Cricket Diary: MacGregor a hero of the roaring twenties

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The Independent Online
CHRIS READ, the boyish-faced, velvet-gloved Devonian, is not, contrary to suggestions, the youngest wicketkeeper to have played for England. At 20 years and 325 days when he made his Test debut against the New Zealanders at Edgbaston on Thursday he was some 153 days the junior of the great Alan Knott, who first played 32 years ago and was generally held to have been the most youthful player to wear the gloves.

This, however, reckons without Gregor MacGregor. On 21 July, 1890 when he went out to play for England in the First Test against Australia, MacGregor was a mere 20 years and 324 days old, a whole day younger than Read. Whether he too looked as though he should be singing alto in the choir at St Paul's rather than wicketkeeping in a Test match is not possible to ascertain.

MacGregor, who was born in Edinburgh, was a Cambridge University Blue but had not yet played county cricket when he was summoned to Lord's to appear in W G Grace's side. He had already established a formidable reputation as a wicketkeeper, standing up to the fastest bowlers, and taking the ball close to the stumps.

On the first day of the match he justified his inclusion with two stumpings off Bobby Peel's left-arm spin. (Read took eight victims in his first match, the most formidable achievement by any debutant keeper for England while Knott took seven catches in his first match). MacGregor's debut was notable for being the first of the 33 Tests then played in which no byes were conceded.

England won by seven wickets and it seemed sure to be the start of a long career of high achievement for MacGregor. Instead, his international career was finished after eight matches before his 24th birthday.

In all, 59 players have been selected as wicketkeeper for England (others have been forced to don the gloves during matches because of injury and illness). The 10 youngest are: MacGregor, 20, 1890, eight matches; Read, 20, 1999, one match; Knott, 21, 1967, 95 matches; Dick Young, 22, 1907, two; Neville Tufnell, 22, 1909, one; George Duckworth, 23, 1924, 24; Alfred Lyttleton, 23, 1880, four; Les Ames, 23, 1929, 47; Leslie Gay, 23, 1894, one; Paul Downton, 23, 1981, 30. Young and Lyttleton were also capped by England at football.

As for MacGregor, he played rugby for Scotland and continued to play cricket for Middlesex until 1907, being captain for eight years. He was a Test selector for a year in 1902 when he was still only 32. That, incidentally, made him considerably younger than the oldest man to make his debut for England as a wicketkeeper.

On 20 August, 1938, Arthur Wood was selected for the first time. He had a good match, going in at 770 for 6 to replace Len Hutton who had scored 364, making 53 and then taking two catches as England won by an innings and 579 runs. When the match started Wood was five days short of his 40th birthday, or 19 years and 35 days older than Read.

LAST WEEK the Diary discussed the birthplaces of England captains. One thing leading to another, it prompted some reflection on the county sides that they have played for.

Nasser Hussain is the fifth from Essex, which, perhaps surprisingly, now brings them level with Lancashire. Essex supplied Freddie Fane and Johnny Douglas earlier in the century but then went 60 years before providing another. Since 1981 they have come up with Keith Fletcher, Graham Gooch and Hussain.

Middlesex still lead the way with 11 England captains, the last being Mike Gatting, with Surrey and Sussex having yielded seven each, the most recent, respectively, being Alec Stewart and Tony Greig.

FOR THOSE suffering one-day international withdrawal symptoms immediate relief is at hand. England start a three-match series against India at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

This is the women's team, which, like its male counterpart, has an array of support including the former Test bowler Graham Dilley as bowling coach. England have two newcomers in their squad, Gill Richards, 18, and Kate Lowe, 23, but have adopted an Australian policy of thoughtful continuity.

The captain Karen Smithies, who was appointed in 1993 when she led the side to World Cup triumph, has been confirmed in the job until the next World Cup in December 2000.

BOOK MARK

"One thing I have not been able to work out is this: the accusation most often levelled at me is that I'm a bad tourist. If that is so why is it that of my 34 Tests, 27 have been abroad and only seven in England. Oh well, ours is not to reason why. All I have ever asked of captains, selectors and regimes is that they should judge me for what I can do with a ball in my hand." Phil Tufnell in his recently published autobiography What Now? before playing in his eighth home Test.

DON'T STOP THE CARNIVAL

MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN had an adequate World Cup for Sri Lanka. He took six wickets for 158 runs and was seventh in the economy list at 3.67, despite going for 60 in 10 overs against India. But that was a mere rehearsal for his present resplendent form. In three matches for Lancashire (he did not bowl in the rain-ruined first) he has taken at least 10 wickets in each, having 37 in all at 10.9 runs apiece. His worst innings return to date was a clearly hopeless 4 for 67 from 31.5 overs against Surrey.

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