Representational image of an old cricket match    Getty Images.jpg
Representational image of an old cricket match Getty Images.jpg

In his book Real International Cricket: A History in One Hundred Scorecards, Roy Morgan relates a beautiful story of a proposed International cricket game in Paris in 1789. Whether or not the details of the events depicted were compatible with contemporary history, or with the Gospel truth, there is no denying that the story is both interesting and, perhaps, even plausible. In any case, there is sufficient reason to believe that this attempt was undoubtedly the first initiative as far as organising cricket with an international flavour was concerned.

The maximum credit for the attempt must go to Lord John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, an above-average cricketer himself in his day and a renowned wealthy patron of the game. The Duke had been appointed the British Ambassador to France in 1783 at his own request. During his five-year tenure in Paris, he had organised some cricket matches amongst the expatriate British aristocracy present there, some members of the French aristocracy joining in occasionally.

By 1789, however, the political situation in France was in a disturbed state with relations between France and England being strained, France having supported the American colonies in their bid for independence form the British. The welfare of the members of the British aristocracy present in France at the time was gradually becoming a logistical problem.

Under the circumstances, the Duke conceived of the idea of dissipating some of the tension by arranging a cricket match between the local aristocracy and a visiting English team. The Duke contacted his friend and fellow-cricketer, the Earl of Tankerville in England, with a request that the Earl raise a local team in England for the purpose.

The Earl sought the help of one William Yalden, a cricketer and landlord of the Cricketer Inn at Chertsey. Yalden succeeded in assembling a group of cricketers largely from in and around Chertsey. The final XI read as follows: Yalden, Attfield, Tankerville, John Edmeads, John Wood, William Bedster, Lumpy Stevens, G Fry, Daniel Etheridge, Stephen Harding, plus the Duke of Dorset himself, virtually a current or past Chertsey XI. The team congregated at Dover on August 10, 1789 preparatory to making the Channel crossing. Up to this point, the story has historical corroboration and sounds plausible enough.

The story goes, however, that the assembled cricketers had then met the Duke quite unexpectedly at Dover, the Duke having left France precipitately at the outbreak of the French Revolution following the storming of the Bastille prison on June 24. For obvious reasons, the project of the first ever international cricket match had to be abandoned immediately due to political reasons.

History, however, has taken cognisance of the abortive attempt of 1789. The centenary of the attempt was commemorated with a cricket match played on September 24, 1989 between MCC and the French National side on an artificial pitch at the Standard Athletic Club of Paris at Meudon. Incidentally, France won the limited-overs game by 7 wickets, largely due to the batting abilities of one John Short, a former Irish international cricketer then posted at Paris.

The whole interesting story above brings to light one intriguing name: William Yalden. The enquiring mind might well wonder about the man who had been sought out by a true-blue Peer of the Realm in a cricketing connection. This is the narrative of the man often referred to as The Yold .

Down at Third Man, A widely-followed cricket blog claims that if stumpers had a Patron Saint it would be William the Yold Yalden and their Saints Day would be 6 October. That brings up the story of the (First-Class) match between Surrey and Hampshire at Laleham Burway from October 6, 1778. In the era of 4-ball overs, Surrey batted first and put up a total of 238. Yalden, one of the opening batsmen, scored 24. Hampshire replied with 107. The legendary Lumpy Stevens dismissed the first 2 batsmen while one Lamborn took 6 wickets.

Surrey s second-innings total was 105. Again opening, Yalden had 14 runs to his credit in this innings. With a winning total of 237 to aim at, Hampshire were dismissed for 105, leaving the hosts victors by 131 runs.

One interesting point about the Hampshire second innings was the dismissal of opener Henry Bonham, who is shown to have been st Yalden 9. The name of the bowler remains unknown, for that was the norm in those days if a batsman was caught or stumped.

The common understanding is that Bonham had made cricket history in this game by becoming the first man to be out stumped in First-Class cricket, with William Yalden becoming the first wicketkeeper to stump out a batsman in at this level of cricket, his first victim being Bonham.

It may be noted, however, that there had been an incident in a game between England and Kent at Finsbury in, where one John Bryant had been dismissed stumped by one Kips for 12. Being a single-day fixture, this game, however, had not been considered to be of First-Class status.

Although records were not always maintained with scrupulous accuracy so long ago, it seems reasonable to assume that Yalden was born in 1740 (variously also given as 1739) at Ripley, Surrey, to William Yalden Sr and Martha Hone. He was baptised on February 22, 1743 at Send, a village south-east of Woking, Surrey.

Yalden s connection with organised cricket seems to have begun rather late, as the first recorded instance of his playing cricket dates from his First-Class debut for Hampshire against England at Broadhalfpenny Down in 1772, when he would have been about 32. The match is universally accepted as the first match to be given First-Class status in other words, First-Class match # 1.

Hampshire won the match by 53 runs. Yalden is seen to have scored 5 and 9. The great John Small, with 78 in the Hampshire first innings of 146, stood heads and shoulders of all the other players in the match.

The system of maintaining cricket statistics had made a very tentative beginning in 1772, and Small s innings had placed him at the top of the list for the highest individual scores in First-Class cricket up to that time. Even so, there were no records of any of the dismissals in the game, so there were no bowling or fielding records for the match.

As far as the rudimentary documentation of the time goes, William Yandel is seen to have played 44 First-Class games between 1772 and 1783, scoring 1,151 runs at an average of 15.34. He had 3 fifties and held 64 catches (67 catches, as given in another archive) and made 1 stumping, as mentioned above. Contemporary reports state that he had been a right-hand bat and wicketkeeper. There is no record of his bowling in First-Class cricket but then, bowling statistics of the era were not recorded.

Yalden is known to have been one of the star players of Chertsey Cricket Club, one of the oldest in Surrey, dating back to 1736. In Memoirs of Old Cricketers (from Lillywhite s Cricket Scores and Biographies), Arthur Haygarth says that Yalden was lean and fit, about 5 10 and would have weighed about 12 stones and 7 pounds (about 79.3 kg).

The match between England and Hampshire at Sevenoaks in 1773 saw a first in the area of cricket statistics. Here are the brief abstracts of the game: Hampshire 77 (T Brett 26; E Stevens 2w) and 49 (G Leer 15; E Stevens 3w); All-England 177 (R Miller 73, R Simmons 20; W Hogsflesh 3w, T Brett 2w).

This was the first match since cricket s statistical record began in 1772 where some bowling and fielding details are known, though no credit was given to the bowler when a batsman was out other than by being clean bowled, an omission in scoring that was not rectified until well inside the 19th century. Unsurprisingly, Stevens was the best bowler in the game, taking 5 wickets bowled and presumably had more from catches. The All-England team was a strong Kent and Surrey combination with Richard Miller scoring 73 in their innings of 177.

The card includes the first known instance of hit wicket (by John Minshull) and it is not mentioned again until 1786. It is believed that a hit wicket dismissal was usually accompanied by a record of the bowler, so it is possible that, on this occasion, Minshull (sometimes referred to as Minchin) hit the wicket when not taking strike (e.g., hit the wicket whilst running, perhaps).

This was another first for Minshull, who scored the first known century, in 1769. Playing for Hampshire in this game, Yalden s contributions with the bat were 5 and 0, and he was not mentioned in the fielding details.

There was a new record set at Broadhalfpenny Down later that year when Hampshire took on Surrey, who won by an innings and 60 runs. Batting first, Hampshire were dismissed for 83. In reply, Surrey scored 225, Yalden (who had switched his allegiance to Surrey after the previous season), contributing 88 (this was to be his highest individual score in First-Class cricket). Hampshire then capitulated to be all out for 82. This innings had put Yalden at the head of the list for the highest individual score in First-Class cricket. The configuration of the list was to change over the years, of course.

At the end of 1773, some figures were compiled for the most runs scored, the most wickets taken, and the best fielding statistics till then (for 1772 and 1773, the first, faltering steps in compiling season figures in cricket, more than 240 years ago), as follows:

 

Obviously, the figures indicated above pertain to known figures as recorded. The concept of stumping had not yet become prevalent nor worth special mention in the scorecards. The probable reason for this is that there would have been several instances of run outs that would have been clubbed together with what was then known as put out ( stumped in modern parlance). Then again, the specialist position of wicketkeeper became a definite reality somewhat late in cricket. Initially, with 4-ball overs, the bowler would merely take up his position behind the stumps to see out the next 4 deliveries before bowling his own next over.

Culling any meaningful data from records of such antiquity is made more difficult by conflicting reports from different sources and from individual impressions of many games and players, often tinged with a degree of bias. A case in point is the parallel careers of Tom Sueter, who usually played for Hambledon (Hampshire) and Yalden, who normally represented Surrey, but was also known to have turned out for England, captaining the side on occasion, usually in games against Hampshire. Sueter and Yalden were the two great wicketkeeper-batsmen of the time.

Runs Player
328 Thomas White
316 Richard Miller
305 William Palmer
186 Tom Sueter
174 William Yalden
167 Richard Francis
133 John Small
131 James Aylward
118 John Minshull
115 George Leer
113 John (Thomas) Wood

 

W Player
18 Lumpy Stevens
15 Duke of Dorset
14 John (Thomas) Wood
6 William Hogsflesh
5 John Frame

 

Ct/St Player
6 William Yalden
6 Richard Simmons
6 John Minshull
4 Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville
3 Thomas White
3 Lumpy Stevens
3 Richard Francis

 

The problem appears to be the somewhat prejudiced opinion of John Nyren. Living in London around 1832, Nyren had begun collaborating with one Charles Cowden Clarke, who had recorded some of Nyren s reminiscences of his life and times with Hambledon, including short pen-pictures of the principal cricketers of his day.

Clarke had then started publishing these reminiscences serially in a contemporary periodical called The Town. In 1833, these articles were collated and published in book form under the title The Cricketers of My Time, ostensibly written by Nyren himself. Over time, this volume gradually attained the stature of a major source of information about history of Georgian cricket and cricketers, and, more importantly, came to be regarded as the first major literary work about the game of cricket, and therefore sacrosanct as far as the accuracy and veracity of the contents were concerned. In this context, it may be prudent to remember that the bulk of the material presented in the tome was from the recollections of a man 68 years of age at the time, and without the benefit of much corroboration from documented records.

It is a historical fact that Sueter and Yalden had been contemporary cricketers but had nearly always been on opposing sides in their active playing days. Although Nyren had not been, by his own admission, a very regular member of the illustrious Hambledon team himself as his father had been, he has spoken of a Round Table of 11 renowned Hambledon cricketers, with his father Richard, the famous left-arm bowler of yore, filling in the role of King Arthur.

Sueter comes in 6th in his list of 11 Knights of the Hambledon Round Table. Nothing went by him; and for coolness and nerve in this trying and responsible post, I never saw his equal, was Nyren s opinion of Sueter. The accolade continues as follows: he was the pet of all the neighbourhood: so honourable a heart, that his word was never questioned by the gentlemen who associated with him: and a voice, which for sweetness, power, and purity of tone (a tenor) would, with proper cultivation, have made him a handsome fortune. With what rapture have I hung upon his notes when he has given us a hunting song in the club room after the day’s practice was over!

It is well-documented, however, that of the contemporary batsmen of the time, Sueter was perhaps the first to venture out of his crease to play many of his strokes.

Nyren s opinion of Yalden, however, suffers by comparison. I must place our Sueter above Yalden, was Nyren s considered opinion. His summing up of Yalden was: Yalden, too, was in other respects an inferior man to Sueter. His word was not always to be depended on when he had put a man out he would now and then shuffle, and resort to trick. In such estimation did the other stand with all parties, so high an opinion had they of his honour that I firmly believe they would have trusted to his decision had he ever chosen to question that of the umpire. Yalden was not a fine but a very useful and steady batter. He was a thin, dark-looking man.

This bad publicity, coming from a seemingly esteemed source, however prejudiced, proved to be something of an unjust slur on Yalden s reputation. The inference that the student of the game may be forgiven for drawing about the Hambledon players of the time from Nyren s descriptions would be that these 11 Knights of the Hambledon Round Table were purer than the driven snow and as honest as the day, sprouting wings on their backs and sporting haloes on their heads. Far from it, if contemporary accounts of some cricket matches of the times featuring Hambledon and other leading teams of the times are to be believed, with the rampant fixing of matches, nobbling of key players before and during some games, and flagrant browbeating and gamesmanship with the umpires, many of whom would be in the employment of the landed gentry of the time.

William Yalden married Sarah Green on October 24, 1770 and they had one son, John, born some time in 1776. In The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture, edited by Peter Barfoot and John Wilkes, it is learnt that of the principal inns of Chertsey, Surrey in the 1780s, there was one known as the Walnut Tree at Chertsey Bridge, later renamed The Cricketers. Yalden is listed as being the landlord of the inn. He also managed the Chertsey CC s Laleham Burway Ground situated close to the town, supplying refreshments during the great matches. At other times, Yalden had also been known to have been a shoemaker and cobbler. He also finds a mention in the list of the principal inhabitants of Chertsey of the times as Yalden, William, Victualler (Cricketers, referring to his inn).

 

At some time during his career, Yalden had acquired the sobriquet of The Yold, and had been mentioned as such in some long-forgotten scorecards. It is reported that Yalden had decided to give up cricket for one season as he had felt that his eyes had been troubling him. He had been persuaded to come back to cricket by none other than Charles Bennet, the 4th Earl of Tankerville, himself a player of some note for Surrey, with the words, Try again, Yalden.

Well, one did not argue with nobility in those days, particularly if one was a Publican, and The Yold was soon back on the cricket fields. This story, like many tales of the past may well have been apocryphal. Haygarth has related an incident where Yalden had been in the field and had had to jump over a fence, landing on his back, but still completing a catch!

An important event in cricket history took place early 1774, when an attempt was made to formalise a set of Laws pertaining to the game of cricket. From the description given in the preamble of the document, it is seen that the Laws had been Settled and revised at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall on Friday 25 February 1774 by a Committee of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex, and London. There was specific mention of the term wicketkeeper in the document.

The last recorded First-Class appearance of William Yalden was for England against Hampshire at Hambledon in 1783. Yalden was 44 by then, yet he is seen to have scored 22 and 11* and to have taken a catch. Scores & Biographies records that the match was put off, on account of bad weather, and never resumed , a rare departure from the norms of the times of playing a match to the finish. Sueter is seen to have scored 53 in the only innings he had batted. The 3rd Duke of Dorset, of Paris fame, also made his last First-Class appearance in this game.

The archives give Yalden s last foray on to a cricket field as having occurred for Berkshire against Hornchurch at Datchet in 1785. He had scored 3 and 0. Yalden passed away in January 1824, aged about 84 years, at Chertsey, Surrey, about 20 miles from London.

When all is said and done, it must be said that William Yalden was one of those cricketers of yore who would have been fully justified in quoting the famous line by Virgil: Quorum magna pars fui in which I played a great part.