An early pioneer
Comparing WG Grace with other modern-day greats is a near-impossible task - at least statistically - due to the period in which he played. His international numbers hardly look imposing, but that needs to be judged in the context of the period he played in. While his first-class record was superb, what stood out more than anything was the sheer longevity of his career: Grace began his first-class career when he was 16, and finished at 60, for a remarkable career that stretched 44 years - a time span that is mind-boggling in today's age.
His impact on the game obviously went far beyond the stats, but he didn't do badly on the field either. His overall first-class numbers were outstanding: he finished with 54,211 runs at an average of 39.45, and a wickets tally of 2809 at 18.14. Apart from the sheer number of runs and wickets, what's also remarkable is that his batting average was more than twice his bowling average, a feat few have managed to achieve in the last 50 years. And if his overall batting average doesn't seem as impressive as some of the more recent batsmen, remember that he played his entire cricket on pitches that were hardly as well laid out as the tracks we're used to.
Over his four-and-a-half decade first-class career, Grace had several highlights. Here's a list of his amazing achievements, some of which might never be equalled.
- In 1871, aged 23, he scored 10 centuries and 2739 first-class runs at 78.25. The next best average was 37.66 with just one hundred.
- Even 31 seasons later, he scored 1187 at 37.09, while Victor Trumper, at age 24, averaged 48.49 (Trumper's best season).
- In 1876, he scored 839 runs in a mere eight days, with a sequence that read 344, 177 and 318 not out. It was a season when only one other batsman topped 1000 runs. His 344 was also the first triple-century in first-class cricket.
- Between 1868 and 1880, he topped the first-class averages 10 times, including seven times straight till 1874. Between 1868 and 1876, he scored 54 first-class hundreds; the next highest didn't even manage 10.
- In the decade 1871 to 1880 he averaged 49, a period during which nobody else averaged more than 26 or scored even a third of his runs. He also took 1174 wickets in the 10 years, which was the second-best in the country after Alfred Shaw.
- In 1895, as a 47-year-old Grace reeled off scores of 288, 52, 257, 73 not out, 18 and 169 - the last bringing him 1000 runs before the end of May (the first man to reach that landmark). His 288 was also his 100th century, making him the first player to the milestone.
- Grace played 870 first-class matches in his career, which is the third-highest on the all-time list, after Wilfred Rhodes (1110) and Frank Woolley (978). His tally of 54,211 runs is the fifth-highest, while his haul of 2809 wickets puts him in 10th place.
|Jack Hobbs||834||61,760||50.70||199/ 273a|
|Frank Woolley||978||58,959||40.77||145/ 295|
|Patsy Hendren||833||57,611||50.80||170/ 272|
|Phil Mead||814||55,061||47.67||153/ 258|
|WG Grace||870||54,211||39.45||124/ 251|
Grace played only 22 Tests - all of them against Australia - but he had some noteworthy achievements in that format too. At the time of retiring he was one of only six batsmen to have scored more than 1000 Test runs; in his first Test he scored 152 at The Oval, making him only the second batsman - after Charles Bannerman - to score a century on debut. In the first innings of that match, he added 120 runs for the second wicket with Bunny Lucas, which was the first century partnership in Test cricket. (Click here for all century stands before 1900.) The only other century Grace scored was in his eighth Test, when he made 170 at the venue where he started his Test career. In 14 matches after that he topped 50 five times but never managed to go past 75; in his last seven innings, his highest score was 28.
|Arthur Shrewsbury||23||1277||35.47||3/ 4|
|George Giffen||31||1238||23.35||1/ 6|
|Joe Darling||18||1139||35.59||3/ 4|
|Alec Bannerman||28||1108||23.08||0/ 8|
|WG Grace||22||1098||32.29||2/ 5|
|Syd Gregory||24||1096||28.10||3/ 4|
|Andrew Stoddart||16||996||35.57||2/ 3|
|Tom Hayward||15||976||44.36||3/ 3|
|Percy McDonnell||19||955||28.93||3/ 2|
Grace also led England in 13 Tests, winning eight and losing only two. The last time he captained the team was in the summer of 1899, when he was all of 50 years and 320 days old - no other captain has come within five years of matching that feat. It's a record that, like several of his other first-class feats, will probably never be equalled.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo
Inputs from Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan