Merion Cricket Club, for whom Charles Braithwaite played. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Merion Cricket Club, for whom Charles Braithwaite played. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

If the archives are to be believed, and they have been known to drop the occasional bombshell, a cricketing centurion had once graced the cricket fields of an adopted land, and a land not normally associated with cricket. This is the story of Charles H Braithwaite, a First-Class cricketer who played all of his 5 First-Class matches in the USA. The “H” in the name raises a delicious air of mystery, sadly, unresolved. Who knows, his parents might have done a Harry S Truman! ALSO READ: C Christopher ‘Christie’ Morris: The Philadelphian who kept American cricket alive

Braithwaite was born September 10, 1845 at Obroke, Derbyshire. He passed away on April 15, 1946, at Wayne, Pennsylvania, in the USA, aged 100 years 217 days. He was the second centenarian First-Class cricketer, and till now the only one from a non-Test-playing nations.

In a First-Class span of 1881 to 1893, he is on record as having played 5 matches and 8 innings, scoring 62 runs with a highest of 18, and averaging 8.85. He also held 3 catches. In the bowling department, the figures are as follows: 195 deliveries bowled, 69 runs conceded, 4 wickets taken, with a best bowling analysis of 2 for 18. Let us examine the cricket career of this paragon of longevity a little further.

We see him first on a cricket field causing mayhem among the opposition with the ball for Merion against Manhattan in a 1-day match played at Brooklyn on August 3, 1877 — the year of the birth of Test cricket. In the Manhattan total of 107, they were cleaned up by Braithwaite to the extent of 7 for 23. Braithwaite then top-scored with 20 in a total of only 60. He picked up another wicket in the Manhattan 2nd innings of 32 for 3 in a drawn match.

The very next day he was at it again, scoring 20 in a Merion 1st-innings of 82 against Staten Island CC, the game played at New York. He then picked up 2 for 9 in the opposition 1st-innings total of 57. He contributed only 1 run to the Merion 2nd innings of 55, but picked up 2 more wickets and a catch in opposition innings of 69, in a match that his team won by 11 runs. A gentleman named Edward Comfort caused much discontent among the opposition with scores of 16 and 4 and figures of 5 for 17 and 7 for 26 for Merion. ALSO READ: Bart King — One of the best fast bowlers of all time

He next appears on a cricket field under somewhat unusual circumstances. Lord Harris, the England and Kent stalwart, had taken an English team on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1878-79.

The Antipodean tour completed, the team had visited the USA for a few matches. One of these games, a 2-day affair, was played as Lord Harris’ XI vs United States of America, at Hoboken, in May 1879. In this game, as per the match notes, the English side fielded 7 of those who had toured Australia and 4 others, while USA comprised members of New York and Philadelphia in combination. We find out hero turning out for the English side in this game, not bowling at all, and scoring only 1 in the only innings batted.

Richard Daft, the Nottinghamshire veteran, had taken a team over to North America towards the end of 1879. They played a Merion XXII in October 1879. Merion included 22 John Thayer, the only First-Class cricketer to go down with RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. The home side was led by George Ashbridge.

The visitors batted first and put up a score of 162, opener Ephraim Lockwood contributing a sparkling 88. Braithwaite had figures of 8 for 63. For all their strength in numbers, Merion could only muster 67 in response (Alfred Shaw 7 for 22, Fred Morley 5 for 22, and the incomparable Billy Bates taking 6 for 16). Invited to bat again, the home side were 55 for 13 when time ran out. This time round, Shaw took 9 for 18 and Bates 3 for 32.

There followed 3 Halifax Cup games, all 1-day affairs, where Braithwaite excelled with the ball with devastating effect. All of the games were Second-Class games, leading up, as it were, to his First-Class debut, a 2-day game under the banner of English Residents against American Born, played at Philadelphia, in July 1881, with 5-ball overs, and 12 men a side.

There were a total of 10 debutants, including Braithwaite, between the two teams, including the aforementioned Thayer of melancholy memory. Daniel Newhall, captaining the American Born team, took first strike. His team scored 140 in 67 overs, Francis Brewster contributing 33. Opening bowling, Braithwaite captured 2 for 20. Arthur Smith took 5 for 55.

The English Residents did marginally better: 155 in 73 overs. While Job Pearson (26) was the highest scorer, our man scored 18 runs. Charles Newhall, one of 6 cricket-playing brothers, one of them the skipper, took 6 for 69, in a line-up of 7 bowlers.

The 2nd innings of the American Born team amounted to 131 in 63.4 overs, skipper Newhall contributing 41 runs from No. 8. Braithwaite was not required to bowl. The English Residents could only muster 98 in 50 overs in the 2nd innings, the brothers Newhall picking up 5 wickets each. The American Born team won the game by 18 runs. ALSO READ: United States take on Canada in the first ever international cricket match

Braithwaite played his next First-Class game 4 years later, another 2-day, 5-balls-per-over game, for Players of USA against Gentlemen of Philadelphia, at Philadelphia, in August 1885. For the local team, skipper Newhall took strike, and his team scored 115 in 68.2 overs. Opening bowling, Braithwaite picked up 2 for 18, his best First-Class bowling figures.

The visitors’ 1st-innings total was a substantial 263 in 190.1 overs, with Henry Tyers (118) scoring his maiden First-Class century. Braithwaite contributed 10. The home team then put up 220 for 9 before time ran out on a drawn game. There were 2 half-centuries in the innings, from William Noble (54) and Joseph Scott (53). Although Braithwaite opened the bowling as usual, he did not take any wickets. At No. 6 in an 8-man attack, Fred Butler took 5 for 54.

In the same fixture at the same venue in September 1886, the home team, batting first, were dismissed for 69 in 51.3 overs, Henry Tyers taking 5 for 24. The visitors replied with 271 in 134.2 overs, Tyers scoring another century (106). Thomas Armitage contributed 58 runs, and Braithwaite scored only 3. For the home team, Charles Newhall took 5 for 77.

The home team were then dismissed for 91 in 62.2 overs, John Bradley (4 for 57), and William Brewster (5 for 34) taking all the wickets to fall to bowlers. Braithwaite did not bowl in either innings of this game. The visitors won this encounter by an innings and 111 runs.

Braithwaite’s next First-Class engagement was for English Residents against Gentlemen of Philadelphia, at Philadelphia, in September 1890, another 5-ball-over game. The visiting team, under Arthur Wood, batted first, scoring 174 in 65 overs. There were 2 half-centuries in the innings, the skipper, with 55 and William Thompson, in his only First-Class match, with 52. The wickets were shared around. ALSO READ: John Thayer: Only First-Class cricketer who sunk with the RMS Titanic

The home team put up a very healthy 315 in 97 overs, with a century from debutant Francis Bohlen (162 — more than half of the total). Of the 9 bowlers used by the visitors, John Pacey, making his First-Class debut, (6 for 62) was the top wicket-taker, and Braithwaite bowled 3 overs without taking any wickets.

The visitors scored 181 in 69 overs in the 2nd innings, with Tyers scoring 59 and opener Thompson scoring 45. Brathwaite, batting at No. 11, remained not out on 10. The home team rounded things off by scoring 41 for 4 in the 2nd innings to win the game by 6 wickets, AE Smith picking up all 4 wickets for 16 runs in his only First-Class match.

Charles Braithwaite played his last First-Class match for Players of USA against Gentlemen of Philadelphia at Philadelphia, a customary 2-day, 5-balls-an-over affair, in June 1893. The visitors posted 114 in 54 overs, Braithwaite contributing 15. The home team replied with 157 in 39.3 overs, with a fine 72 from Newbold Etting, his highest First-Class score till date. Although Braithwaite held 2 catches, he did not bowl in the innings.

The visitors could register only 121 in 73.2 overs in the 2nd innings, Braithwaite being dismissed for a duck. The only individual score of note was the 38 from debutant Stewart Lohmann. The home team then scored 79 for 2 in 26 overs to win the match by 8 wickets. Braithwaite was not called upon to bowl.

Doubts are occasionally raised about the authenticity of the dates of birth and of demise of the players of long ago, when these records were not always maintained at the desired level of accuracy. Under the circumstances, Braithwaite’s ending up as a centurion may have also raised a quizzical eyebrow.

There is a curious document available entitled CURATOR’S CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO GIFTS TO THE MCC 1945-1960.  One of the items on the very long list reads: Pamphlet “Charles H. Braithwaite: one hundredth birthday September 10th, 1945: 1845-1945″. This document appears to have been donated to MCC by the author of the pamphlet, one Dr Henry Pleasants, along with a book entitled From Kilts to Pantaloons.

The available list of the Oldest First-Class Cricketers (listed by the age up to which the player in question had lived) shows 18 men who had crossed the 100-year mark.

It is headed by one Jim Hutchinson of Derbyshire, who lived for 103 years 344 days.

The oldest living First-Class cricketer appears to be John Manners of Hampshire, born September 25, 1914 and 101 years 292 days old as on date.

Our hero Braithwaite is No. 16 on the 18-man list, having inhabited the Earth for 100 years 217 days, ahead of Harry Forsyth of Dublin University (100 years 214 days) and George Dean of Hampshire (100 years 77 days) — the first centenarian among First-Class cricketers. Grand Old men, all of them were, and the salt of the Earth.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)