Smokers v Non-smokers, 1884

A few years back, holiday games of Howzat were always fought out with teams picked according to a predetermined criteria. An all-Michael XI (Atherton & Slater to open, Holding with the ball) would take on a team on beards (Grace to captain, of course); an alliterative side (Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft and Patrick Patterson forming the pace attack) battled it out with a team of the follically challenged (Close, skipper).

It always warms the heart, then, to stumble across real-life examples of matches with teams picked on the basis of strange criteria, and no more so when they have been granted first-class status. So, step forward Smokers versus Non-Smokers in 1884.

The fixture was the brainchild of Vyell Edward Walker, the former Middlesex captain and future MCC President, who saw an opportunity to take advantage of the presence of the touring Australian side to raise some money for the Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund.

The third and final Test [a drawn game that saw all eleven England men bowl during the tourists’ only innings and Surrey’s Walter Reed score a century from number ten] was over by mid August but the Australians’ work was far from done. Matches with Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire were followed by fixtures against Cambridge University Past & Present, South, North and I Zingari before Edward Walker’s innovation provided the tour finale.

The idea was to give the public one last chance to see the men who had competed in the Test Series but with the sides all jumbled up. The formula he hit upon was tobacco-centred; those who partook and those who abstained. Australian skipper Billy Murdoch led the non-smokers, England’s Test captain Lord Harris for the other side. Lord’s was the venue and, despite the novelty of the concept, first-class status was bestowed upon the match.

Unfortunately for Walker, many of the cricketers who had represented England that summer were already on their way down under as part of Alfred Shaw’s touring party and so he missed the services of men such as Arthur Shrewsbury and Allan Steel. However, eight of the eleven from the Australian Test side – four smokers, four non – were present and over 7,000 spectators were drawn to Lord’s on a fine September morning to witness the spectacle.

The abstainers won the toss, elected to bat, and soon the Smokers were making their way onto the field, cigarettes in hand for added comedic effect. An impressive opening burst by Aussie Eugene Palmer backed up on first change by that most dangerous of all pacemen – Frederick Spofforth – saw the marquee names of Grace, Bannerman and Murdoch back in the pavilion by the time the score reached 38. Further inroads were hampered by the fact that one of late replacements for the missing Englishmen was former Surrey amateur Charles Clarke who had been pressed into action as wicketkeeper and was having a rough time. Chances went down and George Bonnor led the Non-Smokers’ revival. Particularly costly was a drop at the wicket when Bonnor was on 44; the New South Welshman went on to make 124. Fortunately for the Smokers, Yorkshire’s Slow Left Armer Edmund Peate was on song and worked his way through the batting order, finishing with figures of 6-30 off 23 four-ball overs. When Spofforth knocked over the stumps of the Non-Smokers wicketkeeper Richard Pilling to end the innings, the total stood at 250. It would turn out to be a good score.

It was time for W G Grace to take centre-stage once more. By the time stumps were drawn on the first day, The Champion had taken three wickets – including that of Lord Harris, caught and bowled with a smart one-handed low catch – and the Smokers had been reduced to 25 for 4.

The second day played out in front of a slightly smaller crowd of over 5,000 and the Non-Smokers took up where they left. A couple of run-outs, a brace of wickets for Stanley Christopherson (future MCC President and Chairman of Midland Bank) plus another two scalps for Grace, and the Smokers were soon following on, still 139 runs behind.

Their second innings brought little change in fortune and Grace was tormenting the Smokers again, picking up the first two wickets to fall. It wouldn’t all be about Grace and soon Lancashire’s Dick Barlow was in on the act, knocking over five of the batsmen while conceding only 24 runs. All out for 152, the Smokers had avoided an innings defeat, but only just. Grace’s match figures read 60-26-92-8.

Only fourteen runs were needed by the Non-Smokers to finish off this comprehensive victory. A wicket did fall – Peate the bowler once more – but soon overthrows off the bowling of Spofforth sealed the win.

The tobacco-themed battle would happen once more: in March of 1887, in Melbourne, a four-day game was arranged in which the Non-Smokers amassed 803 runs, including a double century for Arthur Shrewsbury. It finished as a draw. Two players – Billy Gunn and Dick Barlow – played in both matches; Gunn, it seems, had kicked the habit in the intervening years and consequently switched sides.

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