WG Grace July 21, 1998

More than one amazing Grace

Donald Trelford
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This column is dedicated, not to W G Grace, whose 150th anniversary has been celebrated elsewhere, but to his brothers, who have received less than their share of reflected glory.

There were five Grace boys: Henry, Alfred, Edward Mills (known as E M), and W G and G F (Fred). The three younger brothers all played in the first Test on English soil, against Australia at the Oval in 1880.

It was Henry's enthusiasm for cricket at school that rekindled the interest of their father, Dr Henry Mills Grace, to the extent that he marked out a wicket in the orchard of their house at Downend, near Bristol.

Not only that, but finding there was no village cricket club at which his boys could play, he invented one. Then, as the boys required a wider stage, he created Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, of which E M became secretary for 39 years.

Henry, described by Wisden as "a vigorous bat, a medium pace round-arm bowler and an excellent field", once scored 63 at Lord's.

All five boys followed their father into medicine, but Henry and the second son, Alfred, took it more seriously than the others. Although Alfred was the least talented at cricket, he scored several centuries at club level and, like all the brothers, was a brilliant horseman.

E M was the shortest of the Graces and, being eight years younger than Henry, was obliged to use a bat too big for him. The result was that he developed an infamous cross-batted swipe, picking up balls off a perfect length and whacking them over the boundary. He was described by Wisden as "the most dangerous bat in England".

E M was also sublimely unorthodox human being, having four wives and siring 18 children. He was said to be "overflowing with cricket at every pore, full of lusty life, cheerily gay, with energy inexhaustible".

Once, when a man came out of the crowd to deliver a breach of promise suit, E M casually passed the paper to the umpire and went on to score a fifty. He also had a short temper and assaulted barrackers in the crowd.

If W G had not cast a permanent shadow, he would be better remembered as an outstanding cricketer of the 19th century. Wisden wrote on his death in 1911: "But for the accident that his own brother proved even greater than himself, E M Grace would have lived in history as perhaps the most remarkable figure the game has produced."

At Canterbury Week in 1862, when he was 21, he scored 192 with some ferocious hitting, then took all 10 wickets in the second innings. That was for the MCC, of which he wasn't even a member at the time.

He was the local coroner and that became his nickname. He bowled fast round-arm until a hunting accident forced him to turn to lobs instead. He once famously landed a donkey drop on the bails of Henry Jupp, the legendary stonewaller. He played first-class cricket until he was 55 and took 119 wickets for his Thornbury club at the age of 67.

But it was for his fielding, so close to the bat at point that he was asked if he ever got splinters, that he became truly famous. He once caught the Surrey batsman, Bobby Abel, at such lightening speed that everyone looked to the boundary while E M nonchalantly pocketed the ball.

When Test cricket began in England in 1880, W G was already 32 and E M approaching 40. E M played only the one Test, putting on 91 with his brother for the first wicket. W G went on to inspire an England victory with 152.

The youngest brother, Fred, the most handsome of the Graces, managed a 'king pair'. But he redeemed himself with a memorable catch, holding a steepling hit under the gasometer from the Australian giant, George Bonnor, that is said to have travelled 115 yards.

It was also Fred's only Test, for he died two weeks later at the age of 29 from a cold that developed into congestion of the lungs - despite having a father and four brothers as doctors and being a medical student himself.

By all means let us celebrate W G, arguably the greatest British sportsman of all time, but let us not forget the remarkable brothers who lived and died in his shadow.