1948 – Australia hit record score of 721 in a day at Southend

No chronology of cricket in South Essex could ever be complete without reference to the events of Saturday 15th May 1948, when Sir Donald Bradman’s touring Australians made history at Southend’s Southchurch Park by scoring 721 in a day against Essex.

To view film of this historic event, please click here (opens in a new window).

We are honoured to be able to record below two eye-witness accounts, one from a (then) schoolboy – Old Southendian and Southchurch CC member Alan Carradus – who watched the game with his parents from the members enclosure, and the other from Essex player Trevor Bailey.  These accounts were sourced by Paul Johnson of Old Southendian and Southchurch CC on the opening of a clubhouse display in June 2003, in the presence of Trevor Bailey CBE and Alan Carradus to commemorate the achievement.

The South Essex District Cricket Board wishes to express its gratitude to Trevor Bailey CBE, Alan Carradus, Paul Johnson, John Symons of The Cricket Society, the East Anglian Film Archive and William Powell for supplying the information and resources for this webpage.

Essex CCC v Australia at Southend, 1948

Alan Carrudus recalls vividly:

The Southend on Sea cricket festival was keenly awaited in the Spring of 1948, as it brought the Australian tourists, led by the legendary Don Bradman, to the Town.  The fixture was played over the half-term holiday, avoiding the need to miss school to see the famous Australian players in action.  I attended both days with my parents, my father was an Essex CCC member and we watched the cricket from the members enclosure on the banking at the Lake end between the sightscreens and the Southend pavilion.  The crowds were huge, and good-humoured, and were treated to some extraordinary cricket from the Australians on the first day in amassing 721 runs.

“The players used what is now the Old Southendian and Southchurch CC pavilion, which in those times had the four changing rooms with wide steps leading down to the playing area.  Around the ground there was seating provided, and on the eastern and western sides numerous marquees, including the catering marquees used by Garons.

“I remember Barnes and Brown opening for Australia, scoring rapidly from the start.  About twenty minutes before lunch, a wicket fell, and Bradman came in.  The crowd expected him to play for lunch, but at the interval he was 42 not out, having hit Frank Vigar for five fours in one over, mainly pulls to mid-wicket.  Runs flowed all day, Bradman scoring 187, and there were also centuries for Brown, Loxton and Saggers.  Only Keith Miller registered a failure, bowled by Trevor Bailey first ball.

“Both of the Essex innings on the second day were something of an anti-climax, seeing a constant procession of Essex batsmen walking to the wicket and back again to the pavilion, until skipper Tom Pearce and Peter Smith restored some degree of pride in the second innings with a partnership of 131 runs.

“The weather over the two days was glorious, and the Park was in excellent condition, the Council and its staff worked hard to ensure that everything was a credit to the Town.  The achievements of the Australians at Southend and throughout the summer of 1948 acted as an inspiration to many aspiring club cricketers, myself included”.

But what about a player’s view of the proceedings?   Well, Old Southendian and Southchurch CC have very kindly provided a transcript of an interview with Trevor Bailey CBE, which took place in June 2003.   Essex cricketer Bailey, who was later to captain his County and play in 61 test matches for England, recalls:

 “As a student at Cambridge, I played against the Australians for the University at Fenner’s just prior to the fixture at Southend.  Australia had already made an impressive start to their tour of England, winning all of their games up to the time of the Essex fixture, usually by an innings!  The University fixture was another victory for the Australians.  I was only able to bowl a few overs as I was not fully fit but I did score some runs.

“England needed a fast bowler, and I thought that a few wickets for Essex would increase my chances – which was one of the main reasons why I played in the Southend fixture.  I went down to Southend in the Australian Team Coach – petrol rationing was still in force.  It was quite an experience to travel with so many famous cricketers who seemed very different from the England Test players whom I knew.

“Post-war cricket saw the beginning of a new era, led by the Australian team. In England, it was a time of rationing, with a population still recovering from the horrors of the Second World War.  The scope for entertainment was not extensive, and crowds flocked to watch the first class game, and the stars of the Australian side were a major draw.  The size of the crowds meant that the County game was able to pay its way.  Football and cricket complimented each other, without the overlap of the seasons that is seen today.  Many cricketers played football at a senior or professional level during the Winter – me included!

“The late forties and early fifties were a golden age for cricket crowds, it was not until the mid-fifties that their size for County cricket started to decline.  It was a time when camaraderie and humour abounded, when players enjoyed the game and money was certainly not the motivating factor.

“The first class cricket season provided a balanced programme of three-day fixtures, and a five match Test Series of five day games.  There was no play on Sunday, which was a rest day, though a high percentage were devoted to benefit matches.  Those involved in a current test were not allowed to participate in benefit matches.

“In these days, Essex County Cricket Club led a nomadic existence, playing at eight venues across the County.  Whilst there were pre-season nets organised at Chelmsford, later at the Old Blues ground, the team did not enjoy the practice facilities at home during the season that are available to modern players.  Only headquarter grounds such as Lord’s, Old Trafford and Worcester provided any net facilities.

“Southchurch Park was one of our festival grounds.  The square was good (this was prior to the floods of 1953), although the outfield was well short of the standards achieved on County grounds today.  The tourist match was regarded as a very prestigious fixture by County players, the one game in particular that they wished to play, and, unlike now, competition for a place in the side was fierce.  The County used the Westcliff Hockey clubhouse (since extended and now used by Old Southendian and Southchurch CC), the changing facilities were somewhat cramped in those days, and washing facilities were basic.  The ground was set out along similar lines to the modern day festival, and the players took their lunch and tea in an adjacent marquee (none of the modern day fayre!).

The Captains, Tom Pearce and Don Bradman

“Tom Pearce, the Essex captain, was an amateur player who was very popular leader and a tenacious batsman.  He was a player of the pre-war era, and his tactics and outlook in the game reflected this.  The Australians, under The Don, played their cricket hard, as always, and were ruthless.  Players generally arrived at the ground just 30 minutes before the start of play, changed and walked out onto the field – none of the pre-match practice that is obligatory today!

“The game started on a beautiful Saturday in mid-May, with a record crowd of over 16,000 spectators.  Australia won the toss, and the game commenced at 11.30 am, with Australia batting.  Early in the innings, I suffered a broken finger in my left hand, trying to hold on to a hook at short leg, which was to prevent me from batting, but I was able to continue bowling.

“The Australian batsmen scored runs at an astonishing rate, just over two hundred per session throughout the day.  Their ability to hit the bad ball for four was remarkable, but Tom Pearce set standard fields throughout – like two slips and a gully – leaving plenty of gaps for the batsmen to find.

“Much has been reported regarding my dismissal of Keith Miller first ball. My recollection is that after hitting the stumps, I commented to Don Bradman, who was at the non-striker’s end, that he had not appeared very interested.  Don replied: “He’ll learn!”, and I returned to my mark to bowl the next delivery.  By the end of the day, the Australians had amassed 721 runs, but the County did at least achieve the feat of bowling them out!  However, in many respects, what was even more remarkable, was that in two minutes short of six hours when we came off the field at the close, we had sent down 129 overs, despite the vast amount of time lost retrieving the ball!  Now 15 overs per hour is acceptable.

“Another capacity crowd on the Monday saw the Australian bowlers dominate the Essex batsmen.  I was unable to bat in either innings, and saw a procession of Essex batsmen walking to and from the pitch.  The game was over in two days, giving the Australians a very comfortable innings victory.

“After the game, the tradition was for the County players and their opponents to enjoy a drink in the changing room or in the Marquee used for dining before leaving the ground.  I played in two more matches against the Australians in the summer of 1948, and on each occasion, Don scored a century and I was thankful that I did not have to bowl against him in his prime.  Although the size of the crowd was a record for Essex, I reckon that I have subsequently met at least one million who claim that they were at that game!”

While Australia were batting, Bailey had remarked that his bowling had never conceded 100 runs in an innings.  Unfortunately for him, the remark was heard by his skipper Tom Pearce.  The result was a long spell which earned Bailey final figures of 2-128 from 21 overs.  Typically, he told that story for many years amidst much laughter.

In the New Year Honours List of 1949, The Don became a Knight Bachelor.  Sir Donald Bradman retired later that year.

Essex v Australia 1948 Handwritten Scorecard

Scorecard re-produced by kind permission of William Powell.