1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 20

Alfred the Great

IN retrospect, one of the greatest charms of early nineteenth-century cricket is the sense of occasion which seems to have distinguished even the humblest matches. These days the most 'sen- sational' Test, featuring household names and broadcast over the kingdom, is yet forgotten by most as quickly as last night's television play : but in 1830 or 1840 a match between two very moderate sides would be anticipated for weeks and then discussed for years; on the day itself the crowds would come in from miles around, there would be tempests of anger and enthusiasm, boasts, prodigious eating and drinking.

At the very centre of the scene, and in every way typical of it, stands the colossal figure of Alfred Mynn—Alfred the Great, Lion of Kent and Champion of England. Mynn was so typical of the scene, not only in its crudity, vigour and humour, but in his lordly disregard of the world and its business. Variously described as a farmer, a 'gentlemen' and a hop-merchant, he left his family and his affairs to go on as best they might while he trundled all over England from May to October playing cricket. (Never was the Periclean maxim, that women should be heard of neither for good nor ill, more con- sistently illustrated than by Mr. Alfred Mynn.) Not surprisingly, he was often low in funds, and once at least the sheriff's men escorted him straight from wicket to cell. But always there were friends to pay up, so that the next morning the old wretch was back at the crease. 'All were proud of him, all loved him,' wrote W. J. Prowse in memoriam; what was a little carelessness about money when set against the huge hits, the sturdy English jokes, the gargantuan greed and generosity of Alfred the Great?

And now, to do Mynn honour, comes Patrick Morrah's gracefully written and (as I am assured by scholars in this line) impeccably accurate account of Alfred Mynn and the Cricketers of his Time. The period covered is the 'middle ages' of cricket, the forty-odd years between the estab- lishment of round-arm bowling in the 1820s and its supersession by over-arm; years (long be- fore strict organisation by counties) during which single-wicket matches were still common and both game and players were largely dependent on the patronage of the wealthy and the noble. They were years of anarchy and triumph and preposterous personalities: the Rev. Lord Frederick Beauclerk, descended from Nell Gwyn, a magnificent player and a ferocious gambler, a manifest yet widely popular cheat; the absentee schoolmaster, Felix, who invented machines to give him batting practice; the opinionated Lillywhite and the obese Aislabie; Dearman, with 'his unflinching bottom'; Box, Wenman, Hillyer, Fuller Pilch—and Alfred Mynn. For it is always Mynn who predominates: whether as vitalising those 'middle ages of cricket' with his swingeing round-arm deliveries and tremendous drives; or as characterising them with his debts, his pranks, his religious credulity and intolerable suppers; or as ennobling them with his loyalty, his clumsy courtesy, his courage. And so, inevitably, let Prowse conclude . . .

All were proud of him, all loved him, , , As

the changing seasons pass; As our Champion lies a-sleeping underneath the Kentish grass; Proudly, sadly we will name him—to forget him were a sin; Lightly lie the turf upon thee, kind and manly Alfred Mynnl