The Very First Reverse Sweep or That There Tim Takes a Bit of Beating*

Two posts ago, Third Man promised that he would take you to the occasion of the very first reverse sweep in first class cricket … and for that matter the second, third and fourth.  

Why the delay?

Time travel requires at least two co-ordinates: time and space.  TM must disdain from listing the third co-ordinate in case those coves from Silicon Valley are on the trawl.  You know how desperate they are to secure the secrets of the Squire’s technology.

Anyways … it began after diner in the billiard room on the night of the match when, suspiciously, the friends who had recently returned ‘empty handed’ from their expedition to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant     had been playing for the Squire’s XI.

Foley had challenged the Squire to game of spoff, the rules of which you will be familar.

Foley began his tale before the Squire could chalk his cue and tot-off.

“It was when Middlesex were playing Gloucestershire at Clifton College. 

 Woof was bowling his particular slow, slow version of slow left arm when O’Brien treated him as he afterwards treated Read at Lord’s, except that he back handed him through the slips, and did not, of course, turn round to do so.”

 “E.M, who was fielding close in at slip, narrowly escaped injury, the ball passing with great velocity through his whiskers.”

“Lore, that must have set the cat among the pigeons. What happened next?”

“Well, he did it again.”

“How did that go down with the Great Man?”

“As you can imagine W.G.’s fraternal affection was aroused. ‘You mustn’t do that, Tim,’ says he in his Glasstershire accent in that squeeky little voice of is, ‘you’ll kill my brother.’”

“And Tim’s reply?”

“He didn’t much like EM, so he replied as bold as brass, ‘And a good thing to’ and promptly did it again.”

“For a third time?!”

Foley continued without so much as a break in his cannoning, his score was in three figures by now.

“W.G. then warned him that if he did it again, he would take his men off the field.”

“Red rag?”

“Needless to say O’Brien repeated it, and W.G. marched off the field, with his colleagues.”

“Snookered, so to speak.”

“ ‘Buns’ Thornton, who was looking on, came round to the Middlesex dressing room and told O’Brien that he was quite justified in hitting the ball how and where he chose, and then proceeded to the Gloucestershire room where he commiserated with W.G. and said O’Brien was quite wrong and had no business to endanger poor E.M.’s life.”

“The old stirrer, keeping the pot boiling for a bit of fun?”

“Nor was he wrong in his estimate. O’Brien thinking that he had the great ‘Buns’ on his side, stalked into the Gloucestershire dressing room, bat in hand, in an attitude sufficiently menacing to cause E.M. to retire to the furthest position possible. ”

“W.G. thinking that O’Brien had arrived with the intention of really carrying out what he had previously described as being ‘a good thing’, planted his huge bulk between his brother and the incensed intruder, and said in his high falsetto voice, ‘ I tell you what it is, Tim, I shall send for a policeman.’”

“And … ”

“Everyone roared with laughter and the match was proceeded with in unprecedented funereal silence.”

“I wager that’s not true,” said the Squire.

As you can imagine, even though it was beyond midnight, the Librarian was summoned and required to hunt down the scorecard in the archives.

He returned a half an hour later and whispered something confidentially to the Squire.

“Good tale, Foley, but it seems that Woof and the brothers Grace never played at Clifton, against a Middlesex side containing O’Brien.”

Amid general merriment, Foley reached for his pocket book.

“But,” interjected the Librarian still smarting from being brought from the warmth of his bed and taking a scorecard from the pocket of his dressing gown, “they were all involved in a match played at Cheltenham College in 1884″

“O’Brien made 110 in the first innings, Woof taking 6 form 96 in 49.1 overs, and 58 (caught Pullen bowled W.G. Grace) in the second innings in which Woof took 3 for 115 in 60.3 overs.   Match drawn.”

“There you are Third Man, go set the co-ordinates for the College Ground, Cheltenham, 21st August 1884 – the first four instances of the reverse sweep. And remember that confounded slope on landing!”

* Foley reports that a number of years later when W.G. was asked who were the best bats in England suggested, ‘That there Tim takes a bit of beating’.  Autumn Foliage, 1935.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Very First Reverse Sweep or That There Tim Takes a Bit of Beating*

  1. diogenes

    a brilliant post, TM! Congratulations. The Graces (and Gilberts) need some debunking.

  2. John Halliwell

    I was right there,TM, stood in the billiard room, marvelling at Foley’s cueing, listening agog to his tale , enthralled by O’Brien’s genius for improvisation, and his courage in the face of the Brothers Grace, and then the reference to the amazing ‘Buns’ Thornton. 160 yards??? Eat your heart out Chris Gale, you big sissy. Warner, Sehwag, Pietersen – a bunch of wimps. I really must hitch a ride in the time machine to watch the old stirrer; no leg pads, no batting gloves – just a rapid shimmy and wallop. What a sight it must have been. Born a bit too early for the IPL (But bids would have started at $5 mio).

    I broke into a family holiday in the nineties to take a cricket-mad daughter to the college ground to watch Gloucestershire play South Africa A. The cricket was disappointing but a fine day, those wonderful buildings, and a parachute display made it well worth the drive. I didn’t want to leave; I wanted to hang on just in case Buns walked in at the fall of the ninth wicket.

  3. Nerina Scott

    Lovely pictures of Cheltenham and Clifton. I saw Tom Redfern get some schoolboy runs at both grounds in the 90s.

    • Hello Nerena.
      You are speaking of ‘Get a Hundred’ Redfern and not ‘last man in with Collins’ Redfern or you must be another time traveller.
      TM confesses that he remembers in 1970 fielding somewhere close to the spot illustrated in the photograph of Clifton as time shifted several gears when a pair of openers threatened to run riot with a great display of attacking batting. Must have been something in the brickwork. A slow left armer did the trick.
      TM

      • Nerina Scott

        The former.
        The image of the Close is of house matches, or other internal grudge matches; e.g Classical v Modern, Country v Town, Smokers v Non Smokers. Every inch of that field is crammed with games. The nearest wicket in the picture, horizontal to it today, is the best track in Gloucestershire; better than anything on the Close! 1970, before my father started teaching at the College

  4. TM has nipped back in the Type III and posted another image for Nerina. Can she date and explain? Another crudge match? A practice? What is the net protecting, surely not the pavilion?

  5. Nerina Scott

    That image is wartime, before the college evacuated to Bude, or I reckon immediately post war. Foreign matches as fixtures against other schools, clubs and Universities were known, were no less important than let’s say, Clarke’s House v North Town under 13s ( the Collins match) at Clifton. So on that field in the 1880s/90s, pre Boer war – no South Africa War Memorial erected yet; not in the photo- are lots of house matches, or games with odd criteria for teams; 5 ft 8 above v the rest- kid you not. The nets are not there for the Pavilion. Having played there you know the Pavi is centre field. I think, a guess, they are there because the wire fence came down during the war and had not been replaced yet. There are houses over the road; beyond the net. Hope this helps. The most famous grudge match was Classical v Modern (an academic division in the sixth form) when Tylecote scored 404 not out, to set a world record; which Collins then beat some years later. Tylecote’s 404 did not have all those matches going on. If you are wondering why so many matches are crammed on the field maidanesque, land was dear- plus ca change- in Clifton when the college was established.

  6. John Halliwell

    Fascinating comments, Nerina.
    5′ 8″ and above v The Rest! I wonder if the team sheet included the statement: ‘The notion that a good big’un will always beat a good little’un has been suspended for the duration of this match’?

  7. diogenes

    WG is both key to cricket and yet a discordant presence. He is an enduring fascination. The amateur who made more money from playing cricket than any professional. The pre-eminent cricketer of his age, at a time when the public school idea of cricket as a moral force was developed. And yet, he evaded, flouted, defied every rule, whilst never being ostracised. Indeed, he was revered, despite his sharp practices – bowling high into the sun, fooling batters into stepping down the wicket so he could run them out. He is a link to the unsavoury world of the Beauclerks, Osbaldestons and the Regency bucks. And yet, he was a supremely skilled cricketer. His supremacy in his early maturity comes close to that of Bradman in the 30s. And he was also a more than useful athlete – probably Olympic standard, if they had been developed in the 1870s.

    My fascination with WG is that he was the greatest cricketer of his era without question and yet a one-man force to destroy the moral ethos that was being built up during his period of real greatness. And yet, he was part of the establishment.

    A set of paradoxes that enthrall me. Bradman had something of the insider and the rebel, but nowhere near such a marked degree.

    We see those flickery films of the 50 year old with the flowing beard, and forget that bowlers hated to bowl to him in his prime because he made them look useless. Could any other cricketer get away with kidnapping a cricketer from Lords so that he could play for Glos?

    Birley talks a lot about “not cricket” in his history. CLR james often discusses deeper moral qualities of cricket. Grace is the example that tests all the rules and definitions.

    • Until recently (and the especially until the Age of Twitter), most sporting characters had to be mediated by writers and journalists. The quid pro quo was that the Heroes and the interpretation of their heroics would serve the agenda and world view of the writer.

      A deal was struck around the Amateur ideal – well evidenced by Birley – between players, administrators and journalists. Of course those three roles often overlapped (Warner and Alcock).

      The wise sportsperson does nothing to upset that image or to expose it as a fiction – a deal is struck so that even the unsporting act is transformed to bolster the image.

      TM is fascinated by the insights BackWatersMan is able to provide by monitoring the Twitterings of average county cricketers. It is as if they have left the dressing room door ajar. But then the heroic image is on the move as it keeps pace with and services the needs of the ‘now’.

  8. Upon further reflection, Diogenes, perhaps TM should borrow the Squire’s manuscript of the unpublished work by Emile Durkeim, The Elementary Forms of the Cricketing Life, which looks at the way cricket expresses and underpins the structure of society.

  9. I think there is a lot to be said byn that kind of approach. I am puzzled by the refusal of CLR james to take that kind of approach, but I think he was tooo much in thrall to his heroes. James writing about George Headley or Worrell is not exactly a social scientist or reputable marxist analyst.

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