Five Steps to WG Grace 

13th April 2022

In my student summers of the mid-1970s, I played three half-seasons for Saltaire CC in the Bradford League. In the first of these, when we were in the First Division, I opened the batting in the away fixture at Bowling Old Lane CC.

The opposition’s opening bowler was Harold Rhodes – ex Derbyshire and England – by then in his late 30s, but still a formidable proposition. It was a seamer’s wicket. I battled for an hour and made 12; it is one of the innings of which I am most proud.

Although Rhodes had made his first-class debut in 1953, it was three years later that he took his maiden “five-for” in Yorkshire’s second innings at Chesterfield to snatch a 6-run victory for the home side. The Yorkshire captain that season was Mr WHH Sutcliffe – son of the great Herbert – the penultimate amateur skipper of the White Rose county.

Billy Sutcliffe averaged a modest 26 runs per innings in his 10 year first-class career, but he did make a big hundred – 181 – against Kent at Canterbury in 1952. His partner in a 201-run stand for the fourth wicket was someone whose career average turned out to be somewhat higher, aided by his own score of 120 in Yorkshire’s innings victory: Len Hutton.

Hutton made his debut for Yorkshire as a 17 year-old in 1934. In July of that year, against Gloucestershire at Bristol, he made 39 in the first innings and was run out for nought in the second (a fate he had also suffered in his very first match at Fenner’s against Cambridge University two months earlier). In the opposition’s ranks was the 51 year-old Charlie Parker, who retired the following year as Gloucestershire’s all-time wicket-taker – a record he still holds – his left-arm spin claiming 3,170 victims at under 20 apiece over 32 years. Parker took five of these wickets in Yorkshire’s second innings to set his side up for a nine-wicket win.

Over 30 years earlier – in 1903 – when Parker played for Gloucestershire in a first-class match against London County at the Crystal Palace Park, he was unable to prevent one of the opposition batsmen scoring 150 in the first innings, the same player having earlier taken six Gloucestershire wickets. This was WG Grace no less – then aged 54 – who, not surprisingly, was the central figure (secretary, manager and captain) in the London set-up during its short lifespan as a first-class entity (from 1900 to 1904).

Grace began his career with Gloucestershire in 1870. Six years later, he registered 318 not out against Yorkshire at Cheltenham College. Until 2004 (when it was overhauled by Craig Spearman), this stood as the highest individual score for the county. It remains the highest against their opponents.

The daisy chain reaches from the mid-1970s to the mid-1870s. My journey back to WG Grace has taken five steps. It has picked up a club cricketer, a county stalwart, amateur captain(s), test-match players, all-time greats…

It is a history of the game.

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