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Bayly’s Cricketers’ Almanack?

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The first cricket annual to appear was back in 1790. Britcher’s Scores ran for fifteen editions. Just over fifty copies, in total, are known to exist. The MCC Library has a full set, but no one else has as only a single copy is known of the first two editions. Britcher is very much the Holy Grail of cricket book collecting.

Other annuals came and went. Lambert and Denison both enjoyed some success, and Frederick Lillywhite, of the well known family, started his Guide to Cricketers’  in 1844, and that was to carry on until 1865, when it was subsumed into John Lillywhite’s Cricketer’s Companion (the ‘Green Lilly’).

Two other annuals launched in 1864. One of them, John Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack, is still with us today. The other, The Cricket Chronicle For The Year 1863 by Captain W Bayly did not survive that first year, and no second edition ever appeared.

The first edition of Wisden was a strange publication. It cost a shilling, so about a quarter of the weekly wage of a manual worker. It was therefore a luxury that only the middle class could afford.

For his shilling the buyer got 112 pages. The first twelve were the almanack itself, many but not all dates being cricketing ones. The laws of the game then took up four pages, followed by seven more listing the dates of the first appearance at Lord’s for the game’s leading players.

Records then put in an appearance, but only in one category, three pages containing a list of just 56 centuries recorded over the fourteen summers since 1850. In three of those seasons there was but a single century scored anywhere, and in 1855 it was Wisden himself who was the sole centurion.

There follows a section entitled ‘Extraordinary Matches’. It is only three pages long, a match per page, and what an odd selection they are. The first was for a match between the Royal Surrey Militia and Shillinglee from 1855, notable for the Militia’s all out total of zero in their first innings. There follows a card from a 16 a side match in Sheffield in 1838 where all the players were over 60 years of age.

The last of the trio was a match from the 1861/62 tour of Australia by a side led by HH Stephenson. The eleven Englishmen beat 18 of Victoria by an innings at the MCG. It was the first match ever played by an English team in Australia, but that apart there is nothing particularly remarkable about the scorecard.

More scorecards follow as Wisden used up as many as 53 pages on the details of all the Gentlemen v Players fixtures, and another 14 on those between the All England Eleven and the United All England Eleven.

Which leaves 16 pages to fill, and that is when the content turns distinctly odd. First are the winners of the Derby, the Oaks, the St Leger and the University Boat Race. Those admittedly sporting items are followed by some more, the laws of Knur and Spell, Bowls and Quoits. That however is the end of the sport, as the book is finished off by a list of the British Societies, of canals, the dates of the eight Crusades, the twelve battles of the War of the Roses and, finally, an account of the trial of Charles I!

Wisden has retained more or less the same height and breadth throughout its 156 editions although, naturally, its girth has increased more than tenfold since the first edition. The page size in Bayly was around the same, if anything slightly smaller, but in its only edition it had 513 pages – it would be the 44th edition of Wisden before that figure was reached.

The introduction to Bayly stated in terms that it is intended that the Cricket Chronicle should become an annual work. Its contents were primarily scores, more than 850 of them. There were matches from all over the world. In Bayly’s words he covered games from Lord’s or Lahore, Kennington Oval or Kentucky, South Wales or South Australia, and there were cards included from such far flung cricketing outposts as Corfu, Mauritius, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro and Valpairiso.

I have not been able to find out very much about Bayly. There was a Captain W Bayly (his rank precedes his name in the book) who was on the payroll of the East India Company between 1837 and 1858, who I think might be our man, but I can find out little more, although it seems a distinct possibility he came from a family with connections to the slave trade in Jamaica.

In terms of the way in which the Cricket Chronicle was ordered Bayly began with matches played by MCC, and then moved on to the major representative matches of the day, those between the Gentlemen and the Players, the North and the South, and extensive coverage of the All England and United All England elevens.

As for county cricket before 1863, of the current First Class county clubs, only Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Sussex existed, although teams did play under the banner of some of the other counties. The concept of county cricket was however still in its formative stages, and it would be a quarter of a century before an organised County Championship began. Thus the coverage of the major club sides, such as I Zingari and the Civil Service had priority, as did the cricket of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. There is also an extensive section (120 pages) on matches involving the Public Schools.

There are no reports as such in Bayly, but there is some comment on a few of the fixtures. An example is the match between the Government and the Opposition, won easily by the Opposition, where Bayly expressed the view that, perhaps, the Government were used up by their mental labours.

Cricket overseas comes towards the end of the book, where there is a place also for single wicket matches, and finally, two interesting sounding matches between sides styled as ‘One Armed Men’ and ‘One Legged Men’. A brief appendix containing past results from the major fixtures such as the Gentlemen and Players and Eton against Harrow then brings the book to a close.

Despite Bayly’s stated intent the Cricket Chronicle never appeared again, nor indeed did Bayly, who has no other entries in the game’s bibliography nor, to my knowledge, did he make any ephemeral contributions to cricket’s literature. The assumption has always been that, retailing at two shillings and sixpence, it was the price that caused Bayly to fail although a contemporary review suggests that, in addition, the format did not prove popular:-

In looking carefully through the printed exploits of the past year, we find scope and verge enough for amendment, both as regards the order of arrangement and the unsettled plan in compounding the scores. If Captain Bayly will in his next year’s edition eschew about one half of the matches ….. we see no reason why the Cricket Chronicle should not take a prominent stand .

As we know the Cricket Chronicle never did appear again, nor was Bayly spotted again. On the other hand Wisden has gone from strength to strength. The second, 1865, edition of the Almanack is nothing like so eccentric as the first and in particular concerns itself solely with cricket. Any businessman would, of course, have kept an eye on the opposition and Wisden certainly seems to have taken on board the critical review of Bayly that I have made reference to.

The 1865 Wisden had grown significantly, to 160 pages of which, in the manner of Bayly, as many as 86 pages contained scorecards from the previous English season, with 21 more following the touring party that George Parr had taken to Australia in 1863/64. There was surely also a dig at Bayly in Wisden’s introduction, in which he expressed the hope that the buyers of his book would find it a readier reference and a more convenient companion than larger volumes of greater pretentions.

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