Cricket's first centurion
Although cricket can be traced back with certainty to the seventeenth century, most of the early contests are lost in the mists of time. Occasional snippets survived, but with scoring and newspapers very much in their infancy, individual feats are rarely recorded.
In 1744 the first laws were drawn up, 10 years after cricket had been played at Sevenoaks Vine in Kent. In that same year the first full scorecard can be found.
A partial scorecard of a match played at The Vine on August 31, 1769 is one of the earliest to survive, and from it the honour of being the first man to score a hundred was given to John Minshull.
The game, between the Duke of Dorset's XI and Wrotham, was not a major match, even by the rather confused standards of the day, but no batsman before had been reported as making a century. Dorset, like his father, was a renowned patron of the game.
Minshull, or Minchin as he was called on the scorecard, made 107 in Dorset's second innings - he also top-scored in the first with 18 - which included 34 singles, 15 twos, nine threes and four fours, the latter all-run. Other details of the match are sketchy - Wrotham's scores are not even mentioned - but his was the first stroke-by-stroke record of any major innings.
To put his achievement into context, it was an era where it was relatively rare for a team to reach a total in excess of 100, and a batsman who got into double figures was considered to have done well. Pitches were little more than an area selected on a field that would have been kept in trim by sheep. The playing surface would have been uneven, and bats were unsprung and little more than carved wood.
Dorset, who three years later donated the ground to the Sevenoaks Vince club, recognised Minshull's talent, and as was often the way, subsequently employed him as head gardener at Knole House, his Kent estate, at 20 guineas a year. While Minshull reportedly fulfilled that role diligently, a major part of his job also involved playing cricket for the Duke and the club.
Minshull clearly had his critics, even among those who admired his ability. In Early Kent Cricketers he was described as "a thick-set man, about 5'9" in height, rather a slow mover in the field [and had] a tendency towards injury and illness".
John Nyren, one of the foremost chroniclers of the characters of the game in the second half of the century, praised his hitting, but then continued: "He was not an elegant player, his position and general style were both awkward and uncouth." It got worse. He lacked modesty and was "as conceited as a wagtail and from constantly aping what he had no pretensions to, was, on that account only, not estimated according to the price at which he had rated his own merits."
Those character defects possibly contributed to Minshull being sacked by Dorset in 1772. He moved to Middlesex and then on to Surrey, continuing to play top-class cricket until his name disappeared from major games in 1780.
He had one other claim to fame. In 1773, playing for All England against Hampshire, again at The Vine, he became the first man to be given out hit-wicket. The exact details are unclear and it was recorded that he was not actually on strike at the time.
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Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa