Sean Dickson’s recent 318 against Northamptonshire at Beckenham established several records. It was the highest score ever made by a Kent batsman in a home game and it was the first time any player’s first three first-class centuries have been a single century, a double century and a triple century (and in that order). It was the highest score by a Kent batsman against Northamptonshire, just fifteen runs shy of K.S. Duleepsinhji’s record 333 for Sussex against Northants in 1930, and it was the highest score by a Kent player against any side since the end of the Second World War. It was also the record score at Beckenham, but it did not beat the highest score ever made for Kent, 332 by Bill Ashdown, against Essex at Brentwood in 1934. Nor did it beat the highest score made in a match involving Kent, which remains 344 by W.G. Grace for M.C.C. v Kent at Canterbury in 1876. Still, it was a remarkable innings on a wicket that was not so much a road, more Heathrow’s third runway, and it was only a pity that conditions for batting were so good that Kent could not force a victory in the blazing sunshine. Let’s hope that Dickson can produce more of the same to delight us in years to come.
I should at this stage briefly mention two other Kent triple century makers, although both made their runs for M.C.C. in Australia rather than for Kent. Frank Woolley hit 305* against Tasmania in 1911/12, while Colin Cowdrey scored 307 against South Australia in Adelaide on the 1962/63 tour. Woolley’s highest score for Kent was 270 against Middlesex at Canterbury in 1923, a record at the ground until Matt Walker’s 275* against Somerset in 1996. Cowdrey’s top score for the county was a mere 250, against Essex at Blackheath in 1959.
The man whose name was dragged up from the past when Dickson scored his 318 remains the holder of Kent’s record highest score, and is also the only man to have hit two triple hundreds for the county. Yet William Henry Ashdown, who played for Kent during the inter-war years and was described in his Wisden obituary as ‘the kindest of men’ has been rather forgotten by all but the most diehard (or longest lived) Kent supporters. He scored 22,309 runs for the county, mainly as an opener, partnering Hardinge, Fagg and Woolley among others. He scored over 1000 runs in a season eleven times, and also took 595 wickets with his ‘just above medium’ bowling. His two triple hundreds were among 38 hundreds scored for the county, but none of the others exceeded 200.
Ashdown has a share in one even more remarkable record – he is one of only two men (D.B. Deodhar of India is the other) who played first class cricket before the First World War and after the Second. In June 1914, when he was only 15 years old, Ashdown was picked to play for G.J.V. Weigall’s XI against Oxford University. The University won by an innings, but Wisden noted that “Ashdown, a lad of 15, showed considerable promise.” He batted at 6, and scored 3 and 27, as well as bowling 16 wicketless overs for 54 runs. He played for Kent from 1920 to 1937, but in 1947, ten years after his last first-class appearance and at the age of 48, he played for Maurice Leyland’s XI against The Rest in the Harrogate Festival at the end of August. Like his only match before the First War, his only match after the Second War ended in defeat, but he made 42 and 40 and took 5 wickets for 73. Godfrey Evans and Doug Wright were among those playing for The Rest.
Bill Ashdown’s two triple centuries were both extraordinary innings. The match against Essex in 1934 was the first county match ever played at Brentwood, and Kent, batting first, hit 803 for 4 declared, still the county’s record score, in 146.2 overs, in seven hours. The overnight total was 623 for 2. Essex maintained an over rate of just over 20 overs an hour, and Kent scored at five and a half runs an over. Ashdown hit 332, Les Ames 202 not out, and Frank Woolley 172, but Percy Chapman, never a slow scorer, did not even get to the wicket. Essex then scored 408 and, following on, 203, to give Kent victory by an innings and 192 runs. Ashdown also opened the bowling in the first Essex innings, and although he only bowled one over in the second innings, that one over was a wicket maiden.
Ashdown’s second triple century, a year later, against Derbyshire at Dover, was until Dickson’s innings, the highest by a Kent batsman on Kentish soil. Kent batted first, and Ashdown, in his benefit year, made 305 not out, out of a total of 560. As Wisden reported, “On Wednesday, Ashdown scored 282 out of 518 and when the Kent innings closed he carried his bat after a wonderful display.” It goes on to report that “Ashdown became so brilliant that even Chapman, with two sixes and five fours, claimed no more than 49 out of 124 put on in an hour.” The over rate was once again around 20 an hour, even though the Derbyshire attack was largely built around their pace bowlers. Derbyshire scored 380 in reply, but in the end, the rain came to the aid of Derbyshire, and the match was drawn.
Ashdown was also heavily involved in his final season with Kent in the famous victory against Gloucestershire at Dover in 1937, when Kent made 219 for 2 in 71 minutes to win the game with 40 minutes to spare. Ashdown’s contribution was 62 not out, but he is remembered for his remark to his partner, “I suppose you realise you are wasting a lot of time hitting all these sixes.” But as Dudley Moore remarks in his History of the Kent County Cricket Club, “the Kent fans had been so excited and caught up in the atmosphere that they had ringed the boundary to make sure the ball was returned as quickly as possible.” That’s your Kent supporter for you – ready to do anything to help the team win.
Bill Ashdown never played for England, and in an era of prolific batting he probably never came very close to international honours, even though he remains the only Englishman to have scored two triple hundreds without winning a Test cap. Jim Swanton described him as a “beautiful all-round stroke-player who never perhaps wholly fulfilled his promise”, but that does not detract from his great efforts for Kent over the two inter-war decades.
After he retired from cricket, Ashdown, a Bromley man, first became coach at Rugby School, and then spent three seasons as a first-class umpire. After that he became coach and later scorer for Leicestershire, serving them for many years. He died at his home in Rugby on 15 September 1979, at the age of 80 and is remembered with great affection by all those who knew him. In the Book of Remembrance at Canley Crematorium in Coventry is written the tribute, “Gone are the happy years we spent together, but love and memories live forever.”
Sean Dickson has a great deal to live up to.