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Britain's Cricket Hero., Issue 8046, 24 October 1889
Britain's Cricket Hero.
To arrive at a comparative estimate of greatness is a difficult task. Yet if he is truly great who, rightly gauging his own powers from the first, pursues his aim with singleness of heart, and, resolutely adhletea that Which lib sets before him, then, remarks the ' Scots Observer,' Dr W. G. Grace may rank with the prime heroes of these times. For his career, though it has left the fates of nations unchanged, has been one long march of triumph. For the last quarter of a century he has devoted himself to the work of cutting records and outdoing all his predecessors in the cricket field. To say that he is the greatest cricketer that the world has seen is but to give a ghostly eiho to the praise which belongs to him. It was in 1864 that he made his first appearance in a big match. He was then a boy of sixteen, who was thought scarce worthy to represent South Wales against the Gentlemen of Sussex. But he scored 170, and his position as a batsman of the very highest rank was never after questioned. It is a difficult matter to realise the effect which W. G.'s advent had upon the national game. He may fairly be said to have revolutionised cricket. There were, indeed, men of prowess before him; W. Lambert, Alfred Mynn, and Fuller Pilch each of these heroes has great scores to his credit. But it was the incomparable skill and strength of the doctor which first made centuries mere everyday events. And as he grew in power and showed the world that one man might go beyond 200, aye and beyond 300, and give no chance, the bowlers of England had good cause to feel dismay. Cricket became little more than a contest between W. G. on the one side, and the bowling strength of the world on the other. Before 1868 the Players had long been supreme. The Gentlemen had lacked organisation, and though from time to time they were more than a _ match for their adversaries so far as batting was concerned, yet the Players' better skill in bowling, the fruit of years of patient practice, was always enough to turn the fortune of the game. ADd then came the doctor, and by his own surpassing genius for cricket brought victory to perch on his shoulders. It was in vain that the best of all bowlers—from J. G. Shaw down to Lohroann and Briggs—exhausted their artifice ; century followed century, and in match after match the Gentlemen were triumphant. The services which the doctor has rendered tct his county are incalculable. In 1870, from the cricketer's point of view, Gloucestershire had no existence. Seven years later she defeated All-England by five wickets. And the credit for this marvellous result was due solely to the indomitable energy and brilliant all-round play of the three Graces. As W. G., his head in the well-known M.C.C. cap, walks from the pavilion to the wicket, he looks loose-limbed and almost shambling; but when he has taken guard , and set himself seriously to defend his wicket, his pose becomes monumental in strength and immobility, too one has ever faced the ball with a keener glance or a nobler confidence. He plays with the straightest bat in Christendom. So close are his hands hold to his legs that daylight may not be seen between them. His toes are advanced as far towards the wickets as can be without running the risk of an l.b.w. As the ball leaves the bowler's hand he stands at his full height, his bat as straight as ever, and meets it with the air of one to whom fear and uncertainty are strangers. His left foot he may advance if the length of the ball demands it; his right never moves a hair's breadth from its place. In defence he is as stubborn as the Guards at Waterloo; yet in energy and dash his defence surpasses the attack of others. The ball may never be said to hit his bat, it is always his bat that strikes the ball. When playing against time he has been known to score rapidly at the beginning of an innings, but he generally opens with caution, not caring to risk all for a momentary success. And when he is once thoroughly set, his control over the ball ia complete. The'most difficult balls on the leg stump—balls which any one else would be proud to stop—he puts away with ease for a couple of runs. This remarkable stroke has been the envy of many a great batsman, and has brought destruction upon hundreds of imitators. No less astonishing is his skill in " placing." He leaves nothing to chance. In his best days he could always calculate to an inch the direction the ball would travel. On one occasion, for the United South Eleven against a Twentytwo Grimsby and District, he made a solid 400. The bowling was not first-rate, it is true, but only the doctor could have got the ball past twenty - two opponents, and given no chance until he had scored 350. And, like men of genius, he performs his appointed task without the slightest hurry or discomfort. He is conscious of his strength, and he does not overtax it. At the end of a long day, when the other side are worn out with leatherhunting, W.G. seems untouched with fatigue. He never hastens across the pitch, yet when his big voice has called (and everything about the doctor is big—voice, beard, stature, effect) he seems to have changed ends without an effort before his partner has started. Of course, he has always been aided by his wonderful endurance. Other men have been known to play as well as he does for a day, but he is alert the whole season through. When he is at his worst his activity outstrips that of all his rivals ; at his beßt he does feats which before hint were deemed superhuman. He once (it was in 1876") made 839 runs, and took fourteen wickets in eight days. Setting aside the mastery which made such an achievement possible, and regarding it only as an_ exhibition of physical strength, we must still allow it to be without parallel.
Britain's Cricket Hero., Issue 8046, 24 October 1889
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