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…….
“The Australians came down like a wolf on the fold,
The Marylebone cracks for a trifle were bowled;
Our Grace before dinner was very soon done
And Grace after dinner did not get a run.”
By: The Punch in 1878, shortly after the dramatic day’s cricket on May 27.
Two matches on the 1876-77 English tour of Australia were later granted Test status, but the world wasn’t aware of such developments in 1878. In the late 1870s cricket coverage revolved around matches in England irrespective of WG Grace’s presence. Thus, when the Australians toured England in 1878, nobody expected them to compete, certainly not against an MCC side that included, more or less, the best in contemporary England.
No, the Australians were not taken seriously – a feeling fuelled by their innings defeat at Trent Bridge, where Alfred Shaw (11/55) and Fred Morley (8/72) bowled unchanged throughout the match to skittle them out for 63 and 76.
To make things worse, it was a cold, wet summer, conditions the Australians were barely exposed to at home.
The Australians were also subjected to some ignorant comments, some of which were positively racist. Sample this: “Why, they bean’t black at all; they’re as white as wuz.”
At Nottingham, a man commented on Billy Murdoch, Fred Spofforth, and Jack Blackham that “those three chaps have black blood in them.”
Yes, those were different times, when AG Steel had no hesitation when he introduced Spofforth as “the demon nigger bowler” to his friends.
But let us get back to that day, when almost five thousand braved the torrid conditions to attend the cricket at Lord’s despite not thinking much of the Australians as worthy opposition. Thunderstorms and incessant rain earlier that had reduced the wicket to a dreaded ‘sticky’, but then, The Doctor was obviously more than competent under those circumstances.
Grace fell to Frank Allan for 4 while Harry Boyle bowled Clement Booth for a duck. But ‘Monkey’ Hornby hung around for 19, taking the score to 27/2 with Arthur Ridley. And then Dave Gregory brought Spofforth on.
In a whirlwind spell, Spofforth routed MCC for 33 with figures of 5.3-3-4-6 after conceding two off his (wicketless) first over. Lord’s was left shell-shocked before “mobbing” Spofforth and Boyle (3/14).
But MCC refused to go down without a fight on a difficult pitch. They hit back, restricting the tourists to an 8-run lead. Once again Shaw (5/10) and Morley (5/31), the Australian nemesis from Trent Bridge, bowled unchanged.
Billy Midwinter scored a stubborn 11, one of the three double-digit scores of the match. He had caught Grace earlier in the match. Later that summer he would be kidnapped by Grace from Lord’s to The Oval, but let us not get into that here.
But this time Gregory did not delay the advent of Spofforth. The first ball zipped past Grace’s bat and the second knocked the bail off. MCC collapsed in a heap, for 19, as Spofforth (4/16) and Boyle (6/3) ran through. Wilf Flowers’s 11 seemed almost ridiculous under the circumstances.
The Australians knocked off the runs for the loss of a solitary wicket – before they could face a third bowler on tour. The “memorable day of cold and puddles and calamity”, to quote Bernard Darwin from WG Grace, thus came to an end.
In Reminiscences, Grace put the duration of the match at “only four and a half hours of actual cricket”, though Simon Rae called the match “the most momentous six hours of cricket history” in WG Grace: A Life.
Cricket was never the same. The foundation was laid for Anglo-Australian matches, which would attain superior status to inter-county cricket in years to come. Lord Hawke would later comment that the day “marked the commencement of the modern era of cricket”.
Despite that, despite several contests of questionable quality, impact, and relevance being granted Test status, this momentous match was not awarded the honour, even in retrospect.
Punch did not miss out on the opportunity. They chose to parody Lord Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib. The first four lines of the parody are produced at the beginning of this article.