Alex Massie emails to remind me that the Sports Illustrated review of the Best Beards In Sports History was understandably American-ocentric. The greatest cricketer in history, W.G. Grace, also undoubtedly had the greatest beard. David Frith on the legend:
In a cricket environment that few moderns would comprehend, having played his first first-class match in 1865, when just short of 17, and failed to score, WG began totting up first-class centuries the following year with a huge 224 not out for an England XI against Surrey at The Oval. By the time of his final first-class appearance, just over 40 years later, he had laid down statistics that seemed likely to be forever unmatchable. And in one sense they have been just that. While he was not to be the only batsman ever to reach 100 centuries, in his day a run truly was a run.
It was one of cricket's all-time sensations when he registered 10 centuries in 1871. Few pitches in the 1870s and 1880s were batsman-friendly, and WG drew gasps of amazement and admiration as he clamped down on fast shooters on imperfect pitches - even at Lord's - and whipped the ball to the boundary. His performances amazed and enchanted all who saw him play and read about him in the newspapers, especially in 1874, when he became the first to pass not only a thousand runs but a hundred wickets. Two years later he set yet another breathtaking mark, with the 1000-200 double.
Although he was no lofty intellectual, from his rural boyhood he had devised a technique that took batting from its middle ages of development into something that moderns will instantly recognise. In the only brief film clip of WG Grace batting, in which he makes a few hits in the nets for the newly invented movie camera, what catches the eye is that large waistline and grizzled beard as he plays with a slightly angled bat, showing disdain for the ball. But here was the man who, when young, worked out a way of responding to all the bowling that came his way, pioneering the combination of forward play and back, cleverly using his feet, and venting that extraordinary confidence first perceived by his mother as she played with her little lad in the Gloucestershire apple orchard.
It was said that his beard was so big he batted through it.
(Photo: Rain falls on the statue of W.G Grace during day four of the first power Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Lord's on July 24, 2005 in London. By Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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