Page:Jubilee Book of Cricket (Second edition, 1897).djvu/411

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389
HAMPSHIRE—THE CRADLE OF CRICKET.

from one end, and then picking them up he would bowl them back again." And "you might have seen David," said another, " practising at dinner-time and after-hours all the winter through." "Many a Hampshire barn," declared the batsman Beagley, "has been heard to resound with bats and balls as well as thrashing." It is puzzling to us, who are familiar with Richardson's swinging arm, to understand how Harris acquired his speed in those underhand days, but all accounts agree that the potter's balls came in with terrible velocity. They rose almost perpendicularly from the pitch, and, said Nyren, "woe be to the man who did not get in to block them, for they had such a peculiar curl that they would grind his fingers against the bat." Mr Mitford, supplementing this passage, wrote with fine excess that the batsman's fingers would be "ground to dust, his bones pulverised, and his blood scattered over the field." And all the while David was beaming with his remarkably kind and gentle expression. Oh, a great man! Tom Walker, whom Nyren classed with the bloodless animals, although Beldham remembered seeing him rub his bleeding fingers in the dust, was alone undismayed. David used to say that he liked to "rind" him. None the less, Harris once bowled Tom Walker 170 balls for but one run, which proves Tom's imperturbability and powers of defence. "Gently, potter, gently, pray," must have been (in the words of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam) the plea of the other batsmen. It was Tom Walker who "would never speak to any one, or give any answer, when he was in at the wicket. His tongue was tied, as his soul and body were surrendered to the struggle."

William Beldham, or "Silver Billy," as he was called, from his fair hair, was, with the bat, great as David Harris with the ball. He had "that genius for cricket, that wonderful eye, and that quickness of hand, which would," said Mr Ward and others, "have made him a great player in any age." For thirteen years he averaged 43 runs amatch, and that at a time when 20 was a "long hand." A glance at 'Bentley's Scores' will show you how consistent was this superb player. "One of the most beautiful sights that can be imagined, and which would have delighted an artist," said Nyren, "was to see him make himself up to hit a ball. It was the beau idéal of grace, animation, and concentrated energy." "It was a study for Phidias," said Mr Mitford, "to see Beldham rise to strike; the grandeur of the attitude, the settled composure of the look, the piercing lightning of the eye, the rapid glance of the bat, were electrical. Men's hearts throbbed within them, their cheeks turned pale and red. Michael Angelo should have painted him." Beldham was the first man to run in to meet the ball. Others waited for it, and lost the chance of scoring, but he left his ground and scored. Mr Stoddart is his worthiest disciple to-day. "You do frighten me there, jumping out of your ground," said Squire Paulet, of Hambledon, remonstrating with Beldham. But Silver Billy knew best. Innovators must ever meet with opposition. Was not Fennex, who first played forward to smother a length ball, confronted with the displeasure of his father, who, shocked at the departure, cried to him, "Hey, hey, boy, what is this? Do you call that play?" Beldham did not invent the cut— that honour belongs to Harry Walker, brother of Tom—but he excelled at it. "His peculiar glory," said Mr Mitford, "was the cut. Here he stood with no man beside him—the laurel was all his own; it seemed