You could trust Lionel Tennyson to lead one of the greatest comebacks in history © Getty Images
You could trust Lionel Tennyson to lead one of the greatest comebacks in history © Getty Images

June 16, 1922. After being bowled out for 15 in just 8.4 overs, and thereby forced to follow on, Lord Lionel Tennyson’s Hampshire defeated Warwickshire by 155 runs in what remains one of the most astonishing matches of all time. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the miraculous game.

From 15 to 500

For any other team it would have been an unmitigated disaster of a match, abject humiliation of the worst order. After all, being bowled out for 15 surely qualifies as the nadir of cricketing experience.

Not so if the man at the helm is Hon. Lionel Tennyson. The grandson of the great poet was a survivor and a gambler. The previous year, he had led England, batted one-handed against Jack Gregory and Ted MacDonald at Leeds, and also hit Arthur Mailey for six with just his right hand gripping the willow.  He had survived three woundings during the Great War, and as a result lived his life to the fullest, enjoying late night parties, country sports and unrestrained gambling.

It is said that once Tennyson had to sell off a new Rolls Royce to pay his gambling debts — acquired during one bad evening.

Tennyson knew how to come back from the brink of disaster. And he revelled in long odds.

On the damp Birmingham morning of June 14, 1922, he won the toss against the Hon Freddie Calthorpe, and asked the hosts to bat first.

At one stage it looked as if the decision had backfired, with Warwickshire cruising at 166 for 3. But then Jack Newman and Stuart Boyes skittled out the lower order and a score of 223 seemed manageable. The wicket was by now firm and true, and as Alex Kennedy and Alex Bowell walked out to open the Hampshire innings, a first innings lead looked there for the taking.

Or so it seemed.

In the second over, Kennedy edged Calthorpe. And five balls later, Bowell had his stump broken by an express delivery from Harry Howell. The score was still zero.

The sight of Bowell returning to the pavilion, the shattered stump in one hand, seemed to unnerve the Hampshiremen. The pace in the pitch surprised most of them. Harold Day was bowled by Calthorpe to make it 0 for 3. Tennyson himself came in and edged a precarious boundary before being caught off Howell.  The colourful George Brown was bowled first ball.

Phil Mead, that great county batsman, was the only one to play more than 10 balls. He faced 12 and remained unbeaten on 6. A delivery was hurled down the leg-side and went for four byes. Other than that only William Shirley managed a run with the bat. Eight men got ducks and when Boyes was leg before to Howell, the innings had ended in 8.5 overs after just 40 minutes. Hampshire’s score read 15 all out. Howell had taken 6 wickets for 7, Calthorpe 4 for 4.

Some say that they should have played forward and were intent on staying back. Others say they looked terribly nervous. Whatever be the reason, it was a disaster. The Hon. Freddie Calthorpe asked them to bat again. READ: Freddie Calthorpe passes away at the age of 43

And Tennyson? Undeterred, he looked at his men and told them, “Never mind, we’ll get 500 this time.”

Tennyson is piqued

Kennedy and Bowell walked out with a probable sense of déjà vu. This time they equalled the team effort for the first innings, putting on 15, before the former was castled by Calthorpe.

Day and Bowell batted long enough to necessitate the first bowling change. Billy Quaife, in his 50th year, came on and removed both the batsmen. Mead and Tennyson batted out the day and at stumps Hampshire were 98 for 3 in their second innings.

As the players made for the dressing rooms, the Warwickshire captain Calthorpe suggested to Tennyson that the amateurs should go off and play golf when the game ended the next day. Obviously there would be plenty of time.

Tennyson erupted in a ‘flood of good Anglo-Saxon’. The Hampshire captain asserted with plenty of confidence that his side would win. There followed several bets placed at long-odds.

Tennyson’s travails were not over with Calthorpe’s invitation. The following morning he received an anonymous postcard. The sender suggested that his team would be better off painting spots and rocking horses. The captain fumed as he walked out to bat with Mead. There followed a succession of adventurous hits, as Mead batted sensibly at the other end.

But soon the task at hand seemed too enormous. Howell sent down an almost unplayable in-swinging yorker and Mead’s stumps were hit. After a brief interlude involving some more big hits, Tennyson was caught in the slips off his opposite number. When Newman hit one back to Quaife, Hampshire were still 31 runs behind.

Freddie Calthorpe did not deserve to be on the losing side: he scored 100 runs and took 6 for 101 in the match; he led his side well, and had to bow to pressure from the Warwickshire secretary. Photo courtesy: eBay
Freddie Calthorpe did not deserve to be on the losing side: he scored 100 runs and took 6 for 101 in the match; he led his side well, and had to bow to pressure from the Warwickshire secretary. Photo courtesy: eBay

The eye on the gates

As Brown and Shirley stood in the middle, the second new ball was due, bearing all the omens of a knockout punch. However, at this juncture, the Warwickshire secretary sent in a message to Calthorpe. Keeping an eye on the gates, it was necessary for the game to go on a while longer. The captain was asked not to take the new ball.

Hence change bowlers like John Fox and Frederick Santall were put in operation. The Hampshire batsmen inched along and took the lead. Yet, the damages seemed negligible. It was Fox who trapped Shirley for 30, and when Arthur McIntyre was dismissed by Howell, the visitors were just 66 ahead with 2 wickets in hand.

Wicketkeeper Walter Livsey, according to Tennyson, was one of the best stumpers of the country. The future Baron could have been biased, since he himself employed Livsey as a valet. What seemed more important was that Livsey had batted 15 times that season and had reached double figures only thrice.

However, on this day he stuck around, through a combination of fate and fortitude. Brown, the impeccable character at the other end, batted with great guts. He would later hit Harry Howell over the wicketkeeper for six with a dilapidated ruin of a bat at Southampton, but on this occasion he was much more circumspect.

The new ball was taken, but the breakthrough remained elusive. Livsey survived, Brown grew in confidence, old Quaife had to bowl over after over.  It was the part-timer Cyril Smart who got Brown in the end, bowled in trying to force the pace, but by then the score against the batsman’s name was 172, made in four-and-three-quarter hours. Hampshire were on 451.

The day ended with Livsey unbeaten on 81, the total 475 for 9. They led by 267.

Champagne changes dressing rooms

The following morning, the struggle for the final wicket was pronounced.

Livsey got his maiden century and Boyes refused to surrender a quarter. Finally the toiling Howell, with the last ball of his 53rd over, uprooted the stump of Boyes. The total stopped ticking at 521. Livsey remained not out on 110. Old Quaife had had to send down 49 overs. The target set was 314.

And in trotted Tennyson with his men. Kennedy got Leonard Bates caught for one. After a solid innings by stumper Tiger Smith, Kennedy had him caught.

And then Newman ran through the middle order, bowling Santall, Jack Smart and Mick Waddy for next to nothing against their names. Old Billy Quaife kept battling, remaining unbeaten on 40, but the Warwickshiremen collapsed to 158. Hampshire triumphed by 155 runs in what remains the most astonishing game in the championship’s history.

Soon after the game, Tennyson walked into the home dressing room to collect his winnings. And then, in the showers, he danced a Highland Fling.

Finally, uncorking the champagne, he allowed himself a gloating smile. “I’d love to meet the chap who sent me the postcard,” he remarked.

Brief scores:

Warwickshire 223 (Frederick Santall 84, Hon Frederick Calthorpe 70; Jack Newman 4 for 70, Stuart Boyes 4 for 56) and 158 (Tiger Smith 41, Billy Quaife 40*; Alex Kennedy 4 for 47, Jack Newman 5 for 53) lost to Hampshire 15 (Harry Howell 6 for 7, Freddie Calthorpe 4 for 4) and 521 (Alex Bowell 45, Hon Lionel Tennyson 45, George Brown 172, Walter Livsey 110*) by 155 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)