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1805

The oldest fixture of them all

2005 sees the 200th anniversary of what is believed to be the oldest of all cricket fixtures still played to this day - the annual Eton v Harrow match

Martin Williamson

June 18, 2005

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Lord Byron: the day almost ended in a fight © Cricinfo
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This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of what is believed to be the oldest of all cricket fixtures still played to this day - the annual Eton v Harrow match. While the glory days of the match, when crowds of 20,000 crammed into Lord's, are long past, and many regard the continuation of the game at Lord's as an anachronism, no other head-to-head can trace its roots back to before the Battle of Trafalgar.

Eton was founded in 1440, Harrow 131 years later, and by the beginning of the 19th century both schools were playing cricket. There are sketchy reports of a game between the two schools in 1800, but that cannot be verified. What is for sure is that on June 20, 1805, a simple invitation was sent by Harrow:

The gentlemen of Harrow School request the honour of trying their skill at cricket with the gentlemen of Eton, on Wednesday July 31 at Lord's Cricket Ground. A speedy answer, declaring whether the time and place be convenient, will oblige.*

A reply was forthcoming, although the date was altered to August 2.

The two teams assembled at Lord's - not the current ground, but Thomas Lord's first site at Dorset Fields, and the match resulted in an easy win for Eton, by an innings and two runs. Little is known about the game itself, although the scores survive in the Eton College library.

Perhaps the best-documented facet of the game is that one of the Harrow XI was Lord Byron, who played despite suffering from an incurable malformation of the right calf and ankle which meant that he had to bat with a runner. Although he was a keen cricketer, his participation in this match has been the subject of scrutiny. JA Lloyd, the Harrow captain, wrote shortly after the game that "Byron played very badly ... he should never have been in the XI had my counsel been taken." It has been suggested that Byron was involved in the original challenge and that as a result his inclusion in the side was unavoidable.

And the only real account of the match comes from Byron himself, in a letter two days later to Charles Gordon. "We played the Eton and were most confoundly beat," he wrote. "However, it was some comfort to me that I got 11 notches in the first innings and 7 in the second, which was more than any of our side except Brockman and Ipswich could contrive to hit." Either Byron's memory was not good or he was guilty of some exaggeration. The scorebook shows that in fact he made 7 and 2. The only Harrovian to emerge with credit was the 15-year-old Lord Ipswich, who top-scored in both innings with 21 and 10.

What is of equal interest is Byron's account of the post-match activities of the teams and supporters:

"Later to be sure we were most of us very drunk and we went together to the Haymarket Theatre where we kicked up a row, as you may suppose when so many Harrovians and Etonians meet in one place. I was one of seven in a single Hackney [a horse-drawn taxi], four Eton and three Harrow fellows, we all got into the same box, the consequence was that such a devil of a noise arose that none of our neighbours could hear a word of the drama, at which not being highly delighted they began to quarrel with us and we nearly came to a battle royal etc."

Rowdy behaviour was to be a feature of Eton-Harrow matches through the years. In 1873, MCC asked both schools to control the behaviour of their followers, and that was a recurring theme over the years. WF Deedes, the eminent journalist, recalled of a disturbance at the game in the 1930s: "It certainly bordered on yobbish behaviour and, if it had occurred outside the privileged walls of Lord's, might well have attracted the attention of the police."

The next recorded match between the two sides was in 1818, although it is thought that there were odd games in the intervening period. In the 1820s the two headmasters tried to ban the fixture, but aside from a three-year interlude between 1829 and 1831, it has been played at Lord's ever since.

Trivia

  • Of the 167 matches played, Eton have won 55 and Harrow 46, and 66 have been drawn. Harrow, however, object to the first game in 1805 being included in the series .
  • Matches have been played at Lord's except for 1915-1918 and 1940-1945, when they were held alternately at the two schools. In 1916, 1917 and 1918 there were home and away games, but none of the wartime fixtures count as part of the regular series. Of those ten matches, Eton won eight and Harrow one, and one was drawn. The 1970 match was played at Harrow as Lord's was reserved for a Gillette Cup tie
  • The match in 1857 is contested as to its validity as it was between Under-20 sides of pupils and former pupils rather than the school XIs
  • The fixture was permanently reduced from a two-day to a one-day match in 1982, and from 1999 it was played as a limited-overs match (although as 1999 was abandoned the first such game was actually in 2000)
  • In 1981 Eton proposed that the Lord's fixture be scrapped, but this was opposed by Harrow
  • Three matches - 1997, 1999 and 2001 - were abandoned without a ball being bowled
  • Harrow's victory in 2000 ended 25 years during which they had not won. The record sequence is Harrow's winless streak from 1908 to 1939 - 27 games, during which Eton won 12 times
  • Fifteen Etonians and six Harrovians have gone on to play for England. Eton total 108 Test caps and Harrow 71. The last Test player was Tony Pigott in 1983-84
  • The highest score in the fixture is 183 by DC Boles of Eton in 1904. The highest by an Harrovian is 173 by G Wilson in 1913
  • MC Bird (Harrow) is the only player to have scored two hundreds in one match (100 not out and 131) in 1937
  • The best bowling figures are 14 for 99 by HW Studd (Eton) in 1888, although EW Blore took 15 wickets in 1847, and 14 in 1845, but runs conceded were not recorded
  • The highest total is 502 (Eton, 1923) and Harrow's best is 388 in 1900. The lowest is 24 (Harrow, 1824) with Eton's worst 35 in 1855

    Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

    Bibliography
    Eton v Harrow at Lord's Robert Titchener-Barrett (Quiller, 1996)
    Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Various

  • Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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    Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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