Gloucestershire County Cricket Club

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Gloucestershire County Cricket Club is one of the 18 first-class county cricket clubs which make up the English domestic structure. The club represents the historic county of Gloucestershire. Its limited overs team is called the Gloucestershire Gladiators.

The club plays most of its home games at its County Ground in Nevil Road, Bristol, which it has used since 1888. A number of games are played each season at the Cheltenham and Gloucester cricket festivals on College Ground, Cheltenham and The King's School, Gloucester.

Gloucestershire has never won the official County Championship but it has been one of the most successful limited overs teams in English cricket. Some of the greatest players of all time have played for the club: W G Grace, Walter Hammond, Tom Graveney, Mike Procter and Courtney Walsh.

Earliest cricket

Cricket probably reached Gloucestershire by the end of the 17th century. It is known that the related sport of "Stow-Ball" aka "Stob-Ball" was played in the county during the 16th century. In this game, the bat was called a "stave".[1]

A game in Gloucester on 22 September 1729 is the earliest definite reference to cricket in the county. The match was advertised in The Weekly Journal dated 15 September as an 11-a-side match for "upwards of 20 guineas" to take place "in the Town-Ham of this City".[2] From then until the foundation of the county club, very little has been found outside parish cricket.

Origin of club

Dr Henry Grace, the father of W G Grace, and his brother-in-law Alfred Pocock founded the Mangotsfield Cricket Club in 1845 to represent several neighbouring villages including Downend, where the Grace family resided.[3] In 1846, this club merged with the West Gloucestershire Cricket Club whose name was adopted until 1867. It has been said that the Grace family ran the West Gloucestershire "almost as a private club".[4] Henry Grace managed to organise matches against Lansdown Cricket Club in Bath, which was the premier West Country club. West Gloucestershire fared poorly in these games and, sometime in the 1850s, Henry Grace and Alfred Pocock decided to join Lansdown, although they continued to run the West Gloucestershire and this remained their primary club.[5]

In 1867, West Gloucestershire changed its name to Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. Henry Grace hoped to compete against the first-class county clubs but the situation had been complicated in 1863 by the formation of a rival club called the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire Cricket Club. Nevertheless, Dr Grace's club played Gloucestershire's inaugural first-class match versus Surrey at Durdham Down near Bristol on 2, 3 & 4 June 1870.[6] The existence of the Cheltenham club seems to have forestalled the installation of Gloucestershire's "constitutional trappings", but the Cheltenham club was wound up in March 1871 and its chief officials accepted positions in the hierarchy of Gloucestershire. So, although the exact details and dates of the county club's foundation are uncertain, it has always been assumed that the year was 1870 and the club celebrated its centenary in 1970.[7]

What is certain is that Dr Grace was able to form the county club because of its playing strength, especially his three sons WG, EM and Fred.

Club history

1870 to 1889

It follows that the early history of Gloucestershire is dominated by the Grace family, especially WG himself. He was the club's original captain and held the post until his departure for London in 1899. His elder brother EM, although an active player, was the original club secretary. With the three Grace brothers, batsman Frank Townsend and Australian professional all-rounder Billy Midwinter, Gloucestershire had a formidable team in the 1870s and claimed outright the unofficial "Champion County" titles of 1874, 1876 and 1877 as well as a share with Nottinghamshire of the 1873 title.[8]

After their heady start, Gloucestershire declined in the 1880s. One of the main reasons was the early death of Fred Grace from pneumonia in 1880, there being a view that "the county was never quite the same without him".[9] Apart from WG himself, the only players of Fred's calibre at this time were the leading professionals. Unlike the south-east and northern counties, Gloucestershire had neither the large home gates nor the necessary funds that could have secured the services of good quality professionals. This was at a time when a new generation of professionals was emerging and, as a result, Gloucestershire fell away in county competition and could no longer match Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Surrey who had the strongest sides in the 1880s.[10]

William Woof was the first of several outstanding spin bowlers to represent Gloucestershire. He made his debut in 1878 and bowled slow left-arm orthodox spin (SLA), taking 100 wickets in both the 1884 and 1885 seasons. After that, his appearances were limited by his professional commitments.

1890 to 1914

Subsequently, Gloucestershire's fortunes have been mixed and they have not yet won the official County Championship, which began in 1890 with Gloucestershire one of its 8 inaugural members. There has been a pattern of teams that sometimes contained great players but never enough good players; the county has always seemed to lack the strength in depth that clubs like Yorkshire and Surrey have generally enjoyed. Gloucestershire's main problem has often been far too much dependency on one or two outstanding players, repeatedly mirroring a situation in the 1880s when WG effectively "carried" the team.

The county's first genuine pace bowler was Fred Roberts, a left-hander who played from 1887 to 1905 and took 970 wickets @ 21.96. He never played for England but he had a good understanding with wicket-keeper Jack Board who did play 6 Tests for England. Board played for Gloucestershire from 1891 to the outbreak of World War I although he did for a time join WG at London County. J J Ferris, like Billy Midwinter a dual international, played for Gloucestershire between 1892 and 1895 but he was not as successful as had been hoped.

Charlie Townsend, son of Frank Townsend, made his debut in 1893 and had a distinguished career with the county until his profession severely limited his appearances. Even so, he continued till 1922. He played only twice for England. Townsend was a left-handed bat (LHB) who bowled right-arm leg breaks (LB). It was said of him that he "spun the ball so prodigiously that even the most experienced players found him baffling to play".[11] He took a unique "hat-trick" when all three batsmen were stumped (by W H Brain). Townsend's best season was 1899 when he scored 2440 runs @ 51.91 (HS 224*) and took 101 wickets, his second "double" following one in 1898.

Gilbert Jessop, who played for the county from 1894 to 1914, was one of its greatest players and succeeded WG as club captain, holding the post from 1900 to 1912. Known as "The Croucher" from his unusual stance, he was famed for his big hitting and fast scoring. He was a brilliant cover fielder, perhaps the best there has ever been, with outstandingly accurate throwing skills and quickness across the ground. He started as a genuine right-arm fast bowler (RF) but his effectiveness was reduced following a back injury in 1899 and he became a batting all-rounder.

Although Jessop always did his best for the county, the years of his captaincy saw Gloucestershire struggling in the championship and they never got into top half of the table. They finished bottom in 1909 and again, under Jessop's successor Cyril Sewell, in 1914.

1919 to 1939

But Jessop's captaincy had a lasting benefit because, under him, several stawart professionals were brought into the team whose legacy was a foundation upon which to build a very good inter-war team. For many years in this period, Gloucestershire was the only southern team that could challenge the northern powerhouses of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire who dominated the championship for nearly two decades. It was not until 1921, when they finished 7th, that Gloucestershire returned to the top half of the championship, but the trend after that was generally an upward one. The key players who returned after the war for the 1919 season were George Dennett, Alf Dipper, Charlie Parker and Harry Smith.

Dennett, a slow left-arm spinner, holds the unlucky record of having taken the most wickets (2,147) in his first-class career among players who never played Test cricket. Charlie Parker was one of the great slow left-armers, though he bowled at something approaching medium pace. He is the third highest wicket-taker (3,278) in first-class cricket behind only Wilfred Rhodes and Tich Freeman; yet he only played once for England. Alf Dipper played from 1908 to 1932 and was a resolute and very careful opening batsman who scored 28,075 runs with 53 centuries. Like Parker, he made just one appearance for England. And another who made a single Test appearance was Harry Smith, who succeeded Jack Board in 1914 and was the county's wicket-keeper until 1935.

One of Gloucestershire's best-ever teams developed under the captaincy from 1929 to 1934 of Bev Lyon, himself a useful middle order batsman, who was regarded as one of the most innovative captains in county cricket. With Dipper, Smith and Parker providing the experience, several good newcomers joined the team in the 1920s and elevated it to the level of championship contenders. Having finished 5th in 1928, Gloucestershire under Lyon were 4th in 1929 and then they finished 2nd in each of the 1930 and 1931 championships.

One of the best acquisitions was Ces Dacre, an aggressive right-handed batsman from New Zealand who had represented his country in the years before it was granted Test status. Dacre played for Gloucestershire from 1928 until he retired from first-class cricket after the 1936 season. In bowling, Gloucestershire was noted for the strength of its spin but this was at the expense of quality pace bowling and John Arlott has commented on the team's weakness in this area.[12] Tom Goddard, originally a fast bowler, made his debut in 1922 and played for 30 years. He turned to off spin and formed a partnership with Parker, until the latter's retirement in 1935, that was the best in the business. Goddard eventually took 2,979 wickets and played 8 times for England. Reg Sinfield was nominally an all-rounder but a good enough batsman to open the innings. He bowled off breaks and took over 1,000 wickets in his career to complement his 15,000 runs and 16 centuries. He played 1 Test in 1938. Charlie Barnett played from 1928 to 1953 and made 20 appearances for England. Barnett was a right-handed opening batsman and a very useful right-arm seam bowler. Arlott describes Barnett, noted for his attacking style, as "one of the most militant opening batsmen modern cricket has ever known".[12]

Good as the afore-mentioned players were, they were overshadowed by their most illustrious colleague, the all-time great batsman Walter Hammond who is second only to WG himself in the Gloucestershire pantheon. Hammond joined the county in 1920 but, because he was from Kent, bureaucracy prevented him from playing in the County Championship until 1922 while he acquired a residential qualification. Hammond played for Gloucestershire until 1951 and was the county captain in 1939 and 1946, losing six years of captaincy to the Second World War. Hammond first played for England in the 1927–28 tour of South Africa and he went to play in 85 Tests, scoring a then record 7,249 career runs. He captained England in the years just before and just after the war, having changed his status from professional to amateur to "qualify" for the role. In his first-class career, Hammond scored 50,551 runs with 167 centuries. He was also an accomplished right-arm medium-fast bowler, who took over 700 wickets with a best performance of 9–23, and a brilliant slip fielder with 820 catches.

One of the most famous matches involving Gloucestershire took place at Bristol in August 1930 when they tied with the touring Australians, for whom Don Bradman was playing. Gloucestershire scored only 72 after being put in and the Australians replied with 157 (Goddard 5–52). In the 2nd innings, Hammond made 89 and Gloucestershire totalled a creditable 202 which set Australia 118 to win. With Parker taking 7–54, Australia were dismissed for 117 to complete a tied match.[13]

Gloucestershire continued to be competitive after Lyon stepped down and finished 4th in both 1936 and 1937. In 1939, Hammond's first year of captaincy, they finished 3rd. By this time, future England batsmen Jack Crapp and George Emmett had joined the team and both continued playing until the late 1950s. Arlott described Crapp as a "dour left-hander" and Emmett as a "brilliant strokemaker".[12]

1946 to 1968

Gloucestershire remained a good team in the immediate post-war period and came very close to winning the title in 1947 when, under the captaincy of Basil Allen, they were involved in a two-horse race with Middlesex which was effectively decided in August when Middlesex won at Cheltenham by 68 runs. Gloucestershire relied mainly on players who had returned after the war, supplemented by wicket-keeper Andy Wilson and their latest slow left-armer Sam Cook who played from 1946 to 1964 and took 1,782 wickets.

In the 1950s, the captaincy passed to professionals like Crapp, Emmett and the famously elegant England batsman Tom Graveney. Graveney led the county to another 2nd place in 1959 but was replaced as captain by the Old Etonian Tom Pugh after the 1960 season. Graveney quit and joined Worcestershire ahead of the 1961 season. Gloucestershire's loss was Worcestershire's gain as, galvanised by his brilliant batting, Worcestershire won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965. Pugh, nothing special as a player or a captain, was himself replaced by Graveney's brother Ken after the 1962 season.

Gloucestershire's team in the late 1950s featured many good players including batsmen Martin Young, Ron Nicholls and Arthur Milton. Milton was a double international who played both cricket and football for England. The team had two international off spinners in David Allen and John Mortimore while seamer David Smith played 5 Tests on the 1961–62 tour of India and Pakistan. Wicket-keeper Barrie Meyer was another footballer, although he played in lower divisions than Milton. Bowling all-rounder and pace bowler Tony Brown, who played for the county from 1953 to 1976, was captain from 1969 until his retirement, after which he became club secretary.

1969 to 2000

Tony Brown took over the captaincy in the season that counties were first allowed to sign overseas players and Gloucestershire did very well for themselves in this regard by signing Pakistan batsmen Sadiq Mohammed and Zaheer Abbas. But the masterstroke was the capture of the brilliant South African all-rounder Mike Procter who must rank as the county's third greatest player after Grace and Hammond. Procter succeeded Brown as captain in 1977 and held the post for 5 seasons until he returned to South Africa. Gloucestershire did well in limited overs cricket during the Brown-Procter period and won both the Gillette Cup and the B&H Trophy. But the championship remained elusive with yet another 2nd place and no less than three 3rd places. On his day, Procter was a match-winning bowler whose extreme pace intimidated even the best batsmen. He was in addition a fine batsman with a superb repertoire of strokes.

Procter was succeeded as captain in 1982 by David Graveney, another of the clan, who later became chairman of the England Test selectors. England wicket-keeper Jack Russell began his career at this time and played until 2004, claiming 1,192 catches and 128 stumpings. A high percentage of Russell's catches were taken off the bowling of the charismatic West Indies paceman Courtney Walsh, who joined Gloucestershire in 1984 just months before he made his Test debut. Walsh stayed at the county till 1998 and twice took 100 wickets in a season, an outstanding feat since the reduction in championship matches that occurred in 1969. Walsh was the first bowler to take 500 wickets in Test cricket.

21st century

The club had a lengthy period of limited overs success from 1999 to 2004 when seven titles were won under the captaincy of Mark Alleyne, including three in 2000 alone. More recently, Gloucestershire reached the final of the 2007 Twenty20 Cup, but narrowly lost to Kent.

In 2004, New Zealand batsman Craig Spearman created a county record when he scored 341 against Middlesex at Gloucester, beating the previous highest scores of 318 not out and 317, made by WG and Hammond respectively.

In 2010, Gloucestershire plays in Division Two of the County Championship. The current captain is Alex Gidman.

Looking ahead, the club is pursuing plans to redevelop the County Ground having gained planning permission from Bristol City Council. A key element of the club's strategy is to "meet the standards set by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for international matches".[14] The plans include an increase in seating capacity from 4,000 to 20,000 and the provision of a new media centre as well as improved social and hospitality facilities.

Honours

First XI

  • County Championship (0) –
    • Division Two (0) –
  • ECB Knockout Trophy (5) – 1973, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004
  • ECB National League (1) – 2000
    • Division Two (2) – 2002, 2006
  • Twenty20 Cup (0) –
  • Benson & Hedges Cup (3) – 1977, 1999, 2000

Second XI

  • Second XI Championship (1) – 1959
  • Second XI Trophy (0) –
  • Minor Counties Championship (0) –


References

  1. Alice B Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland
  2. Barclay, p.411.
  3. Midwinter, p.12.
  4. Rae, p.15.
  5. Rae, p.34.
  6. CricketArchive – match scorecard.
  7. Rae, p.89.
  8. Many cricket writers, including John Arlott (see Barclay, p.411), hold that the County Championship began in 1873 when some attempt was made to organise players' eligibility on a birth/residence qualification. But, until the commencement of the official championship in 1890, all titles were strictly unofficial and were for the most part conferred by the press, whose disagreements among themselves were legion.
  9. Birley, p.132.
  10. Midwinter, p.79.
  11. Barclay, p.412.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Barclay, p.413.
  13. CricketArchive – match scorecard.
  14. GCCC website