New game for auld enemies?

Monday is a landmark day for Scottish cricket, when our national side plays its first ever one-day international against England. But Scotland is no stranger to the sound of leather upon willow, as the 1877 visit of WG Grace attests, says Jim Gilchrist

ON 24 May 1877, some 2,000 people descended on Edinburgh’s Grange cricket ground to watch the great sporting hero of the day, WG Grace, and his team, the United South of England Eleven, play the Eighteen Gentlemen of Edinburgh. One hundred and thirty-one years later, the meticulously kept Grange scorebook recording that three-day match will be on display in the Grange pavilion on Monday, as an expected 6,000 people converge on the club for a truly historic event – the first ever official cricket game between Scotland and England.

While there have been exhibition cricket matches and “friendlies” between the two countries in the past, Monday’s event is unique, explains Roddy Smith, the chief executive of Cricket Scotland. “It’s a proper one-day international, not an exhibition match or a friendly, so it’s a big game for Scottish cricket.”

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We’re speaking in the Grange’s handsome old pavilion. Olive Geddes, senior curator of the National Library of Scotland’s manuscripts collections, where the old Grange scorebook is normally housed, has just arrived with a large cardboard box containing that fragment of Scottish sporting history. It is a well-thumbed ledger with the dates 1875 to 1877 and a number four embossed in gilt on its worn brown cover. The club’s three earlier scorebooks appear to have vanished, and the book stands as one of the earliest surviving records of its kind.

For Grange chairman Duncan Wylie, the book, with its impeccable copperplate record of innings (punctuated by the occasional blot – rain during play?) and of players who have long since left the crease, is a relic of a golden age for the club, as its Raeburn Place ground attracted many notable players after the club moved there in May 1872. “This is very significant for us, and hugely important in terms of Scottish cricket,” he says. Outside, groundsmen are manicuring the ground, while tiers of seating are erected to accommodate the thousands expected on Monday.

Everyone, he adds, is keeping their fingers crossed over the weather. As The Scotsman reported at the time, “auspicious weather” favoured 24 May 1877 which, apart from the proceedings at the Grange, was Queen Victoria’s birthday, with thousands of people leaving the city by rail, many of them bound for the Borders, Fife or the Trossachs. Others of a more serious bent attended the opening of the General Assembly, but there were still plenty to watch the formidable WG Grace and company take on the “Eighteen Gentlemen”.

According to The Scotsman of Saturday 26 May 1877, the weather for the second day’s play, apart from one slight shower, was “all that could be desired”, though fortune failed to shine on the home team. “The Eleven kept possession the entire day,” the paper reported of the second day’s play, “and some of them – particularly WG Grace, D Eastwood, GF Grace, T Palmer and JT Tennent – displayed a great amount of skill in dealing with the bowling of Laidlay, Macnair and J Craig. The fielding of the Scotch team was at times good, and at others very indifferent.”

WG Grace, the extravagantly bearded Victorian doctor credited with developing modern batting techniques, played at Raeburn Place more than once, including the inaugural match for the new pavilion in 1895. Founded in 1832, originally in Edinburgh’s Grange area, the club was more or less the MCC of Scottish cricket, at a time when the game was still establishing itself here, and in more recent years notable players who have stepped out on to the Raeburn Place sward have included Australia’s great Sir Donald Bradman in 1948 and the “Prince of Port-of-Spain”, Brian Lara, in 1995.

Yet to many, the very words “Scottish cricket” still have a faintly incongruous ring to them, the sport still tending to be regarded as an English import, existing very much in the scarf-waving shadow of that other ball game. One can’t help thinking of the episode, recounted in David W Potter’s Encyclopaedia of Scottish Cricket, in which a batsman in an East of Scotland League game took the field equipped with pocket radio and earphones, all the better to follow the fortunes of a Hearts game during play.

The first recorded cricket match in Scotland was played at Schaw Park, Alloa, in September 1785, between the Duke of Atholl’s XI and a team fielded by one Colonel Talbot. Clearly the landed gentry were getting involved, while the game’s introduction up north is at least partly attributed to English Hanoverian troops garrisoned in the country following the suppression of the ’45 Jacobite rebellion – it’s no coincidence that Scotland’s oldest known cricket club, dating back to 1820, is Kelso, which in the 18th century would have been a garrison town.

Elsewhere, however, the game seems to have been brought north by immigrant English workers in the textile and other industries, while a fourth conduit would have been English staff, and some pupils, at Scottish public schools.

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Aficionados, therefore, like to argue that cricket actually predates the fitba’ as an organised sport in Scotland, and point out that the first ever official football international, when Scotland played England (0-0), in 1872, was played on a Glasgow cricket ground, Hamilton Crescent, then home of the West of Scotland CC.

By the early 19th century, cricket was being played before crowds of up to several thousand on Glasgow Green, and today some 8-9,000 people in Scotland play the game at weekends, according to Smith, “so the actual participation is a lot more than people tend to think”.

Is it unfair, then, to agree too readily with Lord Mancroft’s piquant summary of the sport as “a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented in order to give themselves some conception of eternity”?

“In terms of perception, yes it’s still seen as an English game in quite a number of areas of Scotland,” says Smith, “but the Scottish cricket community is expanding. We’re getting 6,000 coming here to watch a game on Monday. Beyond rugby and football, what other team sport could do that in Scotland?”

That match back in 1877 saw Grace’s United South of England Eleven beat the Eighteen Gentlemen of Edinburgh by nine wickets. On prospects for Monday’s historic game, Smith is, shall we say, positive but pragmatic: “If the sun shines and with 6,000 people here, it’ll just be a great occasion.

“In world rankings we’re 13 and England are 6, and there’s a big gulf in experience. We’re amateurs and semi-professionals, pitted against some of the best players in the world, but our players won’t be overawed, because they’ve played against the England guys in domestic cricket.

“There’s no doubt it will be a tough game, but you just never know. In cricket, funny things can happen…”

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Still at the Crease Two Centuries Later

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1785 THE first recorded cricket match in Scotland, played at Schaw Park, Alloa.

1849 The first all-England 11 to play a Scottish team at the Grange's “Spark’s Ground”.

1865 The first representative “Scotland” game against the Gentlemen of Surrey at the Oval, Scotland winning by 172 runs.

1882 The only time Scotland has ever defeated an Australian team, in a one-day match at the Grange Ground in Raeburn Place.

1891 Scotland beat Gloucester by 28 runs at the Grange, despite the presence of W G Grace on the English county side.

1985 1 September is the only day in history when a Scots team triumph at Lords, as Freuchie beat Rowledge in the final of the National Village Championships.

1992 Scotland resigns from membership of the UK Cricket Council, severing cricketing ties with England, and two years later is elected to Associate Membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

2004 Scotland defeat Canada in the final of the ICC Intercontinental Trophy.

2005 Scotland beat Ireland by 47 runs in Dublin in Final of ICC Trophy to qualify for 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

2008 Scotland to play its first One Day International against England.