Let them be, 1982

The career figures of W. G. Grace

Michael Fordham

Foreword by John Woodcock

There follows an article by Michael Fordham, Wisden's chief statistician since 1979, in which he gives his reasons, and those of the Association of Cricket Statisticians, for wanting to change, quite significantly, the career record of W. G. Grace. While acknowledging the amount of work done by Mr Fordham and his fellow scrutineers, and though grateful for the pleasure they give us, I prefer to leave the great man's figures as they have been for as long as anyone cares to remember.

That they appeared in Wisden 1981, my first as editor, in their revised form was because Mr Fordham thought, mistakenly, that he had cleared them with me. In future, various books of reference, though not Wisden, will show W. G. as having scored not 126 but 124 hundreds. To avoid confusion, the figures now claimed by the Association of Cricket Statisticians are to be found in footnotes on pages 180 and 200.

No amount of research could, to my mind, justify changing a record so honoured by time and custom. If wrong decisions are thought to have been made, they should be altered reasonably soon or left to stand. That one-day games played more than a century ago should have been termed first-class need not surprise us: there were no regulations in those days stipulating the minimum time for a first-class match. Then, as now, contemporary opinion was the best criterion.

So, in Wisden at any rate, W.G.'s 152 at Lord's for the England team that had toured North America in 1872 against Fourteen Gentlemen of MCC (with Rylott), survives, as does his 113 for Gloucestershire against Somerset at Clifton in 1879. To remove them, as the Association of Cricket Statisticians would have us do, would, I think, be presumptuous and sadly unromantic. The first of them, anyway, is referred to in Wisden 1874 as having been one of the Doctor's superb lot of first-class triple figure scores.

Who, too, would wish to invalidate such historic occasions as W.G.'s hundredth 100, the origin, as Wisden put it at the time, of a national testimonial taken up with enthusiasm in many places far beyond the limits of the United Kingdom, or the great match at Taunton when Jack Hobbs first equalled Grace's total of hundreds and then passed it? In recognition of Hobbs's feat, Wisden wrote how the match was rendered forever memorable by the triumph of Hobbs, who, playing innings of 101 and 101 not out, beat the 'Grand Old Man's' record. Circumstances generally combined to invest the occasion with exceptional excitement. Tremendous cheering greeted the accomplishment of the feat: indeed so pronounced was the enthusiasm that the progress of the game was delayed while at the end of the over all players in the field shook hands with Hobbs and the Surrey captain brought out a drink for the hero, who raised his glass high and bowed to the crowd before partaking of the refreshment!. Far be it from me to say that that might as well never have happened. - JW.

Some surprise was caused last year when, in Wisden, I revised the career figures of W. G. Grace, for the figures that were compiled by F. S. Ashley Cooper for the 1916 Wisden after Grace's death have come to be regarded as having an established niche in cricket records. However, many statisticians have been dissatisfied with the figures over the years and this article is an attempt to illustrate where the discrepancies arise.

They fall into two categories: (a) the inclusion in the past of a number of matches that cannot strictly be regarded as first-class, and, in the opinion of both myself and other statisticians, should never have been included in the first place; (b) the differences in scores in Wisden and Scores and Biographies.

Dealing with (a) first, Grace in 1871 made the outstanding and undisputed aggregate of 2,739 runs. Although well short of 2,000 runs in 1872, he was close to the target in 1873 in matches whose status is not in doubt. As far as can be ascertained many years afterwards, a journalist-cum-statistician proceeded to add his scores in four minor matches - MCC v Hertfordshire at Charleywood [sic], MCC v Staffordshire at Lord's, the 1872 North American XI v 14 Gentlemen of MCC with Rylott at Lord's (in which he scored 152), and a one-day match at The Oval between North and South after the main fixture finished in two days.

Neither Hertfordshire nor Staffordshire has ever had any claims to first-class status, nor to be classified among the leading counties before there was a clear-cut division of First-Class and Minor counties. The MCC side which opposed the North American XI was clearly a weak one, because it could not play on level terms and it was necessary for it to be strengthened by a professional, and the one-day match at The Oval was obviously a scratch game to fill the time available. However, the addition of these matches gave Grace an aggregate of 2,139 runs for the season, and in retrospect it is difficult to escape the conclusion that it was done deliberately, as his bowling figures in these matches were omitted. Although they did not have a significant effect on his figures, he was also credited with two similar matches in 1872 - MCC v Hertfordshire at Charleywood [sic] and another one-day South v North match at The Oval, to fill the time available after the main match had finished early.

There are four other matches which are perhaps slightly more open to doubt. Three of these were for Gloucestershire v Somerset, one in 1879, in which Grace scored 113, and two in 1881. Now the status of Somerset before it became a first-class county officially in 1891 has been open to conjecture over the years. However, the Association of Cricket Statisticians, which has researched nineteenth century cricket in greater depth, through a group of statisticians working in unison, than any individual statistician in the past, has given in its booklet British Isles First-Class Cricket Matches contemporary evidence from both Wisden and James Lillywhite's Cricketers Annual (the Red Lillywhite) that Somerset were regarded as first-class only from 1882 to 1885, after which they ceased to play matches against the recognised first-class counties until their reappearance in 1891. As modern Wisdens have stated this for some years under the heading Constitution of County Championship, it is obviously inconsistent to credit Grace elsewhere in the Almanack with matches against Somerset before 1882.

The remaining match is Gloucestershire v MCC at

Lord's in 1868. Here again there is contemporary evidence from John Lillywhite's Cricketers Companion (the Green Lillywhite) that the match was not regarded as first-class and the Companion does not grant Gloucestershire this recognition until they began playing against the leading counties in 1870.

In regard to the second category, there has been a tendency among statisticians in the past to regard Wisden in its early years as unreliable, and to work from Scores and Biographies until this ended in 1878, though this is due partly to Wisden not publishing bowling analyses until its 1870 issue and the difficulty and cost of obtaining the early issues before the facsimile editions were printed. However, the Association of Cricket Statisticians, which is in the process of publishing booklets of the first-class scores of this era, has consulted contemporary newspapers such as Bells Life and also, where available, county scorebooks. These have shown the reverse to be true; i.e. that Wisden is more reliable. The discrepancies seen to arise only on bowling analyses, and result in adjustments to Grace's bowling figures for a number of seasons, nearly all in the early part of his career. His bowling figures are 67 runs more than those given in the 1981 Wisden, through the Association of Cricket Statisticians finding a further discrepancy in his figures and the more recent discovery of an unpublished analysis for the Gentlemen of England v Oxford University at Oxford in 1866.

As has already been stated, Ashley Cooper compiled Grace's full career record in the 1916 Wisden, and, his stature as a statistician at that time being unquestioned, one feels that it was a great pity that he did not grasp the nettle firmly in the hand and delete the obvious minor matches. Even he himself, in the magazine Cricket in 1896, in making the first attempt to summarise Grace's career figures, had referred to the matches in 1873 as not being really first-class, though he had continued to include them.

The first public query that I can trace over these figures was in a letter to The Cricketer magazine for June 25, 1927 about the 1873 season. It was followed by letters in two subsequent issues, including the comment that it was unthinkable that anybody should wish to deprive the Old Man of the credit attaching to the feat of scoring 2,139 runs! The matter was again raised by E. L. Roberts in an article in The Cricketer for May 4, 1940, when he listed Grace's catches and queried the matches accepted as first-class. He suggested revised batting and bowling aggregates through the deletion of five matches. There was no follow-up in correspondence, possible because more serious matters at that time were occupying the minds of historians and statisticians.

The first real attempt to provide alternative figures for Grace came from the late Roy Webber in the February 1961 issue of Playfair Cricket Monthly. He gave season by season figures, indicating the matches he had omitted as well as certain bowling corrections. His findings were not identical with those of the Association of Cricket Statisticians, as he took a harsher view of what were and were not first-class matches in the 1870s and 1880s. He gave Grace lower totals than those quoted currently, though he did agree with 124 centuries.

Finally, in an article in The Cricketer Winter Annual (November) 1975, John I. Marder queried the inclusion of Grace's century against Somerset in 1879, giving detailed contemporary evidence that Somerset were not first-class at that time.

Upon this account rests my case for revising the long-established figures of W. G. Grace.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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