A Sherlock Holmes XI
A signboard of Sherlock Holmes © Getty Images
Many of the names of the characters of the Sherlock Holmes canon are borrowed from cricketers. Arthur Conan Doyle himself was a First-Class cricketer of some ability. However, most of the cricketers whose name he lifted were not really the best in business. Arunabha Sengupta tries to construct a cricketing eleven based on players with names common to Sherlockian characters.
The game’s afoot
Sherlock Holmes stories mention a cricket cap in The Adventure of the Priory School, and in The Adventure of the Three Students one of the three young men plays for his college. Apart from that the noble game does not merit a mention in the canon. Strange really, given that the great detective was supposedly named after two Nottinghamshire cricketers, Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock.
Moreover, when Shacklock turned out for Derbyshire, his fellow fast bowler was William Mycroft, after whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle named the enigmatic, eccentric and laid back elder brother of the great detective. (Yes, all those who have been introduced to Holmes through Benedict Cumberbatch, the real Mycroft is not at all like the one depicted by Mark Gatiss)
The cricketing connection of the great writer was not limited to just the names of characters. Sir Arthur was a First-Class cricketer of some ability. Wisden observed in his obituary: “While never a famous cricketer, he could hit hard and bowl slows with puzzling flight. For MCC v Cambridgeshire at Lord’s, in 1899, he took seven wickets for 61 runs, and on the same ground two years later carried out his bat for 32 against Leicestershire, who had Woodcock, Geeson and King to bowl for them.“
Sir Arthur was a First-Class cricketer of some ability. Wisden observed in his obituary: “While never a famous cricketer, he could hit hard and bowl slows with puzzling flight © Getty Images
Cricket did feature in some of Conan Doyle’s other writings. In one of his Brigadier Gerard stories, Conan Doyle describes a French officer’s rather calamitous efforts at the game as a prisoner of war.
He obviously spent a lot of hours contemplating about the game, often trying to conjure up indigenous ploys to dismiss a batsman. Late in his life, he wrote Spedegue’s Dropper, published as one of the ‘other stories’ with The Maracot Deep. In the tale, Sepdegue, the hero, develops an underhand delivery – a lob flung high enough in the air to come down vertically at the pace of a fast bowler. When he achieved accuracy, Spedegue won a famous Test match for England against Australia – in the tale which rang slightly thin.
However, Conan Doyle did have a rather peculiar peeve about left-handers, contending that left-hand batting should not be permitted since it held up the game. The moment of cricketing immortality brushed Conan Doyle when he picked up his only First-Class wicket – the scalp was of one Dr. WG Grace! So ecstatic was Sir Arthur that he penned a long poem describing the dismissal.
A lot of characters in the Holmes canon were named after cricketers. Apart from Sherlock Holmes himself and his brother Mycroft, there were plenty of times the Wisden was brought out when the master writer had to think of a name for the clients and villains of the sleuth.
For example, in 1852, a man by the name of George Frederick Baskerville Mortimer played one match for Surrey against MCC and now appears as ‘absent’ in the scorecard. His rather voluminous name found many uses in the famous Hound of the Baskervilles, lending the name of the client Dr Mortimer apart from the Baskerville family itself.Was the absence of GFB Mortimer a mystery? Who knows.
However, the problem is that most of the cricketers whose names Conan Doyle used were not really the famed ones who can walk into any eleven. Continuing with the above example, we can never be sure if GFB Mortimer would be available to bat if we included him in the team. But, given that the author created plenty of characters to choose from, we have attempted to create eleven based on them, composed of genuine Test cricketers.
Here is the team consisting of players who shared the last name with his characters – in the suggested batting order. Please note that the names of the inspectors and constables like Patterson, Jones and Martin have been ignored because of two reasons. They were minor characters and including them would make the task both patchy and trivial. The only member of the force considered in the team is Stanley Hopkins who appears in three stories and is mentioned in another.
A scene from the Sherlock Holmes adventure ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ © Getty Images
The Serlockian XI
Percy Holmes –His greatest feat was adding 555 for the first wicket with Herbert Sutcliffe for Yorkshire against Essex at Leyton. He also turned out in exactly 555 First-Class matches. Holmes was not that successful for England, appearing in just seven Tests and scoring 357 runs at 27.46, but who can resist starting the innings with the namesake of Sherlock himself.
Willie Watson (c) – A double international who played both cricket and football, he added 163 with Trevor Bailey at Lord’s to save the Test against Australia in 1953. He did play 23 times for England, although his success remained limited. As a captain of Leicestershire in his post-Yorkshire days, he should probably lead this motley crew. However, can there be any reason to stop Watson from partnering Holmes at the top of the order? The character associated with him is obviously Dr.John Watson.
Andrew Hudson – The South African stalwart should have opened the innings if it was not for the celebrated partnership at the top between the sleuth and his associate. A constant feature at the top of the order after South Africa were reinstated into the international fold, Hudson scored the country’s first century on return to Test cricket. The character he is linked to is Mrs Hudson, the long suffering landlady of 221B Baker Street. The fastidious lady with a queenly tread and commendable culinary skills is identified as ‘Martha’ in His Last Bow
JJ Lyons –The Australian hitter and useful medium pacer played 14 Tests between 1887 and 1897 with reasonable success. The highlight of his Test career was the breezy 134 at Sydney in 1892 with 16 fours and a six. In May 1893, he hit a 100 in an hour out of 124 against MCC at Lord’s, acknowledged as the greatest exhibition of front foot driving. He was also a good enough bowler to capture five wickets in an innings in a Test match. He is linked to Laura Lyons, the daughter of Baskerville’s neighbour Frankland who sends Sir Charles Baskerville a letter signed L.L. at the beginning of The Hound of the Baskervilles
Bunny Lucas–Alfred Perry ‘Bunny’ Lucas was a stylish batsman for Essex who was hailed as a prodigy during his schooldays and at Cambridge. He went on to represent England in five Tests. A rare cricketer who was considered attractive even while adopting an ultra-defensive approach, he shot to fame with an innings of 48 as a 17-year-old against Alfred Shaw and Fred Morley bowling at their best. He is linked to Eduardo Lucasof Godolphin Street near Whitehall, the society gentleman and amateur tenor, who is stabbed to death in The Adventure of the Second Stain
Bert Hopkins –The Australian fast medium bowler opened the bowling at Lord’s in 1902, and dismissed CB Fry and KS Ranjitsinhji to reduce England to zero for two. Those were his first wickets in Test cricket, and quite a duo to account for. He did not bowl in many of his 20 Tests, but used the rest of the opportunities to capture 26 wickets at 26.76 apiece. However, he made up for his lack of bowling spells by being a handy batsman as well, capable of holding his own in the lower middle order. Hardly surprising, given that he frequently opened the innings for New South Wales.He is linked to Inspector Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard who appears in The Adventure of Black Peter, The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez, The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and is mentioned in The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
Dr. Watson (left) and Sherlock Holmes Photo Courtesy: Helen Cohen
Wilf Ferguson– Ferguson’s leg-breaks had caused a lot of problems to the English batsmen when Gubby Allen had taken his team to the West Indies in 1948. He played eight Tests and captured 34 wickets, while
enjoying a long career for Trinidad and Tobago. Ferguson was a handy batsman as well, and was famous enough for Subhash Gupte to be dubbed ‘Fergie’. In The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire Robert Ferguson calls upon Sherlock Holmes with the suspicion that his Peruvian second wife is displaying the characteristics of a vampire.
Mitchell Johnson– The Australian left-arm quickneeds no introduction after the carnage he caused against England. Apart from being a vastly improved fast bowler, Johnson is more than handy with the bat. His Sherlockian namesake is Shinwell ‘Porky’ Johnson, a former criminal who has turned a leaf in life and acts as an informant and aide to Sherlock Holmes. Watson notes that Johnson is only useful in cases that will not go to court, but he plays an important role in The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.
Don Wilson– The Yorkshire left arm spinner played six Tests for England and played twice more for the country against Rest of The World in 1970. However, much of his career overlapped with Derek Underwood, which was the worst thing that could happen for an English slow left arm bowler. Jabez Wilson, the man with flaming red hair, is the client who approaches Sherlock Holmes in The Red Headed League
Joe Hunter (wk)–Hunter’s career was severely cut short by health problems, and perhaps he was not as good as some of his contemporaries, but he did play five Tests in the 1884-85 tour to Australia. He is the only wicket-keeper who shares his name with a character from the canon. In The Adventure of the Copper BreechesViolet Hunter seeks the advice of Holmes while wondering whether she should accept a position as governess.
Gladstone Small –The England fast bowler who seemed to be missing a neck and walked with a curious gait, nevertheless picked up 55 wickets in his 17 Tests. While one wag asked whether he had a ‘Disraeli Big’, others wondered how to get an MCC tie on him. However, the peg-legged Jonathan Small of The Sign of Fouris one of the most sinister villains in the entire canon. Perpetually accompanied by friend Tonga, he had his leg bitten off by a crocodile in India.
Johnnie Clay – The loyal Glamorgan off-spinner captured 176 wickets in 1937 and received call up for a Test against South Africa at The Oval. However, he spent most of his time staring at the blade of the resolute Bruce Mitchell. His name almost perfectly matches John Clay alias Vincent Spaulding, the villain of The Red Headed League.
Colin Munro – The hard hitting Kiwi batsman and occasional medium pacer still has the potential to get in the top eleven. Possessing a First-Class average of over 48, he has played only one Test match for New Zealand till now. In the canon Grant Munro has his characteristics deduced by Holmes in one of his logical games, before he actually gets to meet the detective. He complains about deception by his wife Effie Munroin The Adventure of the Yellow Face
Norman ‘Pompey’ Norton – This medium pacer of Border was also a handy batsman but unlucky to be selected for only a solitary match for South Africa. However, in that Cape Town Test, he picked up four for 47, including Frank Woolley and the great Jack Hobbs, the latter hit wicket for 187. Godfrey Nortonis the lawyer in A Scandal in Bohemia who resides in the Temple district and marries Irene Adler. It is a pity there is no Test playing Adler to pick in the side, but Norton’s presence in the reserves makes up for it to an extent.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)