Freeman’s Feat

Monday 19th May 2014

Freeman’s Feat

It’s happened just once in first-class cricket – and it won’t happen again!

There are a few world records in our summer game that have been achieved by the Cricketers of Kent. For sheer fitness and stamina surely none can surpass that of Alfred, Percy (“Tich”) Freeman, who in the 1928 season bowled 1,976 overs, almost 400 more than any other bowler, and created a record that will never be equalled: 304 wickets in the season. This exceeded by 14 wickets the record previously set in 1895 by Surrey fast bowler Tom Richardson.

Add to that Freeman’s 42 first-class wickets in the early weeks of 1928 whilst on the MCC tour of South Africa and a further 17 before the end of the year in Australia, you then appreciate that this was a performance the like of which must almost enter the realms of fantasy.

It was in his final match of the domestic season, playing for the Rest of England against Champion County Lancashire, that Freeman took his 300th wicket (the ball is in the Club’s collection of artefacts) by dismissing Richard Tyldesley for thirteen in Lancashire’s first innings. He went on to take four second innings wickets to reach a tally of an unsurpassable 304.

In what was Frank Woolley’s second benefit season, Freeman started as he was to go on, with nine wickets in the match at Oxford against the University. There followed Championship matches at Leicester, Worcester, Northampton, Gloucester and Taunton before arriving in the County for the first home match, against Notts. at Gravesend. By the end of the month he had taken 48 wickets. By Freeman’s standards it is not that impressive: his June figure was 65 and in July it was 76. Even in September with his final game ending on the 17th. he had bagged a further 56 victims.

After three away victories, the east midlands county inflicted a first of the season defeat with Freeman taking just four wickets in a massive Nottinghamshire total of 555. It was then down to Folkestone where two victories were recorded against Northants and Gloucestershire, Freeman taking nine in the first game and eleven in the second, bringing his victims by the end of the first week of June, up to 68. His performance against the west country side was the first of thirteen occasions during which he recorded ten or more wickets in a match.

Immediately after a return of 12-154 against Essex at Leyton, he made the short journey across to Lord’s in preparation for the first Test against the West Indies on 23rd June. At that point he already had an incredible 99 victims to his name. Straight away he took a special liking to the tourists’ batsmen, taking six wickets in that first match, followed by ten at Old Trafford in the second and a further six at the Oval. A little over a week after the final Test, with Kent hosting the tourists at Canterbury, it was 11-193. Finally, for an England XI at the Folkestone Festival he took a further eleven, making 44 in five games! He topped the England bowling Test averages with 22 wickets at 13.72.

The Tunbridge Wells festival preceded the Essex game with Sussex and Warwickshire as the visitors. Freeman accounted for nineteen victims, making a significant contribution to victory in both games. The Warwickshire game was not all Freeman. There was a double hundred from Hardinge, 156 from

Woolley and a hundred from Ames. The victory by an innings and 294 runs remains the third highest in Kent’s history.

The day after his Test appearance, in which he had match figures of 6-77, Freeman was at Dover for the second game of the Festival Week against Hampshire. Twelve wickets in the match contributed to another winning performance, this time by 128 runs. The following day it was Tonbridge for the start of the town’s cricket week with midlands counties Worcestershire and Leicestershire as Kent’s opponents. Ten victims against Worcestershire in a ten wicket victory followed by fifteen against Leicestershire in a drawn match took his season’s tally of dismissals at mid-point to 136. Eleven in a six wicket victory against Derbyshire at the picturesque Chesterfield ground followed by an identical haul down at Southampton (imagine leaving north Derbyshire long before motorway travel late afternoon and being ready to play on the south coast the following morning). No sign of fatigue on Freeman’s part. That first day he bowled 25 overs and took six wickets. He went on to bowl a further 42 overs with a further five victims in another fine performance that earned Kent a victory by eight wickets.

A batsman’s wicket at Blackheath against Surrey, exploited to the full by Kent’s batsmen amongst whom Leslie Ames scored exactly 200 out of 510, did Freeman no favours. Although Surrey were dismissed for 413 Freeman’s 48 overs yielded just one wicket and cost 104 runs. It may well be that those responsible for selection gave due thought to the needs of England in deciding on Kent’s team to appear at Edgbaston the next day, as the bowler of the season was omitted, giving him three days to recharge his batteries before the second Test at Old Trafford. The rest will have done him much good, for performing nobly, he recorded another ten wicket haul, giving England victory by an innings and 30 runs. But Wisden was not impressed, writing, “Few of the home team performed particularly well with either bat or ball…”

The long haul from Manchester to Maidstone to face Lancashire, followed immediately. But with the visitors batting first there was no rest for Freeman. As first change he found himself bowling 51 of the 132 overs sent down in Lancashire’s first innings. The scorebook tells us that 39 of those were bowled consecutively. In Lancashire’s second innings he took the only two wickets to fall, and Kent ended the Maidstone week without a win, having failed to beat Derbyshire in the opening game.

In a close contest at the Oval, and even with a further nine wickets for Freeman, Kent failed by just 14 runs. After losing their first wicket in the second innings on 64, they were all out for just 116. Jack Hobbs was a Freeman victim in both innings, albeit after scoring a century at the second attempt. From the Oval it was northbound to Trent Bridge where Notts. achieved the first of two double Championship defeats in the season. The other was inflicted by Lancashire and probably condemned Kent to runners-up place in the Championship. Freeman failed to take a wicket in Nottinghamshire’s second innings.

It was the only occasion throughout the season that he went wicketless in the 65 innings in which he bowled, 47 in the County Championship and 18 in nine other games.

Two decisive victories were celebrated at the end of Canterbury Week with Somerset and local rivals Essex being the victims. Freeman and fellow spinner Charlie “Father” Marriott shared the honours in the former match, with Marriott dismissing nine of the west country batsmen and Freeman, seven. Fourteen of the Essex batsmen fell to Freeman with Marriott bagging four of the remaining six. Somerset were defeated by an innings and 14 runs whilst the second victory of the week was by 146 runs. No-one scored a century during the Week but Hardinge and Ashdown were twice dismissed in the nineties, a fate that also befell Woolley who was just one run short against Essex.

From the glories of Canterbury Week and his 21 wickets, including his 200th of the season, Freeman faced the long journey to Manchester for the final Test of the series that began the following day. Fatigue was probably evident in that his two first innings wickets cost 85 runs. His four second innings victims cost far less and he sent down more overs than any other England bowler. In his absence, Kent were unable to force a win against Sussex at Hastings on a batsman-friendly wicket and despite using seven bowlers.

Following the Test Freeman was able to remain at Old Trafford to await the arrival of his county team mates for the vital clash with Lancashire. Kent had headed the Championship table until the end of July but three defeats, including that at the Mote by Lancashire had seriously dented their title hopes. Despite an outstanding 151 by Frank Woolley in a total of 277, Kent suffered a heavy defeat following big hundreds by Hallows and Ernest Tyldesley. Freeman managed three of the five wickets to fall in the Lancashire total of 478-5 declared. Once again he bowled more overs than anyone else.

It was a relatively short journey across the Pennines to Headingley for the team’s next-day encounter. Freeman took the one Yorkshire wicket to fall in an innings that lasted just 24 overs at the end of day one after Kent had scored 261 all out. And that was the end of the game, with Wisden recording that it rained incessantly from Sunday night right through to Tuesday, by which time further play proved impossible.

Between home and away games against Middlesex, which included a decisive victory at Canterbury, the eagerly anticipated visit of the West Indies saw a remarkable second innings performance by Freeman. Two first innings victims was followed by a remarkable nine at a cost of 104 runs in 34.5 overs. It was the first of two occasions in a week that he took eleven wickets against them, the second at the Folkestone Festival with six in the first innings and five in the second. This took his haul against the Tourists to 44 in five matches. The second Festival Match by the sea saw Kent engaged with MCC and yet another ten wickets for Freeman, this time six in the first innings and four in the second. In the two innings he conceded 264 runs but bowled 64.2 overs – almost a quarter of the total sent down by Kent’s bowlers.

At the historic Spitfire Ground St Lawrence we have the Ames Stand, the Cowdrey Stand, the Knott & Underwood Stand and the Woolley Stand. Maybe it’s time we showed recognition to Kent’s leading wicket-taker whose tally was 3,340 for the County (1,130 more than next best Colin Blythe) and a career total of 3,776, the second highest in first-class cricket world wide.

Prepared by David Robertson, Honorary Curator