Cricket has been played on the Close from the early 19th Century and there are detailed scorebooks dating back to 1831. In the early years fixtures were played at 1st XI level against M.C.C., a number of the Oxbridge Colleges and wandering sides such as Izingari and the Free Foresters. There were no matches for the younger year groups, so there were a number of internal matches that often lasted several days. The highlight of the season from the 1830’s up until the 1850’s was ‘The Tall vs the Short’, 5ft 6 was the dividing point and the records show that they were very competitive games…
The 1850’s saw the start of inter-school matches and in 1855 Rugby played Marlborough for the first time. The match has been played at numerous grounds including the Oval, but Lord’s became its home for nearly 100 years until this came to an end in 1972. This two-day game continues today and alternates between the two schools.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a number of ORs playing first-class and Test cricket, including H.H.Castens (South Africa) and E.R.Wilson (England), but the school’s most famous cricketer is undoubtedly Plum Warner. A boy at Rugby in the 1880s he played for Oxford University, Middlesex and England and was the manager of the infamous ‘Body-Line’ tour of Australia, before becoming president of M.C.C. In 1905 the bowling averages were headed by the famous poet Rupert Brooke who was described as ‘a slow bowler who at times kept a good length and puzzled the batsmen.’
As the 20th Century progressed the school continued to produce a large number of first-class cricketers, including R.A.Boddington (Lancashire), J.L.Bryan (Cambridge and Kent), M.D.Lyon (Cambridge and Somerset), B.H.Lyon (Oxford & Gloucestershire), M.M.Walford (Oxford and Somerset) and M.A.Eager (Oxford & Gloucestershire), but the most recent was Richard Montgomerie (Northamptonshire and Sussex).
Rugby was one of the first schools to employ professional cricket coaches. In 1889 Tom Emmett (Yorkshire & England), made an immediate impact: the great Sir Pelham Warner described him as his ‘one and only headmaster.’ W.R.Cuttell, also of Yorkshire & England, was the head professional from 1906-1929 and oversaw a very strong period of cricket. George Geary (Leicestershire and England) was highly regarded in the 1960s; Nick Cook (Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and England) made great strides in the late 2000s before becoming a First Class Umpire in 2009; Gary Brent (Mashonaland and Zimbabwe) was the professional for two years before returning to Zimbabwe to coach at 1st Class level and our current professional Tim Roberts (Lancashire and Northamptonshire) joined the School in 2010.
The Rugby School XI wear blue shirts on the field of play. To answer the question ‘why?’ it is probably easier to ask why all the other teams stopped wearing them. In the mid-1850’s most teams wore coloured shirts. The All England XI, founded in 1846, wore its famous ‘white shirt with pink spots’ as early as 1847 and all the Public Schools wore coloured shirts. They started to disappear over the last twenty years of the 19th Century, but why Rugby didn’t follow the fashion is still a mystery…
Further information can be found at www.rugbyschool.net.