Under a Cloud from the First

Andy Zaltzman

Andy Zaltzman: He's not buying it (especially not at that price)

Following the meting out of prison sentences to three Pakistan cricketers in the wake of the “spot-fixing” controversy over illegal betting in cricket games, comedian and cricket fanatic Andy Zaltzman has been casting his skeptical eye over the history of the game—including the first ever international game, between the United States and Canada in 1844:

It was a suspiciously low-scoring game, in which no batsman scored more than 14, and the USA, cruising to victory at 25 for 0 in pursuit of 82 to win in the fourth innings, lost all 10 wickets for 33.

Admittedly, losing all 10 wickets for 33 was not especially unusual in the mid-19th century, when men were men, moustaches were moustaches, and cricket pitches were discourteously bobbly. But the scorecard and accompanying notes reveal further details that the ACSU [the body set up to look into corruption] simply must investigate.

Four batsmen in the game are recorded as being dismissed “lbw b ?”, with ? picking up another scalp via a stumping by Canadian gloveman Phillpotts. ESPNcricinfo’s match notes highlight that: (a) Canada’s captain was not named, (b) the bowling figures do not add up in any of the four innings, (c) the runs do not tally in the USA’s first innings, (d) the Americans’ key No. 3 batsman Wheatcroft simply did not turn up at the ground on day three and therefore missed his second innings, and (e) it is not clear which of the Wilson and Thompson brothers played for Canada. Every single one of these potentially match-turning factors suggests that some shady betting syndicate was almost certainly involved. And as long as betting in India remains illegal, 1840s cricket matches will be vulnerable.

The 1846 rematch raises further questions. Aside from the in-form ? picking up another key wicket, Canada scoring 46% of their first innings runs through wides flung by the under-suspicion US bowlers (admittedly this amounted only to 13 of an underwhelming total of 28 all out), and further alarm-bell-clanging mathematical inconsistencies in the scorebook, the game was suddenly abandoned with Canada struggling at 13 for 3 in the second innings.

Apparently John Helliwell, Canada’s opening batsman, confidence rising as he advanced his score to 4 not out (needing only one more to become his team’s highest scorer in the match), skied the ball towards the bowler, the American allrounder Samuel Dudson, who was himself pumping with adrenaline after a dazzling innings of 10. Helliwell, in an outburst of unbridled North Americanism, rushed towards Dudson to try to stop him taking the catch, shoulder-charged him and clobbered him to the ground. . . .

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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