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Cricket - but not as we know it.

A cricket blog by Chris Baker to mark the last day of the 2022 County Championship.

In the County Express (Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, and Dudley News) of Saturday 10th August 1867 we have the following report of a cricket match between Brierley Hill Amateur and Pensnett Victoria.

On Saturday last a single wicket match was played between two of each of these clubs on the ground of the former and resulted in favour of Pensnett by 5 runs. The Brierley Hill were represented by Messrs. Vaughan and Newton. The Pensnett by Messrs. Baker and Yates. Pensnett first taking the bat, Yates was run out for 0. T Baker next going in scored 4 with 3 wides making 7. It was now time for Brierley Hill to try their prowess, which was done creditably by scoring 11, Newton 5 bowled by Yates, Vaughan 6 caught by Baker. At this time Brierley Hill were confident of success and to make matters more sure Yates went in and after some steady play lost his wicket for one run bowled by Vaughan. The game looked sure lost at this point, however still maintaining that by steady play from Baker it might turn the tie in their favour, which looked very promising after two being hit over the fence and counted two each; some good play was shown but Baker was at last bowled by H Vaughan for 8 runs and 2 wides. The game assumed a very exciting appearance, some of the immense crowd maintaining that the chance of Pensnett looked well, which was soon verified by Newton being out for 1. Vaughan again took the bat and soon made 1 run and a splendid cut for another, when by Baker running from the bowling stump and then threw the ball a distance of 30 yards, felled the wicket and brought the game to a close. A large crowd was present and showed considerable interest in the game.

To (mis-)quote Mr Spock “Cricket Jim, but not as we know it”. Just what is going on here? The game is what it says it is – a single wicket match, not in the modern sense of a game between two individuals, but in the sense that there was only one wicket. From the 1820s through to the 1940s there were actually a set of laws for such games produced by the MCC. The major differences from the normal game is that (obviously) there was only one wicket at the batsman’s end, with that at the bowlers end being replaced by a single stump; runs could only be scored in front of the wicket with the ball becoming dead when it went behind the line of the wicket; there were no overs and although bowlers could be changed there was no restriction on the number of balls that could be bowled by any one bowler; and a run was scored when the batsman ran from the wicket to the bowlers stump and back again – i.e. two runs in modern terms; runs had to be run - the only exception was 2 or 3 runs when the ball was hit out of the ground. The game was designed to be played by individuals or teams up to 4 or 5 in number. Such games were very popular in the mid-nineteenth century, but this popularity waned and by the 1930s this form of cricket was more or less extinct. For more detail see this Cricinfo article .

These rules, and the playing conditions at the time, would have led to a very different feel to the game than to the modern one. Spectators would be crowded quite close to the wicket (perhaps with a net in between); the pitch would not have been prepared to anything like the standard of modern pitches, so batting would be difficult; bowling was as likely to be underarm or roundarm as it was to be overarm; and the fact that runs had to actually be run would have made it hard work for both batsmen and the fielding side. And there would almost certainly have been a lot of on ground betting on the result.

And what of the teams and the players? Both teams feature in newspaper reports of more conventional matches between the 1850s and the 1890s (but often still two innings low scoring matches, which is an indication of the state of the pitches). Pensnett Victoria played at least their later matches at a ground somewhere in the vicinity of Lench’s Bridge. I haven’t been able to locate the Brierley Hill ground, but it could have been at the Labour in Vain ground in Brockmoor (which is incidentally where the Brierly Hill Alliance football team played for the first few seasons of their existence). The players can be identified from the census returns, although all the names are relatively common and it is difficult to make any identifications with certainty. The two Pensnett players who took part were most likely William Yates (23), an Ironworks labourer from John St in Brierley Hill, and Thomas Baker (37) a coal miner from Chapel St. The Brierley Hill players were probably George H Vaughan from Mill St. a hair cutter and tobacconist (29) and David Newton from Level St, a shingler (31). The game and its players were a long way removed from the playing fields of Eton.

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