Bill Edrich (left) and Denis Compton © Getty Images
Bill Edrich (left) and Denis Compton © Getty Images

Denis Compton and Bill Edrich plundered the South African attack to amass 370 for the third wicket on June 23, 1947. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the highest Test partnership at Lord’s.

Denis Compton and Bill Edrich were famously known as “The Middlesex twins” with distinctly different approaches to batting. Compton batted with outrageous audacity, often stepping out to challenge the fastest of bowlers. Edrich was more businesslike, accumulating runs, mostly by virtue of his excellent back-foot play. RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote of them that while Compton was poetry, Edrich was prose.

In the 1947 English season, they combined to take run-scoring to new heights. On a rare dry summer, Edrich scored 3,529 at 80.43 with 12 hundreds. He fell short of Compton’s 3,816 at 90.85 with 18 hundreds — still the two highest scores in an English season and a feat unlikely to be broken in future. Their efforts greatly helped Middlesex won the Championship that year.

When asked for his memories about 1947, Compton recollected: “Oh, don’t expect me to go into a long winded technical dissertation. I was as fit as a flea. I did what came naturally and I enjoyed myself.” Edrich, on the other hand, was perhaps less gifted, but made up with his single-minded determination to score big.

Their batting reached an amazing peak in the Test series against South Africa that England won 3-0. Compton scored 753 runs at 94.12 with 4 hundreds, while Edrich accumulated 552 at 110.40 with 2 hundreds (along with 16 wickets at 23.12). Between them they decimated the South Africa into submission.

Their superlative performances culminated in the second Test of the series at their home ground, Lord’s. Together, they broke one record after another and went on to build one of the greatest partnerships in the history of the sport.

The build-up

South Africa had dominated the first Test at Trent Bridge, mostly due to a world record third wicket partnership of 319 between Alan Melville (he scored hundreds in each innings) and Dudley Nourse. England were forced to follow-on, and were saved only by a rampant Compton, who scored 163 and added 237 for the fifth wicket with Norman Yardley.

The English crowd, realising that the South Africans would not be a pushover, reached the ground for the second Test at Lord’s in large numbers. The official attendance was 30,600.

Day One: Compton and Edrich score tons

Norman Yardley won the toss and elected to bat on what looked like a good pitch. The Test began with contrasting displays of batting from Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook. Hutton looked all at sea, making his way to a painstaking 121-ball 18, and was eventually beaten by an off-break from Athol Rowan which sneaked in through his defence.

Washbrook, on the other hand, looked solid, though Melville displayed an example of sensible leadership as he placed two fielders at third-man to block Washbrook’s favourite cut. Washbrook went past his fifty, but flashed at one from Ossie Dawson and was caught by Lindsay Tuckett at second slip on the third attempt. Compton walked out to join Edrich with the score on 96 for 2.

It was a long tail with Yardley scheduled to bat at No. 6, which meant that the “Middlesex Twins” had to put a heavy price on their wickets. They began cautiously with Tuckett bowling beautifully and Tufty Mann and Rowan providing excellent support. Runs were not easy to come by, more so because of the superlative fielding, but the batsmen hung on. Johnny Lindsay failed to stump Edrich when he was on 47, but barring that lapse, the partnership was without a blemish.

Once the pair had settled down, strokes began to flow. Compton was fluent in his aggression, playing everything from the booming cover-drive to the confidence-shattering sweep; Edrich, on the other hand, played more from the crease, and pulled Rowan for a massive six. He also played his famous pulled-drive with gusto, and the South African spinners did not have an answer to his controlled aggression.

Runs kept flowing, and the game swung away from the South Africans, faster than they had imagined. The duo plundered runs with no apparent difficulty. Edrich scored his first hundred on home soil while Compton scored his second consecutive hundred.

At stumps, England were 312 for 2 with Edrich on 109 and Compton on 110; the pair had added 216 runs in 190 minutes, and looked hungry for more.

Day Two: Records tumble

If Day One had been about consolidation, Day Two belonged to some scintillating strokeplay by the pair in their characteristic styles. Compton unleashed his full repertoire. Whenever he had done that during his illustrious career, few could equal him.

Yet, Edrich was not far behind. He matched Compton stroke to stroke, and the batsmen raced with each other to reach the 150-mark. In the process they went past Wally Hammond and Joe Hardstaff Jr’s 245 against New Zealand in 1937 to set a new third-wicket partnership record at Lord’s, and then past Hutton and Compton’s 248 against West Indies in 1939 to register a new record for any wicket at Lord’s.

The duo marched on, completely oblivious of the milestones that were tumbling as they massacred the South Africans with clinical ease. Soon they went past Hutton and Hammond’s 264 against West Indies at The Oval in 1939, setting a new third-wicket partnership for England.

Wisden described Compton’s batting during this phase of the innings as ‘a sparkling exhibition of fluent strokeplay”. Edrich, on the other hand, looked more assured and composed, but nevertheless did not fall behind in terms of scoring rate

The 319 added by Melville and Nourse at Trent Bridge lasted a single Test: Edrich and Compton soon secured the world-record third-wicket partnership. The 30,000-strong Lord’s crowd acknowledged the tumbling of every record, and soon Hutton and Maurice Leyland’s 382 in the Ashes Test at The Oval in 1938 — the record for any wicket for England —15 looked closer than it seemed to be.

It was not destined to happen: Edrich eventually lost his concentration, and Mann hit his stumps 15 minutes after lunch. Edrich had scored 189 in 361 minutes with 26 fours and a six, and the duo had put up 370 to take the match away from the South Africans. The partnership is still the highest for the third wicket for England, and the highest for any wicket at Lord’s.

Compton continued with the onslaught, and reached his double-hundred. He eventually fell for 208 after a stay of 354 minutes during which he hit 20 fours.

Charlie Barnett hit a few lusty blows, and Yardley declared with the score on 554 for 8 as wickets fell in a heap. Tuckett picked up the last five wickets, and had conceded 115.

What followed?

South Africa ended the day on a respectable 167 for 2. Melville scored his third consecutive hundred (he would finish the series with 569 runs at 63.22 with three hundreds), but despite that South Africa collapsed to 327 from 222 for 2, mostly due to the guile of Doug Wright, who picked up five for 95. Bowling his Chinamen, Compton picked up 2 for 32 as well.

South Africa followed-on, and this time it was Edrich who struck — clean bowling Melville (who failed for the first time in the series) and Ken Viljoen to reduce the visitors to 28 for 2. Mitchell and Nourse batted sensibly, and South Africa reached 120 for 2 at stumps with both batsmen in fine nick. They still trailed by 107.

Nourse fell early — once again bowled by Edrich — but Mitchell carried on. However, from 192 for 3, there was another collapse — and South Africa were once again bowled out by Wright, who picked up 5 for 80 (which gave him match-figures of 10 for 175). Compton, yet again, picked up 2 wickets, which meant that between them the twins had accounted for 7 for 131.

It did not take Hutton and Washbrook long to score the 26 runs required for a victory, and the Test got over on Day Four. England sealed the series with subsequent victories at Old Trafford and Headingley, but the tourists managed to salvage a draw at The Oval.

The stands at Lord's. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
The stands at Lord’s. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

The stands after the stand

To commemorate their contribution to Middlesex and English cricket, the Compton and Edrich stands were built at Lord’s in 1991 — with the Media Centre at the Nursery End joining them. As the Lord’s website describes them as “among the best places to watch the cricket, particularly when the sun is out”.

Other than Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen, Compton and Edrich remain the only cricketers after whom stands have been named at Lord’s. They were a magnificent pair, but they have never batted better in tandem than that day at Lord’s. The Lord’s website says, “modern Home of Cricket visitors recognise the names Compton and Edrich as the two stands at the Nursery End — but the cricketers they’re named after had their greatest Lord’s moment against South Africa in 1947”.

Brief scores:

England 554 for 8 decl. (Denis Compton 208, Bill Edrich 189, Cyril Washbrook 65; Lindsay Tuckett 5 for 115) and 26 for no loss beat South Africa 327 (Alan Melville 117, Dudley Nourse 61, Bruce Mitchell 46; Doug Wright 5 for 95) and 252 (Bruce Mitchell 80, Dudley Nourse 58; Doug Wright 5 for 80) by 10 wickets.

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