Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Quote: “Oh, make it four hundred!”
By: WG Grace to W Skelton and W Wainwright, scorers, on July 12, 1876
Before we embark upon this seemingly ordinary quote, it is only fair that we emphasise a bit on Grace and his impact on cricket, especially in the 1870s.
Not only was Grace universally acknowledged as the greatest batsman of the period, but he was also far ahead of anyone else. Grace’s domination of the era has been surpassed by perhaps only Don Bradman – but then, he was Bradman.
There were several reasons behind his tremendous success. Grace was the first batsman to play both off the front-foot and the back, a significant improvement on the ‘specialists’ who preceded him. He was supremely fit (the images we see are mostly from his later days). He had a voracious appetite for runs, matched by, again, only Bradman. And nobody travelled as many miles to play cricket in the pre-aviation days (he basically played every match he could).
Grace topped the charts for every season from 1868 to 1877 with the sole exception of 1875, when he spent time serving duties at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He made up for that in 1871 and 1876, when he scored more than twice anyone did. In fact, so dominant was he in 1871 that he scored ten hundreds when nobody got two.
Let me present the numbers from 1876, the year in question, as an example. Grace scored 2,622 First-Class runs that year at 62; Ephraim Lockwood, the next name on the list, got 1,261 at 32. In all cricket that year he scored 3,669 runs at 59. He also took 211 wickets at 17 (130 at 19 in First-Class cricket) and held 77 catches. And in August that year, he scored 839 runs in eight days including the first two First-Class triple hundreds.
The numbers boggle the mind almost a century-and-a-half later. One can only imagine the awe he evoked in the minds of contemporary spectators.
Grace had already attained cult status. He was perhaps the second most recognisable face in England of the time, after The Queen. His strapping physique and generous facial hair merely added to the aura.
And Grace took advantage of that. Despite being an amateur, his chief source of income (till he became a doctor in 1879) was the United South of England Eleven. He paid the professionals £5 per match and kept the profit, which was typically substantial. In fact, organisers often charged double the usual rate when Grace played.
Grace also made sure his honeymoon was sponsored when he took a side to Australia in 1873-74; he was accompanied by his wife and two children on the 1891-92 Ashes tour when it was not common practice to take one’s family on tour.
His near-autocratic approach on the field gave birth to several anecdotes, not all of which are true. “They have come to watch me bat, not you umpire” is probably apocryphal, but not utterly unbelievable given the nature of the man.
And on this occasion, he used his influence on the scorers at Grimsby, Skelton and Wainwright.
As mentioned, Grace was in an outstanding form that season, even by his standards – and the eight-day phase mentioned above was still a month away. In the two weeks before the match in question, he had played for the Gentlemen against the Players twice, scoring 90 in the first match and 169 in the second, and taking 17 wickets. One must remember that these were the most high-profile contests of the era.
It was an ‘odds’ match, for Grimsby fielded 22 men – all of whom would bat and field. To add to the 22 fielders, the outfield was not conducive for four-hitting. “The grass had only been cut on the pitch and its immediate surroundings, so the ball was going to stop dead everywhere else,” wrote Anthony Meredith in WG Grace: In the Steps of a Legend.
Grace was almost certainly out (“plumb in front” was Simon Rae’s verdict in WG Grace: A Life) when the team score was 6, but umpire William Mortlock ruled not out. He scored 130 on the first day and another 184 on the second; and was in no mood to declare even then, even on the last day.
The day’s profit took a hit: “The third day, financially, was an awful one. The public, undoubtedly, were tired of seeing him at the wickets and stayed away,” complained Robert Lincoln, who played for Grimsby in the match. Rae was not kind either: “The crowd voted with their feet and stayed at home. They had seen enough.”
The Grimsby bowlers took out Grace’s partners. United South of England Eleven were bowled out for 680, leaving Grace stranded on 399.
Before that, just before lunch on Day Two, a telegram had arrived for Grace. Fred, his brother (who scored 60), was the first to read the telegram – announcing that WG had become a father for the second time.
Play was obviously stopped (who would argue with him?). Out came the champagne for everyone on the ground. Grace raised a toast to wife Agnes and – horror, horror – announced in that absurdly high-pitched voice that he would “like to break a record”.
He perhaps he had his eyes on 404, the highest recorded score in any form of cricket, amassed by Edmund Tylecote for Classical against Moderns in 1848.
Now, Grace had fallen six short of that elusive 405-run mark, but the quadruple-hundred was merely a runaway – and that wasn’t too bad either.
“Oh, make it four hundred,” he ordered the scorers; and they obliged. “Well, you deserve it,” agreed Grimsby cricketer Sam Haddelsey.
The CricketArchive scorecard footnotes tell the story: “Bowling in the United South of England Eleven first innings adds 1 run under. WG Grace actually scored 399* but at the end of play when his score was discovered it was agreed to add a run on.”
Thus Grace got his 400th run in what was nothing less than an act of bullying. One must remember that he had already chosen to kill the match by batting on till the final day in an act of greed.
But then, so prolific was he with the bat that people seldom bothered.