Abridged from Jon Hotten's excellent article is Wisden Cricket Monthly, 2016. Jon is a great Friend of Broadhalfpenny Down.
They called Alfred Mynn ‘The Lion of Kent’ and he was the king of single wicket. Like other great all-rounders that would follow, he seemed bigger than the game, bigger than life. He was the Botham of the era, the Flintoff of his day, and he was loved just as unconditionally. And if Mynn was Flintoff, then his opponent and friend Nicholas Felix was a different kind of cricketer, like Gower perhaps, a will o’ the wisp left-hander that another of Kent’s ‘famous five’, Fuller Pilch, rated as the most attractive batsman in the land.
Felix was a renaissance man. He wrote one of the first works about technique and psychology, Felix On The Bat, invented a bowling machine called the Catapulta and made the first pairs of batting gloves by sticking India rubber to the fingers. His watercolours of cricketers and wildlife were widely admired, and Fuller Pilch was often amused by Felix’s ability to coax a tune out of almost any musical instrument.
Mynn had been undefeated at single wicket for more than eight years, since beating James Dearman for £100 and becoming Champion of England. His skills matched perfectly with this odd, small-sided game that began as a way of being able to match two cricketers, or smaller groups of players, against one another in a fair contest.
The rules varied, but some general principles held. To register a run, the batsman had to get to the bowler’s end and back again. The areas of the field in which he could score was restricted by a ‘bounds’, usually a line that extended outwards from the popping crease at the batsman’s end. Any hit landing in the bounds – essentially going behind square – could not be scored from. If the combatants were granted fielders, it would be an equal number, often not more than two or three.
Mynn versus Felix became the format’s final and defining contest. Mynn held all of the advantages. His size and power made him a fearsome hitter, and he was one of the most devastating fast bowlers in the land. By contrast, Felix bowled underarm dollies. When they duelled at Lord’s, the way that Felix resisted Mynn’s bowling on the notoriously rough wicket enthralled the crowd. Of the 248 deliveries he received in his second innings, he struck 175, many of them into the bounds. When he was at last bowled out, the demand for a rematch was such that it was set immediately, and took place over two days on common ground by the White Hart pub in Bromley. Mynn won once more.
The expansion of the railways ended the first bright burst of single wicket* yet I had often wondered what it would be like to play?
Broadhalfpenny Down, the tiny gem of a ground set deep in Hampshire next to the Bat and Ball pub once run by Richard Nyren, glows with cricket history. It stages 50 matches per year, mostly for charity, under the friendly stewardship of the Broadhalfpenny Brigands Cricket Club.
When the chance to play on the Down came up, the idea of recreating one of the original forms of the game was irresistible. Ten entrants were drawn into two groups of five. A bounds was set at a slight angle from the popping crease, allowing for a genuine square-cut or sweep, but not an edge or glance. One group of five fielded while the other played round-robin matches of one eight-ball over per innings. Dismissal resulted in the deduction of four runs from the batsman’s total. Two semi-finals and then a final, played out in perfect summer weather just as the sun dipped below the ridge and cast long shadows, produced a fitting champion named Peter Frankopan, like Nicholas Felix a renaissance man – hotelier, writer and academic who claims to have once opened the bowling for Croatia.
It was a long, hard, fun day’s cricket, the right kind. The only runs were singles or boundaries, and every wicket caused the game to swing violently in favour of the bowler. For an afternoon, single wicket had us in its thrall, just as it would have done two centuries ago.
Three great exponents of Single Wicket Cricket; Nicholas Felix, Alfred Mynn & Richard Nyren
*Richard Nyren won many a single wicket tournament in the Eighteenth Century at Broadhalfpenny Down. The last great single wicket cricket match was played in1846 at Lord’s, although a demonstration event took place in 1969 also at Lord's where Keith Boyce knocked out Broadhalfpenny Down Patron Garfield Sobers in the first round; Boyce was then rendered unconscious after being hit by a throw in the final but recovered to score a 46-ball 84 to win the tournament.