Over the next term, HSC will be attempting to discover the identity of Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moment, with your help. This article recounts Akbar Ansari OH (2006) and his stunning performance for Cambridge in the Varsity Match. This will compete against three other moments in Group Five. Vote in our Twitter poll on Friday to decide your favourite moments – the winner will progress to the quarter-final stage!
The Varsity Match is not what it was. Oxford versus Cambridge at Lord’s used to be one of the highlights of the season. Middlesex county matches would be moved to an out ground (Uxbridge, perhaps, or Guildford) to accommodate the undergraduates. A good score in the Varsity Match put you on the England selectors’ radar. Many a Varsity Match has gone down in legend. Try putting the name of Frank Cobden into a search engine.
The match is not what it was, but it’s still some achievement to have won six Cambridge cricket blues – in other words, to have appeared in the Varsity Match six times. And this is the record that appends to the name of Akbar Ansari after he left Hampton School in 2007. But it isn’t for his longevity in this fixture that he appears here – rather it is for the extraordinary impact he made on the first of these matches, which should (in the Victorian spirit that still hangs over this fixture) be ever more remembered as Ansari’s match.
Cambridge won the toss, and decided to bat. When Ansari arrived at the crease, the score was 20 for two. Not much later, Cambridge were 85 for five and in trouble. This is where Ansari introduced himself to the record books. By the close of play, Cambridge were 303 for six, with Ansari 153 not out. By the time he was the eighth light blue batsman to be dismissed, he had knocked off 193 runs out of the 341 runs scored while he was at the crease. When Cambridge were all out for 386, Akbar had scored exactly half their runs. Statistics like these are notable, if not for their improbability, then for their rarity.
Oxford must have been relieved to see the back of Ansari, and knock off a few runs while they had the chance. And they made an excellent start, passing 200 with four wickets down, well on their way to parity. It was at this point that the Cambridge captain had the bright idea of throwing the ball to Ansari, to see if his leg-breaks and googlies might affect events. A respectable Oxford score of 205 for four was rapidly re-written as 227 for nine as Ansari helped himself to four of the next five wickets to fall.
At this point one imagines that Akbar may have felt it was time to put his feet up and let the other chaps have a go, but any such thoughts were necessarily abandoned as Cambridge, starting their second innings 122 runs to the good, promptly lost three wickets with the score just past the hundred. What was needed was a quick-fire innings to put matters back on course, and Ansari provided it, scoring 80 not out off 94 balls before the declaration. At this point Ansari had scored a total of 273 runs off 482 balls for once out, not to mention the four for 50 when Oxford batted first time round.
Alas, for Ansari, and for his team, there was to be no happy ending. Oxford, chasing 377, gamely batted out the final day, with Ansari taking two for 89 in what must have been a state of near-exhaustion. He had been on the pitch for almost the whole of the four days, and dominated the game in spite of the fact that, as a first-year student, he was among the youngest players on the field. Never mind, Oxford – he’ll be back next year, and the year after, and the year after that. And he’s got a younger brother, who’s probably even better… Now whatever happened to him?