LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!
‘The ground…was suffering from the effects of recent rain, and once more the Australians found themselves on a sticky wicket. Bells Life in London. July 1882
Cricket has a rich and colourful history, to which modern era players still contribute.
Many cricket ‘tragics’ will recall watching Shane Warne release his ‘wonder ball’, which deviated an extraordinary distance from the pitch to dislodge Mike Gatting’s middle stump during the second Ashes Test in 1993. It was Warnie’s first delivery on English soil. But if it had not been for a man called Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens, Gatting might have remained at the crease. It was Steven’s prodigious bowling ability which forced the addition of a third stump to what was originally a two stump wicket.
The origin of Edward’s Stevens’ nickname is unclear. One theory is that he liked to bowl on an uneven or ‘lumpy’ pitch. However, he was known to have eaten an entire apple pie at one sitting and some say the name referred to his figure. If the latter is true it brings to mind Shane Warne’s love of baked beans and his well documented problems with weight.
It is generally believed that cricket was first played by shepherds and farm workers in medieval times, but by the eighteenth century the game was very much in the control of the English aristocracy. Lumpy’s patron was the Earl of Tankerville, who guaranteed the loyalty of his team’s star bowler by employing him as a gardener.
The other main ‘player’ in the story of the middle stump was John Small, who was born in Hampshire on April 19th 1737.
Small was not only a wonderful batsman but a renowned runner between the wickets, with an uncanny ability to steal a single. He was also an excellent fielder. A man of many talents both off and on the field, he worked as a gamekeeper and drapist, played the violin, and was a chorister for many years. Small’s musical ability has a strange parallel with Don Bradman, who was a talented pianist and composer. (One of the songs Bradman wrote was called ‘Every Day is a Rainbow Day for me’ – which it certainly was on the cricket field.) His grand-daughter Greta Bradman is an emerging opera singer.
In May 1775 Lumpy Stevens and John Small were on opposing five-a-side teams at a game in London. Stevens was playing for an All England team and Small for Hambledon. John Small was the last man in for Hambledon and on three occasions, ‘dead eye’ Stevens bowled a ball straight through the two stump wicket. Since the bails were not dislodged Small was deemed not out, and cricket officials realized how unfair this was for a bowler. The third or ‘middle’ stump was introduced shortly afterwards.
John Small was still playing for the MCC at the age of sixty. He died on December 31 1826 at the ripe old age of 89. Lumpy Stevens died in 1821. His weathered gravestone is located by the south door of St Mary’s church at Walton-on- Thames in Surrey, England.
Oddly enough, Walton-on-Thames has a connection with another, much later rule change in cricket. The English cricket captain in 1932 was Douglas Jardine, who lived in Ashley Road, Walton. At his home ‘Woodside’ (long since demolished) he came up with a strategy to counter the amazing batting ability of Don Bradman.
Unfortunately, batsmen rather than stumps became the target in Jardine’s ‘bodyline’ bowling during the 1932/3 test series in Australia. In his autobiography, The Larwood Story, published in 1965, Harold Larwood, the main exponent of bodyline wrote; ‘…let me confirm what so many people have always believed and about which I have remained silent for more than thirty years – bodyline was devised to stifle Bradman’s batting genius.’ Subsequently the MCC effectively banned bodyline bowling by ruling that; ‘the type of bowling regarded as a direct attack by the bowler upon the batsman and therefore unfair consists in persistent and systematic bowling of fast short-pitched balls at the batsman standing clear of his wicket.’
I am fortunate enough to own a copy of The Larwood Story, signed by the man himself, and with an interesting observation from co- author, Kevin Perkins. The book was originally owned by the Fifield family. Elaine Fifield was an Australian ballet dancer, subject of an earlier biography by Perkins. His message reads; ‘Mrs Fifield, there may be some passages here which you will find distasteful. The whole bodyline affair was distasteful, especially the treatment of Larwood later in England. To have left them out would have been personally desirable, but historically inaccurate.’
Relations between Australia and England had sunk to all time low during the series and one wonders how the stress of the whole affair affected Jardine’s mother Alison, who died just three years later, in 1936. She is remembered by a brass plaque set into the south wall of St Mary’s All Saints chapel.
Well, the 2015 Ashes series did not turn out well for Australia. Grieving supporters in England could have distracted themselves by visiting the churchyard at Walton- on -Thames to pay tribute to Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens. By forcing the addition of some extra woodwork he made cricket wickets that little bit stickier for batsmen!
2017- AUSSIES WIN FOUR ZIP ON HOME TURF.
UPDATE 2019 Well, here we are again, about to try and retain the Ashes after the awful shame of ‘sandpaper-gate.’ The English crowds are booing and heckling the guilty parties. But all that really matters is who will come out on top.
I am also involved in a personal Ashes competition. It has been waged between myself and a very irritating man by the name of Sydney Smith for half a century (to use a cricketing term). An organization called NADOW was where we used to work…..and argue about sport.
FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE IN THE BOX BELOW. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’. NO TAUNTS OR CRUEL JOKES FROM ‘ENGLISHERS’ PLEASE. I HEARD ONE THAT SAID. ‘HOW DO YOU TIME A BOILED EGG? ANSWER; ‘PUT IT IN THE POT WHEN AN AUSSIE GOES OUT TO BAT, REMOVE IT WHEN HE COMES BACK IN.‘
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