During the autumn Mr. E. M. Grace was kind enough to send me-to do what I liked with-the statistics of his career in the cricket field from the time when, as a lad of less that ten years old, he played his first match in 1851 down to the end of the past season. Without going into details or separating big matches from small ones, he sent a concise statement of the runs he had scored and the wickets he had taken in forty-nine years, and very wonderful the figures looked. They struck me as so interesting that after seeing to their immediate publication in several news papers I thought I could not do better than find a place for them in Wisden's Almanack. At the time Mr. Grace wrote to me I feared he had determined to give up cricket, but in answer to my enquiry he wrote that he had no such intention and should go on playing as long as possible. It is of course unreasonable to expect him at fifty eight years of age to equal his old feats with either bat or ball but as he is full of vigour and capable of hunting four days a week he will probably be seen in the Thornbury eleven for several seasons to come.
I never look at E. M. Grace's scores in old Almanacks and newspapers without wondering what would have been thought of him if he had not found in his own family a greater than himself. He was the biggest run-getter in the world when he went out to Australia with George Parr's team in 1893, and was a greater force on a side than any other player of that day- V. E. Walker not excepted. When he returned home, however, in the following year W. G. appeared on the scene and it was readily seen that the younger brother would soon be the finer bat of the two. E. M. Grace had by sheer force of genius for the game risen to the top of the tree in defiance of orthodox rules, for with all his great qualities he never played with a bat as straight as Fuller Pilch's. While W. G. went on from strength to strength-at eighteen he was clearly the best bat in England- E. M. dropped to some extent out of public matches, his medical work taking up a good deal of his time. However, with the formation of the Gloucestershire County Club, E. M. started what I may call the second half of his career. He was still quite a young man and, always playing plenty of local cricket, he had kept himself in thorough practice. He helped to lift Gloucestershire in 1876 and 1877 to the very top of the tree and kept his place in the team down to quite recent years. Perhaps he played for a season or two longer than he ought to have done, but one can well understand his reluctance to finally withdraw from an eleven with which he had from its start been so closely associated. During all those long years he did many big things for Gloucestershire but never was his skill as a batsman shown in a brighter light than when he played against the first Australian teams in 1878 and 1880. At Clifton in 1880, though he did not succeed in winning Gloucestershire the match, he astonished Spofforth by hooking to the boundary some of the best balls that greatest of bowlers sent down. His success on that occasion-he scored 65 and 41-led to what I have always regarded as the crowning triumph of his career. Seventeen years had passed away since he reached his highest point as a batsman, and yet, purely on his merits, he was picked for the first England and Australia match ever played in this country. It was an eventful moment in the history of modern cricket when on that September day in 1880 he and W. G. opened England's innings at the Oval. They scored 92 runs together for the first wicket, and so laid the foundation of England's score of 420. A melancholy interest will always in the Grace family attach to the match as it was the last one-or at any rate the last one of any public interest-in which the three brothers took part together. On the 22nd of September Fred. Grace was dead.
It is a thousand pities that E. M. Grace has never been induced to write and publish his recollections of the cricket field. It is not at all right that the endless good stories he tells with such racy humour should all be lost to the world. More than that, he would, I think, be able to give us a fuller and better comparison of the great players of his youth with those of our own day, than has yet appeared. He has enjoyed an almost unique experience, making as he did big scores against Jackson, Tarrant, and Willsher, and playing in his later days against Spofforth, Palmer, Turner, Ferris, Lohmann, and Richardson. As a batsman, E. M. Grace may fairly be described as the great revolutionist. When he came before the public, batting was a very orthodox science indeed, the pull with which we are now almost too familiar being regarded as little less than a sin. E. M. Grace changed all that. Disregarding the protests of the purists he scored where he could and thought nothing of taking the ball from wide of the off stump round to the on-side if by so doing he could score four runs. More than anyone else he enlarged the scope of batting, and those who on the perfectly-prepared wickets of these days pull with such certainly, should modestly remember that E. M. Grace, playing under far less favourable conditions, first showed more than five and thirty years ago how the thing could be done. In regard to his personal characteristics E. M. Grace is very happily hit off in a phrase in the seventh volume of "Scores and Biographies," Mr. Haygarth describing him as "Overflowing with cricket at every pore, full of lusty life, cheerily gay, with energy inexhaustible." The words were written of Mr. Grace when he was twenty, and though he is now fifty-eight they still hold good. I am not without hope that the famous cricketer may yet embody his experiences in book form. At one time, at any rate, he was not averse to writing, for he tells me that when returning from Australia, in 1864, he wrote a full account of the doings of George Parr's team, intending to publish it when he got back to England. For some reason, however, the project fell through, and the matter, covering ten quires of foolscap, remains in manuscript. The last page, as giving Mr. Grace's impressions of Australia five and thirty years ago, will be read with no little interest:-
"I saw what I have told. Australasia was hung with flags and clothed in purple and fine linen. Senators, cheers, complimentary speeches, and brass bands met the Eleven everywhere. But I have no reason to believe that there were hid beneath this glittering surface those festering sores-poverty, ignorance, and injustice which are corroding the vitals of so many older states. In all the enjoyment there was nothing forced or unnatural, it was the healthy pleasure-taking of men in at least comfortable circumstances. We did not see the Australians in their business life, but we were sure that when they returned to the ordinary cares of business, though the laugh and frolic might have passed, they would still possess comfort and prosperity. I do not say that suffering never visits the homes of Sydney, Melbourne or Dunedin, nor do I wish to convey the idea that even want is actually unknown-sickness, disappointment, care, anxiety and bereavement cast shadows as dark in the Southern Hemisphere as in the Northern. The widow and the orphan, the victims of disease and accident, the aged and infirm, all these find that even in the golden land there and are privations. But the charities of the people are large and the helpless are few in number. I can say with truth that I have not tried to colour this sketch. For myself it took me nine months from the time I left home to the time I returned. During that time I travelled a little more than thirty thousand miles, saw the three leading Australasian colonies, Ceylon, Aden, The Red Sea, Suez, the Mediterranean, Malta and passed through France and gathered ideas which before had not risen above the horizon of my thoughts. As a cricketer I was not at all successful. I began to play recklessly and could not alter till too late. At Beechworth, when the Eleven had gone home, I played better than I had done all through. Various little sicknesses aided by recklessness, a bad hand, a bad foot, an accident breaking the sheath of one of the muscles of my right elbow so that I could not throw at all, and a continual dimness of sight were sufficient to push me back. If I did not make scores however I made notes-and so, farewell!"
With this quotation I will leave the record of Mr. E. M. Grace's career to speak for itself, merely adding that though the figures let us know how many runs he has made and how many wickets he has taken, they cannot tell us that he was, by universal consent, the most brilliant and daring field at point the world of cricket has ever seen.
S. H. P.
|Year.||Wickets taken.||Runs scored.|
|1885-Did not play owing to an injured knee.|