20100505

IPL concept would have seen W G Grace at head of queue


Twenty20 cricket and the riches of the Indian Premier League might seem to have turned cricket into a game far removed from the one in which W G Grace enjoyed fame in the late 19th century but in some ways not a lot has changed.

The amply proportioned doctor might not have attempted nor wished to compete with the fleet-footed fielders essential to any successful T20 team, while the idea of trying to scramble at least a quick single off every ball would not have interested him at all.

Yet in his day Grace was every bit as willing to sell his talent to the highest bidder as a Kevin Pieterson or an Andrew Symonds.

Indeed, he did so in 1899, when he abandoned Gloucestershire in order to accept £600 per year -- equivalent to about £60,000 today -- to be captain, secretary and manager of the newly-formed London County, a team set up in a short-lived attempt to give the capital a presence in first-class cricket.

Grace was officially an amateur yet made a handsome income from playing cricket. Ironically, the professionals who made up the 'Players' teams in the famous matches between 'Gentlemen and Players' tended to be much less well rewarded.

This hypocrisy -- and the wide social divisions that existed within the game -- is the focus of a celebrated study of the game in Grace's era by historian David Kynaston, which has been reissued by Bloomsbury some 20 years after its original publication.

W.G.'s Birthday Party focuses on the Gentlemen v Players match of 1898, around the time of Grace's 50th birthday, as a lens through which to examine the hierarchy and tensions endemic in cricket at the beginning of the modern era, creating a detailed and entertaining portrait of late-Victorian society.

Kynaston, famous for presenting history in a way that makes the reader feel he is actually there, witnessing events as they happened, has written two outstanding portraits of the 1940s and 1950s, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem) and Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem).

The tradition of Gentlemen v Players continued until as recently as 1962, when the bi-annual fixture was played at Lord's and Scarborough, the last matches featuring appearances by Ken Barrington, Brian Close and Fred Trueman on the 'Players' side with Ted Dexter, Tony Lewis and the Reverend David Sheppard, who went on to become Bishop of Liverpool.

For more on cricket and more by David Kynaston, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.  Support this site by buying on line through our links.

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