John Small (19 April 1737 at Empshott, Hampshire; died 31 December 1826 at Petersfield, Hampshire) was an English first-class cricketer, famously associated with Hambledon, from the 1750s until 1798, one of the longest careers on record. He is known to have been a right-handed batsman and to have fielded in the cover or mid wicket areas, but he seems to have rarely if ever bowled. He is first mentioned in the 1764 season, along with several of his Hambledon colleagues, but it is believed he was active much earlier. Small was a master batsman, probably the greatest of the entire underarm era and arguably the greatest of all time until W. G. Grace a century later.
He lived in Petersfield, where he was originally a cobbler but he later expanded his business to the manufacture of cricket bats and balls. It is sometimes said that he introduced the straight bat, instead of the old curved bat, after bowlers started pitching the ball instead of skimming or trundling it. It is more likely that he was simply the first batsman to master the use of the straight bat and that he subsequently made them. He ultimately sold his business to Robert Dark of the MCC at Lord's.
Small was a playing member of the legendary Hambledon Club during its years of greatness. Indeed, it was largely because of him that Hambledon was such a famous club. Although our knowledge of the early years of his career are sketchy due to the lack of detailed records before scorecards became common from 1772, it is believed he began playing in top-class cricket during the 1750s and may well have taken part in the earliest known Hambledon matches, the tri-series against Dartford Cricket Club in 1756. Small was definitely playing for Hambledon in 1768, when he is known to have scored 140-plus runs in a single match (a feat almost unheard of in those days) and his name is found in the club's scorecards right up to 1798 when he was over 60.
His most famous feat was to score the first-ever known century in a top-class match. He made 136 not out for Hampshire against Surrey at Broadhalfpenny Down on 13 July 1775. Like so many of his contemporaries, Small's fame is based largely on the testimony paid to him by John Nyren in The Cricketers of My Time. Small received high praise indeed for Nyren declared him to have been "a star of the first magnitude" (i.e., a superstar).
John Small is often referred to as John Small senior to differentiate him from his son Jack who is formally referenced in the records as John Small junior.
- Ashley-Cooper, p. 171.
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- Major, John: More Than A Game. London: HarperCollins (2007).
- John Small. ESPN Sports Media Ltd.