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Andrew Stoddart, born March 11, 1863, was a rare double international who led England in both cricket and rugby. One of the best batsmen of his time, he was the first captain to declare an innings in a Test match. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man whose end was as sad as his deeds had been happy.
The supreme sporting hero
The year was 1886. That sunny day in early August dawned on an invigorated young Andrew Stoddart. The 23-year-old was a picture of youthful vitality, one of the premier young sportsmen in England, excelling in cricket and rugby, equally at home while scoring runs with fantastic flourish, or adroitly dodging, jumping over opponents and running like a furious streak along the flanks.
In cricket, he had already played in the First-Class circuit for Middlesex. In rugby, he had represented England several times, against Wales at Swansea and Blackheath, against Ireland at Manchester and Lansdowne Road and against Scotland at Edinburgh.
That August day Stoddart was supposed to turn out for Hampstead against the visiting Stoics. The preparation for the match did not quitefollow the way of the ideal cricketer. But, then, that was typical of this fascinating talent.
The previous night Stoddart had gone dancing with friends, following which the wee hours were spent in some serious poker contests. The young man won quite a lot, and with a satisfied smile he indulged himself with a warm soak. Following this, he took his friends along to the swimming baths. Towelling himself down, he looked at the glorious day and smiled. He had never felt better.
After tucking into a heavy breakfast, off he went to the Hampstead ground. And he was in first, opening the innings along with Billy Marshall. That morning the Stoic bowlers were ransacked, plundered, demolished. Stoddart struck the ball with the thrill of his throbbing life force, the fielders were run ragged, while mountains of runs were piled on. By lunchtime he was 230 not out.
Declarations would be allowed a few years down the line, and Stoddart would be the first Test captain to close an incomplete innings – but that would have to wait. The rules did not allow the closure of an innings, and visiting side did not even get a bat in that match organised for one day. Hampstead piled on 813 for nine, and Stoddart was finally out for 485, at that time the highest score in any class of cricket.
He walked back, a full night’s dancing and poker and a near quintuple century under his belt. And immediately he went off to the tennis court for a doubles game. This necessitated another bath, after which Stoddart went to the theatre before making his way to another supper party. According to him, he retired early that night, “I got to bed all right, and it wasn’t nearly three.”
Stoddart loved life, and had plenty of reason to.
That epic innings changed his approach to cricket. Stoddart had toyed with the idea of joining his brother Harry who was workingin Colorado. However, his success at the crease changed the equations of his life.
Early in the following season, the young ‘Drewy’ Stoddart walked out to open the innings for an England side alongside the best professional batsman in the country – Arthur Shrewsbury. They were playing he Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s. Shrewsbury scored 152, Stoddart just one less. The two added 266 for the first wicket, in contrasting styles. Stoddartstruck the ball with the ebullience and enthusiasm of youth and talent;Shrewsbury was as always correct, composed and classy. A few months later, in February 1888, the two opened the innings for England against Australia at Sydney against Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris.
It is shocking to think in retrospect that these two splendid batsmen of the Victorian age both went on to commit suicide.
Yes, Drewy Stoddart, a man in whom enthusiasm was infectious, who was full to the brim with zest for life, died by his own hands.
Cricket and Rugby
Born in South Shields, County Durham, Stoddart was the youngest son of a wine merchant. As a boy of 14 he moved with his family to Marylebone, London.
He grew up into an extremely popular man, handsome, elegant and incredibly talented. He earned his living as a stockbroker, but lived on the cricket and rugby grounds — and partied hard at night. His natty dress-sense earned him the nickname ‘The Masher’.
He made his reputation in club cricket and by 1885 he was playing for Middlesex , making his mark as a flamboyant player of the drive and a useful change bowler with his medium pace. However, he was a relatively late entrant in the cricket ground. He excelled in rugby and picked up cricket almost as an afterthought at the age of 22.
During the 1886-87 tour of Australia with GF Vernon’s side, he scored 95 against Victoria, 55 against New South Wales and then 285 against the Melbourne Juniors. And on that trip he also met the girl he would marry in 1906. It was a long, complicated romance, and the lady in question was already married when he met her.
He was back in Australia in 1888. With fellow cricketers Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, Stoddart organised a tour which was later recognised as the first British Lions rugby union visit of Australia and New Zealand. Early in the trip skipper Robert L Seddon tragically died in a sculling accident. Stoddart took over the captaincy. The team won 27 of 35 rugby union games. They also contested 19 matches played under Australian Football rules, winning six and drawing one. Stoddart stood out as one of the most gifted players of the side.
When the Maori team visited England in early 1889, Stoddart was a member of the home side that emerged victorious at Blackheath. And in 1890 he led the England side twice in rugby, losing to Wales at Dewsbury and winning against Ireland at Blackheath. That same year, he became a founding member of the Barbarians, the invitational rugby club. In December, Stoddartled the first Barbarian team against Hartlepool Rovers.
All this while, his cricket career progressed steadily. His appetite for huge scores remained intact, as he creamed the Lancashire attack including Arthur Mold and Johnny Briggs fora spectacular 215 in the summer of 1891.
This earned him another trip to Australia in 1891-92, this time under WG Grace. England lost the first two Tests and won the third. In that victorious Adelaide match Stoddart struck a quick and delightful 134.
In the international scene it was once again back to rugby. Stoddart led England on two more occasions, losing to Wales at Cardiff and to Scotland at Leeds. The dispute between the unions that broke out at this time severely curtailed his career. This was the end of his rugby days for England, and he went down as one of the very best wing three quarters to have ever played the game.
On the field he was exceedingly quick, and formed an outstanding partnership with half-back Alan Rotherham. He was also renowned for his drop-kicking ability. In one county match he drop-kicked Middlesex to victory despite Yorkshire having scored four tries to their one – at the time a drop-goal counted more than any number of tries and this led directly to a rule change.
It was, however, still high noon for his cricket. In the summer of 1893, Stoddart carried his bat to score 195 not out against a strong Nottinghamshire side at Lord’s and followed it up with 124 in the second innings. When Australia visited in July 1893, WG was indisposed and missed the first Test at Lord’s. It was Stoddart who was asked to lead in his stead, and opened the innings with Shrewsbury.
It was a strange and sullen coincidence. A few days ago, former England batsman William Scotton had killed himself at his lodgings near Lord’s. Now, Shrewsbury and Stoddart entered to start the England innings. On their way to the wicket they passed Billy Bruce of Australia, another man who would go on to take his own life.
In the Test match, Stoddart became the first ever captain to declare an innings in Test cricket.
Grace did return for the second and third Tests, and each time he took Stoddart with him to start the innings. They put on 151 at The Oval, Stoddart being the first to be dismissed for 83. Grace followed at the same score for 68. The younger man was in no way intimidated by the great bearded legend of Gloucestershire. Neither was he overshadowed.
Toast of the Empire
In 1894, Stoddart was approached to assemble a team to tour Australia. The result was one of the most thrilling five-Test series ever witnessed. The riveting Test matches captured the imagination of both countries.
The first match at Sydney was won by 10 runs after Australia had forced England to follow on. In the second at Melbourne, Stoddart hit a sublime 173 as England won again. It remained the highest score by an England captain in Australia until 1975, when the battered and beleaguered Mike Denness finally found form to go past him.
In the third Test at Adelaide, Australia won by virtue of a superlative performance by Albert Trott – incidentally another cricketer who went on to die by his own hands. And Harry Graham’s century made it 2-2 in the fourth Test at Sydney.
At Melbourne, Australia led by 29 in the first innings, and set a tricky target of 297, but JT Brown smashed 140 to win it for England after they had been two down for 28.
Punch celebrated the Ashes win in 1894-95 with a poem which ran:
Then wrote the queen of England
Whose hand is blessed by God
I must do something handsome
For my dear victorious Stod.
Some seven decades after that, My dear victorious Stod became the title of David Frith’s splendid biography of Stoddart.
Andrew Stoddart was the toast of the Empire. He was the all-conquering Ashes captain, young, superbly gifted, at home in all the celebratory dinners that took place back in London, yet managing to remain modest in spite of all the success. His casual image was enhanced by the banjo that conspicuously peeped out of his luggage.
A splendid driver and a great hitter to the leg, he already had 812 runs from 12 Tests at 38.66, an excellent average in those days of non-standardised wickets.
However, the sad days were not far away.
The gathering clouds
During the Ashes of 1896, Stoddart opened the innings with WG again, at Lord’s and Old Trafford. However, there were insinuations in the press that Stoddart had been a shamateur, earning more from the expenses paid for his tours than some of the professional cricketers. Hurt by the accusations, Stoddart refused to play at The Oval.
In 1896-97, he toured West Indies with Arthur Priestley’s men, scoring hundreds against St Vincent, St Kitts, Antigua and Jamaica. The following summer he did make runs steadily for Middlesex before a knee injury restricted his movements.
But, when Stoddart took a second England side to Australia in 1897-98, the tour turned out to be tragic for the erstwhile happy man.
The long sea voyage was marred by sickness. The captain himself was confined to bed and missed the opening match at Brisbane. Following this, his watch and chain were stolen and he also lost his keys. Amidst all these disturbances, there arrived on December 8 the fatal cable bearing the terrible news of the death of his beloved mother.
Stoddart was shattered. He no longer had his heart in the game. He did get back into cricket with 111 at Ballarat, but that was more of an exception. He played just two of the five Tests. The press was snapping at his heels yet again, this time using innuendos to hint at his long standing affair with the lady whom he had met in 1886. “‘Stoddy’ is searching for a wife,” announced one paper while another added with venomous cheek, “Whose wife?”
It was during those days that Stoddart’s scrupulously maintained album of cuttings was morbidly embellished by the addition of the cartoon of a ‘tired pessimist’ committing ‘fish suicide’. It depicted an angler waiting for a fish to bite, rifle muzzle in mouth, fishing line tied to the trigger. It was the only item in the album with no link to romantic or sporting pursuits. Precursor of his ultimate fate? Perhaps.
The England captain also courted unpopularity by being scathing about the Australian barracking in a press interview. He considered the act of the Australian crowds insulting. It was obvious in retrospect that Stoddart’s many woes during the tour had found voice in that biting criticism. However, the Australian press and public quickly branded him a poor loser, venting his fury on the spectators after the 1-4 loss in the series.
The only positive to come out of the tour was a sweepstake that won him £1,350, and Stoddart split the prize among his players and some of his hosts. However, when he left the Australian shores with a sigh of relief, he did not quite anticipate the cold reaction back at home. While reviewing AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, the poet Francis Thompson referred to Stoddart as ‘that Son of Grief’.
Glimpses of his best
Stoddart batted with vintage touch in 1898, his last full season, scoring over 1000 runs at 47.18. He embarked on one American tour under KS Ranjitsinhji, and appeared on the cricket field only sporadically after that.
However, there yet was another fascinating innings. On Whit Monday,1900, it was out of admiration for the great medium pacer JT Hearne that Stoddart appeared in his benefit match, playing for Middlesex against Somerset at Lord’s. He was bowled for 12 in the first innings. In the second, with 10,000 spectators egging him on, Stoddart turned the clock back, hitting 221 at a run a minute. It was a spectacular display and the crowd went hoarse with cheering in heady intoxication offered by his strokeplay.
That evening, as numerous words of congratulations kept following him, Stoddart responded, “The innings will be a consolation for my old age.”
As David Frith wrote, “ Old age never came.”
Stoddart moved away from cricket with 996 runs from 16 Tests at 35.57. His First-Class tally was 16,738 from 309 matches at 32.12 with 26 hundreds. Although he managed just two wickets in Test cricket, his returns in the First-Class game were considerably better, his medium pace earning him 278 wickets at 23.63.
By his own hands
Stoddart became the secretary to Neasden Golf Club and then Queen’s Club in West London. Soon he was married to Ethel, his recently divorced lady love from Australia. The two lived in St John’s Wood Road for a while before moving to a three-storey house in Clifton Hill, Maida Vale.
His days were passed in quiet conversation at the Club, mostly about experiences from his cricketing days. From time to time he was seen at Lord’s, watching the cricket or attending dinners. With time his weight increased with more and more whiskey and soda sloshing about in him.
In later days, Stoddart was often seen gazing from his front window, looking far into the distance, at nothing in particular. His ears perhaps heard the crowd at Blackheath or at Lord’s. The finances of the family were not adequate. The marriage was not blessed with a child and gradually lost its magic.
The year 1914 brought plenty of grief to his tired heart in great, morbid blows. His brother Harry died in faraway America. In the cricket world, Reginald ‘Tip’ Foster and AG Steel passed away and Albert Trott, a colleague in Middlesex, died of self-inflicted gunshot. One of his colleagues at Queen’s Club was the nephew of JT Hearne, and this young man also killed himself.
Additionally, Stoddart’s health broke down. He was afflicted by a severe bout of influenza and was supposed to go on a recuperative trip to Australia. However, he could not summon the will to embark on the voyage.
In April 1915, he announced to his wife that he was at the end of his tether. He produced a pistol from his pocket, threatening to end it all. Ethel took away the box of cartridges while she and a lady friend reasoned with him, hoping that he would calm down. After a while, he tucked the pistol back in his pocket and seemed in control of himself. The two relieved women bade him goodnight.
However, that midnight, Stoddart shot himself in his bedroom with a bullet from a hidden second box of ammunition. His wife found him in his bedroom after midnight, with blood trickling down his cheek. The inquest jury at Marylebone returned a verdict of ‘suicide while of unsound mind’.
The Pall Mall Gazette mourned: “In how many country houses is his portrait at this moment hanging with those of the other great sportsmen of our time! Had his admirers but known of his difficulties would they not gladly have ended them? Something forbade it, perhaps pride. It is all too sad for words.”
(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)
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