Gentlemen v Players
Gentlemen v Players was a long-running series of English first-class cricket matches, between teams consisting of amateur (Gentlemen) and professional cricketers (Players). Two matches were played in 1806, but the fixture was not repeated until 1819. Thereafter it was played most years between 1819 and 1962, typically twice each summer.
The distinction between the two teams arose from the English class structure of the 19th century: originally the Players were working class cricketers who earned their living through the game, whilst the Gentlemen were middle- and upper-class, usually products of the public school system, who played cricket for leisure. Whereas the Players were paid wages by their county clubs or fees by match organisers, the Gentlemen nominally only claimed expenses. Rules to distinguish amateurs from professionals were established by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). The system of allowable expenses was controversial; some leading amateurs were paid more for playing cricket than any professional.
The fixture struggled to gain public interest during the mid-19th century, as the Players often easily defeated the Gentlemen. Various efforts to improve competitiveness were tried, including different-sized wickets for each team and a system of 'given men', in which the Players would loan one or more of their best players to the Gentlemen. These were generally unsuccessful, with the Players continuing to win most matches. The fixtures became more competitive and gained prestige in the late 1800s, coinciding with the career of W. G. Grace, who played for the Gentlemen with great success. During the period 1860–1914, the fixture was seen as one of the highlights of the cricket season.
The increasing popularity of international Test cricket (which began in 1877) saw interest in Gentlemen v Players begin to decline, a process accelerated by the weakening of the social class system in the 20th century. After the Second World War, the concepts of amateurism and selecting teams based on social class were seen as increasingly anachronistic. In 1963, the MCC abolished amateur status, causing all first-class cricketers to become professionals. As the official distinction between the teams no longer existed, the Gentlemen v Players fixture was discontinued. No direct substitute was implemented, instead England's first domestic one day cricket competition began that summer.
A total of 274 Gentlemen v Players matches were held from 1806 to 1962, with the Players winning 125 and the Gentlemen 68; there were 80 draws and one tie.
At its height from the 1860s until 1914, the fixture was a prestigious one, though in terms of quality it fell far short of Test matches and even of the rival North v. South fixture. Until the 1860s, the Gentlemen teams were often very weak compared with the professionals, and on occasion the fixture had to be arranged on an odds basis, so that the Players eleven took on a greater number of Gentlemen. The Gentlemen famously became competitive during the career of W. G. Grace, whose performances were so outstanding that the Gentlemen could enjoy some long-awaited success. The fixture often confirmed the commonly held view of an imbalance between amateur and professional in that amateurs tended to be batsmen first and foremost, hence there were few good amateur bowlers. The Players could nearly always field a strong bowling side.
The game was played over three days on all but a handful of occasions throughout its history. The most frequent venue for the match was Lord's, but a number of other grounds were used, notably The Oval and Scarborough, and it was at Scarborough that the last Gentlemen v Players game was played, in September 1962.
The same format of amateurs playing professionals was used in a number of other fixtures, some of which were given first-class status (for example, "Gentlemen of Nottinghamshire v Players of Nottinghamshire"), but these matches became less common after the beginning of the 20th century, and the last such game was "Gentlemen of the South v Players of the South" in 1920, after which all first-class Gentlemen v Players matches were between teams known simply by those names.
The Gentlemen v Players series ended after the 1962 season, when the distinction between amateur and professional players was abolished. Charles Williams has described several reports on the subject which were submitted to MCC by its Amateur Status Standing Committee (ASSC) and, on 31 January 1963, the MCC committee unanimously agreed to abolish amateurism. Williams says a substitute fixture was sought but it was decided not to pursue this as the new Gillette Cup limited overs competition was beginning in 1963.
There were contrasting views about the end of amateurism and the passing of Gentlemen v Players. Some traditionalists like E. W. Swanton and the editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack "lamented the passing of an era" but social change had rendered the whole concept an anachronism and Fred Trueman spoke for many when he summarised amateurism as a "ludicrous business" that was "thankfully abolished" after the 1962 season.
The inaugural fixture was a three-day match at the original Lord's ground from 7 to 9 July 1806. It was soon followed by the second, held on the same ground from 21 to 25 July. In the first match, the Gentlemen played with two "given men" and these were the two outstanding professionals of the day, Billy Beldham and William Lambert. Lambert made a significant contribution with the bat and the Gentlemen won by an innings and 14 runs. For the return, the Gentlemen retained Lambert. Beldham played for the Players. The Gentlemen won a low-scoring game by 82 runs and Lambert was again a significant factor, although the leading amateur Lord Frederick Beauclerk made two good scores. A curiosity of these matches is that they featured the veteran professional Tom Walker and the rookie amateur John Willes. These are the two players both credited with devising the roundarm style of bowling, but there is no evidence to suggest they used roundarm in 1806.
Described by H. S. Altham as the "most famous of all domestic matches", the fixture disappeared until 1819. Altham says he does not know why but the Napoleonic Wars must have been a factor as cricket was in decline from 1810 until after Waterloo in 1815. In 1819, the amateurs agreed to play the professionals on equal terms but lost by six wickets. There was only one run between the sides on first innings but the Gentlemen collapsed in the second against the bowling of Tom Howard and John Sherman to be all out for only 60. This match was held at the "new" Lord's ground, the present one, which had opened in 1814. The fourth match was played at Lord's in June 1820 and the Gentlemen, now with star bowler Howard as a given man, won by 70 runs.
The fifth match earned notoriety. It was scheduled to be played at Lord's from 23 to 25 July 1821 but ended on the second day after the Gentlemen conceded. Known as the "Coronation Match" because it celebrated the accession of the unpopular George IV it was described by Derek Birley as "a suitably murky affair". The Gentlemen had batted first and were quickly dismissed for 60. Then they had to spend a long time in the field through most of the first and second days while the Players steadily built a big lead. At 270 for six, the Gentlemen decided to "give up" and the match ended.
After this, the fixture struggled for many years to regain credibility. In twelve of the fourteen matches played from 1824 to 1837, the Players were handicapped, usually by the Gentlemen having extra men. In one match the Gentlemen had eighteen and in two more seventeen. In 1832, the Gentlemen defended a smaller-than-normal wicket of 22 by 6 inches and in 1837, in what became known as the "Barn Door Match", the Players defended an outsize wicket of four stumps measuring 36 by 12 inches.
The tide turned somewhat in the 1840s when Alfred Mynn and Nicholas Felix were playing for the amateurs. In nine equal terms matches from 1842 to 1849, the Gentlemen won six against two for the Players and one drawn. That run of success ended and, apart from a solitary victory in 1853 and one draw in 1862, the Gentlemen lost every one of the next 25 games up to July 1865.
The halcyon days of amateur cricket
According to Harry Altham, the period from about 1860 into the 1880s were the "halcyon days of amateur cricket". This refers in part to the success of cricketers who came through the public schools and universities in the period but in the main to the achievements of Gentlemen teams who won 27 matches against the Players whilst losing only five. The key figure in this remarkable turnaround was W. G. Grace. Altham says that "the pendulum of power" had swung in the amateur direction and "never again was it found pointing so unequivocally to (amateur supremacy)".
Social change after the Second World War led to a reaction against the concept of amateurism in English cricket and in 1963 all first-class cricketers became nominally professional as, in effect, "Players". The last edition of the fixture was played 8, 10 and 11 September 1962 at Scarborough, with the Gentlemen captained by Mike Smith (Ted Dexter was originally appointed as captain, but was forced to withdraw due to illness) and Fred Trueman captaining the Players. The Players won the game by 7 wickets. The events leading to the abolition of amateurism are described by Charles Williams in his book, Gentlemen & Players, appropriately subtitled The Death of Amateurism in Cricket.
In all 274 matches were played. The Gentlemen won 68 and the Players 125. 80 matches were drawn and the first match of 1883 ended in a tie. The results of all the matches may be found in List of Gentlemen v Players matches.
Largest margins of victory
- innings and 126 runs: The Oval, 1879
- innings and 98 runs: Lord's, 1876
- innings and 87 runs: The Oval, 1868
- 206 runs, Lord's, 1878
- 193 runs: Lord's, 1829 (Gentlemen had 12 men)
- 134 runs: Lord's, 1914
- nine wickets: The Oval, 1872
- nine wickets: Prince's Cricket Ground, 1877
- innings and 305 runs: The Oval, 1934
- innings and 231 runs: Lord's, 1924
- innings and 181 runs: Lord's, 1860
- 345 runs: Lord's, 1823
- 285 runs: Lord's, 1858
- 241 runs: The Oval, 1914
- ten wickets: seven instances
Smallest margins of victory
- Tied match
- The Oval, 1883
- four runs: Lord's, 1870
- five runs: Lord's, 1888
- six runs: Scarborough, 1913
- one wicket: five instances
- one run: Hove, 1881
- two runs: Lord's, 1952
- eight runs: The Oval, 1893
- two wickets: Lord's, 1856, Lord's, 1874, Lord's, 1900 and Scarborough, 1955
Highest team totals
- 578: The Oval, 1904
- 542: Lord's, 1926
- 513: The Oval, 1870
- 651/7 dec: The Oval, 1934
- 608: The Oval, 1921
- 579: Lord's, 1926
Lowest team totals
- 35: Lord's, 3 July 1837
- 36: Lord's, 1831
- 37: Lord's, 1853
- 24: Lord's, 1829 (first innings)
- 39: Lord's, 1829 (second innings)
- 42: Lord's, 1853
Highest individual innings
- 232*: C. B. Fry, Lord's, 1903
- 217: W. G. Grace, Hove, 1871
- 215: W. G. Grace, The Oval, 1870
- 266*: Jack Hobbs, Scarborough, 1925
- 247: Bobby Abel, The Oval, 1901
- 241: Len Hutton, Scarborough, 1953
Hundred in each innings of a match
- 104 & 109*: John King, Lord's, 1904
Nine or more wickets in an innings
- 9–46: John Stephenson, Lord's, 1936
- 9–82: David Buchanan, The Oval, 1868
- 9–105: Johnny Douglas, Lord's, 1914
- 10–37: Alec Kennedy, The Oval, 1927
- 10–90: Arthur Fielder, Lord's, 1906
- 10-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 17 July 1837 (second innings; Gentlemen had 16 men)
- 9–85: Cec Parkin, The Oval, 1920
- 9-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 3 July 1837
Thirteen or more wickets in a match
- 14-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 1829
- 18-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 17 July 1837 (Gentlemen had 16 men)
- 14–221: Arthur Fielder, Lord's, 1906
- 13–141: Tom Richardson, Hastings, 1897
- 13–144: Tich Freeman, Lord's, 1929
- 13-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 1835
- 13-?: F. W. Lillywhite, Lord's, 3 July 1837
- 13-?: James Cobbett, Lord's, 1836 (Gentlemen had 18 men)
Five catches in an innings
- Len Hutton, Lord's, 1952
Four stumpings in an innings
- E. H. Budd, Lord's, 1819
- William Slater, Lord's, 1824 (Gentlemen had 14 men)
- Amateur status in first-class cricket
- List of Gentlemen v Players matches
- Variations in first-class cricket statistics
- Trueman, Ball of Fire, p.57.
- H. S. Altham, A History of Cricket, Volume 1 (to 1914), George Allen & Unwin, 1962
- Derek Birley, A Social History of English Cricket, Aurum, 1999
- Rowland Bowen, Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970
- Arthur Haygarth, Scores & Biographies, Volumes 1–11 (1744–1870), Lillywhite, 1862–79
- Fred Trueman, Ball of Fire, Dent, 1976
- Roy Webber, The Playfair Book of Cricket Records, Playfair Books, 1951
- Charles Williams, Gentlemen & Players: The Death of Amateurism in Cricket, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012, ISBN 9780753829271
- Playfair Cricket Annual – various editions
- Wisden Cricketers' Almanack – various editions