The Grace family at Knole Park Grounds. Dr Henry Grace is in top hat. In front of him are (from left) WG, Dr Henry Jr, EM, Alfred, and Fred. This is one known photographs of WG that does not have him sporting a beard. Photo courtesy: Barnard Darwin   s biography of WG Grace.
The Grace family at Knole Park Grounds. Dr Henry Grace is in top hat. In front of him are (from left) WG, Dr Henry Jr, EM, Alfred, and Fred. This is the only known photograph of WG that does not have him sporting a beard. Photo courtesy: Barnard Darwin s biography of WG Grace.

September 17, 1864. WG Grace agreed to play for a club in elder brother Henry s village Hanham, against Bitton. As they were leaving Downend, EM Grace hitched a ride on the carriage, not with the best of intentions in mind. Unfortunately for EM, the plan backfired. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the most outrageous cricket matches ever.

All five sons of Dr Henry Mills Grace played cricket, but it was probably the passion of Henry, the eldest, that made the patriarch take to the sport seriously. The house at Downend did not have a pitch before that, but as Henry grew up, a proper strip better than most available in England at that time was prepared in the Grace backyard.

After Henry came Alfred, followed by Edward Mills and William Gilbert, both of whom were known by their initials. George Frederick, the youngest, was referred to as both GF and Fred.

Alfred was seven years younger to Henry, but EM was born the year after Alfred, which meant that they grew up together. This also meant that WG, almost seven years younger to EM, grew up when the eldest three were away, either at work or at school. Fred came two years after WG.

This also meant that Henry was affectionate towards his youngest two brothers. WG was, after all, fifteen years younger to him.

Three Grace brothers, Henry, EM, and WG, were invited in 1864 by South Wales Cricket Club to play for them for their annual tour of London. Of course, the Graces had no connection to Wales, but the Welshmen did enlist their services.

At this stage it was evident that neither Henry nor Alfred was going to become a world-class cricketer (though that did not affect their enthusiasm). While EM was more or less widely acknowledged as the finest cricketer of his era, it was still early days for Gilbert the name WG responded to at home.

Though EM was still en route from his Australian tour, both Henry and WG played the match against Surrey at The Oval, but not before some drama. Before the match, South Wales captain John Lloyd approached Henry with a proposal: he had the offer of a very good player, and he believed their opponents were exceptionally strong.

This did not go down well with Henry. He announced, in no uncertain terms, that if WG did not play, he would not play either; and neither would any member of the Grace family ever play for South Wales.

WG did not get going with the bat (he scored 5 and 38), but picked up 5 of the 11 wickets. Henry opted out of the next match, against Gentlemen of Sussex, and South Wales fielded only 10 men. EM, the 11th member of the side, could not make it on time. WG responded with 170 and 56 not out, and the hosts were saved only because time ran out.

It was an indication of things to come, but it is also a reflection of the relationship between Henry and WG.

At this stage Henry was a doctor at Kingsmead Hill, and captained a small club in Hanham. Henry often invited his brothers when Hanham took on clubs from nearby villages. These matches, though not very big in stature, were often keenly contested.

EM dupes his brothers

On the day in question, Hanham were taking on a club in Bitton, a village about a mile away. Henry had acquired WG and Alfred for the match. It was a return match; no information regarding the first match of the contest is, alas, available.

Note: Curiously, no report or literature on this match mentions Alfred s involvement. However, the scorecard mentions him. Probably he did not travel with his brothers. Or the chroniclers simply missed him.

So far, so good. When the three Graces were about to leave Downend, EM approached them, asking for a lift. WG narrated the incident in a somewhat neutral tone in Reminiscences: My brother E. M. put his cricket bag in the carriage, and came with us, pretending that we might be one short. When we arrived at the ground the captain of the Bitton eleven was delighted at E. M. s appearance, and said, Teddy, I am glad you’ve come. I think we shall give them a beating to-day. Without letting us know, E. M. had promised to play for the other side.

As Simon Rae pointed out in Grace s biography, the very fact that Henry and WG fell for this ruse was surprising.

W Methven Brownlee, however, did not adopt this neutral tone in Grace s biography: Henry and W. G. were indignant, and unfeelingly said if they had known he was going to play for the other side they would have made him tramp, and carry his bag too. Well, yes, he guessed that much and steered accordingly.

Throughout the day things seemed to go EM s way. Caught on a wet pitch, Hanham were bowled out for a mere 51. Opening batting, WG scored a mere 3; Alfred, 2; and Henry, 7. EM captured 3 wickets while one Fraser got 4.

Henry had his revenge, clean bowling EM for 7. However, Jones, the No. 4 for Bitton, scored 33, a humongous score given the aggregates of the match. Henry claimed 4 wickets and WG 7, but Bitton secured a crucial 30-run lead.

Things went further downhill for Hanham when they batted. WG top-scored with 10 before EM cleaned him up; Alfred and Henry got 3 apiece; and thanks to EM s five-wicket haul, Hanham were bowled out for 39, leaving Bitton a mere 10 to win.

The Mid-Sussex match

Let us deviate a bit. Less than a month before the match, Fifteen of Mid-Sussex were bowled out for 41 and 56, while Eleven of Mid-Sussex had scored 79 in the first innings, requiring a mere 19 to win.

Two bowlers, Ernest Hammond (only 14) and Kent, bowled out The Eleven for a mere 3 (no typo there). Bitton should probably have taken note of the match.

Graceful end

Despite recent history, Bitton did not take the target seriously to the extent that eight of them sat in plain clothes and started packing their bags as EM walked out with Lillington. A friend interrupted EM on his way to the crease: I haven t seen a good hit to-day.

All right, I ll show you one. I ll win the match with one hit, came the prompt response from the great man.

EM took first strike. And Henry bowled the first ball. The ball pitched on off, and as was common in those days, shot along the ground. To add to EM s woes, it broke towards leg, and EM was clean bowled, much to the astonishment the entire ground.

Bitton still needed only 10, but EM falling first ball jolted them. Things did not improve as Henry and WG continued with pinpoint accuracy. Out came the flannels as one batsman after another walked back. The score read 0 for 4, WG and Henry having taken two apiece.

Fraser, who had taken 4 wickets in the Hanham first innings, now hit one and ran three. The fielder at long-stop, perhaps a tad nervous, mis-fielded, allowing three byes. Bitton now needed a mere 4.

Note: Frederick Lillywhite s Cricket Scores and Biographies (Volume 8), mentions that Fraser got those 3 runs, and cites Bell as the reference. However, Lillywhite also adds that Sporting Life assigned those runs to D Bush.

But amidst all the tension, both Fraser and Bush were run out. WG struck twice in quick succession. 6 for 8, the score read.

It was down to the last two wickets. Then something curious happened. F Cox, the umpire at WG s end, was also playing the match. To complicate things more, he was from Hanham, but was playing for Bitton, and was scheduled to bat at No. 11.

Cox addressed WG: Gilbert, that man s leg is a little bit in front; hit him anywhere, and I ll give him out.

But 16-year WG was not tempted. He did not deviate from his line, and Weston hit one back at him. 6 for 9.

Cox had to relinquish umpiring duties. He was a No. 11, so not much was expected of him. Let me quote Brownlee here: The umpire had now to go in, last man, half-hearted, in two minds and shaking. It was the last ball of the over, and Master Gilbert, on the run, suddenly changed from fast round to a daisy-cutter, which paralysed the remaining wits of the batsman, and after a sneaking shoot of a yard or two, leaped over the shoulder of the bat, dropped on to the bail, and dislodged it.

Note: For those not acquainted with the term, a daisy-cutter is a ball, often underarm, that bounces at least thrice or rolls along the ground before reaching the batsman. Think Trevor Chappell.

The dismissal is probably indicative of the nature of the pitch. It did not matter to Hanham, though. The crowd celebrated, as did the Hanham players, and Cox, loyalty to Bitton all forgotten, yelled Hurray for Hanham! in ecstasy.

This match is a most extraordinary one, narrated Lillywhite, for perhaps never before has a side gone in for as few as 10 to win, and failed to obtain them.

All sources mention that EM had to bear the indignity of returning to Downend with Henry and WG. Curiously, Alfred does not find a mention; yet again.

Brief scores:

Hanham 51 (Fraser 4 wickets, EM Grace 3 wickets) and 39 (EM Grace 6 wickets) beat Bitton 81 (Jones 33; Henry Grace 4 wickets, WG Grace 3 wickets) and 6 (WG Grace 6 wickets) by 3 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)