Tag Archives: W.G. Grace

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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What a piece of work is Kevin

How long could YOU spend in an armchair watching the IPL when switching to Channel 401 brings you into contact with an innings by Kevin Pietersen.

Had Hamlet seen KP bat might it not have changed the Prince’s world view?

What a piece of work is a man, How noble in
Reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving
how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the
world, the paragon of animals. and to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights me; and Woman too…

We require some awareness of failure to appreciate skill and form. 

In this mini-series between Sri Lanka and England the skill and form has been provided by Jayawardene; at home on the Silk Route, as it passes Galle and Columbo.

But Kevin Pietersen provides something other than failure and susccess – neither man, angel nor god, nearer superman in the Shavian sense.

Can we find precedence? Do we need precedence?  Does exception require contrast or relationship?

His physique sets him apart and into (for now) a small minority (but as sons continue to out grow fathers other will join those ranks). He has the eye of the very good batsman.  Strength may substitute for fine balance.  Because of his other talents it is difficult to isolate and judge these qualities which are so necessary to others.  He may have them, but he does not need them.

His reason is acute.  He has somewhere along the line torn up the coaching manuals and rethought batting from first principles.  Regarding his career is like looking at a scientist test hypotheses, abandoning some leads and pursuing others to their logical conclusion.  His mind is restless, inquisitive, arch, and commercial.

Then, there is his conviction – his extraordinarily developed sense of self-belief – however frail, it has an almost inexhaustible facility to renew itself.

Each of these qualities has allowed him to transform the way cricket can be played – or batting carried out.

Few, so far, have followed him, but they will.  He has done the hard and courageous work, exploring the territory that his physicality has made accessible and which he alone has reached.

 

What is being described is an impact on the game similar to that of William Gilbert Grace.  That impact is not yet fully apparent.  It is as if we are watching cricket in 1878.  A path has been trodden by one man, but a Golden Age is yet to come.

Above, the alignment of shoulders is captured by the camera and, right, that perceptive cricketer and artist Albert Chevallier Tayler confirms how revolutionary  was Grace’s side-on technique.

Here is Grace in the colours of his own London County Cricket Club.  Watch out for Pietersen starting his T20 franchise.  It won’t be long.)

Until then …

If this goodly frame the Earth, seemes to you a sterrill
Promontory; this most excellent Canopy the Ayre,
look you, this braue ore-hanging firmament, this Maiesticall Roofe,
fretted with golden fire: why, it appeares no other thing
to you, then a foule and pestilent congregation of vapours …

… try a little Pietersen.

Context of the innings:

KP arrived at the wicket with the score 213 for 2 and departed 212 minutes later for 151 off 165 balls ( 16 fours, 6 sixes) at 411 for 6.  His strike rate was double that of the next quickest scorer in the match. He scored 50 off 59 balls, 100 off 109 and 150 off 162 deliveries.

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Fielding In the Deep

The Squire has long believed that God is a cricket tragic.

“And a bowler, Third Man.  Quite obviously a bowler.  You have only to look at the wobble he puts on the orbits of his planets.  Superlative deliveries eon after eon.”

This conversation comes around annually just as our own fair planet moves towards the December solstice.

“Look at that seam position, TM.  23 degrees and 26 minutes. Precision.”

Of course, as a founding member of the Royal Society and an old team mate of Sir Isaac Newton, His Grace might be forgiven for shunning the implications of the Quantum Theorists with their pajamas, white spheres and artificial lighting, but he has a theory for that.

“All came about after The Master retired from the First Class game, TM and started thinking about it instead of just turning at the end of his run, storming in with that perfect glide and bowling the thing.  Too much thought can be a dangerous thing – over complicating matters. Once you start thinking of fermions and photons and bosons, it becomes a very different game.”

The Squire and Third Man were taking a turn about the hothouse looking at the progress of the pineapples destined for the coming seasonal celebrations.

The silence was eventually broken when the Squire admitted, “I’ve been thinking a lot about Iris and of course about dear, dear John.”

By whom he meant Iris Murdoch  and John Bayley .

“They liked their cricket, didn’t they TM.  Bit of a fuss getting them here.  The Bentley and the travel rugs and all the paraphernalia they insisted on bringing. Do you remember?”

“But they loved it when they were here Your Grace, hats and caps and deck chairs.”

“I once scored an effortless century when she was watching, Third Man. In 1978, I think. From the very first delivery, the ball just came off the bat perfectly. Iris gave me a stone by which to remember the day.  Still have it in the Library.  And a copy of ‘The Sea, The Sea.’.   Just published I seem to remember.”

“A difficult book that one, Sir.”

“But rewarding, TM.  I struggled over the first few paragraphs.  Put it down.  Picked it up again and away it went … love, loss, myth and magic.”  

All cricketing themes too, Sir.”

“Yes, indeed, love, loss, magic and myth. And vanity, jealousy and self-deceit.”

“And that old fellow Shakespeare hovering in the background.”

“Like batting at a packed Lord’s in the fresh of the morning with the good Doctor next man in, sitting on the balcony and scowling through his beard, the crowd reserving their full concentration until it was his turn to bat.”

“Started talking like this to Her Grace last night.  Want to know what she said, TM?  ‘And to think, twenty years later and that mind, that personality, that potentiality lost in the transubstantiation of Alzheimer’s disease like the particles in a drop of rain returned to the ocean.’”

Thallata! Thallata!

“Even if readers claim that they ‘take it all with a grain of salt’, they do not really. They yearn to believe, and they believe, because believing is easier than disbelieving, and because anything which is written down is likely to be ‘true in a way’.”  That conceited bugger, Charles Arrowby, in The Sea, The Sea, p 76

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India Not Fit for Purpose

It was to be a fascinating contest; the World Champions against some upstarts with the potential to overwhelm weaker opposition, but not yet tested against the best.  Surely England were still a couple of series from being the real thing?

Yesterday, in the fourth encounter this summer between England and India, and after a first day’s play circumcised by rain, the home side’s openers were removed in a blink of still waking eye to full length deliveries.

However, the next two batsmen like supermodels parading down the Oval catwalk in a record breaking partnership totalling 350 made it another long uphill day for India.

This Oval wicket is without its characteristic pace but possesses the character of a crumbly cheese already offering enough turn to discourage any side from volunteering to nibble it last.

Shortly before close of play Pietersen was back in the changing room for 175 from 232 balls.  Bell is still strutting his stuff on 181 from 304 balls.  Test centurions Morgan, Bopara, Prior and Broad have yet to step forward.

Frankly, in the field, India are not fit to play Test cricket – that is not fit physically or mentally. 

On this historic ground that has provided a stage for great cricketing deeds since the 1840s, India’s aging batsmen are a liability in the field.  The younger ones, perhaps emulating their elders, have absented themselves from effort and struggle.

Catches are being dropped and, worse still, catches are being jibbed.  The derision of the crowd was not without justification.

There will be better (and much fitter) bowlers operating in club cricket this afternoon.  There will be far better fielding sides.

Sharma (1/81 in 27), the best on offer, is five or six miles an hour off the pace that he should be able to operate at and, significantly, the movement is all one way – that is, ‘in’ to the right handers who are at liberty to step across and play him freely to the on side.  It is all corridor, and no uncertainty.

Sreesanth (1/95 in 23) is also ‘off the pace’ and, with a ball and conditions that during this entire series have consistently helped the swing bowler, his movement begins from the hand and ends in the middle of the bat.

In truth, ECB will have provided India with better net bowlers for morning practice than the out-of-condition RP Singh (0/96 in 30) who Bell and Pietersen milked with the care of ethical farmers practicing sustainable agriculture.

Mishra (o/129 in 29) looked as menacing as a particularly somnambulant sloth, his variations offering no alarm, his turn serving monotonous defence rather than attack.

As Bell and Pietersen treated the crowd to an exhibition of batting, it was difficult for spectators not to snooze and dream they were watching May and Cowdrey against Ramadhin and Valentine.

Bell modelling the high elbow of haute couture, Pietersen fashioning his revolutionary ‘New Look’ before their eyes; just as W.G. Grace had paraded his radicalism in an innings of 224 not out on his debut here in 1866, and just as John Small a century before that at Broadhalfpenny Down for Hambledon against Kent had broken new ground with a straight bat and innovative technique to tame the new length bowling in a huge innings of 140 runs.

Then, awakening from such revelry, the spectator remembered the quality of the opposition. Pietersen is still providing a window on the future, but this was nowhere as important an innings as the one he played here against the Australians in 2005.

At 457 for 3, England will endeavour to add enough runs today to ensure they do not have to bat again.  Then the great batsmen of India will have one last chance to shine and Swann the opportunity to play his part in a series that is, like a Christmas dinner, fast demonstrating that too much can be as debilitating as too little.

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Three Young Cricketers

Deep in the vaults of Southampton City Art Gallery lies this oil on card by George Elgar Hicks painted around 1883 and presented to the Gallery by Miss Annie Hicks in 1942.

Measuring just 21.3 x 28.8 cm it must have been a favourite if kept by Hicks who, at the time his Three Young Cricketers looked on from the boundary, was concentrating his energies on the lucrative pursuit of painting society portraits.

That year Notts won the county championship with Arthur Shewsbury opening the batting.   Martin Bladen Hawke was playing for Cambridge and the North of England.  W.G. was of course omnipotent.

Hicks also painted ‘Will He Do It?’ 

Stopping the action in this way suggests a familiarity with the game as does the technique shown in The Croquet Player.

For the last years of his life Hicks lived at Western House, in that old cricketing centre of Odiham in Hampshire, where he died on 4 July 1914.

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