July 30, 1920 – When Surrey captain Percy Fender asked his team not to score runs

This match took place during the County Championship of 1920.

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Published - Jul 30, 2020, 10:36 IST | Updated - Jul 30, 2020, 10:36 IST

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Surrey began the 1920 County Championship in grand fashion by winning 11 of their first 14 matches at the cost of only one defeat. In their 15th match, they suffered an innings defeat against Kent in Blackheath. Surrey was determined to bounce back in the home fixture against Somerset that began on July 29th. Surrey showed why they were clear leaders in the points table by bundling out the visitors to just 138 runs.

The first day of the match was marred by rain where Somerset made 9/2 after electing to bat. Tom Rushby’s 4/38 on second day morning played a key role in limiting Somerset to a low score. The Surrey innings had a couple of collapses as they went down to 81/4 from 63/1 and lost two wickets at the score of 114. Captain Percy Fender bagged a duck and was the 6th wicket of Surrey who was 24 runs behind Somerset’s first innings total.

The big man’s big plan!

The Surrey skipper Percy Fender was someone who always made most of the loopholes in some of the cricket rules. One such rule was found in the County Championship at that time as the team with the highest Percentage of possible points (PtsPC) were declared winners. Each match consists of a maximum of five points and all the 16 teams were supposed to play as many as 30 matches through the season. However, lack of proper scheduling in those times, every team played a random number of matches (Min: 18, Max: 30).

Percy, after returning to the pavilion, looked out for the weather forecast on the final day’s play where rain was predicted to come down hard. With no play possible on the final day, the Surrey captain sent a message to on-field batters of spending time at the crease and not score any runs. The reason for this order was Fender wanted the game to end without a result. This would mean the match will go down as ‘not counted’ as the five possible points from this game wouldn’t be considered while calculating PtsPC.

A failed execution!

Thomas Shepherd (25*) and Bill Hitch (15*) tried to stay away from scoring while the light kept fading away. Some ordinary wicket-keeping by Somerset’s Dar Lyon saw Surrey earn 17 runs through byes. Surrey were placed at 138/6 and tied the scores with the visiting side during the final over of the day. But Fender’s idea went upside down when the last ball of the day’s play took the edge of Shepherd and raced to boundary. The boundary earned Surrey first-innings lead which Fender never wanted.

Those four runs ensured the five possible points of this game would be considered in PtsPC. Percy Fender did hope for rain to stay away on the following day which never happened. As a result, Surrey had to settle with two points from this fixture while Somerset earned nothing. Yorkshire replicated this idea a week later where they finished on 201/9 in reply to Leicestershire’s 202. Surrey suffered a dip in form after the Somerset game as they won four and lost four of the eight matches they played.

Hence, they finished with a PtsPC of 68.696 which was 3rd best after Middlesex (77) and Lancashire (74.615). Surrey’s PtsPC was 78.667 at the end of the home fixture against Somerset which would have been enough for them to win the County Championship. Had Surrey converted two of their last four defeats into wins, their PtsPC could have been 77.391, which was in the Championship winning range.