Percy Fender © Getty Images
Percy Fender © Getty Images

On August 26, 1920, Percy Fender scored a hundred in 35 minutes at Northampton. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the fastest hundred in First-Class cricket.

Nothing about Percy Fender suggested that he was a sportsman. Perhaps the only Test cricketer who could have passed as a Groucho Marx doppelganger, he was, rather deceptively, one of the hardest hitters of the ball. “Throughout his career Fender’s policy was to hit fiercely, regardless of the state of the pitch, even of the quality of the bowling,” wrote Wisden of his batting. He slashed so hard that one of them had soared over cover, straight out of The Oval.

He was, however, more reputed for his medium-pacers and leg-breaks, and more importantly, for his shrewd and innovative leadership skills. He was the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1915 when he neither scored a thousand runs nor picked up a hundred wickets in the Championship: his under-pressure performances were crucial in Surrey’s winning the title. In praise of him, Tom Hayward mentioned that the Surrey XI was Fender’s making. Fender was also the brain in which Bodyline had been conceived.

That particular day at Northampton, however, was all about aggressive batting that helped Surrey build up a formidable total against the hosts, and, in the process, set a new world record that still stands. By now Fender was the stand-in Surrey captain as Cyril Wilkinson missed several Championship matches due to an injury. By the time Wilkinson returned, however, Fender was the undisputed leader of Surrey.

Reginald Raven, the local captain, won the toss and elected to bat on a placid track. Thomas Rushby and Bill Hitch — the famous Surrey with the new-ball bowlers – picked up an early wicket apiece as the hosts were reduced to 24 for 2. Rawlins Hawtin then added 90 with Claud Woolley (Frank’s brother) before Fender removed both.

‘Fanny’ Walden then carved out a 135-ball 128 (going past his previous highest of 111) as Northamptonshire recovered from 115 for 4 to reach 306. Fender was the most successful bowler with 3 for 69.

Before stumps, however, the hosts struck gold: John Murdin, who could be genuinely quick at times, let one go real quickly; the ball kissed the edge and landed into Benjamin Bellamy’s gloves; Surrey had lost Jack Hobbs. They were 12 for 1 at stumps with Andy Sandham on 7 and Wilkinson on 2.

Wilkinson and Sandham took the score to 97 on Day Two before Woolley struck thrice, removing both batsmen as well as Thomas Shepherd. Sandham had scored 92, but with his departure his side was on 160 for 4, still 146 runs behind Northamptonshire.

Then Andy Ducat walked out to join Alan Peach: the pair scored runs at a brisk pace and eradicated the deficit soon. The Glasgow Herald mentioned that they scored runs “by flogging the bowling to all quarters of the field”. The pair added 288 in 135 minutes before Ducat eventually edged one to Bellamy; he had scored 149 with 19 fours. The Glasgow Herald called it an innings “free from blemish”.

The stage was now set for the Surrey captain. All he needed was to play his natural game and extend the 142-run lead to one as big as possible — and more importantly, do it at a good pace.

Fender’s blinder (if you mind the alliteration)

Fender started straight away, with what has been described as “extraordinary hitting”. The booming drives, the brutal cuts, the fierce pulls, and the trademark slashes all came into play as he bludgeoned the bowlers to reach a 19-minute 50 before Raven and his side could improvise and pull off a trick to stop him.

Albert Thomas, the fast-medium bowler, was simply ripped apart by some merciless hitting, as was Murdin. Peach, who had earlier scored his maiden First-Class hundred, was perfectly happy to slide to the background and watch his captain take on the Northamptonshire attack.

Fender had started his onslaught with about half an hour left for tea. Perhaps he wanted to bat on till Peach reached his double-hundred, and have some fun as the innings went on, for that was precisely what he did; and the Northants bowlers found themselves at the receiving end of a world record.

As the strokes reached the fence and a few soared over them, the crowd got excited in anticipation. The visiting captain, now approaching his hundred, could actually end up breaking Gilbert Jessop’s record for the fastest First-Class hundred. The Gloucestershire legend had smashed the Yorkshiremen on his way to a 40-minute hundred at Harrogate in 1897.

It eventually happened: he beat Jessop’s record by a full five minutes. Whatever hope and urge to fight was left in the hearts of Raven’s men had already been completely eradicated by the blitz. They now surrendered meekly to Fender’s innings and accepted the world record as an inevitable milestone happened.

Fender declared as soon as Peach reached a 190-ball double-hundred with 26 fours. Fender remained unbeaten on a 42-minute 113 with 16 fours and 5 sixes (that makes 94 runs — 83.2 per cent of the innings), which meant that the unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership of 171 also took an absurd 42 minutes — a performance beyond imagination even in T20 cricket.

Subsequent researches have estimated that Fender had taken between 40 and 46 balls to reach his hundred.

The rest of the match

The hosts lost their openers and finished the day on 59 for 2. The next day saw the hosts putting up stubborn resistance as nine of their batsmen reached double-figures. However, none of them made it big, and they ended up scoring 430, setting the visitors a paltry 118 for a victory.

Despite Sandham’s early departure Hobbs didn’t fail a second time: he cruised his way to 54 as Surrey coasted to an 8-wicket victory.

What followed

– Surrey finished at third position that season; Northamptonshire, third from bottom.

– Fender’s hundred still remains the fastest in history. There have been several faster hundreds in ‘joke’ circumstances where the opposition had bowled full-tosses and long-hops deliberately, mostly to accelerate declarations for the batting side. Hundreds faster or equal to Fender’s include:
Glen Chapple (Lancashire) against Glamorgan at Old Trafford, 1993, in 21 minutes
Mark Pettini (Essex) against Leicestershire at Grace Road, 2006, in 24 minutes
Murray Goodwin (Sussex) against Middlesex at Southgate, 2006, in 25 minutes
Tom Moody (Warwickshire) against Glamorgan at Swansea, 1990, in 26 minutes
Steve O’Shaughnessy (Lancashire) against Leicestershire at Old Trafford, 1983, in 35 minutes.

– When O’Shaughnessy had dubiously equalled Fender’s record, his fellow opener Graeme Fowler had meanwhile hit 10 sixes on the trot — a record that is ignored due to similar reasons. Though the numbers got added to their career tally their records are not recognised, and are marked ‘contrived circumstances’ by Wisden. That afternoon, however, O’Shaughnessy received a telegram that said “CONGRATULATIONS ON EQUALLING MY 63-YEAR OLD RECORD. FENDER.”

Brief scores:

Northamptonshire 306 (Fanny Walden 128, Claud Woolley 58; Percy Fender 3 for 69) and 430 (Robert Haywood 96, William Wells 71, Fanny Walden 63, Claud Woolley 42; Thomas Shepherd 3 for 27, Bill Hitch 3 for 137) lost to Surrey 619 for 5 decl. (Alan Peach 200*, Andy Ducat 149, Percy Fender 113*, Andy Sandham 92, Cyril Wilkinson 43; Claud Woolley 3 for 116) and 120 for 2 (Jack Hobbs 54, Thomas Shepherd 42*) by 8 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)