W. G. (Grace) - 75

W.G. Grace visits Coventry in 1873.

With two runs needed and the last pair in, the game was perfectly poised when Coventry batsman Jimmy Holmes suddenly found himself missing a vital bit of kit.

As he ran between the wickets the belt holding up his trousers snapped and fell off, right in the middle of the pitch.

He reached the batting crease, waited until the ball was back in the wicket keeper's gloves, then laid down his bat and strolled up the wicket to fetch his belt.

The opposing captain, who was bowling, immediately shouted to the wicket keeper to remove the bails and loudly appealed. Umpire John Cribdon gave Holmes run out and the match was lost.

Holmes's reaction is not recorded, but he should have expected a less than sporting response to his sartorial predicament, for the bowler was none other than WG Grace. And the great man would do almost anything to win.

The controversial end to the match - the Coventry team later angrily declared that they had been robbed - soured WG's only visit to Coventry, on August 11, 1873. Aged 25, he was at the height of his cricketing prowess, in the middle of a brilliant season and about to become the first player in English cricket to do the double - 106 wickets and 2139 runs, at an average of 71.30.

But throughout his career Warwickshire pitches never seemed to suit his florid and aggressive style of batting. And that fixture on the Bull Fields cricket ground in Coventry was to be no exception.

For the three-day match against a Coventry and District Twenty-two, WG had brought with him a United South of England XI packed with top county players, including his brother Frederick, who turned out alongside him for Gloucestershire and later played in the first Test match against Australia.

The local side was dominated by talented amateurs - schoolmasters, clergymen and ex-public school men - but stiffened with a hard core of professionals from club cricket, including the two main strike bowlers, Lapworth and Greenwood.

Hopes were high for a close encounter but it was the bulky, heavily bearded figure of WG Grace that most spectators had paid 6d each to see. And an excited buzz ran through the crowd as he strode out to open the innings that first morning.

Within the hour he was back in the wooden pavilion, caught by a schoolmaster named Gibbs off the bowling of Luke Greenwood for 13. His brother Frederick, batting at number three, fared even worse, getting a duck, and the whole team was skittled out for 79.

WG cannot have been amused, but turned in a magnificent bowling performance to rattle out the Coventry Twenty-two for 71, taking 14 wickets for 41.

In the second innings he was going well on 29 when Lapworth trapped him caught and bowled and with the rest of the side collapsing to 53 all out, a local victory inside two days suddenly looked on the cards.

Grace had other ideas and with time running out seized the opportunity of Holmes's injudicious walk down the wicket.

It was an entirely characteristic reaction from a man who more than once in his career flatly refused to 'walk', despite being clean-bowled.

With the match won, WG's temper improved and during a hastily arranged single-innings game on the third day he was in jovial mood, awarding the Surrey player Tom Humphreys a shilling on the spot for making a superb catch at cover point as his side strolled to victory.

As the players came off there were troops of small boys waiting for him. He threw them showers of coppers and then entertained admirers in the crowd with an exhibition of brute strength, whacking balls over the pavilion and out of sight.

The great showman was in his element. His defeated opponents must have been fuming.

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