Frank Druce (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Frank Druce (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

The MCC  archive shows an interesting list, updated till 2017, mentioning the names of all on whom the MCC have conferred Honorary Life Memberships “recognising outstanding service to the club.” The Preamble states: “It has been bestowed sparingly and, including visiting royalty, only 84 members have been honoured since the club’s foundation in 1838.” The first entries are dated 1861, when DS Campbell (first Vice-President of the Club), and G Cavenagh (first Presdent) were both honoured by the Club. The entry for 2017 is in the name of Paul Sheahan of Australia.

In between, the following have been some of the names gracing the list: Prince Albert Victor of Wales, Prince George of Wales, Ivo Bligh, Lord Hawke, KS Ranjitsinhji (the only Indian on the list), King Edward VIII, Warwick Armstrong, King George VI, The Duke of Gloucester, The Duke of Edinburgh, and The Prince of Wales. One of the four entries for 1898 is the name of Norman Frank Druce, commonly known as Frank Druce.

As with many other old surnames of England, the name of ‘Druce’ is thought to have come to England in the wake of the Norman conquest of 1066, and the name is thought to have been derived from Dreux, a place in Eure-et-Loire, France. The early members of the family had probably settled down in Wiltshire, and the name of one Herman de Dreuues is entered in Domesday Book as being a landed personage in the county of Wiltshire, coming into the property as the recipient of a Royal gift for his services in the Battle of Hastings.

The Druce family of Denmark Hill, London, had a wonderful New Year present in 1875 when a third son was born to Walter William Druce. As with the other boys of the family, the youngest, christened Norman Frank, was educated at Marlborough College, being admitted in 1889, and residing at the Preshute House of the seminary. As a corollary of the previous statement, it may be stated that he was inculcated into the rich heritage of cricket that the famous college had acquired over a long period of time.

As part of the festivities to celebrate 175 years of Marlborough, a brochure covering the Festival of Sport that had taken place in 2017, gives an interesting background of how cricket had gradually become an important part of the extracurricular activities of the college. The introduction states: “In the absence of organised sport or recreation, the earliest boys at Marlborough were left to amuse themselves. They played with marbles and skipping ropes and games such as peg-top, fly-the-garter and leap-frog. Half-holidays were often spent fishing, swimming and rafting in the Kennet, or raiding birds’ nests at Savernake.”

Marlborough College Cricket Club was established in 1849, and regular practice became the norm from that time. The cricket ground, The Eleven, was first identified in 1848. It was improved in 1855 and the first pavilion was built in 1856. One of the peculiarities of The Eleven is the steep slope on one side of the ground (estimated to be about 10 feet in height). Hits for 6, 7, or 8 have been known to be made on that side, and one of 13 is reputed to be the record.

Initially, the cricket had been restricted to inter-house games. That changed in 1855 when Marlborough College played the first interschool match against Rugby School at Lord’s. The annual 2-day fixture remains an important event in the cricket calendar to this day. With time, cricket became the foremost sporting activity at Marlborough, becoming a compulsory activity throughout the school on half-holidays, and several noted cricketers emerged from the college ranks over the years, AG Steel, Druce, and Reggie Spooner being three alumni who played cricket for England in later years.

Druce played cricket for his college from 1891 (under the captaincy of eldest brother Walter, and alongside his other brother Cyril) to 1893, captaining the side in his final year and scoring 53 (top score) and 13 against Rugby at Lord’s. He left Marlborough in midsummer and was admitted at Trinity, Cambridge. He earned his BA degree in 1897 and his Light Blue in cricket from 1894 to 1897, captaining the University in 1897. Druce played some of his best cricket during his time at Cambridge University.

The chapter on University Cricket in the book Cricket, edited by Horace G Hutchinson and written by Home Gordon and ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower begins with the lines: “To thousands who have never been near the banks of the Cam or the Isis, “the ‘Varsity match” forms one of the episodes of each recurring year. It is a social festival; perhaps, also, it is the last great manifestation of cricket as a game, and not as a money-making business, which is to be found among First-Class fixtures. But the University match is more than this, for it is the Mecca of all who have gone down from Oxford or Cambridge, the opportunity for the renewal of former acquaintances, possibly the only occasion when you come across those who were amongst your greatest friends in the day of arcades ambo.”

One of the important connotations of the above quote is that University cricket at the turn of the century was thought to be the platform for one of the purest forms of amateur cricket, played for the pure joy of playing the game, and not besmirched by any suggestion of monetary gain. It was thought to be an important platform for character-building and one of the bastions of the British Empire. There have, of course, been several stalwarts of the Empire who have not had the opportunity for a University education with its attendant advantages, but an Oxbridge upbringing on the threshold of a man’s life was thought to be a definite step up the ladder of life.

Druce made his First-Class debut playing for Cambridge University against the might of Yorkshire at Fenner’s in 1894 in his freshman year, to borrow an American expression. The Yorkshire team had players of the calibre of John Tunnicliffe, John Brown, Ted Wainwright, Bobby Peel, and George Hirst, among others. Dismissed by Wainwright for a duck in the first innings, Druce scored 31 in the second, helping Cambridge to win by 119 runs. He played only 4 First-Class matches in the relatively wet summer of 1894, all for the University, including the matches against Oxford at Lord’s and against MCC at Fenner’s without doing anything extraordinary.

An interesting story is told about one of the fellow-students of Druce at Cambridge, WG Grace Jr. The tall and bespectacled Grace Jr, normally an opening batsman, was not selected for the game against Yorkshire in 1894. The Champion was not happy about that, and was decidedly peeved when Grace Jr was also overlooked for the game against MCC at Fenner’s.

Deciding to tackle the situation himself, Grace Sr, as skipper of the MCC team, selected his son to play for MCC against the University cricket team. This placed young Grace, always in awe of his illustrious father, and not very comfortable in his presence, in a rather awkward position. The MCC won the game by 8 wickets, but Grace Jr, opening batting with his father in the only innings he batted, registered a duck while Grace Sr scored 136. Unfortunately, the same fate befell the young WG in the return match at against Cambridge at Lord’s, when he registered another duck while his father went on to score 196.

In a First-Class career spanning 1894 to 1913, Druce played 66 matches, scoring 3,416 runs with a highest of 227* and an average of 35.21. He had 9 centuries, and held 66 catches. He also played 5 Tests for England, all during the 1897-98 tour of Australia, aggregating 252 runs with a highest of 64 (his only fifty) and an average of 28.

A warm and dry summer greeted the cricket enthusiasts of England in 1895, and the batting of Frank Druce flowered. In 19 matches he aggregated 962 runs. He had a highest of 199* and an average of 35.62, scoring 3 centuries. He scored his maiden First-Class century against CI Thornton’s XI. The match was drawn.

Cambridge won the match against MCC at Fenner’s by an innings and 23 runs, Druce remaining 199 not out in the first innings of 515. This was only the second instance (out of 11 till date) when a batsman had remained not out on 199 in a First-Class match, after George Ulyett had set the trend by carrying his bat for 199 for Yorkshire against Derbyshire at Sheffield in 1887.

In the next match on the calendar, against the visiting Dublin University, Druce scored 116.  At this point of his career, Druce was making a name for himself with his forcing style of batting. In CRICKET, referred to above, Home Gordon and Leveson-Gower had this to say about the quality of Druce’s batting around this time: “The brilliancy of Mr. N. F. Druce has hardly been excelled. His batting was once described as ‘the champagne of cricket,’ and certainly the epithet is deserved.”

Just as cricket has always been traditionally played in England at the school and university level, the game also has a long tradition of being a popular sport at the ’varsity level in USA. A pamphlet describing the history of American cricket states that the game had been played at Dartmouth in 1793 and at Yale in 1818. Cricket began at Harvard, Ohio Wesleyan, and Fordham in the 1830s, and at the University of Pennsylvania in 1842. It was not long before inter-university cricket began to gain popularity in USA. Haverford College beat University of Pennsylvania by 29 runs in 1864, the match going down in history as the second-oldest inter-collegiate sporting contest in the USA, after the Harvard-Yale Boat race of 1852.

Intercollegiate cricket in North America entered a new phase in 1895 with the USA College XI (comprising students from Harvard, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania) taking on the Canada College XI (composed mainly of players from Trinity and Toronto Universities). The event was organised by the Intercollegiate Cricket Association. In September that year, intercollegiate cricket in North America had a taste of Global cricket when a 12-member team, comprising players from Oxford and Cambridge, made a short tour under the captaincy of Frank Mitchell (later to play Test cricket for England and South Africa). They played 3 First-Class and 3 Second-Class matches. Included in the touring team was Druce, almost an automatic choice, given his good form for Cambridge in 1895.

The first engagement was a second-class game against All New York at Staten Island. The visitors won by 8 wickets despite a fair batting display by the home team in the second innings. Druce had the honour of scoring the first century (121) by a player representing a British University in North America. A 2-day game against Canada at Toronto was drawn; Druce scored 33.

Druce sat out the first First-Class fixture of the tour, against the University of Pennsylvania Past and Present at Philadelphia. Despite following on, the home team won by 100 runs, thanks to the all-round excellence of George Patterson (5 for 96 and 5 for 22 with ball, and 23 and 63 with bat). The visitors were barely spared their blushes in the second match, against The Gentlemen of Philadelphia, at Philadelphia, just about winning by 2 wickets. Patterson was the colossus of the game, with 109* (carrying his bat) and 67, and with bowling figures of 4 for 67 in the second innings. Druce had scores of 30 and a vital 57 (when the outcome of the match had been in the balance with wickets falling regularly at the other end). The legendary Bart King made his mark in the first innings with 7 for 55, bowling unchanged through the innings.

The Gentlemen of Philadelphia wrapped up the short series at Haverford with a victory by an innings and 39 runs. This time the batting of Francis Bohlen (115) made a decided difference before King tore into the opposition with 5 for 47 and 6 for 61, again bowling through the innings. Druce had scores of 26 and 46.

In Ranji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket, the chapter on cricket at Cambridge had been written by WJ Ford, possibly to spare Ranji, a prolific scorer for Cambridge himself, any embarrassment. It seems that there has been a tradition at Cambridge that “the fixtures of the season at Cambridge are generally started with teams captained by the old hard-hitting Cantab, C. I. Thornton, and by A. J. Webbe, of Oxford and Middlesex renown. The M.C.C. pays an annual visit, as do several of the First-Class counties.”

Well, the onset of the 1896 season did not go very well for Druce; he collected a duck against each of Thornton’s XI and Webbe’s XI. Playing for the South, Druce scored only 8 against the visiting 1896 Australians.

It was soon time for the annual fixture between Cambridge and MCC at Lord’s. Grace Sr was conspicuous by his absence in this fixture, and Grace Jr turned out for the University. MCC were soon bowled out for 134. The Undergrads did no better, being dismissed for 111. Druce scored 13.

At the end of the first day’s play, MCC were 92 for 2. They eventually put up a substantial total of 483, taking the match almost out of the reach of the Cambridge team, who were faced with an improbable winning target of 507. The second day ended with the undergrads on 98 for 2, Druce batting on a round 50 and Clem Wilson on 20, after Grace Jr had been dismissed for a duck and Burnup for 26. One-drop man Harold Marriott had been forced to retire hurt.

That left 408 runs to get on the last day with 8 wickets in hand, an almost impossible task, given the quality of the MCC bowling that had dismissed them for only 111 in the first innings. As was his usual custom, Druce played another hard-hitting innings when play resumed on the last day, well-supported by the watchful Wilson. They added 242 for the third wicket before Druce was dismissed by Walter Mead for 146. Marriott, having recovered from his injury, now joined Wilson at the crease, but Wilson (82) was out soon after this.

William Hemingway (12) helped Marriott to add 41. With wickets falling at the other end and time running out, Marriott began to accelerate. Skipper Mitchell (7) was dismissed at the total of 352, followed by John Stogdon (8), the seventh wicket falling at 389. The target was still 118 away, but Marriott found an able ally in wicketkeeper Edward Bray. The pair kept whittling away at the target.

Excitement mounted around the home of cricket as the impossible suddenly began to seem possible. Marriott, 21, and Bray, 22 and not known to be a very reliable or forceful batsman, batted with a maturity well beyond their years in the face of an attack gradually running out of ideas, perhaps even panicking to some extent. An additional and very crucial factor turned out to be the absence, through injury, of the regular MCC wicketkeeper Davenport. The MCC conceded 45 byes during the innings. In the end, Cambridge reached their target of 507 for the loss of 7 wickets, the eighth wicket adding 118 runs in an unbroken partnership. Marriott scored 146* and Bray 32* at the end of it all.

This was the first time in history that a team had scored more than 500 runs in the fourth innings of a First-Class match. The second instance was also to be at Lord’s, in 1900, when the Players got the better of the Gentlemen by scoring 502 for 8. Till date, there have been 14 instances of teams scoring 500 in the fourth innings, the only instance of this happening in a Test being the celebrated Timeless Test between South Africa and England at Durban in 1938-39.

For Cambridge, 1897 began with the game against Thornton’s XI at Fenner’s. Druce, in his final year at Cambridge, was the skipper of the team now. He carried out his first duty as the captain successfully by winning the toss and opting to bat. George Hirst (4 for 48) and Alec Hearne (3 for 44) combined to bowl Cambridge out for 169, Druce scoring only 1. In a robust riposte, Cambridge dismissed the opposition for only 132, Gilbert Jessop (4 for 46) and Herman de Zoete (3 for 58) being particularly effective for the home side. That gave the undergrads a slender lead of 37.

Druce walked in at No. 4 to join Marriott. The third wicket added 175 runs before Marriott (73) was dismissed. Druce then forged a stands of 111 with Stogdon (31) and 46 with Jessop (37) before declaring the innings closed at 385 for 5, himself remaining not out on 227. This was the first time that a Cambridge batsman had scored a double-century in a First-Class match. It was the only instance in the 19th century, and was the highest individual score at Fenner’s at the time.

The Cambridge bowlers later combined to bowl out Thornton’s XI for 88, ensuring victory by 334 runs. It was an auspicious start to the season. Indeed, Druce was to aggregate 928 runs at an average of 51.55 with 3 centuries.

The month of June brought Druce two more centuries in consecutive games at Fenner’s, 117 against Hampshire and 109 against Gentlemen of Philadelphia. By now Druce had been well-established as one of the brightest batting prospects to come out of Cambridge in a long time, and it came as no surprise when he was selected as one of the five Players of the Year by Wisden in 1898, the others being Jessop, Frederick Bull, Willis Cuttell, and Jack Mason.

Druce ended with an envious record for Cambridge, scoring 2,121 runs at an average of 45.12 with 7 centuries. He also held 43 catches for his university. Wisden had this to say about Druce in their citation: “When playing one of his long innings he is a delightful bat to look at, his style being quite a model of freedom, and his cricket always most vigorous and attractive. He plays his own game without any over-rigid adherence to rule, scoring on the on-side from straight balls in a fashion only possible to a batsman with a genius for timing.”

Druce had a rather short and uneasy alliance with Surrey, playing 12 matches for them, 7 of them in 1895 and 5 in 1897, but being unable to produce the form that had made him such a formidable performer for his university. His 12 matches produced only 286 runs with a highest of 51* (his only fifty), and an average of 19.06.

In the meantime, the authorities of MCC and the trustees of Sydney Cricket Ground combined to arrange and host an English touring side to Australia in the winter of 1897-98 under ‘Drewy’ Stoddart. It was to be the 11th Test-playing tour of Australia by England. The 13-member touring party consisted of five amateurs — Stoddart, Ranji, Druce, Mason, and Archie MacLaren. Five of the selected players had never played a Test match — Druce, Hirst, Mason, and the wicketkeepers Jack Board and Bill Storer. On the other hand, Johnny Briggs was making his sixth and final tour of Australia. When the team was officially announced, the name of each player appeared on the list with the name of his county in parentheses. For Druce, his name was followed by the legend (Cam), signifying Cambridge University.

The team arrived in Australia on October 24 and spent 50 days prior to the first Test playing 3 First-Class games, against South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, and 6 other Second-Class games. On December 8, Stoddart received news of his mother’s passing away in England, just five days before the first Test. While he did not go back to England, he was in deep grief, and MacLaren took over the captaincy duties temporarily. Incessant rain made any play impossible for about a week prior to the onset of the Tests, and ground conditions at Sydney prompted a postponement of the first Test by two days.

The fact that Australia won the series 4-1 (England winning the first Test at Sydney by 9 wickets) is well-documented. The wins in the second and third Tests at Melbourne and Adelaide respectively were by an innings; the fourth Test at Melbourne, by 8 wickets; and the final Test at Sydney, by 6 wickets. The margins underline the obvious superiority of the hosts over the entire series. Druce was surprisingly subdued throughout the Australian tour, and he seemed to have lost his Cambridge sparkle.

Though he did score 109 against NSW later in the tour, he managed only 222 runs from his 6 First-Class matches, averaging a below-par 27.75. His performances in the 5 Tests were no better, as mentioned above. His performance was a definite letdown, not only for himself, but for the team, considering the reputation he had made for himself before he had been selected for the tour. He scored 64 and 18 in his last Test.

Upon his return to England from Australia, Druce became somewhat irregular as far as First-Class cricket was concerned. Being an amateur, he needed some occupation to sustain himself. He went into the distillery business, becoming associated with the firm of JS Smith, Druce & Company (established in London in 1785), known for operating the Phoenix Distillery in Mile End and dealing in fine cognac, rum, whisky, and London Tavern Dry Gin. Rising to a responsible position in the company, he began to spend more and more time in the City looking after his business interests.

In this connexion, the London Gazette of February 21, 1908 had an interesting notification mentioning the name of Norman Frank Druce. It seems that the Company, though more than 100 years old, was not doing very well in the face of fierce competition from rival concerns. An Extraordinary Meeting of the members of the company was therefore convened in the offices of the Phoenix Distillery, and a Special Resolution was passed: “That the Company be wound up voluntarily in pursuance of the provisions of the Companies Acts, 1862-1900; and that George Claridge Druce and Norman Frank Druce are hereby appointed joint Liquidators, with full powers to carry out the said winding up.” It may be mentioned here that the aforesaid George Druce was a cricket-playing uncle of the three Druce brothers, Walter, Cyril, and Frank.

Druce did not forsake cricket altogether, though his appearances became sporadic and wider-spaced. He turned out for MCC in a game in 1902 and in a game for HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI in 1909. In 1912, he joined the Free Foresters, founded in 1850 by the Rector of Sutton Coldfield, the Rev. William Kirkpatrick Bedford. Beginning with 1912 and up to and including 1968, the games played by the Free Foresters against Oxford and Cambridge were attributed First-Class.

His first game for his new team was against his old university, Cambridge, and was played at his favourite ground, Fenner’s, where he had excelled with the bat as an undergrad. Although Cambridge scored 250 and dismissed the visitors for a mere 107 (Frank and Walter scored 8 each). The undergrads were then bowled out for only 74.

With a winning target of 218, Frank Druce opened the innings and remained undefeated on 152 (with 22 fours), batting from memory perhaps, but charming the crowd with his wizardry as of old. He shared a fifth-wicket stand of 109 with Noel Phillips (29, and younger brother of the Frank Phillips with whom he had played in the combined Oxford-Cambridge team that had toured North America). Free Foresters won by 5 wickets.

That knock was to be his last hurrah, his final bravura performance, the valedictory act of his batting career, as it were. Bruce did play twice more for Free Foresters, the last in 1913, also against his old alma mater, scoring 3 and 4. By now he was 38. His very last documented cricket match was for Free Foresters against his old school, Marlborough, in 1914, a Second-Class fixture. All three Druce brothers played in the same team, and Frank put in a command all-round performance, with 14 and 46, 1 wicket, and 4 catches in the second innings.

Norman Frank Druce, the forceful, if unorthodox batsman, and Honorary Life Member of MCC, passed away on October 27, 1954, having lived a full and eventful life and having been the darling of Fenner’s in his halcyon days at Cambridge.