Sporting records are there to be broken, but some take some beating. So it was that AEJ Collins’ 628 not out – the biggest ever individual cricket score, set at Clifton College – stood for 116 years before being broken by an Indian schoolboy, Pranav Dhanawade, this January.
Over four afternoons, the huge score set by 13-year-old Arthur Edward Jeune Collins changed cricket forever and set a record that would stand until January 2016.
We’ve dug into our archives to tell you the story about this famous chapter in Clifton College’s life.
AEJ Collins’ early life:
Like Mr Dhanawade, Collins was born in India, where his father was a judge in the Indian Civli Service, but he moved back to Bristol to study at Clifton College in 1897. Described by the Blackburn Standard as a lad of “average build” and a “diffident exposition”, Collins was short and fair, with bright blue eyes.
Collins had hardly played cricket before arriving at Clifton College, but spent two years being coached by England and Lancashire cricketer Dick Barlow into a player of some regard. While the Cliftonian was undoubtedly a talented cricketer, Barlow regarded his cricketing style as too erratic to make it as a professional.
Nevertheless, it was this rambunctiousness that powered him to the record.
The match: Clark’s House Vs. North Town House
Collins’ famous knock took place at the Junior School Field during a junior match between Clark’s House and North Town House on Thursday June 22nd, 1899. Very few were watching at the time because Old Cliftonians were playing Clifton College’s first team at the Close – a major attraction, and the only reason Collins and his contemporaries were afforded time off from their studies to be playing in the first place.
The Close at Clifton College, 2013
At that time, cricket pitch sizes had yet to be standardised and the small, irregular pitch at the Junior School Field meant that hitting the boundary at three sides of the pitch would only result in 2 runs. If batsmen played the ball downhill towards the school hospital to the ‘long’ boundary, it was classed as an ‘all-run’. Collins had to work for his world record.
After winning the toss and electing to bat, Collins started solidly and had hit a double century by the end of the afternoon despite being dropped three times – twice at third man and once with a ‘dolly’ at point .
The following morning, when the young batsman raced to 300, word got around the Close that something remarkable was happening just down the road and the huge crowd shifted to the Junior Field in time to see Collins break EFS Tylecote’s Clifton record of 404.
A reporter from the Bristol Evening News was despatched to the scene. He said:
“Collins, a lad under 10, put on runs at an extraordinary rate, and amid considerable enthusiasm he beat the school record of 404. In front of his suddenly-acquired audience Collins was not in the least nervous as he continued to collar the bowling.”
Breaking the world record
Collins was dropped again somewhere in the 400s and with the way he was hitting, it felt somewhat inevitable he’d break the world record of 485 set by AE Stoddart back in 1886. And at 5.30 on Friday afternoon, to the sound of great cheering, the record fell. Records show that Collins was relatively unperturbed and at close on Friday he was unbeaten on 509. The new world record holder promptly left for the weekend to visit family in Tavistock, Devon.
Monday’s play began at 12.30pm – school hours were back to normal and so the match had to be played during a lunch break. Collins batted through and added 89 more to his total during an obstinate tenth-wicket stand.
On Tuesday it was agreed to extend the lunch hour in order to bring an end to the famous match, and Collins – probably at the request of the school authorities – became ‘downright reckless’ with his wicket, but still he wasn’t dismissed. In the end, Clifton’s number 11, Thomas Redfern, was caught at point and the innings was over; Collins carried his bat. The final wicket was worth 106 – Redfern contributed 12.
In total, Collins batted for six hours and 45 minutes. He made one six, four fives, 31 fours, 33 threes, 146 twos and 86 singles. He was sent Tylecote’s autographed bat as a reward.
In a letter to the Times some 40 years later, one of the game’s scorers, JW Hall, described the innings:
“I was myself the depressed and over-worked scorer for the losers during most, if not all, of that innings... The bowling probably deserved all the lordly contempt with which Collins treated it, sending a considerable number of pulls full pitch over the fives courts into the swimming baths to the danger of the occupants.”
North Town’s reply was as unimpressive as Collins’ innings was groundbreaking – they were all out for 87 in the first innings and made just 61 in the follow-on. Collins, not content with his herculean effort at the crease, took 11 wickets.
Clark’s House won by an innings and 688 runs and Collins went back to class.
Life after a record-breaking innings
Collins gained instant fame for the extraordinary feat, but (as his coaches predicted) he never made it to the professional game. Despite his incredible score – or perhaps because of it – he chose a career in the military and only played cricket semi-regularly for Old Cliftonians and his regiment, for whom he played once at Lord’s.
Sadly, like so many of his contemporaries, Collins didn’t make it to middle age. He was sent to France in the autumn of 1914 to fight in the First World War and was killed during the Battle of Ypres on 11 November. His body was never found.
In the 100 years since Collins’ untimely death, millions of amateur and professional cricketers have tried and failed to better the Old Cliftonian’s great score. Many thought that his extraordinary feat would never be bettered. That is, until Pranav Dhanawade in January 2016.
Read more Clifton Memories:
Discover Clifton College’s unique culture for yourself – book your place on Clifton College’s Open Day today.