Tom Armitage (left) and Walter Gilbert    Getty Images
Tom Armitage (left) and Walter Gilbert Getty Images

Cricketers have found out strange ways to get out throughout the history of the sport. However, on August 2, 1876, Walter Gilbert (cousin of the Grace brothers) fell prey to one of the most curious ways ever. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back.

The event dates back 1876, to WG Grace s golden summer, when he did things hitherto unknown to mankind. As has often been mentioned on this pages, The Doctor s tally read 2,662 runs at 62, 130 wickets at 19, and 46 catches and this is only in First-Class cricket. In all cricket the numbers read 3,669 runs at 59, 211 wickets at 17, and 77 catches.

To provide some perspective, it should be mentioned that the second name on the First-Class charts was of Ephraim Lockwood (1,261 runs less than half of WG s). And only Alfred Shaw (191) had more wickets.

Grace s 344 that season (against Kent) was the first First-Class triple-hundred in history. Less than a week later he scored the second one as well, 318* against Yorkshire. In between these two came a failure (177) against Nottinghamshire though he compensated for that with 8 for 69 in the second innings which took his tally to 839 in 8 days.

He also scored 400* in 1876, albeit in a Second-Class match. It was actually 399*, but the scorer was bullied…

But this is not about WG. Two other family members of his became crucial cogs for Gloucestershire and Grace s own Gentlemen of the South. Brother GF (Fred) Grace chipped in with 780 runs at 28 and 72 wickets at 18, excellent numbers by any standard. And with 907 runs at 36, their cousin Walter Gilbert had his best season by far; he also chipped in with 28 wickets at 20.

The match in question came just before his famous deluge of runs (but after the 400*). Thanks to Grace, Gloucestershire were beating more or less every side that came their way. Two days before the match in question they pushed Nottinghamshire easily at Trent Bridge (Big Brother EM Grace also played this match).

EM did not make it to Keighley (in Yorkshire) to play the local team of 20. Such matches were commonplace in the era. However, there was a catch: while most odds matches did not feature superstar (which is why they fielded more men despite playing against an XI) involved, Keighley had several formidable names.

Tom Emmett, for example, would play the first Test ever in less than a year s time, as would Tom Armitage. In fact, Armitage is a favourite among quizmasters: he is, after all, England s Test cap #1.

Curiously, James Lillywhite was playing for Gentlemen of the South XI in the match. He would later become England s first Test captain.

Keighley also boasted of William Mycroft, that devastating left-arm fast bowler and apparently the inspiration behind Arthur Conan Doyle s Mycroft Holmes.

Note: There was also a J Grace on the Keighley team list, but no researcher has been able to establish a relationship.

The match was an ordinary one. Keighley XX put up 216 (between them WG and Lillywhite took 16 of the 17 wickets) before bowling out the tourists for 61. WG top-scored with 20 and Joseph Cotterill got 16, but nobody else went past 6. The damage was done mostly by Armitage (7 for 39).

United South of England XI were asked to bat again, and WG (73) and Cotterill (59) added 131 for the first wicket. Gilbert walked out at first-drop. He reached 9. Then it happened.

Desperate for a wicket, Armitage resorted to under-arm lobs. Gilbert had got well set by this time (WG, Reminisces) when Armitage hurled the ball up from round the wicket.

There was virtually no pace on the ball, and yet Armitage managed to keep it close to the ground all the way . When it pitched it landed outside leg, resulting in a slight break from the leg .

So far, so good. A slow leg-break pitched outside leg that came rolling at the batsman: what could go wrong?

Gilbert realised there was nothing dangerous with the ball. His only concern was getting bowled, so he decided to prevent that with an almighty kick.

Unfortunately, the ball that was creeping towards him possibly hit a minuscule fragment of rock, almost indistinguishable from the pitch. You know the kind rock I am talking about the kind of object batsmen ostentatiously remove with their bats from the pitch between deliveries.

As a result of the impact the ball took off, not by much, but enough to go over Gilbert s foot and hit the stumps, much to the joy (and amusement) of the spectators. Gilbert was shell-shocked, but there was no option for him to leave.

Gilbert paid the penalty for treating slow lobs contemptuously, reminisced Grace.

There was a collapse, and from 131 United South of England XI were bowled out for 196. With a mere 42 to get, the hosts sent Emmett and Mycroft to open. The tourists could not dismiss one of the two, but made sure they did the second-best thing: they dried up the runs. Keighley finished 8 runs short.

Brief scores:

Keighley XX 216 (Charles Foulds 54, C Cook 52; WG Grace 7 for 101, James Lillywhite 9 for 35) and 34 for no loss drew with United South of England Eleven 61 (Tom Armitage 7 for 39) and 196 (WG Grace 73, Joseph Cotterill 59; Tom Emmett 3 for 45, Tom Armitage 5 for 65).