Yorkshire have played in Essex on no fewer than ten different grounds including two in Colchester. The first 21 visits were all to Leyton and the White Rose county’s first game at Chelmsford was not until 1972. Essex had become a first-class county in 1894 and was admitted to the County Championship one year later. Paul Dyson looks back at a game in the late 19th century which produced two amazing bowling performances. The picture of Wilfred Rhodes is courtesy of Mick Pope.
May 25, 26, 1899 at Leyton: Yorkshire 172 (E Wainwright 51, W Mead 7-37) & 192 (W Mead 7-90); Essex 59 (W Rhodes 9-28) & 64 (W Rhodes 6-28, S Haigh 4-26). Yorkshire won by 241 runs.
This was a game dominated by two bowlers, one of whom took 14 wickets, the other 15. The result did not show such similarity; the difference between the two sides amounted to 241 runs and, by the end of the game, ‘the Essex eleven cut a very sorry figure’ (Wisden).
Yorkshire were county champions, having won the title in 1898. Essex, despite it being only its fifth season in the competition, finished in fifth place. This was the hosts’ third game of the season; they had won one, by one wicket, and drawn one. Yorkshire though, had won all three of its games so far – two by an innings and one by only 11 runs!
Yorkshire won the toss and decided to bat on a slow pitch; all of the top six made it to double figures but only Ted Waiwright (51) scored more than 33. They came up against some ‘fine bowling’ (Ibid.) from Walter Mead and the last five bastmen scored only nine runs between them, the last five wickets falling for a mere 19 runs. Essex were soon in trouble against Wilfred Rhodes and slipped to 16 for five. The slow left-armer continued to take all the wickets and only when the eighth went down (to Stanley Jackson who was the only other bowler used) was it confirmed that Rhodes could not take all ten. The hosts conceded a lead of 113 and Rhodes had taken nine for 28. Yorkshire went in again and scored 20 for no wicket.
Yorkshire batted more consistently on the second day but Mead was again amongst the wickets. The openers made the only half-century stand of the match (55), Jack Brown making 40, but wickets fell regularly thereafter, Mead clean bowling six of his seven victims. He was much more expensive this time, taking seven for 90 but he was entrusted with 47% of the Essex overs.. The hosts then needed a theoretical 306 to win but Schofield Haigh struck early and the batting capitulated to 40 for six. They managed five more runs than in the first innings but were soundly beaten. Again Yorkshire used only two bowlers, Haigh taking four for 26 and Rhodes the remaining six, for 28, to give him 15 for 56 in the match – at the time the county’s third-best match bowling analysis.
Surprisingly, in view of the result of this game, Essex finished the season in sixth place in the Championship. Yorkshire finished third but were on the verge of a hat-trick of titles with which to start the 20th century.
Men of the Match
Nicknamed ‘The Essex Treasure’, Walter Mead bowled slow-to-medium pace off-spin. A small man, he sported a drooping moustache and his easy action deceptively hid his excellent comand of length. Even on the flattest of pitches he could make the ball spin and even included the occasional leg-break or googly in his armoury. Although his 14 wickets in this match represented an outstanding bowling performance, he once took as many as 17! This even more remarkable performance was 17 for 119 against Hampshire at Southampton in 1895 – the year after his first-class debut.
Mead was born in Clapton, Middlesex in 1868 and started playing for Essex in 1892 before it gained first-class status, this being two years later. He remained loyal to Essex throughout his career except when there was a dispute over winter payments: in 1904 he had one season with London County and in 1905 spent more time with MCC than usual – he was on its staff from 1891 to 1918. On ten occasions he took 100 wickets in a season and his 131 victims at 13.67 in 1903 made him top of the averages for that season although he surpassed this total in his best season of 1895 when he took 179 wickets. His final career tally was 1,916 wickets at 18.99. On 152 occasions he took five or more wickets in an innings.