Wickets in The West

Published: 1873
Pages: 335
Author: Fitzgerald, Robert Allan
Publisher: Tinsley Brothers
Rating: 2.5 stars

Wickets in The West

One of the first cricket tour books, Wickets in The West or The Twelve in America deals with the MCC amateur tour of Canada in 1872.

Some concerned devotes of Canadian cricket approached the MCC with a view of having a visit to the colony by a group of cricketers.

The secretary of the Marylebone cricket club R.A. Fitzgerald was charged with the responsibility of finding eleven other MCC members to accompany him on the trip. As membership of the club was confined to ‘gentleman’ the tour was limited to amateur talent.

The one stipulation of the Canadians was that W.G. Grace was to be a member of the touring party. It seems his fame had crossed the Atlantic, as the greatest cricketer in the world, this at the age of 25.

This was not the overweight and overbearing figure that most people now imagine when they think of the Grace legend. This was a tall, lithe, broad shouldered athlete (although he already sported a magnificent beard).

The tour was in doubt almost up to departure time, with Grace only agreeing to terms three days before sailing, and three players withdrawing at the last minute. Two with illness and disappointedly C.I. Thornton the biggest hitter in the game, withdrawing with fright after passing a shop window and spying a photograph of a sinking ship.

The most notable of the other players selected were the Hon. George Harris, soon to become Lord Harris and eventually to become one of the most powerful men in cricket. The other notable was A.N. ‘Monkey’ Hornby who led England in the legendary ‘Ashes’ Match in 1882.

Both became lifelong friends and staunch supporters of WG, and both helped him in later life when his cantankerous nature occasionally came to the fore during cricket matches.

As for the tour itself, the ‘twelve’ (they always fielded 12) met ridiculously easy opposition, winning every game (except for a farcical draw in the last match), despite the fact that they played against 22 in every match. Imagine having to steer the ball through 22 fieldsman!

What they lacked in cricketing skill the hosts certainly made up for it in the entertainment stakes. The ‘twelve’ seemed to be in attendance at a dance or ball or stage play every night of the tour.

Grace was the undoubted star of the tour scoring most runs 540 (next best 146) best average 49.1 (next best 16.4), claiming his fair share of wickets, and also proving a very adept dancer.

R.A. Fitzgerald also conveys the speech style of WG; his first speech went as follows: “gentleman, I beg to thank you for the honour you have done me: I never saw better bowling than I have seen today, and I hope to see as good wherever I go.”

For the rest of the tour whenever Grace was called on to make a speech he would simply replace the word bowling eg. Batting, fielding so forth, but otherwise repeat the entire speech verbatim. Much to the delight of his team-mates.

Although the tour proved a great success, the team returned to England to find themselves heavily criticised for excepting money to tour, this accusation was strenuously denied by Fitzgerald in the book.

In Scores and Biographies it was stated that apart from having all of their expenses paid, each gentleman cricketer was paid 600 dollars in gold for each match (they played eight matches). According to the rules of the day amateur players were only to accept expenses.

The writing style after 134 years can be a little confusing, with each player seemingly having half a dozen nicknames. It seems it was written in a light-hearted humorous manner, but time has caused many expressions and sayings to become meaningless.

An important and rare book, every W.G. Grace biographer has dedicated a chapter to this Canadian tour relying heavily on this book for information, and it is still after all this time a quality read. Unfortunately Wicket in The West is a hard book to find and a little expensive at about 200 US dollars.

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