Jack the Ripper, the subject of my previous blog, was unquestionably the most famous real-life Victorian criminal. Equally unquestionably, the most the most famous fictional Victorian crime fighter was the denizen of 221B Baker St, one Sherlock Holmes. As it happens, Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a great cricketing fan. Conan Doyle regularly played for a team called “The Authors”, and on occasion was joined by both AA Milne and JM Barrie.
One of Conan Doyle’s more regular teammates was his brother-in-law, EW Hornung, who created the gentleman thief Arthur Raffles. Raffles was the “anti-Holmes”, in that he put his genius in the service of crime rather than against it. In the early books at least, Raffles’ status as a gentleman was regularly emphasized by his cricketing credentials (he played for “Gentlemen of England”), and he liked to separate criminals into gentleman amateurs and working-class professionals, just as cricketers were classified at the time.
As well as turning out for the Authors, Conan Doyle played ten first class matches for MCC between 1899 and 1907. He was primarily a batsman, though his highest score for MCC was only 43. Far more impressive was the fact that his sole first class wicket was none other than W.G. Grace.
By dismissing Grace, Conan Doyle lived every cricketer’s dream. He also had the literary talent to sum up the experience, in writing a poem. It is a vivid portrayal of what it must have been like to face Grace on the field, and is also the perfect embodiment of Victorian cricketing ideals. The verse begins:
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.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Reminiscence of Cricket
Not all Victorian poets wrote about cricketing joi de vivre in the manner of Conan Doyle. A E Housman, for example, wrote in A Shropshire Lad:
“Now in May time to the wicket
Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
Trying to be glad.
Try I will; no harm in trying:
Wonder 'tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
On the bed of earth.”
Those were the sort of sentiments one might associate with Houseman’s fictional near-contemporary Eeyore (the creation of Conan Doyle’s occasional teammate), or perhaps more appropriately the Great War poets a generation or so later. All part of the rich tapestry of cricket, I suppose …
 The match was between MCC and London County at Crystal Palace in August 1900. Grace was out caught behind off Conan-Doyle’s bowling in the second innings, having scored 110. Cricinfo has the scorecard here