Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cricketing Yelf - William Richard and the Isle of Wight Xl

Before the establishment of the national team and test matches between nations (triggered in the public consciousness by the inaugeral Australian tour of 1878) there were few more eagerly anticipated events than the challenge of a United All-England Team. To the average cricket fan on the Isle of Wight, the 18th September 1862 was a red-letter day as the cream of the island's cricketers had their chance to take a crack at some of the mainland's finest in a three day feast of leather and willow. The United All-England Team, packed with luminaries from the Marylebone Cricket Club, Surrey, Hampshire and Yorkshire to name but a few, were arriving on the Island in the aftermath of the seismic shock caused at a recent All-England Xl match against Surrey during which a simmering bowling dispute finally came to the boil
The watershed was reached on 26 August 1862 at The Oval when Surrey hosted All-England. The England bowler Edgar Willsher deliberately bowled overarm and was no-balled six times in succession by umpire John Lillywhite, ironically the son of William Lillywhite, the famous bowler who had done so much to have roundarm legalised in 1835.
In what was surely a pre-rehearsed demonstration, Willsher and the other eight professionals in the England team staged a walkoff, leaving their two amateur colleagues looking non-plussed in the middle. Play continued next day, but Lillywhite diplomatically withdrew and was replaced by another umpire.
The rules weren't changed for another year or so and bowling in our game would have been either underarm or roundarm - a sort of half-way house which ironically is now the illegal form!

So our Yelf connection was stepping into a match against some pretty big names at a time of ferment and change and would, ironically, be up against John Lillywhite, the unfortunate umpire of the Surrey Oval match. William Richard Yelf was a keen local cricketer and ran Yelf & Sons Printers at Newport following the unfortunate demise of his father William Wheeler Yelf. William Wheeler had died in Millbank prison after being convicted of stealing thousands of pounds from the IOW Savings Bank, but it's probably fair to assume William Richard Yelf had put that awkward fact behind him and that he was eager to join the other 21 local players facing up to the All-England Xl. That's right.... against lesser teams the All-England side would allow them a 2 to 1 advantage and William Richard found himself batting at number 14!

William was probably more of a bowler as he was one of the six Isle of Wight bowlers on the day. And this shows another diference to the modern game in the number of balls in an over - at this time it was just four balls so for his six overs William delivered just 24 balls, but his figures were very good with two wickets for 12 runs. Mr Ede went for a duck whilst William also took the wicket of the unfortunate John Lillywhite for 4 runs!

John Wisden - Scourge of Yelf batsmen
The All-England side eventually were all out for 248 runs and the 22 batsmen of the Isle of Wight must have been feeling pretty confident. It was a misplaced confidence though. The England bowlers ripped through them with only three Vectis batsmen reaching double figures. William was fifth highest scorer with just six runs, being clean bowled by arguably the best all-rounder of his time, John Wisden. Wisden was coming to the end of his career and a couple of years later retired to found his Wisden's Almanack publishing empire. Not before claiming his first and only Yelf scalp though...

Isle of Wight were all out for 139 and the England team decided to put them straight in to bat again with predictable results. The Isle of Wight were skittled out for 99 runs with William Richard Yelf only managing two runs before he was caught by John Lillywhite, who thus gained his revenge!

The match might have been scheduled for three days but I'm not sure the Isle of Wight managed the distance... 

England's 1859 touring team of America - practice for the IoW

 The All England Xl were certainly a strong team. The picture above shows the group that went to America in 1859 for the first ever England tour (reports of which can be read here). Five of these inaugeral tourists played in the Isle of Wight game a few years later, notably John Lillwhite (sitting on the floor on the right), John Wisden (middle row, on the left), Robert Carpenter (standing on left), William Caffyn (standing second left) and James Grundy (middle row fourth left, black hat). If it's any consolation to William Richard Yelf, the Americans fared no better than the Isle of Wight did...

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