General News | 25th July 2007

Looking back on Northants v Notts

Peter Wynne-Thomas looks back on past meetings between Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire at Northampton.

The basic statistics show that Nottinghamshire have played 56 Championship games on the County Ground at Northampton, and have won 18 against 15 losses, with the remainder being drawn.

Statistics as the cynical know can be made to prove whatever is required, and these figures paint a rather rosy picture, but no less than 12 of the victories were achieved before the Second World War.

They include the incredible feat of Topsy Wass and Bert Hallam, who bowled unchanged through both completed Northants innings in 1907. No less than 26 wickets fell on the first day, the report merely stating that the sun came out after rain, making the pitch ideal for Wass’s fast leg breaks. No mention of pitch inspectors in those days. Wass took 9-69, Hallam 9-65 and Northants were all out for 52 and 88.

Northants took their revenge 98 seasons later. Nottinghamshire, at the close of play on the first day, were a formidable 353-1, Tim Robinson unbeaten on 204 and Graham Archer with 93 not out.

Robinson was soon dismissed on the second morning but Archer carried on to 158. The finished total was not quite as vast as predicted, but still an impressive 527 at tea. It looked like an impregnable position, even if Northants had hit 149 without loss in the final session.

On the third day, the home side added a further 560 from 109 overs. Spinners Andy Afford and Jim Hindson particularly suffered, with the former conceding no less than 223 runs.

Allan Lamb, the Northants captain, at last declared at 11.35 on the fourth morning. Notts were left to bat out the day. Inexplicably the batting collapsed and the game was lost by an innings and 97 runs. The record books were out. After much digging it was announced that no team had scored 500 runs in their first innings and proceeded to lose a match by an innings - and that was in any first-class match in the world, including the bizarre records that occasional emerge from the sub-continent.

In 2002 Notts made an attempt to repeat this grim statistic. They scored 489 in the first innings, both Jason Gallian and Chris Read hitting hundreds; Northants replied with 420. Batting a second time, Notts disintegrated and Northants, with a hundred from Mal Loye, won by six wickets.

Since the Second World War, Northampton has been an unhappy venue for the Notts side. The last victory there was in 1997, when that most talented but enigmatic of cricketers, Matt Dowman, made a well-fashioned 111, when Notts were set 301 for victory in the final innings. Nathan Astle assisted Dowman in a stand of 156 on his county debut and the margin of success was three wickets.

That was one of only six victories scattered over the past 61 years – between 1966 and 1991 Northampton did not witness a single Notts win, though in 1978 Richard Hadlee was required to hit a four off the last ball, but could only hit Hodgson for two.

I’ll close with a mystery. Northamptonshire were granted first-class status in 1905, but in the 1890s, William Gunn used to take a Notts team to Northampton to play the County. In the 1896 game, Arthur Shrewsbury had to cry off at the last minute and Notts included a player by the name of S.Thomas. This player’s name was given in not only the scoresheet, but also each time he was mentioned in the press report, in inverted commas.

Clearly it was an assumed name, but why a player in a friendly game should disguise his identity is one mystery. He is described as a well-known rugby player. In 2000 I received a letter from someone digging into his family history.

The writer had the information that his grandfather, S.Thomas, had played cricket for Nottinghamshire at around the same date. Could the player be the S.Thomas who turned out for Staffordshire from 1895 to 1898? Is this in fact a double-bluff and the player pretended his name wasn’t S.Thomas, but it was? Answers on a postcard, as they used to say!

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