Hampshire Cricket History

One Match Wonders & the Players’ Board
August 26, 2015, 8:14 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Since I was involved in the Heritage project when we moved to the Rose Bowl, I must have had some involvement in the creation of the Players’ Board but I honestly can’t remember a thing about it. At some point we will have decided to ignore the players who appeared in first-class cricket for Hampshire before we joined the Championship in 1895.

I say that – and I’ve written it frequently elsewhere – as if it is a simple fact but it isn’t. The wonderful recent publication by Stephen Chalke celebrates the 125th anniversary of the Championship but already some of the senior cricket historians are contesting the view that it started in 1890. Nottinghamshire have minutes that claim they were Champions in 1865 and again in the 1880s and this is reported in the latest edition of The Cricket Statistician. On the other hand I was reading just yesterday, correspondence in the Playfair Cricket Monthly from March 1961 from another respected historian Rowland Bowen, that “it is quite out of the question seeking to classify matches … as first-class … much before the 1870s or 1880s”.

Robert Brooke is another of those senior historians and his publication A History of the County Cricket Championship (1991) describes the ‘pre-history’ but begins his season-by-season reports in 1890. He describes the important meeting at Lord’s in December 1889 of the eight counties who would compete in the first contest the following year. Brooke points out that it was important because for the first time the counties were meeting together “acknowledging that a county championship was desirable” and they fixed a method of calculating it through agreed points. That had not happened before when the ‘champions’ were generally decided by the cricket press – and there was not always a consensus.

So if we take 1890 as the start and allow others to quibble as they wish we can be sure that Hampshire joined the ‘big boys’ in 1895.

And that’s why we start our Board in that year. But there has been agreement for a long time now that matches prior to that were first-class and if you look at our recent publication 150 Not Out you will see that I have taken care to identify the years from 1864-1894 when Hampshire were and were not playing first-class cricket (eg not in 1879).

So the Board excludes our first-class cricketers before 1894 except when they also appeared from 1895 onwards. The numbering is by debut and where two or more players appeared for the first time in the same match it is alphabetical because we can’t rely on batting orders in all old scorecards.

That’s all fine except that having deciding to record and number only from 1895 and the Championship, we then decided to include anyone who played in any first-class matches. This means that in the modern world we have to continue listing players who might only play on the nursery ground v Loughborough University (eg Glenn Querl). There’s no choice, because if we were to exclude them we would be assuming that a similar entry from a hundred years ago was fair because the standard was higher. But how could we know that? Even more, there are amateurs who played in the Championship for Hampshire long ago who did not obtain their ‘blue’ at Oxbridge.

Bob mentions Cornwallis whose career was the shortest of all, as it lasted one morning in the pavilion. He was an amateur, selected to play against Kent almost certainly only because his brother (later Lord Cornwallis) was more regular in the Kent side. Things were sometimes that ‘nice’ for the posh people in those days but at lunchtime the brothers learned that their third brother, an army officer, had been killed in an IRA ambush. They left the game and our Cornwallis never played again.

We might decide that even though it was a Championship match, Cornwallis should not have been selected because he was not good enough – almost certainly not as good as Querl or Clapp or whoever else in recent years. But If we were to begin editing the board and the numbering how could we decide about the quality of cricket and cricketers before any of us were born? And if we were to suddenly impose a ban on University matches from now on, how would that sit with those players who appeared years ago? We’ve created a system and I think we must stick with it but I wish the ECB would pronounce that none of the University games are first-class from this point – that would solve it.

The other problem with changing the board/numbers is that there would be consequences for all the players and the numbered caps they have as a memento of their careers. It would be crazy! And ultimately the truth is that some players on the board were and always will be, far greater than others. There are well over 500 names on the board now but a few years ago when Neil Jenkinson and I wrote a standard 100 Greats book, we really struggled to get past about 70.

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