The 1896 University Match between the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the Cambridge University was a remarkable one. Played at Lord’s between 25th and 27th June, 1896, this match created a record which was quite unimaginable in that day and age.
The MCC side for this fixture had a decent look to it. Among their ranks were Kent’s opening batsman Alec Hearne and medium pace bowler Frederick Martin as well as the enigmatic Victoria and Middlesex all-rounder Albert Trott.
The squad was led by Charles Hulls, who played his second and last first-class match. His opposite number was Frank Mitchell, who was a rugby international for England and was to later play Test cricket for both England and South Africa.
Also in the Cambridge University eleven were William Gilbert Grace junior – the 22 year-old son of the legendary ‘Doctor’ of the same name – and Surrey’s Norman ‘Frank’ Druce, who was in the midst of a good season with the bat.
Hulls won the toss and elected to bat. The University’s fast bowling pair of Horace Gray and Trinidad-born Eustace Shine immediately put the hosts on the back foot with timely blows. Gray removed Hearne and Trott cheaply to have the MCC at 23/2, before the Essex opener Herbert Carpenter and wicketkeeper George Davenport put on 45 for the third wicket.
Gray dismissed Carpenter for 37, the innings’ top score, while Shine made severe inroads into the middle order. Three wickets – that of Carpenter, Davenport and Hulls – fell at 68 and from that point, the innings could never recover. The MCC were bowled out for 134 in 41.4 overs, with Gray and Shine returning figures of 5/62 and 4/48 respectively.
The Cambridge University got off to a good start in reply through their openers Cuthbert Burnup – who had just began his county career with Kent – and Grace. The two added 41 before Martin and Trott started to engineer a collapse. Martin bowled Grace and Harold Marriott while Trott cleaned up Burnup as the score slid to 51/3.
The performance of the middle order batsmen was even worse than those of the MCC, as the innings went into a freefall in the face of the left and right-handed bowling combo. From 41/0, the score crashed to 79/7 before finally winding up at 111 in 57.2 overs.
Trott – who could bowl both pace and off-spin – took 6/59 while Martin finished with 4/32. Grace’s 26 was the highest score. With a narrow lead of 23, the MCC lost Hearne and Trott early again and finished the day at 92/2 with Carpenter and Francis Phillips at the crease. 337 runs were scored for the loss of 22 wickets on the first day.
The pitch had clearly eased out by the time the second day started, as Carpenter and Phillips set about building the lead in imposing fashion. Their third-wicket partnership realised 168 runs before Mitchell dismissed Phillips for 74. Carpenter was in fine fettle as he added a further 93 with Hulls for the fourth wicket.
He went on to score a then career-best of 161 before getting out caught off Grace. Richard Nicholls (59) and Walter Mead (46*) frustrated the Cambridge University with an 81-run stand for the ninth wicket – which was effectively the last wicket as Davenport was absent injured – as the MCC piled up 483 runs in 136.1 overs.
Part-time medium-pacer Marriott – who was the last of seven bowlers used – ended up as the pick of them with a career-best 4/60. The target for Cambridge University was a mammoth 507 runs, and it seemed only two results were possible at this stage – a draw or an MCC win.
The chase got off to a poor start as Grace was bowled by Trott for a duck with the score at four. Martin accounted for Burnup to make it 38/2. Marriott and Druce then guided their team to 98/2 at stumps on Day 2. The requirement for the final day was 409 runs with eight wickets standing.
The demons in the pitch had long rested, and now the it was looking very conducive for the batsmen. Druce and Clement Wilson took charge of the proceedings as the third day began, with the two playing showing positivity.
Druce was the more dominating of the two, and by the time he was bowled by Mead for a wonderful, game-changing 146, the score was 280 and the third-wicket partnership had fetched 242 runs.
With a composed Wilson still at the crease, Cambridge University might have started to believe in themselves. But there was still a long way to go – 227 runs needed with seven wickets in hand.
However, Martin provided a crucial breakthrough just six runs later, as he caught Wilson for 82 off his own bowling. Marriott came out to bat at this point with a huge task in front of him.
There was a lot of time left in the game, and with the extremely high over-rates of those days, all four results were entirely possible now. Marriott and William Hemingway took the score to 327 before Trott dismissed the latter.
21-year-old Marriott was looking composed and chipped away at the target, but wickets were falling at the other end. Mitchell was out caught by Hulls off Martin to make it 352/6, while Hearne had John Stogdon caught by Nicholls – the score now reading 389/7.
Marriott needed a willing ally if his team had to wrest back the advantage, which he found in the form of wicketkeeper Edward Bray, who batted at number nine. The two thwarted any further wicket-taking attempt from the MCC bowlers as they went about getting the remaining runs in a steady manner.
Bray (32*) was not exactly known for his batting, but on this occasion he held his nerve and ably supported Marriott, who determinedly and maturely went on to score a century, playing the major role in the partnership. The MCC bowlers began to appear jaded when it mattered the most.
The Cambridge University eventually achieved a historic victory when Marriott scored the winning single off Mead. The final score read an astonishing 507/7 in 189.2 overs, with the unbroken eighth-wicket stand bringing 128 runs. Martin toiled for 65 overs to claim 3/109. Marriott finished with an unbeaten career-best 146.
Until this match, no team had ever chased down even 400 runs in the fourth innings of a first-class match. What’s more, there had been no instance of a team scoring as many in the fourth innings – whether in a win, loss or draw – of any first-class match.
In this context, the feat achieved by the Cambridge University can be said to be a notable turning point as far as chasing big totals was concerned. Just four years later, another 500-plus winning chase was recorded, when the Players chased down 501 against the Gentlemen at Lord’s.
Cambridge University’s record of the highest winning fourth-innings total stood unchallenged for 107 years. As of today, it stands third on the list, behind West Zone’s 541/7 against South Zone at Hyderabad in 2009-10 and Central Province’s 513/9 against Southern Province at Kandy in 2003-04.
The highest fourth-innings total overall is England’s 654/5 against South Africa at Durban in the drawn Timeless Test of 1938-39.
Match Scorecard – http://cricketarchive.com/Archive/Scorecards/4/4571.html