From left: Ranjitsinhji, Tom Richardson, George Giffen    Getty Images
From left: Ranjitsinhji, Tom Richardson, George Giffen Getty Images

On July 18, 1896 Ranjitsinhji scored 154 not out on his Test debut as George Giffen became the first man to reach the 1,000 runs-100 wickets double. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at an Old Trafford classic where Tom Richardson s immortal performance made sure that the match went down to the wire.

The history of cricket is strewn with the most keenly contested matches that have left all and sundry hanging at the edge of their seats till the very; on the end there have been matches that have made history in terms of their contributions to the record books.

Few Tests, however, have achieved both. There can be few better examples than the Old Trafford epic of 1896.

The build-up

The first Test at Lord s had ended in a comfortable victory for England thanks to an 11-wicket haul from Tom Richardson one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time.

As the teams moved to Old Trafford, however, several strings were being pulled in the background. It had taken KS Ranjitsinhji seven years to become eligible to represent Sussex in Championship cricket. Despite his stature he had his share of being on the receiving end of racial prejudices. He had, however, chosen to use his bat as a means to establish himself and had scored 1,775 runs at 49.30 with 4 hundreds in his first season for Sussex. In addition to the numbers his style and panache drew crowds by the thousands to the ground.

Ranji began 1896 on a high note. His lowest score from his first 7 innings was 26, and he carved out a much-acclaimed 138 against a very strong Yorkshire attack. He followed with 114* against Gloucestershire and 107 against Somerset in back-to-back matches. In between all this he had scored 79 and 42 against the touring Australians on a low-scoring match.

Thus, when he got his fourth century of the season that too by mid-June a glorious 146 against Cambridge everyone had assumed that Ranji would make it to the first Test at Lord s.

Unfortunately, presiding over the MCC Selection Committee was Lord Harris. Despite his contribution to Indian cricket, Harris had strongly opposed to the concept of the inclusion of Ranji in the English side. He even went to the extent of calling foreign cricketers like Ranji ‘birds of passage .

Ranji s biographer Simon Wilde, however, had observed that Harris himself was born in St Anne s, Trinidad and had spent a lot of his life in India. The committee did not agree. In the end, however, they announced the names of nine ‘certain inclusions and four others for the Lord s Test. Ranji was not included.

By that time he had become the first amateur to amass a thousand runs in that season and scored 171* against Oxford and 69 and 73 against Kent in consecutive innings. Before the second Test at Old Trafford the Lancashire Committee met and eventually decided to include Ranji. He agreed on the grounds that no Australian would oppose to his inclusion. The visitors did not, and as a result he became the first Indian to set foot on a Test cricket ground.

Day One: Iredale builds, Richardson breaks

Harry Trott won the toss and had no hesitation in batting first. Richardson had Joe Darling caught behind early before Frank Iredale and George Giffen added 131 for the second wicket. Giffen eventually fell for 80 and Iredale scored a well-paced 108, but even after their departure Trott and Syd Gregory held fort and Australia approached 300 for the loss of 3 wickets.

WG Grace then asked Dick Lilley to remove his pads and bowl his leg-breaks as Jack Brown kept wickets. Lilley struck in his fifth over, having Trott caught behind off a horrible long-hop, and was sent back to keep wickets (“you must have been bowling with your wrong arm”, said Grace); Australia lost 2 quick wickets before Richardson came back to claim 3 more. Australia finished the day on 366 for 8 with JJ Kelly on 14 and Tom McKibbin on 7.

Richardson had already picked up his five-for, but despite the support from Johnny Briggs and Jack Hearne at the other end it was evident that England had played a card wrong by not picking the in-form Leicestershire medium-pacer Dick Pougher.

Day Two: England follow-on, Giffen reaches double

Kelly and McKibbin ended up adding an extremely crucial 51 for the ninth wicket before Richardson removed both. Richardson finished with 7 for 168 on a featherbed of a wicket from 68 overs (56.4 six-ball overs) an incredible workload for a fast bowler. Australia finished with 412.

“Opening bowling in a whim” (Gideon Haigh, Game for Anything) Trott had both openers stumped with 23 on the board before Ranji batted magnificently on his debut: he found support in the diminutive shape of the “Guv nor” Bobby Abel, and the two added 81 in no time.

Ranji eventually fell for a well-compiled 62, caught very low by Trott at point off McKibbin. In fact, the catch was taken so low that several witnesses felt the leg-umpire should be consulted. After Ranji s departure, however, England fell in a heap despite the Ernie Jones injury. Wisden wrote that the batting “was certainly unworthy of the picked representatives of the old country.”

Lilley stood firm amidst the ruins, scoring 65*; he scored these runs out of the 91 scored during his stay at the wicket and added 53 for the ninth wicket with Hearne. England were eventually bowled out for 231 and were asked to follow-on.

Jones, fit by now, roared in and had Grace caught early in his innings. Ranji walked out to bat with 55 minutes still left in the day. Andrew Stoddart offered some resistance but fell for 41. England looked somewhat safe at 97 for 2 before Giffen struck with his innocuous medium-paced bowling: Abel perished, and so did Stanley Jackson both caught by McKibbin off Giffen.

Jackson became Giffen s hundredth Test wicket, making Giffen the first cricketer ever to reach the 1,000 run-100 wicket double. It was his 30th Test. Play ended for the day with Jackson s wicket; England were 109 for 4, still 72 runs behind with Ranji batting on 41.

Day Three: Ranji and Richardson battle in vain

The first session of Day Three began with some furious bowling from Jones. Ranji saw them off cautiously (though he had a blow that split his earlobe) but Jones managed to remove Brown, leaving England at 132 for 5.

Then Ranji began his onslaught. To cut things short Ranji became the first player to score a hundred before lunch in a Test. He scored 113 in the 130-minute session taking his score to 154 not out at lunch. He drove, cut, hooked, and most significantly leg-glanced the Australian bowlers all over Old Trafford. The Manchester crowd cheered as he reached his hundred at 12.45 pm, thereby becoming the fourth batsman and the second Englishman to score a hundred on his Test debut.

A desperate Trott brought back Jones. The fastest bowler of the era was treated with complete disdain by Ranji. He hooked when Jones bounced and drove when Jones pitched up. His versatility showed as his strokes reached every corner of the ground. It was unbelievable batting unlike anything Old Trafford had witnessed before. The lazy wristwork was combined with power making the batsman unstoppable; combined with the insatiable appetite for scoring runs Ranji became as formidable an opposition batsman the Australians had ever seen.

So they aimed for the men at the other end, though. Barring Stoddart on the previous afternoon nobody else crossed twenty, and the rest of the batsmen were bowled out, leaving Ranji stranded on 154. England had managed to score 305, leaving Australia only 125 to score on a track that still played well.

The match was far from over, though: in a short burst Richardson picked up the first 4 wickets with only 45 on the board. Gregory tried to rebuild with Harry Donnan for company; however, Briggs struck, having the dangerous-looking Gregory (who eventually top-scored with 33) caught by Ranji.

At this stage England looked desperately short of a bowler as Richardson, Briggs, and Hearne had to bear all the burden of bowling. That meant at least one of them had to step up, stretch himself, perhaps beyond his limits…

It was Richardson. He bowled his heart out, not giving anything away, not allowing the batsmen to play their strokes, over after over. To their credit Briggs and Hearne supported him well, holding up the other end as Richardson bowled unchanged.

As the match closed to a dramatic finish Trott could not bear the tension any more. He had already been caught-behind off Richardson, and with the match edging towards a nail-biting end Trott rented a hansom cab and drove around the ground till the match got over.

Richardson, meanwhile, had Donnan caught and found the edge of Clem Hill; Australia were 100 for 7 as Kelly walked out to join Hugh Trumble. Could they pull off the remaining 25 runs? They could. Richardson had bowled his heart out, bowling unchanged for 42.3 overs (35.3 six-ball overs), never faltering in pace or compromising in accuracy.

Wisden wrote that the Richardson “bowled for three hours without sending down one really loose ball, took in the innings six wickets for 76 runs” on a track that “scarcely afforded him any assistance”.

Unfortunately, his 13-wicket match haul had gone in vain. It was his fifth five-for on the trot (he had taken 6 for 104 in the second innings of the MCG Test the previous season) and his second ten-for in as many Tests. He had started his career with 3 five-fors in his first 3 innings, 4 in his first 5, and 5 in his first 7.

What followed?

– Five England cricketers (Abel, Tom Hayward, George Lohmann, Richardson, and William Gunn) went on a strike before the final Test at The Oval, demanding a pay of 20 instead of the usual 10 for the Test. Abel, Hayward, and Richardson eventually played but the other two did not. Australia, caught on a wet wicket, were shot out for 44 in the fourth innings by Hearne and Bobby Peel, giving England the Ashes.

– Ranji had impressed all and sundry but his superlative performance did not go too well with the snobbish MCC members. A member suggested that Home Gordon be expelled from the club for “the disgusting degeneracy to praise a dirty black”; yet another member displayed resentment at the fact that “a nigger had shown us how to play cricket”.

– Ranji eventually finished the season with 2,780 runs at 57.91 with 10 hundreds. He topped the Championship charts with 1,698 runs, repeating the feat in 1899 and 1900. He eventually played 15 Tests, scoring 989 runs at 44.95 with two hundreds.

– Giffen did not play after this season. He finished with 1,238 runs at 23.35 and 103 wickets at 27.09 from 31 Tests and retired as the first quality all-rounder at the highest level.

– Richardson played Tests till 1898 but continued to play for Surrey till 1905. He picked up 88 wickets from 14 Tests at 25.22 with an astounding 11 five-fors (from 24 innings) and 4 ten-fors. Ten of these 11 five-wicket hauls had come in his first 15 innings, but he saved his best for his last Test when he picked up 8 for 94 at the SCG.

– Of all bowlers who finished with ten or more five-fors, Richardson had bowled in the fewest innings, way clear of Charlie Turner s 30. And of all who finished with 4 or more ten-fors, Richardson had played the fewest Tests, 4 short of Lohmann and Fred Spofforth s 18.

Brief scores:

Australia 412 (Frank Iredale 108, George Giffen 80, Harry Trott 53; Tom Richardson 7 for 168) and 125 for 7 (Tom Richardson 6 for 76) beat England 231 (Dick Lilley 65*, KS Ranjitsinhji 62; Tom McKibbin 3 for 45) and 305 (KS Ranjitsinhji 154*, Andrew Stoddart 41; Tom McKibbin 3 for 61, George Giffen 3 for 65) by 3 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.)