leadbeater and Richard Lumb gave Yorkshire a decent start, but once Eddie Hemmings dismissed both and Whitehouse’s innocuous off-breaks accounted for Sharp, the score suddenly looked 40 for 3; there was obviously no question of trouble with the match having reached its final stages, but Yorkshire obviously wanted to finish the match on a positive note. Boycott, having held himself back till now, decided to do so for a bit longer and sent in Chris Old.

Old enters

Old had declared himself unfit for the fourth Ashes Test at his home ground in Headingley, scheduled to start on August 11. In the inaugural World Cup match two years back he was promoted by Mike Denness to six, and had taken the Indian attack to the cleaners by scoring a 30-ball 51. Even more recently his 23-ball 25 had helped England beat Australia by one wicket at Old Trafford, and that was just two months back.

Old wasn’t quite fully fit; he did not bat in the first innings, and had bowled only 13 overs, going wicketless. When he came out to bat he decided to give it the full blast.

Kanhai kept Whitehouse on — perhaps because he had picked up a wicket, or perhaps under the hope that Yorkshire may want to go for a declaration and give them a chance to chase it. In their co-authored book 500-1: The Miracle of Headingley ’81, Rob Steen and Alastair McLellan have mentioned that the innings had come against “Warwickshire’s generous declaration bowlers”.

Old’s first fifty came in quick time — in 51 balls. He had struck 8 fours and a six then and had batted for 28 minutes. With Yorkshire past hundred, Kanhai had realised that the cause was futile, and took Hemmings off after a while and decided to give himself a chance.

As Kanhai came on to bowl his military-medium, Old exploded. Seldom has Edgbaston witnessed ruthless butchery. So fast did Old score runs that the fact that he passed 5,000 First-Class runs at 75 went unnoticed, and the left-hander brought up his hundred in 72 balls and in 37 minutes. The second fifty came up in 9 minutes.

Pause for a moment here to allow the last line to sink in: a fifty in nine minutes of batting. This was in an era when limited-overs cricket was a new concept, and T20 cricket was decades away from being conceived. The second fifty had taken him 21 balls, and 46 of that (4 fours, 5 sixes) had come in boundaries.

One wonders what had been going on in Love’s mind at the other end: he was, after all, the top-scorer in the match; he had tamed Willis in the first innings; he was supposed to be the one to take control over here; and now, he was reduced to a complete spectator thanks to the adventures of a bowler who had declared himself unfit.

In the process Old went past Gilbert Jessop’s record (40 minutes, for Gloucestershire against Yorkshire at Harrogate) and sat smugly behind Percy Fender (35 minutes, for Surrey against Northamptonshire at Northampton) in the list of fastest centuries.

The Glasgow Herald, while admitting to the fact that the innings had come mostly against occasional bowlers, was all in praise: “Nothing should diminish Old’s achievement in terms of his powerful striking of the ball, but for his full time in the middle the bowling from one end came from Whitehouse, who is not a member of Warwickshire’s bowlers.”

Boycott did not close the innings, and he could hardly be blamed: it was, after all, a delay by 9 minutes, and seldom has cricket seen something of this order. Once Old fell for a 42-minute 107 (13 fours, 7 sixes) he probably realised that there was a declaration on the cards and set Warwickshire an impossible 337 in 25 minutes and 20 overs.

Warwickshire responded to the farce by sending out Hemmings to open. Old, warmed up by his batting, removed Hemmings, and Boycott, opening bowling at the other end, removed Ray Savage. The hosts played out time after some aggressive batting from Humpage, who remained unbeaten on 52 out of 74 for 2.

What followed

– Old won the Walter Lawrence Trophy for having scored the fastest century of the season. His (and Fender’s) records have been surpassed by Glen Chapple (21 minutes), Tom Moody (26 minutes), and Steve O’Shaughnessy (35 minutes), but they were mostly by-products of deliberate poor bowling to enhance quick declarations.

– Everything went according to script for Boycott: he reached his 100 on Day One at Headingley before departing for 191 on Day Two. To make the script perfect, England regained The Ashes as Mike Hendrick bowled them to an innings victory with 5 for 41 and 4 for 54.

– After captaining Yorkshire in 1981 and 1982 Old made a shift in 1984 to — of all places — Warwickshire.

– In addition to picking up 1,070 wickets at 23.48 at First-Class level Old also ended up scoring 7,756 runs at 20.84 with 6 hundreds.

Brief scores:

Yorkshire 353 for 5 (Jim Love 129, Geoff Boycott 104, Kevin Sharp 48) and 188 for 4 decl. (Chris Old 107, Jim Love 40*) drew with Warwickshire 204 for 3 decl. (John Whitehouse 73*, Dennis Amiss 49) and 74 for 1 (Geoff Humpage 52*).

(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/ovshakeand on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42