A Reminiscence of Cricket

W.G. Grace, photographed in 1902

Not a lot of people know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a keen amateur cricketer who played ten first-class matches (for the MCC). He was an occasional bowler who only took one wicket in a first-class game, that of W.G. Grace, which was such a momentous event for him that he wrote this poem about it:

Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.

Before me he stands like a vision,
Bearded and burly and brown,
A smile of good humoured derision
As he waits for the first to come down.

A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
A Hercules shrouded in white,
Assyrian bull-like colossus,
He stands in his might.

With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
His bat hanging ready and free,
His great hairy hands on the handle,
And his menacing eyes upon me.

And I – I had tricks for the rabbits,
The feeble of mind or eye,
I could see all the duffer’s bad habits
And where his ruin might lie.

The capture of such might elate one,
But it seemed like one horrible jest
That I should serve tosh to the great one,
Who had broken the hearts of the best.

Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
It was clay in the hands of the potter,
But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

The second was better – a leetle;
It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
So down came the bat with a chop.

He was sizing me up with some wonder,
My broken-kneed action and ways;
I could see the grim menace from under
The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

The third was a gift or it looked it-
A foot off the wicket or so;
His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
His great body swung to the blow.

Still when my dreams are night-marish,
I picture that terrible smite,
It was meant for a neighboring parish,
Or any place out of sight.

But – yes, there’s a but to the story –
The blade swished a trifle too low;
Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
It was up like a shaft from a bow.

Up, up like a towering game bird,
Up, up to a speck in the blue,
And then coming down like the same bird,
Dead straight on the line that it flew.

Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
Would call for a safe pair of hands;
None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
And there, face uplifted, he stands

Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
Wary and steady of nerve,
Watching it falling and growing
Marking the pace and curve.

I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
Paralysed, helpless, inert;
There was ‘plunk’ as the gloves shut upon it,
And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

Out – beyond question or wrangle!
Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
His bat was tucked up at an angle,
His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
Scolding himself and not me;
One glove was off, and he fumbled,
Twisting the other hand free

Did I give Storer the credit
The thanks he so splendidly earned?
It was mere empty talk if I said it,
For Grace had already returned.

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).



8 Responses to “A Reminiscence of Cricket”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The way WG revolutionised batting was by defence, rather than attack. He introduced modern defensive techniques, thereby allowing batsmen to remain at the crease longer and make higher scores by hitting the bad balls.

    He was accomplished at gamesmanship, too. My favourite story is of when he calmly replaced the bails, having been bowled by a ball which just clipped one of the stumps. “Windy day today, umpire!” he called. Came the reply: “Indeed it is, Dr. Grace. Mind it doesn’t blow your cap off on the way to the pavilion.”

    So England, having just been crowned as world 50-50 champions, is not to see any domestic 50-50 cricket next season! Barmy. It will leave us as badly prepared to defend the trophy as our opening batsmen are prepared for Test cricket in an era when the county championship is largely relegated to early and late season and conditions are not conducive to innings-building. Those chickens are now coming home to roost. But the new boy on the block is the 100-100 (balls not overs) county competition next summer. This is sufficiently close to T20 that its real purpose is obviously different, and fairly clear: to begin to break the county system, in favour of fewer teams centred on the large arenas. That plugs into a huge debate; my own view is that it is not so bad provided that there is greater porosity than at present between the various levels of cricket in England.

    Meanwhile, Lancashire continue to prove that the gap between divisions 1 and 2 of the county championship is palpable, being obviously far too good for div2 yet struggling in div1 since 2011. An interesting round of championship matches began on Sunday!

    • telescoper Says:

      The Hundred seems to me very silly and I’m unconvinced that it will attract the big crowds it is hoping for. The three formats 50-over, T20 and 4-day County matches provide a good mix, in my view.

      I’m a little bit relieved for Glamorgan that they look set to blow their chances of getting promoted to Div 1, as they would undoubtedly get thrashed every time at the higher level! At least they win occasionally in Div 2!

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        The Hundred


        and county T20 will not long co-exist and I predict that, because T20 is a worldwide format, the Hundred will not last long. But T20 might soon be played between the eight city-based teams of the Hundred; then 50-50; then 4-day cricket. The ECB can dictate to the counties because of TV revenue. THAT is what the Hundred is really all about.

        Of course the word “county” should not have been present in my sentence above, “But the new boy on the block is the 100-100 (balls not overs) county competition next summer.”

      • telescoper Says:

        I thought `The Hundred’ referred to the number of spectators expected at each match…

      • Simon Kemp Says:

        The last time Glamorgan were in Divsion One of the 4-day game (2005) they lost 14 games out of 16. I try and remember that every time I think about promotion. They are clearly missing Labuschagne now, who’s just top-scored twice for Australia.

        I thought the Hundred was Glamorgan’s average score in T20 cricket this season. The Western Fire franchise is looking like a damp squib, playing in Cardiff but probably full of Gloucs and Somerset players on current form.

    • Simon Kemp Says:

      Congrats to Lancs for thrashing Glam at Colwyn Bay!

  2. Simon Kemp Says:

    I always thought Harper should be more recognised as a poet

  3. The Thinking WASP Says:

    “His menacing eyes on me” … normally the bowling has the menacing eyes. So Grace must have been spectacular with a bat. This poem and the comments … all brilliant, all informed. Thanks all for sharing.

    For my love of the game, see Gentlemen’s Stick and Ball, 3 October 2019, at https://thethinkingwasp.wordpress.com/

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