The Old Stone Wall


Every modern-day batsman must try to master the attacking game essential in the limited over formats. The impact on Test cricket has been tangible; one effect has been that it is now rare to see batsmen, especially Australians, tough out adverse situations through extended defence. Most earlier generations, however, had core players who had mastered the ability to stonewall when necessary, from Allan Border, Bill Lawry, Ken Mackay, Bill Woodfull, Charles Kelleway, and beyond.


The ultimate Australian stonewaller was Alec (‘Alick’) Bannerman, an opener whose career spanned the very early days of Test cricket from 1878 to 1893. Although he was a near predecessor of  Australia’s most dynamic opener, Victor Trumper (1899-1912), he was very much of a different generation. At the M.C.G. in 1883, Alick, with Billy Murdoch, contrived to face more than 88 consecutive scoreless balls (22 maiden four-ball overs in a row), which remains an Australian record. (Mackay and Kline came close to this in their match-saving Adelaide epic in 1961.) In the first Test of 1886/87, Bannerman consumed some 218 balls in compiling 19 runs for the match.


But his tour de force came against W.G. Grace’s touring team in 1891/92.


In the first Test in Melbourne, Bannerman faced more than 500 balls while managing only 86 runs (45 off about 250 and 41 off about 290 balls) for a winning side. He would surpass even this in the second Test in Sydney. England led by 163 on first innings in a timeless match, but Bannerman was ever the man for an obdurate comeback. With J.J. Lyons playing the innings of his life at the other end, Bannerman held up an end for hour on hour, batting right through the third day for just 67 runs. Bannerman, Australia’s slowest batsmen, was up against William Attewell, the most miserly bowler in all Test cricket (22.2 runs per 100 balls). Immovable object meets immovable object. Bannerman’s slow accretion of  singles was leavened by an extraordinary over rate. The English bowlers churned through 165 balls per hour in this innings, the highest in all Tests involving Australia, and this has tended to obscure just how slowly Bannerman collected his runs.


When Lyons departed with 134 off 233 balls, Bannerman had eked out 37 runs off 268 balls*. Lyons had scored 3.62 times as many runs as Bannerman; this remains the most one-sided partnership of its size in Tests in Australia (second place overall to a partnership of 177 in Johannesburg in 1935/36, where Stan McCabe outscored Jack Fingleton by 148 runs to 29). Joined by George Giffen, Bannerman did not relax, and as the afternoon wore on he crept up on his half-century, reached off 330 balls, the slowest ever by an Australian. Compare this to modern scoring – no Australian has taken more than 300 balls to reach a century (let alone 50) since Allan Border in 1981.


Late in the day, Alick “let out” at Grace and hit him to the boundary. The Sydney Morning Herald remarked that this “surprised the field”, and no wonder, as Bannerman had faced 338 balls since his previous four. In the known record, this has been exceeded only once during a single innings, by Bruce Mitchell of South Africa, who faced 378 balls between boundaries at Edgbaston in 1929. (Special mention should here be made of Geoff Boycott, who hit no boundaries in 575 consecutive balls  faced at the WACA ground, spanning three Test matches from 1970 to 1979.) The record for partnerships appears to be 389 balls between boundaries by South Africans Goddard and Pithey at the S.C.G. in 1963/64.


With the match still not quite turned around, Bannerman maintained the vigil next morning, adding 6 runs off 79 balls in a rain-shortened first session. Ultimately, a century beckoned, but false strokes were also beginning to appear, and on 91 (out of 364) Bannerman pushed a ball into Grace’s hands at point. He had batted seven hours and faced close to 620 balls* (including 15 runs off 204 balls from Attewell), and he averaged just one scoring stroke in every four overs. At modern over rates, such an innings would take more than thirteen hours; Bannerman faced more balls than the slowest-ever Test double-century (Bob Simpson’s 200 off 608 balls on the way to 311 at Old Trafford 1964). For sustained slowness the innings is without parallel in Test cricket; the nearest thing is Colin Cowdrey’s 154 off 625 balls at Edgbaston in 1957.  More than four thousand innings have produced more runs, but only ten batsmen have ever faced more balls than Bannerman. Just two of these were Australians: Sid Barnes (234 off 665 balls in 1946), and Simpson (311 off 741).


Bannerman’s innings was regarded as a triumph at the time, as Australia went on to win the match. For only the second time, Australia had won a multi-Test series. Reading the contemporary reports, there is only a hint of frustration at Bannerman’s style. The Australasian had said that his “cautious tactics” were “not pleasing to watch”, and there was reference in The Age to a “peculiar blocky” style, but this was far outweighed by enthusiastic, even fulsome, praise. Any impatience at the inactivity must have been eased by bowlers who could get through a maiden over in less than two minutes. When Bannerman’s approach was revived in the 1950s by players like Bailey, Mackay and McGlew, it would be a different story. A chorus of calls for ‘brighter cricket’ would eventually be answered.


With a scoring rate of 22.3 runs per 100 balls (15 runs per hour) in Tests, Bannerman remains the slowest batsman from any country who made more than a thousand runs.


The Slowest All-Day Batting in Tests (Individuals)


Overs (6-ball)

Runs per over




AC Bannerman (91)

Sydney (SCG) 1891




DJ McGlew (70)

Johannesburg (New Wanderers) 1957




Hanif Mohammad (111)

Dhaka 1961




Nazar Mohammad (124)

Lucknow (University) 1952




Mudassar Nazar (114)

Lahore (Gaddafi) 1977




B Mitchell (99)

Port Elizabeth 1948




PE Richardson (117)

Johannesburg (New Wanderers) 1956




ML Jaisimha (99)

Kanpur 1960




G Boycott (77)

Perth (WACA) 1978




JW Burke (81)

Johannesburg (New Wanderers) 1957

Note: complete days with minimum 80 overs bowled. Eight-ball overs have been converted to six-ball equivalent. Nazar Mohammad and Mudassar Nazar were father and son. McGlew and Burke recorded their ‘feats’ in the same match.


Most Balls Faced in an Innings

Balls Faced


Hanif Mohammad (337)

Bridgetown, Barbados 1958


L Hutton (364)

The Oval 1938


GM Turner (259)

Georgetown, Guyana 1972


RB Simpson (311)

Manchester (Old Trafford) 1964


SG Barnes (234)

Sydney (SCG) 1946/47


G Kirsten (275)

Durban (Kingsmead) 1999/00


A Sandham (325)

Kingston, Jamaica 1930


KF Barrington (256)

Manchester (Old Trafford) 1964


PBH May (285)

Birmingham (Edgbaston) 1957


MC Cowdrey (154)

Birmingham (Edgbaston) 1957


AC Bannerman (91)

Sydney (SCG) 1891/92


EAB Rowan (236)

Leeds (Headingley) 1951


WR Hammond (177)

Adelaide Oval 1928/29


WR Hammond (251)

Sydney (SCG) 1928/29


AD Nourse (208)

Nottingham (Trent Bridge) 1951

Note: Hanif batted for 309 overs, but balls faced is not recorded. At Port-of-Spain in 1953, M.L. Apte (163*) batted for 200 overs and probably faced more than 600 balls.


*The detailed data for this Test comes from an original score that I discovered in the back of an old scorebook deep in the archive of Cricket NSW at the S.C.G. (hat tip to Colin Clowes). The score had to be ‘re-scored’ into a linear form, itself an epic exercise, to calculate balls faced. A figure of 611 balls faced for the whole innings was published in The Argus (who calculated it and how is quite an intriguing question), but as there are small anomalies in both the scorebook and the Argus statistics, the precise figure is slightly uncertain. The reference in Wisden (and The Argus) to Bannerman making only five scoring shots off Attewell is incorrect: there were eight.


Charles Davis

May 2011