Jrh Mcewen

Fowler’s match: 100 years on

This week marks the centenary of what might just be the greatest cricket match of all time: Fowler’s match, the epic battle between Eton and Harrow in 1910.

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This week marks the centenary of what might just be the greatest cricket match of all time: Fowler’s match, the epic battle between Eton and Harrow in 1910.

This week marks the centenary of what might just be the greatest cricket match of all time: Fowler’s match, the epic battle between Eton and Harrow in 1910. On 8 and 9 July that year, Lord’s was packed to the gunwales. It was the social and sporting event of the year. Back then, Eton vs Harrow mattered a lot — and not just for the public-schooled elite. Everyone supported one school or the other.

That year, Harrow won the toss and elected to bat. On a soft but not difficult pitch, they scored 232. The opening bowlers for Eton, R.St.L. Fowler (the captain) and A.I. Steel (whose father A.G. had captained England in the 1880s), each took four wickets. Eton’s first innings: by the time bad light forced early stumps, they had struggled to 40 for five. The next morning they were 67 all out with Fowler, batting at five, making the top score of 21. Asked to follow on, Eton were soon reduced to 65 for five wickets, no one able to force the ball away on the soft pitch.

At this point, Fowler took command and, stoutly supported by D.G. Wigan and W.G.K. Boswell, reached 64 before being caught off Hillyard by his opposing captain, G.F. Earle. When Fowler fell, Eton were nine wickets down and only nine runs ahead. The last-wicket partnership, between K. Lister Kaye (13) and the Hon. J.N. Manners (40 not out) was brave stuff (‘Manners hit in a way that cannot be praised too highly for its courage and dash,’ reported the Times) but, with Eton all out for 219, Harrow only had to make 55 for victory.

Robert St Leger Fowler, however, was not beaten yet. He clean-bowled the first three Harrow batsman and soon reduced their score to 21 for four. Etonian hopes began to rise.

Moments later and the score stood at 21 for six, all six wickets to Fowler. A sensational victory looked possible. The 20,000 crowd grew ever more restive and vociferous.

Then Steel took his first wicket of the innings and Fowler yorked A.C. Straker for one. The score was 29 for eight. The excitement approached its highest pitch. The roar from the Harrow stands whenever a run was scored could be heard in the Zoological Gardens. Then Fowler bowled Harrow’s opening batsman T.O. Jameson, for two. 32-9!

In strode the Hon. R.H.L.G. Alexander, who had raced from the tea tent, bun in hand. He appeared nerveless, he waved to the Harrow dressing-room like Jack Raggles in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The score edged up. The roar could now be heard on the platforms at Paddington station. Closer, closer came the winning mark. Then, with nine runs needed to tie the scores, Alexander snicked a ball from Steel to W.T. Holland in the slips. 45 all out! Victory to Eton!

‘The scene of enthusiasm at the finish,’ noted Wisden, ‘was quite indescribable.’ The Times gave notice of a ‘most pardonable pandemonium’. Bob Fowler was carried from the field — he was the toast of London.

But life was about to change. It was July 1910 and Edward VII, that unifying force, had died in May. The party was over but few yet knew it. The fiercely reactionary Conservatives were at loggerheads with the disorganised Liberals and no one was attending to the drift towards catastrophe. The tangle of European treaties was ready to unravel; then Sarajevo; and then what followed. 

And every one of the 22 participants in Fowler’s match fought in the war. Of course they did. Wilson, Hopley and Turnbull of Harrow and Tufnell, Steel, Stock, Manners and Boswell of Eton were killed. When Thomas Lancelot Gawain Turnbull died, in April 1915, a fellow private (Turnbull was the only one of the 22 to join the ranks) wrote, ‘I am afraid that I cannot express my feelings adequately in words, as poor Tommy was my very best friend out here, and his loss is absolutely irreparable... he was always so cheery... the RAMC orderly who was with him in hospital... was full of admiration for the great pluck he showed...’.

The nerveless, bun-eating Alexander had a terrific war as he proceeded to his destiny — Earl Alexander of Tunis. The Harrow wicketkeeper, bowled second-ball for nought in the second innings by Fowler, was Walter Monckton, future politician and adviser to Edward VIII. As for Robert Fowler, he won an MC at the Siege of Amiens in March 1918 and thereafter played some cricket for the army and Hampshire. But in 1924 he was diagnosed with leukaemia and the following year, aged 34, on the day he had been due back at Eton to captain his tutor’s old boys, he died. The obituaries all focused on the events of July 1910.

This Saturday, it’s Eton vs Harrow 2010. So play up lads! Show some dash and let’s have some pluck! The immortals are watching.