Flannelled Fools at work

On the eve of the first test in the Ashes series, with Brett Lee selected to play and some green in the wicket, Catallaxy appropriately has a thread “In defence of bouncers”. Not to be outdone, here is a piece from the Rathouse on the role of gambling and other commercial incentives in the history of cricket.

Not surprisingly, betting was a vital part of the early game in Australia. An early single-wicket contest in Tasmania was played for five pounds and a bottle of wine, and on the Sydney domain when negotiable currency in the form of coin and folding money was in short supply, wagers on early matches were laid in such items as sawn timber, fat pigs, boots, butter and salt fish.

During the first contest between Victoria and N.S.W. the odds started at 3 to 2 on Victoria but after various New South Welshmen ‘lowered their flags’, ‘had their stumps unsettled’ and ‘declared the wicket vacant’, the betting firmed to 3 to 1. However, the northerners eventually won, no doubt to the financial embarrassment of the Victorians.

When one of W.G. Grace’s teams looked like losing to Victoria, W.G. allegedly used the newly installed telegraph to warn his friends in London to lay off some of their bets. Bookmakers in the main stand at the S.C.G. in 1879 were blamed for a riot which almost ended cricketing relations between Australia and England. The English captain, Lord Harris, claimed that the bookmakers urged a mob of larrikins to invade the field when a Sydney batsman was controversially given out.

Nine years elapsed before Dr. W.G. Grace brought out the third touring party. The Champion demanded a fee of £1,500 plus expenses for himself. Not bad for an amateur although he had to pay a locum to look after his medical practice. The professionals in the party received £170 plus expenses. The team played fifteen games, including two in South Australia. They lost three, including the first of the tour, an innings defeat by a Victorian eighteen.

At Ballarat W.G Grace and his younger brother Fred each scored centuries in stifling heat. The Victorian fast bowler Sam Cosstick complained that there seemed to be a whole family of Graces batting against them. A local journalist wrote ‘The sun shone infernally, the eleven scored tremendously, we fielded abominably, and all drank excessively’. Drinking was partly responsible for the defeat at Stawell, although leading players such as Cosstick, Allan, Cooper , Wills and Conway repeatedly turned up to play for the country teams.

In a special exhibition at the M.C.G. Dr. Grace and partners batted against eleven Victorians to show how he could perform against a normal contingent of fielders. He scored 100 in 58 minutes. Sam Cosstick became disgruntled with his part in the proceedings, and let fly three ‘beamers’. The press reported ‘the missiles passed near enough to the. Leviathan’s body to make him wince’. The game stopped forthwith and Sam was placated with the aid of liquid refreshments.

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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2024 years ago

Gambling was the main reason for the rules of cricket in the first place!