At Lord’s, the home of English cricket, in the Coronation Garden in front of Thomas Lord’s old roller, a statue reveals William Gilbert Grace still batting with total authority. His standing in the game is undoubted and revered. Still opening for England at the age of 50, he was said to be the best-known Englishman of his day other than, perhaps, William Gladstone. His popularity transformed cricket into the nation’s summer game and a leading spectator sport.
By the 1860s, the game was still developing its structure. There were travelling professional ‘elevens’. The county clubs were also growing in importance. Importantly, although not a representative side, the first international touring team to Australia visited in 1861-62. The first official representative Test match took place in Melbourne in 1877.
W G Grace, son of a family doctor near Bristol, was initiated into the county and touring teams of the day through his father’s contacts with the Duke of Beaufort. Grace shot to prominence as a 15-year-old boy in 1863 when he scored 170 runs against the ‘Gentlemen of Sussex’. Statistics of his career are awesome: more than 54,000 first-class runs spread over an astonishing 44 seasons. He topped the first-class batting averages 12 times in the years between 1866 and 1880.
This life-size sculpture was undertaken by Louis Laumen in Australia. Prepared after careful study from old film footage, the sculpture reveals Grace in imposing and easy batting action in his later years. His girth somewhat wider than in his early career, the cap (too small by modern style) as always in place, his eyes full of concentration, the bat held above the ground due to his height and with hands apart, the legendary black beard adding age and authority – all captured in glorious sculpted detail. W G Grace seems to have been at the crease for years.