Oxford memories

Lord Harris

My first recollection of the Oxford and Cambridge match at Lord's was in 1863 and 1864 when I saw Mr. R. A. H. Mitchell play one of his finest innings on a difficult wicket. The story was told that when Voules, better known as Rat Voules, came in Mitchell said to him, Now, Rat, steady for the first hour, and that, during my career in first-class cricket, was a maxim that I always kept in mind. After that for six years, being at Eton, I saw no Varsity matches though some of my comrades in the Eton Eleven had the luck to go to Lord's in 1869 and saw the finish of the celebrated Cobden match, when Frank Cobden in three balls disposed of the last three Oxford wickets with only three runs to get. I found at Christ Church several of my old comrades and throughout my residense at Oxford I enjoyed my Christ Church cricket a great deal more than the University cricket. I have elsewhere recorded how I got into the Oxford eleven by a piece of luck. I happened to be a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club and Mitchell, who was then our coach at Eton, wrote to the Secretary of M. C. C., Bob Fitzgerald, to give me a place--and to me, that I must play. I had to face some very good bowling, Sam Butler, a very fast and very terrifying bowler, and C. K. Francis. I scored a duck in my first innings but got over 100 in the second--rather a rarity in those days--and made them sufficiently well to get me a place against the Gentlemen of England in the next match when I scored 67 not out and 64, got three wickets, and fielded well. That secured me a place in the Eleven for that year, but I was not successful in the Lord's match. W. N. Powys, one of the fastest bowlers I have ever played, was in great form. However, we had very much the best of it for Sam Butler was quite irresistible, getting fifteen wickets for 95 runs--all ten in the first innings.

Cricket on the Magdalen ground at Oxford was not an exhilarating occupation. The weather at Oxford in May is generally pretty detestable and the ground being close to Cowley Marsh was, I always thought, a dreary place. What remains more distinct than anything perhaps about Varsity matches was my re-introduction to Russy Walker whom I had seen playing at Lord's when I was some years younger. He had got on a pair of very wide flannel trousers (one turned up at the bottom) with a harlequin stripe, a harlequin shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat turned up on one side! David Buchanan in those days was a celebrated slow left-hand bowler. He was about the height of Tich Freeman, very bald, and of no use at all either with the bat or in the field but a really good bowler. However I had been so well instructed by Mitchell and Dupuis at Eton in the correct way of playing a slow bowler breaking away to the off--either run out and take the ball full pitch or play back--that he caused me no trouble.

In my third year I was very unlucky. I was a very good long-field catch and used to practise long-field catches assiduously, but doing so that Spring in the cold weather I bruised the bones in the palm of my right hand and it hurt me so much to bat that I had to give up my place in the Eleven. That contributed to my not being selected for the Captaincy of 1874. My father had died and I was down at the time of the annual meeting when the Officers were selected. It is quite possible that under any circumstances Billy Law would have been selected Captain, but, anyhow, I being absent and it not being known whether I was coming up again, he was elected Captain and I, Treasurer. We worked together most harmoniously the following term with an Eleven which had no distinct merits about it, but developed into one of the finest fielding sides I have ever seen, with some useful bats and bowling.

We played the England Eleven that year on the Christ Church ground where one ball from Allen Hill flew up within an inch of my nose and over the wicketkeeper's head to long stop, and Tom Emmett, as he passed me at the end of the over said to me I reckon you smelt her. Tom Hayward, the Cambridgeshire, not the Surrey, crack, had a fit in the match, and I think never played again. In the match at Lord's that year my father-in-law having asked me to put something on Oxford for him, I was haggling about the odds with Charlie Thornton during lunch, standing out for 6 to 4. Cambridge had made a very good start on a dry wicket. It came on to rain and we went in to lunch. Just before the first ball was bowled when we resumed, Thornton ran down to me as I was fielding close to the rails and laid me the odds I asked for. The first ball got a wicket and we won in one innings. I caught the last man out at long leg and Billy Law gave me the ball with the scores engraved on a silver band.

I remember being full of enthusiasm and zeal that last year, but I cannot remember that I enjoyed'Varsity matches as I did Christ Church matches on our own ground. There I was playing with the friends of my youth and of The House on a really good ground. For Bullingdon cricket I cared not a jot: it was not business-like enough for my temperament: to start cricket at one o'clock and go to lunch--and a very elaborate one--at 1.15 did not appeal to me.

Of those with whom I played I suppose not many will be recognized now as players of distinction; but then we thought much of the following:--I have alluded to Sam Butler. At Eton, Mitchell brought him up from Aquatics where he was bowling slows to Upper Club, and taught him to bowl fast. He was a very fierce bowler, drew himself up on his toes, rushed at the wickets, and flung the ball at you--a fling is not an inappropriate expression, for his great feat in the 1871 match spoilt him. He thought pace was all in all, and to keep it up resorted, in the few years of cricket left to him, to a very doubtful action.

C. K. Francis, my comrade in the Gentlemen of England Eleven to Canada, 1872, had a beautiful action (tho' it was sometimes questioned) with much spin, and was a very good cricketer all round, but a little lazy.

E. F. S. Tylecote was of the highest class as a bat and wicket-keeper, and after our Oxford days we played together for Kent. He was a most courageous and hardy wicket-keeper in days when gloves were little better than the bare hand. He told me recently that what he suffered from far more than blows, was cold hands. The wicket-keeping gloves in his days were very hard and dry, and keeping them wet improved the chance of holding the ball. Sometimes a piece of ice could be seen at the foot of and behind the wicket for that purpose.

Walter Hadow distinguished himself by scoring over 200 in a Middlesex County match in 1871--a very rare feat in those days. He was, or thought he was, pursued by a malicious fate; one example of this occurring on our trip to Canada when his brand new dressing bag was dropped in the St. Lawrence.

Another fine fast bowler was Cecil Boyle. He did not keep up cricket for long; he went out to South Africa with the Imperial Yeomanry, and was almost the first man killed. But the tower of strength in the Eton and Oxford Elevens of my time was C. J. Ottaway. He was a genius at all games, and of great mental ability; a very correct and patient bat, with no brilliant strokes, but all made with great care. He died soon after leaving the University--leaving a marked blank in the athletic world.

Although Oxford cricket has not remained to me as an entirely joyous reminiscence, Oxford itself and its life there have. There one made the friends of one's life and I subscribe loyally and whole heartedly to the lines:

And thro' all the strife and turmoil of life

Be he Parson, Lord or Squire,

He's as well known to all in the Cottage and the Hall,

As the Vane on the old Church spire.

You may search the whole batch you'll ne'er find his match

That have been since the world began,

Be he sober, be he mellow, you'll ne'er find a better fellow

Then the thoroughbred Oxford Man.

© John Wisden & Co