In the realm of cricket, one name stands above all others when it comes to the question of who is the father of the sport – Sir William Gilbert Grace. Known affectionately as WG Grace, this English cricketer holds the esteemed title of the father of cricket.
While the present-day cricket enthusiasts may be more acquainted with personalities such as Donald Bradman, Sir Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Garry Sobers, and Sachin Tendulkar, WG Grace enjoyed a remarkable career that made an enduring impact on the history of cricket. In truth, his influence was so profound that even the manner in which international cricket is played in the contemporary era can be ascribed to him.
Cricket has now evolved into a widely popular sport played in nearly 150 nations, with its expansion gaining momentum even in Europe and the United States. Established cricket powerhouses like India, England, Australia, and New Zealand continue to dominate the sport, while emerging nations are also making notable progress.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) and major cricket boards such as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the England Cricket Board (ECB) have played a pivotal role in endorsing and globalizing the sport.
However, it was during the early 20th century, prior to the initiatives undertaken by these organizations, that cricket primarily remained a leisurely pursuit. First-class cricket did not even qualify as a recognized professional sport. This is precisely where WG Grace’s contributions come to the fore, as he spearheaded a revolution in the way the game was approached and played.
Now, let’s delve deeper into the life of the father of cricket, Sir William Gilbert Grace.
William Gilbert Grace, the Father of Cricket
As mentioned earlier, Sir William Gilbert Grace, the English cricket pioneer, holds the title of the father of cricket. Born on August 18, 1848, near Bristol in southwest England, he was the son of George Pocock. His brothers, Fred Grace and E.M. Grace, were also involved in cricket.
During his era, limited-overs formats such as One Day Internationals and T20 Internationals did not exist. WG Grace played cricket for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which was the governing body of the sport at that time and still holds considerable influence. He also represented Gloucestershire and London County.
With an illustrious first-class career, Sir William Grace made his Test debut against Australia in 1880 and concluded his Test cricket career against them in 1889 when he decided to retire from the game.
Remarkably, at least 13 direct relatives of WG Grace played in English first-class cricket. He, along with his brothers Fred and Edward, became the first men to play for England together.
The Grace family’s influence on English cricket is unparalleled and legendary.
Why is William Gilbert Grace called the father of cricket?
Modern cricket enthusiasts might argue that former Australian legend Sir Don Bradman or former Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar deserve the title of the father of cricket. While both Bradman and Tendulkar left an incredible legacy on the sport and had legendary careers, WG Grace earned the honor due to his remarkable 44 seasons in first-class cricket. He played a staggering 870 first-class matches during a time when cricket was not taken as seriously as it is today. Grace dedicated his entire life and career to elevating the sport and making it more professional.
His contribution to cricket was so immense that even 107 years after his passing, cricket lovers still hold him in high regard. Grace scored 126 centuries and 254 half-centuries during his extraordinary first-class career.
William Gilbert Grace excelled in all three aspects of the sport and was considered a pioneer. While he was a polished bowler and fielder, it was his batting that earned him the most acclaim. Grace’s technical innovations and enormous influence on his peers and teammates left a lasting legacy.
Despite his imposing physical stature, Grace possessed incredible batting technique and surprising agility. He was regarded as a very precise batsman and is credited with inventing the modern approach to batting. WG Grace usually opened the innings and displayed mastery and perfection in stroke-making. His level of expertise was often unmatched, and he frequently captained the teams he represented due to his game knowledge, instincts, and tactical acumen.
During his illustrious cricketing career, WG Grace set numerous records. While debates surround the accuracy of these records given their age, Grace is said to have achieved several milestones. He holds the record for the most number of first-class matches played in a career, with 870 appearances. He scored the fifth-highest number of runs in first-class cricket, and his batting average of 39.45 was double his bowling average of 18.17.
In 1876, he scored a remarkable 839 runs in just eight days, including a century and two triple centuries. Between 1868 and 1876, he amassed 54 first-class centuries. Grace also took the second-highest number of wickets in the 1870s, claiming 1,174 first-class scalps.
WG Grace is credited as the first player to score 100 centuries, and he is said to have taken 100 wickets in a season on nine different occasions.
WG Grace’s Contribution to the Sport
Did you know that alongside his incredible cricket career, William Gilbert Grace was a full-time doctor? Renowned for his exceptional medical skills and generosity, Grace often provided care for the most vulnerable members of society, showcasing his selflessness.
Over his awe-inspiring 44 first-class seasons, WG Grace scored over 54,000 runs and took more than 2,800 wickets. Such sustained excellence solidifies his status as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. With over 870 catches in first-class cricket, he rightfully takes his place among the esteemed all-rounders of the sport.
During the time when the Grace family played cricket, the sport was divided into two categories: Professionals, known as the Gentlemen, and Amateurs, known as the Players. These two groups were often at odds, with a class divide present. However, WG Grace played a significant role in bridging this gap and became an integral part of both groups of players. While most professionals focused on maintaining their social status and were hesitant to associate with the lower classes, Grace was etching his name in cricket history and demanded substantial match fees for every game he played.
As one of the earliest members of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Grace dedicated his time and energy to shaping and reforming the rules of cricket. It was during his tenure that the use of three stumps in the wicket became the norm. He played a crucial role in developing the sport into what it is today.
Similar to the dominance of Sir Don Bradman during the Ashes, the elegance of Viv Richards, the pace of Shoaib Akhtar, and the genius of Sachin Tendulkar, WG Grace’s tales and achievements form an integral part of cricket’s most celebrated stories. He was once reported to have replaced the bails after being bowled and refused to leave the field, stating, “The fans have come to see me play – not you.”
William Grace had a larger-than-life persona. While he was a consummate professional on the pitch, he had a fondness for beer off it. As a young man, he excelled as a champion 440-yard hurdler and even played football for the Wanderers. Later in life, he developed a passion for golf, lawn bowls, and curling. Grace was an extremely competitive player, and although he was one of the most famous men in England, he was also one of the most controversial due to his gamesmanship and money-making endeavors.
Grace’s legacy remains firmly established in English cricket. The entrance to the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground is known as the Grace Gates—a testament to the enduring impact he has had on English and international cricket for over 150 years since his first professional game.