Heritage: The cricket record that maybe never happened

In 1932 Essex played most home games at Leyton. Picture: Lee Power

In 1932 Essex played most home games at Leyton. Picture: Lee Power - Credit: Archant

In the second of his two cricket history features, Prof Ged Martin asks: Did two Yorkshire batsmen really set a world record against Essex in 1932?

Essex were not a strong team in 1932. Facing formidable Yorkshire in mid-June was a big challenge.

Cricketers weren’t the athletes of today. The Essex side came straight from a gruelling game against Surrey, where the famous Jack Hobbs had hit them all round the Oval. The team was tired and downhearted.

Their most devastating bowler, Kenneth Farnes from Gidea Park, was away studying (sometimes) and playing cricket (often) at Cambridge University.

Essex didn’t even have a regular captain. Their skipper that day was the inexperienced Charles Bray. He called it an “unenviable distinction”.

Essex played most home games at Leyton, where the notoriously dead wicket was a gift to batsmen. Bray hoped workhorse bowler Arthur Daer would contain the Yorkshiremen.

Daer’s family ran the Golden Lion in Romford. In later life, he became a partner in Avery & Daer, a sports shop in North Street. His figures of 0 for 107 reflect his doggedness.

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The Yorkshire openers, Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, formed one of the great duos of cricket history.

Yorkshire already held the record for a first-wicket partnership: Brown and Tunnicliffe had scored 554 in 1898. Facing weak and weary opponents on a perfect wicket, Sutcliffe and Homes decided that if Yorkshire won the toss, they’d try to break that record.

The coin flipped the right way, but the marathon nearly ended when Holmes was just 3 not out. Strangely, he was complaining of lumbago and made a shaky start. Daer tricked him into putting up a catch, but it was dropped – an expensive mistake.

By teatime, the pair were 237 not out. Suspecting that they were going for the record, Bray decided to delay taking the new ball until next morning, when his bowlers would be fresher. He ordered Daer’s bowling partner, L.C. Eastman, to aim at the off stump, hoping to tempt the Yorkshiremen into putting up catches.

The strategy failed. Sutcliffe and Holmes went into overdrive, adding a staggering 190 runs in the last session.

Sensing cricket history, sports journalists descended on Leyton the next morning, along with a large crowd. One man drove overnight from Hull – in the days before motorways – to cheer his heroes.

With the scoreboard at 551, Sutcliffe hooked Eastman to the boundary. 555! A touch arrogantly, he threw his wicket away the very next ball. He’d scored 313.

Yorkshire declared, and the excited crowd milled around the scoreboard while celebratory photographs were taken.

Then – drama! The scoreboard silently shifted back to 554. The record, it seemed, had been equalled but not broken. What had happened?

The two scorers, Yorkshire’s Bill Ringrose and Charles McGahey of Essex, occupied a box with their backs to the scoreboard, which was operated by volunteer youngsters. Mistakes were unavoidable.

Umpire “Tiger” Smith insisted he’d no-balled Daer in the first over that morning, but the scorers had missed his signal.

McGahey had played for Essex between 1893 and 1921. He was now in his sixties and hard up. The County generously employed him as its scorer. It was said that he liked his beer, often sending the boys on the scoreboard to buy him bottles of ale. This meant frequent bathroom breaks. Some claimed he’d left Ringrose to enter both scorebooks at the crucial moment.

Whatever the truth, Bray was a sportsman. Sutcliffe and Holmes, he said, had played magnificently, and deserved the record. He agreed to add the alleged missing no-ball.

Ringrose reluctantly accepted, but McGahey insisted that the run had been invented.

A cigarette manufacturer used 555 as a brand name, and a carload of free fags quickly arrived in the Yorkshire dressing room. But this was no advertising stunt.

Bray’s decision has often been criticised. As he said, it would have been better if Sutcliffe had scored a few more runs to make the record watertight.

Yorkshire won by an innings.