Managing editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from the Winter 2021 issue. We publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy a single issue or four-issue bundle. Matt has opted for Christopher Lane’s exploration of those bowlers who have taken all 10 wickets in an innings.
• • •
When Christopher Lane wrote to me with a piece about bowlers who had taken all ten, I considered is to be interesting, well-researched and a very Nightwatchman kind of piece. And I thought it was useful to see just how hard taking all ten has been throughout cricket’s history, but particularly in the last 50 years (just 13 instances). And then since we went to print, it has happened twice more. Two in a fortnight! First left-arm spinner Sean Whitehead for South Western Districts in South Africa, then fellow left-armer Ajaz Patel in the Test match between India and New Zealand in Mumbai. Coincidence? I think not.
Matt Thacker, Winter 2021
Christopher Lane gives us a brief history of those who have taken all ten wickets in an innings
In January 2019, a remarkable first-class match took place in Sri Lanka, between Colombo and Saracens at Moratuwa. On the first day (4 January) Chamikara Edirisinghe, Saracens’ left-arm spinner, took the first nine Colombo wickets for 87 runs in 26 overs. After a last-wicket stand of 44, he was denied the tenth when Ashen Bandara claimed his maiden first-class wicket, bowling Lahiru Gamage. In Saracens’ second innings two days later, Colombo’s own slow left-armer Malinda Pushpakumara did manage all ten (for 37 in 18.4 overs). He was the first to do so in a first-class match since Zulfiqar Babar, yet another slow left-armer, in Pakistan in December 2009.
Achieving an all-ten has a claim to be cricket’s ultimate individual feat, roughly equivalent to a quadruple-century. There have been only 81 all-tens in the history of 11-a-side first-class cricket (plus three 10-fors in 12-a-side games, including by both EM and WG Grace, but not an all-11). By comparison, there have been 230 scores of 300 or more. Even six sixes in an over – a feat managed just twice in first-class cricket, by Gary Sobers and Ravi Shastri – has in professional cricket become more common than all-ten. Since 2007, there have been four all-tens in top-level cricket (first-class, List A or Twenty20) and six incidences of six sixes.
In theory, there is no ceiling to a batter’s score (ignoring restrictions on length of innings). Yet most matches, and nearly all amateur games, do limit the number of overs, which in turn reduces the scope for a very big individual score. At the start of every match, however, any bowler who comes on before the first wicket falls has the opportunity to take all ten, provided no wickets fall to teammates or to modes of dismissal not chalked up beside a bowler’s name, such as run-outs. In reality, of course, all-tens are so rare that few have ever witnessed – let alone performed – the feat.
The most famous all-tens were by Jim Laker and Anil Kumble, the only instances in 2,399 Tests to the end of 2020. Kumble’s 10 for 74 off 26.3 overs was achieved for India v Pakistan in Delhi in February 1999. Laker’s 10 for 53 in the 1956 Ashes Test at Old Trafford came from 51.2 overs. Only twice has anyone needed more overs for a first-class all-ten: James Lillywhite’s 10 for 129 for South v North at Canterbury in 1872 took 60.2, and George Burton’s 10 for 59 for Middlesex v Surrey at The Oval in 1888 took 52.3. Yet since these were four-ball overs, Laker bowled far more deliveries. Next on this measure comes Eddie Hemmings, another off-spinner, with 10 for 175 off 49.3 overs for the International XI against a West Indies XI at Kingston, Jamaica, in September 1982 – the most expensive first-class all-ten, and the only one performed in the West Indies.
It is incredible that there were 99 overs not bowled by Laker in Australia’s second innings at Old Trafford in 1956 – including 55 by Tony Lock – without a batsman succumbing to any one of those balls. Although other all-tens were achieved in shorter innings, they are all freaks of chance, occurring only when the requisite stars are aligned. Indeed all-tens are especially hard to achieve because a bowler is simultaneously competing against opposition and teammates for a finite resource. So you need the stars in alignment for you and against both opposition and colleagues.
However skilful a bowler may be, it is beyond his or her control whether a batter gets run out, gives their wicket away to another bowler, makes a fatal error through a lapse of concentration, or the bowler at the other end conjures up an unplayable delivery. Catches may be taken off one bowler, but dropped off another. There are myriad outcomes from every ball bowled, so for all ten wickets to fall to one bowler delivering at most half (more likely less) of the overs in an innings, luck must be the significant factor.
All told, only 76 bowlers have claimed a first-class all-ten: Kent leg-spinner Tich Freeman managed three – two against Lancashire – and Laker, Teddy Walker and Hedley Verity all did it twice. Although some are regarded as great bowlers, with Laker and Verity perhaps the best, many had otherwise unremarkable careers: indeed 30 never played a Test.
Few giants of the game ever cracked this nut, though plenty came close – some maybe denied by an apologetic colleague or a run-out. One example came in the match between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe at Kandy in January 2002, when Test cricket narrowly missed a third all-ten. Wisden 2003 reported:
Muttiah Muralitharan came agonisingly close to the best innings figures in all Test cricket. By the first evening he had taken nine for 51 from 39 overs, with one Zimbabwean wicket to fall. Next morning, [Travis] Friend offered a regulation bat-pad catch off Murali’s first ball, only for [Russel] Arnold to drop it; then an lbw appeal was turned down. At the other end, [Chaminda] Vaas bowled wide of off stump to [Henry] Olonga, but could not stop him nicking one – which [Kumar] Sangakkara could not bring himself to drop.
One might expect all-tens to be evenly spread over time. But this is not the case: in reality they have become much rarer. Of our first-class 81, there have been just 13 in the past 50 years. And in 6,312 first-class games between 1970 and 1982 (when Hemmings achieved the feat in Jamaica), there were none.
Almost half the first-class all-tens – 40 out of 81 – came in matches between two English counties. Ian Thomson’s 10 for 49 for Sussex v Warwickshire at Worthing in 1964 was the 34th County Championship all-ten in 70 years; in the 56 years since there have only been two in the Championship (the most recent being 10 for 47 by Ottis Gibson, the Barbadian fast bowler, playing for Durham v Hampshire in 2007). Indeed 100 years ago there were, extraordinarily, a record five first-class all-tens in the 1921 English season.
One of those was by Arthur Mailey, a leg-spinner with the powerful Australian team who retained the Ashes 3–0. His brush with immortality came in the second innings against Gloucestershire, and inspired the title of his autobiography: 10 for 66 and all that. The other conquerors were Charlie Parker (10 for 79 for Gloucestershire v Somerset), Tom Rushby (for 43, Surrey v Somerset), Jack White (for 76, Somerset v Worcestershire) and Billy Bestwick (for 40, Derbyshire v Glamorgan). At 46 years 116 days, Bestwick remains the oldest to take all ten in a first-class innings, while the youngest is the Pakistani seamer Imran Adil, who was rising 19 when he took 10 for 92 for Bahawalpur against Faisalabad in 1989–90.
Following three more all-tens between 1922 and 1928, the extraordinary frequency in that era continued with eight in the Championship in the four seasons between 1929 and 1932. In addition, leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett took one for the Australians v Yorkshire in 1930.
Another season that saw a flurry of all-tens was 1956, when it was done four times, including Laker’s at Old Trafford (when, coming agonisingly close to an all-20, he had match figures of 19 for 90). Incredibly, Laker had already taken ten (for 88) against the Australians that summer, playing for Surrey at The Oval. Although his spin partner, Tony Lock, bowled many wicketless overs at the other end on both occasions, he did manage his own all-ten in early July, for Surrey against Kent at Blackheath (Laker’s absence from the Surrey team in that match was undoubtedly to Lock’s benefit).
Why have first-class ten-fors become much rarer? In his book All Ten: The Ultimate Bowling Feat, Chris Overson (deriving his information from matches recognised as first-class by the ACS rather than Wisden, and so including one more instance of an all-ten) provides some figures. There were 69 instances in the first 30,000 first-class games (up to February 1974), but only 13 in over 30,000 matches since.
The table below, based on matches recognised as first-class by Wisden, ignores any cancelled or abandoned without a ball bowled.
All-tens in first-class matches to December 31, 2020
51 in 16,646 (one in 326)
to Aug 31, 1945
17 in 11,076 (one in 651)
Sep 1, 1945 to Dec 31, 1969
13 in 32,250 (one in 2,480)
Jan 1, 1970 to 31 Dec 31, 2020
81 in 59,972 (one in 740) all matches
Almost 63 per cent of first-class all-tens occurred before September 1945, despite the period constituting less than 28 per cent of all matches. This seems counterintuitive, as it is tempting to think the odds of an all-ten will remain constant: however good a bowler may be, it is, as we have seen, exceptionally rare for no wickets to fall in the overs bowled by teammates.
One possible reason for the rarity might be changes to the Laws. Before 1957, for example, when the number of fielders behind square on the leg was limited to two, it is possible that some ten-fors were achieved by an attack that was likely to elicit leg-side catches. Although records are insufficiently detailed to prove this, it is clear that right-hand off-spin and in-swing bowlers (to right-handers) did exploit “legside traps”, as shown by several of Laker’s wickets in the 1956 Old Trafford Test. Douglas Jardine’s infamous bodyline tactics also involved legside traps.
Pitch conditions are doubtless a factor in the diminishing frequency of all-tens, as modern wickets tend to be far more homogeneous. Covered-wicket regulations are key to this, but so is the evolution of groundsmanship, with scientific and mechanical developments enabling all groundsmen to produce relatively good wickets. In cricket’s earlier days, smaller grounds might have lacked the resources to produce a reliable surface. The fact that 20 of the 34 Championship all-tens between 1895 and 1964 happened on outgrounds suggest that they were more likely to provide pitches that perfectly suited the skills of a particular bowler.
Helpful wickets were not always part of the mix, however. In his 1955 autobiography I’ll Spin You a Tale, Eric Hollies said that his 10 for 49 (for Warwickshire v Nottinghamshire at Edgbaston in 1946) “was achieved on a good wicket with the ball turning hardly at all”. And in his 1985 biography of Gubby Allen (Man of Cricket), EW Swanton said of Allen’s 10 for 40 (for Middlesex v Lancashire at Lord’s in 1929):
The pitch was plumb, and none of the other bowlers looked like taking a wicket… The Times’ tribute spoke of ‘the great pace at which he made the ball leave the pitch’… It was in fact a truly exhilarating exhibition of fast bowling – real fast bowling at its best.
Scyld Berry, the journalist and former Wisden editor regarded as one of the most knowledgeable observers of the game, believes all-tens are likelier to occur when quality spin or swing bowlers are able to exploit exceptionally helpful conditions (especially spinners in the days of uncovered wickets). He thinks the main reason that ten-fors are much rarer is that bowling is now more of a team operation, with perhaps five bowlers sharing the workload more evenly. Time was when fewer bowlers shouldered larger workloads, sometimes bowling unchanged at one end for most or all of an innings. With individuals accounting for a larger proportion of the overs bowled, the chances of an all-ten were greater.
Laker’s workload in the 1956 Old Trafford Test supports this theory. Indeed a significant proportion of first-class all-tens (53 of the 79 with known overs) were achieved by those bowling more than 20 overs; only Alonzo Drake’s 10 for 35 off 8.5 for Yorkshire against Somerset in 1914 came in fewer than ten. Even the best figures in the history of first-class cricket – Hedley Verity’s 10 for 10 for Yorkshire against Nottinghamshire in 1932 – took 19.4 overs.
If there is such a thing as the perfect all-ten, then two teenagers – Alex Kelly for Bishop Auckland in 1994 and Emma Liddell for Metropolitan East in 1996 – both achieved it: ten wickets for no runs, all bowled. In first-class cricket John Wisden, founder of the Almanack, is the only player to have an all-ten with every victim bowled (for North v South at Lord’s in 1850). With one exception, all other first-class instances involved at least one teammate: Eric Hollies bowled seven Nottinghamshire opponents and had the rest lbw in his 1946 all-ten.
Perhaps the perfect time to perform the feat is on debut – as New Zealander Albert Moss managed when playing for Canterbury against Wellington in December 1889. The 26-year-old Moss launched his career with 10 for 28 off 21.3 overs, bowling unchanged. But it wasn’t much of a career: he played only three more first-class matches, ending with 26 wickets at 10.96 – exceptional figures in any era.
Sometimes, luck can vanish at the last moment. Jack Hearne, the Middlesex medium-pacer who played 12 Tests for England in the late 1800s, took nine in a first-class innings on eight occasions, but never grabbed a tenth. Many nine-fors have involved the first nine wickets, only for a run-out or colleague to stymie the full set – Muralitharan’s nine at Kandy in 2002 and Edirisinghe’s in Moratuwa in 2019 are two such examples. Jonathan Agnew is another: playing for Leicestershire v Kent in 1985 he took the first nine wickets, and was on a hat-trick when the last man arrived. Unfortunately he bowled a no-ball, and soon afterwards Paddy Clift took the last wicket.
Former Sussex captain, John Barclay, may be unluckier still. As a schoolboy, playing for Public Schools against English Schools Cricket Association at Lord’s in 1971, he took the first nine wickets. However, a last-wicket partnership of 17 was ended by declaration. Wisden said this call, denying Barclay “the once-in-a-lifetime chance of taking all ten wickets on the headquarters of world cricket, was somewhat unchivalrous”.
All bowlers know you can be at your best and reap no reward, while on other days you can bowl badly and pick up a hatful. As Richard Johnson, the last but one to take all-ten in the Championship (10 for 45 for Middlesex at Derby), said in his foreword to Overson’s book:
Strangely enough, as a 19-year-old, when I took all ten against Derbyshire I didn’t really appreciate then the significance of what I had achieved. It was only my 11th first-class match… I don’t even think I bowled particularly well, and I’m sure that many bowlers who took an all-ten would say that they bowled much better on other occasions with less reward.
Johnson was a fine fast bowler who went on to play Test cricket for England. One suspects he bowled better than he gives himself credit for on that day in July 1994. A poor bowler may take a wicket, or even a few, but only very good bowlers take them all. The ultimate cricket feat requires skill, stamina and favourable conditions. But above all, luck.