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When W. G. Grace passed away in 1915, Sydney Pardon, then Editor of Wisden, paid the highest eulogy possible to the greatest figure who ever trod the cricket field, and after the centenary of his birth one may assert confidently that no one has risen to equal fame in the world of cricket. As batsman, bowler and fielder he remains supreme, while to those who knew his attributes from watching many of his wonderful performances his position stands out with all the more clearness. My personal knowledge of his greatness by means of eyesight commenced in 1884 at The Oval Test match in which Australia scored 551. How W.G. kept wicket and caught Midwinter off the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton, who, with his pads on, bowled lobs from the Vauxhall end and finished Australia's innings by taking the last four wickets for eight runs, remains a clear picture to me. When England batted, W. L. Murdoch, the Australian captain, tried the experiment of putting on G. J. Bonnor, the six-foot-four giant, to open the bowling with the pavilion behind him. How W.G. calmly played forward and turned the good-length ball to the leg boundary was a matter of perfect timing and subtle wrist work. W.G. made 19 and then was run out. He played a ball to cover-point, and McBlackham, the brilliant wicket-keeper, fourth bearded man in the match, receiving a splendid return, whipped off the bails as Grace slid his bat over the crease. It was a sad disappointment when the umpire signalled out. The stubborn Scotton and free-hitting Walter Read in a ninth-wicket stand of 151 saved England.
I can see the bearded giant at a distance two years later making 170 for England against Australia at The Oval on drying turf. He was second out at 216; he hit splendidly, his on-drives over the boundary from Spofforth arousing much delight. And so by various pictures on to 1895 at Gravesend, where he came to the Press tent during lunch time and wrote a telegram. To my delight, Edgar Pardon, my chief, introduced me to the Doctor, so making the occasion still more memorable to me--though unforgettable for anyone present. That was the match in which W.G. scored 257 out of 443 before being last out on the Saturday. Then after lunch Kent were dismissed for 76. Of the 106 runs which gave Gloucestershire victory by nine wickets W.G. scored 73, while to complete the remarkable three days, during which he was on the field while every ball was bowled, he trotted from the dressing tent in his tweed tail suit and hard felt hat, carrying his heavy cricket bag to a four-wheeled cab which took him to the station. Nothing legendary--a word misapplied to him by some writers who cannot have seen him--about this, but honest fact. This was the first instance in first-class cricket in England of a side winning after facing a total of over 400-- Kent began the match with 470. W.G. was then 47.
Next season came another triumph--the last match in which W.G. led England to victory. In this encounter at The Oval in 1896 the dismissal of Australia by Robert Peel and J. T. Hearne for 44 established what is still a Test record for The Oval, eight less than the total for which the home country fell last season on that sad Saturday, August 14. In that innings of 44, nine wickets were down for 25 when M'Kibbin joined Hugh Trumble and hit up 16 before a grand catch at slip by Abel completed the collapse. W.G. scored 33 runs in the match, an aggregate exceeded only by F. S. Jackson, Robert Abel and Joe Darling, the Australian captain, who equalled Jackson's 47.
So we may look back with thanks to W.G. for one Test match record, and remember that when the Australians came in 1878 he decided not to give up all his time to medicine as he had intended, but to continue participation in the game taught him by his father, uncle and other relations from the time that he could run with a bat in his hands. In 1880 I felt surprise when W. L. Murdoch, with 153 not out, just beat W.G.'s score in the first England v. Australia match at The Oval; and then came The Ashes match--a doleful day for a boy worshipper of cricket even at home as I heard the news.
These are merely memories of what I saw, and are small items in his wonderful life. From the many books on W.G. one gathers an amazing panorama of astonishing events. In 1865 he first appeared for Gentlemen against Players at Lord's, and in this connection it is good to quote the Hon. Robert H. Lyttelton, whose tribute hangs at Lord's by the side of a small copy of the W. G. Grace picture, which is placed prominently in the National Portrait Gallery: The Champion in flannels, wearing the M.C.C. red and yellow cap, as he always did on the cricket field.
The greatest of the world's cricketers, as a batsman, supreme; as a bowler, great. In his prime he towered above his contemporaries. From 1850 to 1866 the Professionals won 23 out of 26 matches against the Amateurs. In the next series of 26 matches the Amateurs won 19, the Professionals 1. This remarkable change was entirely due to the black-bearded hero 'W.G.' A terror to bowlers, he was worshipped by the crowd.
Arranged as customary for the third week in July, the Gentlemen and Players match at Lord's came opportunely for celebrating the Centenary, and M.C.C. appropriately marked the anniversary.
On entering the ground one saw that laurel leaves surrounded the panels on each side of the gates, on which the exact inscription is:--
THE GREAT CRICKETER
THESE GATES WERE
ERECTED BY THE M.C.C.
AND OTHER FRIENDS
The Great Cricketer was decided upon as the simplest and best description at the suggestion of Sir Stanley Jackson.
The score card was headed: In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. W. G. Grace, and on the back was printed:--
DR. W. G. Grace
The Great Cricketer
July 18th, 1848-October 23rd, 1915.
In 44 seasons of first-class cricket-- 1865 to 1908--he scored 54,896 runs, took 2,876 wickets, and made 126 centuries.
When only sixteen years old, he went in first and opened the bowling for the Gentlemen v. Players at Lord's; on his last appearance for the Gentlemen, in 1906, at The Oval, he made 74 on his 58th birthday. In 84 matches against the Players he scored over 6,000 runs and took 271 wickets.
In 1880 he scored 152 against Australia in the First Test Match played in this country, and was the automatic first choice and opening batsman for England until 1899.
In 1876 he scored 839 runs in three consecutive innings against Kent, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire; nineteen years later he made 1,000 runs in May.
On fourteen occasions he scored a century and took 10 or more wickets in the same match.
In prowess and personality alike he dominated the cricket field; he was the kindest of men and no Englishman was better known.
In Wheatstone Hall, Gloucester, Colonel D. C. Robinson, a former captain of the County team, presided at a meeting, and C. L. Townsend, a fine all-rounder, opened an exhibition of trophies used by W.G. and other players in memorable games. Among the company was Paish, another contemporary of Grace, Gilbert Jessop wrote that W.G. was his hero as a boy and remained so still. Walter Hammond sent a menu card of the banquet held in 1895 to celebrate Grace's 100th century, and the Gloucestershire XI, headed by B. O. Allen, signed a letter of good wishes. As The Times correspondent wrote, This exhibition shows how W. G. Grace in this century year of his birth is remembered with pride and affection.
At Bristol, where his old county met Derbyshire, the W.G. centenary was celebrated by the Duke of Beaufort, the Gloucestershire President, unveiling a memorial plaque on the Nevil Road gates, which are known as Grace's Gates.
W. G. Grace established a name in the West Country before the Gloucestershire County Club was formed, and he first played at Lord's in 1864 for South Wales against M.C.C.. Just 16 years of age, he was then, as stated in Scores and Biographies, an inch or two taller than six feet and weighed 14 stone 5 lb. He scored 50, a week after making 170 and 56 not out against Gentlemen of Sussex at Brighton. Yet it was as a bowler that he first attracted attention in first-class cricket. In 1865 at The Oval he and I. D. Walker bowled unchanged through both innings of Players of the South; W.G. took 13 wickets for 84 runs.
When 18 years of age he scored 224 not out for England against Surrey at The Oval. On the second afternoon he was allowed by V. E. Walker, the England captain, to go to Crystal Palace for the National Olympian Association 440 yards hurdle race, which he won over twenty hurdles in 70 seconds.
Also in 1866, for Gentlemen of South against Players of South, he scored 173 not out and took nine wickets for 108 runs. These performances earned him the description The Champion.
In August 1868 he scored 130 and 102 not out for South of Thames v. North of Thames at Canterbury--the first instance of two hundreds being made by a batsman in a first-class match. The season of 1871 brought wonderful performances. W.G. scored 2,739 runs in first-class matches when the over was four balls and every stroke run out except a hit out of the ground for six; he made ten centuries and twice passed 200, average 78.25; also he took 79 wickets at a cost of 17.03 each.
Besides his phenomenal batting in August 1876, when he scored consecutive innings of 344 out of 546 in six hours twenty minutes for M.C.C. against Kent at Canterbury, 177 out of 262 in three hours ten minutes for Gloucestershire against Nottinghamshire at Clifton, and 318 not out against Yorkshire at Cheltenham, carrying his bat through the innings of 528, which lasted eight hours, he took four wickets against Kent, nine against Nottinghamshire, eight in the second innings for 69 runs, and two wickets for 48 against Yorkshire. The Sunday intervening between the first two matches was the only break in these stupendous performances. His aggregate runs for the season was 2,622, average 62.42, and he took 129 wickets at 19.05 apiece.
Regarding these wonderful innings, the tale has been handed down that the Nottinghamshire team leaving Clifton met the Yorkshiremen on their way to Cheltenham. What did the blackbearded blighter do? asked a Tyke, and, on being told, said, Thank goodness we've got a chance. The reply came next day--318.
Next season, under less favourable batting conditions, he scored 1,474 runs and took 179 wickets at an average of 12.79. At Cheltenham, 17 Nottinghamshire wickets fell to him at a total cost of 89 runs; he finished the second innings by dismissing seven men in the course of 17 balls without conceding a run.
The match at Gravesend, to which I have referred, might be described as an encore to what happened ten years before. In August 1885, at Clifton, after sitting up all night in attendance on a difficult maternity case, he carried his bat through an innings of 348, scoring 221; then took six wickets for 45, and in the Middlesex follow-on five for 75.
Although a splendid athlete--he won more than seventy prizes on the track--he gradually put on weight, and was a very heavy man for his age when, in 1880, he played the only three-figure innings against the powerful Australian side captained by W. L. Murdoch in a season when run-getting generally was low.
In May 1899 W.G. left Gloucestershire because of differences with the club committee, and he captained London County at the Crystal Palace, where he scored 166 against M.C.C. on his 56th birthday. That was his last hundred in important cricket, and in that season, 1904, he made his final appearance for M.C.C. at Lord's.
London County Club then ceased first-class cricket, but W.G. played in various club games. It is related that on one occasion when young strangers were in his side he asked one hopeful: Where do you go in? I'm always number one. Number eleven to-day. And you, my lad, where do you go in? Where I'm put, sir. Then come in first with me.
W.G. was a strict disciplinarian; his presence kept everyone intent on the game, and it would be for the good of cricket if such an example was with us now. He insisted on the closest possible adherence to the laws, so preventing any attempts at sharp practice by fieldsmen to distract the batsman's attention from the bowler.
W. G. Grace, in his last match--Eltham v. Grove Park on July 25, 1914--when 66 years of age, scored 69 not out in a total of 155 for six wickets declared; the next best score was 30 not out by E. F. Tyler. Grove park lost eight wickets for 99 and the result was a draw.
The figures given are taken from the book by F. S. Ashley-Cooper, published by John Wisden & Co on July 18, 1916, and these quotations are worthy of inclusion in a lasting memorial of The Champion.
F. R. Spofforth, the Australian Demon bowler, said: He seems different from all other cricketers--a king apart. I never see him in the field but I am reminded of my boyish days when our schoolmaster used to join in the game and teach us the way. W. G. Grace is like a master among his pupils; there may arise pupils who will be no less skilful with the bat and ball, but they never will command the permanent and world-wide reputation of the man who first taught us to play.
Lord Harris, England captain, contemporary with Grace, wrote: He was always a most genial, even-tempered, considerate companion, and, of all the many cricketers I have known, the kindest as well as the best. He was ever ready with an encouraging word for the novice, and a compassionate one for the man who made a mistake.
A National Testimonial organised by M.C.C. raised £1,458, besides a handsome clock, and the presentation was made at Lord's during the Over 30 v. Under 30 match in 1879. In 1895, as an appreciation of W.G.'s rejuvenation, the M.C.C. initiated a Grace Testimonial Fund, which amounted to £2,377 2s. 6d., and a National Testimonial organised by the Daily Telegraph produced £5,000 in shilling subscriptions.