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WG GRACE AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF CRICKET

Dr. William Gilbert Grace transformed the game of cricket during his lifetime and much of his career was spent playing for Gloucestershire. He was born in Bristol and has played on many of the grounds in the area. He started playing when he was just 16 in 1864 and played his final first class match in 1908.

The doctor from Downend scored 54,896 runs at an average of 39.55. He is still the 5th highest scoring player of all time. He wasn't just a batsman thought. He took 2876 wickets at an average of 17.92 - the 6th highest wicket taker of all time. On two occasions (1873, 1876) he scored 2000 runs and took 100 wickets in one season. He also make 887 catches which is still the second highest number of catches taken by anyone in their career. All of this was done in 43 years between 1865 and 1908 when he eventually retired aged 59.

At the Oval in 1878 he once threw a cricket ball over 116 yards (106m) three times with the wind and over 100 yards back in the other direction.

THE PERSON

W.G.Grace was a legend in England in his lifetime. The nation admired him. He perhaps could have been an even better player if is wasn't for food. In his later years he became a bearded 'giant'. He enjoyed his lunch at matches too. A number of times he got out shortly after a big meal. A whisky often accompanied his food. He was one compared to Henry XIII.

As a player he had huge stamina. Despite his weight he had a remarkably high front elbow and so drove, pulled and cut well. He didn't just use his weight to wallop the ball. He had a shot for every ball. WG appeared to be a frightening character but it is said that his bark was worse than his bite. He had a twinkle in his eye and spoke in a rather squeaky voice.

He would stand no nonsense from his team. If they arrived late he would put them in at number 11. He was, at times, a fiery character. When large crowds came to see him play and a bad decision went against him he got very angry. Occasionally he threatened to leave the ground but was calmed down by a whisky.

'The Old Man' was a strange looking person. He had a huge waist and a long beard. He wore dark shoes, had grubby pads and used a well worn bat. His skills though won him many friends especially wicketkeepers as he rarely missed a ball whilst batting!

Grace did not turn the ball much as a bowler. He relied on flight and length. This, though, was enough to take many wickets on dodgy wickets.

W.G.Grace was not just a cricketer. He played bowls and was a keen golfer. He was a superb athlete when he was young and was a qualified medical practitioner.

THE GAME OF CRICKET

The game of cricket evolved a lot during the time of Grace. At the beginning of his career the bowlers had to apologise if they did not pitch it up on the off stump. There was little competition and bowlers were not respected. WG Grace was less fussy. He brought competition to the game and swing bowling and the googly arrived on the scene. Grace brought cricket to the attention of many and promoted the game. People respected him. The game was changed. Shots were played of the back foot and the old style players were lost. Grace drove the most feared bowlers and almost make them try to bowl wide so he couldn't hit it.

WG'S GLOUCESTERSHIRE CAREER

W.G.Grace played for Gloucestershire for many years. The county were champions three times and joint champions once between 1873 and 1877. In 1894 Gloucestershire and Grace had a disappointing season. At aged 46 he averaged 18 and it was thought to be the end of an era. The next year, though, he burst back into form. 1895 saw him make his hundredth hundred and he went past 1000 runs in May. That season he averaged 51 - no one could stop him. He made a total of 121 first-class hundreds. He played with the great Gilbert Jessop for Gloucestershire. Jessop scored runs fast in an unorthodox fashion.

In 1889 Dr. Grace gave specifications for the laying of the County Ground in Bristol. The pavilion remains and it is still much the same today.

W.G.Grace left Gloucestershire and went to live in the south-east. He played for London's county team.

Towards the end of his career he became a handicap in the field but was still a commanding batsman. He gave up first-class cricket in 1908 but continued to play in many other games. His beard turned to white and he played his last game on 25 July 1914. In typical style he scored 69 not out. In October the next year, 1915, he died aged 67. His death shook the nation.

TEST CAREER

W.G. Grace played test cricket for England between 1880 and 1899. He only played in 22 tests because the series' generally only lasted 2 or 3 tests in those days. Grace captained England in 5 Ashes series', one of which was in Australia. Australia was the only other test-playing country and Grace may not have gone on every tour of the country. He was an amateur and could not afford the time. Had he been around today he could have played well over 200. On his test debut in 1880 he made 152 runs at the Oval.

When he retired from test cricket in 1899 a huge gap was left in the side.

CricInfo contains scorecards from many games that WG Grace played in in its archive section.

WG Grace
WG Grace


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By Duncan Hewett