Fred Tate. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Fred Tate. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

The Sussex medium-pacer Fred Tate was born July 24, 1867. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a player whose only Test ended in a rather dramatic fashion.

There have been Tests in history dedicated to cricketers: the 1952 Lord’s Test is generally referred to as Vinoo Mankad’s Test, while the Jubilee Test at Bombay is typically called Ian Botham’s Test. There are, of course, other examples throughout the annals of the sport.

Fred Tate was a one-Test wonder whose career tally read nine runs, two wickets, and two catches; and yet, despite some remarkable performances by others the Old Trafford Test of the 1902 Ashes is generally remembered in Ashes history as Tate’s Test.

Tate had picked up 588 wickets at 21.87 over the 5 seasons from 1897 to 1901. In 1902 he went a step ahead and eventually finished the season with 180 wickets at 15.71. He had been in amazing form that summer, picking up 128 wickets at 12.63 from the first 14 matches in the season. This included a career-best 9 for 73 against Leicestershire and the match against Middlesex where he picked up 15 for 68 — all in a single day — to bowl out Middlesex single-handedly for 51 and 79.

There was a slight ‘slump’, if it can be called that, but he came back to form with 10 for 80 against Kent. He was eventually picked for the fourth Test of the Ashes at Old Trafford.

Tate’s Test

Australia were 1-0 up in the series winning the third Test that was curiously played at Bramall Lane. England brought in two debutants: the Somerset all-rounder Lionel Palairet along with Tate. They also recalled KS Ranjitsinhji, and left out CB Fry, Gilbert Jessop, and George Hirst. There was a general criticism over Tate being selected over Hirst but the selectors preferred the Sussex man who was a menace on a wet pitch.

The Test began in dramatic fashion after Joe Darling won the toss and decided to bat: Victor Trumper became the first man to score a hundred before lunch on Day One in a Test; three other Australians — Reggie Duff, Clem Hill, and Darling himself — scored fifties; however, no other batsman made more than 5 as the visitors collapsed to 299. Bill Lockwood (6 for 48) and Wilfred Rhodes (4 for 104) were the wreckers-in-chief. Tate’s 11 overs went wicketless for 44 runs.

Jack Saunders and Hugh Trumble then hit back, reducing England to 44 for 5; Stanley Jackson and Len Braund then added 141 for the sixth wicket. Jackson was last out for 128 as England scored 262. Once again, the scorecard looked quite singular as eight Englishmen were out for seven or less. Batting in his maiden innings Tate remained unbeaten on five.

Due to his 255-minute innings and lacklustre show against Trumper in the first innings Jackson was not given the new ball. Tate shared it with Rhodes instead. Lockwood was brought on early, and he began the wreck this time, reducing Australia to 10 for 3.

Things looked serious as Syd Gregory joined Joe Darling. Lockwood’s pace was ably supported by the leg-breaks of Braund at the other end. Playing for Somerset Palairet was the usual square-leg fielder to Braund and had fielded there throughout the Test.

However, as Gregory ran a single, bringing the southpaw Darling on strike, Archie MacLaren sent Tate to the spot without much thought. Then, with the Australian score on 16, Braund tossed one up, and Darling hit it straight to Tate at square-leg.

Horror struck the English hearts as Tate spilled the chance. Wisden later wrote: “If the catch had been held it is quite likely, as Lockwood was bowling in such wonderful form, that the Australians would have been out for a total of fifty or sixty.”

It wasn’t to happen. Darling and Gregory put up 54 for the fourth wicket and though Tate himself broke the partnership by trapping Gregory leg-before it was probably too late. The partnership being broken, Lockwood and Rhodes ran through the lower middle-order and Australia were a hopeless 85 for 8 at stumps.

Then it rained; it poured for hours, changing the pitch completely. The balance had shifted completely. The last 2 Australian wickets fell for a solitary run (Trumble was leg-before off Tate, giving him his second Test wicket). Lockwood finished with 11 for 76 and England were left to score 124 on a virtually unplayable wicket. If only Tate had taken the catch…

To their credit England reached 92 for 3 against Trumble and Saunders; Bobby Abel had definitely come out with his intentions clear, and the runs came fast with Ranjitsinhji holding an end up. However, Trumble broke through twice, and the runs dried up as Jackson and Braund inched towards the target.

Once again Australia struck and England became 109 for 8 from 107 for 5 as Rhodes joined Dick Lilley. Three scoring shots took the score to 116 before Lilley was brilliantly caught by Hill — who covered a lot of distance to take a high catch — off Trumble. England now required 8 from the last wicket, and as poor Tate walked out to bat another bout of rain held up play for 45 minutes.

The batsmen had, unfortunately, crossed, which meant that Tate would have to take on Saunders at the other end. To everyone’s surprise Tate hit Saunders’ first ball to the leg for a boundary! With 4 more required Tate kept out the next two balls as the crowd waited with bated breath.

Then it happened: Saunders ran in; the ball moved into Tate slightly and kept a tad low; the ball hit the timber as Australia won by 3 runs. Tate broke down in tears. The double blow of the dropped catch and the dismissal with 4 runs to go was too much for him.

A distraught Tate told Braund after the Test: “I have got a boy, at home who will put it all right for me.” Maurice Tate, only a boy of seven then, kept his father’s words: he went on to play 39 Tests for England, picking up 155 wickets at 26.16 (in addition to being a fairly competitive batsman who scored 1,198 runs at 25.48 with a hundred) and picked up 38 wickets from five Tests at 23.18 in his first Ashes series.

Early days

Let us return to Fred Tate, though. He was born of Sarah Tate, a 30-year-old Brighton woman: his birth certificate does not contain a father’s name. There had been rumours that he was the son of a Russian prince, but Justin Parkinson, in his Then Came Massacre: The Story of Maurice Tate, Cricket’s Smiling Destroyer, has rubbished them as ‘not provable’ and ‘unlikely’.

Fred Tate was, in Parkinson’s words, “respectable, polite, articulate, and modest”. When St Peter’s Church decided to set up its own cricket team Tate was among the first to turn up and join the side. He played alongside Reverend FLP Maurice, who was quite closely associated with the Championship.

Maurice pushed Tate to a trial conducted by the legendary Alfred Shaw: Shaw immediately discovered talent in Tate, and the bowler soon made his debut for Sussex Colts in 1885 at 17. He also played in the trials for the first team.

Tate made his First-Class debut on June 20, 1887 — the very day when entire England celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. He went wicketless against Yorkshire at Bradford but made an impression on the selectors. In his second match against MCC at Lord’s Tate skittled a strong line-up with figures of 4 for 21.

Sussex mainstay

He became a regular for Sussex from that season: playing at Tonbridge against Kent he returned unbelievable figures of 4-3-1-5; along with Ranji and Fry Tate became one of the crucial players in Sussex’s success (if you mind the alliteration) story of the 1890s and 1900s.

Though he never became a Wisden Cricketer of the Year Tate continued as one of the leading bowlers in the County Championship. He helped Sussex reach second spot for the first time in 1902, picking up 153 wickets at 14.28 with 16 five-fors and 7 ten-fors.

He was the leading bowler in County Championship that year.

He picked up 62 wickets at 24.95 with 3 five-fors and 2 ten-fors the next season and Sussex became runners-up for the second successive time. They would not reach the spot again till 1932.

Tate finished his First-Class career with 1,331 wickets from 320 matches at 21.55 with a strike rate of 50.6. He picked up 104 five-fors and 29 ten-fors. Not much of a batsman, he scored 2,952 runs with 6 fifties, and held 234 catches. He picked up the only hat-trick of his career against Surrey in 1901, his benefit year. The Yorkshire match at Hove added £1,051 to his wallet.

With 1,306 wickets Tate still ranks 6th among all Sussex bowlers (Maurice Tate tops the list with 2,211). His 161 wickets in 1902 is fourth on the list (Maurice holds the top two spots). His 103 five-fors are at 3rd (Maurice leads with 159) as is his season tally of 17 in 1902 (once again, Maurice leads with 22 in 1925).

Of all Sussex bowlers to pick up 15 or more wickets in a match Fred Tate’s tally of 15 for 68 (mentioned above) had been the cheapest. It is also the fourth-best bowling record in the history of Sussex (after George Cox’s 17 for 106, William Lillywhite’s 16-wicket haul — the runs conceded is unknown — and the wonderfully named John Elicius Benedict Bernard Placid Quirk Carrington Dwyer’s 16 for 100.

Later years

Tate coached Derbyshire after retirement and then became a professional coach of Trent College in 1921. His second son Cecil, a left-arm spinner, played 11 matches for Derbyshire and Warwickshire.

Fred Tate passed away on February 4, 1943 at Burgess Hill, Sussex.

(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.)