This three-day local Derby at the end of May eighty years ago, saw a few records established on a ground considered rather small for first-class cricket that had not hosted a county championship game for twelve years. The outfield was described “as fast as glass” and with Kent winning the toss and facing a Essex attack lacking two of its fast bowlers, records were always a possibility
Sure enough, records were established and three were of particular significance to Kent: the first triple hundred in a Championship match by one of the County’s batsmen, the highest innings score and a record second wicket partnership that stood for fifty-six years.
Bill Ashdown was born in Bromley in 1898 and made his first-class debut in June 1914 when still only fifteen years of age, playing for G.J.V. Weigall’s XI against Oxford University. His first game for Kent was in 1920 and he has the distinction of being the only first-class cricketer who made his debut appearance before the outbreak of WW1 and his final appearance after the end of WW2.
He had eighteen seasons with Kent, scoring 22,309 runs. He is the only Kent batsman to have scored a triple hundred for the County, which he repeated against Gloucestershire at Dover the following season.
Ashdown’s innings of 332, was in a total of 803-4 declared in just seven hours. This record total also included an undefeated double hundred (202) from wicket-keeper Leslie Ames, and 172 from Frank Woolley.
The first day lunch score was 153-1 with Ashdown on 81 and Woolley on 40 but the rate accelerated immediately after the break with an additional 100 runs in the first 45 minutes. The average scoring rate never fell below 100 an hour for the remainder of the day. The pair went to tea with the score on 400-1, Ashdown having just completed his double century and Woolley on 161.
The second wicket partnership reached 352, before Woolley was bowled. It created a new record for any wicket that stood until the Simon Hinks and Neil Taylor partnership of 366 against Middlesex at Canterbury in 1990.The partnership lasted just over three hours and was followed by one of 245 for the third wicket between Ashdown and Ames. Kent’s total was scored off 146.2 overs, a remarkable strike rate of more than 5.5 runs per over. On the opening day 623 runs had been scored for the loss of Fagg (31) and Woolley.
Ashdown achieved Kent’s first triple hundred just before close of play. He added a further 25 the following morning before being dismissed.
His innings included one six, not a clean hit but overthrows, and forty five fours. It was scored in six and a quarter hours and according to Wisden, he gave not a single chance. That however, was not so in the case of his two partners, the left-hander Woolley was missed on two and Ames when on 30. The Ashdown-Ames partnership had lasted just over two hours and was worth 245 runs. At that point the score was 707-4. Kent captain Percy Chapman decided to up the scoring rate even further by sending in the hard-hitting Alan Watt. He was quickly dismissed but the declaration still did not come. Instead, debutant Ian Fleming joined Ames and between them added a further 96 runs in twenty-three minutes before the Essex bowlers were put out of their misery.
Their batsmen however, were required to face a fast-medium opening attack of Watt and Ashdown, but lost just a single wicket before lunch. The bulk of the bowling from then on was shared between the two leg-spinners, Freeman and Wright, who between them bowled 88.5 of the 139.5 Essex first innings overs. With plenty of runs to play with it was a tactic that Chapman could safely employ. Both bowlers conceded more that 100 runs but between them took seven wickets. Though the Essex batsmen reached 408, with centuries from Eastman and O’Connor, they finished 395 in arrears and were forced to follow on.
After a few probing overs from Watt and Bryan Valentine, the two leg spinners were brought back into the attack. The Essex batsmen had no answer to their wiles and offered little resistance. Between them they bowled 75% of the 81.2 overs and took nine of the wickets.
The winning margin does not rank in Kent’s list of most decisive victories but will be remembered for the first of only two triple hundreds by a Kent batsman and of course that record score.
Until this match there had been only one previous occasion that a County had hit the 800 run total and that was way back in 1899, 35 years to the day, when Surrey scored 811 against Somerset at the Oval. By coincidence, their opening batsman Bobby Abel, also scored a triple hundred.
One further statistic: the total of 803 contained only 13 extras – that must surely be a record of sorts?