EM Grace. Apart from being a superb batsman, brilliant fielder and a colourful personality, the elder brother of WG was also an accomplished lob bowler    Getty Images
EM Grace. Apart from being a superb batsman, brilliant fielder and a colourful personality, the elder brother of WG was also an accomplished lob bowler Getty Images

Edward Mills Grace, born November 24, 1841, is too versatile, successful and kaleidoscopic a personality to have his biography written as a part of a series on lob bowlers. However, he was proficient in the art and could be dangerous on occasions. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the eccentric methods employed by the man when indulging in his lobs.

Over the batsman s head

It was the fag end of the 1865 season. The United South of England were a star-studded outfit represented by players of the calibre of Harry Jupp, Thomas Humphrey, Thomas Hearne, Ted Pooley, Julius Caesar, Thomas Sewell, John Lillywhite, Edgar Willsher, Tom Lockyer and George Griffith. They were playing the Gentlemen of Surrey XVIII at The Oval. It was not a First-Class match, but generated enough interest to fill the ground with Londoners.

One wonders by what geographical qualification EM Grace managed to represent the Gentlemen of Surrey that day, or what a player of his stupendous ability at the height of his powers was doing in an odds team. But as it happened, the match was being held for the benefit of the Surrey ground bowlers, and EM, along with ID Walker, brother of the famed lobster VE Walker, were the two seriously good First-Class cricketers representing the XVIII.

The Gentlemen of Surrey batted first and scored 228, Grace getting 64 and Walker 40. Thereafter, the two bowled, both sending up slow lobs, continuing unchanged for 65.3 four-ball overs between them, dismissing the United South side for 150. Grace picked up 6 for 78, Walker 4 for 74.

Following this EM opened the batting yet again, and hit 56 as the Gentlemen totalled 200 in the second innings. And when the United South batted again, opening batsman Harry Jupp seemed unbudgeable .

The normal lobs were countered with a dead bat, and time was running out. Hence EM decided on a new ploy.

He tossed the ball up, high, high into the stratosphere, and up it went around 15 yards as Jupp waited for it. As the ball descended the batsman swung it around the corner for 2.

EM collected the ball, and bowled the next one, tossed even higher. The batsman s eyes followed the ball, but he seemed transfixed as it traversed him in a curious high arc. And then, crossing Jupp, it descended behind him directly onto the stumps. Jupp b Grace 22. A prototype for Spedegue s Dropper.

The batsman was livid. There was also severe indignation among the crowd. Howls, hisses, catcalls and cries of shame, shame rung around, and a horde of onlookers invaded the pitch. According to a contemporary report, The Little Doctor stood on the pitch, stump in hand, and remarked to the angry crowd surrounding him that the first man who touched him would get the middle stump on his head. And he meant it. The game could not be continued for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, nothing daunted, EMG continued his shell practice”

In the end, he picked up 7 for 65 in the second innings, Walker 2 for 46, and the Gentlemen triumphed by 155 runs. EM was presented with two bats for his performance in the match, taking the total number of such willows to 75 in his career.

A character to beat all characters

EM is far too colourful a character and versatile a cricketer to have his biography written under the lens of a lobster.

For the first half of the 1860s, before his younger brother WG took on the stature of a giant of the game, EM was considered to be the most promising and one of the best batsmen of England. It was not for nothing that he was included in George Parr s team to Australia in 1863-64. Not surprising, given that in 1862 he had taken the cricketing imagination of the land by storm by scoring 192 not out for MCC before capturing all the 10 wickets of the Kent second innings. This was, in fact, preceded by 5 first-innings wickets in that same match.

Besides, he was a spectacular fielder, one of the best cover points ever. And as a character, he perhaps even upstaged WG.

No cricketer, surely, has ever enjoyed the battle more; none ever argued more with umpires, players and spectators alike; none ever departed more reluctantly from the wicket when batting, or disagreed more verbosely with decisions when bowling, wrote RC Robertson-Glasgow.

One may point out that we have covered men like Lord Frederick Beauclerk, Tom Walker, EH Budd, George Osbaldeston and William Lambert in this series, all of whom were splendid batsmen, brilliant all-round cricketers, as well as being lob bowlers. Later Arthur Ridley was also as capable a batsman as he was a lobster.

However, unlike these men, EM did not really contribute to the evolution of lob bowling. He bowled lobs as an afterthought, after the rest of his substantial deeds on the cricket field were performed.

If CI Thornton did once remark that along with Walter Humphreys and WM Money, EM was the best lob bowler he had seen, it was mainly due to the decline of the art through the decades of 1860s and 1870s.

EM was not a very good lob bowler. He was exciting no doubt, especially with his habit of mixing the slow underhand balls with occasional, unexpected round-arm deliveries which took the batsman by surprise. The laws of the game of those days did not mandate informing the batsman before changing his action.

However, EM s First-Class bowling average of 20.37 is slightly on the higher side given the era he played in. Besides, he deserves a biography that focuses on all his accomplishments, in every department of cricket and beyond, dwelling in the coroner s court where he presided, in the country fields where he hunted and in politics in which he dabbled.

But, at the same time, we cannot cover the history of lob bowling without devoting a section on the efforts of this eccentric lobster. One of the main reasons for this is that batsmen hated to face him.

The eccentric lobster

During the early part of his career EM bowled rather fast round-arm fare, as was fashionable in the late 1850s and early 1860s. He later told WA Bettesworth, author of Chats on the Cricket Field, It was a match I Salisbury, when I was playing for Lansdown against South Wilts, in 1861. We couldn t get the South Wilts men out. At length the captain came up to me and said, Do you think you could bowl a few lobs? I said, Oh yes, it s all the same to me . So I went on, and, much to my surprise, took seven wickets in each innings. I had, of course, like everybody else bowled lobs at practice for fun, but had never dreamed of doing so in a match.

EM s memory had played him false here, because the scoreboard lists 7 wickets for him in the first innings and 4 in the second.

About EM s lobs during practice, we must note here that WG recalled, EM bowled lobs at home as long as I can remember.

The very next year after his lobs for Lansdown, he had made waves, hitting 192 not out against Kent and then capturing all 10 wickets in the second innings. It was only the sixth instance of a bowler achieving the feat in First-Class cricket.

It must be mentioned that all ten comes with a caveat here. The match was 12-a-side, but with Richard Streatfeild being absent in the second innings, the Gentlemen of Kent were reduced to 11 men and 10 wickets. EM captured all.

In his note-book, he recorded, I went in first and carried my bat through making 192, and in their second innings took every wicket with my slow underhand. This indicates that the 5 wickets in the first innings were probably taken with a mixture of underarms and round-arms. When he returned to the I Zingari tent, EM was presented a bat for his feat by Lord Sefton, President of MCC. And for his 10-wicket haul, he received a ball, sent to him later by Mr Spencer Ponsonby. The ball was mounted on an ebony stand and engraved in silver.

EM did often trouble the batsmen with his variation of height, length and spin. Many batsmen hated his bowling and were greatly relieved when he was taken off, wrote FS Ashley-Cooper in the biography of EM.

There were several successes, although sprinkled across a long career in small dollops. He captured 7 for 48 against Kent for the Gentlemen of MCC in 1867, 5 for 27 for the South of Thames, yet another Geographical anomaly as far as EM was concerned, against the North of Thames in 1868, and 6 for 40 again in the next match between Gentlemen of MCC and Kent.

Later, one of the most successful performances came in the match against Surrey at The Oval in 1871. EM captured 3 for 17 in the first innings, and then destroyed Surrey in the second with 6 for 36, with WG getting the remaining 4.

Thornton, who, as mentioned, considered him one of the best lob bowlers, analysed his methods in detail, He kept one hand very near the ground, but the ball did not rise high in the air in the way it does with so many modern lob bowlers. The deliveries bowled to Jupp were exceptions.

However, there were critics who were not that impressed. For example, in October 1872, Bailey s Magazine remarked that both EM and WG had wonderful luck with their bowling but while WG in their opinion would never be a bowler, EM s lobs, dodgy as they are and aided by superb fielding, must be punished by some of the sturdiest batsmen in England .

It is interesting to note that in this article, in 1872, WG was referred to a Mr WG Grace, and EM as the Doctor. It would be a few years before the father of modern cricket would get his medical degree and usurp the title of The Doctor forever. EM would be granted The Coroner after that.

According to Colonel Kingscote, who played frequently for Gloucestershire in the old days, When EM thought it was about time for him to go on to bowl, he always used to put both his hands behind his back and hold his head down. It was an unfailing sign, though I never knew whether it was done intentionally.

Getting the great hitter

Of course, EM backed himself in certain situations, as he did at Clifton College Ground against the visiting Australians in 1884. George Bonnor, the giant Australian hitter, had come in to bat and had struck a few meaty blows when EM walked up to skipper WG and said, I can get him out quicker than anyone. His younger brother was doubtful, but said, Well, but only two overs. As EM gripped the ball, Bonnor chimed in, Are you going on, Doctor? And EM said, Yes, and I m going to get you out.

So saying, EM bowled a dozen trial balls to the wicketkeeper, some round-arm, some underarm. It was permitted in those days, and Warwick Armstrong would use it to great effect to play on the nerves of a debutant Frank Woolley two and a half decades later.

Bonnor took his guard and asked, What sort are you going to bowl, Doctor? And EM answered, You ll see soon enough. The first ball was a slow underarm, and Bonnor gently popped it to WG at point. And an elated EM exclaimed, I told you so.

WG did taste more phenomenal success by putting on his older brother two years later. Gloucestershire were playing Yorkshire at the Spa Ground, Gloucester. The hosts had made an impressive 360, but in reply the Yorkshire openers Louis Hall and George Ulyett had put on 173 for the first wicket. As a desperate resort he brought on EM to bowl his lobs. And The Coroner wreaked havoc with 7 wickets in the innings. It was EM s last real success with the ball in First-Class cricket.

I won t take myself off

As Ashley-Cooper writes, Like many another bowler, the Doctor always thought he was likely to get you in a minute or two a valuable asset in many cases, especially when the bowler is not the captain.

Well, that was the catch: When the bowler is not the captain . EM s bowling could be an asset if the captain put him on at the right moment. But then, moving away from First-Class cricket, EM himself became the captain of Thornbury. The equation changed somewhat.

In 1878, when Fred Spofforth toured England, he had told EM of his watching the batsman as a kid in Australia in 1863-64. And EM had responded, If you come to England in 20 years, I will still be playing cricket.

And he was. Actually, he did so for 31 years after that, right up to 1909, till two years before his death. In 1906 he took 352 wickets for Thornbury. In 1907, then 65, he captured 212 and it was reported 208 catches were missed off his bowling. Robertson-Glasgow wrote, Who kept the record of these missed catches? I like to think that it was E. M. Grace himself, with a full list of culprits, to whom, on the anniversary of their crime, he sent a card of reminder.

According to the Wisden of 1908: “In all matches in which he has participated during his extraordinary career, E. M. Grace has scored 76,705 runs, and obtained 11,959 wickets”. It is both a stupendous feat to keep account of all the runs and wickets for one who has played so many different levels of cricket, and as far as feats go, quite a dubious one. Of these, 10,025 runs at 18.66 and 305 wickets at 20.37 were achieved at First-Class level. The rest are debatable and prone to errors.

It is indeed true that EM captured plenty of wickets for Thornbury. But the glitch was that as captain he never took himself off. Even if he was being mercilessly thrashed by the batsmen. He could not work the faster ball in later years, and this made him more predictable and expensive.

 

In July 1902, W Hyman scored 359 not out for Bath Association against Thornbury at Alveston. The runs came in 100 minutes, and EM was hit for 62 in two overs (666446, 666444), but the captain did not take himself off. In those 100 minutes Bath Association totalled 461 for 6. Unfortunately (or fortunately for EM), the bowling analysis for the match is unrecorded but for the wickets.

Two years later, Newport scored 482 against Thornbury. This time the runs were tabulated against the bowler, and EM, who had once again bowled unchanged, ended with 35.2-1-320-5.

As Wisden records, Though he did not pretend to be a first-rate bowler, he took during his career thousands of wickets.

EM was an immortal character who stamped his name on various departments of the game. As a lob bowler, the stamp was perhaps not so prominent, but no less colourful.