1836 December 18, 2004

Mynn's majestic innings - and the birth of leg-guards

Debashish Biswas
Alfred Mynn, one of the early giants of the game, played a famous innings at Leicester in 1836

Alfred Mynn © Cricinfo

Many batsmen have been hit by fast bowlers: Andy Lloyd was taken to hospital with blurred vision after taking a ball in the face in the first Test between England and West Indies in 1984, while Brian Close was battered black, blue and even purple by the West Indians at Lord's 21 years before. But injuries from express bowlers go right back into history, well before even the leading protagonists of Bodyline were born.

Only a year after MCC formally legalised round-arm bowling was there one high-profile victim: in the second North v South match of 1836, Alfred Mynn, who was the quickest bowler of the time, nevertheless sustained such serious injuries from Samuel Redgate, his only serious rival for speed, that amputation of his leg was considered.

Mynn was born in Kent in January 1807, the fourth son of a gentleman farmer. He was enormously popular, and once chastised a cricketer he saw drinking tea. "My boy," he chided, "beef and beer are the thing to play cricket on!" Mynn, who weighed between 18 and 20 stone in his prime, stood over six feet tall. However, there wasn't anything galumphing in his movements: he was stately and dignified, and delivered the ball effortlessly, and very fast.

Redgate, a round-arm bowler from Nottinghamshire, had won renown in 1835 for dismissing Fuller Pilch, the leading batsman of the time, for ducks in each innings in the annual match between the Players and the Gentlemen. Redgate was among the last to wear knee-breeches and stockings instead of the long trousers, un-pressed and supported by braces or belt, that were the fashion of the day.

Cricket was increasingly popular in the northern counties, and in 1836 MCC thought two North-South fixtures would be commercially attractive. The South were determined to win the return match at Leicester in August after the North had won at Lord's in July. Mynn, who had never played in the north before, was one of the main drawcards. And in the intervening period, he was making a name for himself as a batsman after knocking up 92 for MCC against Sussex at Brighton.

At Leicester a big crowd was present by 10 o'clock on the first day, a large proportion of them having walked from Nottingham. Lord Frederick Beauclerk and Benjamin Aislabie, the president and secretary of MCC, were among those who had made the journey from London. The North, dominated by five Nottinghamshire professionals besides Redgate, were bolstered by Pilch, who was from Norfolk, while the South had William Lillywhite, a metronomically accurate bowler from Sussex who once outbowled a bowling machine, and EG Wenman, a very good wicketkeeper-batsman.

But before the match started, there was a problem. During the warm-up, Mynn's ankle was hit, and needed to be bound up and he was laid up, at least for the first day. The South did well enough without him, reaching 97 for 6 at the close, which was a fair score in an era when the ball often dominated the bat, after Redgate had bowled out the South's openers early on.

Mynn felt better the next day, but had a runner when he batted, and was left unbeaten on 21 as the South compiled 165. But batting hadn't helped Mynn's ankle. It flared up again, and so Lillywhite had to shoulder most of the bowling when the North went in. He reduced them to 14 for 5: they were eventually dismissed for 110. The South lost one wicket before the close.

Lord Frederick Beauclerk: inspected Mynn's legs © MCC
By the third day Mynn's leg, already swollen, was making it difficult for him to walk, but he said he could bat if required. Wenman was playing solidly on his way to a splendid 64 and was supported by Taylor and Hillyer, but at noon, when the third wicket fell, Mynn's time had come. He limped to the wicket with the score on 91, and fairly soon found the form of his innings at Brighton. Wenman was being overshadowed.

Redgate, supported by thousands of local fans, was at his fastest and best, would continually hit Mynn's legs, but it didn't matter. "That was Mr Mynn's day, that was," he would later admit. "It mattered not what length I bowled him - the better I bowled, the harder he hit me away." Mynn went on and on. And so did the bruising on his legs. There was wild enthusiasm when he reached 100, and he was undefeated with 125 when the last wicket fell at 314.

Mynn beckoned Lord Beauclerk to him as he staggered into a tent before showing him his leg. Beauclerk, one of the virility cult who were against any leg-guards, was appalled at what he saw. He immediately sent for a stagecoach to take Mynn back to London. But Mynn was so huge, and the leg so inflamed, that he could not get inside, so he lay flat on the roof, where the luggage usually went. The uneven roads of the 1830s would have added considerably to Mynn's discomfort. He began his recovery at the Angel Tavern in St Martin's Lane in London, before moving on to St Bartholomew's Hospital, where eminent surgeons debated whether they could save his leg or not.

Back at Leicester, the match went into a fourth day. Pilch and Redgate were batting well, but the target of 370 on a fourth-day pitch was a stiff one, and at 1.30 the North were bowled out for 151 and the South had won, with Lillywhite collecting another four wickets. Mynn's courageous innings had proved decisive, even though he wasn't there at the finish. He did make a full recovery after the swelling subsided, although his return to cricket was delayed by worries about money after his father's death, and there was no-one to subsidise his cricket.

Financial worries never left Mynn, who was bankrupted several times, and even went to prison once. He was easy prey to bookmakers, and once he was hissed at in Maidstone market after Kent lost a game after they had scored 278 in their first innings.

The legacy of Mynn's innings itself was essentially practical - leg-guards. According to one unlikely story it was Mynn's own pads that WG Grace wore when he scored 400 against a Grimsby XXII for the United South XI in 1876.

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Alfred Mynn and the cricketers of his time Patrick Morrah (1963)
WG Grace Simon Rae (1998)
A Social History of English Cricket Derek Birley (1999)