Updated: April 16, 2020 9:39:07 am
In an age where batting records are created and broken at the drop of a hat, RE ‘Tip’ Foster’s record for the highest score on debut – 287 vs Australia in 1903 – is an anomaly.
No batsman has come close to Foster’s mark in the 117 years through which cricket has been played since then. South Africa’s Jacques Rudolph, who scored 222* in his debut Test – vs Bangladesh in 2003 – is the one who has come closest.
Who was RE Foster? There can be many answers to that question. In the dressing rooms of the time and in cricket literature since then, he is known by his nickname, Tip. One of the top batsmen of his time, he was one of the five cricketers named in Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year list in 1901.
Foster is also the only man to have captained England in both cricket and football. In fact, by the time he was sailing to Australia for the 1903 Ashes series, he had already captained England’s football team. He had played in England’s first ever football match against Germany, scoring six goals in a 12-0 rout. True to the times, while Foster was playing as an inside forward for England, he had CB Fry (another versatile personality who played 26 Tests for England) playing at fullback.
Foster’s ‘unbreakable’ feat was scripted in the Australian summer of 1903 in Sydney. Then aged 25, the unlikely debutant anchored the England innings – going past Charles Bannerman’s 165*, the highest score on debut at the time, and then past the then highest individual Test score of 211 by Billy Murdoch. By the time he fell as the last man out, he had made 287 off 419 deliveries, including 37 boundaries.
Foster never played an Ashes series again. His business commitments as a stockbroker, unimaginably for present times, kept him away from cricket for large parts of his career.
He was, however, selected as the captain of the England cricket team for the home series against South Africa in 1907, which would be his last series. He was named as captain for the 1907 Ashes series as well, but he declined due to business commitments.
The 287 would remain his highest score, and he would play a total of 8 Tests – amassing 602 runs at an average of 46.30.
Till 2015, when Ross Taylor scored 290, this would also remain the highest score by a visiting batsman in Australia.
Foster suffered from diabetes, and was just 36 when he died in 1914.
On Foster, the Wisden Almanack says, “In his position at the wicket – he stood with both eyes turned full on the bowler – and his general style of play, Mr Foster was quite modern but, in adapting himself to swerving bowlers, he did not, like so many batsmen, lose his brilliancy on the off-side. Nothing could have been finer than his hitting past cover-point, and his late cut was a model of safety and clever placing.”
It adds on his slip fiedling: “Apart from his splendid batting, RE Foster was one of the finest slip fieldsmen of his day. Tall, slim, and lithe, he brought off catches that would have been impossible to ordinary men.”
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