A portrait of WG Grace    Getty Images
Well, since he substituted for Ranji, we thought this picture of WG Grace should be ideal Getty Images

The Grace clan hated losing in cricket, and none less than WG. He wanted to push for victories, not a very common trait in the era he played. Playing against Sussex at Bristol, however, he really had to push things; so, in the absence of KS Ranjitsinhji, Grace himself graced the field (if you mind the pun) as substitute. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls August 7, 1895, a day that saw The Doctor take field against Gloucestershire.

Let us start with the Lord s Test of 1884. Australia batted first, and while fielding, WG Grace injured a finger. Billy Murdoch, Australian captain, took field and caught Tup Scott off Allan Steel. It was the first catch taken by a substitute in the history of Test cricket.

Fast-forward to Bristol, 1895, when Grace s Gloucestershire were hosting Murdoch s Sussex for a County Championship match. The match was doomed to begin with: Day One was washed out, and Day Two saw only 40 minutes of cricket.

There was some action in that brief phase: Gilbert Jessop clean bowled Francis Marlow, and after CB Fry and KS Ranjitsinhji added 26, Jessop bowled Ranji as well. Stumps were called at 30 for 2. The 26-run stand would remain Sussex s highest of the match.

The final morning witnessed a lethal combination Jessop s pace and Charlie Townsend s leg-breaks wreck Sussex for 99. Townsend (5 for 59) and Jessop (5 for 33) bowled unchanged throughout the innings, sending down 45.4 five-ball overs between them.

The match was clearly headed for a draw, especially after the Freds Tate and Parris reduced Gloucestershire to 20 for 3. Then Jessop (53) collared the bowling attack, adding 73 for the fourth wicket with Harry Wrathall (27). Townsend contributed with 28, and the hosts were bowled out for 159. The lead was 60.

The clock ticked over to 3.45. Just over two hours of play was left. There was no question of a result, what with Fry, Ranji, Murdoch, and George Bean.

Doctor-ing a result

Townsend and Jessop were, again, lethal. Of the top six only Fry (18) managed to go past 2 as the tourists were left reeling at 27 for 7. Then Bean and debutant Jock Harltey dug in.

Desperation crept in, but Grace kept his calm. Simon Rae later wrote in Grace s biography: There could be no complaints about Grace s captaincy on this occasion. Chivvying his men to race to their positions after each over, he kept the Sussex batsmen under intense pressure as Townsend ran through them.

There were temptations to get other bowlers on, but Grace refused to experiment with anyone barring the left-arm pace of Fred Roberts. He kept Townsend on from one end, and was rewarded when the leg-spinner ran through the defence of Bean (21).

The innings ended at 5.47. Sussex had scored 60, which meant scores were levelled. It was a Herculean effort from Townsend (7 for 28), whose match figures read 12 for 87 from 37 overs (30.5 six-ball overs). Gloucestershire needed a solitary run.

Grace convinced the umpires, Alfred Smith and Thomas Vetich, that match was not drawn, and Sussex needed to take field. There was, however, some commotion, for the Sussex cricketers, assuming a draw, had already changed into civilian clothes. Ranji had even left the ground.

Super-sub

But Grace made sure play resumed. And when Murdoch led his men out, the bearded giant was among them, fielding for Sussex as substitute for Ranji.

Jessop walked out with JJ Ferris, the erstwhile Australian bowling great who had cut his bowling down with time and focused more on batting. Murdoch threw the ball to Tate.

Jessop described what followed: The first ball from Tate came at a perfect length, and nipping back missed the bails by a hair s-breadth. I managed to connect with the next, but not with sufficient force to become remunerative, and then with the third came a short push towards point, and by the time the Old Man s fingers closed over the ball [Johnny] Ferris had reached sanctuary.

And Gloucestershire won. One wonders whether Grace, champion of gamesmanship, had allowed the single. Would he have overthrown the ball? One can only wonder.

Four years after the match, however, Grace plotted his retirement from Test cricket, citing his reducing fielding skills as a reason. The ground was getting a bit too far away, was the explanation.

Brief scores:

Sussex 99 (Charlie Townsend 5 for 59, Gilbert Jessop 5 for 33) and 60 (Charlie Townsend 7 for 28) lost to Gloucestershire 159 (Gilbert Jessop 53; Fred Parris 3 for 48, CB Fry 4 for 21) and 1 for no loss by 10 wickets.

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