December 04, 1858, St Anne's, Nottingham
January 29, 1921, Standard Hill, Nottingham, (aged 62y 56d)
Right hand Bat
Right arm Slow, Right arm Slow
After a long illness, the nature of which left no hope of recovery, William Gunn died at his home at Nottingham on January 29. Few batsmen of his own or any other day were so well worth looking at as William Gunn. He carried his great height--he must have been nearly if not quite 6ft. 3in.-without the least stoop, and there was a natural grace in his every movement. Wherever he played he was the most striking figure in the field. As a batsman he represented the orthodox--one might even say the classic-- school at its best. With his perfectly straight bat and beautifully finished style, he was a model to be copied. Not for him the hooks and pulls of present-day run-getters. He may at times have indulged in a pull, but as a general rule he hit the off ball on the off side, and hit it with tremendous power. Blessed with a splendid pair of wrists, he excelled in the hit past cover-point, the ball travelling along the ground at a pace that might have beaten Mr Vernon Heyde, whom Gunn himself described as the best cover-point he had everseen.
It was sometimes urged that, considering his advantages of height, reach and strength, Gunn played too restrained a game, but he had a good answer to his critics. He said once to the writer of these lines, "I can make as big hits as anyone if I like, but if I begin to lift the ball I never score more than 40." As an innings of 40 would in his prime have fallen far short of his desires, he did well to go his own way, and keep the ball down. While batting with complete self-control, he was often brilliant enough to satisfy the most eager lovers of fine hitting, and even when he had a quiet half hour or so he was still a delight to the eye.
His was no sudden jump to fame. Outside Nottingham the public knew nothing of him till he was over 21, and his first efforts in the Notts eleven in 1880 gave little suggestion of the career that was before him. In 20 innings he scored scarcely more than 160 runs. At that time his outfielding was a greater asset than his batting. He could run a hundred yards inside eleven seconds, and he judged the lofty catch unerringly. He learned the game in face of some difficulties. Employed in Richard Daft's shop in Nottingham, he had not much spare time, but, determined to make himself a cricketer, he used to get some practice at unearthly hours in the morning. During the strike of the leading professionals that demoralized Notts cricket in 1881, he stuck to his place in the eleven, and improved so much that he had an average of 24. He was greatly encouraged that season when the old Notts fast bowler, John Jackson, who stood umpire in one of the matches, told him he had never seen a colt, who batted so well. The next two years were years of marked progress--he was second to Shrewsbury in the averages in 1884, when Notts had a wonderful season--and in 1885, with an innings of 203 for the M.C.C. against Yorkshire at Lord's, he took the position among English batsmen that was his untill, in the ordinary course of nature, time began to tell upon him. At his very best from 1889 to 1898, he remained a fine player till 1903, when he scored 998 runs for Notts with an average of 38. Then, with a big and rapidly-growing business to look after, he thought he had done enough. He played in only four matches in 1904, and from that time he was an onlooker, content to see the name of Gunn in Notts cricket worthily kept before the public by his two nephews, George and John.
During his long career William Gunn played many innings that have become historical. His 228 for the Players at Lord's in 1890 is the highest score ever made against the Australians in this country. The Australians as a team were not strong in 1890, but they had Charles Turner and Ferris to bowl for them. With regard to this particular match rather a good story has been told. Asked in an interview whether he had ever felt tired of cricket, Sydney Gregory said he thought not, except, perhaps, when he heard Billy Gunn say " No " at Lord's for seven hours and a half. Another great innings that Gunn played was his 139 for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's in W. G. Grace's jubilee match in 1898. Just after he went in Gunn was beaten and all but howled by one of Kortright's fastest. Then he played magnificently, till at last, deceived in the pace, he lunged forward at a slow ball from Woods and was bowled all over his wicket. Between 1888 and 1899, Gunn played in nine matches for England against Australia. He did best in 1893-- when, incidentally, he just beat Stoddart in the season's averages-scoring 77 at Lord's and 102 not out at Manchester. Though he made bigger scores without number, Gunn never played finer cricket than in the memorable match between Notts and Surrey at the Oval in 1892. His 58 against the superb bowling of George Lohmann and Lockwood on a far from easy wicket was a veritable masterpiece of batting. For an hour and a quarter on the second afternoon he and William Barnes withstood a tremendous onslaught. It was cricket that no one who saw it could ever forget. In his young days Gunn was a famous forward at Association Football, combining skill with great speed. He was a mainstay of Notts County and played for England in 1884 against Scotland and Wales.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding