The Heygate Incident

Harold Heygate, played six first-class matches as an amateur batsman for Sussex, scoring 250 runs at 25.00. Nowadays he is best remembered for his part in the strange incident named after him in the county’s first match of the 1919 season, one hundred years ago.

County fixtures for that season were hurriedly organised after the sudden end of fighting in Europe in November 1918. Sussex, under an enthusiastic new secretary, Major Bill Sarel, put together a fixture list of 24 first-class matches, all of two-day duration. Sussex had not expected that their players would be released only slowly from the armed services – a process overseen, incidentally, by a former Hampshire player! In Championship matches Sussex fielded 36 players, more than in any season before or since.

The details of the county’s first match, against Somerset at Taunton, on 21 and 22 May, have become hazy with time. Sussex selected the same eleven players for the matches at Taunton and against Gloucestershire at Bristol. These included Harold Heygate, now aged 34, who had last played for Sussex in 1905 and had been wounded during the war just ended. He was also suffering from rheumatism, or was it arthritis? Not surprisingly he contributed little to the Sussex effort. (It is not true, as is sometimes reported, that Heygate was co-opted into the side when Sussex saw he was among the spectators; his selection for Sussex had been announced the previous day.)

In the fourth innings of the match, Sussex were left 104 to win in about four hours, but it was understood that Heygate would be unable to bat. (He had batted at eleven, scoring a duck in the Sussex first innings.) When the scores were tied at the fall of the Sussex ninth wicket the umpires started to remove the bails when there were shouts from the pavilion. It turned out that Heygate had been persuaded, perhaps by the Somerset secretary Sammy Woods, to bat after all. Heygate eventually came out of the pavilion though had not changed into his cricket gear, but wore pads and carried a bat.

He walked very slowly towards the stumps, but after some four minutes had elapsed since Miller’s dismissal, the Somerset captain Jack White appealed after his players started to complain about the delay. Alfred Street, one of the umpires, decided that Law 45, ‘the two-minute rule’, had been breached and denied Heygate the right to bat. His decision generated criticism, mostly on the grounds that there was ample time left for play and that Heygate had been wounded in the war, but when MCC investigated it agreed with the umpires’ decision. The match was therefore a tie, though oddly the points scheme in operation in that season made no provision for such a result.

Heygate, who was replaced by Peter Williams for the match with Gloucestershire starting the following day, never played for Sussex again. There have been no other instances in the County Championship of a batsman being ‘timed out’.

Written by David Jeater