It’s not often that the first round of the Scottish cricket cup makes headlines in the sports pages, but it has done so this season, courtesy of a remarkable achievement by Dan Rixon of Edinburgh Academicals.
Playing against Gala on Sunday, Rixon – a professional from the hard school of Australian grade cricket – needed just 45 deliveries to take all ten wickets for 21 runs, as the home side were skittled for 64. He then contributed 14 not out as the target was reached with the loss of just four wickets. A candidate for man of the match if ever there was one.
Rixon’s haul comprised three batsmen being bowled, four lbw and three caught. Five of the Gala team scored ducks, with only Neil Crooks (31) and the perennial Mr Extras (24) making any significant kind of score – no one else got beyond three.
This is believed to have been the first instance of a bowler taking all ten in Scottish cup history – and, as Cricket Scotland suggests, it is “a feat that is rarely achieved in cricket at any level”.
The obvious problem was noted in the 1987 edition of Wisden, in its obituary of Jim Laker, the most celebrated of all-ten-takers: “Ten wickets in an innings, more than any other achievement in cricket, must contain a large element of luck: however well a man bowls, the odds must always be that his partner will pick up a wicket.”
When a bowler has taken the first eight or nine in an innings, there have been instances of the other bowler actively trying not to take a wicket – but this has a habit of backfiring amid comic frustration, with the number 11 batsman slashing at a wide ball and playing it on to his stumps courtesy of a thick inside-edge.
One particularly unusual aspect of Rixon’s feat is that he is, to trade, a wicketkeeper-batsman, and his medium-pace bowling is really just a bonus. In that respect, his achievement perhaps most recalls – in terms of the first-class game at least – the Warwickshire keeper Alan Smith (known as A C Smith, in contrast to M J K Smith who played in the same team).
The last amateur cricketer to play for England, A C Smith was primarily a county stalwart. In the Essex–Warwickshire match at Clacton in August 1965, an injury to one of the regular bowlers saw him forsake the pads in favour of his right-arm seamers. He duly took three wickets in consecutive balls – a high-class hat-trick, comprising top-order batsmen Gordon Barker, Geoff Smith and the eventual England captain Keith Fletcher. Smith also later nabbed Trevor Bailey to finish with four for 36, but Essex hung on for a nine-wickets-down draw.
Although taking all ten wickets in club cricket is undoubtedly much more common than in the first-class arena, it remains a very notable feat, especially in situations such as last Sunday’s match, where bowlers have a restricted number of overs at their disposal – just ten in Rixon’s case. The best-ever figures in any List A match – the one-day equivalent of first-class cricket – are eight for 15 by Rahul Sanghvi in an Indian state match for Delhi in 1997/98.
Nine bowlers have taken eight wickets in a List A innings – and there is a Scottish connection here, as one of them was Derek Underwood, at the age of 42, for Kent against Scotland at the Grange in 1987 – but no one has yet managed nine, let alone ten.
It’s also noteworthy just how rare a feat all-ten remains even at first-class level: to date there have been only 80 instances, dating from E Hinkly of Kent in 1848 to Zulfiqar Babar of Multan in Pakistan in a couple of winters ago. There have been just two instances in Test cricket – in 1,994 matches to date. The first was Laker’s celebrated feat – for England against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956, when he also took nine wickets in the other innings – and then by Anil Kumble for India against Pakistan at Delhi in 1999.
Even though the game at all levels is undoubtedly going through an extended batsman-friendly (and hence bowler-unfriendly) period, there is no obvious reason why the taking of all ten wickets should have suffered a drastic decline. But it has – there have only been two first-class instances in the UK since 1964, by Richard Johnson for Middlesex in 1994 and Otis Gibson for Durham in 2007.
One traditional comparison in cricketing rare-achievement terms is with a batsman scoring a triple-century – but in that same post-1964 period there have been 34 triples in the domestic cricket alone, and the overall total now stands at 179 as compared to that 80 for the bowling “equivalent”. Tellingly, as of 1965, there had been 66 instances of all-ten in first-class matches, as against 81 triple-hundreds. The game has changed.
As to whether the remaining months of Dan Rixon’s tenure as the Edinburgh Accies professional will see him rack up a score of 300 or more against some hapless club attack, we will just have to wait and see. It’s unlikely – but then so was his taking all-ten last weekend, and strange things do happen.