Arthur Conan Doyle and his Cricket connections

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Almost each one of us have read Sherlock Holmes at some point of time. But have you ever wondered how Sherlock got his name? Here I give short note on how Sherlock got his name and connection between the authors of Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, Winnie the Pooh.

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The young Doyle at Stonyhurst in 1873

156 years ago on 22nd of May was born Arthur Conan Doyle, the celebrated author. Very few people know Conan Doyle played first class cricket too. During one such instance, while playing for MCC, he took seven Cambridgeshire wickets, in 1899 at Lords. The documents suggests that the former Nottinghamshire player Shacklock, inspired Doyle with the Christian name of his famous character Sherlock Holmes (amalgam of Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock). He penned down one of the funniest cricket stories “The Story of Spedegue’s Dropper.” (Tom Spedegue was an asthmatic schoolmaster and a avid cricket fan suffering from a weak heart.) Spedegue develops an underhand delivery to counter the Aussies, he eventually led England to a famous victory against their oldest rival. Sir Arthur’s other contribution to cricket was the depiction of a French officer during a prisoner of war in his classic book “Brigadier Gerard stories”.

Doyle gave a vivid description of game in the 38th volume of Strand Magazine .In his own words”I have only once felt smaller, and that was when I was bowled by A. P. Lucas, by the most singular ball that I have ever received. He propelled it like a quoit into the air to a height of at least thirty feet, and it fell straight and true on to the top of the bails. I have often wondered what a good batsman would have made of that ball. To play it one would have needed to turn the blade of the bat straight up, and could hardly fail to give a chance. I tried to cut it off my stumps, with the result that I knocked down my wicket and broke my bat, while the ball fell in the midst of this general chaos. I spent the rest of the day wondering gloomily what I ought to have done—and I am wondering yet.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle playing cricket , bowled out by A P Lucas . Scottish author and creator of Sherlock Holmes , 22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930 . Caption reads : Sir A . Conan Doyle at the wicket  bowled by A . P . Lucas .
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle playing cricket , bowled out by A P Lucas .

He also wrote 19-verse poem after dismissing the legendary player W.G.Grace,his only first class victim.On August 25, 1900 he took the prized wicket of W.G. Grace when the doctor skied/mistimed one of Doyle’s delivery only to be caught by wicket keeper during a match against London County at Crystal Palace.

 Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.

Before me he stands like a vision,
Bearded and burly and brown,
A smile of good humoured derision
As he waits for the first to come down.

A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
A Hercules shrouded in white,
Assyrian bull-like colossus,
He stands in his might.

With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
His bat hanging ready and free,
His great hairy hands on the handle,
And his menacing eyes upon me.

And I – I had tricks for the rabbits,
The feeble of mind or eye,
I could see all the duffer’s bad habits
And where his ruin might lie.

The capture of such might elate one,
But it seemed like one horrible jest
That I should serve tosh to the great one,
Who had broken the hearts of the best.

Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
It was clay in the hands of the potter,
But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

The second was better – a leetle;
It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
So down came the bat with a chop.

He was sizing me up with some wonder,
My broken-kneed action and ways;
I could see the grim menace from under
The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

The third was a gift or it looked it-
A foot off the wicket or so;
His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
His great body swung to the blow.

Still when my dreams are night-marish,
I picture that terrible smite,
It was meant for a neighboring parish,
Or any place out of sight.

But – yes, there’s a but to the story –
The blade swished a trifle too low;
Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
It was up like a shaft from a bow.

Up, up like a towering game bird,
Up, up to a speck in the blue,
And then coming down like the same bird,
Dead straight on the line that it flew.

Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
Would call for a safe pair of hands;
None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
And there, face uplifted, he stands

Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
Wary and steady of nerve,
Watching it falling and growing
Marking the pace and curve.

I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
Paralysed, helpless, inert;
There was ‘plunk’ as the gloves shut upon it,
And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

Out – beyond question or wrangle!
Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
His bat was tucked up at an angle,
His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
Scolding himself and not me;
One glove was off, and he fumbled,
Twisting the other hand free

Did I give Storer the credit
The thanks he so splendidly earned?
It was mere empty talk if I said it,
For Grace had already returned.

 

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Arthur Conan Doyle with the cricket team which toured Holland, 1891

Doyle and Peter Pan writer JM Barrie played for the same team Allahakbarries C.C.(African word for ‘Heaven Help Us’)founded by Barrie.The club would play against the various villages in the Home Counties.The other celebrated author to play for the club was Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, A. A. Milne, E. W. Hornung, A. E. W. Mason, Walter Raleigh, E. V. Lucas, Maurice Hewlett, Owen Seaman, Bernard Partridge, Augustine Birrell, Paul Du Chaillu, Henry Herbert La Thangue, George Cecil Ives, and George Llewelyn Davies.

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The Authors XI featured P.G. Wodehouse (back row, third from left) and Arthur Conan Doyle (sixth from left)

Wisden wrote in Doyle’s obituary that “while never a famous cricketer, he could hit hard and bowl slows with puzzling flight. For MCC v Cambridgeshire at Lord’s, in 1899, he took seven wickets for 61 runs, and on the same ground two years later carried out his bat for 32 against Leicestershire, who had Woodcock, Geeson and King to bowl for them.”

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Arthur Conan Doyle with cricket team in 1875

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