Author: John Arlott
Publisher: Epworth Press/J W McKenzie
Rating: 3.5 Stars
By Martin Chandler
01 Mar 2010
It is almost one hundred years since Edwin Boaler Alletson embarked on a bout of sustained hitting the like of which, in comparable conditions, has never been seen since. The events of 20th May 1911 apart Alletson was a modest performer who never quite established a place in a strong Nottinghamshire side, and who left the game at 30, but he enjoyed that one great day in his nine year career. His remarkable innings was at Hove against a good Sussex bowling attack. He scored 189 in just 82 minutes the last 142 of them in 40 frenetic minutes after lunch. It must be stressed that there was nothing contrived about the innings. This was a case of proper bowling by the home side who were, prior to Alletson's assault, well on top.
The innings clearly fascinated Arlott who set out in this monograph to recreate and reexamine in detail the awesome display of hitting that the small Hove crowd were treated to. He begins with a brief biographical sketch of Alletson before the bulk of the book is an analysis of the innings. In researching this monograph Arlott corresponded with several of the participants in the match, and most importantly with Alletson himself at some length. The style of Arlott's writing is fascinating to read half a century on from when he wrote his words. There is no doubt Arlott was at his best in this little book and it vividly illustrates how cricket writing has changed. The concept of this, a short piece about a specific passage of play, is the same as the extract from David Tossell's "Grovel" that is showcased in the current CW feature ("The Old Bald Blighter Part III") - both are superb pieces of writing, but in very different ways.
Alletson never did repeat his pyrotechnics. There were a few other aggressive half centuries, and indeed one against Gloucestershire in Notts very next game won him a place in a Test trial although that was unsuccessful. After a decent run in the side in 1913 Alletson faded out of the game and did not return after the Great War. In addition to his batting Alletson was also a useful bowler who developed a fast leg break which some felt might make him as a cricketer. In fact it seems his action was probably unfair and indeed that is the only realistic explanation as to why a man who had such a modest batting record should bowl so little when those wickets he did take cost him less than 20 runs apiece. Arlott could have delved into that area rather more than he did, and it is a little frustrating that he didn't, although at the end of the day as the title says the main purpose of the work is to deal with that one afternoon.
"Alletson's Innings" was first published in a limited edition of 200 copies in 1957, Arlott's bold and distinctive signature appearing in each copy. That edition might well have been a very costly item by now had an "ordinary" edition not appeared the following year and that, jacketed book, is that illustrated. This second edition is in itself quite scarce but not particularly valuable, this reviewer's duplicate copy, in excellent albeit price clipped jacket, netting a disppointing five pounds on Ebay three years ago. Finally, in 1991, the Surrey bookdealer and publisher John McKenzie produced a third edition containing the text of the original plus copies of all the letters Arlott received from those involved and some other additional material. That too was a numbered limited edition, this time of 250, again signed by Arlott. By the book's publication in 1991 Arlott had but a few months to live and his signature, unlike that of 1957, is frail and untidy - a poignant reminder that while a man's writings may be timeless, none of us are immortal.