It was at Taunton's County Ground that Harold Heygate became the first-ever batsman in the history of the game to be declared timed out © Getty Images
It was at Taunton’s County Ground that Harold Heygate became the first-ever batsman in the history of the game to be declared timed out © Getty Images

May 22, 1919. Harold Heygate becomes the first man in history of cricket to be timed out — although the scorecards said ‘out, absent’. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day when the Surrey batsman got dismissed while desperately strapping his pads over a blue serge suit.

Harold Heygate started his career as middle-order batsman for Surrey. Against Somerset in the summer of 1903, he batted at No 6, ahead of far more illustrious teammates CB Fry and KS Ranjitsinhji, and scored a decent 26. Captain Ranji promoted the debutant to No. 3 in the second innings, but he fell for a duck.

He got another blob in the next match against Worcestershire and did not play again till 1905. He turned out in just three matches that summer. His only notable contribution came at Tonbridge against Kent, where he top-scored with 80 in the first innings and followed it up with an unbeaten 68 in the second, adding 126 with Fry.

After that season, Heygate quietly hung up his boots as one of the obscure players who appear only to make up the numbers in Wisden. But, the lure of the game dragged him to the County Ground, Taunton, in 1919. He went there as an innocent spectator, to enjoy a day in the sun. He had suffered leg injuries in the Great War and was afflicted with rheumatism.

In England, cricket had just limped back into action. First-Class matches were restricted to two days. Sides struggled to make up numbers as soldiers waited for discharge orders.

Heygate’s old county side arrived in Taunton with ten men. And then they chanced upon the old Sussex player. The 34-year-old war veteran was coaxed into playing.

But, the injuries sustained during action did not allow Heygate to relish his comeback. Soon he staggered off the field as Somerset went on to score 243. By the end of the day, he walked out to bat at No. 11 and was bowled by Jack White for a duck. Sussex finished a run short of the total of the home team.

In David Foot’s fascinating history of Somerset cricket — Sunshine, Sixes and Cider — Jack MacBryan recalls Heygate seated in the pavilion on the second day in a blue serge suit. It was taken for granted that he would not take any further part in the match.

But fate conspired against him. So did George Cox, the Sussex left-armer. Somerset fell for 103 as Cox took 4 for 26. One hundred and five were required to win the match, and now the Somerset opening bowlers Ernie Robson and Jimmy Bridges quickly reduced Sussex to 48 for 6. Skipper Herbert Wilson and Henry Roberts from the lower order added a defiant 55, but Dudley Rippon took 2 wickets off consecutive balls.

Another run was scored in the next over before wicketkeeper Robert Miller, with curious initials RAT, was caught off White. The scores were level and 9 wickets were down.

According to Foot, Heygate strapped his pads on top of his blue serge suit and made a valiant attempt to rush to the crease to join his captain. But, he took way too long to get his gear in order. With minutes passing by and confusion in the air, there was an appeal from the Somerset players. Umpire Alfred Street was a respected official and had stood in the Triangular Tests of 1912. He sagely ruled Heygate timed out.

Wisden is less detailed in its account: “Whether or not Heygate would have been able to crawl to the wicket, it was very unsportsmanlike that such a point should have been raised.”

In the wake of the recent War, questions were raised about the human value of the decision and whether a wounded ex-serviceman had been treated with adequate respect. However, an MCC committee supported the umpire. Heygate was recorded as ‘out, absent’ in the scorecard, and it has often been shown as ‘absent hurt’. ‘Timed out’ as a mode of dismissal was not introduced till 1980.

In 1919, Law 45 told the umpires that “They shall allow two minutes for each striker to come in”. However, there were no guidelines about what to do if the batsman failed to make an appearance within that stipulated time. The dismissal method ‘Timed Out’ was added as Law 31.1a in 1980.

Heygate did not play First-Class cricket again. Perhaps he never again went to the ground without making sure that both teams were complete!

Four more

Since the inception of the dismissal, four such instances have been witnessed in First-Class cricket.

In 1987-88, playing against Transvaal at Port Elizabeth, Eastern Province’s Andrew Jordaan had remained unbeaten overnight. The next day he failed to arrive in time as the streets were waterlogged after a downpour.

A decade later, in 1997, Orissa played Tripura at Cuttack. Hemulal Yadav, the Tripura No. 11, was sitting on the boundary line chatting with the team manager when the ninth wicket went down. He continued the conversation as if nothing had happened and was declared timed out.

Five years later, in 2002-03, Vasbert Drakes became perhaps the most unfortunate batsman to be out in this fashion during the Border innings against Free State at East London. His plane to South Africa had been delayed and he had not yet arrived in the country.

Finally, in 2003, it happened to the Nottinghamshire seam bowler Andrew Harris. Suffering with a groin strain, he limped too slowly down the steps of the Trent Bridge pavilion, leading the Durham University players to appeal against him. This left Chris Read stranded on 94.

Brief scores:

Somerset 243 (Dudley Rippon 60; John Vincent 3 for 69, George Cox 5 for 51) and 103 (George Cox 4 for 26) tied with Sussex 242 (Herbert Wilson 56, Maurice Tate 69; Ernie Robson 3 for 49, Jim Bridges 5 for 84) and 104 (Ernie Robson 3 for 51, Jim Bridges 3 for 32).

(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)