@ Getty Images (representational photo)
@ Getty Images (representational photo)

Cricket was never a gentleman’s sport. On-field altercations were perhaps more prevalent over a century back. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a ridiculous incident from June 19, 1852 to demonstrate.

It is not very clear who associated the phrase “gentleman’s game” with cricket, but nothing can be far from the truth. As we have seen on numerous occasions on these pages, cricket has been linked to huge sums of money (mostly betting), as a result of which match-fixing had made an obvious entry into the sport.

Matches were definitely fixed during England’s 1881-82 tour of Australia. Ted Pooley fixed a match in 1873. Alfred Mynn, the ‘Lion of Kent’, was involved in 1842. And way before that, in 1751, Old Etonians and ‘England’ played a match that drew “a wager of £1,500 plus side bets totalling £20,000”.

And then there were the ‘shamateurs’ like WG Grace, who often earned more from the sport than the certified professionals (how did a sport survive with an amateur-professional divide anyway?)

Frederick Beauclerk, an autocratic, despotic “foul-mouthed, dishonest” “unmitigated scoundrel” who “bought and sold matches as though they were lots at an auction”, used to be an MCC administrator in the early days of the 19th century. There is a story about a convict refusing to share a train compartment with him. The Times did not run his obituary.

It was not only about money. Batsmen have refused to walk when given out (even after getting bowled). There exists an apocryphal story about Henry Jupp (“Aren’t you going out, Juppy?” “Not at Dorking.”). A similar tale is told about WG (“they’ve come to see me bat, not you umpire”). There must be some truth lurking in all that, somewhere.

And then, there was on field-violence. The list is long: Lillee and Miandad, Srikkanth and Ramaswamy, Ambrose and Waugh, McGrath and Sarwan, Warne and Samuels, Pollard and Starc have been narrow misses; on the other hand, Hogg boxed his own captain Hughes, Snow actually barged into Gavaskar and Croft into Goodall, and Harbhajan slapped Sreesanth. And we see incidents emerge from minor matches from time to time.

We have seen people shake their heads in dismay when these incidents surface, but cricket has had its history of violence. On August 16, 1731, for example, Thomas Chambers’ XI (of Middlesex) were chasing 33 against Charles Lennox’s XI (of Sussex). They needed “about 8 to 10” runs with “four or five” wickets in hand when time ran out. This resulted in violence, even the crowd got involved, and some Sussex cricketers had “the shirts torn off their backs”.

The Sydney Riots of 1879-80 were a direct outcome of an umpiring decision. And a Test match was called off because the presence of bookies was suspected.

The incident

On January 15, 1853, a legal case was contested between Serjeant Wilkins and C Pollock (for James Lane, the plaintiff) and E James and Needham (for Christopher Barnes, the defendant) at Middlesex before Justice Baron Platt (Baron was his name).

Lane, 19 at the time of the incident (that had taken place in June), came from an affluent business family. He assisted his father in business. He went to the “normal school” in Westminster. He was also a member of a related cricket club. Barnes, the son of a surgeon, was a student of Dr White.

Note: The case documents made “Dr White’s pupils” sound obvious. Some research led to reports about one Dr C White, who conducted the Orger House Academy in Acton. The Academy had an “extensive and convenient” campus and the students were “treated with paternal care”. Several of the students secured “Engineer or Artillery appointments” in East India Company. The places were nearby: Acton Town and Westminster are both on the District Line of London Tube.

The two teams played a match at Shepherd’s Bush. The “normal school” (let us call them Westminster) batted first. James Lane and his brother John were at the crease when the match was disrupted by heavy rain. The cricketers of both teams retired to the Wellington Tavern. From the incidents that followed, one can assume that the alcohol consumed was probably not within limits.

Barnes bowled the first ball after the break, to John Lane. The ball hit John Lane on his front pad, Barnes appealed, and the umpire (a third brother) ruled him out.

At this stage James Lane protested on the grounds that John’s foot was not before the wicket. This led to a quarrel (so much for the batsmen walking immediately after being given out). Heated words were exchanged, and Barnes (the bowler) struck James Lane on his nose. Lane punched back, and it was one-all.

Now Barnes snatched a bat from the umpire (why was the umpire carrying a bat anyway?) and charged at Lane who had two obvious options: he chose to throw his bat away (“fearing that he might lose his temper and then do some serious mischief with it”) and run for dear life.

Barnes did not give up. The moment Lane was within reach, Barnes hit him on the back with the bat, causing Lane to stagger and fall. He recovered and ran, but Barnes caught up with him again, this time hitting harder and on the ankle. Then the pair was separated.

The match continued, though James Lane used a runner. It went on till eight in the evening. Lane’s ankle deteriorated overnight, and Dr Burton Payne, the family physician, had to be called upon. He detected a “violent inflammation of ligamentary structure”. Erysipelas set in, and things took a turn so serious that Lane had to be treated with mercury.

Lane was confined to bed for three weeks, incurring a severe loss (he earned about £2 to £3 a week). Dr Payne’s bill exceeded £17.

The statement of Lane’s solicitor E James made interesting reading. Here is an excerpt: “They happened to have a considerable authority in cricket matters in court at the moment, and as they had in law certain reports of ‘leading cases’, so he might say there were in cricket reports which he would called Denison’s Leading Matches — a report which could be referred to decide these questions.”

Lane’s solicitors claimed a sum of £60. Lane won the case.