Obituary

Lord Cobham

ESPNcricinfo staff

COBHAM, LORD (THE HON. C. G. LYTTELTON in his cricket days) died on the 9th of June. Born on the 27th of October, 1842, he was in his 80th year. As he gave up cricket before he was twenty-five his deeds belonged to a distant past. The first to make the name of Lyttelton famous in the cricket field, he was one of the outstanding players of his day, stepping as a matter of course into the Gentlemen's team year after year at Lord's and the Oval, so long as he remained before the public. He was in the Eton eleven from 1857 to 1860, being captain in his last two years, and in the Cambridge eleven from 1861 to 1864, missing the captaincy because he was not expected to be in residence in 1864. I can only speak of him from what I have read and been told, as he had finished before I ever saw Lord's ground. Even in his school days there seems to have been no question as to his class as a batsman, but looking up the records it is curious to find how little he did for Eton as compared with R. A. H. Mitchell and Alfred Lubbock. In his seven big matches--four against Winchester and three against Harrow -- his best scores were 27 and 17. Still, so much was thought of him that as a Freshman at Cambridge in 1861 he was picked for Gentlemen v. Players, both at Lord's and the Oval. In those early days at Cambridge he was in the fullest sense an all-round cricketer, as apart from his batting he was an excellent fast bowler, a fine field at point, and a very good wicket-keeper.

However, he did not care much for bowling and a strained back, I think, hampered him. He concentrated more and more on his batting and soon stood first for Cambridge with A. W. T. Daniel as his nearest rival. Like other famous batsmen before and since his time, he was never seen at anything like his best in the University match, his highest innings against Oxford being 19 not out in a match of very small scores in 1863. As a matter of fact he thoroughly disliked the rough wickets at Lord's in the first half of the 60's, and made no pretence of feeling comfortable on them. His brother, the Hon. R. H. Lyttelton, tells me that he was always fond of recalling a modest score of 28 for the Gentlemen at Lord's in 1863 against Jackson and Tarrant, saying he had never found runs so hard to get. Fenner's and the Oval were his favourite grounds and at both he did great things. He was at the top of the Cambridge batting in 1863 and 1864 with averages--very high at that time--of 38 and 41. In each of these years he played an innings of a hundred--101 against Surrey at the Oval in 1863 and 128 against the M.C.C. at Fenner's in 1864.

His last experience of cricket at Cambridge had a special interest. In May, 1866, after he had gone down, he played for Eighteen of Trinity College against the All England Eleven and scored 90, his brother, Spencer, helping with 55. When they were firmly set George Freeman just coming into note--went on and clean bowled them both on a perfect wicket. In the following year Freeman was beyond question the best fast bowler in England.

Lord Cobham played in twelve Gentlemen v. Players' matches, never missing one from 1861 to 1866. His average in twenty-three innings was 18, small scores at Lord's discounting his success at Oval. In the match at the Oval in 1864 he played, perhaps, the innings of his life--a superb 81 which was talked about for years. At that time, be it remembered, no one except the famous Mr. Ward in 1825 had ever made a hundred for the Gentlemen, John Walker coming nearest with 98 at the Oval in 1862. Lord Cobham had a considerable share in the Gentlemen's first victory over the Players at the Oval--in 1866--scoring 45 when his side followed on, and he was in the team that in 1865 won at Lord's for the first time since 1853. Another memorable match in which he took part was England against Surrey at the Oval in 1862--the match in which England scored 503 and Willsher was no-balled by John Lillywhite for bowling above the shoulder. The no-balling caused a great sensation, and it is on record that when the England professionals left the field Lord Cobham stayed on the pitch with his captain, V. E. Walker. To the end of his long life Lord Cobham retained a keen interest in cricket. At the dinner given at Birmingham in September, 1911, in honour of Warwickshire having won the Championship, he proposed the toast of the Warwickshire County Club, and strongly defended the competitive spirit in county cricket.--S.H.P.

Mr. W. F. Maitland, who as an Oxford Freshman, played against Lord Cobham in the University match in 1864, and was on the Gentlemen's side several times with him against the Players, sends the following note:

"In the early middle years between 1860 and 1870, the two outstanding figures in the cricket world, amongst amateur batsmen, with the exception of E. M. Grace, the greatest run getter of those years, were C. G. Lyttelton and R. A. H. Mitchell the former from Cambridge, and the latter from Oxford; and I think if the question had been asked which was the greater batsman of the two, the answer from Cambridge men would have been that it was Lyttelton, and from Oxford men that it was Mitchell, and there I must leave it.

C. G. Lyttelton's play differed from that of anyone whom I can remember. His defence, which was very strong, consisted entirely of back play-he never played forward, and when he was not hitting, he allowed the ball to practically hit his bat without any attempt to get it away in order to make a run. An over-pitched ball he hit right away with great force, especially a ball a little wide of the leg stump, which he hit very hard and clean to forward square leg. Besides these great hits, he had an exceptionally powerful wrist, which he used freely, cutting the long hops on the off side with great effect. His strokes of that description were the best, I think, I ever saw, and were famous in those days.

In his earlier years at Eton and Cambridge he was a very good bowler, but in later years he did not bowl so much, and became quite a good wicket keeper. For one reason or another he gave up first-class cricket soon after he left Cambridge, to the great regret of all lovers of the game."

Old cricketers may be reminded that when the Gentlemen followed on in 1866, and gained their first victory at the Oval, Mr. Maitland, though more famous as a slow bowler than as a batsman, made 61-the top score in an innings of 352.

The Rev. F. W. Wright, who was in the three Oxford elevens captained by R. A. H. Mitchell--1863-4-5, says : " Brilliant is the word that describes the late Lord Cobham as a bat. (' C.G.' as he used to be called by Mitchell and all of us, to distinguish him from `Spencer,' or any other 'Lyttelton'). Excellent all round, with a delightful cut: I well remember to this day a stroke of his behind point, when batting at the Gas-works end of the Oval, which rattled against the palings, and would have gone further! Stylish in the extreme, his presence on the opposite side spelt danger, and his opponents were not happy till he was out. As a wicket-keeper- well -he was good enough to keep wicket for the Gentlemen v. The Players. This was in 1863, when he stumped Willsher and caught Parr. I see that he also played for Cambridge v. Oxford in '61 and '62. His departure is the severance of one of those links with the past which are now so sadly few."

The late Sir Henry Plowden. referring in W. J. Ford's "History of Cambridge University Cricket," to his great Cambridge XI of '62 wrote, "In my day there was, I think, more slow bowling, including 'lobs,' than there is now. Many men could play slows in those days very few honestly liked them. Among those few were certainly C. G. Lyttelton and Daniel, and perhaps Marshall. Daniel's principle was `a run a ball,' and the story is told of him that he whispered to a partner who was, he thought, scoring too rapidly, ` Don't greedy, or they'll take him off.' C. G. had a stroke adapted from tennis, by which he drove the ball forward (more or less in the air) at the half-bound, when the ball bowled was between the half volley and good length. The stroke required extreme accuracy in timing to make the ball travel, and not merely 'loft.'

C. G.'s theory of leg-hitting short balls was to get under the ball at the top of the bound, relatively to his own position, and help it on. To the suggestion that he risked being caught, his reply was that you deserved your fate if you did not send it over long leg's head or out of the ground. I think he did hit out of the Oval thus. He had a wonderful cut just behind the wicket, delivered from an upright attitude by wrist and arm, hard down on the ball, and I saw him thus cut Griffith, 1 think, for 6 at the Oval (not in a Varsity match). His habit was not to play good balls hard on the chance of making a run ; he contented himself with just stopping them ; in appearance, just allowed them to hit his bat. Mitchell, on the contrary, played every ball hard.

I once saw C. G. play an innings at Rickling Green in which he made 74 runs off 26 balls out of 27 delivered to him. He went in with the purpose of hitting over a big tree on the edge of the Green, on the top of which was a flagstaff, and he hit the flagstaff. His hits included an eight, without an overthrow, and not downhill ; the ball was stopped in its course by a gate."

General the Hon. Sir N. G. Lyttelton writes of his brother : " Lord Cobham would have been tried for the Eton eleven in 1856, before he was fourteen, but was prevented by mumps. He left in 1860 before he was eighteen, so he might have been in the eleven six years and captain three and Mitchell, in my opinion the greatest boy cricketer in my time, would never have been captain at all." Speaking of Lord Cobham's magnificent cutting, Sir Neville recalls one cut for 5 or 6 against Surrey at the Oval- evidently the hit that so impressed F. W. Wright of which H. H. Stephenson said : " It ought to be gathered up and put in a glass case." Sir Neville adds that Lord Cobham hardly ever played forward.

Sir John Horner writes :--" In 1861 the Cambridge eleven wasso strong that it was doubtful till the last if there would be places for both C. G. Lyttelton and A. W. T. Daniel. They were captains of Eton and Harrow respectively and Daniel had in 1860 made 112 not out against Eton at Lord's. However, they both played, and Lyttelton bowled so well that he was chosen for the Gentlemen." As to Lord Cobham's fielding at point Sir John says : " He did not stand so close as the old-fashioned point and, in his time, E. M. Grace and F. W. Wright used to stand, but where he stood he stopped the hardest hits that came within reach. With regard to his batting his cutting, square leg hitting, and driving were all first rate, perhaps his cutting most of all, for he could cut an under-hand lob for four or five through point, and his back defence was very sure. It was said that he played Willsher better than anyone else did, but his forward play was faulty, and this, of course, was against his success at Lord's in the old rough days."

Both Sir Neville Lyttelton and Sir John Horner say positively that Lord Cobham was a fast bowler, not a bowler of middle speed as Mr. Arthur Haygarth described him in Scores and Biographies. As a matter of record it may be added that Lord Cobham's highest score at Lord's was 64 for M.C.C. v. Oxford University in 1865 when for, perhaps, the only time in his life he was out leg-before-wicket.

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