What’s the highest number of runs ever scored in a single First Class Cricket over?
Leaving aside joke instances or tactical blunders that have involved deliberately bowling serial no balls to encourage scoring, the answer ought to be simple to anyone with a casual knowledge of cricket and arithmetic: it’s got to be 36, right?
And those of a certain age will dig into their memory and ask something along the lines of, “Wasn’t it that guy, Gary Sobers, did something like that long ago?”.
It’s very true that on a sunny August afternoon, when Nottinghamshire were playing away to Glamorgan on one of their out grounds, Sobers put himself and the unlucky bowler, poor Malcolm Nash, into the record books by becoming the first First Class player ever to hit six sixes in a single over, a feat improbably captured by a fortuitous and timely piece of outside broadcasting from BBC Wales, and immortalising the commentator’s words on the final ball as he yelled, “My Goodness! And that one’s gone clean down to Swansea.”
And the dedicated cricket fan may even recall that, two decades later, the great Indian all-rounder Ravi Shastri replicated Sobers’ feat, on the Sub-Continent.
But 36 is no longer the highest score from a single over. A new record was set on 21 June 1998, on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, in front of a crowd of a few hundred, lazing around and watching a four day County Cricket Match between Lancashire and Surrey moving towards a home victory. I was one of the privileged few hundred.
It was the penultimate year that I was a Lancashire member, happy to mosey over to the ground on a sunny day, even for just a couple of hours. It was a rare example of County Cricket on a Sunday, though why the Sunday League wasn’t in action at the time I can no longer recall.
Alex Tudor was bowling from the Stretford End, and Andy Flintoff was on strike. This was at a time when both were up and coming players, long before Flintoff’s heroics with bat and ball for England. Tudor was a genuinely fast bowler, who would go on to win a handful of caps without ever ultimately convincing. But he was genuinely fast.
His first ball was a no ball, and Flintoff gleefully smashed it over the boundary for six. This loosened him up because he smashed the next delivery, which was legitimate,for a four. The third ball was again a no ball, and again hit for four, by which time the crowd was sitting up, facing front and preparing to enjoy the fun. Fourteen runs scored, eighteen once you added in the new no ball rule: two runs for a no ball in addition to any runs scored from the bat. And five legitimate deliveries to come, the next of which Flintoff again hammered for four, bringing his total from the over to 18, and still with four balls to face.
Everybody’s attention was focussed on the middle. If Flintoff were to continue in this fashion, it would add up to the highest score any of us had ever seen off a single over. If he started hitting more sixes, anything was possible.
He hit the fifth delivery for four, high in the air. The bat exploded on it with the heaviest thump I had ever heard, the ball soared towards long on and bounced a yard or so short of the boundary in front of the near deserted Wilson Stand (it had the sun at its back at that hour, and the few hundreds in the ground wanted a bit of sunshine).
The ball was returned to Tudor, who came haring in again. Flintoff hit a six. It went higher, the bat boomed louder than before. The crowd were on their feet, roaring but Flintoff’s bat was greater than the noise we could generate. 28 now, and two more to come.
We returned to our seats, a watchful tension, rising as Tudor ran in and flung the ball down. Another strike, the sound cannoning around the ground, the loudest sound I have ever heard produced by a cricket bat. And the ball rising immensely high, no point in chasing that, no-one inside the boundary could see it, another six, that’s 34 runs from Flintoff and still one more ball to play.
One more ball into history. One more desperate delivery from Tudor, who could not possibly imagine that someone could launch such an attack on him, on a player of his pace. And Flintoff wound up and hurled the bat at the ball, intent on driving it over the stand, out of the ground, into orbit if he’d connected – but the ball flashed past the outside edge and was taken by Alec Stewart. The tension broke, history was not made, the over was over.
But history had been made, for we few to watch. To Flintoff’s 34 from the bat (equalling a record for a Lancashire batsman set in the mid Seventies by Frank Hayes, off, of all people, poor bloody Malcolm Nash again) were added the 4 no balls, making it 38 off the over: a new world record.
We waited to see if the magic would be repeated. Flintoff was away from the strike the following over, and we all got worked up again when Tudor ran into the wicket again, looking for the high hitting to resume, for Flintoff to hurtle towards an absurdly fast century. And it went high again, but this time everyone could see, because cricket fans are invariably fast to calculate angles and distances, that it was dropping down the throat of the guy at long on, and Flintoff was out for 61.
And Lancashire went on to a four wicket victory with just under nine overs to spare. A nice win at any time. But for a few minutes of extraordinarily powerful and clean hitting a few hundred people lived through a special moment, and I was there.
Apparently, later that season, whilst batting at the Stretford End wicket, Flintoff hit a straight six out of Old Trafford and into Kellogg’s car park. I wish I’d seen that: I used to park in Kellogg’s car park for Test Matches, so I know the carry. But I saw what I saw.