Cricket's history has its fair share of games linked to one person - Laker's match in 1956, Botham's in 1981. But there are also games which at the time attracted as much attention and coverage as these landmark contests but which are now all but forgotten. One such encounter was that between Eton and Harrow in 1910 - Fowler's match.
It would be easy to dismiss Eton against Harrow as an irrelevance, but it has its place in history. It was first staged in 1805 - it remains the oldest continually played fixture in the world, predating the opening of the current Lord's ground by nine years. That it remains on the Lord's fixture card is an anachronism, but in its day it was one of the highlights of the social and cricketing season.
Socially, Eton-Harrow was as much of the London season as Royal Ascot and Royal Henley Regatta, and attendances were large, with Lord's crowds often in excess of 20,000. Coverage in the national daily newspapers dwarfed that for even the leading county games, and The Cricketer devoted pages to previews and reviews of the game. And while the two schools might have been seen as the embodiment of elitism and good behaviour, the latter at least was not always the case. In 1919 MCC warned both schools after outbreaks of fighting between rival supporters!
Harrow, unbeaten all summer, went into the 1910 match as favourites, although Eton possessed a match-winner in Ronald Fowler, whose 11 for 79 had been instrumental in their win in 1909. Although Harrow only managed 232 on a soft pitch, Eton fared worse, limping to 40 for 5 when bad light ended a "cold and sunless" day, and on the Saturday morning were bowled out for 67. Following on 165 in arrears, they fared little better second time round and at 47 for 4 at lunch, the game seemed done and dusted.
Shortly after the resumption, Steel was dismissed (65 for 5) but that triggered a spirited counterattack from Fowler, aided by sloppy fielding, a few dropped catches, and an inexplicable decision to remove the Hon Harold Alexander (who went on to become the famous general Earl Alexander of Tunis) from the attack. Alexander, had, The Times reported been used too sparingly and Eton's batsmen looked far more comfortable when he was not bowling.
Fowler's 64 helped Eton avoid an innings defeat, but even so when he was eighth man out their lead was only one - the ninth wicket fell three runs later. A combination of sensible batting from John Manners and Kenelm Lister-Kaye extended that lead to 54 with a last-wicket stand of 50 in 25 minutes, ended when Jameson held a superb low slip catch.
As many of Eton's supporters drifted away, Harrow set about chasing 55 in about two hours as, for the first time, the sun came out. Wisden noted that Harrow made a mistake in opting for the heavy roller, although The Times argued that "the wicket was not any more difficult that it had been at any time during the match." But Fowler, bowling his off breaks "to great effect" rattled Harrow from the off, bowling Thomas Wilson with the first ball of the innings. Lister-Kaye was impossible to get away at the Nursery End, but two cracking fours by Geoffrey Hopley off Fowler were immediately followed by two wickets (8 for 3). Turnbull tried to hit Fowler out of the attack but only succeeded in holing out to mid-off, and Guy Earle adopted the same tactics, with a little more success, before being controversially caught in the slips by Denis Wigan, many believing the ball had been taken on the half volley.
As Harrow's self belief faltered, wickets continued to fall and after 40 minutes they were 27 for 8. There was a glimmer of hope in that Jameson, who had gone in No. 1, was still there, albeit yet to get off the mark. After a length delay resulting from being struck (he was "badly cut"), he scored his first runs with a cut for 2 and was then immediately bowled to give Fowler his seventh wicket.
Alexander, Harrow's No. 11, had been so sure of victory that he had wandered down to a marquee on the Nursery ground where he was enjoying a relaxing tea. "A breathless colleague burst into the tent to tell him wickets were falling like ninepins," recalled Patrick Morrah in a letter to The Times years later. "He raced along the ground, stuffing the cream bun into his mouth as he ran, and reached the pavilion just in time to buckle on his pads and get to the crease to take part in a last effort to save the match."
With Ogilvie Graham, Alexander made 13 of the 23 runs still needed and the game appeared to be swinging towards Harrow once again. "The roars from thew Harrow stand whenever a run was made were heard in the Zoological Gardens," wrote CP Foley. As the conclusion neared, he added that "the cheering had swollen into such a volume of sound that its overtones included Paddington Station as well as the Zoological Gardens."
But Alexander edged Steel, whose legbreaks had been unremittingly accurate, to Holland at slip and Eton had won by nine runs. The 10,000 who remained to the bitter end cheered both sides off the field - Wisden reported that "the scenes of enthusiasm at the finish was quite indescribable." Foley wrote that it "baffled description."
Foley went on to give a delightful description of Lord Manners, the father of the Eton No. 9, who was so convinced on the Saturday afternoon that Eton would lose that he had "retired to his room with strict orders that he wasn't to be disturbed. The butler knocked twice at his door with the object of telling him what his son had done and he was told to 'Go away' on both occasions."
Such was the fame Fowler achieved by virtue of his efforts that a letter addressed to Fowler's mother, London was successfully delivered by the Post Office. His cricket career was limited as he joined the army rather than follow the more traditional university route and so was restricted to occasional appearances for them and Hampshire. He was named as captain of the MCC side which should have toured West Indies in 1924-25 but that trip was postponed by 12 months by which time Fowler, only 35, was dead. He had at least outlived quite a few of his contempories who had fallen in the war.
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Eton & Harrow at Lord's Robert Titchener-Barrett (Quiller Press, 1996)
Lord's 1787-1945 Sir Pelham Warner (Harraps, 1946)
Autumn Foliage Lieut-Col CP Foley (Methuen, 1935)
The Cricketer various, 1925
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1911