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Leeds 1857: When Cricket became Boxing

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83   //    Timeless

Single-wicket matches were a rage back in the 19th century
Single-wicket matches were a rage back in the 19th century

Cricket history is one of the most fascinating subjects of the world because it draws readers towards itself, by the sheer incredulity of the evolution of the game. This article takes the readers back in time to 1857 when cricket was still an emerging sport.

The game was restricted to a few English counties only, during those times. As in case of any sport in its nascent stages, cricket also faced a lot of challenges, none greater than the fact that it required 22 players to play a full game of cricket.

It became a major issue for the organizers to arrange for 22 players and their logistics, especially for an upcoming game like cricket. Hence, in order to account for this problem, the cricket organizers came up with a unique concept which later came to be known as - single wicket matches.

Single Wicket Matches

Single wicket matches were cricket's reply to boxing, or in other words, more of a one-on-one face off on the cricket field. As ridiculous as it may sound today, but back in those days, there were actually cricket matches played, with only one player per 'team'.

To make contemporary readers more acquainted with the idea of a single wicket game, it may be stated that the game was a test match, with only 1 player per side. He was the sole batsman, as well as the sole bowler and at times the sole fielder of his team.

Build-up to Leeds 1857

The concept of single wicket games, in spite of sounding lucrative on paper, failed to reach the desired heights on-field. Most of the matches became one-sided, boring the spectators to the core. There were instances like in October 1896, when a single wicket game between Babington and Newbury, lasted only 4 balls with a wicket falling on each ball of the match.

In fact, another hyped one-wicket-match that did not live up to the desired expectations was between Budd and Bande in 1820, where Budd scored 70 & 30 in his allotted 2 innings, whereas his opponent was out for a duck in each innings.

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Thus, in such a scenario, where most of the single wicket matches were becoming dead rubbers or one-sided affairs, Leeds gave a rare thrilling single wicket match in 1857, that was so captivating that it made generations of cricket fans talk about it.

The ultimate cliff-hanger

The match, in focus here, was played between John Grange and James Sadler on 15th October 1857 at Kirkstall, Leeds. There was a minor modification from the standard rules of a single wicket match, which allowed each of Grange and Sadler to field one extra fielder. Grange chose his coach William Swain to field for him, whereas Sadler chose George Atkinson, the Yorkshire county cricket professional as his fielder.

Grange batted first and scored 27 runs in 159 balls, aided by the undisciplined bowling of Sadler, who conceded 10 wides, to add to the 17 runs Grange scored off the bat. Ultimately the batsman got out caught at mid-off by Atkinson, to end his innings.

Sadler then came out to bat and found it tough to score against the disciplined bowling of Grange and the exceptional fielding skills of Swain. However, Sadler showed decent expertise with the bat, as he amassed 24 runs in 93 balls, before he was bowled by an in-swinging yorker from Grange. The lead was a mere 3 runs and the contest between bat and ball was getting intense.

Grange came out to bat in his second innings, with a lead of 3 runs and played with a slightly improved strike-rate than his first innings, as he managed to score 24 off 96 balls. Ultimately he was caught & bowled by Sadler, but by then Grange has already set his opponent a tough target of 28 runs.

Sadler came out to bat in the final innings, knowing that the odds were stacked against him. Succumbing to the pressure, he went against his free-flowing style and started playing ultra-defensive cricket.

In the 18th ball of the innings (with the score on 3), in trying to break the shackles, he played a lofted shot that had six written all over it. From the moment Sadler hit the ball, William Swain started running towards the boundary ropes in an effort to execute a match-defining stupendous catch.

Swain ran for approximately 40 yards, before he plucked the ball out of thin air with his left hand, just inside the boundary ropes, to complete one of the most epochal catches in English cricket history.

The teacher-student duo had won the match by 24 runs and the spectators got to visualize a cliff hanger of a match. Swain's legendary running catch, that won his student the match, is looked upon in English cricket circles in the same regard as Kapil Dev's iconic running catch of Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup final.

This face-off between Grange & Sadler occupies such a special place in world cricket history that MCC Cricket Stories and Biographies went on to describe this match as - "This match caused more excitement in Leeds and its neighborhood than any other event in the last twenty years".

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