It was W.G. Grace's none-too-chivalrous act in running out Sammy Jones in the 1882 Test Match which stirred Fred Spofforth into doing the utterly mindboggling and bowling England out for just 77, thus clinching for Australia perhaps the most celebrated victory in all of the game's great history.
The only recorded sentiments which W.G. gave regarding the affair (from what I have seen, at least) were given to Lord Hawke, kind enough to recount them for us in his autobiography. "I taught the lad something," Grace is supposed to have told him.
One of the two umpires standing in that Test was Luke Greenwood, and, thankfully, we have a bit more on what he thought of the whole thing: "There was an umpiring incident in the match which I think I am the first to mention. It was a decision given by Bob Thoms. In the Australians' second innings W. L. Murdoch and S. P. Jones were batting. Mr Murdoch hit the ball a little on the leg-side, and the Hon. A. Lyttelton, who was keeping wicket for England, ran for it and threw it in to Peate, who was at short-slip. The run was made safely enough, and Peate made no attempt to take up the ball. Mr Jones thereupon walked out of his ground to pat the wicket where the ball had risen at the previous delivery, and W. G. Grace coolly picked up the ball, walked to the wicket, dislodged the bails, and cried, 'How's that?' Thoms, who was the umpire appealed to, gave him 'out,' and out Mr Jones had to go. Mr Murdoch, on seeing what had occurred, remarked, 'That's very sharp practice, W. G.'; and to this day I think it was. Had I been appealed to I should not have given Jones out, for the ball was to all intents and purposes dead, and there had been no attempt to make a second run."
Greenwood had, in fact, seen it all before, just over nine years ago in Coventry — and on that occasion, too, had W.G. Grace been involved.
It was 11 August 1873, W.G.’s first (and only) cricketing stopover at Coventry. The 25-year-old had taken charge of a United South of England XI (which included his late brother and Gloucestershire team-mate Fred) for a three-day game against a Coventry and District XXII.
Greenwood was amongst the few professional cricketers in the local XXII, which comprised mostly schoolmasters, men of the cloth and former public schoolboys. Greenwood and Lapworth -- does anyone have anything on him? – made up the nucleus of the home team’s bowling line-up.
Crowds flocked to the local cricket ground, some of them out of eagerness to see what they hoped would be a very tight encounter; most, however, were paying their sixpence exclusively for the privilege of seeing W.G. in action, and there was certainly a keyed-up murmur which went around the ground as the great man strode out to open his side’s first innings on the opening morning.
It took Grace about an hour to compile thirteen, before he caught by Gibbs, a schoolmaster, off the bowling of Greenwood. Fred Grace (as he would seven years later in the inaugural English Test Match) fared even worse, falling for a duck as the United South XI were bowled out for just 79.
Leading from the front, W.G. responded in ideal fashion, taking fourteen wickets for 41 and playing the principal role in eliminating the local XXII for just 71. This gave the visitors an eight-run lead as they started their second innings. W.G. got on better on this occasion, getting to 29 before Lapworth had him caught and bowled. Again, however, his team-mates capitulated meekly -- all out for a measly 53, which was not even twice the tally of their eminent captain. A triumph for the home side, within two days even, was most certainly seen to be in the offing.
With the last-wicket pair at the crease, however, one ball would be enough to seal the deal for either side. W.G. had again bowled fabulously, and the match had gone right down to the wire. Presently, the batsmen set off on another run off his bowling, and, while crossing, Jimmy Holmes, one of the two Coventry batsmen, unexpectedly lost the belt which holding up his slacks.
It fell to ground right in the middle of the pitch, but Holmes prudently let it be for the time being, first getting himself over to the sanctity of the striker's end. There he stood and waited for the incoming throw to finish up in the wicketkeeper's gloves, and, when it did, Holmes promptly set down his bat and sauntered up the wicket to retrieve the mislaid strap.
Seeing this, W.G. hollered instantly for his wicketkeeper to do away with the bails and, this done, gave a thunderous appeal to umpire John Cribdon, who (just like Bob Thoms nine years later) upheld it.
Holmes, therefore, had been most controversially run out, and the Coventry and District XXII had lost this most remarkable match by one run.