Lord   s witnessed a most dubious yet enduring bowling spelling     that of R Holden    Getty Images (representational photo)
Lord s witnessed a most dubious yet enduring bowling spelling that of R Holden Getty Images (representational photo)

June 29, 1818. MCC played the Gentlemen of England with some stretched rules. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the game in which only one bowler was employed by the Gentlemen across two innings, and voices a suspicion that cannot be ignored.

In those early days of cricket, rules could be bent, or stretched.

Thus, when MCC met the Gentlemen of England at Lord s in late June 1818, the conditions were pre-agreed.

With EH Budd, William Ward and George The Squire Osbaldeston in their ranks, MCC were a rather strong outfit. And when the Gentlemen looked at their own team, it was decided that R Holden was the only bowler of any quality who could match the batting firepower of the opponents with his guile.

Hence, it was agreed that Holden would bowl from both the ends throughout the game. He would also have 10 picked fieldsmen.

We don t know how many overs were bowled by this hardworking man. We also don t know how many of the original team fielded and how many special fielders were picked. But only Holden figures in the bowling analysis. MCC were bowled out for 196 in the first innings, Budd getting 73, and Holden took all 10.

In response the Gentlemen scored 102. With Budd and Ward bowling for MCC, run scoring was always going to be difficult. Hence, with a lead of 94 runs, MCC batted again. This time Ward scored 86, Osbaldeston 53, and the total amounted to 193. Holden bowled alone once again, and took all the wickets.

However, there was a caveat. One batsman of the MCC side was absent, and therefore Holden had to be satisfied with 9 wickets, 19 for the match.

With a target of 288 staring down at them, it was a lost cause for the Gentlemen. They were bowled out for 147, thus losing by 140 runs.

Now, the 19 wickets is a pretty huge haul and it is a pity that the absence of a batsman prevented it from being 20. But, was it just unfortunate or was there something else in the works?

After all betting and fixing were rampant in those days. And the unusual conditions of the match must have egged punters to bet on a clean sweep of wickets for Holden.

Yes, we cannot ignore the possibility that some underhand deal was going on.

Intriguingly, the name of this missing batsman tickles thoughts further in that sporting direction. It was the Hampshire and England batsman Felix Calvert Ladbroke.

Brief scores:

MCC 196 (EH Budd 73; R Holden 10 wickets) and 193 (William Ward 86, George Osbaldeston 53; R Holden 9 wickets) beat Gentlemen of England 102 and 147 (George Claridge 44) by 140 runs.