A short history of cricket hat-tricks: from Sheffield’s hills to Naseem Shah

A short history of cricket hat-tricks: from Sheffield’s hills to Naseem Shah

Sheffield, as the locals will proudly tell you, is surrounded by hills. There are seven of the things, each looming over the steel city, hinting at the greenery of the Peak District just beyond. On one such hill, dominating the skyline behind the train station, is the brutalist Park Hill Estate, nowadays an emblem of gentrification while also serving as a backdrop for TV series such as This Is England and in music videos for the city’s most famous musical sons, Arctic Monkeys.

Above Park Hill lies Skye Edge Fields, a hilly green expanse offering views over the city, its tranquillity today at odds with its 1920s nickname of Little Chicago, named because of the number of gangs that operated in the area. Today you are more likely to find picnickers armed with a lunch box in search of a scenic snack than a Don Valley Al Capone tooled up with a switchblade. On the north-eastern cusp of Skye Edge Fields is Manor Oaks Road, an area of winding streets and newly built houses that stand on the site of cricketing history.

This whole area was known as Hyde Park. At its peak in the 1840s this stretch of cricket pitches was South Yorkshire’s equivalent of the Mumbai maidans, boasting nearly six acres of hillside land that would stage numerous games simultaneously. WG even graced the spot, recalling the steep locale in his 1899 book Cricketing Reminiscences and Personal Reflections: “The ground stood on the top of a high hill, and I began to despair of the cab ever getting to the top.”

So what brings me to the Sheffield hillsides (on foot, unlike the good doctor) armed with some hastily printed map coordinates? We’re hunting the home of the hat-trick.

Sports as varied as lacrosse, water polo, darts and marbles all employ the term hat-trick in some way to celebrate something happening thrice. In ice hockey, the occurrence of a player scoring three goals is often met with the home crowd removing their own head gear and hurling it onto the ice. Can’t see that catching on at Headingley.

A hat-trick is most commonly associated globally with football. In France they celebrate the coup du chapeau, in Italy they cheer a tripletta, in Japan a Hattotorikku. A player who scores three goals in a game is rightly lauded, those who bag a perfect hat-trick – goals scored with right foot, left foot and a header – even more so.

The Premier League has witnessed 345 hat-tricks since it was started in 1992, and there have been 52 World Cup hat-tricks in the 21 tournaments since the first in Uruguay in 1930. Some are iconic, Pelé in 1958, Paolo Rossi in 1982. Others, rather less so. Harry Kane’s 2018 hat-trick against Panama, anyone?

But what about cricket? A hat-trick is used to describe three wickets falling in successive balls by the same bowler. The hat-trick in cricket is a more special feat, given the laws of possibility are more stacked. There have been only 48 hat-tricks in the history of Test cricket. That’s just 48 passages of play, lasting no longer than 10 minutes each, across 2,555 Test matches, most of which stretch over a number of days. Test hat-tricks are as magical as they are fleeting. Three is the magic number when it comes to hat-tricks but it is the three-in-a-row that makes a cricketing hat-trick particularly special, the BAM-BAM-BAM! adding to the allure, a giddy relentlessness that contributes to the seduction of player and viewer alike. Three quick wickets can turn an innings, a match or even an entire series on its head. A hat-trick can dismantle the top order of a batting line-up, rip out the guts or blow away the tail. They can be the cherry on top of a victory or a mast to cling to in defeat. The 48 hat-tricks in Test cricket all have their own tale to tell.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1879 was the scene of the first Test triple. Fittingly, it was in the third Test match on record, Australia’s Fred Spofforth the man to achieve it. The Poms got their revenge over the next 20 years with the next four hat-tricks falling to Englishmen, three of them coming against Australia. Billy Bates in 1883 became the first Englishman to take one, with the MCG again the scene. Bates was later joined by Johnny Briggs (Sydney, 1892), George Lohmann (Port Elizabeth, 1896) and Jack Hearne, who became the first to take a hat- trick on English soil, at Headingley in 1899.

The hat-trick pendulum then swung back to Australia with Hughie Trumble’s fast off-spinners snaring him two separate hat-tricks at the same venue (Melbourne) against England in 1902 and 1904, the latter in his final Test appearance. Only one other player in Test history has taken a hat-trick in his final appearance, but where Trumble’s capped a long and auspicious career, Geoff Griffin’s (1960) was the opposite. The South African remains the only bowler to take a Test hat-trick at Lord’s but his feat was overshadowed by what followed: called for throwing 11 times during the game, he never played Test cricket again and “retired” aged 23.

Trumble is one of only four players in Test history to take two hat-tricks. He is joined by the Australian Jimmy Mathews, who is the only man to take two hat-tricks in one game – on the same day even, against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1912, the unfortunate Tommy Ward being his crowning wicket on both occasions; Wasim Akram, whose brace of three came just nine days apart against Sri Lanka in 1999; and Stuart Broad, whose first came at the expense of India – via a huge inside edge from Harbhajan Singh’s bat – at Trent Bridge in 2011. Broad’s second, against Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2014, was less memorable – even the bowler himself had to be informed by the umpire before the “threepenny” dropped.