In recent weeks, the exploits of Billy Godleman in the Royal London One Day Cup when he scored a hundred off 59 balls, and of Leus du Plooy, who, in the same match, scored a 23-ball half century prompted a fresh look at the history of fast scoring by Derbyshire cricketers.
Heritage Officer and Statistician, David Griffin, takes a look at the fast-scoring record books.
My introduction to county cricket was at Ilkeston on 3rd August 1974. Derbyshire played Nottinghamshire and the opening day of the game was played under cloudless skies in hot and steamy conditions.
Derbyshire’s bowling attack included two England Test match opening bowlers, in Alan Ward and Mike Hendrick, Phil Russell, a very creditable seamer with a good record, plus two spin bowlers, slow left-armer, Fred Swarbrook, and the Indian test match off-spinner, Srinivas Venkatraghavan.
Nottinghamshire’s side included arguably the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen – the West Indian left-hander, Garry Sobers.
Sobers plundered the Derbyshire attack that day, scoring 130 runs, including 25 fours (but no sixes, which rather disappointed me) in an innings which won him the Walter Lawrence Trophy that summer for the fastest first class hundred. It took Sobers 83 minutes to reach three figures.
At that time, in fact for the first hundred years of what we now know as organised first-class cricket, the speed with which a batsman reached three figures and beyond was always measured in minutes.
This makes it difficult to assess how many balls Sobers faced, as the scorebook of the day reveals only the time he went into bat, and the time he reached his century. The type of scoring books used in the 1970s was little different from those used in recreational cricket and it was some time after that before more detailed scoring systems became widely used.
However, Derbyshire’s bowlers bowled an average of 20 overs per hour that day – 120 balls – so based on that average, Sobers would have been at the crease whilst around 166 balls were bowled.
My own recollection is that he treated all bowlers – fast and slow – with equal disdain but I can’t recall which type of bowler he faced most often. With the spinners in tandem, he would have faced more deliveries; less, if the quicks were bowling.
One factor to consider is what proportion of those 166 deliveries would he have faced? The fact that he hit 100 of his 130 in boundaries suggests that he was probably not too keen on rotating the strike, so perhaps faced less than half the balls bowled during his innings.
Regardless, the practice of defining hundreds by minutes batted has now disappeared (although the times are still recorded) and balls-faced has become the logical method of measuring the speed taken in reaching three figures.
Before we come up to date, however, it’s worth going back to Ilkeston once more to another game against Nottinghamshire in July 1933.
Derbyshire were chasing a total in excess of 300 on the final day and found themselves in some trouble at 90-6 when Stan Worthington, one of Derbyshire’s finest all-rounders arrived at the crease. Worthington’s very best years were still ahead of him – he would become the only Derbyshire batsman to score a Test match century for England, and be a prominent member of that formidable Derbyshire side which won the County Championship in 1936 – but on this particular day, he flayed the Nottinghamshire attack to all parts of the ground, reaching three figures in 60 minutes.
We will probably never be able to ascertain the number of balls Worthington faced, but, and I acknowledge that it was an innings played in a very different era, when Godleman scored his 59-ball hundred against Yorkshire at Headingley a few weeks ago – albeit in a one day game – he took 107 minutes in scoring 107 runs. And Wes Durston, Calum McLeod and Greg Smith – the only Derbyshire players to register hundreds in Twenty20 cricket – all spent longer in terms of minutes scoring their hundreds, then balls faced.
For example, the first of those Twenty20 hundreds – Smith’s against Yorkshire at Leeds in 2008 – saw the batsman score exactly 100 (not out) off 62 balls in 74 minutes.
The science is just not exact enough, but it’s at least reasonable to assume that the length of the innings in minutes is almost always going to be shorter in terms of balls faced.
The first-class game – in addition to Worthington’s startling effort back in 1933 (Derbyshire lost, incidentally) – has seen several fast-scoring feats over the last 40 or so years.
Eddie Barlow’s magnificent 217 against Surrey at Ilkeston in 1976 saw the South African score 138 runs in a session between lunch and tea, while his fellow countryman, Peter Kirsten scored a double hundred against Glamorgan at Derby in 1980 when the first innings of county championship matches was restricted to 100 overs and when Derbyshire went in to tea on the opening day, Kirsten was 105 not out with 82 overs gone.
After tea, in the remaining 18 overs of the innings, Kirsten scored a further 108 runs to take his score to 213 not out before Derbyshire were forced to declare. It was one of the greatest – and quickest second hundreds in Derbyshire’s history.
The accepted fastest hundred for Derbyshire in first-class matches came in contrived circumstances at Worcester in 1992, when Chris Adams scored 140 not out in 72 minutes off 72 balls. He scored 50 from 34 balls and reached 101 off his 61st delivery in 57 minutes – an example of actually facing more balls than minutes spent at the crease. In terms of minutes taken to reach his hundred, Adams hold the all-formats record for the county.
He scored 24 off one D’Oliveira over and 18 off another, as well as taking 24 and 10 off successive overs from Moody. His last 39 runs were scored off just 11 balls.
Martin Guptill scored the fastest double century for the county – against Gloucestershire at Bristol in 2015. He reached 200 off 165 balls – the 19th fastest double hundred in the history of the game – and faced 176 balls in all for his 227 in 266 minutes – another example of where balls faced was significantly fewer than minutes at the crease.
His final 127 runs took 64 balls in 93 minutes.
It comes as no surprise that the fastest hundred (balls faced) for Derbyshire came in a Twenty20 game.
Wes Durston holds the record with a 51-ball ton at Trent Bridge in 2010. Greg Smith had scored a 62-ball Twenty20 hundred against Yorkshire at Leeds in 2008, but Durston’s effort was so much faster and included 7 sixes and 11 fours. It was a hot and sunny day, with Trent Bridge almost full, and the breadth of Durston’s stroke play amazed spectators still coming to terms with the power hitting and seemingly impossible shots which we now expect to see, especially in the shortest format of the game.
And although Alex Hales – opening the batting for Nottinghamshire – didn’t reach three figures, his half century from just 16 balls eclipsed even Durston’s effort for it’s speed.
Callum McLeod reached three figures at Northampton in 2018 in a televised Twenty20 game, taking 58 balls to reach that landmark, with 4 sixes and 12 fours, with his first fifty taking 33 balls, and his second fifty just 25.
Billy Godleman re-wrote the record books with his 59-ball century against Yorkshire at Leeds in this years’ Royal London One Day Cup match, the fastest-ever in a List A game for Derbyshire; and in the same innings, Leus du Plooy scored Derbyshire’s fastest-ever List A fifty, from just 23 balls.
The fastest fifties in Twenty20 matches have been scored by Wes Durston, against Warwickshire in 2014 at Derby, when he took 20 balls to reach his half century, and by Wayne Madsen, who took one more delivery to reach his 50 against Yorkshire at Headingley in 2018.
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