Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 8

Cricket  (1888) 
Chapter 8 by Andrew Lang



(By Andrew Lang.)

Mr. Gale has been saying his very pleasant say on country cricket in England. A Border player, in his declining age, may be allowed to make a few remarks on the game as it used to be played in 'pleasant Teviotdale,' and generally from Berwick all along the Tweed. The first time I ever saw ball and bat must have been about 1850. The gardener's boy and his friends were playing with home-made bats, made out of firwood with the bark on, and with a gutta-percha ball. The game instantly fascinated me, and when I once understood why the players ran after making a hit, the essential difficulties of comprehension were overcome. Already the border towns, Hawick, Kelso, Selkirk, Galashiels, had their elevens. To a small boy the spectacle of the various red and blue caps and shirts was very delightful. The grounds were, as a rule, very rough and bad. Generally the play was on haughs, level pieces of town-land beside the rivers. Then the manufacturers would encroach on the cricket-field, and build a mill on it, and cricket would have to seek new settlements. This was not the case at Hawick, where the Duke of Buccleuch gave the town a capital ground, which is kept in very good order.

In these early days, when one was only a small spectator, ay, and in later days too, the great difficulty of cricket was that excellent thing in itself, too much patriotism. Almost the whole population of a town would come to the ground and take such a keen interest in the fortunes of their side, that the other side, if it won, was in some danger of rough handling. Probably no one was ever much hurt; indeed, the squabbles were rather a sham fight than otherwise; but still, bad feeling was caused by umpires' decisions. Then relations would be broken off between the clubs of different towns, and sometimes this tedious hostility endured for years. The causes were the excess of local feeling, and perhaps the too great patriotism of umpires. 'Not out,' one of them said, when a member of the Oxford eleven, playing for his town-club, was most emphatically infringing some rule. 'I can not give Maister Tom out first ball,' the umpire added, and his case was common enough. Professional umpires, if they could be got, might be expected to prove more satisfactory than excited amateurs who forgot to look after no balls, or to count the number of balls in an over. But even professionals, if they were attached to the club or school, were not always the embodiment of justice.

The most exciting match, I think, in which I ever took part was for Loretto against another school. In those days we were very weak indeed. When our last man went in, second innings, we were still four runs behind our opponent's first score. This last man was extremely short-sighted, and the game seemed over. But his partner, a very steady player, kept the bowling, and put on some thirty-eight more. We put our adversaries in to get this, and had lowered eight wickets for twenty-eight. I was bowling, and appealed to the umpire of our opponents for a palpable catch at wicket. 'Not out!' Next ball the batsman was caught at long-stop, and a fielder triumphantly shouted, 'Well, how's that?'

'Not out,' replied the professional again, and we lost the match by two wickets.

If this had happened on the Border there would have been trouble, and perhaps the two clubs would not have met again for years. I have no doubt that a more equable feeling has come in among those clubs which retained a good deal of the sentiments of rival clans. The Borderers played too much as if we were still in the days of Scotts and Carrs, and as if it were still our purpose

To tame the Unicorn's pride.
Exalt the Crescent and the Star.

Sir Walter Scott encouraged this ardour at football when he caused to be unfurled, for the first time since 1633, the ancient banner of Buccleuch, with its broidered motto 'Bellendaine.' The dalesmen, the people from the waters of Yarrow, Ettrick, and Teviot, played against the souters of Selkirk, all across country, the goals being Ettrick and Yarrow. The townsmen scored the first goal, when the Galashiels folk came in as allies of the shepherds, and helped them to win a goal. 'Then began a murder grim and great,' and Scott himself was mobbed in the evening. But he knew how to turn wrath into laughter.

'‘Tis sixty years since,' and more, but this perfervid ardour, while it makes Border cricket very exciting, is perhaps even now a trifle too warm. The great idea, perhaps, in all country cricket is not so much to have a pleasant day's sport, wnn or lose, but to win merely. Men play for victory, as Dr. Johnson talked, rather than for cricket. This has its advantages; it conduces to earnestness. But it does not invariably promote the friendliness of a friendly game.

Border cricket is very pleasant, because it is played in such a pleasant country. You see the angler going to Tweedside, or Teviot, and pausing to watch the game as he strolls by the cricket -ground. The hills lie all around, these old, unmoved, unchangeable spectators of man's tragedy and sport. The broken towers of Melrose or Jedburgh or Kelso look down on you. They used to 'look down,' as well they might, on very bad wickets. Thanks to this circumstance, the present writer, for the first and only time in his existence, once did the 'hat trick' at Jedburgh, and took three wickets with three consecutive balls. Now the grounds are better, and the scores longer, but not too long. You seldom hear of 300 in one innings on the Border.

In my time the bowling was roundhand, and pretty straight and to a length, as a general rule. Perhaps, or rather certainly, the proudest day of my existence was when I was at home for the holidays, and was chosen to play, and bowl, for the town eleven against Hawick. I have the score still, and it appears that I made havoc among Elliots, Leydens, and Drydens. But thqy were too strong for our Scotts, Johnstons, and Douglasses: it is a pleasure to write the old names of the Border clans in connection with cricket. The batting was not nearly so good then as it is now; professional instruction was almost unknown. Men blocked timidly, and we had only one great hitter, Mr. John Douglas; but how gallantly he lifted the soaring ball by the banks of Ettrick! At that time we had a kind of family team, composed of brothers and other boys, so small that we called ourselves Les Enfants Perdus. The name was appropriate enough. I think we only once won a match, and that victory was achieved over Melrose. But we kept the game going on and played in all weathers, and on any kind of wickets. Very small children would occasionally toddle up and bowl when the elder members of the family were knocked off. Finally, as they grew in stature, the team developed into 'The Eccentric Flamingoes,' then the only wandering Border club. We wore black and red curiously disposed, and had a good many Oxford members. The Flamingoes, coming down from Oxford, full of pride, Jiad once a dreadful day on the Edinburgh Academy Ground. We were playing the School, which made a portentous score, and I particularly remember that Mr. T. R. Marshall, probably the best Scotch bat who ever played, and then a boy, hit two sixes and a five off three consecutive balls. It is a very great pity that this Border bat is so seldom seen at Lords;' his average for M.C.C. in 1886 was 85. The Flamingoes lasted for some years, and played all Teviotdale and Tweedside.

In those days we heard little of Dumfries and Galloway cricket, into which Steels, Tylecotes, and Studds have lately infused much life. In recent years. Lord Dalkeith, Lord George Scott, and Mr. Maxwell Scott, of Abbotsford, have contributed very much to the growth of Border cricket. Money has never been very plentiful north of Tweed, and when scarcely any but artisans played, the clubs could not afford good grounds, or much professional instruction. In these respects there has been improvement. Perhaps the boys' cricket was not sufficiently watched and encouraged. Veterans used to linger on the stage with a mythical halo round them of their great deeds in the Sixties. Perhaps the rising generation is now more quickly promoted, and better coached than of old. I feel a hesitation in offering any criticism because I had only one quality of a cricketer, enthusiasm, combined for a year or two with some twist from leg. But, if I never was anything of an expert, my heart hath always been with those old happy scenes and happy days of struggling cricket. What jolly journeys we had, driving under the triple crest of Eildon to Kelso, or down Tweed to Galashiels, or over the windy moor to Hawick! How keen we were, and how carried beyond ourselves with joy in the success of a sturdy slogger, or a brilliant field! There were sudden and astonishing developments of genius. Does J. J. A., among his savages on the other side of the globe, remember how he once took to witching the world by making incredible and almost impossible catches? Audisne Amphiarae? Michael Russell Wyer, I am sure, among Parsee cricketers, has not forgotten his swashing blow. But one of whom the poet declared that he would

Push into Indus, into Ganges' flood.
While all Calcutta sings the praise of Budd,[1]

will no more 'push leg balls among the slips.'

No longer make a wild and wondrous score,
And poke where never mortal poked before.

This is the melancholy of mortal things.

As Mr. Prowse sang

The game we have not strength to play
Seems somehow better than before.

Our wickets keep falling in this life. One after the other goes down. They are becoming few who joined in those Border matches where there was but one lady spectator, when we made such infrequent runs, and often dropped a catch, but never lost heart, never lost pleasure in the game. Some of them may read this, and remember old friends gone, old games played, old pewters drained, old pipes smoked, old stories told, remember the leg-hitting of Jack Grey, the bowling of Bill Dryden and of Clement Glassford, the sturdy defence of William Fonnan. And he who writes, recalling that simple delight and good fellowship, recalling those kind faces and merry days in the old land of Walter Scott, may make his confession, and may say that such years were worth living for, and that neither study, nor praise, nor any other pleasure has equalled, or can equal, the joy of having been young and a cricketer, where

The oak, and the ash, and the bonny ivy tree.
They flourish best at home in the North Countrie.

  1. The maker of a formidable bat.