Paul Edwards recalls a legendary Lancashire batting feat
Thick mist wreathed low lying Taunton at seven o'clock yesterday morning and the sight of blazered boys on their way to school only reinforced the feeling that autumn is on its way.
For all that, it is still early September, and the sun broke through as I was having my breakfast. Getting to the ground as early as ever these precious late days, I stood on the roof of the old pavilion and watched the mist roll away to reveal the Quantocks' patchwork in all its resplendent glory. It was as if a huge ragged cloth was being removed from a glorious painting; except, of course, that in this case, the mist was part of the canvas too.
We were lucky to play a full day's cricket yesterday. In mid-afternoon, a dark cloud rolled in from the west like gunsmoke and my host told me this morning that there had been torrential rain in Wellington only six miles away.
Even its most devoted supporters would not describe Taunton as a beautiful ground, but it remains one of the most richly provincial and attractive in England, and its links with the town are close indeed. Wedged between river and streets, it is proudly bound to the county that plays there. They can build new pavilions until they are blue in the face, but I doubt they will ever break that link.
The Somerset match is another of those where Lancashire are well represented. As in Canterbury and Nottingham, the hotels are booked up early and the breakfast rooms are full of rich accents from Bolton or Bacup.
I doubt, however, that there were too many such voices to be heard on July 15th and 16th 1895, when a batsman born in Whalley Range made the most runs ever scored in a single innings at the County Ground. Most Red Rose supporters will be well ahead of me by now and will have identified that batsman as A.C. MacLaren, whose 424 is also the highest individual score ever made by a Lancashire batsman and is still the tenth tallest score of all time.
In the aftermath of Jimmy Adams' magnificent 194 at Liverpool last week, it's interesting to note that MacLaren batted a mere 470 minutes to make 424 whereas Adams batted 635 minutes to play an innings which nearly saved a game. Adams faced 508 balls; MacLaren's were not recorded. Faster over rates, the lower quality of the Somerset attack and the very different match situation help to explain these differences and add to the quality of Adams's achievement. For example, the team put out by the West Country club was not its strongest of the season: it included nine amateurs, one of which, typically for Somerset, was a vicar.
In the office of the Museum at Taunton, I studied the scorecard produced to commemorate MacLaren's record score. Simply entitled The County Cricket Record, it is decorated with flowers - although they may as well have been laurels for the noblest Roman's brow - and tells us that the opener hit one six, 62 fours, 11 threes, 37 twos and 63 singles. The opposition was "Somersetshire".
For the record, Lancashire scored 801 all out in their only innings and defeated Somerset by an innings and 452 runs, both Johnny Briggs and Arthur Mold taking nine wickets in the match. As for the bowlers flayed around the County Ground, they included the West Country legend Sammy Woods, whose observations, recorded in Michael Down's biography of MacLaren possess a heartfelt eloquence: "I thought that day would never end. I must have run miles."
Well, the innings was spread over two days, but Woods's figures leave little to the imagination: 46-5-163-2. Opening bowler Edwin Tyler (59-5-212-1) was dealt with even more roughly. MacLaren's record stood until Bill Ponsford made 429 for Victoria against Tasmania 28 years' later.
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd