New Road, Worcester (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
New Road, Worcester (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most curious incidents in cricket took place at New Road on August 18, 1924, when Humphrey Gilbert scored a couple of runs without a single opposition fielder on the ground. Abhishek Mukherjee relives the story.

New Road, Worcester has been witness to many a historic moment. To begin with, it was probably the most fruitful ground for Don Bradman, which is saying something: 4 hundreds in 4 innings in four seasons spread across 18 years remains one of his most incredible statistic. The cradle of Worcestershire cricket, New Road has seen stars from Ted Arnold to Moeen Ali hone their skills and grow in stature.

Worcestershire were not having the best of seasons in 1924. They would finish 14th on the table with 4 wins in 14 matches. Northamptonshire, the tourists, would finish 16th (second-last). In other words, the match in question, played in mid-August, was a contest to avoid the wooden spoon.

There was little play on the first day, which yielded a single run. The next day was a Sunday (and hence rest day), and the rain kept tormenting cricket and the frustrated spectators when play eventually resumed.

The conditions suited Albert Thomas and Vallance Jupp. In no time Humphrey Gilbert, the Bombay-born No. 11, walked out to join Cliff Wilson. Gilbert, a bowler who mixed off-breaks with his medium pace, had made his Championship debut at 35.

Gilbert would make up for his late debut by making a comeback at 42 and extending his career till 44. This, however, was his only match of the season, and he would miss the next three seasons entirely.

In an excellent career, he would take 476 wickets at under 24, but would never cross 35. His First-Class average would read a woeful 7. In other words, he was a rank tail-ender.

The rain kept coming in bursts, and there was a heavy downpour shortly after Gilbert arrived. Gilbert played a ball towards leg, and the batsmen set off.

Meanwhile, something extremely unexpected had happened. To avoid getting drenched, every single Northants fielder made a rush towards the pavilion. Taking advantage of the situation, Wilson and Gilbert kept running till the umpires took the bails off. Gilbert and Wilson had to follow them, almost certainly with some reluctance.

It was the most singular of circumstances, for the runs had been scored, and it was no fault of Gilbert that the fielders had left the ground. Upon much deliberation, the umpires Thomas Flowers (brother of Wilf) and John Moss awarded two runs to Gilbert once play resumed.


Over fifty years later, in the 1975 World Cup final, Jeff Thomson played a ball to Roy Fredericks. The crowd, under the assumption that it was a catch (it was the last wicket) invaded the field, and the ball disappeared somewhere. Thomson kept running, as did Dennis Lillee, and upon resumption of play they were awarded only two. Lillee (who claimed that they had run 17) and Thomson actually bargained to upgrade it to four.

The match

Gilbert eventually got 6, an excellent score by his standards. Worcestershire folded for 176, the highest score of the innings coming from William Shakespeare.

Northants were bowled out for 124. They were eventually set 222, a difficult proposition against Fred Root, Dick Pearson, Wilson, and Gilbert. But Claud Woolley (brother of Frank) saved the day with 51.

Brief scores:

Worcestershire 176 (Albert Thomas 5 for 42, Vallance Jupp 3 for 60) and 169 (Fred Root 60; Vallance Jupp 4 for 45) drew with Northamptonshire 124 (Fred Root 5 for 36) and 166 for 6 (Claud Woolley 51; Cliff Wilson 3 for 43).