A 16-year old William Gilbert Grace makes his first foray into first-class cricket, representing the Gentlemen of the South against Players of the South in June.
Grace produces bowling figures of 13 for 84 (meaning he took 13 wickets, with opposing batsmen scoring just 84 runs from his bowling spell) during the match, leading to his selection for the prestigious Gentlemen versus Players fixture later that year. With test cricket not commencing until 1877, involvement in this head-to-head – along with the North vs South match-up – represents the pinnacle of a cricketer’s career.
Grace’s selection sparks a turnaround in fortunes for the Gentlemen, who had lost 19 consecutive games prior to Grace’s debut. The team goes on to win 27 of the next 39 games. Grace records a total of 15 centuries in the fixture – an unmatched feat – including a double-century in 1970.
“The Doctor” – Grace had a medical degree – has since become something of a cult figure, both for his cricketing achievements (for example, scoring England’s first test century against Australia and being involved in the spawning of the famous Ashes series – a contest between those two nations which continues to this day) and for his distinctive appearance. Indeed, Grace’s beard has gone down in folklore. One anecdote involves Australian fast-bowler Ernest ‘Ernie’ Jones firing down a delivery that whistled by Grace’s face, coming so close that onlookers said the ball actually went through his beard. The story was seemingly corroborated when J.J. Kelly, the wicketkeeper in that game, said he “lost sight of [the ball] in Grace’s beard”. Grace made an on-field remark to the Australian captain, prompting Jones to apologise to Grace, claiming “sorry, doctor, she slipped”.