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This year marks the centenary of one of the most remarkable cricket seasons ever, when the Golden Age of the game was close to its zenith and the greatest of all cricketers reached previously uncharted peaks. Dr W. G. Grace had been in poor form, by his standards, for some years before 1895, which was not surprising since he was about to celebrate his 47th birthday that July.
He did not play a first-class match until May 9, for MCC against Sussex when he made 103, his 99th century. After failing twice for MCC against Yorkshire, he returned home to Bristol for Gloucestershire v Somerset. In weather so cold that tradition says he batted with snowflakes in his beard, Grace not merely became the first man to score a hundred hundreds but went on to make 288. He followed this a week later with 257 against Kent and, on May 30, hit 169 against Middlesex at Lord's to become the first man to score 1,000 runs in May, a feat emulated only twice since.
The years had rolled away, wrote Bernard Darwin later, and for this one year W. G. once more stood supreme as in the'seventies ... the unbeatable, the unbowlable. Three national testimonials were launched, raising more than £9,000 between them; and The Times suggested, unavailingly, that he ought to be in the Birthday Honours.
A fine spring meant that batting records were broken all over England. As Grace was scoring his 288, Nottinghamshire were making 726 against Sussex, the highest total in county cricket. This, however, was surpassed in July when Lancashire made 801 at Taunton and A. C. MacLaren scored 424, which remained the highest first-class score in the world for almost three decades. It was also the summer when K. S. Ranjitsinhji first batted, brilliantly, for Sussex. It was still possible to bowl: Tom Richardson of Surrey took 290 wickets. In September, Punch marked the season in verse:
Yet ne'er before three heroes have I seen
More apt and splendid on the well-rolled green;
Men of one skill, though varying in race -
MacLaren, Ranjitsinhji, Grand old Grace.
Centenary dates in 1995: May 17 - Grace's 100th 100; May 30 - Grace's 1,000 in May; July 16 - MacLaren's 424.