Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

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Among cricketers who have done most of late years to raise the
game — in the opinion of a multitude of people the greatest of all
games — to the position which it now enjoys, the name of Mr. Allan
Gibson Steel will always be prominent in cricket history. He held
his own with the best of his generation, frequently indeed he did a
good deal more than hold his own, for the record of his achieve-
ments is rich in notable triumphs. Few better bowlers ever lived,
and happily he has left on record in the pages of the Badminton
Library some admirable chapters on the art of which he was a
master — as also, it may be added, on ** Captaincy *' and " Umpires."
On all these subjects he speaks with peculiar authority, though it
is of course as a bowler that he will always be chiefly recollected,
if to say so be not to depreciate his claims as an extraordinarily
fine all-round player.

NO. cxxxi. VOL. xxii.— June 1906


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Although none of his forbears were of special repAitation as
players, Allan Steel came of a cricketing family. He was one of
seven brothers who all played cricket, their father made eight, and
with the coachman, a groom, and a keeper, an eleven was at once
formed. With such a side many matches were played in Dumfries-
shire. Mr. Steel was a leading shipowner at Liverpool and also
resided at Kirkwood in Dumfriesshire, where parts of the summer
and autumn were always spent. It is not many families who can
furnish eight-elevenths of a side, but of course the Lytteltons
surpassed this, a whole team bearing the name frequently sallying
forth to do battle. Allan Steel has an idea that in cricketing
families the youngest have the best chances of distinguishing
themselves, for the reason that their elders are able to teach them
the way they should go; thus the late Colonial Secretary was the
youngest of the Lyttelton brothers, and it is nothing against the
other brethren to say that he was the best.

Allan was the fifth son and an enthusiast from his early days.
The stableyard at Kirkwood was a quadrangle of some fifty yards
square ; on one of the doors the youthful Allan was accustomed to
chalk a wicket, at which he would bowl diligently, and the value of
these early lessons was speedily demonstrated. At Marlborough he
at once came to the front, and when no more than fifteen years
old made his first appearance at Lord's, scoring 44 not out. He
still diligently kept up his practice on his improvised wicket; and
one day a great idea occurred to him. Thinking over the intricacies
of the game, he was struck by the fact that no one ever bowled
from the leg side. If he could only make the ball break from the
leg, the chances were that the bat would be considerably astonished.
At this he set himself to practise, with the results which are now
too well known to need description. The Marlborough boy when
still in his teens was recognised as being well up to county
standard, and in 1877 he played for Lancashire.

Mr. A. N. Hornby was one of this famous team, Mr. E. B.
Rowley was captain, and the wicket-keeper. Pilling, Mr. Steel
regards as the best he ever saw. In talking the subject over with
him I naturally suggested Blackham, but Mr. Steel is not willing
to admit that Blackham was Filling's superior. ** Blackham ^vas
a conjurer,*' he says, ** and did extraordinary things at times; "but
for all-round excellence Mr. Steel declares in favour of Pilling, who
seemed well-nigh unable to miss a catch.

In 1877 Allan Steel went to Cambridge, and as a matter of
course at once played for his University. The 1878 team was a
wonderfully fine one, including as it did Messrs. Edward and Alfred
Lyttelton, the present Lord Darnley, Allan and his brother,

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learned that it was hoped that they would be able to play the same
day ! They were hustled off straightway, donned their flannels, and
began; but that they could show to advantage in the circumstances was
of course impossible. They were also beaten in a Test Match against
Murdoch's eleven, the same which had defeated England at the Oval,
when they reached Melbourne. The usually accurate Reuter made
a curious blunder on this occasion. England really lost by ten ^\^ckets,
but the message made it appear that England had won, and the late
Lord Darnley sent off a long telegram of congratulation to his son,
the Hon. Ivo Bligh. Mr. Steel, it may be remarked, headed the
batting and bowling averages on this tour, and in a match at Queens-
land took four wickets with four consecutive balls. No small share
of the English success was due to Mr. E. F. Tylecote, whom
Mr. Steel regards as having been safer at the wicket than even
Mr. Alfred Lyttelton.

Two years later Murdoch again brought over an Australian
team, and this time three Test Matches instead of one were arranged,
victory remaining with England. The second, at Lord's, was easily
won by our men. Notwithstanding that Mr. Steel was suffering
severely from lumbago, and really ought not to have played. Lord
Harris pressed him to bowl, and he did so from a stand, not being
able to run. How much his bowling was appreciated may be
judged from the fact that he was still pressed into service though
thus disabled. In all Mr. Steel played for England v. Australia in
thirteen Test Matches, making 600 runs — that is, an average of 35*29—
and taking 29 wickets with an average of 21. In 1884, at Lord's,
he made 148, having the previous year at Sydney scored 135 not out.

That Mr. Steel's admirable chapters on ** Bowling" in the Bad-
minton Library Cricket Book may be studied with the greatest
advantage by all cricketers need hardly be said. A favourite device
of his was, after bowling for a time with as much break as possible,
to send down a simple straight ball, pretending to get break on.
This is, of course, now the habitual effort of all bowlers, but it was
less practised when Mr. Steel was in his prime; necessarily it almost
entirely depends upon how it is done. A great point in Spofforth's
bowling was the difficulty of judging the flight of the ball, and the
same may be said of Mr. Steel. No one is keener to recognise and
cordially acknowledge the strong points of other players. Spofforth
as bowler. Pilling as wicket-keeper, have his vote, as has been
already observed, but it is his conviction that Mr. W. G. Grace \^*as
in a class by himself. His power over the ball and beautiful defence
all round the wicket were unsurpassable. Murdoch, on the whok
Australia's best bat, was an extraordinarily neat cutter, but not so
versatile as W. G.

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A things which I naturally desired to ascertain from Mr. Steel
was his opinion as to the condition of the game generally at the
present time as compared with the seventies and early eighties
when he was among the most prominent figures of the cricket
world. He has kept closely in touch with it all, and it may be
incidentally mentioned was President of the M.C.C. in 1892; indeed,
that one could not find a better authority need scarcely be said.
Mr. Steel believes that the batting of to-day, i.e. that of the best
bats, is as good as ever it was, and that — though here he admits a
difference of opinion from many good judges — fielding has not
deteriorated, with the exception perhaps that there are more missed
catches than there used to be. A reason of this he fancies may be

(Photograph by F. Frith & Co.)

the large dark stands which have been erected on so many grounds,
as they render the light bad for catching. The bowling of the
present day, however, he unhesitatingly asserts has fallen off from
the merit of a quarter of a century or so since. Two or three
bowlers stand out, and they may not be inferior to their prede-
cessors; but he names Alfred Shaw, Peate, Barnes, Ulyett, Barlow,
Emmett, Watson, Lohmann, Briggs, Dr. W. G. Grace, and others —
to whom may most assuredly be added Mr. Allan G. Steel, who
is described in the latest book on the game, *' The Complete
Cricketer," reviewed in this number, as **the greatest amateur
bowler England has possessed." To these names may be added

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of Australians Spofforth, Garrett, Turner, Boyle, Ferriss, etc.
Recent years have not produced such an array as this. Richardson
of Surrey and Lockwood when in their prime were, he considers,
the best fast bowlers we have had for many seasons, but they came
after the period of which he was speaking. It is not want of prac-
tice, I opine, for some bowlers practise assiduously even till they
grow stale ; the truth seems to be that the great bowler is born, not
made: he must have aptitude and a combination of qualities rarely

As to cricket reform, upon which vexed subject it was inevit-
able that we should talk, Mr. Steel thinks he is in agreement with
the majority of cricketers past and present when he expresses his
view that the time has come for some reform in the laws of the
game. This conviction is the more significant because one would
naturally suppose that a player like Mr. Steel, to whom cricket as
it existed and exists was a series of triumphs, would have been
unwilling to see anything altered from what it was. The M.C.C.
have appointed an Advisory Council, as most people are aware, and
from their efforts Mr. Steel hopes and expects much. Before the
Council was created the M.C.C. Committee or any private member
of the club could only introduce a suggestion at the general meet-
ing, and in order to pass it a two-thirds majority was required.
This it was difficult to obtain. In certain cases members were
heard during the season declaring that this, that, or the other, ought
certainly to be done ; but when the meeting came, so conservative
were they that theyvould not vote for what they had declared to
be necessary. At present, if the Advisory Council, consisting of
delegates from the counties, were tolerably unanimous on a proposi-
tion for reform, the Club would scarcely refuse to accept it, especi-
ally if it were backed up by the Committee. The number of drawn
matches in county games is a constant cause of regret, and Mr. Steel
thinks it would be worth considering, in view of the undoubted
superiority of the bat over the ball in fine weather, if it be not advis-
able slightly to diminish the width of the bat and to heighten the
wicket a Httle. Seeing that Mr. Steel was a great bat as well as a
great bowler, his opinions may be accepted as not in any way
swayed by unconscious bias. Another alteration in the laws he
would advocate is that any batsman wilfully obstructing the ball in
play, and not attempting, according to the verdict of the umpire, to
play the ball with the bat, should be given out, not l.b.w., but for

From his boyhood Mr. Steel has taken a delight in shooting,
and when fifteen years old, in 1873, was allowed to go out with the
other guns. His father at that time had a moor near Moffat, where

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there was always a good head of grouse, varied by blackgame. Two
or three years ago Mr. Steel and his brother-in-law, Mr. R. E. S.
Thomas, had a moor called Hoscot, situated in the wild country
some eight miles from Hawick in the south of Scotland. Black-
game abound here, as they do over a considerable portion of the
Duke of Buccleuch's property, and with the aid of old cricketing
friends. Lord Darnley, Mr. F. E. Lacey, Mr. W. H. Patterson and
others, big bags were obtained.

Mr. Steel is also a golfer, and indeed quite an enthusiastic one,
declaring that he cannot imagine what old and effete cricketers used
to do when they had no links to go round. He is not as good at
the royal and ancient game as he was at cricket ; his handicap has

(Photograph by F. Frith & Co.)

come down, but he never got below five. The golfer should be
caught young, he thinks, and if during a boy's holidays he learns to
swing a club properly, in good style, he never forgets it — in this
respect golf resembles swimming and cycling. Mr. Steel works at
his profession and is a Recorder, so that his time is much taken up ;
still, he manages occasionally to get away to Brancaster or Sandwich
for a few days. Cricketers, he fancies, learn golf much more quickly
than others, though it is, of course, exceptional for anyone who
takes up the game comparatively late in life to become really first
class. Mr. Charles Hutchings, Amateur Golf Champion in 1902,
and winner of innumerable medals, played cricket till he was close

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on thirty, and only then began to study the game at which he has
so greatly distinguished himself. He is one of the exceptions that
prove the rule.

For boys and men who want hard exercise concentrated into a
short space of time Mr. Steel recommends rackets, and it may be
added that he played for Cambridge for two years. It is a great
training for hand and eye, and how fine a school for young cricketers
seems to be proved by the great players who have made names for
themselves with the racket — Messrs. Alfred Lyttelton, A. J. Webbe,
Ottoway, R. D. Walker, C. T. Studd, the Fosters, and many others.

It is delicate work in these little sketches to speak of men's
private character, and it will suffice here to say that Mr. Allan Steel

{Photograph by G. W. Wilson & Co.)

has made multitudes of devoted friends and has never lost one of

Seeking something in the nature of a personal appreciation of
Mr. Steel, I applied to Lord Darnley, the Hon. Ivo Bligh of yore, and
he has most kindly sent me the following : —

** I have been asked at very short notice to add a few lines as a
contribution to an article on the career of my old friend Mr. A. G.
Steel, and I gladly do so in extreme haste, heartily wishing that
time and *the magic of the necessary word,* as Mr. Rudyard Kip-
ling calls it, were mine in sufficient measure to do justice to a theme
so thoroughly congenial to me. Among all my memories of
sport and games, those in which Mr. Steel's fascinating athletic

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genius played a part stand out conspicuously. Not only are they
the memories of his brilliant feats, and of many a hard- fought
struggle as comrades or opponents, but of as cheery and delight-
fully light-hearted a sporting companion as ever added zest to the
enjoyment of his innumerable friends.

" Casting back my recollection to my first introduction to
Mr. Steel — some twenty-nine years ago, alas! — when we went up
to Cambridge in the October term, 1877, I vividly recall the interest
with which I first saw him, then already famous as a public school
cricketer whose performances had aroused the liveliest curiosity as
to his future cricketing career.

•* A jaunty, cheery, confident figure, sturdy of build, brimful

(Photograph by G. W. Wilson & Co.)

of life and movement, a perky little billycock hat tilted on the back
of his head — I can recall that first impression as if it were yesterday.

"The following summer term from its beginning witnessed the
rise of Mr. Steel to the very front rank of cricketers, and, as all the
cricketing world knows, from that time onwards his all-round ability
secured for him a place second to no other, except the one outstanding
figure of W. G. Grace, the unquestioned champion of all time.

**To repeat Mr. Steel's numerous fine performances at cricket
would be merely to re-write many of the most familiar pages of
cricket history in the late seventies and eighties. I will merely touch
on one or two points of his play that specially struck me.

** In his bowling he was particularly clever in masking his

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intention as to break ; and well as I knew his bowling, I always
felt liable to deception when batting against it. As his batting
developed he became the possessor of a most masterly style, com-
bining a watchful defence with great quickness on his feet and all-
round hitting. In the field he was a very fast runner and safe
performer, except on one memorable day in Australia when the clear
Australian atmosphere and Bonnor's ferocious hits made a usually
safe pair of hands quite unable to do their usual work.

"What a cheery delightful time that Australian tour of ourswas
in 1882-3, and how infinitely did the ringing laugh and invariable
appreciation of the humorous side of things characteristic of my old
friend add to the fun of it all 1 Not that the tour had only a comic
side by any means, for on the voyage out there was a narrow escape
from drowning for us all, owing to a collision near the Equator,
when we were all gathered together one evening on deck, moment-
arily expecting to hear that we must take to what boats were left to
us after the disaster. Then came the belated arrivaL at Adelaide
in the middle of the night, when a deputation from the South
Australian Cricket Club announced to our horror that the colony
would be ready to play us at twelve o'clock that very day !

** At our first dinner at the Adelaide Government House,
Mr. Steel, if report be true, unwittingly found himself explaining the
procedure of the English bar (to which he was then in process of
being called) to the Chief Justice of the Colony, whilst another mem-
ber of the team, on asking his neighbour if he was interested in
politics, received the unexpected reply that he was obliged to take a
certain amount of interest in them because he happened to be the
Prime Minister! The tour recurs to me as a whirl of travelling,
hard work at cricket, and — must we confess it ? — harder work still at
balls, receptions, and entertainments generally, while right in the
middle of the fun and humour of it all was ever to be found that
cheery personality ; the cricket records of the tour, moreover, showing
him easily first both in batting and bowling. And now that this isall
left some twenty-four years behind, an occasional game of golf
together takes the place of the more active and exciting experiences of
those days.

'* The Liverpool law courts have before now seen Mr. Steel
with one eye on me, waiting in the body of the court to take him
off to Hoylake, and the other on the clock, addressing the judge
meantime on grave matters of law; we may reasonably hope
that the course of justice has not at all events been retarded by
these sporting expeditions of ours. Long may he flourish, and may
we often meet to practise together the contemplative middle-aged
swing of the golf club, and talk over the merry days of old ! "

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** Well, Jack, here's for the first fish on the Labrador ! " I stood
on the bank of the river, whose clear waters rushed foaming and
tumbling at my feet. Just below me was what we had named the
•* Sea Pool " — an ideal bit of water. At its head a long, even rapid
sparkled in the sunlight, very quick water at the top, slowing down
to a deeper and heavier current below. There was plenty of room
for the back cast, and a level bottom to wade out on. I breathed
the crisp air with a sense of exhilaration, and lingered, enjoying my
anticipation to the utmost.

"There's a fish, sir, and a good one ! " Dawson pointed to a
widening lot of ripples.

I looked my flies over : the air was clear and the bottom light-
coloured. ** About a No. lo Jock this morning, Jack ? "

*'That will do, I think, sir," my head guide, philosopher, and
friend replied.

I looped the small fly on a medium-weight grey leader and
waded out. Ye fishermen that love the casting of a fly, that glory
in the first cast of the season, can appreciate my feelings and my
thoughts. I lengthened the line to thirty feet, and cast obliquely
across the fast water; the fly circled beautifully, and I kept my tip
in slight motion.

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" There he is ! " Dawson whispered, as a flash of silvered sides
and the flirt of a wide black tail showed that our friend was watching.

I drew the fly in slowly.

** Better rest him a minute; a twenty-pounder if an ounce!"
quoth I, and holding a few feet of line in my hand I made a short
cast directly below me, twitching the fly gently as it hung in the
bubbles of a big eddy.

** Got one ! " I shouted, as I felt a surge on the rod; the fish
had taken the Jock under water, making no swirl on the surface.
"Curious fish, Dawson ! " The line cut back and forth across the
current with an audible humming, and the fish hugged the deep
water close; not a run, not a jump even, only this peculiar zigzag
motion, and it was continued for several minutes.

** He's got to get out of that ! *' I walked down as far as I
could and tried to swing the fish up stream. No use ! I could not
steer him, nor influence him in the least. This may be thought
strange ; I should have told you that I am a great believer in the
use of the lightest tackle possible. The rod I had in hand was an
eight-ounce Leonard, ten feet long; the line was next to the
smallest waxed taper that I could get, and the reel a medium-sized
Vom Hofe (trout). Therefore it will be understood when I say that
I was powerless with my criss-crossing friend.

** Heave a rock at him, Jack; move him somehow ! " I called
back to Dawson, who was leaning on the gaff and watching this
new continuous performance with interest.

He threw a stone accurately.

*' That fixed him!"

Indeed it did! Whir-r-r-r-r I Z-i-i-i-pp! a wild rush and a
beautiful curving leap way up above me.

**A buster!'' I yelled at the sight of the deep shoulder and
gleaming length. By this time the salmon was almost at the foot
of the pool, and still going ; I checked him a little, but he kept
on down.

** Got to get after him now," Dawson advised. I waited a
moment longer, hoping to turn the fish, then I splashed my way
ashore, slipping and stumbling in my mad haste, and footed it at a
good pace. Time I did so ! I only had a little line left, and His
Majesty never hesitated or swerved in his course. " He's bound for
the sea! " Dawson chuckled, and I commenced to worry; the salt
water was but two hundred yards below us. Once there, I was
snubbed, as a steep rock shelf blocked the way for farther chasing.
" Now or never," I thought, and held hard. The light line sang
with the strain, and I had to straighten the rod or run the risk of
getting a cast in it. I gritted my teeth and prepared for the

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snap that I dreaded at each second — but the gods were kind.
The pull was too much for the big fellow ; he turned like a flash
and came at me furiously. I reeled in madly, running backward
up the beach as I did so, and more by good luck than good manage-
ment kept a tight line on him. Up, up, up, and still up stream he
went at a great rate, I after him, Then he began to jump. And
such jumps they were! Worth going ten thousand miles for!
Long leaps, short ones, then a skating effect along the surface with
the spray and foam glistening, and drops flying high in the sunlight
and shining like globules of mercury. Back-somersaults, forward
twists, everything that a fish could do this one did. I have never
experienced any salmon-play equal to it either on the Restigouche
or any other famous salmon waters. This fish seemed imbued with
a doggedness and deviltry that was superb ; I had fought him hard
for fifty minutes, in heavy water, keeping below him most of the
fight, and yet he did not show any signs of tiring.

Once I thought that the end was near ; the fish was lying out
in the quickest water, cleverly playing the current against me. I
picked up a pebble and started him, as I imagined, for Dawson and
the gaff". Nearer and nearer I led him. " A cracker-jack,** Dawson
announced, peering through the stream. I could see the long, dark
shape, and a vision of the first salmon of the season lying at my
feet rose before me — and nearly cost me the fish ! I hurried him a
bit too much, and tried to drag him within reach of the gaff";
instantly that he felt the extra pressure, and realised that he was in
shoal water, he gave a mighty surge, a quick lunge, and there he

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 45 of 52)