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England’s greatest cricketer – the “Doctor”, W G Grace

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 15 November 2011

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This edited article about cricket originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 862 published on 22 July 1978.

W G Grace, picture, image, illustration

W G Grace at the wicket by Richard Hook

Now that the parks and greens of Old England are echoing with the sound of leather upon willow, what better moment to honour the memory of the greatest cricketer of all time – the “Doctor”, W. G. Grace, who was born 130 years ago this week, on 18th July, 1848.

William Gilbert Grace was a giant in every sense of the word. Towering above everybody else on the field, his beard flowing in dark waves on to his chest, he dominated cricket for more than forty years, starting with 170 runs for South Wales when he was 16, and still scoring centuries in county matches when he was 56. To the Victorians he became a national hero, a sort of living representation of John Bull in his power and permanence.

In a way it was not surprising that he should have achieved such fame at cricket, for he was born into a family of fanatical cricketers. He was the third of four brothers, (all of whom played for England at some time or another and occasionally at the same time) he learnt to play from his father, who cleared a pitch in the garden of their home near Bristol and taught his boys every thing he knew about cricket, which at that time did not have a very precise set of laws.

“W.G.” was a natural. As a batsman he could deal with virtually any ball that was bowled at him, and he made mincemeat of the fast bowlers who terrorised his contemporaries. He was also a tremendous bowler: on one occasion in 1867, he took eight wickets at a cost of only 25 runs. In a career that stretched from 1865 to 1908, he scored no less than 54,896 runs (including 126 centuries) and took 2,876 wickets.

There will never be another cricketer to rival Grace. Playing on pitches that a modern schoolboy would reject as unsuitable, he revolutionised the styles and techniques of cricket, as well as making the game more popular than any man before or since. As one obituary said of him when he died, “Had Grace been born in Ancient Greece, the Iliad would have been a different book.”

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