It is true. Cricket in its fullness demands the English tongue. It is English to the core. The game comes as natural to a small boy as the air he breathes.
WE HAVE reached the season of cricketer's plenty. There is
a freshness about the game as rare as the grace of an
English summer. Lord's and July... the month "when
the velvety bowl of turf becomes timeless. There is continuity
of purpose and tradition in the air. The trees... the white rails... the pavilions... the white coats of the umpires... the players
in chaste flannels all take on fresh significance. The air is rife
with talk of days that have gone. Oxford versus Cambridge...
Eton versus Harrow... Gentlemen versus Players. The first fixture
brings out the shades of the past in the semblance of clerics and
bishops. Vicarages spill their contents indiscriminately round the
ground. Parsons' daughters look demurely sweet. Parsons' wives
wear an air of resignation. Parsons strive to recapture and relive
their youth. The distinction between immaculate gaiters and
shiny trousers is forgotten. The 'Varsity match turns Lord's into
a mundane diocesan conference with a democratic veneer.
There is another side to the picture. It is discernible at the 'Varsity match, but most noticeable when Eton meet Harrow. It is then that the miracle occurs. The line of colour that encircles the ground in waves of silk becomes pretty sisters and radiant mothers. In this respect the University match has lost some of its former glory. It is not the social event it used to be. Eton and Harrow is now the fashionable gathering of the cricket season. No one looking at their lanky adolescent escorts would imagine that their forbears could look so attractive. The resemblance between fathers and sons is more noticeable. Both are reserved. The fathers, if anything, look more boyish. As the white-clad players move quietly off for luncheon, the field assumes a variegated pattern. Old Harrovians and Old Etonians roll back the years in search of their youth. These are moments when cricket is more than a game... moments that suggest the fragility of days in the sun that can never return. If tradition is to be accepted, this match goes back to 1805, though it is doubtful whether Harrovians will accept this date. Jt is usually written off as a holiday game arranged by Kaye for Eton and Byron for Harrow. J. A. Lloyd, the Harrow skipper, said afterwards that Byron did so badly that he should never have been in the side. The criticism seems illogical, for Lloyd had a "couple of ducks", whilst Byron made 7 and 2 (though his own account puts it as n and 7). But the evidence is not particularly strong, for the only authority for the score is a half-sheet of notepaper anonymously sent to the Hon. R. Grknston, before appearing in Scores and biographies.
But the true cricketers view the match between the Gentlemen and Players as of even greater interest. This was the match that the M.C.C. chose to mark the centenary of W. G. Grace, and Lord's was appropriately the scene for the commemoration. The very turf of this ground retains something of the spirit of the man it sought to honour.
The setting was propitious for his return. A tranquil summer day... St. John's Wood and a hansom cab... the spirit of cricket incarnate in a massive black-bearded man. The homage was genuine. It was the signal for utterances felicitous and fulsome. Such praise caused the younger generation to ask what lies behind the legend of "W. G.". How would he have compared alongside men like Hobbs, Bradman and Compton. His records have been surpassed. Does this infer that in stature Grace was inferior to those who came after? The question was partly answered by Ranjitsinhji when he evaluated Grace's contribution to the game: "He revolutionized cricket. He turned it from an accomplishment into a science; he united in his mighty self all the good points of all the good players and made utility the criterion of style... he turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many chorded lyre." There was something about "W. G." that was as lasting as the reign in which he was born. His influence was so wide that it is difficult to gauge its extent. His first county match was in August 1862, at the age of fourteen. He scored 18 out of 92. At eighteen he scored 224 not out for England versus Surrey. His complete record in first-class cricket reads 54,896 runs in 1,388 innings, an average of 39-55. He claimed 2,864 wickets for 17-97 each. These feats between the years 1862 and 1908 placed Grace head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
The spectator is not always aware of the potentiality of the present . . . the fact that history is being enacted in front of his eyes. I would make an exception of the Eton and Harrow match, for during the three days of freedom from school routine every ball and every hit must be watched. At the age of a schoolboy, cricket can be food and drink. To them this is the match of the year. The spacious- ness of those simple days must have been the same years ago when the youngsters watched Grace on this very ground. He was the spirit of cricket to the world. He changed the village green into an event of national importance. He spans the gulf between the cricket of the eighteenth century and the game as we know it today. At the beginning of his career the popping crease was cut out of the turf, an inch wide and an inch deep. About forty years earlier over-arm bowling was forbidden. A well-known bowler of that period had been continually no- balled at Lord's for the offence. Bats were made out of one piece. The splice failed to make an appearance for another twenty years. The usual bat was made out of red willow. Batsmanship was stereotyped. Forward pky with the back foot firmly planted behind the crease was advocated. It was a spin bowler's paradise. By using both feet CC W. G." took the sting out of the spin. The bowler became dependent upon flight. It made little difference to Grace who still disclaimed the efforts of trundlers to dislodge him. The only variation he did not have to tackle was the googly which must not be taken to suggest that he would not have mastered it. "W. G." was a saga that knew no end. Season after season he returned to the sunlit greensward . . . the yellow cap flaming above the black beard that towards the end was flecked with white. He larded the game with his presence until it mirrored something of the English nature.
That is not being hypocritical. It is true. Cricket in its fullness
demands the English tongue. It is English to the core. The game
comes as natural to a small boy as the air he breathes. A cricket
bat is an essential part of childhood., be it rich or poor. It came
into being in humble fashion. Whilst concentrating upon the
appeal of Lord's and the presiding genius of Grace, we must not
be forgetful of those who went before. When, for instance, did
cricket begin? The earliest extant score is that of a match between
Kent and All England on the Finsbury ground on 1 8th June, 1 744,
when Kent won by one wicket. The captain of Kent that day was
Lord John Frederick Sackville of Knole, afterwards third Duke
of Dorset, who later identified himself with the Hambledon
Cricket Club in Hampshire.
Hambledon is usually referred to as the "cradle" of cricket, but the fact that the 1744 match was played against a complete eleven from Kent indicates earlier training grounds. 1744 was an important year. It was then that the first laws of the game were drawn up, although over forty years had to pass before they were officially issued by the M.C.C London was the recognized centre of cricket. In 1780 the Artillery Fields at Finsbury was succeeded by White Conduit Fields, and here it is appropriate to comment on the origin of Lord's. Thomas Lord was born at Thirsk in Yorkshire on 23rd November, 175 5. His father's allegiance to the Young Pretender had adversely affected the fortune of his family at the time of his birth. The position was no better when he finished his education at Diss in Norfolk, so Lord came to London to earn a living. He did well, and became the owner of a flourish- ing wine business and a professional cricketer of promise. In 1786 he was consulted by Lord Winchilsea and the Fourth Duke of Richmond about a new ground for the famous White Conduit Club, whose members were anxious to leave the Islington ground. Their proposition covered Lord against any financial loss. Lord agreed and completed a deal with the Portman family for the cc Mary-le-bone Field", which lay north of the Marylebone Road, on the present site of Dorset Square.
The first match was played in May 1787 between Middlesex
and Essex for 200 guineas. At the end of that season it seemed that
the White Conduit Cricket Club merged with the recently formed
Marylebone Cricket Club. There is an element of doubt about
that date, but none about the Marylebone Club's first match. That
was on Lord's Ground in the open country in May 1788. The
change was successful. In 1800 we find references to crowds of
five thousand paying sixpence to watch the matches. The attrac-
tion was largely gambling. Bookmakers used to shout the odds
opposite the pavilion. The main matches often had stakes as high
as a thousand guineas a side.
The spirit of the meadows matured slowly. The lusty humour of the village green has changed into a game of science, but the appeal of Lord's remains just as strong and unsophisticated. There are few things so precious to the cricketer as the recollection of a lazy July morning at Lord's, umpires moving slowly, white- flannelled fieldsmen, the trees at the Nursery End glistening in the sun, the rhythm of a flashing bat, and the prospect of luncheon with perhaps cold salmon . . . strawberries and cream . . . quails in aspic. Here was fare to be equalled only at Ascot. Old Etonians of eighty look at peace with the world. Corks are a-popping. Spectating after the luncheon interval can be a mellow business on this cricket field that transcends the bounds of county ties.