Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Quote: “Whoever does will be very tired.”
By: George Hirst, when asked after his ‘double double’ in 1906.
Almost echoed by: Fred Trueman in an interview after he became the first to 300 Test wickets, in 1964.
When it comes to the greatest all-rounder in history, the discussion typically revolves around Garry Sobers, Imran Khan, and Jacques Kallis; the bowler-inclined ones mention Shaun Pollock (you cannot really ignore those numbers!); Mike Procter represents the lost generation of South Africans; and historians keep reminding everyone of WG Grace.
But what was the greatest all-round performance across a season? The 1,000 run-100 wicket double used to be considered a parameter in England till the season shrunk in the 1960s (other countries have seasons of fewer matches). Franklyn Stephenson was the last to do the achieve that, and that was three decades ago.
Wilfred Rhodes had achieved this a record 16 times, so it is not that uncommon an occurrence. A better parameter may be 2,000 runs and 100 wickets, which is not as common. Frank Woolley did this in four consecutive seasons in an incredible run between 1920 and 1923.
There are two records, however, that have been achieved only once each. Jim Parks Sr scored 3,003 runs and took 101 wickets in 1937, thus adding the extra thousand to the 2,000-100 double. While incredible, this was more of an outstanding achievement by a batsman who bowled very well.
The other record, however, is more well-rounded. In 1906 George Hirst did the unthinkable when he scored 2,385 runs at 45.86 and claimed 208 wickets at 16.50. Nobody else took more wickets that season (Arthur Fielder was next, with 186). Only Tom Hayward of Surrey got more runs. And Hirst did all that with a strapped-up knee.
It was the greatest season of his – or, indeed, anyone’s – career. It was so spectacular an achievement that it prompted Stephen Chalke – probably the greatest cricket writer in history – to pen down A Summer of Plenty: George Herbert Hirst in 1906.
By the time the season had started, Hirst was already one of the leading contemporary cricketers in the country, if not the finest. While much of his bowling success had to do with the ‘swerve’, his batting held no such mysteries.
In that season he reached 1,000 runs and 100 wickets – the usual test for a good all-rounder, as mentioned above – by June (for the unaware, the typical English seasons started in May). This gave him a considerable head start: nobody else has ever done this before June 15.
Some performances merit mention. Consider the Roses matches. At Bradford, he bowled unchanged for 6 for 20 to bowl out Lancashire for 67 and followed it with 58 and 2/44. And at Old Trafford, he came up with 5 for 67, 85, and 2 for 29.
Times hailed his 87 against Surrey at The Oval as “one of the greatest innings he had played for Yorkshire”. In the return match, at Bramall Lane, he got 47, 3 for 69, and 4 for 50. I mention Surrey and Lancashire in isolation because they finished third and fourth in that season’s Championship, just behind Yorkshire.
What about Kent, the champions? In May he demolished them at Catford single-handedly with 101, 4 for 46, and 7 for 33. And at Bramall Lane, he had 5/94, 93, and 3/61. And in the end-of-season match for The Rest against Kent, he scored 61 and got 2 for 79 and 4 for 73.
You now know what Lord Hawke, Yorkshire captain of the season, implied when he said, “It was not only what Georgie Hirst did but how he did it, coming off when an effort seemed most necessary and playing his best against the more formidable sides.”
Despite all that, his most famous performance came against Somerset at Bath, where he did something that had not been done before or after. He scored 111 and 117* and took 6/70 and 5/45. He thus stays one-up on Bernard Bosanquet and Stephenson, both of whom scored twin tons and took ten wickets in a match but not two five-wicket hauls.
The match at Bath ended early on August 29. Those 11 wickets had taken Hirst to 195 wickets (the 2,000 runs had already been achieved). Now, the next morning, he had to play at Scarborough against an extremely strong MCC on a very hot day.
No, cricketers were not mollycoddled in those days. As Chalke pointed out, two players retired before half-time and three more before the end of play during a match between Arsenal and Manchester City in the same week – all with heat exhaustion.
Hirst bowled the first over of the match and clean bowled Archie MacLaren second ball. Six balls later he had Harry Foster caught at slip. He struck once more before lunch, this time bowling Teddy Wynyard. And before tea he got Bert Vogler.
That brought him to 199, but this was also the eighth wicket of the innings – and Rhodes was looking ominous enough to rob him of the record that day. MCC were 295/8 at tea as ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower settled down alongside the redoubtable Len Braund.
Hirst’s mother was present at the ground for the occasion. She was accompanied by (who else?) a certain Mrs Rhodes, also from the village of Kirkheaton. Now they could not bear it anymore and took to a stroll outside the ground.
They were walking on North Marine Road when play resumed, and almost immediately the crowd erupted in a loud cheer: Hirst had reached the landmark with a wicket off the first ball after tea, caught at short-leg. Fittingly, the batsman – Braund – was another champion all-rounder of the era.
That was it. When asked whether there would be an encore of the feat, Hirst famously responded with “whoever does will be very tired.”
He must have been really, really exhausted, for this was a man who believed that “cricket is a game, not a competition; and when you’re both a bowler and a batter you’re twice as happy, you enjoy yourself twice as much.”
The Trueman Show
Years later, Trueman became the first to take 300 wickets in Test cricket. He reached the landmark at The Oval in 1964, having Neil Hawke caught by Colin Cowdrey.
The inevitable question came up: did ‘Freddie’ think anyone would break his record? The response was prompt: “Aye, but whoever does will be bloody tired”.
With time Trueman’s name has slid down the list. He is 33rd at this point. Hirst’s, however, has stood the test of time.
Bob Appleyard took exactly 200 wickets in 1951. However, being a rank tail-ender, he scored only 104 runs. He cited Hirst’s example: “I was absolutely jiggered after what I’d done. How he had the energy to bat as well I can’t imagine.”
On November 2, 2007, one M Aldred wrote to The Telegraph that Trueman’s “bloody tired” phrase was borrowed from Hirst. A week later, The Telegraph published another letter, from Hirst’s grandson Lindsay Watkins: “My grandfather said ‘very tired’ not ‘bloody tired’. He never swore, and did not allow his children to swear either.”
Years ago, Hawke had commented that Hirst’s “smile used to meet almost at the back of his neck”. Some men are like that.