Australian bastman, Bill Ponsford was also Wisden's Cricketer of the Year in 1935 © Getty Images
Bill Ponsford © Getty Images

December 28, 1926. Victoria’s innings finally came to an end with the total on 1107! Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day when Bill Ponsford, Jack Ryder and the others piled on misery for New South Wales.

The New South Welshmen were perhaps happy after the first day. A 55 run rear-guard collaboration between young Jim Hogg and the ace leg-spinner Arthur Mailey for the seventh wicket had lifted them to 221. Before that the medium pace of Arthur Liddicut had made some telling breakthroughs, including the prize scalp of skipper Alan Kippax, reducing them to 152 for 6.

However, the wise captain knew that their task was cut out as they took the field the following day. The Victorian batting order was phenomenal, almost good enough to appear as a representative batting side for Australia. As the sun beat down on the second morning at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the formidable duo of Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford walked out. The timelessness of the match seemed ominous. And lingering at the back of his mind was the feat that these Victorians had carried out against the hapless Tasmanians four years ago. The skipper looked at Mailey, his trump card, and the impish leggie grinned back with a nonchalant air. “All will be good skip,” the look seemed to say. “Just leave them to me.”

The carnage

But soon the visitors were feeling the heat, and not just from the scorching sun. Before half an hour, 50 was on the board. Even the normally sedate Woodfull was striking the ball with unusual gusto. At the other end, Ponsford was looking ominous. He was known to be a trencherman when it came to runs, and he had got the whiff of loads of them. He dug in — in all senses of the word.

In an hour and a quarter, 100 was up and there was no sign of letting up. Ponsford got to his hundred in just over two hours. By the time the innings had spanned another half an hour, he was on 150 and the score over 250 without loss. Slowly and surely, Woodfull was also piling on the runs, serenely bringing up his century.

By the time Australian Test all-rounder Tommy Andrews had got Woodfull caught for 133, the opening partnership had lasted 223 minutes, amounting to 375. Ponsford had already gone past his previous highest score of 214 in Sheffield Shield matches.

The law of long partnerships supposedly says that the dismissal of one partner leads to the demise of another. However, Ponsford showed no inclination of joining his opening partner in the pavilion. He was joined at the wicket by Stork Hendry and they carried on their rather ruthless act of collecting runs.

Mailey’s smile did not really disappear; he was not that sort of a man. But, the grin was by now smeared with the sweat running down from his brow. He came in over after over, tossing the ball up, and was hammered all around the ground. After four hours and 45 minutes at the crease, Ponsford brought up his 300 with an air of inevitability. The day ended with Victoria on 573 for 1, Ponsford on 334 and Hendry 86.

The following morning there were some quick successes for New South Wales. Mailey snared Hendry just after the latter had got to his hundred. Ponsford followed, bowled by the part time medium pace of John Morgan, for 352, scored in 6 hours 3 minutes, studded with 39 boundaries.

Soon Mailey floated inviting leg breaks and turned them away to get both Hammy Love and Stuart King stumped. Victoria had lost four wickets for just 84, and were 657 for 5. A collapse seemed to be setting in.

However, Jack Ryder started stepping down, swinging his willow and clearing the fence with incredible regularity. With Albert Hartkopf for company, he hammered the bowling without any semblance of mercy and soon got to his hundred in less than two hours. He stepped up his rate and raised the second hundred in just 74 minutes. It was 834 when Hartkopf fell, 915 when Liddicut had his stumps disarranged. But wicketkeeper John Ellis stood firm.

And after 574 minutes of batting, with Ryder and Ellis at the crease, Victoria crossed 1,000 runs with three wickets still standing.

Ryder, who had been racing towards his third century had already hit six sixes, and now attempted another off Tommy Andrews with his score on 295. The ball ended in the hands of the unfortunate Kippax, who clutched on as if his life depended on it. The future Australian captain walked back five short of a triple hundred. The score read 1,043 for 8.

The carnage was not yet over. Francis Morton was run out, but Ellis and left-arm spinner Don Blackie decided to have some fun. The last pair put on another 61 in just 37 minutes before a direct throw ended the carnival. The day ended with the fall of the final wicket, with Victoria all out for 1,107.

Four years earlier, against a lowly Tasmania, the same Victoria side had got 1,059. This was a new record, and, mercifully, stands to this day. There has been no other occasion of a side going beyond 1,000 in First-Class cricket.

What followed?

New South Wales did not really have the will to wage a battle. The pace of Liddicut and the leg-breaks of Hardkopf proved enough to restrict them to 230 carefree runs in the second innings. Only young Archie Jackson struck the ball stylishly for an unbeaten 59.

Mailey was not really crestfallen, though. His analysis read 64-0-362-4, but he insisted that the numbers did not reflect the quality of his bowling. “The figures would have been a lot better had three sitters not been dropped off my bowling, two by a man in the pavilion wearing a bowler hat.”

Brief scores:

New South Wales 221 (Norbert Phillips 51, Tommy Andrews 42, Jim Hogg 40*; Arthur Liddicut 4 for 50) and 230 (Andrew Ratcliffe 44, Archie Jackson 59*; Arthur Liddicut 4 for 66, Albert Hartkopf 6 for 98) lost to Victoria 1,107 (Bill Woodfull 133, Bill Ponsford 352, Stork Hendry 100, Jack Ryder 295, Albert Hartkopf 61, John Ellis 63; Arthur Mailey 4 for 362) by an innings and 656 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)