Friday, 30 August 2013

A Cricket Match with a Difference

Between 1844 and 1854 a cricket match was staged between 11 one-armed Greenwich Pensioners and 11 one-legged Chelsea Pensioners at the Kennington Oval. A record of the event was taken by Theodor Fontane for his book 'Ein Sommer in London'.

"The end was in sight, the next few minutes would show who would win, Greenwich or Chelsea. The Chelsea men in their long red frock-coats had a lead of three runs but the men from Greenwich in their navy-blue jackets and those tricorne hats which commanded so much respect, were in and a good hit could give their side the victory.


The Chelsea Pensioners and the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Many players had cast their hats on the ground and the thin white locks of the old men fluttered in the breeze. Most of them were in their seventies, moss covered heads from Trafalgar (1805) and even from the Battle of the Nile (1798) and anyone there who had lost an arm at Navarino (1827) was just a sly fox.

There they stood, the ancient creators and bearers of British honour, hardly less ready as when they stood on a three-decker as Nelson's famous boarding plank fell into place; and soldier and sailor who had so often stretched out their hands for the laurels of fame together, now stood with blazing eyes facing each other and each seeking fame for himself.

As I said, Greenwich was in and an old man with one arm and one leg* (a complete cripple but a real man) stood with his bat firmly held and not letting his opponent out of his sight, in front of the three stumps of his wicket and parried the flying ball with a steady eye and a firm hand. He had hit the ball three times but it had not gone far enough for him to run the length of the wicket on his peg leg, but luck was with him and with the honour of Greenwich on the fourth hit.


The Greenwich Pensioners and the Greenwich Hospital

The ball flew wide over the field and he quickly calculated that he could run three times up and down the wicket, he set out at the double back and forth. But the victory hung by a hair, before he could reach the crease for the third time his opponent (whom he might have underestimated) was nearer the wicket than he was. What to do? Watch, with swift presence of mind the old man flung himself forwards on the ground with his bat in front of him and instantly covered the eight foot gap from the crease. He did not reach it himself but the tip of his bat did.

A storm of applause came from every side, the women on the balcony waved their handkerchiefs and the persistent trumpeter flourished a fanfare - the game was over and Greenwich had won."

* The match was between "11 men with one arm and 11 with one leg" - either side was allowed to field a player with fewer limbs because understandably the chances of the opponents would be increased if they did.

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