During the first ever tour undertaken by WG Grace, to Canada and North America in 1872, he fell to a curious dismissal in his first major innings on August 22. Arunabha Sengupta relates the incident.
Cricket in Montreal has never really been the most popular of pastimes. Not even in 1872 when a 24-year-old WG Grace was one of the members of RA Fitzgerald’s all-amateur side touring Canada and North America.
But, in spite of the poor facilities of cricket practice, the team was made comfortable in every other way. When they set off for Montreal in the night train, the Chairman of the railway company gave the team exclusive use of his personal carriage, a luxurious saloon with its own bar. The Twelve were treated unstintingly with ‘champagne and other sedatives’.
When they reached Montreal, they tarried a while in the luxurious and conveniently located hotel before hunting down the cricket ground in Catherine Street.
Strangely, it was a three-cornered piece of land in ‘a deplorable condition’. It had been used as a rubbish tip, and the surface was pitted and uneven. According to Fitzgerald: “Luckily, some heavy thunderstorms improved the wicket, and by dint of hard work it was made fit to play upon, though it was bad enough in all conscience.”
Later, they had another practice session. WG struck a towering shot into a neighbouring garden. The ball was lost, but the gardener, admiring the batting prowess of the Champion, presented him with a large melon.
WG was not really amused. He noted that melons were plentiful and a great deal cheaper than cricket balls in Montreal. After CK Francis was struck senseless by a blow to the temple, Fitzgerald called a halt ‘before anybody was killed’.
Thunderstorms held up the start of the match the following day by a couple of hours. The weather and the holiday season combined to produce a disappointingly small crowd. However, the Montreal XXII were a colourful lot, with plenty of bright attire, and various shapes and sizes of the members.
Fitzgerald won the toss and WG and Cuthbert Ottaway opened the innings. The wicket was dubious, but while Ottaway defended, WG made short work of the local bowling by stroking freely around the ground. After the opening stand had amounted to more than a hundred Ottaway was out, but Grace carried on with his brilliant hits.
However, a strange dismissal stopped him at 81. As Fitzgerald puts it: “Nobody would have guessed that a stout Gentleman with a pipe in his mouth, and of the name of Benjamin, would have put the coup de grace to the Leviathan. He did. W.G. cut a very hot one into the abdominal regions of Mr B; it stuck there, and the lucky Benjamin bounded into the air, and was carried in triumph by his comrades round the wickets.”
It must have riled WG no end, but did not matter in the end though. In reply to the 255 posted by the tourists, the local Montreal 22 folded for 48 and 64, William Rose claiming 32 wickets.
Of particular interest is Fitzgerald’s account of the speech Grace made during the Banquet to the Gentlemen of England. “The speech of the evening was W.G.’s. It had been looked forward to with impatience, not to say a tinge of envy, by the Eleven. He replied to the toast of the ‘Champion Batsman of Cricketdom’. He said, ‘Gentlemen, I beg to thank you for the honour you have done me; I never saw better bowling than I have seen today, and I hope to see as good wherever I go.’ The speech took longer to deliver than you might imagine from its brevity, but it was greeted with applause from all who were in a proper position to hear it.”
RA Fitzgerald’s XI 255 (WG Grace 81; C McLean 3 for 60, JB Laing 3 for 44) beat Montreal 48 (William Rose 15 for 22, Arthur Appleby 6 for 5) and 64 (William Rose 17 wickets).