In May 1919 Britain was recovering from the 1st World War. Pre-war the average weekly wage varied from 26s. per week to 34s. Half the women employed were paid from 10s. to 15s. per week. It wasn’t a good time for beer drinkers with supplies very rare and a pint of Mild costing 72 s. whilst a pint of Pale Ale and Stout 108 shillings. This meant most pubs were empty.
Somerset were a cricket club in recovery too and started their 1919 campaign as very much a makeshift club. To encourage aggression and positive play games were held over two days with later finishes, some as late as 7.30pm. This mattered little to the cider county side whose games rarely lasted more than two days anyway.
Somerset started the season against Sussex, who were one of many counties struggling to get a side together as soldiers waited for discharge orders. They travelled with ten players, so their captain Herbert Wilson called up Harold Heygate for the game, his first for 14 years. He was there as a spectator and it would be Heygate who would play a central role in an amazing game that was debated throughout Cricketing circles.
John Daniell resumed the Somerset captaincy after the war but he would rarely play and Jack ‘Farmer’ White stood in for this game that started on 21st May at Taunton. White won the toss and elected to bat. The Rippon twins – Dudley and Sydney – opened for the home team with few dramas. With the score on 66 Sydney was out for 26 but his brother went on to dominate Somerset’s innings scoring 60. Philip Hope (48) and Jimmy Bridges (34) scored some late runs as the wickets started to fall and Somerset finished on 243.
In the Sussex line-up was a man called Somerset – Arthur Plantagenet Francis Cecil Somerset to be exact – but he was more widely known as Arthur. His father, Arthur William FitzRoy Somerset – and also known as Arthur – had played for Sussex too. Bridges would antagonise Sussex with the ball now taking five wickets whilst helping to reduce the visitors to 169 for 8. Skipper Wilson scored 56 and the response was aided by Sussex debutant Maurice Tate’s late 69. Heygate had suffered leg injuries in the war and inured himself fielding so pushed himself down the order and he would be last man out, bowled by White for a duck. Day one closed with Sussex all out for 242, one run short of Somerset’s. Game on!
Next day Somerset provided a 12th man for their opponents but their batting was woeful. George Cox had taken five wickets in the first innings for Sussex and he took four more as Somerset slipped to 44 for 5. Bridges top scored with 14 as Cox dismissed the last man, keeper Harry Chudgey, and the home team were all out for 103 leaving Sussex 105 to win.
Ernest Robson took two early wickets to reduce Sussex to 9 for 2 when Bridges struck again, taking three as Sussex stuttered to 48 for 6. It was Wilson, the Sussex skipper, who would again be the mainstay as he and Henry Roberts (28) took their team to 103 for 6 needing just two runs to win.
Heygate, meanwhile, had made it known to the umpire’s that he was too injured to bat even if needed. He sat in the stands in his blue serge suit while Rippon then dismissed Roberts and Stannard in successive deliveries. Sussex nudged their score to 104 for 8 with scores level. More drama unfolded when White bowled Miller for nought and the scores were even with Wilson unbeaten on 42 at the other end. Then the real drama came.
Umpire Street, aware that Heygate had declared himself not fit to bat, removed the stumps for the end of the game. Word then made it to the middle that Heygate was padding up ready to enter play. In fact he was being encouraged by Somerset stalwart Sammy Woods to do so. He was then seen hobbling out to the middle dressed in his street clothes ready to do battle. White was being encouraged by his team to raise objection but he sought not to. It was Len Braund who questioned the length of time Heygate was taking to get to the crease – over four minutes actually – and umpire Street declared the match a tie before Heygate could take guard.
Heygate was the first player ever to be timed out, although the scorecard said ‘out, absent’. The MCC ruled that umpire Street was correct under the then Law 45 of the Laws of Cricket.
Woods was outraged at Somerset’s lack of charity. The national newspapers were divided with some questioning Somerset’s practice and others Heygate’s tardy preparation. In the wake of the recent war, questions were raised about the human value of the decision and whether a wounded ex-serviceman had been treated with adequate respect. Wisden would call it a ‘very regrettable incident’ whilst acknowledging Heygate should not have been allowed to enter the field of play in the first place. In the aftermath the rules were amended to set the two minute rule.
But the scorecard says this game was a tie and that is how it ended. This would be the first of three ties involving Somerset in the County Championship and the highest scoring with 692 runs scored. This remains the only tied game at Taunton.
This amazing game would prove to be Harold Heygate’s last first class match. The war hero died in 1937 aged 52 but his legacy from that day at Taunton lives on.