Cricket in World War One

The onset of World War One in 1914 brought an end to the “Golden Age” of English cricket. Surrey called off their last two matches without forfeiting their position at the top of the County Championship, which they thus won for the first time since 1899, and the County Championship was then suspended from 1915 to 1918. In Australia, the Sheffield Shield was contested in 1914–15 despite the ongoing war, but was then suspended until the 1919–20 season. No first-class cricket was played in South Africa from the close of the 1913/14 season until a series of matches against the Australian Imperial Forces Cricket Team in late-1919.

At least 210 first-class cricketers are known to have joined up, of whom 34 were killed. The obituary sections of Wisden between 1915 and 1919 contained the names of hundreds of players and officials of all standards who died in the service of their country.

With war looming in August, cricketers with military commitments, such as Sir Archibald White, the Yorkshire skipper, left their teams to do their duty, and Pelham Warner and Arthur Carr, who captained Middlesex and Nottinghamshire respectively, followed when war was declared. The County Championship was not immediately abandoned, the MCC issuing a statement that “no good purpose can be saved at the moment by canceling matches” on 6 August, but attendances plummeted. Jack Hobbs, who had scored a career best 226 in front of over 14,000 spectators on 3 August, had to rearrange his benefit match from the Oval, after it was requisitioned by the Army, to Lords and on 13 August the MCC announced that all matches arranged at Lord’s to September would be postponed.

Grim news of casualties suffered by the BEF in Belgium was already turning the public mood against ‘business as usual’ and on 27 August a letter written by W.G.Grace was published in The Sportsman in which he declared that “I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing cricket by day and pleasure-seekers look on. I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example and come to the help of their country without delay in its hour of need.”

First World War; 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918

No first-class cricket in Australia; 19 February 1915 – 26 December 1918

No first-class cricket in England; 2 September 1914 – 12 May 1919

No break in first-class cricket in India.

No first-class cricket in New Zealand; 2 April 1915 – 25 December 1917

No first-class cricket in South Africa; 11 April 1914 – 18 October 1919

The remaining matches in the Championship were abandoned “in deference to public opinion” while the MCC closed the Scarborough Festival as “the continuation of first-class cricket is hurtful to the feelings of a section of the public”. The last match to be completed, on 2 September, pitted Sussex against Yorkshire at Hove. “The men’s hearts were barely in the game,” the periodical Cricket reported at the time, “and the match was given up as a draw at tea.” The final match played, twenty five years and a day later, before the outbreak of World War II saw the same sides facing each other on the same ground.

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