August 26, 1930. In circumstances described variously as tense, nerve-wracking and electric, the 1930 Australians and Gloucestershire played out an incredible tie. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the scintillating encounter between the two sides, which also showcased a minor battle between the two great batsmen of the era Don Bradman and Wally Hammond.
It was a match scripted in the cricketing heavens.
A few thousand lucky Bristolians managed to get into Fry’s Ground after queuing for hours, while many others were turned away. The ones who watch the match, braving the inclement weather and heart-stopping excitement, queued up for the second time for a copy of the match scorecard.
Many Gloucestershire homes, of players and cricket romantics, had the score-sheet, yellowed with age, framed on their walls. Many more could recite the scorecard from memory. Yet others could recount the final moments of the match, irrespective of whether they had actually been there or not. The number of dot balls leading to the climax increased with every retelling. As is wont to happen in cricketing stories.
The match went down up as one of the most exciting to be played by a touring side in England.
The Bradman Summer
The summer of 1930 had seen the remarkable rise of a champion. A 21-year-old Don Bradman had blazed across the grounds of England, amassing runs with unprecedented appetite and ruthlessness.
From the moment he announced himself with 236 under the majestic cathedral of Worcester, it was a tale of tall scores and thunderous ovation, with hapless bowlers left in the wake wondering about the meaning of it all. 185 had been hammered against Leicestershire, 252 not out against Surrey, 191 against Hampshire. The first Test had resulted in an Australian defeat but had seen the youthful master battle his way to 131 in the second innings.
And after that England and the world had quickly bowed in front of genius. At Lord’s, in the second Test, KS Duleepsinhji had scored 173, with England raising 425, a total that almost guaranteed the driver’s seat in a four-day Test. By the end of the second day, however, Australia were 404 for 2, Bradman on 155. The Don had gone on to score 254, according to many the best innings he had ever played, and Australia had triumphed by 7 wickets.
Then there had been the century before lunch and 309 in a day, in the score of 334 at Leeds.
A mortal hiatus, yielding 14 at Old Trafford, seemed to indicate that sanity had returned to Test cricket after the saga of ridiculous run-making. It was still early days in his career, and many expected the Bradman barrage to come to a halt against the natural order.
Alas, Bradman would never be caught in the trappings of feeble laws of average and nature. Sanity would not return in the next two decades.
On the day prior to the one on which the sensational match against Gloucestershire got underway, the final Test at The Oval had been decided.
Yet again, it had followed the Lord’s template. Herbert Sutcliffe had batted 403 minutes to hit 161 and England had totalled 405 in the first innings. However, at the end of the second day, Australia were 215 for 2, Bradman ominously unbeaten on 27. When the stumps were drawn on the rain-interrupted third day, they had progressed to 403 for 3, Bradman on 130. By lunch on the fourth, it was 551 for 4, Bradman 228. He fell four runs later, but by then Australia led by 165. The lead was stretched to 290. And then Percy Hornibook, neglected through much of the 1920s by the selectors, ran through the England second innings with 7 for 92 with his left-arm slows. Australia clinched the series 2-1.
On the Ashes tour of 1928-29, Wally Hammond had hammered scores of 251, 200, 119 and 117 to finish with a world record of 905 runs in the series at 113.12. With his 232 in the final Test at The Oval, Bradman had taken his tally in the Test series to 974 at 139.14, breaking the newly minted record to pieces.
Hammond, on the other hand, had been subdued during the tour, scoring 306 runs in the 5 Tests at just 34. He managed 113 at Headingley in the third Test, but could not pass 50 in any of the other innings. Clarrie Grimmett, that old gnome of a leg-spinner, had tied him up all the series, bowling on the leg-stump, cramping his style, eliminating those booming cover drives. Hammond had fallen 5 times to the leggie, and it is perhaps a fair inference that he had been outdone.
The Gloucester run
Yet, Hammond’s involvement with the Test side perhaps had a telling effect on the outcome of the summer’s cricket.
Gloucestershire, led by the enigmatic Bev Lyon, and their bowling spearheaded by the spinning duo of Tom Goddard and Charlie Parker, won as many as 15 of their 28 matches, losing 4 and drawing the rest. They won more matches than any other county side that season. Yet, they had to finish second to Lancashire.
Had the system of points had been standard, with 2 for a win and 1 for a draw, they would have pipped the Lancastrians 39 points to 38. However, the rules that year followed a complicated method of 8 points for an outright win, 5 for a drawn match with first innings lead, 3 for a drawn match with first-innings deficit, and 4 for abandoned match or no decision on first innings. As a result, Lancashire, powered by the bats of Ernest Tyldesley and Frank Watson, and the bowling of Ted MacDonald and Dick Tyldesley, finished at the top with 155 points, Gloucestershire managing 152.
Hammond played 16 matches for the county, missing 12 because of his commitments for England, and amassed 1,168 runs at 50.78. Had he played the whole season, perhaps 2 draws with first innings lead and 6 draws with first innings deficits could have been balanced the other way, tilting the Championship in Gloucestershire’s favour.
But 15 wins in a summer builds habit and faith. And when the mighty Australians travelled to the west county the Gloucestershire men believed they could win. The incessant rain that delayed the game and made the wicket a sticky dog raised their hopes. After all, if Bradman had a chink in his armour it was the sticky wicket.
The previous year, Lyon had become the captain of Gloucestershire. Legends seemed to collect around him as barnacles encrust a ship. It was rumoured that when a small boy in Wiltshire, he and his brother had tossed a coin to see which should play for Gloucestershire and who for Somerset. Later as young men, they had come out to toss again, to decide on an outcome of greater importance: who would go to Oxford and who to Cambridge. As results of the two flips, Beverly Hamilton had played for Oxford and Gloucestershire while Malcolm Douglas Lyon had turned out for Cambridge and Somerset.
That story may be apocryphal, but what was true was the effect Bev Lyon had on Gloucestershire cricket.
Lyon galvanised the team. The fielding was improved till it rivalled any county. Even during the quietest spell of the game he kept everyone on their toes. Like Percy Fender, Lyon liked to instil surprises and thrills in front of their opponents. He could play for draws, if the situation provided no other possibility. Otherwise he always went for wins.
He rarely gambled, the tactics always based on cold, clear judgement of men and teams. But, if victory could be achieved at the expense of some risks, he was more than ready to take them. He was also perhaps the first county captain to be interested in flying. In short, he was eager to go beyond the normal. And therefore, on that day, he believed Australians could be overcome, even though they had won The Ashes.
- Australian all-time XI, pre-World War 1: Explosive batsmen, devastating bowlers, imposing moustaches
Grimmett and Hornibook
The rain finally relented in the late afternoon and play began at 4 PM. Lyon lost the toss to the acting Australian captain Vic Richardson.
The lessons Richardson imparted to his famous grandsons are well known: “Nine out of ten times on winning the toss, you bat. The other time you think hard about it, and then bat.” The adage was not Richardson’s own, but an older, more ancient, dictum that cricket captains abided by. However, on that particular day and on that particular pitch, Richardson had no hesitation in asking the home side to take strike.
There was Hornibook in the side after all, left-arm slow, to take every advantage of the wet wicket. There of course was Grimmett, the wizard, difficult on all wickets, almost impossible on bad ones. But before they had got into the act, Alec Hurwood, ignored in the Test series, sent down his brisk off-cutters to dismiss the openers Reg Sinfield and Arthur Dipper, and sent back Lyon as well. Three wickets down for 17.
And then it was the turn of Hornibook and Grimmett.
The previous day, Hornibook had performed his only great deed in Test cricket. Now, after travelling across the country to the west, he slanted his deliveries across the batsmen and turned them away, the traditional methods on a wet wicket. Grimmett, almost round-arm in action, curled them into the batsmen as if bowling at some invisible, powerful magnet, helped along by the damp, heavy air, his beautiful length unvarying. Just when the batsman had built in his mind the illusion that he had got the hang of his bowling, there emerged the googly or the top-spinner.
Hammond and wicketkeeper Harry Smith battled for a long time before Hornibook lured the former into a false stroke. Grimmett snared the hard-hitting Charley Dacre. The rest of the innings was a prolonged struggle for survival with the ball coming out on top. Grimmett’s 18 overs got him 3 for 28. Hornibook’s 14 overs and 3 balls netted him 4 for 20. Gloucestershire were all out just before scheduled close, having toiled their way to 72 in 51.3 overs.
Ponsford and Bradman
After a day’s rest, the Australians started their response, the wicket not having improved at all.
In Cricket my Destiny, the ghosted autobiography of Hammond, the great batsman (or his ghost) mentions Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford rooted like oak trees on the wicket. However, in reality, Woodfull did not play in the game, and that was why Richardson was leading the Australians. Ponsford opened the innings with young Archie Jackson.
The more experienced campaigner started off quite well, while Jackson was plainly at sea on that devilish wicket. Yet, he tried hard.
Sinfield, one of the unsung heroes of the county game, started the bowling — one of the select few at home starting off with both the bat and ball. Only four overs of pace were sent down from the other end before Lyon called on Goddard for his off-spinners. And the introduction of the left-arm spin of Parker did not take too long either. The two Gloucestershire slow men had 293 wickets between them for the county that season. The openers fought hard, but runs were slow in coming.
It was Goddard who struck first, sending one through the gate of Jackson, bowling the lad for 8. The score was 42, giving an indication of the amount of time Jackson had spent blocking away. A round of cheers went around the ground as The Don emerged.
In retrospect, this should go down as one of Bradman’s best innings on a sticky. With Parker and Goddard bowling relentlessly, using all the cracks and crevices of a track they knew like the backs of their weather-beaten hands, the master put up a sterling show.
Ponsford was the only other batsman to demonstrate the technique and skills for survival on this wicket. It took the return of Sinfield to knock back the stumps of the opener for 51. He made the runs out of 78, with Jackson and Bradman for company, which says a lot about the quality of the innings.
Having provided the breakthrough, Sinfield quickly accounted for Alan Kippax. Australia had the lead already, but batting was becoming more of a lottery with every passing moment. Parker got Stan McCabe, Goddard caught Richardson plumb, Ted a’Beckett was caught close in off the off-spinner, Hurwood was bowled.
All through the fall of these wickets, Bradman had never allowed his concentration to waver. For an hour and 42 minutes he had batted with exceptional resilience, hitting just one boundary in his innings. Now he played forward to Parker and Sinfield flung himself forward from silly mid-off to come up with a smart catch. The great man walked back for 42 and it was 131 for 8.
None of Grimmett, Hornibook and Charlie Walker, the last three men of the Australian line-up, reached double-figures; but they batted long enough to scratch together 26 more runs between them. Goddard’s 5 for 52 and Parker’s 3 for 72 restricted Australia to 157, but the lead was quite a handful, amounting to 85.
Hammond and none other
The wicket had just begun to improve when Gloucestershire began their second innings. Sinfield took up the cudgels at the top yet again, hitting Hurwood and a’Beckett for useful runs. It was not long before Grimmett and Hornibook were in action. And it was the latter who got Sinfield edging to slip.
At 21 for 1, therefore, Hammond walked in. And he proceeded to play one of his best ever innings.
It was a flawless demonstration of concentration etched with a treasure trove of technical skills. The fiercely accurate bowling was tackled with tenacity and panache.
Young Bradman watched as he prowled at cover. The rest of the fielding was almost equally good, swooping on the balls and sending in brisk returns, making runs extremely difficult to get.
Yet, Hammond scored. He found the gaps, and often found the boundary. Grimmett crammed him as usual, but he worked Hornibook through the off-side. And when the leg-spinner made a marginal mistake in length and line, out came the booming off-drive, and the ball sailed over mid-off, all the way for six.
Alfred Dipper, battle-scarred veteran of 45, stuck to his end. The second wicket put on 81, the score was past 100, the lead erased. And then Richardson, desperate for a wicket, put on McCabe. It was the occasional medium-pacer who broke through, inducing Dipper to edge. He had scored just 26, but a more valuable innings had seldom been played.
McCabe seldom bowled much, but when he got a wicket he soared on confidence. And it was with this force of self-belief that he propelled another ball that disturbed the timber behind Lyon’s defence. 113 for 3.
Smith proved an able ally once again. And Hammond, reading the situation splendidly, farmed the strike to take on Grimmett by himself, in spite of the struggles against the leg-spinner in the Tests. The day ended with Gloucestershire on 147 for 3, leading by 62, Hammond unbeaten on a magnificent 76.
The following morning Hammond started with two strokes that produced reports like rifle shots, scorched the green turf and rattled against the picket fence. And then suddenly Hornibook deceived him and a contrasting sound announced the wicket being clipped and the bail falling off. It was the end of the great innings of 89.
“It says something of the excitement of the game that it was not till I was in the pavilion that I felt disappointment at not getting my century,” Hammond remembered later.
It was the fourth wicket down for 166. Dacre and Smith took the score to 187 for 4, and thereafter Grimmett and Hornibook skittled the rest. 202 all out. The great Australian batting line up needed a mere 118.
In Cricket my Destiny Hammond, and by that I mean his ghost, writes, “Don Bradman, Bill Woodfull, Ponsford, Jackson, McCabe, Fairfax and the rest of them who had scored 729 for 6, 695, 566 and similar scores against All England — needed a beggardly 118 to win.” Well, true, but Woodfull was not playing and neither was Alan Fairfax. But, it was a rather puny total to defend.
Goddard and Parker
Lyon had Barnett and Sinfield at his disposal. However, he backed his instincts, and called upon Goddard and Parker. “Take it steady boys, on this wicket you can do it on your own,” he declared.
And so they went on. The two spinners. Goddard, poker-faced, gripping the ball in that big fist, his Barton Street voice thundering in appeals every second ball. At the other end Parker, 47-years-old, 18 years senior to the off-spinner, having played for Gloucestershire for 27 years, cap fixed on his head, sleeves buttoned to the wrists, grudging even the occasional single off his bowling.
Richardson gambled by putting McCabe with Jackson at the top of the order in a bid to make a few quick runs with the ball hard and new. For a while it came off. Jackson struck the ball well, McCabe demonstrated his class. Exactly half of the target was reached and the opening batsmen were still together. Parker and Goddard were bowling exceptionally, but the young batsmen were using their feet, scoring at every opportunity.
And then the breakthrough came, McCabe castled by Parker. 59 for 1.
Richardson had the temerity to promote himself before Bradman, in order to go for a few big hits. And Parker beat him in the air, Smith whipping off the bails. 63 for 2. Bradman walked in with lunch just a few balls away.
With Bradman and Jackson in at the break, just a bit more than 50 to be scored, the game seemed all but over. But at the end of the interval, the two spinners started bowling superbly on a wicket that had been dried by the sun into its worst condition.
Jackson did not get fully forward, and the ball squeezed past his bat and thudded into his pads. Goddard’s stentorian voice rang out. “How wuz her, then?” Up went the finger. 67 for 3.
Kippax, a batsman of elegance, was reduced to a struggling spectacle. It was not before one from Parker did not turn and held the line. He was in front. 73 for 4. A duck for the classy player.
In walked Ponsford, at the uncomfortable position of No 6. There were plenty of nerves about. Runs were difficult to get. The fielding, encouraged by Lyon, was at its best. Ponsford and Bradman, two men who batted so much with each other, hesitated, ran, hesitated again … and the stumps were broken at Ponsford’s end. Another duck. 73 for 5. Now the result was not so evident any more.
A’Beckett joined Bradman, and there followed a tense period of play. The spectators were afraid to cheer, even to move from their positions, lest the events on the field were affected by their insignificant acts. Bradman was still there. When he had reached 7, he had gone past the 2,570 scored by Victor Trumper in the wet summer of 1902. Now he had batted for 32 minutes, his score had progressed to a circumspect 14.
Parker, who had begun his First-Class career five years before Bradman’s birth, now turned one just enough to beat that broad blade and clip the off-stump. 81 for 6. Bradman was out. The ground full of Bristolians erupted in joy.
Five runs later a’Beckett had his nightmarish stay at the crease ended, his prod taken safely at short-leg by Lyon. 86 for 7. Australia had never lost to a county side since 1912. Would this be the day?
Grimmett and Hurwood did not think so. Parker and Goddard wheeled on and on. The two lower-order men countered with pluck and common sense. The score inched along. A scattered applause from the ones who had somehow managed to keep an eye on the scoreboard announced the 100 of the innings. 18 more required. Now 15. A few more tense moments, a few more ear-shattering appeals, but the batsmen were still together. Now just 10 remained.
But Parker was a man on a mission. At 108 he struck, Hurwood leg-before, playing for the turn that was not there.
A few more snatched singles and the visitors were a stroke from victory. The score had inched to 115. Three runs were left to get. And Grimmett, who had batted with splendid composure, slashed at one. Fred Seabrook at silly-point held on as if his life depended on it.
Hornibook at one end. He was being joined by the wicketkeeper Walker. Not good with the bat either of them, not by any stretch of imagination. But not exactly rabbits either.
There began an agonising session of play. A single was scored. Two more to get. Silence in the ground. A lot of dot balls. And then a leg-bye was scampered. The scores were level.
Parker bowled to Walker. A hypnotic hush around the ground. Hornibook took off as soon as the ball was in the air. Walker prodded forward. The ball pitched with meticulous perfection on the desired spot. Parker could pitch six of six on a coin if required. Walker had not the necessarily class to get a touch on that. Smith took it behind the stumps. Hornibook bolted back to his end.
Another ball, this time played with utmost care by Walker. Hornibook does his bit of rushing down the wicket and scampering back. If he could somehow squeeze an impossible single.
But the balls were bowled and the scores remained level.
Goddard started a new over, his 34th. Hornibook bent forward, playing with a dead bat. Another ball, another block. Yet another… and this time the ball turned enough to hit him on the pad. “How wuz her, then?” Goddard’s voice rang across Bristol and its suburbs. The umpire was unmoved.
The over ended. And Parker began his 35th. Walker played one, missed one, played another. Every time the spectators held their breath and exhaled with emotion. Every time Hornibook took off and bounded back into his crease. Another over ended. The scores were still level. This could not go on forever, could it?
Goddard gripped the ball again. He had started his career as a fast bowler. Every instinct perhaps told him to take a long run and hurl one of those yorkers at the tail ender, his blood throbbing to indicate that the only way out of such a situation was to let go the express delivery with violence, the only expression that could possibly emerge out of this terrific tension.
However, he fought the temptation. Over came the arm again, with mechanical precision. The ball was pitched to perfection. Hornibook played defensively forward, but the turn beat him and the pads were struck. “How wuz her, then?” erupted Goddard. Time seemed to have stopped.
And then up went the finger. Umpire Walter Buswell, former wicketkeeper of Northamptonshire, was in no doubt.
It was a tie. Parker had 7 for 54, Goddard 2 for 54.
The crowd numbered something like 17,000. Nearly all of them ran out onto the ground. Lifting the ungainly forms of Goddard and Parker on shoulders was no easy task. But one impossible had been achieved already, this was a piece of cake in comparison. Goddard’s arms and legs jerked like semaphores as he tried to keep his balance. Parker and the rest of them were clapped on their backs until they were black and blue.
Even someone like Hammond, a man who held every possible emotion at bay while playing his game, admitted that it was his most moving sporting experience.
In the words of David Foot, “Bristol would ever again have such a crowd; two sides, one of them with timelessly famous names like Ponsford, Bradman, Kippax, McCabe, Richardson and Grimmett, would never again be able to sculpt a match of such exquisite shape.”
But the Gloucestershire players had no time to rest. The following day here was a fixture at St Helen’s, Swansea. Goodbye had to be said to the thousands who had witnessed history, and the team made their way to the Tempe Meads station. But the crowd followed in wondrous adulation, down Neville Road and all the way into the platform. The final leave was taken with tired waves of the hands from the windows of the reserved compartment.
And as the train pulled out, Lyon reached for his hand-luggage and there emerged a hastily acquired bottle of scotch. They swigged, gentlemen and players alike, from the same bottle. “Here’s to Charlie, Tom and Wally,” the skipper toasted.
The cheers in response could be heard down the line, all the way back to the platform where the thousands were still talking of the day.
Gloucestershire 72 (Percy Hornibook 4 for 20) and 202 (Wally Hammond 89; Percy Hornibook 5 for 49) tied with Australia 157 (Bill Ponsford 51, Don Bradman 42; Tom Goddard 5 for 52) and 118 (Charlie Parker 7 for 54).