Grace worthy of high honour (20 Jan 1998)

20 January 1998

Grace worthy of high honour

By Donald Trelford

WHEN I bemoaned the fact recently that W G Grace was never knighted by his country, I little knew that he nearly became a lord.

His name was pencilled on a list prepared by the then Prime Minister H H Asquith, when, with the tacit support of King George V, he planned to flood the House of Lords with new Liberal peers to force through his Parliament Act of 1911 against the huge Conservative majority.

The late Mark Bonham Carter, Asquith's grandson, saw Grace's name on this list among the family papers, along with those of C B Fry, Ranjitsinji and H G Wells. He reported this discovery, which I have never seen in print before, to my correspondent Lionel King, from Birmingham.

In the event the mass ennoblement never took place, as the Tories buckled under the threat of being swamped. His retirement and death were overshadowed by the First World War, so he never received the national honour due to him. Mr King also reminds me, by the way, that Wells was the son of a Kent professional. This was Charles Wells, who in 1862 took four wickets in consecutive balls against Sussex. There were commemorative matches at Lord's between Gentlemen and Players on both the 50th anniversary and centenary of WG's birth, but MCC have no plans for one to mark the 150th on July 18 this year.

Given Grace's lifelong commitment to Lord's, this seems a shame. Lord Harris wrote on his death: "I think he would have said that his home in first-class cricket was Lord's; he was a most loyal supporter of MCC cricket."

He went on to describe Stuart Wortley's portrait of Grace, which "shows him batting on that historic ground, the combination of man and place surely most appropriate; the greatest cricketer in the history of the game batting on the most celebrated ground in the world".

Harris wrote interestingly about Grace's batting technique. His weight was on his right leg, with his left foot cocked. His favourite shot was "the push to leg with a straight bat off the straight ball.

"In his prime he met the ball on the popping crease, neither the orthodox forward nor the backstroke; it was a stroke entirely unique in my opinion, needing remarkable clearness of eye and accurate timing".

As it happens, there is a charity game at Lord's on July 18 between MCC and the Rest of the World in memory of the Princess of Wales. One can only note in passing, without disrespect, their relative contributions to cricket. Surely WG's name could be attached to this game, with some public gesture of respect to his memory. Talking to MCC, I gained the impression that the club have been jolted belatedly into acknowledging the anniversary. An exhibition is planned for the Lord's museum, showing various portraits, statues, letters and other memorabilia, which they hope to have ready for the Test match in June.

There will be a commemorative catalogue and other merchandising gimmicks, but one hopes the occasion will not be seen wholly as a money-making opportunity.

Gloucestershire CCC are planning a special dinner during the Cheltenham Festival. Surprisingly, Bristol has no statue of its most famous son, an omission that ought to be corrected. The city might also clear up the graveyard at Downend, which contains the bodies of WG and his distinguished brothers.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)