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.”
“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.