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This, presumably, was what it looked like, that day at Lord’s © Getty Images

Cricket in England was still on its way to a structured format in the second half of the 19th century. Thus, contests like Smokers vs Non-Smokers, Married vs Single, One-Armed vs One-Legged, and others were still in vogue. One of the oddest of these contests involved a side called Fifteen Who Had Never Played Cricket at Lord’s. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a season-opener that started on May 8, 1871.

“THE NOVELTY of the M. C. C. season of ’71 was the opening match of ELEVEN OF THE CLUB AND GROUND v. Fifteen who had never played at Lord’s,” wrote Wisden (do note the somewhat unusual use of the uppercase; this was a somewhat common idiosyncrasy of the almanac in the era).

Indeed, whoever came up with the idea deserved some sort of award for ingenuity and innovativeness. For the uninitiated, MCC of the era was represented only by Amateurs. To accommodate Professionals, who were often part of ground staff, the side took field as MCC and Ground.

Fifteen Who Had Never Played at Lord’s was, of course, a different concept. The idea was to pit a 15-man side against some of the greatest of contemporary cricket (a side of 11, of course). Indeed, MCC and Ground XI included champions like WG Grace, Alfred Shaw, George Wootton, and Samuel Biddulph, and the somewhat unimaginatively named John Smith.

The opposition, on the other hand, consisted mostly of youngsters. Some of them would go on to have distinguished careers: John Selby, who would play 6 Tests; Richard Humphrey, for Surrey; and the brothers Henry and James Phillips, for Sussex.

Then, there were two others: the son of Thomas Hearne (of the famous Hearne clan) who bore his name; and the son of James Grundy, a pioneer of fast round-arm bowling who made it to England’s tour of North America in 1859-60. He, too, like Thomas Hearne, bore the name of his father.

The match

Unfortunately, the weather did not live up to expectations. Wisden reported: “On the first day there was a violent storm of lightning, thunder, wind and rain; on the second day frequent showers fell, and a cold north wind blew; and on the third day it was so nippingly cold as to be more suggestive of February and football than May and maiden overs…”

Fifteen Who Had Never Played at Lord’s (let me call them FWHNPL, to save this piece from looking extremely bizarre) batted first. The first three batsmen scored 61 between them (Humphreys got 37 of these), which was no mean feat against Wootton, Shaw, and Grace.

Unfortunately, only 6 men (out of 15, it must be remembered) reached double-figures as FWHNPL were bowled out for 137 in 104 four-ball overs. Grace finished with 7 for 56, and Shaw, with 6 for 51.

WG was not yet 23, but was already celebrated as one of England’s best, if not the best. He was slimmer than what he looks in most photographs available. He was several years from being a doctor as well. In fact, during the era, The Doctor was used to refer to his elder brother EM Grace; later, when WG inherited the ‘sobriquet,’ EM came to be known as The Coroner, which was his actual profession.

Robert Clayton, that enthusiastic fast Welshman who played for Yorkshire, found WG’s edge when the great man was on 3. Unfortunately, the fielder at slip grassed the chance.

Thereafter Grace settled down, but Grundy, who was after all a pioneer fast bowler’s son, troubled him on the second day. He sent down maiden after maiden to WG before hitting timber in his fifth over.

Unfortunately, WG’s teammates did not match his 44. Smith, his opening partner, scored 17, while Charles Coote managed 10. MCC and Ground crashed to 95. Grundy (5 for 10 from 15 four-ball overs) did most of the damage.

Once again, the FWHNPL top three got 61 between them. There was also a contribution of 22 from William Coppinger, whom the official scorecard shows at No. 15. But once again, they lacked support, and were bowled out for 125 to Charles Brune (7 for 33) and Wootton (5 for 38).

Despite the paltry score, MCC and Ground needed to score 168. Grace walked out, and this time Grundy got new ball. The first two balls were safely negotiated before Grace gave a catch to short-leg; once again it was grassed.

Grace top-scored once again, this time with 31; Coote (23) and Brune (28) contributed as well; but MCC and Ground XI — for many of whom the ground was home — crashed to 133 against Clayton (4 for 36) and lost by 34 runs.

Brief scores:

Fifteen Who Had Never Played at Lord’s 137 (Richard Humphrey 37; Alfred Shaw 6 for 51, WG Grace 7 for 56) and 125 (George Wootton 5 for 38, Charles Brune 7 for 33) beat MCC and Ground 95 (WG Grace 44; James Grundy 5 for 10) and 133 (WG Grace 31; Robert Clayton 4 for 36) by 34 runs.

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