Quite appropriately, the match at Lord’s was christened ‘The Barn Door Game’
It was William Ward who bought the lease of Lord’s from Thomas Lord in 1825, even as the latter was negotiating a deal that would convert the premises into a building estate. He paid a hefty sum of £ 5000 for the sake of cricket. Ward thus had an immense contribution in creating the spiritual home of cricket.
And he was a superb cricketer as well. In 1820, he had scored 278 for MCC against Norfolk, the highest individual innings in First-Class cricket till WG Grace got the first ever triple century in 1876.
Besides, Ward had more dimensions to his persona. He was a financier, a director of the Bank of England, and an MP for the city of London from 1826 to 1831.
He is immortalised by the following lines of an anonymous poet:
And of all who frequent the ground named after Lord,
On the list first and foremost should stand Mr Ward.
No man will deny, I am sure, when I say
That he’s without rival first bat of the day,
And although he has grown a little too stout,
Even Matthews is bothered at bowling him out.
He’s our life blood and soul in this noblest of games,
And yet on our praises he’s many more claims;
No pride, although rich, condescending and free,
And a well informed man and a city M.P.
However, as is apparent, cricket was one of the many pursuits of Ward. That was the tale of most of the amateur cricketers in those days. There were huge names among them, Frederick Beauclerk, George Osbaldeston and the rest. But the teams put together by the Gentlemen were almost always too weak to stand up to the might of the Professionals, or the Players.
A diversion now.
Ward is remembered with less than perfect historical accuracy but a little less reverence by the Irish pop group Duckworth Lewis Method.
A bored young William Ward MP.
Bought Lord’s from Thomas Lord
In eighteen twenty five.
Less than perfect historical accuracy since Ward became an MP only in 1826.
This song was aptly named Gentlemen and Players.
So, on to Gentlemen and Players.
These matches became part of the season’s calendar from the early nineteenth century. And once it was regularised from 1819, the mismatch became more and more apparent.
In 1824, the Gentlemen lost in spite of playing 14 men. In 1825, they managed to win, but with 16 men to the regular 11 of Players. In 1827, the teams clashed twice, and each time the Gentlemen played with 17 members, winning one match and losing the other.
Indeed, before WG Grace appeared on the horizon in the late 1860s, the results were greatly skewed in favour of the Players. After all, unlike the amateurs who supposedly pursued the sport as a pastime, the professional cricketers who formed the Players sides were out to make a living from the game.
There were numerous ploys to make the contests more evenly matched. On some occasions, the Gentlemen borrowed a couple of Professionals, usually using them to perform the more tedious task of bowling. Often they took the field with more men.
In 1832, they tried a new method. While the Gentlemen defended a wicket measuring 22 inches by 6 inches, in accordance with the old law (operational till 1798), the Players were made to bat in front of wickets measuring 27 inches by 8 inches as per the new law. The extra 84 square inches of stump area did not really tilt the balance in favour of the amateurs. The Players ran away with the match by a whopping margin of an innings and 34 runs.
In 1833, the Gentlemen fielded 16 men but lost by 9 wickets. They lost in 1834 and 1835 as well. And in 1836 they managed a narrow 35-run win, but only with 18 men playing against 11 Players.
In 1837, the organisation of the annual match became the responsibility of Ward. And soon, he was facing all sorts of problems getting enough cricketers to field the two teams.
And then he was plagued by the track record of the two teams. The matches had hardly ever been balanced encounters.
Hence, thinking hard, Ward decided on taking the 1832 idea to a new level of absurdity. The Gentlemen defended wickets of regulation size, 27 inches by 8 inches. However, the Players were asked to bat in front of four stumps, covering 36 inches by 12 inches.
Thus, the area covered by the stumps of the Players was exactly the double of the stumps Gentlemen had to defend. 216 square inches to 432.
Quite appropriately, the match at Lord’s was christened ‘The Barn Door Game’.
It was not that the Gentlemen lacked talent. Apart from Ward, there was in their ranks the great Nicholas Felix. However, they ran into the nonpareil William Lillywhite, the greatest bowler of the era.
Lillywhite captured 9 of the wickets in the first innings as the Gentlemen batted. The smaller dimensions of stumps notwithstanding, he hit them three times. The amateurs were bowled out for 54. Ward scored 2.
However, the Players began even more dismally. The supreme batsman of his day, Fuller Pilch, was dismissed for a hard-fought 9, as his top hat was knocked on to his wicket. The Players slumped to 17 for 8. And then Ted Wenman (35) and Jim Cobbett (32) fought back and when Lillywhite was stumped to end the innings the total was 99.
The 45-run lead was more than enough. Lillywhite and Sam Redgate ran through the second Gentleman innings and they were dismissed for 35. Ward scored another couple of runs.
Hence, the enormous difference in the wicket-size notwithstanding, the Gentlemen lost by an innings and 10 runs.
In 1833, when John Nyren published the famed The Young Cricketer’s Tutor, he dedicated it to Ward, ‘the most worthy man of the day to reflect credit upon my choice as patron’.
However, the Barn Door Match has also gone down in history as Ward’s folly.