Stamps and stumps, 1984

Philatelic cricket

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In view of the antiquity of cricket and stamps it was for long a disappointment to those interested in both fields that, while Olympic Games, football and other sporting issues abounded from the world's post offices, stamps depicting cricket were absent - although to fill the void some ingenious collectors suggested that Apollo was displaying his talents as a bowler rather than a discus thrower on a Greek stamp of 1906, and cited other stamps which showed sports with resemblances to cricket.

Honour was eventually satisfied on January 18, 1962 from an unlikely source - the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese colony 500 miles off the west African coast whose cricket activity is largely confined to chirping in the hearth. Later the same year Pakistan issued two more stamps with cricketing links and some 30 other countries have followed suit, to the point where stamps are probably as popular as any branch of cricketana.

The total of stamps issued actually to illustrate a facet of cricket or incidentally associated in some way with the game is now well into three figures and continually growing through new issues. Nor does this take into account the possibility of further retrospective discoveries of the type that have recently unearthed, years after their issue, stamps and other philatelic material found to have connections with cricket. It is through these that the beginnings of cricket philately have gradually been taken back far beyond Cape Verde - and even Apollo - to the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The oldest of these items known to me at the time of writing are three envelopes with the name of the Young America CC of Germantown, Philadelphia printed in the top left corner and postmarked 1886, during the flourishing of the game in that part of the United States before the First World War. The club was in existence for 34 years, from its foundation in 1855 to its merger with the Germantown CC in 1889. It must have been at its zenith, at least in its own opinion, around 1879, when it took on Richard Daft's touring English professionals on level terms. Daft's team won by an innings.

Envelopes bearing the name of a cricket club or organization and carried through the mail come within the scope of a comprehensive stamp collection, as do the popular souvenir envelopes - sometimes autographed by leading players or personalities - which accompany new stamp issues and important matches or anniversaries. The stamps on these envelopes usually receive by hand a specially designed postmark, unique to the event and available for one day only. There are a few lucky collectors who also have some far earlier cricket postmarks, which bear the names of cricket grounds and date from around the turn of the century. The postmarks were used at temporary post offices set up at the grounds for the despatch of press reports and other urgent messages. They were almost certainly not applied to mail but only to cancel stamps affixed to telegram application forms to pay the transmission fee. It is only through the breaching of Post Office regulations that the handful of actually used examples have survived (although samples can be found in Post Office records): it was policy that all telegram forms should be destroyed once the message was sent, but some evidently slipped through the net.

The first recorded postmark was produced for Bramall Lane, Sheffield, in July 1887 for a match between Yorkshire and Surrey, and another was made for the same ground when it staged its only Test match (England v Australia) in July 1902. Other grounds covered over a period of more than twenty years include Trent Bridge, Taunton, Edgbaston, Bradford, Leyton and, for the match between MCC and South Africa in June 1901, Lord's. Although a wide variety of cricketing subjects has been featured on stamps - the detailing of them all is regrettably beyond the scope of this article - Lord's itself has not yet appeared. There are hopes, however, of that being rectified if the British Post Office decides to commemorate the bicentenary of Lord's and MCC in 1987.

Many aspects of cricket history have already been represented on stamps, notably the Centenary Test at Melbourne (a delightful set of six from Australia in 1977) and the centenary of the first Test in England (GB 1980); the centenary of the Ashes (a pre-stamped envelope from Australia in 1982); the inaugural Test match in Sri Lanka (also 1982); West Indies' winning of the first Prudential World Cup (twelve different Caribbean territories issued stamps in 1975 and 1976); the centenary of cricket in Fiji (1974); and the 75th anniversary of Bermuda's Cup Match (1976).

Of the game's players to have featured on stamps, there are almost enough to form an eleven, immensely strong in batting. The first to be honoured was Sir Garfield Sobers, on a Barbados independence issue of 1966, and he subsequently appeared on two stamps of 1977 which showed the ceremony at Bridgetown Racecourse where he was knighted by the Queen. To join him he has W. G. Grace (GB 1973), K. S. Ranjitsinhji (India 1973), Vivian Richards (Antigua 1975 and 1976, Barbuda 1975), Sir Donald Bradman (anonymously on a South African stamp of 1976), Sir Frank Worrell (Turks and Caicos Islands 1980, but misspelt 'Worrel') and Victor Trumper (Australia 1981), with middle-order support Sir William Milton (Rhodesia 1969), captain of South Africa in two of her early Test matches and subsequently administrator of Southern Rhodesia.

Andy Roberts, featured at the same times as Richards, would spearhead the attack, supported by Sobers, Grace, Worrell and Richards. To make up the side, with a wicket-keeper a priority, they might call on the unnamed Indian Test players on a 1971 stamp or some likely-looking performers from Grenada (1969). As umpire they could summon Sir Edmund Barton (Australia 1951 and 1969), the country's first prime minister and the only one to have stood in first-class matches.

Unlikely, however, to make the World Stamp XI is the batsman on the Cape Verde stamp, for although his left toes are cocked in the best W. G. Grace fashion, his grip would make orthodox, and most unorthodox, strokeplay impossible. The batsman, too, on the oldest known cricket stamp of any kind, a perforated publicity label from the Nuremberg Football Club in southern Germany before the First World War, would rule himself out of such august company by wearing only one pad and no gloves, while the baseballer's stance of the batsman from Sharjah (1972), now a flourishing desert outpost of cricket, leaves him prey to the yorker.

Our selected eleven could tour the world to parade their talents on, I suppose, universally sticky wickets. Stamps of Liberia (1956) and Romania (1979) illustrate Melbourne Cricket Ground, albeit in its guise as the main stadium for the 1956 Olympics; a Barbados issue (1983) shows Kennington Oval, Bridgetown, and one of Ceylon (1967) the Esplanade ground in Galle, which was chosen for a Test match in March 1984. Then there are the pleasant, though humbler, settings of Albert Park, Suva (Fiji 1942 and 1954), and Warner, St Kitts (1952 and 1954). They might also venture to some of the remote cricketing areas of the South Pacific which have found their way on to stamps, there to take part in the 150-or-more-a-side inter-village games in Samoa (1971) and Tokelau (1979), or the Bounty holiday match on Norfolk Island (1981). They would, however, be disbarred from the all-women contests of New Caledonia (1975) except as umpires and scorers.

A final illustration of the links between cricket and stamps: funds for the construction of a recreation ground in Bassesterre, the capital of St Kitts, were provided by the sale of stamps issued in 1923 which marked the colony's tercentenary; the island's first governor, after whom the ground was named, was Sir Thomas Warner - an ancestor of Sir Pelham's!

© John Wisden & Co