Colin Milburn in full flow © Getty Images
Colin Milburn in full flow © Getty Images

On a blisteringly hot day at Brisbane exactly on November 22, 1968, Colin Milburn hammered an incredible 181 runs in a session. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the epic display of power, placement and madcap hitting.

Colin Milburn was not exactly riding on a wave of runs. The Tests against Australia that summer had seen meagre returns. In the county season, he had managed to barely score at 30, finishing 38th in the national averages. Subsequently, he had been dropped from the England side.

Yet, rotund to the point of enormous, beaming, jovial and known for his explosive batting, Milburn was enjoying his life to the fullest when he landed in Australia for his second Sheffield Shield season on the trot. He had teamed up with Ken Barrington — and later Fred Trueman when Barrington had his first heart-attack — in a high-profile double-wicket tournament at Melbourne.

Milburn and Trueman had won the final against Graeme and Peter Pollock by a solitary run. The players who participated included blue-ribbon pairings such as Garry Sobers and Wes Hall, Bob Simpson and Graham McKenzie, Bill Lawry and Doug Walters, and Rohan Kanhai and Charlie Griffith apart from the Pollock brothers.

Preparing to turn out for Western Australia, for whom he had scored 571 at 40.78 the previous season, Milburn had found an apartment close to the beach where he spent time swimming and regaling his friends and followers during the long late-night stints in the local pubs. His zest for life and bonhomie were infectious.

It was against Queensland in Brisbane that this colourful character produced one of the most fascinating displays of batting ever witnessed in the country.

Frantic pace

The match had started on a broiling hot day, and Milburn had opened the innings with Bruce Chadwick. They faced a new ball attack of Peter Allan and Ross Duncan, both good enough to play for Australia.

The start was slow. Off the first 33 balls, Milburn managed 3 singles and a boundary. Then, he opened up as he hit 7 fours in quick succession off Duncan, including 4 in an over.

When they walked into the dressing room for lunch, both Milburn and Chadwick were drenched with sweat, their faces glistening. The score read 92 without loss, and Milburn had contributed 61. He complained that so much sweat had seeped through his gloves that he couldn’t get a firm grip on his bat.

Drier gloves were put on, and it turned out to be a spectacle of fireworks after lunch. Supreme power and placement enthralled the 3,000-strong crowd. The roars of the spectators even achieved the impossible of waking Rod Marsh who was busy napping in the dressing-room, and the wicketkeeper emerged on the players’ balcony to watch one of the most ferocious onslaughts in the history of the game.

By the 12th over after lunch, the Queensland bowling seemed so full of holes that Bob Paulsen was called upon to bowl his leg-breaks in the Richie Benaud mould. Milburn struck 2 boundaries in his first over, 4 more in his second, and a six and 2 more fours in the fourth.

The next man to suffer was Rusi Surti, the Indian left-arm spinner. He went for 48 off the 28 balls bowled to Milburn. Once, Milburn stepped back from his leg stump looking for a big drive through the covers; Surti used the breeze to drift it away, causing the big batsman to scramble after it. Milburn fell on his knees and brought his bat down as the ball passed the off-stump, and it was scythed away to the backward point fence at the speed of lightning.

Milburn followed his century with some more extravagant hitting, including a nonchalantly hooked six off Duncan. At 131, he gave his first chance, hooking again and finding Geoff Gray, who could not hold on to the ball and fell back on the pickets, lacerating his chest.

Gray dropped him again at cover, when a rasping drive stung his wrists as he bent down in an attempt to pluck the ball inches from the ground. Milburn was 148 then. He raced along, his bat generating far more heat than the Australian sun. Bludgeoning drives, ferocious cuts and his favourite hooks and pulls pulverised the bowlers and fielders on that fine summer day.

Soon after completing his double-hundred, Milburn took 21 off an Allan over before surviving once more when the unfortunate bowler failed to cling on to a blistering drive.

When Milburn and Chadwick came off for tea, people in the ground realised the enormity of what they had just witnessed. Western Australia stood at 327 without loss, Milburn 242, Chadwick 76. Milburn’s 181 off 134 balls between lunch and tea was by some distance the highest ever scored by an individual in a session in Australia, easily surpassing Bill Ponsford’s 152 for Victoria against New South Wales in 1926. Even Bradman never managed more than 142 in a session, scored on that afternoon in 1930 when he plundered the Victorian bowling on his way to 452.

But, this monumental massacre came at a cost. Milburn was dead tired from his mayhem in the heat. Marsh claimed that he had never seen a man more exhausted than him. Ross Edwards spent the entire break fanning him with a wet towel; but it did not really help. Immediately after resumption,  Milburn was out caught-and-bowled by John Morgan for 243, and the drive would have shattered Morgan’s ankle had he not held on to the sharp chance.

Milburn returned to the pavilion, hastily mouthed, “Sorry fellas” to his teammates and slumped into a chair. After a while, he went into the shower and cooled himself with few lusty refrains of “The Green Green Grass of Home.”

As Milburn was towelling himself, the 16-stone bulk of Peter Burge, the former Queensland captain, loomed in the dressing room to thank him for justifying the presence of fat men in the game.

The celebrations went on far into the night, something Milburn was perfectly at home with. Frank O’Callaghan in the Brisbane Courier-Mail observed, “Not since the great days of The Don has a batsman ripped an attack apart so mercilessly and taken such a haul of records in the process.”

Milburn had scored 243 in 3 hours 56 minutes off 228 balls with 38 fours and 4 sixes. His partnership with Chadwick was worth 328.

Western Australia won by an innings.

The happy batsman top-scored with 811 in the Shield that year, at 73.72, and his heroics earned him a return to the Test side. Receiving a cable from Pakistan, he flew to Dacca (now Dhaka) from Perth and slammed 139 at Karachi.

Sadly, it was to be the last Test innings of this phenomenal talent. Six months after that afternoon at Perth, a car accident cost Milburn his left eye, and the lights went out permanently for his career.

Brief scores:

Western Australia 615 for 5 decl. (Colin Milburn 243, John Inverarity 108, Gordon Becker 112) beat Queensland 282 (John Loxton 40, Geoffrey Gray 43, Rusi Surti 77, Keith Dudgeon 44; Laurie Mayne 3 for 114, Tony Lock 4 for 70) and 258 (Rusi Surti 49, Robert Parker 87; Tony Lock 7 for 61) by an innings and 75 runs.

(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://twitter.com/senantix)