SPECIAL FEATURE: Grand day that was graced by a legend

W.G. Grace had a remarkable 44-year first-class career
W.G. Grace had a remarkable 44-year first-class career
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On this day 138 years ago, Spalding’s Memorial Field saw the start of the ‘grand cricket match’ featuring W.G. Grace.

The legend’s United South of England Eleven went on to beat Spalding and District by nine wickets.

W.G. Grace

W.G. Grace

Grace only scored 27 and 15 runs but claimed five wickets in each innings.

The Lincolnshire, Boston and Spalding Free Press – in its 30th year of publication, price one penny – was published on Tuesday, June 5, 1877.

The report began by discussing the organisation of ‘All-England’ teams over the past 30 years.

‘During that period, many “All-England” Elevens, with slightly varying titles, have been put together under the captaincy of some champion cricketer; county clubs have been formed in nearly every county in the kingdom, with as yet no other result but the dissemination of the cricketing art in its most pure and unalloyed form. Of course, with all the facilities these organisations have given for seeing cricket played in its most scientific form, there are districts and counties where the game has taken stronger hold upon the affections of the people than others. Nottingham, for instance, is looked upon as one of the cricketing seminaries of the kingdom, where every boy is supposed to lay hold of the cricket-ball almost before he can crawl out of the cradle.

W.G. Grace outside Oundle School's pavilion in 1898.

W.G. Grace outside Oundle School's pavilion in 1898.

‘Lincolnshire, on the other hand, can lay claim to no great cricketing enthusiasm, although it would be strange if, within her extensive borders, there were not to be found some by no means inefficient amateurs. But these would total up but to a very insignificant army compared with the great mass of cricketers which abounds in many of our more favoured counties.

‘So much then for the cricket of Lincolnshire and some of its border counties. With all these surroundings, it would not be matter for surprise had Spalding, the centre of the fen district, shared in the general apathy. But, to the old town’s honour be it said, she has done more than almost any other in this district – in an erratic way, we will admit – to foster and increase a love for the cricketing art.

‘In 1853, the original All-England team under the captaincy of William Clarke, the famous Nottingham slow bowler, paid the town a visit.

‘This match was one of the most exciting ever played in Spalding, the home team winning the game by one run.

‘In 1858 the All-England team did us a similar honour...in this instance the fortune of the day went against Spalding, the United Eleven securing the game with four wickets to the good, the second innings proving exceptionally disastrous to the twenty-two.

‘After this contest, a long rest ensued – seventeen years, in fact – the Spalding Club not seeing their way clear to a successful engagement until two years ago, when Mr Wadlow, of the Red Lion Hotel, made a liberal offer for the gate money. Under this offer, the club made terms with Mr Daft’s eleven, and a finer lot of cricketers never set foot upon any crease.

‘With such a phalanx of cricketing skill, it may be imagined that the odds were in favour of England, but Mr Saul, the secretary, had brought into the field foeman worthy of their steel, and, after a most exciting struggle, the twenty-two, aided by the splendid amateur bowling of Mr Watson and general all-round good play, succeeded in scoring first honours – the game standing, All-England, 52-71 ; Spalding, 68-59, and 7 wickets to fall. This contest then left nothing to be desired but to crown the cricketing enterprise of the town by an engagement of the champion cricketer, Mr W.G. Grace, with the team known as the United South of England Eleven. To achieve this object it has cost two years’ unremitting energy and perseverance on the part of the worthy secretary of the Spalding Cricket Club, whose task in overcoming many surrounding difficulties has been no slight one. However, his efforts, combined with the co-operation and influence of the general body of numbers, have succeeded, and yesterday, owing to these forces, the desire of every cricketer in the neighbourhood may be fairly said to have been consummated.

‘Possibly Mr Grace knows something of the previous exploits of those with whom he was likely to contend in the fen country, and arranged his list of probable players to represent the United South accordingly. Certain it is that no better field could at the present day be put upon paper, and although in the 
actual Eleven the name of Lillywhite is missing, probably in consequence of his only having landed from Australia on Saturday – the list is still very formidable.’

This was a short description of the players’ cricketing capabilities (taken from Lillywhite’s Cricketers’ Annual):

‘W.G. Grace is captain of the Gloucestershire eleven, and a member of the M.C.C. He is familiarly styled “the Champion,” and fully merits the 
title. He is at once the largest scorer, the safest bat, and the quickest run-getter off first-class bowling that has ever defended a wicket. The point in which of all others he is unsurpassed is that of “timing” and “placing” the ball; and his skill in adapting his play to meet the varying positions of the fieldsmen must be seen to be understood. He was also the most successful bowler of the season in 1875-6, and has this year bowled remarkably well. He is a magnificent thrower and splendid field anywhere – unsurpassed at point; and the mainstay of Gloucestershire. Whilst playing for the South of England last week against the North, Mr Grace made the exceedingly large score of 261 runs before he was got rid of, against the bowling of Morley, Clayton, Eastwood, Oscroft, &c.’

The report continues: ‘The weather was all that could be desired, a striking contrast to the inclement weather of the preceding week. There was a good assembly present to witness the commencement of the game, and which increased in number as the day wore on. The match was commenced at 12.30 o’clock, and the captain of the 20 having won the toss, elected to bat.

‘When luncheon bell rang, the score stood at 9 for 93. Play was resmued after luncheon, but the game proved very uneventful. W.G. Grace took the ball from Gilbert, and the remaining wickets fell in rapid succession; 3 falling in one over to the leviathian. The innings closed (with two absentees) for 93 runs.

‘W.G. Grace, Esq., the centre of attraction, contrary to his usual custom, occupied the seventh wicket, and by a series of singles, 15 out of his not out innings of 27, raised the score to 80.

‘The score stood as follows when time was called : 7 wickets registered, 82 runs; W.G. Grace (not out) 27, and Fillery (not out) 4.

‘Play will be resumed this morning (Tuesday) soon after noon, and the inhabitants of South Holland will have the privilege of witnessing, if they hitherto have not done, the grandest exponent of the most noble and exhilirating science of handling the willow ever recorded. The band of the 1st Northamptonshire Engineers enlivened the proceedings and discoursed sweet and welcome strains to those who probably do not enter heartily into the spirit of the game through insufficient comprehension.

‘The full score as it stood when stumps were drawn for the day – Spalding 93 all out, South 82-7.

‘Mr W.G. Grace will continue his batting performance on the resumption of play to-day, and we cannot too strongly impress upon those who are anxious to witness his inimitable handling of the willow the desirability of an early attendance. The career of Mr Grace finds not a single equal in the whole annals of cricket history, and it is highly improbable that the present generation – if, indeed, any of their successors ever do – will see any performance in the cricket-field that will in any degree bear comparison with his. This season will witness the conclusion of his public life, and none of our readers should allow this last opportunity of gazing on his brilliant play to pass by unavailed of. His display at the wickets yesterday afternoon was simply the perfection of cricketing, and there is every probability that he will to-day run up the score to a splendid and unsurpassed figure.’

The Free Press report of June 12, 1877:
‘With a continuation of the glorious weather from Monday, play was resumed at 12.45 on Tuesday. Upwards of one thousand spectators had assembled to witness the commencement of the second day’s play. The favourable weather, coupled with the fact that the champion bat would resume his not-out innings, was the source of attraction.

‘Various were the conjectures as to the improbability or probability of another large score being registered to the great batsman, but any existing doubt was soon dispelled, for, to the general dismay, he was well taken in the slips by Marshall off his third ball without adding to his overnight score.’

United South of England 82 all out, Spalding and District second innings 81 all out.

The report concludes: ‘With 93 to win, the eleven commenced batting with W.G. Grace and Showers, and runs came fast, both settling down to work in earnest, and expectation was again high as to the achievement of the champion. He was not, however, destined to gratify the minds of the hundreds of eager spectators, for when he had scored 15 he was very finely taken at short leg by Roberts off the bowling of Hind, having succumbed twice in the day for respectively 27 and 15. When time was called the score stood at 26.

‘Play was resumed on Wednesday morning at a later hour and to a more limited company, much interest having died with the collapse of the champion. Runs came very freely and a beautiful display of cricket ensued; the two not-outs continued hitting away and eventually succeeded in rubbing off the score with 9 wickets to fall.

‘We understand that the secretary, Mr Saul, was anxious in his endeavours to persuade Mr Grace to take his second innings on Wednesday morning, especially considering the heavy monetary risk the Club had run in his engagement. Mr Grace’s certainty of “pulling off the match,” as he called it, by the close of Tuesday’s play, rendered him obdurate, and no counsel it appears would prevail. As it was the worthy gentleman rushed wildly to his own fate, but in doing so also turned the tide of monetary success against the Spalding Committee, who we are afraid will now be somewhat “over the left” when the accounts are balanced. Had it been otherwise, the speculation would no doubt have proved, as we predicted all along, remunerative in every way.’