Match that summed up cricketing perfection

Hedley Verity in net practice at Headingley in 1939.
Hedley Verity in net practice at Headingley in 1939.
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A new book by The Yorkshire Post’s cricket correspondent Chris Waters tells the story of the match in which Yorkshire and England spin bowler Hedley Verity took 10 for 10. Here, in an exclusive extract, the author sets the scene.

Cricketers rarely deal in statistical perfection. Don Bradman’s Test average was 99.94, agonisingly short of the magical figure; Jim Laker took all but one of Australia’s 20 wickets during the Old Trafford Test of 1956, while Hanif Mohammad ran himself out on 499, for Karachi against Bahawalpur in 1959. If Bradman had managed just four more runs, Laker obtained just one more wicket, and Hanif successfully made good his ground, all would have brought off the beau ideal.

Bright Heyhirst (masseur), Len Hutton, Hedley Verity, Bill Bowes, Frank Smailes, Cyril Turner, Arthur Wood, William Ringrose (scorer), Wilf Barber, Herbert Sutcliffe, Brian Sellers, Maurice Leyland  and Arthur Mitchell.

Bright Heyhirst (masseur), Len Hutton, Hedley Verity, Bill Bowes, Frank Smailes, Cyril Turner, Arthur Wood, William Ringrose (scorer), Wilf Barber, Herbert Sutcliffe, Brian Sellers, Maurice Leyland and Arthur Mitchell.

As it was, they created new standards of excellence, inviting their fellows to go a step further. In 1932, however, came a feat so flawless, so symmetrically stunning, it was the nonpareil of numerical Utopia. Hedley Verity’s 10 for 10, for Yorkshire versus Nottinghamshire at Leeds, has an air of amazement that glows to this day. “Had it been 10 for 12, 10 for 11 or 10 for 9, it wouldn’t have had the same striking impact,” said Douglas Verity, a suitably proud son. “There’s something about it that sounds so special; it just has a wonderfully musical ring.” Verity’s return – sealed with seven wickets in 15 balls, including the hat-trick – is the greatest recorded in first-class cricket. His full figures were 19.4 overs, 16 maidens, 10 runs, 10 wickets.

Even more incredible, Verity’s feat was immediately followed by an unbroken stand of 139 between the Yorkshire opening batsmen Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe that took their team to a 10-wicket victory. On the same pitch on which Verity caused chaos, Holmes and Sutcliffe repelled an attack that included pace bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, who’d gain notoriety that winter in the Bodyline series. Although Verity was helped by a drying surface after torrential rain, the consensus was that only part-explained his tour de force.

According to newspaper reports, there was no rational reason for the disparity between his performance and that of Holmes and Sutcliffe. “The wicket was never the vexatious proposition the Notts’ batsmen made it out to be,” observed the Nottingham Evening News, while the Yorkshire Post declared that the pitch “could not have changed so completely as the difference in the two innings would suggest”. The Nottingham Journal said: “The feat was sensational.”

My own fascination with Verity’s feat began when I chanced to meet one of his victims. In December 2000, my then employer, the Nottingham Evening Post, sent me to interview Frank Shipston, a former Nottinghamshire batsman who’d become the oldest living county cricketer, aged 94, after the death of 103-year-old ex-Derbyshire batsman Jimmy Hutchinson. Although Shipston was a modest player who scored 1,183 runs in 49 first-class games at 18.48, I discovered while making some preliminary research that he’d actually played in this phenomenal match. In fact, he was its last survivor and had been Verity’s second victim, joint top-scoring with 21 along with fellow opener Walter Keeton.

Douglas Verity, son of Hedley Verity, at the unveiling of a plaque to his father at Yorkshire Cricket Club

Douglas Verity, son of Hedley Verity, at the unveiling of a plaque to his father at Yorkshire Cricket Club

When I visited Shipston at his home in Nottingham, the first words of a robust nonagenarian to the shy 20-something standing on his doorstep were full of smiling irony. “Oh, you’re a young chap,” he chuckled. Shipston, a widower who lived with his son, Peter, and family, offered a warm handshake and led the way into a living room that contained no sign of his former occupation. Then, after modestly stating that “I can’t understand why anyone should want to interview a nothing cricketer like me”, Shipston – six-foot tall and strong-built – cast his mind back 75 summers to the days of Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond, tram cars and steam trains, cat’s whisker radios and silent pictures.

“I’ll never forget my first day at Trent Bridge,” he announced, a faraway look in his kindly eyes. “It was 1925 and I’d gone for a trial after being spotted playing for my colliery team. I was putting on my pads when Jimmy Iremonger, the Notts’ coach, pulled me to one side. ‘See that lad?’ he said, pointing to one of the bowlers in the distance. ‘He’s a little bit quick, so watch the ball closely.’ I said, ‘Thanks very much’ and got ready to take guard, although I took his words with a pinch of salt. Well, the first ball from this chap called Harold Larwood whizzed past at the speed of light and hit the net before I’d seen it. The second hit me flush in the goolies and left me doubled-up in agony. One of the senior pros pointed out that I wasn’t wearing a box. So there I was, batting against Larwood, and I wasn’t even wearing a box; to be honest, I was so wet behind the ears I didn’t know what a box was.”

Despite his painful introduction, Shipston was awarded a three-year contract. He made his debut in the final match of the 1925 season, against Glamorgan at Swansea, exchanging life in the pits for life in the fresh air. “Suddenly, I went from working in the pitch-black to enjoying lovely summer’s days all around the country,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.”

Although my newspaper only wanted an overview of Shipston’s career, I was primarily interested in the 10 for 10. Mere mention of it drew an embarrassed laugh and a roll of the eyes, as though he’d remembered some childhood caper. “My word, the great Hedley Verity,” sighed Shipston. “What a name to conjure with.” My companion’s voice trailed away and a sorrowful expression came over his face. He turned his head to look out of the window, staring sadly at the wintry scene. “Killed in the war, of course,” he whispered. “Such a fine chap, and such a fine bowler.”

The feat took place on the third and last day when the game appeared to be drifting to a draw. Nottinghamshire had scored 234 in their first innings, Yorkshire replying with 163 for nine before declaring at the start of the day to try to make a game of it. Shipston and Keeton made comfortable progress as Nottinghamshire sought to bat out time. They took the score to 44 for nought before the visitors collapsed to 67 all out, Holmes and Sutcliffe speeding Yorkshire home with their century partnership. Shipston corroborated newspaper reports that conditions were not over-biased towards Verity. “I remember there’d been a storm the night before and play began late on the final day, but you couldn’t attribute Hedley’s success to the state of the wicket. It offered him a certain amount of assistance, and he was able to get the ball to lift when the sun came out and dried the pitch, but Holmes and Sutcliffe put the conditions into proper context. As I recall, Hedley wasn’t spinning it much – just enough to find the edge. But that’s all a spinner has to do.”

Shipston’s memories – sepia-coated and clouded by time – returned in dribs and drabs, like water dripping from a temperamental tap. He couldn’t remember specific match detail and occasionally got frustrated. “I’m afraid I don’t recall any of the wickets or anything, and I can’t remember how I was out. Still, it was 70-odd years ago. These days, I have trouble remembering what I did yesterday.” However, Shipston did his best to satisfy my interest – even though it seemed almost painful to think back so far. “It’s funny, but the thing that sticks in my mind is that I ended up with the captain’s batting gloves. Arthur Carr was the Notts’ captain and quite a character. He used to frighten me because you never knew what he’d do next. I remember a game at Cardiff. After the lads had been drinking at night, Carr walked on to the pitch, whipped out his middle stump and watered the wicket, encouraging the rest of us to follow suit. He reckoned the pitch had been favouring the batsmen. Anyway, when Verity got him that day at Leeds, Carr stormed back to the dressing room and threw his green batting gloves on to the floor. The gloves happened to land at my feet. ‘You can ruddy well have ‘em,’ he said.”

• 10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket’s Greatest Bowling Feat, by Chris Waters, is published by John Wisden & Co., priced £10.99. To order from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 01748 821122.