Watching Tom Banton last week, hitting sixes to all parts of the St Lawrence ground was a treat. But listening to the commentators’ fullness of praise, stretching their superlatives to the limits, had me wondering what the Somerset cricketers of old would have made of such hyperbole.
Our Club has been blessed with two outstanding six-hitters who are entitled to be mentioned in the same breath as Gilbert Jessop, probably the greatest of them all. Guy Earle (1922-1931) and Arthur Wellard (1927-1950) were both cut from the same cloth, big men built like blacksmiths, forearms like Popeye and both determined to despatch the ball out of the ground from ball one. They were not sloggers, favouring cow corner. Both preferred the front-foot straight driven six between the mid-on and mid-off boundaries or, if the delivery was short pitched, a pull over the square leg boundary.
Tales of their extreme hitting here in the UK and overseas are too numerous to mention so for the sake of younger readers who may only be familiar with the CACG I will confine such tales to the monumental hits achieved at Taunton. Hitting out of the ground from the old pavilion end (the site of the Trescothick Pavilion) and into the river were commonplace for both men and hardly merit a mention. When either of them walked out to bat it was time to launch the canoe kept by the club for the purpose of retrieving balls from the river. These guys were not content with reaching the river. Gerald Broadribb, in his excellent book Hit for Six (1961), records that Guy Earle hit the ball onto the far bank of the river and into what used to be Colthurst’s Coal Yard on at least three occasions, twice against the legendary leg spinner, Tich Freeman of Kent & England. Brodribb measured the hit to the far bank at 125 yards (114.3 metres) with the help of the Somerset groundsman. Much later I did my own, more scientific, measurement for Arthur Wellard’s biography and came to the same conclusion. Arthur Wellard also managed to pepper the coal merchants on several occasions and often sent the ball well into the yard.
Mention of the pull to square leg and probably no-one has bettered Arthur’s six off George Emmett of Gloucestershire in 1938, which soared out the ground, over the roof of the Organ Works, now under renovation, and into the back yard of a house in St Augustine Street. I measured this hit conservatively at 140 metres, though it might have been longer depending on where the wicket was sited.
As for sixes from the other end of the ground, the old pavilion was no barrier for these two great hitters. And the walls of St James’ Church also took a regular bashing. But the greatest hit of all from the river end was the six in 1930 against the bowling of Haydon Smith of Leicestershire. It is without any doubt the biggest hit ever seen on the ground; a fact confirmed by Reg Trump the Somerset scorer who was better qualified than most to reach this conclusion. Trump, confused in later life, told Gerald Broadibb that Guy Earle was the batsman, but Guy missed the 1930 season. It was Arthur who hit the ball which soared over the old pavilion, landing by the entrance to the main car park, whereupon on first bounce it landed on the roof of what was then Starkey’s brewery on the opposite side of St James Street. The distance from the river end of the wicket to the main gate is 150 metres. Next time you enter those hallowed JC White gates step it out for yourself.
And Arthur never even considered this the biggest hit of his career in which a quarter of his 12,485 first-class runs were scored in sixes. In an interview with Gerald Broadribb, he reckoned that was the six he hit out of the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on Lord Tennyson’s Tour of 1937/8. The concrete stands that surround the pitch are some 20 metres high and, according to Bill Edrich, the ball was still going upwards as it left the stadium. Other tour members such as Alf Gover, the unfortunate bowler Amar Singh, and his lordship are on record as saying it was the biggest hit they had ever seen. And Norman Yardley, the Yorkshire and England captain, believed that it ‘had approached, if not exceeded, the classic 500 feet (152.4 metres) that would have put it in the biggest hit of all times class’.
Next time you are at the CACG, check out some of the old bats in the Cricket Museum. These hits were achieved with bats that were half the depth of a modern bat and relatively lightweight. Arthur had his bats specially made at Surridge’s factory near London Bridge. They were heavier than the average bat of the day but never weighed more than 2 lbs, 11 or 12 ounces. How much further could Arthur or Guy have hit with today’s heavyweight bats? Of course, we will never know, but when you hear a commentator waxing lyrically about a 95-metre hit in the modern game, you might wonder, like me, what contortions of the English language they would have to perform to describe one of Arthur’s proper hits!
Barry Phillips wrote Arthur Wellard’s biograph ‘No Mere Slogger’ in 1996 and alongside Stephen Hill is co-author of the Somerset Cricketers series