William Ward. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons.
William Ward. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

July 4, 1837. Players pulled off another one-sided victory, batting to protect four stumps while Gentlemen protected three. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the famous Barn Door Match, also referred to as Ward’s Folly.

Since its inception in 1806, the Gentlemen vs Players contest had often been one-sided in favour of the latter (as expected). To make things competitive, Gentlemen often played with handicaps. For example, they played with 14 men in 1824; with 16 in 1825 and 1833; with 17 in two matches in 1827; with 12 in 1829 and 1830; and with 18 men in 1836.

To bring in some variation, Players fielded only nine men in 1831, but still won by five wickets. In 1832 Gentlemen batted with wickets measuring a minuscule 22” x 6”, while the size was reverted to the usual 27” x 8” when Players batted. Players still won by an innings.

William Ward

There would be many who would call William Ward the greatest cricket patron of the 19th century. His greatest contribution to cricket dates back to 1820. When Thomas Lord had decided to sell his ground as a building estate, Ward bought it for £5,000 and saved it for cricket.

Ward was no mean cricketer. Playing for MCC against Norfolk at Lord’s in 1820, Ward had scored 278. It remained the highest First-Class score till WG Grace’s 344 in 1876. He was also a decent underarm bowler. He also played a crucial role in the annual Gentlemen vs Players contest, and was the brain behind providing handicaps to the Gentlemen in the annual contests.

“Ward’s Folly”

For the match in question, Ward had Gentlemen protect the usual three stumps (27” x 8”), but the Players had to defend four large stumps, which measured up to 36” x 12” between them. The wicket was so huge that the match is often referred to as the Barn Door Match by historians (Ward’s Folly is an alternate name).

Despite everything, it turned out to be a no-contest. Gentlemen batted first, and William Lillywhite, the usually accepted pioneer of round-arm bowling, picked up 9 wickets to skittle the Gentlemen for 54. Edward Grimston, with 13, was the only one to reach double-figures. Frederick Hervey-Bathurst and Charles Taylor struck back: the first 8 Players wickets to fall included 6 ducks, Tom Marsden scored 1, and Fuller Pilch — the champion of the era — fell for 9.

Interestingly, Pilch had walked out (according to Andrew Ward) with a top hat that was not tied to his head. A ball from Hervey-Bathurst took off and knocked the hat — on that humongous wicket. In Scores and Biographies Arthur Haygarth recorded the dismissal as “hat knocked on wicket”.

Ned Wenman scored 35 while James Cobbett remained unbeaten on 32. Hervey-Bathurst claimed 5 wickets, Taylor 4, and Players managed a 45-run lead. Lillywhite and Redgate then took 4 wickets apiece, and Gentlemen (with nobody scoring more than 8) were bowled out for 35. It was yet another innings victory for Players.

What followed?

– In two weeks’ time the teams met again at Lord’s; this time Gentlemen fielded a team of 16, but still lost by an innings. Players maintained an unbeaten streak of 20 matches from 1854 to 1865, but following the advent of Grace, Gentlemen had their own run of 19 from 1865 to 1874.

The contest ended in 1962. Players maintained an unbeaten run of 18 matches before it ended.

Brief scores:

Gentlemen 54 (William Lillywhite 9 wickets) and 35 (William Lillywhite 4 wickets, Samuel Redgate 4 wickets) lost to Players 99 (Ned Wenman 35, James Cobbett 32*; Frederick Hervey-Bathurst 5 wickets, Charles Taylor 4 wickets) by an innings and 10 runs.

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