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I know what you’ve been wondering. You’ve been wondering about how the 1890 County Championship – the very first formal one – unfolded. Wonder no longer; I intend this to be a comprehensive review of the competition, looking back on that first time the counties of England united to compete for a nationally recognised trophy, one that remains as prestigious today as it did 124 years ago. Hopefully I’ll catch the mood of the game as some of the big names of the day got their groove on; WG Grace, Arthur Shrewsbury, Lord Hawke – all playing, all cricketing, all doing well.

I’ll even provide running positioning and a comparison with the point scoring system back then to now; who doesn’t like extrapolated county cricket tables? No-one, that’s who.

The Beginnings

The formation of the County Championship, allowing the title of County Champions to be bestowed upon teams as a matter of objectivity, rather than the more subjective Champion County crown – I’ve always much preferred the latter, there’s an element of the victorious slugger about it that I like. Anyway, the counties got together in 1889 to formalise their competition, which had been a little more haphazard before that, in terms of games played and opponents faced – in 1867, for example, when Yorkshire enjoyed the only ever ‘perfect season’, the Tykes played 7 games, Hampshire 3 and Surrey 10 – Cambridgeshire are included within the table; games then being all about generating money for the club, something that an article by Lord Hawke in a Wisden of the 1930s describes quite well.

The Season


So it began, at the Ashley Down Ground in Bristol, on 12th May 1890 as Gloucestershire, with the famed Grace brothers opening the batting against Yorkshire after WG had called the toss correctly and elected to bat. EM Grace, then, was the first wicket, falling to a Lord Hawke catch off the bowling of Whitwell for 0, though his more celebrated brother went on to make 18, before he fell. At 54/3 Gloucestershire looked in a little trouble, but a century from James Cranston coupled with a steady 33 from Howard Francis brought a century stand for the fourth wicket – 117 runs in fact, but as Ted Wainwright turned the screw, the West Country side collapsed, all out for 194. Yorkshire raced off in reply, reaching 75/1 by close on the first day – WG himself taking the only wicket to fall, that of Hall, for 15.

Worth noting here that Gloucestershire’s innings lasted 123.2 overs in the same day as Yorkshire made 75 runs. Even taking into account they were bowling 5 ball overs, the first innings was 617 balls long before we even get into the length of Yorkshire’s – extrapolating 75 runs at the same average rate as the innings as a whole, that’s an extra 34 overs, meaning we get up around 800 deliveries. Today’s 90 overs per day is only 540 deliveries, so that’s a lot fewer – a four day game ensuring 2160 balls are bowled while a three day one, at those rates, would see 2355 (at least). Sticky wickets indeed.

Yorkshire went on to score 330, George Ulyett matching Cranston’s first innings feat and grabbing a century, the second wicket garnering 135 runs with Lee (who made 67). Wainwright, who had taken 4-67 in the Gloucestershire innings, scored a useful 25, while the Grace Brothers took five wickets between them, WG with 2-53, and EM atoning for his duck with 3-59. WG obviously lost faith in his brother, as he came in at 8 in the second innings, and he came in at 140/6 – only four runs ahead; as it goes, I think he might have been a little injured, as he didn’t bowl in the fourth innings. WG only got to 13 this time around, as Francis once again stumped the Yorkshire bowling, ending on an unbeaten 18, with Octavius Radcliffe top scorer on 61 (of 178) on an obviously drying pitch – spinner Bobby Peel having laboured for his 1-51 in the first innings getting a little more purchase, and a few more wickets, taking 4-76 off a rather mammoth 37 overs (the other bowlers managed 49.2 between them) as Yorkshire were set a target of just 43 to win.

Lord Hawke was the second opener of the match to fall without a run being scored, but by the time Robert Frank was out for 21 he and hall had done enough and Lee’s solitary run ensured Yorkshire made it over the line to win a rather comfortable first ever county match by 8 wickets.

12-14th May 1890; Yorkshire beat Gloucestershire by 8 wickets; Glos 194 (Cranston 101, Wainwright 4-37) and 178 (Radcliffe 61, Peel 4-76) – Yorkshire 330 (Ulyett 107, Lee 67, EM Grace 3-59, Roberts 3-85) and 43-2 (Frank 21).

The table, after that match, looked a little bit like this.


What would it look like today, if we knock down the batting bonus points by 50 runs to account for the uncovered wickets and take out the 110 over limit because I don’t have the figures for each over? A bit more like this.


The next couple of games, starting the day after the first one finished, saw the introduction of Lord’s and Trent Bridge to the County Championship as Middlesex hosted Kent, and Nottinghamshire took on Sussex. Frank Silcock, by then an umpire, hared from Bristol to Nottingham in order to participate. Fair to say the matches were pretty different, and they took their opposing turns as early as the first day – 15th May.

Both home sides won the toss but, while Nottinghamshire’s John Dixon clearly fancied the Trent Bridge wicket, Middlesex’s Alexander Webbe put Kent in to bat. Dixon made only 13 runs, being first drop to 26/1, but his failure was fairly overshadowed by Arthur Shrewsbury and Billy Gunn, who ensured Sussex had no more joy until the following day. Down in London, Kent were flummoxed by George Burton, the Middlesex quick taking 7 wickets, four of them bowled, and two of them catches off his own bowling, only Fox and Alec Hearne offered any resistance and only they and opener Leonard Hamilton made double figures. The Hearnes, of course, were a famous Kent cricketing family – Alec was followed to the middle by Walter, and second in was George Gibbons Hearne – Burton, by way of completing the circle, was their cousin’s father-in-law’s son.

The White Horse were all out for a mere 98. When Andrew Stoddart and Tim O’Brien put on 63 for Middlesex’s third wicket, the highest partnership of the match, it looked like Kent might face a heavy deficit – something that still seemed likely at 124/5, but Walter Wright cleaned up the tail (clean bowled the tail, too, taking the last four wickets, all bowled), just as he had Stoddart – in fact only one Middlesex wicket didn’t trouble the stumps, George Vernon going caught Fox bowled Barton for 0. The home side’s innings ended early on the second day for 148 – a lead of just 50.

By that point up at Nottingham, both Shrewsbury and Gunn were into their hundreds, and the former well on the way to a double in a huge 267 – Gunn himself fell agonisingly short of that landmark, out for 196. Shrewsbury was one of the great batsmen of the Victorian era, second perhaps only to Grace (depending on your standpoint on Jessop, I suppose) and, in fact, passed 13,000 first class runs during this innings that, rather coincidentally, equalled his largest ever innings. Notts ended up with 590 – their last eight bats adding on just 99 runs between them, and Sussex set about a reply.


Arthur Shrewsbury, one of the great Victorian bats.

Arthur Shrewsbury, one of the great Victorian bats.


Kent made a better first of their second spell in the middle, though largely as a result of 50s from Frank Marchant and Charles Fox, the third highest scorer in their 183 being extras, 18 of which were byes. Burton again was the key troublemaker, taking a 5-fer, including a third caught and bowled of the match; he ended 5-62, making match figures of 12-108; not bad by any standards – and it left Middlesex a target of 133; but that looked unlikely as early as the end of the second day as (for the second time in a row) Percy de Paravicini was unbeaten at the close on 2 – but in a total of 67/6.

By comparison, Sussex’s 126/4 looked pretty respectable, but having to follow 590 it looked a little small. Bean got exactly 50, and useful contributions from Billy Newham and Jesse Hide took them forwards, but they ended up, early on the third day, with 186. As that was still 404 behind, they were put in to bat again. Again, a promising start crumbled away as 92/1 became 138 all out, Billy Barnes taking six wickets, and matching Frank Shacklock’s performance in the first innings and Nottinghamshire claimed an innings victory.

Meanwhile, Middlesex had run into a man in Wright who was utterly unplayable; Webbe and Scott made 21 each at the top of the order, but after their partnership was broken for 41/2 it was the beginning of the end – the last wicket fell at 94 the Kentish spinner finishing up with figures of 8-53, giving him 13-106 over the course of the game as Kent triumphed by a mere 39 runs. After Wright and Frederick Martin had bowled 70 overs to open the innings, Alec Hearne was brought on in replacement of the former – his 3.3-1-2-1 suggesting he took the last wicket, but Wright got 8 and Martin 0. Cruel game, cricket.

15-17th May 1890; Kent beat Middlesex by 39 runs; Kent 98 (Fox 33, Burton 7-33) and 183 (Marchant 56, Fox 54no, Burton 5-62 – Middlesex 148 (Stoddart 59, Wright 5-53) and 94 (Webber 21, Scott 21, Wright 8-53).

 15-17th May 1890 ; Nottinghamshire beat Sussex by an innings and 266 runs; Notts 590 (Shrewsbury 267, Gunn 196, Humphreys 4-72) – Sussex 186 (Bean 50, Shacklock 6-87) and 138 (Hide 44, Barnes 6-59).

 Those two games left the table looking like this.


Meanwhile, the extrapolated modern-day version would be interestingly similar, but different.