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The turn-of-the-century bowling trinity for Yorkshire Schofield Haigh (seated left), George Hirst (standing) and Wilfred Rhodes; Hirst was not needed that day at Bradford Getty Images

Yorkshire started the season of 1900 with an incredible victory over Worcestershire within one day, an innings win in spite of totalling just 99 in their own innings. The match, played May 7, 1900, led to a decade of unchallenged dominance. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the match that took place at the turn of the century amidst sweeping changes in the sporting world and with the guns of the Boer War reverberating in the background.

The decade of Yorkshire

The 1900s dawned with sweeping changes in the rules of cricket in England. For the first time, six balls were bowled in an over till then five had been the norm. The declaration, previously restricted to the final day, could now take place from the lunchtime of the second day onwards. The follow-on was no longer compulsory, and the required lead for enforcing one was increased from 120 to 150.

There was also the rather imbecilic and short-lived experiment of using a net around the ground. Such a perimeter, between two to three feet, was the MCC’s attempt to bring down the number of boundary hits, in order to maintain balance between the bat and the ball. Any ball becoming lodged in the net would get two in addition to any runs actually run, instead of four. Any hit clearing the net would get three in total. The Times called it “the most fantastic of experiments” .

There were quite a few changes in the global sporting scene as well. At Paris, the 1900 Summer Olympics saw the first women competitors. They first lady in action was witnessed in the croquet event, watched by an audience of exactly one paying spectator. H l ne de Pourtal s became the first female Olympic champion as one of the members in the 1-2 ton sailing event. In individual domain, Charlotte Cooper became the first winner as she emerged triumphant in women’s singles at tennis. Later, she went on to win the mixed doubles tournament as well.

As for cricket, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers Team, on tour in France, played a 12-a-side, two-day game at the Velodrome de Vincennes. The match was advertised on the billboards as ‘France contre Angleterre’. Years later, the Olympic Committee would go on to deem it as an event of the 1900 Games, and the motley group of cricketers would suddenly find themselves the Olympic champions on the only occasion the sport graced the games.

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In retrospect, 1900 was also the year that marked the start of a golden phase of Yorkshire cricket. That year, they would become the first county to win the championship without losing a single game. In the next ten years, they would win the crown in 1900, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1908, finishing very close to the top in most of the other seasons as well. Of the 274 matches they would contest in the ten years between 1900 and 1909, they would win 146, draw 106 and lose just 22.

Of the four top wicket-takers in the championship during these years, three would turn out to be Yorkshiremen. Wilfred Rhodes would capture 1,332, George Hirst 1,110, and Schofield Haigh 982, with only the Kent great Colin Blythe with 1,270 managing to squeeze in between. Hirst, though, would not be content to be one of the greatest of bowlers. In those ten years, he would score 13,868 runs, which would put him in the fourth place behind Tom Hayward, John Tyldesley and CB Fry.

In short it was going to be a decade that belonged to the Northern County. And it all started with their first match played in what most considered was the new century, against Worcestershire at Bradford, on May 7, 1900.

Signs of trouble

However, even if the match itself turned out to be one of the most fascinating of all time, and was Yorkshire’s first step towards a decade of greatness, the omens were not really bright for Lord Hawke’s county on the eve of the season opener

The guns had been roaring down South, in the brutality of the Boer War, for the last one and a half years. The previous winter, the Boers had finally risen against the British. Pretoria, Ladysmith, Spion Kop, Kimberley, Paardeberg, Tegula, Bloemfontein The War had spread and sparked off horror and indignation among the Englishmen back home. As Colonel Robert Baden Powell desperately tried to survive the six and a half month siege of Mafeking, scores of cricketers ran along to join the skirmishes.

Among them had been three of the trusted hands Hawke had nurtured for the county. Fast bowling all-rounder Frank Milligan had served with Lt Col Herbert Plumer’s column and had been mortally wounded in the battle to relieve Mafeking. The hugely talented Stanley Jackson had been struck down by enteric fever and had been invalided home from the Cape. And although Frank Mitchell had survived without mishaps, he had to miss the 1900 season completely. The following year he would top the batting charts for the county with 1674 runs at 49.23.

Experienced campaigners Robert Moorhouse and Arthur Sellers had ended their careers. Finally, George Hirst, the man who would revolutionise swing bowling in a couple of years, was plainly out of sorts with the ball.

The Yorkshiremen had won the championship three times in the last seven years. However, when Hawke counted his men, all of them professional barring himself, and grappled with the problems created by the missing stalwarts and the loss of bowling form of his number one pro, he took the field at Bradford with a pronounced frown. The frown perhaps became more pronounced as Hawke’s eyes scanned the outfield and fell upon the perimeter formed by the net. He need not have worried about the nets at all. Not many balls would be hit to the boundary.

The Rhodes-Haigh show

It had rained incessantly for a few days before the game, and the wicket was a proper mud pudding. Henry Foster, captain of Worcestershire, called correctly and decided to bat. Was it a wrong decision?

Well, in some ways his hands were tied. Robert Burrows, instrumental in the rise of the side to First-Class rank, had injured himself playing football. Stanley Gethin had been summoned as replacement, but had been delayed in his journey. Hence, the best bet for Foster was to put his batsmen in and hope that he arrived in time to bat in the innings.

The Yorkshire bowlers, however, ensured that it did not happen. On that sticky dog, Schofield Haigh started the slide by bowling Joseph Howard. And young Wilfred Rhodes, with 255 championship wickets in the two previous seasons, wheeled in from the other end and started snaring one batsman after another.

Hawke need not have worried about not getting the bowling goods out of Hirst. The left-arm spin of Rhodes was unplayable on that wicket. And Haigh, less aware of his immense gifts than the other two great bowlers of the unit, was almost as brilliant. He just needed some firm goading from the captain once in a while. A little slower than what he had been the previous years, Haigh was perhaps more deadly than ever, and the vicious yorker was sent down a bit more frequently.

Neither did Hawke have to bother about changing the bowling. It was all over in the 26th over. Rhodes had taken 4 for 16 from 13 overs, Haigh 4 for 20 from 12.3. There had been one run out and Gethin had not yet arrived. Worcestershire were all out for 43.

However, soon Hawke was pensively chewing his moustache again. The immensely strong batting line-up of the hosts was being tested on this terrible wicket. The seasoned trio of John Thomas Brown, John Tunnicliffe and David Denton, along with the young and talented Irving Washington, were all dismissed by the fast bowling of George Wilson with just nine on the board. At the other end debutant Arthur Bannister was creating all sorts of problems with his slows.

In a match where no side reached 100, Ted Wainwright   s 34 was probably worth a double-ton    Getty Images
In a match where no side reached 100, Ted Wainwright s 34 was probably worth a double-ton Getty Images

And now experience and class responded for the mighty county. Ted Wainwright was joined by George Hirst, and the collapse was averted. The two men demonstrated exceptional technique in dealing with the conditions, and the lead was obtained without further loss. Bannister did run through the lower order, to capture five wickets in his very first outing. But, Yorkshire’s paltry 99 run total had given them a lead of 56.

Substantial lead perhaps in a low scoring game, but to some extent the Worcestershire brigade could have been excused for thinking they were back in the game. So, out they went again, trying to wipe out the lead. Well, they tried their utmost, but it was just too much of an ask.

The accounts of the game in 1900 and 1901 that have trickled down to us over the years show the writers ransacking the thesaurus to try and describe the menace of Rhodes. Some of the adjectives shortlisted by AA Thomson’s starry eyed post-facto chronicles are ‘deadly’, ‘irresistible’, ‘unplayable’ and ‘havoc-wrecking’. And he would ‘rout the enemy’ match after match, and ‘carry all before him’.

On this instance, in he wheeled and pitched with metronomic accuracy, and one after the other the visiting batsmen perished. They had no way to negotiate his kick and turn. Haigh broke the monotony once in a while, picking up the odd wicket in the midst of the Rhodes massacre. But, it was the left-armer all the way.

It was all over within an hour, with Worcestershire all out for 51. Rhodes had 7 for 20 from 11.1 overs, Haigh 3 for 29 from 11. Once again there had been no need to change the bowling. Gethin had at last batted, and Haigh had bowled him with a dipping yorker for one.

The match was over in a day. In spite of scoring just 99, Yorkshire had won by an innings.

What followed?

In the 28 matches they played that season, Yorkshire won 16 and drew 12. They won the championship comfortably ahead of Lancashire’s 15 wins and two losses in an equal number of games.

Rhodes with 206 wickets was the leading wicket-taker of the season. Haigh with 145 was the third in the list, after Middlesex’s Australian import Albert Trott. Rhodes would pick up 196 more in 1901 and end the season with his first First-Class hundred at Scarborough.

Such was the dominance of the Yorkshire bowlers in 1900 that while David Hunter topped the wicket-keeping charts with 61 dismissals, tying for the top spot with the Sussex stumper Harry Butt, the next on the fielding list was John Tunnicliffe, who took 46 catches at slip more than any other wicket-keeper.

Yorkshire went on to win 20 of the 28 matches in 1901, including victory streaks of 8 and 7. They lost one match, and it needed nothing short of a miracle. Against Somerset at Leeds they were overcome in spite of a mammoth lead of 237 runs in the first innings.

Brief Scores:

Worcestershire 43 (Wilfred Rhodes 4 for 16, Schofield Haigh 4 for 20) and 51 (Wilfred Rhodes 7 for 20, Schofield Haigh 3 for 29) lost to Yorkshire 99 (Ted Wainwright 34; George Wilson 4 for 35, Arthur Bannister 5 for 30) by an innings and 5 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)