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High summers

It used to be a routine mark for leading county batsmen to score 2,000 first-class runs in a summer

23 August 2006

4:55 PM

23 August 2006

4:55 PM

While Sunday’s Test farce reverberated far beyond Surrey’s Oval, that county’s favourite son, veteran Mark Ramprakash, was serenely toasting his achievement in becoming the first English batsman to score 2,000 first-class runs in a summer since he did the very same 11 years ago. Good show. It used to be a routine mark for leading county batsmen. Hobbs did it on 17 occasions, Sutcliffe and Hendren 15. In my boyhood, 2,000 was almost commonplace. Sixty summers ago, for instance, the two grand was posted by Laurie Fishlock, Vijay Merchant, Jack Robertson, Tom Barling, Dennis Brookes and Walter Keeton, with the two Test players back from the war, Denis Compton (2,403) and Cyril Washbrook (2,400) topping the list. The latter, Old Trafford’s rigorous RSM, astonishingly got half the job done inside just three weeks.

An old cricketing friend, John Gibbons — in the 1950s the ‘Typhoon Tyson’ of the Berkshire Gents — sends me some intriguing bumf on Washbrook’s 1946 midsummer

merrymaking: between 26 June and 17 July, 1,021 runs in 12 first-class innings (as many as a modern Test player might manage in all of three months). No sponsored Porsche or Jag doing round-Britain whizzes in the outside lane then, of course, just train or bus or juddering motor-coach up hill and down dale between Manchester, Liverpool, London and Canterbury from Cyril’s Timperley home. In the 21 days between his five centuries and six half-centuries, Washbrook reckoned he spent ‘at least 75 hours sitting in various crowded and uncomfortable conveyances’.

Tougher then? Nowt like a good anniversary to prove it. A century ago, a county player didn’t even have Cyril’s choice of transport. Only the train took the strain. Which makes George Hirst’s still imperishable 1906 chart-toppers all the more astounding. Yorkshire’s genial George not only scored more than 2,000 runs in that exhausting heatwave summer — by golly, he also took more than 200 wickets. It remains a unique record of all-round skill and endurance, and next Wednesday, 30 August, on the precise day and on the very same famous field on which he signed off his tour de force, it will be formally celebrated when Yorkshire begin their match with Middlesex at Scarborough, and a delightful little memoir is launched by the ever assiduous Fairfield Books (A Summer of Plenty: George Herbert Hirst in 1906), just £10 and only 64 pages, but as charming a collector’s miniature as most sporting biogs of 640. ‘As I typed the words,’ says author Stephen Chalke, ‘I felt the warmth of George Hirst’s smile, his kindly presence bringing joy to me just as he brought joy to so many cricket lovers all those years ago.’

Hirst’s prolonged curtain-call had begun at Bath against Somerset in late August with a century and five wickets in each of the four innings of the match (still a feat unmatched by any of your Soberses, Bothams or Imrans). With his second century, George had ticked off his season’s 2,000 and now, for the immortal double, he needed only five wickets for his 200. Win in the bag, on 29 August Yorkshire caught the 3.13 p.m. LMS train from Bath Spa station; they reached Scarborough at 11.33 p.m. Next morning, v. MCC, George at once nabbed MacLaren and Foster; by tea, Wynard and Vogler had also succumbed to make it 199 — and after the bowler’s ‘quiet glass of gin-and-sherry mix’ — Braund was caught off a skier first ball after tea …200 up… ‘and the crowd gave a most cordial round of cheering’.

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