The image of cricket, more than any other, has become associated with fair play, unselfishness and high ideals. But at vital stages in its history the game developed under the impetus of the profit motive. Such was the case with the first English tour to Australia, sponsored by the Melbourne catering firm of Spiers and Pond. Furthermore, during the important formative years the gambling nobility in England used the game as a vehicle for massive wagers.

Once upon a time Reverend Lord Frederick Beauclerk, in a public
oration, emphasised that cricket is a fine character-building game,
“unalloyed by love of lucre and mean jealousies”. On other occasions
he boasted that the game was worth 600 guineas a year to him,
gained in side-bets.

In the early days of cricket the gambling lust provided the material base that the game needed to progress beyond the level of a country yokel’s diversion to become a self—supporting part of the entertainment industry. So, like a beautiful flower growing from a dungheap, the great and noble game survived a precarious infancy to become the joy and delight to flannelled fools the world over.

Particularly important were gambling members of the upper classes who had plenty of time and money to waste and in this respect Oliver Cromwell’s rule was a critical period. He banned Sunday cricket and one of his strategies to subjugate the unruly and turbulent Irish was to order that all the cricket bats and balls in Ireland be collected and burnt by the common hangman. But he unwittingly fostered the game because large numbers of the nobility quit London during the puritan administration to pass the time on their country estates waiting for the restoration of a good old—fashioned monarch. There they discovered that their gardeners and ploughmen had a jolly good game going in their spare time.

And although a moralistic tract of the times listed cricket as a pastime of ‘the common sort’, on a par with ‘lying in ale houses’, the gentry acquired a taste for the game and after the restoration it became quite the thing in London to organise clubs and cricket matches, not devoid of financial interest, of course. Later the game received vice— regal patronage from Frederick, Prince of Wales (father of George III) who died in 1751 as a result of a tumor precipitated by a blow from a cricket ball. This was probably a moral victory for the puritans. It was also a sad loss to the Surrey team (which he financed) and an equally sad loss to the gambling fraternity at large (he lost up to 2000 pounds on some games).

This was the era of the feudal lords of cricket who ran the game by promoting matches between teams of their own choice partly for the sport and partly for massive wagers. Outstanding players were not originally paid as such but were employed by their patrons. Sir Horace Mann lured a fine young batsman away from the Hambledon club with the offer of a bailiff ‘s position on his country estate and the Earl of Tarikerville employed ‘Lumpy’ Stevens as a gardener.

Stevens’ nickname has aroused quite a deal of learned controversy; it may have had something to do with his bowling action, or his once eating a whole apple pie at a sitting, or, as an exponent of underarm shooters, his liking for a wicket pitched on uneven ground. Stevens had the distinction of being the first lower class cricketer to have his portrait painted. Some patrons of the game were immortalised in oils because they were noblemen, but Lumpy was painted because his crafty shooters made such an impact on the game.

In view of the modest remuneration for players and the large sums of money hanging on the major games there was obviously great scope for bribery and corruption of the players by patrons, backers and the bookmakers who began to divide their time between the racetrack and the oval. Some of these unscrupulous ‘legs’ went down into Hampshire in the spring to try to buy up the players early in the season. The wretched bookies even set up their tables and called the odds in front of the pavilion at Lords; the moneychangers were at work in the very temple of cricket. Eventually they disappeared as the game ceased to attract bettors and, as it happened, the sheep lasted longer at Lords than the bookies. The M.C.C. was extremely loath to defile the sacred sward with a newfangled contraption like a mower. Rumor has it that when the first such engine appeared a gentleman passing by recruited a nearby gang of roadworkers who beat it to death with sledge hammers.

Not surprisingly, betting was a vital part of the early game in Australia. An early single-wicket contest in Tasmania was played for five pounds and a bottle of wine, and on the Sydney domain when negotiable currency in the form of coin and folding money was in short supply, wagers on early matches were laid in such items as sawn timber, fat pigs, boots, butter and salt fish.

During the first contest between Victoria and N.S.W. the odds started at 3 to 2 on Victoria but after various New ‘South Welshmen ‘lowered their flags’, ‘had their stumps unsettled’ and ‘declared the wicket vacant’, the betting firmed to 3 to 1. However, the northerners eventually won, no doubt to the financial embarrassment of the Victorians.

When one of W.G. Grace’s teams looked like losing to Victoria, W.G. allegedly used the newly installed telegraph to warn his friends in London to lay off some of their bets. Bookmakers in the main stand at the S.C.G. in 1879 were blamed for a riot which almost ended cricketing relations between Australia and England. The English captain, Lord Harris, claimed that the bookmakers urged a mob of larrikins to invade the field when a Sydney batsman was controversially given out.

Nowadays commercial sponsorship, including the opportunity to advertise crunchy breakfast cereal (like a cricket bat with holes in) is taking the part once played by the gambling feudal lords. Money flows into the game from purveyors of cigarettes and razor blades (a rich irony in view of the facial adornment of the early players). No doubt the players will respond energetically to the new incentives, after all, Lumpy Stevens would have bowled his heart out for a good helping of apple pie.

The International Game

The game assumed a new dimension with the advent of international tours. The first would-be tourists planned to travel from England to Paris in 1789 at the invitation of the British Ambassador, the Duke of Dorset, a great patron of the game who organised many matches in England for the Hambledon Club. When the players arrived at Dover to board ship they met the Duke on his way home, fleeing from the French Revolution. And so the first international tour was abandoned for political reasons.

The records do not indicate who the tourists would have played when they reached Paris. They may have put on single wicket games, or split up to play five a side, or they may have gone into the field with local players. People played cricket in France as early as the fifteenth century and French colonists took the game overseas to Canada and the French West Indies. Enthusiastic cricketers among the lace—makers from Nottingham who settled in northern France established local competitions in Dieppe and Calais, as did a number of English residents in Paris.

Over fifty years elapsed before the next international tour. This occurred in North America in 1842 when eighteen players from the St. Georges Club in New York traveled to Toronto, in Canada. Early English colonists carried the game to New York where- the first recorded game, in 1751, was played between ‘London’ and ‘New York’. In Toronto the local side comfortably beat the tourists in a one day game, played for a prize of fifty pounds, not counting side bets. A pickup game followed and in the evening the visitors wined and dined in a riotous celebration with innumerable toasts.

Some years later Canada and the United States played the first recognised international game between representative teams. A prize of a thousand pounds was at stake, a massive sum by today’s standards, and enthusiastic supporters made side bets of many thousands of dollars. Canada won the game with scores of 82 and 63 against the United States’ scores of 64 and 58. No bowling analysis was recorded In the second innings the U.S. opening batsman, George Wheatcroft, did not arrive at the ground until the game was over. His negligence is surprising in view of the prize money, but the delinquent batsman may have been bribed by a Canadian or he may have had his own money on the opposition.

In the following year two international matches occurred but the fourth game, in 1846, produced an ugly incident which halted the series for seven years. A Canadian batsman charged down the bowler as he accepted a caught-and—bowled opportunity. In the very early days it was a legitimate tactic, provided that the batsman did not leave the vicinity of the pitch. When the bowler regained -his feet he threw- the ball at the batsman and despite apologies from the U.S. team, including the bowler, the Canadians refused to continue the game.

The series resumed in 1853. The United States won the match and harmonious relations were sealed after the game when the Canadians were entertained lavishly at Delmonico’s Restaurant. Up to 1970, 48 games have been played in the series. The United States had won 27, Canada had won 16, and 5 were drawn.

In 1859 North America featured in another milestone in cricket history when the first intercontinental touring party arrived from England. The Montreal Cricket Club sponsored the tour, helped by the proprietors of the St. Lawrence Hotel in Montreal. The players were guaranteed 50 pounds plus expenses. Twelve professionals sailed from Liverpool in September, rather late in the year as it turned out by the time they reached the end of their itinerary. George Parr from Nottinghamshire, ‘The Lion of the North’ was captain but at sea he was anything but a lion. He frequently had recourse to gin and water to settle his nerves during heavy weather.

Among the other players were John Wisden the leading allrounder, H.H. Stephenson who captained the first tourists in Australia, and William Caffyn, ‘The Surrey Pet’ who toured Australia with Stephenson and settled in this country. They played five games, all against teams of twenty two players. This allowed the bowlers to return some spectacular figures. George Parr captured 16 wickets for 25 runs in one innings and in another Caffyn took 16 for 26. Despite their disadvantage in numbers the tourists won all their matches, some by an innings. The local players were competent and keen in bowling and fielding but they could not cope with the English bowlers. The slow lobs delivered by Parr and Caffyn were particularly effective and in a game against XXII of U.S.A. the fast bowler Wisden took six wickets in six balls.

The first game was a two day affair against Lower Canada in Montreal. The tourists won by eight wickets and after a splendid banquet at the St. Lawrence Hotel they proceeded to Hoboken, New York. The local populace greeted them with extraordinary enthusiasm. A great crowd waited at the station, the streets were packed and a band at the hotel played ‘Rule Britannia’. The day before the game started over 2,000 people visited the ground, just to see what it looked like, and over 25,000 saw the game. In Philadelphia equally large crowds turned out, including a thousand ladies, dressed in the height of fashion, who occupied a special stand reserved for the fairer sex. Winter was setting in by this time and the wet ground required several wagon loads of sawdust to allow the play to proceed.

The first English cricket tour of Australia in 1861 came about because the novelist Charles Dickens was not inclined to travel. The Melbourne caterers, Spiers and Pond, invited the great man to tour Australia for mutual profit. He declined the offer, and their second choice was a cricket team. Only twelve players came, with seven from Surrey including the captain H.H. Stephenson and William Caffyn, two of the North American tourists of 1859. A crowd of 10,000 waited at the docks when their ship berthed in Melbourne on Christmas eve, and the sustained Interest and hospitality of the locals forced the tourists to travel some miles out of town to practice in peace.

They played against teams of twenty-two in all their games except the first. Stephenson pleaded that they had not recovered from the voyage and only eighteen Victorians went into the field. The Melbourne ground at Richmond was even then the best cricket arena in the world for spectators. The grandstand held 6,000 and there were banked seats for the general public. On the first day 15,000 people came to the ground. The Englishmen wore hats resembling helmets to protect them from the fierce colonial sun. They also wore sashes in various colours, identified on the score cards, so that spectators could tell one from the others.

The tourists won the first game by an innings and In their twelve games they only lost two. One was against a combined twenty-two of Victoria and N.S.W., the other against twenty-two of Castlemain. The second defeat may sound surprising but several things made life difficult for the Englishmen. Apart from the odds against them the team had no reserves, the programme was hectic, traveling was slow and tiring, and everywhere the hospitality was overwhelming.  Caffyn wrote “Scarcely a day passed without our being entertained to champagne breakfasts, luncheons and dinners”.

Apart from the games on the programme there were light-hearted diversions. In Melbourne ‘Surrey’ played ‘The World’ and won. At Beechworth, where the local twenty—two made only 20 (twelve failed to score), Griffith played and beat eleven locals in a single wicket game. After the main fixture at Castlemain, Griffith, Lawrence and Iddson salvaged some prestige by beating eleven of the locals in a single wicket match.

Spiers and Pond made so much money from the tour that they allowed the Englishmen to share half the profits from the last game. The promoters could well afford this generosity because the tourists received only £150 plus expenses and bonuses. S piers and Pond cleared £11,000 all told.  When the touring party returned to England, Charles Lawrence stayed behind in Sydney to coach for the Albert Club.

Two years later, in 1863, George Parr brought a stronger team to Australia. Again they played against teams of twenty-two but they went through the tour, including three games in New Zealand, without any loss. Dr. E.M. Grace, oldest of the three formidable brothers (all three played for England), was the only amateur in the party of twelve. Other players included Caffyn, ‘Tear-Em’ Tarrant the fast bowler who a young Australian called Spofforth adopted as a model, Julius Caesar the brilliant batsman and fielder, and John Jackson, the other fast bowler, called ‘Foghorn’ because he blew his nose loudly whenever he took a wicket.

Their only anxious moments in the field occurred in a game against N.S.W. The tourists escaped with a one wicket victory after the renegade Englishman, Charles Lawrence, took six wickets cheaply for N.S.W.

The team suffered the usual indignities of traveling long distances in horsedrawn vehicles but their worst experience came at sea when their steamer ran down a small vessel off Sydney Heads. The incident occurred in the dark, adding to the confusion. George Parr, ‘The Lion of the North’, was petrified with fright. Tarrant panicked and tried to jump into the boat being lowered to rescue the crew of the other craft. Julius Caesar remained calm and helped the crew while Jackson slept through the whole drama.

Nine years elapsed before Dr. W.G. Grace brought out the third touring party. The Champion demanded a fee of £1,500 plus expenses for himself. Not bad for an amateur although he had to pay a locum to look after his medical practice. The professionals in the party received £170 plus expenses. The team played fifteen games, including two in South Australia. They lost three, including the first of the tour, an innings defeat by a Victorian eighteen.

At Ballarat W.G  Grace and his younger brother Fred each scored centuries in stifling heat. The Victorian fast bowler Sam Cosstick complained that there seemed to be a whole family of Graces batting against them. A local journalist wrote ‘The sun shone infernally, the eleven scored tremendously, we fielded abominably, and all drank excessively’. Drinking was partly responsible for the defeat at Stawell, although leading players such as Cosstick, Allan, Cooper , Wills and Conway repeatedly turned up to play for the country teams.

In a special exhibition at the M.C.G. Dr. Grace and partners batted against eleven Victorians to show how he could perform against a normal contingent of fielders. He scored 100 in 58 minutes. Sam Cosstick became disgruntled  with his part in the proceedings, and let fly three ‘beamers’. The press reported ‘the missiles passed near enough to the. Leviathan’s body to make him wince’. The game stopped forthwith and Sam was placated with the aid of liquid refreshments.

Friction between the professionals and amateurs in the party marred the tour. The amateurs traveled first class, the professionals traveled second. They also complained of inferior accommodation and entertainment. Feelings ran high in an exchange of letters in the Argus between the tour promoter and James Lillywhite, spokesman for the professionals. Lillywhite’s final letter had expletives deleted from it. Despite this bone of contention, Lillywhite captained the next touring team in 1876—77, the tour which started the continuing series of test matches between England and Australia.


Rafe Champion
Click here for Barry Williams' article on Strange Cricket Superstitions