James Hildreth’s breezy innings of 82 at Taunton yesterday not only helped bring Somerset closer to matching Yorkshire’s first innings total, but also moved the right-handed batsman within touching distance of one of the most coveted records in English cricket.
The prolific Hildreth, who has been in the form of his life over the past two months, now stands just 85 away from reaching 1,000 runs before the end of May.
It’s a feat that has only happened eight times before in an English season and has never been achieved since Graeme Hick for Worcestershire in 1988.
Hildreth, started his season early in late March the deserts of Abu Dhabi, playing for the MCC in the Champion County match against Yorkshire, making his mark immediately with scores of 88 and 49.
He has so far scored 915 runs in 2015 in 14 innings at an average of 65. Those runs contain three centuries, including a magnificent 187 against Middlesex at Taunton and 115 against the touring New Zealanders.
As Somerset’s next three games are all T20 fixtures, he will need to score the remaining 85 runs he requires in the second innings of this current game against Yorkshire if he is to reach the milestone by the end of May.
Hildreth admitted after the New Zealand tour game that his achievements had been bittersweet as they had all come in losing courses; in matches where Somerset had been reliant upon him for scoring the bulk of their runs.
But no-one in the Somerset dressing room would want their comparative lack of success to detract from what Hildy has achieved and the way he has stood up and been counted this season. If his batting has again looked utterly sublime, eliciting gasps of admiration from onlookers, it’s been the way he has shouldered the responsibility of being Somerset’s leading run scorer which has earned him huge respect from teammates and opponents alike.
It’s a role Somerset needed him to play this year in a side badly missing the experience of Nick Compton, Craig Kieswetter and Alviro Petersen.
Time and again this year he has helped Somerset build a winning platform and then fought in vain to help them avoid defeat as batting collapses threatened to undo all his good work.
While personal landmarks will not mean much to him until Somerset start winning games again more regularly, Hildreth could be about to join an exclusive list containing some of the biggest names in cricket history.
For example, of the eight batsmen who reached 1,000 runs by the end of May, three scored 1,000 runs in the month of May alone. These were: W.G. Grace in 1895, Wally Hammond in 1927, and most recently Charlie Hallows in 1928.
Donald Bradman is the only person to have scored 1,000 runs before the end of May twice, in 1930 and 1938. Uniquely, a second batsman also reached 1,000 runs before the end of May in 1938, Bill Edrich, mainly thanks to a sporting declaration by Australia at 5.09pm on the third and final day of the match against Middlesex at Lord’s on 28–30 May, when Edrich needed another 10 runs.
The feat has become rare since the Second World War, with only Glenn Turner and Hick reaching the milestone before the end of May since 1938.
This has been partly due to the reduced schedule of first-class cricket since the introduction of domestic one-day cricket and a reduction in the number of first-class matches played by English county teams and touring international teams.
Hick scored 410 of his 1,000 runs in April of 1988 – a record for that month until Ian Bell scored 480 in 2005.
Somerset supporters will recall that Hick’s quest for 1,000 runs by the end of May received a major boost in the first week of that month, when he made his highest first-class score of 405* against the West Country side at Taunton (http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/138297.html). If the 1,000 runs landmark seemed inevitable at that stage, his next four innings totalled a mere 32, leaving him with the daunting task of scoring 153 runs in the last match of the month against the formidable West Indian touring side at New Road. Hick did it with style on the first day, finishing on 172* and scoring a total of 1,019 runs before the end of May. In all that season he scored a career-best aggregate of 2,713 runs, including 10 first-class hundreds.
Former Somerset batsman Nick Compton came close to achieving 1,000 runs before the end of May 2012, needing 59 runs on 31 May against Worcestershire. Rain intervened with Compton having only scored nine, but he scored a century after resuming his innings the following day to pass 1,000 runs on 1 June.
Other near misses include John Langridge who reached 1,000 runs on 1 June 1949, and Brian Lara, who reached 1,000 runs on 2 June 1994 from just seven innings.
Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales may have been in with a chance of reaching the milestone this year had he not gone to India on IPL duties. He has so far scored 661 runs in just five first-class matches this season.
All of Somerset will be wishing Hildy well in the second innings against Yorkshire and hoping he can become number nine on a remarkable list of batsmen who have achieved something truly special in English cricket.