The 1700’s were documented reasonably well compared to it’s preceding centuries, but still leave enough to the imagination to retain a glorious romance to the emergence of different sporting codes being developed. Everyone knows the story of William Webb Ellis picking the ball up* when playing “football” whilst at Rugby School to create a whole new game, for instance. Why had it not been done before? What was running through his head? Imagine the outcry if a significant figure in today’s sports did something similar! Which is why when I came across a speck of info on John Sackville – the Third Duke of Dorset – I thought it only fair to share:
The Third Duke of Dorset was described by a contemporary as being “not in possession of any brains”, which is always a great start. He was deeply into his gambling, he was a serial womaniser, he dished the French and he loved cricket. “Dorset” combined these activities whilst planning and organising the first ever international cricket tour in 1789, a mere eighty-eight years before the match officially recognised as the first ever Test match between Australia and England was contested, and seventy years before the first recognised tour took place to North America.
With the steam boat only having been invented three years beforehand in 1786, not even Bob Willis was yet around when Dorset was preparing his charges to cross the channel and ‘conquer’ France. His touring side even got as far as congregating at Dover on 10 August when the onset of the French Revolution meant that they never actually got to France, thereby making it the first international cricket tour to be cancelled for political reasons. Apparently unrelated, the French came up with the Guillotine in the same year and whatever roots cricket had established in the country during the Duke’s tenure as Ambassador to France were also soon beheaded. I like to think that it was then on some beach near Dover that Dorset et al invented “French Cricket”, with “dodging” the key attribute for success.
Dorset returned to the UK where he became one of the founding members of the Marylebone Cricket Club. His other notable cricketing bullet-point was that he dismissed his mistress after she reportedly ran him out in a game. I like to think he was the first ever victim of a “Mankad”, although detail on this incident is admittedly hazy: Cricinfo even reckons it was in 1745 – which is the year Dorset was born!
* This story is actually said to be untrue-ish. Technically handling the ball at the time in football was often permitted and in some cases compulsory – the rule for which Webb Ellis showed disregard was running forward with it as the rules of his time only allowed a player to retreat backwards or kick forwards. Feel free to repeat this in the pub to impress absolutely no-one.