Yes, Lord Byron did find his name among the stars, the poetry of heaven. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Yes, Lord Byron did find his name among the stars, the poetry of heaven. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Lord Byron, born January 22, 1788, did not walk in beauty; and his gait was as unlike any night of cloudless climes and starry skies as can get. In fact, he had a club foot. However, he did venture onto the cricket pitch in the rather prestigious Eton vs Harrow encounter of 1805. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the poet on the pitch.

His gifted pen scripted Don Juan, the most important long poem in the English language since Paradise Lost.

But George Gordon Byron, later George Gordon Noel-Byron and still later George Gordon Noel and finally just Lord Byron, was not really capable of playing any long innings with the willow.

However, he did feature in the very first Eton-Harrow encounter, played at the Old Lord’s Ground at Marylebone in 1805. A runner was allowed to help him out, because either club foot or infantile paralysis or dysplasia had left his right foot defective from birth. And he fell cheaply in both innings, caught by one of the Barnards of Eton in the first innings for 7 and bowled in the second for 2. But he did contribute. Even as Eton won by an innings and 2 runs, Byron did pick up a wicket as well.

He was a keen cricketer, even if his talents did not quite back his enthusiasm. In a letter to his brother two days after the match Byron recounted: “We played the Eton and were most confoundly beat. However, it was some comfort to me that I got 11 notches in the first innings and 7 in the second, which was more than any of our side except Brockman and Ipswich could contrive to hit.”

Well, amateur cricketers with limited ability are prone to exaggerating their moments in the sun. Byron got, as already mentioned, 7 and 2. Lord Ipswich did score 21 and 10, and William Brockman 9 and 10. Perhaps we can say that Byron’s was a case of “Our sweetest memorial, the first kiss of cricket”.

In fact, the captain of Harrow, JA Lloyd, was not really in favour of Byron’s inclusion. He later recalled, “Byron played very badly … he should never have been in the XI had my counsel been taken.”

Cricket being a ‘gentleman’s game’ even in those days, there was quite a bit of fracas after the game. Byron recalled in the same letter: “Later to be sure we were most of us very drunk and we went together to the Haymarket Theatre where we kicked up a row, as you may suppose when so many Harrovians and Etonians meet in one place. I was one of seven in a single Hackney, four Eton and three Harrow fellows, we all got into the same box, the consequence was that such a devil of a noise arose that none of our neighbours could hear a word of the drama, at which not being highly delighted they began to quarrel with us and we nearly came to a battle royal etc.”

Perhaps that prompted the poet to write much later, “Oh, God! it is a fearful thing/To see the human soul take wing/In any shape, in any mood.” At least, we cricket historians would like to believe that.

Incidentally, the other point of interest in the match is pseudo-literary. Byron, in both the innings, batted at No 7. Preceding him in the batting order was a lad called Arthur Shakespear. Yes, almost the name of the greatest poet of all, but for a trailing ‘e’.