Given the extent to which it spread in the Victorian era, facial hair became an intrinsic part of cricket. WG Grace, owner of the most celebrated moustache in cricket (in all sport, perhaps), played a crucial role in this. As Grace established himself as cricket’s first celebrity, so did his beard, to imposing proportions seldom associated with any sport.

Cricket has had its share of top-quality beards. George Bonnor and Jack Blackham held the Australian flag high. Beards lost their charm between the Wars (think Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Bill O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett, Wally Hammond, Harold Larwood, Herbert Sutcliffe, and others) before returning at their strongest in the 1970s and 1980s.

From Greg Chappell to Mike Brearley to Mike Gatting to Chetan Sharma, nearly two generations of cricketers contributed to the cause. After a brief hiatus in the 1990s and early 2000s, beards became fashionable again. Daniel Vettori and Misbah-ul-Haq made impressions with thick, bushy beards, but were easily surpassed by Kane Richardson and Anton Devcich.

As the world moved on from an era when shaving was compulsory before and during matches, beards became a symbol of coolness. The 5 o’clock shadow became common during Tests once cricketers took to the habit of not bothering with the razor. It would have been unthinkable a century ago.

The current Indian team has taken serious initiative towards this. There was no respite once Shikhar Dhawan started the trend: Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay, and Kedar Jadhav all joined the bandwagon.

And then, there are the Sikhs (from Lall Singh to Sarandeep Singh) and Muslims (Mohammad Yousuf, Moeen Ali, and Hashim Amla), who grew beards mostly out of religious reasons. Some of them turned out to be quite impressive.

This piece, however, will stay clear of beards. Despite their limited scope of vertical growth, moustaches can grow horizontally. They can be moulded to various shapes using pomade and others marvels of science.

There are theories, however, regarding the spread of the moustache in Britain in the 19th century. Clean-shaven British found it difficult to earn respect in the Indian armies, for Indians considered facial hair as a symbol of virility. And once the moustache arrived, it spread to the Mother Nation. The rest, as they say, was history.

Indeed, obtaining a squad of clean-shaven cricketers was almost impossible before the Wars. Check this Australian team from 1888, for example.

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Cricket’s first great moustache probably belonged to EM Grace, probably the greatest cricketer to have to relinquish a moniker. EM, elder brother of WG, was universally called The Doctor (he was one). Then WG emerged as the greatest cricketer of the BB* Era. Being a doctor, he also laid claim to the title. EM had to remain content with The Coroner (he was that, too).

* Before Bradman

WG was also the only reason behind EM’s mutton-chops not attaining the glamour they so richly deserved. It was nevertheless a magnificent piece of art, worthy of a 10/10 rating. GF, younger brother of EM and WG, was a bright talent in the realm of facial hair too. Untimely death claimed GF at a mere 29 and his moustache in its teens.

Far, far away in the Antipodes, Tom Horan had been living up to the challenge as well. In fact, he outdid the Grace brothers with his magnificent side-whiskers.

EM Grace, GF Grace, and Tom Horan. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
EM Grace, GF Grace, and Tom Horan. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, not many had the gift of developing the standards set by the Graces and Horan, but four Test captains took up the challenge quite seriously — Ivo Bligh, Drewy Stoddart, Joe Darling, and Stanley Jackson.

Bligh was the first captain to win The Ashes. Darling and Jackson, born on the same day (August 21, 1870), led their sides against each other in the 1905 Ashes. However, they paled before the sheer grandeur of Stoddart.

Ivo Bligh, Joe Darling (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons), Stanley Jackson, and Drewy Stoddart © Getty Images
Ivo Bligh, Joe Darling (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons), Stanley Jackson, and Drewy Stoddart © Getty Images

However, a pre-War list of moustaches will be incomplete without two of the finest pieces of art. Ernie Jones had two claims to fame, and it is impossible to tell which one is more significant: he was the first bowler to be called for chucking in a Test and he is the only known person to bowl a ball through WG Grace’s beard. Jones also took the imperial moustache to another level.

Hugh Trumble, a master on wet wickets (or any wicket), is usually considered as the greatest Australian finger-spinner. His phenomenal records (which will not be discussed here) bear testimony to that. He lacked the bushy thickness of Stoddart and Jones, but more than made up for it with length, for it crossed the entire breadth of his face, curled, and drooped in the air. One wonders whether the effort needed to maintain it added to the dexterity of those fingers to enhance his off-breaks.

Ernie Jones (courtesy: Famous Cricketers) and Hugh Trumble © Getty Images
Ernie Jones (courtesy: Famous Cricketers) and Hugh Trumble © Getty Images

Two Indians will also make it to the list. It was only expected that KS Ranjitsinhji would take up the challenge of matching the best. The other, while not as well-known, has probably contributed at least as much towards Indian cricket: JM Framjee Patel led the Parsees to their first victory over GF Vernon’s touring Englishmen.

From left: KS Ranjitsinhji © Getty Images and JM Framjee Patel (courtesy: India’s Hambledon Men)
From left: KS Ranjitsinhji © Getty Images and JM Framjee Patel (courtesy: India’s Hambledon Men)

As mentioned before, these fantastic upper-chin growths mysteriously disappeared between the Wars. Vic Richardson, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith, CK Nayudu, and Vijay Merchant all made attempts that sunk without trace.

The only serious contender from the era was Percy Fender, but another entry is worth a mention as well. The toothbrush moustache is not a common sight on the cricket field, but George Challenor, the first outstanding West Indian batsman, had grown a neat one.

From left: George Challenor (Wikimedia Commons) and Percy Fender © Getty Images
From left: George Challenor (Wikimedia Commons) and Percy Fender © Getty Images

Part II includes the tales of Richard Hadlee, Dennis Lillee, Ian Chappell, Clive Rice among others.