CRICKET’S STICKY WICKET

LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!

Ashes Urn

The holy grail.

 

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.

Early cricket with a two stump wicket.

Early cricket with 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.

Edward 'Lumpy' Stevens

Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens

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.

Bradman wkacks another one!

Bradman wkacks another six!

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.’

 

Inscriptions in The Larwood Story.

Inscriptions in The Larwood Story.

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  turned 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!

UPDATE –  Well, here we are again, about to try and win the ashes back. Who will come out on top?

 

Bowler hat with corks cartoon

Please…NO!

 

Howzat??

Howzat?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have my own Ashes competition, waged between myself and a very irritating man by the name of Sydney Smith for half a century (to use a cricketing term). NADOW was where we  both used to work…..and argue about sport.

Ashes trophy

Please return to me Mr Frog.

 

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 EGGANSWER;PUT  IT IN  THE POT WHEN AN AUSSIE GOES OUT TO BAT,  REMOVE  IT WHEN HE COMES BACK IN.

For another cricket story, click HERE

 

4 Comments
  1. I remember reading about Sir Donald Bradman’s unfortunate experience at the hands of Jardine. Many were so disappointed that winning at all cost overtook the good sportsmanship of the English bowler.

  2. You have The Larwood Story….I am impressed. I have one or two cricket prints by Jossop but nothing as valuable as your book.
    A very lovely story

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