Wally Hammond ended the series with an average of 563, a record that stands till today © Getty Images
Wally Hammond ended the series with an average of 563, a record that stands till today © Getty Images

Walter Hammond scored 336 not out on April 1, 1933. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the highest Test score of the era.

New Zealand, the minnows of Test cricket, had hosted a two-Test series against England in 1932-33. The series was destined to be a success — had the weather not played spoilsport. In the first Test at Christchurch, England scored 560 for 8 (Hammond scored 227 in 301 minutes braving a knee infection) declared, and even though New Zealand were made to follow-on, the match was washed out.

The focus shifted to the second and final Test at Auckland. Curly Page won the toss and elected to bat on what looked like a batting wicket. It was a three-day Test, and Page probably thought that if they managed to pull off one good innings, they could salvage a draw against the giants of world cricket, fresh from their Test victory Down Under.

Dempster resists Bowes in vain

Gubby Allen began proceedings, and bowled a maiden to Paul Whitelaw. Bill Bowes, that diligent, accurate, nippy Yorkshireman began proceedings from the other end. His first ball crashed into Jackie Mills’s stumps, and the next one had Gordon Weir clean bowled as well. New Zealand were zero for two before they knew what had hit them.

Stewie Dempster walked out and saved the hat-trick. The rest of the New Zealand innings was a one-on-one battle. While Dempster was managed to grit it out against a strong English seam attack comprising of Allen, Bowes, and Bill Voce, his teammates could not support him. They left Dempster stranded on 83, and were bowled out for a paltry 158. Bowes picked up 6 for 34 — all of which were bowled.

Hammond reigns supreme

England began well, with captain Bob Wyatt and batting stalwart Herbert Sutcliffe putting on 56 for the first wicket before the latter fell to Doug Freeman. Hammond strode out to bat.

The spectacle of watching Hammond walking out to bat oozed prose, not verse. The muscular torso, the broad shoulders, the confident strides, the deep chest, the bulging biceps, the steely forearms — everything about the appearance of Hammond suggested that he was powerful; the bat looked like a featherweight swagger cane tucked under his armpits.

And then, the moment he took guard, the white-spotted blue handkerchief protruding from his right pocket, his head upright, his cap at a marginal angle, it was all poetry. For a man of his frame, he had impossibly nimble footwork. He often leapt out to attack the spinners. He drove with élan, cut with precision, but when it came to pulling or hooking, he unleashed the power that his muscles promised. However, even when he was at his ruthless best, he was never uncouth; Hammond was all about grace.

From the very onset, Hammond hit the ball hard — possibly harder than he usually did — and placed with impeccable ease. The New Zealand bowling was toothless, and the bowlers were made to look even more pedestrian by Hammond’s superlative batting. He jumped out to drive, and when he timed, the ball raced to the fence with a surgeon’s precision. At the end of the first day England were on 127 for 1, 31 behind, with Wyatt on 56, and Hammond almost having caught up, with 41.

England lost Wyatt for 60 early on Day Two, but Hammond seemed unperturbed. He raced past fifty in 72 minutes, and in about an hour later, he brought up his hundred with a massive six, his first of the innings. It was after he reached his hundred that he started a race against the clock. Jack Dunning dropped a hard-hit, difficult catch at mid-on when Hammond was 134, and was injured in the process. Hammond’s third fifty came up in 38 minutes. He was 152 at lunch, adding 111 in the first session of the day.

The 200 took Hammond four hours, and he cut loose after that. As the news got out, the Auckland crowd swarmed in to watch the legend in action. He hit Jack Newman for three consecutive sixes, and romped to 250 in no time, the fifth fifty coming up in just 22 minutes. He gave another chance, but he hit so hard this time that Dempster had to leave for medical treatment when he tried to catch the ball.

When Page brought on Ted Badcock, Hammond hit another huge six. He hit the next ball at Badcock, and the ferocious shot nearly smashed his palm. When Badcock finally got himself to bowl the next ball, Hammond calmly dispatched him over cover for another six.

The sixth fifty took 25 minutes, which meant that Hammond had taken 47 minutes to reach from 200 to 300. This included a pause in play when Hammond broke his bat on 297, and had to resume batting with Tommy Mitchell’s bat (Hammond, like most cricketers of his era, did not carry a spare bat). He still reached his 300 in no time, and was 302 not out at tea, adding exactly 150 in the second session. He had finally beaten the clock, bringing up 300 in 288 minutes.

Don Bradman’s world record score of 334 was in sight now, and Hammond slowed down a bit as he approached the landmark. He finally took a single to go past the record, and after Wyatt confirmed with the scorers at the end of the innings, he declared the innings closed at 548 for 7. The crowd was on its feet, and among them was a nine-year old Bert Sutcliffe.

Hammond had scored 336 not out in 318 minutes, hitting 34 boundaries and ten sixes. The number of sixes had remained a world record for a long time — and till now only three people have gone past it, all of them after the 1996 World Cup — a tournament that had taken six-hitting to new levels. Coming in at 56 for one, he had scored 336 out of a team score of 492. He later said “it just happened to be my day”.

A damp squib

New Zealand were 8 without loss at the end of the second day, with one full day to play for. However, just like in Christchurch, rain washed out play on the final day, and the match ended with New Zealand on 16 for no loss. The Test and the series were both drawn, and Hammond ended the series with an absurd average of 563, a record that stands till today. The Trans-Tasman tour had yielded 1,003 Test runs for Hammond.

Brief scores: New Zealand 158 (Stewie Dempster 83*; Bill Bowes 6 for 34) and 16 for no loss drew with England 548 for 7 declared (Walter Hammond 336*, Bob Wyatt 60)

(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)