Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 13 — Cricket in England
Cricket in England
My first contact in London with first-class cricket was my meeting Mr. C. W. Alcock. Major Wardill had given me a letter of introduction to this famous Secretary of the Surrey County Club, to whom I presented the letter during the Surrey-Warwickshire match at the Oval.
Mr. Alcock proved to be all and more than Major Wardill and Hugh Trumble had said, for he was a truly delightful man. He immediately took me up to the Surrey Club's Committee Room, where an excellent view of the match could be obtained. He made me an honorary member of Surrey for one month, and introduced me all round to his committee-men and other supporters. John Shuter, about whom I had read as a fine Surrey captain, and K. J. Keys, who succeeded him, were there. H. K. Foster, captain of Worcester, was also a visitor.
Hargreaves, returning from New Zealand via Australia, came overland from Marseilles to be in time for the match, and on a wicket that was assisting the bowlers I saw him take nine wickets for 35 in Surrey's first innings. It made me feel that he was a class bowler in England.
Mr. Alcock, turning to his Surrey friends, said, “This is the young man who made two centuries against the English team in New Zealand.” It was a very kindly way of introducing me.
Imagine my surprise when, two days later, I received a letter from Dr. W. G. Grace, saying he had learned from Mr. Alcock of my arrival in England, and inviting me to have lunch with him at the Crystal Palace ground on the occasion of the London County match against Lancashire. When I called at Crystal Palace I found that the rain overnight had made play impossible, and the players were gathered in front of the pavilion.
Dr. Grace, in build and appearance, was very much like my own father, with the same hearty manner, and his reception of me was as warm and enthusiastic as could be imagined. He introduced me to Murdoch, Ranjitsinhji, MacLaren, Fry, Jessop, Beldham, Poidevin and others. Here was a galaxy of talent to be met at one time! The players waited, expecting page 170 the wicket to recover, but further rain after lunch caused all hope to be abandoned, and no play took place.
These great English cricketers all seemed just as friendly and chatty as the Australians I had been associated with in Melbourne. I had played against Poidevin in Christchurch when he came to New Zealand with the New South Wales team in 1896, and again in Sydney, in 1899, so it was a pleasant renewal of acquaintance with him. “W.G.” said, “Of course, you must play for London County,” and invited me to play in several matches ahead.
I had already played in a number of games for Tottenham, a team that was well known in London club cricket. Ralph Bullock, with whom I was staying, was a great supporter of the cricket club at South Tottenham. He must have told the club officials that I was staying in the district, for I was called upon, and asked to play in their next match on the following Saturday. I started off by making 4, and in my next game made a “blob.” I had the feeling that Bullock began to think that I was not as good as he had been led to believe. The next match was against Essex Club and Ground, who brought over a pretty good side, including several of the county XI. This time I scored 98, and as in the next match I made 102 against Cheshunt, in addition to taking a few wickets, my position was established. Later on I made 152 against Mitcham, the club of the famous Tom Richardson. The team included two sons of Bobbie Abel's, the well-known Surrey player. I thought one of these boys would go a long way in the game, but he never approached his father's class. In another match I took four wickets for 10 runs on a soft wicket, 30 began to be accepted as an all-rounder.
Tottenham had a very good First XI. Perrin and McGahey had won their way to the Essex XI through this team, while Fred Perrin, elder brother of Percy's, was then the best batsman of the regular players. They told a good story about Fred Perrin in one match, posted as having made a score of 98, he argued the point and said he had made 99. And he had! Not many batsmen count their own score beyond double figures. On another occasion, a young fellow came in and hit an erratic bowler for three 4's in succession. Perrin, walking down the pitch, said to his partner, “Nurse him, or they'll take him off!” He apparently wanted his share of the fours. Evan Thomas was our captain. He was a schoolmaster and a very good chap page 171 indeed. Doctor Sykes was a good off-break bowler, and then there was Stanley Trick who, when tried out for the Essex XI, proved too nervous to do himself justice. Young Bradshaw was a player of promise. These young men of Tottenham were a splendid lot of fellows and I felt just as much at home amongst them as I had with my own New Zealand cricket friends.
The return match against Cheshunt was to show me one of the most picturesque grounds it is possible to imagine. I had known our own Hagley Park in Christchurch, surrounded by beautiful trees, but Hagley is a large ground of about eighteen acres, and capable of providing space for six matches at one time. Here, however, was the regulation-size ground, bordered by glorious oaks, elms and chestnuts. These trees are all of a great age and, in their English setting, made beautiful surroundings for a cricket ground.
Our return match against Essex Club and Ground, at Leyton, was to bring me a unique experience. After I had had my innings, Mr. O. R. Borrodaile, the county secretary, asked me if I would mind having a knock at the nets. We went across to the practice ground, and who should be there but Alfred Shaw, Bobbie Peel and Walter Mead ! Imagine what a shock this was. Owing to the generosity of Mr. Charles Green, the county club president, Shaw and Pee] had been engaged to coach the Essex young players.
So here was Shaw, All England player of the 'seventies, the great bowler of whom I had so often read. I have heard old Englishmen and old Australians, too, say that he was the most accurate length bowler the game has known, and this reputation is always likely to be associated with his name. As a young man, he used to practise in a barn all through the winter months, and around his name is built the story of his being able to hit a half-crown placed on the wicket at the spot of a perfect length ball. There must have been some great contests between Grace and Shaw in those days. The story is handed down that Shaw once said, “I puts 'em where I likes, and 'e puts 'em where 'e likes,” which rather suggests that Grace usually won. And this, too, was the Bobbie Peel I had endeavoured to emulate. Subtle change of pace and flight—sometimes going nearly over the crease, sometimes bowling almost an extra yard. They tell the story that he would at times go over the crease to distract the umpire's attention from the doubtful page 172 delivery that he occasionally sent down. Walter Mead was then in the Essex XI, and one of the best leg-break bowlers in England. He had played in the Test Match against the Australians in 1899. Johnny Douglas also came over to the nets and bowled to me. Shaw was then about sixty years of age, and now more of a coach than a bowler. He took only a few yards' run, bowled the old impeccable length, but had naturally lost his sting. Peel, at this time, was in his middle forties, could still spin and flight them, but he, too, had lost the nip from the pitch. Mead was the most accurate, but, like Peel's, his leg breaks came in from the off to me, with the result that they were not as difficult as they would have been to a right-handed batsman. Despite the fact that it was a soft wicket I did not have my stumps disturbed, so must have shaped reasonably well. It turned out that this was a try-out of my capabilities in case I became available later, and qualified for Essex. Except for a pat on the back from Alfred Shaw when the practice was over I did not get the slightest inkling of what they thought of my batting, but, going home in the train that evening, some of the Tottenham fellows said, “You're set for Essex!”
The Tottenham ground, close to Seven Sisters Station, was actually in Middlesex County, but the sentiment of the players was always towards Essex, and the club remained a nursery for that county. There was a happy atmosphere about this club, and as is the case with many clubs in New Zealand, the players' women friends used to give afternoon tea; in this way one met many interesting people at the ground on Saturday afternoons. One day I was pleasantly surprised when introduced to Miss May Beatty, a Christchurch girl, who had made a name for herself in New Zealand as principal girl in the once-famous Pollard's Juvenile Opera Company.
My first match for London County was against St. Thomas's Hospital team, at Chiswick. Like the equally famous Guy's Hospital, this institution had both cricket and football teams. They had quite a good eleven, but Dr. Grace did not field his full strength, for having so many cricketers at his call, only too willing to make themselves available for the club matches that he organized between the county fixtures, he included in his team a number of lesser players. This match was almost a replica of my first game for Melbourne, against Fitzroy. The wicket was damaged by rain, and St. Thomas's had a good left-hand page 173 bowler. Batting first, we were all out for less than 100, of which I made 30. The “Old Man” chuckled and as he was always overflowing with joy at the success of any of his youngsters his, “Well played, Reese,” was an encouragement that I never forgot.
My first big match for London County was against M.C.C. at Lord's, a week later. It was to prove, perhaps, the most remarkable match I have ever played in. Bad weather from the previous week continued, and on the first day of the match there was a drizzling rain, and no one thought of going to the ground. Tuesday was again wet, but on Wednesday there was brilliant sunshine. When my cab pulled up at the entrance gate at Lord's, who should arrive at the same time, from the opposite direction, but W. G. Grace. When he alighted from his hansom and saw me, he gave a hearty greeting and said, “Come along with me, Reese.” Perhaps he appreciated the feelings that a youngster from so far afield would experience on entering the famous ground for the first time. At any rate, we were soon through the gates, and there met Sir F. E. Lacey wearing his I Zingari blazer and flannels, for he had been having a knock at the nets, “Here, Lacey, meet young Reese from New Zealand.” After a pleasant welcome from the M.C.C. Secretary we moved on, but had not gone many yards before “W.G.” called out, “Here, Doyle, meet a young New Zealander!” It was none other than the famous Conan Doyle. In this way I was fairly carried into the precincts of the home of the M.C.C. Such kindliness, such warmth of welcome, soon allayed my timid feelings, and before I knew where I was, found myself in our dressing-room. More introductions followed, this time to those members of our own team whom I had not met before. I soon chummed up with Johnny Douglas, who was about my own age. R. M. Bell, from Melbourne—Dick Bell to his friends—had been resident in London for some years. C. Robson, the second wicket-keeper of MacLaren's team to Australia, was our stumper. Taken as a whole, it was a good side, but the M.C.C. team looked considerably stronger. Captain Wynyard, Burnup, back from New Zealand, J. T. Hearne of Test fame, Albert Trott and Llewelyn, with Huish, the Kent wicket-keeper, seemed a pretty good half-dozen. The match was all over in one day, so this will prepare the reader for what is coming.page 174
Grace won the toss and took Murdoch in with him. It was a thrill for me to see these old champions open the innings on this famous ground where they had so often met as opponents. Grace was fifty-four years of age, and Murdoch forty-eight, which confounds one when comparing their ages with those of the usual county players. There was no need for any softhearted or sentimental leanings towards these “old 'uns,” for on this sticky wicket they set about to play as though they were in their youth. Grace amazed me by the way in which he played Hearne. Llewelyn, a left-hander, was also difficult. On they went—20, 30, 40—taking advantage of every moment before the wicket cut up, as it was bound to do. Murdoch was out first for 20. I got a shock when I found the Dr. had put me in first wicket down, but making runs against the bowlers of St. Thomas's on a soft wicket was a bit different from making them against Hearne, Trott and Llewelyn, It had been my dream to see the famous “W.G.,” but to be at the wickets with him, at Lord's, was enough to upset the equilibrium of any young player. He went first for an excellent 25. The following over I jumped out to Llewelyn, missing the ball, and Huish had the bails off in a flash. This was the beginning of a procession, for our total was only 72, after a first wicket start of 40, Grace and Murdoch being the only double-figure scorers. Hearne and Llewelyn both bowled very well indeed.
Wynyard and Burnup batted as Grace and Murdoch had done, taking the score to about 50, when Burnup hit one hard and low towards me at long-on. It was almost identical with the hit of McAllister's off' Trumble, in Melbourne. Racing in, I caught the ball a few inches off the ground. Wynyard was next out. It was the first time I had seen Wynyard bat, and he certainly played well. Albert Trott tried hitting, for the wicket was, playing tricks, but soon he skied one which was safely held. Then a strapping young fellow, named Bevington, came in. He was a left-hander and immediately started laying on the wood. Presently he jumped in and hit Bell hard and high, straight over the bowler's head, to me, fielding at the pavilion end. At first it looked like a 6, but, running back the few yards I had room to move in, I caught the ball over my right shoulder with my back almost turned to the field and about two or three yards from the fence. This was right under the clock of this famous pavilion. To say that the “Old Man” was pleased is to page 175 put it mildly, for he loved good fielding, and was often boisterous in his loudly acclaimed praise of any extra good piece of work. But this was not the end of my winning my way into “W.G's.” good books. Presently, one of the tail-enders hit a ball between point and me, at cover. Not realizing I was a “south paw,” as the Americans say, and not allowing for the softness of the ground taking the pace off the hit, he called his partner for a run, but my throw-in enabled Robson to have the bails off when the batsmen were little more than half-way down the pitch. When we gathered round, as is the wont of fieldsmen when a batsman is out, old Dr. Grace showed renewed enthusiasm, but Billy Murdoch was short and to the point when he turned to me and said pleasantly, with a wealth of meaning, “Sonny, you can field!” The rest were soon out, the total being 150. Their forcing tactics had proved more profitable than our more defensive batting. Bell had a very good off break, but he was being punished at the time of my making these two catches in the outfield, so his enthusiasm about the manner of the dismissal of the batsmen will be understood.
London County's second innings was a repetition of the first. Grace and Murdoch, with the wicket now cut up and more difficult than at the start, again batted like champions, taking the score to about 30. This brought Trott on for the first time in the match. Grace was the first to go this time, and again in first wicket down, I was thus at the wickets with the famous old Australian captain. It is a pleasant recollection that such an opportunity and privilege of batting at Lord's with these two great players should come my way. I was not, however, destined to stay long, for one of Trott's fast ones gave me a terrific crack on the inside of my left knee and, a few balls later, my leg stump was knocked back. I do not remember finding anyone so difficult as was the erstwhile Australian on that wicket. I had certainly seen two old champions in Grace and Murdoch, but I was also seeing a modern champion in Albert Trott. How great his reputation would have been had he gone on to take a continuous part in the battles of the Tests! He was unplayable on this day, with his medium-paced and occasional faster deliveries. His variation of pace was very subtle, and we were soon all out for 87. Murdoch's top score of 31 was a splendid effort. Poidevin played skilfully, but we had no chance page 176 against such an attack, for Hearne, too, was at the top of his form. Trott finished with seven for 37, and M.C.C. was left with only 10 runs to get. The match was all over about half-past four. Not many first-class matches have been finished in one day. The result of our game revived discussion of the famous match of 1878, against the Australians, when the M.C.C. XI fared as London County had done. The story of this sensational match has been told many times, but hearing it from the lips of Grace and Murdoch enables me to give a version that should prove interesting.
The Australians had opened their tour against Nottingham in cold weather, which the visitors felt very much: Alfred Shaw and his comrades gave them a good beating. The authorities at Lord's did not accept this as their true form, for, in the next match, the M.C.C. team chosen was practically an All England XI. Grace won the toss and batted on a wicket that was apparently very similar to the one on which we had just played. When Spofforth and Boyle began to mow down this great English side as though it were a village team, both players and spectators were dumbfounded and filled with consternation. This was an occasion when startling cricket news, reaching the City of London during the day, caused professional and business men to leave their offices and race in cabs to Lord's to see what was happening. A one-man business would, no doubt, have the usual notice on the door: “Back in half an hour”—. “Back to-morrow” would have been nearer the mark, for no one could have pulled himself away from the drama that unfolded itself that day.
M.C.C. all Out for 33! Five of the last six batsmen fail to score! Spofforth six wickets for 4 runs! Impossible! It couldn't be true! Then: Australia all out for 41 ! Alfred Shaw six wickets for 12 runs! “Not so bad, after all,” said Englishmen, counting on Australia having fourth use of the wicket. More and more people rushed to the ground to witness what proved to be one of the most sensational matches in cricket history.
Whatever satisfaction the Englishmen felt over the dismissal of the Australians for a score that gave the visitors a first inning's lead of but 8 runs soon vanished when, in the M.C.C. second innings, four of the first five batsmen failed to score. The whole side was out for 19! This time it was Boyle who took the wickets, but throughout Spofforth remained the demoralizing page 177 agent feared most by the Englishmen. Australia got the necessary 12 runs for the loss of one wicket.
Ever since Grace had become the greatest star in the cricket world and a national figure as well, the Londoner has always, when he could, sneaked away from his office when the champion was batting at Lord's or the Oval. This day it was to see two great sides engaged in what proved to be an extraordinary and thrilling contest.
In later days this same hurried migration to the ground took place to witness Ranjitsinhji, to see Jessop, to be there when Trumper flashed his brilliant bat, or still more recently to watch the great Bradman run off his centuries. Both England and Australia have had many shocks since then, but no match did more to rock the foundations of England's cricket supremacy and disturb her complacency than did this one.
By comparison with such a clash of giants, our match against M.C.C. was a small affair. It was surely remarkable, however, and a commentary on the staying-powers of some players, that Grace and Murdoch, who both played in this match in 1878, should, twenty-five years later, still be predominant figures on the field in another “All-over-in-one-day” match on the same ground.
So far, much of the cricket I had played in England had been on rain-affected wickets, including my first two games for Tottenham. It was pleasing, however, that the sunshine of this day at Lord's proved to be the forerunner of beautiful weather.
As London County had no more first-class matches for a fortnight, I had some enjoyable games with Tottenham. Immediately after the matches against Essex Club and Ground, and Cheshunt, to which I have referred earlier, I joined Dr. Grace's team to play against the County XI of Leicestershire at Leicester. The fun on the field of the London County matches was equalled by the fun of touring with the team. Old “W.G.” and old Billy Murdoch—“Father” and “Mother” they called one another—were like a pair of schoolboys. Stories, reminiscences and laughter enlivened every moment of the tour.
I had been fortunate in associating with many great Australian players, but this association with Grace and Murdoch was a rare privilege. Their views on the game, and the recounting of sidelights on old historic battles on the field, covering so page 178 many years, were meat and drink to youngsters like Johnny Douglas and myself, and, indeed, to all the members of our happy team. Great as Hugh Trumble was as a cricket storyteller and reminiscencer of matches and tours he had taken part in, Grace and Murdoch also thrilled me with incidents I had never heard of, and tit-bits not recorded in reports of matches.
The match against Leicester began on Whit-Monday, one of England's most popular holidays. We were amazed at the crowd, for 10,000 people assembled, mostly, no doubt, to see the famous “W.G.” He was still a tremendous draw, and immensely popular wherever he went.
What a thrill we in New Zealand would get to see a man over six feet tall and weighing about nineteen stone, with a bushy beard gone grey, walk on to the field! His name had been handed down from generation to generation of cricketers, and small boys were just as enthusiastic about the old-time champion as they are about Bradman to-day. But the present-day champion cannot sport a beard or attract attention off the field as Grace always did with his commanding presence. The Leicester ground is typical of the county grounds of England. Perhaps it is a little smaller than most of them, and the embankment is not wide enough to hold large crowds. The attendance on this occasion taxed the accommodation to the limit, and in the afternoon people were sitting on the grass inside the fence around a portion of the ground.
Leicestershire won the toss and opened in fine style, the batsmen, one after another, taking toll of our bowling. The best innings was by A. E. Knight, a Test Match player, who just missed the century. He was among the best of the professional batsmen in those days. The brightest batting was by V. F. S. Crawford, an ex-Surrey player, who was now Secretary of the Leicestershire County Club. Twice he hit Grace clean over the pavilion with straight drives. He made graceful, sweeping hits, more like golf strokes, with a full follow-through. The “Old Man” would not give up, and kept believing he could trap Crawford, which he did at the finish, but took a “father of a hiding” in the process of getting his wicket. Grace finished with one for 112, which will show how over-persistent he was. Kermode, from Sydney, New South Wales, who was qualifying to play for Lancashire, was our best bowler. Medium-fast right-hand, with a ball that came from leg, he was often page 179 dangerous on wickets that gave some help. I must tell a good story about Kermode. There was always a difference of opinion on how his name should be pronounced: some put the emphasis on the first syllable, others on the second. To the “man on the hill,” at Sydney, the emphasis on the last syllable was good enough. One hot day, when Kermode was bowling untiringly without success, in an endeavour to dislodge the Victorian batsmen, a loud, raucous voice was heard to call: “Aw, take the lid off!”
When our innings opened we soon learnt that in Gill and Woodcock Leicester had two bowlers of pace. Cricketers would call them “pretty fast,” and as they made the ball lift from the pitch, our batsmen found them difficult to play. “W.G.” had changed the batting order on account of having to play out time overnight. Wickets fell quickly. The “Old Man” went in fourth wicket, Murdoch fifth. Three for 30 became four for 40 when Murdoch joined his captain, but Grace did not make many. The score was six for 70 when I joined Murdoch. We both stood up to the fast howling better than the earlier batsmen, and were soon forcing the pace. Runs come quickly off fast bowling if one is not tied down to behind-the-wicket shots. At any rate, on we went, appearing to gather speed as the score mounted. Soon 100 was up, then 120, 140 and eventually past 160. We had added nearly 100 runs in an hour and a quarter, when Murdoch was bowled for 57. It was not hard to visualize his greatness in earlier years. Shortly afterwards, Odell, who was a good medium-pace bowler and played for the Gentlemen against the Players that season, clean bowled me with a ball that beat me all the way. My score was 45. This partnership with Murdoch was one of the breeziest I ever took part in; he, at his age, preferred hitting fours to running threes. As the last two batsmen failed to score, our forcing tactics would seem to have been justified. Our total was only 178.
The Leicester captain preferred to bat again rather than make us follow on. C. J. Posthuma, a Dutchman, whose opportunities of cricket in Holland were not great, was a medium-pace left hander, with a wrist-action break similar to a righthander's leg-break. Getting a big break from the off, he puzzled the county batsmen. This was the very ball that Sammy Jones, some years earlier, had advised me not to bowl, Posthuma, page 180 however, bowled it all the time, and had his field placed accordingly. He started off by getting the first four wickets, two of them clean bowled, and but for another dashing innings by Vivian Crawford, the side would have been all out for under a hundred. As it was, the score totalled only 145. Posthuma finished with seven for 68.
London County was not equal to the task set them, for Leicester's big first innings' score left us over 300 to get. We got only 160. There were four noughts on the side, of which I got one, caught behind the wicket. As Grace scored only i, it will be seen that half the side played practically no part in the small total. Murdoch was again top scorer with 31. I was deeply impressed with his batting, and drawn to him in a personal way by his friendliness, kindness and sense of humour. We were glad to finish this match early for, being due to begin a match against Gloucestershire, at Crystal Palace, on the following day, we caught an afternoon train to London.
The Crystal Palace ground, set in beautiful surroundings within the great park in which stood the marvellous glass structure that gave it its name, was not equalled in picturesqueness by any other ground in England where first-class matches were played. It was really a park within a park.
In the year 1899 Dr. W. G. Grace left the Gloucestershire County, the home of his birth, to become Secretary of the London County Club, formed by the Palace authorities in the belief that first-class cricket would add to the attractions of the great institution that they managed. What better man could be found than “W.G.” to organize and manage these matches! All the great players just loved the “Grand Old Man,” and in the times between their ordinary county matches were often available. It was his good fortune to be able to present Ranjitsinhji one day, MacLaren on another, and Fry, Jessop and other great amateurs, besides Tom Richardson, Brockwell, Braund and other leading professionals.
Great enthusiasm was shown at the start of London County's career, but the distance from the centre of London prevented anyone from going to the ground for an hour or two, as is always possible in the case of Lord's and the Oval. They could see “Ranji” when he came to these grounds and, in the main, that is what they did. Though the venture was a financial failure, there can be no doubt that it was a great cricketing page 181 success. Apart from giving opportunities to budding county cricketers—many of whom found the club a stepping-stone—it provided, to a remarkable degree, the opportunity of giving colonial cricketers the chance of playing first-class cricket in England—“The green and lovely England,” as Mr. Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister, termed it in a stirring speech made on his return from the War Councils of the Empire. So it is that we find Australians, South Africans, Indians, New Zealanders and West Indians all appearing in the London County sides at the beginning of this century. Murdoch made a wonderful lieutenant and helped Grace enormously in the distinguished service rendered to the game. It was not possible for the county clubs to render similar service, owing to the limitation placed upon them by birth or residential qualification necessary for county matches.
The match against Gloucestershire was remarkable in several ways. First, T. H. Fowler and Wrathall scored over 250 for the first wicket; it was “W.G.” who finally dissolved the partnership, getting Fowler stumped. After that it was Grace's match, for he bowled like the shrewd “old head” that he was, and had all the batsmen scratching. When Jessop came in we had visions of Crawford's slashing innings at Leicester, and imagined the “Old Man” was in for another hiding. The famous Jessop first hit him for a 4 and then, after a couple of singles, faced “W.G's” slows again. “Dolly drops” we used to call them, and the mighty smiter, starting out to put him over the fence, changed his mind and, playing forward over-carefully, spooned one tamely back. Seizing it with great glee, “W.G.” turned to Murdoch and said, “What do you think of that, ‘Mother’?” Jessop stood for a moment and then walked away with a broad grin on his face. On and on went Grace, finishing with six for 102. He was not a whit less bashful than George Giffen when it came to bowling himself, and for craftiness he was comparable with the great Australian. I had often read of Grace's leg trap, and was to see it succeed in this match. He kept pitching them on the pads, and towards the end of the innings Nott, the Gloucestershire wicket-keeper, hit him on the half-volley hard and low to square-leg. I was fielding a few yards from the fence and dashing in caught the ball about a foot from the ground. The “Old Man” chuckled about his leg trap coming off.page 182
Members of the earliest Australian teams told me that Grace, in his prime, was a really good medium-paced bowler. They said no one was quicker in spotting a batsman's weakness and bowling for it. Woe betide the player who showed signs of flinching or drawing away! “W.G.” would then go on to bowl, pegging away at the leg stump as though there were but a single wicket to aim at. His persistence was disconcerting to a batsman, who might have a range of strokes on the off only to find himself unable to bring them into play because of the accuracy and direction of this attack.
Now I was to see the champion as a slow leg-break bowler, but with that lowered-arm delivery that comes to most bowlers in the veteran stages of their careers. Although his control of length was still remarkable, the nip off the pitch had gone, and he relied mainly on flight and subtle ways in his efforts to deceive the batsman. One of my earliest coaches used to say, “Diddle 'em out—that's what Grace did.” Gloucestershire's innings ended with a total of 397.
Grace's bowling was not the end of his proof of greatness. With half an hour to time, I was again lifted to first wicket position in the batting list, but had not been in long when, jumping in to hit Spry, their slow bowler, I was stumped—well out of my crease. When I got back to the dressing-room old Billy Murdoch, with a look of a schoolmaster, lifted his first finger and said, “Don't do that again!” I could have told him that I had done the same thing against Bob Neill at Auckland, and against Jackie Worrall at Melbourne, but I really did remember his admonition. The great “W.G.” followed, and I can still see him striding to the wicket. I had seen him play skilfully against Hearne, Trott and Llewelyn at Lord's, on a difficult wicket, when the bowlers were on top; now I was to see him batting on a wicket that enabled him to trounce the bowling in a manner that must have been reminiscent of his best days. As the founder of modern batting, he had originated many of the strokes that are commonplace to-day. His cut behind point was a most effective stroke that sent the ball racing to the boundary at a speed that gave third man little chance of stopping it. But in the main, Grace was an in-front-of-the-wicket player. He seemed never to hit the ball straight to a fieldsman; it was always between point and cover, between cover and mid-off; a captain could not page 183 strengthen his field on the off side, for next it was wide of mid-on, clear of short-leg. It all seemed so easy and so natural to him, and runs came apace as he found the openings in the field. Soon he was 50, then 100, and on to 150 before he was caught and bowled. It was a wonderful innings, and proved to be the second-to-last century he made in first-class cricket. To me it was an eye-opener to see this huge man, long past his prime, doing just what he liked with the bowling.
I have referred to MacLaren's being considered a majestic figure on the cricket fields of Australia, but the stature of Grace, plus the beard, which at this time was worn by no other player, surely made “W.G.” look the most masterful and impressive figure in the game. A Bateman cartoon, “How the bowler felt when he bowled to Grace,” would have made a choice addition to the picture galleries of the pavilion. So this was Grace—the giant of the game, about whom I had read in my youth: six wickets for 102, and a century and a half from his own bat. Is it any wonder I was profoundly impressed, and carry to this day memories of this marvellous cricketer? Our total reached 311, so it will be seen the old champion scored half the runs.
Gloucester collapsed in their second innings and were all out for 61, Hesketh Pritchard and Kermode proving too good for them. The former, with his high delivery and nip off the pitch, was a very good bowler who played for the Gentlemen against the Players in the Lord's match that season. Jessop injured his back and could not bat in the second innings: they certainly needed him. Left with 115 runs to get, London County won by seven wickets. I scored 27 in our second innings. It was a good win considering we faced a first-innings total of close on 400.
On the Saturday evening of this match I stayed behind with Johnnie Douglas and his father to see a great fireworks display. We walked up to the Palace, situated in a commanding position overlooking the grounds, and witnessed a marvellous exhibition of fireworks. In New Zealand we are used to Chinese crackers, Catherine-wheels and rockets, but in England it was Pain's fireworks—always Pain's—and this famous firm certainly did justice to its reputation, giving a display the like of which I had not seen before.
London County did not have another first-class fixture for page 184 a fortnight. It played only about twelve matches during a season. Our next game was a club match against Guy's Hospital at Honor Oak, where I was to meet four young New Zealand medical students from Christchurch: A. B. O'Brien, P. McEvedy, E. B. Milsom and Maurice Louisson. This quartette played an important part in the building of the great reputation won by this hospital team in the Rugby football world. Teddy Morgan, the famous Welsh wing three-quarter, was in this cricket match. He bowled a nippy, fast ball and rapped me on the pads when I was plumb in front; this was before I had scored. Old “W.G.” used to call me Dan Leno, after the famous comedian of that time. When I came out, he called to Murdoch, “He has got the Dan and has now got the ‘O.’ If he were only a skinny chap he would have the lot!”
There is no need to go over the details of this match. One memory I have of Grace is seeing this huge man carrying his cricket bag like the rest of us, as we went to catch the train, but in his case it looked like a little handbag as he strode along the platform. In county matches the baggage was always cared for by an attendant, but in club games we sometimes had to fend for ourselves.
It was now becoming clear to me that I could not continue indefinitely leading the life of a gentleman. To play as an amateur in first-class cricket in England one needs a private income. The call to the pleasures and pastimes of life is often seductive and insistent, and the urge to a career but faintly heard. Money is a loud speaker always, and as my bank account became smaller and smaller I had to face up to the fact that I must leave something in the kitty in case of a rainy day. It was at this time that the Essex Committee, aware that I was shortly due to go to one of the engineering works in Scotland, made a move to see whether I would qualify by residence for the East Anglia county.
I was asked to call and see Mr. Charles E. Green, who was President of the Essex County Club; still more important was the fact that he was senior partner in the great firm of Green & Green, associated with the Orient Company. His family had large engineering works at Millwall, in Essex, and it was hoped that he would be able to arrange for my employment with them. I had met Mr. Green at the county ground at Leyton, but on meeting him in his own palatial office in the heart of London I page 185 was less intrepid than I thought I would be, and my nervousness was not allayed when, after some kindly preliminary inquiries about my qualifications, he asked, “What is your private income, Reese?” Ye gods! The savings from my frugal habits as a lad, plus the presentation of that purse of sovereigns at Christchurch, had thus far enabled me to foot the bill of first-class cricket in England. I had not expected that this could be taken as signifying that I was a young man of means. I was almost stumped for an answer, but managed to say that I was dependent entirely upon my own ability and resources. He did not allow me to become embarrassed, but rather turned it to an appreciation of my putting such trust in myself when so far from home.
He then put on his hat and we walked along to the Fenchurch Street Station and took the train to Millwall. This tall, handsome man, with steel-grey hair, dressed in morning coat and top hat, made me feel I was in important company. On arrival at the works, we met his nephew, who was manager, and Mr. Green explained to him the object of his visit: would they employ me for six or seven months in the year, and then allow me off to play for Essex in the summer months? I should have done my thinking before going so far. When my elderly patron had just about completed the arrangement, I said to him, “I'm a little afraid of this, Mr. Green, for it is not what I came to England for, and I can't see any future in it.”
With a quick glance, and looking me straight in the face— no doubt to make sure that I meant it—he said, “You're right, Reese, and see that you stick to that viewpoint. Come, let's get back to the City.”
On the return journey he spoke to me more as a father would to his son, and his words were a comfort to me. He seemed more pleased than if he had made the arrangements that would have ensured my playing for Essex.
Dr. Grace had invited me to go to Bristol and to Manchester, and during the Gloucestershire match Jessop had asked me to join the team he was taking to Scotland to play matches in Glasgow and Edinburgh a few weeks later. Although I have always been glad of my resolve at that critical point of my career, there is no doubt that it was something of a temptation to accept these invitations. However, once my decision was made I did not look back with any regrets.page 186
I was now preparing to go north, for the letters of introduction I had from the Howard Smiths of Australia would be almost certain to get me placed with one of the shipbuilding firms that had built steamers for my late Melbourne employers. One evening, at Tottenham, when discussing my plans, old Mr. Bullock turned to me and said, “Have you ever thought of going to sea?” and he then gave it as his opinion that this represented a short cut to the top in the mechanical side of engineering.
The following evening, when Ralph Bullock returned from London, he said to me at dinner, “How would you like to go to the Far East? I heard of a steamer due to sail in a few days that requires a junior engineer, and I think I can get you the job.” The Far East! The Orient! What an opportunity of seeing the world! The suddenness of such a prospect rather hurried my thoughts, and I promised him I would go up to London with him in the morning and inquire about the position. Bullock took me round to the office of the Superintendent Engineers of the company, and before I left them was taken on as Fourth Engineer of the S.S. Claverhill, due to sail from Cardiff at the end of the week. This was quick work and represented a definite milestone in my career.
When I told Dr. Grace he seemed surprised, even disappointed, and said, “Why, Reese, I thought that I was going to have you for the whole season.” I wonder if he, too, thought that I was a gentleman of means? This brings me to the end of the first phase of my experience in English first-class cricket.
Had I wanted to play a greater part in English cricket I should have gone on then. I should certainly have liked to play in more matches for London County. After my fielding at Lord's, old “W.G.” made me feel he would want me all the time, whether I made runs or not. He apparently remained in ignorance of the fact that I could also bowl a little. Without my ever having a practice at the nets with him, Grace had no opportunity of seeing me bowl. It was on that glue-pot wicket at Lord's, made for a left-hander, that I might have been tried. I could not, of course, say what Jackie Worrall said in Melbourne: “Here, give me the ball!”