James Southerton. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
James Southerton was adamant that he had been caught, despite the umpires telling him that he was not out. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

On July 25, 1870 at The Oval, James Southerton was involved in the strangest of (non-)dismissals. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a rare moment when even WG Grace was left confused.

Though not really much of a batsman, James Southerton was one of the finest round-arm slow bowlers for the third quarter of the 19th century. He played for Surrey, and finished with 1,682 wickets at 14.43 including 192 five-wicket hauls from 286 First-Class matches.

The MCC team was an outstanding one. In Alfred Shaw, George Wootton, and Frank Farrands they had three outstanding round-arm new-ball bowlers; they also had a pair of batsmen in Charles Thornton and Isaac Walker, both of whom were also competent under-arm bowlers; and to crown everything, they had WG Grace — still only 22.

But it is his low-key batting that this article is about. He also had an idiosyncrasy. As Brian Levison wrote in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: Cricket: “Southerton was not a very good batsman and Grace says that they often used to tease him that he sometimes closed his eyes to hit.”

Southerton takes over

That day at The Oval, too, Southerton was on fire after MCC batted and had an outstanding start to their innings. They added 83 for the opening stand [thus outscoring each of Surrey’s two innings] before John Vince, Surrey’s ace fast bowler, ran through John Dale’s defence. Even then they were not deterred as Thornton and The Doctor added 44 for the second wicket. Then Southerton took over.

It had seemed that the MCC would bat out Day One — but Southerton thought otherwise. He had not managed a wicket with the new ball, but he came back  to reduce MCC to 156 for 7 after they were 146 for 2. They eventually managed to reach 191, and though James Street took 2 wickets, it was Southerton who ran through the line-up with figures of 7 for 68 from 32 overs (21.2 six-ball overs).

Shaw and Wootton hit back

Surrey found themselves in disarray against Shaw and Wootton once they walked out to bat. They lost their top 5 batsmen with a mere 15 on the scoreboard, and it was only some hard-fought rearguard action from Ted Pooley and George Griffith that helped them reach 33.

After Griffith fell Street helped Pooley add 18 more before he holed out to James Biddulph off Wootton. Southerton walked out to join Pooley. The score was 51 for 7.

A bemused Grace

The ball was probably pitched short, since Southerton had cut it hard — allegedly with his eyes closed. The ball bounced and went to Grace, standing at point. Nobody appealed — not even Grace, despite his reputation for gamesmanship (though he was only 22).

But Southerton was sure he was out, so he walked. Confusion reigned. The bowler was sure Southerton was not out, as were the fielders. The umpires — James Mortlock and George Street (brother of James, who was playing for Surrey in the match) — agreed with them and were in no mood to rule him out — but Southerton was as adamant on his stand as well. The fielders and both umpires tried to persuade him to come back, but to no avail.

Wisden later wrote: “Southerton cut a ball hard on the ground, which Mr Grace at point caught from the bound. Southerton thought the ball went straight from the bat to Mr Grace’s hands, but neither of the umpires, point, nor any other man but Southerton thought so (Mr Grace did not toss up the ball); however, Southerton walked away, and although called back, did not walk back, so he lost his innings.”

Grace later recollected in WG: Cricketing Reminiscences: “Once, when I was fielding at point, I proved it [the fact that Southerton often hit with his eyes closed] by claiming a catch from a ball which had palpably struck the ground before I caught it. ‘Jimmy’ opened his eyes just in time to see me to see me toss up the ball, and I, to carry on the joke, said he had given me a hot’un; then he believed he was caught, and walked out. The fieldsmen told him he was not out, and Pooley whistled him to return, but Southerton would not believe it.”

The bemused scorers registered the entry next to his name as “J Southerton, retired thinking he was out, 0”. For the sake of sanity (and cricket statisticians all over the world), the mode of dismissal was changed to “retired out”.

Shaw and Wootton rout Surrey

The MCC opening bowlers bowled unchanged to dismiss Surrey for 66. Surrey followed-on, and there was enough time for Richard Humphrey to be dismissed before stumps. After a good night’s rest, Shaw and Wootton bowled ended up bowling unchanged throughout the match to skittle Surrey for 74, thus resulting in a heavy innings victory. Shaw finished with 13 for 58 from 62.3 overs (41.5 six-ball overs) while Wootton claimed six for 71 from 62 (41.2 six-ball overs).

What followed?

– Two seasons later Southerton (4 for 5) and William Marten (6 for 11) reduced MCC to 0 for 7 before bowling them out for 16. Southerton added 7 for 38 to his tally in the second innings to rout MCC for 71.

– Over a century after Southerton’s dismissal, Western Australia’s Graeme Watson cut Queensland’s Warwick Neville to Donald Allen at gully and left in a Sheffield Shield encounter at Perth. His dismissal was recorded the Southerton way.

– Southerton played in the first Test ever at an age of 49 years 119 days. He still remains the oldest Test debutant. He also passed away on June 16, 1880, which made him the first Test cricketer to die.

Brief scores: 

MCC 191 (WG Grace 84; James Southerton 7 for 68) beat Surrey 66 (Alfred Shaw 6 for 33, George Wootton 3 for 28) and 74 (Alfred Shaw 7 for 25, George Wootton 3 for 43).

 (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editorial Head and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)